Shark Bay – Dugongs and Dolphins

Started with a visit to the Quobba Blowholes – they were impressive!  Passed thru Carnarvon for a grocery stop and met our fellow Explorer owners, Pete & Ruth, who gave us fish for about four meals as they’d caught more than they could eat on a fishing charter.   Drove to Denham in Shark Bay and had fresh fish for dinner, and gave some away to our CP neighbors.  I wanted to see dugongs (large, herbivorous marine mammals aka sea cows as they graze on seagrass) again so we went to Monkey Mia and did a nature cruise on an 18 meter sailing catamaran.  Luckily we did find a dugong and saw her quite close up although it was a cloudy day so the visibility was not so good. We also saw lots of dolphins playing out in the ocean and we did see one being fed at the beach (the “standard” Monkey Mia experience) as we boarded our boat.  This is a very pretty area and Little Lagoon was another great sight we passed on the way. 

Visiting Ningaloo and now being in Shark Bay, both amazing marine environments where we have seen dugongs, whales, sharks, manta rays and dolphins quite close up in the wild, has been good.  In fact, it feels like a special privilege to be able to spend time in these world heritage environments, and to see some of nature’s best being appreciated and protected for future generations.

Francois Peron NP, named after an early French explorer who made a significant contribution to recording the natural and social history in this area, is a great camping area for 4WD travellers.  There was a lot of French exploration on the WA coast, and that comes through in many of the names.  We visited the Peron homestead which has an interesting self-guided walk through the original sheep station and a wildlife display, but the best part was the artesian bore water hot tub (40C water).  After a 50 k drive along very soft sandy roads (tires were down to 15 and 25 psi, front and rear) we found a nice campsite about 2 minutes from the beach with great views.  Finished the day with a sunset beach walk and met a Swiss couple (Peter and Suzanne) camped near us.  They had a roof top tent and were freezing as it was quite cold and windy, so we invited them in for an after dinner cup of tea and chat, which was very much appreciated.  We feel very lucky to have a warm place to eat and sleep in, especially when its cold, windy or raining.  

Enjoyed a slow start (ie 10:30 sleep in), and then got my sand driving practice by driving to Cape Peron where we were met by stunning scenery – red cliffs, white sand and beautiful blue oceans.  Its also the spot where bay and ocean waters converge (Shark Bay and the Indian Ocean).  Did the cliff walk to Skipjack point; lots of wildflowers, thousands of cormorants along the shore, saw seagrass meadows and a turtle and manta ray in the water and four feral goats on the land.  Very easy to understand why this is also a world heritage area.

As we left Peron NP we stopped for another soak in the artesian bore hot tub, and then met up with Pete and Ruth (Explorer owners) for a coffee in Denham.  We covered various points of interest we had missed on the way in – Town Lookout, Thong Shack (where people attach their old thongs), Eagle Bluff Lookout (saw a shark and a ray in the water), Shell Beach (made up entirely of Hamelin Cockle or Coquina shell) and then we went to Hamelin Pool to see the Stromatolites.  These are the oldest living organism and give a glimpse into life over 3.5 billion years ago.  We did see the electric feral proof fence across the narrow neck of the peninsula which is designed to keep feral animals out of the area as part of a program called Project Eden.  A number of almost extinct species (ie bilby’s) have been successfully reintroduced into this important and diverse habitat.  That completed our time in Shark Bay which satisfies all four natural criteria (natural beauty, evolutionary history, ecological processes, & biological diversity) for world heritage listing. 

Note for anyone travelling in WA – buy a WA park pass as soon as you arrive.  We would have saved heaps as we visited 13 of the 18 parks in the NW area alone.

 

Quobba blowhole

 

Our dugong sighting

Dolphins at play

Little Lagoon

 

 

Peron Homestead artesian bore hot tub

Driving on soft sand into Francois Peron NP

Our campsite was close to the beach

Cape Peron in Shark Bay

Red Cliffs at Cape Peron

 

Wildflowers on the cliff walk

Thousands of cormorants along the beach

My new career as a goatherder

Thong Shack near Denham

Close up of shell beach

 

Dick relaxing on shell beach

 

Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool, life as it was 3.5 billion years ago.

 

Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth and The Coral Coast

On arrival in Exmouth after a day of driving, we saw sunset at the Lighthouse before moving on the next day to the Cape Range NP campgrounds on the beach at Ningaloo Reef. Caught up with Geoff again, met a couple with the same Explorer Motorhome as us (good to compare notes with) and that night managed to get 5 people around our table playing ‘Up and Down the River’ (card game).  The campground does a 5 pm byo drinks session every night so that makes it a sociable place and a good source for travel tips.

The Ningaloo Coast was World Heritage listed in 2011 due to its land and sea contrast and diversity of habitats.  Ningaloo Reef is the largest fringing coral reef in Australia, and one of the longest and most pristine in the world.  It hosts more than 200 kinds of coral and more than 500 fish species, one of the world’s largest whale shark aggregations plus whales, dolphins, manta rays, dugongs, sharks, and turtles, as well as one of the  most important turtle rookeries in the Indian Ocean.

We had 6 nights in Cape Range NP at two different camps. Dick had a 2 hour sail in a small trimaran one day and we had a couple of snorkelling sessions other days, as the snorkelling is supposed to be world class.  Saw lots of coral and fish and some places we could walk in from the beach while others involved climbing over rocks.  Often getting out was the hardest part and at one place Dick had to help me walk against the current for ages to find a place we could exit the water easily.  I even broke down and bought my own noodle as I had borrowed a couple and found it made things easier and I could stay in the water longer.  For our first three night camp we managed to be ‘card central’ and had people (up to 6 at a time) in to play cards each night. Even learned a couple of new card games! Speaking of being social, we made the 5 o’clock drinks six nights in a row.

Although there were a few walks in the park we only managed one, the Yardie Gorge walk which was about 1.5 hours in the hot sun. The park is really full of animals and during our drives around there we saw an echidna, a bustard family, emus, kangaroos and wallabies.  Fortunately no snakes were sighted by us, but they were by others.  In fact on one late afternoon drive we had to be really careful as kangaroos jumped out or almost jumped out in front of us every 50 meters along the road.  Its not surprising that the road is littered with dead kangaroos.

We then moved on to Coral Bay (great snorkelling right off the beach) which is further down Ningaloo Reef and a noted spot for seeing manta rays as its a manta ray hot spot year round.  Its also the time of year to see humpback whales so we booked a boat trip to swim with manta rays and see whales.  We had a great day, good weather, only 10 on our boat and we saw dolphins and a tiger shark, had a snorkel session in the bay where we saw lots of fish and coral.  Dick also swam with the manta rays and we saw lots of humpback whales quite close to the boat.  Then we drove further down the coast, crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and ended up in a free camp at Quobba Point, where we finished off a busy day with a roast dinner.

 

Exmouth has the big prawn!

  

  Dick getting ready to go out in the trimaran

 

Dick sailing

Mesa camp on the beach and with our van in the distance

With the sister to the Lestervan-she is 3 years older but much cleaner.

 

Relaxing on the beach with Geoff

Swimming with the new noodle

Snorkelling at Oyster Stacks (you can see the coral behind us in the water)

 

Just after getting back from our eventful snorkel (both very happy to be back)

 

Hiking the Yardie Gorge trail

Kangaroos on the road

 

Great views from this camping spot next to Osprey Bay

The tiny tropical resort township of Coral Bay

 

Snorkelling right off the boat out in Coral Bay

Swimming to the manta ray (black spot to the left of the group)

 

 

Humpback whate watching

 

The whale’s tail!
Our private free camping spot at Quobba Point

 

Rack of lamb with 5 veg, not bad for a campervan parked behind sand dunes in the middle of nowhere.