Shark Bay and a great day
14th September 2012
Today has just been a fantastic day, one to remember. We are now heading south down the WA coast, as before long we have to drop Landy off in Perth, to be packed into a container and to start her travels towards South Africa. Yesterday was a fairly big drive for us, from Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef down to Hamelin Station at the base of Shark Bay. We stayed at Hamelin because it was a good stop over point to Francois-Peron National Park, somewhere we had not really heard of but had been recommended by two other travellers over the last few days. We are so glad we headed this way. Last night we stumbled across Hamelin Station, a great place to camp, just our scene, relaxed and quiet, no power, lots of space and the bonus of a great camp kitchen.
Today we got up and left early, heading north towards the national park on the Peron Peninsula. The undulating road cuts through the low, thick, green scrub and across clay pans sparsely covered with red-wine coloured bushes with no competition in the salty earth. We stopped briefly at beaches made entirely of finger-nail sized cockle shells, one thing that flourishes in the extra salty waters of the southern section of Shark Bay. We headed further north as our goal today was to get right up to the top of the peninsula – Cape Peron for a walk along red dunes and cliffs looking into the shallow turquoise waters below. Once in the national park all the tracks are soft sand so we stopped to drop the tyre pressures (the park has a compressor at the entrance!) and continued north along red sandy tracks, occasionally popping out onto- and skirting around- salt pans. We strained our eyes for Thorny Devils by the side of the track, but didn’t see one, many other lizards scampered away and across our path though, as we rattled and slithered our way over the sand.
We pulled up at Cape Peron, lubed up, hats on and ready to go. We stumbled up the red sand path and followed it to the crest of a dune and stood looking down on a beach that separated the red sands of the dune from unbelievably turquoise waters beyond. Lined along the edge of the beach, four or five deep and looking out over the calm waters were hundreds of cormorants, preening, chattering and barking to each other, as if excitedly waiting in a queue all dressed up in their dinner jackets for the annual Cape Peron ball and fish supper. We continued along the coast through the red sand piled up on top of the cliffs and along Skipjack Point to lookouts over the water below. A band of turquoise, sandy bottomed water hugged the coast, with a dark green seagrass bed further out. Lisa spotted the first dark object moving slowly through the water against the current, and then we saw another. We sat overlooking the water transfixed by the scene below, spotting moving objects and working out what they were, some swam close to the surface, and others were just shadowy objects gliding through the waters. Time flew and we spotted sharks, turtles, stingrays, eagle-rays and the bigger manta-rays cruising along. We even saw one manta-ray jump clear out of the water. It was so captivating to see these animals cruising along, and a bit sobering to think of how many sharks are out there. We spotted a couple of what we assumed were sharks drifting towards us in the current, that was until one of them surfaced and took a breath, a dugong! They drifted closer and we sat spellbound, big grins spread across our faces. They eventually came really close and we watched them for ages diving down, feeding, and rising for a breath right beneath us. They are odd looking animals, part dolphin, part whale and smidgin mermaid, as if they were made up in a fairy tale. They have a mermaids (or dolphins) tail widening into a rounded stout body joined without a neck straight onto a bulbous head with nostrils right on top. They seemingly lounge around feeding on algae and grass on the sea bed making sure they don’t strain themselves too much. After literally hours of watching all the comings and goings we had to peel ourselves away and walk back along the coast. What an amazing place.
We got back to Landy and headed south across all the sand and salt pans we had traversed this morning and decided we should push on a bit as we have a longer day tomorrow heading for Kalbari. We spotted a couple of free council bush camping spots on the map south of Denham and rang to try to get a site. They directed us to the one of the four that still had space, and we thought they must be busy, but at least it was free. We drove up to Goulet Bluff and saw one other vehicle in the distance. We couldn’t believe it, we drove down a track to a fantastic spot overlooking the sea and the dropping sun. We’ve just had cheese and crackers, popped a beer and warmed up our gourmet pasta we made last night in the camp kitchen.
The best spots are the hidden gems you find and this is definately one of them. After a big dinner we watched the sun set once again over the sea and relived the tales of todays travels. We are sitting, lulled by lapping water on the beach, feeling very small underneath the bright smear of the milky way, arching over us like a giant rainbow.