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Shark Bay, April 2016

By
Heidi and Pete Hutton

 


Shark Bay... a unique and beautiful World Heritage area. It was indeed a bay and very sharky! The trip was highlighted by marine diversity, perfect weather and perfect company.

The team:

Judy Blight – Fearless leader, navigation expert

Jill Piper – First expedition. Delightful ability to see the world with pure joy and wonder

Jo – Her tour guide background brilliant for us

Austen – gadget man, got us out of tricky situations

Margaret – Tenacious, surprising stamina and the contents of her kayak resembled a supermarket, full of goodies for everyone

Pete/PH (aspiring but not-so-good fisherman) and

Heidi (loves holidays) – trip report writers

Friday 15th April 2016 (Day 1): The drive
What can you say about a 10 hour drive? It was long, punctuated by straight, flat sections of road that seemed to go on forever and endless scrubby bush (PH – the endless wonder of the ancient Australian landscape was awe inspiring). But somehow the time flew. A coffee break at Jurien Bay where we all met up produced a vibe of excitement that carried us through the next few hours. Company in the car (thanks Austen) kept us entertained and before we knew it, a welcoming committee of young emus lined the road as we pulled into Denham and “The Bay Lodge”, right on the waterfront enticing us all to look out across the bay to the prongs and the adventure that awaited us. The advantage of the early start was that we arrived in time for dinner and a couple of cold ones at the local pub. We may have been the only ones at the pub about to make a 20km crossing of the bay, but we weren’t the only ones at the pub. The Eagles game was in full swing when we arrived, and the kitchen was barely keeping up. A long wait for food was off-set by great yarns and stories. We will never be able to look at Margaret the same again as she retold stories of her younger sailing days (PH – she should do a Richard Fidler interview). We cannot imagine ourselves doing anything like this, let alone stopping along the way to pop out a baby and then to continue when the baby was 5 days old! So, we were off to a good start with company that was positive and excited about what lay ahead.

Saturday 16th April 2016 (Day 2): The crossing – 21km to Heirisson Prong for lunch then 7km to Bellefin Prong base camp
We were all up early to make an 8.30am departure. In perfect conditions we made our way to Heirisson Prong for a much needed lunch stop, stretch of the legs and pee break (PH – the bay was as flat as the top of my head and the water was as clear as the inside of my head used to be).

Launch
Ready to launch - Jo, Pete, Heidi, Austen, Judy, Jill and Margaret - Photo by Pete and Heidi Hutton

Crossing to the Prongs
Crossing to the Prongs- Photo by Pete and Heidi Hutton

Along the way we spotted an elusive mermaid, a “Siren of the Sea”, or, if you like to be boring, a dugong who made a brief appearance before diving for the depths. We continued on a further 7km to reach our campsite, nestled around the corner of the second prong. Our efforts rewarded with a site that can’t be reached by car and which is too shallow for the average fishing boat. Judy’s boasts from the previous night stating “we would see so much marine life on this trip” have already proved accurate. As we sat on the beach drinking our coffees with powdered milk...how is it powdered milk can taste so good when camping but taste so crap at home?... we were fanned by a light breeze (just strong enough to keep the mozzies and sand flies at bay) looking out at a multitude of small sharks playing in the shallows. So shy though! They certainly did not cooperate whenever our camera came out (thank goodness Jill was either more patient than us or just a better photographer).

Little shark
Little shark close to Jill - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

As we sat on the shore we also learned that Judy and Jill cannot be within 1m of each other without breaking into a fit of giggles. They made us laugh and relax even more. We tested the satellite phone out and successfully reached Royd, our link to the real world and source of incoming and outgoing information. His willingness to be at the phone at 6.30pm every day was greatly appreciated and set our minds at ease each night. I think the crossing may have made us a little weary though as there were some amongst us who slept (and slept well) on a sloping sand surface because it was just too much to move the tent to a better spot.

First camp
First night camping on Bellfin Prong - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

Sunday 17th April, 2016 (Day 3): Exploring of Bellefin Prong
How nice to spend a day just exploring rather than having to move on, which was what a base camp afforded us. Sea kayaks are just the perfect vessel for spotting wildlife because they are so quiet. Within a short space of time we had seen a fox on the shoreline digging and eating something, we had Green Turtles pop up beside us to take in a gulp of air, sharks and rays gliding underneath us, only to scoot away once they saw us. That is, all except one...we had a 5-6 foot Tiger Shark, with a young one at its heel come and check out our boat. Being used to the other sharks darting off as soon as they saw us Heidi was not expecting one to come directly for the boat. So, unfortunately for Pete, who was getting the camera in position, Heidi stabbed at the water with her paddle in a slightly panicked response to the shark’s attentions to send it on its way. Sometime later Pete put out the fishing line to trawl behind us as we paddled and within minutes we had a flathead on the end of the line. As we weren’t expecting this we dragged the poor little thing for some time until Jo was finally able to alert us to the fact that something was jumping and hopping along the water on our line. At this point, our lack of general success in fishing became apparent as we had no gloves and no knife in which to bring it in. Austen saved the day with both things.

Margaret, Jo and Austen
Margaret, Jo and Austen - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

Flathead
Trawling from the kayak; success with a little flathead - Photo by Heidi Hutton

Turtle
Turtle - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper
Ray
One of the many rays - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

Cormorants
Cormorant take off - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

Fresh fish
Fresh fish entree - Photo by Heidi and Pete Hutton
It was a bit early in the day, and the fish was a bit small to keep so it was given the kiss of life and returned to the sea. Another flathead with a similar outcome followed which made us feel very confident for fresh fish for dinner that night on our return journey later in the day. Jill joined us and somehow managed to successfully fish and sail on the way back...most of the time. We found out that some weird looking tacking moves actually were just her out of control as she pulled on not one flathead, but two! We placed them in a milk crate, discovered on the shore at lunch which now sat tied to our kayak, tarp inside with water to keep the fish fresh. Pete continued to fish but apart from one entertaining battle with a fish that jumped and fought, revealing a very white belly, which eventually broke free, we came up empty handed. Jill and Judy somehow managed to sail the whole way home which was lovely to watch. That night though we had the most amazing entree of 3 bite size portions of the freshest flathead ever. The saltiness of the sea tasted in the flesh and the lemon juice added from Judy’s supplies made for an amazing taste sensation.

Monday 18th April, 2016 (Day 4): Exploring “Useless Inlet” and the inside of Bellefin Prong
Today we were only 6 paddlers as Judy decided to be like “Robinson Crusoe” and take the opportunity to have a day alone, running free and oblivious to the rest of the world. This “naked” delight in her surroundings did have a downside and she was forced to sit neck deep in the water when the March Flies took control of the beach. In the meantime the rest of us decided to explore the inner side of Bellefin Prong (PH - after making careful observations of Judy from the top of a sand dune, haha only joking Judy... or are we?). Even within such a localised area there was plenty of diversity. We came across mangrove trees and within these Jo, Jill and Margaret found big schools of juvenile shovel nosed rays and sharks. They were literally surrounded by a nursery of hundreds of baby animals. Austen resembled Steve Irwin more than a carpenter as he leaped from his kayak to pick up a turtle.

Turtle
Austen with injured turtle- Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

The turtle, as it turned out, wasn’t really functioning well as it had been injured with much of its left front flipper nearly ripped off. It was sad to see in something that was so gorgeous but reminded us that this is the way that the ecosystem here works so beautifully. Our lunch stop was perfect thanks again to Austen’s foresight in bringing a tarp with two poles. Austen’s breakdown paddle doubling as the final poles needed. The shade it afforded made for a pleasant break and just as we were contemplating whether to get going again, the wind changed, nearly blowing our shelter away.

Turtle
Austen saves the day with a great lunch shelter.- Photo by Pete and Heidi Hutton

Our return journey, as predicted in the wind forecast meant a lovely following breeze. Jill set sail and her, Margaret and Jo could have been mistaken for sitting at a cafe drinking coffee (PH - except that there was no coffee or cafe) as they “rafted up” and chatted all the way back. We headed back under our own steam with Austin and were witness to a small group of large, black finned sharks out in the deeper waters, working together to hunt prey. They seemed to be herding them into their kill zone. It was so clear the power and speed they had, and they made us glad to be in the shallows. Once back at camp Pete and I realised that we had packed way too much water for the trip, especially as the following day we would return to the mainland. This was in response to Royd’s weather update that said unfavourable winds may be present later in the week. So, what else to do but have an English shower and wash our hair? How blissful! Pete’s talents as a hairdresser were not lost on Jo who also enjoyed a shampoo treatment (PH – may be better for me to become a hairdresser than a fisherman).

Tuesday 19th April, 2016 (Day 5): Crossing back to Denham and mudflat camp 5km north of Denham
Today was a bigger day of paddling, covering over 30km from base camp, via the first prong and on to the mainland. The call of a dugong sent a haunting farewell and some unsuccessful fishing kept us busy. Pete had found a huge lure in flotsam a couple of days earlier and the crossing was the place to try it out. The lure though proved problematic after a “hit” proved to be only a collection of weed. In the excitement Pete dropped his paddle...Lure 1, Pete 0 (PH – I am ever hopeful that there will be a kayaker out there who has been lost at sea for a month in a boat but no paddle and just as they are about to throw themselves to the sharks, my paddle will float by... if you happen to be this person my name and phone number are on the paddle ☺). Heidi spat it so a quiet return journey ensued, without further fishing (PH – my fishing days are OVER!). Jill also tried fishing but only caught a rudder fish. Paddle intact but a tangled line to try and sort through at a later date (PH – didn’t you ever wonder Jill who the fishing-line-untangle fairy was... not that I am a fairy... not that there is anything wrong with it if I was.. although I am not... umm... continue Heidi). Such a long journey meant we tested out our rafting skills so a couple of us could “relieve ourselves”. Jo needed us, not for rafting up, but to be on shark patrol should the need arise. Once we reached the mainland the last few km’s were a combination of paddling and walking as the tide revealed shallow flats.

Camp 2 search
Camp 2 search- Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

Austen felt a calling to the township of Denham, which may have had something to do with fresh fish and chips, but to his credit he walked the mudflats for one last evening meal of dehydrated stuff! Fish and chips surely on the menu for tomorrow. We found a lovely campsite within Francois Peron NP in the nick of time. Another half and hour and our kayaks would have been stranded on the flats, hundreds of metres from the mainland.

Camp 2
Camp 2 - Photo by Jill Sievenpiper

Wednesday 20th April, 2016 (Day 6): Paddle to Denham and hot showers
We were slaves to the tide today and thank goodness it was a late start rather than a pre-dawn start. A relaxing start to the day in sunny conditions yet again. Mozzies present meant some luxury tent time reading before some exploring of the mudflats and enjoying not rushing as we waited for the tide to come in. Once the tide was in at around 11am we took off. Initially we were all going to stay together but a combination of head wind, some wanting to explore the coast line, some just wanting a shower evolved into a couple of distinct groups. Each group got a unique experience... Judy and Jo witnessed emus taking a swim whilst the deeper water out further meant the rest of us were packed up and showered and out of the headwind quicker. Margaret led in her typical tenacious way. That night the pub beckoned before Jo, Jill and Heidi attempted a game of cards and then we all slept the peaceful sleep of babies, even if the mattresses did sag.

Emus
Emu crossing - Photo by Judy Blight

Thursday 21st April, 2016 (Day 7): Day of being tourists
The day passed in a blur as we relaxed over coffee, chatted, and explored the area at our leisure. Jill and Margaret saw the dolphins at Monkey Mia and at some point during the day we all explored the “Discovery Centre”. Pete and I went for a swim in the bay late in the afternoon and a combination of the hypersalinity of the water and going with the current made us feel like Ian Thorpe. Unfortunately when we turned to come back we realised we weren’t Ian Thorpe and got out and walked!

Friday 22nd April (Day 8): Return journey
We all headed off at different times this morning but we had a chance meeting of Jo and Margaret at the stromatalites, something Pete the scientist was keen to see (as were we...weren’t we Austen?). (PH - ahh stromatalites the providers of O2 to the earth). A more eventful drive home some time later for us as our car broke down. Not lucky that it broke down but oh so lucky it broke down on the way home, not on the way up, it broke down 3km from the Toyota dealership in Geraldton where we had phone range and didn’t need to be towed (we discovered our standard RAC membership only gives 10km of towing and then it is $5.50/km after that....eeek!) and we were able to get a hire car that needed to go back to Perth 2 hours before close of business at the start of the long weekend. So, in the end we all got home, and nothing could dampen our spirits after such a great week away! Not even the speeding fine waiting for Jo when she arrived home. So thanks everyone for your company, humour and love of the good life.

Hot tips from the week
Judy’s solar charger
Little fold up table
Shade cloth as a tent “door mat” (Jo’s tip)
Not so hot tip
Tennis balls on the end of the camp chair legs (they fell off and chair sank throwing
the sitter ungraciously into the sand)



 

 


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