Each semester in Australia, the school gives students a weeklong study break. This break can be comparable to spring break in the States, however the break occurs both fall and spring semesters. Many of the students use the break to catch up on lectures and stay at the university. Being an exchange student, though, I looked at this break as an extra opportunity to explore Australia. I decided to go on a road trip up the western coast from Perth to Exmouth with three other English exchange students, Georgie, Ed, and Gavin. A kind Australian friend of ours allowed us to barrow his car for the week. This just goes to show the kindness of most Australians.
The first day of our trip involved a lot of driving. Having lots of deadlines the past week, I slept a majority of the 10 hour ride from Perth to Shark Bay Heritage site in Denham. All driving of our trip had to be done during the day because driving at night is quite dangerous with the kangaroos crossing the road. Australians aren’t joking when they talk about this danger. There were dead kangaroos on the side of the road every few kilometers. We arrived at our campsite late to set up camp and make our own meals with the food we packed beforehand. The campsite was nicer than I was expecting, equipped with showers and all. We decided to venture down to the water in the evening to look at the stars. The water was nice at night, and we even spotted a large squid.
The second day we work up early to head to Monkey Mia to catch the morning dolphin feed. Each morning, guides from the Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife feed five female dolphins that enter the area. The purpose of the feeding is to bring people in to educate them about the dolphins. Gusts are randomly chosen to get in the water and feed a few of the fish to the dolphins. Unfortunately, no one from our group was selected. Only three fish are fed to each dolphin to ensure the dolphins keep their foraging behavior and can survive on their own. A few juvenile dolphins joined their mothers during the feeding. Even though the interaction was not as close as swimming with the dolphins as I have previously done in the States, I still thoroughly enjoyed the talk. From Monkey Mia we went to Lily’s Lagoon. The lagoon was big and one could walk out into the lagoon for hundreds of meters before the water became deep. Eagle bluff was our next stop off point, which had a great lookout as pictured below. Our final stop of the day was Shell Beach, a beach completely composed of tiny shells. Apparently this beach is one of only two in the world. The beach was beautiful, and relaxing in the hot Australian sun was a great way to start the week off.
On day three we hit the road again to make it to Exmouth. On the way we stopped at some blowholes spraying saltwater 50 meters up into the air. We also stopped at Coral Bay where I went for a quick snorkel. I was amazed to be able to walk straight from the beach into the water and see a myriad of colorful fish. Even as a marine science major that has snorkeled many times in the past, I could not name most of the fish. The fish were new to my repertoire; I ended up just floating along admiring their beautiful colors. My lucky sighting of the day was a Lagoon Stingray. We made it to Exmouth before dark to avoid the kangaroos. For dinner that evening we went to the only Chinese restaurant in the town. All of us were having a very peaceful and nice meal until the owner of the restaurant tried to rope us into selling some stem cell miracle cream. She continuously was telling us how rich we could become if we started to sell the cream. We all knew it was a scam, but sat through her 30 minute talk anyways as to not be rude. When leaving the restaurant, we prayed we wouldn’t run into her again during our time in the small town of Exmouth.
The next day was spent exploring the beaches of Exmouth. We began our day at oyster stacks, since snorkeling at that location can only happen during high tide. The snorkeling was not as good as the day before at Coral Bay, but snorkeling is always fun. Our second stop of the day was Turquoise Bay. The currents at this location made snorkeling difficult. Spending the afternoon lying on the beach was enough to make me one happy person. See for yourself, but I’d say Turquoise Bay was the most beautiful beach we went to on our road trip. We met up with another car from Trinity in Exmouth and decided to barbecue together at the campsite that evening. Lots of improvisation occurred, as we did not have nearly the amount of things we needed to properly barbecue. Cooking our own fresh vegetables was delicious after living mostly on peanut butter sandwiches for four days straight, even though the corn on the cob was slightly rare.
I separated from the rest of my car on the fifth day to do some scuba diving. The dive trip was for the entire day and was composed of two dives on Ningaloo Reef, the reef right off of Exmouth and a place recommended to me by some professors at NC State. The dives were remarkable as expected. For the first time in my life I saw sea snakes up close. Snakes are one of the few animals that slightly bother me, however, these sea snakes seemed docile and quite curious. It was not until I got back on the dive boat and was talking to the dive master that I was informed the sea snakes I saw were some of the most poisonous in the world. Lucky for me, their fangs are not long enough to penetrate our skin so we don’t have to worry too much. In addition to the sea snakes I saw three different types of sharks – a lemon shark, a white-tipped reef shark, and a carpet shark. The colors of the fish continued to amaze me as they did in Coral Bay. The fish and reefs I swam among we absolutely beautiful. I cannot wait to do more diving during my time in Australia.
For the evening we ordered fish and chips from a local restaurant and took our food to the lighthouse to watch the sunset on the hill. The sunset was as nice as a sunset can be. The wind made eating our meals a little difficult, but I suppose the view made up for that fact. When we returned to our campsite that evening a nice little colony of ants had decided to infest our two tents. I spent the next hour trying to clean them out, but half of our group still insisted on sleeping in the car. The ants did not seem to bother me throughout the night and were gone in the morning. You have to love living with nature.
The next day we were off on the road again for many hours of driving to Kalbarri. We took a quick pit stop in Carnarvon to walk to the end of the one-mile jetty. I think we were expecting something spectacular at the end of the jetty, as we were all a little disappointed to find a ‘Do not enter’ gate at the very end. The walk provided us a nice opportunity to stretch our legs before continuing.
Our final day began early with a hike through Kalbarri National Park. The first hike we completed was Z-bend and the second was a visit to the famous Nature’s Window. Both hikes provided magnificent views, as visible in the photos below. The only complaint of the hikes was the hundreds of flies constantly swarming us. I cannot even imagine trying to do those hikes in the heat of the summer with all of the flies we encountered; we were lucky we hiked when we did. As we slowly made our way in the direction of Perth, we stopped at more lookout points including Red Bluff, Pot Alley, Island Rock, and Natural Bridge. At Island Rock we spotted some migrating humpback whales along the coast, a sight I had never personally seen before. Our final stop was at Pink Lake, a bright pink lake as the name suggests. We could spot the lake kilometers away. Unfortunately, the bright color was not captured well in our photos.
My biggest accomplishment of the week was learning to drive a manual car on the left side of the road. With so many hours of driving, the boys I was traveling with had the time to teach me. By the end of the week I was well on my way to becoming a pro. Being from England, the guys find my inability to drive only an automatic car weird. Thinking about the situation myself, I find it a bit strange too. If I’m learning how to drive, shouldn’t I have learned to drive the hardest type of car? Traveling up the western coast of Australia was a great way to spend my break. Throughout the week my “English” vocabulary widened. The memories I made traveling with people from another country made me further appreciate the amazing people study abroad allows you to become friends with.