Running out of – or at least grossly miscalculating – fuel is almost a rite of passage for the seasoned overland traveller. I’v lost count of the number of times that I’ve spent long stretches of road sweating the minute march of the fuel gauge on the way to or from some isolated town. It’s certainly a feeling that is synonymous with travelling the Australian outback. Most of the time, despite the stress, it makes for a decent story our most recent diesel detour was no different.
Linh and I were travelling from Perth, north to Exmouth and on to Karijini National Park recently in a different car to our usual ride (we had taken my father’s Mitsubishi Delica van in order to accommodate the caravan of companions we were hauling with us). On board we had our friend Henny as well as two other travellers we’d nabbed for a bargain price on Gumtree.
We set out late on Friday and drove until we reached a road side camp on the Murchison River(not too far from Kalbarri). The next morning we fuelled up and pointed the Delica towards Shark Bay (We skipped the stretch between Perth and Kalbarri because we’d explored that region on a previous trip – you can read about that here). Our first stop was Hamelin Pool, where we stopped to see the ancient Stromatolites (a rockish formation constructed by cyanobacteria that are widely agreed to be one of our common ancestors). I’ve always been fascinated by the age of these microscopic communities, even if actually seeing them is a less than thrilling experience. From Hamelin Pool, we headed further in to the Shark Bay World Heritage Zone aiming to stop at Denham for lunch before moving further north to Carnarvon.
Monkey Mia came ill recommended by a few in our party. There are suggestions that there is too great a focus on tourism – to the point where there is limited beach access without paying, and nobody should have to pay for Australian beaches! If it is dolphins you crave, just pop down to Mandurah’s Peel Inlet and, in certain areas, you’re basically guaranteed a playful sighting. Bunbury also has dolphin feeding, and there is a resident population in the Swan River (I’m not suggesting you skip Monkey Mia as we did – after all it’s only a 30 minute drive from Denham – if you’re in the area, make sure you stop, we were pushed for time with our 10 day, 4500 km itinerary and this site had to miss out this time).
As we drove further into the park, I came to the realisation that – at our current consumption rate, we would be walking the last 15 kilometres into Denham (which would have seriously affected our progress north that day). As the orange fuel light illuminated the beads of sweat forming on my brow, things were in danger of becoming tense and I even considered a small amount of panic, as we’d elected not to fill our jerry can until Carnarvon. Just as I was about to pull over and run around the car flailing my arms in the air and giving up hope, we came across a sign that directed passers by to Nanga Bay. In a plot-changing stroke of luck, the sign featured a little blue petrol bowser promising liquid locomotion.
I had never heard of Nanga Bay as an attraction in the region (largely because it is a private resort, which makes part of this week’s post more than a little hypocritical considering my recent dolphin/free beach rant) and there is every likelihood I’d still be in the dark about it if it wasn’t for our car’s lack of driving range (and my lead foot). We pulled in to the retreat and halted near the bowser so I could pop inside to confirm that our diesel woes were behind us. The lady at the counter who was serving another guest looked up and smiled, so I joined the queue (we’re assuming for these purposes that myself and the person being served constitutes a queue). After another moment, the manager apologetically asked me to wait as she served another patron. Happy that priority service to guests was a great idea, I retreated to the bowser to wait my turn.
Less than a minute later, we were joined by our attendant and were able to fill up (paying cash). For our patience and financial liquidity we were offered the pleasure of a swim or a spa, and we elected to make use of the aforementioned beach. As we made ready to wander down to the sure, we were reassured that in large grey shapes that might brush against us were certainly not the skinless water bears for which Shark Bay gets its name, rather there was every likelihood they would be an uncharacteristically bold Dugong and her calf of an injured seal that called Nanga Bay home after one of the men in grey suits saw fit to eat his rear flippers.
Unfortunately we did not manage to spot either the dugongs or the seal, but we did have a pleasant swim and met a mob of emus on the way back to the car. If you do happen to see of film something awesome while staying somewhere, remember to share with the proprietors of your accommodation (the manager made this plea to us, explaining how frustrating it can be to hear of such encounters but have no evidence for future animal enthusiasts).
What could have been a time consuming disaster ended up being an equally time consuming attraction, so if you are ever making your way between Hamelin Pool and Shell Beach on the way to Denham or Monkey Mia (regardless of what’s left in your tank), Nanga Bay is well worth the detour for a few days (be sure to book ahead as the place was full when we passed) and we can attest that it looks even better when it’s bathed in the orange glow of the fuel warning light!