The drive from Tom Price to Exmouth was unremarkable except, as the day continued, for the heat blasting in through the windscreen. We had to drive along with maps covering our legs as we could feel the sun scorching our skin.
Just for the experience, we stopped at the bizarre “Burger Bus”. Coming from one of the local cattle stations, the bus provides burgers, chips and coffees to passing travellers from a hot, dusty and remote roadside rest area. As novel as it was, the experience was diminished somewhat by the heat and vast volumes of flies whilst we waited for our food.
The heat didn’t abate in Exmouth either but at least here we didn’t have to hike to swim. We set up in the caravan park and watched the emus strut around as if they owned the place. Including one who strolled slowly and smugly down the middle of the main road, as if he knew he was holding up all that traffic behind him.
150 years before Captain Cook did the same on the east coast, the Dutch made the first documented landing on the coast near Exmouth, and foolishly moved on. Bombed by the Japanese in World War II, Exmouth town was created to support Australian and US Defence Forces who had bases in the area and subsequently a Naval Communications station. Now run by civilians, the communication station remains but over the years tourism has become Exmouth’s main reason for being.
The annual migration of Whale Sharks down this stretch of coast draws a lot of people to the area to swim with these giant, graceful creatures. Ben & I had done that when we were last up here 2 ½ years ago and it was a magic experience. But Exmouth’s other claim to fame is fishing and consequently it attracts a “rootin’, tootin’, fishin’, huntin’” kind of crowd, with guys who sport their names on their number plates, followed by the letter “Y”. “Bretty”, “Wardy”, “Knoxy”. They leave their wife & kids by the caravan park pool for the day and head out in the boat, returning in the afternoon, looking sun-blasted and exhausted. We (and our air-conditioning) were happy to spend a night there, have a bit of a look around the centre of town, a swim in the caravan park pool (with all the wives and kids) then take off the next day to the other side of the peninsular to Cape Range National Park.
Like Karijini, Cape Range has no fresh water so we had to fill our caravan tanks and some extra jerry cans with freshwater and use it wisely to make sure it would last us the week. We weren’t the only ones watching our water. The kangaroos in the park, clearly accustomed to the habits of humans by now, would come rummaging around camp overnight, tipping over any bucket they could see, in the hope of finding water. Other wildlife had also worked out where to goodies were to be found. Over the week, we had visits from goannas, giant yellow sand crabs and every night tiny spinifex hopping mice would come scuttling around camp while we ate dinner. They quickly learnt that Emily’s chair was the most lucrative to be under!
Cape Range has a series of campsites scattered along the coast, with just a short walk over the dunes to the beach and Ningaloo Reef. This World Heritage listed reef stretches for 300kms down the WA coast and is close enough to shore to provide very easy snorkelling opportunities – another of Exmouth’s draw cards. It was already 39 degrees when we arrived so we set up as quickly as possible and headed straight to the beach. The water was the perfect temperature and just offshore, there was a patch of reef and coral that made for some lovely snorkelling. That evening, we had a swim as we watched the sunset over water that was so calm it resembled silk. It was simply stunning and we were set for the next week.
The following day saw much excitement in camp as Nana & Pop were arriving to spend a week with us before heading further north and eventually to Darwin. From lunchtime onwards, 3 impatient children watched the road into camp, barely blinking for fear of missing the arrival of these dignitaries. Once they arrived, 3 perfectly angelic and cooperative children helped them set up. I’m not sure where these children were from because we’ve never had that much assistance when setting up camp.
In stark contrast to our time in Karijini, our week in Cape Range was much less adventure and much more relaxing. We ventured out to different beaches from time to time, for a change of scenery, but I love Cape Range for the quiet and solitude and some of the more popular snorkelling locations – Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks in particular – were heaving with people. To the point that you’d bump into someone when you were snorkelling. That wasn’t my idea of a relaxing time. Turquoise Bay has the great novelty, however, of a “drift snorkel”. A strong current makes its way across the bay so you walk to one end of the beach then float back to the beginning in the current, over some beautiful coral bombies and a huge variety of fish and sea life.
The kids all took to snorkelling. Ben was already quite proficient and spends more time under water than on top. But this was the trip that Zach and Emily learnt to love it too. Zach was a bit nervous, until he saw all the fish, then he was like a puppy dog, chasing the fish up and down! Emily was reluctant to give it a go at first. Presumably she was concerned that she couldn’t talk under water. But it turns out she can. Even with a snorkel in her mouth. On the last day she finally found her (flippered) feet and snorkelled with me for ages, holding my hand and only letting go to point out different fish or corals.
We saw some fantastic sea life throughout the week. Stingrays and turtles were rare enough to be exciting but common enough that we saw them a few times. We spotted a Wobbegong shark, ugly thing, partly buried in the sand, a couple of eels, peeking out from under rocks and plenty of beautifully coloured fish.
We also had a couple of hilarious nights on the beach, hunting for crabs. We collected some impressively large sand crabs and put them into a bucket before letting them go again. It was a game requiring tongs, speed and large amounts of squealing – from adults and children alike. The crabs, for their part, would do their best to retreat to the water or back into their holes to escape capture.
Each day followed a similar pattern – swim / snorkel…… read / play ….. swim / snorkel …… read / play …….. fish…….swim….. drinks & nibbles at the beach for sunset. But before you start scowling at me, as pleasant as this lifestyle may sound, we did notice a distinct correlation between the heat and our tempers on this trip. As the outside temperatures soared, our tempers (some would argue, already trapped in a narrow tube) would rise like the mercury in a thermometer. Consequently, there was often a low-brow, high quantity, low quality kind of bickering humming along like a backing track to the holiday.
The holiday was taking its toll in other ways too. With limited fresh water, our beach towels were so full of salt that they were as stiff as cardboard. And the salt-crusted braids in my hair were becoming more difficult to remove. It was time to head south for cooler climes, a decent shower and a washing machine. We bid a sad farewell to Mum & Dad and headed south to Perth, rain, vast amounts of washing and a mighty clean-up of our caravan. Ready for the next trip!