Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Half-lap Day 86: Cape Range National Park

The wind picked up a bit overnight and kept us awake at various stages. The tent held it’s own though, it flapped around a lot but nothing budged. Once again I woke up after sunrise, and headed down to the beach with my cup of tea. I walked along the rocky beach and got to the point where the Mandu Creek comes out to the ocean – it’s dry now, and has left a wide bed of sand and rocks and driftwood. From there I had a good view of the osprey nest further along the rocky shore – one osprey was sitting on top of the nest, and a couple of seagulls started dive bombing the next. Another adult osprey suddenly stood up from within the nest, and the 2 of them screeched at the seagulls until the gulls gave up.

Back at the tent I started to get everyone’s breakfast ready, and to get things organised to pack up. We didn’t get started particularly early (because of our restless night, no one woke up early or easily) but the pack up went pretty smoothly. We chatted a bit to our neighbours and the kids watched the corellas who had descended on the campground. These ones were whiter and cleaner looking than the ones we’d seen in Tom Price. It was tempting to feed them to have them come closer, but we resisted. The kids also found it hard not to collect the amazing shells and rocks around us, but with this being a Sanctuary Zone we weren’t allowed to take anything from the area.

We’d been a bit worried that the jockey wheel might be stuck in the dirt now that the wind had dried out the ground a little, but when we went to turn the trailer around it moved quite easily. We were ready to go by just after 11, and drove the short distance down through the National Park to the North Kurrajong campground. Technically we aren’t supposed to set up until 12, and it was only 11.15 – but our campsite was empty so we backed in there and Caitlin and I went for a wander to check out the beach and see if we could find the campground hosts (the bigger campgrounds have hosts – volunteers who camp here for a week or a month or more, and liaise with the campers, help keep the campground neat and tidy and running well, and are full of information about the local area. North Mandu only had 5 campsites and had no host, this is a bigger area (about 10 sites) and does have a host, right next to our site). We found a couple painting the tables overlooking the beach, and asked if they were the hosts. They were national parks volunteers, but not our hosts. They said it would be fine to set up as long as our site was empty. We chatted to them for a while about places to see from here down to Perth, and things to do within the Park here.

The beach here was very different from North Mandu. We had walked up to the top of the sand dunes, which were much higher here, and gave us a great view across the beach, the lagoon, the reef and the ocean. It was even easier to spot whales from here because of the height. The water was a deep blue, and we could see patches of rock and coral in the clear shallower water within the reef. The sand was white and inviting, it looked like a great place to swim.

This site was much bigger than our last one (12m by 7m) so it was easy to simply back the trailer in to the right spot and set it up from there. The wind was still coming mainly from the east so we set up with the tent on the eastern side, and finally got it right, our annex and living area was protected from the wind! Once the tent was up and the kids had had a bit of an explore we had some lunch, and in the meantime our camp hosts had arrived back at their site and came over to introduce themselves (and make sure we were in the right campground and site).

Today’s plan was to snorkel the Oyster Stacks – a few large piles of rocks in the water, which are covered in oyster shells – which can only be done at high tides, because the coral is so close to the surface that it would be damaged if people snorkeled in shallow water (and people would be more likely to get hurt on the coral too). The window for snorkeling today was 12.30 until 4. By the time we got organised and drove up there, it was 2pm, which gave us a good couple of hours.

There were a lot of people along the shore and lots snorkeling in the water. It was a trickier spot to get into the water than Turquoise Bay – you could climb down rocks into clear, shallow water with a sandy bottom, but getting down the rocks was a little tricky. Further to the south the rocks were low enough that we could just walk in, but the swell made this not quite as easy as it looked, and the current was stronger in this area. We chose to go in at the low rocks. Walking across the rocks to get to the water, there were lots of little rockpools, and many of them had crabs in them. At first we were quite excited, then realised that they all seemed to be dead – they must have been stranded in the rock pools when the tide went out and perhaps the water became too hot?

Tony went in first, then once we were ready I took LiAM, Caitlin and Millie in. We’d heard that here you could see fish as soon as you entered the water and that was true, the coral and pretty fish were right near the shoreline. We swam around in the area between the last 2 oyster stacks and saw so many fish, and lots of coral, it was really beautiful. There were lots of parrot fish, and rainbow fish, angel fish, blue damsels, ocean trout, and so many others. Millie swam really well again and was quite confident directing me to where she wanted to go. Having looked at the fish book last night we all recognised more fish too, and also saw some we didn’t remember seeing yesterday. I found it a bit of work to get back to shore again, the current was strongish and I had to kick pretty hard to swim across it while holding Millie’s hand. I had put waterproof band aids on the blisters on my toes – when I came out and took my flippers off, the bandaids came off as well! I didn’t realise until I was out of the water, so they are in the ocean somewhere – I hope that they don’t hurt any of the fish or other creatures.

Tony, Caitlin and LiAM snorkeled over to the other oyster stacks. They said that the current was much weaker over that way (we’d heard that too) and that the fish around the stacks were incredible. They also saw an octopus. Once they got out I went for a snorkel by myself and went to explore the stacks. The number of fish here was so much more than those just swimming around in the coral. There were caves and gaps in the rocks, which were all full of fish swimming in and out. Under the northernmost stack there was an overhang, and under that ledge were 30 or 40 large fish, just hanging out. It was very cool. On the way back I saw a large group of crocodile longtoms.

When I got back to shore LiAM wanted to come in with me and swim on his own. He and I went back to the stacks, saw the large fish again, and he showed me the octopus. While we watched it came up off the bottom and swam towards some coral, so cool to see all it’s legs pushed out behind us. It nestled up against the coral and we looked around at some fish, when we looked back we couldn’t see the octopus. When we looked really closely we found it’s eye, and then could see it’s outline against the coral – if we hadn’t known it was there, the camoflauge would have hidden it entirely. It was amazing how quickly it changed colour and blended in to its environment.

Caitlin joined us as we headed back to shore (much easier swimming across the current when I had two hands available) and we went back out to the stacks. We didn’t see the octopus this time but saw lots more amazing fish. It’s cool having the 3 of us swimming together as we all see different things and point them out to each other, so we each see more than when we go alone. Swimming back to shore I saw what looked like a sucker in a hole on the bottom, and swam back around to look, Caitlin following me – there was an octopus curled up in this little hole in the rocks, we couldn’t see much of him but it was pretty cool. Right near the edge I saw an eye in a hole and was able so show LiAM this time as well – another octopus in a hole, amazing how we could swim right over so many things and not know they were there, unless you happen to look the right way.

Millie and Tony came in for one last snorkel before the water got too shallow. Swimming around with LiAM and Millie, we saw the octopus closest to the shore had come out of his hole, and was sitting on the ocean floor. LiAM and I got a good look, Millie was having a bit of trouble with the swell so close to shore and wasn’t sure what we were looking at, so didn’t see the octopus. We had another quick look around and then reluctantly got out. Every time I am in the water snorkeling there is no other place I want to be, I could stay in there for hours and never get sick of looking at the fish going about their business, and the incredible looking coral.

We dried off and drove back to our campsite. The sun was low in the sky now and made the ranges an amazing colour. Back at camp I wanted to try snorkeling off our beach, Caitlin was going to come with me then started chatting to a guy with a guitar, also from Victoria, so I went in by myself. There were a couple of fishermen on the floor (this part of the park is not a sanctuary, so fishing is allowed) and I didn’t go far out, so I felt safe enough snorkeling by myself. The water was cloudy near the shore, and fairly shallow as the tide was on it’s way out. I could see some submerged rocks just out from the point at the southern end of our beach, so I went to check them out. There were fish around, not lots but several angel fish and blue damsels and other little fish. It was hard to swim close enough to the rocks without getting in to very shallow water, so I just had a quick look around and then headed back to shore, feeling quite exhileratied and happy that I’d checked it out. Tony came down to the beach to have a look, and we had a bit of a chat then he went back to camp and I explored the rocks on foot, out of the water. There was another little beach just past the rocks to the south, and at the point where the rocks met the sand there were lots of completely moss covered rocks, low in the water and now being exposed by the low tide. I wandered around for a while and took lots of photos, very enjoyable.

Back at our tent we discussed our day with the camp hosts, and they invited us up to the tables overlooking the beach for happy hour – most of the campers head up there each evening to watch the sunset. We grabbed some drinks and went up to join the others. Our hosts were there, as well as the guy that Caitlin had been talking to, and his partner. There was another family there, with 4 kids – friends of the people we’d been next to at North Mandu, and that family had told each of us about each other, and we’d seen them briefly at the oyster stacks that afternoon. We started chatting, they are from Newcastle so it was cool to discuss a place we both knew well. It turns out that they are also homeschoolers – only the 2nd full time homeschooling family we’ve met on our trip! We talked for ages, and all our kids played on the beach together (theirs are aged between 6 and 10. LiAM and the 10yo boy got on well, and Millie and the 6yo girl did as well. Caitlin and the other boys joined in whatever games were going on). All the other campers enjoyed watching so many kids play together on the beach, obviously having a lot of fun.

The sunset was magnificent, one of the best we’ve seen. As the sun approached the horizon we saw dolphins swimming through the lagoon. Caitlin raced down to the beach to show Millie, who looked up just in time to see one leap out of the water – we could tell she’d seen it because of the very excited dance she did on the edge of the water. We watched them swim past for ages, leaping out of the water and obviously playing together. Once they had moved on and the sun was down, the clouds kept getting more and more orange and spectacular, it was a wonderful sight and quite nice to share it with everyone else who was there.

Once it was dark we headed back down to the tent and Tony cooked some dinner – a tuna and rice dish, wrapped in rice paper rolls. We looked at the fish book some more and I finished setting up the beds. We were all feeling pretty relaxed and tired and happy. LiAM dropped some food on the ground and then saw a little shape run past his chair. A little while later another shape ran across our carpet. We turned more lights on and after a while saw a little furry mouse-like animal scamper out from under a chair, then ran back in when it saw us looking at it. Over the next half an hour or so we had about 4 of these guys scampering and hopping around our camp – they were so cute, with big round ears, plump little bodies and incredibly long tails. Sometimes they ran on all fours and sometimes they hopped. One of them found a big crust of bread behind a chair and hopped out with it – Caitlin could only see the bread and said it was hilarious to see this crust hopping across the ground. I scared the little guy by chasing him and he dropped the crust (I didn’t want him eating it) and soon after that they all disappeared. I wasn’t sure what they were called, but we were positive they were little native marsupials.

It was a clear night and as more people turned off their lights in their vans we could see more and more stars – probably the most we’ve seen anywhere. We could clearly see the milky way all the way down to the horizon, that rarely happens. We’d noticed here that the ocean seems so much bigger, with low headlands the view to north and south of the ocean is massive, and it was the same with the sky – with the dunes and the ranges being so low, there is nothing to block the horizon and it felt like we were in a huge dome, with the ceiling covered in stars. We saw lots of shooting stars too – I only saw a couple, but Tony and Caitlin saw 8 or 9. It was a beautiful night. Tony sat in a chair behind our tent, away from all the lights, and watched the sky for ages.

Eventually we headed in to bed and read for a while then dropped off to sleep.

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