Saturday, 30 June 2018

Shark Bay to an Early Finish in Broome

Obviously, while I was in Shark Bay the winds had been blowing from the south, and when I left they were still blowing that way, which meant more suffering.  As I turned back northward, they switched to northerlies again.  By the time I had made it to Carnarvon I was well and truly exhausted and fed up.

Shorefront in Carnarvon.
I had 3 days in Carnarvon working and rested-up in a caravan park free of charge as the people who ran it were on warmshowers.  I didn't really see them much but they had done some extraordinary adventures on every continent using all different kinds of transport, including cycling, riding across Mongolia on horseback, canoeing, sailing, and much more.

There wasn't much to do in Carnarvon, like many outback towns it looked like it had seen it heyday and was now gradually deteriorating.  This has been the story of most rural towns with an industrial background, whereas the towns that had some natural wonders to offer tourists were going in the opposite direction.  Two of those towns were ahead of me, Coral Bay and Exmouth, both situated on or near the Ningaloo Reef, one of the biggest areas of shoreline coral reef anywhere in the world.

The lagoon in Coral Bay.  Just 20 metres offshore were some huge coral reef structures and beautiful marine life.
This was a part of the tour I was really looking forward to, but yet again the weather was to have different ideas.  Another storm came through while I was staying in Coral Bay, limiting the amount of time I could get in the water.  I worked around it, but on the day of my arrival it was blowing a gale and the lagoon was choppy to say the least.

I thought about whether I should go out in the windy weather, but the odd person was snorkeling and it was quite warm, so I thought I should or I'd risk not getting into the water at all with the forecast for the next couple of days (it hadn't rained in about 6 months before I arrived).  I'm glad I got in as the coral structures literally about 20 metres offshore were huge, which obviously attracted a lot of marine life.

It was swinging, in the wrong direction, always in the wrong direction.
I reconnected with many of the fish I once was so familiar with from my time diving in Fiji about ten years ago.  While I was there I had done about 50 dives, most of them survey dives around the island of Gau.  I had to learn all the names of the fish to do this, and I recognised many of the same species, as well as some new ones.

While in Fiji I got a fleeting glimpse of a sea turtle underwater, and I had seen many in Shark Bay from the boat, but in the choppy water of Coral Bay with perhaps unusually few people in the water, I had the pleasure of swimming with one for about 15 minutes.  It eyed me up a few times, but seemed mostly unconcerned with my presence as it went about feeding off the algae on the coral and occasionally going up for a gulp of air.  It made me wish I had an underwater camera, but I appreciated the moment of my own personal swim with one of the world's most loved sea creatures.

The next day the heavens opened and the winds blew harder and all there was to do was use-up my mobile data surfing the internet.  There wasn't even any wifi as the remoteness of Coral Bay meant their wifi was incredibly unreliable.  I was truly bored.

I had to leave the following day, but not before getting in another snorkel, this time for much longer.  The weather was much cooler, however, so I did it on and off for about 3 hours before the cold got the better of me.

This photo demonstrates nicely the scale of these creatures.
Then it was off to Exmouth on the North West Cape.  I hadn't planned to go here, but there were a few reasons I decided to go; they had a squash club, the Cape looked an interesting place to explore, and their Whale Shark diving packages were better than Coral Bay.  Because I hadn't planned to go there, and the weather still being terrible, I decided to hop on a bus taking the opportunity to have an extended few days off the bike.

Had to kick pretty hard to keep up with this one.
I'm really glad I went to Exmouth.  The principle reason I went there was for the Whale Sharks, and that was another unforgettable experience, the squash was also good, and I did some great camping on the Cape, in fact some of the best of the trip.  I was, however, tremendously disappointed with the town of Exmouth itself.

Exmouth is a tough place to get to, it's way out there at the north-west tip of Australia, with no big towns or cities anywhere near it.  It is a small town which attracts people because of Ningaloo Reef, for the Whale Sharks and all sorts of other spectacular marine life.  The reef is truly remarkable, but it felt like the town was selling it's soul for the tourist's dollars.  The place is still not that developed, it doesn't feel touristy, but the locals want the money off anyone who comes and the town and accommodation seemed like it was set-up to squeeze every last cent from whoever went there.

Of course, when you have this feeling, you become slightly embittered by everything and try to squeeze every little advantage out of your stay, creating an adversarial atmosphere and not much joy.  The YHA I stayed at for a couple of nights was like this; the staff were rude and boy did they not like to make your stay convenient.  In return, this created a really bad vibe with the guests, as no one washed-up, cleaned-up after themselves and no one seemed happy.  I couldn't wait to get out of there, and once I did my work, I shot-off for some free camping on the peninsula.

I was originally going to stay another night and have the Whale Shark tour company pick me up from the hostel, but instead I cycled around to the boat ramp on the other side of the peninsula, camping halfway overnight.

The boat ramp was literally just a ramp with a few vessels offshore, it was all incredibly small-scale and remote, which made it feel quite special.  I was also not on an especially big boat and with only 15 others, so it wasn't overly crowded.  After a bit of a briefing, we first entered the water inside the coral lagoon to test our gear and look at the marine life around the shallow coral areas.  There were some black tip reef sharks and one huge stingray, which the photographer on the boat got a couple of wonderful pictures of.

Then it was the main event.  There were a number of companies running similar tours in different areas and they all shared the cost of a spotter plane.  Once the whale sharks were spotted from above the boat was carefully positioned quite a distance away from them, then Dave the photographer, entered the water, swam towards it and gave directions about where to drop us in the water.  There were strict rules about where to position ourselves in order not to disrupt it's normal behaviour or get in it's way.  I immediately broke these rules accidentally, as I got a kick in the face from another swimmer just at the wrong time as the shark changed direction, so my first view, as the bubbles cleared, of a whale shark was of it's huge mouth coming right at me and then almost brushing past me, just a few centimetres off it's side.  We were meant to be at least 3 metres from it's side and 4 metres from it's tail, and never directly in front of it.  I broke all those rules on my very first interaction, but it wasn't my fault (it was an unforgettable lucky close encounter though).

We were in and out of the water several times over the next two hours with 6 different sharks, as they came up to the surface and dived down out of sight.  On a few occasions we got extended swims as they stayed just beneath the surface for some time.  It's the biggest thing I've ever seen underwater, and they are actually very pretty sharks, covered in spots.  The scale of them was quite something, but the whale sharks at Ningaloo are only juveniles, the biggest we saw was about 8 metres long.  Adult whale sharks can grow to twice the size!

It was an awesome day and after I had just enough time to squeeze in another snorkel as I made camp on a secluded beach for the night.  With only a mild current in the water, but without fins, I did begin to feel a bit vulnerable out there on my own, so I didn't stray far and started to get a bit freaked out so came back a bit early.  I am not a confident swimmer, but with a mask and snorkel, I feel quite comfortable, however being on my own as the sun is going down with not a soul around to help if I got in trouble made me rather sensibly worry, I think.

There was some fantastic coastal camping on the Cape, even though technically, I shouldn't have been there.  You do need to break some rules when bicycle touring from time to time though.
After another night camping on the Cape, I returned to Exmouth (it was a dead-end road, you had to return) and picked-up the photos before hopping on a bus and getting it to drop me to the point I would have been without the detour.  I was now heading to a town called Tom Price, gateway into Karijini National Park.

Handy place to camp.
Karijini was one of those uniquely Australian places I wanted to visit.  Part of the ancient Pilbara range, the area is not only home to a heck of a lot of iron ore, but also a haven for geologists because the region holds some of the oldest rocks on earth.  In fact, one of these geologists was a squash player who kindly let me spend a night in the squash club in Tom Price.

Karijini was predictably a couple of days riding into another stiff headwind, but it was well worth it.  Beautiful sculpted gorges with pools of water for swimming, and some unique walks.  The hills were actually also quite welcome after all the flat into the wind cycling I had been experiencing.

The first area of gorges was 14Km down a very rough dirt road, and I wasn't happy taking my bike the whole way up and back, so I parked it up at a camping area and ran there instead.  I figured that I might thumb a lift as well, but I had to run about 7Km before this happened.  A nice couple picked me up and I kept on running into them for the rest of the day, meeting them at various points on different walks, and then also they picked me up just as I was starting to run back, which was very handy.

There were a series of short, but adventurous walks in Karijini where you had to wade through waist-high water, climb across the walls of the gorge, and even straddle both sides of the narrow gorge to get through.  I was a little concerned by this as I had my phone with me and falling in was not an option.  I carefully made my way through, though, and drank directly from the gorge water along the way using my trusty lifestraw, which was very useful as I didn't have to lug any water bottles around with me.  This will surely be of great benefit in New Zealand where there should be plenty of water flowing.  I haven't had much of a chance to use it in Australia as there is almost no water that isn't buried some metres underground.

I couldn't quite capture how spectacularly deep some of these gorges were with the pictures. They were quite vertigo inducing.
At the other end of the park were a series of other gorges, slightly less severe, but actually more picturesque and I had another great walk through Dales gorge the next day.  It was an exhausting couple of days; over 100Km of cycling and about 3 hours of walking and running on both days.

Dales Gorge
After leaving Karijini, I made my way north towards Port Hedland on the Great Northern Highway, a road frequented by lots of road trains carrying 4 huge trailers of iron ore.  I met a Frenchman cycling in the same direction and rode with him for some time.  This was the first time I had met someone traveling in the same direction as me on a bike for the whole tour - in fact any tour I have done.  I seem to have the knack of going at different times and/or in opposite directions to everybody else (this seems to be the story of my life).  We stopped for lunch and discovered he was eating almost exactly the same food as me, even the same brands; wraps, carrots, peanuts, oats, etc.  I guess there are only so many kinds of food you can fit into your bags that won't go off in the heat.

While cycling with him, however, I heard that dreaded twanging sound of a broken spoke.  Man have I had some issues with my back wheel on this tour.  I couldn't travel another 200Km on it so I had to flag down a lift and fortunately a lone traveller from Belgium helped me out and got me to Port Hedland.  With no bike shops in town, I was forced to hop on a bus to Broome.  During this time I reflected on the rest of this planned tour in Australia.

It occurred to me that the cycling was pretty grim.  The winds would now be guaranteed to be permanently against me and stronger all the way to Cairns.  There was also nothing to see off the main sealed roads either.  There were some great places to cycle, but these areas needed a different kind of bike with wider tyres and less of a load.  On my mind since the Ningaloo reef was also the desire to get back into scuba diving.  And on top of all this I was getting dangerously close to not being able to work reliably on the road, having a number of close calls with classes.  The stress of it all was starting to make things unenjoyable.

Another consideration was that my back wheel was becoming very unreliable.  The areas going East to Cairns were some of the least well-supported on the trip, with few stops and less grey nomads travelling around also.  More bike problems, this time in hotter, dryer conditions, seemed an unacceptable risk.  I couldn't keep flagging-down kind strangers to help me.  In New Zealand I can take such risks because towns are never that far away, but Australia is not a place to be doubting your equipment.

With all this in mind then, I made the call to finish the cycling in Broome and get on a bus to Cairns and spend a month or two there in a place where I could work easily online, do quite a bit of scuba diving, play a bit of squash, go to the gym and be kind to my body for a while before jumping on the bike again in New Zealand.

Cable beach in Broome
At nearly 4 months, this was my longest cycle tour and there had been some epic experiences within it.  Australia is a country of amazing nature, it is not as scenic as New Zealand, for example, but there are few places that can match it for uniqueness and experiences with wildlife and some of the most uninhabited wilderness areas on the planet.  It was these wildlife encounters that were the highlight of the tour for me.

One of the great things about traveling in this way is that it gives you time to reflect; you ask yourself some hard questions and you understand yourself a little better.  I learned a few things from this trip, the first being that I am not someone who can jump on a bike and go on a super-long bicycle tour, like some do for perhaps a year or longer.  One of the main reasons for this is general health and fitness, actually.  One would think cycle touring would make you pretty fit, and yes it does, but in one very specific way.  In actual fact, I began to feel slow, less agile, and less powerful.  I tried to workout differently on the road when I could, but it was very difficult due to fatigue from the bike and a lack of routine.  Add to this the less than perfect diet also, and I don't think long-term bicycle touring is especially great for my health and fitness, and that is something I am very much concerned with.

Boab tree near town beach in Broome.
Another thing I learned from visiting many different places on this trip is that going forward I need to live somewhere that is not a big city like Melbourne, but also not too isolated.  On top of this, I really need to live somewhere that has some outdoor adventure on it's doorstep.  My hometown in England, Colchester, is the right size, but is fairly devoid of natural beauty and that part of England certainly doesn't encourage an outdoor lifestyle.  This is a real conundrum for me, as I do miss my family and friends back home, but I do find that it isn't long before I get tired of the lack of adventure in Colchester.  It is like a drug habit that I just can't kick, the adventure and the nature is what makes life meaningful for me.

The sun setting on Cable beach and on the cycling in Australia.
One of my general problems in life is that, despite my slightly right-leaning political persuasion, I am extremely open to new ideas.  This means different notions about what to do in life ping around in my brain from moment to moment, which makes it incredibly difficult for me to settle on one direction, profession, or place in life.  With the stresses, strains, highs, and lows of a bicycle tour, and with the time to think, observing my thoughts on where I am going is intriguing.  Ideas come and go, especially in moments of hardship and of exhilaration, of which there are many when traveling in such a way.  It is a nice problem to have, though, in this day and age experiencing the world is so manageable and the range of truly life-enriching possibilities is almost endless.

This tour has given me a clearer idea of what I'm looking for in a place to live more permanently, but the adventures aren't over yet (I can't imagine they'll ever truly finish anyway).  New Zealand looms large in a couple of months, and plans are formulating for 2019 already, in fact next year is set to be even more exciting if everything goes to plan.

The full tour map; it doesn't follow the exact route as this is hard to do on Google Maps, and doesn't take into account the many detours I did, so I think the approximate distance covered, minus the odd bus trip is about 7500-8000Km on the bike.  Not quite as far as I intended, but still a bloody long way.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Perth to Shark Bay - Detours, Ups, and Downs.

It was great to have a few days off in Perth and meet my wife and finally get her on a bike.  We started-off with a mini tandem day cycle tour of Rottnest Island to have a look at the beautiful scenery and meet the quokkas, a kind of friendly, over-sized marsupial rat (Rottnest actually means "rat's nest" in dutch, I believe), with a quirky-shaped mouth which makes it look like it's smiling sometimes.  They only exist on a couple of islands now as most of them died-out on the mainland, perhaps because of their trusting nature.

As well as the fantastic wildlife, the island was very picturesque and we certainly picked the perfect day to visit, with not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind.  Riding the tandem bike we rented was easier than I expected and definitely the best way to see the island.  I worried that it would be a bit of a tourist trap, but with no cars on the island and the spread-out nature of things there, it really didn't feel that way at all and we had many vistas and quokka encounters all to ourselves.

The quokkas are delightful little animals and are not in the least bit bothered by you, they are curious creatures and actually seem to enjoy having their picture taken, hence the latest craze of taking selfies with them, as they will happily sit right next to you and make it easy for you to take a picture with them.

The next day we decided to take it easy and have a bit of culture in the evening.  We have lived in Australia for nearly 4 years now and had never been to an AFL game.  Coincidentally, the home side, the Fremantle Dockers, were playing St Kilda - where we live in Melbourne - at the new Optus Stadium, a beautiful new stadium seating about 50 000 people, just across the river from our accommodation.  Tickets only cost about $30, so it seemed a nice way to spend a pleasantly warm evening.

St Kilda went down, but not before making a bit of a comeback after half-time, which made things more interesting towards the end.  AFL is quite an entertaining game and I quite like how each side has their own silly song to come into and that they sing after the game when they win, a nice little touch.

Perth is the quietest city I have ever been to, and we both couldn't believe how empty the centre of the city was.  It is very odd coming from a busy Melbourne, it must be quite a nice place to live, but is perhaps a little too devoid of hustle and bustle for most city folk.

After about a week or so of not much cycling, and maybe two weeks of being around people and towns, I was quite looking forward to some time on the road again.  I said goodbye to my wife and I caught the train out of the city to a suburb called Butler where I continued my journey.

Very quickly, I got an unexpected bonus by coming across some koalas in a national park about 60Km north of Perth.  Koalas are not native to Western Australia, but these had been rescued and somehow ended-up in a sanctuary within the park.  There were several of them, most of them doing what they always do, sleeping that is, but I did manage to see a couple of others eating (the other thing they do), which was nice.  I didn't think I'd get to see any koalas on this trip as they inhabit the eastern side of Australia mostly.

As well as the koalas, there were loads of kangaroos on a golf course that I passed-through close to the park, so it was a nice little afternoon of wildlife.

The pure white sand dunes of Lancelin.
After an overnight camp, the first town I arrived at was Lancelin, famous for it's pure white sand dunes.  It was a bit of a detour, but I had 4 days to do about 400Km, which was plenty of time.  Many people were sand-boarding down the dunes, but I have done something similar down a volcano in Nicaragua, so didn't feel the need to do it here.  I just enjoyed the spectacle of the dunes, a new experience for me.

The next day, as I was heading to a town called Jurien Bay, I came across a turn-off for the Pinnacles Desert, a little place I had totally forgotten about visiting but came well-recommended, so off I went for another little detour.  This one was well worth it.  I arrived just after sunrise so the park was empty and the light was beautiful.  Australia often doesn't have the awe-inspiring scenery of somewhere like New Zealand, but it makes up for it with uniqueness, and this was another one of those uniquely Australian destinations.

How these pinnacles were formed in the desert is not known for sure and there are 3 theories as to how they came about, which I won't bore you too much with, but that you can look at here.  It certainly made for an interesting little ride on the well-maintained sandy road, just about rideable on my bike.  The bright-yellow sand also made a nice contrast from the pure white sand on the coast.

My first major stop, and the only town of any significant size for a very considerable distance, was Geraldton, where I planned on staying with another warmshowers host, having a game of squash, stocking-up on food, and doing some work.  About 40Km from town, however, and I heard that dreaded twanging sound of a broken spoke, just what I feared would happen after repairing the last one.  With only 40Km to go, I thought I'd chance riding it into town, and with such wide expanses of nothing ahead after Geraldton I thought it best to just get a new wheel.  This was an annoying expense but at least I broke the spoke just before a major town with a bike shop, because after Geraldton I'd do well to find a bike shop for the next 2 or 3000Km, no joke.

Kangaroos on the roadside.
My hosts in Geraldton, Damon and Fiona, were very hospitable and set me up in a lovely little separate house in their back garden with every comfort I could ever want.  I felt bad I kept missing them while I was there as everything we did never seemed to work out at the right time to do things together.  We had some interesting chats, however, and as usual with my hosts on this trip, were very resourceful people and had done some amazing trips of their own.

While I was in Geraldton, an old man who approached me in the town centre, he saw my bike and asked me about my trip.  Extraordinarily, he told me he had cycled the whole way around Australia 4 times, in his seventies!!  He was in his eighties now, but was dreaming about another big trip.  He was from Canarvon, a small town about 800Km north and he offered to host me there and gave me his number, which was very nice.  A few things to ponder on though; a) he cycle all around Australia, b) he did it in his 70s, c) he did it 4 times in his 70s, and d) he did it 4 times!  Why would you do it 4 times!!??

Like I have said before, just when you are feeling pretty darn good about yourself, thinking you are doing something pretty crazy and pretty great, there is always someone who is on completely another level.  This chap was in Geraldton to tell his story to a local newspaper, he was literally on the way there when I met him.

Anyway, as I was telling my host about this man, this brought-up an old lady called Lizzy, who had stayed with them a few times.  She was in her sixties when she started bicycle touring and had cycled all over Australia, doing different routes and rough-camping in all sorts of places.  This rang a bell with me too as I had met an old lady on the train after a training ride before my first big tour from Darwin to Melbourne a couple of years ago who had a similar story.  Turns out it was the same old lady, confirmed by the fact they knew she was from the Mornington Peninsula, just south of Melbourne.  Another extraordinary person, you meet quite a few of them doing bicycle touring.  What a small world for a big country.

I had a decision to make upon leaving Geraldton; did I continue as planned to Shark Bay or take a detour to Kalbarri.  Many people had told me to pass through Kalbarri as there were some spectacular and unique landscapes to see there.  It was, however, a 200Km or so detour.  Shark Bay itself was also a 250+Km detour, but I had at least planned this.

Looking out of nature's window.
It ended-up being a great decision to go to Kalbarri.  This place was exactly what you think of when you picture outback Australian landscapes.  It didn't come easily though, the area was very up and down and the detours to the sea cliffs and gorges created big climbs.  It was totally worth the effort, though, it was a beautiful place.


Onward and upward then towards Shark Bay.  I was struggling to make it there on schedule because of the detour to Kalbarri and the ever-present northerly headwinds.  In fact, since Ceduna (some 3000 or so Km away), I hadn't seen a day of tailwinds, with probably 90% of these days being predominantly headwinds in the main direction I was travelling.  Perhaps it sounds like I am exaggerating, it can't possibly be that bad, however, I can assure you it has been. I was plodding through it nobly until recently, but at the time of writing (now in Carnarvon), it has started to become too much and is draining me physically and mentally.

Over the last few days, I have been cursing the weather gods far too much.  I am trying to stop the inner bitterness as it is almost as tiring as the physical battle into the winds themselves, but it is incredibly hard to do.  If you have been following me on Facebook, it is possible to get the impression that I am sauntering through paradise, going from stunning beaches to spectacular scenery, and seeing a wondrous variety of wildlife on the way.  All true I guess, it's magnificent, but on the bike it is difficult to describe how depressing the last couple of weeks has been.  The destinations are making the effort worthwhile, but I am exhausted, truly.  There are massive distances between places here in Western Australia, so there really is no way to make the cycling easier, even if the winds weren't so against me.

This exhaustion plays funny tricks on your mind, with a day's rest, things are restored to normal, but I find myself closing-in on a roadhouse, for example, fantasizing about arguing with the owner or making-up scenarios in my head of people saying some smart-alec comment to me, just so I can viciously put them down.  It's bizarre.  I can't be angry at the wind, I guess, perhaps this is my way of releasing the frustration.  I am a fairly disagreeable person sometimes after all and I do enjoy the odd bit of confrontation.

Anyway, I was to get my wish of an irritating roadhouse owner.  I have noticed a pattern of Indians owning some roadhouses in Australia and every single one of them so far has been an ungenerous, humourless, hard-ass, deeply suspicious of my presence, and not willing to do anything out of the ordinary, no matter how small.  I had to stay at one such roadhouse as a storm came in.

The roadhouse had camping for $10, not bad for price, but there was a reason.  Basically it was a dusty car park with loose sand over a hard surface, impossible to pitch a tent in good weather, let alone in high winds and rain.  There was no shelter anywhere, all of my gear was primed for a soaking and I couldn't possibly pitch a tent.  After a while trying to persuade the owner that I needed somewhere undercover, he finally relented and allowed me to pitch my tent under a mesh roof, protected by the wind near the roadhouse after it closed.  Seemed nice of him, but the roof did not provide cover from the rain.  Right next to it was an area that did though, which he didn't want me to use or even put my stuff in.  It was still a bad deal for $10.

On top of all this drama, I was again having some trouble with my back wheel.  Having bought a new one in Geraldton, I didn't expect any more problems, but I noticed several loose spokes, which was bad news indeed.  The wheel basically hadn't been tensioned properly, this happens sometimes, so I hear.  All this meant - with no bike shops anywhere ahead of me - that I had to send the wheel back to Geraldton to be trued properly.  I managed to get it on a courier service going at midday on from the roadhouse, which unbelievably dropped it back to me at 6am the next morning, all fixed.  All this further irritated the roadhouse owner, as anything even slightly out of the ordinary seemed to vex him greatly.

I made it through the storm and moved away from the roadhouse to teach some classes in my tent the following day.  However, I had run out of charge on my powerbank and needed somewhere to teach for 2 hours that was quiet and that I could plug my computer in.  I knew he had a spare unit that was not being used because the air-con wasn't working (one of his staff told me), so I offered to pay him $20 if I could stay in there for 2 hours teaching.  He simply stared at me with a blank face and said it was being cleaned, I knew this was a lie but I was desperate, so I offered him $30, but no dice.  He had a smug look on his face, which was soon wiped-off though as one of his employees offered me his room for 2 hours for no charge at all.  The guy wouldn't even fill a water bottle, but I took the opportunity when he was away and got one of his employees to fill 5 for me.  Obviously as loved and respected by his employees as he was by me.  Moron.

Anyway, I was glad to be away from there, and somehow managed to teach every scheduled class, despite some incredibly close calls.  It was stressful though and the 130Km up to Shark Bay was again mainly against the wind as they had shifted from the NE to the West.  I had North Easterlies the whole way since Perth, yet while I stayed in Shark Bay the wind was blowing from the SE, and indeed when I left, meaning a big headwind all the way back to the junction.  The next day, when I was heading north again, the winds had switched back to northerlies, this was getting beyond a joke and was torturing me mentally and physically.

A dugong coming up for air.
As painful as the trip up and back from Shark Bay was, it was somewhere I had to go.  It really is a haven for wildlife, often featured on wildlife documentaries, because of the beds of seagrass in the shallow bay.  This makes it home to turtles, dugongs (like a sea cow, most closely related to the hippo and the elephant), rays, sharks, and of course dolphins.  Bottlenosed dolphins have been around pretty much everywhere I have been, the common variety in the south, and now the Indo-Pacific variety.

They almost beach themselves sometimes, so close to shore they come.
On a beach called Monkey Mia in Shark Bay, these dolphins reliably come right up to the shore to be fed every day.  This is one of the few places in the world where this happens so reliably.  It started in the early-70s when local fishermen used to feed the dolphins when they returned to shore.  A handful of dolphins got used to this and kept coming back.  This was then turned into a regular practice for scientific and ecotourism reasons in the last 20 years or so.  They do it very responsibly, never giving the dolphins any more than 10% of their dietary needs, forcing them to hunt as normal.  They also only feed the direct descendants of the original dolphins fed by the fisherman in the 70s.  I was surprised to know that two of the dolphins were older than me, the oldest being 45 years old!  She didn't look it.

The Indo-Pacific bottlenosed dolphin seemed a different colour from the common bottlenose.
It was a great experience to see them so close to shore, and for wild dolphins, they were very well behaved, they knew the routine and the cues that meant it was time to line-up next to a feeder and when to finish.  When people stepped out of the water, each dolphin found on person with a bucket, and when the buckets were rinsed-out, the dolphins all swam off.

Dugong on the way up for air.
I booked a yacht cruise for later in the morning, which was surprisingly not that expensive.  I was hoping I would see a dugong and I wasn't disappointed.  We saw two in a very shallow area of the bay a few kilometres offshore.  At only about 1-2 metres in depth, the dugongs come up regularly for air while feeding on the seagrass.  One of them wasn't at all shy, coming much closer to the boat than I expected.

This turtle was close to shore and not that shy, but the bigger ones didn't hang around for a picture.
Also around were a number of truly huge turtles, but once they spotted the boat they rather shyly dived underwater.  I did get a picture of a small one close to the shore, but the bigger ones were too far away, and considering the distance they were away, I was actually quite shocked at their size.

The dolphins played around the boat for much of the time, racing along at the front of the boat. 

After another little cruise - which was free with the first one - at sunset, I managed to get a lift back to my accommodation.  What an incredible day of wildlife, not just in the sea, but on the beach as well, as emus and pelicans wandered around without a care in the world.  It was absolute paradise.

The next day it was back to work on the bike.  The next destination was a few days in Carnarvon for some rest and some work, and then onto Coral Bay and Exmouth for some adventures out at sea on the Ningaloo reef, which is where I'll pick up next time.