Extract from The West Australian & Sydney Morning Herald
|| Peter Poat
Temptation of the fresh
August 14, 2011
From rugged islands to lobster lairs and the best wildflowers in bloom, Western Australia's Coral Coast is sharing its secrets, writes Kerry van der Jagt.
Dongara, a gateway to Lesueur National Park.
The Pinnacles, Nambung.
Back in Geraldton, I head south towards Cervantes to connect with the newly opened Indian Ocean Drive for the journey back to Perth. The $95 million road, which opened in September last year, has many advantages: it shaves 30 minutes off the inland Brand Highway route between the northern suburbs of Perth and Cervantes, allows visitors to avoid the heavy freight traffic of the highway and opens up coastal regions rarely visited by tourists. After a night at the seaside village of Dongara, I make my way to Lesueur National Park, one of the most significant reserves for floral conservation in WA. There is always something flowering in Lesueur but between August and October the park erupts in a symphony of colour. Experts are predicting one of the best wildflower seasons in years due to the recent rains and the bushfire that swept through the park in January. Whales can also be seen at this time, making their way along the humpback highway.
Amble-Inn is a new bed and breakfast at Jurien Bay, providing an ideal base from which to explore the national park and the Pinnacles Desert Park. The owner of the B&B, Anne Murray, is an artist who specialises in local wildlife, raising awareness for the protection of endangered species through her artwork. It is late afternoon as I drive the last four kilometres towards Amble-Inn on an unsealed road, passing through fields of burnished banksias and other wildflowers. On arrival, Murray hands me a bottle of wine and a cheese platter (complimentary) and encourages me to climb the hill at the back of the property to catch the sunset over the Indian Ocean. Since I'm travelling alone, she also hands me Sandy, her delightful border collie, for company. I return to my room to find it has been filled with girly delights: candles around the bath, glossy magazines on the bed and a plate of sticky jam drops on the side table. After my days on board the rough-and-ready Rat Patrol, I am tempted to cocoon myself here with Anne, her organic cooking and ready supply of sweet treats; only the promise of swimming with sea lions at Jurien Bay drags me away the following morning.
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As soon as our boat anchors near Essex Rocks in the Jurien Bay Marine Park, the resident population of sea lions dive into the water and make a beeline for us. It's as if one has shouted to his mates: "Come on, boys, let's go and play with them." And play with us they do. For the next two hours, we swim in the open sea with these fur-lined slinkies as they torpedo above and below, twisting and turning and pressing their whiskery noses right into our masks. I have swum with New Zealand fur seals in Kaikoura and Australian fur seals on Montague Island but these are the most playful rascals I have ever encountered. Jurien Bay Charter 'n Dive is a family-run business that has been operating for six months. Using a 23-passenger catamaran, Hot Tuna, the family takes visitors to explore the caves, sheltered bays and limestone outcrops of Jurien Bay. While September to December is the peak time for whale-watching tours, it's possible to swim with sea lions year round. "It's the sea lions' natural curiosity that brings them out," says skipper Garth Dobney. "Jurien Bay is a protected marine park so we don't feed them."
A 30-minute drive down the highway to Cervantes is the Lobster Shack, a fishing tourism venture that opened in February. In response to the recent hardships faced by the rock-lobster industry, managing director David Thompson, a third-generation lobster fisherman, has opened the doors of his live-lobster-processing plant to tourists. Guided tours of the plant give visitors the rare chance to experience all facets of the rock-lobster industry: the capture, processing and export of WA lobster; the state's work to maintain its internationally recognised Marine Stewardship Council accreditation; and the industry's commitment to sustainability. "The West Australian rock-lobster industry is the most valuable single-species fishery in Australia," Thompson says. "Representing about 20 per cent of the total value of Australia's fisheries, it must be managed with care."
Further along the road, other natural treasures await: the Nambung National Park, with its bizarre limestone pillars known as the Pinnacles; Lake Thetis, one of only five places in the world where living stromatolites are found; and Lancelin, famous for its beautiful beaches and snow-white sand dunes.
But for now I'm happy to end my day at Cervantes pier with another crimson sunset and another fresh lobster in hand. A couple of old-timers are whetting a line and pretty soon I'm handed my first beer. Dangling my legs over the pier, I realise the only downside is that I'll never be satisfied with eating lobster in a restaurant again.
other things to do along the Coral Coast
Take a three-hour tour of the Pinnacles desert in the Nambung National Park (near Cervantes) with Mike Newton from Turquoise Coast Enviro Tours. Mike's been leading tours here for 12 years and has as many bad jokes as there are pinnacles. (08) 9652 7047, pinnacletours.info.
Stop at Thirsty Point and Hangover Bay, near Cervantes, for a swim or a drink. Thirsty Point has a wooden boardwalk that leads through the sand dunes and Hangover Bay is a good place for spotting dolphins and sea lions.
Skydive at Jurien Bay. Another new tourism venture offers tandem and solo jumps over the stunning Turquoise Coast, landing on the beach at Jurien Bay. skydivejurienbay.com.