Friday, 30 October 2009

The Ningaloo Reef

About 1200 kilometres north of Perth a peninsula juts into the Indian Ocean. Known as Cape Range, the Western side of the peninsula is largely covered by the Cape Range National Park . It does have one modest town and that is Exmouth which overlooks the gulf that shares its name.

Our campsite in Exmouth was endowed with emus. They, like many species, eventually get so used to a human presence that they develop scavenging traits. Resort residents are asked not to feed them, but of course many do just that.

The peninsula's tip is the North West Cape which like many of the world's promontories boasts a functioning lighthouse, however a little to the south west high on another outcrop there is an older lighthouse named the Vlamingh Head light. It was superficially damaged in a cyclone a decade or so ago and was restored complete with paraffin lamp. It is a tourist attraction and it is only lit on just a few occasions each year.
The Indian Ocean side of Cape Range peninsula.
More Emus, but wild ones this time. One long neck and two stubbies that an Australian 'beer' joke?
An Echidna, just wandering purposefully through the area where we proposed to pitch tent. In fact we failed on that occasion. The wind was so strong, that even with the help of a chap in a trailer tent alongside, we couldn't put our canvas up. Nor could we put the pegs into the concrete like ground, so all in all it was doomed to failure. Here in Yardie Creek, we spent our one and only night in the car. Thank goodness for reclining seats.
Two views of the beautiful Yardie Creek Gorge. We did the early morning thing and walked the crest of the gorge whilst the sun was in the right direction and not too fierce.
Note the tranquil waters; ideal for the mirror effect so sought after by photographers!
Turquoise Beach. Dotted along the National Park coastline are beaches, probably just as fine as this one, But Turquoise boasts 'the best drift snorkel in the world'. Pretty heady boast is it not? We had to try it out of course, and it was great fun. The current took us through the reef areas at at a steady pace, so we did it twice - and it was very good indeed. Later we tried the calmer waters in a different area of the bay and that was good too.

I thought I would leave Ningaloo George to say goodbye to Exmouth. He is a replica whale shark made from fibre-glass. These creatures can be seen in the seas around Exmouth between March and June. Hmmm... missed again.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Karratha - Even More Mining!

It is only about 250 kms from Port Hedland to Karratha, but the road was long and the scenery was unchanging. Here's just a typical view.
About 50 kms before reaching Karratha, we reached Roebourne. It was also the junction leading to Cossack, another town of historic interest on the west-coast. There was no time for a further diversion today, but we promised ourselves a day out to see Cossack.

Roebourne was a significant town in the 1860's with mainly farming interests. In 1872 a cyclone wiped out the old town, but the residents re-built and what we see today is a town of historic stone buildings. Later prosperity came with a gold discovery and in modern times it mining of other minerals. It was a lovely sunny and warm day - not a record here though, in 1998 the town recorded 49.4 degC.!
A building from the Heritage collection with several artefacts.
More from the same site.
The simple church on the hill.
Finally the impressive Roebourne Post office.

Having settled into the Karratha camp site, we found that most of our neighbours were not people on holiday or travellers, but contract workers in the mining industry. This had trebled the cost of cabins and changed the ambience of the site.

The next day as promised, we drove to visit Cossack, named after the boat that brought the State Governor to visit the town.

Here in the 1860's the West Australian pearling industry was born and it went through a period of prosperity attracting people from several nationalities, notably Asian because of their pearling/diving experience. A cyclone wiped out the buildings and the pearling fleet in 1881, but undaunted they were back in business shortly after. In 1844 however, the government called a halt to pearling on the grounds of over-fishing, which virtually rang the death knell for the aspiring township and the pearling industry moved to Broome. In 1887 the northwest gold rush started and Cossack was revitalised, stone buildings proliferated and the area was declared a Municipality.
Nanny Goat hill on the left and the stone schoolhouse, built to replace the old wooden structure in 1897.
Above, the Customs House and Bonded Store. Also dating from 1897, it became redundant when the harbour moved to Port Sampson nearby. It then became a cafe, probably associated with the Turtle Soup Factory which operated from another part of the building.
The Post and Telegraph Office was the first stone building to be constructed in Cossack. Built in 1884 it heralded Cossack's own connection to the outside world.
The elegant courthouse dates from 1895 and was little used as the town was by then in slow decline.
Galbraith & Co. bought and sold just about everything in Cossack. Initially sited in a group of wooden buildings, a cyclone put an end to them and the fine edifice seen above was built in 1890.
First landing beach as seen from Tsien Tsin lookout. Tsien Tsin was Cossack's original name - for just a few years.
Sunset in Karratha.
The amazing Sturt Pea. This specimen was spotted by Liz, growing on a splitter island in the centre of town!
A couple of Galahs impersonating Elvis.
Saltpans on the Karratha-Dampier Road
The massive goods trains taking ore and products in and out of Dampier.
At the entrance to Dampier is a statue of "Red Dog", a red kelpie/cattledog well known for roaming the area in the 1970s and hitching rides to nearby towns. The statue reads "Erected by the many friends made during his travels".
The impressive, modern, air-conditioned Gas Shelf Information Centre explains the importance and the functioning of the North West Shelf Venture. It is Australia's largest resource development project and involves the extraction of petroleum (mostly natural gas and condensate) at offshore production platforms, onshore processing and export of liquefied natural gas and production of natural gas for industrial, commercial and domestic use within the state.

A local cultural attraction is the vast collection of ancient aboriginal petroglyphs. Found randomly amongst the rocks of Deep Gorge on the Burrup Peninsula. They have been listed by the Heritage Council of Western Australia, the collection of aboriginal drawings or etchings number over 40,000 individual items.
These are just a few easily accessible examples that we were able to find.
A drawing of a kangaroo?
Some real kangaroos. (Actually Euros)
We're not sure what this one is.
This however is Hearson Cove, a peaceful bay. Spot Liz sitting on the rocks.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Port Headland - More Mining

Though the coastline in the area had been explored in the 1700s, Captain Peter Hedland was one of the first Europeans to explore the harbour for the purpose of developing an export port. He arrived in the area in April 1863 onboard his boat, Mystery, that he had built himself at Point Walter on the banks of the Swan River (Perth).

What Capt Peter had omitted to report, was that there is a shallow sand-bar governing the entrance to the port which made it difficult for ships to enter in all but the highest tides. For many years this led to Port Hedland being eclipsed by other nearby settlements; Cossack and Roebourne. It wasn't until the 1960's that iron ore was discovered and mined. After that the harbour was dredged and the industry blossomed.

Port Hedland now has the highest tonnage of any port in Australia and is the largest town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with a population of approximately 14,000.

The first features we saw as we entered the town's environs were; the railways (about which more later).
..and the salt pans, complete with the 'white mountain range!
It was pure happenstance. It was a Saturday and Port Hedland was celebrating its 113th birthday (I suppose Bilbo might have said, 'its eleventy third'). It is not a large town, but the main street was alive with activity. Side shows and stalls, a stage, and announcer and a programme of events. The town even had a birthday cake made up from scores of cup cakes and of course the children were there to blow out the candles.
After the children - everyone else, "Visitors included !" The young lady said with a smile.
Some folks that we had spoken to didn't rate Port Hedland as a tourist stop. But we warmed to the place. It was neat and smart, a lot of effort had been put into street decorations, statues, gardens and an 'overall good state of repair'. In any case it was as far as we wanted to drive in a day, towns are 100s of kilometres apart in WA with little or nothing in between.

Just a couple of the street statues follow here:
A more conventional statue crouches by the waterside.
And of course Kangaroos - a lovely 'action' scene, we thought.
This is just a sample of a large collection depicting life through the years in the history of Port Hedland.
The man-made Spoilbank juts northwards from the town. We drove as far along the bank as the bitumen road allowed and discovered a beach. Folks with 4WD vehicles took the challenge of crossing a bar leading to a sandbank and enjoyed a days fishing.
The trains. Port Hedland has its name in the Guinness Book of Records. The world's longest trains ply between here and an inland production centre with iron ore. The 'record breaker' was 7 kilometres long, had eight engines and only one driver. However even on a day to day basis, trains regularly exceed 3 kilometres and the front of the train is out of sight whilst the trucks are still passing under the bridge.
Such is the interest in these monsters, that the council have provided a covered lookout on a bridge directly over the track. We made the trip and found more than just trains!!!
The fly-masks were a blessing and the dots on my t-shirt are not pattern!

Sharing our campsite was a bright red touring bus, the like of which we had never seen before. It is a 24 berth Mercedes unit operated by Rotel (a contraction of Rolling Hostel), a German touring company. Passengers and operators seemed to work in co-operation to provide meals and adjust the bus; awnings, staircases etc were all fitted swiftly and efficiently.
It has become custom for me to close with a sunset on the town, so, no exception here is the offering from Port Hedland.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Broome - a Pearling Town

In 1883 Broome was decreed to be a township by Sir Frederick Napier Broome, then Governor of Western Australia. Ironically the Governor didn't want to be associated with the new "town", which at that time wasn't much more than a few struggling camps of pearl fishermen.

The town is on a peninsula that runs roughly north/south and therefore has an east beach (Roebuck Bay) and a west beach (Cable Beach). We were amazed to see the beaches populated by 4WD vehicles.
At the south-western extremity of the peninsula Gantheaume Point has two major attractions; dinosaur footprints dating from the Cretaceous Period 130 million years ago. They are only visible at low water stages of tide, but checking tide times is no challenge to us seasoned sailors, so we were there searching at the appointed hour, which happened to be around sunset.

They took a little finding, no 'idiot' markers or boardwalks here, but they were fairly plentiful and quite dinstinct.
The second point of interest focusses on the beautiful red rock cliffs. So many vantage points and so many photos. This is just one as a sample.
The Sun Pictures 'garden cinema' is a wonderful tourist attraction. Billed as the oldest garden cinema in the world, it was a major focal point in Luhman's recent epic; 'Australia'. For in this cinema our child hero sees the Wizard of Oz.
The auditorium is partly covered and partly open air. This is the view from inside.
A view of the inside shows plenty of memorabilia of 'Australia'. You can Nicole and Hugh in classic pose on the left.
The seats were actually very comfortable as we found when we visited in the evening. Great fun sitting in the warm evening temperature to watch a film as the stars appear over your head. Yes, I know it becomes much hotter and stickier in the wet season but for us it was a perfect evening. Apologies for the picture quality, but I felt the next photo had an 'atmosphere' which suited the emporium.
The town has an interesting history based around the exploits of the men and women who developed the pearling industry, starting with the harvesting of oysters for mother of pearl in the 1880's to the current major cultured pearl farming enterprises. The riches from the pearl beds did not come cheaply, and the town's Japanese cemetery is the resting place of 919 Japanese divers who lost their lives working in the industry. Many more were lost at sea therefore the exact number of deaths is unknown.
Streeter's Jetty was built to enable the old pearling vessels to moor and off-load crew, equipment and cargo. Still in private ownership, it fell into disuse as the pearling industry changed and began to decay. The local shire council bought the jetty and now has a restoration programme.

Another relic from those pearling days is now the internationally acclaimed Short Street Gallery of Indigenous art. It was built over 100 years ago and is the last remaining house with a wind tunnel. It is an important part of the Malay and Japanese contribution to the pearling industry in Broome.
In a prominent position is the statue of a diver. We imagined pearl divers clad only in a loincloth and able to stay submerged for minutes on end. That was in fact the situation at first, but the shallow waters were soon cleaned out of Pinctada Maxima (the pearl oyster). This led to the end of the local divers services and the introduction of 'hard hat' diving. Divers from Japan and Malasia arrived and as productivity became an essential feature, this more protective type of deep sea kit was used, allowing the worker to collect far more oysters per hour.
The following shot is just a typical scene which is replicated in many towns that we have visited. In a way it is reminiscent of the Caribbean. The local peoples gain cover from the sunshine under trees and quite large groups seem content to chat whilst sitting on the grass.

Roebuck Bay contains a sunken armada of historic flying boats from World War II. They were all sunk in a matter of minutes of each other on 3 March 1942 by Japanese action. The guide book says that they can be reached on foot at extra low tide. Such an event we discovered was at the crack of dawn, whoopee ...but one has to make the effort.

We woke at 4:30 to find thick fog. But we found the beach ok and so did scores of other tourists, a high percentage of whom were Japanese. It was a long walk out to the wrecks and the human trail reached out into the mist.
The wrecks were clearly recognisable and there was time for a few photos before the return trip. At this point the mist descended even more thickly making it impossible to see the land and the gaggle of fellow tourists had long since thinned out. We ended up a little off course when we eventually hit land, but it was a fun exercise.
The old lockup was a charming building.
Matso's Store got its name from Broome City councillor Phillip Matsumoto who ran a grocery store and school tuck-shop in the premises from 1978 to 1985 and who, as the son of Japanese diver Kakio Matsumoto and his Aboriginal wife Helena, was of the second generation of Broome's mixed ethnic population. It is now a very attractive pub/restaurant.
Tourism began to emerge as an important business for the town in the early 1900's. Since when Broome has been a destination for visitors (both local and international) attracted by its warm winter climate, diverse cultural history and white sandy beaches. A concentrated effort led by Lord Alistair McAlpine to resurrect the historical charm of the town led to restoration of many of the town's old buildings and a sound plan for Broome's future.

A view of one the white sandy beaches (looking a tad golden in the late afternoon light) - with a Boab tree. Idyllic isn't it?
In 1889, the simultaneous opening of the privately owned Cable Station and a Government owned telegraph station put Broome in direct communication with Asia, Britain and cities throughout Australia.

The year 1914 was particularly bad for Broome because the outbreak of war ruined the European market for pearl shell. When conditions returned to normal after the war, the buildings the government used for justice purposes were no longer adequate and the Cable Station was acquired for conversion to a courthouse.
It is an elegant building, redolent of an age of style and gentility.
The tourist shop and restaurant area by comparison is bright, gaudy and far more cheaply constructed.
Broome is also home to the 'staircase to the Moon'. Sadly, not for us. It's last appearance this year was about two weeks prior to our arrival, so in compensation, here is a sunset scene.