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48. Australian Road Trip: Cape Range National Park & Ningaloo Reef
Get up Stand Up
You fall down... you get up... you dust yourself off... and you get on with what you were doing before you fell down.
What we were doing was driving around Australia, from Sydney to Sydney, anti-clockwise. A couple of months ago our old... no, our antiquated... Toyota/Winnebago mobile home finally began its terminal descent towards its new life as a West Australian Home for Incontinent Mice in the dusty yard of an outback Auto-mechanic, surround by similar vehicles that will never roll down the long and winding road ever again.
Our new ride
Freedom to come and go
As for us, we are now the proud owners of a Mitsubishi Magna station wagon with an automatic transmission and a 1900cc, four cylinder powerhouse of an engine. That is, compared to the Winnebago’s putt-putt thingy that has taken us over 10,000kms before succumbing to that dreaded affliction - "unfixableaxleitis.”
In leiu of accommodation in the insect-proof and remarkably homey Winnebago, we now have a decent 4 person tent to call home – an abode that I quite like but Sheila will grow to hate - the problem being that as we are heading south, out of the tropics, it is becoming positively chilly at night as the winter approaches. But for now, with the weather having come good at last, and this new set of wheels, we intend to do what we originally intended - camp at Cape Range National Park and snorkel over the Ningaloo reef.
Indian Ocean Pipeline
Yardie Creek's place in this world
4x4s only beyond this point, Yardie Creek feels extraordinarily remote despite the sealed access road.
Our back Yardie
Cape Range is a popular destination on the tourist/travellers' trail but there are limited, official places to stay out in the desert wilderness. After our military-style decamp operation from the Exmouth camp ground, we incorporate food shopping with a visit to the CALM office (Dept. of Conservation and Land Management) where you book your pitch in the Park. The way it works is you reserve a campsite and they give you an hour and a half to drive there to claim it. If you’re late they re-allocate it to some one else. We manage to secure a pitch at Yardie Creek, which is 80 kms from town at the very end of the sealed road on the western coast of the Exmouth Peninsula.
Yardie Creek campground consists of eight pitches, one of which is permanently occupied by the Volunteer Camp Hosts, Margaret and John, who live there for several months during the Season, collecting the $10 fee and cleaning out the bush dunny in return. The site is pretty awesome. A barren place it is, with barely an acacia bush over two metres high. The beach dunes front our tent site while behind us, the Cape Range rises solemnly, like a gargantuan step up to nowhere. The scrub behind is full of roos and wallabies. There are emus strutting about. Finch-like birds and tiny bats fill the evening sky with aimless activity. Beyond the sand dune, the long tropical lagoon that is the Ningaloo Marine Park sparkles turquoise in the day, and melts into black silk with night. A couple of kilometres out to sea, on the outer reef, huge swells peak, break and tube on the Continental Shelf. The distant waves are crowned with white foam cockcombs blown wild by the stiff ocean wind. The far off reef waves rumble through the night while the gentle drift of the tide laps against the sands of the beach.
Yardie Creek winds back from its sandy mouth, past mangroves, to form a broad lagoon, the rocky sides of which grow steeper the further upstream you go. We walk up the hill beside the creek for as far as it is easy to walk. The creek has carved a deep gorge in the red limestone. It is a spectacular and rugged place indeed, this Yardie Creek.
Painting in the sky
With our tent set up and camp complete, we relax in the short twilight with a cold beer and the last remaining pieces of Special Nimbin Cookies which we have kept fresh in Tupperware for all these months. As the sun begins to set we stroll across the silky dune in front of the camp and watch it go down over Ningaloo Reef and the Indian Ocean.
It is probably the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. The streaks of cloud on the horizon subtly change colour and re-form till the sky is a mass of texture. It resembles the red rocks of the desert; great crimson streaks that seem to blur across our field of view like a pastel crayon picture, or like a piece of modern Aboriginal art, or like a message from God. We are struck dumb by the scene. The cookies just make it look even better. Behind us, over the Range, the moon rises full in the perfect sky, and as darkness suddenly envelopes us the stars of the southern sky illuminate the heavens above.
You had to be there...
Exmouth is the place to come to swim with the amazing Whale Shark
You won't catch a whale shark, or a feral goat with this... no.
Goat's head soup
Just before sunset we get neighbours. A couple pull in driving a 4x4 towing a trailer tent. He is a huge, morbidly obese man named Roger and she is a seemingly capable woman called Noreen. As you do, we chat, and later, while Sheila conconcts another gourmet camp meal, they join us around the warm glow of our hurricane lamps for beer and wine. Roger is a bit of a know-it-all, but a friendly one. He likes hunting feral goats for a hobby. We are unfazed, despite our Nimbin Glow, while the seemingly hardy Noreen turns into a shivering, clumsy wimp as the temperature plummets. That night it is cold. Very cold. A stiff wind springs up in the early hours, blowing fiercely off the desert. Our tent is whipped by the frenzy, though it is a good structure and holds up well. We emerge at dawn to a still strong wind and a warm sun. After breakfast we drive the 30 kms back up the road to the National Park Centre where we hire snorkelling gear. We go back down the coast as far as Turquiose Bay where the snorkelling is said to be the best. Though the water is still comfortable and the sun nicely warm, the wind is sharp. Nevertheless we have a pleasant drift across the bay, over the coral, through the schools of reef fish, till a chill drags a us back to the warm shelter of the sand dune. In the afternoon we walk up to the Yardie Creek gorge then retire to our camp for another chilly evening.
The Goat Hunter
All hail Sir Aaron of Exmouth
We head back to Exmouth the next afternoon. There are things to do; business to take care off; people to see; Winnebagos to cock one last snook at. And last of all, Sir Aaron of Exmouth to thank. We set up camp next to our old spot at the Ningaloo Caravan Park. It almost feels nostalgic. The next morning we decamp again and pack the car, smoothly, clinically. At Sir Aaron’s castle keep (AKA his Auto-mechanics workshop) we say our farewells. We can’t tell him our much we appreciate all he did for us. We also can’t kneel and bow to him to let him know that we have bestowed a fantasy knighthood upon him – that’s our secret. Anyway, he is just too busy to spend too long with the goodbye thing. A line of campers, vans and assorted 4x4s stand in the workshop, awaiting the blessed hand of Sir Aaron of Exmouth to repair them. At any moment too, he could be called out onto that remarkable desert highway, like a knight of the road, to rescue yet another traveller who has been vanquished by their vehicular dragon. Chivilary is alive and well out here – it’s positively medieval.