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Empty beaches – access with 4WD only

D’Entrecasteaux NP - Black Point, Beedelup NP, Warren NP, Northcliffe, Moore’s Hut, Valley of the Giants Ecopark

rain 23 °C
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After our relaxing Christmas Holidays in Margaret River, we headed off on Boxing Day. Our first stop was Surfers Point, one of the most famous breaks along the Margaret River coast. The waves coming in were really big and there were lots of surfers tackling them. At first we were surprised how many senior surfers were in the water (or rather going in and out), but we soon realized that such kind of waves are not suitable for beginners.

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As we were sitting in the sunshine next to our Swiss friends, we did not realize that this would be the last sunshine for a while. And considering that we had sunshine almost all along, checking the weather forecast for the coming days has never become a habit.
We took the nice drive through the old jarrah forest along Boranup Drive. At the lookout, we had a nice view towards Cape Leeuwin the South-Western most point of Australia. And we realized that it did not make a lot of sense to go all the way down to the cape, as rain clouds were looming in that direction. In a sense, the bad weather was at least very helpful in our decision making, as we had not been able to make up our mind so far in regards to going to the cape or not.

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So we filled our tank and headed off to D’Entrecasteaux National Park. After all, Sam had been wanting to do some more offroad driving anyhow and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take the 4WD tracks to the campground at Black Point.
After a bit of rather normal graving road, we were in for a surprise: the road was blocked by a car that was just being loaded onto a trailer after having managed to lose a wheel in the deep sand ahead of us. We used the waiting time to let our tire pressure down and then headed on along a very beautiful, narrow one way path that eventually led us to the campground close to the beach.

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Once arrived, we were happy to get everything set up in time before the rain set in. It was really unpleasant cold rain, enhanced by mighty gusts of wind. As we were mentally prepared to just head up into the roof top tent for the remainder of the day, the rain stopped and we had a hike to the beautiful beach.

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We soon realized why it’s called ‘stepping stones’: similar to the basalt columns we had seen at Devil’s Postpile in California, also here the cooling of a lava flow had created that phenomenon. But not only the columns were nice. We also enjoyed the scenery, the lonely beach and the nice sunset over Australia’s southern coast.

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In the night, a loud thunderstorm raged around us and it was raining heavily. While Max was sound asleep, Sam and I lay awake in the tent and where wondering if we’d be able to leave the national park again after so much rain. Eventually, Sam set the alarm clock for 6am to have a chat with the neighbors at camp to get their opinion on the conditions for driving out and which of the three tracks to choose. After consulting with them, we decided to take another track out vs. the one we had come in on the day before. And in fact, Black Point Road was only deep sand in a few bits, but was less of an issue in wet conditions than yesterday’s track would have been. Still, we were relieved that we had made it out onto the gravel road without any bigger troubles. Under the watchful eyes of a monitor lizard, it was a matter of minutes to activate the compressor and adjust the tire pressure back up.

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After our early start into the day, we explored Beedelup NP with the Beedelup Falls and a nice suspension bridge.

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Later we headed on to Warren NP to climb up the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree with its fire watch lookout at 65m height. Admittedly, both of us turned around halfway when realizing how high already those 30m felt on a tree that is moving with the wind.

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In Pemberton, we stopped at the local information center to inquire about the road conditions to reach Moore’s Hut, another 4WD track in D’Entrecasteaux NP that we wanted to attempt tomorrow.
As it was already rather late in the day and I was keen on having a phone connection to upload a new blog entry, we opted not to head into the National Park right away, but to spend the night in Northcliffe which featured a nice skatepark for Max.

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The rain forced us to spend most of our time in the camp kitchen in the company of a large huntsman spider and of a nice young couple from the UK. They are doing a year of work and travel in Australia, but interestingly they did come via China where they got with the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was great having a chat with them on their experiences on the train and in Mongolia and as usual, we were inspired ourselves after hearing first-hand what they had seen and done.

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The other attraction of the evening was a nice campfire. Surprisingly, all Aussies were really excited about the fire. We had not realized to which extent there are complete fire bans over months for whole regions. For Northcliffe, the absolute fire ban will only be starting a couple of days later. Thanks to the heavy rains of the last two days, a fire permit had been granted to the campground under the condition that the owner (a fire fighter) has a cubic meter of water with a pump located directly next to the fire.
The next morning, Sam got to do some more offroad driving. After a long stretch of gravel road, we eventually got to the deep sand bits to Moore’s Hut. And we were happy that we did not camp there ourselves, as the place was quite crowded. We continued the last two kilometers to the beach which we had for ourselves. The beach was beautiful and pretty wild. Due to the heavy winds, the looming rain clouds and the cold, it had a very special atmosphere. Who knows if we would have liked it as much on calm sunny day.

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The drive out of the national park was even nicer than the drive in. But still, it had been a lot of driving by the time we reached our place for the night in the ‘Valley of the Giants’.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:12 Archived in Australia Tagged beach tree sand camp fire offroad climb granite 4wd Comments (1)

No roadsigns in the steppe

From Ulaanbaatar to Tsagaan Suvraga

sunny 18 °C
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Our guide Oogii and our driver Amgaa (which is pronounced ‘Amra’) picked us up at our guesthouse and we headed south. We drove through many quarters full of typical soviet apartment blocks, but also through areas where the typical Mongolian gers / yurts dominated the scene.
As we reached the edges of town, it was clearly visible how quickly Ulaanbaatar is and has been growing: the town that had been laid out for 300,000 inhabitants, is now home for more than 1.3 million Mongols – almost half of its population. Consequently, there were lots of new developments and the vast steppe is converted into town.
And there’s no middle ground: the town seems to end abruptly and suddenly there’s only steppe and pretty much nothing else. Well, except here and there we saw a herd of animals. Already after the first couple of kilometers we had seen yaks, horses, sheep, goats and cattle.
As we crossed the hills surrounding Ulaanbaatar, we stopped at an ‘ovoo’ and surrounded it three times clockwise. According to Mongol traditions and shamanic beliefs, doing this and ideally also leaving with every turn a stone or donation on top of these artificial stone hills will guarantee a good journey. Let’s hope they are right…
When it was time for lunch, Amgaa just took a right turn into the steppe. He drove for a couple of hundred meters and parked the Furgon such that it blocked out the wind. We set up a table and chairs and had sandwiches and salad for lunch. It was great to have the van as protection from the wind, but we still rather ate quickly to avoid having our food covered in dust.

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Driving back onto the road over the steep shoulder was no problem at all with our Furgon. Unfortunately, it then started making strange noises and it took Amgaa a couple of attempts to repair it in order to eventually give up and just unhook the four-wheel drive. That avoided the noises, but also meant that at some stage he would need to get a spare part to get the 4WD properly fixed.
We were on the road again. But after a total of 160 km, we headed off the main road and it was time to bid good bye to the advantages of asphalt roads. Pretty much unrecognizable for a foreigner like us, Amgaa suddenly turned left to take the track towards the small hamlet of Deren. Even though the track seemed not to be used too often, the ride was surprisingly smooth. Along the way, we passed a small well with lots of sheep and goats around. It was a nice view and latest by then we realized that we had left UB far behind us.

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In the endless steppe, there was pretty much nothing. As far as we could see, there was not a single tree or bush. And so early in spring, the grass was just starting to grow showing just a hint of green on the otherwise brown / yellowish plains.
Once we had stopped in Deren to fill up on fuel, we headed south for another half an hour and then searched for a nice spot to stay overnight. We stopped in a slight depression out of sight of the track that we had come on. There was nothing around us, apart from a large herd of sheep and goats a couple of kilometers south of us.

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Still, our presence had been discovered quickly. After just 30 minutes a nomad stopped by on his small motorbike. He was keen to have some company and found out which kind of news we brought. He was very kind and even took Max on a quick tour on his motorbike.

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We learned from him, that this time of the year is very busy for the nomads with sheep having to be sheared and goats combed. He reported that prices for cashmere have gone up and he’s now getting 60,000 tögrög (i.e. 30 USD) for a kg, whereas a kg of sheep wool is only worth 500 tögrög. He was happy and seemed to be able to live well from that income.
Once he headed off, Oogii was able to continue cooking our dinner. We had a local version of fried noodles with vegetables and a bit of meat. And it tasted fabulous.
While she prepared dinner, we had already set up our tents, which was very easy. We had to only throw them and they were setup. A couple of tent pegs to attach them to the ground and to avoid that the wind is blowing them away and done.
As soon as the sun went down, the wind subsided and it got very still. But at the same time, it also got quite chilly and we were starting to put on more and more layers. It did not take long to realize that it was time to head into our tent and to go to sleep.

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We slept very well in our first night in the tent. The thick sleeping bags had been a good investment and none of us got cold at night. While we recapped how well we had slept during the night, we started realizing how quickly the sun had started to heat up our tent. It was time to get up and have breakfast. Muesli, fruit and Nutella – there were no wishes left open!
We had only a short drive of 50 km for today, but within that short distance, there was much to be seen. Our favorite sight was a nomad on his small motorcycle moving his herd of camels and horses to a new pasture. According to Mongol traditions, seeing a move means good luck.

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And indeed, shortly afterwards we got to see a herd of wild gazelles and a large steppe buzzard. And there were lots of small lizards around as well. It is very surprising how much life is supported by such a seemingly sparse land. Every once in a while we saw a yurt in the distance and sometimes stopped quickly to ask for directions. Somehow there was always someone around - a nomad on his motorbike or a kid herding some animals.

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At noon, we had reached our spot for the night. We camped in the ‘Ikh Gazaryn Chuluu’ national park which features big granite formations known to the locals as the ‘big earth mother stones’. We found a nice place, protected between the granite rocks and with a nice view out towards the wide valley.

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After lunch, we explored a bit and went for a hike. Scrambling up towards the highest spot in the area, we came across various birds, most notably a snowy owl and lots of proof of animal presence – dung, wool caught in thorny bushes and even horns.

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Back at camp, we enjoyed a relaxed afternoon. While Amgaa maintained the car, he had a nomad coming over in order have a chat. Max went scrambling – both with Sam and with Oogii. There were enough climbing opportunities around us.

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After excellent dinner, Sam headed off to take pictures of the sunset.

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We prepared for a camp fire and even had a ranger stopping by to have a chat – after all, we’re in a national park. And we really appreciated the local culture of people stopping by for a quick chat.

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The next morning, we decided to rather head South vs. East in an attempt to cut a couple of hundred kilometers from our rather busy tour program. During the 100km of tracks it took us to reach the district center in Mandalgovi, we encountered lots of camels, cattle and even gazelles. But our favorite were the herds of sheep – their tail wags so cutely when running away from us.

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For lunch, we had one of the Mongolian national foods: khuushuur, a kind of fried meat pie. But we also used the stop in town for doing some shopping for meat and eggs, to get our water supply replenished and to fill up the car. Then we were ready for another stretch of tarmac that should get us more quickly to our destination than a track. Considering the amount of holes in the tarmac requiring sudden breaking and swerving, we were not quite sure, if this was really faster.

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As we turned off the asphalt again, Max was delighted. He was allowed to help Amgaa drive for a couple of kilometers. Everyone had a lot of fun, but most importantly the two drivers. Still, for Max the driving was heavy work. With every bump in the road, he had to keep the steering wheel under control. It was heavy work – both physically and for his concentration.

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When we saw a big group of camels next to the road, we stopped and took some pictures. There were we in our Furgon and the camels. And apart from the tracks leading through that part of the Mongolian steppe, there was nothing.

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A bit later, we also saw some gazelles. Contrary to the camels, they are wild and do not belong to anyone. And they are extremely fast. Once we detected them at the horizon, they were already gone.

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After a while, the landscape around us changed and there were some red rocks appearing in the distance. A bit further, we stopped to explore a little cave system. Equipped with our headlights, we walked into the absolute darkness of an underground dry river. Luckily, there were no bats down there. Usually, I don’t mind bats in caves. But when the caves are so small like this one and there’s not even enough headspace to stand up straight, then this is different.

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It was just 15 minutes of driving to reach our next overnight spot. We stayed at the top of big white cliffs (‘Tsagaan Suvraga’) that had eroded at its bottom into a landscape that reminded us of the painted desert or the Badlands.

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We were a couple of hundred meters away from the parking lot. A good choice, after all this marked the first time that we encountered some other tourists. In total, there were maybe ten carloads of people coming and going at various times that evening and the next morning. Most of them were fairly quiet and just admired the landscape. It’s just the Koreans which were unmistakable. To the dismay of their driver, one of them even climbed the roof of his Furgon – a good opportunity for us to keep joking about with our driver Amgaa.

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While we admired the changing colors of the cliffs at sunset, he was working on fixing an issue with the right front wheel and just briefly stopped his efforts for dinner. We had the meat that Oogii had bought today and even though our palates are not really used to mutton, we liked it. It must have been after 10pm when he was finished with his repairs. We had settled into our tents already a lot earlier.

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We slept way too long to get to see the sunrise. By the time we were up, also the falcons and the raven were active and we got to see some great maneuvers with one group fighting off the other.
That morning, it was a good track we were driving on. As usual, we were amazed at the ease with which Amgaa decided which of the many turns to choose. We can call ourselves lucky to have a driver with such good orientation skills.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:05 Archived in Mongolia Tagged cliffs sheep camel nomads empty granite goats gazelle owl steppe herds Comments (1)

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