Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Pennefather and the "Turtle"

I LOVE Pennefather Beach. It's one of my all time favourite places in the world.  Kids and I were off for a week to stay in the hut on the beach. (yep, on school holidays again and hubby had to work).  I took up the quad so we could travel the beach and look for mumma turtles laying as well as get up and down the beach to chase the fish on the tides.  

On the first night the kids jumped on the back of the bike with their headlamps on and a belly full of sausage on bread with chocolate breaker.  They wrapped themselves up in their towel blanket as the night air was getting cooler, especially on the back of the quad.  It wasn't long before we spotted the tell-tale tracks in the sand and worked our way up the beach to find her.  The full moon was enough light for us to see and, crawling slowly on their bellies, they watched the first big turtle dig her hole and lay dozens of eggs before we guided her back to the water.  It was magical.  The kids couldn't stop talking about it and it was another lifetime memory sealed.

For the next 5 days, our routine was very, very similar.  Wake up with the sun about 6am.  Throw on rods and go pro and kids on the quad.  Flick lures until someone complains of hunger about 9am.  Go back to camp. Cook up pancakes and eggs.  Have a feed and coffee and make our way to the tunnels of fresh water which is about 20mins ride on the quad.  Swim for a few hours. Read my book until someone says they're hungry for lunch. Go back to camp for lunch.  Flick more lures and swim in the gutters. Make sandcastles, drink beers and chase the marine life up and down the beach until someone complains they're thirsty and burnt.  Go back to camp for cheese and crackers in the hammock with my book.  Make dinner.  Tell stories by the fire.  Cook marshmallows. Go looking for turtles again until someone says "I'm busted!" which is about 7:30pm and we're all in bed by 8.  

On the 6th day my friend came up for the day and we spent it much the same.  We had a thousand beers, cooked up a camp oven and went looking for turtles. We saw 7 lay before it was time to make our way back to camp.  My friend drove home about 10pm as his partner thought he was on a 'day trip' and he didn't want her to worry.   I was ready for a mission by this stage and found a giant log on the beach which I tied with rope and skull-dragged up to camp with my quad.  By the time I'd wrangled the mammoth into the fire, we were well alight and set for a few hours if not days and I crashed onto my swag like a starfish with the kids in theirs on the sand next to mine.

On the last morning I woke up with the sun and it was another glorious morning!  From the corner of my eye I saw very fresh and distinct markings in the sand right up into the camp and stopped on the other side of the fire.  I thought to myself "Oh my God, a turtle must have come right up to the fire to lay."  I got the kids up to look and was talking it up like I had some kind of insight into this turtles intentions.  
We were looking at the markings when I realised it hadn't dug a hole.... strange.  Perhaps it had changed it's mind because of the fire?

We followed the tracks around and back towards the water. As the sand hardened the markings became more clear.  It appeared that in the middle of the track there was a sharp line..... strange. Perhaps the turtle had something stuck underneath it?

We followed it down towards the water's edge and the flipper markings became clearer.... Strange, I didn't know turtles had CLAWS???

Rookie Error:    Not a turtle track.  It was a CROCODILE track.

I scurried the kids back up into camp and, as it was our last day anyway, began packing up and getting ready for home.  It had been a wonderful week but this was a bit too close for home and I was ready to take my chances/luck and go home.  

When I reached Weipa, I called my friend who was staying out there that night as she was tag-teaming my adventure with her own.  I told her the story and advised her that it was probably that 2.5 metre one that we saw a few times up the beach. No big deal but to be careful as he was cheeky enough to come right up to the fire. Thank God I had the fire going!!!

She went up to the hut that afternoon and took a photo of the salt water crocodile which sat out the front of the camp sulking for the next 2 days.   It was 4.5m long. A monster.  God knows how long he'd stalked our routine and behaviours before making his move. We never saw him once.

Lesson learned:   Midnight missions for wood are an excellent idea when you've had beers AND for your own safety.

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