Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Easy Road

The Coral Coast, Western Australia

Group tours have their share of mixed opinions for which I’m currently somewhere in the middle these days for reasons. I didn’t start doing them until 2011 after seeing the dynamics a year earlier from the outside, when I was travelling alone and with so much uncertainty. Overall, these are the factors that secured my curiosity. As of this day I’ve done six multi-day trips and it all started with Easy Rider, which unfortunately isn’t in swing anymore. This is just a tribute.

The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken 2011)
The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken by Donna Gleeson, 2011)

Stretched out between Kalbarri and Coral Bay is 673km that more or less set my love of the Australian west in stone. Spread out amongst the fingers of sunlight, Tropics of my zodiac sign and that one off dance to Wannabe (that song is following me), it’s in the middle somewhere that you’ll find the Overlander Roadhouse (back when I was doing it).

The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken 2011)

Nothing’s there except for some food and Florence and the Machine albums, one of which our now whiskey barrel recycling carpenter tour guide had playing on repeat like a boss. However, if one turns off towards Denham for the 129km drive, it gets pretty spectacular. We’ve now come to Shark Bay.

Pay close attention kiddies because these are some stops that must be made; I doubt you’ll find others like them anywhere else in Straya, or the world for that matter. Some are insanely unique. The list is a good one, not a spectacular one, so I compel yee to read on and leave a nice comment if you’re packing. That last part ain’t optional.

Hamelin Pool, the home of some thumb-sized golden orb spiders is where you’ll stumble upon the stromatolites, living microbes that came into existence 1900 million years ago. The move across the boardwalk at low tide came with its simplicity, as well as some clear glimpses through the water itself. Fish were about, which will foreshadow what you’ll find on your journey to come.

The Stromatolites, The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken 2011)

Next stop to be made is Shell Beach, a stretch where you’ll need a pair of thongs or flip flops. Whilst the water is a joy to move about in, fail at swimming races with Sydneysiders and have the odd but inconvenient nose bleed, it’s the beach itself that deserves the nomad’s attention. Miniature white cockleshells cover the scape, gifting the locale its simple yet well-deserved name.

Shell Beach, The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken 2011)

I was serious about the footwear mentioned above because those little buggers, whilst unique and nice to move through one’s fingers, are a nightmare to walk across. FOOTWEAR KIDDIES!!!

With the western most Denham acting as a place of rest, you’ll find plenty to do in and about town. The town itself, whilst small, was easy enough for us Easy Riders to move about. The Shark Bay Hotel hosted its share of karaoke enthusiasts, a pearl farmer what wanted a wife and some dry parma; avoid the last one. We had ourselves a good night, abundant with a farmer what wanted a wife and some Kryptonite by a Sydneysider singing 3 Doors Down, before jumping on a 4WD bus the following morning to the Ocean Park Aquarium. This should amaze the marine junkies out there.

Ocean Park Aquarium, Denham, Western Australia (taken 2011)

The aquarium itself was small but I had little to argue with, except for when my camera’s batteries died. With replacements hastily pulled out of a packet, I found the tour of the marine life on display enjoyable. Watch your fingers I was told before acknowledging an eel that had eyes for me. With that part completed, we started our drive on all four wheels out to François Peron National Park.

From point to point the landscape can change amazingly in François Peron. After driving across flat white sand you’re soon introduced to dark red dunes looking out at the glistening water of the Indian Ocean. We snorkelled during this part of the day, finding a stonefish and one dangerously underweight turtle our tour guide collected out of the water but ultimately couldn’t help. I was disappointed about not helping the turtle but I’ve since accepted that nature shouldn’t be challenged.

François Peron National Park, The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken 2011)
François Peron National Park, The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken by Donna Gleeson, 2011)

Apart from the pre-mentioned, the snorkelling at François Peron wasn’t a lot to write home about… but one doesn’t need a mask and fins to see what’s on offer. The fauna isn’t shy; we had a pod of dolphins, another turtle, a stingray and shark breaking the surface. My only regret was not getting a damn picture! 

Last on this list, and quite possibly the least impressive according to the majority, is Monkey Mia. What draws in the crowd are the resident dolphins, known to number in the many, which visitors are able to see up close and even feed. I’d heard plenty about it, and was planning to stop there a year earlier before the uncertainty devil got in my way, but after an hour all of us were going meh.

Monkey Mia, The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken by Donna Gleeson, 2011)

Monkey Mia, The Coral Coast, Western Australia (taken 2011)

By that point I’d seen my share of wild dolphins so the novelty was just about non-existent, and the presenter of the morning was a little dull. Disappointing, this I will admit, but on the scene was a pelican giving many the business and family history dictates that this is a good thing for those looking in.

Every group tour, regardless of where they take you and how many others, can have its ups and downs. This is a universal given of the industry, but for my first of several completed, it was money well spent. Easy Rider was on its last legs when I signed up and I’ll always be grateful for having done so.

Remember, this is just a tribute... now bring in the Devil and his guitar solo.

Links: oceanpark.com.auwww.westernaustralia.commonkeymia.com.auwww.sharkbay.org.au       



Sunday, 25 October 2015

Home Found

Cairns, Queensland

There will always be a few stops on our roads travelled that we’ll want to return to, some of which I’ve highlighted in previous posts, but there comes a point where us nomads will stumble across a rest that’ll make us think, I want to call this place home. Having asked years ago where I should snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, a German friendly suggested the gateway to Far North Queensland, Cairns. This was a fine decision made; I’ve been up there twice, in 2011 when I was playing mega nomad, and 2014 when I wanted to be one of those people who do three trips in the one year.

Cairns, Queensland (taken 2014)

Much like with other destinations visited, what I appreciate most about Cairns is how it inspires me. Because of this, I want to make the move up there, a decision which ‘lightbulbed’ itself during a friendly and hilarious chat with two receptionists at the local YHA. After a few laughs and realising that I wanted in, and because I liked the hammock chairs on the second floor balcony, I asked for an application form. Nothing’s happened yet, obviously, but the seed’s been planted. 

YHA Hostel, Cairns, Queensland (taken 2011)

With that out in the open, Cairns also had a positive effect on my creative side. The gods willing there’ll be some books published in the future, one featuring an ‘aquakinetic’ local and another where the place will go by ‘Treecircle’ after some social collapse, for which I can call my own little creations. My artistic ability has also fallen victim, for which I’m more than grateful; the left hand has been getting a bit lazy. This display of inked up madness started with a black spot which turned into something many from five other continents were awing about.
Drawn by the Sheep, 2011

This is what I find myself cherishing most, what I could create, as well as the memories of some amazing people I will never forget. A few oh so unique hostel receptionists (one of which remembered me on my second stint), some Americans and a Norwegian who showed me some kindnesses (had a vicious headache, which felt like a bullet in the brain, following a live aboard and the latter was there for me) as well as plenty of others. If I haven’t made it clear already, I’ll say it again, ‘Thank you.’

Moving onto the more touristy side of things, this is what I can gladly share with you good people who read this blog of your own volition. Cairns’ for those who want the outdoors, sun on your shoulders, and most especially the opportunity to swim out on the Great Barrier Reef. It is beautiful, there can be no doubt, and there were spots I enjoyed more than others but after snorkelling near Cape Tribulation I’ve realised that there’s something lacking when taking a tour from the gateway’s shores.

The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland (taken 2014) 

This is just a personal opinion though; I don’t care much for diving and for both ‘Cairns originating’ tours I had to share the water with divers. The tours, with Cairns Dive Centre, were of good quality and I’m happy to recommend (the crew were really positive and friendly), but experiences have taught me that these companies will put the divers ahead of the snorkelers; we’ll get the icing whilst they get the cake, so to speak.

I did an intro dive which got me time with a white pointer and a stingray I mistook for a giant underwater mushroom, but unfortunately it resulted in the pre-mentioned headache above. This is why I won’t dive anymore. For those wondering, I only went with the company on my second stay because a third party failed to provide what I’d originally wanted and I didn’t want to waste a day sitting around. When I make my third visit though I’ll look into one of the many pontoons out on the water; I’ve heard good things.

Back on dry land there’s just as much to keep you busy. What many hold out for are the trips to Port Douglas, the Daintree and Cape York up north (there are already posts about these bad boys) and the numerous animal parks abundant where the kangaroos will eat out of your hand.

Port Douglas, Queensland (taken 2011)
Animal Park, Queensland (taken 2011)

Mossman Gorge is a place to keep in mind also. An hour and ten (76km) north of town, I learnt about the gorge on my second return trip from the Daintree and it’s since become another happy accident, and those are good things I will preach. I urge you to give Mossman a shot, for it is some tranquil turf indeed. You’ll find in the water massive rocks to swim around and climb on, a positive atmosphere and some friendly fish; NO CROCS WERE ON SITE... but still, be careful.    

Mossman Gorge, Queensland (taken 2014)

On a far less flashy note, it was some of the simple things that had me smiling. Safe to say, by my second visit I’d mustered up some balls to go out and act like a proper tourist. The Esplanade brings to light good memories of walking by the water and amongst the locals and other out-of-towners (there’s a free outdoor swimming pool for those interested) as well as seeing the fruit bats swinging from the tree branches. I know some have bat phobias (*cough a Glaswegian I know cough*) and there are those who’re convinced Australian fauna has a taste for human blood, but these guys are perfectly harmless.

Esplanade, Cairns, Queensland (taken 2014)

Walking about at night, you should suss out the Night Market which is open from 4PM onwards. You can find plenty here, such as souvenirs, tea and massages, and the food is good. They’ve got some Asian and seafood on offer and it’ll most certainly be fresh; just one benefit of a city being by the sea. However, if it’s a mellow pace you’re seeking, take your book to the park by the Esplanade, find a spot under a tree and start turning pages.

Night Market, Cairns, Queensland (taken 2014)

These are just a retelling of things I’ve enjoyed, not-so-enjoyed, but overall appreciated about Cairns. If your interest’s been seized, make the trip and decide what the far north is to you. For me it’s inspiration and a home found. We all settle on one when making our journey.
Cairns, Queensland (taken 2011)

Links: www.cairnsvisitorcentre.comwww.cairnsdive.com.auwww.facebook.com.au/cairnscentralyhawww.mossmangorge.com.au