Category Archives: Featured

Crossing East Alligator River at Cahills

Day 469 – Day 477: Jungle Camp – Smith Point, Garig Gunak Barlu N.P

Sunday, 14 to Monday 22 September 2014                                                     667.1kms

On Sunday morning, it was moving day. The 85km drive back to the highway took us 2 ½ hours. The scenery varies a lot and all of it is beautiful. There are pockets of rainforest and swamp lands, through to dry floodplains with nothing but cracked earth. The day was hot, and already in the early morning, we could see heat haze over the land.

We stayed at Merl campground in Kakadu for 2 nights. After setting up camp on the Sunday, we enjoyed a lovely cool shower which brought a welcome relief. In the afternoon we went to Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River where Nath tried his hand at fishing, but caught nothing. We saw plenty of saltwater crocodiles though, just like the last time we were here. I met a lady, who turned out to be the doctor at Maningrida in Arnhem Land. While we were chatting, she told me her family had just returned from a wedding at Cobourg Peninsula and it was her favourite place in all of Australia and there were huge shells. When Nath finished his fishing, I told him what this lady had said, and it was decided, we had to go and have a look.

The next morning we headed into Jabiru for a few supplies, fuel and to wait for our permit to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park to be approved. We enjoyed a bakery lunch and they are the cheapest meat pies and sausage rolls we have had in a long time. $3.70 for a pie! We were supposed to be basket weaving in the afternoon, but it was cancelled for Ceremony. That was the only reason we had come back to Kakadu was so I could finally learn to basket weave. But, that wasn’t to be, again.

On Tuesday morning, we packed up really early to catch the low tide, plus we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. We crossed Cahills Crossing at 8.57am and headed onto Oenpelli Road and there was almost no water over it thankfully. And no crocodiles!

Along the road we stopped to check on the van and something compelled me to look under the car. I noticed there was a piece hanging underneath and after Nath had a look, he discovered it was an exhaust bracket. Nath wired it back on, but we now have a big hole in the exhaust pipe and a very loud car!

Nath with the broken exhaust piece
Nath with the broken exhaust piece

Further up the road we stopped again to re-strap the boat as it had come loose on the corrugations. And then stopped again to strap the black waste pipe back onto the van. As you can gather, the road is pretty shot. There were sections of very rough corrugations, and then some smooth sections where it had been freshly graded, or had the tractor pulling 3 tyres to smooth out the bumps. We stopped briefly on a causeway at a billabong and Nath saw a barramundi from his car window.

The drive took us most of the day and we finally arrived at the visitor centre around 2.30pm. The visitor centre has a fabulous display of shells and historical artefacts from the first British settlers. After finding a ranger to check in with, we made our way to the camp grounds. We chose campground one, as generators aren’t permitted and it looked the nicest and shadiest.

In the afternoon we went for a walk on Airport beach which is the beach across the road from our camp. We found big shells, a turtle track and crocodile tracks! There is even a crocodile crossing sign on the road, and yes, it gets used. Every morning there are fresh tracks!

For the next few days we spent a lot of time in the boat in the Port. We didn’t venture outside the safety of the land as the wind blew up every day at some point and we usually pushed our luck too far and had to come back to shore in pretty terrible wind chops. One day in particular we were on the other side and had to make our way very slowly because they were quite big. To be honest, I was scared, and that doesn’t happen too often in our tinny.

The fishing was awesome. We never had to venture far from shore to find good size Trevally that fought hard.

We also found some bombies and caught reef species and estuary cod. Trolling we had a few big hits, and all but one Spanish mackerel busted us off, and it was my first.  And for the record, we returned all but the estuary cod to the water, as we just enjoy catching them.

On our first day on the water, we were over at a reefy outcrop fishing away, when Hendrix all of a sudden wound his popper in quickly claiming there was a massive shark after it. We told him not to be silly and that there was no shark and to put the popper back in the water. Well, within moments of him reluctantly doing so (he hates losing fishing tackle, poppers and lures especially!) I saw a massive shark come out of nowhere and go for his popper. He tried to wind it in, but too late, the shark was hooked. I instantly grabbed his rod as it buckled over and was about to go flying out of the boat with Hendrix attached to it. This shark was no match for our little man, so I had to fun task of trying to retrieve his popper. It fought hard and we had to chase it in the boat and also drag it away from the ledge so it didn’t bust me off. Finally, with a sore back and tired arms, the toothy shark surfaced next to the boat. We don’t know what kind of shark it was, and as soon as Nath said sarcastically to Hendrix to reach over and grab the popper, the shark decided it didn’t want to co-operate any longer, rolled over and snapped the line on its abrasive skin and was gone, with the popper. Hendrix wasn’t impressed!

That day we also had a salty come out to the boat, saw a pod of snub-fin dolphins, a couple of ginormous sharks, schools of fish, two turtles mating and a big manta ray!

This place is truly amazing and I feel very privileged to have seen it. The coastal landscape is stunning, the fishing and wildlife superb, the only downside is that we can’t get in the water because of box jellyfish and saltwater crocodiles.

A few days later when we were over the west side of the port again, the kids and I went on the beach for a look around. The sand was burning hot and we forgot to grab our thongs, so we bolted from shady patch to shady patch until it became too much for our feet to handle and stayed put under a small shady tree. Nath had gone off for a bit of a fish in the tinny, when I noticed, probably the same one from the other day, a saltwater crocodile in between us and the boat. I yelled to Nath to come and get us as we were stuck where we were and had nowhere to run to safety. It was interested in the tinny, so it followed him, cruising along the bank in the water, still between us and Nathan. I screamed at him to hurry up as he had to go out and around a big shallow reef. I told Elokin and Hendrix to freeze as the croc had not yet seen us as it was fixated on the boat. Nath came speeding into shore and we made a mad dash for the boat scrambling in and I pushed us off, while the crocodile was still happily making his way towards us. It was very scary and I felt extremely vulnerable. Once safely in the boat, I took a couple of photos of the croc before pulling out the gopro and videoing him. He didn’t like us chasing after him with it, but as Nath said to it “just remember, you came to us and hassled us, so now it’s our turn”. Maybe next time, he will leave the next boat alone.

Saltwater crocodile that came in to hassle us
Saltwater crocodile that came in to hassle us

On our last day we went for a drive along the coastal track. Nath found a small dead dried out reef shark on the beach and decided he would attempt to take its jaw for Hendrix. What a stinky hard job that turned out to be. He did manage to get it completely intact so we shall see how it fairs.

 Nath and the dried up reef shark
Nath and the dried up reef shark

We also saw a beautiful dingo which seemed to be rather playful and didn’t run away immediately like I thought it would. Nath tried to call it over like a pet dog, but instead it lay down on the ground. What an awesome dingo.

Dingo of Garig Gunak Barlu
Dingo of Garig Gunak Barlu

That evening, Hendrix and I went back to the beach for one final walk at sunset. We had planned on going about ½ before hand, but now I am glad we didn’t. Hendrix and I walked down to discover a huge crocodile track where a big fella had not long left his sunbaking spot to return to the water. There was a skin print in the sand which was extremely cool. We could see the texture of the crocs skin. Its foot prints we ginormous. Glad we hadn’t come across it lying there. We also came across a turtle track that had come up to nest.

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

Crocodile eating

Day 429 – Day 434: Keep River

Tuesday, 5 August 2014 – Sunday, 10 August 2014                                         96.2kms

Nath changed the flat tyre for the spare off the van as we realised that our spare rim on the car is dicked from falling off at Hill End and we had forgotten to replace it.

We took it for a test drive down towards the river mouth. We didn’t find the mouth, but drove for about 20kms, which was a lot further than we thought we would have to go. When the cracked, dry saltpans started to get sloppy, we turned around and headed back to camp to pack up and move 4kms upriver. By the time we were ready to move, we were once again racing the sun. Our new spot is better though and well worth the move. We have more water in the river and even crocodiles, which means there is fish!

On our first morning in our new camp spot as the sun was rising, I was lying in bed while Nath rummaged around in the back of the car to free one of his fishing rods for an early morning fish. All of a sudden there was a raucous on the opposite bank that caught my attention. A big kangaroo came crashing over some fallen trees, landing badly. It picked itself up quickly and continued to bound full pelt towards the river. I started shouting at Nath to “look, look, look”, which of course doesn’t tell him which way to look! The kangaroo made the edge of the river in about 3 big, fast bounds and then jumped as far as it could into the water and went under. I saw on the bank behind it a big golden dingo had stopped high above the water level. It had been chasing the roo and had clearly scared it out of its mind. No sane animal would jump willing as far as it could into a crocodile river! The kangaroo surfaced again and seemed to be trying to swim. I called to Nath that the kangaroo was trying to swim to our side of the river. Within seconds, it started to turn around and head back to the bank closest to it and I saw why…. A huge crocodile had appeared from nowhere and was right behind it. I called out “a crocodile is going to eat the kangaroo” and then there was a splash and both the kangaroo and crocodile were gone. All of this took place in about 15 seconds, from the initial crash of the kangaroo coming down onto the bank to it being taken by a crocodile. By now Elokin and Hendrix had made it onto the bed with me, but both they and Nath had missed the whole scene.

Around lunch time Nath and I were sitting in our camp chairs high on the bank when a reef shark jumped completely out of the water by at least a metre, flipped and then disappeared back into the water. Nath had his eyes shut and missed the whole thing!

The next morning we watched as a huge crocodile swam downstream with a kangaroo or at least part of it, in its mouth. We believe it to be the one I saw yesterday.

In the afternoon, the four of us sat admiring the river from our camp chairs high on the bank. On our side, there was not a breath of wind. We looked across and saw the tree tops bending in a strong wind that we could hear. Upon closer inspection, Nath discovered it was a willy-willy moving up the bank.

On Friday it was Nath’s Birthday. Something changed and the river was different. We didn’t see a single crocodile anywhere on the banks where we would normally see them or swimming in the river. There was an almost eerie feeling about, it was very bizarre. Nath did lots of fishing off the bank, but the only fish caught were catfish, and a few of them. He also caught a few small mud crabs in the dilly that were all safely released.

 

On Saturday morning, we watched as 8 big crocodiles headed downriver cruising on top of the water.

Saltie that came to check out our bank
Saltie that came to check out our bank

A couple of hours later a big gust of wind blew in and with it came the tide. It came in quickly and got the highest we have seen it and we lost most of our bank. Along with the water came the crocodiles back. The first one to arrive landed on the bank opposite us and through my camera I could see it had food in its mouth. It looked very fat already, but proceeded to put on a huge show for us. It lifted its head up high and began to chop on its meal of kangaroo. It was the same one again.

 

After a few chomps with its almighty jaws, it flicked its tail up as it launched its body out of the water standing on its back legs. It threw its huge head around and landed again.

Croc eating sequence
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 1
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 1

 

Saltwater Crocodile Eating 2
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 2

 

Saltwater Crocodile Eating 3
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 3
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 4
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 4

 

Saltwater Crocodile Eating 5
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 5
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 6
Saltwater Crocodile Eating 6

Again it chomped its food, but didn’t swallow all of it. It began to make its way upriver a short distance, so I decided to follow. While on my way Nath and Elokin began yelling at me that it was doing it again. The three of them got to watch it jump up in the air again, I got to see it eating with its head up in the air again. It then moved up onto the bank, fat and content to lie in the sun.

His slumber was interrupted by another big male croc cruising up to the side of it, laying in waiting. They turned to face each other and the new comer spun to avoid the altercation. Our fat friend chased it off and it left at a speedy pace, tail swishing the water.

I followed the loser of the disturbance, nicknamed “white lips”, as he headed upriver. Not too far up, he found another male to have a go at. He won that rumble and sent the loser scrambling up and along the bank to get away. On the bank was another smaller croc, and it left as soon as the big guy came close. Wise move I believe. The big guy then slinked onto the bank and lay in the sun. All up, Elokin and I counted 10 big (up to 3+ m) and huge (over 4m) salties lazing on the bank in the sun in just our stretch of river.

On Sunday morning we got up and started to pack down the camper as we had planned on leaving. We had been looking at the river on and off and after a while, Nath discovered that the tide had come in higher than yesterday and in as much time as it took to boil the kettle; somehow we had missed it. Well, with a quick family discussion, we were staying another day to watch it come in tomorrow morning, as we didn’t want to miss the “wave”. With the tide higher than we had seen before, Hendrix was able to fish with a lure off the top bank so he was stoked.

In the afternoon we went for another drive towards the mouth to see how much the tide had come in there. It was out now so we stopped where the landcruiser was buried in the mud bank for a look. Nath discovered millions of mullet lining the shore so threw the cast net around for some bait. Most of them must have been too small as they were getting out of the net. He did manage to get over a dozen, so that was good.

 

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

Our helicopter

Day 423 – Day 425: Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 – Friday, 1 August 2014                                          105.3kms

Our first walk for Wednesday morning was the 2km return Echidna Chasm. The walk itself was easy, walking along a dry pebbly creek bed. Through the chasm we climbed over and around boulders and up ladders to reach the end. It was very impressive. The sheer size of the walls towering 180 metres above and only metres wide really do make you feel in awe of this natural wonder.

In the amphitheatre we set Elokin and Hendrix up to do their school work while we waited for the sun’s rays to bring the chasm to life as it passed overhead. A lady came over to tell us about a large green and yellow stripped stick insect on the wall of the chasm near the big boulders. We decided that needed to be seen and were greeted with a very cool creature. I named him “Aussie”, given his colours.

Aussie stick insect
Aussie stick insect

From Echidna Chasm we walked the 200m to Osmond Lookout which gave us a panoramic view over Osmond Range, the valley and Bungle Bungle Range. From here we ate a snack in the car park before making our way back to the Bloodwoods to walk the escarpment walk 1km to Mini Palms turnoff, as it was closed. Nath and Hendrix decided to continue on to Frog Hole, a further 1.1kms. Elokin didn’t want to walk any further, so we slowly made our way back to the car park enjoying the landscape around us.

 

Osmond Lookout
Osmond Lookout

At 4pm we made it back to camp for something light to eat as we had missed lunch completely and a cuppa before making our way to Kungkalanayi lookout for sunset. Here we were spoilt with a 3600 view over the Bungle Bungle Range western escarpment, spinifex-covered ridges of sandstone, the limestone ridge and the Osmand Range. We stayed long enough to see the first stars of the night sky and the brilliant red of the sunset fade to dark.

 

 Kungkalanayi lookout
Kungkalanayi lookout

We enjoyed the company of Tim and Carol from Auckland, and Mervin and Annie from Sydney around the campfire that night.

The following morning, we left camp at 8am with the camper in tow headed south to Walardi campground. We chose site #2 and set up camp. On the way, we saw our first glimpse of the beehive domes and it was very exciting. By 9.20am we were on our way to Piccaninny, where all of the southern walks are based out of. We saw Elephant Rocks on the way, which are rather cool as somehow nature has created these rocks in the shape of elephants, complete with a gap between their head and trunk. The car park at Piccaninny is in amongst the domes and the loo is behind one.

We set off at 9.35am from the car park and completed the domes walk which led us to Piccaninny Creek where we walked along the deeply eroded, uneven creek bed in the hot sun to the Window. We all took a guess as to what shape the window would be, Elokin and Hendrix both guessed circle, Nath triangle and me rectangle. Whoever won was set to win the last Freddo frog, but the hole was oval, so Freddo was safe for now. We found some shade against a dome here and had a snack, some water and a rest.

 

We then continued along Piccaninny Creek which was toasty hot by now and we were all looking forward to the shade of our next stop, Whip Snake Gorge. Along the way, we found a few dead frogs that had, like us, roasted in the sun. At the junction for Whip Snake Gorge and Piccaninny Creek we found a pool of water and a rock overhang. Underneath the ledge we found frogs, hundreds of them, enjoying the cool, shady spot. We are hoping that they weren’t cane toads, as that would be rather disappointing.

Frogs on the way to Whip Snake Gorge
Frogs on the way to Whip Snake Gorge

At the end of Whip Snake Gorge, we found shade in the amphitheatre where we sat and ate food. Turns out we carried way too much food and not enough water! When we left here at 2pm we were on water rations. Hendrix stacked it as we were leaving and Nath carried him for the kilometre back to Piccaninny Creek, where we retraced our steps along the creek bed. Luckily we had stayed in Whip Snake long enough for parts of the creek bed to have shade and made the most of it. We viewed Piccaninny Creek winding south through spinifex country and beehive domes at the Piccaninny Creek Lookout, where it was shady and cool.

Piccaninny Creek
Piccaninny Creek

 

As we made our way to Cathedral Gorge, a family told us of a snake in a large hole on the way. Some nice person had put a large stick in the hole for it to climb out on. Of course, we found it, and it must have sensed that either I don’t like snakes or Nath really does, but it showed us how easily it could climb the vertical rock surface without the need of a stick. It did use the stick for the last section, but I don’t think it actually needed it. It was a pretty snake, as far as snakes go. (I like to keep my distance). It had a silvery-blue head on a vibrant yellow body that turned golden in the light. It was quite a long snake and I did keep my distance. Once it was close to the top of the hole, I stayed well back. Even Elokin and Hendrix were in front of me! Nath chose to follow it as it slithered up the rock wall, so I handed him my camera. It found itself a deep hole to hide in, but Nath being Nath, stuck the camera in there. When he chose to leave it alone, the snake being inquisitive, stuck his head back out to check us out. To be honest, it did look very cute, but I still wasn’t going near it! Nath went back up and got a couple of good shots putting the camera near the hole and not his head. So it was hit and miss. We then left the snake alone and continued into Cathedral Gorge which we had to ourselves for the most part. While alone, we each took turns to belt out some song we could think of, except for Hendrix, who decided on this occasion to be shy. The acoustics of the naturally formed amphitheatre are impressive. You don’t have to sing loud to get a good sound happening. Well, that depends on how well you can sing, and in my case, I got a good echo that hurt the eardrums. But it was fun all the same, and well, we just had to give it a go.

We stayed in the Cathedral until after sunset and then had to make tracks. By the time we reached the main track back, the lighting was so soft and beautiful, the whole place looked magical. I had to stop to admire it even though we were rushing to get back to the car before dark. I found another elephant rock on top of the Bungles near the car park, that the ranger didn’t even know about. We made it back to the car 8 hours after we ventured out, and a total of 12.6kms walked.

On Friday Elokin and Hendrix had to write their journals and we sat in camp watching all of the different birds fly around. The boys had haircuts and we all had a shower before leaving camp for our 1:30pm HELICOPTER FLIGHT! Our pilots name was Rick and he was absolutely fantastic. Elokin and Hendrix shared the rear left seat and opted for the door on, the rest of us had the doors off which was awesome. Nath had the front and I sat behind our pilot next to the kids. We went on the 30 minute ride and for Elokin and Hendrix’s first helicopter ride, it was insanely cool. They had so much fun they wanted to go again, or buy our own helicopter! It was a spectacular view over the Bungle Bungles and we got to see parts on the eastern side that there is no access to. We even found water in some natural spring pools. When we got back to camp, Elokin and Hendrix wrote their journals about their helicopter experience.

This evening we met Micki and Pete from Belmont near Newcastle, and also Jersey in France where they spend most of the year. They were lovely and we ended up having a fire with them.

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

Little freshwater croc sleeping on the log

Day 415 – Day 420: Mambi Island Boat Ramp – Ivanhoe Crossing

Tuesday, 22 – Sunday, 27 July 2014                                                                       34.6kms

During the next 5 days at Mambi Island, Hendrix and Elokin both caught their first Barramundi’s. Hendrix released his after his photo as it was just shy at 54cm, but Elokin’s was a keeper at 55cm. Nath also caught 2 more in one evening and both were 62cm. He just can’t seem to get bigger than the 63cm of the last trip.

The night of Nath’s 2 Barramundi was an interesting one. We had a visitor come into camp. Nath had left the 2 carcasses in the 9L bucket and decided to bury them in the morning as Jan had left one of his carcasses on the ground in his camp for 2 nights and nothing had happened to it. After putting the kids to bed, Nath and I fell asleep in our camp chairs next to the fire and woke up at 10pm to go climb into bed. At 1am, after much kicking, Nath finally woke me from my slumber to look out the window as he was shining the torch at something. Before my eyes had adjusted, I look to see and mutter “what is that, a cane toad on steroids?” as the colouring was right and I was only looking at the section directly under the light. I think Nath kicked me again at that point and I took another look. This time my eyes opened wide as I saw a 3m+ saltwater crocodile laying in camp with the 9l bucket in his big open mouth. He lay frozen, and it was actually quite comical, as we imagined him thinking, ‘did they notice me?’ or ‘if I lay really still they won’t see me’ with only his eyes moving back and forth. I attempted to take a photo with the phone, but the flash hit the flyscreen and whited out the pic. Bugger. So as I leant over Nath to grab the camera, the croc stood on his back legs, spun 900 in the air and ran full pelt head first into a tree, as he couldn’t see where he was going thru the bucket. Yes, it was still firmly in his mouth, his teeth were through the bucket. He was dazed momentarily, but recovered quickly to slink off back to the water. The bucket was gone.

In the morning we ventured down to the bank to see if any of the bucket remained. It didn’t. Not a trace. We could see the track where he had walked up the bank on his feet, dragging only the tip of his tail, to a place under a tree where he lay for quite a while to leave a perfect belly print on the damp mud. This is the scary part, how long had he been laying there? Was he on the bank watching us sleep in our camp chairs near the fire? It remains a mystery, and a reminder not to become complacent around crocodiles, as that bucket could easily have been one of us.

On Thursday we went croc spotting in the tinny. Elokin kept a tally, as that was the maths unit she had just learnt so we put it into practice. In just our section of river between rapids, she counted 16 freshies, 7 salties and 2 unidentified. On our way back to camp that evening in the dark, Nath wanted to catch some live mullet in the cast net. So I had to drive the boat. The outboard was playing up and revving too high, so every time I clunked it in to gear, it nearly threw a standing Nath out of the boat into the dark croc infested water. I also had to hold the torch for him to see the mullet and avoid crashing into the bank and snags, as that is where the mullet were. Drive in, go along the bank, Nath throws the net, clunk it in reverse, turn the outboard the wrong way and nearly run over the net, quickly put it in neutral to avoid damaging the net, keep the light where it has to be, correct the boat…. All in all, I had a shit of a time! Stressed out and in a fluster. And no, it wasn’t worth it!

That night Linda (Jan’s wife), Nath and Jan went out in their boat to use the liveys. Linda had something big run off with her bait but it bit her off. They didn’t catch anything else.

We caught more cane toads for the burning in the evenings that we were having a fire. One night we caught 3 massive ones. Hendrix pretended to eat one like Shrek!

Hendrix and the cane toad
Hendrix and the cane toad

On our last morning, we watched a stunning sunrise as there was clouds around. It almost looked like rain was on the way. We discovered that we had a flat battery when the car wouldn’t start to go do to retrieve the tinny at the boat ramp. Hendrix and Elokin played at Linda and Jan’s bus and had a ball. They got spoilt, as did we when we went to say goodbye. Linda gave us a jar of her homemade strawberry jam and a bag of her dried fruit and nuts to snack on in the car. That day Elokin finally felt brave enough to try feed one of the cows that had come into camp every day. She desperately wanted to touch one. The cow took the leaves from her and touched her hand. One of the other cows watching on decided it wanted the special attention too. But El was a bit frightened of it as it had horns, so she put the leaves on the ground for it to collect itself. That mustn’t have been good enough for it, because as the kids were walking down to Linda and Jan’s to say bye, the cow charged at her. Nath and I had gone to wash our hands at the water’s edge and were walking back up to hear a shrill from Elokin. She sounded absolutely terrified and came flying around the back of the camper and into our arms in tears. We then asked frantically where Hendrix was, when he too came screaming hysterically around the car. The cow was freaked too and ran off down the road. No-one was injured thankfully. But we learnt not to feed the cows from now on. After all the excitement we drove the 30 odd kms to the Ivanhoe Crossing for the night.

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

Nath touching the Zebra shark

Day 343: 9 Mile

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mother’s Day! Bacon and eggs were cooked for me for breakfast this morning, and I received the most beautiful driftwood mobile hand made by my family. We had a chat with Jen and Pete on the way to the boat and left shore around 11am.

Within a few hundred metres Hendrix stopped a Dugong cruising along. He was moving too quick to get in with so we left him to continue on his way. A couple hundred metres later and Nath spotted a big Tiger Shark and then not far after him I spotted a big turtle. So much life in such a small space.

We then crossed the channel and almost immediately saw an eagle ray. At first we thought it may have been a Manta, but upon closer inspection, we saw in was an eagle. Nath jumped in with it and struggled to keep up. Only when he rode the swell was he able to get close to it. When he got back in the boat we cast lures at it as he had seen a cobia swimming with it. Nath managed to hook a small cobia, but it wasn’t legal so it was returned. After that we found 3 bull rays swimming together close to the bottom. Nath got in with them and before he had even reached them, promptly turned around and headed back to the boat. I instantly asked what was wrong. This is stupid was the reply I got as he had 5 Cobia swim towards him and thought it better to throw a lure at them. So we both started casting. I hooked one, but the bugger got off. Nath had one follow the lure but not take it. That was the end of that.

We then headed over towards the coral of the reef. On the way we spotted on the surface a bright yellow shark. At first we thought a Leopard shark, but as it turns out, it was a Zebra shark. It swam down to the bottom, so we left it alone and continued to the reef.

We trolled over the coral for a while, but it got too shallow and we kept getting snagged. We decided it best to not lose a lure and headed for deeper water. We were on our way to a bombie that Darrell had given us co-ordinates for when we saw 2 Zebra sharks together on the surface. I GoPro’d them from the boat but it was a bit too choppy for me to keep it in the water. One was biting onto the tail of the other one, in what we believe to be a mating act. Nath figured they were pre-occupied, and given that we were only in about 2 metres of water, got in with them for a snorkel. After a bit, Hendrix decided he too wanted to get in with them. I was still dubious, and El was happy to stay with me in the boat. The next thing I know, Mr Touchy Feely had touched the tail of the rear one, followed by his side kick. At this point both boys had been in with the sharks for ages, and the sharks were still happily doing their thing on the bottom. I decided that I too wanted to get in and swim with them. Elokin willing followed me, not to be out-done by her Ma. Nath gave me the GoPro to capture him touch it again, as he was unsure if Hendrix had done a good enough job. After he did it, I said I wouldn’t touch it, but I would dive down and swim alongside them. Well, as soon as I dived down, I have no idea what possessed me, but I instantly touched its tail and then swim up them to get a good view. As I came up for a breath I looked back and saw that Elokin had followed me down and touched its tail too. Nath hadn’t realised she was doing it, so we thought he hadn’t caught it on video, so of course, we made her do it again! When we had all finished touching them, and incidentally they feel like sand paper, we hung back to watch them. At this point the female had either had enough or they had finished their mating act, but for whatever reason, she managed to slip out of his mouth and start to swim away. First she had to deal with the remorer that was suctioned onto her head so she hit the ground to grind him off. While this is going on, the male is still trying to find her again as he obviously wasn’t finished and wanted to suck/bite on her tail some more. She headed straight for us and circled away with him hot on her tail. By now we are huddled together with the kids in the middle of us trying to stay out of the way. In the confusion, and with their terrible eyesight, the male bumped into Nath’s leg and then chased my flippers thinking I was the female. My brain was telling me feet to stop flippering as I knew he was wanting to latch on, but my feet were replying with faster movements to shoo it away. This wasn’t working for me, so I added some vocals screaming: ARRRGHHHHH!!!!!! through my snorkel at it. This must have done the trick as it left me alone and started to head away. I grabbed Elokin’s arm and kicked with all my might to get us back to the boat, only to be stopped by the damn shark circling back around again. We huddled again and when it took off for the second time, before Nath could even say “back to the boat” I had already grabbed Elokin’s arm and was off again. We made our speedy exit into the boat. Nath and Hendrix had waited to make sure that it was gone for good and then followed us to the boat. Nath said afterwards that Zebra sharks have downward pointing mouths like the Tawny Nurse shark, so he would have a hard time taking a good bite out of us. So really I hadn’t needed to freak out like I had. I advised him that he could have told me that sooner and I probably wouldn’t have freaked as much as I did. All in all, it was great fun and a terrific story to tell. Even though we were only 20 or so metres away from the boat, this situation drives home how vulnerable we are in the water if something was to attempt to eat us, i.e. White pointer.

After our excitement, and we were all pumped, we made our way to the bombie. We cast on it, and although we could see the fish, nothing took a bite. We then called it a day, and headed home after 3pm to watch our movies. We then ate an early dinner and headed to Tonia and Darrell’s camp to share our movies and experience from today. While we were chatting and watching we discovered a rather interesting fact. It started with: Nath is a Leo. Tonia is a Leo….. I am a Scorpio. Darrell is also a Scorpio. No way, this is amazing….. Nath’s birthday is 8 August. Tonia’s birthday is 7 August! I then asked the question. “When is your birthday Darrell”. Out he comes with: Halloween. NO WAY!!!! I am All Saints Day. (For those that don’t know, Halloween is October 31 and All Saints is 1 November). So that means that Tonia and Darrell’s birthdays are both the day before Nath and mine! How freaky is that!!!!

We headed home after 8pm and I made pikelets as we were all hungry by then.

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

Manta Ray

Day 338: 9 Mile

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

We woke to the perfect morning and enjoyed the sunrise from bed with not a breath of wind. Today was going to be a good day. After breakfast and a bit of cleaning up, we headed out in the tinny. Yvonne and Phil had left a few minutes before us, so we motored over to them at the edge of the channel. They had found some bombies that we didn’t know were there. Phil said that they used to be in the deep water, but now we were looking at them on the edge. We saw some chopping up a bit further south so Phil trolled towards it and then came back to us. By then the chopping up had come towards us, so we both started casting. I had a popper on and I saw something really big come up and have a go. On the second go I realised what was chasing my popper, a huge grey shark! I quickly retrieved it so that I wouldn’t lose my popper. We saw a shovel nose shark on the bottom below the boat, but that wasn’t what had a go at my popper.

We left Phil and Yvonne then and headed south, across the channel and towards the outer reef. It was calm today that we could move fairly fast, although there was a swell pushing through. We headed down to what we thought would be the Manta Ray cleaning station and circled over it looking for Manta’s. Well, it didn’t take long and we knew we had located the right spot. We found two Manta Rays having a clean. I lowered the anchor down and the four of us put on the rest of our snorkelling gear and quietly entered the water. We swam back over to the spot where we had seen them from above and out of the distance appeared the two Manta’s with their mouths open and little fish cleaning them. It was so very cool! These huge majestic creatures glide so effortlessly and with such grace. We followed them for ages and a couple of times we didn’t have to move as they circled below us. Then they separated and we stuck with one. Nath swam down with the GoPro and it swam towards him so he could see its face close up. It was unreal. I dived down to one and swam along with it for a while so I could see it close up and really get a feel for just how big they are. On average they were probably 5 – 8 metres below us. We then headed back to the boat to try to find more, but the spotter plane flew over the top of us and we looked towards Coral Bay and could see 2 Manta Tour boats on approach. We decided to have a quick look while they were on their way, but when they got close, we moved away to let the paying customers have their time alone.

We were very surprised how quickly one of the tours left. When the other tour left a while after them, we headed back to the cleaning station. It didn’t take us long again to find another Manta Ray by itself. As I lowered the anchor down, I hit the side of the boat with the chain and it made a loud noise. This brought the Manta up almost to the surface. Nath was the first in and I handed him to GoPro and said that we would catch up. It stayed near the surface and he had a fantastic interaction with it. He really pushed himself to make a great video, but when he came to the surface and the Manta went down, he realised that it had stopped recording as it tends to do. Highly frustrating I might add. Well, Nath was more than frustrated, let’s put it that way! By now Elokin, Hendrix and I were ready so we headed over to Nath and the Manta. It was now a long way down, but we swam above it and followed it around. It took us a fair way from the boat too. Eventually we decided to leave it alone and headed back to the tinny, looking for more Manta’s as we went. There was no more to be found, but we felt very happy with what we had already experienced.

Once back on board, we headed north and found a dugong. He was cruising along and we noticed that he had fish under him. We cast poppers near it but caught nothing. We then drifted over a broken weedy section and I caught a 45cm Spango on a popper. We decided to keep it as we were out of fish. We continued to drift and I could see the fish come up to attach my popper. It was really cool. I cast again and didn’t even get to pop it as a huge fish had smashed it. I hauled it in and found myself looking at a 60cm Spangled Emperor. Oh Yeah! How stoked was I. This fish put up a good fight but it was no match for me and my Daiwa. We let the 45cm one go and kept this big beauty as we could get more feeds out of him and still only take one fish home. After the successful release of the smaller fish, I cast again and hooked another Spango. This one was smaller than the previous 2 fish and was released. On another cast I again hooked a Spango, this one was another good size at 55cm and put up another good fight, but we released him as well as we already had our fish for the day. I then thought I would go for something a bit different and threw out a squid jig. After a while I managed to catch one squid, so we kept him as well. Nath was fishing for a spango now and hooked one that took him under a bombie. We thought he was going to lose the lot, but after some careful manoeuvring of the boat his lure was released and floated to the surface. We have no idea where the fish went, but he got off either way. After that he hooked something big but it busted him off pretty quickly. Elokin and Hendrix were paddling around the boat in the water having fun, while we were fishing. We did keep an eye out for sharks.

We arrived back at camp at 5 minutes to 4pm. Phil and Yvonne had seen a (Mako they think) Shark launch out of the water after we left them this morning. They had then promptly left that spot. The had a good day of fishing, catching a 90cm Spanish mackerel, a big Cobia, a big Spangled Emperor and 11 squid. What a great day!

Tonight Nath cut Hendrix’s hair as it was getting too long and scruffy, then he cut mine as it needed it. We sat out under the stars after the kids were in bed. Does it get any better than this!

 

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

Sleeping female turtle

Observing the Turtles of Ningaloo Reef

Another iconic moment in our family adventure was witnessing the breeding cycle of the turtles around the Ningaloo reef area.

During our daily beach walks and sunsets at the beach we were greeted with visions of double decker turtles. Most days you could not walk to the beach and not see at least 1 mating couple bobbing around the lagoon or washed up on shore awaiting the end of the mating game. These guys are usually glazed over and in a different state of mind caring not at all about us passing humans. Early afternoon we would find 6 or so female turtles sleeping up on Trisel beach to find reprieve from the male turtles eager to mate as soon as possible.

Purchase turtle image
Purchase turtle image

 

The ugly side to the mating season finds female turtles being drowned by eager males fighting over her and pushing her down unable to surface for a breath of air; inevitably we find the odd turtle dead on the beach. For the males again it is not all a night out with the ladies, in their struggle to mate with as many females as possible they bite at each other’s genitals leaving some tender and swollen bits which make for a sorry site and can make a grown man cringe.

In the following weeks the turtle tracks begin to be left on the beach and we plan a night on the beach to view the egg laying take place. The kids are prepped in their warm cloths and excited with the possibility of an up close and personal experience with the big turtles we visit at the beach nearly every day as the sun goes down.

The cameras are all set even though we can’t use the flash we hope to get one photograph to keep from our turtle encounter as a reminder. With no illusion that this will not be a fast paced action packed process due to the involvement of a turtle, I have packed the fishing gear to kill time waiting for the rounded ladies to put in an appearance and mosey up the beach.

We all jump in the car and motor down, as always it is a bit of a rush to get everyone ready and in the car to make sunset from the sand dunes. After much jumping, running back and forth and a hasty drive to the beach all four of us make it to see the sunset over the magnificent Indian Ocean, Romandar and I enjoy a beer as the sun melts away.

The kids play making sand castles and drawing pictures in the sand while I put the trusty fishing rod out to land the big one. Romandar kicks back and admires the stars for a while then notice one large turtle making its way up the star lit beach; we unanimously decide to sit tight while she makes her way up from the water. As we sit another turtle pops out of the small shore breaker waves not more than 5 meters in front of us. Romandar and I look at each other with the face expression that say it all “WHAT THE??” WACK! The silent serenity is broken by a shark fleeing with my hook and line, the drag is wising off and the rod is buckling over, not sure what the turtle thought was going on but she didn’t stick around to find out and faded back into the ocean as quick as she arrived. Moments after the shark bit my tackle off, I re rigged the line and we gathered up our gear and move a bit closer to the turtle Romandar spotted moving up the beach so we can keep tabs on the laying process.

Elokin and I crawled up to check its progress to see it was still digging and moved back to the group waiting well back from the nesting area. Another 20 odd minutes passed and we moved in closer again. I crawled right up behind her to check if she was laying as the sand had stopped flying out of the hole. The turtle was in the last stages of digging the cavern to lay her eggs. Again I crawled back and as a family we got ready to crawl up behind very quietly to see the eggs being laid. Hendrix was pretty much asleep by this time so he rode on my back like a cowboy after a bad day with a group of Indians, flopped over with no movement.

The time was upon us, Elokin was delighted to be this close seeing the big green lady dropping eggs into the hole. Hendrix awoke for long enough to see what was going on but struggled to find his enthusiasm threw his bleary half shut eyes and went back to sleeping. Of cause the two big kids Romandar and I had been in awe of the events taking place and again we are left saying does it get any better than this…….

We had plenty of time to observe as they lay approximately 120 eggs at a time. She finished laying the eggs and set to covering the hole, firstly using her back flippers to cover the cavern up and following up by flinging sand backward as she moved forward to conceal the entire hole that she had dug.

By the end I think we all looked similar to Hendrix, we called it a night and headed for home.

In the weeks to follow on our morning walks we found a distraught turtle after enduring the exhausting effort of digging and laying her eggs she found herself stuck in a rock hole only inch’s bigger than herself and unable to get out. All four of us took positions to assist the lass out of the rock confine. My god turtles are heavy; you really don’t want to have your fingers stuck between a struggling turtle and the rocks. After a few heave hoe’s we had her out on the flat rocks and headed for the ocean and looking like she was no worse off for the trouble.

Now for the final finale the cute wee little baby ones….. We had numerous attempts at finding these little guys, waiting nights and mornings on the beach, walking back and forth across many a beach. We even GPS marked the holes we had seen turtles laying in and returned approximately 60 days after the event hoping to see them coming out. At the end of the day it all comes down to pot luck, however, one trick we found very effective is to find a baby turtle track and follow these back to the nest, if luck is on your side little black and white speedy turtles will be emerging from the sand. As it turns out luck is on our side and the nose of a turtles pops out followed by its head and front flippers, in a blink of an eye it is out and off making its way to the lowest horizon, the ocean. Squeal’s of delight fill the air from the kids and Romandar and we find the small hole erupting with baby turtles clambering over one another, some heading the wrong way, fortunately for them the kids are quick to assist and block the path to point them in the right direction to avoid the ghastly ending for a little guy that goes into the dunes to the East.

Down the beach the hoard runs to quickly enter the water, some wash back in with the shore breakers and others find more sheltered entry points making a swift entry. The black tipped and white tipped shark fins become very apparent to us onlookers but I’m sure the baby turtles are taken by surprise when faced by their swift ending. It is not hard to see during this process why the odds for a turtles survival are only 1 in 1000 make it to adult hood, between the crabs, sea birds, fish, sharks, fox’s, goannas and whatever else stands in their way during their life cycle.

Even the kids notice the sharks and as always we give them the hard truth about the food chain, lucky our kids know and understand where our food comes from and are quick to understand everything else needs to eat as well and get on with enjoying the cute little turtles running down the beach ensuring they do what they can to aid them to reach the water without interfering with the natural process. When they are all in the water and all the action has subsided we head off hearing each other’s encounters and humorous retakes of the baby turtle interaction.

What an amazing place……..