We’ve been exploring Western Australia for the past 6 weeks. Our journey has now taken us north of Perth en route to the town of Denham along the shore of Shark Bay. It was a long drive so we decided to break it up by making two stops. The first was Eglington from which we could easily visit Yanchep National Park. We had read that it was the best place to see Western Grey Kangaroos. Not that we hadn’t seen them in other locations but they are always fun to observe. It was midday and all the kangaroos were in hiding but there was a lot of bird activity. A large flock of Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo was noisily feeding in the trees above. There were Magpie Lark, Australasian Swamphen and Australian Wood Ducks on the lawn.
We walked around Loch McNess on the Wetlands Trail not seeing any mammals nor many birds during the heat of the day. However, we concluded it would be a good place for a night walk. There were information signs that Rakali or Common Water Rats are found here and it would be a new mammal for us. We headed to the Koala enclosure where we spotted 5 Koalas sleeping in the Eucalyptus trees. One was lower down and facing us so Marc got a good photo. Koalas aren’t native to Western Australia and these are the descendants of Koalas brought here in 1938 from the Perth Zoo.
When we returned to Yanchep around 6:00 pm, approximately 200 Western Grey Kangaroos had descended on the lawns to graze. A few tourists were still about to get selfies with the "roos". We walked to the lakeshore to look for Rakaki but saw none. We moved down the shore and sat on some stone steps to wait. There were a lot of water birds but sadly no Rakali. We remained until it got too dark to see and returned to our vehicle for a packed dinner. When it got dark, we set off on our night walk. We saw the eyeshine of many kangaroos but I noticed some very bright orange eyeshine. It turned out to be an introduced Red Fox. We caught a few more scavenging around the picnic tables, not a good thing for the native animals. We started on the Wetlands Walk seeing another Red Fox, the only mammal other than the kangaroos that we encountered on our disappointing walk.
The next day I got the bright idea to drive three hours east to Mt. Caroline Nature Reserve to look for Black-footed or Black-flanked Rock Wallabies. Mount Caroline Nature Reserve supports the largest known Black-footed Rock-wallaby population in the central Wheatbelt. This species was critically endangered in the past and in 1979 the population size at Mt. Caroline was estimated at 9 individuals. Today they have rebounded due to the removal of Red Foxes and feral cats. When we arrived in the area, we found a cryptic map without road names. We drove around but couldn’t seem to get close to Mt. Caroline and the only road to it was to a farm. There was a sign saying that you needed to call to get permission to enter. Marc called the number on the sign and luckily someone answered and gave us the ok to drive to the reserve. It was now 2:30 and we decided to wait an hour for it to cool down. We followed the dirt track on foot for about 200 meters where we reached a rocky outcrop. Marc spotted at least 6 wallabies on the boulders above but I couldn’t see them at first! We climbed to where the Wallabies were but all but one had bounded off.
We returned to the road and walked to the end not seeing anymore. We climbed to an open rock area and scanned for wallabies seeing none. We returned to the area where we had first seen them and climbed above reaching another open rocky area with great views over the farm but no more wallabies.
We spotted many Ornate Crevice-Dragons scurrying along the rocks. When they paused, they held their rear feet off the hot rocks.
We climbed to the top of the crest where we spotted the last wallaby we’d see bound off. We returned slowly to the car but by now it was nearing 6:00 and we needed to start the 3-hour drive back to Eglington.
The next day we continued our journey north making a detour to visit the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. We set off on a 1.2-kilometer walk through the Pinnacles, an area with thousands of weathered limestone pillars. Some of the tallest pinnacles reached heights of up to 3.5 meters above the yellow sand base.
|Pinnacles in Nambung National Park|
We stopped in Cervantes for lunch at the Lobster Shack. We were curious to see how Australian Lobster would stack up to Maine Lobster. They are not a true Lobster lacking the big front claws but they were quite tasty.
|Australian Lobster for Lunch|
After lunch we continued our drive north to Geraldton, arriving mid-afternoon. We had booked the upstairs of a beachfront villa overlooking the Indian Ocean. It would be a great spot to hang out for two nights before resuming our journey.
|Our Beach House in Geraldton|
Our last big push north to Denham took us first to Kalbarri National Park. The draw here is the spectacular coastal scenery. Red Bluff was a windy spot with soaring views of red sandstone cliffs being pounded by the relentless Indian Ocean.
Another major geological feature is the Murchison River Gorge which winds its way 80 km through the desert to reach the coast.
|Murchison River Gorge|
The last stop on our way to Denham was Hamlin Pool to see stromatolites. I had no idea what stromatolites were but they sure sounded interesting. We walked to a boardwalk built over the stromatolites which turned out to be microbial mats created by colonies of microbes called cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) which trap and bind sand and sediment grains. They didn’t look particularly attractive but they are remarkable for being found in the fossil record dating back 3.5 billion years and so are one of the earliest fossil evidence of life! What’s more, stromatolites are the reason life on this planet flourishes today. Before cyanobacteria, our atmosphere was only 1% oxygen. Then for the next 2 billion years, the photosynthesizing stromatolites pumped oxygen into the ocean. When the oceans’ waters were saturated, oxygen was released into the air. When the level reached 20% oxygen, life as we know it today, was able to exist and evolve!
We continued our journey, arriving in Denham, the furthest north we’d venture on this trip, in the early evening. We’d have two days to find Dugong, the Australasian equivalent of the Manatee. Stay tuned to see if we are successful.