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…

Onslow and Onwards

Thevenard island

Onslow Stepping off the plane in Onslow, the first thing that struck me was that while it was warm it wasn’t hot. It’s strange the things you notice in a new place.

I thought to myself “This isn’t too bad. This is doable.”

Then I realised: it was only 8am. I’d forgotten what it was like in the Pilbara.

I spent a few hours hanging around in Onslow with the other volunteers where we picked up a few things from the local supermarket, and killed time in a hotel while waiting for our boat to Thevenard island .

The town boasts such attractions as the Onslow Goods Shed Museum. It may not seem like much, but in a part of the country that is alternately baked in the sun, thrashed with cyclones, and drowned in floods, it’s good going.

The jet boat trip from the mainland out to Thevenard takes about 45 minutes. Luckily for us, the crossing was smooth and the water beautiful blues and greens.

sky and sea

As we powered along, we saw something in the water up ahead. Was it something floating? Some discarded rubbish? Then it became clear: it was a turtle, just merrily swimming along.

One of the first things you see on Thevenard Island are Chevron’s decommissioned storage tanks.

Several huge, grey concrete structures dominate the island, and if they survive for centuries to come may one day be regarded like the statues on Easter Island.

That this conservation work exists alongside mining, oil and gas giants like Chevron or Rio Tinto is no surprise, since they help fund the programs, but it’s an uneasy partnership.

At night

At night, when you sit on the beach on Thevenard island it’s almost completely dark. Out in the ocean blinks the lights of offshore oil and gas facilities, and in the distant is the constantly-burning gas flame from Wheatstone Project.

The moon rises around 11pm, and the sky is blanketed with countless stars, with the occasional streak of a meteor.

about last nightThat first night was warm, humid, perfectly still and calm. And there was not a single turtle to see.

Apparently, they prefer windy nights.

It was just as well, since I had to be awake and on the beach at 5am the next morning.

Shipping off to Thevenard Island

sea turtles nesting

green marine turtleOn Friday, this rugged adventurer and all-round dashing outdoorsman will be on Thevenard Island.

It’s my second adventure in marine turtle conservation, and the game has changed since last year’s West Pilbara Turtle Program.

If you have been following closely, you’ll remember that the threatened flatback is native to Australia, and nests only in Australia, and the martine turtle holds cultural, spiritual and economic significance to Indigenous Australians from coastal regions.

Thevenard IslandThevenard Island

Thevenard island is a nature reserve, home to the traditional custodians of the land for tens of thousands of years, and more recently home to decommissioned Chevron-operated Gorgon gas project (who fund the North West Shelf Flatback Conservation Program.)

The island is one of the important turtle nesting site for flatback sea turtles, and in addition to flatbacks this year there will be green turtles and hawksbill turtles.

As well as other marine life like dolphins and dugongs, but who cares about those when you are there for the turtles.

Adventure is out there

Not only are there different turtles to be seen, on this adventure the work gets more hands on, too. Activities include taking tissue biopsies and fitting satellite trackers, on top of the more-familiar track monitoring of nesting turtles.

I’ve completed my online training. I’ve had my medical assessment, I’ve borrowed a head torch, and I need to start packing my bags and arranging my journey to the airport for my 6am flight.

Unlike last year’s adventure, I’ll be working with other people, too — a new challenge of its own. While other adventures, like the ones in Peru and Norway, involved other people I wasn’t working in a team. I was more of a team with my sled dogs in the Arctic than I was with the other people on the expedition.

You know it’s a good adventure when I’m feeling nervous about it. That means I’m getting out of my comfort zone.

Bleed for your ‘burb: the flat-footed adventurer and street hockey

Roleystone Henges vs Perth Glory Holes at the Baysie Slab
Perth Glory Holez vs Roleystone Henges
Perth Glory Holez vs Roleystone Henges

It’s a Thursday night, and I’m playing hockey on the roof of a multi-story car park.

To understand how I got here, you have to know that I declared 2013 “the Year of the Dragon.”

You see, that was an impulsive thing.

One day I was taking part in a corporate team building dragon boat racing event — for a company I didn’t even work for, the next I was finding and joining a dragon boat club in London.

I was lucky. The team I joined trained at a regatta a short walking distance from my flat in Docklands, and I quickly warmed to the team sport culture of training together then drinking together.

An equally impulsive adventure goal was set: I would compete with the team in an international event before the end of the year. Within weeks, I was racing in a dragon boat, competing to the steady beat of a drum against other teams from around the UK.

But it wasn’t an international event. And, I didn’t ever meet that goal. But that was OK, because I did make friends and did enjoy training and competing. You can read various posts about it on here.

It was also my impulsive behaviour that had me sign up for the Inca trail, and my Arctic adventure, and abseiling down the side of Australia’s tallest building. At least with the year of the dragon I had tried it before I joined a team.

Street Hockey

Not so with Perth’s street roller hockey league.

Although I have some friends that played, a desire to join in myself wasn’t something that had crossed my mind. One day, an impulse came on me to write a feature article about the sport and the league. Even then, my interest was entirely journalistic.

I talked to friends, I talked to the league’s founder and commissioner, I was introduced to people and made new friends. I went to a game, took photos, and drank a beer with my friends and their team mates.

It was probably about then that I started thinking about playing. “But I can’t skate!” I’d tell people, and I’d be told in reply “there’s no ‘can’t skate’ — only people who have never skated, and people who can skate.”

There was two possible options. The way I saw it, I could buy skates, and spend a few months practicing, or I could find a team, get some skates, and then learn to play.

I was encouraged to do the latter. My impulsive, thrill-seeking, lizard brain approved of this course of action.

Yokine Drugs n’ Crime

Yokine Drugs n Crime

I was invited to join a team from Perth’s suburb of Yokine (Yokine Drugs n’ Crime, named after the Aussie hip hop song of the same name) and when I went to watch them play, unprompted I was lent a pair of skates and a stick, and spent time skating about, practicing skating with a hockey stick, and passing the puck back and forth with other players.

Perth’s SRHL is unique in Australia — there’s no other street roller hockey league like it in the country, and it’s already spawned a spin-off league in London. But one of the most important differences between this league and other sports is the emphasis on just having a go. If you fall over and miss a goal, nobody minds — and it’s frowned upon to be too competitive.

It’s incredibly welcoming, as I’ve found, and you can go from never having skated to playing for your team in the space of about a week.

That’s definitely a good thing if you’re impulsive.

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.

An Unlit Side Street in Newtown

Mary's, Newtown

Down an unlit side street in Newtown there is an unmarked door. Unmarked except for the graffiti.

Above the unmarked, gratified door, down the unlit side street, a red light hangs.

You might think at this point in the story you know what is behind the door.

If it was a brothel, someone would have to be doing something very special because people are lining up down the road to get in like it’s a nightclub.

Except it is barely 8pm and this unmarked door down the unlit side street doesn’t have thumping bass coming from behind it. And there’s just one doorman enforcing a 1-in, 1-out policy.

You’ve been told that this unmarked door is Mary’s.

You don’t know if that’s really the name, or if it is just called that by people since it has no real name, but it is on Mary St. Either way, rumour has it some of the best burgers in Sydney are behind this door. So you join the line.

After about 30 minutes of anticipation you are eventually admitted, and it’s only since you’ve been closer that you have been able to hear the rock tunes that remind you of your teens and 20s.

You push through double doors into a crowded bar.

Your next challenge awaits.

If you want food, you need a table. Either you need to join another line, that of people queueing for a table upstairs, or take your chances in the bar. The only hurdle is how to grab a table and also order food when you’re alone. Surely an unattended table is unoccupied?

Leaning with your back against the bar, you keep an eye on the room. Who has drinks. Who has lots of food. Who is clearly waiting for food. Who might be about to get up and who is also watching.

One table of people gets up to leave and before you can even think about staking your claim, they offer the crowded table next to them the opportunity to join the two together, giving them ample space for everyone seated. A fair gesture, even if it means you still can’t order.

Then a table becomes available. And you get it fast. Through skill and a little magic you manage to balance your half-drunk bottle of beer on top of your leather jacket, with both on the table. The statement is clear: this table is taken, observe the drink and the jacket of someone with no friends to dine with but the determination to not just go out, but to get a table.

You keep an eye on both, waiting at the bar, worrying that the jacket could be stolen (especially since it’s a replica of the one worn by Kurt Russell in Death Proof), beer drunk, table taken, and hopes of dinner dashed.

Maybe the people in Sydney are more polite, because both are left untouched.

Traversing Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Adventure is out there.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53197929@N00/6641930801/

I’ve been talking about a new “big” adventure for a while. It’s been more than three years since I was in the Arctic Circle, and while moving to Australia and completing the country’s highest urban abseil have kept me occupied, I need a real adventure like drop bears need warm human blood.

The good news is, I know what the adventure should be. The bad news is, there’s a high barrier to entry.

First: the adventure. The Costa Rica traverse is a 12-day journey crossing the Latin American nation on foot, by kayak, on bicycle and by raft — distinguishing it immediately from my hike to the lost city of the Incas, and a world apart from driving a pack of huskies across Norway’s frozen tundra — making it easily my most ambitious adventure yet.

sea kayaking

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a expedition for the faint-of-heart. There are full days of hiking, days of nothing but cycling, and days split between activities — such as rafting and cycling, or cycling and sea kayaking.

I haven’t cycled anywhere in years, haven’t hiked seriously since I was in Peru, have never set foot in a white water raft, and my one and only experience with sea kayaking was a recent trip to penguin island [aside: it’s opportunities like that I live for in Australia].

These days, I keep myself in something vaguely resembling a state of fitness, even without a specific adventure to train for — on a good week I visit the gym several times a week in the mornings before work, and add on a couple of trips to the rock climbing wall. To get myself to the required level of fitness for this adventure I am going to have to add at the very least swimming and cycling to my weekly routine.

I’m presuming lack of experience kayaking and rafting isn’t good to be an issue, like a lack of experience with a rickety wooden dog sled wasn’t in Norway. This kind of training is all part of the adventure, though — it’s not fun like the adventure itself, but feeling yourself getting fitter and stronger and knowing what you’re training for is almost an adventure in itself. Almost.

There is a dark cloud hovering over the whole adventure, however, and why I haven’t yet registered.

While there is a fundraising element to it, this is quite modest and something I could achieve without too much hassling of friends and family for donations, a bigger barrier to entry is not having the funds to pay to sign up. Without even including flights from Perth to San Jose, or additional costs, I need $3,600. And I don’t know how to find it.

Costa Rica Traverse

In previous adventures when there’s been large sums needed to be raised, the full amounts were going to charity — making it slightly easier, because I could spend entire days standing in train stations with collection buckets, or organise fundraising quiz nights. This doesn’t work when all the money is going to you: or to the trip organisers, via you.

I have considered crowd-funding the adventure through the usual websites, but get stuck on the question what’s in it for anyone else? I’m taking suggestions here, and welcoming feedback: how can I raise this money, or what can I offer sponsors in return for donating towards it?

The first days in Australia: Serpentine Falls

Serpentine Falls, Western Australia
Serpentine Falls. Picture courtesy of Amanda http://applesandgreen.com

To begin with, it felt like a dream.

My first days in Australia were spent in a suburb in Perth’s hills, a place called Karragullen. The area is almost completely unnoticed and quiet, with a large oval just a few steps away from the house — where at night the kangaroos all come out to graze on the grass.

Standing on the oval as the sun was setting on my first night in Australia, it was hard to identify what felt more real — the people and places I had left behind in the English winter just the day before, or this warm Australia night filled with stars.

My first full day in Australia, we packed a picnic and our swimming gear, picked up some friends at Armadale train station, and all went to Serpentine National Park. The feeling of everything being not-quite-real didn’t subside with the picnic spot at Serpentine, where tame kangaroos were hopping around and begging for food. The signs warning people not to feed the ‘roos were for a good reason: they can get aggressive if you don’t feed them, as some other picnicers were finding out with one of the animals refusing to leave them alone and acting shows of dominance.

After our lunch the four of us set off uphill on a walking trail, billed as only moderate difficulty — but we hadn’t bargained on the day being as hot as it was. This was my second time walking in the Australian bush, and like the first time I quickly realised that I didn’t have what I needed to do even a moderately gentle hike properly was walking boots (especially important for me, with my feet) and a platypus for water. Carrying a large, solid plastic water bottle was too bulky and too heavy for this — even though having plenty of water is about the most important thing you can carry.

The highlight of Serpentine National Park was the Serpentine Falls, a small waterfall over a sheer granite rock face. While the waterfall itself wasn’t much to look at, the volume of water over the falls being much smaller in the summer, the fresh water pool below the falls was welcome — and very cold, especially in the deepest parts — on a hot day.

Serpentine Falls was my first experience of wild swimming in Australia — a world of difference from swimming in Highgate Ponds in London, particularly because you don’t come out muddy and smelling of pond water!

 

The Australian adventure begins

the Australian adventure beginsI left London on a typically cold and rainy day in February, one week ago today. It’s surprising how when you’re moving to another country you can fit all the clothes you own into just a few bags — once you have decided to throw out all of those items that don’t fit, admitting that they probably won’t fit again any time soon.

Flying long-haul in Economy Class can be tough, but I recommend paying the small extra surplus on Singapore Airlines for a seat in the emergency exit row. OK, so you don’t get a window — which is usually my favourite place to sit — but it is more than made up for by the fact that you can stretch your legs so far, and that you can just stand up by your seat if you so desire. The only drawback is that because there is so much space in front of you some people may choose to stand in front of your seat while they wait to use the bathroom.

We descended into Singapore’s Changi airport, after nearly 13 hours in the air, just as the sun was rising. From the plane window behind me I saw dots of light below become boats, and I wondered what lives the people on board were leading, and what they were thinking and feeling at the start of their day on Tuesday.

My stop in Singapore was only two hours — and from bad experiences in the past in airports trying to clear customs and find boarding gates, I wouldn’t want any less than that. Soon, I was in the air again — and with my cherished window seat.

From the air, I was struck by the colours of Australia. The land was mostly brown or gold, and the trees were a very dark green. Occasionally, the land took an alien look around mine sites. It took me a short while to realise that where the land was golden coloured or brown this wasn’t abnormal: this was Australia, in the summer.

Clearing customs and immigration was surprisingly easy: I printed the details of my visa and my visa grant notice, in case they were needed, but since my visa was entirely electronic I wasn’t even asked about it.

And then there I was (after a quick stop in the airport duty free shop): a permanent resident in Australia.

17,296km of adventure

The road ahead

Australia compared to EuropeIt’s a brand new year once again. And while every month and every day is, obviously, a new day for starting an adventure, I think we can’t help but consider each January as a clean sheet of paper.

A chance to write a new adventure.

In a little under a month’s time, I will be making the 17,296km journey from London, England to Perth, Australia — an indefinite relocation. All my life has been packed into boxes and sent across the seas, and now it’s time for me to go and join my girlfriend in her home country.

Making the decision to leave London wasn’t easy for either of us. The girl first came to the UK 6 years ago on a working holiday visa, before being sponsored by a company that could find no equal for her talents. Together, we made the city of London our home. We will both leave friends and co-workers behind, and have both resigned our jobs with nothing to replace them on the other side of the world: but no one gets remembered for the things they didn’t go.

We’ve asked ourselves, and each other, “Is this the right thing to do?” but there is no easy answer. Sometimes, you just have to take the chance. It’s an adventure. The same as hiking the Inca trail, or dog sledding in the Arctic, you have to make the best possible decision — and right now this is it.

It’s a different kind of adventure for me from the usual — there’s not one big challenge, but there’s lots of new things. Australia: The road aheadAside from a new country, and a new city, there will be a new job, new friends, and what amounts to a whole new life. There will also be opportunities for lots of new adventures.

This is it: a new adventure on the other side of the world. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.