How does one decide what is worth pursuing? I get this e-mail, which reads: Carnarvon Kayakers are planning a trip across Shark's Bay, spending the night on an island, and does anyone want to come? Of course I would!!
They promised to have yachts to accompany us, for safety.
Only problem is, there was no contact address or name, except
"wilt". Unperturbed, I rang Robyn Khorshid, who had
a contact for the Cararvon Canoe Club, and "wilt" answered
the phone!! He said that they had looked at organising a Club
trip across the bay, but it turned out to be so complicated with
permits, flares, sea anchors, etc that he had given it away,
and was just
Robyn said she would have to get a "proper" boat,
as all of her kayaks (of which she has a few!!) were not sea
worthy for such a trip, which she borrowed from a friend. We
had to be at Gladstone, a mere dot on the map,
At 5pm on Tues evening, Jackie (my niece from the USA) and the two lads she'd been travelling with in the southwest, Ian and Matt, appeared back on our doorstep, all excited about the trip, and asked if they could come, too. The boys called around to all the kayak rental shops, and eventually found a double kayak for hire ($200 for the week!!), and went down to pick it up.
Thursday, I got the girls up at 4am, finished loading the car, and set out at 5am, not knowing how long it would take me, but knowing that it would be a long drive, and I wanted it over as soon as possible.
Chris always gets me "cassette stories" to listen to in the car, and I put one on, which was an unabridged 5hr book....the road and the scenery hardly changes, but the story was good. The girls dozed in the backseat.
We got to the Overlander Roadhouse, on the Great Northern Highway, where there is a junction into Shark's Bay, a mere 130km down the road. We purchased tee shirts, showing Shark's Bay on a map, as a momento of our trip, then headed the final 55km North, turned onto a dirt track, and drove towards the bay.
Arriving at the bay, there were several groups of people there, some camping, lots of boats and endless amounts of confusion. And tons of flies! So thick that you almost couldn't swat them away. Ugh!! One party was trying to launch a boat. Robyn had driven in, and had pitched her tent, miles from anyone. We hung around in the middle, didn't know quite what to do, as I was still a bit dazed from the drive up. This older gentleman came over for a chat, and we got to talking. I asked him if he was from Carnarvon, and he said he was, and his name was Bill. I assumed that he was with our party. He invited us over to use his cooking fire, as we didn't bring any wood, and so I went over, pitched the tent, and came back and started cooking. The sun was setting, and I still hadn't met "wilt", but assumed that he'd come around and introduce himself when he got settled in. I cooked the meal, we ate, it was now dark, and still no one, not even Robyn, had shown up. I finally asked these guys who "Wilt" was, and they had no idea...turns out, they were local fishermen, and were just being friendly and knew nothing about the intended paddle across Shark's Bay the following day.
Then out of the dark, this guy came along, and asked me if I was "Sue", and he told me that I had missed the induction, and that they were just starting to explain how to use the flares, and would I please come and join them. They were about 2 campfires away, a huge group of people, all a part of our group. They had finished eating, and were about ready for bed. We took our flares, and went back to our tents. I couldn't sleep, and was far too nervous about the paddle. It was to be a full moon the next night, so the light was bright, shining through the tent fabric. I finally dozed off, to wake up at 6am, and we were to be ready in the water for 6:30am!! I had overslept, but so had Robyn and the lads, so we rushed around, ate, ferried the baggage out to the yachts in what seemed like endless confusion, and then the girls waded out to the yachts, hopped aboard, and we jumped on the kayaks ready to paddle.
There were four kayakers from Perth, Robyn and I on single kayaks, and Ian and Matt sharing a double kayak. It appeared that there were 2 of them from Carnarvon, Andrew and Lee, both on single kayaks. I had assumed that there were lots of paddlers, judging from the number of people at the campfire last night, but not so.
Shark's Bay has been declared a World Heritage Area, and is
supposedly in a pristine condition, known to be full of sea life,
and over 300 species of sea grasses, one of the greatest concentrations
of dirverse seagrasses in
As the crow flies, we had 35km to paddle the first day. The
island, Faure, is about 10km long, but is very low in height.
From where we sat, we couldn't see any island ahead of us!!
It was just open water, not a land
The first fish to swim right under my boat was a Shovel-nosed Shark, about 1.5m long. A mere baby!! The water was crystal clear, absolutely dead calm on the surface, and as you paddled, it was like you were snorkelling, only sitting in the kayak at the same time. The floor of the sea bed was fascinating!! We would see absolutely everything under us. Soon, we saw "breaching" in the distance, which turned out to be Dugongs (also know as sea cows), which were fairly big in size, say 7-10m in length!! That's twice the size of our little kayaks. The paddling was slow and steady, the sea ever-changing. We saw a sea snake (deadlier than a land snake, no known anti-venom). We saw a manna ray, dolphins, a turtle about 1m in diameter, and lots of fish.
After about 5 hours of paddling, the leading kayaker, Andrew, appeared to be off his boat, and wading around. We all paddled up, we were now over a shallow sand bar, and we were able to dismount off the kayaks and stretch our legs!! Heavenly, it was. We had a mid-ocean picnic lunch, surrounded by the yachts and the support crew. Tessa and Melissa wanted something to eat, so ate some of my snack food that I had just paddled half-way across the bay with. Why they couldn't eat something on the food box in the yacht was beyond me. All the yachts eventually caught up to us at the picnic spot, and we had a great time, and felt so much better for the break. Then back on the boats. There was a faint outline of land ahead, and so we headed to the southern tip, where the old homestead was. However, as one of the yachts so kindly pointeed out to us, we were actually heading towards the mainland, and the island was still further north, and were were a long way off route!! Ugh!!
North we headed, and as we set out, I went over a deeper section
of the water. Just below me, a mother Dugong, with the baby
on her back, were floating directly under my kayak!! About 2'
under the water. Fantastic!!
Just then there was a huge splash. I thought the boys had
fallen off their kayak. But as it turns out, Ian had thrown
in a handline, to fish for his dinner while he paddled over.
He had a huge fish on the end of his line.
Faure Island eventually came into view, and all the guys put
on a spurt to make landfall and Robyn and I just kept talking
away and paddling at the back. However, the tide had now changed,
and the paddling was getting
The island had had a homestead on it recently, but was now
abandoned. It was all soft sand, and a crappy place to try and
pitch and tent, and the flies were horrific!! We ate, and went
to bed early, but I couldn't sleep
At 4am, Ian shouted at me to wake up, and so we could get going. The wind was blowing, and it was blowing in the direction we want to travel!! It was a full moon, so by moonlight, we packed up, grabbed a bite to eat, and set out, paddling across the choppy waters, into the moonlight. The early morning stillness, moon trails across the shimmering sea, was only broken by the loud shouts of the Ian, calling "Ow! Ow! Ow!" with each stroke of the paddle. That was exactly how I felt, too. What were we doing? This was pure madness!! The guys headed West, when I thought that we were heading north. I'm an Orienteer, and know what it means to stay on your compass bearing!! We were not heading north and I was not happy. Robyn also agreed that we should be heading north, but thought that we should follow the guys' course. As it turned out, there was a deep channel which ran parallel to the island, and when we hit that, the tide was running with us, plus the wind at our backs, and off we went, paddling in the right direction. I was totally stuffed, my shoulder and back were killing me, and my left elbow (the one I broke many years ago) was screaming in protest. I turned around, hoping to see the yachts, bearing down on us in the wind, but there was no sign of them!! I asked Robyn if she had some anti-inflammatory pills, which she said she did. I took two, and I said that I'd paddle for 20 more minutes, and hopefully the yachts would then be catching us up. No, they weren't.
On and on I paddled, and eventually the pain killers kicked
in, and I felt better for about the next 3 hours.
We changed out of our wet clothes, and drove off to soak in an artesian hot spring just down the road a piece. It was so hot, but it felt so good!! It helped to ease the aches and pains. Lee had arranged for drivers for our cars, so that they were waiting for us at the other end of the journey.
We stayed a few more days in the Shark Bay area, and saw as much of the coastline as we could, without 4WD vehicles. The trip was one of the best trips I've ever been on, and thanks goes to Lee and Andrew for organising it, and allowing us to come along.
Jackie, Ian and Matt had to sail back, to pick up their car
on the other side of the bay. It took them 10 hours to sail
back aboard "Zero", Brian's boat, which had carried
Tessa and Melissa over with them. Robyn and I drove
We arrived home, to find that Andrew had already sent a photo of the mid-ocean picnic lunch!! Marvelous to get it so quickly. The memories are fading, but it has to go down as one of the best trips I've ever done. Thanks, "Wilt" for organising it.
We've since picked up a landsat image of the Shark's Bay, and you can clearly see the sandbar we crossed over on, which is about midway along the length of the bay, which is a known as Faure Sill, which used to be a dry-land link from one side of the bay to the other. We also saw the three distinct channels through the sandbar, which is how the dugongs move along through the bay. The depth of the water is only about 4 km deep, at the deepest, and at this time of the year, the tide is about 1.8 m in depth, so you can see that with that amount of change of levels in the water, the influence of the tide is quite significant, as we found out.
Memories, memories, what a fantastic weekend! We'll do it again, with very little persuasion.
Sue Swain, one of the Perth Kayakers