A Drive In The Park

Fri. 24th May 2019

The view back down the west coast from Cape PeronThere were some parts of our Australia trip where it was easy to work out what to do – in a couple of weeks we get to the Bungle Bungles and there is essentially only one place to stay in that National Park. This was not one of those cases. Not only did we have a choice in staying in the town of Denham or the much more famous resort of Monkey Mia (pronounced Monkey Myah by the locals), but also there was the question of how best to explore Francois Peron National Park of which we are now at the base.

Incongruous - and a metaphor about driving yourselfThe park is a peninsula that runs out into Shark Bay and you need a high clearance 4WD vehicle in order to be able to explore it. Whilst our Land Cruiser definitely fits that description, there are some 60km odd of sand trails in the park that have a reputation for trapping vehicles with inexperienced drivers (such as us). Any drive in the park would not be a walk in the park. In the end we sign up with Wildsights (monkeymiawildsights.com.au) and the knowledge that not only will we not get stuck, we’ll get to see the best bits of the park and also learn about the wildlife and how plants, animals and humans can survive in such an arid place.

Who'd have thought - new growth in the dry red sandWhilst our expectations had been set that there would be a max. of 6 people on the tour, on arrival at On The Deck, Phil had said that he’d heard from Wildsights and they still didn’t have anyone else booked. So, we were ready and waiting with our fingers crossed when Harvey from Wildsights drove up with an empty Land Cruiser (a more luxurious Land Cruiser than ours – how is that?). So, there’s a win – we get a private tour and Harvey seems happy to have more flexibility over timings and itinerary.

Well organised park, with clear signs. And people still get stuckAt the park entrance, Harvey stops to deflate the tyres to 20psi (to increase the tyre footprint by a factor of 4) and then we are off and bouncing down the tracks. Immediately, we are glad we are not driving. Whilst, initially, the sand isn’t too bad, the corrugations in the road would have sent all the cutlery, crockery and pans in the Beast rattling and banging. The cacophony would have driven us bonkers, but Harvey with a more sensibly packed Land Cruiser just blasts along. Whilst we’d have coped, we would have been a lot slower.

Sanctuary for Krasker. Really???Our first couple of stops reinforce that we made the right decision in electing to go with Harvey. At Krasker’s Tank, Harvey explains that it is named after a one-legged pearl trader / mailman who rode up and down the peninsula once a week in the early 1900s. On one trip, he was thrown by his horse and broke his remaining leg. His only hope of survival was to crawl to this shelter & water collection tank that had been previously set up. He didn’t make it, but the tank is still named in his honour. You would have to be tough to try and make your life out here in the early days (for Europeans).

Saltbush - surprisingly tastyFurther up the peninsula, we stop at the edge of an area that is different in colour and vegetation to the terrain that we have become accustomed to. It is similar to a number of such areas that we have seen. Harvey explains that this is a birrida, the gypsum claypan of an old lake, and that it will still occasionally flood – especially after a cyclone blows through. He leads us over to one of the shrubs growing on it and crushes some of the purple shoot tips between his fingers and shows us the moisture. The bush is saltbush (yes, it tastes salty) and is related to samphire.

Tiger shark (honest!)As we get near the tip of the peninsula, we start to see the sights we were expecting to see, the dramatic coastline with the rugged red cliffs standing over the beige sand being lapped by water that runs the colour palette from yellow-green to deep-blue and everything in between. (The average water depth in the entire bay is only 8m so most of the dark colours come from patches of seagrass growing on the ocean floor. A friendly (possibly!) Tiger shark swims by but disappointingly declines to do somersaults for us!

Incredible views - this in Bottle Bay(Nearly) Alone on the beachWhen we get to Bottle Bay (still closer to the tip of the peninsula), Harvey drives down onto the beach through the soft dry sand. Although there are other 4WD tracks clearly visible, once again, this is something we would never have done if we were on our own. And of course, the result is worthwhile, a view down an stunning crescent bay (which, disappointingly, we have to share with a whole one other car).

Note the sandwich filling of red running down the cliffThe fearsome antlionAt each stop, we walk around and Harvey continuously points out things we’d never have spotted or known otherwise be it animal tracks (not just roos and emus but also rabbits and echidnas and even the trail of an antlion – terribly disappointing as it is a tiny little critter); plants (what you can eat and what you can’t); and geology (the red quartz sandstone is on the west side of the peninsula and the beige sand on the east, with the prevailing wind blowing east to west). Hence, the sand dunes grow and move, and in places you can see the red cliffs sandwiched between layers of sand.

Gulls & Cormorants lined up on the beachWe eventually make it to Cape Peron, right on the tip of the peninsula and whilst it has hardly been busy all day, now we are absolutely by ourselves (apart from a dolphin swimming by in the water beneath us). Indeed, Harvey is disappointed when he finds footprints on one of the new dunes that is slowly building itself. By now, the sun is getting quite low (all thoughts of being back by 4:30 are long gone) and this accentuates the ripples in the sand and throws a golden glow on the gulls and cormorants waiting on the spit of sand below. So much fun going for arty photos of one sort or another.

Every so often a wild flowerAstonishingly, although in town there has been no rain since last October (or April depending on who you talk to!), here at the tip of the cape there has clearly been some occasional rain. Not only are there sporadic patches of green in the red sand, but some of the wild flowers are in bloom adding vivid purple and yellow colours to our colour palette. Even the acacia shrubs (so different to what we remember from Africa) are awash with yellow flowers – sufficient for Harvey to point out that Australia’s sporting colours of green & gold come from the colours of the acacia. Me, I just hope they get thoroughly walloped in the forthcoming Ashes series.

Just one more photoAs we race back down the sandy tracks – trying to get back for another dose of sunset at On The Deck – Harvey asks us why we came to Shark Bay. He seems surprised at our answer of ‘to come here, to Francois Peron Park’. The dolphins at Monkey Mia (wait for tomorrow’s post) are much more famous but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world – and I don’t think we’ve seen more than a fraction of what this park has to offer. We’re very glad we signed up with Harvey for our trip, we have learned a lot more than just on our own – and I’m very happy it wasn’t me doing the drive in the park.

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One Response to A Drive In The Park

  1. Harvey Raven says:

    Thank you Dave & Janet. Two’s company and good company at that. It’s never work nor time limited when I have guests who really appreciate what they’re seeing and experiencing. It was a real pleasure to spend the day with you. Compliments on your writing and photography.
    Cheers, Harvey.

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