Monday, May 16, 2016

Emus, Roos, and the Strangest Best Western Ever

When we first planned the Australian leg of our trip, we expected to go to the Great Barrier Reef. But we discovered we would be traveling when that area typically experiences heavy storms. It's also a time when the nearby coast is often infested with Australian Box jellyfish—and their venom is so toxic, it can kill you in minutes. Since we couldn't visit the reef except by boat and the weather might not cooperate, we decided to go to the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia instead. That's how we arrived at the Strangest Best Western Ever.

Officially known as The Best Western Sea Breeze Resort, the accommodation is five kilometers from the little town of Exmouth. (Pronounced “Ex-mouth.”) The motel was converted from the chief petty officer’s quarters on an inactive North American Naval Base, right next door to an active Australian military facility. That’s part of what makes it so different.

Emus stroll the grounds of the Sea Breeze.

We want to make it clear that we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly­—and not strange at all. The building has been remodeled, so it offers a pleasant room with a kitchenette and en-suite bath, along with ­­­­­­ a pretty outdoor pool. Emus and kangaroos roam the grounds and galahs, a type of gray cockatoo, perch in the palm trees. But that’s not all.

Galahs searching for seeds at the Sea Breeze.

Because the hotel is located inside the inactive naval base, there are streets and streets of vacant buildings. It’s a military ghost town, including a dive shop, a bar, and a clinic (which is important to the next blog post.) 

If you drive down one of the empty streets, you will see kangaroos peeking out from around the buildings, where they go to rest in the shade. If you approach, they are shy, and quickly bound away.

Kangaroo resting in the shade of a building on the old base.

There is nothing—absolutely nothing but desert—around the hotel except for the small Australian active facility and the U.S. Navy ghost town. The motel bills itself as “the closest hotel to the Ningaloo Reef,” and it is. But you need a car to stay there, because it is still another half-hour drive, at least, to the bays of the fringing reef.

The landscape around Exmouth is a little barren.

We found the town of Exmouth itself a very friendly  and animal-friendly place. People seem to like the kangaroos and emus and give them free rein.

Traffic stops for the emus.
Emus have quite a good system: the females lay the eggs, but then the papa incubates them and takes care of the young for at least six months. The dad and chicks often stay together until the next breeding season. Meanwhile, mom takes off to live it up and find a new mate. (See what I mean about a good system?)

We liked the fact that because the three varieties of sea turtle nest on the Ningaloo Coast, the town has totally banned plastic grocery bags. That’s because when turtles see a floating plastic bag, they think it’s a jellyfish and swallow it, which can bind up their insides and kill them.  

The Ningaloo beaches are incredible, with the whitest sands and turquoise waters that teem with tropical fish and sea turtles, and seasonally with manta rays and whale sharks, the world's largest fish. Filter-eaters, whale sharks aren't dangerous, and the tiny towns along the Ningaloo Reef all promote opportunities to swim with them.

I swam from the white, hot beaches of the Ningaloo Coast, where snorkeling from the shore is quite good. I also went on a snorkel tour by myself, since Kevin doesn’t snorkel anymore. (But I did get him in the water once.)

While I was in the water, people on the boat raised an alarm: “Shark! Shark! Right there!” I caught my breath. In what seemed like several minutes—but was probably only seconds—the word came from the captain, “It’s OK. It’s a harmless reef shark.” I didn’t panic. But I wasn’t pleased to hear someone shout “Shark!” when I was seventy feet from the boat! Particularly, when I found out later there was a resident female tiger shark in the bay named Terrie, and only great white sharks attack humans more than tiger sharks.

Don't yell "Shark!" when I'm in the water, please!

Kevin and I explored the land area too. We hiked up an old gorge seeking small rock wallabies without success. But we did see a red kangaroo, at least 7 feet tall, bounding up the creek bed. Great sections of the landscape are also dotted with termite mounds, rounder than the ones in Africa, but quite large nonetheless.

A collection of 13 large radio towers at Exmouth, the tallest as high as 1,270 feet tall, enables the U.S. and Australian military services to communicate with submarines as far away as Alaska through very low frequency (VLF) radio transmission.  Now that the U.S. plans to beef up its presence in Asia and the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Navy is coming back to Exmouth. Sadly, that means the kangaroos will find their shady spots taken over by American naval personnel, and the Strangest Best Western Ever will revert to military housing once again.

I only hope the kangaroos at the military base don't end up like this!

Note: I don't have a photo of it, but Kevin enjoyed a brief run with a kangaroo pacing him
at Exmouth.  It will probably be his only chance to run with a kangaroo.
And just to end with something pretty, here's a photo of a blossom at the motel:

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