Denham & Monkey Mia

The entire population of Australia, a land mass similar in size to the US lower 48 states, is only 25 million people. For comparison, the population of the US is around 330 million people. You would have to go back to the1850s, pre-Civil War era, to find a time when the US had Australia’s current population density.

The population of Western Australia, an area the size of the US from Colorado to the west coast, is only 3 million people. This fact starts to sink in as you drive on the major roads that are only 2 lanes for most of the distance and see only a few cars per hour of travel.

In the remote areas you come across Roadhouses that are the only gas, food and hotel for many miles. We stopped at one on our way north to grab some lunch and some gas. The Billabong Roadhouse was a hub of activity in this remote area. Billabong means the pools of water that remain when most of the river or stream dries up during the dry season. Billabongs are where the crocodiles hang out waiting for something to come in for a drink. Not sure how that name came to be associated with surfing apparel – lol.

Road trains are common on these roads, where truckers attach extra trailer segments to their rigs. We were still in the slightly remote area of Australia, so the road trains were limited to 120 feet. I talked with the driver of this rig and he said north of where we were, the remote area of Australia, rigs can add another trailer and get up to 163 feet long. They have “Road Train” signs on their bumpers so you know if you go to pass one it may take some time. They have road train assembly areas off the road on the outskirts of the larger cities so that the trucks can be reduced in size to get into town, or likewise increased in size as they leave. This one was unique in that all the trailers were gas. Most road trains are pulling dissimilar trailers so that it looks like a circus train on the roll, with everything imaginable attached.

At the southern tip of Shark Bay is the Hamelin Pool Stromatolites. These stromatolites are formed by the layered growth of a single-celled photosynthesizing microbe. Some of the first forms of life on earth are found in stromatolites that date back 3.5 million years. This shallow area of Shark Bay has very high salinity that the stromatolites and some fish like. It’s one of the few places on earth that stromatolites still live.

Some Australian Pied Cormorants and some Little Black Cormorants were perched on top of the stromatolites.

This Welcome Swallow was also there, enjoying to afternoon sun.

We continued up the Peron Peninsula and arrived at Denham, a town of around 800 folks, named after the English Navy captain that charted Shark Bay in 1858.

We saw this metal sculpture in town, and I was intrigued with the look the straight rods created along the curved surface. I may have to play with something like this for a future project.

The next day was another weather day with light rain so we explored the aquarium and museum in town. The museum was very interesting, discussing the many Dutch, French and English explorers that charted western Australia. The area was also the site of many shipwrecks throughout the years. The Dutch East Indies company travelled around Sumatra to get to Singapore and the Far East. It wasn’t until 1616 that Dirk Hartog, a Dutch explorer, sailed south far enough to hit Australia and Shark Bay. The large island in the bay was named after Dirk.

With the entire day on our hands we sat and watched several videos that explained a lot of the marine studies and ship explorations that have gone on in and around Shark Bay.

The aquarium was small but interesting. It only reaffirmed that everything in Australia, and in the water nearby, is either poisonous or venomous – lol. The guide picked up the sea snake, which is extremely venomous, but do not bite people due to our size. They are extremely curious and attempted swim out to say hello to all of us around the tank. Its amazing how quick you can move when a venomous snake is coming towards you.

Another unique group of guests in the aquarium were the rockfish, that surprisingly look exactly like rocks, but react lighting fast when food is near their mouths. The also have poisonous spikes along their back if you are unfortunate enough to step on one.

On the way back to our place we saw two Emus in the bush.

The skies cleared the next day and we made our way to Monkey Mia. This place is known for its dolphins. Pods of dolphins have become accustomed to humans over many years and swim next to the beach all day long. The guides feed them daily now, but only the females and only in the morning as a tourist item. The males can get too aggressive and they want the dolphins to get most of their food from the sea.

We did some hikes through the dunes and came out along a secluded beach.

Shortly after we got to the water’s edge a mother dolphin and her calf swam up to us and effectively escorted us back the mile or so down the beach back to the main tourist area. We have never “walked” with a dolphin before and it was a truly unique experience. The mother would look up from time to time to see that we were still there with her while the little calf just frolicked over and around the mom the entire time.

We had a nice lunch on the beach there.

One of the most picturesque places in Shark Bay is the François Peron National Park. It’s only accessible by 4-wheel drive due to the sandy roads, but we decided to see it from the air. We had scheduled a flight for the morning, but the commercial flight schedule was thrown off due to the weather the previous day. We rebooked to the afternoon.

Upon arriving at the airport, a runway with a check-in shack, there was just a little old lady sitting there. Eve has wintered in Denham for many years but had never seen the national park. Since we were only two, she was able to book on our flight to fill the Cessna. The plane arrived a short time later with a tour group and the pilot said the clouds over the park were getting bad and we could reschedule for the next morning if we wanted, so we did.

We ended up going to Eve’s house for some tea and spent the afternoon with her. She was 85 years old, an English citizen born in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. She lived there for 30 years before emigrating to New Zealand with her husband after the regime change. She lived in New Zealand for 30 years and moved to Australia with her husband and kids and has been there for the last 25 years. She wasn’t sure what country she was a citizen of anymore but said it really didn’t matter since she wouldn’t be traveling anytime soon – lol.

We made plans to meet again in the morning for our flight over François Peron National Park.


Over the 35 days of our Western Australia travels we covered over 3,600 miles, or just over 100 miles a day. We would typically travel one day and spend the next day or two exploring the new area. Therefore, our travel days were about 3 to 4 hours on the road as we made our way to a new location.

As we travelled north from Cervantes, we passed through Greenough at about lunchtime and stopped for a bite at a now deserted settlement in the middle of sheep country. As we were to find out more about the weather in the Kimberly area, when it rains in the summertime, it rains. After a few floods of 2 to 4 feet of water through this area the town was eventually abandoned.

The area is also known for the strong winds that come in off the coast. This tree in the sheep pasture was typical of many of trees in this area.

We arrived at our next stop, a little town of 1,500 folks called Kalbarri, located on the rocky cliffs where the Murchinson River meets the ocean.

Our Airbnb was right across the road from the cliff and gave us a beautiful sunset that evening.

The next day we explored Kalbarri National Park that encompasses the Murchison River gorge. The color of the sandstone and sparse vegetation reminded both of us of areas in Arizona and Utah.

There were black swans swimming in the river below.

One of the main attractions in the park is Nature’s Window, a mini arch that overlooks the gorge.

We hiked around the area and down to the river.

Unlike Arizona and Utah, where the different colored sandstone layers are many feet thick, these layers of eroded rock were just a few inches thick and very colorful.

This red-capped robin sat on a branch for us so that we could get his picture.

We drove to Hawk’s Head Lookout, another picturesque gorge within the park.

I caught this great egret just taking off from a log in the river below.

Across the river we saw kangaroos feeding on the grass.

There was also a Rock-Wallaby in the rock outcroppings along the gorge wall. They are monitoring their movements there and this one had a radio collar on for that purpose.

We made our way back into town and stopped at the lookouts along the cliffs. We caught this Willie Wagtail resting on the sign.

The coastline looked like one side of the Grand Canyon next to the Indian Ocean.

An Eastern Osprey was enjoying the setting sun along the coast, probably looking for dinner.

It was another beautiful sunset with the 10-foot waves rolling in far below.

The weather was getting noticeably warmer now that we had gone so far north, but we had a little further to go before we turned back to Perth.


This was the first leg of our Western Australia trip. To get an idea of the size of WA, let Perth, our travel hub in Western Australia, be Phoenix, Arizona. Our trip was the equivalent in distance to driving from Phoenix, Arizona to Salt Lake City, Utah and back for the first leg, flying from Phoenix over Utah and Wyoming to Missoula, Montana and then driving to the Black Hills of South Dakota and back for the second leg, and finally flying back to Phoenix, Arizona and driving across New Mexico to Big Bend National Park in Texas and back, while the entire time remaining within Western Australia. The place is huge.

We picked a route up the coast next to the Indian Ocean. However, we soon realized that while on the map it shows the road running up the coast, the “coastal roads” are still far inland. This is what the view to the coast looks like for most of the drive. We found out later that this area explodes with wildflowers in September, their springtime. That would be something to see.

Our first stop was the town of Cervantes, a small fishing village of less than 500 folks. The town was named for a ship that wrecked nearby, but the town also knows their literature, as can be seen by the wind vane as you enter the village. I thought the metal cutouts of Picasso’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza might be a good future project.

We stopped here to explore Nambung National Park. After picking up a 30-day Western Australia parks pass we went to check out The Pinnacles.

The colors there were striking. The ground is the color and consistency of corn meal, and the pinnacles vary in size from 1 foot to about 10 feet tall. They are the fossilized remains of palm tree root bundles from the forest that once existed here millions of years ago above this eroded ground.

There was both a walking and driving path through this large forest from the past. We did both.

We had a 4-wheel drive for this leg of the trip, a new diesel Ford Ranger. It had an integrated dash GPS that spoke to us in a nice Australian accent and kept us from getting too lost. Pam also reminded me to stay left as we entered and exited the highways.

It’s always fun to hike in sandy areas and see the tracks that the local wildlife leaves, from small lizards to dingoes, the wild dog that inhabits Australia. We came across a track with large feet and a center groove. At first, we were thinking a goanna or other larger lizard, but then realized it was a just a slow moving, grazing kangaroo track. Very cool.

The sky and ground colors made this entire place just amazing.

We didn’t expect to see any new birds here, but Pam spotted these two Galahs in the bush.

Even in bright light the fossilized rock color made the area truly unique.

Looking from the Pinnacles towards the sea you could see the white sand of the beach on the horizon to the upper right.

We drove to the beach next. The sign at the boundary of the National Park was along the road. “National Parks” in Western Australia are more like our national monuments; unique lands set aside to enjoy, but with little to no development or staff overseeing the place. Most of the locals have high gain CB antennas mounted to their vehicles due to the lack of phone signal and the remoteness of the area. Since Pam and I travel in areas outside of phone coverage alot this didn’t bother us, but you knew if you broke down it may be a long, long wait for another person to appear.

There were many roads that ran to the coast and each were equally beautiful.

The Indian Ocean was still showing signs of the weather that was off the coast, but the beaches were all pristine.

We had dinner at the local tavern one night and tried the local catch, rock lobsters. These lobsters are like the spiny lobsters found off the Pacific coast of the US. The taste was wonderfully sweet.

We waved goodbye to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and continued north.

Rottnest Island

This is the first of 18 blogs that will cover our recent trip to Western Australia. While we did not have our Roamer for this trip, it was still a great adventure. Our 35-day exploration of Western Australia was two separate treks with just Pam and me using Airbnbs that bookended a standard commercial tour with relatives. As a little background, the trip was initiated by Pam’s aunt, who lives in Canberra and always wanted to visit the Kimberly region of Western Australia. We flew to Perth a couple of weeks before the commercial tour was to begin, rented a car and headed up the west coast to start the first trek.

Perth is near the southwest corner of Australia, and the capital of Western Australia. It is a beautiful city of about 2 million folks, where the total population of Western Australia is roughly 3 million and the land area about 9 times the state of Arizona. To give some perspective on Perth’s location, if you drilled through the center of the earth from Perth you would come out near Bermuda. It was the middle of the winter there, but due to its location the weather was very nice.

We made the trip to Perth in one day, flying from Phoenix to LA, then to Brisbane and finally arriving in Perth after crossing nine time zones and the international date line. After checking into our hotel, we found out that our ferry to take us to Rottnest Island the next afternoon was cancelled due to an incoming winter storm. Luckily, we were able to re-book on the early morning ferry, which wasn’t a problem since we were wide awake at 3am due to the time shift. The storm was not as bad as predicted, but we did have about 10-foot seas on the way over. Pam, who does not do well with motion sickness, took some ginger pills and made it over ok. A couple of other folks on the ferry did not.

Looking towards the dock on Rottnest Island, the storm moved over with just light, intermittent rain all day. The nice thing about being from the desert is that a cloudy, rainy day is actually a nice change.

Rottnest Island is about 7 square miles in area, located just 10 miles off the mainland and is now a popular tourist stop due to its beautiful beaches and the Quokka, the friendly little marsupial that is now famous due to selfies. The Dutch fist discovered the island nearly 400 years ago and the explorers mistook the quokka for rats, hence Rottnest Island, or Rat Nest Island in Dutch.

The deserted island was used as a prison for Aboriginals in the early days of Australia and even had a reform school for wayward boys. It was also the staging area for tall ships at the turn of the previous century awaiting approval to enter Fremantle, the port city of Perth. Now most of the government buildings have been converted to restaurants, galleries and hotels.

Much of the island is unpopulated, but around the small town near the docks the quokkas are everywhere. As we were to figure out quickly, to speak Australian you substitute the letter A for nearly every vowel and replace any word ending in R with an A. Therefore, quokka is pronounced as (kwa-ka) and water is (watta). Even though it was English, it took me awhile to get used to the inflection and cadence. At one point on the island we ran into an Australian couple talking to a Scottish couple. While both were speaking English, one with all vowels and the other with all consonants, I had no idea what was said – lol.

As we walked around town, we came across many quokkas. They are not afraid of people and are very cute and curious. Here one came right up to see what I possibly had for it to eat.

Pam tried to get a selfie with another quokka. If you just sit stationary, they will come to you. However, they may not do exactly what you want for a good picture.

The camera angle was a little off for a selfie, but they are cute little buggers. You are not supposed to feed them or pick them up since they are wild. It was mating season and one tourist got nipped on his head trying too hard to get the perfect selfie.

One of the first purchases we made in Australia was a book on the Birds of Western Australia to keep track of the different birds we saw. We caught this peacock catching some sun between rain showers on our walk around town, which was ironic since it was the only bird we saw not in the bird book (introduced). It was still a nice-looking bird.

Rather than stay in a condo or hotel on the island we booked a place at an “Eco-Sustainable Resort”, otherwise known as a high-end tent near the beach.

It was our introduction to “glamping” as its known, where our tent had electricity and a full bath. You had a door you could lock, but then you could just unzip the walls and walk through too – lol. Being winter and a little stormy the tent canvas rippled with the wind and it was chilly at night but nice for sleeping.

Since most of the places we booked on this trip were off the beaten path we had many evening meals of light snacks and a good bottle of Western Australian wine. Food and gas were more expensive, but the exchange rate was favorable, 70 cents US to a dollar Australian. Most restaurant food was reminiscent of British fare, but we did find the fish excellent.

The storm passed by sunset and the next day dawned with beautiful blue skies. We bought a daily bus pass that allowed us to jump on and off the bus that circled the island all day. We took it out to the furthest point and got off to explore.

The hike back took us from rocky cliffs to beautiful beaches where most of the time we were the only ones on the trail. We spotted this white-faced heron along the cliffs, our first true Australian bird.

The hiking path was a nice dirt track that ran along the crest of the rocky shore.

In one cove we spotted a group of New Zealand fur seals relaxing and regulating their body temperature by raising one of their fins into the air.

Other parts of the hike dropped you onto secluded beaches. The number of mooring balls in the bay indicate that it must be packed with boats while the folks enjoy the beach on summer weekends.

We spotted this colorful Australian Shelduck in the seaweed along the beach.

Then we spotted the Australian Pelican, which is a very impressive bird at 5 to 6 feet in height. Even at a distance the bird looked huge.

The island was very colorful and must be a great getaway destination for those folks living around Perth.

You can see the skyline of downtown Perth on the horizon from the eastern tip of the island.

We stopped in the historic boat shop and spoke with the curator. In the days of the tall ships these row boats made the 10-mile crossing from Perth to the island to let the ships know who was cleared to enter the harbor and to bring the local captain aboard. Then the rowboat was either towed by the ship or they had to row back to Perth, sometimes several times a day.

When we told the curator that we were from the US he told us that he was originally from Newcastle in eastern Australia. He worked in construction and several of the older buildings in Newcastle were built using the bricks salvaged from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that made it to Australia as ship’s ballast.

The ride back to the mainland was much smoother than the trip out and then we started north up the coast.