Returning to Sydney after a Michael quickly donned his wetsuit
year abroad in the tropical paradise of Samoa was tough. While it was great to catch up with family and friends Michael and I
were already looking for our next adventure. Luckily for me I had a short contract in QLD for an event so it was off to sunny Surfers for a month, I was lucky to squeeze in some dives with Br yson Sheehy, Tom Rasdall and Michael. We landed some nice Mackerel and Tommy shot a solid Morgans cod. He was pretty stoked to say the least. It was a nice way to ease into Australia but we were dreading Sydney when my contract was up. It was the last week in Queensland when Michael received a call from an old work mate, he was working on the Paspaley Pearl boats in Broome and was telling Michael he should get up there and give Pearl diving a go. We were tossing up the idea but the logistics of it were hard, they were half way through the season and we would have to drive across the country just to ‘try it out’. We said we would give it a few days to make a decision and on my last day in Queensland I went exploring the Brisbane CBD. I was taking in the cityscape when a charity saleslady walked up to me and asked for a second of my time, I was taking a photo so it was hard to avoid her. We talked briefly then she asked, “What do you do for work? Wait let me guess, something outdoorsy cause you’ve got a nice tan, something to do with the water, you’re a pearl diver?” I nearly fell over “no, I’m not but funny you say that, my partner is talking about becoming one!”… If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. I phoned Michael right away, “Michael, we are going to Broome!”
After jumping through the hoops of medicals and paperwork we were on our way to Broome. Michael had nine days before his induction in Broome. During our 9 days of driving we managed to squeeze in a visit to Coober Pedy, Uluru and Kings Canyon while the rest of the time was spent driving. It was an epic trip and well worth it, I can’t wait to do it again with more time.
We arrived in Broome, Michael did his induction and a few days later was off on his first ten day trip as a dump diver on one of the pearl boats. Shortly after he sailed I was lucky to receive a call myself, they had found me a spot on another boat as a deckhand.
Working on the pearl boats is hard, the trips are dictated by the tides so you will generally work 8-10 days on (during the neap tide) with 2-4 days off (the spring tide) Because we wanted to explore this part of Australia we lived out of our car for the next four months.
Our first weekend off we headed for Cape Leveque, a famous Peninsula with some of the biggest tides in the world. While I wasn’t overly keen on diving here due to the tides and the croc factor Michael was straight in. We pulled up at a campground called Gambanan owned by a local indigenous family, a sign read “drive in, camp and we will find you later.” We set up camp on a waterfront site overlooking the picturesque beautiful blue lagoon, it was high tide.
Michael quickly donned his wetsuit and jumped in, I figured I would keep ‘an eye out’ for one of those big leather handbags just in case. Michael stuck close to shore as he weaved in and out of the mangroves. He swam out and found some ‘deeper’ ledges around 10 metres and shot lunch, a nice tusk fish. He swam it back in before heading off again. In the mangroves he shot a nice cod for dinner, he decided rather than swimming it in he would hook it up on one of the mangrove branches while he swam our mud crab trap into deeper water. He swam off in search of some fish for the owners of the campground but with no more luck on the fish side Michael decided to call it quits and swim in before the tide got so low he would be walking in. I should mention the tides are over 10 metres in this part of the world, no typo, ten metres!!! He swam back to find the cod missing from its perch… that’s odd? He checked all the trees to make sure he hadn’t gotten it wrong, no it was definitely missing.
We got back to camp, a short ten metres from the waters edge, and cooked up the Tuskfish for lunch: fish, mayo & lettuce wraps would go down a treat with a cold beer in the searing heat while watching the tide recede over the huge lagoon we were perched on.
The spot Michael was diving (10 metres deep) was completely high and dry and he showed me exactly where he shot our lunch! Later that afternoon the owners of the camp came around and we showed them the frame of the Tuskfish, they were shocked and asked what bait we used. Michael said 7mm of steel as he pointed to his speargun. The owners jaw dropped and said to be careful as there are some crocs around here and a big one was spotted recently. Pretty sure we know where that cod went. We decided one dive was enough luck for one weekend so the following day we tried line fishing with dismal effect then we booted up and went mud crab hooking in the swampy mangroves, we walked through the water as the tide receded and captured crabs by foot (standing on them from behind to get them under control) a somewhat desperate manoeuvre but highly effective after half a bottle of rum. It was life or death at this stage as we had relied on catching our dinner when shopping for the weekend. Luckily for us we managed three healthy muddies before calling it a night and heading back to camp. Walking back was something else, the water was sparkling with bioluminescence and our footprints on the flats lit up as we trudged back to camp, the glowing of the sand paired with the infamous
cr ystal clear skies of The Kimberleys was a sight to remember.
We scratched a fire together and threw the muddies on whole on our hotplate, we then ate them caveman style with nothing but rocks to help crack open the gigantic claws of deliciousness. We were delirious with crab and passed out in our swags under the starry night. Back to work tomorrow for another ten days and we would be straight back here. The next three months followed in similar fashion and before we knew it the season was coming to an end, we
by Jessie Cripps
could go to Darwin with the boats in the middle of the wet season or head home for summer. We decided to head home but not without a bit of exploring on the way. We backtracked and decided to do the Gibb river road seeing that we were so close, we swam in Bell Gorge, walked through Tunnel Creek, Windang gorge and spent a weekend in the Bungle Bungles. We went to the infamous El Questro Wilderness Park which was the highlight of our trip but another story completely.
It wasn’t long before we were craving the sweet salty air of the west coast again and besides it was bloody hot up here! Our car read 50 Celsius they day we decided to get the hell outta there.
We headed for the West Coast to meet up with some mates who were living there at the time. The West Coast is notorious for the horrible trade winds it attracts at this time of year, the ones that fired up the day we arrived!
We were lucky enough to meet up with a local diver Leigh who managed to get us out one morning before the wind picked up and he put us straight onto the fish. The first fish was shot by Leigh who managed to land a record breaking 17.6kgs Maori Sea Perch but it was assisted so not claimable. A few drops later Michael shot a huge Maori Sea Perch in a cave, it almost spooled him in the labyrinth of tunnels this beast called home before he was forced to the surface for air. After breathing up he frantically dived to find the fish half way in a giant potato cods mouth. In hindsight this was probably Michael’s saving grace as the fish may have gotten away if it wasn’t for the cod or the second shot by Leigh. Michael’s huge MSP weighed in at 16.7kg.
I was on the camera for most of the day until a school of fat little Chinaman came through. I grabbed Michaels gun and dived down and landed a nice 9kg model, perfect for dinner as there is no ciguatera here and it was delicious! With so much to do on our west coast wish list we got on the road as the weather forecast was looking horrible for the next week. We did the tourist sites and had a gorgeous swim in Coral bay and Ningaloo Reef where we got to camp right on the beach but our main goal was Steep Point. The weather was looking great so we stocked up with water, food and fuel and headed out to
the notorious steep point- the most western point of mainland Aus. Its quiet remote and there is no food or fuel for miles so we had to take everything; we planned for a few days but ended up camping for a week.
The entrance to Steep Point is a soft sandy, deep rutted, one lane road that cuts across multiple sand dunes. The best solution was to let our tyres down low and drive as fast as possible. We made it through with out any issues and arrived at the cliffs where all the land based game fisherman fish for Mackerel, Sailfish, Amberjack and a variety of other species. It is claimed to be one of the best land based fishing spots in all of Aus. When we pulled up we were greeted by a four- metre tiger shark cruising the shoreline. We decided to save our dive until tomorrow morning. A local gave us a few tips and we headed out to a bombie on the top of the tide to avoid any big tidal movements. We were a bit wary of sharks and Michael told me to hold off on anything until we saw something really good. Our first dive saw a pair of 30kilogram Samson fish come in hot. Michael held off and told me to do so in case there was something else around. After three dives I said to Michael, that’s it I haven’t shot one before, I’m going down and getting dinner. Murphy’s law prevailed and they didn’t come back. We went home empty handed and I cursed Michael for telling me to hold off, why do I ever listen to him!?
The next day we went back out to thesamespotandIwasona mission, first Samson fish I see is going down. We scoured around the same ledges we found the day before but didn’t see much until Michael sent me into a big cave to check out a grouper but instead sent me headfirst into a school of big grey nurse – he thinks he is pretty funny, again, I’m not sure why I ever listen to him. On the way back up to the surface a solid school of kingies came in, I was out of air and came up while I watched Michael take the next dive and secure a twelve kilo king fish, dinner sorted. Once we got that kingy wrapped up it was almost perfect timing when the next school came through and I managed to score a bigger 15-kilo model. With no rig lines and the imminent threat of being sharked we decided to call it a day. Besides we had a big walk back to the car in 40c heat…
With enough fish to last us a week we decided to go for an afternoon Cray dive. The Cray season had just opened and we were told there were lots about. We were lucky to bag out very quickly with one ledge of plate coral absolutely loaded. All we had to do was heard the Crays out around the wobbegong until they ran into the others hands. It was a team effort with a delicious reward. We bagged out and went back to camp to cook up Cray pasta for dinner. We traded a Cray for a head of garlic, definitely a swap our neighbours were stoked with. We also traded some Crays for fresh water so we could stay longer as we had only planned on staying for a few days and were already low on water due to a leak. With enough fish and Crays to last us we decided to explore some small headlands. We discovered a huge labyrinth with interconnecting caves and swim throughs full of grouper. This place is something else, so much exploring to do. We spent the next few days lounging on the beach, going for afternoon Cray dives and four wheel driving. After six days we had to head back in as the fuel situation was getting low and the wind was starting to pick up.
We spent the next few days travelling down the west coast doing the touristy thing before hitting Per th where we needed to get the car
ser viced and four new tyres. The weather was really not in our favour at this stage so we decided we would go directly the Esperance after a quick overnight in Busselton for the infamous squid fishing from the whar f.
Arriving in Esperance is an assault to the senses after spending six months in the red dirt; the bright blue ocean draws you in as soon as you see it. One of my biggest regrets was not being able to spend longer in this place, it was absolutely jaw droppingly stunning. Unfor tunately for us half of the national park campgrounds were closed for maintenance so we had to stay in town. We managed a half-day in Esperance and Michael got a nice afternoon shore dive in, while constantly tr ying to ignore the jaws theme on repeat in his head he managed to shoot a nice Queen Snapper for dinner.
It wasn’t long until we were on the road again for the final big push across the Nullarbor, three back to back 14hour days and we arrived in Melbourne to catch up with our housemate from Samoa. Luckily for us the weather was great and he took us out to grab some scallops in the bay. The water was clear and we managed a dive tub full of delicious scallops! Our last treat from our final leg of our trip around Australia.
It was one of the most epic trips of my lifetime and I cant wait to do it again, for now it was time to head home to Sydney to save up because I had just received an email confirming an eighteen-month contract working in Tonga!
For more info on our road trip around Australia and our land based adventures check out our website www.under waterallyproductions.com or follow us on Instagram: @jessie_cripps @michaeltakach