Around Australia 44

We left Monkey Mia and explored further in the southern part of the Shark Bay Heritage Area. First stop was Ocean Park, which although quite a small attraction (with a big lagoon for the sharks and about 8 above water tanks for everything else) has the fabulous advantage of being run by marine biologists. So instead of a tour guide rattling off their litany, these guys actually knew what they were talking about and did so with great enthusiasm. Of course the boys’ favourite part was the shark feeding, but the whole thing was very interesting.

We camped one night at Eagle Bluff – although the weather wasn’t all that conducive to beach combing (very very windy and when the wind subsided for 20 seconds, a swarm of flies from all directions attacked!), the view from the boardwalk above was more than worth it. Such fabulously clear and shallow water – we easily spotted the sharks and sting rays swimming about lazily. We camped near the mouth of a creek, so the boys had safe shallow water and sand to play with – they very creatively set about re-creating the throng of marine animals we had seen over the past few days (sharks, dugongs, dolphins, rays).

After 3 days of lack-lustre debating, we finally decided to have a stab at reaching the western-most point of mainland Australia – Steep Point. We checked into Hamlin Station where we learned the true meaning of fly infestation – they were UNBELIEVABLE!! We arrived at lunchtime and the boys and I wouldn’t leave Optimus the rest of that very warm day for fear of swallowing some! A day trip to Steep Point (160km of dirt roads, sand tracks and some dune crossings) requires an early morning start and we were off just after 7am the next day. Mike and Ironhide did a great job on the dunes, some of which were pretty high and once we reached the coastline, the views were breathtaking!

After the obligatory pictures comemorating our success, we had a very crunchy lunch on the beach (it was another extremely windy day and despite sitting in our beach shelter which was covered with our mosquito net to keep out the fly infestation, and a tarp against the windier side, the sand still found its way in!). The boys had their compulsory go at fishing (it was never going to work with all that wind, but there’s no telling them that – especially Michael!) while I combed the beach for some lovely trochus shells. And then we decided since we had driven all this way, we should explore as many of the side tracks along the rugged coast as possible – so we checked out Thunder Bay (the crashing of the surf was indeed quite loud) and along a few more dunes down False Entrance followed by a VERY rough rocky ground towards the Zuytdorp Cliffs (which weren’t all that visible from that location).

It had been a few months since our last adventure, so providence decided we were long overdue. Returning along False Entrance Road (10km) towards Useless Loop (100km of corrugated dirt road back to sealed highway), we heard an all-too-familiar and stomach-churning grinding noise from the truck. A quick check under the truck confirmed that the power steering fluid was leaking (a problem we had thought had been fixed after an expensive day in Normanton). It was 4:30pm and as we had still had some daylight but no mobile phone reception, Mike bravely tromped through the bush across a couple of sand dunes (scraping bare legs and brushing off palm-sized orb spiders along the way) to reach a high spot. With the barest of signal available, he managed to contact the NRMA Premiumcare office only to be advised that towing was not covered on unsealed roads (and we were at this stage 105km from the nearest sealed road).

Braving his way back across the wild country (and after some serious venting), he decided to try and fix the problem as best he could to get us back to civilization. There was a sizable tear in the hose, and despite abundant lashings of gaffa tape (oh if only we had bought rescue tape when we had the chance!) the steering fluid oil dripped right out. It was by this stage 6:30pm: the sun had set and darkness descending rapidly, the boys were hungry and a bit scared from the lack of confidence their worried parents were exhibiting and we were literally in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! We decided to drive out and deal with any mechanical damage we may cause the truck later.

Now the really STUPID design of this truck is that if the power steering goes, so do the hydraulic brakes (give a genius award to the designer!!). So not only had standard right-hand turns become 3-point turns, Mike had to brake by down-shifting the gears! We knocked into a moronic kangaroo who just stared at us as we screeched to a halt in front of him (he was ok and hopped away) and got very lucky that the numerous rabbits along the way knew their way around cars. We arrived back at camp exhausted but elated at 10pm (a day trip to remember indeed)!!

The next day was Melbourne Cup Day – the very kind and resourceful camp manager (J) and another fellow camper (K) spent a couple of hours in the morning with Michael fixing the power steering hose (temporarily until we get to Geraldton) and we had a lovely Melbourne Cup lunch to watch the race (what an amazing finish – by a nostril!). The next day we bid farewell to Shark Bay (and the damn flies!) and headed into Kalbarri which is an absolutely lovely little seaside town and very quiet in early November. We were in the process of filling up our water tanks at one of the foreshore facilities when Mike noticed the hose was leaking again. Spent the next half an hour finding a hose specialist in Geraldton who fit us in first thing the next morning, so we packed up and continued driving to Geraldton – a very long day of driving not appreciated by the boys!

The next day was spent in Geraldton: an hour and a half in the morning at Pertek fixing the hose, then to the information centre for maps and information only to find the hose leaking again (already!!) so back to Pertek for another hour, then just lazing around on the foreshore near a very windswept beach before driving all the way back to Kalbarri (talk about exhausting)! And to make things worse, we had our first road-kill casualty of the trip – a horrible feeling to thump over the small and utterly stupid kangaroo!

We camped at Murchison Station on a very sandy area which made levelling out quite difficult, but it was lovely and quiet and the property itself had the most magnificent views of the nearby mountains. Our afternoon at Rainbow Jungle was absolutely wonderful – a massive display of just about every sort of parrot you can imagine, including macaws from South America. Tiran’s favourite part was walking through the huge open aviary looking for the beautiful feathers (I think we found about 30!) for his collection. Kia made friends with cockie in the front cage and they put on a song and dance show for us.

We then spent a couple of hours driving to the various lookouts along the coastal cliffs and spotted a few whales breaching and tail slapping – the sight never ceases to amaze and excite us! The next day we took the boat out on the Murchison River to give the boys a bit of fishing time. There are so many sandbanks to be negotiated along the way that trawling was quite difficult. We then dragged the boys along to Kalbarri National Park to see the gorges and Nature’s Window (absolutely gorgeous!) but the flies were pretty bad , so I left the 3 boys in the car and did the walk to Z-Bend on my own. I think we have all reached gorge-saturation point now!

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