Kalbarri National Park was beautiful in the bright morning sunlight that emerged once the sun had risen (we left the hostel at 6.15).
As we drove into the park, red brown sandstone rocks came into view and gradually we began to see the spring flowers as the light came into the day. We took the rocky path down to the cliff, formed over time by the winter rain water flowing off the land out to the sea.
We wandered down towards the Murchison River. Having clambered over the boulders in our path, we eventually came to a point when the decision had to be made – to absail or not to absail. In the event I decided to do it and Keith, probably wisely, decided not to. All the other chaps and a number of the girls were keen to go. I wasn’t exactly keen but felt it ought to be done. A great chap called Phil – the absail guru and a man very obviously skilled in the art of getting people ‘over the top’ – briefed us on equipment, health and safety (😳) and approach. Then, before I knew it, I was dangling over the cliff, talking nonsense to Phil and swinging on the end of a rope.
It was not a skilled or graceful demonstration of the art – but I did it! Having said this, I decided not to take advantage of the opportunity to do it again! I was not sure my jelly legs would get me to the jumping up point again! I cringingly watched the finesse of the others…….
We watched as everyone took their turn and then (leg wobbling having calmed down!) went down to the waters edge. Currently a very tame trickle of what must be a roaring torrent when it is in full spate, the water twinkled in the light. After a bit of sitting around, desultory conversation and cairn building, it was time to clamber back up to the top of the cliffs from whence we came and to drive to our next stop – rather sensationally called Natures Window. This was an amazing rock formation, much higher above the same river. The walk down to the viewing point once again gave a great opportunity to look down on the river as it meandered through the valley it had carved out for itself below us.
It was a busy spot. There were a number of people making the journey down and not everyone had the opportunity to have the photo of a life time that gave the spot its name – a rather natty hole in the rock providing the perfect frame for the perfect holiday photo.
Having had a quick peek at the view through the ‘window’ I did not dally too long but left others to pose gracefully and returned to the truck and Keith (the dizzying drop was too strong for his taste). Our second truck lunch followed, watched rather disparagingly by other sightseers who I feared rather resented our space……..
The days tend to warm up quite dramatically and by the time we left the area the truck was quite hot. Small flies have also made themselves felt….. irritatingly.
Fed and watered, it was time to ‘cover some K’s’ as Brenten (he did eventually introduce himself!) calls it and we settled down to several hours of driving. Leaving the Murchison river area saw us move out of the ‘wheat belt’ and into Gascoigne Country and effectively enter the true desert of Western Australia. This covers the area from Halls Creek, to Alice Springs and Perth*. The move away from the river also marks the move away from the animal control zone which incorporates the National Park. This means that things like the goat population increases. Farming has more or less ceased here but for us the wild flowers have quite noticeable increased, with carpets of white flowers right up to the road.
This is a land of no fences and roaming cattle herds. The history of raising cattle here seems to have had a chequered experience of success and failure as the price of beef has fluctuated. At the moment there is a call for not only beef but also goat meat as trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China have created new markets. For some the beef of Western Australia is the best in the world. It is supposedly tougher but more flavoursome….. I think we should be the judge of that!
Our next and final stop was the Billabong Roadhouse. in the middle of nowhere, these oases of life provide the fuel for both vehicles and passengers on the long drive north to south.
We were heading for the Shark Bay Wild Heritage Centre, another World Heritage Site
First stop was the Hemmelin Pool where a combination of shallow water caused by a sand bar and the doubly salty water created makes it home to only seagrass and cockles. However it has also created the ideal conditions for the microbial mats and stromatolites found here. (Please note my new marine knowledge!) This marine eco system is similar to that which formed the basis of evolution 3 million years ago.
I found it and its history both fascinating and awesome. The place had a strangely peaceful quality as the water lapped over the rocky outcrops underneath totally clear water as it had done for millennia. Biologists only identified the importance of the site (it is one of only 4 places in the world that it exists) in the 1960’s. Before that it was being used as a boat ramp by the locals!
Beyond the sandbar Dugong graze (they weren’t evident but I found a sketch for you)
and dolphins and whales use the area as a nursery before travelling both north and south. Leaving this ancient waters behind, we travelled north onto the peninsula with water appearing on either side of us. All of the Beaches in Shark Bay are formed totally of cockle shells. Nearing the Monkey Mia resort where we were to spend the night, we stopped at a beach to watch another sun set. We crunched over the shells to the edge of the shallow water of the bay. It was absolutely beautiful.
We stayed for an hour watching the sun slip out of the sky and disappear over the watery horizon while behind us the moon came up – amazingly quickly I thought. I could not help thinking that sunsets, like funerals, always make you think of those you have experienced in other places. The favourites that I thought of were the sunset watched from a huge rock in the Wadi Rum in Jordon, returning from whale watching in Argentina, watching it from our boat on the Nile, the fast sunsets of Kenya and Tanzania ….. and of course. there are the pretty cool sunsets over the orchards of Peckham Bush!