Blog 189 Denham and the dolphins 2nd – 4th November 2011


From the Overlander roadhouse we headed off on another detour. Our destination Shark bay world heritage area, there was lots to do including a chance to feed wild dolphins.

Our first stop was shell beach an amazing pure white beach so bright you had to wear sunglasses to stop the reflection from dazzling you. Even more astounding was that it was created not from sand but from hundreds of millions of tiny shells of Cardiid or Hamelin cockles. They were so deep and hard packed around this area that they were quarried and used as shell brick walls for the buildings in town many of which were still standing, some of the shell deposits are thought to be up to 4000 years old.

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We had enquired at the i site about Monkey Mia and were told we needed to be there around 7.30am so the rest of the day was ours. Camping in Denham was slightly cheaper than the little resort of Monkey Mia, so we caught up on the usual washing, blogs, emails etc and had a chance for a swim in their large pool.

It meant an early start next morning and in his half asleep state Kev made coffee with the bore water instead of the fresh, being so close to the sea it was very saline, we soon realised as we spat out the foul tasting coffee. A fresh cup tasted much better and once the tent was down and packed we headed off arriving at Monkey Mia at 7.45am.    

We had to rapidly change into our shorts then joined the crowds that had formed on the beach. There was a new addition Piper a week old dolphin that had been coming in with its mum. We quickly learnt that only five females are fed and that the fish given are just the equivalent of a snack, they have strict rules to ensure the dolphins remain wild and don’t become dependant on humans. Feeding has been happening here since the 1960′s and mistakes were made in the past but it is strictly supervised by the department of conservation now and has been an amazing resource for research.  Part of this new control means that with the new born dolphin no one is allowed in the water except the chosen feeders. We were not initially chosen but a storm blew in and most people left as the dolphins sensibly went back out to the deep sea. After a couple of hours they toyed with us almost coming in to the beach then heading back out again, it made us aware that they play this game on their terms and were probably laughing at the silly humans hiding from the rain.

Our determination paid off eventually the weather improved and as there were only a dozen of us left, we all got a chance to wade in the water and hand feed a fish to these magestic creatures. It took the experience to a whole new level and was one we will never forget.

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We both had a huge grin on our faces as we left the resort. An Emu walked out of the bush and crossed the road right in front of us as we rode out. They are a huge bird and you would not want to hit one on a bike. We also stopped to take some pictures of the views on the way back.

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Further on we saw Lemon sharks and rays swimming in the clear shallow waters of Eagle Bluff, we were hundreds of feet above them and they were still clearly visible so they must have been fairly big. Lemon sharks are fairly harmless but there are loads of Tiger sharks here too which definitely aren’t. This area is also known for its huge expanses of sea grass which provide food for Dugongs (sea cows) these shy creatures look a bit like a sealion but are actually more closely related to an elephant  believe it or not. Shark bay is home to 10 percent of the worlds population of Dugongs which are considered vulnerable to extinction on a global scale. Oh and a lot of sharks.

The last picture is rain off in the distance.

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It was beautiful spot so we had lunch there before we carried on to Hamelin Pool famous for its Stromatlites. Access was through the Hamelin telegraph station caravan park, the telegraph station was built in 1884 on the Perth to Roebourne line. 

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T

he Stromatalites that live in the highly saline waters here are similar to the earliest forms of life dating back to 3000 million years ago. Scientists have gained a better understanding of the evolution of life on earth by studying them. They might look like lumps of rock but they are actually composed of cyanobacteria (blue green algae). Close to shore they form spongy flat deposits, in deeper water they form into rocky towers. They were on the earth in vast numbers for 2 billion years and are thought to be responsible for raising the oxygen level to 20 percent which allowed all other life to evolve (depending on your beliefs of course).          You can see the bubbles of oxygen in the water in one of the pictures. There was a photogenic boardwalk so we could see the different species that are here without damaging their fragile existence. We could even make out the cart track impressions made 60 years ago when they last loaded the boats with wool, using carts pulled by camels.  Nowadays stromatalites are extremely rare as ordinarily predators destroy them but here at Hamelin pool the huge areas of seagrass have modified the geology and biology of the bay. Growth of seagrass and accumulation of sediment have formed the faure sill a bank which restricts the tidal flow. This restriction combined with evaporation has caused the bay to become hypersaline, literally  twice as salty as the surrounding ocean. Predators of the blue green algae and cockle cannot survive in this hypersaline water allowing the Hamelin cockles and the Stromatalites to thrive.

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On the way back we explored the shell quarry, they still extract the shell blocks there to repair the heritage buildings in town. The shells form a rock called Coquina due to pressure and calcium carbonate washed out of them by rainwater which resolidifies and glues them together. Wood is scarce here and it was a valuable building source years ago. Blocks were cut using cross cut saws.

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Just before sundown a huge storm that we had been dodging all day dumped its load on the homestead and caravan park. Like most places in Australia when it rains it floods and the tent was quickly surrounded by a lake of water. Initially we sprinted for the nearest cover under one of the shelters but after a while it began to drip throught the roof which is why I’m is hiding under the table (still getting wet). We were the only campers there so the owners let us bunk down in the old camel shed now a camp kitchen. It was good to be able to cook under cover and Kev was woken in the night by the rain coming down in torrents so we felt justified by our choice of moving indoors.

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The rain eased just before sunset and the clouds made a spectacular backdrop so we went back down to the boardwalk to get some more pictures.

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Next morning we would have liked to have a look around the telegraph museum but we needed a few more people to make it worthwhile shutting the cafe and opening up and everyone else seemed to be a hurry.  There were lots of other interesting things lying about like the old truck and the remains of the spiniflex house. These were used as cool rooms back in the old days, they had to be kept damp and cooled by evaporation. Trish the campsite manager was lovely and we got chatting to her so we didn’t leave until 2.30pm. We never did find out why the telegraph engineer on the poster was up the pole butt naked, ho hum next time.

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We knew we had a easy run to the next free camp only an hour and half away so we weren’t concerned by our late departure hour, it was the last stop before Kalbarri National park our next destination. A new bridge had been built and the old route over the river was now a dead end, perfect for a free camp. The ground was so hard however and we had to go right around the camping area banging a trial peg in before we found a soft enough spot. Kev was also able to light a fire in the fire pit and although it wasn’t cold it kept the flies at bay and we used it to cook our meal that night.

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Next up Kalbarri national park



 

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