Sunday, 7 August 2016

Half-lap Day 91: Shark Bay

Millie came up to our bed just before 5, and I lay awake until our alarm went off at 6. Everyone got up fairly easily and we had a quick breakfast then got changed – we all wore fairly bright clothes as we’d been told that that can sometimes help in being chosen to feed the dolphins. We were in the car by 7.10 and drove out to Monkey Mia. There was a queue to get in to the reserve so we were glad we’d left ourselves plenty of time. We paid our entry fee and parked the car then headed over to the boardwalk.

There were already several dolphins swimming around in the water when we arrived, and it was a beautifully calm, clear morning. The sun had just risen and it wasn’t too cold – I relaxed a lot as the weather was great and we’d already seen dolphins, and that could even be enough for Millie. She was pretty excited and waited patiently on the boardwalk watching them play in the water.

At 7.45 the ranger came down to talk to everyone (there were nearly 200 people there), explaining how the experience would work. After a while we were invited down on to the beach to stand along the water’s edge. The kids quickly found a spot next to the water and Tony and I were behind them. The dolphins were swimming around and then we were all allowed to walk ankle deep in the water. Some of the dolphins swam right past us which was pretty thrilling. One of them had a 3 year old calf with her, so they tended to swim along together, which was even more exciting.

We moved back onto the edge of the sand when asked, and the fish were brought down in the buckets. There were 4 dolphns around to be fed, and each one gets 3 fish at each feeding (they are only given a tiny proportion of their daily intake, so that they will continue to hunt for their own food and to teach their calves how to feed properly as well). People are chosen at random to feed each fish to the dolphins – the kids were prepared that they probably wouldn’t be chosen, although they were all hoping that they would be. We had people either side of us chosen, and just watching the dolphin eat the fish was a beautiful experience, everyone was very happy. After the dolphins had been fed we were asked to move back up the beach, onto the boardwalk or the jetty, so that the dolphins could go out to deeper waters and feed their calves, catch some of their own fish and so on. We stood up on the jetty and watched them leave – some people went back down on to the beach and tried to touch the dolphins, which meant that the dolphins didn’t leave. The calf was trying to feed and her mother was more interested in playing with the people by the edge of the water. Eventually the rangers convinced everyone to get off the beach and we all waited to see if the dolphins would come back in for another feeding – they need to wait at least 10 minutes before they will feed them again.

We were all thrilled at what we’d already seen, Millie was happy and it was a relief to know that the morning had fulfilled her expectations already – anything that happened from here was a bonus. A lot of people left after the first experience, so when we went down 10 minutes later for the next feeding, it was a bit easier to find a spot along the edge of the water and we had a slightly better view of the dolphins. A different ranger did the talk this time and while most of the information was the same she gave a few more facts and it was nice to have a different perspective on the experience. Again it was great to watch the dolphins swimming past and to see people feeding them.  The dolphin with the calf didn’t come in this time, but a new dolphin did, so there were still 4 dolphins being fed.

After this experience Tony and I went back to the jetty, and the kids went up onto the boardwalk to look at all the interpretive panels there. We waited a bit longer this time for the next feeding. There were a couple of pelicans on the beach who were strutting around and seemingly enjoying the attention of everyone trying to take photos of them.

We moved back down to the water for the 3rd feeding, and there were even less people here this time. A different ranger again did the talk, and again she had slightly different information to give (not contradictory, just sharing different details). One of the dolphins swam in with seagrass draped around her fin, it looked pretty cute and funny. When it came time for the feeding, Caitlin was chosen to feed Puck, one of the oldest dolphins there and the mother of a couple of the others. Family and friends are allowed to go out with whoever is chosen, so all three kids went out to the dolphin, very excited. Caitlin gave the fish to the dolphin and all of them were thrilled to be out there so close to it!

Another dolphin (Piccolo) came in at that point so there was an extra one to be fed. The volunteers were choosing people to feed it, and kept choosing people who had already had a go earlier. They picked me next, so I took Millie out with me and let her feed the dolphin – an experience I think even beyond her dreams, it was so so cool. The dolphins looked like they were smiling when they took the fish – they don’t take it out of our hands, they like to think they’ve caught it themselves, so Millie laid it in the water in front of the dolphin and she snapped it up.

As I got back to the shore I could hear the volunteers selecting more people, and some were saying ‘I’ve already had a go’. Suddenly Tony was walking back to us and handing my camera back to me (he’d walked down the shore to get better photos of Millie feeding Piccolo), then he went out to feed Puck. He hadn’t been fussed about getting a turn and it all happened so quickly from when he was selected, and he said it was amazing and was so glad he’d got the chance. Having 3 of us selected was so far beyond what we’d expected to experience, it was so incredible. 

As the experience ended we turned around to see two pelicans fighting over a fish – one of the volunteers was feeding them at the back of the beach, to stop them coming down to steal the dolphin’s fish as they do sometimes. It was amazing to watch their big beaks snapping at each other and their wings flapping around as they tried to get the fish. There was a small, long haired dachshund nearby (we’d met it and its owners yesterday when we walked down the street) and I was worried that the pelicans might try to grab the dog – Caitlin later found out that one pelican did have a snap at the dog and it chased the bird off.

We sat on the edge of the jetty and watched the water and the pelicans – after they’d finished fighting they wandered down to the edge of the water, where 4 of them sat or stood and seemed undisturbed by the number of people who were coming up to take photos of them. The kids walked out on the jetty and talked to the owners of the catamarans moored there, who were getting ready to go out on animal spotting tours. One of the guys chatting to LiAM said that if we did a tour with him, he would just charge us the family price (2A + 2C for $200) rather than adding on another child fare for the 3rd child. LiAM was pretty thrilled with this deal (and it would have been great if we wanted to do the tour) but we decided that there were other things we wanted to do that would be a lot cheaper at this stage.

A dolpin came back in to the shore and we wandered over to have a closer look. The ranger came down and said that we (there was a small group of us) could stay close to the shore there in the dolphin experience area for 5 minutes, then it would be best to move away so she could go back out to sea. We decided we didn’t need to stay and see it as we’d already been so close, so moved away from the edge. We spent a while talking to the ranger and another couple from Victoria – the lady had been chosen to feed a dolphin and she was so moved by the experience and we shared our excitement. They had swum with dugongs off one of the beaches the day before, the dugongs were just in the water with them. We shared camping tips and stories of our trips before going our separate ways. 

Millie wanted me to read some of the signs on the boardwalk to her, so we had a look at them then went to the gift shop. Millie and LiAM bought t-shirts and soft toys – a dolphin for Millie and a tiger shark for LiAM. Caitlin bought a dolphin key ring and a magnet, and I got myself a pen. Next to the gift shop was a little interpretative centre, giving lots of information about the dolphins and the area, so we browsed there for a while. Meanwhile Tony had gone back to the car and made himself a coffee and me a cup of tea.

We wandered out into the resort to look around (and find the toilets). Caitlin found the pool – it was sunny but a bit cool and windy and no one was super keen to swim. There was a giant chessboard, we sat near that and waited for the current game to finish, and enjoyed looking out over the water. Once the chessboard was free, LiAM and Millie had a game. The boy who had been playing offered to tell them the rules, LiAM said they didn’t need help, and so he hung around and chatted to LiAM while they played. Caitlin and I went down on to the sand and made a sand sculpture of a turtle.

It was a bit after midday by the time we went back to the car. The kids had a sandwich and then we drove to Francois Peron National Park. The road is suitable for 2WD up until the homestead, so we drove that far. This was an old sheep station, and some of the buildings have been set up as a museum explaining what life was like on the station, or how the native animals and flora are being protected by the national park. We had a bit of a look around (at the history of the peninsula, and then the horse yards) and then headed for the hot tub. There’s an artesian bore here and while the water is too salty to drink, it’s great for washing and bathing. They have set up a little pool with the bore water running in to it – the water is 40 degrees and felt like a hot bath at first, then felt lovely and soothing. We all found we had to get out every so often so we didn’t get too hot and dizzy. Some locals came for a dip and said that it wasn’t as hot as it sometimes is, and they weren’t impressed that the Dept of Parks and Wildlife control the temperature a bit.

We got out of the tub and Tony went back to the car to make more sandwiches and have a rest. The kids and I went and looked through a bird hide to see if there were any birds on the pond (only butterflies) and then to the old shearing sheds which were fascinating. The kids went back to the hot tub for another ‘swim’ (I watched them) and then we joined Tony at the car.

From there we drove to Little Lagoon – a low area between hills that is still filled with water, and is perfectly round. The water was a crystal blue, just gorgeous, and the sand around it was white. The wind was still blowing strongly and there were little waves whipping across the surface of the water. We’d planned to go swimming here but no one felt like getting in even though we all loved looking around. The shores were covered in little shells and the green hills rose up all around, LiAM in particular really loved how it looked. We decided we’d come back tomorrow if we felt like it, and headed back towards town. We stopped at a lookout above Denham and could see out across the bay in 2 directions, it was an impressive view. Across the bay we could see Dirk Hartog Island and the mainland, and there were white hills over there which were more salt mines.

Everyone was very tired by now and very happy to get back to our tent. I went and had a wonderful hot shower, great to finally get all the salt water out of my hair. The kids played with their toy animals in the tent, and visited our neighbour who let them bring the bearded dragon back over to our tent for them to hold. I sat in the car for a while and caught up on email, blogging, banking and so on (it was the warmest and quietest place). The weather got colder and windier as the evening drew on, and we all ended up putting more and more clothes on. I was laughing that perhaps it wasn’t really cold, we were just used to northern Australian temperatures – when I looked at the weather on my phone it said it was 13 degrees, and that it felt like 10 degrees. So that made us feel a bit better, it really was cold. We had French Toast for dinner again, and then steamed puddings with cream for dessert – great on a cold night. I filled hot water bottles for everyone so we could snuggle in to our beds, and we went in to our very noisy tent, which was being buffeted around strongly by the wind.

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