Husband and wife duo Tiff and Chris have spent the past decade learning the art of long-term travel. Living out of tents, cars, and vans – interspaced with roofs and refrigerators, their goal is live on all seven continents. Travelling is their passion and by sharing their story they hope to teach and inspire others to realize attaining personal goals is possible. Please enjoy this week-in the-life of Tiff and Chris as they travel around Australia living in an ’89 Mitsubishi Van.
Day 1: Friday
7:00 AM – Woke up from spending the night at a busy road-side stop en route to Shark Bay. A man from a campervan next to us asked how bad our whiz bang was. We had no idea what he was referring to by “whiz bang.” The man laughed and pointed to the panel door of our van that goes, “Whiz – Bang!” every time it was opened and closed.
2:00 PM – Arrived at Shark Bay and went to the visitor centre to ask questions. Found out, despite a huge effort to eradicate invasive species that are killing the native wildlife, the bilby, a small burrowing mammal with big ears and a long pointy nose, has a very low population in the area. There is one bilby named Elizabeth in the care of the Park Service, but she has been too stressed by people viewing her so she was not on display at this time.
4:00 PM – Decided to stay in the World Heritage site at Monkey Mia. There was a resident pod of Indo-Pacific dolphins that has resided in the waters for over forty years.
6:00 PM – Enjoyed cooking dinner in a big, indoor camp kitchen with hot running water to wash all our dishes.
Day 2: Saturday
8:00 AM – Able to indulge in real milk (not powdered milk) with our coffee and breakfast.
10:00 AM – Learned all about the dolphins as they glided past our legs while we admired them standing in knee deep water listening to a presentation. The water was so clear and we could look up close and in detail at these wild dolphins coming in from the sea. A few specified dolphins were allowed a small feeding allotment of fish per day and a lot of marine research is conducted out of Monkey Mia.
11:30 AM – Took advantage of a sunny day and got laundry washed and hung up on lines. Whenever we do stay in a campsite, we try to restore order to the van and clean – it always needs it.
12:30 PM – It’s a beautiful sunny day and we explored all the nature trails and walked the beach looking for shells and little crabs. Saw lots of bird life and baby rays swimming along in the water.
6:00 PM – Cooked ourselves an amazing stir-fry dinner in the camp kitchen. We froze ice blocks for the cooler to keep milk cold for a day after leaving.
Day 3: Sunday
9:00 AM – Watched the dolphins again this morning. The babies were playful and kept jumping out of the water and racing each other. Chris and I were standing in different locations in the crowd so we could each get better photo opportunities, and of the few people chosen to feed a wild dolphin, we were lucky enough to each be picked.
11:00 AM – With clean clothes and a clean van we said goodbye to Monkey Mia. We packed up lunches and went hiking for the rest of the day in Francois Peron National Park. A passing ranger saw us hiking and made a point of stopping to see if we have enough water. We told him we were trying to find reptiles and he drove away as if we were crazy.
6:00 PM – The visitor lady had previously told us we could apply for a permit to park for free in one of the parking lots outside of town which we booked ahead of time. We had a lovely spot overlooking the ocean, however there were a lot of young people there as well and it made for a loud night with little sleep.
Day 4: Monday
8:00 AM – On the road again heading North.
11:00 AM – At Hamelin Pool we stopped to see the world’s oldest living organism and best examples of cyanobacteria on the planet in the form of stromatolites. Scientists believe these are the first living organisms on earth dating back 3.5 billion years. A well-built boardwalk allowed visitors get a close look at these ancient organisms without causing damage.
4:00 PM – Found a lot of fruits and veggies marked down in the grocery store in Carnarvan. Always a great find since this is the last major grocery store till Karratha over 400 miles (644 kilometers) away. Decided we wanted to maximize daylight time and keep driving so treated ourselves to some ice cream and got pizza to eat later for dinner.
7:00 PM – Pulled off for night at a designated rest area. We try to not drive past dusk as it becomes so much easier to hit a kangaroo, cow, emu, camel or hit every pot hole in the road.
Day 5: Tuesday
7:00 AM – Up early to spend most of the day driving past giant termite mounds on the way to Exmouth.
11:00 AM – Still driving. There is lots of driving on the West Coast while the distances look so small on the map. We listen to prerecorded sessions of Radio Lab on our MP3 player.
3:00 PM – Arrived to Exmouth and went to visitor centre to start researching the different companies that swim with whale sharks.
5:00 PM – We set up a work-for-keep at a campground that was short-staffed.
Day 6: Wednesday
7:00 AM – Enjoyed the luxuries of a tea kettle and not having to assemble our stove in the morning – just push a button!
8:00 AM – Did a lot of raking and clean up around the campground.
10:00 AM – Drove back into town of Exmouth and went to check out the offices of our top choices for three tour companies. Swimming with the whale sharks was expensive, so we wanted to ensure we were happy with our tour operator.
12:00 PM – We made sandwiches for lunch as we narrowed down our final choice. Chris and I both agreed on the same company (how nice when we both feel the same way and we don’t have to play rock, paper, scissors to come to a conclusion). We were able to get a nice discount with our NRMA automobile membership – which we transferred from back home at no cost to Australia as they partner with AAA.
2:00 PM – Felt relieved having secured our spot for the tour, we spent the rest of the afternoon snorkelling on the Ningaloo Reef. A UNESCO World Heritage Area, the Ningaloo Reef is the world’s largest fringing reef. In aqua blue waters, we walked off the beach and snorkel with a big cod, turtles, lots of fish, coral and reef sharks – which at the Ningaloo seemed quite interested in swimmers. Normally, a small, shy shark, black tips sharks can be easily scared off by swimmers. Here these sharks seemed to swim circles around the snorkelers, not in the jaws ‘I’m gonna eat you’ sort of way (they are small sharks and quite wary), but in an inquisitive manner so we got to view them up close.
6:00 PM – Made a great BBQ dinner in the busy camp kitchen which was bustling with lots of hungry people who had been swimming on the reef all day. We spent the rest of evening talking to all sorts of travelers as everyone squeezed in and mingled at tables to ensure everyone had a place to sit.
Day 7: Thursday
6:00 AM – We were up and ready to go. We were so excited to finally have the chance to swim with whale sharks!
7:50 AM – Promptly waiting our 8am pickup.
8:10 AM – No bus has pulled in for us yet. All the other tour companies have picked up their guests already. We were still waiting.
8:15 AM – Started to get worried. If the boat leaves and we’re not on it – we’re going to miss our chance. There was no cell service and the office let us call the tour company. Apparently there was a miscommunication as they couldn’t find two guests from another campground and the staff was trying to locate them. The other guests meanwhile were waiting at the boat launch and in the end everyone was found.
8:22 AM – Small bus pulled in to finally collect us.
1:00 PM – Had a nice snorkel on the reef and saw lots of nudibranchs, extraordinary little sea slugs that are often brightly coloured. We saw lots of humpback whales and it felt like we were on a humpback whale highway as their migration pattern brought them North at that time. Everyone enjoyed lunch as the ocean was calm, but there was not much time left on the water and everyone started to get anxious to find a whale shark.
2:00 PM – Whale shark! Chris and I were in the first group to jump into the water. One reason we liked the company we went with was they truly adhered to strict environmental practices. We knew we were not allowed to get too close to the whale shark. The boat dropped people in front of the shark and off to the side so everyone would have a chance to then swim alongside him.
This whale shark changed his course so when we jumped in the water and looked around the first thing we saw was his giant mouth wide open filtering plankton directly in front of us. We back peddled like crazy to a clear a path and to put ourselves in position to be able to keep swimming alongside him. For a first time to swim with this gentle giant we will never forget seeing that giant mouth in front of us.
3:00 PM – Another whale shark was spotted and we all got a chance to swim again. A young male was slowly gliding along and we got to surreally kick our flippers alongside him. Basking in the sun enjoying a fruit platter on the boat ride back to shore, two humpback whales rhythmically swam towards us seeming oblivious to the boat and passed almost directly underneath it. The boat and whales continued gliding alongside each other and then one of the whales started flipper slapping and rolling. We all cheered ecstatically as it felt like he were bidding us farewell from our adventure.
9:00 PM – Stretched out in the back of the van smiling ear to ear. One of our lifetime goals to swim with whale sharks was now complete. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.
After completing another season as Park Rangers with Vermont State Parks, Tiff and Chris have their eyes set on Africa. National Geographic October 2012 reported that 25,000 elephants were poached within a year. It is a place they hope to get to sooner rather than later. Don’t miss their story and stay tuned as their new blog, Vagabond Way, continues to develop and evolve, showcasing how they are able to take months and years seeing extraordinary places all around the world.