Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Half-lap Day 87: Cape Range National Park

The wind became very strong through the night, the strongest night time wind we’ve had on the trip. Tony and I were awake several times, and for a long time each occasion. Tony got up 3 times and went out to tie down things that were flapping or knocking, and to make sure that everything that might blow away was put away. The wind was slamming into the tent behind our head and slapping the canvas against the pole, I felt like it was a constant punching right behind me and it really wore me out. The kids each woke up, worried, once or twice, but we reassured them and they went back to sleep, and the tent and all our stuff survived the night without any damage or loss.

We eventually fell back to sleep at some point in the early morning, then I woke up around 6.30, as it was getting light. We had to be up and out early today to go on a glass-bottomed boat tour, so I decided not to go back to sleep despite feeling exhausted, and went up to the beach instead. I sat at the tables and drank my cup of tea and watched the waves and the whales, and the sun coming over the ranges and slowly lighting up the ocean. It was windy up there too and my travel mug got blown off the table, so I lost half of my cuppa.

Back to the tent and I woke the others up around 7.30 – we wanted to leave at 8 so we could call in and see our friends at Neds, they were packing up today and I wanted to see them before they left. The kids got out of bed fairly quickly, and had some breakfast. I made sure we had swimmers and snorkels and food for the day, so that we didn’t have to come back to camp until we were ready, and we were in the car by about 8.10, one of our quickest getaways on the trip.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, although still quite windy. The swell didn’t look very big though, so we hoped the wind wouldn’t impact on our boat tour. We got to Neds and walked up to see our friends, who were happy to see us. The girls played in the car and we caught up on our news of the past few days. They’d gone to Oyster Stacks on the day we did Turquoise Bay, so we’d missed them there. It was great to see them again and to share our plans for the next few days to see if we could catch up again somewhere soon. I mentioned that we couldn’t find Millie’s thongs (missing since Karajini – they could be in the car somewhere, or they could be with Tony’s missing hat and sunglasses…) and my friend said someone had given her a pair that they thought were her daughters (same pattern) but were a size too small – they just fit Millie, so she has thongs again, that look exactly the same as her friend’s thongs. Perfect.

We had about 15 minutes there, and then headed back to the car and drove to the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp. We got there just as the boat driver was reading off the names to make sure everyone had arrived. He introduced himself, Alec, the owner of the company, then we headed out along the jetty to the boat. He suggested that kids go in last as there is more room at that end of the boat, so we let everyone else get on and then we climbed in and sat on the bench seat to the left. The boat had a bench seat along either side, then 4 glass panels covering the entire middle section of the boat – so everyone was sitting facing the glass and could look down and see whatever was underneath. There was another family across from us – a young couple with a 2yo boy.

Sitting at the jetty, LiAM and the girls spotted a sting ray on the sand under the boat – a very exciting start to our tour. We motored out to the Tantabiddi Sanctuary Zone, a rectangular area of the reef where this tour operates. Alec told us about himself and his company and the boat, and made lots of jokes, he was fun to listen to. He then asked where each of us was from, and I was surprised that everyone on the boat was Australian. There was another couple from Melbourne, and he said ‘ooh, you’re not Collingwood supporters are you?’ – they said no, but when he got to us, Tony’s Collingwood hat gave him away. Alec offered to throw him overboard for a free snorkel…

On the way out to the reef some people saw a turtle – it was under our side of the boat and we missed it. Once we got to the reef, we saw amazing amounts of coral and fish, and it was great having a commentary about what each thing was, and interesting facts about behavior, diet, fragility and so on. We saw staghorn coral with blue tips – they looked like fairy lights (so we call it fairy light coral now) and large rock like coral formations which are called bommies. All the fish that we’d been seeing over the last few days were here, and we learnt more names. A very long, thin yellow fish that Millie and I had seen was a Spanish flutemouth, then LiAM spotted a silver one that looked the same – he pointed it out to Alec who said it was also a flutemouth. The most exciting thing was seeing a green turtle, feeding on the bottom. Alec turned the boat around 5 times so we could all see it properly. Very exciting and what I’d been hoping to see on this tour. We also saw a crayfish, and a large reef shark. I managed to get a fair few decent photos, as long as I remembered to hold the camera very close to the glass, and not on an angle. The 2 yo boy was so excited about seeing all the fish, it was very cool to listen to him talk about them.

Staghorn, or Fairy Light, coral
More coral
Green turtle
As we headed back to shore Alec handed out a DVD to each couple or family, filled with underwater photos of the reef that he has taken when diving or snorkeling here himself. I love going on tours when the operator is so passionate and knowledgeable about the area we are seeing, we always learn so much.

Once we were back at the car we looked at the map for a while to figure out what we wanted to do with the rest of our day (it was only 10.30 at this stage). We decided to drive all the way down to the southern end to check out Yardie Creek and the gorge there. We drove down then had a bit of a snack, then set out for the short walk along the creek. It was quite pretty, and we could see the gorge walls up ahead, the permanent water of the creek next to us, low scrubby land in either direction, and the ocean and reef behind us. The walk to the lookout at the start of the gorge was very quick and easy, so we continued up along the gorge walk, which was slightly more difficult but not hard. We saw some tenacious little yellow flowers growing out of holes in the rock, there was much less vegetation up here. We walked to the first lookout, where we could see down into the gorge. We watched some people float past on what I said were kayaks, but were actually stand up paddle boards. One guy was doing yoga on his, head stands and chimneys and so on – fairly impressive. The view was great in all directions from here, seeing the gorge, the ranges, the creek, the ocean and the land between the shore and the range. We could see whales way out in the distance. We walked back down, looking at the tough trees that live here – all bent over quite significantly, with very hardy looking branches and leaves.

Yardie Gorge
Yardie Creek
I wanted to snorkel at North Mandu (our original campsite) at high tide, which was just after 3pm today. We drove back up there, arriving a little after 1.30. Everyone was exhausted after our disruptive night’s sleep, and we considered just going back to the tent for a nap. The wind was still quite strong and was also wearing us out. We decided to stay though and just have a quick try at a snorkel once the water was high enough, then go back and rest. The kids and I wandered down to the beach, and walked towards the creek bed. We sat on the side of the creek bed and watched the ospreys – one was sitting on a dead branch on the other side of the creek bed, the other was in the nest. When seagulls started swooping the nest again, the osprey returned to the nest to help its mate scare them off. We didn’t ever go close to the nest so don’t know if they had eggs or chicks in there, but both adult birds kept looking down into the nest, so we’re sure that the nest was occupied by something. LiAM and Millie made rock cairns out of some of the flatter rocks, and we looked at shells and all the other things on the beach. There were huge white clam shells here, and more of the pink and brown shells, bits of coral, lots of driftwood, and rocks of a whole range of colours. Mainly white, pink and brown, and some were stripey. More whales were going past and I finally got some photos of one breaching – and all the kids saw it too, they have mainly only been breaching a long way out so it’s hard to show people, but these whales were just beyond the reef and one whale went up 4 times in a row, incredible to watch. We wandered back to Tony and sat at the table in the middle of the campground and had some lunch. By the time we’d finished eating it was after 2.30 and a good enough time to go in the water.

Humpback Whale
I went in first with LiAM and Millie. We went in pretty much from the end of the path to the beach, over the rocks and then into the deeper water (it’s not very deep here anyway). I wore my reef shoes so that it was easier to walk on the rocky shore and then over the rocks into the water. The swell was higher than we’d snorkeled in before, and the current seemed to be running strongly to the south, so I tried to go straight out then swim a bit north then head back in. We saw lots of fish again, and it was quite beautiful once we got out past the rocks. Millie coped well with the swell, and both kids could swim easily out there as long as they were holding my hand. Heading back in to shore I was really missing my flippers as I had to do all the work with my legs.

Tony decided to walk further north along the beach and go in at a less rocky part, then drift back down towards us. We walked along the beach near the shore, and saw a little reef shark darting in and out. He kept swimming quite close to us, then shooting back into the water. We followed him along the shore for ages, and later found out that juvenile reef sharks are very inquisitive and often come up to check people out and will swim near them along the shoreline. Tony swam way out and back towards the point, he saw a fair bit of coral and fish and said it was a good way to do it. At one point he was out pretty far and directly in the sunlight and I couldn’t see him – I was starting to wonder what I should do if he’d disappeared when I saw his orange snorkel come out of the shiny sun reflections – a big relief. I went and got my flippers and headed back in with LiAM. We were debating how far out we should walk before submerging, when Caitlin (still on the shore getting ready) shouted ‘Oh my God!’ and pointed in front of us – there was a turtle, right in front of us, only about 10m away. We both dived into the water and shot straight out there, Caitlin was not far behind us – but it had disappeared by the time we got there. We swam out beyond the rocks, and LiAM and I saw a blue-spotted ray hiding in under a ledge (my first ray of the trip, I was very excited). Back along the coral towards where Tony was on the shore, and saw lots more – every time we go out it’s as good as the last time, there’s so much going on under the water, fish eating and chasing each other and swimming around, interacting at times or going about their own business as if no one else was there. It was much easier swimming with my flippers, even though the blisters hurt a fair bit when I put them on. Once I was in the water though I didn’t notice them at all.

Millie came in for one more quick snorkel, then I took the others out again for a lap, and then we’d all had enough. Feeling very happy that we’d seen lots of cool things again, we headed back to the car. We stopped off at Bloodwood Creek on the way back to camp and walked up to the small lookout there. There was a bit of water in the creek although it wasn’t flowing, and there were a few birds around. We walked over to the beach and the kids and I decided to walk back, our beach was really not far. So Tony drove the car and the rest of us wandered back along the beach and rocks. The shoreline here was a series of low rocky outcrops, with small crescents of white sandy beaches in between. There were lotts more of the moss covered rocks on the edge of the larger rocks, interesting rockpools and holes in the rocks that we walked over, beautiful white sand with shells and fascinating driftwood in between each rocky part. The dunes to our left were covered in low bushes – great for LiAM to hide behind when he ran ahead, then jump out of as we came past.

Back at camp Tony was using up some leftovers for dinner – bread and eggs and bacon and maple syrup for some delicious French Toast. Caitlin and Millie went and talked to the guy with the guitar again, and they offered the girls a Harry Potter book that they didn’t want (The Deathly Hallows). Millie eagerly accepted it and then sat looking at the words while we ate our tea, she was very excited to have her own copy of a Harry Potter book. We finished eating then grabbed our drinks again and headed up to the tables for sunset. The sunset itself wasn’t as spectacular tonight, but the company was great once again. Caitlin took my camera up and asked the camp hosts about our nocturnal visitor from the night before – it was a Western Antichenus – I’ve always wanted to see one in the wild so was very pleased that it had chosen to visit us. We chatted with the camp hosts and some of the other couples, then with the other homeschooling family again. All the kids played on the beach again, having races and exploring the rocks until it was dark. The wind had died down by now and it was quite pleasant. We weren’t the only ones who had had a disturbed night, everyone was commenting on the wind and the lack of sleep that had resulted.

We gradually drifted back down to our sites and we got ready for bed. The stars were amazing again and I got my tripod out and took some photos – more successfully than last time I tried (at Devils Marbles) – I still need more practice though. Millie and I went to bed first and started reading her Harry Potter book, she asked me to show her where I was reading and she read the words that she knows (that’s how Caitlin started reading too, with the first Harry Potter book). We did that for a while, then the others came in and we read Inheritance for a short while before everyone crashed.

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