North to Norseman, East to Eucla

After a full three months meandering along the magnificent WA coast, it was time to turn our backs to the sea, and head inland. North.  We’d looked at the option of the more direct road to Belladonia, driving on some potentially deep sand tracks, but seeing we were travelling on our own, and had no experience of sand driving etc, we decided to stick to the black stuff.  And to tell the truth, after years of bull catching in the NT, the LAST thing I want to be doing for fun, is digging my car out of a bog, sandy or otherwise. Stopping for some last roadside wildflower photos instead, was just fine with me!The less exciting route had its advantages. We headed for NORSEMAN, a route which took us through the quaintly named Grass Patch about 50 km north of Esperance. Grass Patch is tiny. The only shop, the Post Office/general store, was shut. However, there was a memorial on the other side of the road, in front of the giant grain handling depot, where we discovered that Grass Patch was home to one of Australia’s most famous Victoria Cross winners, Tom Starcevich, who was awarded the medal in WW2 for singlehandedly taking out two machine gun posts and capturing a heap of enemy soldiers. He raised his family here, and is buried in Esperance.

NORSEMAN sits at the intersection of the road to Kalgoorlie, and the road across the Nullarbor. Heading east, it’s the last town for 1200 km, and it’s named after a horse. One day around 1894 a man was prospecting in the area and camped for the night. The next morning his horse was lame, and when he inspected its hoof for a stone, he found a gold nugget, and the boom began. There’s a bronze statue to “Norseman” in the main street, and all the street signs have a little horse picture on them. But today Norseman is a city of empty houses. We chatted to a man in the main street, who told us, along with the gold finding story, that it used to have a population of over six thousand, but now only 500 people lived there.

‘You can buy a house here for under 10 grand,” he told us. “It all depends on the goldmine. When the gold price is up, the mine comes back to life, and when it drops, it shuts down and leaves the town to die again.”

One image that stays with me, was the sight of an elderly Australian man, a typical outback bloke wearing battered Akubra, jeans and work boots, having a friendly conversation with a young woman in the main street, advising her about something she was intending to buy. The arresting part was that she was dressed in full black niqab, with only her eyes showing, and they were standing outside the Thai café, which seemed to be the only thriving business in the town. Lovely intersection of cultures.

The country changed dramatically once we turned east. The Mallee trees that lined much of the road to Norseman now became much drier, lower scrub, and we passed some unusual roadkill – a dead camel. Happily we didn’t see its friends – they’d take some avoiding at any time.  As the country flattened out the trees took on a kind of weird Dr Suess look.

You could almost imagine herds of wildebeest and stalking lions out there.  Between Belladonia and the next spot on the map, is the road with no bends:

You avidly read signs when the country offers little else, and we pulled off the road to see what kind of blowhole you got this far from the sea…

and the explanation:

I was captivated by the notion of vigorously breathing Nullarbor caves!   From here we trekked on to the little roadside stop of Cocklebiddy. Most people who pause here only notice the fact that it is the 10th Hole on the Nullarbor Golf Course. But 50 km south of here is the Eyre Bird Observatory, which has recorded over 230 species of birds, including very rare migratory visitors all the way from Siberia. The Cocklebiddy Caves are nearby, and lay claim to the longest cave in the world – 6km. Most of it is underwater, suitable for experienced cave divers only – we didn’t investigate! But it’s amazing to consider what lies beneath that flat, dry, apparently uninteresting surface.

Our first stop next morning was Eucla, about 5km from the WA/SA border. The fuel price was about what you’d expect this far from anywhere.

We wanted to find the Old Telegraph Station ruins, and wandered around the not-so-small complex looking for someone to ask. Eucla apparently has a motel, bar, cafe, campground and fuel shop but the only person we could find was a young man anxiously staring at a computer in the office. He spoke very little English. When we asked about a local map, he pointed to the small map of Australia on the office window and smiled hopefully. We conveyed that we were pretty sure we knew which country we were in, and found our own way by following some old signposts and a track towards the coast.

The Telegraph Station was established in 1877, finally linking Western Australia with the rest of the country by Morse code. The little town of Eucla grew up alongside it, and a 100 metre jetty was built close by at the coast. But in the 1890s a rabbit plague wiped out all the vegetation on the dunes, and the town was abandoned, being gradually engulfed by the shifting sand.  In 1927 the telegraph station shut down too, and joined the old town in its fate.

A little while later, paying for fuel and ice cream at Border Village, we asked the young bloke behind the counter what the story was with Eucla.

‘Oh mate, that’s the Zombie Apocalypse!’ he laughed. ‘You never see anyone there!’

Eucla, the town destroyed by rabbits. Or zombies…

He also gave us directions for taking the best photos of the Great Australian Bight. It was a dull day unfortunately, but the shapes are still the same, even if the colour’s not so dramatic as it can be:

Standing on the extreme edge of the continent looking right and left along its underskirts, has to be one of the most awesome things you can do. It’s up there with balancing on the tip of Cape York, or watching the sunrise at Cape Byron. And yes, any beach around the whole coast is just as much the edge of the continent as this, but there is something about those raw ragged cliffs plunging 90 metres into the Southern Ocean that screams EDGE!!! in a way those other coastlines never can.

A final bit of greenery from Eucla – a bit the rabbits didn’t get. Unusual green flower-like structures growing amongst the ruins of the Old Telegraph Station.

And a note, before we leave Western Australia completely – remember Skylab? Esperance’s claim to fame – or one of them – is that it issued NASA a fine for littering, after pieces of Skylab fell on the town in 1979. And NASA never paid up!

 

 

 

 

 

Hopetoun and the amazing Fitzgerald Biosphere

One of the best aspects of all this travelling has been the chance to get off the main roads and discover small country towns and the people who live in them. Hopetoun is 185 km west of Esperance, and another 50 km off the highway to the south coast. A large nickel mine nearby accounted for the population expansion a few years ago, and for the downturn more recently when it closed again.

However, Hopetoun is well named. The locals we met were enthusiastic about their part of the world, for so many reasons. The main one is the wildflowers – easily the most important resource of the region. Everyone seemed to be growing their own vegetables and sharing their knowledge.  There is also a thriving Men’s Shed and a well patronised community Library/council centre, active writers’ and artists’ groups , and a very lively ladies’ lunch club! We only scratched the surface in the short time we stayed, but it reminded us of the resilience of rural Australia.

Our main reason for visiting was to catch up with some far flung relatives, but Hopetoun is also the eastern gateway to the Fitzgerald River National Park. My aunt Isabelle and cousin Mark, experienced bush campers and adventurers in their own right, showed us around the area, in particular the spectacular country on its western side. The Fitzgerald Biosphere is world famous. It’s a biodiversity hotspot, containing some 1750 plant species within its 1300 sq km area, about 60 of which are found nowhere else. Such as the strange and compelling Royal Hakea…

It deserves a closeup! It’s found nowhere else in the world except in this small, very infertile region. The hard scrabble soils meant that plants had to adapt special skills to survive.  Others found only here include the delicate Quaalup Bell:

and the spectacular Barren’s Regelia:

We climbed East Mt Barren, a high exposed hill overlooking the coast. The path was just a rock ridge with fewer plants on it than the rest of the slope, and made a lot more exciting by the strong winds!

The coast is stunning – plenty of white sand bays, but also these intriguing rocky landscapes

A couple of years ago a violent storm and flood swept away the road into the park, taking a ranger’s car with it. The new road looks a little nervous, but the enclosed wetlands harbour huge populations of birds, such as the red necked avocet and pied stilt we saw feeding here in their thousands

A few more flowers – the lovely purple Unidentified Flowery Objects, and the stunning scarlet banksia.

Last of all a very vocal New Holland Honeyeater. A small bird with a big voice!

We could have spent a lot longer here, not least for the great company every night over Isabelle’s great cooking and a few well earned wines. Mark took Lex surf fishing, 4X4ing across steep sand hills to get to the salmon fishing. Next time we’ll try to make it for the crayfish and abalone seasons!

 

 

 

Of white and blue but no pink

The south coast of Western Australia is a lot longer than you think. I had in my mind that by Albany, we were just a stone’s throw from the border with South Australia. Our much creased and repaired map below might give you some idea, but the distance to the border from Albany is still another 1360 km. I think it’s the scarcity of towns east of Albany that forms that impression. But that journey delivers some beautiful places to stop.

We farewelled Albany after three nights of relentless cold wind. We’d weakened and booked a cabin for our stay but we thoroughly enjoyed the time there (especially since we were snug in a cabin and not a tent!) We headed west, calling into Cheyne Beach but we weren’t enticed to stop so soon. Bremer Bay, 180 km further east, looked a lot more interesting. It’s a tiny village on the mouth of the Bremer River which doesn’t seem to reach the sea all that often, currently just trickling into a lake behind a sandbar.

About an hour’s drive off the main highway, Bremer Bay has some 240 residents, and a lot more at other times, judging by the number of holiday homes. A tall wind generator catches your eye as you approach. The town is powered by a hybrid wind and diesel system – big tick! There’s so much wind and sun along this coast it’s crazy not to harness the free energy supply. We set up the tent in a great campground just 200 m from the water, and spent the next couple of days exploring the coast, finding many lovely bays like this one with an unusual wind and tide sculpting. I think it’s called James Bay.

and Native Dog Beach, a popular surf location:

The car needed a service, so we ditched the idea of driving up to Wave Rock, booked the car in and headed for Esperance. It turned out the service centre was around the corner from the best campground, as advised by my aunt in Hopetoun. (As we approach a new town Lex asks “So who are you related to here?”)

Esperance. It’s the last town on the south coast of Western Australia if you’re heading east. And as we discovered, it has some of the most stunningly gorgeous coast anywhere we’ve seen. Maybe the next stunning beach just cancels out the one before? I don’t know. But Esperance truly has some beauties. As my cousin said “If you think Albany’s lovely, wait till you get to Esperance.”

The first thing we noticed was the colour of the water, and then the islands!  The Recherche Archipelago lies just offshore and there are 110 islands out there. We began with the highly recommended Great Ocean Drive, a 40km circular journey. Words can’t do it justice so here is a short photographic essay:

That’s probably quite enough shades of blue for the time being. The drive heads inland to the Pink Lake. Which isn’t pink at the moment.

The lake is not as salty as it used to be, so the colour has disappeared. A couple standing near us were very offended. “What a waste of time! Why is it called the Pink Lake if it’s not bloody pink?” and left in high dudgeon. Pity they didn’t bother to read the sign.  The most famous beach however, which doesn’t offend anyone, is Lucky Bay, to the east of Esperance, inside the Cape Le Grand National Park. In 2017 it was scientifically tested to have “the whitest sand in Australia, possibly the world…”  It is very white. And squeaky. Sorry, but this means another blue photo… The little trailer in the front of the first shot, is a pop-up coffee wagon. So you can walk on the whitest, squeakiest beach, and drink a very good coffee, 70 km from town. There’s a very popular campground here which doesn’t take bookings but is full by 10am every day. You can see cars in the distance – even in this iconic spot. Maybe it’s our Victorian genes, but we just cannot bring ourselves to drive onto a beach!

This last photo is typical of southern West Australian beaches. The sand and the many shades of turquoise water could be in the tropics anywhere, but the hills behind – or in this case the islands in front – are dry and stony and stark. It is such a contrast that it delivers a raw beauty all its own. Gently waving palm trees would be gilding the lily.

Close by Lucky Bay are the Whistling Rocks, legendary rocks from the Bullenbuk people of Esperance. When the wind blows, and eerie whistling, wailing sound can be heard.

Frenchman’s Cap is another fascinating place, poking up above the low trees and dry plans along the coast here. That Frenchman must have lost a few caps – there’s one in Tasmania too, from memory. The closeup of the eroded cap shows a place that must have provided shelter, or an auspicious and powerful meeting place perhaps.And in case anyone was wondering – we haven’t run out of flowers! Trying to restrain myself, so here’s just three… lovely dark pink Calytrix similis, bright orange Lambertia inertmis or Chittick, and beneath the Frenchman’s Cap, an interesting small white tree with leaves like a Melaleuca.

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful, historic Albany

It was freezing when we arrived in Albany, and the wind was blowing the spots off a dog so we left the tent on top of the car and booked into a little cabin instead. (the sunshine in the photos above is very misleading! It was SO cold)

Albany is a very old town, in fact it’s the oldest colonial settlement in Western Australia. It began life as a military garrison in 1826, two years before Perth and Fremantle began, and was established to prevent the French planting any flags along the uninhabited coast. To put that in perspective, Melbourne started in 1836, and the site of Adelaide wasn’t surveyed until 1837.  It’s now a major town on the south coast with a population of about 34,000.

Albany was the last sight of Australia for more than 40,000 soldiers and nurses who boarded ships here from November 1914 to sail to the other side of the world. The National ANZAC Centre opened on Mt Clarence in 2014 to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of WW1, and will mark the centenary of the end of the war on 11 November this year. It’s a beautiful building, and the interactive displays are wonderful. When you arrive you’re given a set of wireless headphones, and a card with the name and photo of someone who took part, such as a soldier, nurse, chaplain etc – who might be Australian, German or Turkish. You follow their experiences in the war through various displays where you listen to an actor reading from their letters home. It’s a very engaging – and moving – way to learn about the people who fought and nursed and died in WW1.  The very first ANZAC day celebration happened at Albany in 1923.

The National ANZAC Centre (above) is a bit like the Tardis – looks small on the outside, but holds much more than you think. We’d heard a lot about the ‘Field of Light’ installation at the Anzac memorial on Mt Clarence. I have to confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by it. There are 16,000 light bulbs planted along both sides of the road leading up to the memorial. I’m not sure what the significance of 16,000 was (and no one could tell me), and it was difficult to see any connection to the memorial at all. It’s certainly pretty at night, changing colour from white to gold, red and green, but that’s not its point, surely? I found walking along the road in the daylight, reading the names of soldiers (many of them so very young) on plaques beneath the trees far more moving than 16,000 lights.

Whaling was a major industry from the early days and it’s hard to believe that it only closed down in 1978. The industrial port exports grain and wood chips, and tourism is an economic mainstay. But Albany’s real resource is its magnificent coast! We were stunned by the sheer beauty of it, in both directions from the city. The harbour is enormous – easy to imagine hundreds of ships at anchor, loaded with soldiers heading for training in Egypt.

Above is an amazing feature – Natural Bridge, near the whaling station.Western Australia makes good use of another natural resource – wind! We’ve seen lots of solar farms as well, and more being constructed.

And its biggest natural resource is its magnificent, stunning, breathtaking coastline. I think I may have said this once of twice before on this trip. It’s hard to understand how WA is experiencing a downturn in tourism with such awe inspiring landscapes and natural beauty. We’ve spent three months here, and feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. We’ve also been conducting an intensive coffee survey, and are happy to report that Western Australians know how to make a good coffee. Another draw card!

 

 

 

 

Denmark is not a country?

The journey eastwards from Walpole took us out of the forests, through some of the greenest grazing country anywhere, and on a recommended detour to Peaceful Bay. We can confirm that it does indeed have the BEST fish and chips in the universe. (Thanks Debbie and Steve!)  A pity it’s so far away.  Peaceful Bay also had lots of stick ant nests – impressive and, when the ants start pouring out of them towards you, formidable mounds made of earth and pieces of grass. We saw lots of them along the sides of the roads, some about two foot high. The ants are about 2 cm long. We didn’t try to find out what the sting was like.

I wonder why early settlers would name a town after a whole country? My poor old Dad has enough trouble keeping up with our travels without being confused by trying to put Denmark into the mix. We arrived there under the threat of heavy rain and wind so we chickened out and booked into a little cabin upstream of the town. (Plus it was my birthday, so…)The chance of an indoor bathroom, meaning you don’t have to get dressed in heavy weather gear to go to the loo in the middle of the night, is very alluring. The old fireplace inside sealed the deal.

We spent the next day driving around the area, checking out a couple of wineries (the Harewood Estate was a beauty), and things like chocolate factories and Meaderies. I think the chocolate factory is a silly affectation. You roll up expecting to be able to taste what they sell, but all they do is dole out a couple of chocolate buttons used in manufacturing, and speak about the chocolate in hushed tones, as if too much volume would cause a meltdown. Expensive and definitely not worth it. Having said that, there was a delightful garden with a history trail of cacao and chocolate which was very interesting.   Then we came across the Meadery. We tried several different versions of honey mead. All I can say is, the fermentation of alcohol has come a long way since the Middle Ages, and thank goodness for that. We didn’t buy any mead, but we did leave with some of their wonderful Karri honey. The coastline along here is stunning – particularly Green Pool and Elephant Rocks, the latter clearly deserving of the name.

The coastline along the William Bay National Park is just breathtaking… We never knew it was here.

We left the main highway and followed the Lower Denmark Road, driving through more farming country, mostly cattle and sheep. West Cape Howe cab merlot is a favourite wine of ours so we just had to visit the place that gave the vineyard its name. It’s a small National Park halfway between Denmark and Albany, and boasts the most southerly point of Western Australia, at Torbay Head.

And the paragliders must love it – there were two of these ramps high above the beach.

The Bibbilmun Track is a famous walk, a thousand kilometres through some of the most beautiful country in the world. It begins at Kalamunda just east of Perth, and heads south through National Parks and the great forests, reaches the Southern Ocean a few kms west of Broke, near Walpole, and then hugs the coast till it finishes at Albany. We walked along it at West Cape Howe, high above the beach, for a couple of kilometres – only 998 to go now… You see the distinctive Track markers everywhere, and road signs warning “Hikers Crossing”, with markers where the Track intersects. We also saw a few road signs warning of “Wild Animals” which was new to us. Wondered if it was a council worker with a sense of humour. After several hundred kms of dense forest, it might be hard to tell the difference.

It’s not paved like this all the way!

And on to Albany next – the last sight of home for thousands of soldiers during WW1.

 

Into the Valley of the Giants

One of the places on our MUST SEE list was the famous Tree Top Walk near Walpole. I was worried it might be commercial and Disney-fied, but I’m relieved to be able to report that it’s not. The walkways are cleverly constructed. You’d be forgiven for assuming there’d be a gazillion stairs to climb first to get you into the treetops but instead, after a gently sloping walk you find yourself up amongst the top branches of these giant trees.

The walkways are brilliant because they do two things – they get people into the forest where they can understand and appreciate the wonder of these giants, and they keep us off the ground, where we’d be loving the trees to death by compacting the earth around them. That’s what happened to the giant Tingle tree that people used to drive their cars through many years ago. One day it just fell over, while a car was in it.

Thankfully this one didn’t fall over while Lex was in it. This was a different part of the forest, with paths through the trees.  The forest consists mainly of Karri, Marri and the legendary Tingle trees. Karri might be the tallest tree in the forest, but the red Tingle is the biggest. The trunks can be 20 metres in circumference, and often have huge hollows at the base, caused by fire, fungus and insect infestations. They don’t have tap roots, which is why the trunks form these huge buttresses, enabling them to stand up. They can live for over 400 years, and they exist in just 6,000 hectares of the south-west, between 2 rivers, and within 10km of the coast.

Above: Lex appreciating a Karri tree, in case they were feeling neglected.   We came across the Swarbrick art trail, an eclectic display of artwork out in the bush. The first thing you come across at these unusual exhibitions, is yourself:

A very unusual use of highly polished metal! I guess it puts you in the picture where the trees are concerned.  You also find out other things:

Lex has a halo! Who knew?

And to discover that conservation is not a new concept – thankfully, or we would not have these magnificent forests to marvel at and to make us aware of the importance of

Walpole is a great stepping out point for so many wonderful sights, such as the Circular Pool, a natural cappuccino. At first glance it looks like a badly polluted stream. Natural saponin in the water (from trees) turns it a dark brown, and when it tumbles over rocks churning air through it, the saponin produces a white foam

We climbed Mt Frankland. I can say ‘climbed’ because there were 300 steps (and not shallow ones) and a vertical ladder involved, not to mention a few hundred metres of steeply sloping trail as well.

But the view from the top was worth the effort, even if it was a pretty gloomy day. The rain held off until we’d climbed back down

And I am continuing my love affair with Western Australian signage:

Who amongst you is prepared to admit you are foolhardy and therefore should not attempt the climb!      And in case anyone is suffering withdrawal symptoms, here are some of the flowers we saw that day…

 

 

 

 

 

From the North pole to the South pole to Walpole

It was a wet last night in the forest, but we stayed dry in our trusty tent. I keep telling myself to suck up the cold, it’s not going to last. We’ll be back in the Top End all too soon as far as the weather goes. We were fuelling up somewhere along the west coast and Lex was chatting to a young bloke doing the same. The young bloke asked what was Lex towing? Lex replied, nothing, we’re just a Prado, a tent and an Esky. The young fella looked amazed, and said, “Wow, old school, man! Way to go!” Old school may be a little more uncomfortable when it’s 6C and raining, but it has it’s advantages. Well, some. Just don’t ask me when it’s wet and windy!   And on to – wonderful Walpole!

If I’d had a science teacher like Gary Muir at school, I would have become a biologist, or a botanist or a marine scientist. When we arrived at Walpole, after leaving the Shannon forest area, we had the great good luck to hear about WOW Eco Cruises.  I’ve never met anyone who could make science sound like the most fascinating, vital and important occupation on earth. And he has none of those titles himself. As far as I know he has no tertiary qualifications, but he held 40 people  – including several prominent environmental scientists – absolutely spellbound and entertained for over 2 1/2 hours.

Such a combination of knowledge, information and humour. A really funny man, who spoke non-stop in a torrent of words, acting out examples – eg using a couple of snorkels, a fuel line and a funnel -and then a fire extinguisher – to demonstrate the evolution of the marsupial reproductive system. (It’s not the pouch – it’s the bladder that is the real difference!)  Gary Muir is a 7th generation Australian whose family took up land in the area over 100 years ago, and had strong links with the local Murrim people. The Muirs learned about the country from them, and looked after it, becoming responsible for the conserving of some huge areas of land today.

Gary wasn’t just an expert on biology – he interweaved stories about dieback and tectonic plates and continental shift and plant diversity with the Drefyus Affair and 18th century French politics and the Dutch East India Company and all with the most amazing connections with Walpole, this tiny little place at the bottom of the world. Wish I had a video of his presentation. Needed to take notes but was too busy laughing or being stunned in equal portions. His offsider is a young marine biologist from Belgium who was researching in Lombok when he holidayed in Walpole and stayed. He’ll probably never leave.

Cruising across the inlet to an island, we learned about the scourge of dieback and the damage it’s causing. It’s a scurrilous organism, a kind of mould called Phytopthora  that ‘swims’ through the soil to attack vulnerable species. We were visiting a pristine environment and went through a very thorough disinfecting of our boots before going aboard the boat, a three step process which Muir invented himself and is now used all over Australia.

We hiked across the island from the inlet to the outside ocean and collected bits of plastic  along the tide line for a research project monitoring plastic pollution. As well as broken pieces we collected tiny white plastic beads that fell off a ship near Africa about 2 years ago, on their way to plastics manufacturers. Exactly the right size to be eaten by just about everything in the ocean – or above it. When are we going to wake up …

It’s a pristine beach at the bottom of the world, as far away from a plastics factory as you could think, but plastic ends up here too.  Our time at Walpole was fantastic, mainly for the access it gave us to so many other areas, which I’ll post about next time. Gary Muir just captivated us so much he deserved a post all to himself! It’s these kinds of meetings and learning about a place that make travelling so rewarding.

Into the Forests

Another thing WA does really well is public libraries. So many seem to have had recent upgrades, and are very user friendly. with great study/writing areas, desks and handy power points. And like all libraries, wonderful friendly staff!  When it was too wet to do much else, I spent a couple of afternoons in the Margaret River Library, doing some writing.  The other thing most little WA towns seem to have, are Community Resource Centres, which give people without computers assistance and access to the internet, among other things. Just by the by.

A winemaker gave us a good tip for a road trip (the least he could do after convincing us to buy his wine) and we set off for the deep southwest along an alternate route to the main highways. Several alternate routes – we found some lovely walking trails as well.

The roads were edged with different yellow wattles, and a kind of yellow flowering pea bush, which looks like wattle from a distance. And behind the wattles…

…are the trees. This is where we really began to understand what all the fuss is about. Margaret River region had beautiful forest areas, but we weren’t prepared for what was awaiting us further south. Lex thinks I’ve totally lost it because I keep taking photos of trees through the windscreen, but every time you round a corner, there’s another amazing frame! Blame my 40 odd years living in the Top End, where a 15 metre tree is eye-catching. (and as I keep telling Lex, there is always “command>delete”)

This was a trail through an old timber getting camp, allowed to regenerate many years ago.  It was a good education about just how long it takes for the giants to grow.  The wildlife was interesting. This was Banksia Pseudoechidna, we believe…

It fooled us for a moment. Just a moment.

Gloucester National Park, via Manjimup and Pemberton, was a terrific introduction to trees, real ones. My neck is kinked from looking upwards. The Gloucester Tree is 53 metres tall, and like all the “climbing trees” was a fire-spotting lookout from the 1930s. The forest service people were contemplating building observation towers for fire spotters, when someone had the bright idea of actually using a tall tree, instead of chopping some down to build a tower…

I particularly like the WA attitude to risk. In most other states, we’re nannied into safety, all for our own good. In WA, they’re not so precious:

Their attitude is, this is freaking dangerous, but go ahead. We’re concerned for your safety but it’s your responsibility. I like it. It allows natural selection to take place.

The tallest (known) of the trees is the Bicentennial tree, where the viewing platform sits above 60 metres – the height of the Sydney Opera House (but no advertising on this tree). The others are very close – the Gloucester’s platform at 53m, and the Diamond Tree at about 50m. They’re all Karri trees, and thought to be over 400 years old. Karris are known to grow to over 80 metres but none exist now – that they know of. It’s a big forest.

We pitched our tent deep in the forest in the Warren National Park, right beside the river. No one around, just us and the trees. We spent about 4 hours driving and stopping along a ring road through the forest, which is a wonderful experience because it’s all one way. Makes for very relaxed driving when you’re not looking out for someone racing around the corner at you. Packed up a very wet tent in the morning (but it kept us dry all night) and headed across to the Shannon and the Great Forest Drive, about 70 km through more magnificent trees. Finally learned the difference between Karri, Marri and Jarrah, and how to tell them apart.

Part of the road through Shannon forest (above). Again, long sections of it were one way – brilliant!

Even deep in the forest there are lots of wildflowers. I was very restrained and took more photos of trees than flowers for a change. And then some other inhabitants:

I think this one is a western rosella, but not sure of the correct names for the others. Should’ve packed the Simpson and Day…

 

 

 

City to Surf, kind of…

Time for a brief road report. We have to mention just how good the roads are in WA. They really get it right. Ever since we crossed the border at Kununurra, the roads have been in great condition, with plenty of room to cope with the vast numbers of caravans and Winnebagos etc let alone the roadtrains. As for the public transport in Perth – I approached the ticket vending machine with trepidation, still scarred from wrestling with them in Melbourne, and was stunned when I had my ticket, senior’s discount and all, in about 5 seconds. And it cost a whole $2 to travel from north of the city to Fremantle! The trains are wonderful – clean and spacious with huge picture windows, often running down the centre of the highways in their own lanes. Buses are just as efficient and cheap, and come by with the same regularity. Very impressive!

Busselton was an easy 2 hour run south. It’s famous for its old wooden jetty, 1,874 metres long, with a little train trundling down the middle which used to carry cargo out to the ships. At the far end, it has life-sized paintings of whales on the timber deck. Gives you a totally different perspective of a whale’s size when you’re looking at one beneath your feet!

Remember Arum lilies? Most people had some in their gardens when I was a kid. I ran afoul of them when I tried to eat one as a 3 year old, and was rushed to the doctor’s. It was considered bad luck to bring them inside a house, and they’re associated with funerals (doh! says my 3 yr old self). The funeral they’re associated with now seems to be a large part of WA’s beautiful forests. This photo was in the Tuart forest reserve at Ludlow, on the way south. I was stunned to see how rampant they are, right down to Cape Naturaliste and beyond. Whole paddocks are infested with them, but the real problem is how they’ve infiltrated so much natural bush, making it impossible to kill them by spraying. They grow so thickly, they must be displacing a lot of native species.

Cape Naturaliste is the northern end of that little bulge at the bottom of WA. It’s a prime whale spotting place, and just beautiful…

And there are wildflowers!

Bunker Bay just around the corner to the east reminded us of the Bay of Fires in Tasmania, with the orange lichen growing on the rocks.

We based ourselves in a great little campground in Margaret River, just a walk from the cafes and pubs, and set out every day in a different direction. There’s so much to see within a very small area down here – so different from travelling up north. We went to a couple of wineries –  the favourite was Brown Hill. Great wine and a very good salesman – much too good. Thanks for the tip, Susan Farley! Lunch at the nearby Berry Farm was excellent and full of birds. (but I can’t work out how to get the photos from my phone to the laptop)

It was pretty awful weather for the famous Margaret River surf, but a group of apprentice Mick Fannings were out there braving the cold at the river mouth. No sharks needing to be punched, fortunately.

Welcome to Margaret River… and you still want to go in the water?

It was pretty wet almost the whole time we were there. You come up with enterprising solutions in order to keep the wine unwatered.

A couple of umbrellas put to better use! Kept the wine dry, anyway, even if we were slightly damp.

The southern end of this little bulge at the bottom of WA is Cape Leeuwin, and the pretty hamlet of Augusta. In 1822, the Dutch ship Leeuwin rounded this cape for the first time, and five years later, another Dutch ship named the area “T Landt van de Leeuwin”. In 1801, Matthew Flinders, circumnavigating in the Investigator, named it Cape Leeuwin. It’s the meeting point of two great oceans – the Indian, and the Southern Ocean – and the most south-westerly point of WA. It’s one of the tallest, if not the tallest lighthouse in the country. Judging by the rocks visible from the shore, it’s much needed by sailors.

Two oceans meet here

This rare green rock parrot is one of about only 800 left, and breeding at the Cape. And now it’s down to 399 pairs, because one parrot flew into the window pane of the cafe just before we arrived.

That’s it for now – the cafe owner is looking worried about how much wifi I seem to be using, I think! Stay well everyone XX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinnacles to Perth, and a respite from tents

For some reason I always thought the Pinnacles were in the Kimberleys, only accessible by helicopter or by yacht. Instead, they’re a short drive from Cervantes (such a romantic name!) just 2 hours north of Perth. They’re still just as intriguing. And they go for miles and miles. No one really knows how they came to be formed, but there is some conjecture that they’re the supporters of the losing side of a prehistoric AFL Grand Final. The team colours have long since worn away so no one knows which team they were barracking for, although some people swear they can see some black and white. Consequences of losing were harsher in those times.

One might wish that people could still be turned into stone, when you come across idiots like this. There are signs everywhere asking people not to climb on the rocks, but it seems the latest visitor fad is not for selfies but to be photographed leaping off things. Seeing it everywhere, like an old Toyota ad gone viral. I think I’m turning into a grumpy old lady.

Down to Perth next (where people are leaping into the air all over the place) and a great week with my cousin Gail’s daughter Deb and son-in-law Warren at City Beach, where we gallivanted around the city by day and enjoyed red wine and great conversation every night. So much restored were we that we decided to carry on with our tent, and forget any upgrades. Perth has grown into a beautiful city since I was last here, about 38 years ago.

And the old and the new seem to get along pretty well. And King’s Park!  More wildflowers. They’ve figured out how to bring the wild into the city and show it off to everyone who can’t get out to the flower trails. It’s a beautiful park in its own right – and not only wildflowers but an amazing transplanted huge banyan (no photo sorry) My cousin Sue met us there, having driven a busload of flower stalkers in from Pingelly, way east of Perth in the wheat belt. Did I mention I have a few cousins over here?

Above is how Perth looks from King’s Park. Would be spectacular on a sunny day!  We also spent a few days at my cousin Maggie’s apartment in South Perth, which meant we could walk to the ferry and boat over to the city from the opposite direction. Fremantle was another discovery – I hadn’t been here before. Love the artwork in the streets:

Above is the street view from the old jail – odd! One major reason for visiting Perth was to see my Aunty Pat, who is the last surviving member of my mother’s eleven brothers and sisters. Aunty Pat is 98, almost deaf and blind, but we still managed to have an engaging conversation for nearly an hour. Traces of the dynamo she’s always been are still there. I remember Aunty Pat as this tiny whirlwind shaking up the household on her visits, with her high heels and red lipstick, and a great laugh. So glad I was able to spend some time with her. She’s a special person.

Another person I was able to see in Perth was Rachel Oxenburgh. Rachel and her then husband Richard produced the movie “To Fight the Wild” about Rod Ansell’s survival on the Fitzmaurice River in 1977. We spent 6 weeks on the river in 1978 filming, living in tents and watching out for crocodiles. We’ve kept in touch by phone, but I haven’t seen Rachel since 1980, so this was wonderful. Her daughter Mindy met us there as well, so a double catch up!

Before we left Perth we also caught up with two more of my cousins (did I mention I have some cousins here?) Andrew and Mike and their wives Marilyn and Jenny, at a great restaurant overlooking the Swan River. A fantastic meal and great company, and next day we’re back on the road, and headed south.