Category Archives: Australia

Kalbarri’s z-bend

I’d learned my lessons from the day before. Arriving at Kalbarri’s Z-Bend river trail hike, I had water, I had my mobile battery pack, I had even managed not to get lost on the way. But there was something I wasn’t prepared for: rain.

It was 6 am, and I had no time to hang around; I wanted to make the trip back to Perth today. There was no option other than to get on with it.

Although it was a much shorter hike than the Loop the day before, the Z-Bend is also classified as more difficult.

Luckily for me, getting out of the car the rain was barely noticeable — I felt almost like it was a test of if I was really determined to do this, but I hadn’t driven to Kalbarri to do one measly hike.

Because the car park was deserted, I was reasonably confident I wouldn’t see anyone on today’s hike. I knew I needed to be careful, especially if rocks might be slick with rain, even on a short walk I couldn’t afford to injure myself. Boots laced, pack on my back, I set off down the trail.

A few metres onto the trail there was a signpost, did I want to go left to the Lookout, or right to the river trail? Neither said “Z-Bend”, and I didn’t want to accidentally embark on the much-longer Four Ways Trail, or the multi-day river gorge hike, so I shrugged and set off to the lookout.

When the signpost had said “100m” I hadn’t realised that wasn’t where the trail started; it was where it ended with the lookout itself. I could still see the car park from here.

The path is as a “moderately easy walk” which goes to show that the difficulty of these things is often exaggerated. It was more like “very gentle stroll” than anything else. While the views from the lookout are worth taking in, I was more interested in the walk itself.

Back to the fork in the road, there was no other option than to follow the river trail and see what happens next.

As soon as I started the trail, I realised my phone had no signal. I’d presumed that since it had reception throughout the entire Loop walk the day before, it would here, too — but not so.

I comforted myself that because the hike itself shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, and because it was early in the day it was still cool. In an emergency, even if I needed rescue, I’d (probably) survive. And off I went.

What makes the Z-Bend different, and more challenging than the Loop is the trails can be much steeper, more rugged, and in places, you have to climb down ladders. This would cause problems for someone with limited mobility.

It’s universally true of me that I will often make life more difficult for myself than I need to. A case in point, coming to a narrow gorge, it seemed obvious to me that what I needed to do was inch my way along a narrow ledge. Pressed flat against the steep wall, I’m exhilarated at how difficult this is — it’s more than I expected, though part of me has a nagging doubt that doesn’t this seem out of character for a walk like this?

It’s only when I get to the end that I realise I should have been walking along the solid ground the whole time.

Dead End Streets

The good news is that even if you make life more difficult for yourself there is never any doubt where you are going with this trail. At any point, if you are unsure, a quick look around will show a clear trail marker.

This is useful for times like when you come to a very narrow canyon that looks like it just ends in a sheer rock wall.

There’s no doubt where the trail goes. There is no ambiguity. It goes straight ahead. To get into this very narrow canyon there are large boulders to clamber over, and it’s at times like this you need to be especially careful — a twisted ankle could be the least of your problems if you hit your head on a rock.

I climb carefully down, still doubtful about what’s meant to happen here, but curious if I’m going to need to climb back out the other side. I almost laugh with surprise at the end of the canyon: of course, it isn’t a dead-end at all, instead, the trail turns so sharply that until you’re on top of it, there’s no way to tell it continues.

There’s another sharp turn almost immediately after, with more clambering over rocks and another ladder descent. One of the more surprising things about this river trail hike is how quickly it goes from climbing over rocks and narrow chasms to flat, easy trails.

The other surprising thing is how short it is. Before I knew it, I was climbing over some rocks beside the river. The hike is called the river trail, so surely there must be more to it than this?

I walked further down along the river until I got to a distant marker post, to see what it said. It clearly pointed back the way I had come.

Too often with hikes like this, I always push forwards and onwards to get to the destination. It can feel like I rush right through the parts where I should be paying attention. If I’d known how quick the hike would be, I could have walked more slowly.

Having a camera at times like this can be a good way to remind me to stop, take it in, admire the sheer rock walls and the layers of the sandstone. If you have to pause to take photos and really look at everything you have no choice but to slow down.

The Way Back

Unlike the Loop, the way out of the Z-Bend river trail hike isn’t through — it is simply turn around and go back the way you came.

The marker posts that were so clear for the way down to the river make slightly less sense heading back, their placements are obvious only for going downhill. This doesn’t mean I was worried about getting lost, but there were several occasions when I needed to actually look around for the marker and work out where I was going.

Heading back the way I came means that I got to appreciate the trail a little more, and see it from a different perspective. Rocks I’d climbed down over, I now needed to find ways around to get back up.

While it’s slightly disappointing that the Z-Bend river trail hike is so short, the more challenging aspects of it made it a worthwhile adventure for me. I look forward to walking it again another time, when I know what to expect and have a realistic view of how long it will take.

Hiking Kalbarri’s loop

Consider your options!

The warning was obvious, this was my last chance to turn back. “The trail gets much harder and hotter from here.”

If I didn’t have at least two litres of water, I should retrace my steps to Nature’s Window.

I thought it over. Shrugged. And carried on.

The Loop Walk in Kalbarri is famous enough that it’s one of the sights that you travel there for. Calling it a “walk”, though, might be underselling how challenging it can be — and possibly why it needs so many warning signs.


The Canoe the Gorge excursion I’d booked got cancelled, so I made plans of my own.

Nature’s Window is best seen at sunrise. The only problem was, sunrise was around 5.30 and the national park doesn’t open until 6 am.

I figured I would get there when the park opened, and start hiking at 6 am, since Google Maps told me it was only a 15 min drive from where I was staying.

I was awake, out of bed, dressed, fed and in the car precisely on schedule.

Except when I arrived at “my destination” I found Google Maps had interpreted Kalbarri National Park differently than I had intended and taken me to tourist information instead of to The Loop.

A quick reprogram and The Loop was now a 45 min drive away. It would have been 30 minutes if I had gone the right way at the start.

Extreme Heat Risk

Kalbarri gorges

Pulling into the national park, there were warning signs with stark messages of extreme heat risk. The Loop Walk would be closed from 7 am.

There’s a reason the best times to visit Kalbarri are in the Spring and Winter.

Summer heat can be dangerous in the gorges. It’s not uncommon for days to crack 40 degrees or more in a Western Australia summer, and I hadn’t taken into account that temperatures in the gorges can be ten degrees hotter.

It was still before 7 am. Did the signs mean you had to start The Loop before seven or finish it before seven? How can you finish before seven if the park doesn’t open until six? You’d have to start walking at least two hours before the park opened.

I practically leapt out of my car when I got to The Loop and grabbed my bag. I was already behind schedule, and so long as I started walking before 7, everything would be fine. Probably.

3 – 4 Litres of Water

I’d prepared well enough. I had close to three litres of water, and a separate water bottle I had filled the night before and chilled in the fridge.

Except that the second water bottle got left behind, so I had less water than was ideal to start.

Despite the extreme heat warnings, the forecast for the day was mild. They predicted a high of 30-something degrees, rather than 40-something. I could still be finished by 11 am.

Everything should be fine. I set off down the trail.

Nature’s Window

It was a short walk to Nature’s Window. I missed sunrise, and the view wasn’t as spectacular than I had hoped, and I was a little disappointed.

A few tourists were hanging around, wearing warm hats and windbreaker jackets, and taking pictures.

Either because it wasn’t yet, 7 am and a little cold, or because viral Instagram posts had unfairly raised their expectations, they didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the spot.

With little reason to hang around, I pressed on, and I saw more warning signs. Literal warning signs.

Do not start the walk after 7.30 am in warmer months. Wear long sleeves. Carry three to four litres of water. Walk with a companion.

I was in short sleeves, had less than four litres of water, and had no companion. Was I going to turn back? No way.

Into the Wild

It’s a four-hour hike. I figure I will walk for an hour and reassess conditions — how much water I have, how I’m feeling, that kind of thing. Then I can turn back if necessary.

Before the trip, I sensibly bought a mobile power bank. Since my phone can’t be relied on to hold a charge when I need it, it was a good thing to have “in case of emergency.” I even managed to pack it in my backpack that morning before heading out.

What I didn’t remember to pack was a charging cable.

No matter. Instead, I would just keep my phone on flight mode. It isn’t like I would be browsing social media or streaming music while I was walking, so it would be fine. I also had a camera that wasn’t my phone, so that would also stop the battery running down.

Before I started walking, I sent a message to my partner. It was a brief message to let her know I was heading “into the wild” and that I probably wouldn’t be contactable.

I didn’t know if I would have any mobile signal once I started, but she knew where I was, and the message let her know how long the hike should take, giving a reasonable timeframe of when to begin to worry if I didn’t get back in touch.

My phone safely on flight mode and tucked away, I’d barely started walking before I slipped on some loose scree, broken fragments of rock, and almost twisted an ankle.

I began to question how sensible it was to use the phrase “into the wild.”

I hoped my partner wouldn’t connect it to the book of the same name, where a young man dies in the wilderness, partly because of some ignorant and unfortunate decisions, and partly some lousy luck.

Luckily, I was unhurt. Even if I was hurt, I was still so close to Nature’s Window that someone could reach me quickly enough if I needed help.

It did give me pause. If I wanted a sign not to do this alone, this was it.

Down to the River

Below me, I could see the Murchison River snaking its way through the limestone gorges. I was excited to be here — I’d driven six hours the day before to get to these gorges — and it was so peaceful.

The tourists behind me at Nature’s Window were the only people I’d seen that morning, and if I stopped and listened, I couldn’t hear any signs of humanity.

There was no traffic noise — no shouting or arguments or conversations. There were no planes overhead or distant sounds of construction. No matter how much I strained to hear something, I could have been the only person left on the planet.

For the first three kilometres, the walk was a meandering trail along the rim of the gorge — heading steadily downwards, but like me, not in a great hurry to get anywhere.

The walking was easy, the sun wasn’t hot yet, and the only thing slowing me down was stopping to admire the views.

If You’re Waiting for a Sign, This Is It

At the three-kilometre mark is another sign. It effectively says “abandon ye hope, all who enter here.”

It is effectively the point of no return. This is your last chance. Hikers have died on this trail!

They were probably hikers who didn’t have enough water and were walking alone.

Without taking my water out of my backpack to check levels, I know I probably have less than two to three litres. But I have come this far without any difficulty, I’m not tired, and it’s still not too hot.

There are 5km left to go. It only gets more difficult when you have to climb out of the gorges. What’s the worst that could happen?

If I think about it, I have descended 3km into a gorge. The worst that could happen when hiking alone is quite serious.

If I was to hurt myself at this point, it would take several hours to reach me and more to get me back out.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be considerably easier or safer to retrace my steps at this point.

By The River

As I walk along the gorge, following the waypoint signs, it looks like they are pointing along the rocks. Do I now walk along the rocks, or closer to the water? The latter would make sense.

There’s a joke. Growing up, we all thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it is as adults.

I’m reminded of this in the moment and don’t know how deep the mud will go. I step back quickly, grateful that I’m not stuck, and that my boots were laced tightly, and escape with only mud up my legs.

On reflection, the signs did mean to walk on the rocks. I’ve seen pictures of wetter times of the year when the river is higher, and it’s evident that you walk along the narrow rocky ledge — there’s less quicksand risk when there’s no sand.

I don’t know for sure how long it took for the Murchison River to carve out the gorges of The Loop. The walls of the canyon are stunning to look at in the morning sun, all striped and banded. They are also more than a little humbling.

Considering they are famous for containing fossils, my best guess is that the gorge must be something like 400 million years old.

Signs of Life

A short distance ahead, I see movement. I have been walking for hours, and it has been a long time since I last saw anyone, heard anyone, or even saw any signs of people.

I see it again. Maybe two people.

I walk on, and I see it’s a white animal, not a person. But… is that a dog? Did someone bring their dog in here?! There are two animals, I think, maybe they’re sheep, which also seems odd for where we are.

As I get closer I see the animals three goats, two white and one black. Surprising, but not as surprising as sheep. Or dogs.

A short while later, I see a couple of people. I can’t tell if I saw them as well as the goats earlier, it seems like a coincidence if not. The thing is, I don’t know where they have come from.

I can’t remember if there was more than one other vehicle in the car park when I arrived. There had to have been at least one, belonging to the tourists at Nature’s Window, but was there another?

How much earlier than me would this couple have had to set off to not see any sign of them before now? Unless they walked the reverse way, and are now walking back up, rather hiking than the whole loop. It doesn’t take long to catch them up.

They’re a middle-aged Aussie couple, and we talk about how lovely and fresh it is — it’s ideal hiking weather. The conversation lags, and I don’t know the etiquette of this.

Since I’m walking alone, should I now walk at their pace and stay with them? If only for safety. Or out of politeness. But they also might not want company. Instead, I walk on.

I figure now that at least if I fall and hurt myself, they’re behind me and will catch up — and be able to get help.

The Way Out

Before I’m out of the gorge, the sun comes out, and it’s starting to get hot. I can see, way at the top, Nature’s Window and there are tiny figures of people up there. It’s a steep climb in soft sand and loose rock, 2km uphill.

I eventually get to the top, practically staggering. There are people everywhere around Nature’s Window with selfie sticks and lounging seductively across rocky ledges for Instagram stories.

I stop and admire the view, take some pictures to see how it’s changed since I started, and then I just keep going.

In front of a family, I slip on some rocks and bang my knee. It’s not bad, but I consider to myself that it’s lucky I didn’t do that at the start of the walk, or I might have just turned around rather than risk it getting worse

A short while later, I meet the family again at a photo spot. They say something about a photo, and I think they want me to take their picture. “Are you ok?” they ask me. “Yes, I’m fine.” I don’t know why they are mentioning it again.

But it turns out they don’t want a photo, they were going to look at one together, and they thought I was approaching them for help.

I make it the rest of the way, briefly daunted by a staircase that now seems more difficult than anything else that day.

Around the car park for The Loop were shelters for picnics. Before heading home, I sat quietly in the shade of one, surrounded by a veritable cloud of flies. Tired, sweaty, dirty, peaceful and happy.

The Road to Kalbarri

With a squeal of tyres and a cloud of dust, I pull over to the side of the road. There’s a big sign saying “Kalbarri” and I’ve driven six hours to get here.


I mentioned Indian Ocean Drive in my previous post about Jurien Bay. It recently occurred to me that I’ve taken several road trips on it but not seen the end.

I’ve been to the white dunes of Lancelin, the desert pinnacles of Cervantes, the abandoned water park of Two Rocks, the koalas of Yanchep, and now the sea lions of Jurien Bay. But its end, in Geraldton, I didn’t know.

With some time on my hands before starting a new job, I decided a road trip was in order. I looked up where I could fly to in Australia with the meagre frequent flyer points I have, and the answer was not far. So I looked where I could drive to, instead.

I spent my first few months in Australia in the southern part of the south-west. Mainly Albany, with trips to Esperance, Walpole, and Denmark, so I felt I’d done the south coast. I can’t count the number of road trips to Albany I’ve been on, and even Margaret River doesn’t call to me in quite the way it does others in Perth.

Going North

This time, I decided I’d take the trip farther north to Kalbarri.

I booked a week in Kalbarri about 18 months ago, but was made redundant from my job and had to work the notice period instead of taking that break. It felt like we had unfinished business.

Destination decided, I set about looking for accommodation. I wanted it simple. I wasn’t planning to camp but tried to keep it basic. There were hostels, pubs with rooms, motor hotels, but I got a deal on a place through Airbnb for cheaper than anything else I saw.

All that remained was to squeeze some things into a backpack — particularly hiking gear, since I wanted to see the gorges — throw it in the back of the car, and go. Kalbarri is a six-hour drive from Perth, and that’s if you don’t stop.

Luckily, morning traffic in Perth goes north to south, so I was able to start driving and barely stop. Despite owning my car for several years, I have only recently worked out how to use the cruise control — and I wouldn’t have wanted to make the drive without it.

Dongara

My first real stop of the day was in Dongara, about three-and-a-half hours from home.

The first half of the journey felt surreal. I didn’t stop at the Pinnacles in Cervantes, why I’m usually on that road, and having so recently visited Jurien Bay, it felt strange passing through the town again.

It wasn’t Dongara itself where I stopped, more just a parking place on the side of the road. All that was there was a picnic table under a metal roof, not even a toilet. From the smell of the place, motorists were using it as both.

There was a strange contrast between the dusty road with the smelly shelter, and the blue ocean with its crashing waves if you turned your back to the highway.

Just the same, I didn’t hang around for long.

I planned to stop in Geraldton for lunch, and formally recognise it as the end of Indian Ocean Drive. The universe had other plans. I joined a line of cars in a roadside traffic stop and understood right away; this was more than just RBT and was slightly alarmed when the officer said they were looking for drugs and money.

It felt like one of those movie moments where an escaped convict is hiding in a car boot when the driver gets caught up in a routine stop.

I’m also not on the road often enough to see many stops. There was a checkpoint near Cervantes on a recent trip to the Pinnacles, but that was spot checks for rock lobster and fish. I didn’t know what to expect from this kind of stop, didn’t know if there would be saliva tests that would then flag up my ADHD medication. And if they did, what then? Would someone have to call my psychiatrist?

In the end, the stop came to nothing more than checking my driver’s licence, a breath test, and waving me on my way.

Geraldton

Geraldton foreshore

I was greeted by Geraldton less than an hour later, and surprised by the coastal city. In my head, I imagined it a dustier place with colonial-style buildings. Instead, it felt more like Albany, with definite signs of being an agricultural town — which makes sense, in the Wheatbelt.

I pulled in at the first pub I saw. Not immediately obvious was how to get in, but I found the doors to the bar. Locked. It should have been open, but the doors had other ideas.

While I stood off to one side, checking maps for where else I could try, another customer came along. He tried a door. Found it locked. Looked inside. He then appeared to say something to people within, opened the door, and went in. I followed close behind.

The pub was one of those places where the bar is more of a TAB than anything else; men sat at the bar with their pints, watching horse racing.

I looked around on the bar and the walls for a menu, and couldn’t see anything. Surely in a place like that, at lunchtime, you’d want to keep people around by offering food.

I asked the barmaid if they had menus. She looked confused. Are you serving food? Is the kitchen open? It will be for dinner. When’s dinner? Tonight. Nothing now? No.

I thanked them and set off to the foreshore instead. There would have to be somewhere to get food there, and I could enjoy a view of the ocean.

I found another pub, and this time the doors weren’t locked. Except I seemed to have to walk through what appeared to be a hotel lobby, all polished marble and freezing aircon, and into the bar.

This place was as different from the last as you could get. Instead of men drinking beer at the bar and placing their bets, it was a dining room. Tables, set nicely with cloths and wine glasses. And not a single soul in sight. I turned right around and walked back out again. Even if the kitchen was open in this place, it was probably too expensive.

I then gave up on the idea of a pub and settled for a toasted sandwich at a coffee shop. At least it had a view of the sea.

Lunch was brief. I’d spent longer than I wanted to find a place to eat, and figured I could always see Geraldton on the way home. Kalbarri was still two hours further, and I was eager to get there soon.

I’d made a reservation for a canoe tour in Kalbarri the next day. Booking instructions came with the direction to call at 4 pm the day before to check it was going ahead. There wasn’t far to drive, but that deadline was going to strike right between two places — so I resolved to pull in somewhere as close to 4 as I could.

I pulled in at some historic convict trading post. Mobile coverage is what it is outside of major cities, and it was a dead zone. I got out, walked around looking foolish, then jumped back in and sped off to find somewhere else.

The second stop was so unremarkable I didn’t even write notes about it. It was probably a wide spot in the road, but it had mobile reception. And nobody answered when I called.

Ever resourceful, I fired off a quick email and an identical text message and set off once more with Kalbarri in my sights.

Welcome to Kalbarri

The sign for the town crept up on me, and it was a spur of the moment decision to pull over and grab a photo. I’d driven a long way to get to this point, and had little more than 30 minutes left to go.

A short time later, I pulled into the dusty red dirt of the driveway for my home for the next couple of nights.

A short way off the back veranda, a couple of kangaroos were browsing in the early evening sun. The world was quiet, and having driven for so long it all now felt weirdly unreal.

And then realised I had less than an hour until the town’s only supermarket closed.

Jurien Bay’s sea lions

It’s Sunday morning. I should be relaxing in bed, considering feeding cats breakfast. Instead, I’m underwater watching two sea lions chase each other, round and round, in playful circles.

Only two and a half hours from Perth lies seaside town Jurien Bay.

My biggest question is why I haven’t visited sooner: it’s got beautiful beaches and a sparkling ocean. And sea lions.

Indian Ocean Drive runs up the south-west coast, starting in Perth and ending a dusty 400km later in Geraldton. Opened less than 10 years ago, it’s slightly quicker than other routes, and connects coastal towns directly to Perth. Combined, it’s had a positive effect on the local economies of many places along the way. Including Jurien Bay.

I’ll write about other places along the Drive another time, but today is Jurien Bay. And, yes, its sea lions.

A Town Divided

This part of the coast was discovered by Europeans more than a century ago, and Jurien Bay got permanent buildings for the first time in the 1950s. Even those were reportedly little more than corrugated iron shacks.

In parts of Jurien Bay, there are still some original houses, built when it was a fishing industry town. There was a time when the seafood supply chain connected almost everyone; catching the fish, processing it, or selling seafood.

Rock lobster has since become a billion-dollar industry, and when the mining boom funnelled wealth into Western Australia, Jurien Bay benefitted.

Today there is a strange disconnect in the town. One street will have original weatherboard houses, but a short distance away, closer to the water, it’s more like a millionaire’s row.

What is also clear is the impact of the global financial crisis.

Some lots are half-finished, and faded billboards are still advertising land for sale. Fancy mansions stand almost as islands with their residents enjoying early evening drinks on their balconies overlooking deserted streets.

The housing boom might have looked like it would last forever, but Jurien Bay shows the high-water mark of where that wave broke and rolled back. As a town, it feels like it has a fractured identity.

The Mane Attraction

What I didn’t know until recently was that Jurien Bay is famous for its sea lions. 

I have a decidedly amateur interest in marine biology, including sea turtle conservation, meeting seals on kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding adventures, and even swimming with wild dolphins last year. I leapt at the chance to meet sea lions.

Tourism is big business for towns like Jurien Bay. Climate change affects ocean temperatures, the fossil fuel industry is becoming less sustainable, and extreme and unpredictable weather events are becoming more common, so it’s important to support local economies.

Luckily, there are several sea lion tours to choose from in town, and during school holidays you definitely need to book in advance. We got the last two spots on the last tour with Sea Lion Charters — leaving first thing, 7:30 on Sunday morning.

The tour starts with a short journey out into the bay while the skipper blasts 80s Aussie anthems and shares his knowledge of the area with his passengers on board. But everyone on the boat is nervously thinking the same thing: what’s going to happen? Will we even see any sea lions?

Face to Face

This is no ordinary tour where you watch wildlife from the comfort of a boat. Here, you meet sea lions, face to face, in the water. You slip on a wetsuit, strap on a facemask and snorkel, and jump in the water — the sea lions are waiting to meet you.

Once the boat reaches the area of a nearby protected island in the bay, sea lions of all shapes and sizes are lounging about in the warm morning sun. Once they see us, it doesn’t take long for the sea lions to come swimming out to us.

Sometimes you observe sea lions swimming a little distance away from you, indifferent to your presence, doing their own sort of aquatic feline thing, other times more playful ones swim up and try to encourage you to join in a game.

Or a pair of playful sea lions, barely a metre away, will spend several minutes chasing each other in circles, over and over. You watch, transfixed, feeling like you have stumbled (or haplessly swum) into a nature documentary, but you can’t look away.

You watch until their endless twirling makes you start to feel dizzy, but the sea lions are content to keep on going like they are performing in a show just for you.

There is up to 16 people on a tour, and multiple tours in the same area — plus private boats also out to see the wildlife, so it might seem like it gets crowded in the water, but it’s a big ocean. You can swim happily and peacefully on your own, and a smiling sea lion will rocket past underneath you, or you might be among a small group of people, and just as you put your face into the water notice, a sea lion friend is swimming, unnoticed, by your feet.

Tours have the option to hire a GoPro camera so you can take photos or shoot video of the experience. I’m only glad that I didn’t take it up, because any video footage would be soundtracked by my excited swearing when a sea lion swims by.

With this sort of thing, you can think you know what to expect. Even if you know you are going to meet sea lions, sometimes literally being face to face with them if they are feeling curious about you, nothing can prepare you for how that feels when it happens.

It’s exhilarating and humbling and emotional.

Jurien Bay is so close to Perth, and an adventure to meet the town’s sea lions is an easy and unique experience.

Adventures Old and New

Way back in 2009, I went on an adventure to Peru. One of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures type things.

A one off adventure, inspired by people who had done or were doing similar things.

Except it wasn’t a one off and it didn’t end there.

A five day hike to the lost city of Machu Picchu in 2009 inspired this blog, the Flat Foot Adventurer.

In 2011, I traded remote mountain paths for the Arctic tundra of Norway. Instead of high mountain paths I was driving a sled and a pack of huskies through the snow and across frozen lakes.

Since then, the adventures continue. I raced on a dragon boat team, moved to Australia, tracked nesting sea turtles on deserted beaches, started a street roller hockey team, and kept looking for more adventures.

Adventures in 2017 and Beyond

thevenard islandIt’s now 2017.

In December, I travel to WA’s Thevenard island to join the flatback turtle monitoring program, counting tracks, tagging turtles, and collecting data.

In September 2019, I plan to embark on my biggest and most challenging adventure yet. I will be joining Raleigh International as a volunteer on an expedition for three months in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Volunteers will be working with rural communities in remote areas of Central America. Protecting one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, projects can involve working on a water and sanitation initiatives to bring clean water to rural communities, or constructing school buildings for indigenous communities.

On the expedition as a volunteer communications officer, I am not getting paid. Due to Raleigh International being a registered charity I need to fundraise for them, and various charity fundraising activities and begging will follow. In addition, there will be some unashamed requests for funds to help me cover the period I will be in a remote Central American jungle instead of at a desk in Perth.

This will make the next year a challenge all of its own.

Adventures in Costa Rica awaitI set up today the Facebook page for The Flat Foot Adventurer.

After eight years of adventures it deserves to have one! Previous adventures had pages, but lost relevance when the adventures were complete.

It makes sense for there to be one page for sharing these adventures to.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

The big relocation

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 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

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

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.

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

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.