The day of the cyclone

Cyclone. Photo by NASA on Unsplash

On day two, the tropical cyclone that was tracking off the coast of Indonesia had weakened.

This meant that we wouldn’t have to evacuate the island. What it didn’t mean was that we were in the clear.

As the storm that was not a cyclone came in, some afternoon rain turned into the blackest night I have ever known, there was nothing to see and only the sound of the waves could be heard.

The rain threatened that night’s monitoring. Not because the conditions were dangerous in any way, but because we couldn’t record turtles seen on clipboards with paper if they were going to get wet. Our electronic tablets also were not to get wet.

I asked around, and nobody seemed to know if turtles mind the rain. Do they hate coming out of the ocean to nest if it’s raining because they will get wet? That seemed almost likely when it comes to turtles. Their love of wind, however, was well documented.

Last year, it was considered a coincidence when on the windiest nights they had unusual numbers of turtles nesting. With the behaviour repeating again this year it was beginning to look like a pattern.

Heading out

Eventually, we went out around 9.30 — having had a rare opportunity for everyone to eat together, in one place, at the same time, and take our time about it. There were a few turtles here and there, the usual routine. Nothing much to write home about, or to write a blog about.

Eventually, I took a walk on my own down the beach and past the jetty. After some distance past the jetty I didn’t see any fresh tracks in the wet sand, and I turned back. However, I didn’t go all the way down to the end of what was known as the “tagging area.” There could still be turtles there.

It was suggested that if I was going back, my fellow volunteer Jess might like to join me. I couldn’t tell if it was suggested she could join me because she might like a walk, or because she was more capable. Jess certainly was capable, either way.

It didn’t take long for Jess to spot a track above the high tide line where I hadn’t noticed it in the dark. We agreed between us we would cross it off the track for that missed turtle on the way back. When we found another track, Jess went to investigate further in the undergrowth.

That’s where she found a turtle, actively digging.

Since we were almost at the end of the tagging area, Jess suggested I watch the turtle and she’d check for further tracks or turtles. Reminding me to get all the equipment ready before she went, Jess disappeared into the dark night and the receding tide.

Photo by Reef Catchments.
Photo by Reef Catchments. https://flic.kr/p/c3n3DC

Getting everything ready wasn’t a quick task, so t’s lucky that turtles can take a long time to nest.

So in the dark, you fish out your clipboard and pen. You dig out the PIT tag scanner, to check if the turtle is new or returning. You find your tagging pliers and ready to two metal flipper tags, making a note of their numbers on the fresh data sheet. Then you find your applicator for the PIT tag, find your biopsy kit, and find your tape measure. 

All of this equipment is in one small backpack. It may sound like a lot, but should be easy to keep together and organised. It doesn’t take long for things to become disorganised.

While I was preparing and making notes, the turtle took advantage and made a break for the ocean. Jess tried to restrain it, but a determined mature flatback turtle is little match for one person on their own. It got away.

This was starting to become a habit, and if it was an actual job, I probably would have been fired by now.

The Turtle that Got Away

A flatback turtle crawls back into the ocean after laying eggs and being tagged.

The first turtle that night was spotted on the farthest reaches of the beach.

With high tide leaving little more than a metre of the beach’s sand for the turtle, we camped out in the vegetation to observe and be ready to move on the turtle when it was ready to return to the ocean.

Except she was taking her time. The turtle would dig a pit, give up on it, move on, dig another pit, give up, you get the idea.

Then suddenly she decided she’d had enough of digging unsatisfactory pits, and was ready to go back to the water. So we moved into position, blocking her path and ready to restrain her.

The turtle takes one look at this, and decides maybe she will have another go at digging pits after all. Once again she begins digging, giving up, moving on, digging, before again abandoning the plan.

We scramble to get to the turtle and we are right on the very edge of the high tide line, trying to see if she is a microchipped “returning” turtle, and suddenly a big wave comes washing in and we all jump out of the way. Except for the turtle, since turtles are not known for their ability to jump and she was waiting for exactly this. She’s on her way.

The tide pulls back and I take the brief moment of respite to try again to get that reading — then the waves come crashing back, and the turtle lifts with the current and floats away with a gentle kick of her flippers.

Returning and New

Volunteer Rebecca Evans and Parks and Wildlife officer Hannah Hampson measuring a flatback turtle.
Volunteer Rebecca Evans and Parks and Wildlife officer Hannah Hampson measuring a flatback. Photo: Liz Grant. Source: https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/news/item/2915-turtle-monitoring-taskforce-descends-on-pilbara-island

Let’s rewind this slightly, as some of you might be wondering what is a returning turtle? And why would they be microchipped?

Flatback turtles on the beaches of Thevenard Island fall into two categories: new turtles, and returning turtles.

Returning turtles are ones we have met before. They have been chipped, and they have been given identifying tags on their flippers. They are in the system.

New turtles haven’t been given any of these things, and so require the works: a chip in their shoulder, tags in their front flippers, a biopsy taken, and their measurements recorded.

These are the ones that get challenging.

Sandbank

Later that night, a turtle was spotted climbing up a steep sandbank. She gained many points for making it up the bank, but everyone knew that she was never going to nest up there — despite spending an hour or more, digging pits, rejecting them, and repeat.

Things got interesting when the turtle accidentally slid down the opposite side of the dune. Where there was no beach, only concrete. But, turtles being what they are, she continues wandering about, trying to dig pits in concrete, until one volunteer physically heaved her back onto the sand.

It was right around the time that she was coming down the slope towards us, and towards the issue, and we were preparing to scan and possibly tag her that another turtle emerged from the ocean.

And went straight up the exact same sandbank.

And did exactly the same thing, falling down the wrong side of the dune.

Past Midnight

Metal tag showing identification number. Photo: Stephen Connett.
Metal tag showing identification number. Photo: Stephen Connett.
Source: https://accstr.ufl.edu/resources/report-a-tag/

It was gone twelve and yet there were even more turtles (remember how the night before had no turtles at all?) emerging from the ocean, digging pits, laying eggs.

Our last turtle of the night had just one flipper tag. Where the other tag should have been there was a scar. She needed another, and it was my turn to do it.

Enough to say, it didn’t go as planned. The new tag instead had to be removed, while the turtle was less than impressed with proceedings. It didn’t end there, because she still needed that new tag. I did it again, and it was only slightly better.

Then the turtle needed a second tag to alongside the existing, original tag, and my skills at adding tags hadn’t much improved.

Turtles on the Beach

Australian beach with marine turtles

Sunrise on the beachMy first real day of turtles conservation started at 4.30am, having got to bed at midnight. We had to be looking for turtle tracks on the beach for 5am as the sun came up. “We” was me, and my roommate George.

One of us would take the car and drive to the opposite side of the island, and walk from there until they ended up back at base. The other would just start walking from the beach in front of our cabins and go until they reached the car.

I chose the second option. Before we leave camp we grab a backpack each, it has a tablet for recording the tracks of turtles we might see, and for me a bottle of water, a can of Solo, and a cereal bar. The cereal bar is for breakfast and my promise to myself that I’ll take a short break.

I marked my starting position and time on the tablet, made a brief note about the weather conditions, and started walking.

Seeing Turtles

Green marine turtle tracks in wet sand on the beach

Having seen no turtles the night before — not to mention none last year — I was excited to see a pair of turtles on my walk. They were easily identified, even at a distance, as green turtles from their domed shell. The fact that there were two of them, close together, was a good indication what they were doing.

I crouched quietly, watching them, for some time, gradually edging closer when they were looking the other way or when they were under the water, until they just gracefully swam away — either for more privacy or to continue their discussion somewhere else.

There were plenty of tracks to see, including green turtle tracks — distinguishable from flatback turtles in part because of the small holes in the sand their tails make as they make their way up the beach, but also flatback turtle tracks, too. There were tiny tracks, spreading out from holes in the sand, that I thought at first were hatchling tracks. On reflection and discussion with a supervisor it turned out they were probably crabs, instead.

As the day wore on it got less sunny and more windy. Windy nights meant there could be lots of turtles nesting. Or there could be a storm coming, after all there was a tropical cyclone off the coast of Indonesia…

The big relocation

Living in Perth

Perth at sunsetAs adventures go, moving to Australia was a big one.

Packing up your life into boxes, hurling them into the great void (or just getting professional and reliable movers to ship them to the other side of the world), as well as applying for visas, getting various checks and the actual moving.

It was about four years ago that a flat in London’s Docklands was packed into boxes, cleaned and emptied. Three and a half years ago that I arrived in Australia.

It’s fitting, then, that I have relocated again. A really big relocation. A move from one suburb to about 5 minutes down the road.

The thing is, whether you’re relocating from England to Australia, or from North Perth to Joondanna, some things aren’t all that different.

Space to Move

First, you have to find somewhere to live. You can’t move if you don’t have somewhere to move to. That’s like a Newtonian law of physics. Or the universe. Or something.

Living in Perth, post-mining boom, we’re pretty lucky. Unlike Sydney and Melbourne, rent is affordable here and renters are in a better position than owners.

Finding a place to live in London involved a kind of pantomime. You enquire after properties, get told they had been let already, and end up somewhere completely different.

In Perth, things seem a lot easier these days (I missed the mining boom, and understand it was a different story in that period.) You visit the website of letting agents and find places you want to live. You view it, apply for it, get accepted almost right away, and that’s kind of it.

Bodies, Rest and Motion

WA TransitionsI figure if we’re going to start claiming moving house to be some kind of Newtonian deal, I might as well use related subheadings.

A place to live was surprisingly easy to find. Finding a reliable removalist turned out to be just as painless. I used the OneFlare website to get quotes and info from local businesses, and they weren’t unreasonable.

However, comparing reviews online I found a different removalist that prides itself on being different to most. WA Transition Removals describe themselves as “more than just a removalist” — and right away I found they weren’t what you’d expect.

In my correspondence with the owner, John, he made suggestions and told me what to check with other quotes. He didn’t tell me anyone was wrong, or promise to beat any other quote I had. Instead, he offered advice. I quickly knew that this was the right company for my move.

Included in the service wasn’t just removal, or using the right size vehicle for the job, but also full disassembly and reinstallation of furniture and white goods, together with a code of conduct, from focused, smart moving, and respectful employees with a great attitude.

The Day Itself

Living in PerthAs these things go, moving day came up on me all too quickly.

Ryan and Tim from WA Transition Removals arrive as expected at 10am, and by 1pm everything is taken apart, packed, loaded, moved, unloaded, reassembled and reconnected in my new place.

What’s more, they were everything promised. They had a reputation to uphold, and I hadn’t expected to be surprised — of course they would be helpful and hard working, all the rest. But they really went above and beyond.

When I left around 12pm so I could go fetch my cat from the vet’s, and the trip took longer than I expected, I wasn’t worried. I knew that everything was in safe hands, and it’s not often you happily leave two strangers you just met with all your worldly belongings and your new house.

Some little things go that extra mile. Ryan pointed out after they connected the washing machine that one of the taps needed a plumber to come out. It wasn’t his problem if my washing machine worked. Just the same, he didn’t just leave it at he’d moved it and connected it.

Together Tim and Ryan offered advice on furniture if I wasn’t sure where to put it. Then, when they unloaded a large, bulky wardrobe that I confessed I didn’t even want, they cheerfully offered to just take it away. No charge, no fuss, and no drama that they had just unloaded it from the van.

Everything was done with good humour and professionalism, but working quickly and efficiently, and every minute I was so glad I had them helping.

Seriously, if you are moving a 5 minute drive down the road to the next suburb, or if you are moving across the country, these are the people you want helping.

In a New Place

And now here I am. in a new place.

I’m no longer able to guess what time it is from the volume of the traffic outside the window, I am now woken up by strange and unfamiliar noises — people walking past outside, or the sound of the garden reticulation turning on.

The adventure continues…

Down in the Sand

Bells Beach timeline

Bells Beach in Point Samson doesn’t show up on Google maps. After several attempts to reach the beach that hit private roads or entrances to mine sites, I arrived at the sand of a pristine and deserted shore.Boat beach, Point Samson

Shortly after sunrise, I was met by the program coordinator where we assembled with the other trainee volunteers.

You see, one does not simply just walk onto a beach and start monitoring marine turtles. Or, in this case, their tracks. It takes training.

Training starts with a hidden backpack. A backpack for volunteers inside a locked metal box. Hidden behind a sign. The backpack contains essential items including a clipboard, sheets of paper for recording turtle activity, a GPS tracker, a tape-measure and other important items.

It turns out Bells Beach wasn’t the pristine beach, but instead about a 10 minute walk away over sand dunes, hills, and long grass.

Our very first job on the beach involved a large stick.

One of the most important things with tracking the activity of marine turtles is being able to distinguish what is new and is old activity. To do this, you need to establish a timeline in the sand.

To establish a timeline on a beach, a volunteer takes the stick and marks a line in the sand over the top of the line drawn the previous day. Any tracks that cross over the top of the previous day’s line are new. The fresh line drawn resets the timeline for the next day.

What happens when you find a fresh track? That’s where the items in the backpack come in useful.

Turtle Tracks

First, turtles leave two tracks: an emerge track and a return track. The names are quite self explanatory: when the turtle emerges from the ocean and leaves a track up the beach that is the emerge track. As the turtle returns to the ocean it is a return track.

Telling the two apart is vital for finding if a turtle has nested, and for a new volunteer this means getting down in the sand. Because of the way turtles almost swim through the sand, they push the sand behind them.

Why care which track is which? Turtles don’t necessarily decisively emerge from the ocean, make a nest, and then return. Sometimes they might try digging several pits for nesting. Sometimes they will traverse about the beach before returning to the water. If you follow their emerge track you could be led on a wild goose chase. Or, in this case, a wild marine turtle track.

By following their return track, you find their last activity. A turtle doesn’t nest and then wander about for a while longer.

West Pilbara Turtle Program volunteersAs volunteers, we then had to identify the breed of turtle whose tracks we had found. This is where the tape-measure would come in useful — to distinguish a flatback turtle from a loggerhead, green or hawksbill turtle. Each turtle leaves different tracks, which also differ in size — so when in doubt, down in the sand you go.

Nine times out of ten, the turtle is a flatback on Bell’s Beach. 100% of the turtles I recorded on the beach were flatback, but just the same — you have to be sure.

False Crawl

With a turtle identified by breed, we had to record if it nested. A false crawl is when a turtle emerges from the ocean, and doesn’t nest — for whatever reason. Sometimes a turtle might start to dig, hit a root or a rock and be put off. Sometimes a turtle might just not feel like. Sometimes a turtle could get spooked, and be frightened away before they lay their eggs.

But sometimes, a turtle did nest…

The journey from Karratha

have ute, will travel

I landed in Karratha on Tuesday morning on my adventure to save the turtles. Stepping off the plane shortly before midday, I was immediately hit by a wave of heat.

When asked if I’d been to Karratha before, I had joked that the furthest north I’d been before was Perth’s suburb of Yanchep. While that wasn’t true (I’d been to Cervantes which is 200km north of Perth) there’s a big difference between Cervantes and Karratha.

A short while after landing I’d already grabbed my bag, and found my hire car. Except it wasn’t the car I’d expected.

Instead of the 4WD SUV I had requested, I was to be driving a slightly battered ute that seemed to be the vehicle of choice for a region where 90% of people worked on the mines.

After figuring out how to drive it, I was on my way. I had no satnav, and my phone battery was dead, so relied on remembering the directions I’d been given by the booking desk.

Had the directions been to go left-right-left? Or left-right-right? The name on the road sign sounded familiar, but was that because it was where I was headed, or was it just mentioned, and I should have been going the other way?

The radio in my ute didn’t work, so I had to amuse myself. It’s funny how few songs you can remember when you just want to sing to pass the time.

But I drove. And I drove. I drove some more. And after a while I started to wonder, was I even going the right way? How could I tell? There were no signs, other than the markers counting down to the next town.

Pulling into a rest stop in the hope of finding someone to ask, the only other people around were some grey nomads with a caravan. Unconvinced they’d know the way to Point Samson, either, I left them in peace.

There would be somewhere I could stop. A petrol station. Another town. Something.

I kept going.

As the marker for the next town counted down I scanned ahead for signs of civilisation. 5km came. And it went. Without any town. The markers started counting down to the next place, more than another 100km away.

There was nothing else for it. I’d driven for an hour or more already, but there was no way I was driving any further. I turned the ute around, put my foot down and drove back to Karratha — to the petrol station that was a short distance outside of the city.

The directions really must have been the left-right-left, and I had been driving in completely the wrong direction. Luckily, another traveller in the petrol station was heading the same way as me, and told me I could just follow him.

Wolf Creek was just a story…wasn’t it?

But what if this was a trap? These weren’t busy roads and it wouldn’t take much for the guy to get me to follow him down some track… At what point would I realise the trap? How could I escape or raise the alarm?

My over-active imagination was at least some entertainment on the long, dusty road. I tried to get the two-way radio to work just for something to listen to — or be able to use to call for help — but my attention was better focused on the road ahead.

Eventually my guide turned off to the town of Wickham, my destination of Point Samson was less than 10km further. He waved me on without ever trying to lure me to some remote killing field.

Arriving at my accommodation, I showered, changed, charged my phone and set out to find the beach where I would be tracking and monitoring the turtle nesting.

Save the Turtles, Save the World

Flatback turtle Photo © Doug Perrine nwf.org Save the turtles, save the world.

I’m going to save the turtles this November. It’s really happening.

The Adventure

Last year, I talked here about the WPTP, that monitors the numbers of nesting marine turtles, and judges the success of their nests.

I wanted to get involved with the program, but it was a long way from Perth. Over 1,600km from Perth: and to put that into perspective, it’s about 4,000km from Perth to Sydney.

With a trip back to England last December, and a shortage of both funds and annual leave, the adventure has had to wait.

This year, things are different. Flights are booked. Accommodation is booked. Even the hire car is reserved.

Driving to Karratha would add an extra two days to the journey in each direction, and so it isn’t practical to make part of the adventure getting to the West Pilbara. But the important part is my new motto for this adventure: save the turtles, save the world.

Threatened Flatback Turtles

The threatened flatback is native to Australia, and nest only in Australia.

With cultural, spiritual and economic importance to Indigenous Australians from coastal regions, these ancient mariners have existed for more than 100 million years. Modern humans are considered to have evolved around 200,000 years ago, and what we call civilisation has existed for about 6,000 years. We are new kids in the neighbourhood to the flatback turtle

But changes to air and sea temperatures, rising sea levels, and other aspects that may come with climate change all threaten their survival.

Turtles can take up to 50 years to become a breeding adult. Ongoing monitoring and tracking is important if the flatback turtle is going to survive.

This adventure is in the early stages right now: all I know is how I am getting there and where I am resting my weary head. Which is important. Training on how to monitor the turtle tracks will be provided, then I just need to get some good photographs.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Hyden Seek

Wave Rock, Hyden

Ever seen a wave that’s 15m high and over 100m long?

It was a long weekend in Western Australia for Anzac Day, so with a few friends I took a road trip to a town called Hyden — and to the iconic Wave Rock.

Wave Rock is about 350km east from Perth, out in WA’s wheatbelt. You can do the drive in about four hours, but if you want to see anything of Wave Rock and the surrounding area, it’s best to take an overnight trip, making some stops on the way.

Getting out of the city always excites me, there’s so many new places to see and the way the empty road stretches out in front of you seems like a red carpet, or an invitation. With WA, the desire to get in your car and just drive and drive and drive is a real possibility — and that’s just going north. Imagine if you pointed the car east and just kept driving.

Our first stop on the journey to Hyden was the town of York, and calls itself the oldest inland town in Western Australia. Whether that is true, or true depending on a certain definition, I’m unclear.

York

York, WA
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:York_WA_town_hall.jpg

York is a beautiful historic town with some original architecture and heritage buildings dating back to the gold rush.

If you’re ever passing through, it’s a good place to stop or to visit for a few hours. You can have lunch at a local cafe and have a look around the town, it’s one of those places that could use your tourist dollars now there’s little to be made from traditional agriculture.

Corrigin

Statue to acknowledge the world record convoy of 1527 utes with dogs, Corrigin WA
source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corrigin_dog.jpg

After a short break in York, and a visit to a local bakery, we pushed on: to another notable town, a placed called Corrigin.

As difficult as it may be to believe at first, Corrigin holds  the world record for ‘the most dogs in a ute’.

It may sound incredible, but this WA town took the title back in 2002 with over 1,500 dogs in utes.

I’m presuming that’s separate utes, not one ute piled high with 1,500 dogs. The town even has a statue to commemorate the historic event. It also has a large pet cemetery, but that didn’t seem like such an important thing to visit.

Hyden

Wave Rock, Hyden, WAIf Corrigin seems like a difficult place to beat, even if you don’t see any dogs in utes, then the only thing left to do is keep pushing on to Hyden.

While the town of Hyden might not have historical, heritage buildings, or world records for dogs and utes, it does have a big draw: Wave Rock.

Big is the word for Wave Rock: it’s nearly 15m high and over 100m long. And yes, it kind of looks like a crashing wave, appropriately enough for Western Australia.

Some people think I’m slightly crazy for wanting to drive for nearly 4 hours and stay overnight in a motel in a country town just to see a rock. I think those same people are slightly crazy to prefer to spend that time watching sport on television.

Hippo's Yawn, Hyden, WAWave Rock isn’t the only thing to see in Hyden, either! So don’t think it’s a wasted road trip, and that all there is to do is look at this one rock.

There is also the Hippo’s Yawn: a short walk through the bush from wave rock. Hippo’s Yawn is a rock that’s over 12m tall that kind of, maybe, looks a bit like a hippo’s gaping mouth.

Once inside the mouth of the “hippo” if you’re so inclined you can climb and wriggle through gaps in the rock to get on top of the rocks behind it, for a view of the surrounding area.

Another “must see” place in Hyden is Mulka’s Cave. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much — not after Wave Rock and Hippo’s Yawn. But, much like with people and a Kinder surprise, it’s what’s inside that counts. What some of the legends about a child-eating cannibal don’t tell you is that inside the cave are original hand prints and paintings on the rock. That kind of thing always excites me more than any footy game on television ever could.

You don’t need much more than 24 hours in Hyden — and technically you could do Wave Rock in a day, if you wanted an 8-hour round trip, but it’s worth taking your time, stopping on the way, and getting a room at the Wave Rock Motel.

The Adventure to Save the Turtle

Australia's threatened flatback marine turtle
Nullabor plain
source: http://motherlode.com.au

I got to thinking, after my last post. With the up-front cost of Costa Rica so insurmountable, it struck me that I needn’t travel so far for adventure.

Australia is this incredible, vast and diverse country. I have barely even touched it, let alone scratched the surface of this great southern land.

I am already thousands of miles from where I grew up. Why can’t I find an adventure here?

A while ago I tried pitching the Flat Footed Adventurer as a concept to places like Lonely Planet and in-flight magazines. I would have adventures and I would write about them. It’s a pretty straight-forward concept, and the driving idea behind this blog. To inspire some people towards adventures, and provide entertainment and escapism to those who prefer to just read about it.

Some adventures would be big. Some adventures smaller. There would be spear fishing expeditions, but also adventures of quiet introspection and self discovery in Buddhist monasteries. Adventures to find the coolest small towns, and adventures in the jungles of South America.

For in-flight magazines I was even willing to find adventures in locations they wanted to promote. All I wanted was the adventures, and the opportunity to write about them all.

The fact that I’m writing about it here, and not directing you to websites, books and magazines where I am published, tells you that they didn’t go for it.

But the point is adventures don’t always have to be pushing yourself to the limit of your ability, multi-activity, many thousands of dollars worth of expenses. Some adventures can just be about going somewhere new and doing something out of your comfort zone.

Australia's threatened flatback marine turtle
source: http://scienceillustrated.com.au/

With this in mind, I am focusing my current adventure dream on volunteering with the West Pilbara Turtle Program. The program aims to monitor and track the threatened Flatback marine turtles that are native only to Australia.

This might seem like an abrupt change of direction: where’s the hiking, rafting, cycling, kayaking? And what about South America? It is a change of direction, but I feel that it is doing important work, for something I care about, and it fulfills the wanderlust inside of me.

To get to the beach where the monitoring takes place is something approaching a 16-hour drive from Perth, although the closest airport is only a 2-hour flight. I would first have to attend a training day this year before being able to be a volunteer — so that means there might be two trips. Just getting there would be an adventure in itself.

This is still in the earliest stages of a plan, but even flying there would have costs  dramatically lower than Costa Rica and it would be doing good in the world, something that is important to me: leaving things slightly better than I found them.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Amazing Albany

Middleton Beach jetty, Albany

 

A little place called Albany is where the Amazing Aussie Adventure all started.

Albany has the distinguished honour of not just being where I lived for the first few months on arriving down under. Albany us also the first place in Australia that I visited: Perth airport doesn’t count.

Right on the south west coast, Albany is the edge of Australia where it once joined to Antarctica — and parts of it still look like it.

Albany feels more like a town than a city, to me — maybe because of the preserved old colonial architecture, and a lack of highrise office buildings. It also has a population roughly equivalent to my home town in the UK, although here — like all of Australia — it’s on a much bigger scale.

Something in the water in Albany

Because it’s right on the Southern ocean, the water in Albany can be colder than swimming in Perth, where you’re swimming in the warm currents of the Indian ocean.

There’s lots of good beaches in Albany. Duh, it’s Western Australia — of course it’s going to be awesome. But they aren’t just good for swimming, they’re also good for whales. Albany is known around Australia as a place for whale watching: the humpback whales migrate in from June, and when the humpbacks leave, the southern right whales come for a few months. Sometimes, I’m told, there are even blue whales.

At the right time of year, you can stand on the beach in the early evening sunshine and watch whales happily splashing their tails in the water a short way off the shore.

The edge of the earth

Natural bridge, Albany

In Albany, you can stand on a rock, stare out to sea, and the next landmass out there is the endlessness of the Antarctic continent.

The pounding southern ocean has formed the coast into vast cliffs, and in one place a huge, granite natural bridge — where the waves crash underneath.

You shouldn’t ever try and walk across the natural bridge (maybe it should be renamed the natural bridge of death), other than the risk of a gust of wind blowing you over the side, or slipping on a wet rock, there is also the danger from king waves knocking you off.

It’s much more interesting to look at than climb on, anyway.

Albany: scenic city

Amazing AlbanyOther than the rocky outcrops of Antarctica, and the marine visitors, and the beaches (of course, the beaches, always the beaches), Albany is just plain scenic.

The boardwalk at Middleton Beach on a fine day is a favourite walk for me.

Even if there are no whales to spot off the shore (though you’ll often see cars parked on the hill in the lookout spots, with people staring out, just in case) there’s lots to stop to take in.

If you’re feeling energetic you can also take a walk at the Albany windfarm, taking in as much or as little of the Bibbulmum track as you’re comfortable doing — where there’s hills and lookout points and wooden steps leading down to the water’s edge.

Albany is one of those places that’s a must-see in Western Australia.

As a footnote, a little piece of trivia I recently picked up is that Albany is apparently one of the best places in Australia for viewing the southern lights, the Aurora Australis. For someone that loves space like I do this is quite exciting, and promises many more trips on the future.