Margaret River and the manta ray – Monday 19th March 2012


We’ll be arriving home exactly one month from today. We have been traveling for 5 months so far!

I’m told the last leg of a journey can turn arduous. A longing to get home sometimes creeps in. Certainly, we decided to take this campervan to give us a brand new experience, to stop us from wandering about, just waiting to go home.

We have no great urge to travel far. Margaret River is the area to be in South West Australia. Various people have told us not to go as far as Esperance, which we originally planned to do. So we plan a move to Hamlyn Bay.

Wifi connection is a constant difficulty unless you are in a town. Even then it is often Edge/ H or simply an enhance version of 2G- in other words slow! The town of Margaret River has good car parks and you can find a number of campervans here, all intent on using their pocket hot-spots to email. We do the same! We also buy muesli and yogurt. We book accommodation in Perth, back in the YHA because it is central and cheap.

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If anyone thinks they are going to camp on grass in this area in March, they need to think again. It is difficult to get fresh water for our tank, unless we would like bore water, and the pitch is sand here. But we are adjacent to the beach of white lime sand and the bay of turquoise sea.
Having set up camp, we walk the length of the stunning beach. It’s a steep sand waterline and not good for body boarding, but exceptional for walking, our feet plunge into the soft sand.
We think to move off the beach and towards the headland. We have been sitting, gazing out to sea for some time. As we climb the steps, we saw them. Black circles of underwater menace, cruising the shoreline. We’ve seen stingray before, once as we drove over a bridge to Philip Island, and then again in Russell. Then we were scared of them, remembering Steve Erwin’s fate. Here, however, people stand in the water watching them. We join them.

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The ray sweep the coast line for fish guts thrown back by fishermen. They Hoover up debris, keeping it clean. We see three large one and a smaller species, brown rather than black. We watch them eject water from a socket behind their eye. Fascinated, we stay for ages.

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Back at the van we download and sort our photos. It’s a small competition we have to see who has taken the best. John has a far superior camera to my Cannon Ixus!
While we eat a group of ducks visit the back of the van, sifting the sand with their beaks for food. They make a curious intense sound, that is very quiet!

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Body boarding – Sunday 18th March 2012


Waking in the National Park is awesome: silent, sun streams through the trees and gradually the birds stir.
Breakfast takes an additional edge as we sit virtually alone, watching birds: parrots, wax eye, fan tails and birds whose names I cannot guess.
We drive North to Prevelli. This weekend there is a surfing competition here, but we cannot get close to it. Instead, we park by a bay, observed by life guards.
The surf seems strong against the rocks, coming in short bursts near to us. John asks advice on the best place to body board, weed and rock free, just down the sandy beach…off we head.

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John just gets better and better at it, riding over higher and higher waves. I love watching him. Mostly I enjoy swimming today.
Despite being a wine growing area, well perhaps because of this, it is incredibly arrid. Dust lines the roads, blackened trees remind the grim possibility of fire.

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Because there is very little of colour, the sea seems an even more vivid blue, the waves shine brilliant white. It’s very inviting.

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Eventually we just sit on the beach in the blistering heat before admitting we need the shelter of the van.
By 2pm we have found our next campsite. We get a corner plot, take on water, empty the toilet cassette, which proves to be less difficult than we had thought. The dust is hopeless. This is a sheep farm and the sheep are grey. I think back to New Zealand sheep and their white coats.
As we sit under the shade of a tree, a strong wind sets up. Whilst it cools us, it also picks up the dust.

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Sperm whales and dusky dolphins – Monday 5th March 2012


Will we see whales today? Will we even get to go out on the boat? Yesterday, the office was empty, all trips were cancelled due to rough weather. But, this morning, from our verandah, the bay was totally calm, the trees still, and the snow on the mountain shone against a blue sky.

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The early snow contrasts beautifully with the green in the valley. Even though it is two months early, I am thrilled it has come. There is no change in temperature, just exquisite wonder when you look up.

The “Whale Watch” building is located next to the railway, which runs along side the beach. The road is called Whale Way! Great joke!

In contrast to yesterday the office is buzzing. Yes! The boats are going out. We are entertained by a DVD narrated by David Attenborough on the life of albatross and then another on whales. I miss much of the second DVD as a lady tells me all about her merino possum jumper, which, on the advice of her husband, she has left in Brisbane, and she hopes she will see whales today, because she does not want to come again tomorrow, because she would like to keep any boat trips to a minimum…

It is going to be rough today, they warn, lazy swells of 1.5 m. The gift shops does a good trade in sea sickness pills.

As soon as the catamaran leaves its moorings, you know they are right, but after five minutes I become used to the movement.

It takes a little finding, our first Sperm whale, but when it comes to the surface, everyone is excited. An airplane and a helicopter join us for aerial views.

There’s a chasm, thousands of meters deep, just off shore. Sperm whales can live in this area all year round on the rich marine life. They eat giant squid. Remember the giant squid specimen in Te Papa Wellington? It’s a monster and Sperm Whales eat them! They eat sharks too! They spend an hour deep in the ocean, hunting. Then return to the surface to breathe for five minutes before diving back for a further hour! The trick is to find a whale who has just surfaced and get the boat close enough for clients to get out and take their photos, safely, in that 5 minute window.

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As it rests on the surface you can see its square nose and just about the length from this nose to its hump. The tail remain hidden from view. They breath every 15-20 seconds, blowing a slight puff of water. At times the waves are so tall, I lose sight of the whale completely. How can you lose something that is 50 feet (15 or even 20 meters) long? Other times, our boat rides high and we get a fabulous view of the whale low in the water.

The highlight of our viewing is his dive, for dive he must! After one last breath, he arches his back and begins the vertical descent. For us, the magnificent tail now rears out of the water, a horizontal platform flipping to a vertical flag and down he goes.
Magnificent!

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We are quick to find whale number two. It seems ages that he floats, breathing. A sea lion swims nearby hoping the whale might drop a tidbit. But inevitably, he has to dive, raising his massive tail in salute.
Our third whale was already diving as the first passengers (including me) get on deck. We are lucky enough to see his dark tail signal his return to the deep, dark chasm.

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We cruise on for some minutes because Dusky dolphin are in the area. Around 200 dolphin leap and swim in an incredible display of fishing! The sheer number of them, made even more remarkable because Hector’s dolphin and even bottle nose are mixed in the crowd. Honestly, I only identified the dusky ones.

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At times they leap clear of the water, intent on making the biggest splash, perhaps to frighten the fish. John captures an incredible display on video which I cannot upload, sorry. An individual dolphin leaps 10 times before retracing his steps, still leaping high from the water. Youngsters practice this move too.

It’s an incredible show.

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The Battle of the Seas – Wednesday 25th January 2012


Today we intend to reach Cape Reinga, the Northern tip of New Zealand. In fact there is a point slightly further North but impossible to reach. Then we return South to Doubtless Bay. We know it will be a longish drive, 360 km, so we set off reasonably early.
Our first stop is the toilet! No ordinary toilets these, they are on the tourist route map! The Hundertwasser at Kawakawa have a zebra crossing directly opposite them, because in New Zealand you can only park on the side of the road that is the same direction you are traveling (I.e. the left!) these toilets are bold and bright, designed as an Eco project, using reclaimed tiles, bricks, ceramics and bottles for the windows. Ceramic columns of a similar design echo throughout the town. Simple, clean and roomy, the colourful toilets are brilliant.

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We take the inland route which leads up through Mongatore Gorge and forest on a switchback of a road. The bends go on forever, swooping along with amazing camber to support a safe drive.
Once past Kaitaia, the road begins to straighten out in preparation for the final miles down the long thin finger of land, which is Northland.

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At Cape Reigna, by the lighthouse, a tremendous battle never ceases between the Tasmin Sea and the Pacific. It’s incredibly bizarre to watch opposing waves crash against each other at right angles to the headland.
This magical place is where spirits leave, according to Maori legend. Having walked a while to marvel at nature, we retrace our steps to see the sand dunes.

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Te Paki stream runs beside the largest sand dunes in NZ, maybe the world! In typical Kiwi fashion, the sport here is to sand board down the dune. Coach loads come to do just this but the size of the dunes swamps them, so they appear as ants sliding down, or staggering up.

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We walk the river bed to the sea. At times we hurry to the side to avoid being splashed by 4WD that travel the same path. It’s possible to drive along 90mile beach at low tide. I am told it is actually only 60 miles long but still. You have to drive fast to avoid sinking into the sand which can be very soft in places.
We are happy to walk along to the sea’s edge before returning the length of the stream. The size of these dunes is sim ply mind blowing.

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I’m pleased to have my hat, as the sun is in readily hot today and my lips still sore from the sea yesterday.
From here we share the driving to Doubtless Bay. Apparently Captain Cook had spent several weeks in the Bay of Islands and when he passed this bay he felt he could no longer take time to fully explore it – doubtless it was a bay!
We are the only guests staying at Taipa Sands Motel. W have a huge room with a lovely patio which heads directly tot he beach. Our first mission is find a supermarket and cook food.
We sleep well and late.

Philip Island – Friday 30th December 2011


Philip Island is about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, and mostly advertised for its Little Penguins. It has so many echoes of the Isle of Wight with town names like Ventnor, Rye, and Cowes. A stern backbone of road with geometric spars create its structure.
Before you cross the bridge, it’s worth stopping to look for pelican. They are fed each day at noon. Today the people outnumber the birds but I’m told that in February and much later out of season, the beach is swamped by them.

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They walk with distinct pigeon toes, seemingly without digits pointing in, so the whole foot seems to be balanced outwards.
Today they are not very interested in the huge crate of fish that has been brought to them. They are juveniles and demonstrate a surly independence that you expect from teenagers.

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Small children beware!

It’s interesting to watch them scoop up the fish, maneuver it head first and swallow, so you can still see lodged in their throat for a while.

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Like shadowy plates, manta or sting rays patrol the shore waiting for the off cuts and, sure enough they get their turn.

At the far end of Philip Island, there is a seal colony. True to form, Australians have built viewing platforms, and a huge visitor centre, complete with indoor observatory – and a cafe!
I did not see one seal but Little Penguins, tired of the limelight and restrictions imposed by the attraction on Philip Island have made their home in borrows along the walk.

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At the extravaganza down the road, photographs are prohibited and bi-pedal observers have to pay for the privilege.

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The coast line is astounding. A particular colour of ice blue with translucent waves rising up on the ocean side. We take loads of shots trying to capture this beauty of nature but we feel don’t quite encapsulate the exuberance of real life.

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