Tag Archives: Indian Ocean

Orphan Christmas – road trip to Monkey Mia

Kangaroo sign (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Last year, about a week before Christmas I was wondering whether I would make it home to my family in Somerset, they had predicted snow and I had a long drive from London ahead of me. This year could not of have anymore different, one week to go again and here I am dodging the sharks, snakes and spiders (though they are Christmas spiders) with a tan that makes me look like I am still wearing a t-shirt when I am not wearing a t-shirt! It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas even if a jolly fat man in red keeps popping up during the ad break. Surreal, yes, simultaneously turning the channel to watch the start of a snow-covered Christmas flick whilst reaching for the air-con remote to take the edge off by a couple of degrees. Surreal is a word I have used a lot.

The break was however a perfect opportunity to get out and see more of Western Australia, so far limited to Perth’s shocking public transport network. Myself and my girlfriend Steph had recently collected enough money to buy us an aging station wagon, typical of Australia, so together with our housemate Holly, we planned a road trip up north to Monkey Mia, famous for its Dolphins and crystal clear waters. Breaking up the 2000km trip with stop off’s in the small fishing town of Dongara and a couple of nights in the slightly more touristy Kalbarri, hugging coast the entire way. I started to populate an awesome playlist immediately.

Man fishing on the beach at Dongara, Western Australia (Philip Hill)

In Australia the road is long, straight, and being honest fairly featureless, in places stretching into infinity, a sea of mirages lining the road in front of us, reducing my confidence when determining if I can overtake a slow-moving road-train struggling up the inclines only to then get stuck behind three cars towing a caravan, boat, and a jet ski: “do you think that is a convoy of tow-ers, or two tow-ers behind a slower tow-er?” a typical road trip topic that usually jumps from idle gossip to deep philosophical conversation.

Dongara is 3½ hours drive from Perth and marketed as the ‘Yabbie’ (rock lobster) capital of Australia, unfortunately it was only a stop off for that night. Having the car meant we could bring a tent and managed to get a spot at the ‘Ocean Spray’ campsite which has these fantastic personal toilet/shower porta-cabin esque units on each camping pitch. The equivalent of an on suite toilet for camping, or like staying in a caravan but you have to bring your own bedroom. A quick walk to the beach to watch the sun set, a big plus for the western half of this continent, lined with fishermen, many having landed good sized fish too.

Red bluff, Kalbarri, Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Travelling with Girls

If it was just me on my own I would probably shuffle off to the showers with nothing more than a bar of soap and a towel; however, I was with girls, and they had converted a ‘Liquor Land’ wine carrier bag into a mobile toiletry cupboard, which included an industrial sized shampoo and conditioner, any situation catered for. Walking into the gents shower block at the campsite solely occupied by the Australian male and placing the bag on the sink was met with a few raised eyebrows.

Red bluff, Kalbarri, Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Next morning it was a quick turnaround, back on the road towards Kalbarri. Situated on the mouth of the Murchison river in the mid-west region of Western Australia and 592km north of Perth, named after an Aboriginal man from the Murchison tribe, now it is a town set up for tourism, although not busy, nowhere really is, we were told this was peak season however at no point on the trip had we felt the summer rush of holiday makers.

One of the main draws of Kalbarri are the river gorges, 30 km inland inside the Kalbarri National Park, it is a walking track displaying rock formations including ‘Natures Window’ with views of the Murchison and vast spans of the countryside. Left off the sign posts pointing you towards it however is how hot the place gets when the sun hits; it was so hot that my eye brows stopped working! I could have been mistaken for crying, any water I drank passed straight through by way of osmosis, it was crazy hot, go there early and take lots of water. Kalbarri also has a great collection of beaches and cliff top views, I recommend Red Bluff, perfect for sun-setting and generally taking it all in. Apparently the waters here are surprisingly light on all the normal nasties that inhabit the waters of Australia.

Pelican on the beach at Monkey Mia, Western Australia. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

New Years Eve

Monkey Mia imported the very best of Butlins for the end of year celebrations, in the form of a husband and wife double act and their matching guitar print shirts, he was doing his best Hank Marvin impression on the guitar and she was lobbying for the return of the eighties perm down the microphone, backed up by the reassuring sound of a Casio synthesiser track. A few drink’s into their set though we were well away, brilliant set of pre 90’s songs, The whole bar was up and dancing as all people from around Australia celebrated New Year as their respective time zones ticked over to mid night.

Shell Beach in Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

12:30am came and it was as if the power was cut, the night at the bar was over, rules are so strictly adhered to in Australia that not even the start of 2012 lasted more than half an hour. We stumbled to the beach instead which was already full of backpackers, maybe it was the drink (and it probably was) but I must have lost around 2-3 hours chatting to strangers on that beach, it feel like it was that long. Quickly making friends by handing out sparklers that Steph had brought along, drunkenly warning people  “careful, you can weld with that” reminded of all those bonfire night ads with the kids that didn’t wear gloves.

Just as I was talking to a French backpacker about how lazy English speakers are when it comes to foreign language (in English), a voice from out of the darkness bekoning me over to the waterline, it was Steph and housemate Holly, in the sea, and drinking a red wine and saltwater cocktail as the waves washed over their glasses, I quickly followed suit, as you do, not stopping to wonder if sharks hunt at night. I was never to see my flip-flops again after that night, a small point to make but the fact is I had not worn shoes in over two months; my feet felt liberated, aerated and unwilling to once again be contained inside a pair of canvas trainers.

Pink salt lake in Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

On the road back to Perth we decided to follow the ‘Indian Ocean Drive’ overlooking the intensely blue and stunning Indian ocean, removing much of the post holiday blues as we bee lined our way back.

Passing by a sign for coronation beach, must be an Australian summer holiday version of the classic Northern UK street soap,

“How does that theme go?” – Steph humming what she thinks it is,

“No, that’s not it that’s Jurassic Park” – I replied

“Really? What is it then?”

“I couldn’t even tell you what Eaststenders sounds like anymore” – We both then splurt out the Eastenders Climatic “Dooo Doo Do do do do do”

“Well I know how Neighbours goes”

“That’s because it’s words”

Surprising how you pass the time on a long drive.

Seaweed found on the beach at Monkey Mia, Western Australia. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Last Morning

Fatigue set in, the plan was to get as far back to Perth as possible, pulling into Cervantes before the final push. Instead we ended up 160km short and back in Dongara, it wasn’t late but never a good idea to drive at twilight in Australia. Those yellow diamond-shaped sign posts aren’t just for tourists, most of the wildlife here could make a pretty big mess of a car and its occupants, not to mention the unfortunate marsupial that strayed across its path.

Round the corner from the last night’s campsite, down a short road to the beach, was a small café called the ‘The Little Starfish’ which, proudly announced  ‘featured in The Lonely Planet’. We sat there looking out at the surf and had a nice breakfast with my new favourite coffee, a flat white. Conversation of the Morning was not really a road trip one, more of an Australian Obsession: sharks, snakes and spiders. Today it was sharks, “Do you think when the shark siren sounds (on the beach) that it’s just a shark or an actual great white?” Sharks have a bad reputation as it happens, only four species out of the shark family have recorded attacks on humans, and we aren’t even that tasty to the ones that do, unfortunately when they have a taste it’s usually fatal for us.

I hate getting back from a really good trip, having to wash and sort through all my stuff, not for me. Technically Perth isn’t the end of the road so I am still managing to stave of the post trip blues, looking forward to the next one, thinking Perth to Melbourne or Perth to Darwin…


A few days in Mombasa

A boy covered in sand on Bamburi beach, Mombasa, Kenya (Phil Hill)

A Few Days in Mombasa

Secretly I have always liked a quick turnaround, disruption of the status quo makes life more interesting I always find. That said I had two weeks notice to go do a shoot in Migori, Western Kenya, which also meant running around sorting all my jabs and tablets too as I had never been to Africa before. It was all hands on deck, I am still not sure if I pulled it off, waiting for the dust to settle! It felt time passed even quicker once I arrived in Nairobi, overnight from Heathrow, then into a car for a 7-hour drive to the very bottom of West Kenya, near Lake Victoria and just shy of Tanzania. Then faster than I know, I am heading back up to Nairobi to catch a flight to Mombasa. Driving in Kenya is not for the faint hearted; drivers here go pretty much flat out the entire way. Dodging anything from lorries and many Matatus (a loud and proud local taxi) to one man on his overloaded bicycle, slowing only to negotiate the aggressive traffic management system in the form of almost vertical speed-humps that should be ignored at your peril (I’m speaking from experience here). The cries of ‘mzungu, mzungu’ start to fade the closer you get to Mombasa, which is distinctly more commercial than where I had just been however evidently still a developing country. It was the middle of the night when I got to Mombasa and was immediately hit by overwhelming humidity as soon as I got off the plane. West Kenya was extremely hot but it was also at a higher altitude and a lot further from the coast than Mombasa, which felt like I was wading around in treacle.

I booked my room through Hostel bookers in order to save a bit of cash, I am always willing to compromise a little bit on my bed for the night so that the budget goes further where it counts, visiting the place. I found a nice looking hostel on the site called the Bamburi Beach Resort located in the Northern part of Mombasa right on the coast although it wasn’t entirely clear of its exact whereabouts. It was close to 1am as the taxi pulled up outside the reception, very impressive I thought, it was really nice like walking into a double page spread. Until that is, I found out it was the wrong hotel. Disaster, turns out there was more than one hotel that began with the name Bamburi Beach and this one was the Bamburi Beach Hotel not the resort! For a split second I thought it was going to be an all-nighter trying to locate the correct place and I was also imagining that Bamburi Beach Resort would be a terrible dingy hostel now that we had mistakenly gone to this plush hotel. As it happened the two are sisters and only around 100 yards apart from each other. It was pretty nice too, directly on the beach with a stunning view of the Indian Ocean over brilliant white sand, from the bar by the pool. I kept having to remind myself that I booked this on a hostel website.

Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya after the capital Nairobi. Situated in the east it is a hive of tourism and historically a major port city with origins that go back to medieval times, changing hands many times over the centuries; from Arab to Portuguese and then the British until it became part of an independent Kenya in 1963. Modern Mombasa is a vast bustling metropolis with a great deal going on all around and has a population of nearly a million people. Matatus, Tuk-Tuks, and taxis all run constantly in and out of the centre or pretty much anywhere you want to go. Be prepared to negotiate a good deal with the drivers however as they are used to a lot of gullible tourists throughout the season and don’t mind taking your money, stick to your guns and don’t be afraid to walk away, chances are they’ll call you back with a better offer. I personally suggest taking a Matatu, which is favoured by the locals, pretty cheap and a true African way to travel.

You will need to have a similar attitude to negotiating transport when it comes to a day on the beach. From the first foot stepped onto the sand we were set upon by numerous ‘beach boys’ offering boat trips, camel rides, tours and safaris. Every one of them has the best deal around and they are extremely hard to get rid of even when you have said ‘no’ for the umpteenth time. I read once that a good way to avoid such advances was to pretend to be German by saying “nein”, however here that wouldn’t work as German and Afrikaans speakers represent one of the biggest groups of tourists that come to Mombasa with many locals able to converse in both languages as well as their native Swahili and English. As a Brit the experience can be very intimidating at first, defaulting to politeness marks you out as an easy target. It doesn’t take long for a thick skin to develop as I observed from the hotel terrace, an English couple firmly replying with the words ‘We’ve been here a while now!’  as they continued their walk along the beach. All the banter does make for an interesting experience if you engage it the right way, especially when approaching one of the many nik-nak stalls that line the sand. Negotiations are fun, there is something quite satisfying from getting a good ‘bargain‘ even though you probably have still been ripped off, if only a little.

Sunglasses are a must for walking along the bright white sand, top this off with a dip in the warmest water, heated all year long by the equatorial sun. It felt much more like a sauna than a refreshing dip however utterly stunning, and after finally going out on a boat trip with a bit of snorkeling and swimming through an amazing coral reef with many tropical fish, finishing the day in the beach bar with the sunset and a cold local tusker beer, I could not recommend the place any more to you.

A Few Days in Mombasa gallery
 

Bamburi Beach, Mombasa at Dawn (Phil Hill)

 

 

Tuk Tuk, Mombasa, Kenya (Phil Hill)

Camels on Bamburi beach, Mombasa, Kenya (Phil Hill)