Denham, Western Australia (Part 1)


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Final Note from Exmouth
As if one emu in the campground wasn’t enough for the tourists, the next morning a father emu followed by his 3 youngsters strolled past. Once the female has laid the eggs, it is dad who raises the chicks.

Coral Bay
Beaches don’t come any more perfect for swimming than Coral Bay. Turquoise blue, fine sand, no rocks and a short walk from the caravan park.

We are still on the Ningaloo Reef here where the coral formations on the inside of the reef are much healthier than the now over-touristed Great Barrier Reef. Fortunately we’d seen it 25 years ago with Erin, Colin and Kate when it was still vibrant and colourful.

The catamaran was mostly under sail with only the occasional use of motor which made our 4 hours on the water wonderfully peaceful. The first snorkeling stop was over mostly brown coral but with schools of darting blue fish, zebra striped fish, large yellow/green/blue fish, what appeared to be long sea cucumbers and countless other sea creatures slipping in between the corals.

Later in the sail the wind, and consequently the swell increased so that snorkeling took more effort especially swimming into the current. But the coral was worth the work. Shapes varied from floral looking blooms to long branches to round mounds rising up from the seabed 10 – 15 feet or more. And the colours! Greens, rose and the most spectacular royal blue. At the end of long white coral spears startling blue tips gave the appearance of a blue Christmas tree light.

Wooramel Station
It pays to talk to fellow travelers in the camp kitchens. How else would we have come to Wooramel Station? This 365,000 acre or 1,430 square kilometre property raises sheep, goats and cattle. In Canada we would call this a farm or ranch; in Australia it is a station, property or downs and it needs to be large because the land cannot support many animals per acre.

Horses and calves wander the campground grazing and finding shade under the shade kitchen roof. One calf munched meagre grass not 4 feet (1+ metres) from where I was finishing my tea and book, camped under a magnificent river gum beside the dry and dusty riverbed. Whimsical works of art in iron were scattered throughout the camping area. The tip, or dump, housed relics of many decades – cars, truck, motorcycles, old motors, various bits of machinery and then the kitchen appliances. Wringer washing machines gave way to automatic machines, ice boxes sat next to fridges, then fridges with freezer compartment and finally, a computer. Why that should have a been so much fun I’m not sure but we loved the artistry (?) of it.
Come evening campers gathered round the campfire pit, beer/cider/wine in hand. The couple next to us were more “grey nomads,” people who have sold their business, house and only stored family treasures and their bedroom suite. Home now is a caravan pulled by a 4WD vehicle. After 6 months on the road they have no destination.
My treat was the warm artesian bore pool. Minerals in the water are said to be good for the body and that may be so but sitting there among eucalyptus with the smell of smoke from the firepit and the evening sun slanting onto the dry riverbed, oh how it felt good for the soul.

Exmouth, Western Australia


October 13, 2018

Yardie Campground – Cape Range National Park
(Ningaloo Reef UNESCO Site)
Nowhere else in Australia is the coral reef so vibrant and healthy – and luckily for divers and snorkelers, so close to beaches. Turtles who left these beaches as hatchlings return 20 years later to dig deep holes and deposit up to 130 eggs.
Having said all that, the turtles who we heard were mating nearby must have had a sudden fit of shyness and were nowhere to be seen, and we are saving our snorkeling for a boat cruise next week.

But the stars! We have seen Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus and the new moon this week. On one shivering middle of the night outing to the toilet – down the ladder, pad along the campsite road to the single toilet, no headlamp – I was once again overcome by the beauty and immensity of the stars and Milky Way. We mortals are but grains in the sand in the universe, yet we are each precious too.

Aside from the night sky the highlight was the Yardie Creek boat tour hosted by Peter Meier who has lived in Exmouth since childhood. The creek is separated from the sea by a sand bar at the mouth. Every 20 years or so a cyclone or storm opens up the mouth and floods the creek with salt water allowing fish to swim in and out, refreshing the water and creatures who live in the creek.

We saw rock wallabies scrambling along the cliff walls and a nest with a baby egret. One osprey nest still in use today was first documented in 1898! Clearly a valuable real estate property.

Yardie Creek is a birders paradise. The bower bird nests here too. Peter told the story of a local woman whose home backed on to the bush. She was outside cleaning her jewelry when the phone rang. A few minutes later as she returned several pieces had vanished. Knowing the male bower bird’s predilection for nest decoration she headed out to the bush and in a very nicely decorated nest found her missing jewelry.

Exmouth was home to a large defence base during WWII when Japanese planes were a danger to western Australia. From this area a team of Australian and British intelligence officers smeared with oil to make their skin brown and wearing Indonesian clothing sailed the Krait an Indonesian fishing boat into Singapore harbor, attached limpet explosives to ships and got out safely, destroying 37,000 tons of shipping and setting off a furious and fruitless Japanese investigation into which locals were responsible.

More beach swims, snorkeling for Celia and a tour of the outstanding Visitor Centre with an aquarium, cyclone room, reef photos and local history. Cyclone Vance in 1995 destroyed much of the town. At 290 km/hour (estimated) it had the highest recorded winds in Australia.

Celia treated us to a fine dinner at Whalers the night before we dropped her off at the airport Friday morning. The small one room gate at the airport was filled with Fifos, workers who fly in and fly out but live elsewhere.

Fun sighting – an emu casually wandering through the campground!

Karratha, Western Australia


Monday, October 8, 2018

Karijini National Park
Take flat tableland, dotted with circles of green/grey sharp spinifex and then look way down from a lookout where 4 gorges cut through layers upon layers of red rock. Rivers flow in the desert but down 100 metres. This is what the Pilbarra looked like millions of years ago when this area was a tropical sea.

We clambered down steep rock strewn pathways (!), we swam through narrow gorges and found ourselves in deep pools of cool fresh water fringed with ferns and high rock faces.

The Dales Gorge was more a wandering walk than a challenging hike as many of the others have been. Wider and greener with much lush vegetation we heard birds, smelled the plants and watched red dragonflies darting on the water.

Most impressive though was a woman with a white cane. Blind, yet still walking the gorge, firmly holding her husband’s hand.

Our treat was dinner at the Eco Resort restaurant – barramundi for Celia, lamb shank for me and a trio of crocodile (the favorite), kangaroo and emu sausage for Geoff.

Nights are dark with only the headlamps of campers and the occasional caravan light breaking the darkness. Here we actually see the milky white band across the sky, the Milky Way.

Tom Price (from an email Geoff wrote)
Good morning from Tom Price, the highest town in Western Australia – at least in elevation. It is a mining town adjacent to one of Rio Tinto’s large iron ore mines and we are here for one night for groceries, laundry, and a lap pool for me. This morning we will drive the private Rio Tinto road that runs beside the rail line that carries iron ore to the port in Dampier. We have a permit to drive this road after watching a 20 minute safety video that emphasized the terrors that await us (Cath’s interjection) and making a donation to the Royal Doctor Flying Service.

We had 2 very enjoyable days in Karijini NP. The beauty is in the gorges, and we descended into several to hike and swim in the natural pools. Some of the walks were arduous, with rocks to clamber over and streams to wade through. It is hard to describe how beautiful it was.

The excitement yesterday was the discovery of a snake outside the camp kitchen where we were having dinner. The campers who first saw it thought it was a King Brown, a deadly venomous snake. The local snake wrangler arrived and took a quick look – and reached down to pick it up. It was just an Olive Python, and at 1.5 metres was a young one because adults grow to 6 metres. Needless to say, we walked carefully back to the campsite in case its parents were out looking for Junior.

Millstream Chichester National Park (Homestead)
Set in an irrigated green lawn with the requisite hopping kangaroos is the park’s information centre in what was originally a homestead built in the early 1900’s. The metal roof and wide verandahs keep the interior surprisingly cool in the mid-30 degree heat.

From 1920 to 1964 the homestead was the hub of the community. It included a garden tended by what was then referred to as a Chinese (now Asian) gardener, tennis courts, shearing shed, bathing house, separate kitchen with the mother of all wood stoves (it heated water in a side compartment with its own tap – a cottage idea perhaps?), a place where cattle were butchered, horse stable and racetrack, cotton plantation and a location where the indigenous people gathered for their corroborees (aboriginal dance ceremony which may include sacred rituals).

All this activity in 30+ degree heat in the dry winter and 40+ in the wet summer and no Mountain Equipment breathable quick dry clothing. In the early years supplies arrived by camel train from the coast.

Celia and I had Morning Prayer by cool Python Pool. If you had been listening you might have heard the psalms and prayers interrupted by sudden yelps when tiny black ants nipped our exposed skin.

Karratha and Burrup Peninsula
I am writing this in the most spectacular library (REAP) we have visited opened just 4 months ago and winner of a regional architectural award. What makes building in this area especially challenging is that all new building must be able to withstand seasonal cyclones. The Red Earth Arts Precinct in Karratha also houses a movie theatre and an art gallery.

A rich repository of aboriginal rock art is nearby on the Burrup Peninsula. We saw depictions of kangaroos, turtles, handprints, circles, humans, mouse or maybe a quoll and many others too indistinct to identify. This art is different from most other art in the area because it is not painted with ochre but is chipped into the exceptionally hard basalt rock.

Tomorrow we are off snorkeling – an entirely different Aussie experience.

Port Hedland, Western Australia


Monday, October 1, 2018

Indigenous Art
On our 2015 visit to Western Australia we chanced upon an extraordinary indigenous art gallery in remote Turkey Creek. Warmun Art Gallery housed hundreds of canvasses all in the Kimberley style which is characterized by solid Australian colours of ochre, sand, black separated by white dots. We bought one which hangs in our family room.

We are now the delighted owners of 3 more pieces – 2 by Shirley Purdie the wife of Gordon Barney who painted the one we already have, and my very favorite, a simple, graceful piece by Marika Riley, an “emerging artist,” which means she is just beginning to paint. It is the story of a car breakdown in the outback and a 16 hour trek with a baby and 2 children back to safety. All of that in 2 blocks of ochre and sand separated by a diagonal ribbon of black. Stunning!

Caravan Parks
Our “home away from home” is a roof-top tent accessed by a 5 step ladder. Inside is a foam mattress with sheets, sleeping bag and pillows. Mesh windows allow for air circulation especially on hot nights. It is rather like a snail – wherever we go, our home comes too, which means that Geoff puts up and takes down the tent whenever we drive into town for shopping, dinner or the beach.

Whenever possible we stay in national parks but that’s not possible in towns. Dotted all over Australia are caravan parks where backpackers, transient workers, vacationing families, retirees, tourists and longtime residents live or pass through. Some are treed as in the photo, others are pretty barren with cement pads for trailers adjacent to tents. Here in Port Hedland which houses many fly in/fly out mining workers there are dozens of cabins.

Many have swimming pools, some have cafes, all have toilets and showers of varying cleanliness and water pressure. Given the space between campsites in Canadian parks I was initially taken aback by the lack of privacy. The upside as we’ve discovered in nearly every campground is the opportunity to meet people.

Karsten, originally from Germany, now a transplanted New Zealander, and his son who lives in Germany were waiting to be picked up for their next working job on a cattle station. They were out of money and food but had reduced their caravan park fee by offering to clean the kitchen which was spotless after their efforts. They finished the rest of our beef and rice curry and Greek salad. They got food and we didn’t have to store it an extra day.

Geoff helped a couple from Switzerland who were putting up their roof-tent for the first night.

My morning shower was blessed by a little girl, maybe 6 or 7 singing happily as she showered and dressed, her mother and baby sister in the next stall.

Four stylish young women from France had Queen on full blast in the bathroom one evening as they did their hair ready for an evening out. Great music and lots of energy.

Two girls offered to rake our leaves and after I’d said that would be lovely asked how much I would pay. “How much do you usually receive?” I naively asked. “$10.” After much negotiation we settled on a small patch of land for $1 shared between them.

Occasionally you meet people who, if you lived closer, would become friends. We had the good fortune to choose the campsite next to Alan and Pearl from the Danong Hills outside Melbourne. We shared wine and conversation several nights under their awning. Forest fires take on a personal menace when you hear from a couple whose home escaped fire twice, once by mere metres. Pearl and I share similar book interests and they have travelled and camped with their families as we did.

I find it hard not to talk to people, even if only for a brief greeting. Caravan parks gather people from many nationalities, stages of life and ways of living. The people we meet add immensely to the pleasure of travelling.

Broome, Western Australia


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Obviously we have settled into the more relaxed pace of northwestern Australia as I realize it has been more than a week since the last blog post. Sun and sand and heat and the rhythm of the ocean will do that!

One quick story from Michael who we met at Kooljaman when he asked to use our air compressor to inflate his air mattress on which he and his girlfriend were going to the spend the night on the beach hidden by a rock formation. He asked how we liked the rooftop tent and I mentioned that it was good protection from the 12 species of poisonous Australian snakes. His mate, he recounted was sleeping by the side of the road in his swag (sleeping bag and personal belongings). Apparently a snake snuggled up beside him looking for warmth. When the friend rolled over in the night, the snake bit him – fortunately not a deadly one.

Indigenous culture goes back between 40,000 – 60,000 years in Australia but suffered from European colonialism as in Canada. A revival appears to be happening in Broome or at least in some of the indigenous families here. A highlight of our time in Broome has been the Cultural Indigenous boat tour with Bart Pigram. Of mixed ancestry including aboriginal and a Scottish Canadian who seems to have been a bit of a rogue Bart embarked on his own personal revival 10 years ago. From his father and his father’s 6 brothers, aunties and local elders Bart learned the Yawuru language, and by listening to the oral history of his people learned his history, stories, songs, ceremonies and sacred places.

Ten of us sat under cover on a catamaran that cruised through Roebuck Bay while Bart gave us the Yawuru names for important people, places, flora and fauna. My question, “what makes a place sacred?” elicited a long and thoughtful response. Sacred places, he said, are where ceremonies happen or where there is art, or which are associated with stories and songs. Some sacred places are only for women, others are only for men. Same with songs and stories. Not everyone has the right to a particular story. There is a reverence for the sacred whether places, stories, songs and traditions.

Have we lost that reverence, I wonder, that sense of the sacred, something that calls from us a response of awe, mystery, gratitude, perhaps the recognition that there is something/someone, some creative intelligence that is greater than our own?

The Dragonfly Café in town not only makes great English Breakfast tea but they present it with style. A bamboo tray has 3 circles, one for the pot with proper tea leaves, one for the cup and another tiny one for the milk, not cream (!). A spoon lies parallel to the long side of the tray. The pottery is turquoise. Ahhh…. Beauty increases the pleasure of food and drink.

Many afternoons find us sitting under the awning attached to the side of our truck, not at the campsite but on the north end of Cable Beach accessible only to 4WD vehicles. This afternoon most of Australia was rivetted to the national AFL footy finals, similar to the Grey Cup, which meant that the 15 km beach was almost deserted. Geoff ploughs into the surf while I wander in up to my knees, and devour books about one every 5 – 6 days. (Geoff: What we didn’t do was pay $90 for a short camel ride along Cable Beach, an iconic Broome touristic attraction




Broome is ideal for stargazing. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the west and the outback north, south and east, there is not a lot of ambient light. Greg Quick, who chafed against the academic study of marine biology (sorry Erin!) became a pearl diver where he learned about the moon’s influence on the tides, and later worked in the outback sleeping under the stars in his swag. So began his love of the movement of the stars, planets and the earth. He is a self taught practical astronomer who shares his knowledge and passion in a dynamic nighttime presentation. Using lasers he pointed out constellations, planets and the brighter stars. With about 10 very large telescopes for viewing we each looked at Saturn, the crescent Venus, Jupiter and its 4 moons, the rosy tinted Mars and open clusters of stars.

Greg’s “aha” that he shares is that our language and therefore our unconscious understanding of the universe is that it is the moon and sun that rise and set and that our earth remains fixed. We may “know” this is not true but we probably don’t give it much thought. By the end of his captivating presentation I had a very different sense of the movement and rhythms of the universe. Not that I understand it, but that I look at the heavens differently now, with a better appreciation of cycles and patterns.

Tomorrow (Sunday, Sept. 30) we leave this part of paradise to begin our adventure south.