4/10/16 After a week in Carnarvon, we were quite happy to head on as strong winds had come up all along the coast marking the start of the windy season, and the blowy conditions tended to dictate our activities that mostly involved trying to stay out of the wind and dust. Washing hung horizontal on the clothesline. I asked a local about when the winds were likely to drop and got an apologetic smile and “Not for a fair while, mate, once they’ve started in”. Great. We’d been warned about these WA coastal winds. It was also the school holidays, always a very busy time with holidaymakers coming in everywhere along the coastline. Our plan was to go inland for a while to avoid the coastal crowds and winds.
So, we went east on the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road through row after row of remnant red sand dunes, and stopped for a cuppa at a big permanent waterhole on the Gascoyne River called Rocky Pool. A local in Carnarvon had told us that there’s good water only a metre down in the dry Gascoyne, in massive underground reserves protected from evaporation by the sand, and I guess that explains how the waterhole lasts all year round in the dry river bed. Back on the road, we spotted another Thorny Devil playing chicken with vehicles but didn’t stop this time, continuing on to the small town of Gascoyne Junction for fuel and directions to Kennedy Range National Park, 60kms to the north.
On the unfenced stretch of gravel road, there were lots of big beefy Brahman cattle to watch out for. 30kms before the park was a section of the Cobble Road, a remnant of a 1930s Depression era work-for-the-dole program to improve the track back to Carnarvon. There we were, in the middle of the desert scrub, looking at a long-disused cobblestone road running straight as a die into the distance. Bizarre. And what a task it would have been to build it at a time when camel-drawn wagons were still the main means of transport in these remote areas.
Inside the Kennedy Range National Park, our campsite was very scenic, located only a short distance from the mouth of Temple Gorge and beneath massive red cliff faces which changed colour and glowed as the sun tracked across the sky.
Our plan to escape the blowy conditions on the coast had been successful, but the dry inland heat and still air soon had us pining to be back there in the cool waters. Nevertheless, it was a good camp spot. 50,000 buzzing bush flies agreed. These annoying little things would get in our ears and the corners of our eyes, and the usually reliable bug cream wasn’t coping against their persistence. Two days with the bloody flies were enough for us.
We took a minor gravel road south from Gasgoyne Junction through Towrana, Pimbee and Wahroonga Stations and eventually looped back to the coast road. It was a really enjoyable drive, with many stops to look at red sand dunes and the variety of wildflowers beside the track.
At the top of Di’s Most Wanted Bird List was the Chiming Wedgebill and, at every stop, we could hear its distinctive song just a little way off in the scrub. But, while it could be heard, it proved an elusive bird to see. Continuing slowly along the track, we came to the coast road north of Wooramel Roadhouse and headed south to camp at Hamelin Station near Shark Bay. This would be our base for a few days to explore the area.
The following morning, Di woke to the teasing song of that Chiming Wedgebill. She’ll go nuts if she doesn’t see them soon! And see a few she did, just near the van as we readied to go off to see the stomatolites at a nearby beach in the Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve. She got some nice shots of the birds too. Tick that one off her bird list.
Stromatolites are forms of microbial life that goes back three billion years. Shark Bay has the world’s most diverse and abundant examples of living marine stromatolites, with the rock-like formations estimated to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old. The beach itself was also fascinating, comprised entirely of small white Hamelin Cockle shells that proliferate in the hypersaline waters of Shark Bay, twice as salty as the nearby ocean water. Back from the beach were the historic remains of a shell block quarry. The naturally compacted and cemented cockle shells form a rock called coquina that was sawn by hand into blocks and used in the construction of some of the oldest buildings in the Shark Bay area.
We took a day drive to Steep Point, the most westerly spot on mainland Australia, via a track that is listed as No: 8 on WA’s 10 best 4WD routes. It was certainly a test for vehicle and crew. Di visited a chiropractor in Denham immediately afterwards. That completes the last on my list of Extreme Points of Mainland Australia.
From high up on the boardwalk at Eagle Bluff on the Peron Peninsula, we looked down on numerous giant shovel-nosed rays, stingrays, and a loggerhead turtle in the shallow waters below, with a group of ten lemon sharks cruising nearby.
Nearby Shell Beach is 1km wide and many kilometres long, made up of trillions of the tiny white Hamelin Cockle shells up to 10m thick.
The geology and flora continue to amaze us, especially how quickly the countryside can change, beyond the crest of practically each hilltop or ridgeline. A stretch of flat mulga plain can soon become spinifex-covered red sand dunes, then rough broken limestone ridge country, or rolling coastal heathland and white sand dunes. There’s always something to be seen.
“A midgee is an insect that makes you like flies better.” – Me