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Up/Down the Coral Coast Part 2

Kalbarri, Australia

Well, after that little cliff-hanger Ollie left you off with, you’ve probably been itching to know what happened next. It kind of reminds me of that season-end cliff-hanger they left us with on Friends, when at the alter with Emily, Ross said “I take you, Rachel.” You’ve probably already guessed that Ollie did indeed receive a speeding ticket. The Great Northern Highway that takes you up the West coast toward Exmouth is anything but great. It’s flat, straight road that goes on for hundreds of kilometres with barren, red sandy outback on either side and you can drive for 20 minutes without evening seeing another form of life or a bend in the road. After receiving the speeding ticket, Ollie tried to explain it to himself and to me by bringing up all these factors as excuses. I think we both knew that the real reason behind it was that tricky little speeding gene Ollie had inherited. Anyway, out driving in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t expect cops to be hiding in the bush. Sure enough though, they were. I was under the impression that for those radar guns to work, you had to actually pass the vehicle, but these cops caught Ollie from about 200 metres up the road. I guess radar gun technology exceeds that of the rest of the world in the outback. Supposedly, the cops don’t fine people for speeding if they’re driving 129 and Ol got a ticket for driving 130. Through all his disappointment and frustration, he failed to notice the name of the ticketing officer-- Officer Dicks. After I pointed this out to him, he was a little happier. Const. Dicks explained that there are several cattle roaming wild in the outback and we could hit one at any time. To that point, we hadn’t seen any.

We arrived in Coral Bay in the early evening and checked in to our hostel. Coral Bay is a town built around a bay, with it’s main attraction being-- you guessed it-- a coral reef. It has the Ningaloo reef (the world’s largest fringing reef, as far as I can remember) on its doorstep. That evening, we booked into a glass bottom boat/snorkelling tour of the reef for the following day. We picked up our flippers and masks before getting on the boat and then set off. The water was a bit murky, but we still had a good view of the coral.

I think the reason the coral here is pale in colour, rather than bright, is because it’s not in tropical water-- but I wasn’t listening to the guide too carefully, I was too busy looking for a Nemo fish. The first fish we were introduced to were the spangled emperors. These fish are quite big and love swimming right along the bottom of boats and close-by swimmers. We kept getting pulled around by the current while trying to put our masks on, because the guide told us to get in the water before putting them on. It wasn’t a great introduction to snorkelling for me. We got back on the boat after that and went to the next snorkelling spot. The wind was pretty strong and I was freezing, so I opted out of the second snorkel while Ollie went in.

While returning our snorkelling gear, we signed up for a kayak/snorkel trip for the next day. We were both pretty excited about this trip, because we thought it would make us proper adventurers. Our kayaking started in the afternoon, so we decided to try to make it to Turquoise Bay in the morning. The bay turned out to be further away than we’d anticipated and we had to turn back before even reaching it in order to make it to the kayaking on time. It turned out to be a 300 km detour in the end.

The kayaking place supplied us with flippers, masks, and wetsuits and gave us a brief introduction to snorkelling and kayaking. Kurt, our very stereotypical Aussie guide, gave us a very useful hint, telling us to keep our heads underwater or else the current would pull us around. The only other people on the tour were our guide, his friend, and a German couple. My excitement over finally knowing more about a sport than Ollie was shattered when Kurt said that the guys would sit at the back of the boats and steer and the girls would sit in the front. We quickly turned into the star students on the trip when the German couple had to be towed along by our guide. When we got to the first snorkelling spot, we tied up our kayaks to the buoy and jumped in. We got up close to the spangled emperors again. Ollie pointed out that the fact that these fish are so friendly and that they’re also rumoured to be quite tasty was a rather unfortunate combination for them. The first snorkelling spot was cool, but the second spot was amazing. Anytime we came by our guide snorkelling, he’d point out another sea creature we hadn’t spotted: two types of rays, a reef shark, a turtle, a clown fish. He had an underwater camera and got loads of photos of different sea animals and us snorkelling. Once underwater, it was easy to forget that there was a world of wind and choppy waves above us. The water underneath was so still and calm. When we stayed still for a few moments underwater, a friendly school of small, brightly coloured fish formed a wall around us. After a couple hours out kayaking and snorkelling, we returned to shore covered in salt and feeling pretty proud of our afternoon’s accomplishments. It was definitely the most fun day we spent in Australia -- aside from those countless thrilling days spent at the Plumbers Licensing Board, of course.

The next day took us about 700km back down the coast to Kalbarri; a small seaside town set beside Kalbarri National Park. The day we arrived, we went to check out Kalbarri’s main attraction; Nature’s Window, a giant rock shaped like a picture frame that overlooks Kalbarri’s river gorges. Unfortunately, 50 flies had the same idea and flocked to Nature’s Window (most hitching a ride on Ollie’s back) with us.

The following day we went to see the coastal gorges, which were infinitely more impressive than the river gorges. We learned a history lesson or two about the stratosphere, and then got some photos along the coast. We had a flight to catch that evening at midnight, so began our journey back to Perth (with a stop at the Pinnacles in between.) The Pinnacles desert is full of thousands of tall limestone pillars that punctuate the landscape. Before we arrived we expected to have to park and then walk to the pinnacles, but were pleased to find a sandy road marked out with rocks winding through the desert. As the sun set, we took our pictures, but were continuously blocked by some idiot with his tripod out and his family alongside, who all looked slightly embarrassed, and more than a little bored. We managed to avoid the kangaroos on our last journey on the West coast, which took us back to the airport. We checked in for our flight, which was to take us to Auckland with a connection in Sydney, and waited in the departure lounge.

permalink written by  olliejohnson on July 6, 2007 from Kalbarri, Australia
from the travel blog: A Brit and a Canuck Down Under
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I'm sorry about the speeding gene, Ollie - I have as you know spent many years trying to make your Mum a little less heavy right footed but once she is behind the wheel, she sprouts a pair of horns and sees red whenever there's a vehicle in front..........

permalink written by  Old Man of Cockshutt on July 13, 2007

Anyway - it is a commonly known fact that policemen in rural communities have difficulty finding many lawbreakers, so spend their time catching the easiest ones to catch; the speed merchants. These are great as you can sit in your car out of the weather cleverly disguised as a large bush, having a doze most of the time and nail the odd so-and-sos when you wake up and spot them exceeding the limit. In the course of a days work you may have been able to nail 4 or 5 lawbreakers which is good for the statistics even if revenue is less than expense and more difficult cases are ignored. And everyone knows that cows have a nifty turn of speed when it comes to suicide, so even if you have a clear visibility of several hundred metres in all directions of featureless outback, one of the beasts is sure to be in danger of hurling itself at your car from behind what you thought was a small bush. Let's face it if you were a cow with nothing to eat but red soil, you'd take the same way out. If you need proof of how easy it is to disguise yourself in the outback; you didn't spot the police car did you?

permalink written by  Old Man of Cockshutt on July 13, 2007

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