Ningaloo: a gale-force paradise

07 November 2016

Even if I wanted to leave bright and early to avoid, say, a full-headwind once I round the cape I can’t. The kitchen here opens at the outrageously late hour of 0700. I’ve a sedate start whether I want it or not.

From Exmouth to the most southern of Ningaloo’s campsites, Yardie Creek, is ninety kilometres. A distance achievable. Except when the road sucks, the topography is brutal. Or there are strong headwinds. I’m gonna be facing strong headwinds. Wonder if I’ll make it.

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That way. 74 km there. 74 back. At least one way with headwinds and the other with tailwinds

The first twelve kilometres up the east coast of the cape is a breeze. I’ve a tailwind. Turn north-west. A cross tail- cross headwind, still going good.

Pull into the Lighthouse Caravan Park right at the tip of the cape under the hill where the now-defunct Vlamingh Lighthouse sits. Enjoy an ice-cream an iced-coffee and a kit-kat. The Next Bit is where I head south into That HeadWind.

It is not just a headwind. It is a strong headwind. The Ningaloo Road hugs the coast. Aside of a few paltry sand dunes and low scrub there is nothing to dent the unbridled enthusiasm of vast volumes of air making its way from the Antarctic chilled great oceans in the south to the tropics warmed balmy lands and waters to the north and east.

Terrain and topography are fine. No hills. The road is good. Asphalt. I am down to third gear on my Rohloff. That’s equivalent to a hill between 3.5-4.0%. Continuously. Headwinds are the New Inclines. Slow going.

The turtle information centre offers an excuse for a break. Up to ten thousand nesting sites of green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles strung along the beaches in this part of Western Australia. Conservation efforts to mitigate the New Challenges one hundred million years of evolution have not prepared them for: plastic bags mistaken for food – they eat jellyfish (Exmouth is a plastic bag free town), by-catch in the highly indiscriminate and destructive trawling industry, alien threats including foxes, cats, 4WDs along beaches where the nests are, people being too inquisitive and too intrusive. The odds are stacked against them.

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Turtle taking a breath, Tantabiddi boat ramp

Back on the road and into that headwind. Thirty kilometres per hour (8 meters per second), said the forecast. That’s the average speed. But that’s for the east side of the cape, protected by Cape Range from the Indian Ocean. I am between the Range and the Ocean and the winds are far stronger. The gusts in particular basically stop me. Wham! Gear down one. Gear down two. I’m basically in first gear on a flat asphalt road. That’s a gear normally reserved for greater than five percent inclines. Maybe I don’t make Yardie Creek today. Gary suggested Neds, the most northern of the campsites “ … in case it gets a bit much”. I see his point. I’ve enough hours in the day but, err, would I want to spend my entire day endlessly riding up a virtual five to eight percent incline?

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No shortage of crabs on rocks, Tantabiddi

Duck into Park Entrance as the attendant emerges, smiling at me as I wobble up. She’s “never seen one before” referring to a cycle-tourist. “I think you pay the 12.50$” as for a car. “I’m not sure” I reply, “normally there’s no charge for a cyclist” “Shall I call to check?” she suggests helpfully and disappears into her little hut and radios someone. “Is it a motorbike, then it’s 6.00$. If it’s a bicycle then its free” comes the reply and I’m free to go but not before the attendant graciously tops up my water supply. Water down the cape is at a premium with but one supply point, opposite Neds. For the rest it’s what I can carry, or get donated from other campers. Gary got by on hand-outs during his eight-days here.

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Made it to the National Park

I’ve a sneaking suspicion though that my ‘free’ ride does not include camping fees.

It’s definitely the kind of day any sensible cyclist would remain in bed and avoid if they could. The wind is howling, gale force. Unfortunately I cannot implement the ‘avoid if possible’ approach. The wind will probably die down in spring 2017 but not in any meaningful way before then. To visit Ningaloo Reef means I godda ride against this wind.

There is a near continuous pattern of death along this road. Fifty perhaps every hundred meters on average, a dead kangaroo. Lizards, snakes, birds. But it is the kangaroos which really stand out. It does seem most get dragged to the side. Others are left where killed in the middle of the road.

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The amount of death along this road is disturbing. A one-way road, no large trucks, tourist traffic and yet literally every 50 m, something dead. Awful

I’m not sure there’s a excuse for this. It is a National Park. Surely we understand that that means there’s a greater chance of more animals. It is a one way road. There’s no long distance high-speed traffic trying to make kilometres. There are no road trains nor any heavy vehicles running day and night. Surely we could all make just a bit of effort to slow down and not wipe out the biodiversity we claim we are coming to the National Park to experience.

Neds turns up and I’m going to take Gary’s suggestion. First though, water. The only bore-water available for the entire west of the Exmouth Cape is here. Time to stock up.

“This bore water is NOT intended for:

  • Drinking … “

What are these people thinking? Tastes great. Why on earth are they so against people drinking this stuff?

I fill up my Sea to Summit and secure on the outside of Zi-Biddi’s Big Black Back coz it leaks. Definitely do not buy Sea to Summit’s range of water bladders if you are ever likely to be dependent on them securely holding water for you.

The info-board at Neds tells me I should pay ten dollars per night to camp here and can pay either at Park Entrance or the Information Centre, which is further down the coast.

As usual the actual campsites assume I’m in a vehicle +/- a trailer. Dusty, barren, hard of ground, strewn with little stones, no shade. Not attractive. Neds #3 however has a thick canopied @@@@ tree right next to it under which my Soulo should fit quite nicely on a thick bed of  needles. Perfect.

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The best on the block. The large empty space to the right is where I’m meant to camp 😉

Camp arranged time for a shower. For although I rode only fifty-five kilometres today, it took me nearly six hours (including stops) and although it was barely above 31oC OTH, which is pretty darned cool, I am liberally dosed in the residue of sweat. That thirty kilometre 3% virtual incline once I left Lighthouse Caravan Park. Back to The Tap.

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Neds #3 shade tree

A Troopy. A dude filling up water bottles. One and half litre bottles one at a time. Take one bottle. Shuffle two metres to tap. Fill. Shuffle back to the rear of the Troopy, put it on the rear. Take another bottle. Repeat. Quite apart from the “Why don’t you have a five or ten or more litre container?” is the “Why the one at a time?” performance.

In a thick German accent he tells me to go ahead “I’ll be a while”. I’m here to wash “Me too” I reply and watch his performance as his travel partner, an Asian woman, washes her long hair from a bucket. After ten or twelve bottles I take over.

My plan was to strip and wash myself. However, not only do I have the German dude and the Asian dudette I’ve also got the young French couple I met at Cheela Plains watching me wash. I don’t strip.

Back in my tent it feels cool. It’s 26oC. Guess I’ve acclimatised to Australia’s hot weather.

The soundtrack of my life is a robust wind sighing through the @@@@ tree backed up by the dull-roar of the surf on the outer reef a good kilometre west with the squawking of the galahs topping it off.

The water is not inviting. Not cold, just whipped up. A layer of sand moves across the beach’s surface exfoliating my skin. Pretty in a harsh rugged kind of way. A windsurfer on the water racing with the wind. Guess they are not complaining.

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Neds beach. Note the windsurfer. Glad someone gets joy out of the wind

08 November 2016

Breaking camp. Wind’s up but not yet full strength, oozing potential.

Ningaloo is my Last Great Adventure. After this it largely asphalt, headwinds and kilometres south. No major To Do or Must Sees as I migrate south. Cervantes and the Pinnacles Desert the only exception. I’ve a week here.

Distances are short. Yardie Creek, my destination, is but forty kilometres south. Four hours in this wind. Still well short of the eight to ten hours I usually ride trying to eat kilometres. I can afford to take it easy.

Election day today. One of the most important that I can remember. I can live with Clinton. Trump I can’t imagine.

Milyeenie Discovery Centre (information centre), waiting for it to open at 0900.

WiFi HotSpot signs everywhere. Only … only to access the Parks and Wildlife campsite booking site. Rather punitive. Internet is an essential component of modern life including travel. Here, nope. It’s a luxury. Why no open access? An Australian told me Australians don’t want anyone having something they don’t or for nothing. An ‘envy’ thing: ‘I’m not going to give it to you coz if I can’t have it you can’t have it’. And you can’t have something for nothing. I wonder.

Australian culture is based on restrictions. All those ‘NO!’ signs I’ve come across. Property rights, all those ‘No Trespassing’ signs for lands lacking any human infrastructure. The threat of punishments – ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’ and ‘Fines/Penalties Apply’, for places tens or hundreds of kilometres from any human cultural establishment. Internet available but no open access.

It’s not an educative culture. People are individually orientated. They do not consider the collective. Therefore they really do need constant reminder of not best practice but law. They also need a law to be held accountable to. They do not judge situations based on its merits. They will drive their large 4WD across fragile dune systems on to a beach where turtles are known to nest. Parks and Wildlife put huge effort into making this as hard as possible. Barriers, poles, signs saying ‘Observe, Conserve’ and ‘Let it Grow’ to get the message across. There are signs everywhere telling a person what they can and cannot do and what punishments apply if a person does not comply. Quite amazing actually. It’s a culture of get what you can whilst you can and worry about consequence later if they catch you.

I mention about the death on the road. I suggest perhaps dropping the speed limit to fifty kilometres per hour. This animates the attendants. They are all very well aware of the death on the road. But … “Fifty? I wish. We can’t get them to stick to eighty!” one exclaims. Apparently people race down the road so fast they don’t even notice the huge and (so I thought) unmissable Discovery Centre a hundred meters off the road. Truly a shame.

The going is more than simply tough. This is not an 8 mps wind. It’s between 10 and 15 mps. Up to 60 kph. Now how would I know that? Well, I ride a bike. I am very familiar with what the wind howl past my ears sounds like. I know what 30 kph sounds and feels like. Down a hill I push 50 kph and on (very rare) occasion I get over 60 kph – the fastest I’ve been on Dreamer + Zi-biddi is 64 kph.

The headwind is so all encompassing that it dominates. It removes my sense of hearing replacing it with a constant roar. My sense of balance and equilibrium are affected, making me mildly disorientated. I retreat into a visual world under constant audial bombardment. The wind creates relentless high-speed mini-vibrations of my head as it batters against my helmet and sun-protector. A trilling effect, my head violently shaking at a sub-millimetre scale. My eyes struggle to focus and everything is a blur, swallowed within an environment so saturated by noise that it is silent. Except for the roar.

It is a strange disorientating sensation.

Starving now I’m looking for a lunch location. I need shelter. From the wind from the sun. There’s not a tree anywhere. This is a coastal plain barely ten metres above sea-level built on ancient coral reefs. Quite apart from being in an arid place to start with any plant has to deal with salt-laden winds and porous soils. There aren’t even any water courses with the ubiquitous white barked eucalypt to offer shade. I’ve crawled past Lakeside, Tulki-beach, Oyster Stacks and Mandu. Each one I’ve declined to check-out in a bid to get this wind-slamming out of the way as soon as possible.

Kurrajong turns up. Campsites. The track disappears over the dunes denying me the chance to see if they offer any shelter. Pilgrammuna is next. According to the sign it’s a day-use area, with picnic facilities. No dune to crawl over. I turn right and make my way to the coast. The track degrades into soft sand and a sign proclaims ‘4WD Only’. There’s no sign of any picnic facilities. There used to be a campsite here but it was closed following severe flooding in 2014 which would have alarmed any camper.

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Pilgramunna. Looks to be good fishing. Not for a picnic though

I’m too tired and hungry to bump my way back to the road and try the next site some five or six kilometres down the coast. A long hard forty minute ride into the headwind. Instead I take shelter under a dense clump of @@@@ trees and enjoy a wrap or two.

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With the wind the coast does have a grim-post-apocalyptic feel to it sometimes

Back into it. I am not riding into a headwind. Nope. I am pushing a large invisible lump of concrete along the road.

This whole area used to be pastoral lease: sheep stations. Leases need renewing. I read on the internet the concerns by some of the pastoral lease holders that they are losing coastal land to Parks and Wildlife to manage, as described in their submissions for renewal of their leases. Their argument is that they’ve ‘successfully’ managed the land for literally generations. They are best positioned, so their argument goes, to continue to manage it and gain additional income from tourism. A counter argument suggests that pastoral leases have significant long term negative impacts on biodiversity, that iconic bits of Australia’s coastline will be under the control of but a tiny handful of Australians who will then charge a premium – so-called ‘glamping’ – to rich tourists to experience it. Parks and Wildlife claim to want to manage high-biodiversity value areas on ‘behalf of all Australians’.

El Questro, on the north end of the Gibb River Road has some glamping: between 1500 and 3000$ per night. There’s a ‘glamp’ just south of South Mandu here in Ninglaoo. 1500$ per night the info centre tells me. Frankly I’m for Parks and Wildlife managing such areas. Pastoral lease owners are not good managers of biodiversity and shutting off huge areas of a country’s intangible cultural assets for the benefits of but a few very wealthy tourists is hardly inclusive.

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Derelict tank, testament to a pastoral history

 

Testament to the Exmouth Cape’s history as a pastoral lease there’s a water tank just off the road. I go check it out. The tank is decrepit and hasn’t held water for a long, long time. The well is ten metres away, green water at the bottom. A broken trough where animals used to drink.

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Even as a desperate water-stressed cyclist I’m not tempted to drink this water

Shortly before Yardie Creek there’s another decayed tank with the well dry this time.

Finally Yardie Creek. It’s mid-afternoon. Experience has taught me that the best places at campsites are consumed from mid-afternoon onwards and Yardie Creek is no exception. There are trees and each one has a vehicle snug under them. The remaining campsites are barren dusty affairs. Hardly attractive. Over at the day-use parking area several picnic tables nestle under large @@@@ trees. Plenty of shade but the wind whips up fine sand from the near-by sand dune and sprays it across the area. It would not be comfortable to camp here. Back to the camping area I pull into a site with a hire-camper van and knock on the door. Nick and Sandra, both from Germany though Sandra’s half Swedish do not mind me camping pretty much right next to them.

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Yardie Creek camp. I preferenced morning shade over evening

The ground is so soft the Soulo’s pegs barely get purchase. Wind gusts slam into the Soulo ripping up the pegs. I have to wrap the guy ropes around a large rock and bury it on the most tormented side of the tent to keep the peg in the ground. For other pegs I place large rocks on them and fold the ground sheet up against the tent in an attempt to stop the pervasive sand invading it, to limited success. For whilst I am protected from the main wind-blast, the counter-eddies furl a continuous blanket of fine sand into the vestibule. Should I close the vestibule to avoid this the temperature inside the tent is unbearable. Welcome to beach-life in gale force winds.

The travel numbers say it all. Seven and a half hours for forty-three kilometres including lunch and my two tank stops. About six kilometres an hour. That’s quite a wind. Mind you, heading north will be a dream. Tough going. Every kilometre hard-fought for. The terrain was flat the road good. Just that wind. The same effect as the rough and ready tracks along the Mawson Trail through the Flinders Ranges.

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I thought this real cool. Wind blowing a branch laboriously through the camp leaving a distinct scar

Temperature didn’t make it above 30oC, for the first time in months. No incentive for a swim. The sea choppy. A sheet of sand sand-blasting the shore. Hardly inspiring. Thus rest. No snorkelling for me on the famous Ningaloo Reef today.

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Yardie Creek beach looking north. Somehow I HAVE to motivate myself to go for a swim

09 November 2016

Good real coffee from Nick and Sandra.

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The only view of an Echidna I’ve managed so far across Australia. Spiky bugga

Not sure what to do. Not much shelter from either wind nor sun. Can have protection from one or the other but not both. May ride the ten kilometres to Sandy Bay and take my chances there. It’d take less than half an hour in this wind. I can handle that. First coffee, then Yardie Creek Gorge. Then decide.

Still not able to get in the water. Just does not look inviting. Plus the reef itself is a good two hundred metres offshore. I would ‘only’ be swimming in the lagoon.

Yardie Creek has the biggest catchment area on the peninsular. The gorge is full of water, unfortunately brackish as it’s open to the sea at high tide. The sandbar at the entrance eventually becomes so large even high-tide can’t breach it. Then a cyclone comes along and it opens again.

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Yardie Creek Gorge. Sadly the water is brackish

Nice walk, nice views. Rocks full of shallow-water fossils, sea shells and corals.

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The rocks here are full of shallow water fossils, like this coral
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Yardie Creek Gorge and Ningaloo Reef
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And pretty pink flowers on harsh spiky plants

Back at the sandbar and a bogged 4WD. A French dude letting down tires, three others lounging inside. I know ‘back-packer’ vehicles can do more go longer on much less than Australian driven 4WD but surely to attempt to drive a vehicle across an utterly unconsolidated beach-sand dune without even bothering to let down the tires let alone removing two hundred kilogrammes of weight is pushing one’s luck a bit too far. Dude is confident that letting them down will solve his dilemma. He’s right to be optimistic. Getting rescued down here would cost more than the vehicle is worth.

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Well bogged

I cross Yardie Creek’s sandbar and inspect the Ningaloo Yardie Creek Road. Rumour has it it is on par with The Back Track between Mulan and Billiluna on the Tanami. I am not tempted to test the rumour though it certainly looks appealing.

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The Ningaloo Yardie Creek Road. Reputed to be sandy. And Sand Is The Bike Killer. Am not going to try it

Back on the sand bar the French dude has kicked out his passengers and got his 4WD into position. Gunning the engine ferociously he hurtles at the sandbar and the strip of water connecting the gorge to the ocean powers across in a great splendour of wave Moses would be proud of before roiling across and along the sandbar but he’s not bothered to walk the route and as he rapidly approaches me wheels-a-spinnin’ and engine-a-racin’ he’s at grave risk of missing the track. I point frantically where he needs to go, despite, I must confess, some little nasty bit of me wanting to see what he’d do if he did miss the track. The 4WD lurches alarmingly to the left before having to do another tight right hand turn and he’s … made it! Cheers erupt. One of his passengers tells me “Too easy!” as she runs after the car. Hmmm, not sure it was but they are on their way. Foolhardy? For sure. Risky? Definitely. Life for the living? Yep, and they went for it. Good on them.

Later, as I go for a walk along the rocky foreshore south of the sandbar there are two Australian-driven 4WDs parked high, dry, proud and trouble free on the sandbar as the men try their hand at fishing in the gorge. An interesting contrast to my backpacker of earlier.

I have to do it! I have to break the curse! I HAVE TO DO IT … get in the water. No point coming all this way bringing snorkelling gear with me and not even attempting to use it.

It is so just not appealing. Winds so strong the water is a series of short sharp choppy waves, the water a murky churned beige, sand streaks across the beach exfoliating everything from skin to footprints in seconds coating any poor sod fool enough to emerge from the water as well as chilling them down to dangerous hypothermic levels.

But … godda be done.

Aside of my Italian camp-neighbours vainly trying to fish I have the entire beach to myself. It’s that attractive. I wander along find ‘my’ spot, strip, take gear enter water perform intricate get-gear-on-(particularly fins)-whilst-being-hammered-by-winds-and-chop. Easier to sit on my ass in the shallows enduring the chop put the fins on flip over and make my way into the lagoon. Temperature’s OK, chop tolerable, can’t see shit. Water’s too churned up.

Stumble across a small bomby, dive to check it out. Vague impressions of fish emerge from and disappear into the gloom but nothing’s clear. Surfacing the snorkel doesn’t clear and I breath half air-half water in tense gurgles. I stick my head clear of the water blowing hard which should clear the water by gravity if nothing else. Back in the water I still have water in the snorkel. It’s a snorkel with a one-way purge-valve just below the mouth piece. Meant to make clearing water easier, rather than having to have breath enough to blast it out like an asthmatic whale. Unfortunately my purge valve does not keep out the water. Each time I breath in some air comes down the tube and some water comes in through the purge valve. It does not take a lot of water to accompany the air down my oesophagus for me to feel decidedly chokey and spluttery. I am the product of 3.5 billion years of evolution resulting in me being a terrestrial beast fuelling the fires within with pure-air with a water vapour contamination volume measured in parts per billion. At the moment I have percentages of water to air mix coming in. Keep this up and I’ll fucking drown! Eventually I ditch the snorkel and breath like a swimmer normally does.

Back on the beach I retreat to a sheltered spot in the fore-dunes and congratulate myself on successfully breaking the voodoo.

10 November 2016

Early morning. My neighbour approaches hesitantly as if she’s got bad news, like my shrink or lawyer just died. “Trump is going to be the next American president” she tells me and instantly I am with her, bearer of bad tidings. Do not ask me how I am today, for I may just tell you.

Welcome to the New World Trump.

Oh Boy!

This has been coming for a while. Coloured Revolutions in the Wild East. The Arab Spring. Well, now we have our own revolution(s), Democratic Revolutions. The Establishment has managed to live in its own bubble for quite a while, ignoring growing discontentment at the local level. Brexit, Trump and the Lord only knows what’s gonna happen as future elections contest Europe’s Establishment’s belief in their inalienable right to govern. People really don’t seem to believe in the ruling class anymore and are turning to those who say they do. What’s going to happen when expectations aren’t met? Interesting times.

Such lofty concerns are hard to maintain in the face of a stiff easterly under an endless blue sky as I break camp. MY main concern is how my Soulo is going to take being uprooted and released from the various anchor points I constructed then turned upside down and shaken to get out all the sand, whilst the stiff easterly hammers it. Succeeding at that I pack Dreamer and Zi-Biddi and start my return journey to Exmouth. Gonna take a (short) week, stopping at localities and campsites. Time to enjoy.

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Hmmm … not sure the message gets through
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King Brown Snake. Another victim of traffic

Sandy Bay is one of the icons. A large J-bay somewhat protected from the prevailing southerlies. It’s very shallow. Very sandy. It’s very beautiful too. Exquisite. Bit too shallow to see much whilst snorkelling. It’s not hard to understand why it is one of the icons. The carpark reflects its popularity. Plenty of space though I doubt that’s the case in season. There’s no campsite here.

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Sandy Bay panorama. Perfect place
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Sandy Bay. Exquisite.

Gary stayed at Kurrajong or North Kurrajong a few kilometres up the road, staying there a few days. That’s my plan too.

Kurrajong is a large camping area just behind the fore-dunes. There’s no tree, shade or shelter of any kind. Awful for a sundburnt dude on bike who could really do with getting out of the sun AND the wind. Please!

North Kurrajong is closed for the season. The usual chain across the access road. I go around it. And Lo and Behold is that a shelter I see up in front? It is! There are tables nestling under it. Looks promising. There are kangaroos everywhere too. Bounding and jumping around, loitering just outside the toilet-block, hanging around the picnic table on top of the fore-dunes (great photo if my camera were up for it), watching me approach from the shade of the shelter. Cute.

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My shelter

The shelter has a low wall. Not surprising. It is a shelter after all. There’s a gate. It has a lock on it. Dumfounded I stare at a lock on a gate to a shelter, the only shelter, in a campground and think to myself … “No! They can’t have. Can they? Locked it! Out here?” You have to appreciate how fast my mind is working on this constructing all sorts of dire character assassination plots soon to be unleashed upon whatever warped Australian logic that would lock a gate on a shelter in an abandoned campsite in the middle of nowhere …

But I haven’t actually tried the gate yet.

Of course it opens. Of course it’s not locked. I guess it’s there to keep the kangaroos out. There’s kangaroo shit surrounding the shelter. There would be inside it too if the kangaroos had access. The gate keeps them out. I manoeuvre Dreamer and Zi-Biddi inside, break out the Helinox, lean against the wall on the leeward side and chill a bit out of the wind (well, almost) and out of the sun.

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My shelter. In a shelter. North Kurrajong. There are no trees or bushes offering any shelter

Not sure what Gary saw in Kurrajong +/- North. It really isn’t a good place for a cyclist. Other Happy Campers speak highly of it as well. I really do not have Australian car + van/trailer eyes so am not sure what they see in it, aside, perhaps, in the space available and ease in accessing the camp-bays and park their vehicles and vans. And Gary told me he hooked up with some vaners. That would make a difference. To me it’s a bleak empty hostile environment.

It is pretty early in the afternoon. I think about returning to Sandy Bay but can’t be bothered fighting the wind.

Seems kangaroos are beach-goers too, considering there are kangaroo tracks on the beach. I haven’t seen one on a beach yet. It remains on my Must See list. The beach isn’t up there with Sandy Bay, but it’s a great beach. I have kilometres of it all to myself. There’s no one here.

The Plan is to hang around here one night, enabling me to check out Turquoise Bay, another of Ningaloo’s icons and Must Sees/Dos. If I don’t stay here my visit to Turquoise Bay will be at Peak Wind time in the day. Nick and Sandra from Yardie told me the wind altered the famous drift snorkel that Turquoise Bay is famous for. Best, they suggested, to visit in morning before Peak Wind. I’ve no reason to doubt them.

Mandu, another campsite lies between here and Turquoise Bay. From memory one of them is closed and from what I could see there is no shelter there either.

Stay here. R E L A X. As in Do. Nothing. And not feel guilty. I find it really hard to do just nothing. I’ll sit on my Helinox for a few minutes grateful for the break from cycling or whatever and after a couple of minutes get fidgety get out of the chair and wander about being utterly ineffectual but doing something. Frankly it’s annoying. I see my Australian vaners sitting under their awnings either alone or with their partners doing absolutely nothing. Chilling. Enjoying the Moment. Y’know, I find that really hard. Not sure why. Here’s a good time and place to practice.

A large school of large fish swim by but a couple of meters from the beach. A blue-spotted sting-ray less than three metres from me. Turtle’s pop their heads up all over the place. If the water was clear and still it would be an amazing place to snorkel. I try anyway. Clear-ish water, a few fish, small bombies. Leaking snorkel making it hard to really get into, as I come spluttering and coughing to the surface to breath every now and then.

Walked to Bloodwood Creek, another locale about a kilometre north of North Kurrajong. It is, unsurprisingly, where a creek runs into the ocean. When there’s not a HUGE sandbar in the way. A brackish pool in the creek.

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Bloodwood Creek. Another trapped creek with a pool of brackish water

Back to North Kurrajong against that wind. Time to fish. The second of my activities I thought to do down here, supplementing my rather odd diet with something fresh and tasty. Only … I’ve a handline, not a rod and very limited gear. Let’s see how I go. It will require casting a flimsy line with a tiny weight against the Might of a twenty-five knot sou-westerly. Fortunately there are rocky outcrops which curve into the ocean enabling me to cast kinda with the wind. And with the wind I cast quite spectacularly far. It is a reef though. I snag and lose my line four times. Plenty of nibbles no takers. One time I got A Big One. A real BAM! on the line. Woke me up damned fast I can tell you. Almost immediately though it gets off. Fishing like this is a waiting game. I try to find some kind of protection against both the wind and the sun. The wind chills me whilst the sun burns me. A lose-lose situation. The nibbles continue.

Finally I catch an Emperor. Dinner sized. Since I have nothing on which to cook a full sized fish I reduce it to filets which makes it look a lot, lot smaller that it was.

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Dinner. Rather sad, given it’s so pretty. At least I caught and dealt with my own dinner

Back at the shelter I cook it then add it to a flavoured pack of rice. Lacking any accessories like onion, garlic, chilly and so on. It is probably the worst meal I’ve cooked. Ever. Or at least on this trip. Ate it with relish. Too cold too hungry to complain.

Funny to be ‘cold’ again. Wind chill. The sun’s hot enough and certainly burns but with wind gusts exceeding sixty kilometres per hour (16 m/s) coming off a cold ocean it’s pretty chilly. As the Italian dude put in Yardie “We are above the tropics and it’s freezing. Very unusual”

11 November 2016

Turquoise Bay has two attractions. A drift snorkel along the south side exposed to the ocean. And a large protected bay. The drift is caused by the huge oceanic breakers pounding the outer fringe reef forcing in large volumes of water into the lagoon areas which then need to escape back into the ocean. It does this by finding breaks in the reef. A rip current ensues and in the case of Turquoise Bay this rip moves along the beach before joining up with a counter current circulating through the protective bay which both then head for the break in the rip. Plenty of warning signs telling people that y’know you don’t want to follow the rip too far and get sucked out through the reef.

No useful shelter sees me park Dreamer and Zi-Biddi in the shade of the toilet’s roof, take my snorkelling gear and head towards the Drift point. A muscular fit French dude explains to me the etiquette associated with surviving the drift. For which I’m grateful.

The reef is really close to shore here. I get into my gear and enter the water which really does have a decent current racing along and paddle out. Soon enough I’m half a meter above a wonderland of amazing coral and abundant fish. Drifting. It’s fantastic. The water is clear since there’s no sand to get churned up. The corals in good healthy condition. The fish reflect the coral. Big ones little ones tiny ones lots of them everywhere. Strongly recommend it. Now time to worry about that rip.

Sticking my head up periodically I monitor my position relative to the sandbar where the rip meets the counter-current. I don’t want to miss the end of the sand bar for then I am on the way to the gap in the reef and will have to swim against one or the other of the rips.

With perfect timing I beach myself on the edge of the sandbar. The sand is pure fine white the water refreshing the wind mild the sky intensely blue and the sun bright. It is little wonder this place is so popular. It is beautiful and I lie for a moment revelling in it. Unfortunately, any sunscreen I had on is likely gone I’m already a burnt from the hike up Yardie Creek Gorge and that sun has a bite. Paradise has a sting in its tail.

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Turquoise Bay. Hmmm, how’d it get that name? Sadly my Olympus auto ISO/white balance screwed up the other photos, so I don’t have the ones I thought I took. But it is beautiful here
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Terns making the strong winds look easy

I wrap myself in my sarong hat firm on my head dark sunnies on and find a place in the fore-dunes overlooking the bay out of the wind and chill, watching other beach goers do their thing. The couple in wetsuits fresh from the drift, the elder couple who plonk their old-school camp chairs just shy of the water and sit in the full sun, the French couple brown and tanned lying on large towels, couples wandering the length of the bay until they are the size of tiny ants way on the other side.

There are turtle tracks heading up the beach to nests buried in the dunes. From last night I guess.

It is really beautiful but sadly I can’t stay. Godda find a campground somewhere. Time to move.

[On the 21st November I had the chance to return to Turquoise Bay with a couple of really nice young German dudes. And get some more snaps:]

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Turquoise Bay Panorama. Truly beautiful
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Exquisite Turquoise Bay

 

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A great way to spend a day. Or two. Or more …

Snorkelling along the Turquoise Bay drift is sublime. Veeery strong current. Out over the coral the visibility is pretty good. Tons of fish and vibrant coral. And sharks. Black-tipped reef sharks. E V E R Y W H E R E. We do the drift twice and both times see plenty of sharks. Largest is a good metre and half. I see more sharks here snorkelling than I did whilst diving. I’m following a small which swims around me. When I turn around again a large one swims past less than arm’s length. It is very close and I can see all its fine details. Very impressive.

Also sting-rays. One burrows itself in the sand a meter below myself and Chris. I dive under and it just doesn’t move. Mind you I declined to try touching it. Am pretty sure our eponymous wildlife hero Steve Irwin tried a bit of man-handling on the large sting-ray which fatally stabbed him. Otherwise there’s no reason for them to attack or defend themselves.

Getting out of the rip took more effort than we bargained for. It is screaming along the edge of the beach. But we have no problems. Fortunately.

A brilliant day.

… back to the 11th of November:

I checked out South Mandu on the way to Turquoise Bay. A creek enters the ocean here. The beach is pebbles and reef. I do get, finally, the kangaroo on a beach. Sort of. It is not attractive. Windy as fuck. No shade. No shelter.

Tulik is just north of Turquoise Bay and is the obvious place. Set up camp there and I can manage the four kilometres back to Turquoise even against the wind.

Unfortunately Tulik is grim. Stoney Beach. No shade. Brutally windswept. It is a vile and hostile place. Utterly open to the prevailing wind and lacking any anything even remotely shelter-like the wind roars across it. A lone tent desperately battles the wind, its exposed side bending alarmingly. If other campsites further north are like this, I’m heading for Neds #3. I keep going.

Actually, I damned close to Neds anyway so skip T-Bone Bay and head to Mesa which is just south of Neds and has not only shade trees but also views of the beach. I could handle a view of the beach whilst camped for a couple of nights. First though, pull into Neds and secure my rights to Neds #3 by uncoupling and leaving Zi-Biddi there before continuing the kilometre to Mesa.

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No dignity in death

The toilets at Mesa are unfortunately up-wind of the camping area and there is a distinct smell of eau de toilette wafting about the place. Also, I would have to choose. Shade in the morning. Very important for a sleep in. Or shade in the afternoon. Very important for afternoon snoozes and making dinner. It is clear Neds #3 is the place.

I return, make camp. At least try to. Soulo’s pegs, great as they are, are no good in deep soft sand. The wind hammers the tent uprooting any peg on the upwind side. Well, there’s a shit-load of wood lying around under this tree and I collect six stout long wooden stakes and replace each of my pegs with one hammering them in using a large concrete brick. No idea where the brick came from but it’s damned handy. Count Dracula and his Vampy Vriends are gonna have to approach with real caution come the full moon for I am an expert and driving wooden stakes into the heart of the matter and I am surrounded by enormous sand-piercing stakes.

Now for a swim, followed by my first sweet-water wash in five days at The Tap.

Eventually my Epic shall come to an end. Then what? In the last year and a half I’ve not managed to answer this question with any degree of satisfaction. I still don’t know now what I didn’t know one and a half years ago. I know I’m in love with Ram, which is a good start. Ram is more stable than I and seemingly more settled and secure including regarding her “Now what? What next?” She was meant to provide a framework around which I could build something. Since Chicco’s death and in the face of prolonged Swedish bureaucratic intransigence it appears this framework is now questionable and negotiable. Hmmm …

Ram turns up in Australia in June and together we’ll work out a collective Now What What Next answer. That leaves me with from the end of the Epic, in December until June To Do Something. There are no end of things To Do. Write a book. Reconnect with my disparate family. Another Epic: Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road, Vietnam Cambodia Laos, Argentina and Terra del Fuego? Get a job. Complete a PADI Dive Instructors Course, in Gili Meno, obviously.

Postpone such musing and head to The Tap, there are more immediate things on my mind. Like a good wash.

This time I am alone at The Tap. I strip, rinse my salt and sweat encrusted clothes in the warm water. And liberally wash myself. Shear. Unadulterated. Luxury. It is hard to describe just how fucking good this feels. WoW!

12 November 2016

Neds is my Sanctuary, at least for a day. For all my Sanctuaries are temporary.

The wind. Together forever always. The Daughter of the Easterly bade us fair thee well thanking us for the morning before leaving the stage for the Lady Sou-Westerly.

What to do with my day?

Get stoned with the young German dudes who last night reinforced my sense of insignificance by driving into Neds #3 bay as if I were not here at all. Drink very warm beer. Eat a pack of chips. Snooze long and hard. Do nothing. Finally.

I am alone on the beach. Neds is not one of Ningaloo’s icons. Aside of the windsurfers people come here only to camp. I am not in the dunes this time. I. Am. On. The. Beach. Five metres perhaps from where the small waves expire on the sand, wrapped in my sarong hat on. It’s quite comfortable. I watch the ocean.

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The amount of fish and things I saw sitting here were awesome

I look at the turtles bobbing around just off-shore.

A small blue-spotted ray swims just where the waves start to hit the sand of the beach.

The large dark shape changer in the water where ten thousand turn and act as one.

The rhythmic sigh of the small waves against the sand.

The osprey glides along the water’s edge but a few meters above it.

The small school of large fish who fossick over the sand but five or ten metres from where I sit. Their dorsal fins sleek in the air pointing to sleek tailfins as they cruise in water sometimes shallower than their own body height.

A meter long shark cruises past. The school of fish simply open to allow it through.

I hear the constant roar of the wind buffeting my ears.

I feel the deep rumble of the great transoceanic breakers taking on the fringe reef a kilometre from shore.

It is an absolutely Do Nothing Day and I’m enjoying it.

Return to camp. Make a coffee and drink it sitting in the shade of my @@@@ tree on a bed of soft needles.

Wander down to the day use area, sit at the table, watch and listen to the galah colony go about their day. Three types of noises they make. A continuous ‘gimme food’ ‘ree ree ree’ sound. A staccato ‘I am giving you food’ noise accompanied by much rapid bobbing of heads as the parent regurgitates food into the mouth of a near-adult chick who’s wings and body contort into amazing shapes. And of course the loud ‘adult’ shrieking and squawking that galahs are famous for.

13 November 2016

Returning to Exmouth. Thirty kilometres to Vlaming Head. Eight kilometres to the east side of the peninsular. Twelve kilometres due south to Exmouth. If today is like all the other days I’ll fly up the thirty, get wapped by a cross-wind to the turn-off before struggling against Lady Sou-Westerly to Exmouth. Nothin’ for it, godda be done.

I get pushed up by the tail wind, which has a dose of east in it as the Daughter of the Easterly is still hanging around. At the Lighthouse Caravan Park I enjoy some refreshments before checking out the Valming Head Lighthouse and getting some views.

Back on Dreamer I find the Daughter of the Easterly has indeed left for the day and replaced it with … can … that … be … a … northerly? The Northerly is a shy exquisite creature up here. Rare. Something experienced on the peripheries of one’s senses. Don’t look direct at it, for it will return to the nether lands.

A huge wedge-tail eagle launches itself from a very small bush on the south side of the road and flies in time with my riding but twenty metres away. It gains a little altitude and crosses the road over my head, with but a few meters separating us. Awesome.

Just ahead on the left, is that a pair of long scaly legs? Certainly ain’t a tree’s trunk. Two elegant emus, unperturbed by high-speed vehicles are spooked by my approach. They run without great haste right in front of me and with that odd inevitability regarding animals and roads, they cross right in front of me. No idea why they think the south side of the road is safer than the north side, but cross they do. Funny.

Turn south and find I do actually have a Northerly. Wow.

At the airbase begins a cycle path to Exmouth centre, about five kilometres away. In true Australian fashion, there’s a catch. Dingo risk apparently. Seems they can’t do crocodiles, the sharks are mostly friendly if big, there are no nasty killer jellyfish, so they’ve worked their way down the list until they’ve come across … dingoes. Oh Boy. Dingo confrontation 101:

  • Stand up to my full height
  • Face the dingo
  • Fold my arms and keep eye contact
  • Calmly back away
  • Confidently call for help …
  • If attacked, defend myself aggressively.

Got it!

I did see one a week ago as I headed north from Exmouth, so they are around. I’m goin’ in anyway …

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Cycle path just shy of Exmouth

Back in Exmouth, check into the RAC Big 4 backpackers and consider my next move.

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A king-sized prawn. No, not sure why

Head to the post office and pick up my parcel from Eurocycles. Let’s see how this goes. If I’m successful at fixing my rear brake I can leave in a couple of days.

____________________________________________

Epic Ride

The latest reality show sensation

Scene: Max, sitting on a backless-stool, looking slightly uncomfortable, illuminated clearly against a black backdrop

Narrator: Max has made it to Exmouth as he enters arguably the last phase of his Epic. Here he wants a quick turn-around and to not get stuck in town. Again. To achieve this he’s relying on a Magura HS-33 bleed kit with replacement parts to be awaiting him in the post office.

Max: Yeah, the plan is simple. Collect the bleed kit and parts. I need a new EBT to replace the one Gary inadvertently broke (at least I hope it was inadvertently broken), as well as some more Royal Blood (brake oil) and a ‘barbed fitting’ which is what I didn’t have last time I tried this.

Anyway, follow the instructions in the Magura HS-33 manual (again) this time using the right parts and bleed the rear break.

Once done, I’ll do some shopping and head south.

Scene: follow Max into post office, walks up to counter, asks if there’s any post for him. Attendant retrieves a small parcel and hands it over once she’s checked Max’s ID.

Scene: outside post office, Max holding packet.

Max: Looks like my packet is here. (looks sheepishly into the camera) Now let’s see if it all works out.

Scene: back at the RAC/Big 4 campground, in the veranda outside his room. Dreamer in a prominent position near the table, various tools spread out, the contents of the parcel exposed. Max goes through each item.

Max: This is Royal Blood (holding up a large 250 ml bottle with a blue liquid inside it). Certainly enough. Forever. This (holding up a small plastic bag) is a ‘barbed fitting’. Good to have one finally. And these (holding up a piece of cardboard with a plastic bag affixed to it containing two small items) are EBTs. My task, my challenge, is to remove the old one which is pretty stuck in the master-cylinder housing, and replace it with a new one.

Scene: Max working on Dreamer, rotating the Quik-Fix Ortlieb handlebar mount to access the screws to rotate the handlebar itself, meticulously selecting the right hex-screw bit. It is clear Max has done this before. Once the handlebar is rotated Max explains:

Max: one of the problems Gary and I had last time what that we couldn’t effectively get the syringe into the bleed port because of the geometry of the handlebar. By rotating it down I can now access the bleed port easily.

Scene: Max studies the bleed port where the damaged EBT is still in place.

Max: Now which bit do I use?

Scene: Max removes various bits from his tool box including TOX and Hex bits of various sizes. Each one he checks against the EBT before rejecting one after the other.

Narrator: Max is justified to be cautious. The material of the master cylinder is a soft plastic alloy and very easy to damage. In Alice Springs the mechanic at Ultimate Cycles destroyed the thread of the EBT on the front master cylinder, forcing Max to remain an additional two weeks in Alice Springs as a new one was sent up from Melbourne.

Scene: Max tries screw-drivers of various sizes as well as several different TOX bits. Each one whittles away a bit of the EBT and, quite likely, bits of the housing. After twenty minutes of trying, Max concedes he’s making no headway.

Max: Time to call Rich.

Scene: Max finds the number for Eurocycles and is connected with Rich. After explaining his problem Rich tells him mechanics usually resort to a small, fine screwdriver like those used by opticians and technicians. “Tap it in gently with a hammer” Rich tells Max “until you get purchase. Good luck”.

Max: Where the fuck am I meant to get a ‘small, fine screwdriver’ in Exmouth?

Scene: Max clearly deep in thought scrutinising his tools. Finally he takes his Leatherman and folds out a small screwdriver.

Narrator: The pressure is mounting. If Max cannot remove the old EBT he will need to replace the entire master-cylinder-brake-lever unit. The same is true if Max damages the thread of the EBT or the housing. How ever much he needs to proceed carefully he must do something and so far nothings worked.

Max: Well let’s see how this goes. This screwdriver got damaged sometime ago and I ground down the edge. It is the smallest finest and sharpest screwdriver I have. If this doesn’t work I’ll need to head to the electrician or auto-electrician in town. Someplace.

Scene: Max carefully inserts the screwdriver into the EBT and taps it with the handle of his bit-handle. Then he tries to turn it.

Max: Looks like it’s working. Just.

Scene: Another more forceful tap of the bit-handle.

Max. Yep, it’s coming. To a point.

Scene: The EBT is now freely rotating in the housing but not coming out.

Max: Sooo, I’ve got it lose but because the upper part of the EBT has been completely destroyed there’s no thread to guide the lower part of the EBT out of the housing.

Scene: Max poking around inside the master cylinder housing with the Leatherman’s plyers, trying to get purchase on the soft plastic of the damaged EBT to remove it.

Max: What would I, would anyone do without a Leatherman? What did we do before they were invented?

Scene: Max continues to struggle for a few minutes before finally pulling out the broken EBT.

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A good vs fucked EBT

Narrator: Now comes the Moment of Truth. Does the new EBT fit smoothly and snugly in the master-cylinder housing? If it does, Max can complete repairing the Magura’s today and leave tomorrow. If not, Max will need to wait for a new master-cylinder housing to be sent from Melbourne. A repeat of the Alice Springs incident.

Scene: Max takes the new EBT finds the appropriately sized TOX head and tries to fit it into the master-cylinder housing.

Max: Nope. Thread’s been damaged. There’s nothing to hold the EBT into the housing. Damn!

Scene: As Max rotates the Leatherman we can see the EBT rotating but not being screwed in tight.

Max: (deep sigh) Fuck! Time to call Rich.

Scene: We witness another conversation between Max and Rich. Max explores the possibility of using another screw to replace the EBT “ … because all I need is a good seal. Then it should work.” “I see where you are going. I’ve never heard of anyone succeeding doing that though.” “Ever?” “No, never.” “Just because it’s never been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. (laughter) Ok, send me a new master-cylinder … “ “Right, can I have your credit card details again … “

Scene: Max, sitting on a backless-stool, looking slightly uncomfortable, illuminated clearly against a black backdrop.

Max: Magura’s are highly regarded top-end equipment. And as with everything on the bike, no point in having it if I can’t repair or replace it or maintain it. So, this is the time where and when I learn how to ‘manage’ Magura.

Had a ‘barbed-fitting’ been included in the original bleed-kit I would have succeeded first time round. And Gary clearly over-tightened the EBT. So, two small issues have resulted in quite significant repairs, including time and costs. I have to wait here until the parts arrive.

And replacing the master-cylinder is quite different than simply bleeding out tubes. All the cables and hoses have to be removed then replaced. And then it all bled out.

I think that leaves me with plenty of opportunities to fuck something else up!

If this carries on I may as well get a job here in Exmouth and settle in for the long term …

Narrator:  That’s it for today’s show. Join us next week for more of The Epic Ride …

Good night and good luck.

____________________________________________

So I go diving. What else to do? Relax? Are you mad?

16 November 2016

Make my way to Exmouth Dive Centre. Today we’re heading to Muiron Islands, about an hour north of Exmouth.

I feel like I’m in some kind of contest with the Instructors. I need equipment as I have none of my own: wetsuit, goggles, fins, BCD, regulator. I am completely reliant on the dive shop to provide me these. I’m finding this quite difficult. A sort of ‘don’t be fussy’ mentality floating around. ‘Don’t be fussy’? They are completely responsible for equipment I am utterly reliant on, particularly the BCD and the regulators. Last time I dived with them my BCD leaked. Not a good sign.

The equipment at Exmouth Dive Centre is OK, well used, sort of what you’d expect from a dive shop. It needs to work though.

Now I’m trying on goggles. I know from long, long experience that well-fitting goggles is a necessity. It is worth making sure goggles fit well. I am handed but one goggles. Not two, nor shown the selection. Nope. One. This, the message is, should be good enough. It’s too small and does not seal. I ask for another. The instructor reaches behind a wall and hands me another. It too is too small and does not seal. I am criticised for not having my own equipment. They did this last time too. It is not the fault of their equipment that it leaks or does not fit. It is my fault for not having my own. They know I’m on a bike and cannot carry any equipment. They are defensive. I am not sure why I’m making them defensive, but they are. I ask if I may be (so presumptive and be) let loose on the selection of goggles rather than go through (the frustrating pantomime of) trying each one, one-by-one. Finally I am shown the selection and left alone. The goggles are arrayed in size and for some reason they’ve been handing me small ones. I take a large one and try. It seems to fit well, sealing good. I try another large one. Same. “Can I take two?” I ask, and get a “Yes”. Now for fins. Last time I got cramp in my right leg coz the fins did not fit well nor were particularly good resulting in a kicking action that was decidedly unnatural, hence the cramp. This time I simply go to the rack, find my size sit and try one after the other until I find two that kinda fit OK. Wetsuits. Water temperature is 24oC and a 5mm suit was OK last time. Despite knowing this I’m handed a 7mm suit. I ask for a 5mm. She hands me one. It’s waaay too small. It’s also torn. Not sure I want a torn wetsuit that’s too small for me. We’re standing right in front of a huge rack of wetsuits arranged in size. Perhaps it’s better I choose what I want rather than go through this absurd translation whereby I’m asked what I want, size, thickness and yet are handed something completely different. Let loose on the wetsuits I search a for 5mm in size 5 and are rewarded with a decent fit.

Weights are all important. Too light and the diver will swim upside down. Too heavy and the diver uses far too much air to move themselves and risk trawling the bottom breaking coral and disturbing things since their lower body is dragged down by the weights whilst their upper body is buoyed by the large volume of air required in the BCD to compensate for the weight. Lazy Instructors/Divemasters tend to give too much weight coz it’s easier to deal with too heavy as opposed to too light. It also means they are not particularly concerned with improving a diver’s performance. In the last ten or so years I’ve noticed a clear trend of Instructors led dive groups. Instructors are obsessed with technical safety issues. Afterall the PADI courses are solely focussed on teaching someone how not to die underwater. The focus on dive-style is far less.

I hold fifteen kilogrammes of weight in my hands. I don’t think I’ve ever dived with fifteen kilogrammes of weights before. Last dive I was putting air in my BCD to maintain buoyancy at the end of the dive. If I stopped to check something out my lower half would slowly sink. Both suggest too much weight. But … since the dives are so damned shallow, neutral buoyancy is difficult. There’s not enough water pressure to compensate for too little weight. Also, it always takes a few dives in a new area to sort out the various environmental and equipment variables. So, what do I want? Ideally I’d like my dive guide to work with me to sort out my buoyancy. After all, if a diver is asking for help to improve their dive technique regardless of how many dives they’ve done I think they should get that help. Not here apparently. Since I’m a Divemaster with lots of dives I’m meant to know all this. It is precisely because I’m a Divemaster with lots of dives that I’m asking for this help.

I am diving in water the salt content of which I don’t know, using a full 5mm wetsuit, in shallow conditions, I’ve lost weight and are significantly negatively buoyant in fresh water, so I want my Instructor to take one of my weights until I’m down and see how my buoyancy is. If good, she carries the weight for the dive. Or even leaves it at the bottom of the mooring rope. If not good, she hands me the weight. This simple transaction is not going to happen. Please, is the un-stated request, can’t you simply pay for your dive, get in the water, follow me around, get out of the water and don’t expect too much?

When I worked as I Divemaster I got a lot of newly certified divers who had no idea how to dive. It’s in everyone’s benefit for a diver to feel comfortable underwater. They use less air, float better, don’t damage coral, and fret less about equipment and focus more on enjoyment. I’d take off weights or put weights on and work with the diver tweaking their equipment. I taught dive-style. It didn’t take long to realise that most Instructors went through certification in one reasonably contiguous process which meant they rarely actually worked as a Divemaster, so never learnt how to teach someone how to dive smoothly. I find Instructors do not, in general, good Dive Guides make.

We’ve a small group, four divers and an Instructor-Guide. I get the other solo diver, a young English woman twenty kilogrammes too heavy, thirty dives to her name. The German couple have eight-hundred dives-ish. I have a thousand. -ish. Depth? Max eighteen metres. Shallow in other words. Visibility? Three meters. Maybe more.

Three metres. Consider that the human eye can see the Andromeda Galaxy at some 2.6 million light years away, and can easily see the curvature of the earth at five kilometres from the beach. Then you can imagine how important visibility is to human function. Now, reduce your world to three meters. AND place yourself in an alien environment: water, under water.

The group understands that this adds a significant element of challenge to the dive. Given the dive is so shallow the worst that can happen is someone loses the group and we all surface. The lack of currents, the lack of drop-offs reduces danger. But no one wants to surface since it’ll shorten the dive.

Three meters means if a diver goes one side of a large coral bomby the dive guide the other side and then turns away, the first diver won’t see where they’ve gone. It can take but a few seconds. Understanding the dive profile then is kinda useful. Is it a long linear reef, like a small wall? Is it lots of sandy depressions surrounded by coral? Is it a large expanse of coral? I don’t actually get an answer. Something else lost in the last decade of Instructor-led dives are dive profiles. Who cares what the dive profile is? Your task, diver, is to follow the Instructor. You don’t need a profile. As a Divemaster I should understand this, as a Divemaster I should understand that, I am told repeatedly. I am not a fucking Divemaster here. I am paying tourist and I am paying a lot of money to dive. At 100$ a dive it is four times the cost as in Asia with far better conditions. So I want my dive to go well and I’m expecting you to deliver. If the dive is so shallow, with no currents nor drop offs, why do we even need a dive guide let alone an Instructor dive guide? Afterall, I AM a Divemaster …

Shut up Max and just get in the fucking water …

The dive is fine. Visibility pushing eight perhaps ten metres (at a stretch). Nice coral and fish. My dive buddy? I keep an eye on her but since the group is so small and we are going so slow no one ever drifts far from anyone else. It a pleasant uneventful dive. My dive buddy chewed through her air coming up with less than half everyone else’s. She has that newby diver dive-style: semi-vertical, suggesting she’s got too many weights, and her legs doing a cycling-on-a-very-small-bicycle-motion, which chews up a lot of air. I would expect the dive guide to have a chat with her to help her improve. But this doesn’t happen anymore. And she’s clearly peeved that she’s used twice as much air as everyone else. So I have a chat with her.

Dive two is fine as well. Coral and fish with the added bonus of an octopus. Cool as. My buddy? Lots of improvement. Horizontal, smoother kicking, looking good. Used no more air than I. The German woman however had problems with her ears so she and her buddy surfaced. One of the benefits of a dive depth less than ten metres: you don’t have to bring the whole group up coz one person’s got a problem.

A hundred dollars a dive, I’m thinking. For … what, exactly? OK coral not the tropic-colour-explosion stuff, shit visibility, safe but no adventure or excitement, nothing iconic like tons of sharks or manta-rays or something super special. As I stand in the human chain back at port transferring gear from the boat to the trailers I get talking with the German woman. No, she is not going to dive again. Fish and coral, “seven meters” plus shit visibility? For a hundred bucks a dive? “No. Definitely not worth it.” It’s like Gili Meno. Great place for a newby diver to get experience in a good safe environment. But y’know, I want a bit more.

Back to waiting on parts. Again.

I wander into town, to the post office. Nope. No packet. I’m here until Tuesday at least, more likely Thursday by the time all the dust has settled.

Time to find out what the @@@@ tree is really called. For a large distinctive tree offering the only shade along the entire Ningaloo coast I am amazed at how hard it is to find its name. A quick check on Google gave me tons of information. There are, for example 630 flowering plants on the Cape Range. There is no mention of a large tree. I Google Neds camp ground, select ‘images’ and find my trees. But not matter how many of the ‘images’ I click on non tell me the name of the tree. A couple of days ago I called Parks and Wildlife here in Exmouth. No idea. A Ranger will call me back. Sometime.

As I return from town I drop into the Tourist Information Centre. Yes, they are aware of the trees at Neds, and Mesa and Yardie. No, they don’t know the name. I’m sure I saw the name on one of the brochures at the Milyering Discovery Centre, but can’t find that brochure either.

Why does no one know the name of these darned trees? Given it’s the only tree offering shade and is prominent at three campgrounds it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the name to be known.

Tourist Information tries to palm me off on Parks and Wildlife … “They are just around the corner” I’m told. What about the brochure? “Oh I wouldn’t know about that.” There are three bureaucracies at work in Exmouth concerning the Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range National Park: tourism, Parks and Wildlife and the Milyering Discovery Centre (which I’m sure is Parks and Wildlife). And they don’t talk with each other. There are little flick knives bubbling in my eyes by now.

Nothing to do, no joy here, leave before I express myself in an honest and open fashion.

“Tourist Information Centre huh?” I couldn’t resist as I turn to leave.

“I can ask one of my other colleagues” floats up to me as I am walking away. Ok, I’m going to go for it.

I return “That would be nice, thank you”.

Another colleague. She’s really nice and really wants to help. Makes me wonder what the other woman told her. Nope, she doesn’t know the name either. She phones Milyering who don’t know. We peruse various website including Parks and Wildlife and Tourism Ningaloo, and Google names anyone suggests or we find during our search. I show her Neds camping photos to show her the trees. They are large and distinctive. Why does no one know the name of them? She is as perplexed as I am. We do not find the name. I thank her for her efforts and leave.

Parks and Wildlife are just around the corner and I make my way there.

The ‘ding-dong’ attracts a man and a woman to emerge into the reception area and stare at me inquisitively.

“I’m having a bit of a run around and I’m hoping that ends here. I’m looking for the name of the large shady trees at Neds, Mesa and Yardie Creek”

“Tamarind trees!” declares the man confidently.

Both the woman and myself exclaim a WoW! Back at Tourism Information we’d rejected Tamarind trees. Their leaves are too small. My tree looks for all the world like a sheoak, but is not.

I follow him into an office to confirm. Turns out they are not Tamarind. They are a Tamarix tree. Small difference in spelling. HUGE difference in tree.

The pieces begin to fall into place as I chat with the dude. The Tamarix tree, tamarix aphylla, is a Weed of National Significance. It appears the main approach of all the government departments concerning a Weed of National Significance is to pretend it is not there. Therefore no publication about the flora of the Cape Range National Park mentions it. For it is not meant to be there. Therefore it is not. Nor is it in any of the brochures of the Tourism Department, coz even though they reference ‘shade trees’ they do not mention what shade trees they are. It also explains why non are planted at any of the other tree-barren camp sites. It is only because there is a low risk of further infestations from the existing tamarix trees that they haven’t been pulled out, in recognition that they are the only shade trees on the Ningaloo coast.

I think an opportunity to engage people regarding environmental management is being missed here. I’m sure people want to know the name of the tree, and why more are not being planted at other campsites. The tale I got from the dude is imminently understandable, and even shows a humane side to Parks and Wildlife. They should remove the tamarix tress coz they are a weed. Of National Significance, no less. But they don’t, in recognition of tourist comfort. I still don’t get why they are not in any publication about flora on the area. They are there, whether they are meant to be there or not.

At least I found out the name of my tree.

Sigh! The Life and Times of a Marooned Cyclo-Tourist Awaiting Again On Parts …

Max

Exmouth, 19 November 2016

2 thoughts on “Ningaloo: a gale-force paradise

  1. well, you can now say you’ve found all the wind you were missing in your life, tick that off the bucket list. Are you going south via Coral Bay route? Shark Bay ? Hey, did I ever tell you I lived in Cervantes for a year in the mid 80’s. Helped run the caravan park there for a mates family. Spent an entire year living in a four man tent out the back of their shop, the days were for mowing grass, serving in the shop and taking tourists to the pinnacles, and then later, walking the hard white beaches for tens of km’s carrying a fishing rod and a desire to see whats around the next point. Nice but very quiet.

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    1. It’s pretty clear that we’ve not spent enough time actually getting to know each other well. Next time I’m in Adelaide we should test your boat or do a wine tour or talk knives – I’m pretty good at the user end of the knife thing 😉
      Wind is still here. Definitely a lifetime’s worth. The wind chill however works in my favour. Try the Arctic. Warm day, tiniest amount of wind = *ucking cold!

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