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tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaWe left Ledge Point after a drive through town to get a look at the community. The housing was upscale beach housing with beautiful homes with a second story that looked over the dunes to the sea. The dunes all along this coast are very well preserved. Walkways are provided at specific places and people seem to stay off the dunes other than through the walkways. This is nice to see and seldom seen in the US. Dune erosion can be quite serious. Once the plants have been disturbed, the dune is free to move. Regular ocean breezes will move particles up one side of the dune and they tumble down the other side. Once sand grain at a time (actually many at a time) the dune moves further inland. If there is no plant life to anchor the dune, it will move into a street or road, a lawn or a field. Once the plant life is gone, it is virtually impossible to stop the movement of a dune. At the upper end of South Padre Island near where we live in the southern tip of Texas, the dunes have reclaimed the highway north of the town. You can drive north of town until the roadway disappears under the dunes. We had reviewed the brochure for Perth and the main thing we wanted to see was the Fremantle area which included some of the early buildings in the downtown. The focus of the area seemed to be the prison so we put that address into the GPS. One more time, we can’t say how valuable the GPS has been on this trip. It routed us on high speed motorways right to downtown and then we were off within a couple of blocks of the prison. The city of Fremantle has a Park and Pay lot at the prison. You pay your fee at a station, get a receipt and put that on the dash. The camper wouldn’t fit in any of the parking spaces but they were end to end double spaces so I parked in an empty pair at the far end of the lot and used part of the space in front of us. The lot was never full while we weren’t blocking a spot that could have been sold. The prison was the state prison for Western Australia. It was built in the 1860’s and that says a lot about the nature of the prison. It was added to and expanded several times. By the 1960’s there were severe crowding problems and the conditions in the prison must have been quite frightful. There were several prison riots, one in the 1960’s over the quality of the food and another in the 1980’s related to the overcrowding. The prison was finally closed in 1991. There were a number of tours available but the general information was dreadful enough we didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the prison. We left there with a bus route and schedule for the free shuttle around Freemantle. Using the map we headed for the Maritime Museum on the docks. A short walk to the bus stop and a short bus ride and we arrived about 2:00 in the afternoon. Outside the Maritime Museum an extensive set of low walls listed all the people lost at sea in a long list of shipwrecks. Everywhere we go on the coastline of Australia there are extensive lists of shipwrecks. The coastline has it hazards as all coastlines do and many of the wrecks occurred before accurate navigation techniques were common. Even in recent times, shipwrecks occurred in some cases because navigational hazards weren’t well plotted. The museum itself had a number of interesting displays including one documenting a 1980’s series of circumnavigations of the globe by Jon Sanders. His boat and equipment he carried were displayed. The boat was displayed at a steep angle and a marker near the ceiling behind the boat showed the height of a 30 foot wave that overtook the boat on one of his trips. Jon saw it approaching and hung onto the mast as the wave washed over the boat. There was an extensive exhibit with models of the America’s Cup yachts from the beginning of the competition to present day. They were displayed in sets for each year and it was really nice to be able to look at the progression of changes in the design over time. One of the yachts, the Australia II which was sailed by the Perth Yacht Club, was on display, full size. An early ferry and fishing vessels from small to large were also there to be seen. We spent several hours and if we had been there earlier in the day we would have spent a few more. Leaving the museum, we caught a bus to the prison. It went out of service while we were on the way so we switched to the other free bus route and took a bus to the nearest stop to the prison parking lot. We walked back to the parking lot by a different route which gave us a chance to view a large athletic field called The Oval. We were able to peek through the fencing along one side and see the stadium. We arrived back at the parking lot with a few minutes remaining on our parking pass. Putting the address for the Central Caravan Park into the GPS put us on the way out of town to a location near the airport. The route started a bit slow with stoplights but they were well timed and we didn’t have to stop at many. Soon the lights gave out and we were on the Great Eastern Highway headed out of town. It was a much faster trip than I anticipated in early rush hour traffic. Our park is near the Britz office and the airport because we will turn in the camper in two days. We’ll spend the next two days getting everything ready for the next leg of our journey, an air flight to Sydney.
Indian Ocean Drive
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaDeparting the Geraldton area we noticed a dramatic change from our travels over the last month. We have returned from the Great Australian Outback. Suddenly we were seeing fields of crops and farms. There were still many areas with native plants growing but the sudden change from no farmland to abundant farmland was quite surprising. Along with this, we no longer saw signs for domestic animals, cows and sheep, roaming on the road. This was the end to open range country. Traffic was light on Indian Ocean Drive. We didn’t meet a single road train in our drive to Ledge Point. As we drove the road, we stopped in several small towns to see the ocean views and walk along beachfront trails. The highway itself wanders among large sand dunes. Many are covered with heavy vegetation but there are also huge sand dunes with no vegetative cover at all. The sand here is surprisingly white. This would indicate that the sand particles are almost exclusively quartz. Several towns bear mention for their facilities along the beach. At Green Head we pulled into a park at the beach. A map directed us to a walkway up and over a dune and then to a scenic overlook on several bays and some offshore islands. We enjoyed the cool sea breeze as well as the sound and sights of waves breaking on rocks and the beach. The park, walkway and overlook were well maintained and had interpretative signs to explain what we were seeing on the walk. At Jurien we enjoyed walking out onto their pier and seeing schools of small fish in the water below the pier. There was a very nice playground set up on the sand at the upper end of the beach next to the pier. There was a walkway along the beach and we walked that for a while. Along the walk there was a set of exercise equipment for adults. A little further down the path there was an exhibit about an artificial reef which had been constructed just off-shore in the area. The artificial reef was designed for young people and other who were not capable of swimming out to the natural reef which was quite a distance from the shore. They had constructed reef balls made of concrete, these hollow balls ranged in size from 1 meter (three feet) in diameter down to 30 centimeters (one foot). They weighed as much as 750 kilograms (1500 pounds). These had been placed in water that was about 10 feet deep to create a reef environment for fish and plants. The project was driven by a group of volunteers and partially funded by the county government. Many donors contributed to the project. It was truly a community effort. Once again we pulled into our campground as the sun set. The office had just closed but we were welcomed and told where to pick a site, we could register in the morning. The camp at Ledge Point was one of the nicest parks we have stayed at. It had some long stay occupants but showed all signs of a new park. The facilities were all clean and well maintained.
Kalbarri National Park
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaWe left the Billabong Homestead early Saturday morning and drove on south toward Kilberri National Park. This would be a side trip off the North West Coastal Highway that we’ve been traveling. The road through the park takes us to Kalbarri, a small town on the coast. The National Park surrounds the park. The central feature of Kalbarri National Park is the Murchison River. Like many of the rivers in Western Australia (WA) the Murchison River is barely flowing or dry for much of the year. It drains a large area of Western Australia so when they get rain, it flows vigorously. We saw evidence that the water level is easily 20 to 25 feet above the minimal flow we were looking at. During this flow large rocks get rolled along by the river and it cuts the cliff base of sandstone rock. Once the rock is undercut, the cliff above becomes unstable and falls into the river channel. We saw some really interesting sandstone, red of course, in our walk to the river channel. We visited several overlooks and walked down to the river in one location. Like many other national parks in Australia there are many four wheel drive roads which are unsuitable for our campervan. The area is called a gorge and indeed it has the look of a gorge but this is flat land and the criteria for a gorge is different than our idea of a gorge. This isn’t the Grand Canyon or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Kalberri Gorge is a shallow gorge, perhaps 100 feet deep, maybe a little more. A ten or fifteen minute walk gets you from the rim to the bottom of the gorge. Still, it provides excellent relief from the routine flat sandy plains that surround it. The red sandstone make for a beautiful rock exposure and I’m sure the river is a spectacle when it is flowing. The other feature of Kalbarri National Park is the seacoast south of the town of Kalbarri. We drove this area on Sunday, making stops at each overlook and hiking some trails. It is a beautiful coastline and we spent the entire day driving about 20 kilometers from Kalbarri visiting these sites. Again, there is the red sandstone but it is capped with some white and yellow sandstone in a few places. These are deposits that were laid down along a seacoast millions of years after the red sandstone was deposited. We saw a sea stack and a sea arch in one location. We also saw a Humpback Whale splashing in the distance at that location. A few dolphins were also swimming in the area. Finishing our exploration of Kilbari National Park at 4:30 in the afternoon we headed south to Geraldton. We have now abandoned the North West Coastal Highway and will take the Indian Ocean Drive to the south all the way into Perth. Sunset here is coming about 5:45 p.m. and we had 150 kilometers to go so we were going to be arriving after dark. Louise called ahead to a park where we wanted to stay. They closed their office at 5:00 so it was a good thing we called ahead to let them know we would be arriving late. Everything was done over the phone and we were told to pick up our packet of information in a lockbox at the office. We parked for the night at the Sunset Beach Holiday Park in Geraldton. Showers, dinner and then a little time on the internet completed our evening. This park is one of the few we have found lately that has internet service through a company that we committed to early in the trip. They have a network of parks that use their service and we made good use of it on the east coast but we have only found it in a few spots in the outback. We’ve been able to get our money’s worth from the company but just barely. When we are able to find them, it is nice to have unlimited time and a usage limit which is ample for our needs.
Denham and Shell Beach
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaAt 11:30 a.m. we left Monkey Mia on our way back south. Just 25 miles down the road is a beautiful little town, Denham. We stopped there to walk the main street along Denham Strait. Palm trees, green grass and brilliant green and blue ocean water provided a beautiful setting for this town. Louise was making one last attempt to find just the right pearl jewelry and found a necklace and earrings at a small shop on the waterfront. We enjoyed the walk, a cool breeze and bright sunshine made for perfect weather. Denham marked our western most point on our trip. In fact there was a hotel in town that had a banner saying it was the westernmost hotel in Australia. From Denham we are retracing our path up the peninsula. We stopped at a narrow point on the peninsula to walk on Shell Beach. Hamlin Pool is a very isolated part of Shark Bay. Sea water does not circulate freely in the Hamlin Pool so the water becomes almost twice as salty as normal sea water. Only a few organisms can live in this very salty water. This is the same body of water that had the stromatolites. Limpets are also able to live here and when they die their shells are left behind. These have accumulated for many thousands of years and form a thick layer at the bottom of the bay. These blow up on land forming dunes of shells. Shells in the water compact and form a kind of limestone called Coquina, the limestone is made almost entirely of shells. The beach here is brilliant white being made entirely of these white shells. We left Shell Beach about 2:30 and drove the 100 kilometers to the Overland Roadhouse where we fueled up again. Then we drove just another 50 kilometers to the Billabong Homestead and our camp for the night. We’ve been traveling in an area where drinking water is not available. That means that the water available at campsites is not for drinking. Since you can’t wash your car or camper, I don’t know why they have water at the campsites. Indeed, our campground for the night had no water available in the campground. We’re running on our second day of water with a tank that lasts us about three days so that means possibly running out tomorrow. The showers aren’t drinking water but the water was soft, plenty of suds. It isn’t fancy but they have electric and hot showers and we were ready for some rest.
There are No Monkeys in Monkey Mia
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaCarnarvon is only about 100 kilometers from Monkey Mia as the Crow flies. We aren’t Crows and we can’t fly in our campervan so we have to drive south for 200 kilometers and then northwest for another 155 kilometers. We made a late start down the road after shopping for groceries and filling with diesel. We took advantage of the discount offered by the grocery store which is pretty standard in Australia. Woolworths, Cole’s and some IGA stores offer a 4 cent per liter discount on fuel at their partner fuel stations. We’ve been taking advantage of this when we can. It doesn’t sound like much but that is the equivalent of about 15 cents per gallon and I know not one of us would pass that up. We made another fuel stop at the Overlander Roadhouse. A fill-up there would give us enough fuel to make it back there on the return trip without buying fuel at Monkey Mia. It isn’t a good idea to plan to buy fuel at the end of a long road which is where Monkey Mia was located. Another stop along the way was to see some Stromatolites in the Hamlin Pool Marine Estuary. Stromatolites are ancient composites of microbes which form large colonies in shallow water. An information panel described it as the equivalent of a rain forest for bacteria and other one celled living forms. Fossils of Stromatolites are found in Precambrian rocks. Precambrian rocks contain no other fossils so these Stromatolites are the earliest fossils we find on Earth. After that stop it was almost sunset as we approached Monkey Mia. This part of the trip was mostly to the northwest which was directly into the setting sun which made the driving hard and looking for kangaroos and other straying livestock a real challenge. We arrived in Monkey Mia as the last light was fading from the sky and parked in our spot in the dark. We had done something we usually never do. There is only one campground in Monkey Mia so I encouraged Louise to call ahead and make reservations. I can’t say that it paid off for sure but we didn’t see any vacant sites in this park. The place was packed with campers, this was obviously a very popular site. At the office we got information about the premier event, feeding the dolphins, which occurs each morning. We were given the location and time to be there so we set an alarm to get us up and on our way before the start time. The next morning, Friday, we were on the beach waiting for the feeding to start at 7:30 a.m. This is a tradition that started many years ago when people in the campground began feeding the dolphins. It became a problem when the dolphins began to depend on the people for their food. Female dolphins would spend so much time in shallow water getting fish fed to them that their calves were dying because they couldn’t nurse in shallow water. The Western Australia Department of Conservation took over the feeding operation and carefully controls it so that the dolphins have to get most of their food by hunting and thus spend time out to sea where the calves can nurse and learn to hunt from the mother. We were given an explanation of the feeding process and then invited to come to the water’s edge forming a long single line at the edge of the bay. Once everyone was in line we were allowed to come into the water to about ankle depth. This brought dolphins closer to the shore and some of them even came within ten feet of our line. Two rangers from the Department of Conservation talked about dolphins and gave us the history of the program while supervising the group. Once the dolphins were close by, we were told to back up out of the water which signaled the dolphins that feeding was about to begin. Volunteers then brought buckets of fish to the beach. There were only a few fish in each bucket. They spread out along the line and picked people from the line to come feed a dolphin. Out of 130 people there that morning, less than a dozen were picked to feed the dolphins. Everyone else got a close look at the dolphins and the feeding. Once this was over, we spent some time on the dock looking for turtles which had been in the area earlier in the morning. Then before we left the dock they started the second feeding. This time only 30 people showed up and there were more dolphins. Louise was picked to feed a dolphin named Surprise. By this time it was almost 9:00 a.m. and we needed to be off our site by 10:00 or stay another night. We went back to the campervan and packed up, pulling out at 9:50 a.m. We left the campground and parked in the Department of Conservation parking lot. We ate breakfast and then spent some time in the gift shop and information kiosk learning more about the dolphins and Monkey Mia. We found out that no one knows exactly where the name came from. There were three possible explanations for Monkey, one being a ship named Monkey that docked there in the late 1800’s. Another explanation is that the name came from the Malay pearlers, who camped at this location, had monkeys. A third possible source of the name is that an Australian colloquialism for sheep is monkey and there were (still are) sheep farms on the peninsula. Mia is the Aboriginal word for home, camp or resting place. The information sheet clearly stated that there are no monkeys at Monkey Mia.
Carnarvon Is a Surprise!
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaWe left Exmouth headed for another sea adventure in Monkey Mia. South of Exmouth we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. In doing this we left the tropics for the last time in Australia. The distance from Exmouth to the Monkey Mia was too far to cover easily in one day so we decided to make it a two day trip. We needed to stop for groceries and figured that Carnarvon would be a good stop for that and give us an easy 2 day trip to Monkey Mia. As we pulled into Carnarvon, there was a huge dish antenna on the horizon. It turned out to be the 97 foot diameter dish for the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. But, on the same grounds was a much smaller Cassegrain horn antenna which received the signals of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in July 1969. Carnarvon was the location of the NASA Satellite Tracking Station that served the US Space Program from its inception through Skylab. Along with Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, the station at Carnarvon gave the US coverage and communication with spacecraft orbiting Earth for most of their orbits. A small museum today contains some of the memorabilia donated by Australian participants in this effort. Today the NASA Deep Space Network is located in the Australian Capital Territory near Canberra. Carnarvon is left with a couple of unused antennas and a small museum along with memories of its glory days during the space race of the 1960s. Buzz Aldrin was present for the dedication of the museum. In his 80’s at the time, he looked quite different than when he walked on the moon with Neal Armstrong. It is hard to believe that almost 45 years has passed since that event. Sad also to see the US Space Program hiring our competitor for rides into space. We walked around the 97 foot dish, marveling at its size. We weren’t able to get to the Cassegrain Horn antenna as it was within a construction area. We could see it from the back side. While taking pictures of the large dish antenna I noticed a ring around the sun and found a place to get both the antenna and the ring around the sun in the picture. You may have to enlarge the photo with this posting to see the ring around the sun. We also went into Carnarvon to walk the mile long pier which is featured in their publicity. There is a “tea cup” train that makes runs out to the end of the pier but it wasn’t running when we arrived late in the afternoon. We enjoyed walking the length of the tour and watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean and full moon rise over Carnarvon. The moon rise was a fitting event considering the location and the events that transpired here.
Swimming With Whalesharks
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaMonday, May 12, we went out to swim with the whalesharks. We chose Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim as the company based on the information we could gather. We were picked up at our park at 7:15 and driven to the dock which is on the other side of the peninsula. There were 19 adults in the group plus three young children. We were transferred to the boat which was anchored offshore and then taken to a reef area. The snorkeling was partly a training exercise for the whaleshark swim which has to be executed very quickly to catch the shark as it swims by. You can swim for a while but eventually it will outpace even the strongest swimmers. The boat anchored off the reef and we were to swim to the reef for snorkeling. With the tide coming in and the boat being inside the reef it meant we had to swim against a pretty strong current. I wore myself out completely swimming against the current and just couldn’t get ahead of it. So I returned to the boat, a washout! Louise is a stronger swimmer than I and was able to get to the reef and snorkel there. Everyone came back with stories of a Manta Ray and other great sightings of fish. Once everyone was back on board we set out to hunt a whaleshark. The actual hunting is done by airplane. Pilots spot them swimming just below the water’s surface and relay their location to the ship. So off we went bouncing our way into the 2 to 3 meter swells of the Indian Ocean. As our guide said it could be rough as there is nothing between where we were and Africa just a whole lot of open water! Reaching a whaleshark we put on our snorkeling gear and once the boat was positioned ahead of the shark we jumped in. Off we swam to see the whaleshark. I got a look at it but it was a fleeting look still I had seen it. Whale sharks are large, this one was about 4 meters long from head to tip of tail. Returning to the boat, we continued searching for whalesharks. More rough seas plus the seawater swallowed while snorkeling began to hit a few of the adults. One woman was down and out from that point on. A second whaleshark was spotted and we got another chance to snorkel. This time I got an even shorter peek at it before it swam away. I couldn’t keep up with it at all. Louise got a pretty good look. We encountered a group of dolphins and circled them several times. There were about 20 dolphins in the group. They were not shy and stayed close to the boat. I went to the top deck and took some pictures. The telephoto lens doesn’t work for dolphins because they pop up and then are gone before you can point the lens at them. You have to aim a wider view lens at the area where they are and even then when you see them the lag time between realizing they are there and pressing the shutter relase can mean you get a nice picture of the ocean surface. I got a few good shots of dolpins before we left them. Shortly after that we found a third whaleshark. This one was swimming slowly and I was able to swim along with it for what seemed like a good length of time. I would guess that I was within 5 feet of the shark for a good 30 seconds, maybe more. I had time to look at the gill slits, to examine the fins and tail and to also appreciate the host of smaller fish that accompany this huge shark. There are different fish at what seem to be special locations. I had seen two long eel-like fish just below the belly of the shark with the first shark. There was also a school of about 20 tiny fish that were five or six feet below the belly of the whale. Several medium sized fish swam just above the shark and one colorful reef fish was swimming just in front of the tail. So the whaleshark has a whole community of fish that swim along with it. During this whole time I was the only swimmer along that side of the shark. Then the group caught up with me and I dropped out. It was the best experience of the day for me. Louise also got a look at this one but was on the other side with the crowd most of the time so she didn’t get as good a look. The photo with this article is one from the set the photographer for Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim took on the day we were swimming. They gave us a set of pictures taken during our swim. Finally a really large whaleshark was spotted. Our guides estimated it at 8 meters long. Louise was too tired and was feeling the effects of the motion of the boat and the saltwater she had swallowed while snorkeling so she sat out this one. I went in after it but never saw it. Louise told me I was right in front of it but must have somehow missed it. Anyway, I’d had a good experience and learned something about my limitations. I’m going to have to get more swimming exercise to get those muscles toned up for our coming cruise in Fiji. On our way back to the dock, we were traveling with the swell and it made the ride much easier. Everyone seemed to recover from their seasickness enough to eat lunch. We stopped just short of the dock to do one final reef snorkel and then returned to the dock and back to the campground. We spent the next day taking care of laundry and resting in the campground before departing Exmouth on Wednesday.
We’ve Landed on Mars
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaI’ve seen pictures of the planet Mars, and this part of Australia sure looks like Mars. The landscape here is relentlessly red. The red is a deeper red than the red center. The desert is red, hills are red, sand dunes are red. Even the rivers look deep red, much deeper red than the Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border. Our whole journey from Nanutarra Roadhouse to Exmouth had only minor elevation changes and only a few curves to move us around rather than over hills. Temperatures are moderating as we travel south. With a few clouds around mid-day we were able to shut down the air conditioner periodically as we traveled. Traffic was light until we reached the turnoff for Exmouth. Making that turn, we began traveling west and then north onto the Exmouth Peninsula. The town of Exmouth lies at the northern end of the peninsula. There is a navy base north of town. We learned that the navy base used to be a US base in the 60’s and 70’s. A large antenna array north of the base is used for VLF communications with ships and submarines. The antenna is still operated by the US but the base has been turned over to the Australian Government. The antenna array is similar to another we saw in central Australia. Twelve radio towers are arranged in a circle around a single larger tower. All the towers are connected and connecting cables support an antenna ring around the central tower. The town of Exmouth didn’t exist until the US built the naval base and the antenna. Exmouth was built like a US town until Australians moved in to support the base population with goods and services. Around Exmouth there are numerous national parks and reef areas. One of our goals here is to do some snorkeling. We didn’t get a chance to see the Great Barrier Reef and want to see some of the Ningaloo reef while in this area. There are numerous companies here that provide snorkeling tours, many feature a swim with a whaleshark. Whalesharks are large sharks, not whales. They are filter feeders like whales, thus the name. They have only small teeth at the back of the mouth. They feed on plankton in the water. The whaleshark has a large wide mouth with which it sweeps up small plants and animals for its food. The dive up to 2000 meters below the surface and feed at the surface. Being a fish, not a whale, they do not need to come to the surface to breathe. While they are at the surface snorkelers can swim near them without disturbing them. A whole industry has developed in Exmouth to support this activity.
A Slight Miscalculation
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaPort Hedland was an overnight stop, we left in the morning intending to drive to Exmouth on the Exmouth Peninsula to the southwest of Port Hedland. The road route is over 700 kilometers which was a surprise to me. I had looked at the map and figured the distances at something over 400 kilometers. When I programmed the GPS in the morning I thought it must have a different route in mind. So Louise went to the map and confirmed that the distance was going to be over 700 kilometers. We have driven 700 kilometers in a day but I wasn’t prepared for that this day. We had a grocery stop to make and the trip would require multiple fuel stops so we right away decided that any attempt to get all the way to Exmouth would not work. As we drove we discussed options including staying at some remote location without power or utilities or finding a campground. We decided to drive until late afternoon and then based on where we were, make a decision about our stopping place for the night. Leaving Port Hedland we were escorted by dozens of truck trains. Most were associated with the local mining but there were truck trains hauling fuel, heavy equipment, wide loads and more. In this case there is nothing to do but simply keep up with traffic. South of town the Great Northern Highway, which we have driven across Western Australia to Broome and now south, turns inland and so did most of the truck trains. We continued on south on the North West Coastal Highway. Truck trains drive this highway as well but their numbers are about what we have experienced on other highways in the Outback. The road is in excellent shape, we encountered no road work once out of Port Hedland. The terrain on this route is very flat. We could see ranges of hills or low mountains in the distance. The road managed to stay between these obstructions with few changes in direction. I set the cruise in the low 90’s and we rolled along quite comfortably. We pulled off the road in Karratha to eat lunch and top off the fuel tank. The next leg of the trip was over 200 kilometers without any fuel along the way. With a full tank we drove for three hours with a short restroom stop midway. We arrived at the Nanutarra Roadhouse about 5:00 p.m. and fueled the campervan. There wasn’t much discussion at this point. It was late in the afternoon the sun would be setting in an hour or so. We were seeing cows along and on the road and we had just come through a section which was damaged during recent heavy rains. There were camper swallowing pot holes in the road and places where the highway was so broken up they had put gravel in place to make it easier to drive. Guess how long the gravel stays with the truck trains driving over it. With no traffic in either direction, I could drive slowly and weave all over the road to take the safest way through the obstacles. Facing the prospect of driving through all this in the dark, it was an easy decision to stay at the campground at Nanutarra Roadhouse. Besides, tomorrow is Mother’s Day and Louise should have the deluxe accommodations, restrooms, showers and electric power! Happy Mother’s Day dear!
The Long Lonely Road to Port Hedland
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaOur next stop was 610 kilometers down the road, a full day drive. Port Hedland is south and west of Broome. The road follows the curve of the shore just inland from the Indian Ocean. We packed up and were on our way by 9:00 a.m. Between Broome and Port Hedland there is little for us to see. The only side roads from this section of highway are unpaved dirt roads. There is access to 80 mile beach but that also is an unpaved road. As you might suspect, 80 mile beach is an extensive beach similar to the one we were on the day before. I’m sure it would have been a great place but a four wheel drive vehicle would have been necessary. The other feature of significance on this drive remains just out of sight to our west and south. The Great Sandy Desert lies just inland from the Great Northern Highway. We could at times see dunes along the beach and at other times we could see dunes inland, at the border of the desert. It was a lonely stretch of road with road trains and a few campers on the move. There are two roadhouses along the route which provide food and fuel. Otherwise, we saw no power lines, no houses, only an occasional entrance gate to some private land. The road was unfenced and we were cautioned about livestock. We only saw cows near the road for a short distance. At the Sunfire Roadhouse I fueled up with enough fuel to get us to Port Hedland where fuel prices should be more reasonable. Louise was entertained by a flock of Peafowl. Peacocks and Peahens that roamed the parking area. There were at least a dozen. She had to feed the white one that came over to check out the campervan. I amused myself by counting the tires on one of the road trains parked there. Each of the trailers on the road train has six axles, three at the front and three at the back. Each axle has dual tires so that is four per axle for a total of 24 tires on one trailer. We see three, sometimes four trailers in a train. The front trailer has only three axles on the back and the tractor has three axles with the steer axle only two tires of course. So that is 22 tires on the tractor and first trailer and 24 tires on each of the following trailers. A full four trailer rig would have 94 tires! Makes an 18 wheeler look pretty lame! I’m glad I don’t have to pay for the tires much less the fuel these rigs use. We saw several strong showers in the distance but drove only through a very light rain late in the afternoon. As we approached Port Hedland traffic began to pick up. Port Hedland is a mining area and there were truck trains hauling ore. We were in the lane with the loaded trucks and meeting the empty rigs. They weren’t wasting any time so it was a busy highway. To get to our campground we traveled into town past a huge salt pile that was surrounded with salt evaporation ponds. Sea water is pumped into the salt ponds and allowed to evaporate then collected and stockpiled for shipment by sea. The salt collection and stockpiling operation goes on 24 hours a day our camp host informed us. There is a scenic viewpoint where you can pull off to view the operation. Campground prices were sky-high, $54 per night but the internet was free. We get a discount at the Big 4 park chain thanks to an alliance between Britz and the Big 4 Parks, 10%, so we got our site for $49.60. We are parked on concrete, something that happens only rarely here in Australia. Most sites are grass or gravel. Some have a concrete pad next to the parking site but very few have a concrete pad for parking. Thanks to the free internet and paying for internet in Broome, I am now caught up to real time. This posting should be on the morning of Saturday, May 10, as we are departing Port Hedland for our next stop, Exmouth. The clouds that were associated with the showers gave us an excellent sunset. Clouds make sunrise and sunset pictures interesting and I was out taking pictures when several other photographers joined me. We all agreed this one was spectacular. I put together a panoramic and will post it. We’ll see how the FMCA Web Site handles a panoramic photo. If you click on it you can get it enlarged. Here is just a little fun for the map and geography fans in the audience... Port Hedland is near 20 degrees south latitude so we are still in the tropics. We are moving further west and are now at 119 degrees east longitude. That puts us 61 degrees west of the International Date Line. A little further west and we would be 180 degrees from New York City! That would be 105 degrees east longitude and we won’t go that far west but interesting to think about. We are still closer to the US if we travel east rather than west.
Where’s the Beach?
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaOur last day in Broome was a beach day. We drove to the beach about 11:00 a.m. and parked the motor home on solid sand at the upper part of the beach. Cable Beach is a large beach that stretches from near downtown Broome on the west coast for twenty kilometers. We were on Gantheaume Bay on the Indian Ocean. Waters were quite warm and the surf was mild, waves less than two feet made for a fun beach. There were vehicles all over the beach, many with boat trailers. This was a great swimming beach but locals also used it as a boat launch. It was interesting to watch them launch and trailer their boats from this shallow beach. But first, we wanted to get into the water. There are crocodiles in this area and most areas with crocodiles have strong cautions about staying out of the water. The reading we had done on Broome indicated that crocodiles were not a concern so we anticipated being able to swim here. There were several couples wading in the surf so we inquired. They were local and said there was no problem. So in we went, walking, wading into the mild surf and then getting out into deeper water to swim. We left the US in January and hadn’t been out in the water swimming since then. Under the tropical sun I called a stop after about 20 minutes. We retreated to the campervan and set up our chairs in the shade of the campervan. Louise fixed lunch and we had a light lunch. There was a steady breeze and warm temperatures which made for a great afternoon of people watching from the shade of the campervan. We saw boats being trailered while in the water with a tow rope to pull the trailer from the water. Others would back their four wheel drive out into the surf and load the boat onto their trailer at that point. It was still necessary for someone to wrestle the boat onto the trailer and pull the bow down until the ratchet could be used to draw the boat into its travel position on the trailer. One of the most unique was the boat that had three wheels, two at the stern and one on the bow. Once the boat was in shallow water, the wheels were lowered and you just drove the boat onto the shore. It could be driven forward or backward, it was steerable and if someone wanted to join you just lift the wheels until the boat was sitting on the sand. Once your passenger joined you the boat could be put back up on its wheels and driven into the surf to go out once more. Besides boats there were many sunbathers and swimmers. In mid-afternoon a couple of wind surfers showed up and they entertained us for the rest of the afternoon. A few people brought their dogs to the beach and let them run in the surf. Late in the afternoon one of the water jet devices arrived and we watched the operator rising up into the air supported by jets of water sprayed from nozzles on the platform they stood on. If you haven’t seen this device, it has a pump that floats on the water and is connected to the operator’s platform by two hoses and a control cable. The hoses connect to two nozzles which spray water down which raises the platform with the rider. It is sometimes referred to as a James Bond hovercraft. As sunset approached everybody and their dog showed up to watch the sun set over the bay. With the sun fading we went back for another swim then returned to the chairs to wait for the grand finale. We were not disappointed as there was a fine sunset over the water.
Work and Play, all in a Day
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaOur second day in Broome starts with laundry. The park laundry facilities here are generally quite good. Here in Broome there are 10 washers and just 4 dryers. All the parks have clothes lines set up for laundry right next to the laundry room. Our campervan came with a set of clothes pins and a small clothes line. Washers here are $4.00 per load so she has been economizing by hanging the laundry to dry rather than using the dryers. It is always an adventure to do the laundry. Some machines take $1 coins and others take $2 coins. Most park facilities have one or the other. Last week the laundry in Darwin had some machines that used $1 coins and others that used $2 coins. There is no paper money in denominations less than $5 in Australia and there are no pennies. I’ve not heard the $1 and $2 coins referred to as Loonies and Twonies! The tropics have increased our laundry considerably. Clothes worn for several hours are quickly exchanged for dry clothes when we return home. The combination of humidity, bright sunny days and low latitudes with very warm temperatures make for quite a lot of perspiration with very little effort! Louise has quickly adjusted to doing laundry in the park laundry facilities. I try to do the running for Louise when she is doing laundry. So I make the trip to the office to get the needed coinage. I try to assist her also when hanging the laundry to dry and taking clothes off the line. It makes things go faster if someone is carrying things back and forth while another pins the clothes on the line or folding as they come off the line. She takes care of all the technical work, running the machines, arranging the clothes on the line, folding clothes. I’m the unskilled labor! We spent the afternoon at the Broome Bird Observatory. Most of our birding has been done on our own. I’m a casual birder. I don’t go hunting for specific birds. When we are hiking we’ll stop and try to identify any bird we see. Once we learn to identify specific birds we simply name them and go on, sometimes taking a little time to observe their actions and view them through binoculars. When we find a bird we don’t know we’ll first try to make a mental note of any field markings that might be helpful in identifying the bird. There is an extensive list beginning with the size and shape of the bird, the size and shape of the bill, color(s), length of legs and tail, etc. Then we get out our bird book and try to find the bird in the book. This all takes time and sometimes we don’t have enough information about the bird to be able to identify it before it flies away. So up to this time we’ve identified 92 birds here in Australia. At the Broome Bird Observatory we would have a guided tour with an experienced birder who can identify birds quickly and knows where to look for specific birds. This speeds up the process of seeing and identifying new birds. It also means that we don’t imprint those birds in memory quite as well as those we have identified ourselves. That will come later if or when we see these birds again. We had the option of driving ourselves to the observatory or being picked up at our park for the tour. We chose to be picked up for the trip. We knew that part of the trip was on dirt road and we’ve tried one of these and found the campervan to be very poorly suited for travel on these roads. So we got the experience of traveling in a four wheel drive vehicle on dirt roads in Australia. Having done that, we were glad we didn’t try to take the campervan on this road. There were spots where deep sand had been blown onto the road. Most of the road was well below ground level with dirt pushed up on the sides by graders. Washboarding was common and taking alternate sides of the road helped avoid some of them but others were impossible to avoid. There was little traffic on this road but when you did meet another vehicle you had to move far to the side. It was only 7 kilometers but it seemed like a very long drive at 30 to 40 kilometers per hour. Located on Roebuck Bay south of Broome, the Bird Observatory is one of the prime locations for shore birds in the world. The large tides make for ideal conditions for shore birds with miles of mud exposed at low tide, millions of shore birds find plenty to eat. Birds from all over eastern Asia migrate to this area during the northern hemisphere winter. Many of those are gone now but plenty remain. Our guide was able to pick out significant birds from a large flock along the shore. Using a large scope we were able to get good looks at birds without disturbing them. Shore birds are a weakness of mine. Living in Missouri most of my life I saw few birds that were shore birds. There are many species and their markings are sometimes not very distinctive. The mostly have long legs and long bills so identifying them is difficult and time consuming for me. They also occur in mixed flocks, groups with many different species all mixing together. This makes identification more difficult as they move about constantly and it is hard to keep track of a single bird. An occasional Black Kite or Whistling Kite would circle overhead and the whole flock would take to the air in a great flurry (see photo with this posting) only to settle back to their same location and return to their regular activities once more. Once the flock finally moved on further south we took a tour of the grass plains on a nearby cattle station. Traveling in the four wheel drive vehicle through the pastures we observed a great variety of birds as well as a few wallabies. We added 16 new birds to the list of 92 that we had seen before. It was a very productive day.
tbutler posted a blog entry in Tom and Louise on Tour in North AmericaBroome is a small town on the northwest shore of Australia. The pearling industry has been a strength of the area along with tourism. Broome isn’t the only place where pearl farms are found here, it is the center of a large region that extends from Darwin in the north to Port Hedland to the southwest. The largest pearl oysters are found here and the pearls we saw in shops are enormous. The downtown of Broome has a dozen jewelry shops specializing in pearls. We browsed our way through all of them! There are a few other shops and stores and we spent Tuesday afternoon drifting through downtown Broome. Adjacent to the downtown area is an old jetty which was at one time the place where the pearling boats docked. We walked the jetty, over 100 years old, to the end. At low tide we could see hundreds of red fiddler crabs on the mud below the jetty. Tides around Broome are very large with variations during spring tides up to 30 feet. Spring doesn’t refer to the season, spring tides the tides change very rapidly from low to high tides. This occurs each new moon and each full moon. At the first quarter and last quarter phases of the moon the tides are called neap tides. Neap tides change very slowly. You can imagine a spring tide going from low to high tide with a 30 foot change in water level in about six hours, the water would seem to spring up quite quickly. The downtown area is known as Chinatown though we saw nothing of China in the shops and stores. The Japanese were primary developers of the pearl farming in this area and much of that history is recounted in the historic plaques and signage. There is a statue to the three Japanese men who started the industry there. It was a very warm afternoon so we stopped at an ice cream shop and enjoyed an ice cream cone while sitting in the shade on the porch outside the shop. School was out and kids were stopping to get an ice cream treat on the way home. Several mothers with young children stopped by the shop. We stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things before heading back to the campground for the evening.