The Coral Coast.

Day 2 Episode I. Limo pickup this morning; outback style!

A sandgroper-made, OKA 4WD monster limo. w00t!
A sandgroper-made, OKA 4WD monster limo. w00t!

‘Top of the Range’ tour with Dave from Ningaloo Safari Tours – a full day in the Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Marine Parks! On the drive up to Shothole Canyon Dave regaled us with amusing tales:

  • Like how even though all new houses are cyclone rated, everyone learned during Cyclone Olwyn that their windows were not, and they had a spot of bother coping with a year’s worth of rain in 2 hours travelling sideways at about 200kph.
  • Cyclone Vance in 1999 set an Australian land speed record – 267kph! … then the anemometer broke. In Exmouth old railway sleepers are used as telephone poles, and after Vance passed they discovered some had been bent over. Check out this idiot Kiwi incredibly hardcore New Zealand reporter getting footage during the cyclone. It’d be like driving at 267kph and sticking your face out the window while someone shoots you with a water cannon.

(The wind gets progressively stronger; my favourite bit is from about the 8:30 mark.)

  • Also, more than 400 caves have been mapped in the limestone karst under the Cape Range. From narrow crawlspaces to shafts that require multi-pitch abseils, and a 7 kilometre labyrinth named ‘Wanderer’s Delight’, there’s something for every level of claustrophobic. And they’re all chockers with bats. I’d do it… for the bats.
  • And near the airport is the Learmonth Solar Observatory, an arm of G.O.N.G: Global Oscillation Network Group. Rather than a secret spy ring bent on world domination, it’s six observatories spaced around the Earth keeping an eye on the Sun 24 hours a day for solar flares etc. Exmouth is sunny all year round, so is perfect for solar observations, supervillains’ headquarters, and beach holidays.

Up to Shothole Canyon first.

Looking out over Exmouth Gulf.
Looking out over Exmouth Gulf.

Incredible colours up there! I love how the limestone reds and pinks of the Cape Range contrast with the sky / ocean blues. We were a k or so from the ocean and it was kind of surreal to look down and see this:

Blowholes???
Blowholes???

We were 300m above sea level, standing on limestone that was part of an underwater coral reef about 20 million years ago. This area of the Gascoyne is called ‘The Coral Coast’ – I always figured it was because of the Ningaloo Reef, but clearly the whole place is made of coral. I even saw rocks imprinted with fossilised shells and distinctly coral-like fan shapes. So weird!

Lots of green stuff too, thanks to Olwyn and Quang.
Lots of green stuff too, thanks to Olwyn and Quang.

Had some beautiful views of the Cape Range, but I was really disappointed we didn’t get to go on any walks through the canyons.

At Shothole Canyon. I typoed that the first time - guess what I wrote.
At Shothole Canyon. I typoed that the first time – guess what I wrote.

Had some morning tea then headed north, back to the other side of the NW Cape. Off-roaded to look for wildlife and saw a couple of emus and a weird-looking bustard. Mostly just enjoyed the nostalgia of careening along soft sandy tracks with low bushes whipping the sides of the truck.

Passed the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station and the massive radio towers… built after the Cuban Missile Crisis they communicate via VLF (very low frequency) with submarines. Exmouth was gazetted in 1967 to support the (originally American) base, and the town wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for the US Navy. And Cuba. Er… gracias?

Next stop the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. I luuurrrve lighthouses!

closeup Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, WA

Yes, those things in front are sandbags. Piled around four anti-aircraft guns during WWII, the actual bags have long gone but the sand remains, packed solid like historic boondies.
Yes, those things in front are sandbags. Piled around four anti-aircraft guns during WWII, the actual bags have long gone but the sand remains, packed solid like historic boondies.
Same view as in the 1940s, but much more accessible. It's hard to imagine how remote it was back then; the soldiers may as well have been on an island in the middle of the Pacific.
Same view as in the 1940s, but much more accessible. It’s hard to imagine how remote it was back then; the soldiers may as well have been on an island in the middle of the Pacific.

 

Incredible views of both sides of the cape – you can watch the sun both rise and set over the ocean from here.

Gorgeous 8 footers breaking over the reef and plenty of room for everyone.
Gorgeous 8 footers breaking over the reef and plenty of room for everyone.

Miles and miles of coastline and not a highrise in sight. How I fervently hope it stays this way! Despite ill-advised attempts at large developments over the years, people power and common sense have prevailed. And when the Ningaloo Coast was given World Heritage status in 2011 – YES!!! – it was a huge relief. I grew up in this part of the world and still feel protective towards it even though I don’t live here any more.

As I wandered I was kept company by flitting dragonflies and butterflies. I also discovered wildflower season had started, and became instantly obsessed with finding as many different kinds as I could.

I saw all of this today; more than 630 species of wildflower can be found in the national park. Just a few as yet but in a month there'll be carpets of them all over the place.
I saw all of this today; more than 630 species of wildflower can be found in the national park. Just a few as yet but in a month there’ll be carpets of them all over the place.
Me, when I see spinifex grass: “Oh hey, is that spini – OW!!! Yes it is.” … Every. Single. Time.

Stay tuned! Up next… Ningaloo.

– Michelle

If you think a 'bird of paradise' flower looks like a bird, check out these guys; a Green Bird Flower. (Locally known as a 'birdy bush'.)
If you think a ‘bird of paradise’ flower looks like a bird, check out these guys; a Green Bird Flower. (Locally known as a ‘birdy bush’.)

Just in case I didn’t pack in quite enough info, you can get even more at:

Exmouth Visitor Centre www.visitningaloo.com.au

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