Sunday, 23 June 2013

Shark Bay to Quobba Station

Denham is a touch under 400km from Kalbarri along the Brand Highway on a peninsula separating Shark Bay from Dirk Hartog Island. The ocean side of the peninsula hosts the western most point of mainland Australia, Steep Point. Twenty-eight km to the north east of Denham is Monkey Mia, whilst a few km to the north covering the whole top section of the peninsula is the entry to the Francois Peron National Park, our home for the next 3 nights. On the way up into the Denham Peninsula, we stopped at Hamelin Pool, which is home to ancient Stromatolites. These are single celled organisms, which were the first living things on the planet so they’re billions of years old. Impressed? I thought so. They look kind of like mushrooms made of coral and rock about one to three feet high. It was very interesting and we all appreciated being able to stretch our legs in such a pretty spot.


We stopped in at the Denham Information Centre on a very windy but sunny day, which was essential to help us plan out our next few days. We were able to book and pay for our passes for a day at the Monkey Mia Resort. It cost $19 for a family of 5, which gave us permission to attend the dolphin interaction and use the resorts’ facilities for the day. The ticket is open so we could choose any day to visit. We also were able to obtain the latest information on weather predictions and the state of the track into the NP to the various camps. There are 4 camps to choose from, Big Lagoon, South Gregories, Gregories and Bottle Bay. You can’t actually camp at Cape Peron but it is well worth the 70km trip up to the cape. We chose to stay at Big Lagoon. It’s the closest and the 13km sand track to the campground was currently in the best condition for a camper trailer.

Big Lagoon

Most of the time the two way single lane track was corrugated and reasonably firm with only a few very soft sections easily navigated. We arrived around 3pm and quickly setup camp in a sheltered spot from the wind. The campground has a single, well maintained drop toilet but no other facilities. It is situated right on a picturesque inlet, which is an important spawning ground for whiting and pink snapper. Most importantly, the site was not very busy with only a couple of other campers each night we stayed, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. A fish that afternoon landed a few small whiting, which were released to fight another day.

The next day dawned clear and windy however we didn’t let that stop us exploring the national park. For the most part the drive up is a reasonably easy one along hard corrugated sand. The track also winds right through the middle of several gypsum clay pans, called Birridas. It reminded us a bit of Lake Eyre. There were also some really fun soft sandy sections, which would trap the unwary. We avoided South Gregories as the track in looked pretty bad so we pulled up to Gregories. This campground is beautiful, and close to some stunning scenery and top fishing spots.
Gregories Beach

After some more exploring we were back in the car heading up to Cape Peron to try and see some sharks, mantas and dolphins from the headland, which it’s famous for. Unfortunately the wind and swell had completely stirred up the sandy bottom making it impossible to see anything. It is still a stunning spot with high red cliffs falling into white sand and very blue waters. After a light lunch we headed back to camp to relax for the afternoon, as we would have to get up very early for our trip over to Monkey Mia the next day. The first dolphin feeding was at 7.45am and it would take us a good hour to get there from our campsite. We had a wonderful morning at the resort but I’ll let Caitlin write about what she thought of the day.
Cape Peron

Once again we bumped into Paul and Sue whilst there, which was a delightful coincidence once again. Grace has adopted them as her surrogate grandparents and promptly invited herself to have lunch with them. The rest of us went back to camp. The wind had completely died down by this time and we had a wonderful afternoon on the beach of the lagoon. Paul, Dad and Lachie fished without much luck although we did catch a 35cm squire late in the day. Maria and Caitlin did some paintings while chatting to Sue who had returned from lunch with Grace.

Caitlin's painting of Big Lagoon

The next stage of the trip was up to Carnarvon for a night. You have to drive the 129km back down from Denham to the highway, then a further 220km north. We again arrived early in the afternoon and decided to stay at the Wintersun Caravan Park. We needed to charge batteries, fill up with water and pick up supplies for the next leg of the trip. Carnarvon is a main hub in WA for fruit and vegetables, which are cheap and really tasty. Our main goal however was Quobba Station for the next 2 nights, a working sheep and cattle station about 60km north of Carnarvon right on the ocean. Quobba is famous for it’s land based game fishing with Red Bluff, somewhat of a mecca for fisherman and surfers alike. Each day fisherman would arrive back to clean they’re catches of large red snapper, Spanish mackerel and spangled emperor. I was extremely jealous but woefully under gunned in terms of tackle required to have a go myself. ‘Balloon’ fishing is the preferred method where the balloon is filled with helium and drifts out over the ocean with a live bait swimming just under the surface of the water some 30 – 50 feet below.
Quobba sunset
The beach is full of massive clam shells

Red Bluff is about 60km north of the station homestead. The road is graded and very corrugated in parts but we made the journey in about 45 minutes. As we arrived I can honestly say Maria and I experienced a similar sense of wonder and peacefulness. It’s hard to describe but we were just calm, happy and felt like smiling. We spent the day swimming, fishing and just drinking in the beautiful scenery of the dramatic red cliffs, white beach and clear blue skies overhead. In hindsight, we would have preferred to camp here instead. Definitely next time, as you felt like you could almost stay here forever. As we were packing up to leave, just to top the day off, we were treated to 3 or 4 whales playing, splashing and breaching only a few hundred metres offshore. What a day!

Red Bluff Beach
I'm a good dancer!

Caitlin's painting of Red Bluff

We arrived back to camp just in time to cleanup, pour a glass of wine and head down the pretty little beach opposite the homestead and watch the sunset. To top off the day we briefly met a guy with 2 young kids from Currumbin, who’d been on the road for nearly 12 months. He mentioned another station, Warroora (pronounced Warra) not far to the north where you could camp on the beach and catch spangled emperor right off it. This is the great thing about this kind of travelling, these chance encounters, which can shape your trip in ways you can’t plan for.

Big tick for Quobba station! I will be returning with bigger tackle and lots of helium! Big fish and funny voices, “Who could ask for more?”

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