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.

No comments:

Post a Comment