Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park
After spending two nights at a secluded rest area just west of Walpole, Linda and I began the second week of our West Coast road-trip (Monday 4th
May) by taking a scenic detour through more of the South-West's famous towering forests (along the aptly-named Valley of the Giants Road) before venturing back to the coast to visit the small but spectacular William Bay NP.
On a sunny day this might have been the highlight of our trip so far, as we first encountered the delightful Green's Pool - where a scattering of huge granite boulders encloses a picturesque lagoon, perfectly sheltered from the Southern Ocean swells that batter most other parts of the coast – before rounding a headland, descending a flight of steps and squeezing through a narrow gap in the rock to see the Elephant Rocks, which as the name suggests features a number of partially-submerged granite boulders grouped together looking like a herd of elephants!
Continuing east just inland from the coast we stopped in sleepy Denmark for a lazy riverside lunch, before pressing onto Albany – the largest town in the South-West, with a population of around fifty thousand – where we happily forked out thirty
Avenue of Heroes
View from the ANZAC Memorial in Albany
dollars to enjoy the comfort of staying in a nice caravan park not far from the city centre.
Having barely spent a minute apart since we had been re-united two weeks earlier, Linda and I had decided to set aside Tuesday as a rest day - from each other! And so, after waking up to sunny skies for the first time in a week, I dropped Linda off in the centre of Albany for a day of urban sightseeing and window shopping, before driving to the top of Mount Clarence where the new Anzac Memorial offers an almost 360-degree panorama of the city and it's surrounding waterways. And what a view it is, with the broad expanse of King George Sound being linked by the narrowest of inlets to both Oyster Harbour to the north and Princess Royal Harbour to the west; while the golden crescent of Middleton Beach stretches away immediately below to the north-east.
From Mount Clarence I then made my way over to the nearby Mount Melville - where a lookout tower offers an alternative view of the city and it's watery surrounds from above - stopping off along the way to admire Dog Rock...
Cable Beach in Torndirrup NP
which, as the name suggests, is a huge rock sitting beside one of the main roads through the centre of town that when viewed from the correct angle bears an unmistakeable resemblance to one of man's best friends! At least I thought so... when I mentioned it to Linda in the evening she said she had also seen it but couldn't see what the fuss was about!
With a whole afternoon still to kill I then headed further afield to Torndirrup National Park, set on a peninsula separating King George Sound from the Southern Ocean to the south of Albany. It was after turning down a side road toward the ocean side of the peninsula that I encountered a young Taiwanese woman cycling her push-bike along the road, and upon talking to her I discovered that she had ridden all the way from Perth over the course of the past four weeks! I must admit that although I was glad to have had the convenience of a campervan in which to cover the same distance, part of me was envious of her after having experienced first-hand that same sense of freedom and being part of the landscape that she
Near Natural Bridge in Torndirrup NP
was now feeling from my own cycling escapades.
Soon after my chance meeting with the Taiwanese cyclist I came to a viewpoint above the ruggedly beautiful Cable Beach - where steep, bush-clad slopes plunged down to a gorgeous arc of white sand, battered by the relentless Southern Ocean swells. But to really experience the Southern Ocean's fury (without getting wet) I merely had to continue down the road another few hundred metres to The Gap (another perfectly-named natural attraction in a part of the world that clearly prides itself on giving accurate, rather than flashy, names to it's main tourist attractions!) where the sea has carved a small channel into the seemingly-impenetrable cliff-face, as wave after wave comes crashing into the rock in a violent crescendo of white water and thunderous noise.
The combination of raw power and sheer natural beauty was irresistible, and with the added bonus of nice weather it felt as though all of the pieces of the puzzle had come together and I was finally having the holiday that I had dreamt about for the past five months. Sometimes in life you see something that totally blows you away and makes you feel incredibly
The Granite Skywalk in Porongurup NP
fortunate to be alive and in awe of nature – this was truly one of those times for me, and I was glad that I could have experienced it... even if it had happened on the one day that Linda and I had been apart! I needn't have worried though, as no sooner had I made it back to Albany and taken Linda to a local brewpub than it became pretty clear that she had also had a really enjoyable day – just in a very different way.
The next day I returned to the top of Mount Clarence with Linda so we could enjoy the wonderful views of Albany and it's aquatic backyard together, before heading north to explore Porongorup National Park – our first experience of mountains (albeit pretty small ones) on the trip. We tackled the 3-kilometre uphill hike to Balancing Rock (again exactly what it sounds like) before negotiating some steep rocky terrain - with the aid of steel bars embedded into the rock in places – to reach the top of Castle Rock, where the newly-completed Granite Skywalk offered outstanding views of the surrounding flat countryside, from Albany in the south all the way
View from Stirling Range Drive at dusk
around to the Stirling Ranges in the north.
And after stopping off in Mount Barker for a roadside lunch, it was to the Stirling Range National Park that we headed next – though my decision to approach the park from the south-west so that we could take the scenic 42-kilometre Stirling Range Drive through the park from west to east (rather than taking the main road from the south directly across the park to our overnight stop at the Moingup Spring Campground) would prove to be highly questionable, when the road turned out to be not only unsealed but, in places, quite badly corrugated... meaning that we spent the best part of an hour bouncing around wildly in our poor old campervan – which was clearly not built for such punishment – and in near total darkness! I'm not sure Linda agreed with me that it was worth the inconvenience just to take the 'scenic route' through the park – especially considering we could see little more than the silhouettes of the mountains against the horizon! Still, what magnificent silhouettes they were...!
Nevertheless, we eventually made it to the National Park Campground safe and sound (if perhaps a
View of Bluff Knoll from Stirling Range Eastern Lookout
little shaken!) where I then tried to make amends with Linda by offering to cook dinner – only for the heavens to open, leaving me huddled underneath the open back door of the van trying desperately to keep our pasta and sauce bubbling away on our little one-burner portable gas stove as the swirling winds and driving rain whipped at me from all directions... while Linda sat curled up in the back of the van laughing her arse off!
But if ever proof were needed that every cloud has a silver lining, Thursday would do just that – as we awoke to a blustery but otherwise mostly sunny day, and were thus able to take the 8-kilometre side road up to the lookout at the base of Bluff Knoll, the highest and most impressive mountain in the Stirling Ranges. When we weren't being blown over by the winds that roared across the vast, open plains toward the mountains, we were being figuratively blown away by the incredible views offered from our lofty perch – both of the surrounding countryside stretched out below us to the west; and of Bluff Knoll itself rearing up behind us to the east.
Observatory Beach on the Great Ocean Drive near Esperance
The rest of the day involved driving and little else, as we tackled the near-400km haul to Esperance, stopping only a couple of times along the way for fuel and food. Once in Esperance we settled for a small and inexpensive caravan park so as to take advantage of the warm showers and laundry facilities – both of which could be considered a luxury when you're living out of a van – and then headed to the biggest supermarket we could find to stock up on food; full of anticipation for the days to come...
We weren't to be disappointed. Waking on Friday morning to blue skies we were soon setting out on the forty-kilometre scenic loop drive known as the Great Ocean Drive – as opposed to the Great Ocean Road in Victoria – where we were introduced to Esperance's deservedly-renowned deep blue water and white sand beaches. Needless to say progress was a little slow, as we found ourselves stopping every kilometre or so to take in the views of yet another magnificent beach, with the whole spectacular coastline comparing very favourably to it's more famous Victorian Counterpart.
But the true 'piece de resistance' came when
Dolphin Leaping; German Cheering
we arrived at a viewpoint on a headland high above Observatory Beach, at which point no sooner had Linda hopped out of the van than she was screaming “Dolphins! There are heaps of dolphins!” Sure enough, far below us and not far out from shore, a pod of about fifteen dolphins was cruising about looking for food. We set off down the staircase to the beach to get a closer look, and I even managed to snap a picture of one dolphin in mid-leap with it's entire body out of the water, as Linda watched on utterly amazed. Just when you think nature can't possibly get any more beautiful, something like that happens to make you realize that there really is no limit to mother nature's artistry.
Even that experience was to be outdone, however, when we finally managed to tear ourselves away from the Great Ocean Drive and headed out of Esperance once again – this time driving about fifty kilometres east to the sublime Cape Le Grand National Park. We had seen countless pictures of the beaches in Cape Le Grand NP – and in particular the jewel in the park's crown, Lucky Bay – but nothing
Our first 'Beach Kangaroo'!
Linda getting up close and personal with 'Peachy'
could have adequately prepared us for the sheer jaw-dropping beauty of this magnificent white sand beach. And even better was the fact that for a mere twenty dollars per night we could stay at the National Park campground right beside the beach... which came complete with a camp kitchen and bathrooms with warm showers!
But there was still one more surprise in store for us – and in particular Linda, who had been wanting to see a kangaroo up close ever since she arrived in Australia but was not prepared to go to a zoo to see – when we went for a walk down to the beach and encountered a placid kangaroo (who was clearly accustomed to the presence of humans and therefore not the least bit threatened by us) whom Linda was able to get right up alongside and pat as it went about feeding on the grass immediately behind the beach. 'Peachy' the beach kangaroo may not remember meeting Linda; but Linda will sure remember meeting Peachy for a long time to come!
Peachy was certainly not alone however, as no sooner had we made it back to the campground and gotten settled in than
The beach at Thistle Cove
another two kangaroos soon appeared, making their way slowly through the campsite – no doubt looking for food – and pausing for some time by the back of Jolly Roger, as Linda was in the process of preparing yet another culinary masterpiece! It was a sight we would become quite accustomed to over the coming days.
The following day just happened to be my birthday, and waking up to a gorgeous sunrise beside a beautiful beach in a secluded paradise wasn't a bad way to start it – though it soon got even better when Linda prepared a feast of bacon and eggs on toast (which I enjoyed for both of us – since Linda is a vegan these days!) with coffee, orange juice, chocolate cake and of course presents!
After breakfast we set off in the campervan to check out the other beaches within the national park, starting out with the exquisite and virtually deserted Thistle Cove (which would end up being Linda's favourite beach of all), followed by Hellfire Bay (another perfect showcase for the park's famous turquoise water and impossibly white sand) and finally Le Grand Beach, which is easily the biggest and most accessible
A German conquering a Frenchman
Linda at the summit of Frenchman Peak
- and therefore most popular - of the beaches, though by no means the most beautiful.
Returning to the campground in Lucky Bay - having already agreed that our magnificent surroundings warranted sticking around for at least one more day - I had just enough time to go for a brief but refreshing swim as the sun sunk slowly toward the horizon, after which Linda cooked up a delicious coconut curry for dinner in the camp kitchen... a perfect end to a perfect birthday!
For our third day in Cape Le Grand NP we decided it was time to do something a little more active, so we tackled the hike to the top of Frenchman Peak – which the couple staying next to us at the campground had already done and highly recommended. Starting off by contouring around the base of the rocky outcrop, the trail then showed it's true colours by turning and heading straight up towards the peak in the most direct route possible - meaning that although it was quite steep it was also relatively short, and before long we found ourselves at the entrance to a large cave just below the summit that extended
right through to the other side of the mountain, where the huge mouth of the cave offered a fantastic view of the coastline.
From there it was only a short climb up to the top of the mountain (actually a massive slab of granite) where we were not only treated to a spectacular 360-degree panorama of the park and it's magnificent coastline, but also the first phone reception that we'd had in two days – so that I was able to call my Mum to wish her a Happy Mothers Day!
After lingering for a while atop Frenchman Peak we then headed back to Thistle Cove for some lunch beside Whistling Rock and a second swim at the beautiful beach, before heading back to Lucky Bay where I scrambled to the top of the rocky headland beside the campground while Linda had an afternoon nap. A sunset stroll along the beach later, and we were settling in for our third and final night at Lucky Bay... a glorious end to an unforgettable weekend in a true paradise at the edge of nowhere.
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