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Bill Leithhead's WA Trip Diary
Segment 5 - Days 22 to 27 - Kalbarri to Carnarvon Day 2
© William G. Leithhead 2006

Day 22    Tuesday, September 4th, 2001
Kalbarri to Shark Bay

Today we drive from Kalbarri to Denham, the main town in the region of Shark Bay. It's long drive for us, about 400km, and it was the hottest, calmest day we have had so far, up to 36°C in the car, and we were in shorts all day for the first time, even in the evening after we had arrived. Even at 9pm, as I write, it is 23°C in the van.

The drive from Kalbarri proceeded through more of the characteristic low heathland bush, which was more or less the terrain for the whole of the drive, which seemed endless, because it was hot, and because we've had a break for 3 enjoyable days in Kalbarri. After joining the main North-West Coastal Highway we passed through rocky, stunted pastoral land with some occasional wandering sheep. Glenyce saw an emu, Bill saw a goanna, and we both saw goats, too - not a lot in 400km!

Hamelin pool
Ancient oxygen-producing bacteria called stromatolites grow as dark stone-like clumps in the warm, highly saline tidal waters of Hamelin Pool in the southern reaches of Shark Bay.
After an eternity we came to the Wannoo Billabong Roadhouse shortly after a lunch break, where there was the ubiquitous bus with Japanese tourists, and others. We wonder what the Japanese think of this wide, brown land! After Overlander Roadhouse, we branched off to the Shark Bay road, stopping to look in Hamelin Pool at the intriguing stromatolites - bacterial colonies which are essentially unchanged after 3,500 million years on earth, and which aeons ago were responsible for charging the originally carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere with an oxygen content high enough for the higher organisms, including you and me, to evolve. Thanks, guys!!

Travelling into Shark Bay area along the central Peron Peninsula, which is quite high in places, through scrub and claypans and saltbush, we called into Nanga Bay resort, a resort where they sell large blocks of compacted shells for building and sculpting. But we but decided to push on to Denham, where we settled into the Blue Dolphin Caravan Resort. The ground here is literally pure white shells of a quite small size, and so, tired, we settled in for a good sleep.

The surrounding waters are quite shallow, placid, and apparently rich with marine life like dolphins, dugongs, rays, fish, whale sharks (rarely) and turtles. The waters are warm and unusually saline, and the seagrass beds are huge. We'll probably go out on a boat cruise after we visit the famous Monkey Mia tomorrow or the next day.

Day 23    Wednesday, September 5th, 2001
First day in Denham, Shark Bay and Monkey Mia

Here at Denham it was a warm night, so we needed no heating; in fact, we both perspired in our beds. The day was clear, warm and calm, with the ocean breeze springing up before lunch.

Monkey Mia
Feeding the tame dolphins at the famous Monkey Mia beach, Shark Bay.
Off we went to Monkey Mia, 25km to the northeast across the Peron Peninsula, the road bordered by salt-clay pans, quite low scrub, and a few ancient rock ledges. The soil is light-orange to deep red-orange sand, with shelly-sand beaches. The waters of Shark Bay are shallow, sparkingly turquoise shades of blue and green, and Monkey Mia is just as we've been seeing on the internet from a web-camera mounted on the roof of a building housing a boat chartering service. In fact, we took photos standing under it, because all winter we've been looking at it on the computer back home! And now we're here!

Itchy pelican at monkey Mia
One of the friendly pelicans at Monkey Mia beach scratches an incessant itch!
Several dolphins came to the famous beach to the people lined up there in the shallow water, and large pelicans waddled around the lawns. The catamaran cruise boats are beautiful, but after consideration we decided not to do a cruise. But we will stay at Denham tomorrow because we like it here, and we need the rest.

Travelling back from Monkey Mia we passed a golf course with "greens" of black tar, and with sand fairways. Also a lovely body of water called Little Lagoon, where we drove along the beach, and chatted with a couple who were fishing. They were talkative, friendly and helpful. Nice people on this trip so far!

Black 'greens' at Denham golf course
The "greens" at the Denham golf course are actually made of a black bitumenous material; the dirt fairway extends up the hill.
Near Denham we also looked at three large, tall wind-turbines which help to provide power to Denham. We haven't seen these before, they are on towers about 60m high, each windmill with a 3-bladed propellor, each arm of which is 14m long. These rotate at up to 48rpm, with blade tips at up to 270km/h. The swish-swoosh of the giant blades was impressive!

After a light lunch we slept or rested until teatime, when we walked down the street for a $12 roast pork dinner each, followed by a beach-front promenade to watch them catching squid off the brightly-lit jetties. The town is warm but windy, and there aren't many people around, but it feels comfortable.

Day 24    Thursday, September 6th, 2001
Second day in Denham

Lugger at Denham
A restored old pearling lugger anchored in placid Denham, Shark bay.
After our second night in Denham, Shark Bay, we again were a little sweaty in bed - no heating required! We had a good walk along the sea-front tday, warm with a cool seabreeze. Enjoying the warm sunshine in our shorts, we strolled along the promenade (such as it is), and looked in some shops (such as they are), including a sandlewood shop (tourist trash) and a pearl shop (quite nice). Glenyce also made an appointment at a hairdressers for this afternoon. So, after a quiet salad roll lunch (we often have these in the van - very tasty), we did chores around the car an van, and had a little snooze.

Glenyce went off to the hairdressers for a cheap $18 haircut - quite satisfactory - and Bill went off to find the Fish Factory, buying a whole side of snapper for tonight, but forgot that it was hard-frozen, so we'll consume that tomorrow. Meanwhile, we paid a visit to the local butcher (just a shed in a vacant block!) and got two swordfish fillets very cheaply ($8-50 for 500g; $18-50/kg), so we later had that for tea. Scrumptious! Luscious! But next time we'll cook them outside, as they were rather fishy, cooked inside the van.

Bill did a lot of reading today, Peter Carey's novel on Ned Kelly's "true history". Good stuff! Almost finished. With a burst of activity, we emptied the pot cupboard and Bill installed ducting tape all around inside the wheel arches, where dust has been coming in, so we hope that helps! This is always a trial for him, as he needs to squirm around on the floor, which puts a lot of strain on the spinal disorder!

After the fried swordfish, we went to the Denham pub, which has a piano, and Bill played for an hour or so to keep in practice. Very few people around, but Bill enjoyed it, although Glenyce was a bit bored, understandably. So off to bed at 9:30pm, ready to travel to Carnarvon tomorrow.

Incidentally, we had some quite heavy rain last night and earlier this morning, at dawn, but by 7:30am it had cleared up to give us blue skies with a few pretty, scudding clouds. Nice day, but a cool breeze later on. We've had some nice chats with people today, and you learn so much about the road behind and the road ahead.

Day 25    Friday, September 7th, 2001
Denham to Carnarvon

At midnight we heard the wind spring up, which made the awning flap heavily, so we got out of bed and folded it up. My back was sore, legs irritated, and at 1:30am took Mersyndol Forte, so that I was a bit groggy at 6:30am. Nevertheless, Glenyce kindly and gently helped me rouse myself, and so we packed up ready for the 350km trip to Carnarvon. We noted the novelty of showering in funny little horse-stall cubicles with bouncy perforated steel bases!

Shelly Beach
The tiny shells which constitute the beach at Shelly Beach lie in layers 5m deep.
On our way out we visited Shelly Beach (near the eastern bottom of Shark Bay - towards the stromatolites), which is a wide, wide, long beach on clear and tranquil, pale aquamarine water of a deserted bay. Here the beach is all tiny shells 1/2 to 1-1/2cm across, like little pipis (the shell-fish bait found all around Australia). These ones grow in the very salty water, and constitute the beach 5m deep for miles and miles around. Right here there is a "shell-grit mine" (if you like), supplying the WA poultry industry. We took a hatful as a souvenir! We also photographed a rare, pretty daisy-like flower growing up separately through the middle of stunted bushes of another kind. We think this is the one called the Shark Bay Daisy, but can't find it in our flower books at the moment.

Desert-to-sea view
Arid lookout towards the sea at a stony plateau along the road.
After joining the North West Coastal Highway north, we passed through Overlander Roadhouse, Wooramel Roadhouse, until we came to a set of low, ancient tablelands on which there was a lookout, called Edaggee, so we had lunch there, a few photos, and both had a pee with a view! On the map, Monkey Mia is just 50km west across the limpid waters of Shark Bay. The beach nearest to us is called Disappointment Beach. We know how they must have felt!

The countryside soon became quite arid, almost desert-like, and we spotted many, many dead kangaroos, in their hundreds, in all states of decomposition, from freshly-killed to just bones and hide. Plus dead emus, sheep and goats. And a dead fox! We also saw live goats, an emu, eagles (sitting on the ground), a lizard, and some sheep. But no cattle, and no roos. Where do they all come from? Presumably at night.

Finally we found the terrain greening up a bit, and entered Carnarvon, toured the town, settled into a park, rested, cooked some snapper, and settled down for a good night's sleep.

By the way, several days ago the element in the ancient electric jug disintegrated, and Bill painstakingly repaired it, but it's a bit far gone, and from last night the heating coil sprang apart again, but it is still slowly heating the water, even though the wire is broken. It seems that the water is sufficiently salty that the current just passes through the water anyway, heating it up! Amazing!!

Day 26    Saturday, September 8th, 2001
First day in Carnarvon

Leaning trees at Carnarvon
Eucalyptus street trees at Carnarvon lean away from the sea breezes. We saw that in Greenough, too.
Here at Carnarvon it was now unexpectedly chilly (10°C) in the early morning, but it soon warmed up, and I put up the awning. I had a very sore back, and that plus medication made me dull and irritable. What's new!! So we went off together to put in 2 films and get an element for the electric jug, which, miracle of miracles, we got at a little old hardware store - the last they had. It fits perfectly!

Back to town for shopping, we looked at the info centre then at a little open-air market where excellent fruit and vegetables were available at give-away prices. So we stocked up a bit and had a coffee, then Glenyce supermarket-shopped. This took about an hour because it was so hard to find things in there. I find that walking slowly around and standing in the supermarket stirs up my back pain, so I sat outside on a seat watching the passing parade, which gave quite an insight into how different it is to Melbourne.

In particular, there is a considerable aboriginal and similarly-coloured presence here, some barefoot, and several very young aboriginal girls who were very pregnant - one with her abdomen prominently displayed beneath her tank-top. She looked thirteen!! I find that very sad.

Many of the whites looked overweight, and a lot of the men looked either scruffy and bearded or with short-cut hair, but looking like rednecks. This looks like fertile "One Nation" territory.

In gathering heat (about 30°C I think), we went back home for fresh salad rolls, and with beautiful fresh carambolas (star-fruit) for sweets. We had two each, and they only cost 12c each! Perfectly ripe and luscious they were, such as we never see in Melbourne, because they don't stay ripe very long and don't travel well.

Gascoyne River bed
The Gascoyne River only runs during the cyclone season, but the wide sand-bed supplies good water all the year round for the town and thriving agriculture.
After lunch we slept for several hours and Glenyce rested and washed clothes. Later in the day we drove around the town, out to the "small-boat harbour", (which is pretty rough and ready), and looked at the ocean beaches (which were pretty calm, considering the strong wind which came up during the afternoon), and the famous Mile-long Jetty, which was too far to walk out. Apparently the end is in very deep water, and large fish can be caught. The size limit for mulloway, for example, shown on a sign, is a minimum of 450mm - other minimum sizes were even larger. Must be quite a spot!

Carnarvon grapevines
Table grapes are being grown under netting at Carnarvon in the lush agricultural strips bordering the Gascoyne River.
Then we drove around the fruit plantations bordering the Gascoyne River, which rarely flows as such, but is hundreds of metres wide in the form of a huge sand bed. Under this sand is the water supply for the whole district and the real reason for the existence of Carnarvon. The fruit are grown on both sides of the river, and are mainly bananas (since 1928), mangoes, pawpaws, avocados, tomatoes, capsicums, pumpkins, many other vegetables, and even some large areas (covered with high netting) which are apparently devoted to table grapes - a relatively recent development. There are plantations along both the North and South River Roads here.

As night fell, which it does more quickly in these latitudes (just below the Tropic of Capricorn - up near Rockhampton in Queensland), Glenyce cooked some succulent chicken which we had with packet pasta and snow peas. Delicious!

So after tea we read, wrote and did chores, and looked forward to a plantation tour tomorrow. Our impression of the town is a mixed one - reasonably lush and verging on tropical, with palms and bougainvillea everywhere, but menacingly surrounded by an arid, challengingly dry bushy scrub.

Day 27    Sunday, September 9th, 2001
Second day in Carnarvon

Gascoyne River bridge
The Gascoyne River Bridge crosses the wet sand-bed at Carnarvon.
Having slept well, we awoke to a warm morning and had a leisurely breakfast of ruby grapefruit and grapefruit juice, as we prepared for a visit to one of the tropical fruit plantations later on.

First of all, we took photos of the Gascoyne River Bridge and sandy river bed, then some plantations, before doing a tour of Munro's Banana Plantation. This turned out to be a nice little tropical paradise packed with palms of all kinds, coloured tropical plants like crotons, and vast swathes of multicoloured bougainvilleas.

The tour was led by Nell, an elderly lady who has "been in bananas for fortysix years", and whose son-in-law and daughter run this farm. She carefully explained all the details of the cultivation of their papayas, the bananas (which is their main crop), mangoes (out of season now), avocadoes (in season now), and many other tropical fruit, citrus fruit of all kinds, and even pecan nuts!

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Carnarvon agriculturalist contructs novel Humpty Dumpty from old tanks and tubing.
She was a delightful lady, and she joined Glenyce and me for our scrumptious lunch of avocado scones loaded with avocado and prawn pieces, plus a tropical fruit smoothie each. Delicious!

She discussed with us some aspects of the aboriginal population, which is about 25% of the population here, but with attendant health, social and crime problems which we have often heard about all over the country. It seems rather intractable, even with the best will in the world. Sad!

So we bought more cheap fruit, a roast chicken for tea, and came home for a resst in the middle of the day in the heat of the van until it cooled down. We did call into Babbage Island where there is a prawn factory, but were out of luck because it is closed on a Sunday. So we visited a huge satellite dish, the Overseas Communication Satellite, which was involved in some early space missions, but is now derelict and even vandalized. There may be a little rain tomorrow, but we push off further north for Coral bay and Exmouth.

© William G. Leithhead 2006