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Month August 2014

Coral Bay

Wi-fi in NZ and Australia sucks isn’t great. So if it looks like I’m being keen on keeping my posts up to date recently, it’s because of this brilliant little Aussie device. Telstra’s convenient dongle
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It’s a 3G/4G mobile receiver and I now get broadband anywhere on Telstra’s network, and I’m told coverage is virtually all of Australia.

We’ve never been under such time pressure in a country as we are here. More on this soon.

But we have a small problem. My new (three weeks) Mitas E-09 Dakar rear tyre has worn faster than I’d hoped. We only have about 3 or 4 mm’s left center block due to running on pavement almost the whole way, as you can see from the wear pattern. So even though the above tyre looks like it has good life left, we need good tread a week or so out and it will be bald by then. Tyre options from here to the dirt route are not good. So we have to deal with it now or be sorry later. We’ve ordered a new set to be delivered to Exmouth, a small town north of here and have been waiting the 4 days it takes to ship them there from Perth.
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So we’ve been diving here along about a 2 mile stretch off Coral Bay.

The water is warm, the visibility about 40′, and the coral spectacular and immaculate. The fish are beautiful.

Apologies in advance for pushing my Lumix into dive work, a job it isn’t up to completely, but makes up for in other ways. Lucinda considers the cameras part of her drone fleet, and they’re color matched to her
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I have lots of photos so far but stand outs include a blue-spotted ray, a white moray and some great coral formations. But yesterday after lunch something special happened.

It’s a Manta, and it’s underneath me. Maybe 15 feet or more across
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Then, with unbelievable luck
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It’s feeding
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And coming up
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Into a barrel roll
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Over
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Over
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And gone
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The movement is beautiful. That it’s happening immediately below is as great a surprise as the willy willy that appeared a few days ago. I resist thinking about the continuously unexpected as part of this ride – things balance out sometimes and the not-so-good surprises have a way of appearing too. But for now, it’s good.

Then, looking below it happens again, this time in profile, a little further away
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Up it comes
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The speed is not slow, not fast, but powerful
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Over
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Over
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And gone
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Then, a few minutes later, again. But something’s different
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There are more remora along for the ride
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Where did they come from?
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It’s a different Manta, there’s a second one here
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Down it goes
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It does this for 20 minutes or more. From a different angle this time
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A lot of friends along. We wonder if they cause drag on the manta
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Down again
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A few remora swim up to the topside
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Headed for the bottom again
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Then there were two. They hover in front of each other
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The one with the fewer remora comes up directly under me and closer than I was prepared for
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Incredible seeing inside this giant fish
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Whoa, she’s close
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Incredible watching her movement and the movement of the remora across her under-surface as they moved together through space
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Over she goes
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And away
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I dove with 3 great people this day. It was good to share the experience, something I don’t get to do often.

Yours truly, photo by Cat
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Tropic of Capricorn

The day’s track
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The familiar long haul north
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There’s one stop. A gas station with shade. Lots of people resting here
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Re-load, more in the left pannier
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Hours of this. We wouldn’t miss a second of it
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Then we come to a sign: Tropic of Capricorn.

Wow. This brings back strong memories of other milestones on this ride. We crossed the TOC going the other way in Argentina.

It was memorable because we’d just left Bolivia, had arrived in the 2nd world after a year in the 3rd. I parked Lucinda next to the sign they had there as well and thought about all this for a while. Back on that day, in the near distance a black storm was approaching and we watched it for a while roll along the mountains just a mile east of us.

We found the equator in Ecuador on the GPS as we headed through a rough village. We parked and wondered how long it would be before the angry dogs barking around us got their shit together and attacked.

So I parked Lucinda under the sign and thought about the previous milestones, then thought about this one
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Across to the east a huge white silver tunnel extended up from the desert floor. Maybe 500 to 1000 feet high, just a glimmer of dirt being sucked up at the bottom. It was beautiful. An Australian willy willy and a very big one.

Then it changed direction and seemed to grow in size and before we knew it was headed straight at us, like it had been looking for us all along.

I was so fascinated by this huge silver tube I didn’t start taking photographs until it came up from behind Lucinda
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Then it slowed
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Then it was on Lucinda. A fraction of a second after this shot she was obscured
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The base wove slowly some more, the tube still focused on Lucinda
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Then moved slowly to the left of her and started dissolving, after crossing the desert to us here
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The sound quieted
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And the bottom vanished and we watched the tube spinning in the sky above us, huge, hundreds of feet tall, and then that disappeared tooDSC04660

There’s a lot to think about after that TOC moment and not much to say.

It was a shorter ride today and we found a place immediately in Coral Bay, a tiny town. We were hot and I changed into my shorts and headed to the water, swopping the little Sony for the waterproof Lumix
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Walked in
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Beautiful just under the surface
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Below
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Cervantes, Junction racetrack and back

The first day’s track
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We take a short winding road out to Eagle Bluff
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On a still day, without waves, you can see two species of shark, rays, all kinds of large fish here. Not today
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There’s a type of parrot that breeds on these rocks
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A second beach, further down the road
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Perfect
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Miles to go…
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Shell beach
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Entirely shells
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Then we turn the corner north and headed up the long of hot, straight and dry nothing
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Cooling off in the shade
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To the town of Cervantes
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Where there are cockatoos making an incredible noise in the trees
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They watch each other land on small things, bully each other, and perform tricks
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Crazy, wonderful birds
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More fisherman on the waterfront
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The next day’s track, many more miles of hot nothing, there and back
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And this is why the great kangaroo hunt has ended. In the last two days we’ve seen a dozen, all road kill. Not the way we wanted our kangaroo relationship to start. I could tell Lucinda was sad too as we rode by them
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Vultures or whatever, we don’t know yet, marking the dead
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It’s a wasteland but it’s beautiful
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Into the shade for a minute or two. Possibly a well-known rest stop tree
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Then, after gassing up in the outback village of Gascoyne we head off to the Junction Race Club, in the middle of nowhere, where there’s a big event
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The entry
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They wrist-band me for $25
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We park and go to the spectator building-and-bar. We’re early because we want to check things out before all the people arrive
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There are two bookies getting ready, opposite each other
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The other
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Early arrivers. Always a drag for dinner but fine here
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Check out the horse trailers and rigs. Very Australian, very cool
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This one doubles as shelter from the sun
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Generators, fuel, powering the whole thing
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Lots of family shelters for those who came the night before
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Then off to see the horses. They’re walking them out here to soak them off from a big central barrel
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They’re hot and either comatose or pissy
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This pretty pony doesn’t look up to a big race but is being groomed with love. She’s in race number 1 and called Cognac Blue
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Back at the bar, a super-cute young Aussie couple
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The place starts filling up
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Time to read the program, no time for the form. It’s the same format as Hastings Park at home. I hunt for Cognac Blue and bet on her to win. Hideous odds against that happening
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Then head over to check out the parade ring, right in front of the jockey’s enclosure
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The horses come out to the track, warm up
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Go Cognac Blue!
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They head off to the start. Lucinda thinks we should be out there with them, beat them in 1st gear, wheelie across the finish line, grab the nearest decent Aussie babe and ride off into the sunset. I agree, I say to her
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We wait. The anticipation of they’re off! and the sound of thunder
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They ride the back stretch before heading out of the corner. Very few sporting things are as magnificent Lucinda says
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And our almost-finish-line photo. But no sign of Cognac Blue. oh well
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Time for lunch here because we have to go. We have to be off the road by 5:00 to avoid being hit by a kangaroo, as frequently advised by everyone
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Then back across the desert to Cervantes.

the illusive kangaroos – day 7

The day’s track. There was no more direct dirt or paved option to Shark Bay that made any difference
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We’ve heard there’s something special ahead. Off we go
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To the sides of the road it mostly looks like this
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The plants are blooming. Some of the things we saw
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You have to look carefully for these little digitalis-like blooms
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And my favorite
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The inflorescenses were over 8 feet high
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Fantastic displays. We’d lost an hour but had set off early for this. Back on the road
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It soon got hot and dry
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We passed a historic water stop called 200 Mile Tank, fed off the slanted roofs
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The water’s cold from the small tap
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Things are spreading out a bit. Further up is a famous road stop, the Billabong Roadhouse. We gas up
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Then a couple of Latinos pull up in a V8 (more on this another time). I can’t believe my luck. Amigos! Como estan?!  the traditional thumbs-up up course as we say goodbye
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Further down the road we cross an amazing slow-moving river. This is what we imagined the rivers might look like
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It looked like this at the side of the road, now 600 miles north of Perth
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We stopped when we saw these two guys at the side of the road an hour later. Two long-distance riders, locals. They had just returned from a rally we had heard about, the OCR. More on this a week or so from now. They’re the first riders I’ve seen out here, Paul and Jeff. They’ve both ridden 5000 miles since leaving home in the southeast
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And they’re headed for the same town so we ride off together. And stop here
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To see the Stromatolites
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The view south. Incredible
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Then just a little further, into Denham. These guys are the real deal and over dinner I ask them all my most pressing questions. Jeff has done 124,000k or whatever that is in miles, all here in Australia, on his GS, since 2004. So I listen and learn. More on this later.

No kangaroos today.

the illusive kangaroos – day 6

The next morning, high up in a palm, are two birds making a lot of noise. Happy noise
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Carefully we walk around the sunny side and wait. And here he/she is. It appears it’s a Galah. A parrot
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Amazing bird. It flies away, showing off the red
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The two of them working at some project together
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Anyway, the day’s track, which looks a lot like yesterday’s
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On our first visit to the coast the shoreline’s covered in the litter of a sea weed. We walk out on it and it’s spongy and deep
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Close up it looks like this. Very mysterious. The mystery will be resolved in a day or two
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Down to the next beach near a fishing village
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Outside the village is this huge sculpture of a lobster with no pincers. It greets you as you turn into town
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At the harbor dock there’s an impressive fish boat unloading to what appears to be a collective
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The boat’s about 70 feet long, a raw platform at the back and a bow with a fast entry. It’s trick looking. I walk over to the conveyor and see flashes of red lobster in sealed boxes
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Another boat comes in. Similarly sporty for a fish boat. Clearly speed and looking good is everything. Lucinda understands
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So it turns out the industry is huge and extends up the coast hundred of miles to a town called Coral Bay where the species turns into what they call a ‘blue’ and is not easily caught nor commercially viable. This animal they call a ‘cray’ and is  a rock lobster. Strange looking without claws. So of course we have it for lunch and it’s good.

Back on the road we pass the typical red dirt roads regularly. Although we don’t have one on the route ahead for a little while we think we’ll go ride one for a while and see how the surface feels. Very pretty to ride on
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It feels good. A gritty variable sand making a firm surface. But we’re sure it’ll be different every time. Like crappy, corrugated, deep and unpredictable we’re guessing. Further down the road. Gorgeous
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To a little house with a coffee sign outside
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Then back on the road for the blast north
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To yet another fantastic shoreline at the town of Kalbarri
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And ride out onto the rocks
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No kangaroos.

the illusive kangaroos – day 5

For the last few days we’ve been shopping for supplies in Perth, being a tourist, and seeing the Australian family clan.

But it’s time to go. The way the Australians tell it, the town of Perth is surrounded by kangaroos and Western Australia is infested with them. The north and east too. The first thing Aussies talk about is how dangerous they are to car and bike traffic, mostly at dawn and dusk. They also like to reach above their heads, on tiptoes, with a hand stretched high, wiggling their fingers and say they’re this big. We’ve been south of Fremantle for 4 days and haven’t seen one yet.

So we head north on a great kangaroo hunt. We’re headed up the coast.

The day’s track
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It looks like this, to start
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The road is a few miles from the sea so we head over a few times
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And again to a place called Two Rocks
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And to a small town on an estuary
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Down a great strip of road with these on both sides. Apparently they’re Ghost Gums
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The next town we stop at is Lancelin and we have lunch on the beach
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The water is clear with reefs close to shore
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A person fishing off a dock
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Then out and it’s like this
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Suddenly there are dunes close to the road to the east
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We go for a walk
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And a little further there’s sign for the Needles. we go in and there’s a 4k loop marked with small rocks through the packed sand
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These appear suddenly
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They range in height from small to about 10 feet tall
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Up close the texture is like this
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From a hill, the view south
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And north to tall white dunes
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In the shrubs there’s a pretty climber
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Island formations
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The little road
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Then up the coast through occasional rain to Kalbarri
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To another beach town, Cervantes.

No kangaroos today
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Fremantle Prison

This was a touristy day that ended in a mini-adventure.

The Fremantle Prison has 4 different tours and we did 3 of them. The 4th, a torchlight tour, seemed more sizzle that steak so we passed on that. But even doing three was nearly a full day exercise. Our first tour started at 11:30 am and the last finished at 5:45 pm.

The numbers of convicts sent here to Australia enormous. Between 1788 and 1868, 186,000 were sent here (wiki). The story is well-known, so no details needed. However Lucinda and I were under the impression that jokes about blood lines were overblown until we read this number. The prison closed in 1991 after a huge riot a few years earlier.

Anyway, it was an excellent tour.

A block away from the Prison is the Fremantle Oval, where they play Australian rules football. Check out the lower figure in the sculpture
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The jail starts here, the main gates
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We go through here
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And buy tickets. Things are expensive here
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The prisoners built the structures from the limestone hilltop. The white line on the wall at the back shows the original contour. A massive project
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Inside. That’s the chapel in the middle. Cells on either side and in other buildings
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Inside the building. Other than the third level its remarkably similar to the jail in Ushuaia, but is enormous
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The tour-guide, Sarah, was very crude and very funny. She had tons of jokes about the bucket toilets. Mostly she liked scaring the kids on the tour
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She liked scaring everyone else too when she had a chance, no holds barred. Look at the expressions on the women’s faces here. No way would she get away with this at home in Van. I learned something maybe about Australia from this. Excellent
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Shockingly the youngest convicts were 8 years old. And the youngest child to be tied to a post and whipped with the cat o’nine tails was 8 years old. Not easy to listen to when it sinks in that this is not a folktale.

There are many inmate stories, here’s one: The art on this cell wall was hidden under porridge by the artist, James Walsh, a forger who went on to be one of Australia’s most important artists. Another long impressive story, very important in Australian folklore, is a story about Moon Dyne Joe, which is worth a Google
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Here’s the worst block. Solitary confinement and the cell where the next inmate to be executed was housed. The building. 24 cells
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Inside one of the cells
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The pit below the noose where 44 inmates were hung, including one woman. There were some particularly gruesome stories about some of the executions including 2 decapitations and something even worse you can Google for if you wish. This was disturbing
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This group of frightened schoolkids are on the innovative and highly successful Australian SKS (Scare Kids Straight) program. They’re being locked in a windowless cell alone with a piece of bread, a glass of water and a bucket for the day and given a stern talking to hourly
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The second tour was called Great Escapes. 288 convicts escaped, all but 7 recaptured. The 7 were all part of the same sophisticated and brilliant plot orchestrated by a famous Irishman. A great story

The tour guide, John was a character. Here I’m the escaping convict and he’s shooting me. On Van terms he also stepped over the line with his stories. But not here in Oz. Good.
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Since he seemed to be open to any question I asked him why the 288, who knew they were bound to be recaptured didn’t break in here, the women’s block, where they were certain of being rewarded. He didn’t know but liked the question. I asked him a follow-up, with Lucinda out of earshot
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So if you like to be entertained with stories, this is an outstanding pair of tours by skilled and frank guides.

Now the best part. A long and excellent 2 hours. Here’s our guide Steve. There are only three of us. We had to fill out the standard waivers and stuff.

The tunnel tour!
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Briefly, the Prison (and the town for that matter) needed water and had to drill for it. Because of the nature of the water table they had to bore long horizontal tunnels off the two main shafts at about 60 feet depth. They were dug by inmates.

I was kindof surprised they breathalized us. Jokes here about the number of failures they see and by whom. I was doing quick math about ounces-of-alcohol burn-off-in-how-many-hours-has-it-been as I had been out with cousin Tony, who I have not seen for 40 years, or very roughly since I was 2, the night before. In fact the three nights before.

We blow a graphic bar from left to right for about 15 seconds. I pass with an unusually perfect score. I had Steve take this photo for me to show to Lucinda
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We check out the tunnel map
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The into this room to suit up. We’re given a locker each. Strictly no phones, cameras, jewellery, etc.
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This was the other guy on the tour suited up and looking like an idiot in wellies and a paper suit-with-hoody. Which I refused to pull up.
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Then we went over here and put on a safety harness and fall arrester. Photo time with our cameras by Steve. I’ve been protesting Rider-Reports-as-Egoistic-Reality-TV (which isn’t making me popular, but it’s something to do for lack of any other conflict going on) so try and block the shot
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Looking down the shaft. There’s clear water at the bottom. The shaft is dimly lit. This is the last light not given off by our headlights. Awesome
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Down we climb, clipped in.

The tunnels are only tall enough to stand up in once or twice, and then only for a very short, maybe 10 foot section. The average tunnel height is about 4 or 5 feet we head off down one tunnel in the darkness through mud. Here’s a photo stolen from the web. You can touch both the walls. Sometimes it’s much narrower than that, and much lower.
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We take a few corners. We’re headed for the start of where the tunnel’s flooded. There are small boats waiting for us, copies of the wooden ones the convicts used
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In we pop, a boat each, and start down the tunnels slowly. We can either paddle or pull ourselves along with our hands on the walls. This is tremendously cool: It’s very very dark, even with our headlights which can’t penetrate ahead the whole distance, and when they do they show a dead-end, which is actually a corner. We were in the tunnels for over an hour.

Then the highlight: Steve, just like the guide in Jewel Cave asked if we should kill the light. So we switch off our headlights and pull our little boats down the tunnels in the pitch dark, with the only senses you have are the breathing of the others and the cold feel of the walls. For a long time. Fantastic. We were given a nice certificate after.

two days to Fremantle

The day’s track
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Augusta had been a nice town, small, immaculate
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The view from town
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We set off early down the smallest roads again where possible. The forest was lower and thinner as we headed east
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It looked like this, drier
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Imagine riding this fast. More in-helmet whooping
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There’s a sign for Beedelup Falls, across a nice suspension bridge. Lucinda watches enviously
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The falls. Hum.
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We see on the map a road to the sea, so we take it across boggy flat for about 20 miles
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It looks like this
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The road ends in deep sand
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It’s called Windy Point, and it’s windy
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The water is clear. Confusing
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The town of Windy Point, very small, maybe a couple of hundred residents we’re guessing
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Then further east
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It looked like this. Fantastic
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The next day’s track
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Albany had been a large, not so interesting place and we were keen to get back into the trees, so a very early start to a 300 mile day. There’s a big road straight back to Fremantle which we avoid, except for an error you can see above. Not so many pics today, not many stops. It started like this
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Into an old, tatty and excellent town. This was the first time we’d seen anything like it. It’s time to hit the web for local history.
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We pass this shrub. Looks like a cherry
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But isn’t
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Big farms, small farmhouses, occasionally
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Into the next town, Wagin. Lucinda can’t believe how cool these towns are
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But they’re small
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Back into the forest, still low and dry
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It looks like this
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It starts to drizzle and we don’t stop again until Fremantle.

So a small point here: This is the loop, 929 miles
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And here it is in the big picture
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Australia’s big. We’ve been doing some map work and assuming we average 100 miles a day, all in, we’re going to be here a long, long time. We love it so far.

Sunnies
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