Friday, March 31, 2017

Ningaloo Reef

Tour Day 4

That's a whale shark in their logo - WA is one of the
spots in the world where you can swim with them.

The whole reason I took the Aussie Wanderers tour was to see the Ningaloo Reef.  It’s a fringe reef, so, unlike the Great Barrier Reef that requires an hour boat ride to reach it, this reef comes right up to the shore.  Also, because Western Australia (WA) is so remote, it doesn’t have as much human interference or traffic, so the coral and the sea life are more abundant and much healthier.  I did a day tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive to see the Manta Rays.  I didn’t realize when I booked that you had the option to scuba dive (or I would have), so I only snorkeled.  The visibility in the water was amazing though, and I saw so many things.  On our first guided snorkel we saw tons of Black-Tipped Reef Sharks, some were quite large, and two sea turtles!  One of the turtles was only about 3 feet from me, so I was able to get a close-up.

Had to snap a picture of this coral - don't you love its funny face?

 Of course there were fish galore: trumpet fish, parrot fish, and lots of other fish of which I don’t know the names.  We had a snack back on board the boat and waited for our spotter plane to find us some Manta Rays.  Once the plane found them and directed our boat to them, Jen, our snorkel guide, jumped in to keep an eye on them so each group (we’d been split in two) could get to them.  On the signal we quickly slid into the water and swam hard over to Jen.  They were HUGE -- a bit freaky looking as well, but very cool.  We even saw 2 at one time, which is quite rare according to Jen.  One of the rays even had two sharks swimming along underneath it.  You know it was great when the staff is super excited (or “frothing” as they like to say).

It was coming right at me, so I had to get out of the way!!

Back on the boat we had a nice lunch while cruising around (another boat had spotted a whale earlier, so we went searching for it but never saw it).  We did, from the boat thankfully, spot a tiger shark.  There was a “bait ball” (a big swarm of fish swimming really tightly together) and the sharks were trying to get the fish up to the surface so they could eat them.  On our last snorkel of the day we saw a cowrie shell, which is extremely rare to spot during the day.  The water here is an incredible shade of aquamarine, absolutely stunning.  Back at the hostel I met up with our group and we set off for Exmouth, where we’d spend the night in a bug free hostel!

Coral Bay, Western Australia

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Longest Flight in the World

They say “reckon” a lot, instead of “think” – I reckon it might rain this afternoon.  And instead of “How are you doing?” they ask “How are you going?”  When you ask a flight attendant if something needs put in the overhead bin, they respond with, “I’ll pop it up for you, do you want your jumper (jacket) with you?”  Oh, Australia, I’ve missed you.

Yes, it is a long way to Australia, and my flight from Dallas to Sydney is currently the longest flight in the world, clocking in at 8,578 miles (roughly 17 hours of flying time).   Blessedly, every seat has its own entertainment system and they give you free food. Check out the menu for my return flight - they know how to treat you right.

 My travel time was increased even further due to the fact that I flew directly on to Perth (an additional layover plus a 5 hour flight).  Sadly, I goofed and used the ePassport kiosk in Sydney (I’d never had the chance before and it seemed quicker) so I don’t even have an Australian stamp in my passport.  Live and learn.  Staying in a hotel my first night was an excellent decision, any trip that takes over 30 hours deserves a hotel room all to yourself.  Getting from the airport to the hotel took well over an hour, a few buses, and lots of asking for directions.  It was about 3pm when I arrived, but the Art Gallery of Western Australia was only open until 5pm, and it was too early to go to bed anyway, so I freshened up a bit and headed off.  I’d read that they have a lot of Aboriginal Art in the gallery, but wasn’t all that impressed.  It is a small gallery and it wasn’t really the art I was looking for, although a lot of it might have been done by Aboriginal artists.

There were some nice pieces though and it did kill some time.  I stopped at Woolworths to grab an evening snack and then headed back to the hotel.  There wasn’t much on TV except coverage of Cyclone Debbie hitting Queensland, so by 8pm I was out.  That, of course, meant that I was awake by 2am, but it was to be expected, no matter how little sleep I’d had in the last 30+ hours.

I was the first one picked up for my Aussie Wanderers tour and we ended up with a lovely group of people.  For the beginning of the journey I sat next to Jaimie, a 19-year-old from Cornwall here visiting his uncle in Perth and traveling around until he starts uni (college is high school in the UK, and university is our college).  There’s a couple in their 70’s from Seattle, WA (Terry and Ann), 2 other British guys: Josh and Ben; a Swiss girl named Alex, 3 German girls: Arpana, Suzanne, and Juliane, and a Canadian named Lauren.  Our only noteworthy stop on day 1 was at The Pinnacles Dessert.  Covering a distance of about 10km, the rock formations are unexplained, even to this day.

 There are several theories about their formation, but nothing concrete.  Our accommodation for the evening was at Big River Ranch in Kalbarri National Park.  We took a hay ride on the back of a truck so see their little piglets, and to feed some cows and horses out in the field while the sun was setting.  The bathroom situation left a lot to be desired.  We all shared one big trailer that had been refitted in to a bathroom.  That wouldn’t have been such an issue, but there were no locks on the bathroom stall doors (an awkward situation with a mixture of boys and girls).

Day 2 was an early start to beat the heat.  We headed to the Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri National Park and after a short hike several in our group tried abseiling (we’d call it repelling).

 After a fair bit of driving we stopped at Shell Beach, appropriately, if not unimaginatively named, for a little beach break.  While there I saw several shovel nosed rays and possibly a little shark.  The water was really clear, but the wind made the surface a bit too choppy to make out details.  Our accommodation for the night was at Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort (Mia is pronounced MY-A, not ME-A), which is located in Shark Bay.  The town is known for its wild dolphins that live in the bay and they have a lot of rules in place now for human interaction with the dolphins.  They’re very careful not to do things that will change the dolphins natural habits (let’s just say they learned from earlier mistakes).  They only feed 5 of them, they can tell them apart by their dorsal fins and they only feed them 10% of their daily food requirement so that they don’t become dependent.  Lots more driving today, it’s about 780 miles one-way to get from Perth to Exmouth.  We stopped in a little town called Denham for lunch and  then made a stop at the Stromatolites; they’re really only noteworthy if you believe in evolution, although I guess if you're into biology they could be interesting.  We drove through some random patches of rain and saw several rainbows and some beautiful clouds with the sun setting behind them.  It was a lovely evening drive, to be sure.

We spent our third night at the Ningaloo Reef Club in Coral Bay and it was not my favorite (or anyone else’s for that matter).  Because of the rain there were bugs everywhere.  No exaggeration, the walls were covered in grasshoppers, beetles, and other random bugs.  To make matters worse there were tons in our room for the night as well!!  Thankfully we killed enough of them to allow me to sleep without fear and we did manage to get the AC to work, so all was well in the end I guess.