Exmouth to Broome: Alive & Climbing

One of the best parts of my trip so far has no doubt been the 4-day Aussie Wanderer tour from Exmouth to Broome. Or to be more specific: the stunning gorges of Karijini National Park. Even though it’s over 600 kilometres inland from the coast of Exmouth, I can promise you the full-day drive is totally worth it. That is, if you don’t mind conquering the hot plains above to descend into a much cooler place, surrounded by steep rock walls, climbing and swimming to get from one side to the other, to suddenly be rewarded with a beautifully clear pool.
The 4 musketeers: Hancock, Weano, Joffre and Dales
You can admire a number of gorges at Karijini, but our first day at the national park started with a hike down Hancock Gorge, to be followed by the equally impressive Weano Gorge. A picture is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately I couldn’t bring my camera since we had to swim our way through the gorge. Luckily some of us had waterproof equipment, so I’m gratefully sharing some of their shots.
So what made me feel so alive while being down at these gorges? Was it the thrill of climbing along slippery rocks, having to be careful where to place our feet and hands, not grabbing any snakes or spiders along the way? Or was it the refreshing water which cooled down our very overheated bodies? Whatever it was, the brochure’s description of a class 5 trail (which we survived 3 of) wasn’t very encouraging: “Expect to encounter natural hazards including large boulders; pools of water; slippery, wet rocks; and narrow, high ledges.”
Our third track, Joffre Gorge, definitely met its class 5 expectations of “steep sections with vertical drops”. Luckily, we had our very own knight in shining armour (or self-appointed “boyfriend material”), our guide Damien aka Damo, who kindly told us where we could safely place our feet. This was especially useful at spots where we couldn’t really see where we were going since the descend was too steep.
At our second day at Karijini, we got rewarded for our first day’s dangerous efforts by the friendly Dales Gorge. The steps of this welcoming class 4 trail brought us all the way down to Fern Pool, where we enjoyed our last refreshing dip before spending the rest of the day in our van heading to Port Hedland.
Spider Walk and Handrail Pool
One thing I know, is that the Spider Walk in Hancock Gorge and the Handrail Pool in Weano Gorge made me appreciate the peaceful pools at the end of the climbs even more. Don’t worry, the Spider Walk didn’t mean we had to fight our way through a nest of Harry Potter Aragogs. The name only suggested how to climb down the gorge, with your arms and legs pushing against the rock walls (- see top left picture of the first collage).
Handrail Pool, however, did mean we had to overcome our fear of turning a steep corner while holding on to a handrail. Slipping and letting go of the rail would result into falling quite a few metres down a steep wall and crashing onto the rocks. If you’d survive this fall at all, you’d definitely have a couple of broken bones. On top of that, you’d have to wait several hours for a helicopter to come and rescue you. Fortunately, we all had our happy ending by making it back alive.
Glamping versus swagging
Being a backpacker, you try not to get your hopes up as far as accommodation is concerned. Squeaky beds, dark and smelly rooms; hostels are not the right fit for everyone. That said, sleeping at Karijini Eco Retreat was a whole different level of backpacking. Our dorm tents did have the usual bunkbeds, but the warm northern temperatures made it possible to create see-through walls. In other words: I could see the sunrise from my bunkbed!
I wouldn’t call it glamping in the traditional sense though, since it normally doesn’t include frogs in the toilet and shower, and snakes and spiders at night. As soon as the sun set, we had to wear proper shoes and carry around a torch, in case those little critters decided to cross the road at the same time as us. My tour mate Ali and I actually ran into 2 snakes and a reasonably sized spider on our very short walk from reception to the camp site.
You might wonder why we would risk our lives by taking a nightly stroll. The answer is, we signed up for a yoga class which would take place at 6.20 the next morning. For me, this was the first time I ever joined an official yoga session (- not taking into account my fruitless efforts on the Wii Fit Plus balance board), but I have to say I couldn’t have picked a better spot. Looking at the beautiful fields of Karijini made it a peaceful experience despite our bodies being bend into impossible ways. Even though the scenery won’t be as nice, I might look for a beginner’s yoga class when I’m back in Haarlem. 🙂
Having spent 2 nights in the luxurious Eco Retreat, switching to sleeping-bag-type-swags was a bit of an adjustment. On top of that, we had to wake up at 5, which made it a very short night, but somehow falling asleep looking at the stars always eases the pain.
Broome: sunsets and camels
After 4 unforgettable days and a lot of driving, we finally arrived in Broome. Hot and humid are the best words to describe this town up north. The aircon in my dorm at Beaches of Broome was a bless, even though it meant having to get used to the extreme temperatures every time I left the room.
Still, we conquered the heat to watch some crocs eating chicken at Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, and I even rented a bike one day. To be honest, cycling felt way better than walking, and it was much cheaper than using Broome’s pricy taxis. An upside to the warm temperature was that the weather was perfect to go to the world’s oldest operating picture gardens. In the Netherlands, you have to be lucky it is not raining, but in Broome, Ali and I could safely watch Bridget Jones’s Baby outdoors.
The best thing about this town were the sunsets. I went to Cable Beach almost every night to see the sun drop into the ocean. The colour of the sky before and after, it was simply magnificent. What made it even more special, were the camels passing by, their shadows reflecting on the wet sand…
So, next time you’re looking for a holiday destination, I hope you’ll consider Western Australia. I know for sure I won’t be forgetting Karijini National Park, Hellfire Bay, Rottnest Island, or any of the other places I visited anytime soon.

Perth to Exmouth: from water world to Aussie salute

Although I’ve bombarded you with quite a few pictures over the last month, it’s already been a while since my last post. So much has happened since I left Perth; I hardly know where to start.

In the last 5 weeks alone, I’ve joined 4 very different but all so worth it guided tours (Perth to Exmouth, Exmouth to Broome, Alice Springs to Adelaide, and Kangaroo Island), so I’ll tell you a little bit about all of them in the next few days.

Perth to Exmouth: 1,800+ km in 5 days

During my trip to Esperance, I already got a first glimpse of the beautiful things the west coast has to offer. How diverse the scenery is, hit me even more when I travelled up to Exmouth (and later Broome) with Aussie Wanderer. Our 6 all-girls tour group – love you, ladies! – hardly left Perth when the temperature started rising and we felt the famous Western Australian heat.

First stop were The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park, a yellow desert full of odd limestone formations. For me, even more impressive was our destination at the end of the day: Kalbarri National Park with its massive red and white gorge, and well-known Nature’s Window. (I even went abseiling from a 25-meter-high rock wall the next day!)

Since I returned to Australia, I realise how much I love morning hikes. Getting up earlier than I would normally prefer, these walks are a perfect way to grasp nature waking up. Call me sentimental, but there’s just something about the first rays of sunlight touching the earth. Some newlyweds must have thought the same thing because they were doing a photoshoot, all dressed up in their wedding outfits, overlooking Kalbarri’s gorge. Either that, or they were just two models working on a fashion shoot. 🙂

Water sport heaven

The main attractions of trips up to Exmouth, however, are Indian Ocean related. If snorkelling or diving are your thing, it’s not only the Great Barrier Reef on the east coast that can please you; the west coast has just as many beautiful fish and coral. Add some whale watching, swimming with manta rays or whale sharks, and of course the wild dolphin experience at Monkey Mia, and every water sports addict will be drooling.

Unfortunately, nature will always be unpredictable so both our trips to swim with manta rays in Coral Bay and spot whales in Exmouth were cancelled due to risky winds at sea. Luckily, I stayed in Exmouth a few more days before moving on to Broome, which meant I could do the whale watching tour on another day. I felt really sorry for the other girls who had been looking forward to these water excursions so much because they were returning to Perth the next day.

Whale watching on a big catamaran was a great experience. A bit scared if I would conquer my seasickness after taking only one travel sickness pill, I sailed off into a very friendly sea together with two Germans, two Dutch grey nomads and the Aussie captain. At first, it seemed we wouldn’t see that many whales, but the closer we got to sunset, the more whales kept popping up. Some were really close, others further away, never to be spotted again after their first sighting.

The highlight of the afternoon was a whale mum who decided she needed some rest on her travels down south. While she was sleeping, she stayed above the water the entire time and her calf kept swimming around her; she obviously didn’t think we were a threat. On our way back to shore, they were still there. Magnificent creatures!

Snorkelling for dummies

To be honest, I’m not much of a snorkeler. The last time I voluntarily put my head underwater with a snorkel in my mouth must have been at the Whitsundays during my Australia holiday 7 years ago. It just doesn’t feel natural. The whole breathing through your mouth, eyes open, and not having to squeeze your nose to prevent water from coming in… I’m not a fan.

So the first time we rented snorkels at Coral Bay and water kept coming into my mouth every 5 seconds, I thought it was me. That I somehow didn’t hold my head in the right position or I was biting on my snorkel too firmly which might have created little holes in it or something. While the other girls swam further into the ocean to look at some nice coral, some sweet green fish with yellow tails and blue fins kept me company by swimming around my legs in the less deep water. I slowly got used to the wonderful world of snorkelling, albeit I had to continuously empty my snorkel.

How much more fun was my experience the day after, while snorkelling at the heavenly blue Turquoise Bay! Without getting water into my snorkel, I finally understood what everyone was so enthusiastic about. Though I still didn’t swim too far from the coast, it was truly a great adventure to see all the different fish and coral. (And I’m sort of glad I didn’t see the small shark the others bumped into while snorkelling further away.)

Aussie salute

One of the things I don’t recall from my trip to Oz in 2009, is the number of flies. I’m not sure if there just weren’t that many of them that year, or if I blocked them from my memory, but they are definitely here now. You might think Aussies just like to wave at you (which is actually also true – drivers still make friendly hand gestures while passing each other on the highway), but this is in fact the so-called ‘Aussie salute’.

You know when flies are trying to sit on your eye balls, lips, nose, ears, etc. and you wave your hand in front of your face to scare them off? That’s it. If you visit Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory, you better start practising. Or buy a fly net, it’s up to you. Although they did annoy me from time to time, I must say the flies didn’t influence my feelings for this country too much. Even without a fly net, I was able to breathe in and appreciate the beauty around me (…while shallowing 1 or 2 flies along the way).

In a nutshell…

A trip from Perth to Exmouth means hotness, dusty red earth, green bushes, hundreds of flies, but above all: stunning white beaches and a magical world right there to admire in the clear blue ocean. Or as my lovely tour mate Becca would say: lots of peak happiness!