At the end of a busy 5 days of travel we arrived at the furthest point north on this tour at the town of Exmouth. Built by the American military as a communications station Exmouth has since grown into a premier vacation and diving and snorkeling destination. Additionally, Exmouth also has some of the best whale and whale shark viewing in the world – and this was the main reason for our visit – the whale shark viewing. I’d always wanted to try a whale shark dive since I’d first read about them. They are the largest fish in the ocean, not a shark at all even though they are filter feeders like blue whales. But, unlike whales, their tails do not move in an up and down motion, whale sharks tails move side to side just like all other sharks and like all other fish.
Like much of western Australia, Exmouth wasn’t too big and it had a small town feel to it. When in town at the local grocery store it seemed that all of the locals knew each other and chatted about growing kids and home repairs. Outside of the Coral Bay monopoly the prices were a bit better but still high – sky high. This trip was much more expensive than I thought it would be and I’d already blown through my budget. A few hundred dollars later and I had a ticket to swim with the world’s biggest fish.
Mick took us north of the town to the tip top of the peninsula that forms the upper left side of Australia. At the top of the Exmouth Penninsula is the Vlaming Head Lighthouse built in 1912 has a hilltop vantage point provides a grand vista of the entrance to the Exmouth Gulf. We looked out over the ocean and the view was really worth the trip. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong and was kicking up a strong swell. We were supposed to be going Whale Sharking tomorrow and if the seas were too rough our trip would be cancelled. The sky had an ominous look to it and we crossed our fingers that it would be calmer the following day.
Interestingly, the only LIVE kangaroo I saw on this entire trip was here at the top of the lighthouse hill. It was a little grey kangaroo with black tips on his ears and he ran away as soon as we drove up. Massive rain storms have plauged/blessed Australia and the abundance of water keeps the Roos and other animals well into the bush; they don’t have to travel to the roads to drink dew that forms on the asphalt at sunrise.
A radar station was emplaced on the hilltop to guard against Japanese aircraft and they returned the favor by bombing the station. The radar survived the bombing but was destroyed in a cyclone in 1945. I saw a plaque that said that the radar was rebuilt but I didn’t see any antenna. The old World War II sandbags had hardened like cement and even though the bags themselves had worn away over time, they were still interlocked together forming an eerie bunker shape around the old antenna base.
Looking towards the south I could see the massive array of 13 antennas that made up the old United States Navy communications array. I originally thought the towers to be for listening but as Mick described it, these are massive transmitting antennas. The array is powered by six generators, each the size of an 18 wheel truck that when combined charge massive capacitors that let out a burst of radio energy that is unparalleled. The radio waves are extremely low in frequency and can travel all the way around the world and penetrate under water. The purpose of this station is to communicate with underwater submarines and this base can send messages to underwater submarines as far away as the coast of Ireland.
Mick said that when the station broadcasts it can knock out radio and television reception throughout the entire town and warnings have to be issued to aircraft and all flights are grounded. He said that the radio waves were so strong that they could disable airplanes. I wondered how much of this was fiction until later I saw this sign about 30 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Exmouth:
Many of the mines use radio-controlled explosive detonators and there seems to be a risk of exploding them if they are within range of the Exmouth towers. Now that’s a strong radio!
The U.S. military base was turned over to the Australians a few years back and they promptly changed the traffic so that the cars would drive on the wrong (left) side of the road. I guess that in addition to importing an American bar, grocery store, bowling alley and a baseball diamond, the Americans changed all of the traffic laws for this small piece of turf. The Australians had to change all of the street signs and put up new traffic signs.
The radio towers number 13 in total but to avoid silly superstitions they were numbered 0-12. The height of the tallest tower is 1270 feet tall! Looking directly up at the towers you can see the guide wires that make them resistant to cyclones and they can withstand 250km (150 mph) winds. As I spent some time in Exmouth we drove past them again and again and each time I found them a fascinating and interesting piece of history and scientific achievement.
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