Tuesday 23 April 2013

Postcrossing - an interesting hobby

I came across Postcrossing about a month ago, when one of my friends from Portugal recommended I join this site if I liked postcards.
I do have a big collection of postcards, that I keep in a box, that I began collecting when I started travelling at the age of 18.

My postcard box
My first postcards were bought in Brasil, my first port of call on a round the world trip to 
5 different countries in 3 continents. Since then, I bought a couple of postcards in every country I visited.

So I joined Postcrossing, filled in my details, and requested 5 addresses to send postcards to.
You get given a code with letters and numbers to be written in each postcard, which identifies the country it comes from and helps identify the sender when the receiver receives it.
I wrote a little note describing the photo in each postcard - all of them from Perth - and posted them. The addresses were all in Europe.

One of the cards I sent
I got notified by email when the cards reached their destination, and to date only 3 have reached their home, having taken from 14 to 28 days to travel.
I wonder if some have taken the sea route instead of crossing the seas by plane? The post shouldn't take that long from Australia to Europe, should it?

I was quite thrilled when one of the addresses I was given was in Braunschweig, Germany - a town where we lived for almost 6 years, and where my kids were born, over 25 years ago. What a coincidence!

Today I received my first two postcards - one from China and one from the United States.
When you receive a postcard you log in, and register the code on the postcard and scan a copy of it if possible, so it's visible to anyone visiting the site. At the moment over 402 thousand people from  216 countries participate in this project with over 16 million postcards exchanged.
My first postcards from Postcrossing - a cat from China, and one from San Antonio in the USA
On my Postcrossing profile I wrote that I also collect stamps, and one of the ladies I exchanged a postcard with also collects stamps, so we are now exchanging stamps between Australia and the Netherlands.
Communication is done via the Postcrossing site, so no addresses need to be exchanged unless you decide to do direct swapping or other exchanges, like the stamps in my case.

So if you already collect postcards, or would like a new hobby, why not give Postcrossing a go?
Who knows maybe one day you might be sending me a postcard from your city.

And in this day and age when penmanship is a dying art and most people communicate verbally, by sms or email, it's refreshing to be able to write a few words to someone and actually put a stamp on a postcard or envelope...

Thursday 18 April 2013

Coral Bay to Perth - Homebound 2

Day 9 - Geraldton to Perth - 430 kms, 9 hours with stops 
- Part 7    
(Total travelled - 2844km in 9 days)

After a great night's sleep, we got dressed, had breakfast, and packed our stuff into the car.
We filled up the tank, at 1,459$/litre, and at 10A.M., with the thermometer at 24.C, we set off on our way to Cervantes to go and visit the Pinnacles.
Leaving Geraldton - the lighthouse
We took the Brand Highway (North West Coastal Highway until Geraldton) that runs close to the Indian Ocean so we would be able to have some scenic stops on our way.
The countryside is greener, prettier and with some hills and dazzling white dunes, unlike the barren northern area of WA.

White dunes and green bushes next to the road
Port Denison, view of harbour
Our first quick stop was Dongara/Port Denison, about 70kms away from Geraldton. 
Shortly after leaving Port Denision the road forks and we took the Indian Ocean Drive that runs parallel to the sea. Next stop was another tiny sea side town - Leeman - 150km from Geraldton, where I climbed the Ti-Tree Point for some wonderful 360 degree views of sea and surrounding area.

The steps to the lookout at the top 
One of the wonderful views over Leeman beach and pier
Another 45kms and we arrive in Jurien Bay in time for lunch. We take a few wrong turns until we find the road leading to the town's pier and a cafe near the water.
We ordered and sat down to a meal of fish and chips for 2 and hamburgers for the other 2, 
all with fries of course! I don't think any of the restaurants where we ate along the way ever offered food without a side of chips, why not rice?

The long jetty at Jurien Bay
Jurien Bay beach
The kids play area by the beach at Jurien Bay
Jurien Bay, was first known to Europeans, when in 1801 a French expedition sailed along the WA coast, and named the spot after Charles Marie Jurien a French Naval officer.

The multi-million dollar Crayfish or Western Rock Lobster industry, has influenced the growth of Jurien Bay, with the building of jetties, fish processing factories, even an airstrip...
The majority of the catch is sold to Japan and the United States for big bucks!
This prosperity is patent in the big mansions and fleet of big fishing ships and yachts.

Crayfish season starts in November and every year the "Blessing of the Fleet" festival is held to commemorate the occasion.

Jurien Bay is also becoming popular for Perth residents as a summer destination, due to the proximity to Perth (220km), the great beaches and good fishing. 
You can also snorkel and meet sea lions and dolphins within the Jurien Bay Marine Park sanctuary.

After lunch we drove 26kms south to Cervantes. Just 1km before the town, we turned to the Hansen Bay Lookout road, to visit Lake Thetis, one of the few places in the world where you can see "stromatolites". 

We had decided not to stop at the Shark Bay Stromatolites, when we travelled from Denham to Coral Bay, so we had to stop and check these.  

Around 4800 years ago the sea levels dropped and the salty lake became isolated, with coastal dunes forming around it.  Some fish and birds have adapted to the salinity and can be seen in the water.
The Stromatolites look very much like rocks, but are living fossils, built up by layers of bacteria and calcium that thrive in the salty lake.

Lake Thetis has a circumference of 1,2km and has a boardwalk path all round, so it makes for a enjoyable walk.

Stromatolites in Lake Thetis, Cervantes
Just like Jurien Bay, Cervantes is also a fishing industry town, as well as a tourist spot due to the nearby Pinnacles. 
Named after a ship that was wrecked nearby, named "Miguel de Cervantes" after the author of "Don Quixote". Strangely enough, a lot of this small town's streets have Spanish names -  Seville street, Barcelona Drive, Cordoba Way, Valencia Road...

We drove into Cervantes, once again hoping to buy some frozen lobsters (we had been asking in every fishing town since Geraldton) and finally found a processing factory where we bought 4 frozen lobsters that went into our cooler box. Hurray!!

The attractions in Cervantes are the wildflowers in Spring, good fishing and beaches, four wheel driving through the sand dunes from Cervantes to Lancelin, buy some rock lobster at the Ocean Rock Factory, enjoy a lobster at lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants (season runs from November to June), visit Lake Thetis, visit the Emu Downs wind farm and climb the Molah Hill lookout, situated in-between Jurien Bay and Cervantes for views over both towns - quite a lot to do in such a small town!

After our purchase we drove another 18kms to the Pinnacles desert, where we paid $11 per vehicle  for the entry into the Nambung National park. After visiting the modern Discovery centre to learn about the fauna, flora and history of these strange rocky formations we got in the car again, to travel the 4km road loop around these majestic and strange rock formations. The driving trail is not suited to Caravans and trailers.
If you enjoy walking, you can leave the car in the car park and walk the 1,2km trail.

The Pinnacles desert with an area of about 190 hectares, contains thousands of limestone pillars, some up to 5mts high, rising from the ochre sands. Their formation mechanism is controversial and there are 3 different versions. Also not know is how long ago these were formed, with 80,000 years ago, being given as a guide.
They are best viewed at dawn or sunset when the shadows create patterns over the desert sands and the play of light brings their different colours and features.
The area attracts about 250,000 visitors a year, with the months from August to October being the most popular due to the wildflower season at the Nambung National park.
There are some mainly nocturnal animals in the park, but you might encounter Emus and Kangaroos during daytime. 

kangaroos eating some greenery next to some Pinnacles

The car trail in between pinnacles

Could this one be the highest pinnacle at 5 metres?  Daughter, hubby and me.
More dunes in the distance
One of the fancy rest stops along the road from the Pinnacles to Perth
View from a lookout along the way

From this map you can see our route along the coast from Perth to Geraldton, Kalbarri, Denham/Monkey Mia, Carnarvon, Coral Bay and the return from Coral Bay to Geraldton, and via the Pinnacles to Perth, travelling 2,844km in 9 days!

I would certainly love to return to Coral Bay, and to visit Exmouth, where we didn't go, but I don't think I would do it again by car. It's just too far, and having seen what we wanted to see along the way, I think next time I would rather just fly from Perth to Exmouth, hire a car and then travel around the area. 

And in case you are wondering what happened to the lobsters we bought in Cervantes, here they are! My wonderful husband cooked Lobster Thermidor for our farewell dinner with our daughter and son in law, the night before they flew back to France. We even had home made chips, yes chips again...although I think these were healthier than the ones we ate in the restaurants along our road trip. A wonderful meal to be remembered.

Defrosting the lobsters
Lobster Thermidor, in the oven
Lobster with chips

Hope you have enjoyed reading about our road trip and that my account and photos have whet your appetite to embark on a road trip in your country, or maybe even in Australia.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Coral Bay to Perth - Homebound 1

Day 8 - Coral Bay to Geraldton -  708kms,  9 hours with stops - Part 6

At 9A.M, with the thermometer indicating 32.C. and we are packed and ready to leave Coral Bay on our way to Carnarvon, 237km away. 
Because on the way to Coral Bay we hadn't stopped, we stopped now to photograph the huge termite mounds, some with funny faces drawn on them.

After 9km we turn right and join the Exmount/Minilya Road, stopping again about 30km later to photograph the Tropic of Capricorn sign.
One of hundreds of termite mounds
Tropic of Capricorn sign on the Minilya/Exmouth Road
Another 40kms later we stop for coffee at the Minilya Roadhouse. Here we join the North West Coastal Highway again. Two and a half hours after we started, we arrive in the town of Carnarvon, fill up at a petrol station at 1,675$/litre and make a pit stop at the supermarket to buy some fruit for the trip. 

The dry Gascoyne River near Carnarvon
We drove over the Gascoyne River bridge, the river bed completely dry. This is the longest river in Western Australia with 865km, and flows into the Indian Ocean at Carnarvon. 
The river only flows for about 120 days of the year and below the dry river bed for the rest of the year. In December 2010, (considered the driest month of the year) the worst floods on records were triggered by heavy rainfalls,  of 247mm over 24 hours (average being 5mm a month, and 228mm a year).
Although there were no deaths, entire homes were washed away in Carnarvon and 170km inland in Gascoyne Junction. Carnarvon was isolated due to the flood waters, with the North West Coastal highway shut down for several days. Vast agricultural areas with crops were wiped out and about 2000 cattle died. Some areas recorded water levels above 15 metres!

                                                       * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

At 1pm. and 120km later, we stopped for lunch at the Wooramel Roadhouse. We had our fish sandwiches (with shredded fish from fish barbecue the previous night) and fruit. It was impossible to eat outside the car as the flies were out in force! It was also quite hot at 36.C, so we managed to get most of the flies out of the car, closed the windows, put the air-con on and sat inside the car eating.
Afterwards we went inside to buy an ice-cream and use the bathroom. Back on the highway, we had 356kms to our overnight stop in Geraldton.

A Road train at the roadhouse
Another pit stop at the Billabong Roadhouse to stretch our legs, and a cup of coffee.
It was now 42.C outside at 2,30h.
We found this sign outside the roadhouse was quite hilarious, just typical Australian humour.
sign outside Billabong roadhouse
On the highway past the Kalbarri Road turnoff we had to go to the side of the road to make way for this monster truck bound for the mines up north. It's arrival was signaled by a police car with a sign, then another car that drove next to the truck (on our lane) and after the truck another car with another sign. I pity those driving behind the truck!

Check the monster wheels!
One of the fancier toilet and eating stops on the highway
At 6,00pm we arrived in Geraldton, drove through town to the southern end and arrived at our accommodation for the night - Belair Gardens Caravan Park.
Our 2 bedroom cabin was wonderful, clean, modern and very comfortable. The bed was probably the most comfortable we had on this trip, the bathroom the most modern too, with an enclosed shower cabin and hand held shower! Bliss!!
At 160$ a night for the cabin it was quite affordable too.

Our little cabin with a veranda too
The lounge/dining room and kitchen
The main bedroom with a double bed and wardrobe
After going to the supermarket for some provisions we made dinner which we ate outside in the little veranda and after a refreshing shower we went to sleep.

Next day: the trip continues with more beautiful scenery and we arrive home.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Perth to Coral Bay - part 5

Day 4 to Day 7 - CORAL BAY

We arrived in Coral Bay just in time to watch the sunset on the beach. The tide was low, and some of the tour boats were now resting on the sand instead of in the seawater.
Sunset seen from our accommodation
The tour boats on the sand, when the tide is low
We went into "Bayview Camping" to book our accomodation for 2 nights.
Our intention was to stay 2 nights and then go on to Exmouth 200km north, but on the second day we decided we had enough of travelling and would just stay there two extra nights.

The 2 bedroomed bayview villas facing the beach were beautiful and well furnished - lounge, two bedrooms (one double bed and 2 lots of bunk beds), lovely kitchen and bathroom. The cold water tap in the kitchen had potable water, otherwise the hot water and bathroom/shower water were salty.
We unpacked and the men went off to grill the meat we had in our cooler box (or esky in Australia). 

That first night as we sat outside playing cards after dinner, a little black cat came to us, and started miawing. She was thin and hungry I presumed. We got her some canned tuna and water and she gobbled up all she could.
Pets were not permitted in the camping place, so the next day we queried at the office and at the two supermarkets if anyone had reported a lost cat, but no one knew.
One of the ladies suggested I call the ranger because it was probably a wild cat, but I couldn't do that, the cat was very friendly and seemed to enjoy our company, coming around whenever he saw us sitting outside on the deck, and would just miaw for food, then sit quietly until we went inside at bed time.
The last day I felt sorry to have to leave the cat behind, but we had a 2 day road trip ahead and we already have 5 cats at home. Hopefully he will be well cared for by other residents

The view from the grassed area of our Bayview accommodation
The outdoor decked area of the cabins
Coral Bay, about 1000km from Perth (more in our case as we went to Denham/Monkey Mia), is the gateway to the Ningaloo Reef. The clear turquoise beach waters are ideal for snorkelling, and fish and coral reef as visible not far from the shore.
There are paid activities like Whale watching, Coral viewing on Glass Bottom boats, kayaking, fishing expeditions...
The town is small, clean, has two caravan parks with plenty of cabins, one hotel (Ningaloo resort), a small building with accommodation for the local workers, a Youth Hostel, and a smattering of houses, two mini-markets, post office, bakery and fuel facility.
If you are visiting during peak months it would be wise to book ahead.

Prices are exorbitant, even comparing with the high Perth prices.
Fruit and vegetables are kept in the cold fridges in the supermarket, presumably to last longer - don't know if because they hardly sell them at those prices or to shield them from the heat?
In a coastal area famous for it's fish and fishing facilities I was amazed to find that fish (frozen not fresh either), cost about $60kg! We didn't fill up with petrol, but it cost $1.899/litre, the highest we had seen until then.

Our cabins, at $290 a night (slept 6) was almost double the price of a similar cabin we rented in a Geraldton caravan park, on our way back to Perth, for $160!
But of course we have to pay for the remoteness, the view and the fact that Coral Bay is in the Ningaloo reef area.

Ningaloo - an Aboriginal word that mean Promontory, which describes the projection of land that the coral reef skirts around.

The Ningaloo reef is over 250km long, from Coral Bay to Exmouth, further north. It's not as well know as the Great Barrier Reef on the East coast, but from the amount of foreigners I saw there, it must be getting a lot more overseas recognition...
The coral is just a few kilometres off the coast, with some as close as 100mt from the beach. (called fringing reef, unlike in the Great Barrier reef), and the marine life is rich with over 500 fish species and annual whale shark gathering.

In the morning when we got to the beach, hundreds of seagulls would mingle around the edge of the water picking on tiny fish, and as soon as we put our feet in the transparent water, they would scatter around our feet and dive into the sand...or at least that is what I thought was happening, as they would disappear in a flash. 
When we walked further in, and we had "foot" for about 80 to 100 metres, we could spot a lot of bigger fish through the transparent water (sorry, don't know their type/name?) that seemed curious and swam around us. Once I even saw a Blue Spotted Ray as I walked in the water. It was amazing!
Seagulls at the end of the day - with their bellies full for sure.
We had been recommended a great spot to go snorkelling just off the beach, so we walked south along the sand and water towards the very modern boat ramp/jetty, and half way there we saw the 5 knot sign (for the boats), and walked towards it. As long as the water is turquoise and crystal clear, you are able to stand, and when the water becomes dark blue means it's deeper.

Here we put our snorkel mask on and put our heads down to have a look around.
Well, we, doesn't include me....  I am not too comfortable in deeper water as I don't swim very well and cannot manage breathing under water, and I had trouble "stomaching" the rubber mouth piece. Every time I put that on I wanted to I lay on a kids body board that I had bought in the village shop,  put the goggles on, and when my husband or daughter pointed somewhere, I would take a deep breath, put my head in the water, look around and bring my face up to breathe a minute later! 
I still saw blue fish, Blue spotted ray, white fish, yellow fish with blue dots....and some brown coral too.
The current and wind brings you back to the north shore, so you have to keep swimming or in my case, kick my feet, to stay in the same area.

I felt sad not to be able to see as much as the family saw but I still felt very brave, as I'm not much of a swimmer.
After a short while I swam back to shore and walked north along the sand back to the main beach where we had left our beach things. Then I sat in the crystal clear waters covered up to my neck, and just stayed there with fish swimming around me.

The water was always so warm, it was heaven! Just my type of sea water. The Perth beach water is too cold for me and I just go in under duress, most times I just wet my feet.

Coral Reef close to the Coral Bay Settlement in Bills Bay
Brown coral as seen in Coral Bay (photo from "Western Australia Travellers Guide)
Coral Bay beach
Seagulls doing their fishing
The low tide with the boats almost in the sand. In the foreground one of the sun shelters

Waters by the Boat Ramp
The modern Boat Ramp
On the second afternoon, we decided to go fishing for our dinner.
We went to Maud's Beach, 4km north and except for me, who sat reading a book, the rest of the family cast their lines, again and again....with no success!
After watching another beautiful sunset we went back home for another meat barbecue.
The family fishing at dusk
Watching the sunset while the family cast their lines
If we got to the beach early, we could get a shade canopy for the day. Otherwise there are a few trees or bring an umbrella.  I was intrigued to see that the beach didn't have many people, even though the camping places were quite full, but a lot of people just sit outside their caravan reading, relaxing in the shade, go to the pool, go fishing...

The second fishing expedition was more bountiful, and after my husband cleaned the fish, we had a delicious fish barbecue with rice and salad I made.

At the end of the day I, along with dozens of people would go to the beach and watch the beautiful sunsets. 
Sunset over Coral Bay beach, with the sun shelters in the distance

On our last evening we decided to spoil ourselves with a dinner at "Finns Cafe". 
Their menu on the blackboard was varied and we really enjoyed what we had. Bring your own liquor (you can buy it at the pub in the Resort). We had made no reservations, the restaurant was full, but managed to get a table. The staff was friendly and atmosphere was relaxed. Who wouldn't like working by the sea wearing shorts and flip-flops as a uniform?

Our 4 days just flew by, we enjoyed our wonderful stay but it was time to return home.
Next post - our return home.