Friday, August 20, 2010

Onwards to Kalbarri

The beach near Kalbarri.

We arose somewhat worse for the wear, owing to the large amount of fried food and wine from the night before. Lyn was worse off then myself. The day had dawned windy and a bit overcast, and it looked like a storm was contemplating forming up over the Indian Ocean - this would not, as it turned out, bode ultra well for the weather in Kalbarri. I grabbed some mildly drinkable coffee at the gas station on the way out of town.

On the way out of town, we paused at the beach at nearby Jurah Bay, and were suitably impressed by the Power and Drama of Nature. The photos do a poor job of conveying the impressive irritation of the wind, the waves, and the clouds, I'm afraid. But perhaps you get the idea.

We also passed by these very eery white sand dunes. Lyn loves sand dunes, although we didn't manage to pass near enough to a really nice, pretty unmolested specimen for us to jump on it. Pity.

In the winter, the bush outside Cervantes, en route to Greenough, turns rather inexplicably green and English country-side like. There are tall trees, incredible spreads of mustard and sunflowers, peacefully grazing sheep, and old colonial farmhouses a plenty, as well as plenty of tea houses serving up scones and clotted cream. This verdant landscape is a product of the same illusion that one Captain Cook fell prey to when he first sighted Botany Bay. Cook made the unfortunate mistake of confusing Australia's *wet* season (Winter) for its *dry* season - and concluded that Australia would make a downright lovely place to farm and replicate a cozy English countryside existence. He was very, very wrong, but this illusion is what prompted England to send over the first batch of convicts in the 1787 "First Fleet." Remarkably, Australia managed to turn itself into a great and prosperous nation anyhow. But this was not, as you can imagine, a very easy process. In any case, the region around Greenough, Geraldton, and Northhampton is very friendly and gentle looking in the winter time, and it's a remarkably pleasant drive.

The wind here is a mite powerful, as evidenced by this deeply unhappy looking tree near Greenough. Some friendly local goats were using it as a shelter.

We paused to eat in Geraldton, the only city of any real size between Perth and Broome. Geraldton is a fairly characterless port city with a bit of a run-down aspect, although it is rumored the place will explode into wealth and splendor once some nearby mines are opened. As it is, the promenade area near the water is nice enough, and we proceeded to forage for food. We were accosted on the street by a very exuberant Green Peace volunteer with an eyebrow ring who would very much like us to donate to stop whaling. Fair enough: but as Lyn explained to me, in Australia, you can't just slip a charity representative on the street a 20 and call it a day. Oh, no. You must set up a direct-payment account and hand over your credit card number if you'd wish to make a donation, which is all sorts of unnerving when dealing with hippie boys with eyebrow rings in good old Geraldton. We declined.

Another byproduct of Geraldton's extreme isolation is its expensiveness: the restaurants here all charged extorinate prices for plain old lunch fare. We ended up settling on a perfectly average Thai restaurant a little off the main strip. There's also a very nicely located Dome here, right on the water. Dome is nothing if not predictable.

We headed out of town in the direction of Northampton, en route to Kalbarri. Northhampton is yet another Dusty and Sort of Old WA colonial town, featuring a couple of museums the guidebook warned us off as "boring" and the required pub, truck stop, and general store. The biggest tourist-attracting event in this town is the annual "airing of the quilts." To give you an idea of the incredible fun and adventure this place exudes. Still, it's one of the oldest towns in the region - Welsh and Cornish miners began working here in 1848, and the Lynton Convict Hiring Station was erected in 1950. And that's, well, about it. Okay, they do hold a Purple Bra day, where purple bras line the streets instead of quilts to raise cashola for breast cancer. That's actually pretty adorable. The major Historic House in town was built by convicts. Australia was built by convicts. Australia is not entirely sure it is okay with this but is soldiering on anyhow.

On the way out of Northhampton, nearby Port Gregory, there is a goddamn pink lake. This totally fascinated Lyn when she passed by last time, and I have to agree: it is totally, completely, a brilliant pink lake. This is not due to judiciously applied artificial dyes, of course. It's singular pinkness stems from a powerful bloom of algae, which produces pink-hued beta carotene. This beta carotene happens to be quite lucrative - think vitamin companies - so there's an aquaculture harvesting company collecting the stuff nearby. In the meantime, passerby's and residents get to enjoy the never ending thrill of a motherfucking pink lake.

Finally, we made it to Kalbarri, or at least the outskirts of town. To get to town, you pass through the sea cliffs bit of the national park, which totally failed to disappoint. The sight of incredible sandstone cliffs running right into the churning Indian Ocean was nothing if not impressive.

The drama of the sea. Dramatic.

It was incredibly windy up there,which was a bit unnerving (so many signs imploring tourists not to tumble off cliffs and die, the mind goes places), but I still got some pictures I deem mostly acceptable.

Entering Kalbarri town itself is a dramatic experience. The meeting of the river and sea is a real natural wonder, and even more so when a storm is coming in and the waves are turbulent and discontent. Surprisingly, Kalbarri has only been occupied since the 1950's or thereabout. It's now become a tourist mecca, albeit on a minor scale. It's very isolation means that huge numbers of folks aren't coming through here on anything approximating a regular basis. The other part of the National Park is the substantial Murchison River Gorge, which is composed primarily of red sandstone and looks startlingly like those found in the American southwest.

Eurypterids are cooler then you are.

The science dweeb in me was thrilled to find out that the canyons houses an impressive numbers of "trace" or "icho" fossils, which are composed of tracks or other impressions made by early life. Kalbarri has a number of trilobite prints. Far more awesomely, it also hosts the tracks of Eurypterids, which are giant aquatic scorpions that persisted into the Triassic era.

The town of Kalbarri itself is a very small and pleasant tourist spot, composed primarily of condominiums, fish and chip shops, and souvenir emporiums. We had rented a small cottage at a B&B in town and headed there forthwith. It was run by a tanned and cheerful older guy who (as we would later learn) supported himself by way of training people to perform High Ropes Rescues from the top of buildings and things. That is definitely hardcore in any sense of the word.

The Indian Ocean, being magnificent.

We headed out to the Wildflower Center to have a bit of a stroll prior to checking in. This region of WA is renowned for its spring wildflowers, although we were just a week or so too early to really get the full effect. The Wildflower Center is a small, private operation run by a family who possess both an ardent affection for nature and an amusing inability to spell, as evidenced by the interpretative signs. I amused myself by looking for Bulldog ants, one of Australia's most horriyfing creatures. They are large, highly aggressive ants that jump when agitated, have an inordinately painful sting, and are capable of tracking a human for a mile. Sadly, I didn't find any, although I hopefully tried to agitate several nearby ant colonies (mostly by stomping and yelling COME ON, ANTS. JUMP, YOU LITTLE BASTARDS!) . Lyn was sad she didn't get to see the hilarious results if I DID find them.

These flowers resemble purple pixels. I love them.

I have no idea, but weird, yes?

The cottage, as it turned out, was decorated entirely in Seashell Baroque by the proprietors wife. There were seashells glued literally to everything. Beds, light fixtures, walls, you name it, there were seashells glued to it in mildly Satanic patterns. I was worried that I would wake up with seashells stealthily affixed to every part of my body. Other then that, it was nice enough, and I enjoyed paging through the remarkably boring (you can understand, I think the juxtaposition there) collection of local newspapers. Apparently the Old Bastards club is by far the most happenin' group in town. Party-party.

We headed out to the beach for a while to watch the sun go down, and I did a bit of beachcombing. I found a mummified octopus, which Lyn resolutely refused to allow into the car.

I also spotted this sea-gull. I am still uncertain what kind it is, though it is the immature variety (you can tell by the drab plumage). I like the juxtaposition of the common silver gull with the big guy.

A bevy of wild Galah parrots, chewing on the grass and conversing among themselves. Listening to parrots hang out is great fun: you can tell they are having animated discussions with one another. As an American in Australia, you constantly find yourself making internal BUT THAT'S A ZOO ANIMAL comments to yourself, then feeling sort of embarrassed.

As there is nothing to do whatsoever in Kalbarri other then go to the pub (which I am certain would be filled with Old Bastards having a geriatric good time), we headed off to a embarrassingly early dinner. We picked out the Black Rock Cafe, named after a large rock in the nearby bay, and situated nicely on the coast. Not that we could actually see the water since it was dark outside, but the thought was there. The surprisingly ambitious menu featured a lot of local meat and produce, so we hopped to it. Australia has a pleasing number of good restaurants, even out in the absolute middle of nowhere. Truck stop beef n' gravy excluded.

I ordered a local lamb shank, with a red wine reduction sauce, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and some veg. Very nicely done, and Aussie lamb's reputation is totally deserved. My mother will be thrilled to hear that Australia has converted me into a mashed potato lover. Something about the Fatal Coast just compels one to slam down the mashers, apparently. Yum. No, I do not know what the garnish of red squiggles are. Maybe beet?

Lyn had an equally good sauteed snapper with a banana-curry sauce. At first blush this sounds horrifying, but it in fact was very good, with a subtle fruit background and a nice, spicy flavor. A step up from the soggy meat pies over soggy meat sauce with extra meat I was sort of expecting to find in Australia, no?

We retired to bed early (shocker), with the intention of a busy day of national park going, river cruising, naturalist-geekery and other awesome ahead of us. This would be somewhat truncated, as I will explain shortly.

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