Monday, October 12, 2009

Eventful Day in Shark Bay

[Kyle]Before the sun even came up we were “up and at ‘em” so we could drive the 120km to Monkey Mia (pronounced Monkey My-ah). Monkey Mia is famed for its wild dolphin visits and visitor interaction, but we were hoping to get on an 8:30am guided walking tour, given by a local Malgana aborigine Darren “Capes” Capewell. Monkey Mia although well directed towards conservation, seemed a bit of a Disney production, and 100’s of people were lining the beach for their turn to feed the dolphins if and when they arrived. Side tours included camel rides and “booze cruise” type activities, none of which particularly appealed to us, it all seemed incongruous to the empty, wild landscape on the drive in – where had all these people come from? The walk however was just brilliant. Capes himself was a patient and expert teacher, overloading us with more information than we could possibly have digested in one walk. We learned much about his people, their language, culture and laws. As we walked along his outdoor trail/classroom he pointed out bush tucker, medicines, animal tracks (some of which we even followed to the actual animal). This all interspersed with stops to cultural and ceremonial sites, with explanations of the history and traditions that went with each. There was a lot to take in! We both left touched and with a deeper understanding of the land and its ancient people. Rather than just a bunch of weird plants and animals, we had a (very basic) understanding of the interactions and we got to feel the dirt and taste the food of Magana country.

Monkey Mia - small crowds wait to feed the wild dolphins, and Capes explains the plants and animals of his country

Following that we returned on the road back to the Station, but this time taking every side road detour we could. Our first stop was Eagle Bluff, a high lookout point over a shallow bay, allowing us to see sharks circling in the shallows (up close through our binoculars) and birds wading. At the Whalebone road turn off, we parked in a deserted lot and took the path down to the beach. The soft sandstone cliffs were full of caves, holes and overhangs. Walking along the beach we could actually see 3 sharks up close, patrolling back and forth no more than 4m away. We returned to the car along the cliff top trying our best to use our new found knowledge of country to spot lizards and tasty food, but to no avail. The tracks were making more sense to us at least.

Shell beach was our next stop, a beach made almost entirely of Cardiid cockle shells (10m deep, 1km wide, and 10km long). These cockles are one of the only species able to withstand the high saline waters found in this area and for 1000’s of years have been washed ashore on this beach (as they still are today). Over time the calcium carbonate dissolves out of the shells and re-solidifies, cementing them into a crumbly brick like rock, used locally for construction in the days of early white settlement.

Shark Bay's coastline and Stromatolites

Shortly beyond Shell Beach was Hamlin Pool and the stromatolites. Stromatolites are rock like structures made of accumulations of cyanobacteria colonies, growing at around 0.3mm a year. These stromatolites are the oldest living organisms on Earth, the ultra saline water in Hamlin pool has protected them for more recent evolutionary predators and encroachers. It is these organisms that originally produced the oxygen in the atmosphere, allowing past and current day oxygen loving species to evolve. Even though the stromatolites don’t look like much, it is still a humbling thing to see, and one of the first places Maryanne and I put on our “must see” list when we started planning our visit to Oz. Our walk past the stromatolites also took us to a quarry where the cockle shell stone was cut, and the areas first telegraph station.

Finally we were headed back to Hamlin Station where this time we had a hot cooked meal of our own (thanks Maryanne) to enjoy.

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

You should have done the cooking, Kyle. Really.