A Kalabarri Wild Flower Gallery

Natures Florist Shop – – but don’t pick the flowers!

The road from the main highway through the Kalbarri National Park to the seaside town of Kalbarri is famous for its wildflower display for five months of the year from June until the end of November nearly 800 different species of wildflower progressively burst into bloom in sequence. We had spotted lots in the car on the side of the road but checked with the visitor Centre. A friendly, helpful lady confirmed the wildflowers were out but so many visitors “drove fast and never got out of the car and then complained there were none to see!”

If you get the chance to see them you will find the brochures are misleading, however. I suspect that in some particular parts you get meadows of flowers and the brochures are carefully compiled like my photographs below – particular blooms surrounded by bush – but then next month a different flower will take its place in the spotlight.

Western Australia’s famous floral emblem, the red and green kangaroo paw flourishing in the sandy Kalbarri soil

A large bush growing for kilometres along the road

More than 2 metres above the ground these bright yellow flowers stand out against the bright blue sky

In one area of a few square metres are five different wildflower varieties making a bouquet growing at ground level


These bushes, about a metre tall and across show up like humps across the bush


Small Grevillea like flowers cover these bushes

The pink flowers are open while the red buds are getting ready

The Green and Gold of Australian colours carpet this area of the bush

A posy worth picking for your beloved but don’t – its illegal – just enjoy them in the ground together

 

 

Lots of the local plants are well protected by spikes

Monkey Mia – Dolphins and Dugongs

Dolphin Feeding

We stayed in Denham, within the World Heritage Site on the western side of Shark Bay but 29 km from Monkey Mia the site of the famous visiting Dolphins in the eastern facing half of the Bay. Reviews of the resort/caravan park at Monkey Mia were fairly negative in terms of value and service so we were happy to make the early drive for the dolphin feeding at 8 am.

 

 

 

A female dolphin and calf approach the beach.

Only the mature (15 yo) females get fed. Males and calves have to learn to fend for themselves but the calves still learn to “play” and interact with the visitors

 

The oldest dolphin, Nicki (35 yo) is a daughter of one of the original 3 females who learned to come to the beach for fish,

encouraged by a lady who stayed in the caravan park.

Of the thousands of dolphins in the bay, it is only the family of these three (currently 15 mature females) who have adopted this behaviour.


 

Dolphins are only fed 3 times each day, when they approach the beach, starting at 8 am. Only 5 dolphins are fed each visit, from their own bucket, supervised by their own volunteer, a carefully measured amount of fresh, local fish.

They are only given a small proportion of their daily food needs to encourage them to retain natural feeding and social behaviours


Dugongs and more Dolphins

In the afternoon we returned for an eco tour of the eastern bay in a large sailing catamaran, allowed to enter the sanctuary area where the dugongs feed on the marine grasses. Shark Bay has the largest amount of marine grass (underwater, flowering plants) and the worlds largest population of dugongs, very large marine herbivorous mammals.

 

 

Dugong and calf on the surface right in front of the boat sowing the whale shaped tail that caused them to be confused with mermaids.

 

Dolphins attracted to the boat sometimes play for a while around the boat before going back to fishing.

 

Our catamaran used its motor to cruise to the viewing area but then sailed slowly around to allow viewing of the wildlife.

 

Coral Bay to Denham

Goodbye to Coral Bay

After a week of doing very little except snorkelling twice a day amidst the coral and tropical fish on our last two days in Coral Bays we planned a couple of excursions. On the Wednesday we tossed up between a 5 hour eco excursion to the outer reef to swim amongst the giant Manta Rays and look for whales and dugongs (which have become a real desire for Julie to see) or a shorter 3 hour trip in a glass bottomed boat to visit the feeding grounds of the Green turtle and snorkel on the inner reef. We chose the latter, not prepared to risk 5 hours on a boat considering Julie’s vertigo and Gary’s chronic sea sickness. Thursday Gary planned to join a kayak safari to paddle the three km to the reef, snorkel on pristine sites that you cannot get to without a boat and then paddle back. Unfortunately – it takes four to justify a safari and there was just Gary so it was just a last snorkel off the beach and then a goodbye photograph to help remember Coral Bay .

The sun has set some time ago but the water is warm and these children want to squeeze the last minutes out of a beautiful day

 

The trip to the inner reef was excellent. We passed across turtle feeding grounds where the boat was surrounded by Green Turtles, diving for food the rising for a breath and it was easy to photograph them.

 

Swimming just below the surface in this feeding zone this Green Turtle is unconcerned by the boat and the tourists

 

 

The trouble with being an air breathing animal in the water is having to interrupt your meal to come up for a breath

Any photographs I took of the coral through the glass bottomed boat were very disappointing in comparison with reality, so I choose not to post them. In the water snorkelling I had a disposable underwater film camera to capture the coral, the brilliantly coloured fish and my closeup encounters with Green Turtles but I will have to wait until I reach Perth to get them  printed and hopefully scan the best for posting. If I ever came to areas like this again I would buy an underwater digital camera – a fellow traveller had a little Olympus rated for 10 metres which had cost about $300 – good value to be able to see and share your underwater experiences.

Crossing the 26th Parallel

Our trip from Coral Bay to Denham (via shopping stop in Carnarvon) was one of our longest days – our latest arrival at nearly 5 pm. It involved a crossing of the 26th parallel going south and then recrossing it going north up into the World Heritage area of Shark Bay. Denham is the most Western town in Australia and our Caravan Park is on the beach facing just the Indian Ocean, shielded by Dirk Hartog Island, site of the first European landing  in Australian waters. It is our access point to Monkey Mia with tours of Shark Bay and the famous visiting dolphins.

Ningaloo Marine Park

The beach at Maud’s Sanctuary looking south to the village at Coral Bay.

The ocean to the right is a shark nursery (no swimming!) while some of the beach is protected at some seasons to allow the turtles privacy to lay their eggs


The Ningaloo Reef is 300 km long – one quarter the length of the Great Barrier reef but it is the World’s longest fringing coral reef. It is entirely composed of hard corals which only grow in relatively shallow water, depending on light for photosynthesis. THese corals are more muted in colour that the soft ones, lacking the reds and oranges, being mainly greys, blues and greens with a few shades of yellow. While the entire area of Ningaloo Marine Park has restrictions, they do vary. The main beach allows snorkelling, the glass bottomed boat coral viewing and a daily fish feeding exhibition there is no fishing at all, or collection of shells or coral. The coral grows up to about two metres from the beach in some places. The coral, while not as colourful as on the Barrier Reef,  swimming a couple of hundred metres out, while no deeper, there are many more shades of blue, green and yellow amongst to coral “gardens”.

At 3.30 everyday the fish are fed on the beach and a great school of spangled emperors arrive for a late lunch.

Fish up to 60 cm long swim between your legs and hassle each other for a feed


Five hundred metres south along the beach line fishing from the beach is allowed. Apparently the big fish know where the sign is and stay in safe waters. There a myriads of smaller fish, blues, greens yellows and striped, sometimes in bait schools of thousands

This lad was quite fearless in feeding his new friends but was careful to keep his fingers out of the water


It was as interesting to watch those gathered to see the fish fed as the creatures themselves

It’s not quite “Jaws” but this school of spangled emperors look like little girl is on the menu


The most frustrating thing about swimming amongst the coral in this wonderful place was the lack of an underwater digital camera. While I bought two disposable film cameras I know their quality is limited and I won’t get to see my results until Perth, or be able to share them on my blog. You will just have to take my word that this is an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Coral Bay – Ningaloo Reef Marine Park

Looking West from the boat ramp into a threatening sky, the Ningaloo reef protects the Bay


Coral Bay is 150 km south of Exmouth, in the middle of the Ningaloo Marine Park, sheltered from the Indian Ocean by Australia’s second largest Coral Reef.

Atop the sand dune that separates the Caravan park from the beach showing the sweep of the section of the bay called Maud’s sanctuary.


This reef runs closer to the shore than the Great Barrier reef – about a 20 minute paddle in a kayak actually and in the protected water behind it coral grows along the beach within a couple of metres from the shore.

The last boats are leaving the reef for the sanctuary of the very new boat launching ramps south of Coral Bay

 

Mingling of cold and warm water currents here means an enormous variety of sea creatures. We missed the whale sharks and the dugongs but there are huge manta rays, turtles and reef sharks that you can swim amongst in an amazing “octopuses garden” of coral formations all year round. The town itself is a small resort/hotel, two caravan parks and some tourist shops – that’s it! Not even a school – workers here mostly live in the parks and if they have kids either home school them or send them 150 km each way to school in Exmouth by bus. Therefore most employees are backpackers.

It is not just the water that shows a diversity of life. The sand dunes themselves look arid from a distance, but closes up these were plenty of small wild flowers to photograph but the butterflies were a little too fast and flighty for this photographer.

Purple Mulla's have been found throughout the Pilbara from this one on the coast to Tom Price in the western parts

Pigface seems to grow and flower on sand dunes all over our continent

Growing out of white sand with no sign of water source this plant still flourishes and flowers

The flowers of two different plants mingle together with a sandy background

A Few Wildflowers from W.A.

A Harsh but Beautiful Environment

Western Australia is known for the diversity and beauty of its floral landscape. The travel books predicted amazing vistas of flowers as we travelled from Port Hedland to Tom Price but we were disappointed – not by the magnificent mountains and the eerie landscape but by the lack of flowers. Our guide Baz explained that all the water both for nature, industry and consumption comes from underground aquifers. Most years the tropical cyclones which smash into the WA coast cause big rain bearing depressions which dump enormous amounts of summer rain in the Pilbara, topping up the aquifers. Last summer, not a drop so no wild flowers.

Driving South to Coral Bay there was one section of road for a dozen km or so which must have had some thunderstorm activity where in an area the size of a football ground I took these images.

We are told there will be more wildflowers further south, later in Spring.

Free Camping

The No Frills Camping Experience

Plenty of space but no frills and no expense.

During the past three months we have either stayed with friends as in Tullamore or Camooweal or in Caravan Parks across the nation. The alternative is called “Free camping”. Really brave people like the young Swiss couple we shared a dinner table with in Winton Queensland just drive of the road somewhere very quiet and camp. They dig a hole for a toilet then move on, totally self-sufficient.

The only water in the Yannarie River was this small hole near the bridge.

Most people use the roadside stops provided along the highway. Usually they have a toilet (often a “long drop” but now often the “eco toilets”), sometimes a picnic table and a spots for a campfire. You need to provide your own water and source of power. Some vans carry their own generators – best to camp well away from them because of the noise.

The very large free camp near the Yannarie River – no water in the camp and only sand in the river

People are generally very friendly in my experience. In the North and West, travellers are often just stopping for a rest and are up and gone early in the morning.

 

The camping ground is in the middle of a working cattle station.

These calves and their mothers came walking through the caravans at dawn, heading for the small water hole in the river bed


In some places however, pensioner travellers will find a free camp and stay while their money builds up to allow them to pay for fuel to move on. In some states like WA, you are only allowed to camp for 24 hours but there doesn’t seem to be anyone policing this rule.

This little calf looked to be new-born and was careful about moving too far from his mum

The only problems I saw with staying in free camps was the poor rubbish collection – it was all nicely stacked by the campers but had been left long enough to be very smelly while bad weather can mean that they get muddy.

 

Free camps are often like this one and right alongside the road, to be woken by a road train at dawn

The other problem with the really good free camps is that hey are so popular that you have to get in early before they fill up.

Known as “Pilbarra Seagulls” these white cockatoos also greet the dawn in large noisy flocks.

The red dust means their usual white plumage is crimson instead