With the school holidays over, we made a quick trip South of Derby to Wulungurra, a small Independent Aboriginal School on Milidjidee Station. This small community is some 50kms South of Noonkabah Station and on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert, nestled alongside the St George Range. It was all new country to us and proved to be really spectacular. The Fitzroy River at Noonkabah is a sizable river and the crossing was made easy via a well formed concrete crossing. We were pleasantly surprised by the well formed roads heading South and we soon found ourselves at Milidjidee. We set up camp with our tent behind the Principal’s house and took a walk around the community in the afternoon to meet all the local family groups. A couple of days of work followed, installing electronic projectors and whiteboards in some of the classrooms, followed by a half a day of training for the staff on the use of electronic whiteboard media in their lessons. All went well and it was soon back to Derby to ready the boat for the trip South.
We drove fairly hard and fast across the Pilbara with Exmouth as the ultimate destination. With only a two day stop at 80 Mile Beach, the kilometres rattled by and we were soon rolling into Exmouth and making plans for a week or so cruising Exmouth Gulf. The Pilbara and Gascoynes are currently filled to overflowing with travelling tourists and Exmouth was no exception. We tried to stay in a caravan park to provision and organise but they were all full. Eventually, we found a spot in the Shire overflow area at the recreation centre, using the Tennis Club showers and toilets. With power to recharge the boat batteries and water to fill the tanks, we had all we needed and the next morning we launched at the Exmouth Marina, leaving the car at the local storage yard for a very reasonable fee.
The next week was incredible. Given that we had given up on sailing in Exmouth Gulf on our way North 3 months earlier, the week that followed of almost no wind was an amazing contrast. We sailed and motored approximatley 20 nautical miles across the Gulf to the Eastern side and explored the many islands making up the Rivoli group. These are mostly coral atolls and abound in fishing, snorkelling and beach combing opportunities. We ate like kings from the sea and enjoyed some wonderful snorkelling over some of the best coral we have encountered anywhere. Ningaloo Reef, Whale Sharks and big game fishing seems to get all the publicity up this way but the unheralded champion is Exmouth Gulf itself. It is a paradise.
We followed the Eastern coastline South then crossed the Gulf again to the well-named Bay of Rest, a large mangrove inlet that provides excellent protection against almost any breeze. One evening, while walking the tidal pools, I came across the biggest mud crab I’d yet seen. It was destined for the pot and fed us for two meals.
The humpback whales amused us during most sails we had in the Gulf. We saw them performing full breaches, where they leap from the water and crash down, apparently to rid themselves of parasites. At other times, they would swim on their sides and flap a fin across the water, throwing spray everywhere. Some show-offs preferred to stand on their head and “tail slap” the water, making a gunshot sound that could be heard for 3 or 4 miles away. We generally kept a bit of distance but one pod came within 150m and put on a fantastic display for us.
Our timing on the water proved excellent and once we retrieved Sandpiper onto the trailer, the weather turned bad. We spent a couple of days slowly driving South, waiting for the rain and cold winds to ease before reaching Shark Bay. We were both so glad that we had managed such a good week in Exmouth, having had to bypass tis attractions on the way up. There is still much to explore in the area and I know we will be back.