Autumn was making itself known as we rode out of Warragul. Not only were many of the trees turning various beautiful shades of red but the temperature had dropped below 20ºC; a far cry from last weeks barmy 40º!
The bikes felt particularly unwieldy with a set of tyres strapped on the back and 10 litres of water onboard ready for the Outback. Having got used to riding around on Trevor’s XR400 it was like getting out of a sports car and into a truck!
One by one the bends disappeared and the hills flattened out; we were well and truly on our way Outback.
It was easy to see how you’d get bored driving the 112km between Menindee and Broken Hill. For me though, it was new and that meant interesting. A featureless vista that stretched to a horizon so wide you could see the curve of the earth.
I passed a roadside memorial to a young victim of falling asleep at the wheel. My concentration though, was maintained by vigilantly looking out for emus. Emus are so stupid they are to Australia what Yaks are to Asia – totally unpredictable. Not only will they run straight out in front of you, they’ll run straight into you – as Tim discovered when he got T-boned by one in Mungo Lakes NP.
They are so well camouflaged for this scrubland that despite looking hard I often found myself alongside one without realizing.
I negotiated the first bend in miles, midway through which skid marks led off into the bush where scattered paperwork and a complete but smashed windscreen marked the spot of another SVR (Solo Vehicle Rollover) and I could feel my eyes physically stretching as they widened to ensure I didn’t suffer the same fate.
The flat plains resembling the African Savannah finally rose up into small hills. Cresting the first of these I found myself staring along a road that ran dead straight all the way to the horizon and reminded me of Arizona. My mind carried me back to two trips there with several great fiends back in ’94 & ’95 but I have little time to reminisce as a final crest in the road revealed my first sight of the former gold mining town of Broken Hill and my mind returned to Australia.
After a few days in Broken Hill we headed west to Yunta where we topped up with fuel before picking up the dirt road north towards Arkaroola. In the petrol station they were selling stickers that read “Where the hell is Yunta?” – quite.
We turned off the main Arkaroola track to head NW towards Hawker at the southern end of the Flinders Ranges. The track halved in width and the change in scenery surprised me. The land was undulating bush with scrub and trees. The colours of everything changed constantly under the vivid blue sky, especially the soil which went from almost white to a rich ochre red. We crossed dry creek beds which were always surrounded by deep rooted eucalyptus trees, floodways and two remote stations. There were kangaroos, emus, parrots and galahs. The sometimes stony track wound its way through the hills often resembling the rocky Moroccan stages of the Dakar rally.
The front tyre I took off (bought used for $20 in Warragul) still had plenty of life in it so I took it to a surprised Post mistress who was extremely helpful and posted it to Albany in Western Australia for $5.20! I’ll collect it from the post office when I get there.
Having arrived in glorious sunshine we were disappointed to awake to a grey, drizzle filled sky. We’d opted against the (8hr return) walk up to the lookout at St.Mary’s point the previous day deciding it best to get an early start today. Once the rain stopped we set off but the skies never cleared and this restricted our views from the summit which would have been outstanding. (The following day was, of course, clear blue skies).
We walked back into camp to find Holger & Anja pitched up next to us and we spent the evening eating, drinking and sharing stories of where we’d all been since Tintaldra.
Arkaroola and Leigh Creek
We left the Flinders Ranges NP to visit the observatory at Arkaroola 200km away only to find it closed for a private function – aaarrrhhh! We booked in for the following evening a rode the 140km to Leigh Creek to take one of the free mine tours.
“Sorry, we need a minimum of six for a tour. Come back at 0900 and maybe we’ll have enough” We did: They didn’t.
Tim wouldn’t take no for an answer so set about trying to persuade them otherwise. Their first excuse was “The driver doesn’t have a licence for the new route” (!!?) followed by “Anyway, the mine need the bus today”. We couldn’t help but thinking the tour’s a publicity stunt the mining company didn’t really want to pursue.
Before setting off to Arkaroola we visited the library to use the internet. The library was part of the local school and as a result we had to sign in at reception. The receptionist greeted us with a “Good morning gentlemen. Which one of you overtook the school bus on the Arkaroola road yesterday afternoon?” I put my hand up and was met with a raised eyebrow glare I so often received from my school teachers. Nothing went un-noticed in this town.
We returned to Arkaroola on a small track via Yankaninna and Umberatana that took us through the heart of the Gammon Ranges NP. At first the scenery appeared so stark it was as if a bomb had exploded. Soon though the trees reappeared bringing with them more dry creek crossings and some stony riverbeds. We opened and closed many gates along the way as we crossed the various stations before entering Vulathunha Gammon Ranges NP and turned south to Arkaroola. Upon registering for camping we were told “Your friends on the two BMW’s are waiting for you”. Sure enough, Holger & Anja were on the campsite and booked in for the evening’s trip to the observatory. As it turned out, the four of us were the only ones booked in and we had a fantastic evening viewing ‘Globular Clusters’, ‘Twin Stars’ and ‘Nebuli’. For me though, the highlight was seeing Saturn in all its glory. It was SO bright and SO sharp it was as though it had been stuck on the front of the telescope just for us and blew us all away. I can only begin to imagine how Gallileo must have reacted when he saw it for the first time some 300years ago.
Holger & Anja finished off the evening perfectly with a nightcap of Port huddled in the warmth of the laundry room.
The sign at the T-junction south of Arkaroola read ‘Innamincka 430km – NO SERVICES’. Once past the homestead we were into a whole lot of nothing. The track was quite rocky and very stony for a fair distance and it was easy to see why NASA want to build a research facility here based on its resemblance of the surface of Mars.
The Gammon Ranges away to our left kept us company for the first 100km but eventually petered out as we approached Mt.Hopeless (appropriately named). This is real Outback, the land harsh and barren, where a few small trees and bushes cling to life despite the lack of visible water.
We eventually came to a gate that led to the Strezlecki track where a loose, rutted, gravel surface headed NE to Innamincka. We initially rode through a landscape of mini sand dunes before the road became sandwiched between two embankments set a fairway back from the road but that nevertheless restricted the view. The surface changed from hard packed dirt and back to gravel and was quite poor in places. I found myself using the whole of the road in search of the smoothest line through the ruts and corrugations. Bull dust filled pot holes appeared out of nowhere and needed to be avoided at all cost.
We turned off the main track at the sign for Merty Merty and found a place to camp in a dried up creek. We put some of our dehydrated beef in a pot of water to soften it before cooking dinner and retired to our tents for an hour to escape the onslaught of flies. We returned to the pot to find it overrun with ants and spent the next 20 minutes picking out as many as we could before the unlucky ones got cooked along with the beef.
The following morning we returned to the Strezlecki Track and continued on towards Innamincka. Shortly after passing the Moomba gas field the road turned north and the landscape took on the look of rolling farmland with the grass stripped off. The increase in truck traffic servicing the gas field had taken its toll on the road surface making the run into Innamincka particularly corrugated. On some sections it was impossible to find a speed that smoothed out the corrugations and I was sure I could feel my teeth being gradually dislodged. We also encountered roadtrains for the first time. These are often articulated trucks with three trailers and are therefore ‘king of the road’. We soon realized the best course of action when one approached was to get off the road on the downwind side and kill the engine but leave the headlight on. This meant we could be seen clearly by the driver and minimize the amount of dust being sucked in by our engines.
Just outside Innamincka we encountered Coopers Creek. The water was only about a foot deep but the current was strong and the concrete base (built to support the trucks) had a slimy layer across it making it rather slippery. After deciding it would be all to easy for the current to push a front wheel out from under us we put on our shorts, unloaded the bikes and carried everything across before pushing the bikes across one at a time.
Another kilometre up the road we turned off onto the 106km track to Coongie Lakes It was the sandiest we’d encountered so far and it wasn’t long before I was lying on the floor cursing the stuff. I’d seen Tim’s tyre tracks ahead of me, crossing from one wheel rut to the other and just as I was thinking he’d obviously had a ‘moment’, I found my front wheel following his track but my rear wheel refusing to. As a result I spent the next half an hour unloading my bike, digging the sand out from under the wheels and eventually lifting her upright. After walking her onto firm ground I reloaded and set off the best part of a kilo lighter thanks to all the sweat that had trickled down my back. This would be the first of three times I would repeat this process over the next four days.
There were many tricky sections along this track that had me fighting for control of my bike and that left me wondering how the hell I’d stayed on. One such section was several hundred metres long and the sand was by far the deepest. I was riding in a ‘V’ shaped rut at about 70kph with my weight finely balanced between keeping the front wheel light enough to not sink but weighted enough to keep it in the rut, knowing full well that climbing out of the rut would result in another crash. Just as I seemed to have everything under control so a Toyota Landcruiser appeared heading towards me. As he got closer I noticed the ‘bow wave’ of sand from behind his car was filling in my rut. Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!
I got completely sideways with one foot on the peg as my rut disappeared but somehow stayed on. Had I been wearing a heartrate monitor, I’d have broken it.
After dinner we joined Maarten & Amanda, who were camped next to us, for a cold cider and a chat. Turns out Maarten owns a Vincent Black Shadow and they’d both visited the Isle of Man last year for the Centenary.
By lunchtime the following day the flies had driven us mad. The only respite from them was sitting in my tent which I’ll tolerate when it’s pouring with rain but not when the sun’s shining. As a result, we packed up and headed off to the pub back at Innamincka.
Riding away from camp was like starting an enduro. No warm-up, just straight into the hard stuff. Setting off under the midday sun proved to be a mistake as the absence of shadows made it impossible to see the ruts; everything ahead on the track blended into one.
After stopping for a cup of tea the sun had moved only slightly across the sky but it was enough to cast shadows across the ruts and give them definition. It made a huge difference. After re-crossing Cooper Creek we pitched our tents, ate and wandered up to the pub for a few cold ones.
It was Graeme backing Warragul who’d first told us about Walkers Crossing. Accessed via Fifteen Mile track, SE of Innamincka it would take us across the sandy Strezlecki Desert and into the Sturt Stony Desert before joining the Birdsville track some 120km south of Birdsville.
Our experiences in the sand over the previous two days paid off as we encountered more and more sand. I seemed to be forever changing down through the gears to keep the engine revving and the front end as light as possible. 63km from Innamincka we joined the Walkers Crossing track and what a delight it was. Yes it was rough in places and yes it was sandy but the previous two days had built my confidence to a point where the more difficult it looked, the harder I attacked it. Sections that I wouldn’t have attempted previously passed by with a big grin on my face and I was forever telling myself to slow down.
Slowly the sand subsided, giving way to vast gibber plains that twinkled purple in the sunlight and whilst different to anything I’d seen before, the colours reminded me of a particular section of the Manali – Leh road in northern India.
At the Birdsville track I was suddenly struck by just how big the sky was. It appeared like a huge dome as though I was staring up from inside one of those plastic thingy’s that you shake up to make it snow and usually contain a Christmas scene. (I know they have a name but I can’t remember it).
Turning south we got our heads down for the 200km to the Mungerannie Hotel. We knew we were tight for time but the reward would be worthwhile. Slowly the scenery changed and cattle appeared for the first time and shortly after them a lone Dingo wandered across the track in front of us.
Thankfully the Birdsville track was in good condition and we rolled into the Mungerannie Hotel with time to spare. Cold beers were followed by an hour floating around in an inner tube in the natural hot springs. It was a fitting end to what had been the most enjoyable, memorable days riding in a long, long time and my thanks go to Graeme, Dave and Trevor who convinced us it was a good idea. Cheers guys.
The first few hundred kilometres from Mungerannie were boring. So boring in fact that Tim stopped to make tea in a bid to break up the journey after just 1.5hrs riding. It would be the last time today either of us got bored.
In Marree we took the 100km track out to Lake Eyre. The sand increased the closer we got to the lake and soon we were battling longer, deeper, softer sections of sand than ever. After negotiating some particularly tough sections we came to the hardest section of all. Here the ruts didn’t run in straight lines and this made them very hard to follow. I got bogged down a few times but managed to get going again, eventually realizing that the ground off to the side of the track was in fact firmer than the track itself. ‘Off-Piste’, whilst firmer, was also much more undulating and this reduced our speed and fair bit. After noticing the main track had improved, Tim took advantage of the level going and shot past. I got back onto the main track just before it became very deep again and quickly lost all of my speed trying to regain control of my out of control motorcycle. Without momentum I was soon bogged down and it took me ages to get going again.
When I finally did get going I fell off attempting to return off-piste. I was pretty tired having just dug my bike out and by the time I’d unloaded, got my bike upright and onto firmer ground and reloaded, half an hour had passed. I checked my map to discover there was another 8km to go to the end. I knew I wouldn’t ride another 16km in this sand without falling off again and I didn’t have the energy to go through the palaver of picking my bike up again and so I back tracked and found a spot to camp. Turning off the main track I fell off again. It was a poxy little slow speed crash that I would have avoided given a little more energy but I was bolloxed.
After dinner I relaxed under the most incredible night sky; the Milky Way more vivid than I’d ever seen it. But then I guess there was no light pollution to interfere with it for a long, long way.
After going through the usual unload, pick-up, reload routine, I’d just put my helmet on for a second time when Tim arrived. We rode back to Marree, picked up the Oodnadatta track and headed to Coober Pedy via William Creek. After a night camped in the bush close to Lake… wait for it… Caddibarrawirracanna(!), we rolled into Coober Pedy and took an underground room in an old Opal mine now converted into a backpackers hostel.
Whilst checking my bike over I found the chain had shed a roller. Although well worn, I was hoping it would see me off the dirt in Western Australia but burying it in sand had finished it off prematurely. With no motorcycle shop in town and any delivery 3-4 days away I decided to make a temporary repair. The local garage ground off the damaged link and using a spare piece of chain and two split links, I was able to regain the length I needed.
The missing roller was an indication of the poor state of my chain and it would have been foolhardy for me to have continued through the Outback knowing it could fail at any time. Instead, Tim continued on our planned route via Oodnadatta whilst I ‘limped’ the 695km up the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs.
Dib, Dib, Dib; Dub, Dub, Dub…
Back at the HUBB meeting at Tintaldra in February I met a fellow from Alice Springs named Stephen Ashley, and his wife Debbi. Stephen is a Cub and Scout leader and had arranged for me to stay in the local Scout hall during my time in Alice. Don’t laugh, it was a far cry from my old Scout Hall (3rd Andover, Dean Path). For starters the main hall was an ex-railway locomotive shed and, not wanting to impinge on its space, they built an extension to house the industrial sized kitchen, showers/toilets, storeroom and two meeting rooms!
Once I’d settled in Stephen’s son Brad picked me up and I not only joined the family for dinner but the family viewing of the Portugese MotoGP – LIVE! What a treat.
I went on to spend a week in Alice Springs. Dave Patterson (in Warragul) posted me the spare chain & sprockets I’d left at his house for, I spent some time with Anja & Holger whom I’d bumped into in town and prepared a slideshow for the Scouts. Stephen invited some friends from work to join the Scouts and having never given a slideshow before, ended up talking for 1h 50mins! I guess I’ll have to work on my timings.
Solo once again
Tim and I had a chat in Alice and decided to go our separate ways. We both like to travel in different ways and finally acknowledged that constantly compromising to fit in with one another was causing friction between us. Rather than fall out, we decided it best we traveled solo.
Streuth… the bloody dingo’s nicked my snags!
Stephen had taken the week off work and so on the Tuesday morning he loaded up his BMW 1200 Adventure and we set off for Kings Canyon via Hermannsburg and the Mereenie Loop road. The track was quite corrugated in places and I arrived at the King Canyon campsite to find I’d lost one of my 5l water containers. Having found it so hard to find them in the first place, imagine my surprise when I found they had one (and only one) for sale in the service station shop!
We pitched the tents, ate lunch and rode out to Kings Canyon itself where we spent a very pleasant three hours walking around and through the gorge.
Back at the campsite a fellow camper approached us and said that another camper had rescued my rucksack from a dingo (which it had dragged out from under my flysheet). On the way out of Alice I’d bought some particularly fine Italian sausages to make bangers ‘n’ mash for tea and the dingo had obviously got a whiff of them. My rucksack was returned to us and Stephen said he’d keep an eye on the gear whilst I had a shower. When I returned he was full of apologies saying that he’d only turned his back for a minute and a dingo had jumped on the table, grabbed the snags and run for it! The cheeky bastard! We had pasta for tea but poor Stephen felt so guilty we washed it down with plenty of beer.
The following day we cruised down to Yulara and camped in the bush just outside the NP. Our plan was to get up early (bloody early) and enter the park before the entry booths were manned, thereby avoiding the $25 entry fee.
We got up at 0400, packed up the tents and rode into the park as planned. Just as we arrived at the sunrise viewing area so a park ranger engaged us, explained that the park wasn’t open yet and politely threw us out!
Once outside the entrance we had a brew before saying our goodbyes. Having seen it several times previously Stephen decided to hit the road whilst I joined the queue for the park to open. After Uluru and the Olgas I would be riding the Great Central Road to Laverton in Western Australia and in order to do this I required two permits to traverse Aboriginal land along the way and having obtained both of these in Alice Springs I showed them at the entry booth and was admitted without paying the entry fee.
Some love it, some say it’s overrated, some say it’s just a tourist draw. Personally, I found it rather special. As I watched the sunrise on its less pretty eastern flank, I chatted with a young Japanese couple on a nine day honeymoon having just got married in Cairns and was then adopted by Heather, a Pome on a works jolly with employer Allianz Insurance. The 36 of them had a coach, driver and chef and after meeting as many of the 36 as she could possibly whisk me around before the chef packed up, I was fed breakfast. It wasn’t long before the place was deserted and after completing the loop around the rock I headed for the Olgas.
The Great Central Road
I have to admit to a little trepidation as I sat staring along the star of the Great Central Road. 1150km of remote dirt road lay ahead of me and I knew the first few hundred kilometres at least would be quite sandy. Whilst I expected the sand I didn’t expect the rest to be so stony and with my tyre pressures lowered for the sand I took it steadily on the stones aware that a ‘rim pinch’ was more likely than usual.
The experience I’d gained riding in the sand over the previous few weeks paid off and I made my way past Docker River and onto Warakuna Roadhouse without any trouble. It was much earlier in the day than I would normally stop but I wanted to phone the UK and I’d been warned off stopping at the next roadhouse (Warburton) a further 260km away.
Sadly, some of the Aboriginal communities have problems with fuel sniffing and as a result unleaded fuel isn’t available in certain areas. Instead, an un-sniffable Opal fuel is provided and even these fuel pumps are protected by lockable cages large enough to prevent anyone reaching through to slash the hose.
Not wanting to take any chances with my bike I heeded the warning and avoided stopping at Warburton.
The following morning I hit the road early and rolled into Tjukayiria Roadhouse (Australia’s most remote) at 1330. I’d ridden 550km that morning and seen nobody. I chatted with the owner who said I’d make it to the end of the dirt that day and so after some lunch I set off once again.
The scenery was much more interesting than that of the previous ‘famous’ Australian tracks I’d ridden. The road undulated, the surface changed, the hills eroded into rolling plains and eventually flat scrubland. After 777km I reached tarmac and after a further 123km found a nice spot to camp in the bush.
I can see the sea!
After picking up supplies in Kalgoorlie, visiting the ‘Superpit’ and spending a few nights camping in the bush along the way, I rolled into Esperance on the south coast. I spent night in a commercial campsite for the first time in so long I can’t remember, did my laundry, changed my engine oil and filter and the local bike shop, Powerhouse Motorcycles, kindly let me use their facilities to wash and oil my air filter.
The South West
By hanging around in NSW and Victoria awaiting the temperature to cool sufficiently to venture into the centre of the country, I’d unwittingly now arrived in the SW late autumn. Grey skies often took the sparkle out of the landscapes but it would take more than a dull day to spoil the most stunningly colored seawater I’ve ever seen. Brilliant clear turquoise and deep blue water washed over rocks worn as smooth as pebbles before lapping at beaches of sand so soft and fine it may as well have been talcum powder. There’s no doubt that the coastline of South Western Australia is beautiful.
I zig-zagged between the coast and the inland karri forests, camping in the NP’s along the way. Riding along the coast and through ancient forests was a far cry from the outback a few days previously and I reveled in my new surroundings. The fire ban had been lifted early and once again I enjoyed cooking and eating around a campfire.
In Albany I collected the tyre I’d posted from Hawker, changed it in the petrol station opposite the post office and posted the one I’d just removed to Billy & Trish (remember them?) in Broome.
In Leeuwin Naturaliste NP near Margaret River I came across a good size snake for the first time. Riding back into the park after collecting supplies I encountered a 2m carpet python stretched out across the road. I parked my bike so that no car could run him over and attempted a few photos but it was too dark for a decent photo but I waited until he retreated into the bush before riding on.
MORE bloody Germans!
Werner & Claudia (BMW Motherfucker/ HUBB meeting) were back in Freemantle where they will spend the next two years working and saving to continue their journey. They invited me to stay and I arrived to find Holger & Anja, Guido & Ester and another young German lad, Moritz all in residence. For once I was the one who didn’t speak the common language but still enjoyed many evenings of shared cooking and beer drinking.
My priority whilst in town was to get my Carnet de Passage extended. Knowing this would be a long winded process I started the ball rolling back in March (it was now mid May) and my Carnet expired on May 23rd. I won’t bore you with the details but the process involved emails between Canberra, Joondalup (Nth of Perth) and Bristol (UK), faxes to Sydney, two visits to Joondalup and one to customs in Freemantle.
The extension was finally granted with four days to spare but despite having to pay 12 months bond in the UK, Australian customs would only authorize an extension until my visa expires on 5th November.
Freemantle/Perth was also my last chance to buy a rear tyre for several thousand kilometers and so I ordered one from Bruce at Munich Motorcycles. When I collected it we got chatting and I said that I was posting the tyre ahead to a guy I’d met in Thailand who was from Broome. The conversation continued for a while when Bruce exclaimed “Not Billy Gibson!”
The West Coast
I detoured to see the curios eroded limestone formations of the Pinnacles at Cervantes before continuing north towards Geraldton. Along the way I met Ken, a Geraldton resident returning from Perth on his Buell (American motorcycle). He asked what my plans were for somewhere to stay and when I said that I didn’t have any he offered me a good feed and a real bed. I followed him into town where I met his wife Alice and two sons Adam and Mason. They were great fun and the banter flowed along with cold Corona’s and I spent three nights with them unable to drag myself away from the first bed I’d slept in since Coober Pedy which in turn was the first since I’d stayed with Jean and Linda in Hobart back in February.
Alice was a policewoman (I didn’t hold it against her) and Ken was in the process of getting a Norton spares business off the ground. During the day Ken showed me the sights on his immaculate 1974 Norton Commando 850 whilst I followed along on his Buell.
When I mentioned that I was on my way to visit a friend who worked for a pearl farmer north of Broome their eyes lit up and they started asking questions. It turns out that they had lived in the region for many years, Alice as the local copper whilst Ken ran the store on one of the (Aboriginal) communities on Cape Leveque. Eventually I mentioned Billy & Trish by name and of course Ken & Alice knew them both. I wasn’t sure if Australia was shrinking or Billy was becoming more infamous.
Kalbarri NP was my next stop but with no camping in the NP and the commercial campsite in Kalbarri town wanting AU$24 I found a good bush camp. The following morning I packed up, visited the NP and returned to my bush camp for a second night.
At the time of writing, the walk around ‘The Loop’ was my favorite walk thus far in Australia.
Setting out along the canyon rim the walk overlooked the river until approx half distance when it descended steeply to the riverbank. In places I had to pick my way carefully along the rock overhanging the river, one slip and I’d have been swimming. Eventually the gorge widened and the trail furrowed the rocky riverbed littered with debris carried along during the wet season. During my 5hr walk I met two other people. Two too many for a wilderness walk but hey, it was a NP!
10pm – You’re having a laugh!!
At Monkey Mia I watched a beautiful sunrise over the jetty before joining many other tourists for the dolphin feeding. As we lined the shore, ankle deep in water so the dolphins came in to be fed by hand by the staff. Each dolphin was known by name and are direct descendants of the first dolphin to be fed by hand here by a female sailor from Perth many years ago. The dolphins swam slowly along the line of spectators, lying on their sides and eyeing the crowd as if to say “I’m gorgeous aren’t I!?”
My only disappointment at Monkey Mia was that the bar closed at 2200. Not that I was desperate for a drink, but because I’d deliberately timed my visit to coincide with the Italian Moto GP at Mugello. I knew they’d have a TV and chances were that the TV room would be pretty quiet at 2245 on a Sunday evening. There was no TV room. The TV was in the bar! AARRRHHH!!!!
I had planned on staying at Coral Bay but when one campsite wanted AU$28 and the other AU$30 I knew I’d have to leave town early enough to find a bush camp. I parked up at the beach, paid my AU$5 to hire snorkeling gear and had a very pleasant afternoon out on the reef. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, the reef here is so close to shore you don’t need a boat. Just swim out 50m and there’s the reef in all its glory.
A short distance north of town I found a dirt road heading towards the coast at a place called Ningaloo. It turned out to be Ningaloo Station where I was able to camp for AU$5. There were no facilities but I was just behind the dunes that led onto an empty beach perfect for a skinny dip.
The map showed a track following the coast up to Cape Range NP (my next destination) and so I asked the woman at the station about how sandy it was. “No worse than the track you’ve just ridden up but you’ll have to wait until low tide to cross Yardie Creek and that’s about 4pm”.
The following morning just as I was getting up so a few 4×4’s drove past heading south. My immediate thought was that they’d crossed Yardie creek on the morning low tide and that if I was quick I could do the same. I quickly packed up and set off up the track which became increasingly sandy. After riding for quite some time I moved out to avoid snagging my panniers on a protruding tree and rode straight into a pile of soft sand, falling off in the process.
I was halfway through unloading my bike to pick her up when a family in their 4×4 appeared traveling the other way. After helping me pick my bike up we got chatting about the area and they told me that even at low tide, Yardie creek was still 600mm deep and had an uneven sand base. Given that it was salt water it would have been madness to continue and so I turned around and settled into the 280km ride to the NP that was only 20km away.
It was worth the ride though. With 500 recorded species of fish and 250 species of coral, it came as no surprise that the Ningaloo Reef (stretching the length of the NP and beyond) was promoted as ‘The Great Barrier Reef without the barriers’. AU$15 got me snorkeling gear for two days and with so many options throughout the NP I was spoilt for choice. It was the hour before I returned the gear though that was the most memorable.
I took my last swim at ‘Lakeside’ close to the hire shop and within 2 minutes of being in the water I was staring down on a Stingray over 1m across less than 2m below me. Soon after I spotted a Turtle feeding on sea grass and he wasn’t the least bit bothered by my presence. After a while he swam off slowly and I was able to swim in a small circle with him and back to his chosen feeding spot. It was an incredible experience to share the reef with this majestic old man of the sea and it was only the cold setting in that eventually made me move off. As I swam back towards shore marveling at how lucky I’d been so a White Tip shark swam out from under a ledge 3m below me. It was larger than me and cruised right under my nose and away over the adjacent rocks. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a trance, blown away by my recent encounters – and all for $15!
Still reliving my previous days experience, I rolled out of Cape Range NP early and headed inland for the Pilbara region but I’ll tell you all about that next time…