Hi everyone! Apologies for the delay between blog posts. I am in a crazy time of my thesis. Just as I returned from Australia I did a week of field work to collect temperature loggers from three sites in Saudi Arabia. Since then I have been downloading and organizing the data and writing up my thesis. I should graduate KAUST in December and it is going to be absolutely crazy busy until then (wish me luck!). I made a Youtube video of some of the highlights of my Australia trip if you’d like to watch, click the photo of the whale on the top of this post. Once you see my youtube channel you are able to see older videos from other travels.
Now onto the next post: continuing the Western Australia road trip
We woke up the following morning, ate breakfast, and piled into our van for a quick drive to Kalbarri National Park. This is a beautiful park that resembled Utah with its rugged landscape and red rocks. The best part, was that it was absolutely empty, and on both trails we walked we didn’t see a single other person. The first stop we made was to a lookout point called Z-Bend. It is a less dramatic version of Horseshoe Bend in Arizona as the river makes a turn in a similar shape.
It was a beautiful morning with blue skies and no clouds in the skies. This first walk only took about 15-20 minutes and as I mentioned, there was literally not another person on the trail, which is always nice. The weather was cool, because it is the beginning of Spring in Australia, but apparently in the Summer it gets super super hot here and people have died in the past.
After the walk we headed to another lookout in the park called Nature’s Window. This destination is one of Western Australia’s most iconic natural attractions. The trail is an easy 800 m trail, with awesome views of the river where you can see kangaroos and other wildlife below. Apparently this lookout also gets crazy busy during peak visiting seasons, but we lucked out and had it on our own!
After this stop we packed into the car and once again got ready for a long drive North. On the way we stopped for snacks, bathroom breaks, and a lunch break where we made our own wraps. I slept a good portion of the ride, I forgot how nice it is to travel without worrying about directions and destinations. We traveled in the car for nearly four hours until we reached Shark Bay World Heritage Site. This is an amazing place, ideal for nature lovers. It is the most Western point of Australia, with three exceptional natural features. It has massive sea-grass beds, home to a large dugong population. For those of you who don’t know, dugongs, or “sea cows” are closely relate to manatees and are super cool and rare animals! Shark bay also has stromatolites, a highlight for any biology nerd like myself. These are the oldest forms of life on earth, I will talk about them more later. Lastly, it is famous for the “monkey Mia dolphins” which have been studied for decades.
Our first stop was the stromatolites at the Hamelin Pool. These rock like structures are formed by bacterial mats, and are the earliest evidence of life on Earth! The odest are dated between 3,710 million and 3,695 million years old. I distinctly remember looking at a photo of a stromatolite in my high school biology book, with a caption saying “Western Australia” and I remember thinking, that is so cool that those are still around and you can go see them in person! And here I am 7 years later seeing them in real life! At the Hamelin pool they have built a boardwalk so you can view them from above without stepping on them or damaging them. We lucked out and went at low tide, so they were exposed and out of the water, making for perfect viewing.
Here are photos of the stormatolites:
The next stop is a famous beach called “Shell Beach”- I know, so creative. The beach is made completely of one species of white shell. The beach is covered with shells for 60 km to a depth of 7-10 m. That is a LOT of shells! It is one of the only two beaches in the world made entirely from shells.
The abundance of shells is from the cockle species Fragus erugatum. This region has a high salinity (salt water content) due to the geomorphology, thus allowing the cockle to reproduce unchecked since there are no predators in the areas. Unfortunately, this beach is heavily mined for construction because it is a good building material. It is a beautiful white beach, and the day was warm and sunny. It was a blast!
After sunbathing, feeling the water, and relaxing, we headed to the last big stop of the day, which was a lookout called Eagle Bluff. This is one of the best spots to watch ocean wildlife. The outlook is over a sandy shallow area, where you can see sharks, rays, and turtles. We saw SO many animals it was super cool. There’s even a change of seeing dugongs here apparently (we missed this) but we still saw sharks and tons of rays so I was happy!
After this, we headed to our accommodation in Denham. On our way an emu crossed the road, so we got to get up close! Emus are the second largest bird, and it is endemic to Australia (which means it only lives here). They can’t fly, but they can run surprisingly fast.
Once we got settled into our hostel, we walked along the beach so I could look for shells. Unfortunately, we discovered that the tide was low and there were animals stuck on the beach dying. So of course we went on a rescue mission picking up sea hares. These awesome animals are in the mollusk family, and are related to animals like squid and octopus and nudibranchs. Similar to nudibranchs, they are gastropods, sliding their way across the seafloor (not free swimming like squid). But, similarly to octopus and squid they have an ink sac so when they are frightened they expel purple ink everywhere! There must’ve been like 15 while we were walking. Eventually we came up to a beached octopus, which made me super sad. Octopus are extremely charismatic and intelligent. After taking care of an octopus at my last job, I have a soft spot for them, so seeing one dying made me sick. I immediately picked it up and placed it back in the sea. It seemed dead at first but then it started moving around and suctioning to me. We found a big rock to help it suction to and it seemed to become more lively. We eventually left it and I am optimistic that it will live! PS if you eat octopus or squid, you should do an internet search on how cool and beautiful they are! Our last activity of the day was heading to a lookout to watch the sunset. It was a lovely ending to such a good night. As we sat on a bench enjoying the views, our tourguide Deon and I started talking about how I really wanted to see a kangaroo up close. So when we headed back to our accommodation, he drove us through some side roads, and almost immediately we spotted some kangaroos. They are more active after the sunsets so it was a perfect ending to a perfect day.