Southwest WA – Beauty on a Grand Scale
Since leaving Perth we have been on the move a lot. We have seen and done so much, that blog writing has not been my priority, but I do want to keep an account of our journey for myself if nothing else, so here goes.
The southwest corner of WA is mainly characterised by its diversity. Landscapes change from the many vineyards in the Margaret River area to pastoral fields and large wooded areas. There are numerous dry and wet salt lakes of all hues, from pink to green, to yellow and a blinding white. There are endless pristine beaches, most of them deserted. Wildlife, too, is abundant: we saw various parrot varieties, pelicans and many other waterbirds, the ubiquitous kangaroos, bob-tailed lizards, snakes, and there are wombats, camels and dingoes. No doubt I have missed out heaps. We had previously been to the southwest but went to places I had not seen before. It is definitely a place I will return to again and again which is fortunately easy to do from Perth.
After our epic trip to Brazil, Roddy had another PET scan, which was clear – yay! The oncologist was very enthusiastic as he had just returned from an international conference where he heard reports that immunotherapy had been very successful in extending the lifespan of melanoma patients. Roddy and I are always very withheld when we go to see him for results even when we expect good news. Before Rio, Roddy had a small tumour removed followed by six doses of radiotherapy and since then there had been no indication of any new growth so we were optimistic, but there is always a worry lurking at the back of our minds. The oncologist himself is a very gentle, quiet chap, which adds to the calm, subdued atmosphere but this time even he was smiling and told us to go celebrate – which we did and still are.
After a few days of catch-ups with our Perth friends and kids, we set off south on 5th November. Due to the season we had chosen to reverse our direction of travel in order to avoid a summer in the tropics, so we were heading south and then east. We will be arriving in Adelaide before Christmas, in time to leave the van with a friend, fly back to Perth, get organised and then fly to Scotland for Christmas and most of January. Our trip is a bit chop and change but it’s lovely to be able to fit in all that’s important to us.
Our first stop was Yallingup, a small resort town in the Margaret River area in South West WA. The überrich of Perth have houses overlooking the beaches here and all kinds of religious groups, from Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Anglicans, Catholics to the Scouts tout for business along the beachfront on one long stretch of road. They do try!Our simple campsite next to the beach set the scene for summer travelling with a BBQ and a great sunset. I even managed a wee swim in the icy waters but the currents were very strong so I remained close to shore.
Day two was taken up by a birthday mystery tour Roddy had booked somewhere secret … He had chosen Beedelup Cottages in the Karri Valley resort near Beedelup Falls. We stayed for two nights in the luxurious, romantic Juliet cottage and drank lots of champagne. The cottage was in the middle of the forest, surrounded by tall trees and all sorts of wildlife: parrots, rosellas and kangaroos.
My birthday this year coincided with the Melbourne Cup, which added to the excitement and the champagne consumption. It was all very romantic – I will spare you the mushy details. Towards evening we walked through the woods and around the Karri Valley Dam to the restaurant overlooking it. Being an animal nut, my highlight was undoubtedly the encounter with the ringneck parrot that flew onto our porch. First I went out to photograph it but when I realised how tame it was, I went back inside for some grapes, which it took from my hand. You can’t imagine how happy this made me. I later on realised that Roddy had filmed me and the bird, but as I was in the scud, this footage will never see the light of day.
A trip in a small tram through the forest near Pemberton finished off the inland extravaganza and we headed back to the coast – to Augusta, a small town at the very Southwest corner of Australia. Perhaps due to the dense woods in this area, Germans and Swiss people are attracted to this region. We met so many, much to Roddy’s delight. He is magically attracted to the sound of the German language; you can see him resist for five seconds, then find an excuse to go over and introduce himself. People are always astounded to hear a Scottish Aussie speak fluent German and Roddy grins from ear to ear. There are many beautiful bike tracks in these wee towns and Augusta was no exception: you can cycle through paperbark woods along the Blackwood river to the open ocean, watching pelicans rest, eat and fly. They are the weirdest birds with those alien eyes and very shy considering their size!
Next came Windy Harbour in the D’Entrecasteaux National Park. It is as windy as the name suggests and a place for people who like solitude and fishing. There is an automated lighthouse, a very basic campsite with some supplies and a few simple shacks. We cycled up to the lighthouse which was an uphill challenge but were rewarded with the most magnificent views over the surrounding area, the ocean and rock windows, as well as a great downhill freeeeeewheeeeeel and a feeling of fitness. We normally choose to stay for at least two nights in a camp: one day to arrive and one to explore, but we moved on the next day as it was such as small place.
Not the Northpole; not the Southpole; we went to Walpole! Such is the slightly cheesy line that is used in this cute wee town which sits comfortably surrounded by the giant Karri, Marri, Jarrah and Tingle trees. I learned to distinguish these four tree types by their bark which should help me to prove what an Ozzie I have become! Karri, Marri and Jarrah trees can be found elsewhere but Tingle trees are particular to this neck of the woods as they have very specific water and soil needs which are supplied here. Tingle trees are huge but have hollow bases, standing as on tip-toe on their exterior rings and bark, several metres in diameter. Trees often have the aura of old people, as do rocks and mountains, and never has this been more true as with these gnarly specimens here. We explored the Valley of the Giants and walked the Tree Top Walk to get up close and shaky with the tops of these giant trees. As we went near sunset with threatening thunder and lightening -YOLO- we were the only ones there, which made the experience extra special.
We had the best place on the campsite, a huge grassy site right next to the water with a view of the inlet, the pelicans and a little pier, so Roddy and I stayed for a few days and made the most of this magical place.
For a few years now I have meant to go to Albany as my travel-hungry daughter, Tina, stayed there for a few months during her year in Australia. I like to know and feel how my kids are doing and to get an insight into their experiences so I was itching to get there. Again, we found a campsite in a fantastic location, at Emu Point, at the East end of Albany, right across from the beach. Better still, there was a historical cycle path all along the shore into town. Albany has managed to preserve many of its old buildings from the Pioneer days, which gives the town a real feeling of a town centre missing from many other Australian towns. We met a young couple who had just finished the epic Bibbulman track, a long and winding distance walk from Perth to Albany. They looked knackered and ready for a shower and a long sleep. They had seen about ten snakes every day which is why they wore gaiters as most snakes aim for the lower leg. A Tiger snake once chased them!
Tiger snakes and dugites are the most common snakes in this part of WA. Tigers have stripes but can be very dark – they always have a yellow belly though. They can be quite aggressive, have very strong venom and tend to bite people in the lower leg. Dugites, on the other hand, are mostly all black. They are less aggressive and less venomous; they do, however, jump up a bit and bite you higher up the leg. This means that the venom is injected closer to the heart and means that more people die from dugite bites. Overall, though, snakes in WA only have short fangs, which means that sometimes, even when they bite you, you won’t get envenomated as the fangs can’t inject the venom into your leg properly. I have decided that I will buy the next pair of knee-high gaiters I see and wear long trousers when bushwalking. The Bibbulman track sounds amazing but I could only imagine doing this walk in winter as I don’t cope well with this kind of exertion in the heat. I wonder if I will ever get used to it, maybe you have to have been born here.
We tracked down Tina’s old residence in Albany, 8 Stanley Street, went to the museum and to the pioneer ship Amity. This was a relatively small ship and it was hard to imagine what it must have been like to sail on it all the way from England to Sydney from where it sailed over to Albany with the first settlers. Being in the bowels of the ship made me feel quite claustrophobic. Those pioneers were made of stern stuff, quite unlike us on a cushy Emirates flight…
Coming from Scotland, it’s obvious that so many people emigrated to Australia as there are town and street names which sound so familiar: Ardrossan, Arran, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cumnock, Irvine, Perth of course, Stirling and many others are in evidence everywhere. This makes me feel quite at home even though I have not yet come across ‘Troon’. Albany conformed to the same pattern as many other towns and cities.
Stirling Ranges (see what I mean?) was our next stop. It is a big mountainous National Park, beautiful from afar and not unlike the silhouette of Arran from the Ayrshire coast. In fact, much of the landscape there reminded us of Ayrshire were it not for the plants which are mainly eucalypts and saltbush. We drove through the National Park and climbed Tallyuberup. The walk started innocently enough through eucalypt woods but soon turned into a bit of a scramble. Still, the views were rewarding despite that sinking feeling when we looked down to the dirt road and saw the small white speck that was our campervan. Overnight we stayed on a very basic bush camp, the Stirling Ranges Retreat, which makes it sound like a spa resort but, as water is restricted, this was not the case. Still, the owners had taken great care to label trees and bushes with their names and some interesting information.
Onwards we zigzagged to Hyden, a small town inland and almost back at the latitude of Perth. Many people go there from Perth but it is really in the middle of nowhere so, no matter where you come from, it’s a long way off. I had never been to Wave Rock and I am glad we did make the detour. Wave Rock is one side of a giant granite outcrop of which there are so many here. This one, though, is different in that it is shaped like a wave at one side with sandy coloured and black strips, emphasising the impression of a wave. I had thought it might be quite tacky but I loved it! The top of the rock is equally impressive: on this vast expanse of rock there are smaller, often round, rocks which seem to have a personality of their own. The surface of the rock is used to collect rainwater, which runs into a giant reservoir and provides water for the town of Hyden. Nearby are other interesting rock formations: Hippo’s Yawn, a rock that looks like a Hippo’s open mouth and Mulka’s Cave where we saw Aboriginal handprints and other artwork.
Since Hyden we have been back travelling along the coast heading East, allowing for detours. Bremer Bay was a must for me. We stayed there for four nights because it was beautiful and because we were offered four nights for the price of three plus a good discount. Roddy was very happy with that! Bremer Bay is a surfer’s paradise: there are numerous white sandy beaches with strong surf. Some, such as Blossom Beach, are suitable for families but others, like Native Dog Beach, are too dangerous for swimming due to rips. All are breathtakingly beautiful, though. We spent the days exploring the area on bike, having some lazy time, baking and reading and observed an elderly male kangaroo shagging one of his harem for what seemed like forever – she was getting impatient and he looked strained – prostate I guess.
The wind blew us along to Esperance, another one of Tina’s haunts. The name means hope (“esperanza” is “hope” in Spanish, “j’espere” is “I hope” in French) so I was amused that nearby was also Hopetoun! Being language nerds we had some fun with that. God was it cold there! The bitter wind blew straight from Antarctica and went straight through you. I did love the Norfolk Island pines all along the promenade – they look so grand! Shame that the old Tankers jetty is broken but it did make for a good photograph. Esperance is famous for Lake Hillier, the very bubble-gum pink lake which can often be seen on photos promotions of WA. Well, unfortunately, due to excessive salt mining and the blocking of the water courses into the lake the salt content has reduced to such an extent that the algae that create the pink colour cannot survive as it is. So, let’s just HOPE that the good people of Esperance will reverse the effect and regain their famous pink lake!
A jump from Esperance is the Cape Le Grand National Park. We had chosen Lucky Bay, which is another picture postcard beach for the Tourist Board. Lucky Bay is the famous beach where kangaroos laze about on the white, white sand. It has been voted, by scientists, to have the whitest sand in Australia due to its high quartz contend. The campsite was very simple but, oh my, what a view! The first day was cooler so we went for a walk over a granite hill to Thistle Bay, another gem. The next morning, however, the sun was out and I wasn’t going to leave without a swim and a float in the turquoise waters. Magic! I shall be back. This is the kind of beach dreams are made of.
On our way to Lucky Bay we had seen a Stonehenge from the road but thought it was going to be a tacky concrete reconstruction. On the way back, though, we decided to have a look and found it to be an accurate granite reconstruction of the original Stonehenge, the way it would have been 4000 years ago! The structure had real presence and an echo. We were very taken with it.
Thus spiritually cleansed and relaxed we felt ready to drive north to Norseman, which is the starting point of the Eyre Highway and the Nullarbor Plain. The Highway stretches 1222km from Norseman in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia but more about that in the next blog.