Our next stop down the coast was Carnarvon. A four-hour drive through long flat plains, with the occasional lift allowing you to see just how much more nothingness there was ahead.
Carnarvon was a reasonably sized town however, sitting on a river that, at the moment, had no water in it. Nevertheless, it was a major agricultural area for the whole of WA. So we got some nice fresh fruit and veg at a bargain price 🙂
The Science Museum was the highlight, built around an enormous satellite dish called an ‘Earth Station’ that used to relay messages from the Apollo Moon missions. It was pretty cool, and we spent a couple of hours poking around inside, avoiding the wooly weather and trying to keep Skye out of trouble.
Katie loved it. It’s great for her to see these kind of things, we would never have come across something like this without the trip.
The wind had started in Exmouth, which had been our first destination at Ningaloo Reef. It continued through Coral Bay and Carnarvon, and by the time we got to Shark Bay, it had gotten even stronger. We were facing a constant 30km an hour, with gusts of at least twice that. Not the best for living in a tent.
At least in Exmouth it had been warm though. In Shark Bay it was bloody freezing! The entire country was facing a heatwave, but the southwest corner had a massive low pressure system bringing in strong winds, and torrential rain. We weren’t far enough south to hit all of that, but the wind would have cut you in two, and for the first time in bloody ages, we had rain! Aaaaagh!
Anyway despite the intermittent showers, we managed to get out and see quite a lot of this World Heritage listed part of the country.
Shark Bay is created by two fingers of land that poke out from the side of WA, and the tip of the outermost finger – Steep Point – is the Western most point of the Australian mainland. The marine environment harbours an unbelievably diverse array of life, and the land is windswept and beautiful, hiding many of Australia’s endangered species like the maleefoul, and the bilby.
It’s also home to the largest permanent beds of seagrass anywhere, which provide food and shelter for the largest colony of Dugongs in the world. Sea birds abound, sharks and manta rays can be seen clearly from the cliff walks and if you keep your eyes open, you might catch a glimpse of a rare thorny devil lizard.
We stayed in Denham, which is a lovely little village on the coast and on the first morning we drove across to the peninsula to Monkey Mia. ‘Mia’ is Aboriginal for ‘home’, and nobody seems to know where the ‘Monkey’ bit comes from… Anyway…
Monkey Mia is famous because of the wild dolphins that come up to the shore to be fed. Again, we were right in the middle of school holidays though, so there were too many people lining up for us to get much of a look in. It was a wee bit disappointing. Then again, after Katie’s swim with the Dolphin experience in Coffs Harbour, well, it was going to be difficult to beat that.
The school holidays also scuppered our plans to make it out to Steep Point, which I was a little bit gutted over. We’d made it to the Eastern and Northern extremities of the country, and I’d have loved to have made it to the Westerly point on the way down.
It was a 3.5hour drive over sand dunes to get there though, and all the campsites were booked out so we couldn’t stay the night. I would have happily managed seven hours in the car, but the family just weren’t up for a long trip like that right now. Oh well. Just means I’ll have to come back another time.
To make up for it we drove to the tip of the other peninsula instead, Cape Peron, which took us all the way through Francois Peron National Park, across salt pans and soft sand, skirting beautifully blue lagoons to the wildest, most dramatic headland you could imagine. Not that bad as a consolation prize really 🙂
And as if Shark Bay didn’t have enough natural wonders already, we had still to visit Hamelin Pool Marine Reserve, which sits within the bottom curve closest to the mainland. The seagrasses I mentioned earlier are very close to the surface here, and have created a natural barrier called the Faure Sill that allows sea water to pass in, but not out.
For the majority of the year it’s over 40 degrees. So the sea water filters into the Hamelin Pool and evaporates, leaving behind a salty soup that’s not watered down, because it never, ever rains unless there’s a fucking Scotsman visiting!
Anyway the result, is that the water is twice as salty as the rest of the Ocean, making it similar to the conditions that existed before life on earth. Very few animals can survive in those conditions, but coquina shells can, and because there’s not much else to bother them, there are bloody loads of them.
They live, and die in their millions, creating one of only two ‘shell’ beaches in the world. This one is 120km’s, and up to ten metres deep – of just shells. Pretty amazing.
Hundreds of millions of years ago, when single celled organisms first gathered together in the ocean they formed little ‘towers’ called Stromatolites, that generated oxygen. There were so many of them doing this they changed the earth’s atmosphere, allowing life on earth to flourish.
There are only a few places left on earth where they’re still at it, and Hamelin Pool’s one of them. They’re also the first type of organism to inhabit a previously uninhabitable environment, so if you want to know what the earth will look like after we’ve screwed it up, this is it.
Eventually it was time to go. The weather hadn’t been great, really, so I was happy to be moving on, but I think a week here in the nice weather would be fantastic. Another time.