Bunbury and Gnomesville - Christmas Day in WA

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Oceania » Australia » Western Australia » Bunbury
December 23rd 2018
Published: February 11th 2019
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Today we were heading to Bunbury expecting our journey of just over 200 miles to take about 4 hours depending on how often we stopped, which was about right for a pleasant drive without tasking our bladders too much if we passed nowhere ‘convenient’ en route. Once again, we had a choice of routes we could take (three this time!) and we opted for the one that would take us through various national parks and forests. We left Albany on Route 1, then turned onto Highway 102 (the Muir Highway) at Mount Barker and had a really pleasant journey, initially through wine country, then through various forests, before rejoining Route 1 at Manjimup. The roads were much quieter (the road trains took the more direct route I guess, not wanting to negotiate all the twists and turns), we saw another emu (just how blasé are we getting now?), and had a very pleasant drive enjoying the wonderful scenery. We approached Bunbury via Bridgetown and Donnybrook and were checked in to Room 50 at the Bunbury Apartment Motel in the mid-afternoon by Diane who had a friend who was currently visiting England and was really enjoying the cold weather and fog! Hmmm - we’d rather have these blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20s, thank you.

The apartment was lovely and came with all mod cons including, most importantly and the main reason we chose to stay here, a full kitchen! Some of you will remember that the last time we visited Australia at Christmas we treated ourselves to a posh hotel in the middle of a major city (Brisbane) and were disappointed by both the hotel and the city in terms of food provision on Christmas Day. Our own stupidity was also a contributing factor to our Christmas dinner comprising a sausage roll, a bar of chocolate and a bottle of beer on that occasion! Not this time – oh no. I would become a domestic goddess for a day and COOK something! We headed out to the local Woolworths and bought everything we would need (I was afraid that the following day – Christmas Eve – might result in early closures and empty shelves) but, sadly, I couldn’t find Yorkshire Puddings anywhere and I wasn’t up for making them myself from scratch. That would be pushing my Domestic Goddess skills a step too far.

We had a ‘day off’ on Christmas Eve. Steve had a pyjama day and I read, blogged and decided that I would make use of the spa bath after all, given that we had the time. OMG – big mistake. The bath was huge and took forever to fill. Then I realised that the plug was not a tight fit and as much water was draining away as was remaining in the bath. Oops. Sorry Australia, for wasting some of your precious resource. A quick fix to the plug and more gallons of water into the bath still took too long to fill it and I was quickly losing enthusiasm. The instructions had told me to ensure that the jets were covered before turning on the motor and I decided that inserting my body mass should just about do that. Wrong .... ! Water, water, everywhere – on the floor, on the window, on the shower screen, on the loo, on the mirror, on the towels – you get the drift. What a mess. I almost decided to do a quick mop-up before I finally had my spa bath but then for once my brain cells fired and I realised that would leave me with no clean, dry towels for myself. So in the end I got my spa bath but was totally unable to relax and enjoy it thinking about the job of work I had ahead of me to clean things up. I’ll stick to showers in future.

We had been surprised on arrival at how busy the apartments were. Several families were enjoying the pool and BBQ facilities and I guessed that they must be breaking the journey on the way to visiting family for the festive season. But no – on Christmas Day they were still there though the children were now playing on skateboards or pushbikes that Santa had obviously had delivered there. Maybe they just fancied Christmas on the beach or by the pool and who could blame them? I chatted with Jim, a guy who was staying in one of the apartments with his mum, as they were visiting his sister who didn’t have room to accommodate them at her house. He said he was a road train driver from ‘Up North’ (Broome on this occasion, not Yorkshire!) and he operated between there and Port Hedland normally though he had started his career driving big, heavy things on Mount Newman. I surprised him by saying we had visited both those places (I mean, who would?!) and when he asked if we had visited the Tourist Info Centre in Newman I surprised him even more by saying that, not only had we visited it, we had stayed there! It turned out that he had been the first to deliver and operate that big yellow dumper truck currently a museum piece and town emblem there, when it was brand new, and his name features in the annals of Newman history on display in the Visitor Centre. Who’d have thought? Small world, eh?

Bunbury is a significant seaside resort and we decided to go to the beach on Christmas Day. I mean, how often can you spend Christmas Day on the beach in the heat and the sunshine?! We’d been provided with a map on check-in but it wasn’t very good, though it did get us up to Marlston Hill lookout after a drive through the deserted town centre (which had some decorations up to mark the fact that it was Christmas – yay, finally!) and the suburbs surrounding the tower. It was surprisingly busy there and the view was beautiful but I was still amazed at how close the lovely houses were to each other, with very little garden area. Those immediately adjacent to the lookout had been built in almost a Spanish style and they really were super but you’d have to get on really well with your neighbours! We could see the lighthouse from the lookout and spied an almost deserted beach that we decided to head for. Round and round we drove, through all those lovely houses, then through all those lovely houses again, and again, and eventually escaped out along Koombana Drive, around the marina and along the foreshore but we still couldn’t see the entrance to the beach. We didn’t see any dolphins either, which are apparently regular visitors to the area, and significant work is being done to maintain an attractive environment for them. Plenty of people were strolling around though, taking advantage of the free facilities and enjoying the views and the weather.

Finally (though with no help from the useless map) we found our way to the beach and a sign told us that we were not allowed to let our horse swim there (!). It was almost empty, apart from a couple of people walking their dogs and was lovely. We had a fabulous time before returning to our apartment where I cooked us a turkey dinner with all the trimmings followed by mince pies for afters. Get me!

We were very lazy for the rest of our time in Bunbury. We watched films and did admin, booking ourselves some really cheap (£16 each!) train tickets to get us home from Kings Cross. When I asked Diane in Reception to print these tickets out for us she was surprised that we were returning home via Sydney, Australia, where there is another Kings Cross but that wasn’t the one we were aiming for! Returning home wasn’t too far away and the domestic aspects of our travelling hadn’t really crossed our minds until now. I had been a bit homesick over Christmas so wasn’t too perturbed at the thought of it all coming to end though we still had plenty of new experiences to come. Before leaving I called in to the Bunbury Visitor Centre which was now open after Christmas, where they gave me a free calendar as a seasonal gift. Lovely. Happy Christmas to us.

Our next destination was a relatively short drive away at only about 65 miles. We decided we had time to do a little side-trip to visit an Australian oddity known as Gnomesville. Our journey there was through the spectacular Ferguson valley with attractive villages and quaint churches dotted around the rolling green hills. The valley was home to many vineyards and some micro-breweries. Isolated farmhouses dotted the landscape and many were quite stunning.

Gnomesville is out in the middle-of-nowhere rural Australia near a roundabout. Now roundabouts themselves are not common occurrences in Western Australia and are things of rarity and wonder in rural areas. The story (just one of many) I liked best about its formation goes that someone decided that one small country lane needed a roundabout to link it to another small country lane here. Despite local objection based on it being dangerous (rural Australians perhaps being not quite sure how to negotiate a roundabout) the construction went ahead and, rumour has it, a construction worker left a gnome there to guard the roundabout against vandalism overnight. The next day that gnome had acquired a friend, then that gnome acquired a friend, and so on until there were enough gnomes to form a cricket team. Gradually the number of gnomes on the roundabout increased to the point where it really did become dangerous because so many people were distracted by all the gnomes! Instead of removing the gnomes, the local Council relocated them to the side of the road and Gnomesville was born. Yes, really! Put ‘Gnomesville’ into Google maps and it takes you straight to it! Since that time Gnomesville has grown and, despite several environmental disasters (flooding, etc), it has prospered. Estimates are that there are now between 5,000 and 7,000 gnomes living there, from all four corners of the planet.

When we reached Gnomesville the place was busy with visitors. Many were families with small children but some were unaccompanied adults (like us!) who clearly seemed to enjoy the experience, and a dog busied himself investigating one group after another. The ‘town’ is located in a wooded area with a stream running through it and the area itself is pretty enough to explore even without the gnomes. Some gnomes were family groups (such as the Fisher family from Miami), some were club groups (eg the Rangeview Caravan Club), some were school groups, some were couples and some groups were themed, for example there was a rock band playing down by the stream. It was really funny, and I don’t usually go for this sort of thing but the fact that a whole ‘town’ had grown up from a little bit of mischief amused me! The attraction is free (but there are no facilities there) and visitors are encouraged to bring their own gnome to join the township, but they have to have an identity. A small group of volunteers maintains the neighbourhood but I think someone is missing a trick. Certainly, if there had been somewhere nearby to buy a gnome to add to the community, I would have done so!

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