Tag Archives: Western Australia

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.

The day of the cyclone

Cyclone. Photo by NASA on Unsplash
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

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

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.

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

Returning and New

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 beforehad 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

Sunrise on the beach

My 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

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…

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.

Onslow and Onwards

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

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.

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…