Wednesday, 31 October 2012

31 October-2 November 2012 - Wooramel Station WA

Elizabeth has a classmate, Zac, whose family manages a cattle (2000), sheep (6000) and goat (10000) property between Carnarvon and Shark Bay. Their homestead is only 2 km off the main highway so we made arrangements to call in and ended up staying a few nights. The family are from Rainbow Beach near Gympie and are also travelling for three years, but working as they go and they’ve spent much of that time in WA.
The girls had a great time playing with Zac (11) and Courtney (13). They have a pool and huge backyard backing onto the Wooramel River so had a campfire and toasted marshmallows one night. Zac and Courtney were caring for a baby joey and goat, so E & K loved feeding and holding them, Kate seemed to always have the joey with her.

Scratch, the joey
Penguin, the baby goat

Nurse Kate!
While there, Zac and Elizabeth also did an on-air lesson.  It was interesting to see how Zac and Courtney go about their school work.  They currently have a governess, but normally their mum, Kirsty is their home tutor.  On the days we were there, they pretty much worked a full school day so I can see how it was impossible for us to do the full school load and sightsee at the same time.  I spent a lot of time talking school with Kirsty, and it was great to learn first-hand how a different family manage the workload and the new curriculum.
Zac and Elizabeth during an on-air lesson with Mount Isa School of the Air
Both Zac and Courtney can drive, muster with motorbikes and use guns.  All the kids went off in one of the station cars with Courtney (13) driving. E & K thought it was very exciting to sit in the back of a car with no backseat and with another kid doing the driving!  Elizabeth wanted to ride a motorbike and at first we were reluctant to let her but relented in the end.  She approached the task sensibly and was whizzing around in no time.  Kate on the other hand, had to settle for a pillion ride, which after her disappointment at being told no to the motorbike, was ecstatic.   

Zac, Kate, Courtney, Elizabeth
All of Elizabeth and Kate’s school of the air classmates live on stations so it was a great opportunity to see one in operation.  Larry was to go out for a day to help with some windmill repairs and was disappointed when it had to be cancelled at the last minute.  It’d be great to be able to stay on a property long enough to get a handle on how everything operates.  I’m sure it could be arranged through the school, even we just went on a volunteer basis for a couple of weeks/months next year.  Will have to think on it……
Taken beside the sheep truck


After saying our goodbyes after three days, we drove to an area called Gladstone Lookout.  We had planned just to stop briefly to check out the view.  You could see for kilometres in every direction.  The lookout has been nicknamed RIP lookout as it’s become an area for tributes to deceased friends and relatives,  with many leaving garden gnomes and messages.  It’s the sort of thing you can imagine will grow over time so it’d be interesting to stop here again in 10 years.  We decided to stay the night and although it was a large area, there was only us and one other camper there overnight, another sign the tourist season is slowing down.  We had to watch the sunset from the window of the caravan though as it was so windy outside.
RIP lookout (Gladstone Lookout)

The view, looking toward the ocean!

Monday, 22 October 2012

22-31 October 2012 - Carnarvon, Quobba Blowhole

We then drove to Carnarvon and into a ‘pay for 2, stay for 3’ caravan park. You gotta love these off-season specials! A caravan park seemed almost luxurious after so much national park camping. I lost count of how many loads of washing I did, including doonas, curtains and mattress protectors, but the machine in the van pretty much didn’t stop for three days. I then wet dusted all the interior windows, edges and fly screens. There was red dust and dirt everywhere. Larry did the outside of the car and caravan. The cruiser needed a 210 000km service so that was taken care of in Carnarvon.

Carnarvon has a huge satellite dish that was used by NASA during the landing on the moon in 1969 and also the first international television broadcast. You can drive right up and under it, it’s pretty impressive. There is a small Science and Technology museum on site that explains the role the town played and also the 2011 visit by Buzz Aldrin, one of the original moon landing crew.

The underside of the dish.

We took the Coffee Pot train out on the 1km long timber jetty.  It was pretty scary stuff when we got to the end of the rail track and saw that many of the pylons holding up the jetty have completely rotted away!  Presumably WA has OH&S and the jetty is safe, but I was glad to get off it!  Interesting history though as it was the first location in Australia to have live cattle exports.  A big new interpretive centre is being constructed using funds from the ‘Royalties for Regions’ program which redistributes some of the mining wealth of the State back into regional facilities.  However, the funding does not extend to repairing the jetty pylons, which is the main drawcard. 

The quirky Coffee Pot train.

Just two of many rotted pylons we could see!

A view of the train tracks.

While at the caravan park in Carnarvon we met up with two other couples who were also camped at Ned’s at Ningaloo so we kept up the happy hour tradition at 5.30pm.  The girls loved it as they were allowed to watch a movie while the adults were drinking/talking!
About 60km north of Carnarvon is the Quobba blowhole, a 20m stream of sea water that bursts up through the rock every few minutes.  

Apparently over 30 people have died in the area, mostly rock fishing.

We found a camping spot overlooking the water with a path to the beach for Larry to fish.  He was very excited when he landed two fish on his first two casts.  The first fish was a Tailor, which was not very good eating, but the second fish was a Spangled Emperor, which was delicious.

The seagulls came in close while Larry was cleaning the fish.  One even
managed to pick up a plastic zip lock bag full of bait.

Spangled Emperor - delicious!

View from our van.
Part of the area is a shallow protected lagoon with lots of fish (no fishing) and snorkelling, but it seems we are not a very big beach going family as there wasn’t much interest in swimming.  I’m happy with a book overlooking the beach and the girls put down their Kindles to focus on building a complicated lego house for their Polly Pockets (small miniature dolls with rubbery clothes!).

This creation was a split level house with horse stables underneath.

We did a day trip from Quobba to Red Bluff about 70km away.  The coastline along here is just spectacular and must be Australia’s best kept coastal secret.  We couldn’t believe how undeveloped the whole area is. 
The shipwrecks were discovered not far from this point.
Images from the drive to Red Bluff

Quobba also has a number of rambling fishing shacks that looked very deserted, however many were occupied by the Friday afternoon.  I guess if you live in Carnarvon and are keen on fishing, having somewhere to stay only 60km away makes for an easy getaway. I counted over 30 shacks, some were made from converted shipping containers, old caravans and just scraps.

After 5 days at Quobba it was back to Carnarvon to a caravan park to wash, refill the tanks, get groceries etc before moving south.  I think the ruggedness and beauty of Quobba and Red Bluff is a memory that will stay with us long after this trip is over.  

The other big event during this time is that we have officially finished school for the year! YAY! You probably heard us jump for joy! It’s really only a saving of 5 weeks, as the final weeks of distance ed are Sports for Bush kids which is a week of intensive sport workshops which we wouldn’t be attending anyway. The first few days Kate didn’t get out of bed until 10ish and even Elizabeth slept in much later. We will still do some spelling and maths, just revising some of the stuff they have done already this year. What to do in 2013 school wise has been the cause of many discussions recently. One option is just to have a whole year off the girls would have to catch up on the year when we return. This is soooooo……tempting! Kate was willing to miss a year, but Elizabeth not so keen. I guess Yr 7 as the last year of her primary schooling is an important one. The kids get a school iPad for their lessons and go to camp at Canberra. However, even Elizabeth realised a whole of year of school work and agro wasn’t worth a week’s camp (in a city she has already visited too). However, we’ve now decided to stick with it another year, focusing again only on Maths/English but trying to implement a tighter routine, ie start at 8, finish at 12.00 no exceptions. Maybe not call in so much and definitely reduce the amount of juggling we currently do to access telephone/internet access. At least this is our thinking for the moment……

Traveller’s Tips:  Many plantation shops and tourist related business close by mid October, including the weekly produce markets. Coffee Pot train $7 per adult, $3 per child, or $4 per person to walk (2 km return).  Woolies supermarket and service station.  Quobba camping $5.50 per night per site.  If towing a van, you can follow the track south until you reach the ‘no camping’ sign.  There is a large turning circle. There is no water at Quobba and one drop toilet at the Blowholes.  Quobba Station (10km) has bait and a small shop during the season.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

13-20 October - Cape Range NP (Ningaloo Reef), Exmouth, Coral Bay

Had read you had to book online or line up at the Rangers station at 6.00am to get a camping spot in the national park which would provide much closer access to snorkelling on the Ningaloo Reef.  Lining up anywhere at 6.00am didn’t appeal to us, so we took our chances and rocked up at the ranger’s station at 2.30pm instead!  Luckily, we got straight into Ned’s, one of the first camping areas (meaning only a 40km drive into Exmouth for school work each day), but also Ned’s had been recommended to us by a few fellow travellers. 

Some of the vans are parked in a row, with not a lot of space between them, but from our annexe we could sit and see the ocean, and we had trees behind us for morning shade so we were happy.  The drop toilets even smelt good!! 
This is the view from our van!
Each evening at 5.30pm, happy hour is on, where all the campers bring a drink down to some tables and chairs and have a good chat. People are literally from everywhere, some are on holidays but most are doing what we are doing and simply travelling long-term.

The happy hour regulars, Ned's Camp, Ningaloo Reef
Larry has been in his element as there are a lot of keen fisherman here and they all mostly fish at night which is not something Larry has done much of.  The night we arrived, some of the guys caught a large reef shark and when they went to fillet it, discovered six baby sharks. All were alive and able to be released.  Bit sad I thought. Anyway, Larry had all the wrong tackle and bait so the guys sorted him out and he’s down there again.  The campground organised a fishing competition which saw about 8 fishing the first night in very windy conditions.  Due to the change in weather conditions, not a lot was caught once the competition began.  This was our entry:

A rare Ningaloo Reef stick fish!

Another entry was the expanding Emu fish.
The Ned's Camp perpetual fishing comp trophy.
Ended up extending our stay twice and stayed 8 days, it was so chilled out. Had two days of snorkelling but the water was pretty choppy due to the wind so you were tossed about a bit. Coral was OK, not brilliantly coloured, but there were patches of colour but the fish stole the show. Elizabeth and I saw a stingray with purple spots, a giant clam and lots of fish of various sizes and shapes. However the girls were a bit freaked out and only stayed in the water about 20 minutes each time. I would love to have done some more snorkelling further out but only under calmer conditions. 

While in the area we did some of the gorge drives, saw the shipwreck ‘Maud’, a cattle boat that was grounded on a reef in 1907, visited the lighthouse and most of the beaches. This is also turtle mating and egg laying season but I couldn’t get anyone to agree to visit to the turtle nesting beach at midnight!

One of the main things you notice about the area is the colour of the water. It's literally aquamarine, a green/blue colour, just spectacular and behind that, further out, it turns a deep dark blue. Turn your eyes inland and you see a ridge that is mostly shades of orange.

Exmouth is home of the giant prawn!

After leaving Ningaloo and stocking up on water, fuel and groceries in Exmouth, we drove to Coral Bay.  What a pretty, sleepy little spot! Two caravan parks (about $60 for us to stay), a hotel and a few shops and lots of people.  Kate and I watched a wedding on the beach and Elizabeth & I had a snorkel.  The water was cloudy and the coral pretty dull, but the fish were huge.  We also watched a fish feeding at the edge of the beach.  A shower in a public toilet block meant we could all wash our hair and rinse our togs before moving onto a free camp about 60km down the road for the night.

Travellers Tips: Cape Range NP camping fees cost $16.00 (2A + 2C), maximum stay is 28 days, no power/water or showers, drop toilets (but cleaned every day). If you prefer a regular campground, Yardie Station and Lighthouse are nearby.  Laundromat in Exmouth. Water available at the Visitors Centre in Exmouth.  Two IGA supermarkets. You can hire snorkelling gear from the Visitors Centre (in Exmouth and in the NP), or there are plenty of places to purchase gear. However, it would be less expensive to get snorkelling gear from a KMart, Big W etc before you arrive in Exmouth.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

2-10 October 2012, Roebourne, Cossack, Karratha, Dampier

We set up camp at another public recreation area called Cleaverville, about 10km from Roebourne.  Normally $7 per day for a maximum of 3 months, or after 1 October, free of charge but a maximum stay of 3 days.  All the sites are along the water’s edge, so we found a spot with direct beach access for beachcombing, swimming and of course fishing.   After 3 days we saw no sign of the ranger and ended up staying 9 days as the area had full internet/phone reception so even though it was the last week of the school holidays, we did quite a bit of school work to get ahead.

Another amazing sunset in WA
Our ocean view and all for free!

We had our own private tidal rockpool to swim in each day. 
Can you see Larry in the background sitting down?

Kate on the beach in front of the van


Larry celebrated his 62nd birthday while we were at Cleaverville.

Remember I said earlier that we’ve all had enough of mine tours, well this was the last one I wanted us to do as it focussed on what happened to the iron ore once it was mined and put onto trains.  The Port to Port tour departed from the Roebourne Old Gaol (now the Visitors Centre) and went straight to Port Lambert. 

The bus had complete access to the port area.  We saw trains unloading ore (two carriages at a time, they simply turn upside down!), the various processing plants, the stockpiles, conveyer belts, and of the course the huge iron ore bulk carriers, similar to the ones we had seen at Port Hedland.  Two boats could be berthed and filled within 24 hours and we counted 11 boats waiting out in the harbour to come in.  An Australian ship pilot is flown by helicopter out to each ship and pilots the boat into the wharf and then pilots it back out to sea once it is filled with ore, to then be picked up by the helicopter and brought back to the mainland. 

There was a lot of construction work going on and the guide told us that everything was being doubled, the train lines, a new wharf, stockpiles, basically everything to allow the production rate to be doubled.  Note to self: Purchase some Rio Tinto shares!!  The tour also took in Wickham, a 'going no-where fast' town of about 500 people that Rio has recently decided will be its main employment centre for Port Lambert.  300 new houses are being constructed, a new recreation centre built, a new oval and club house, all the streets are being resurfaced, the place is a hive of building activity. 

New conveyor belt under construction
Port Lambert

New jetty under construction
This gorgeous bay is part of the Rio Tinto lease, hence no access!

The iron ore on a conveyor belt.  The ore can either be stockpiled
near the jetty, or loaded directly into the bulk carriers.


The tour included a visit to the ruins of Cossack, originally a pearling centre before being fished out and Broome became established.  All of the original government built buildings remain intact, the courthouse, customs building, bond store,post office and prison, primarily because they were made from stone and could withstand the cyclones.   The town has a fascinating history, but in the end cyclones, over fishing and silting of the river lead to it’s demise.  Subsequently, Roebourne, 20km away, which had been established as an administration centre and was once the biggest city between Perth and Darwin, also diminished.  Being a bit of a history buff, I loved wandering around the old buildings and we returned a few days later so I could really poke about.  Archeologists have been all over the place but there is still alot of broken china and other bits of household items laying about.
The Cossack Courthouse.  It only operated for two years before the town was no longer gazetted.

Interior of the courthouse, it was very imposing.

Cossack Courthouse.  This was once the main street and full of buildings.

An arty farty shot looking through a hallway onto the water, Cossack Government Bond Store

The cemetery was fascinating (as usual). This was one of the oldest headstones I could find. 
There was also a Japanese cemetary nearby.

The Cossack school.  Kids travelled by horse tram from Roebourne, a
90 minute journey to cover less than 20 km.

Old post office box at the Cossack Post Office, another building still standing.

A general store at Cossack.  Now used as a wedding venue and all the old buildings are put to
good use each year as part of the Cossack Art Show.
The Aboriginal history in this part of the country is pretty sad.  Basically, Aboriginals were rounded up and forced into service as pearl divers (including women and children) or allocated out to the newly arrived pastoralists.  Some Aboriginal women were kidnapped and left on small islands off the coast for the pearling men when they wanted female company.  They all worked with no pay until they drowned, were eaten by sharks or died of the bends from diving too deeply.  If they happened to escape, they were imprisoned.  In the Roebourne prison, you can still see the bolts in the floor and wall, were Aboriginal prisoners were chained by the neck and attached to these huge rings bolted to the building.  White prisoners were never chained.   This systematic rounding up Aboriginals and putting them into service was known as 'blackbirding'.   The original stolen generation.  I've never heard of it until now and it makes me wonder how many other aspects of recent Aboriginal history the average Australian knows nothing about.

Cossack prison
Three neck rings, all anchored to the wall.  This cell had 10 wall rings on each side. 
Only Aboriginal prisoners wore neck rings and often indefinitely.  The main
crime committed was absconding from their station owner or killing stock. 
The guards were fearful of an Aboriginal ambush on wardens, hence the
practice of shackling together and to the building.  European prisoners,
 regardless of their crime, were never chained together. 
Part of the prison is now the visitors centre, and in the ladies toilet,
one of the wall rings is still in place.

It was a full moon while we were in the area, so we finally saw a Staircase to the Moon. 
Still hard to get a good photo, but it was much more impressive than what we saw in Broome, and only
about a dozen tourists in total!

Drove into Karratha, another purpose built town to service the iron ore industry.  It was exciting to wander around a modern shopping centre, complete with KMart, Target and real coffee shops.  Driving around the town, I commented to Larry that I hadn’t seen a single tinny, but we saw lots of boats in front of yards, lots of big boats!  Not only boats, but lots of caravans as well.  The houses are quite large but built on small blocks so all these extra toys, ie boats, caravans, had to be parked on the street. One street we looked down I counted 9 big boats on the street and 7 caravans.  Money, money…. Saw some adverts in the shopping centre for single rooms to let - $400 per week + expenses.  For a single bedroom!  No wonder mine workers earn such big money, but which came first - the big wages, or the big living expenses....

Drove into Dampier, home of Red Dog.  Went to a very daggy shopping centre and got bread and some hot chips to have a picnic lunch down near the water.   Dampier is also a purpose built iron ore town, but much older (1960’s) compared to Karratha, so the homes are older, but they have some great grassed areas on the beachfront.  Called in to see the Mermaid Hotel (of Red Dog movie fame), but it was also daggy.  Instead, we headed to the library to read up on the real Red Dog.  There is a lot written about him and the movie is really just a collection of different incidences with the dog.  Dampier still has a huge port and houses iron ore workers, including some large fly in, fly out camps.  While we were in Dampier, we did some washing at the Dampier Transit Park.  I have a purple Indian cotton dress that is still losing lots of dye after a number of washes, so I put it in a laundry tub to soak.  Of course I completely forgot about it until we were back at the van about 50 km away.  Larry volunteered to return for it the following day while I supervised school lessons.

I thought Red Dog looked a bit like a wolf!
The Dampier Library had a collection of large porcelain Japanese dolls donated by Rio Tinto. 
In the 1970's, when Dampier port was new, whenever a Japanese ore bulk carrier
call into port for the first time, they would gift a doll to Rio Tinto.

The dolls stood in glass cases and some stood over half a metre tall.  Of course,
we took photos to send to Elizabeth's Japanese teacher in Cairns.


We also visited the North West Shelf Liquid Gas information centre which overlooks the Woodside gas plant.  Note to self: purchase some Woodside shares!  It’s like the whole of the Pilbara region of WA is one big mineral.

Not far from Woodside Gas Plant is about 10 000 Aboriginal rock engravings estimated to be approx 20 000 years old!

Deciding it was time to move on, we left Cleaverville and drove with the van back to Karratha to the Visitors Centre to fill up with water.  We then drove 60 km south to another free recreation camping area called 40 Mile Beach.  As we were setting up, Larry realised he had left all the van keys and the two water caps from the van back at Karratha.  He was not happy!  This camp spot was also right on the beach and we spent 3 nights in ‘Still Rooting Ave’!  Again, between April-Sept you can stay here for a maximum of 3 months and there is evidence of herb/vege patches, roughly put together fish cleaning tables and our camping spot even had rocks bordering around the bushes like garden beds.

Travel tips: Dampier Transit Park is $28, but maximum stay is 3 nights.  No water to vans.  No Laundromat in any of the towns but you can use the Transit Park or Roebourne Visitors Centre ($3 per load).  Water only available at the Visitors Centres. Karratha has Coles, Woolies, Target, big hardware shops, all the fast food outlets.  Cleaverville & 40 Mile Beach, $7 per day April-Sept, free after 1 October.  Sandflies were a problem at Cleaverville in the early morning.