Monday, May 29, 2017

Pinnacles, Kalbarri, and Shark Bay

By Jen.

From Harvey, we went Northwards past Perth (well, after stopping for some groceries). North of Perth, there isn’t a lot. Typically, there are at least 100 km between anything. Anything being as small as a roadhouse or lookout or as large as city of about 5000 people. There are a lot of similarities to the area when driving the Nullarbor highway. This has actually proved beneficial for me. The day before my birthday, I managed to sprain my knee, so I have been hobbling around since then. I have been trying to follow the RICE treatment, so spending long hours riding in the van at least keeps me off my feet. And, fortunately, there haven’t been too many hike options, so that helps as well. I would take prayers, though, as this is very inconvenient. I had thought I was completely healed so long as I didn’t do anything too stupid, but now I feel like I am back in square 1 again.

After Perth, the first attraction was the Pinnacles Desert. These interesting spires are limestone columns that formed when sea levels were higher. Kinda fun, aren’t they?



Then, we made our way to Kalbarri National Park. There are only 2 hikes really recommended here, and as we drove into the park, we found out that the access to those hikes were closed, so I didn’t have anything to regret. At Lake Thetis, we found some stromatolites, which are related to the thrombolites we found farther south.


Then as we made our way along the coastline for its various viewpoints, we encountered a sea eagle! These eagles are endangered and extremely rare. It was quite surprising and we weren’t really expecting it at all (though, to be fair, we were along the coast, which increases are chances exponentially).



DSCN3253On our way out of one of the viewpoints, this large short-beaked echidna was “hiding” on the road.


We left that park and started our journey northwards again. Another day of driving put us in Shark Bay region, where we visited another stromatolite population in Hamelin Pool that put the first set to shame with its size, shape, and health.


Then we made our way towards Monkey Mia, stopping at a few scenic locations along the way.

Shell Beach. This beach was made entirely of cockle shells. In some areas, it was up to 8m deep.

Mangroves at a small lagoon.

Then, finally, the highlight of trip, a close encounter with wild dolphins. Apparently dolphins had been fed at this spot for about 50 years now, beginning when a fishing couple started dumping out the fish that they didn’t want when they returned home. Eventually, researchers and the Parks and Wildlife department (DPaW) showed up there to monitor the interactions. Apparently, in the 80s, people would feed and pet the dolphins all the time. But, the researchers discovered that that interaction resulted in a 80% mortality rate for the dolphin calves. The dolphin mothers were paying too much attention to people, waiting for handouts than to their calves. The calves would then either die of malnutrition (as they need deeper water to nurse), not be taught the proper fishing habits (and not be able to feed themselves), or be eaten by sharks when they mother was not around. Problems identified by the researchers, the DPaW implemented a feeding regimen, which still allowed human interaction with the dolphins but for the dolphins to still be wild. Now, they only do feedings up to 3 times in the morning and only to 5 specific females. The total amount is less than 10% of each dolphins required daily intake. You also are not allowed to touch the dolphins (passes diseases and irritations to dolphins). I witnessed 2 feedings, but wasn’t picked for handing the fish to the dolphin. It was still really fun to witness. It was really impressive how shallow of water they could swim in.




Friday, May 26, 2017

Perth (aka My Birthday Week)

By Jen.

For the last couple of months, we had been planning on staying in Perth for a week or two, but we didn’t know the exact dates we would be there. We had thought we might get there in the middle of May, but we actually arrived on May 3. With the prices, we decided to stay a week, which put us there over my birthday. So, it felt like we were celebrating my birthday all week long.

We had been thinking of renting an apartment, etc., but the easiest/cheapest option we found was renting a studio on It has been a handy option for us while in Australia and allows you to choose what kind of place/how much money you want to spend. If you are considering using AirBnB in the future, feel free to use our recommendation link. It gives you and me a credit to use on AirBnB rentals. The place we rented this time was a lovely, secluded efficiency at someone’s house. It had everything we needed for a week’s stay, including a fenced yard in which we could park the van.

While we were waiting on the check-in time for the room, we thought we would go ahead and knock off some of the Perth must-dos. Top of the list was The Perth Mint. I really wanted to visit this tourist attraction because it was just so extravagant. You get to view a 1 tonne gold coin, fondle a gold brick, and see how they make a gold brick. It is pretty insane how much wealth they have there. It was rather fun.


This is the largest gold coin ever made.

It was so hot and bright that my camera couldn’t even get a clear photo of the liquid gold.

If Jonathan and I were worth our weight in gold, this is how much money we would be.

The day after we moved in, we went to pick up our mail and get some supplies (groceries and things to modify the van while we parked). In the mail, we received some items we had ordered on ebay and a care package from an old college friend who has also spent long periods abroad. It was filled with tastes from good ol’ America and was lot of fun to open up. Friday we spent the day relaxing. Then, Saturday we went to the movies for the first time in 4 months. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Very fun. We had tried to watch movies before, but we normally had bad timing, so this was a welcome treat.


Then, for the last day of my 20s, Jonathan took me to Perth’s Botanical Gardens at Kings Park. This was lots of fun, as there were still lots of flowers, even though it is currently autumn here. Also, unlike Melbourne’s botanical gardens, the plants here in Perth were all species native to Western Australia. What I found particularly interesting was how many plants they have that were only found in very small regions there and no where else in the world. For example, they had a plant that only lives in a single gully in WA, and is thus an exceedingly rare and endangered species.

This interesting building houses the royal bells of London’s St Martins-in-the-Fields, the only ones to ever have been exported out of England.

Finally, Monday was my 30th birthday! Since I had told Jonathan my expectations months before and had been reminding him for several months now, he had a wonderful day planned for me. First, however, we made a trip to the dentist. We wanted to keep up our teeth health and the only time the cheapest option could fit us in was on the morning of my birthday, so that is what we did. The experience at the dentist was very similar to that in the States. I was surprised to find that the dentist was doing my cleaning, but that was only because the hygienist was away on vacation. And, they didn’t offer an alternative to the water-jet cleaning, unlike my wonderful dentist back in Tulsa. I also wanted to get a fluoride treatment, but that practice (apparently others do) doesn’t offer that. We only did a cleaning (not checkup or x-rays), and it cost $93 AUD per person.

After that, Jonathan whisked me off to lunch at a Japanese restaurant (so that neither of us had to cook), where we ate salmon and cheese croquettes and chicken udon (close enough to ramen to suffice for a while). Then since we were in the area, I got to choose a muffin for dessert. I couldn’t decide between 3 of them and Jonathan just had me get all 3. But when we ordered, they said I could get 4 for the price of 3, so I got another one that I wasn’t expecting (Raspberry White Chocolate, Orange Poppyseed, Apple Cinnamon, Macademia Caramel). Yay! Last, but not definitely not least, Jonathan had organized a scavenger hunt for me. This was one of those requests I had voiced months before so he had ample time to prepare. He had apparently been preparing for weeks on it, which meant a lot to me. The hunt started in the apartment, led to the van, and then back to the apartment. The clues were fairly simple, but filled with warm notes to me and even fun sketches. Of course, since we didn’t have printer paper on us at the time, he was stuck handwriting them, so I was given the added complexity of interpreting his chicken scratches. It left me smiling the whole time. Definitely a birthday to remember.



The rest of the time in Perth was spent working on the van, which mostly meant a major cleaning. We also performed a few minor tweaks we had been putting off. Jonathan had planned on replacing the rotors and fixing the sway-bar down link while we were there. But, we couldn’t find a reasonable-cost source for the rotors (not a common size in AUS). We special-ordered some from an auto parts store, but they ordered the wrong ones. We were going to order correct ones, but they were super costly. We decided to just put it off, as we have plenty of wear on them still, they were just being squeaky. And then, to top it off, when we received the sway-bar down link, we discovered we ordered the right one instead of the left one. So none of that happened.

Turning the driver’s cubby into a qi charging station.

Finally, on our last day in Perth, the package with my phone arrived! From March 29 to May 11, I had been without a phone and I sorely missed it. I missed being able to use it for grocery lists and reading books. I hated when Jonathan could send texts, but I couldn’t. I missed having the internet at my fingertips. At last, my old friend was back in my hands after 6 full weeks. In trying to get it back, it was reminding me of when I lost my debit card before I went to Spain, like the world was conspiring against me. I had to get them my broken phone within 14 days of receiving my new phone. The only way to guarantee that was to ship my phone back to the states, then request my new phone, then ship my phone to the warranty center. It took just less than 2 weeks to get to the States. Then I requested my replacement phone, but I found out a few days later that they canceled my order because of “inconsistencies”. I think this was because my country was marked AUS instead of USA, and my shipping address was to the USA. Of course, when I discovered this, we were in the middle of the Nullarbor, where cell reception can be a bit sparse. So, I had Jonathan stop while I walked around to get the best reception to send my email. I couldn’t just “reorder;” I had to request a new replacement link be sent to me so that I could reorder. So the 2nd reordering process took a few more days. Finally, they shipped the phone to my USA address, but the recipients had just left when it was delivered, so it wouldn’t get shipped to me until the following week, adding another week to the separation. Finally, it was on its way to me in Australia. But, watching the tracking on these packages is its own form of torture. I have to give credit to the USPS. While not hugely reliable, their tracking system is accurate and a package is always on the move; it never bottlenecks. Here in Australia, I guess with smaller population but just as great distances (and the fact that post office is a corporation and not government-run), things take longer to get places and bottleneck at places for days. The tracking said it was in Perth for days, but it still hadn’t been delivered to post office. Their sorting facility and customs takes days, apparently. At least when the box arrived, it was stuffed with other goodies from the good ol’ USA that we can’t get here. The medium-sized box was stuffed near-to-overflowing and weighed 12 pounds!


To finish off the week, we thought we would swing a short distance south again to visit some friends of friends from my hometown. The mother of one of my best friends in high school had friends/family near Perth in Western Australia. When she learned we were heading there, she put us in contact with them, and I am glad she did. They were a fun family to meet and very hospitable, despite their busy schedules. To introduce to the area, they took us to a quirky attraction nearby called Gnomesville, where there is a large field of gnomes. People from all over, even from faraway countries have contributed to it.

The Astrognome.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Towards Perth

We are continuing towards Perth, taking the South Coast Highway to get there (the scenic route).  Along the way we stopped in The Valley of the Giants.  This giant Tingle trees in this area grow up to 70 meters tall.  They are similar in many aspects to the California Redwoods and are a sight to behold.  We took the opportunity to do a elevated walk through the canopy of one of the taller groves. 



Here is a photosphere from the  walkway, great views!

Back on the ground you see the scale of the trees (many over 400 years  old).  They can have a girth of over 20 meters.




Continuing southwest, we drove to the southwestern most point in Australia, Cape Leeuwin.  Here the Indian and Southern (Antarctic) Oceans meet.  We climbed the lighthouse here for some great views.






As always, WA is keeping it weird.

We wandered around the Cape for a while, before resuming our drive towards Perth.



Some 20ft waves coming in off the Indian Ocean.