Dancing with Dolphins

Our KC family friends had messaged to let us know that they were on their way out of Denham and that they might see us at the Overland Roadhouse as we headed in to Denham. I didn’t like our chances as we didn’t get to the roadhouse until well after 1pm and I figured they’d be long gone by now and on their way south. I pulled in for fuel and sent a message to let them know that we’d only just got to the roadhouse. As I pulled out of the driveway though, they were heading in so I turned around and stopped at the roadhouse to have a chat. I was telling them all about our hike up to Mt. Augustus while they told us about their adventures in Denham and Monkey Mia. It turns out that the other six year old little boy that we’d seen on the summit register was someone that they knew – such a small world sometimes when you’re travelling around.

We got into Denham in the late afternoon and set up the camper in an overflow area of the caravan park – it’s packed in town and even Monkey Mia were booked out for the two days we were staying. We got to the Visitor Centre just as it was closing but in enough time to get the quick rundown on a few choice things to do. We grabbed the fishing rods and took them out to the end of the pier to try our luck but we didn’t have a squid jig so it was really just for the fun of it all. I took the kids rods back to the car once Miss6 had managed to get her line tangled and we stayed on the pier to watch the sunset. We ate leftovers for dinner and headed to bed early as we wanted to be at Monkey Mia for the first Dolphin experience at 7.45.

It was only a 20 minute drive to Monkey Mia and we were there in plenty of time for the first feed and Dolphin Experience. We had the option of standing in the water as the rangers talked to us about the Dolphins and the Dolphins themselves swam up and down the shoreline. The water was absolutely freezing and as my toes, feet, ankles and slowly my calf muscles began to go numb I was increasingly jealous of the rangers full waterproof pants and shoes. The Dolphins looked so beautiful as they floated in and out of shore and along the crowded beach, rolling to their side to take a look at us as we said hello to them.

We had to step back out of the water when it came time to feed the Dolphins and four of the volunteer feeders entered the water and got to pick four people from the crowd to feed each of the Dolphins. There were about 80 people waiting on the beach and we didn’t get picked to feed them that first time around. About half an hour or so later they did a second experience and again my feet and legs were numb from the cold water and had started to go a deep red colour from cold. I held Miss6 on my hip and as I got tired Master14 held her for a bit to keep her out of the cold water.

When it came time to feed the Dolphins this time around, there were only about 20 of us in the group – I think the cold weather was keeping people away. Master14 was called to feed the Dolphin and asked to bring his little sister with him – they both waded out into the icy water to feed Puk the oldest Dolphin there she was 39 years old and mother to one of the other Dolphins being fed that morning. The kids were pretty happy they got to feed her and afterwards we all celebrated (and thawed out) by having a hot chocolate and some warm scones with jam and cream. Miss6 was very excited by the fact there were a big group of Pelicans (actual ones not seagulls that she usually calls Pelicans) hanging around the beach stretching, sitting and generally appearing to pose for photos! 

The third feeding didn’t start until well over an hour or so later and by then we’d finished our morning tea and had a look around the resort and were heading to the car and didn’t want to get our feet frozen again so missed that one. Some people however, were only just arriving as we left and would’ve been lucky to see it.

We headed to Francois Peron National Park and the Peron Homestead for a dip in the artesian hot tub where the water was at a constant and very toasty 40 degrees. After soaking in the tub for a bit we dried off and took a walk around the grounds, playing make-believe in the old shearing sheds.

Back in the car we stopped at Little Lagoon for some lunch and a look around then back to the caravan park to bring in our laundry off the line that I’d hung out the night before. Our KC family friends had recommended the Aquarium so we headed out there in the afternoon for a guided tour.

The tour was interesting and informative and Miss6 was especially impressed at a leopard print (her favourite pattern) stingray named Beyonce who smiled at her through the glass when she was being fed. When we got back to the caravan park I dropped the kids at the jumping pillow and who should be there but our Flinders Ranges family playing also – they had just arrived for a four night stay. The kids played for a while until dinner time and then we stayed inside listening to the rain as it fell on the roof hoping that it stopped by morning when we’re packing up.

We were lucky and managed to pack up without the rain in the morning and without everything being too wet. We decided to make a few stops along the way to Kalbarri with the first stop at Shell Beach. The beach is exactly as it is named, entirely made up of shells (much like the surface of the overflow camp area we’d just spent the past two nights). The kids tried to bury each other in shells as we walked along the ‘beach’. While the sun was shining, the water was far too cold for us to have a swim.

Next up we made a stop at the Stramatolites – I wasn’t too sure what they were all about and wasn’t too much the wiser after we left but I do know that they are made up of microorganisms and are the oldest living ecosystem on Earth. The wooden pier you walk out on to view them gives you a lovely view of the surrounding area also. We ate lunch while we were there then back in the car for the drive to Kalbarri making a stop again at the Overland Roadhouse. This time there was a queue for fuel so I took the opportunity to book us some accommodation in Geraldton and call ahead to book Master14 and I in for a skydive on Sunday morning – what a way to start a day!

On top of the world

It was a regretful pack up at Quobba – I even asked the kids if they were sure about going to Mt. Augustus. We were all pretty determined to get to Mt. Augustus though so after a quick drive through the sea shanty town at the end of the road, we bid farewell to new-found friends, took one last stop and look at the blowholes (and a glimpse at some sharks making their way through a whale carcuss just offshore) and hit the road for a fairly long drive ahead.

We stopped just out of Carnarvon to fill up our tanks and I called the tourist park at Mt. Augustus just to confirm they had fuel there – I didn’t want to get stranded in the middle of WA without enough full jerry cans on board. We left Carnarvon at 11am and got ourselves to Mt. Augustus by 4.45 with only a quick stop at Gascoyne Junction where thankfully, they had a lovely fuel stop. It adjoined a very pretty (and new) looking caravan park and pub with pool and if we had more time up our sleeves, this could easily be an overnight pitstop on the way out to Mt. Augustus.

I was pretty exhausted after that much driving so while dinner simmered under the supervision of Master14, Miss6 and I headed to the communal fire with a cold beer to join the grey nomads. One of them had a large packet of sparklers that he gave the kids and Master14 came out to join in some juvenile fun for a bit before dinner. We tried for an early night after dinner, 1. because I was tired from the day’s drive and 2. because we had a long day of hiking ahead of us the next day. One of the nomads around the fire told us that his fit firefighter mate took eight hours to do the walk so I was exhausting just thinking about our day ahead.

It wasn’t going to be the hot 29 degrees that it was yesterday so we didn’t register and leave for our hike until 8am. From where we camped we had a great view of Mt. Augustus (it was hard not to view, it was so bloody huge) and the entire top of the mountain was hidden in a thick grey cloud so we started thinking that it may not be the fine and sunny 22 degrees we were expecting for our hike. We had to take about a 15km drive to the summit hike, right along the side of the mountain as we went.

Mt. Augustus is known as the world’s largest rock – more than twice the size of Uluru it is an Inselberg (Island Mountain) in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know why I’d never heard of this place before and only found out about it by accident from a ‘top ten wonders of WA’ website – I think the NT must have the better marketing of their rock, unless WA don’t want many people heading to theirs? We had plenty of water on us incase it did warm up, along with some fruit and lunch for what we expected to be an eight hour day of hiking.

The walk was a 12km Class 4 walk up and around the side of the giant rock mountain over uneven and loose ground but the track that was marked took you up in a steady incline for most of the way. The first 1.5km was fairly easy and when we got to the marker and sign that separated the Class4 from the Class5 hikes, we dropped one of our bottles of water there for the return hike down. The next 1.5km were a little more difficult, I found myself puffing a few times and looking up at just how steep we were ascending as some areas seemed almost vertical. The kids were doing a great job and even Miss6 was keeping pace and not needing much in the way of rest stops (stops to take selfies on the rocks was a whole other thing though).

Another drink and fruit drop at the halfway mark and a five minute break in the shade to catch our breath. The next 2.7km was much like the first 1.5km and was a bit of a reprieve from the last section we’d just completed. We’d thought that the hike was going to be a fairly lonely one but as we made our way through this section of the walk, we bumped into an older couple on their way back down. They had a watch that could tell us that we had 1.48km left of our ascent – since I’d lost my Fitbit in the Bungle Bungles I couldn’t even tally how many steps I was racking up on this hike, let alone how far we’d already made it.

The final 300m were the toughest, an almost vertical ascent up some large rock surfaces before we finally made it to the top. What a view! We were officially 1,105mtrs above sea level and I could not be more proud of the kids effort to get here. There was a cairn at the top built of large rocks and concreted together that you could stand on top of and admire the 360 degree views – while trying not to get blown off the top by the wind. A local had, over several trips to the top (both by himself and by convincing other hikers to help) constructed a large picnic table to sit on at the top and enjoy our lunch.

We had some random service while we were up there so the kids called their dad to proudly tell him they were on top of the world. The register of climbers that we happily signed showed years and hundreds of hikers that had gone before us. We looked through to see the ages of some of the hikers as the lady at the tourist park thought that Miss6 might be one of the youngest to make the climb. We did see a 20month old but figured that didn’t count as they would’ve been piggy-backed. The youngest hiker we could find was another 6 year old boy – this still made Miss6 pretty proud and after just under three hours to get up there and an hour stop for lunch, she was ready to finish the hike with the descent.

Master14 wanted to speed ahead of us on the way down so Miss6 and I spent most of the hike together singing and playing her make believe games on the way down. I’m glad we made the fruit and water drops on the way up – they came in handy on the way down despite it not being that hot we were drinking a fair bit and it saved me carrying it all the way up the mountain. We managed to get back in around 2.5 hours and back in the car with no injuries and feeling pretty good about our achievement.

On the way back to the tourist park we stopped at Cattle Pool for a look – it was a picturesque little watering hole that reminded me a little of camping along the Murray River with its gum trees, here they were thick with white healthy trunks, lining the banks. I thought we should get back to camp to sign back in and let reception know that we made it back safely from the summit.

We sat in the van and had a nice hot cuppa before driving out to view the sunset over the ‘rock’. The colours were supposed to change in a similar fashion to Uluru as the sun went down. I’m not sure the colours were as dramatic the day we were there but it certainly was a pretty sight to see before driving back at dusk to enjoy a nice hot meal before bed. Two big days and another big driving day ahead of us – I was absolutely knackered.

We were a bit slow off the mark leaving Mt. Augustus, we woke up with the realisation that it was the 1st of August and we were going to be home by the end of the month so we didn’t leave until nearly 10am. On the way back to Carnarvon, we stopped again for fuel at Gascoyne Junction and decided to grab some lunch while we were there.

I asked the guy at the counter what they had on the menu and he read a few things out to us but didn’t show us any sort of menu so we just ordered based on what he’d said. I got the $120 bill and paid it thinking ‘that’s a bit steep’ then went to the car to move it to a better carpark. It was going back to the car that I realised the fuel only came to $45 – lunch just cost me nearly $80!! Again, I was swindled into spending in my exhaustion delirium – I need to hide my credit card when I’m tired – I’m worse than a drunk doing late night shopping online when I’m tired!

We got to Carnarvon in the late afternoon and set up the van at the caravan park thinking that we’d sit outside as it was a nice evening. Apparently all of the mozzies thought it was a nice night too so we soon retreated to indoors and stayed there til morning. I think we were all tired as we went to bed early and slept well all night. In the morning we packed up pretty quickly as we’d not set up too much the day before and headed in to town to check out One Mile Jetty. I hadn’t brought my purse from the car and didn’t realise you needed to pay to walk the pier so we just admired it from the end and then got into the car and started the drive to Denham with hopes of Dolphins and seaside sunsets.

Q is for…

We didn’t get up until 8.30 in the morning the day we left Exmouth – it’s exactly a month today before we’re due home in Melbourne and the idea of packing up was depressing. We fuelled up at an out-of-town depot (always cheaper than in town) and got ourselves off to Coral Bay.

…A quaint little town consisting basically of two jam-packed caravan parks and a little shopping hub and car park. We had planned to camp the night at a station stay about 40km out of town but after asking at one of the caravan parks we managed to get the last powered site available in a shady spot between two trees. Reception got me to walk over and check that I’d be able to fit between the two trees before they’d let me book and pay – I thought we could’ve parked a semi in that spot – chicks reversing trailers still seems to be a foreign concept for some people.

After lunch we headed to the beach with our snorkels and towels. The beach at Coral Bay is devine – soft white sand and crystal clear water for miles around. The sun was shining and I thought we’d check out the coral that Coral Bay is named for. Miss6 didn’t want to snorkel and after five minutes, Master14 had had enough so I had a very quick snorkel fairly close to the shore, stopping to look up and check on the kids on the shore before I gave up and went and sat on the sand in the sun.

The kids played the afternoon away building sandcastles and 3D sand pictures of themselves. Later that afternoon our KC family friends arrived and we hung out with them, the kids playing on the playground and jumping pillow before we all walked down to the beach to watch the sunset and walk along the beach. Miss6 wanted to show KC Miss7 her 3D sand scultpure of herself too.

We walked back to the caravan park they were staying at and sat together on a picnic table outside of the booking office at their caravan park and ate dinner. We’d ordered pizza from the cafe there as we didn’t have food in the van that was easily packed for a picnic away from the van. The next morning we packed up the van and parked it in the information carpark and walked down to the beach to meet our KC family friends.

They were heading out for a snorkel so Master14 stayed on the beach with Miss6 and KC Miss7 while the rest of us hit the water and started paddling out in search of some good coral. It wasn’t until we were about 100 metres from shore and looking to line ourselves up with a floating bouy and the nearby wind turbines that I actually realised that KC Mum had been given the secret (not really but it’s not obvious without the local knowledge) location of the large coral formation known as ‘Ayers Rock’. When we finally found it, our lone snorkel expedition had mysteriously turned into a large group with a bunch of other people almost materialising before our very eyes!

I’m so glad I went for that snorkel with them, the fish and uniqueness of Ayers Rock were unlike anything I’d seen before. We headed back to shore and I tried to get Miss6 to have a quick snorkel but the coldness of the water put her off and I couldn’t convince her no matter how hard I tried. She was very excited however when a large pelican (an actual pelican not a seagull that she keeps mistakenly calling pelican) started swimming along the shore beside us. The kids followed it for a while marvelling at its unusual head and we took photos of it as it sat perfectly happy so close to all of us in the water.

After drying off we headed to the bakery to grab some lunch and started our drive to Quobba.

We weren’t sure what to expect from Quobba – I’d been told to stay at Quobba Station but when we arrived we decided to stay at a little Council run park for only $11 per night. We parked the van to unhitch and explore then decided to keep it hitched to save us time in the morning as this was only going to be a one night stopover. We drove to the blowholes and were blown away by them (pardon the pun). We were lucky enough to be there while there was a good swell and the bursts of water coming from the blowhole were shootinga good 10 metres into the air and forming a rainbow each time they sprayed.

Miss6 thought this was awesome and squealed with delight each time a new rainbow was formed. There were a group of Japanese tourists watching the blowholes too and one of them was sitting precariously close to the blowhole getting very wet for the ultimate photo – we weren’t that keen for a photo. We hopped back into the car and after looking up to the hill where the lighthouse stood, I decided against taking the camper up there and went back to the camp area to unhitch the van.

We drove up the road towards Quobba Station to check out the HMAS Sydney memorial and enroute we noticed a few cars pulled over and people looking out to the water with binoculars. We followed their gaze and realised they were watching whales out on the water. We continued to the memorial and from there we not only learnt about the sinking of HMAS Sydney and 645 Australian lives lost, but we could see another whale and its calf frollicking in the water.

On the drive back down the road we pulled over in what seemed like a good viewing spot and could see four different whales and their calves swimming and jumping out of the water – it was quite a spectacular sight to see and we were all pretty rapt to be here for it. Miss6 tripped over her own feet somehow, walking to have a look and ended up cutting her big toe and splitting her nail so after some hysterical crying and a bandaid we hopped back in the car and headed to the lighthouse. At the top not only were the views spectacular (you could still see some of the whales from up there too) but my phone suddenly beeped and we realised we had some service.

There was an older couple already up there plus a mum with her two young kids and Victorian number plates. We started chatting about number plates and the messages that different governments put on them when her husband popped his head from out of the car and I yelled ‘I know you!’. Of all the lighthouses in all the little sea shanty towns in Australia, I bump into a guy I used to work with 15 years ago! We laughed at how unlikely it is to have bumped into each other way out here and before long we’d been invited to their van for dinner (which just so happened to be almost next door to where we’d parked our van).

A quick phone call to Nanna in Melbourne to tell her where we were and it was back to camp to set up the camper and join some old (and new) friends for dinner. It was so lovely not only enjoying a meal with someone you know and reminiscing about old times, sharing travelling stories and a nice glass of wine around the fire but also such a treat to be cooked a meal. We were served a delicious dinner and dessert and I did little other than provide a bigger frypan to use and one cold beer – it was a night off and a night out all in one!

During our lovely evening together we managed to count over 25 shooting stars in the sky – the visibility and beauty of the night stars in the Australian outback is just divine and we will truly miss the Milky Way and other night-sky delights once we’re back home where street lights replace them. I wish we had more time left up our sleeve to get home, we all would’ve loved to stay here a few extra days and have now added Quobba to our growing list of places to come back to. Our new/old friends were on a similar route and timeline home as us now but with a few days less and a few less destinations on their ‘to visit’ list so were lucky enough to be staying at Quobba for a few nights.

The next morning we said goodbye to our friends and hit the road again. Since travelling to Coral Bay and Quobba we’ve swapped termite mounds in our window views for those of the WA wildflowers – mainly just white and yellow but a change in scenery just the same. We’ve also swapped no radio or ABC radio for ‘Classic Hits Triple Six’ (this should be sung in that old 80’s radio ad style and not spoken for the full effect). Off to Mount Augustus today to see what all the fuss is about.

Giant of the sea

It rained lightly most of the drive to Exmouth and I watched the (once white) pastic pipe on the camper (the one that holds our tent poles) go from dark brown mud, to a warm red baked on Gibb dust and back to white(ish) in the rear view mirror as we went.

We arrived in Exmouth to find it under water! There were kids playing in the large open drainways on the side of the road and they were riding their bikes into them and coming back out looking like they’d been swimming! We stopped at the Information Centre to book ourselves a Whale Shark tour and get some information on the town before heading to the laundromat to dry our wet clean clothes. While we waited for them to dry we did some grocery shopping and found a dive shop with a bargain bin where we grabbed Miss6 some pink snorkel gear and then to the bakery for some hot pies for lunch. Back in the car with our dry clothes we headed out to Cape Range National Park where we’d booked three nights at Ned’s campground.

The rain stopped long enough for us to set up the camper and awning and walk to the beach for a quick look at the views and potential sandcastle making. We headed back to the van to make dinner and play some cards. I’d bought a pack of Uno cards in Exmouth to keep us entertained in the van in inclement weather. It was Miss6 first foray into Uno and she wasted no time in mastering the game and kicking our butts. Poor Master14 couldn’t win a game that night and went to bed an unhappy chappy!

We tried for a sleep in the next morning (ha ha why is it that on mornings we need to be up at the crack of dawn I feel like I could sleep all morning and those days we have no alarm I’m awake at the crack of dawn??). After brekki we headed to the Discovery Centre where we found some of the local birdlife had made themselves a home way up on a neighbouring telecommunications tower – not sure what happens when the tower needs repair though this could explain why there’s never any Telstra service in National Parks?

They had some great displays here and the kids and I wondered around looking at them and watching a DVD before heading to their shop to hire snorkels and flippers for the day. We headed down to Turquoise Bay as it was supposed to be the more kid-friendly site but the waves crashing into shore were scaring Miss6 off giving snorkeling a go and although Master14 and I gave it a quick go the underwater treasures were too far offshore to leave Miss6 alone on the beach so we packed up our stuff and headed to Oyster Stacks.

The tide was high and though the waves were still crashing on the rocks, the coral and fish were right at your feet. Miss6 put on her floaty jacket and held my shoulder and after a rough start trying to get our flippers on in the water as waves kept crashing over us, we were soon floating over the reef and enjoying the views. If Miss6 thought too much about the shore, she’d worry we weren’t swimming in the right direction and heading out to sea but as soon as she put her face back in the water she was distracted by the myriad of colourful fish and coral.

We saw rainbow coloured fish, stripy fish, a bright blue massive starfish and the kids saw a giant clam plus loads of other fish (don’t you love my technical knowledge of Ningaloo Reef sea-life?) among some pretty amazing coral (and yes, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef – this place is so much more accessible, affordable and just as beautiful). Master14 and I kept getting water in our hired snorkels but Miss6 had the best gear thankfully so she could really enjoy it without getting scared off.

The invading water eventually got the better of Master14 and his final snorkel was a pretty crappy one so he swam back to shore a pretty glum teenager. The kids had had enough after a few turns out in the water so I went for one final snorkel on my own and ended up drifting way out before heading back to shore to pack up and return the hire gear to the Discovery Centre.

After a very late lunch and some Uno (Master14 wanted retribution for his flogging the night before) we headed to the beach with a cold beer and camp chair to watch the sun slowly set. While on the beach we chatted with some others about what they’ve been up to while in Cape Range NP. One couple had been on a Whale Shark tour with the same company we were going with the next day and thought they were amazing so we were pretty happy to hear that.

Another guy told the kids about the ghost crabs on the beach after dark so after we ate dinner and it was dark enough, we grabbed the torches and headed back to the beach to see what we could find. As Master14 turned on his torch he jumped a mile in the air as he nearly found himself standing on a rather large ghost crab scuttling across the sand! It turned out to be one of the only large ones we saw so we headed back up the road to the other section of beach to see if we could find more there and Miss6 and I managed to spot a shooting star on the way.

This section of the beach had heaps more ghost crabs scuttling about and even a large group of them feasting on some scraps of fish so we could get up pretty close to them without them running off. We went to bed that night excited for our big day on the boat the next day and pretty happy with the day we’d just had today.

As we were staying at the National Park we met our tour company at the boat ramp while the rest of the tour group was shuttled on a mini bus from Exmouth. We were greeted by Amanda and Naomi and then walked to a little boat where we met our skipper Brad who took us all out to the bigger vessel we’d be travelling on for the day. The crew handed out wetsuits, flippers and snorkel gear and I must admit, small children look so cute in wetsuits – I remember Master14 in a wetsuit on the Great Barrier Reef when he was just five and Miss6 certainly looked just as cute in her getup this time around too!

We stopped off for a snorkel among some pretty fish and coral while the crew figured out who were the more confident members of the group and how to group us together for the big adventure later on. We were grouped with another family with five kids and were funnily enough told we were the more confident looking of the two groups.

We were expecting the spotter plane to be flying overhead shortly to find us a Whale Shark to head to but our experienced skipper managed to find one without the plane and much quicker than expected so it wasn’t long before we were shuffled to the back of the boat and heard the ‘go, go, go!’ command to jump in the water and line up with Amanda.

Miss6 panicked at this stage and didn’t want to jump in so by the time I gave up encouraging her, the rest of our group had already gone a fair way out. I started swimming to catch up and saw Amanda pointing down so I put my snorkels under the water and was confronted with the giant head of a Whale Shark looking at me and swimming towards me only metres in front of me.

It took my breath away for a moment before I remembered we weren’t supposed to be in front of it so I swam to the side and then swam alongside it with everyone else. We stopped and let the second group jump in and have a turn while we returned to the boat.

Naomi had made quite an impression on Miss6 and encouraged her to go out for a swim next time and Amanda asked her if she would like to swim with her and a noodle to see the Whale Shark. This made Miss6 very happy and far more confident so the second time we got the instruction to ‘go, go, go!’ she was in the water with Amanda before anyone else and swimming alongside the largest fish in the world. The Whale Shark was swimming very close to the surface so I’d actually seen it from the boat before we hopped in the water the first time and we got to see it up very close and in very clear water – it made me very happy knowing that Miss6 braved the experience and got to see such a beautiful creature up so close.

She didn’t get back in the water to swim with the Whale Shark after that but Master14 and I jumped in for round three before we took the boat to another area of the water to let another boat have a turn. At this other area of water, our skipper had found a large pod of Spinner Dolphins who were putting on a show for us. While we were watching these amazing and agile swimmers, a humpback whale and her calf appeared above the water only a hundred metres or so away from the boat. It was such a spectacular sight to see these animals so close that it almost seemed disappointing to have to leave and go back to the Whale Shark.

Master14 and I had our fourth swim together with the Whale Shark but by the end he was a bit tired so he didn’t do the fifth swim – the water was pretty rough out there to be swimming in though it was calm enough from the boat. The last two swims weren’t as close or clear as the first three as the Whale Shark had started to swim a little deeper below the surface so it was harder to swim alongside.
While we all marvelled at what an incredible morning we’d just had, the crew dished up a massive delicious lunch for us and we got to have another look at the Spinner Dolphins and Humpback Whale. We were then lucky enough to find a lone Bottlenose Dolphin happy to show off for us jumping out of the water and even hitting the front of the boat as it jumped – right near where Miss6 was standing – she was rapt.

It wasn’t much longer that we found another small pod swimming around very graciously. We soon realised that there was one female and five males and they were actually in the midst of mating. Miss6 and another little girl were standing next to the skipper at this point so lucky for me he could explain that one to them! We knew this sort of day didn’t happen very often as even the crew had their cameras out for all of the excitement around us.

We stopped for a final snorkel at a section of the reef that the crew hadn’t been to before. The waters out here are so crystal clear and that beautiful turquise and blue that you think only exist on the brochures. Miss6 went out with a noodle and her new BFF Naomi and got to see some really cool things under the water including an octopus. Master14 and I went for a snorkel together and it was lovely holding hands under the water so we didn’t accidentally float off in opposite directions to each other. Back to the boat and back to shore after a long and exciting day with the crew from Ningaloo Blue.

It was only 3pm when we were dropped at the boat ramp so we drove out to Brooke beach for a quick look (seems I’ve really made my mark on this country!) before heading to Yardie Creek for a hike into the gorge. We only went part way into the gorge as we didn’t have our runners on only thongs and the track was getting a bit rough. The views were gorgeous though and we’ve added this to our growing list of ‘things to come back to’.

We drove back to camp dodging heaps of Kangaroos and slowing down to pass them so as not to startle them – though some impatient idiot in a Mercedes didn’t like me slowing down for them and overtook me when I’d slowed to 40km/h to pass five of them on the side of the road!

We got back in time to watch another beautiful sunset on the beach where we found the couple who’d also swam with Ningaloo Blue – they were happy we’d had such a great day though they didn’t know how we could’ve added a hike to the end of such a big day. While packing up the next day our KC family friends popped in on their way to the boat ramp to say hello (possibly for the last time as they still had one more night at the National Park). We were almost packed up when a lady, whom I recognised from on teh beach at sunset the night before, came over and said hi. She asked if I was travelling on my own with the kids and when I said yes she asked for a hug. She too is travelling alone with two kids (for two years lucky things) and said she’d hug the first single mum she found on the road – I was the lucky one though it’d taken her a year to find me!

We headed off to Exmouth via a quick stop at the Turtle Sanctuary (which seemed to just be an informative shelter/display) and then the lighthouse. The drive up and down that hill was a little precarious towing a tonne and a half but the views and interpretive displays and information up there were great. We finally got to Exmouth and my phone reception kicked back in (for all its talk about covering 90% of the population, Telstra has some pretty massive black spots in most parts of our trip).

I had a message from the local auto electrician to say they could fit me in today at 1pm to check my car out. To be safe, I booked us in to a local caravan park so that if my car needed anything time consuming done to it, I wasn’t driving to our next stop in the dark. Turns out despite being checked in Broome, I needed a new battery so after half an hour and a small fortune later (plus a little extra as there was an amazing sweets shop next door that we had to buy from!) we headed to the caravan park to set ourselves up and hit the hot showers.

When I checked in though I was devastated to read a sign that said ‘due to a gas shortage there are no hot showers available’. It was a relief to know that the sign was now null and void as they’d just completed repairs and I could have a hot shower and wash my hair – it had started to feel like I was growing dreadlocks from all that salt water and wind in my hair.

Bush camping is best

We managed to hit the road just after 9am from Karijini despite having to jump start our car again! We stopped off at Tom Price for some grocery shopping and managed to do that with KC mum wondering around the aisles also while all of the kids played on the grassy area out the front.

The spruiking family we’d met in Broome lived in Tom Price so I’d messaged to say we were in town and Mum and three year old twins met us in town for a quick catch up and she even bought some home made chocolate cake for all of us! We had some lunch then decided after all three of us mums chatting, that trying to get all the way to Emu Creek Station today would be too much and we’d be setting up in the dark so we settled on a free camp on the side of the road that had good reviews on Wikicamps.

We farewelled our Broome spruiking friends with a promise to keep in touch before we set off via the shortcut along a dirt road – our KC family needed to stick to bituman where possible so when we got to the freecamp spot we found an area where we could both fit and set ourselves up while we waiting for them to arrive. The kids went off to look for firewood and Miss6 nearly lost her mind when she saw the KC car turning into the free camp area – she was finally going to get to camp right next to her friend for the night!

We made some dinner and lit the fire to sit around and chat for the night. It was a quiet little overnight rest area with the exception of a couple of little girls squealing with delight as they played for the night. Away from any major town again the stars were out brightly shining too. During the night I thought I heard the sounds of rain and in the morning I woke to the sounds of light rain – what a change it was to have to think about packing up in the rain after the months of warm winter weather we’d had.

The rain was only some light spits and didn’t last long so packing up wasn’t too difficult and we managed to get out of there without being the last campers to leave.  Our KC family were going to go all the way to Exmouth but we wanted to camp at Emu Creek, a station stay along the creek that we’d heard lots of great things about with 20km of dirt road to get into preventing KC family from joining us.

We farewelled our KC friends with hopes that we’d catch up again down the track and possibly in Cape Range National Park and hit the road. The turn off into Emu Creek Station didn’t feel that far down the highway and the dirt road to get to the entrance was in really good condition. When we arrived there was no-one about but I’d read that the owners still worked the farm and also ran the Burger Bus up on the highway so weren’t always around to greet campers.

We drove down to the campsite along the full flowing creek and found a lovely grassy spot with a big fire pit and set up camp. The campsite was surrounded by large trees and overlooked the creek. We thought there might be some rain coming over the next couple of days so we set up the awning and went off to collect some fire wood while Miss6 stayed at camp getting to know our neighbours and showing them her rock collection.

I went back to the farmhouse to leave the owners a note advising them where we’d camped and how long we wanted to stay and ended up bumping into Darryl on the way back to camp. Miss6 and I stayed at the farmhouse with him while he made us a hot cup of tea and hot chocolate and told us all about the farm and some of its history – he was absolutely lovely and I think Miss6 was in farm heaven listening to his stories – especially when she got to meet and pat his dog Murphy.

We got back to camp to find that Master14 had already lit the fire so I sat there with a glass of wine and read some of my book while the kids relaxed and played. We had some nice hot showers before roasting some potatoes in the fire for dinner and then sharing some marshmallows with our neighbours to toast on the fire. It began to rain a little on and off so we went back to the van and retired for the night.

While we only got about 2.5mm of rain overnight, it was enough to keep me waking throughout the night mentally checking everything we had was safe and dry. Miss6 and I were up early the next morning to watch our neighbours take out the farm kayaks on the creek for an early morning paddle. It began to rain while they were out and by the time they got back they looked like drowned rats so I offered to make them both a hot cuppa while they dried off. They had a card game called Wanted and brought that over and sat with us under the awning (I was glad we bothered putting it up) playing cards and drinking our hot drinks for a while before they packed up and headed off for their next destination.

I made the kids some pancakes for a late brekki while we watched a movie and the rain kept falling outside. It rained for most of the day so we watched a second movie and ate our lunch inside. The rain finally stopped in the late afternoon so we put on our bathers and a jumper and hopped onto the kayaks to have a paddle up and down the creek.

Miss6 hopped on the pink kayak (or cacoon as she seems to call all canoes!) with me while Master14 got the blue one to himself. The water in the creek was surprisingly warm and shallow and to my delight, none of us fell overboard on our maiden voyage. We paddled up and down the creek and parked the kayaks on the other side of the creek to enjoy a little walk around before heading back to camp to light the fire.

We had some hot showers and I did a load of washing before we sat around the fire and ate dinner. Despite having done not much at all that day, I was surprisingly exhausted by bed time and not looking forward to packing up in the morning. We decided that it was camps like this one, in the bush away from it all near a river or creek and picturesque surroundings, that we liked the best and could easily have stayed here for much much longer.

There were a few spits of light rain during the night and early morning but it seemed to hold off during pack up. I needed to change a fuse in the car and despite having started the car in the morning to check the battery (& started and run the car for half an hour the day before), when I went to start the car again to leave it was flat and needed a jump start. I drove up and grabbed the wet clean laundry while Miss6 said farewell to Murphy and we all thanked Darryl for having us.

At the end of the dirt road there was a rest area where Darryl’s wife ran the Burger Bus so as we left we stopped in there for a couple of bacon and egg sandwiches for late brekki and thanked Joyce also for having us on their farm. We set off for Exmouth and Cape Range National Park with about an inch of mud on the car and van from all the rain and the dirt road – with any luck the rain while we drive will wash some of it off.

Class 5 Karijini

We drove the four hours from South Hedland to Karijini only stopping for fuel and got to the information centre in the early afternoon and paid for two nights at Dale’s campground. When we drove up the road to enter the campground section there was a sign in the middle of the entrance saying ‘camping full’ and we noticed other cars turning around. I thought ‘bugger that I just paid for two nights’ and kept driving to the volunteer office.

I was greeted by a very flustered woman trying to sort campsites and her much calmer husband who reassured her that our camper was only small and could easily fit into what I could tell from her colour-coded map as the last available campsite. She got more flustered when I told her that I might want to add a third day at some stage! We set up most of the van and headed to Fortesque Falls for a quick look and to do the one hour return walk (the walk in only took us ten minutes though it was all downhill). While we were checking out Fern Pool we bumped into our Kings Canyon family again and got chatting to them.

They’d walked all the way to the falls and I’d driven so on the way back Master14 joined them for the walk and I took Miss6 and their Miss7 with me in the car. They were camped not too far away from us so we sat with them at their camp enjoying a lovely glass of wine while the kids all played. The next day we thought we’d drive to some of the other gorges out near Joffre Falls – there were a few class 5 hikes out there that we thought we could have a look at with our Kings Canyon (KC) family possibly joining us.

In the end, the two eldest KC family kids came with me and though Miss6 had the option of staying back to play with KC Miss7, she opted to have a crack at the class 5 hike. The walk into Joffre Falls wasn’t too difficult until right at the end where we had to manouvre down some vertical parts with backpacks and around the water.

The older kids had a swim in the falls when we got down there but it was too cold for Miss6 and I so we just walked along the ledge getting wet only up to our knees to sit on the waterfall for the token ‘we made it’ photo. We’d planned to meet the rest of the KC family at the main carpark at Weano Gorge for lunch so after taking 17 minutes to get back out of Joffre Falls (it was supposed to be a two hour return hike), we took a quick look at the lookout before jumping in the car to head to Weano.

We all ate some lunch from the backs of the cars before heading to some of the other lookouts nearby. The gorges here are unlike any other we have seen on this trip. All of the other gorges we’ve visited we’ve driven or walked in at ground level and then walked up to see the view from the top. At Karijini, you drive or walk in at ground level and although there are mountain ranges all around you, you enter the gorges from the top and walk down into them.

From one of the lookouts, there was a section of gorge wall that appeared to meet the water at one point but it was actually an optical illusion with the shadow on the water making it appear half as tall as it actually was – that was the other thing about these gorges – they seemed so much deeper than the others we’d been to. The optical illusion actually made me feel a little dizzy and I had to blink a lot to feel like I was seeing straight again.

Back into the cars to park further up near the toilets and main walking track down into Handrail Pool, another Class 5 hike for us to take on. This time, all of us took the hike and I was very impressed with the younger girls making their way down the narrow waterfall holding onto the handrail and down into the gorge pool with what seemed like very little effort.

The water here was freezing and my ankles actually felt like they were in pain in the water so I only went in knee deep again while Master14 had a brief dip and our braver KC family friends had a swim in the icy waters (I now know why the brochure recommends wearing a wetsuit down here). There was one more Class 5 hike that we’d seen on the map and I’d heard good reviews about – it was down to Kermits Pool through the Spider Walk and all of the kids wanted to do it except KC Miss7 so I took us all down there while KC parents went to the nearby cafe to get ice and wait for us to return.

This last hike was probably the most difficult as we needed to wade through thigh-high cold water just to make the walk so I piggy-backed Miss6 (the water would’ve come to her chin) with our shoes tied to my waist. Master14 and the eldest KC girl flew ahead of us while Miss6, KC Master10 and I took it a bit slower walking to the Amphitheatre.

This section required shuffling along the narrowest of ledges with icy water below us and a sheer rockface above us. Miss6 with her little feet managed this section like a superstar monkey while I lagged behind trying not to fall off. We made it to the Spider Walk with the timer on my phone going off (I’d set it so that I knew we’d get back out and back to the car before sunset) but Master14 and KC Miss11 were so far ahead that they’d made it all the way to Kermits Pool for a quick dip (but no camera!).

Miss6 was a bit short in the arms and legs to make it all the way through the Spider Walk so she went in far enough to get the iconic photo before we all started making our way back. On the way back, Miss6 decided she could scale the walls rather than have me piggyback her but as she climbed off my back, she knocked her shoes into the cold water and ended up having to walk all the way back to the car in bare feet.

It was dark by the time we all met up at the cafe where I thought KC Mum and I deserved a nice hot cuppa and shouted us one from the cafe. In the carpark there was a 4WD there with smashed windscreen and I spoke to the backpacker driver about what happened, she and her friend had lost control of the vehicle on the dirt roads and rolled it several times writing it off. The ranger had taken the rooftop tent off the top for them and set it up in their campground on the ground – they were very lucky! I’ve heard so many stories of backpackers not being used to the Aussie outback driving conditions and getting into trouble – it’s sometimes scary being on the road with them!

After smashing out three Class 5 walks in one day I was pretty impressed with our little kickarse family (a name that Miss6 has cottoned onto and loves to talk about!). We went to bed with a full moon sitting majestically surrounded by cloud – a very picturesque image to fall asleep to. After our big day I thought we’d sleep in the next day but these plans were very rudely shattered at 6.50am when the sounds of a car horn alarm starting going off repeatedly – they sounded like they were camped next door but I think everyone who heard it felt like that.

We stopped in for a nice hot cuppa with our KC family (who’d also been woken by the car alarm) before taking the car to the Circular Pool carpark to make the hike down into the pool. It was a beautiful sunny day so I thought the water might be more conducive to us kickarse family’s cold bloodedness around the water. Miss6 and I went in the water as far as our mid-calves when I remembered that KC Mum swam here the other day and got cramps from the cold – and she was much more adept to swimming in cold water holes than I was!

The pool itself was very picturesque with bright green moss growing over the surrounding rocks and crystal clear waters falling from them into the small and pretty pool below. After admiring the pool we headed back up along the bottom of the gorge until Miss6 jarred her ankle jumping from rocks and couldn’t walk on it. It was the first time I’d needed our little First Aid kit to strap her ankle which made her happy and we continued walking the rest of the way having a competition to see who could count the most track markers along the way.

We got all the way back up to Fortesque Falls and the sun was shining brightly over the water making it much more temperate and inviting to me. We jumped in the water after taking Miss6′ bandage off and had a swim over to the falls and the rock ledge on the other side. Though the sun was out and the water just above freezing, it was still pretty cool for us so we didn’t swim too long before we hopped back out and made a start on the hike back to the car.

We took the scenic gorge rim walk on the way back, looking down into the gorge we’d walked along earlier that day. We learned through our hiking that the gorges at Karijini are around 2.5 billion years old making them the oldest gorges we’d been to (many others we’d been to had been as old as 1.8 billion years) and the tops of which we were walking on back to the car were once the seabed.

After our big day of hiking we stopped past our KC family’s campground to say hello and drop off a refilled water bottle we had for them. They invited us over for a roast dinner so after we got back to the van for a late lunch, the kids walked back to the KC camp to play while I got to have two hours to myself – the first time since my horse ride at El Questro! I did spent most of it tidying up and getting some veggies ready for dinner but also managed a cup of tea in there too.

Over dinner we chatted about all of our adventures so far and shared our funny stories of camping with kids in remote Australia – it was lovely to be able to get more than just the ‘where have you been what have you seen’ chat done and really get to know people more. We realised that the KC family were our kind of people (they even barracked for Collingwood so that got them a big tick) whose kids played like mine and we all found the same humour in some of the crazy things our kids did.

We were all heading in the same direction the next day though I was hoping to get a lot further along – I might reassess this plan after talking to our KC family, if they don’t think they can make it that far in one day I’m not sure how I think I can as I drive a lot slower and only have one driver… Like everything else on this trip – I’ll play it by ear.

Hottest place in Oz

We left 80 Mile Beach with our collection of shells, our warm clothes on and a half-commitment to spending the night at Marble Bar. After speaking to our Flinders Ranges family and seeing their very detailed itinerary (they had planned their entire half lap trip with each day, date, location, activity and accommodation) and looking at our own diary I’m fast realising there’s still so much to see and I’m running out of time to do it all.

After some Facebook reviews and recommendations we decided to stay the night at Marble Bar – Australia’s hottest town – and I was driving there in jeans and my ugg boots! It was a sunny 26 degrees when we arrived and set up camp and as it was a Saturday, the town was quiet with a lot of it shut so we headed for the WWII secret air base to have a look around.

There wasn’t much there other than the old airstrip, a few dirt roads and some leftover aircraft bays made from large mounds of dirt – we explored a few of them but without signage or any sort of memorabilia out there it was hard for the kids to get a sense of what the place once was.

We headed to the Marble Bar pool and the rocks there were amazing – the horizontal lines throughout the park, the colours of the rock and then the vertical lines and patterns were great. We splashed water on the jasper rocks and watched the colours dance to life. Taking our shoes off, we scrambled over the smooth surface of the rocks as the sun set and Miss6 played our tour guide.

One the way back to the van we stopped at the pub – I figured I should have a beer at Australia’s hottest town. When we arrived the footy was on the TV and it was a Collingwood game so we decided to stay and watch it and have our dinner there. We were the only people in the pub barracking for the Pies but we made it out of there in one piece so I was happy with that.

For Australia’s hottest town, we were freezing and even turned the electric blankets on when we got back to go to bed, grateful for a powered site. It was an interesting night’s sleep mixed wtih the loud snoring of the guy camped next door and fighting cats going crazy up near the office setting off nearby dogs. Finally asleep in a nice warm bed and waking up to a friend’s Facebook post about it being -2.7 degrees in Coldstream at junior footy – I was grateful to be in Australia’s hottest town!

We only had a two hour drive to Port Hedland ahead of us so after talking to the lady at the servo, we decided to take a look at the local Comet Mine Museum where Gerrard, the old guy running the place, was very knowledgeable and even let us hold some real gold nuggets while we were there. We left the mine and made a brief stop at Flying Fox lookout and at the Jasper Deposit where Miss6 wanted to try her luck fossicking for Jasper.

On the way out of town we stopped for some lunch at the Doolena Gorge – a gorgeous little spot that isn’t really promoted but you can camp along the water under the trees. I’d groaned earlier in the day about being stuck talking to a lady about how surprised she was I was towing with a four cylinder car and that I should be careful on my own as there are rapists everywhere (I’ve personally never felt safer than I have doing this trip) but she was the one that told me about the gorge. This place is going on our list of places to camp next time we’re up this way.

It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we got to Port Hedland so we actually skipped Port and went straight to South Hedland as we needed to shop at Kmart and grab some groceries. We weren’t quite sure what to think of the lengths of metal rope fixed beneath the ground at each of the camping sites until our neighbour informed us they were to hook your van to in case of a cyclone! We’d only managed to get one of the last sites along the back of the caravan park which backed on to the freeway so after our shopping and dinner, I didn’t get much sleep with all the traffic driving all hours of the night. We had some hot showers in the morning before we started the journey to Karijini National Park.

80 Miles of shells

We left Broome with the intention of making it to Cape Keraudren for a couple of nights but our late start to the day’s drive meant that we wouldn’t get there until nearly 6 and be setting up in the dark. We opted to stop at 80 Mile Beach instead and ended up at the Sandfire Roadhouse for a leftover unpowered site (there seemed to be plenty of room unpowered).

Miss6 (aka Dr Dolittle) was in animal heaven when we set up as she soon realised that not only was it a pet-friendly stop but the roadhouse had a huge bull and camel in the paddock behind our van, plus an impressive collection of colourful peacocks roaming the roadhouse. There were even around eight white male and female peacocks plus a heap of chooks and ducks for her to follow around and watch.

We made use of the camp kitchen and BBQ and whipped up some dinner ready for a drive the next morning to stay along the coast. We ended up skipping Cape Keraudren and staying at the 80 Mile Beach caravan park which Miss6′ number one customer had told us about. The sites here were close to the beach but still lush and grassy and huge so we were pretty happy.

We took a walk along the beach after setting up (it was only a 45 minute drive from the roadhouse so we got there early enough to spend the entire day there). We’d been told there were shells everywhere on the beach and they weren’t wrong – there were literally thousands of them and they were piled up for miles (80 of them in fact).

I think I too was in shell heaven with Miss6 as we collected up a heap of them in different shapes, sizes and colours – always looking for that illusive large cone shaped shell. As we’d walked to the beach we had bumped into our friends from Flinders Ranges NP – they had also arrived today and were off exploring the beach.

The kids spent some of the afternoon washing the shells they’d collected and comparing them to the lovely older lady camped next to us – she was another grey nomad that showed genuine pride and happiness in me and what I was doing touring around with the kids.

In the late afternoon, we all channeled Alf Stewart in the hopes of catching a fish off the shore (I was hoping for a nice sized salmon). The last few days had been pretty windy along the coast though so the fish weren’t really biting but it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and watch the sunset over the beach.

The next morning we decided to unhitch the car and drive it along the beach – our grey nomad neighbour with an enthusiasm for shell collecting, had told us that some of the best shells were about 10km down the beach. We started the drive along the sand and I soon realised that the beach here wasn’t like Cable Beach at Broome but much softer and slippery so I took it easy and at our first pitstop I let some air out of the tyres just to be sure.

We continued driving further down the beach stopping regularly to look for shells and only moving further along when we knew there was another car further along than us (I figured if we got stuck they could help as I didn’t want to lose the car to the tide as I know others had done before). By the end of our stay at 80 Mile Beach we had half a Corona slab box of shells, driftwood, coral pieces and even some sort of rib bone (Master14 was hoping it was from a large fish but I’m sure it’s cattle) and intentions of some serious craft time when we get back to Melbourne. Miss6 even has visions for which of her creations she could sell at her future art markets.

Broome 2.0

Driving back down that angled sandy road that is Cape Leveque Road and I began to feel myself scratching… At dinner on the balcony at Cygnet Bay last night I had remembered to put on our repellent but I hadn’t put anything on while we walked around the farm on tour. The itching was relentless and I soon realised that I had in fact been attacked by midgies!

My only solace was that I was on my way to Broome for two more nights (though I had started to seriously contemplate extending that to four nights before I even got there). We stayed at Cable Beach Caravan Park again only this time, we weren’t by the pool but up the back against the shed (I’m sure it was their last and only ‘spare’ site) this was peak time and school holidays for WA so the place was jam packed.

We got in to Broome again on a Thursday afternoon but didn’t bother with the market this time around and opted instead for an early night as we had booked a scenic flight over the Horizontal Falls the next day. We were picked up by the airline mini bus early in the morning and shuttled to the airport to board our little plane with just two other passengers Pip and Mike (their son played for Carlton but I don’t remember his name – wrong team for me to care about).

I got to sit next to the pilot for the flight up which was a little exciting until I realised that planes are designed for tall people (there are no short pilots) and I couldn’t see out the front window and there were no phone books on hand to give me a lift. I could still see out the side windows though and the kids were right up the back where they could see out the side windows and out the back one.

As we flew over the falls we could see some of the jet boats driving through the falls and I felt a little disappointed that we hadn’t been able to do this (they were booked out weeks in advance) until I was told that it’s a pretty rough and fast ride and that despite being securely strapped in, I’m sure would’ve frightened the crap out of Miss6 enough to make it less enjoyable. The view from the sky however, was calm and equally spectacular as we got to take in the surrounding area and see just how unusual and rare this water mass is – it would’ve been even better if we got to fly over them just one more time around before leaving though. After circling the falls a couple of times we flew to Cape Leveque and landed here for a huge hot breakfast and coffees followed by a couple of hours of free time to go and swim or explore.

There wasn’t much to explore there so we opted to go to the beach for a swim. The views were gorgeous but the water wasn’t very kid-friendly. The waves were coming into shore with great strength and speed and you only had to walk a metre from the shore and you were in shoulder high water. This meant that I had to hold Miss6 on my hip while trying to plant my feet firmly in the sand as the super strong currents pushed me in to shore and then tried just as hard to pull me out to sea. It was more hard work than it was worth so I took Miss6 back to shore and had a little paddle on my own before we opted to stay on the sand and look for shells and go for a walk. Master14 stayed in the water a bit longer – he seems to really be enjoying the beach life and swimming in the ocean.

Back to the plane and this time Master14 got to ride shotgun with the pilot and Miss6 and I sat up the back. It was a lovely day and I’m glad now that we’d stayed at Cygnet Bay and not Cape Leveque earlier in the week (all except for the midgee bites that were now making me start to look like a junkee with red blotches all up my legs, arms, back and neck).

With our plans to leave Broome the next day and head south I knew that we would officially be ‘on the way home’. I wasn’t ready for that just yet and still felt pretty exhausted from the first half of our adventure so I extended our stay to cover the weekend. We opted for a sleep in on Saturday morning and Miss6 woke deciding that since we weren’t going to the Saturday morning markets, that she’d make her own market stall and make her fortune.

She started drawing some Broome inspired pictures of sunsets, camels and the beach and set herself up with a sign and stool out the front of our van. I managed to persuade her to only charge 10cents per picture rather than the original $10 she was thinking. The family camped next door to us, with three kids of their own under 7, came over and bought her first four pictures to stick up on their caravan wall. I was amazed that someone with kids and hand-made drawings of their own to find space for, paid money to have someone else’s pictures on the wall.

Miss6 was amazed she’d sold out so quickly and had to get cracking on a new batch of pictures. Another neighbour, who was retired and came to Broome for four months every year (I’m seriously looking forward to retiring at this rate), bought a couple of pictures off her and then gave her the lowdown on who to go to to ask if they wanted to buy pictures. By lunchtime she’d made over $5 including a couple of young guys who’d seen the sign she had me make and put on the toilet block noticeboard, and got her to walk to their site so they could give her $2 each for a picture – she was rapt!

The market stall continued for the rest of our stay at the caravan park and in the end she managed to make over $12 and had roped in the little boy next door to spruik for her and walk around the park with her yelling ‘roll up, roll up, get your handmade drawings here for just 10 cents’ – it was very cute.

Master14 took Miss6 to the pool for me while I caught up on some ‘real life’ duties. When we’d arrived back in Broome this time around we noticed that the interior light was on when we opened up the van – this isn’t supposed to be possible as there’s a safety switch to either turn lights off if you’ve left them on, or to ensure that the lights don’t get switched on as you drive. As we pulled out the beds, we also noticed that the canvas on the beds was black and melted and had even burnt holes straight through – it was lucky the whole van hadn’t caught fire while we were driving!

I didn’t want to risk this happening again on our subsequent drives after Broome and had arranged a caravan repair man to come and check out the van – he was so busy that he didn’t turn up Friday afternoon as originally booked and only turned up on the Saturday really late in the afternoon. The safety switch had a bend in it so it was a quick and easy fix to straighten that out before I set him to work to unblock the lock on our rear box – it was so full of dirt that I hadn’t been able to open it to use our jerry can funnel or grey water hose in ages. He finally got all of the dirt from the lock and fix it up for us leaving us 10 minutes to get to the outdoor movie cinema to watch Finding Dory that I’d promised the kids.

At the end of the movie Miss turned around to find one of her little friends that we’d met in Kings Canyon and hadn’t seen since Katherine! We ended up chatting for so long out the front of the cinema that we got home from our early movie really late. The next day the kids swam in the pool in the morning before we headed off in the afternoon to visit Malcolm Douglas’ Wilderness Park and see the infamous croc feeding session where we were hoping to see a death roll live.

The park has a huge population of saltwater crocodiles all living in the one lagoon together plus a number of other smaller areas with just the one male and one or two females – some of which had their own claims to fame. The park provided a guided feeding tour where we got to walk around with staff and watch them feed the crocs while they talked about each one and the crocs put on a bit of a show as they fed. At the end of the tour the park was still open for another hour so the kids and I took a walk around the park and made the most of the time there – everyone else it seems, left as soon as the tour concluded – the park was empty as we walked around and the carpark deserted when we left.

When we got back to the van I said to the kids ‘let’s not leave tomorrow’ and booked us an extra night – some serious denial about this ‘going home’ idea! The following day after Miss6 and her new spruiker had a successful morning at their artwork stall, we thought we’d head to the beach to bum around and make sandcastles. On the way out we decided that we didn’t want to leave the next day either and added another night to our stay – bringing our original two night stay up to six nights!

We were only going to stay at the beach for a couple of hours but the kids weren’t too hungry for lunch and seemed content with the snacks I’d brought so we stayed for several hours, moving our towels up the beach as the tide came in. We were out far longer than planned and though I managed to get some reading done and the kids got lots of sandcastles built, we all managed to get sunburnt – sunburn would never happen in July in Melbourne (unless you were at the snow)!

I knew my workmate was back from her tour so had messaged her to see if she wanted to hang out with us on our last day in Broome. We headed to the beach and hired a couple of beach lounges, buckets and spades and boogy boards for the kids ($25 for most of the day). I’d left my kindle back at the caravan park so I quickly drove back to grab it but couldn’t get in the front gate as there were people blocking the entrance checking in (why they didn’t park in the waiting bays on the street was beyond me and got me rather annoyed at the time) I left my car in the waiting bays and walked back to the van and grabbed the kindle.

I realised that I hadn’t told the kids and my workmate where I was going (they thought I was going to the carpark to get something for Miss6 when I’d decided I may as well go back for the kindle) and that I should really hurry back so I grabbed Miss6’s Monster High scooter and raced to the front gate. This got a few laughs from those I scooted past (we were camped at the back of the park so there were a lot of potential witnesses to any spectacular stacks that I might make). One guy I saw visibly nearly spit his coffee out and another that yelled ‘hey did you steal some kids scooter?!’.I still managed to get back to the front gate only just as the driver blocking the driveway was managing to enter the caravan park.

It was a cloudy and windy day this time so we didn’t stay as long but the kids still had a great time and we managed again to bump into our Kings Canyon family (who kindly reminded me that we needed to book online to stay at Cape Range National Park to see Ningaloo Reef and that they were booked out for the next week at least). Back to camp and our spruiking neighbours seemed to have the same dinner plans as us so we booked a table and all walked together to Divers Tavern for dinner and drinks before we knew we had to pack up in the morning. Miss6 was having a ball playing with the kids and I later found a bunch of selfies that she’d taken with their kids at the restaurant.

The next day we said farwell to our spruiking family friends as they went out for the day and left us to pack up. We were about to leave at 10am (we’d unpacked a heap of stuff in the six days we’d stayed) but the car battery was flat again and needed a jump start. I was contemplating calling our spruiking family when Miss6′ number one customer and semi-permanent resident came to our rescue. Finally on the road and we’d actually managed to miss official check-out.

We stopped at Bunnings to get a new gas bottle then stopped at the Auto Elec to get him to double check our safety switch and tell him about the battery. We didn’t actually leave Broome until 12.30pm – the latest departure of the entire trip so far! Staying in Broome was the first time I’ve felt like I was on holidays and could relax (perhaps with the exception of Alice Springs) as the rest of the trip has been more like an adventure with lots of moving and activity but I’ve actually been able to chill a bit more while here – a good rest before the last half of our trip home.

Pearl of a time

From Broome we headed up the Cape Leveque (or ‘Leveek’ as most of us bogans seem to pronounce it) road with the air let down on the tyres again. This unmade road was more sand than the others we’d driven on and graded in such a way that the two sides of the road were on a steep angle that met at a point in the middle of the road – there were a few times that I pondered what the tipping point would be where you’d move too far left and just roll over.

On the way to Middle Lagoon we made a stop at the famous Beagle Bay church with an alter made with pearl shells – it was a beautiful site and a lot prettier than other churches I’d been to. Luckily we made the stop as I also noticed that one of our jerry cans was only just holding on at the back of the van and had to re-tie the wratchet straps to secure that back up. Miss6 and I were desperate for a loo and Master14 was hungry (when isn’t he??) so we stopped at the bakery for some food and loo break before it was back to the sandy angled road.

The turn off to Middle Lagoon brought a flatter road but much sandier one with a few hairy spots – it was a good reminder that we’re never really fully in control of a vehicle – if the sand wants you to go in a particular rut then that’s where you’re going!

We set up our camp right near the ridge but with the luxury of some shady trees and a large, fairly secluded spot. The kids spent the afternoon making sandcastles on the beach before we lit the fire and ate dinner around it and went to bed with the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore to put us to sleep.

After brekki the next day, we walked down to the lagoon beach and boat ramp to have a look – it was supposed to be more kid friendly and we thought we’d spend part of the day there. Miss6 isn’t a fan of seaweed or mousse (anything green growing in the water e.g. moss – she calls it mousse) and it was dotted all along the shore so we didn’t stay long. Back to the beach along the ridge where the kids got to work splashing in the water and building sandcastles (though Master14 tends more to dig massive holes in the sand and structures that are designed to break when water is added).

I made a make-shift tent with a tarp and some poles and lay under it reading my novel – a luxury I managed for most of the day. The kids didn’t want to leave the beach so I made lunch at the van and brought it back to the beach for us all to eat where we stayed until dinner time. Though we didn’t want to leave our idyllic little beachside hideaway we were looking forward to seeing Cygnet Bay.

When we went to leave though, the battery was flat and I needed to jump start the car. As I was about to hook the car up to our Arkpak our neighbour offered to come and jump start us so I obliged his generousity and once we were started we could head off. I’m not sure why the battery was flat but thought that perhaps one of the kids had left a light on in the car the night before.

We got to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm around lunchtime and checked in to our campsite and booked a farm tour for 3pm. When we got to our site we noticed there was a fire pit onsite and that it would be on the wrong side of the van if we drove straight in so I drove through the site and tried to reverse the camper to turn it around to have the fire pit on the door side of the van.

The section at the back of our campsite was very fine and soft sand and quite deep so we soon got bogged in it. I got out of the car and started to let air out of the tyres to get us out and another camper came over to see we were ok. He offered some friendly advice (like to put it into first gear not third to try and start moving… got it thanks!) but also offered to let me drive straight ahead which would go through part of their campsite but meant I didn’t have to try and reverse the camper in the sand which, I don’t think it was doing my clutch any good as it smelt like it was burning.

After all the excitement we decided to unhitch the van anyway and head back to reception for a dip in the infinity pool before our farm tour. The infinity pool was cool (not as cold as Lake Argyle) and had some lovely views out to the bay. I could also enjoy a cold beer while I watched the kids swim.

The tour was interesting (though not really worth the price they charge) and included a section where Miss6 got to choose a live oyster shell from a tank for our guide to open up. As it was an old oyster shell and at the end of its lifecycle, he broke the shell wide open to reveal the oyster with the pearl sitting right in the middle – noone wanted to touch the oyster or the pearl but Miss6 jumped straight in and pulled the pearl out!

At the end of the tour we looked at a selection of different pearls, some valued up to $15,000 for a string of them, while the pearl Miss6 had retrieved got valued. It came back with a value of $24 which is less than the $25 seed they used to implant the oyster so they planned to crush the pearl for paint and re-use the seed. I ended up buying the pearl for Miss6 – it was probably the only pearl I could afford and had some sentimental value to it now (though if it had been a $2,400 pearl I would’ve just asked for her to have her photo taken with it!).

We decided to eat at the restaurant next to the infinity pool (who can resist an all-you-can-eat buffet when you have a 14 year old with hollow legs paying the kids meal rate??). On the way back to camp we were driving up a very steep and sandy section when I noticed a huge huntsman spider run across the inside of my windscreen! The second I got to the top of that hill I stopped the car and turned every conceivable light on to find the little bugger and get it out of there.

Finally back at camp and while Master14 and I hitched the car to the camper to save us some time in the morning, Miss6 started carrying on about noises outside in the ‘garden’ – we thought she was imagining things – turns out there were a heap of hermit crabs scurrying around on the dried leaves. Not sure if they were scrummaging for food but they were a fair distance from the beach and sand and though they were noisy making their way across the leaves, they were nowhere to be seen by morning.