After finally breaking free of the grip which Perth seems to have had on us we head north to Cervantes where the Pinnacles Desert is. It turned out to be a really interesting park. Thousands of limestone fingers stick out of the desert. In the early morning light it is even more beautiful and it is all set against an ocean background. After Cervantes we continue north up along the coast. There is not much to tell about this area, even though we are driving along a "coast" road you rarely see the coast. What you do see of it is very beautiful though. Keep in mind that since Esperance, Western Australia has basically been one long beach. The difference north of Perth is that there is much less people about. Towns are much further apart and the countryside is much drier and empty. It really becomes a test of endurance, day after day riding through empty country just waiting for the next town to appear and then less than a minute later back in the empty wilderness. Empty wilderness is not really an appropriate description, there is a lot of stuff out there, it is just that it is all the same. Red sand, spinifex bushes and dead Kangaroos lying on the side of the road. There is basically nothing between towns to look at, and eventually the towns even stop, now all you see are a couple of roadhouses where you stop, get gas, get something to eat, go to the toilet and continue on to the next one.
On our way north we stopped for a day in Monkey Mia, which is a couple of hundred kilometers north of Geraldton. Monkey Mia is World Heritage site. Here dolphins come into shore and "play" with the tourists. It is 150km from the main road which is already a long way from anything else. We arrive early in the day and are told that in the morning the dolphins will be coming in. They had already been there 3 times and we had just missed them. The dolphins are wild and just come in whenever they feel like it. For the enjoyment of the tourist we are told, they are fed a few fish in the morning, I bet they don't mind either. Well in the morning we stand around waiting for the dolphins with 40-50 tourist and sure enough they come. Eight dolphins show up and swim in knee deep water close to where the tourists are. The tourist who are also standing in knee deep water are all trying to touch the dolphins. The dolphins this morning though, do not feel like being touched and just swim back and forth, just out of reach. Pretty weird actually. Eventually a couple of buckets of fish are brought forth and the tourist are allowed to feed the dolphins a couple of fish. Cäcilia really enjoyed it, and I took some pictures, but they won't show much. These are not trained Dolphins so they don't perform any tricks.
After having our fill of dolphins we continue to Coral Bay, which turned out to be a beautiful little paradise. A long beach with a coral reef 10 meters off shore. Warm water and lots of recreation possibilities for those with money. The campground was pretty cheap so we spent a few days. It was too expensive to go diving so we just hung out on the beach and worked on our tan.
Next stop Exmouth, here the big attraction at this time of year are the Whale sharks which come to Ningaloo reef to feed. This is the same reef system which we saw in Coral Bay 100km south. Ningaloo Reef is the second largest reef formation in Australia and is the most accessible. The Whale sharks were still there but unfortunately it was just too expensive for us to go swimming with them. At A$250.00 per person it is simply not worth it. Instead we wait for our diving gear to be sent up from Adelaide where we had left it and plan to do a lot of snorkeling.
We spend another few days in the sun, and once our stuff gets here we went snorkeling. It was truly incredible. In many places less than 5 meters off shore you are in a paradise of fish and coral, the water is 27C and it is sunny and warm. What more could you want. We have seen thousands of fish, starfish, coral, sharks, stingrays, turtles, morays and every other kind of fish which inhabit these waters. I even went snorkeling on a wreck near here. It is really incredible, in most of the good places the depth is only a meter or so and with all the sunshine all the colors of the coral really stand out. We spent over a week snorkeling up and down the coast, across from Exmouth in places like Lakeside, Turquoise Bay, Oyster Stacks and Mandu Mandu.
It really is a wonderful place, and unfortunately I had to wonder for how much longer. It seems that its ready accessibility and shallow depth may turn out to be the reefs death certificate. In every place we snorkeled we saw lots of coral damage. Hopefully people will be educated to the fragile nature of coral. The visitors center (all the beaches mentioned above lay inside the Cape Range National Park) is really excellent and deserves a visit. The highlight of our visit was seeing a Cuttlefish at Lakeside (a first for me) and swimming with white and black tipped reef sharks. The 1½ and 2 meter sharks are harmless but they still give you a rush when they appear out of nowhere and pass within 3 meters. I could make this whole document nothing but descriptions of the wonderful snorkeling we did, but who would read it?
To continue on, the bikes seem to be ok. I keep checking the oil in the final drive to see what it looks like. Nothing unusual so far. Cäcilia's alternator brushes had to be changed a couple of days after we got to Exmouth, but it was no big deal since I had spares. Someone lent me a soldering iron, but it didn't get hot enough so I went into town and a guy at the auto electricians place did it for A$10.00 Exmouth is a pretty empty place, there is very little there. Mostly people come up here during vacations to go fishing, and diving, and snorkeling of course. All the campgrounds and hotels are booked solidly from the beginning of July until the end of school vacations. There used to be a big US Navy communications base here, but it has been mostly shutdown, and there are less than 15 Americans left there now. Since they discovered that the Whale Sharks come here regularly, a lot of people come here every year to go diving or snorkeling with them. That is now turning out to be one of the main tourist attractions here.
Continuing on from Exmouth we headed to Karratha. There is a nice little 70km shortcut to the main highway. It is a well kept dirt road and luckily we made it through just before the rains hit us. The rain didn't persist but we got a good drenching nevertheless. The ride to Karratha was again uneventful and still boring, even though there were some unusual rock formations and hills to look at on the way north. We spent the night in Karratha and the next morning took a little side trip to Dampier which is the port for iron ore shipped out of this area. Surprisingly the town was not only very clean but very scenic also. Even the actual dock area was really nice, something very unusual. We rode around town ( it only took 5 minutes) and stopped at the visitor information center on our way out. We had to take a picture of the Red Dog statue. Apparently the town had made a mascot out of a stray dog that lived here and when he passed away they erected a statue to him. At least that is what we surmised from the small plaque.
From Karratha we headed to Port Hedland where we had been invited to visit Finn Svensson. Finn is a member of the WA BMW club and had read our Road Report which Cäcilia wrote in Perth. He is the first person who has invited us to visit via e-mail. We met half way to Pt. Hedland and rode together the rest of the way. His spotless new GS1100 contrasted sharply with our very dirty and loaded (over loaded many would say) bikes. Finn suggested that we visit the Karijini National Park, something which we had already wanted to do. We left our "excess" luggage at Finns' place and headed south.
The Karijini National Park is know for the gorges and beautiful white gum trees. We spent a week hiking, practically in every gorge. We really enjoyed the gorges. In many areas we had to strip down to our skivvies and swim or wade through the ice cold water. In others we had to climb down 5-15 meters to the gorge floor, clinging precariously to small ledges. Don't try this at home kids. The colored bands in the rocks and the crystal clear water of the pools created a very eerie effect. It was really incredible to see the amount of water in the gorges, when you consider how dry and dusty the land above and around it is. Even many of the waterfalls had water in them, and although we were told that they are even more spectacular in the rainy season, it was fun being able to climb up and around many of them.
South of Karijini is Newman, home of a large iron ore mine. The iron ore mine tour had been recommended to us, so we went to have a look. The Mount Whaleback iron ore mine in Newman is the worlds largest open cut iron ore mine, and it is big, very big. We, like many other people, were the most impressed with the monster trucks. These trucks carry up to 240 tons and have tires which cost A$30,000 each. Pretty impressive. The view of the mine was also very impressive. They are basically moving a mountain to get to the iron ore underneath, really incredible. On the way back to Pt. Hedland we decided to take the dirt road which goes from Newman to Pt. Hedland via Marble Bar, a long, dusty 470km. Luckily it wasn't too bad and we could go for the most part flat out, exactly the type of roads our bikes are made for.
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