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!

Rottnest Island: bike heaven covered in banana peel

It’s almost been 3 weeks since I visited Rottnest (known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people), but the island made a long-lasting impression on me. This beauty is located only 18 kilometres west of Fremantle (which is a short train ride from Perth), but for someone who gets seasick easily, it’s always exciting to see if I can make it to the other shore without throwing up. Luckily I took some travel sickness pills with me and on the way to Rotto, a couple of whales even came by to say hello and distract me from the waves.
You’ve got this!
Once you set foot on the island, the rolling ocean has been forgiven and forgotten. The friendly Rottnest Express lady hands you your bike and helmet, and off you go. The biggest challenge I had to face was not cycling itself but remembering I had to ride on the wrong (left) side. Though the roads were so quiet, most of the time I could just stay in the middle.
Because that’s the great thing about Rottnest: there are hardly any cars! Occasionally, you see the bus service or an island ranger passing by, but that’s it; you are the king/queen of the road! Being a Dutchie, it’s not difficult to imagine how amazing I felt cruising those hills. The sky was slowly turning blue and the ocean was even bluer. But just in case you didn’t feel very confident yet after those first kilometres, someone left you some encouraging words on the road: you’ve got this!

Attack of the Quokkas
Obviously there is one thing Rottnest is famous for: their quokkas. Rotto actually has to thank some Dutch guys for its name, because they were under the impression the island was inhabited by giant rats (rott – nest). They didn’t know these cat sized animals were actually the always smiling quokkas. Two things I learned from my day among these cute creatures is that they are not afraid of people (on the contrary: they like to climb on humans and bikes), and it’s impossible to eat a banana while they are around.
Basically, the moment the quokkas had me in their vision, they decided it was a good idea to check out what I was carrying in my bag by sticking their heads inside it. My banana also had their immediate attention, meaning they were jumping against my legs and climbing me to get closer. Since quokka selfies are a big thing at the moment, I couldn’t resist to give it a try, especially since it was obvious they weren’t camera shy. The result: a lot of close-ups of quokka claws and noses, and my camera covered in banana peel. But hey, how could I not forgive them?

Private beach
Luckily Rottnest is also the perfect place to recover from all this quokka violence. Just keep cycling until you find a private beach and enjoy the peace and quiet. Just be careful not to swim too far from the shore since shark attacks are not uncommon.
I have to say I wasn’t sure if I should go to Rottnest Island since the ferry plus bike hire was fairly expensive (about $100) and the weather predictions were not that great, but I am sooo glad I decided to do it! Rottnest has definitely won my heart and if I ever return to Perth, bike heaven is right there at the top of my list. One of the best days I’ve had since I arrived in Australia, even despite my sunburned bike hands. ^^


Secrets of Esperance: wild flowers, chicken roulade and the bluest of blues

When was the last time you fell asleep listening to the ocean?

When was the last time you fell asleep listening to the ocean while wearing a capri under your long joggers, combined with a tank top, T-shirt, Provisionerd hoodie, vest, socks and hat? Inside a sleeping bag, inside a swag? ^^

If the answer is never, you still have about 6 days to quit your job and book a plane ticket to Australia, because sleeping in a swag under the stars is something you should experience at least once in your life.

Admittedly, it was a tiny bit cold, but who cares when you can wear the entire contents of your backpack? The award at the end of your suffering is a sky so full of stars, you want to switch careers to become an astronaut. Or a chicken roulade. One of those two.

Highlights of the Southwest

It’s already been 2.5 weeks since I started exploring the southwest coast of Australia, but it was so worth it that I have to tell you a bit more about it. Obviously, I don’t want to bore you with endless chitchat, so here are a couple of highlights you should definitely try to see if you ever decide to visit this region:

  • Wild flower season is totally worth adjusting your trip dates for
  • 360-degree view from Frenchman Peak in Cape Le Grand NP
  • Walking/climbing from Thistle Cove to Hellfire Bay – “it’s just an easy coastal walk”, “the worst is behind us”, “I’m sure we’re halfway there”
  • Kangaroos on the beach at Lucky Bay
  • Massive trees at Valley of the Giants
  • Crossing a fairy-tale forest on your way to the Granite Skywalk of Porongurup NP
  • Climbing the super scary former firemen’s Diamond Tree Lookout
  • Crazy blue ocean colours at Frenchman Bay, Greens Pool and many, many more beaches and bays
  • Oh yeah, and free chocolate at the Margaret River Chocolate Co.

Tour guide wisdom

Funnily enough, trips like this also teach you a bit more about the other gender. Firstly, surf dudes are not as tough as you’d think. I can safely say this because we didn’t see a single surf dude during those 6 days we were cruising the region. Apparently, their excuse was that the wind wasn’t right. Pfft.

Secondly, guided tours are mostly booked by girls. Somehow guys prefer to just buy a car and drive around themselves so they can enjoy their freedom. Which is fair enough, but it fascinates me, because I’ve always loved guided tours. In addition to being driven across the country while either enjoying the view or catching up on some sleep, you’re also bombarded with random facts and stories. About Australia’s complicated history with the Aboriginals and Europeans, the Rabbit Proof Fence (which we passed), salt lake beds, special plants and trees, naming conventions, scary shark stories; basically, anything you can think of.

That’s how I got my hands on some very crucial information about punching a shark in the face if it attacks you. Since that’s what saved one of our guides’ friends when he was bitten in the butt.

Another random fact is that Australia’s (unofficially recognised) national animal and national bird are the red kangaroo and the emu. The romanticised story is that neither of these animals can move backward, only forward; a symbol for progress. Unfortunately, I googled it and it turns out they can actually move backward as well, although only infrequently.

I also learned that “up” at the end of all those names for villages, national parks, flowers etc. (like Porongurup) actually means “place of” in Aboriginal language. Place of many trees, children, summer flies or wild turkeys. I’m not kidding, apparently “Mullalyup” means “place where the young men had their noses pierced”. 😀

Let’s leave it at that.

The Perks of Perth

It’s only been a few days, but Perth has already treated me to a bunch of firsts: the first kookaburra of my trip (spotted ‘in the wild’), the first heavy showers (followed by more heavy showers), and the first Germans (wouldn’t be able to live without them! ;)).

Bunkbed buddies
After two smooth 6.5 and 10.5-hour flights (transferring in Abu Dhabi), I arrived at my hostel in Perth on Wednesday afternoon. As an introvert, a hostel is the perfect place to step out of my comfort zone. All those strangers invading my personal space, sharing the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; it’s something that needs some getting used to. Luckily everyone here is really laid back, and since it’s a pretty small hostel, it feels a bit like a student house. (Not that I ever lived in one since I very happily avoided that way of living while I was at university.)

Only three days in, I already have a special place in my heart for my 23-year-old Italian bunkbed buddy. Every time we’re trying to have a conversation in English, he’s looking at me with these big, scared Bambi eyes. It didn’t take long before we started using our hands, feet and Google Images to make sure we were actually talking about the same topic.

The biggest group of Europeans here, however, are ‘ze Germans’. I’m not sure yet if they were arranged by my dear ex-colleagues so I wouldn’t miss them too much, but if so, I appreciate the effort. Add a couple of Dutchies and a handful of French(wo)men, and you get a nice mixture of roommates.

Kings Park and Botanic Garden
So what have I seen so far? On Thursday, I had a stroll to the harbour which ended a bit sooner than expected since I didn’t even reach the bridge before it started pouring with rain. Even for someone who lives in the Netherlands, these were some impressive showers! After enjoying the view for about twenty minutes, it still didn’t get much better, so I went back to the shopping area by racing from one shed to the other.

I even considered going back to the hostel but in the end, I was really glad I didn’t, because by the time I reached Kings Park and Botanic Garden, the sun came out and the sky turned blue. The rest of the afternoon I spent walking around this beautiful park with over 3,000 species of flora. The sweet scent of some of the trees and flowers just woke up my holiday senses. Another plus is that Kings Park is located on a hill, which results in a great view of Perth’s skyline.

Freo Friday
On Friday, I hopped on a train to Fremantle, a smaller city with a hippy feeling, about 30 minutes from Perth. It was almost a shame that I don’t drink coffee because they even have a Cappuccino Strip to try some world famous black gold. Or so they say. ;)More interesting to me was Fremantle Markets, a typical indoor bazaar with little shops that sell mostly food and souvenirs. The Aboriginal relics reminded me of Hugh Grant walking down Portobello market in Notting Hill: “Thousands of people buy millions of antiques; some genuine… and some not so genuine”.

Secrets of Esperance
After a few days without having to set an alarm, I’m actually excited to say I’ll be picked up at a hostel down the road at 7 am tomorrow morning. My first 6-day guided tour from Lost in Australia is starting, and I’m thrilled to finally see some natural wonders of Western Australia. I’m especially looking forward to visiting the Valley of the Giants where we’ll be admiring some massive trees (and probably enjoy some tree hugging). Other highlights will be the white beaches of Esperance (including the odd sunbathing kangaroo), Wave Rock and last but not least: sleeping in swags under the stars.

Lost in Australia - Secrets of Esperance

Route Prepping

Part of the fun of travelling for 2.5 months is having the luxury of not planning everything in detail. If your holiday only lasts a week or two, you have no time to lose, so deciding where to go when is the smart thing to do. On the other hand, if time is on your side, there’s always the risk of “wasting” it. I decided my happy medium would be to prepare my route to a certain extent. Especially since I want to combine the west coast (where I haven’t been yet) with some highlights from the centre AND east where I’ve already been back in 2009.

The result? A route that covers all aspects of Australia’s beauty: white beaches, red outback, ancient forests, and cute wildlife. Not bad, I’d say. 😀 I haven’t booked any hostels yet, except for the first few nights in Perth, so I’m flexible in that respect. But I did book a bunch of tours already, mostly because some of them only leave once a week, and well… I’m Dutch and this way I could get a discount. 😉
Getting curious? Just take a closer look at the Google map below or read my itinerary:
> Perth
> Esperance (6-day tour via Wave Rock, Valley of the Giants and more)
> Perth
> Rottnest Island
> Perth
> Exmouth (5-day tour via the Pinnacles, Kalbarri NP and Coral Bay)
> Broome (4-day tour via Karijini NP)
> Alice Springs (flying via Perth)
> Uluru, King’s Canyon & Coober Pedy (6-day tour through the red centre)
> Adelaide
> Kangaroo Island (2-day tour)
> Adelaide
> Great Ocean Road (3-day tour)
> Melbourne
> Philip Island
> Melbourne
> flying to Tasmania (6-day tour)
> flying to Sydney
> flying to Brisbane
> Fraser Island (5-day tour including 2 days there and back by bus)
> Brisbane
> flying back home with a few hours of leg-stretching in Abu Dhabi!

Onwards and Downwards

Once upon a time… I was dreaming of going back to Australia.
Now my flight is booked and my last day at ReachLocal is getting closer. For almost 5 years, this silly office in Amsterdam Zuid was my second home. The place I spent most of my waking hours, a job where I grew up, laughed and cried, but most of all: where I had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderful people. Sticking around longer than the average soul didn’t only mean I got to know most of the mood swings of our platforms, it also meant I had to say goodbye a lot more often than I would have liked. Sometimes people spread their wings to expand their horizon, other times they were forced to leave due to financial setbacks.
Whatever the reason was, one thing I kept hearing afterwards was that their new job was great and they had learned so much new stuff, but they definitely missed our people. When the phrase “ReachLocal family” was used, it always sounded so American (no offence!), but it was true. We honestly cared about each other. Each leaver left a little hole in my heart. Just like every one of them made me think if I should be next. If I should start looking around for something new as well, since that seemed to be the normal thing to do. But I wasn’t ready yet. It felt like I wasn’t done. Why would I quit while I still enjoyed going to work every morning?
In the end, the answer was surprisingly simple: Australia. For someone who’s older, it probably sounds trivial, but in a few months time, I’ll be turning 32. 32! When I was little, I thought people in their thirties are all grown up, married and with children. Grown up, OK, but children? Not yet, please! But I can’t deny my age is influencing my decisions. I’m almost sure I will want to have children in a couple of years time. Which means this is my time, THE time to still enjoy travelling by myself and explore different cultures far, far away.
And there’s another reason… I feel a bit embarrassed to admit it because it has to do with a cat. Just like going back to Australia, getting a cat has been pretty high on my wishlist for a long time (- her name is going to be Noodles, just so you know). The problem is, I live on 50 square meters, on the 5th floor of an apartment building. Locking up a cat in my home and leaving her alone all day with hardly any space to move around would be too cruel. So I need a bigger house. Preferably one with a south facing garden so I can enjoy the last bit of sun after a hard day of work. Where on the weekends, I can peacefully read a good book while I sip my green tea and the grass tickles my bare feet. (You get the picture. ;))
However, my very annoying, deeply rooted urge to revisit Oz is standing in the way of my garden and my Noodles. Once I spent all my money on a brand-new house, and I’m sitting on the couch, cuddling my cat, how can I still go travelling for 2.5 months? Exactly, I can’t. So I’m afraid the only solution is to make that life-changing trip first, because I know I will regret it if I don’t. Does that sound like a good enough excuse to you? 😀
Onwards and downwards, I’d say; I’m off to Australia!