Riverside meanders

 The common thread today was the floodplain of the Murray River, where the red gums towered majestically in unusual shapes, depending on the way the floodwaters had shaped them. Sunlight filtered and gleamed on the trunks.  
The township of Tocumwal had been bypassed by passenger trains but the Lions members served us a classic morning tea in the station staff room. Meanwhile, a modern diesel locomotive engine stood ready to cart containers across the river and down to Port Melbourne.   
Rainbow bee eaters fluttered high in the red gums, catching insects. Three paused briefly on a branch and I managed to zoom in on their vivid colours.

 

From a bird hide on Quinn Island, we observed a friar bird attending to its nest, suspended in the shape of a Viking ship and tastefully decorated with blue twine.

  
Further upstream, we came upon a narrow bridge with a three-tonne load limit. David assured me that the Prado weighs only two tonnes, so we were all right. We carefully eased the 4WD over the wobbly planks to the other side.

   
It was the first day of the fishing season and fishers in little tinnies were trying their luck for Murray cod.

 

Kookaburras kept an eye out for edible movement. A platypus wriggled its flat tail in the snags near the riverbank, but I wasn’t quick enough to capture them on record. All about was spring activity.

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Turtle and Koala by Murray River at Cobram

  
A short-necked turtle ignored us as we tootled by, heading upstream on the paddle boat Cobba.

Riverboats don’t need a wooden helm these days. The skipper of the Cobba uses a remote control. A diesel engine drives a generator that powers each paddle wheel separately, so each paddle can be controlled independently, at different speeds or direction.

   

The Cobba paddle boat moored at beach on River Murray, Cobram. The Murray is Australia’s longest river system, defining some of the boundary between the states of Victoria and New South Wales and finally emptying into Bass Strait in South Australia.
 
A pleasant cruise from Cobram up the Murray River took us under a historic drawbridge, past houseboats, then alongside an island sanctuary where koalas looked down at us from red gums above century old post-and-rail fences.

   
Disused drawbridge on River Murray, built in the days of paddle steamers and sailing boats.

 
Koala in red gum on Quinn Island, now a sanctuary.

   
Houseboats moored at the anabranch at the end of Quinn Island.

 
Post-and-rail fence from early twentieth Century stands above eroded bank of Murray River on Quinn Island.

Homeward bound

  
Last February while in Mount Gambier we enjoyed coffee and delicious cakes at Cafe Metro. We also stocked up on comfortable clothes at reasonable price at the Rivers outlet.

So we left Robe this morning and decided to revisit Mount Gambier and both these businesses. We weren’t disappointed. After coffee and yummy Sicilian cartocci (cannoli filled with orange flavoured custard) at Metro, we did a lightning shop at Rivers and are fitted out for the end of winter.

By lunchtime we crossed the state border and stopped at Bird Bath roadside rest area, Dartmoor, which has a natural spring. It was a long-settled area with streets lined with wild daffodils and an old rail line.

  
We are overnighting at the coastal town of Warrnambool, where we have enjoyed a delicious dinner at Old Clovelly restaurant and a sound and light reenactment of the shipwreck of the sailing ship Loch Ard. Cameras were banned from the Shipwreck show, but here’s the fish with risotto and rocket salad. David had chicken with rice cauliflower and bok choy.

  

It’s been a hard day’s drive

  
to paraphrase a Beatles song. We drove from 10:00am to 5:00pm with breaks. Dave did 90% of the driving and I had a half hour’s van towing lesson, but I think Dave finds it as tiring being a passenger as driving because he is instructing me. Hopefully I will gradually be more help, but navigating using Hema maps on the iPad and Wikicamps is more to my liking.

I did take some photos as we edged steadily east across the South Australian section of the Nullarbor. We shared the highway with road trains. The sign on the back of this one says that it’s 37 metres long.

 Then a police car came towards us on the wrong side of the road, lights flashing. This was to warn us of an extra wide load carried by an approaching vehicle. It turned out to be two trucks each with a mining bucket that took up both lanes of the Eyre Highway.

  
Gradually civilisation encroaches, reminding us that our holiday is finishing soon. Our lunchstop the rest area was bounded by a fence with wheat planted the other side, plus powerlines and underground cable. A far cry from the unfenced wilderness plain that we had spent the last four days traversing.Edit

  
At Esperance we submitted our Nullarbor Links scorecard to the Information Centre and David proudly took possession of a Certificate of Completion, including his score – 146! The attendant said that the highest score she had processed was over 400! What with crows stealing balls, saltbush concealing them and trees concealing the greens, it’s a miracle that he finished at all.

We are now at a cosy caravan park and pub at Poochera, in South Australia’s wheat belt. Major Mitchell cockatoos, with their pink plumes, flutter and squawk around the gleaming silos. After four nights in the bush, it is a luxury to wash hair and clothes and enjoy pub-cooked fresh whiting from nearby Streaky Bay. But we will always cherish our memories of the vast Nullarbor plain and its beautiful southern seascapes.

  

Red earth, pastel sea, sky and beach – with wildflowers in stunning colours

Francois Peron National Park is in the Shark Bay World Heritage area. Access is by 4WD only and you need to deflate tyres to 20psi. A compressor is provided for drivers to re-inflate tyres prior to returning to the bitumen.

Visually, the scenery is stunning – the dunes are a deep red, while the sand on beaches is creamy with shell-encrusted limestone. The beach has streaks of mauve stains from the offshore sea grass meadows that dugongs graze on.

  
The Tamala rose is one of the more colourful wildflowers in the heathland.

  
There is also the Shark Bay daisy.

  
White pig face:

  
Coastal thryptmene is common on the coastal cliffs and dunes on the Peron peninsula..

  
When we returned to the Peron homestead, we took a dip in the natural hot tub as the light faded.

  

Dolphins and goanna magic at Monkey Mia

We had to leave our caravan park at 7:00am to get to Monkey Mia for the 7:45am feeding. Only a few dolphins are hand fed and they are only given three fish each, so they maintain their hunting skills and continue to feed their young. Two to four volunteer workers select three privileged people amongst the two hundred onlookers and they get to give the Dolphins a fish. Dolphins can be distinguished by their dorsal fins and today Puck and Surprise graced us with their presence.

  
Puck is eying off the bucket knowing that she will soon be offered a fish.

  
Volunteer worker selects a child to give puck her fish. They are allowed to choose a sibling or friend to accompany them in the task.

  
Visitors await the dolphin feeding as a marine biologist in the foreground gives a commentary.

We returned via the Red Bluff I’m Francois Peron National Park, where a goanna was sitting on the beach almost between David’s legs – to the delight of us and some French visitors.

  

Kalbarri to Shark Bay – pelicans and stromatolites

We left Kalbarri just as the daily 7.45 pelican feeding was finishing. I photographed it from across the road as I was walking to the supermarket for soda and lime.

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We progressed back to the Great Northern Highway through the wildflower heathland of yesterday’s national park, coming eventually to Overland Roadhouse, where we stopped for fuel and I snapped the surface water – clearly it had been raining here recently.

We started into the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Lunch stop was at Hamlin Pool, an seaside inlet with an unusually high salinity level. The result is that an ancient life form called stromatolites have formed and are continuing to flourish.

Nearby is a nineteenth century telegraph station that played a small role in the Gemini space program in 1964 when lightning struck the relaying system, necessitating a return to morse code communications for several hours.