Working or worming

Three hours South of Sydney, Conjola Beach is within the Narrawallee Creek Nature Reserve. Golden sand beaches with striking blue waters that are backed by 10-20 m high foredunes; and nearby, a small community of Lake Conjola (population 350). The perfect setting and location for a holiday, or for a home if you are a beach worm.

Beach worming is one of the least known fishing activities yet one that can only be described as an art, or hard work. It takes the patience of a turtle and the speed, laser vision of Cyclops, and lightning hands of a ninja to snatch the worm from the sand. Pliers in one hand and a smelly fish in the other, the worms poke their heads up to feed, concealing the rest of their bodies. One must creep behind the V-shaped pattern in the wash the worm creates when it sticks its head above the sand for the smelly fish. Then, with another piece of stink bait held close to its head one must lure the worm out on the bait. Once the worm is biting the fish, one must close the pliers around its head and draw its thrashing form from the sand. That’s the idea, anyway. Surprisingly, some beach worms grow to be up to 2½ metres long, beneath the sand.

Selling for $1 to $1.50 each worm, it makes for an attractive business when there is no limit on bag sizes for licensed wormers and one might harvest up to 1000 a day. However, over-harvesting has caused the destruction of the pipi industry. And some fishermen say to have witnessed a depletion of worms on the mid-north coast of NSW. Hopefully the industry will be regulated so that this skillful hobby can be done in the years to come.

Meet the locals

Bendalong is the ideal south coast seaside weekend village. Just a few hours drive south from Sydney, Boat Harbour Beach, is one of several beaches in Bendalong. This is an area with awesome beaches and whilst many little Aussie coastal villages can boast a great beach or maybe two, Bendalong has seven of them.

“Boat Harbour” is a 320 m long beach with waves averaging 0.5 m right next to Washerwomans Beach. The beach faces north and is pretty sheltered meaning it’s a good place to stand-up paddle board, kayak, swim or snorkel.

Additionally, Boat Harbour beach boasts a boat ramp located toward the eastern end. Thanks to this ramp, the beach has become famous for the large local sting rays that come in close to shore to feed on the scraps thrown to them by the fishermen. You can stand in the shore and let the rays come near to gently pat them or venture for a snorkel with these magnificent creatures on a weekend away.

Snorkelling with sharks

The blacktip reef shark lives in warm, shallow, tropical waters. It has a small territory it usually stays within which is why it is an easy target for avid snorkellers if one knows their favorite spots and is able to get an “off-menu” tour.

The black tips on its fins, in particular on the dorsal and caudal fins, gives it its name.Though it has a white belly and dark back that helps them camouflage with the dim seafloor and the brighter ocean surface which means one must be very alert to spot them.

These sharks grow up to 1.5 meters and is a species that cannot stop swimming, or they will simply sink. However, as a means of preserving the species, females are able to reproduce asexually if no males are available.

Beware of the macaque

This near-threatened crab-eating macaque is a ferocious creature. It lives around Southeast Asia and spotted in a coastal lowland forests in Miniloc, Palawan. This monkey lives in troops and whilst their social composition is a matriarchy, the males are pretty aggressive. They look even more so when showing their teeth beneath their moustaches and cheek whiskers. And even more so when a second one behind you does the same.

Don’t be smelly

Otters are the largest member of the weasel family. Without fat to keep them warm, otters have to eat constantly to make up for the energy needed to maintain their body temperature. Some have even been seen taking rabbits. Otters may live in salt water, but they need regular access to freshwater to clean their fur. A small puddle will do.

Otters can be shy and elusive, but with patience and a few tricks there’s a good chance of seeing one. In Shetland, due to the long hours of summer daylight, otters have become used to going around in daytime as opposed to being nocturnal as in most other parts the world. In early summer female otters can be seen showing their cubs (usually two) how to hunt in the shallows of the kelp forest of Shetland. Like these two. Summer is also when the older cubs start exploring new territory.

To be successful in otter spotting, it is important to remember that otters have good smell and bad eye sight so, avoid your silhouette breaking the skyline. Also, make sure the wind is not blowing towards the otters as your scent will scare them off. Finally add in a small dose of luck and there they are.

Muckle Fugga

Shetland is a group of islands located in the North Sea, North of Scotland and West of Norway. Unst, the most northerly populated island in Britain, is often known as the island above all others. Population: 600.

The Hermaness National Nature Reserve, up top Unst, has magnificent views during its walk in the high cliffs. This walk is also full of up close encounters with sea birds, especially the Great Skua (or Bonxie as the locals know it) as here is a breeding ground for them. These birds can be quite aggressive in breeding season, so sticking to the path is the best caution whilst walking.

Even further North than Unst is the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, built on a pinnacle of rock in Oost (Out of Stack) that rises 61m above the sea, and is frequently overtopped by unbroken waves. This is Britain’s most northerly lighthouse. Three people manned this remote spot, ferried with supplies when they could.

The lighthouse was known originally as North Unst Lighthouse. In 1964 its name changed to Muckle Flugga — derived from the Old Norse for ‘large steep-sided island’.

Big paws and big teeth

Just a short drive from Narvik, the Gateway to the North, there is a park with generous-sized enclosures for a range of Arctic animals: bears, wolves, lynx, deer and elk: the Polar Park. An ideal place for all to learn about the native species, including of Norway’s only wild cat.

Four different types of medium cats are given the name of Lynx. Their coats of fur vary in colour according to their climate range. This Eurasian (or Siberian) lynx lives in Northern regions so their coats are thicker and lighter in colour (for camouflage). The Eurasian lynx has wide, harelike paws to help them skim through deep snow without sinking in: a handy characteristic this far up North the world.

Seeing what swims in the fjords

Visiting the northern islands of Lofoten includes the possibility to see a small but good aquarium; one of its highlights is be the feeding time for the seals and otters in their outdoor pools.

Storvågan is a little village west of Svolvær; established around 1800. It was one of Lofoten largest fishing villages. Now this little village hosts an aquarium that aims to show tourists the life hiding in the deep waters around Lofoten and the north of Norway. Oudoors there is a pool with 5 active seals: one male who was bought from another aquarium and four female, two of which were born in captivity. Everyday they are fed herring at noon. If you are lucky you can watch it and if you are really lucky you might be able to feed them a snack or two!

Over and under

The Busselton jetty is the longest wooden pylon jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. The jetty is constructed by massive pylons that are 150 years old. It is 1,841 metres (over a mile!) long and extends off out into Geographe Bay.

Construction of the jetty started in 1864 with an original length of 158m. Back then it was known as Vasse Jetty and it was the result of the boom for the local timber industry. Over the years, it was extended up to its current length in 1960. Commercial boats would load timber using the jetty as the bay is too shallow. The jetty was closed to commercial shipping in July 1972.

The jetty is home to over 300 marine species. In 2003, an observatory that descends to 8 metres (26’) under sea level was opened; without having to enter the water, tourists can enjoy the underwater views, see myriads of fish and divers, and learn about the jetty and the observatory itself. Regardless of the observatory, this is a great diving experience. As our guide described it, cuttle fish galore and swimming colour changing octopus! This site is often considered one of Australia’s top 10 dive sites and not being deep you get to enjoy it for a long time.

Photo taken by our DM from the DiveShed

Australia’s top predator

Five thousand years ago, whilst writing was being invented, Stonehenge being built and Egyptian dynasties rising, Dingos were being brought to Australia by Indonesian sailors. Dingos are Australia’s wild dogs, thought to be a descendant of (domesticated) dogs in Asia.

Whilst Dingoes are found through most of mainland Australia, they are absent from Tasmania. The biggest threat to dingoes are cross breeding with dogs. Reason why it is very common to see dingo-like dogs in Australian suburbs and truly pure dingoes are extremely rare. Except in Fraser island where dogs are not allowed into the island.

Dingoes are considered magic animals – they are Australia’s top predator, the equivalent of Africa’s lion, and thus dingoes are responsible for keeping Australian biodiversity intact. Dingoes are the only chance against introduced predators like feral cats and foxes. Once the dingo is gone, poisons are all that will be left against these intruders.

As the top predator of Australia, Dingoes help keep wallaby and kangaroo populations at bay as these marsupials constitute the majority of the diet of Dingoes. Being such an adaptive animal, dingoes are most active at dawn and dusk, when their prey is also active.

The two most common myths about dingoes and their counter facts are:

1. “Pure” dingoes don’t bark. Dingoes do bark, but not like domestic dogs. Dingoes’ barks are generally harsher, and given in short bursts. Only bark when alarmed.

2. “Pure” dingoes are all ginger. However, there is genetic evidence that dingoes’ coats can also be black, black and tan, black and white, or plain white.

If one would inadvertently come into close contact with a Dingo, one must defend themselves aggressively.