Friday 29 June 2012

Anatomy of a Hook Turn

Melbourne many not have a Harbour Bridge or an Opera House like Sydney but it has something quite unique, quite "special" and very, very confusing.

I give you.................drum roll.................The world's most bizarre right turns.

If you are in central Melbourne and you wish to turn right against the traffic, you do not get into the right hand lane. No, instead you get as near to the kerb as you can, that is as far away as possible from where you want to be!

Not only is this disconcerting and counter intuitive, it would even test the Dalai Lama's patience.

Be prepared to sit there for an indeterminate amount of time, then in a state of complete flux, frantically make your right turn from there, just before the lights change.


It's all to do with keeping out of the way of Melbourne's trams which go directly down the middle of the road and turning cars would block their way.

See the van in the above picture? Notice he is indicating to turn right? Yes you're head spinning now aren't you. Try doing them!

Not only is this immensely confusing for an ex-pat like me but it is to other Australians for sure and I suspect many Melburnians too!

Now the other thing is Aussie rules footy, what the heck?

No I cant go there yet, another blog another time and I would need a G&T in hand to write that one!

Wilderness Finale - The Whale Sharks

The Whale Shark is the biggest fish in the ocean.

It comes to the plankton rich waters of Western Australia to feast on the nutritous feeding ground here.

So very little is still known about this gentle giant, the largest one recorded was a mind blowing 18 metres long.

To be one of relatively few humans who ever have the opportunity to swim with them is such a privilege.

As it turned out, it was going to turn out to be one of the most amazing experiences in my life so far.

We rise at dawn and what a beauty it is. A beautiful day with perfect conditions on the water.

Whilst the spotter plane above searches for the Whale Sharks, there is plenty of time to relax. We marvel at sightings of Humpback Whales tail slapping and breaching around the boat and the Dolphins at play.

Once the call of "WHALE SHARK!" is boomed from the bridge, it is action stations. A frenetic scrambling of masks, snorkels and flippers ensues as we waddle like ducks and line up on the deck.

Everyone is buzzing with excitement and we all slip off the deck together, faces plunging eagerly into the water, eyes agog, heart pounding and..............

then you see it. If it was possible to squeal under water with a snorkel in your mouth, you really would. Everyone, takes in a huge intake of breath as this magnificent fish glides by barely noticing us.

It appears to be hardly moving but the pounding of my flippers through the waves tells me different as I cut through the water to keep up. The only word that is going through my head is WOW, WOW, WOW and I feel tears well up.

They are totally harmless and feed on plankton and small crustaceans by opening their mouths wide and filtering the food through.

No words can really describe how you feel. The experience itself is almost other worldly, dare I say even spiritual and certainly humbling. You are never more in the here and now than those moments you share.

We manage 5 incredible swims.

A little bit of me has been enriched, changed forever.

Back on the boat, we enjoy a sumptuous lunch. Everyone is quietly eating, eyes far away in a personal reverie, speechless and in awe.

A week later it is still sinking in. WOW, WOW, WOW.

ps. It was even worth getting stung by a jelly fish for!

Thursday 28 June 2012

Wilderness Part four - Rocking the Wallabys

The Rock Fig, staple diet of the Black Footed Rock Wallaby

The Black Footed Wallaby is so rare. Only 4 places left in the whole world where you will find them and they are all in Western Australia.

Why are they so endangered?

The introduction of the European Fox in the 1800's decimated their population when the foxes decided to put these cute little creatures on their menu.

This species of Wallaby are only very little, just 3-7kg in weight. Easy prey.

The foxes are not an indigenous species and have no natural predators here to keep their numbers in check so they basically ran amok. There is now a controlled poisoning programme in place and slowly the Wallabys are starting to recover.

We saw them at the Mandu Mandu Gorge and at Yardie Creek. Two very beautiful places, steeped in aborginal history, where the people shared their cave dwellings in the rocks with the wallabys side by side.

They even shared a food source. The wallabys feed mainly on the fruits of the Rock Fig which grow on the rocks.

In the Mandu Mandu Gorge there are only about 35 in total, we were privileged to see 6 of them.

It was a hot, still day. We set out at 3.30pm for the 2 hour trek to the top of the gorge. Western Australia is just coming out of a 16 year drought, recent rains had brought new growth and new life to the gorge. Shrubs were in flower and fruit and all the many animals and creatures were making the most of the booming feeding grounds and moisture. Breeding also booms when food is plenty.

Mandu Mandu is aboriginal for "Many Stones" and is very appropriately named. It was more of an upward scramble than a walk. The fact that many poisonous snakes make these rocks their home too, was never very far from our minds.

The climb to the top of the gorge was so worthwhile and our efforts were highly rewarded. As we turned around to look back at the Ocean, we saw humpback whales breaching on the horizon. Just beautiful.

The wallaby's are so adorable and cute, they have the sweetest faces and I just felt the urge to cuddle one. I really hope they make it, I really hope that long after I am gone, their species will survive and thrive in this beautiful place for generations to come.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Wilderness Part three - Glamping Sal Salis Style

I don't think we could get away with calling it camping, I think this is what they call Glamping!

However, at Sal Salis the only energy available is derived from solar power. This is used to run the kitchens, the little luggage buggy around the decks and the pump that pumps the water through to the shower and the tap.

There is no internet, no mobile connection, no TV, no running water..... nada.

Your allocation of water is 20 litres per person, per day, used to wash yourself with. We found the nack of making it stretch.

Dive in, get wet.

Dive out, lather up.

Dive back in and rinse off.

3 minutes in total, it can be done.

The beds were huge and super comfy. We would just lie there look out to the ocean and listen to her sing. Blissful.

Even though it's winter it is very hot and the sun can be cruel. We wasted no time at all getting into the water which was a gorgeous 28 degrees, like swimming in a warm bath.

Within minutes of getting our masks wet,  we were blessed with a beautiful green turtle gliding ahead of us. Turtles are big favourites of ours, they are just so sweet.

The current is dangerously strong and impossible to swim against, a drift snorkel is the only option here.

"Rashies" as they are called are T-shirts with Factor 50 protection, height of stupidity not to wear one, the sun here does not suffer fools.

After a very satisfactory snorkel and with the beach all to ourselves, Hubster dozed under his hat and I played silly buggers doing handstands and cartwheels.

Happy days.

I often beat Hubster to the hammock for an afternoon's snooze and read whilst marvelling at flocks of beautiful green budgies, wild and free. Not a cage in sight, how it should be.

He always beat me to the Whale Deck, 5.30pm sharp, binoculars in hand. Settling down to a glass of white wine, a few canapes and some serious late afternoon whale watching as the sun bid us goodnight.

Every night we were so hungry, we can only put it down to the sea air. Polishing off, canapes and three courses plus free flowing wine each evening, proved no problem at all.

By 9.30pm most nights we were replete and ready to retire.

Our lantern-lit tent would call us to slumber, finally snuggling down into duck down duvets and dreaming very sweet dreams.

Stay tuned..............rock wallabys and whale sharks to come........................Night, Night, sleep tight and please dont let me find a snake in my shoe.

Monday 25 June 2012

Wilderness Part two - Silly Roos

At about 10 am on the Saturday morning we departed the outback town of Exmouth. Pronounced "Ex-Mouth not Ex-Muth" as we Brits do.

Ex-Mouth is a quirky place always in perpetual motion with road trippers and backpackers pouring in for fuel and supplies. Tanned, grungy, dreadlocked affairs, with tats and piercings were clearing the supermarket shelves of pasta and tins of baked beans.

Me? I took 2 big bags of kettle chips into the outback, that would see me right. For snacking only, all sustenance would be provided for us at camp.

Sexy Exy as the locals call it. (Irony I feel as it really isn't!)

As we hit the road we both fell silent. He was scouring right and I was scouring left. Without word to one another, we were competing to see which one of us would spot the first, wild "roo". Hubster won and we were both proper chuffed.

He was a male Euro who obediently waited for the camera to do it's thing, before bounding enthusiastically into the bush.

My first wild Skippy, I was flushed with utter thrill-dom.

However, as we turned onto the Yardie Creek Road, the picture became a much sadder one. I was instantly transported from happy to devastated at the first sighting of road-kill Skippy, then another and another and another...................... to the point that I had to look down into my lap for the last 30km into camp. I just couldn't bear it.

I wondered how and why so so many could be killed by vehicles on the road. There were certainly plenty of swerving tyre marks at regular intervals so I could only imagine that they bounced out of the bush at speed right into the vehicle's path.

Being me, I then began to worry it would happen to us. I pleaded far too much with Gareth to be ever vigilant which culminated in me receiving the legendary Hubster "deathstare". I shut up and crossed my fingers instead.

As the light began to fade all became clear. Those roos were popping up everywhere. I have since found out they are not the brightest of animals and will watch motionless as a vehicle approaches, then they are either dazzled by the headlights or just get spooked at the last minute and jump right into it's path.

As it turned out, we happened to avoid a near collision on two occasions and I now appreciate just how easily it  happens.

Even so it was still very distressing.

Arrival at camp was a blessed relief.

"Welcome to Sal Salis Guys" Kath the regional director warmly greeted us.

She then turned to me and said "Now, here's a girl that looks like she needs a cold glass of Chardy!"

The accent might have been different but she was talking my language alright.

Wilderness Part one

We have been on an adventure but this blog entry is not so much about what we did on this trip but what this trip did to us and for us. How it made us feel, how just a little bit of us will never be quite the same again.............................moments of sheer joy.

Amazing how you can take 2 flights, be in transit for 12 hours and yet still find yourself in the same country! Albeit we were in one of the most untouched and remote places in the whole world and boy do you get that message loud and clear. Ningaloo Reef and the Cape Range National Park, Western Australia.

The raw isolation and the sensation that time has just stood still and you are as transient in this space as a shifting grain of sand, packs a massive punch.

I remember once again, just as I did when I stood on the terracotta dunes of the Kalahari desert, how much I love this feeling and I realise how much I have come to need it too.

I have to thank the Hubster for opening this door for me, taking me away from the mundane, making me push my boundaries and step out of a zone away from modern comforts and conveniences, just to feel - Life.

Together we view the world with awe and childlike wonder, we seek out the places that have not been too sullied by human footprints and marvel at the beautiful creatures we find there.

It's emotional.

We need no words.

We stand locked in a united reverie, a shared moment which we know will emanate in knowing smiles and melancholic tears long into our old age.

It is in these moments, where there are no words, we both feel totally connected to our Earth and to eachother, especially.

So it is, we found ourselves at the Sal Salis Eco-Wildnerness Camp. Just 9 tents nestled into the sand dunes of the Cape Range National Park looking out to the Ningaloo Reef and the Indian Ocean.

During our time here the Ocean shows all sides to her personality, she is wild and powerful and to be fully respected as the many ship wrecks littered along the coast prove. She roars and purrs in equal measure and when the day ebbs, she is gentle and nurturing as she embraces the sun goodnight.

Everynight we watch transfixed as she works her magic aiding the dying sun to paint the most beautiful picture across the sky, no human hand could replicate.

She has precious cargo right now. At this time of year she provides passage for 43,000 humpback whales on their huge 10,000 kilometre migration and rich, nutritous feeding grounds for the rare and beautiful Whale Sharks, the largest fish in the ocean.

We were truly honoured to be with these incredible animals. We felt so privileged that we had the chance, a chance so relatively few humans would ever have. Never are you more in the present than when you are swimming beside the dorsal fin of a Whale Shark or gasping at the sight of a barnacled Humpback Whale breach wildly from the water. To be continued...................
The enormity of what we did will take some time to sink in. The fact that our bags got lost on the return flight at the end of the holiday, just didnt seem to matter that much, not after that! Now I know how and why Sir David Attenborough is so chilled and humble.

Mother Nature puts all into perspective, she does all that to you and just when you need her to.

The bags eventually turned up. Just like we knew they would.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Queen's Birthday Race Day

For our anniversary treat we decided to go and enjoy the Queen's Birthday Race meeting at Flemington.

We did it in style with full hospitality and bubbles of course in the fabulous Terrace Restaurant.

Flemington is Australia's equivalent of the UK's Ascot and is very impressive indeed even on a very  gloomy and rainy winters day.

Australia's Ascot
We had a full racetrack view from our table and the Melbourne skyline.

It didn't dampen our spirits or our enjoyment at all and the idea to buy the warm cloche hat, turned out to be a top one!

Wrapped up for a cold, rainy day!

We enjoyed bubbles and a very fine 3 course meal, ham hock tortellini with a pea puree, spiced rack of lamb with roast butternut squash and courgette with a yogurt mint dressing, followed by a wonderful cheeseboard.

Hubster checking out the form on our personal race monitor. Men and their doofers!

We sang Happy Birthday very quietly to Her Maj and Congratulations and Celebrations to us, I know, how old are are we?

Happy Birthday Ma'am and Happy Anniversary to us.

Running in the 3rd race was a fine filly called Gail! Well that so happens to be the name of one of my dearest friends and so backing her was a no brainer. Hubster backed her too and like a good 'un she romped home a 9-1 winner. Thank you Gail, you beauty and I was already $50 up on the day.

A close up of Gail romping over the winning line!

Coincidence you might say? No, don't believe in those.

We had a top day, even though the rain had put off many and the grandstands were barren, the die hard core of race goers really got into the spirit of things.

Our anniversary part II is on the 8th September and yes there is a race meeting, a ladies day in fact. Based on today's fun we might just have to do it all over again and have a groundhog anniversary date.