Sea breezes at Lucky Bay

We left Parry Beach for Lucky Bay – after our time here I understand there are multiple reasons for that name but more about that soon. We pretty much just drove all the way to Cape Le Grand National Park, we didn’t even stop at Esperance as it was getting close to sunset and we wanted to set up before dark.

I’d phoned ahead to make sure that we wouldn’t get out to the National Park to find the gates were shut from 5pm but was assured that at this time of year it’s unlikely to be full (you can’t book sites at this NP – I’m thinking ‘Hunger Games’ in the busy Summer months ‘may the odds be ever in your favour’…) and we could just find a spot and the Ranger or volunteers would catch us in the morning to pay our fees.

We decided to set up the awning while we were staying here as it was a two night stop and the awning was still wet from our rainy days in Perth. A friendly neighbour came over to check if we needed a hand setting up as he could see that we were racing the sun setting but we managed to get it all up in time. (I love the people you meet when camping).

Our campsite overlooked the bay and though there were a lot of trees between us and the beach itself, we could still see the water and it was lovely. I’m not sure if it was a mild night or if I’d just worked up a sweat setting up quickly before dark but I decided that we would sit outside and take in the view for dinner – it turned pretty cold pretty quickly and without a fire we soon went back inside after dinner.

The last few days had been big driving days and very wet so I decided to turn the alarm off and try for a sleep in. We were up around 9 and our friendly park volunteers came to collect our camping fees (National Parks are such a cheap and beautiful camping option) and gave us some great tips on things to see including the Matthew Flinders rock commemorating his landing here in 1802.

We thought we’d check this out first so we headed off down the picturesque sandy beach of Lucky Bay – the sand here is so white and squeaks beneath your feet as you walk. The water is crystal clear coloured a perfect turquise before blending to a smooth navy blue as you head further out into the bay. The water was inviting but we’re a cold blooded family (I think I may even be part reptile) so we didn’t go for a swim but walked along the shore enough to get our feet wet.

I could see why this place was called Lucky Bay – I think we’re incredibly lucky to live in a country with such pristine beautiful beaches. It was very disappointing to see the amount of rubbush littered along the beach as we walked so when we saw a couple walking back from their morning fish I asked them if they had a spare plastic bag we could have. I put it in my pocket to use on the way back and we continued to the steps and lookout across the bay.

We scrambled over the rocks and eventually made our way to the place where Matthew Flinders landed in 1802. It was marked by a large rock seemingly held up by a far smaller rock at the bottom so the kids took great joy in pretending to hold the giant rock up above their heads. We managed some random phone service while at the rock so we phoned my nephew in Melbourne and sang to him for his birthday and told him where we were camping.

We scrambled back over the rocks and headed up the beach back to our campsite, stopping along the way to pick up rubbish – mainly bits of plastic and nylon rope – we managed to completely fill the plastic shopping bag we had! Miss6 was very good at spotting bits of plastic in the sand and putting it into the bag and did most of the work until the wind started. We’d all had our pants rolled up and bare feet, enjoying the glorious sunshine and the feeling of the sand between our toes. Until the ‘sparkly’ sand (as Miss6 identified it) started whipping at our ankles in the wind and the feeling of sand soon spread to across our chest, in our eyebrows, in our hair and then finally in our teeth. I was lucky, I don’t go outdoors without sunglasses so my eyes had some protection, the kids however weren’t that lucky and took to pulling their clothes up over their faces and Miss6 even put her boots back on to avoid the sand hitting any bare skin as we walked.

With the wind blowing directly at us (and stopping to pick up rubbish) it took nearly two hours to walk all the way back to camp for a late lunch. The wind started to pick up enough that the poles on the awning where beginning to move so we decided to take down the awning, just as our neighbours who’d been camping in a tent, decided to pack up and leave altogether. We got the awning most of the way in but in the wind and with the camper at full height (we normally set up and pack up the awning while the camper is wound down to avoid needing the ladder) we couldn’t get the zip done up and figured we’d just do that up in the morning when we packed up.

After lunch we hopped in the car and drove out to Hellfire Bay and decided to make the 20 minute walk to Little Hellfire Bay, a secluded little area that was supposed to be sheltered from the wind – except for today. Like Lucky Bay, the sand was really white and squeaked under your feet and the water was crystal clear. The wind was a lot milder here than Lucky Bay but still blowing over us making that sunshine even more appreciated.

The kids found a waterway that was desperately trying to make its way to the ocean and had fun blocking it off then letting it go in the hopes that the big surge of water would help it get there – and it almost did. We walked back along the path to the car, a very pretty walk amongst some trees, shrubs and wildflowers and even a few kangaroos on the way back (I quietly hoped that they stayed here and avoided the roadside for the drive home).

We made a very quick stop at Frenchman Lookout on the way back, it was a very large hill/mountain that seemed to be all rock and had a strange little hole at the top which made it look like it was wearing a hat (a beret perhaps?) before parking back at camp ready for some hot showers. Miss6 and I went first (and she was delighted to see two kangaroos right at our doorstep when she opened the camper door to head to the showers!) and though the solar showers were nice and warm, like Parry Beach there wasn’t much pressure.

We got back to the van to make a start on dinner while Master14 went to the showers, nearly getting blown over as he walked out the camper door. As I stood in the camper talking to Miss6 I couldn’t help but notice how much the roof of the camper was swaying left to right so I went outside to grab a couple of ropes to fasten to the roof of the camper and the ground to try to slow the rocking. The rain had started by now and I was getting drenched and blown away at the same time.

When Master14 got back from his shower the wind had picked up even more and the rocking of the van continued so I asked him to come outside with me to wind up the legs a little so I could hitch the car to the camper – somehow the idea of having an additional two tonne attached to the camper in this wind was very reassuring. We both got drenched while we were out there and came back inside looking like drowned rats to find Miss6 crying as she was scared of the wind and thought that we were getting blown away outside.

The winds reached 100km/h that night and it’s fair to say I got little to no sleep. Before this trip and even throughout it, people have asked me many times if I’ve ever felt scared camping alone and I’ve answered honestly no, never… until this night. The wind was so ferocious and the camper was rocking and moving about so much that I was very unsettled and repeatedly doing a risk management check in my head as the night wore on – ‘if this breaks, how would I fix it?’, ‘at what point do I move the kids and I into the main camper and out of the bed ends?’, ‘at what point do I knock on our neighbours caravan door and ask if the kids and I can sleep on the floor?’ – all of this went through my mind as the night wore on.

Though we are in a camper, the bed ends are little more than a glorified tent simply sitting a few feet off the ground and held in place by some strips of velcro. I’m not sure if my ears were decieving me but at one stage I could’ve sworn there was hail. It was midnight and I was still awake – six hours solid of this wind – at this point I started to think ‘if the camper has survived unharmed for six hours already, it’s likely to survive another six’ and managed to fall asleep.

I woke briefly to Master14 crawling in to bed with us, the pole on his bed had finally given way in the wind (it had been held together with nothing but two pieces of gaffa tape since the bracket broke in Silverton way back at the start of our trip – I’d bought a new bracket at the Jayco toy shop and figured I’d just wait til we got home to fix it). I went back to sleep with Master14 asleep between me and Miss6.

I woke soon after to an almighty crack and shot up out of bed thinking ‘that pole is down – I should fix that bracket now before the bed end gets damaged in this wind’ so I got out of bed and whispered to Master14 to look after his sister while I was gone – it seemed like I’d lost Miss6 in the bed somewhere as I could only make out one body, but figured she was under the covers again hiding from the noise. I walked to the other end of the camper and turned on the kitchen light and got out the bracket – it was then I remembered that the screwdriver was outside in the toolbox and did I really want to brave the outdoors to fix this bracket?

I’ll check the situation first, so I opened the curtains and went to turn on the light and realised that Master14 was sound asleep in his bed and the pole was still where it ought to be – I was so exhausted that I’d fallen into a deep sleep and dreamt the whole thing (not the wind – that was still VERY real). Back into bed with Miss6 who actually was under the covers hiding from the noise and I spent the rest of the night drifting in and out of sleep.

The closer it got to morning, the more I contemplated not packing up, skipping Kalgoorlie and just bunkering down here until the weather died down. I didn’t know how we’d go trying to pack up in gale force winds – we’d had a couple of windy pack ups and they were a pain in the arse but the wind was nothing compared to this. By the time it came to get up and start packing up, the rain had slowed to an ‘on again, off again’ and the wind had lessened enough that we thought we’d have a crack at packing up.

We tried to stay indoors for as long as possible getting everything ready to go for the outdoors when we could hear the moments that the wind died down and the rain had stopped. We got almost to the end of the pack up and were trying to zip up the awning bag and clamp down the camper roof when the wind picked up and I’m sure it began to hail (if it wasn’t hail then it was the coldest, hardest, sharpest rain I’d ever felt and I’m from Melbourne!). Our hands were completely numb, red raw and quite useless by now so our lovely neighbour came over to help us out by grabbing the zip and zipping it up for us.

I’d made Miss6 sit in the car to stay warm and dry but Master14 and I were soaked and freezing and I was exhausted before the day had even began (Master14 had slept like a teenager through the whole night so he was as fresh as a daisy). We had deliberately packed up without our jumpers (mine was still soaked through from the night before anyway) as we’d only brought one jumper on the trip and figured we would need them to warm back up again in the car. I cranked the heater, put on some dry trakkies and my ugg boots (so glad I packed them – though for those that know me, I wouldn’t go anywhere without them!) and we hit the road with high hopes of the wind and rain easing as we headed inland to Kalgoorlie.

Lucky Bay sure is a beautiful part of the world and I certainly felt lucky to spend some time here and even luckier that we (especially the camper) survived a night of gale force winds here too.

Tall trees

When we left Margaret River it was pouring with rain though we’d managed to get packed up before the rain really hit. As we drove along we hoped that the rain would ease as we’d planned a few stops before camping at Parry Beach tonight.

The first stop was the Gloucester Tree near Pemberton – 53 metres in the air and all you had to climb on were some metal pegs stuck into the trunk of the tree. When we arrived by some miracle the rain had stopped and the tree was open for climbing so we made our way to the base of the tree and looked up – it was so high up that I couldn’t fit the tree in one photo.

The kids made me read the sign at the bottom which quite clearly stated ‘not recommended to climb in wet and windy weather conditions and not recommended for children’ – oops. Miss6 saw the last point as more of a challenge I think and raced up those pegs quick as lightening.

I climbed behind the kids with plans of coming to their resuce and catching them if they fell – though I spent most of the time trying to keep up with them. Playgrounds certainly are a wonderful training ground for small children and big trees. I tried the ‘don’t look down’ theory but found that it was actually pretty interesting to look down and see how small things were getting as we ascended the tree – it was the looking straight ahead at the peg in front of you that sometimes caught me off guard and I felt the need to blink a little to get my depth perception back.

The view from the top was pretty amazing – though we weren’t on fire watch it almost looked like small spot fires in the distance as the clouds were so low and it was so cold that there were small spirals of steam or fog billowing gently from the tops of the trees in the distance.

Being on the bottom for the climb back down was a challenge – I nearly had my hands stood on a few times by Miss6 (aka spider monkey). Back on solid ground and it took us a while to thaw out our hands from the icy cold metal pegs that were still wet from all of the rain. In the car and on our way to the next stop and more tall trees at the Valley of the Giants.

We bought our tickets and headed out onto the bridges through the canopy – as we walked I realised that the bridges aren’t terribly solid and actually rocked as you walked across them which felt a little weird. The view from the tops of the Tingle Trees was pretty spectacular with the highest point still not as high we we’d just climbed at the Gloucester Tree but impressive none the less.

The smaller trees down below almost looked like shrubs  and you could hear a creek below well before you could make out any water on the way back down. I think the kids were most impressed with the ground walk through the Tingle Trees, especially the ones you could walk right through – fire had gutted the dead parts of the base of some of the trees making large holes for you to stand in.

Back before the park was built for tourism, people used to drive their cars into the hollowed out bases and take photos – this killed the trees though as they have a shallow root system so now boardwalks protect the root system from human traffic. Some of the trees are over 400 years old and the most impressive old tree was aptly named Grandma which Miss6 thought was funny. We were lucky enough again with the weather in that the rain stopped in time for us to walk through the Valley of Giants but it wasn’t long back on the road before it started raining again.

It had stopped and the sun almost seemed like it was coming out to say hello when we reached Parry Beach campsite so when I paid the fees I also paid an extra $5 for a barrow of wood for the fire. We set up camp under some trees (not as tall as the others we’d seen that day but enough to provide some shelter) and Miss6 was delighted to see a number of rabbits hopping about as we set up, along with a couple of Magpies and Kookaburras.

We did some exploring down at the beach and up into the bush where we found lots of lovely wildflowers and the kids ran around chasing each other all the way back to camp. We lit the fire and sat around it eating our dinner and telling ghost stories trying to scare each other (all Miss6’s idea of course). The rain held off for the night but it was still getting very cold so I made up the hot water bottles to try and keep our beds warm – though we’re in a camper the beds are no different than being in a tent except we’re higher off the ground. Master14 doesn’t seem to feel the cold like I do but I was grateful to hop into bed and have something nice and warm to take the chill out of my bones and toes! We drifted off to sleep with the sounds of the waves crashing onto shore again and I remembered how much I love that sound (even if sometimes it does seem similar to a distant busy highway).

Stalactites and wineries

While we avoided the rain while we packed up, we didn’t avoid the wet – the awning and bed ends were soaked. We headed to Busselton and got there in time for some hot soup for lunch and booked us onto a train ride down the pier. Unfortunately the underwater experience wasn’t open due to some storms the night before. We had thought we’d ride the train down the pier then walk it back but the weather was a bit cold and we’d brought our lunch from the car so I didn’t really want to walk back the 1.8km carrying everything in the cold.

The train took us to the end of the pier and it was truly amazing just how long the pier is. We had the opportunity to spend some time at the end of the pier where an artist had painted pictures of whales to scale – the kids and I were pretty amazed at just how big some of them were. The Humpback and Right whale were fairly large but the Blue Whale was absolutely ginormous according to Miss6.

The neighbouring visitor centre had told the kids about some of the caves in the area – one nearby that had a ‘tunnel of doom’ for the kids so they were pretty keen to head there before we made our way to Margaret River. I called ahead to Wharncliff Mill and booked a site for two nights and headed to Ngilgi Cave for their last tour of the day. The cave is 500,000 years old and pretty spectacular – even I had a turn at the ‘tunnel of doom’ and we all liked the amphitheatre too – laying on our backs and looking up at the stalactites hanging from above was like looking at a surreal city.

We got to our campsite and set up with hopes of lighting a fire but it started raining so we stayed indoors. The rain had cleared by morning so we headed down to Cape Leeuwin to check out Jewel Cave – the largest show cave in WA. The entrance was large and well made and we later learned it was entirely man-made as the only natural entrance to the cave was a 12m deep hole resembling something that Bugs Bunny would crawl through and led directly to an 8m drop to the ground.

The cave was stunning – it had some similar stalactite and stalagmite features as Ngilgi but less of a narrow adventure and more huge open areas. The cave used to have water in it and the boardwalks would sit higher but the water has all dried up. They’ve found fossils of a Tasmania Tiger in the cave, it had falled down the hole and couldn’t get back out in the dark.

We climbed back out the 500th step and headed to the car for the drive to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the tallest on the Australian mainland, sitting in the most South Westerly point of Australia where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. We joined our tour guide and walked the 172 steps up to the sixth floor and out onto the balcony – it was a blustery view of the ocean below and would’ve been quite a tough gig as the lighthouse keeper back in the day.

We learnt that there were 22 ship wrecks before the lighthouse was built and only one after it was built. The ship that wrecked was built by the same company that built the Titanic, only this one had enough life rafts to save those on board – I don’t think it says much for the captain’s they hired though as this one ignored the lighthouse warning and tried to cut the corner. Luckily the lighthouse keeper saw the ship’s distress signal and lit fires along the shore to guide the life boats safely to land.

I managed to convince the kids to hit a couple of wineries for the afternoon with the bribery of some lunch. I’d always thought of wineries when I thought of Margaret River but now I was starting to think of caves as well – I figured lunch at a winery would even things out. We had a yummy lunch at Watershed Winery with a lovely view of the vineyard below before we headed to Voyager to check out their gardens (and taste a few wines while we were there).

The gardens there are immaculate and would be gorgeous to look at in Spring with the roses in full bloom. There were two other wineries I wanted to visit but decided against rushing to see them at the end of the day so instead, we decided we’d stay a third night as we’d saved a night by not staying in Busselton. With our spare time we grabbed some fuel and groceries before getting back to the campground where we all had a play on the adventure playground right next to our campsite. We lit the fire and sat around it eating dinner and toasting marshmallows for the night.

We woke the next morning to some pretty nice weather so we decided not only to visit Sunflowers Farm but to head to another cave – the more the kids hear about, the more they want to visit. After paying for another night and a milk crate of firewood we were off to Sunflowers Farm – the big attraction that Miss6 was especially looking forward to.

Sunflowers Farm was full of animals that you could walk around feeding, patting and even getting into some of the pens with them. We fed and patted our way through lambs, goats, joey kangaroos, clydesdale horses and a shetland pony, chooks of all sorts of breeds, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigs, llama, an emu and an ostrich (note: just drop the food over the fence for the ostrich – I tried to hand feed it and it took the idea quite literally and nearly took my whole hand with the food).

After visiting all the animals and going through two buckets of feed we headed back to the main office where there were a couple of goats roaming freely, a corella that liked to talk, some three day old chickens and some very young kids and lambs that you could sit with in their pen. Well, Miss6 very quickly made herself comfortable in this pen and I started to wonder how I could get her out of there – she was happy with the idea that we go off for the day and pick her up later.

Luckily, it was feed time and she got to hold a bottle of milk and feed one of the kids and even Master14 got in on the action (they were very cute and hard to resist). We finished off the visit with an ice cream – we’d heard great things about ‘Simmo’s Icecream’ and thought we should try one. We went for two scoops and they were piled up that high on the cone that both the kids needed a cup to put the top scoop on (which it easily filled) as the weight of it meant it had started sliding straight off.

We burnt the mega ice creams off on a pirate playground before hitting cave #3. This time it was Mammoth Cave, a large open cave that you enter from one end and walk right through to the other end. We were given some self-guide audio devices and headphones so that we could hear about the cave as we walked through it. This cave was home to over 10,000 fossils when it was originally developed for tourists – the work of putting in boardwalks through the cave uncovered the fossils and confirmed the existence of mega fauna in the area which was very interesting to Master14 and I.

Miss6 however, was especially keen to walk all the way through the cave and then come up and walk back over the road we’d driven on to get there. On the way out of the carpark we saw a car crashed into a ditch at the entrance, we stopped to check everyone was ok before heading off to another winery for me (this time I bribed the kids with promises of a cheese platter).

We started at Lawrence Winery as I’d been told to check out their lavish loos. While we were there I also made sure to taste some of their wines and pick up a bottle on sale before we checked out the gardens and lady on the lake statue (not its real name but a fond nickname). The kitchen had just closed so we couldn’t do a cheese platter here but they told us that the food at Black Brewing Co. across the road was amazing and still open so we headed there for a cheese platter and some fat fries.

I got Master14 to try the blue cheese on the platter and he could handle a few bites before sticking to the cheddar and soft cheeses. I had to trick Miss6 into trying the blue cheese but it didn’t work so I ended up eating nearly all of it myself (there are worse things in life).

I’d forgotten that we knew someone that lived in Margaret River and ran a local winery so after checking in with family in Melbourne for the details we ditched the planned visit to Vasse Felix (next time list) and headed to Sandalford wine to say hello. Unfortunately she wasn’t working that day but I bought a bottle of their Shiraz (though their Rose’ is to die for) and headed to the chocolate factory (I’d nearly forgotten about this place – sacrilege to us chocoholics).

Luckily for my credit card and waist line that it was almost closing time though we did find the time to taste test everything on offer, buy a chocolate map of Australia (I’ve told the kids we’ll eat one holiday location at a time when we get home) and some other tasty treats before heading back to camp. 

On the way back home we drove through Cowaramup and they had they’re own version of the lady on the lake – a striking resemblance we thought. 

It was a gorgeous sunny day and a lovely mild afternoon – perfect for lighting the fire and sitting around it to eat our dinner again though we didn’t toast marshmallows this time. Our last night in Margaret River and though I wasn’t expecting too much from this place, we were all pleasantly surprised and really loved it – could definitely come back here again!


We hit the outskirts of Perth – four lane freeway, Nova FM, traffic and rain – it almost felt like we were home! The caravan park we stayed at had a huge duck pond with ducks, geese, birds and even a rabbit and a playground all across the road from us – much to the delight of Miss6.

After getting ourselves set up we took a drive to the beach to check out Hillary’s and possible ferry to Rottnest Island before we headed to the supermarket for some groceries and then some fuel – it was the first time since we’d left Melbourne we found fuel for under a dollar.

It felt like it had been go,go,go for a while now and we were all tired so I let us have a sleep in the next day before making a big batch of hot porridge for brekki – a treat (yes we love porridge) that we haven’t had the weather for in ages. We hopped in the car and took a drive to ‘Caravan Land’ and visited the Jayco Toyshop (and yes, it felt like a campers toy shop where you could easily stay and spend a fortune there!) for some new awning brackets and fridge knobs before it was off to Fremantle to check out the Prison where we hoped to do a Tunnels Tour beneath the prison grounds.

The tour was only open to people over 12 (Miss6 was more disappointed than we were at hearing this) so we did the ‘Doing Time’ tour. Our tour guide, Moira, was a very animated guide providing informative and funny commentary throughout the tour and the kids and I loved it. She took us through the prison and gave us a detailed history of it as a convict settlement first and then prison. The heritage listed buildings were eerily beautiful with a dark and interesting history.

It began to pour when we left and there was a huge double rainbow cutting across the dark grey sky above as we got to the front gate. We drove from there to the older couple home who we’d met at Lake Argyle and then again along the Gibb – they’d invited us over for a roast dinner. This was the first time in over three months that the three of us had stepped foot inside a house!

It was a lovely evening sharing stories about our adventures and we felt very grateful that we’d much such wonderful friends who welcomed us into their home for the night. We had to get up early the next morning to take my car into Toyota – apparently the weird smell I’d had Geraldton look at was an oil leak and rather than wait around a few days there for a part I’d booked it into Toyota in Perth for them to repair.

We dropped the car off and hopped onto a bus into the city and got off at Kings Park. The first playground we found was built with wood and other natural materials and included sculptures of local wildlife carved with a chainsaw into large logs. The kids were having a ball playing chasy through the tunnels and maze and up and over the logs and wobbly bridges. They were using the umbrellas as laser guns and I was reminded again how my ‘don’t ever buy kids guns’ theory doesn’t always have the effect you’d planned.

We walked a few kilometres further into the park and came across a nature play zone. It was a huge area that encouraged kids to get back to nature, get dirty and climb trees – we loved it! The kids walked along big logs over creeks, built cubbies with branches and swung from ropes and climbed trees. It would be great to see more of this type of play area without having to worry about people suing councils for minor injuries while getting out and active in nature.

We hopped on another bus and headed into the heart of the city where we checked out London Court (which felt a bit like going to meet Hagrid for some wizard shopping) and grabbed some lunch. We headed to Elizabeth Quay to wait for the ferry across to Perth South and the Zoo. While we waited I got a call from Toyota – it wasn’t just a seal that needed replacing, the leak was coming from a part that shouldn’t normally need replacing and as such, there were no new parts available in Australia and I’d have to wait 21 days for a part from Japan! I nearly had a heart attack at this news before quickly gathering my senses and thinking of my options (trade the car for a new one, leave it here to get repaired and hire another car to take me home and put my car on the train back to Melbourne, wait it out 21 days in Perth though we were due back in Melbourne in 18 days OR the preferred option – find a second hand part and get it fixed now). The guys at Toyota went on a hunt for the part second hand for me while I took the kids to the Zoo.

At the prospect of having to fork out a few thousand dollars to repair the car (more than I’ve ever spent on my trusty vehicle) I thought I’d ask the Zoo if they recognised a Zoos Victoria Membership through some sort of recipricol arrangement – turns out they do and I managed to save myself $60 in entry fees! The kids and I walked around the Asian and African displays (we didn’t have time for the whole Zoo and figured we’d seen a lot of the Australian wildlife first hand on this trip).

Miss6 absolutely loved the Elephants and was disappointed that we’d missed their feeding and drawing time but we were all pretty rapt that we were at the Lion enclosure just as the male lion stood up to stretch his legs and give us a roar. While we checked out the Orangutans Toyota called me back to say they’d found a part and could have my car finished by Thursday afternoon – an additional two days on our original stay in Perth but a lot better than 21 days. They were also happy to loan me a car for the next few days until mine was ready so we left the zoo and hopped back onto the ferry in time for the last bus to go past Toyota before they closed.

It felt a little weird (and nice) to be getting into a (new) clean RAV with nothing but us passengers and our belongings for the day, rather than being filled with half our worldly possessions and half the Gibb River road dust (or an accumulation of that and every other dirt road we’ve driven on). The next morning we all slept in again and obviously needed it as Master14 didn’t get up until 10.30! I put on a huge pot of potato and leak soup in the thermo pot, did a couple of loads of washing and then hopped in the car to take the kids to Mandurah for lunch and the afternoon.

While it was still chilly, the rain had held off and the sun was out so we managed to sit outside along the wharf to enjoy some lunch and milkshakes at one of the cafes. After lunch we had a wonder around and the kids window shopped at the indoor markets while I tried for a 30 minute massage – my back has been getting worse and giving me headaches so I wanted to keep those at bay until we get home. I was only a few minutes into the massage when Miss6 knocked on the door and came in – she helped the massuer by giving my calf muscles a good rub while my neck and shoulders got some attention. It wasn’t the best massage (they rarely are) and I realised that if there’s only one thing to look forward to when I get back to Melbourne, it’s a bloody good massage from Janine to fix my aches and pains!

After the massage we went to the playground, had a go on some of the outdoor gym equipment, walked along the little pier and back over the bridge before we took a scenic drive around town and headed back to Gwelup, enjoying some lovely sunset views as we drove along the coast. The phone rang at 8.30 the next morning – it was Toyota to say that my car was ready if I wanted to pick it up and head off for the journey home. If I’d known they were going to finish the car so early I wouldn’t have booked the Thursday night accommodation already and would’ve got up early to have everything packed up ready to leave.

I asked if I could pick the car up later in the afternoon and they were fine with that so the kids and I drove into the city and I took them to the Zoo again (since that was free and my repairs were costing me a small fortune, we’d ditched the idea of a ferry to Rottnest Island and opted for the Zoo again). This time we were there in time to feed the penguins, pat a snake, walk with a keeper through the primates area and be at the amphitheatre in plenty of time to watch the Elephants get fed and play some games.

The two female Elephants did some exercise, had their feet and mouth checked, drew some pictures with chalk and ate some hay while we got to watch and learn more about this gentle giant. We left the Zoo with a very happy couple of kids and headed back to Toyota for a car swap.

On the way back to the caravan park we decided to stop at Hillary’s again where we hoped that the Chocolataire shop didn’t have quite the queue it had on the weekend when we visited. We sat down and enjoyed some hot chocolates and hot churros with salted caramel sauce and strawberries as a late afternoon tea. We thought we’d go for a swim in the pool back at the caravan park but when we got back it was pouring so even the 30 degree temperature of the pool didn’t persuade us to go outdoors and instead we stayed in the van listening to the rain on the roof and hoping it would stop in time for us to pack up in the morning.

Jumping at Jurien Bay


After our last minute decision to leave Geraldton in the afternoon, we managed to get to Jurien Bay to set up just before it was dark. We were up and ready to go for our skydive and walked there as the skydive place was across the road from the caravan park. After signing a million waiver forms and paying for insurance (though afterwards I did question why I bothered with the extra insurance for Master14 much to his horror).

There were three of us going up for a tandem jump that morning and after sitting through our instructional video we were greeted by our tandem professionals. I had Jimmy and his first question was ‘have you been to the loo’ (this guy must’ve jumped with mums before!). After a quick pitstop, I was strapped into my harness and life raft (yes, the harness has one of those attached as we jump out of the plane over water) and getting some more instructions and lots of video and photo footage on the crews GoPro.

The third jumper with us had his wife and baby there and they had a spare carseat in their car so rather than going in the skydive minibus, Miss6 went with wife and bubba to follow us and wait on the beach to watch the jump and landing. Up in the biggest aircraft (it seated 8) and I had my earplanes in ready for take-off. At this stage, I was expecting to start feeling nervous but I was strangely calm and excited – I think. It may have been that I was busy worrying that Master14 was ok all strapped into his harness or that Jimmy seemed competent and happy to go.

Once we got to 15,400 feet in the air, the clear rollerdoor opened and the first jumper and his tandem shuffled to the front before simply dropping away beneath us and into the sky. I was shuffled next and sat with my legs dangling out of the plane over the edge. An obligitory photo on the GoPro (not looking forward to the flattering photos they always produce!) and then we dropped out of the plane too.

Talk about ultimate brain freeze! The air was so cold my head was freezing and despite the earplanes I had in, my right ear wasn’t pressurising and was in agony. The freefall itself was an exhilarating experience and I tried to enjoy it as best as I could while ignoring the pain. Once the parachute was deployed we slowed right down and I could actually feel the sun on my head and thaw out – plus I could hold my nose and pop my ear.

I got to have a turn at steering the parachute before Jimmy pulled hard right and we turned upside down – this was my favourite part. I could see Master14 above me floating safely and I hoped he was having an amazing time too. The sand was looming below and the crew had marked a giant X in the sand (along with another very juvenile symbol that made me laugh).


We came in and landed right on the spot and I then got to watch Master14 float down and land after me. He’d looked very nervous in the plane and said he was pretty scared at teh freefall but absolutely loved it. We were quickly greeted by Miss6 who had watched the whole thing and said that we looked like tiny specs in the sky when we first jumped out.

Back to the office where we were handed our certificate for jumping which also entitled us to a two-for-one deal at the pub – it was 10am so we opted for hot chocolates instead while we waited for the video of our jumps to be ready.

After lunch we decided to head to the Lesueur National Park to check out Wilson Lookout and some of the wildflowers – it was nice to get some fresh air and try our hand at wildflower photography. My ear was still very sore and both Master14 and I were exhausted so we went back to the camper for a nanna nap while Miss6 entertained herself colouring in.

We headed to the beach to walk the pier and watch the sunset before hitting the pub for our two for one drinks where we decided to have dinner too. We went to bed with the sounds of some very strong winds and woke up to much the same – I was glad we weren’t jumping out of a plane in this wind. It was a tougher pack up in strong winds but we got there in the end and hit the road for Perth with a stopover at the Pinnacles.

We got there in time for the rain to stop and some sunshine was even out. The Pinnacles are a surreal formation and walking around the park, it feels like you’re walking through an ancient cemetary with thousands of limestone tombstones seeping out of the desert floor. We did have a giggle at a couple of the formations that looked a bit phelic and even Miss6 yelled ‘that looks like a doodle’ at one of them.

There were photographs in the discovery centre that were taken either at early or late hours of the day where the light really captures the strange beauty of the rocks – I think our photos are more for remembering the visit as the light wasn’t the best at the time of day we got there. We left the Pinnacles behind and headed for Karrinyup Waters Resort in Gwelup, just outside of Perth – our first capital city on this trip and first major town for a few months.

Kalbarri to Geraldton

We were looking forward to getting to Murchison Station, bordering the Kalbarri National Park, it had some great reviews and our KC family friends had let us know that it was a great place to stay – in another case of small worlds, they ended up camped next to my old workmate and his family! After our sightseeing on the way out of Denham we didn’t get to Murchison Station until around 4pm so we unhitched the van and drove straight to the National Park to squeeze one hike in before sunset.

As we entered the National Park though it went from a light drizzle (which we were happy to put up with while walking), to a heavy downpour so we decided instead to turn around and head into Kalbarri to look around. We refuelled while we were there and checked out a couple of lookouts before we thought we’d cheat and have fish and chips for dinner. We were out of luck though as the shop was shut – they’d either gone fishing or had no power, the signs on the door couldn’t agree.

We headed back to the station so that we could set up before it got dark. Master14 started the fire while I made a start on dinner. The kids from the station popped past and asked the kids if they’d like to play so they ran off to have fun while I sat by the fire with a wine waiting for dinner to be ready. We went to bed early as we had to be in Geraldton the next morning by 10am for a service on the car.

The alarm went off at 6am and so did the rooster, though when I went for a walk it was still pitch black and I needed the torch to find the bathrooms. I pottered around and eventually woke Master14 at 6.45 and just carried Miss6 straight from bed to the car with a warm blanket and brekki and we were off by 7.40. While we were proud to have made it out of the campsite so early, it was still a disappointing feeling to have to leave – the station is a lovely spot with campsites along the river and the National Park right on the doorstep – it would be a great place to stay for a few days. Another one to add to the ‘come back and visit list’ (which at this stage is starting to get pretty long).

We got to Geraldton and dropped the camper at the auto electricians (a fellow camper wanted to look under my van to see how they’d got it to sit so high off the ground and noticed a wire on my electric brakes was broken) and the car at Toyota for a routine service and to check an unusual smell that I’d noticed only a day or two before.

The kids and I walked down to the foreshore and spent most of the day playing on the amazing playgrounds down there. There was a big kids playground that had huge climbing equipment and a fun enclosed slide (even I had a go on that) and some interactive electronic games that got you moving and competing against each other. Master14 even played with his little sister on the younger playground, helping her go really fast on some of the equipment and showing her how to balance on the surfboard – it’s always so nice to see the two of them play well together considering their big age gap.

Toyota were due to finish with my car around 2pm so we decided to take a walk up the hill to check out the HMAS Sydney Memorial – this one was far more elaborate than the one in Quobba. It was made with 645 metal seagulls all welded together to form a dome at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean – it was very impressive and sombering along with the names of all 645 seamen that lost their lives.

While we were there, Jurien Bay Skydive called to say that tomorrow morning would be better for a skydive than Sunday and could we jump tomorrow instead?! We had originally planned to stay the night in Geraldton but decided that as it was only a few hours drive away, if I booked the caravan park over the phone, we could make it in time for sunset.

On the way back to pick up the car we stopped at the Sea Lion lookout and were lucky enough to see one of them lounging on a rock – we didn’t realise how rare they were and felt pretty lucky to have spotted one in the short time we spent at the lookout. We picked up the car and camper and hit the road with visions of jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane the next morning to keep us going. We saw blankets of wildflowers in paddocks as we passed through from Kalbarri to Geraldton and now more on our way to Jurien Bay, Miss6 thinks they’re all beautiful and I have to agree.

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.