Aus Tales #6 – Surf and Safari

Shorewater Islands is 6000 hectares of marine reserve protecting a
section of Rockingham coastline. If you want to know why marine
reserves are so important tnen you just need to watch some of the
inspiring Mission Blue TED talks.

I was already excited to be visiting Penguin Island but when we
arrived we upgraded to the Shorewater Safari. This took us out for an
hour on a powerful sleek rib.

“The seats at the front are the fun seats. Don’t sit there is you get
seasick or have a back problem”. So of course that’s where we sat
…!

First stop was a pelican colony then over to seal island. There were
two large sea lions on the beach and three more playing in the surf
with a snorkeller. On land sea lions can be aggressive and they can
out run a human over 100m, they are realted to bears! In the water
they are more playful and curious.

Closer to the main coast we then spotted a group of dolphins and
headed in their direction, cutting the engine to drift closer. They
were well known to the marine rangers and included an elderly mother
with her tiny young cub and one they call Blizzard because of the
white stripe down their back. Dolphins nap in the waterand they rest
one eye and one half of their brain at a time whilst the other side
remains alert for predators. These graceful marine mammals were
stretching gently out of the water basking in the morning sun.

The rangers pointed out that they have the cross shading common to
much of the coastal wildlife: dark on the top with a white underbelly.
This is so predators above them will lose them in the shadows of the
ocean, but to predators below them they will blend into the glare of
the sun refacting through the waves.

We left the dolphins and went bird spotting at a nearby rocky outcrop;
mostly terns of various varities and shags but also one magnificant
osprey nesting right at the top, who returned home with a frehly
caught fish glistening between its claws.

All of the islands in the reserve were once part of the shoreline
10,000 years ago until the sea rushed over the top leaving reefs and
ridges and these few islands. One of them was covered in fossilised
tree roots and trunks, woven into pretty coves: a perfectly preserved
time capsule of a very ancient land.

Time to return …. but not the slow meandering route we came.
Instead we headed out to sea and out of the reserve speed limit zone
so we could open up the engines of this beautiful boat and speed over
the waves with Mick, our ranger enjoying himself cutting sharply left
and right. With the wind in our hair and bouncing from wave to wave
this was a seriously exhilerating ride … definitely the fun seats!!

We took the more sedate ferry to Penguin Island and watched the ten
protected penguins being fed in their enclosure before setting out on
the 2km walk around the island climbing the highest cliffs and kicking
the surf barefoot along sand coves, threading our way through the
protected bird colonies admiring the stunning vistas. Tucked under
bushes and the boardwalk were glimpses of fat little penguins.
Normally penguins sleep at night and fish all day but when they are
moulting, once per year they replace their waterproof feathers, they
sleep during the day and hardly under, only venturing out at night
because they are so vulnerable. I also learnt that penguins only
drink sea water and a gland in their beak desalinates the water and
they sneeze out the salt. Great little creatures!

The jade water proved too tempting by this point so I had a lovely
swim between two sandy coves, the water amazingly clear and
refreshing. Our final wildlife spot of the day was a crab, buried
deep in it’s hole in the sand.

Up the coast clouds were gathering and the wind was whipping at the
water so with an uncertain tide we decided not to walk back acrtoss
the sandbar as planned but return on the next ferry before the rain
came. This was an incredibly exciting day and reminded me of all the
reasons I tool up scuba diving. I can’t wait to get out and under the
water again to keep exploring these wonderful, magical oceans.

The day was completed by some tasty grilled lamb from the barbie and a
greek salad. Appropriately today’s wine choice was called Edge of The
Wave, a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from Margaret River. We ended the
day at church, getting in the festive mood with some carols sung
firstly against a beautiful sunset and then by torchlight.

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