Friends, food and flowers in South West Australia

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October 4th 2018
Published: October 4th 2018
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London, Hong Kong and South West Australia 10 September - 3 October 2018

4 October Hyden, Western Australia

After a very good flight to Hong Kong during which we had plenty of free seats around us which made the journey more relaxing we took the airport express train and a bus to reach Nathan Road. This is a busy area near the Tsim Sha Tsui underground station, full of shops and restaurants on the ground floor of big 'mansions' or apartment blocks built around a courtyard. We could have booked an international style hotel of which there are many in the area where they have been built to replace some of the apartment blocks but in an effort to save money and gain insight into how ordinary people live in Hong Kong we checked in to the London Guest House.

Now unless you know Hong Kong I am sure that whatever image the London Guest house conjures up for you, it would be inaccurate. These mansions were built to provide basic housing for the large and dense population. They usually have at least fifteen floors and often many more, with probably fifty
Hand imprints of famous peopleHand imprints of famous peopleHand imprints of famous people

Only name we recognised was Bruce Lee
flats running around the four sides of the central open courtyard and many of these flats house businesses. Nowadays, because of the high cost of a room in HK, many of them have become a guest house by subdividing the inside into small bedrooms. So the London Guest House was originally one flat and now provides seven guest rooms.

Finding the property is the first challenge as it is necessary to negotiate your way into the building through the shops to find a lift which goes to your floor. Because of the huge number of people constantly travelling up and down the building lifts tend to be fixed so that they only stop at certain floors, perhaps only the even or odd numbers or better still every four floors. So in a block of four lifts it might be that only one goes to your floor. There is a cordoned line where a queue forms to wait for the lift and a space between the lines for people to exit the lift speedily. Once we reached the thirteenth floor we had to find the right address for the London Guest House. A plan on each corner of the wrap around corridors, open over the central courtyard on one side, shows the flat numbers. Washing is hung from the balconies over the courtyard. Eventually we found our destination and had to call a number on a phone by the door. The manager responded and gave us the front door entry code and the number of our room. We were soon inside. It was only 8.30am and the manager does not arrive for duty until 9am. It was great that they allowed us access so early.

The room itself at first glance looked like a very clean cell, fully tiled in white, small but managing to contain two beds and having a tiny en suite bathroom, or to be more accurate, a tiny cubicle with WC, hand basin and a wall shower which pours down over the whole room. It probably sounds horrific but it was very clean and functional. In the corridor outside was a machine providing hot and cold water, tea and coffee, toothbrushes and toothpaste, a fridge and microwave. It was perfectly adequate.

As we have visited Hong Kong before we decided to spend our free day wandering around and took the bus up the Peak to see the views. In the shopping area at the top I noticed a sign saying, Typhoon Sign 1. As I did not know what that meant I asked and was told that information is given about the weather conditions. If Typhoon Sign 8 is reached all transport stops and shops and everything else closes down. When we left the Peak an hour later it said Typhoon 3. What they had not mentioned was that a typhoon was moving into the area from the Philippines. We were lucky that we flew out the next day as the area around where we had stayed was flooded by the heavy rain and sea surges created by the storm.

On our flight to Perth we had even more room, six seats between us. We soon arrived at our accommodation near the airport where Richard and Beverley had checked in a few hours earlier. The next day we picked up the rental car, shopped and prepared to set off for our tour of south west Western Australia, starting at the beach near Margaret River, a well known wine producing region.

Once settled in we decided to go and visit a nearby cave. There are numerous caves in the area each with it's own character and the main road is called Caves Road. I had to walk down to Reception to return a spare key as we had already managed to lock ourselves out. As we were ready to go out I said I would wait for the others to pick me up near Reception to avoid walking back up the hill. I saw the car pass in front of our apartment, turn the corner and come down the road. I stood waiting for it, it slowed so I opened the door and was trying to jump in quickly to avoid blocking the road when an American voice said, very politely, “Do you need something?”, and I found myself looking at a couple of strangers in the front seats. I apologised and backed out quickly to see our identical car coming down the hill. When we arrived at the cave car park the other couple were there and they said I might as well have travelled with them anyway.

Mammoth cave, the one we chose to visit, really was huge with fascinating stalagmites and stalactites, some so delicate they looked like lace. Some 10,000 fossils have been found in the cave in recent years.

So after being locked out, jumping into a strange car was the second 'event' at Margaret River Beach Resort. We wondered what the third would be but all went smoothly for the rest of the day. However, when we moved on the next morning we had driven about five kilometres when someone called from Reception to say we had left a pair of binoculars where the car had been parked so we turned round and went back to collect them, very grateful that they caught us so soon. It was only at the end of the day, when we reached our next stop of Denmark that I saw a text from the same Receptionist to say we had left clean clothes in the tumble dryer. It was too far to go back so the next day Beverley had to arrange an emergency shopping expedition to buy Richard new underwear. Luckily, my old T shirt was no great loss.

This whole coast is beautiful with amazing beaches and forests but it was cold. We had to resort to our warm clothes. I ended up wearing exactly the same outfits that I wore in Alaska, that was not part of the plan. We stopped at the giant Tingle trees where a walkway has been constructed so that visitors can climb up gently to the treetops for a different perspective. I loved the elevated views but not everyone enjoys heights so Beverley bravely did a very quick walk across, as she did not really appreciate being able to see the forest below through the walkway.

On the 18th, which was our 47th anniversary, Beverley & Richard took us up to a lovely lookout point above the sea to enjoy a bottle of champagne, then we ate lunch at the beach side restaurant. In fact eating and drinking have become one of our main activities. It is a good job we are heading off across the Nullarbor soon or the weight I lost will have returned with interest. There are few temptations to be found out there I hope.

After Margaret River we headed to Denmark to stay at the Cove, a rural retreat of rustic cabins hidden amongst the bush and complete with a wood burning stove. There had been a breakdown in communications between the agency arranging our stay and the on-site manager so that only one room was made up. Plus it was very cold in the cabin. Jim and Richard went to do the shopping and by the time they returned the beds were being made up and the fire was burning warmly. There was no TV or wifi in our cabin so we played a word game and read. It made an interesting contrast to the rest of our accommodation which was all modern and functional but with much less soul. There were parrots flying high above our heads in the forest and one even stopped by for breakfast but of course we did not feed him.

We explored the area the next day and then the following day we went on a Wine Tasting tour. This comprised a driver/guide in a small coach taking us firstly to a very formal cellar door where we tasted twelve different wines. Next we went to a contrasting small and very informal winery where we could have tasted eighteen wines but most of us by that stage were more choosy about what we wanted to try and probably only indulged in six or seven. Thankfully that was followed by a long and very filling lunch which remedied some of the damage. After that we briefly stopped at a cidery (yes, along the same road in Denmark you can visit a number of attractions including a winery, a cidery, a brewery and ice creamery!) before we returned home, unable to eat or drink for the rest of the evening. In fact Beverley, not surprisingly, felt the need for a short nap but we did not see her again until breakfast the next day.

From Denmark we moved back to the coast and visited Albany where there is a huge amount to see and do including visiting the beautifully designed ANZAC memorial, the local museum, a fascinating whaling museum in the old whaling factory which has an area of wild flowers and small collection of local wildlife adjacent, and a Sunday morning market in the large boat shed. We even managed to fit in an orchestral concert in the modern Entertainment Centre positioned overlooking the sea where we heard an 80 piece orchestra with a choir of 60 and two soloists present Mahler's Resurrection. The only disappointment was the small part played by the choir who had to sit on stage for well over an hour before they sang for what seemed like two minutes.

We planned to stop off at a local hall to see an exhibition of wild flowers but when we arrived they had closed and were clearing everything away. However, they showed us the huge mound of wild flowers that had been on display and very kindly said we could help ourselves to any we wanted. A big bunch was soon gathered, my only concern being that as we carried them back to the car I hoped no-one thought we had been out picking them in the bush. We might have been arrested for that!

On our way east we stopped on the edge of Albany to visit a wetland that the lady in the Information Centre had recommended because as she said, she liked the trees. It was weirdly fascinating. An area covered with interlocking ponds, some covered with bright green algae and surrounded by the strangest trees imaginable, bent and mangled into painful looking shapes. It is a landscape suited to horror films and the sort of scene that could easily appear in nightmares but at the same time was serene and enthralling. Afterwards when Richard and I looked at our photographs of the area we were taken aback by them because it is very difficult to understand what you are seeing in the photographs even having been there and knowing what we photographed. All in all a very strange location but well worth seeing.

Our last stop before returning to Perth is Busselton, famed for it's 1.6 kilometre long jetty along which a small train carries visitors and at the end of which it is possible to descend some 40 metres down under the sea to an observatory. There you can see the life that has grown up the wooden supporting pillars including many different colours of hard and soft corals. It is an interesting if relatively low key activity. However, the process of gathering information about ticketing and purchasing them drove us all crazy. We don't know why but we could not get simple accurate answers to our questions.

The woman on the ticket desk said there were only two options, a $4 ticket to walk to the end of the jetty and back, or a $34 ticket to go there and back by train, with a guided tour and time in the observatory. Beverley and I chose the latter but first walking to the end with Jim and Richard who opted for the $4 ticket. We had a fixed time to start the tour at the far end of the jetty. As we were there 45 minutes early we asked if we could have our 'free time' first before the guided tour. The young woman said that was not allowed but we could have the 'short tour' which consisted of walking down the five flight of stairs and looking out through the windows alone. There had been no mention of a short tour at the ticket desk. So we said that sounded perfect and she said she would arrange for them to refund our expensive ticket which they did, and they did not charge us anything at all. We were totally confused and everyone else seemed to have the problem with lots of people wandering about getting stressed and, apart from the young lady who helped us, the staff seemed as confused as the visitors and they seemed totally lacking in customer care skills.

Although the weather has been cold but thankfully with only one wet day so far we have really enjoyed the walks along through the bush and often by the sea. We knew that it was early spring when we decided to visit at this time but we came to see the wild flowers which bloom in September and October and we have not been disappointed. They are more profuse and widespread than I had expected and range from huge expanses of white Alum lilies beneath the forest trees to tiny orchids flowering singly in sheltered woodland settings and beautiful Banksia in a range of colours. We have not managed to count them up yet or identify them all but we must have seen 40-50 different varieties of plants. I would definitely recommend visiting at this season to anyone who enjoys seeing wild flowers.

On our return to Perth we went to stay with Clive and Helen. This was rather cruel as they had only just returned from a ten week visit to Europe and were still recovering from jet lag, catching up with jobs and in Helen's case coping with a bad cough and cold. We felt very guilty imposing on them but they made us feel very welcome and Clive did an excellent job of guiding us to different places of interest including the amazing King's Park where the displays of Western Australian wild flowers was wonderful. We had some lovely meals together and it did not seem possible that it was 50 years ago that Jim, Richard and Clive moved into a flat together as students. I hope that Helen is now recovered and that peace and calm has been restored to Kelmscott.

For our last night in Perth we returned to the airport hotel so that we could be up early and ready to collect our campervan and return the loan car to the dealer. Then we took Richard and Beverley for our last lunch together before delivering them to the airport for their flight home to New Zealand. After seeing the campervan I think they were quite happy to be going home as I don't think the idea of travelling for five weeks in her appealed that much. Certainly for us it was not only goodbye to R & B but also to the relaxed holiday lifestyle of staying in comfortable apartments, cooking lovely meals and eating out which we had enjoyed for nearly three weeks. I hope they had a good journey home and had enjoyed our trip around the south west.

From now on life will be minimalist, cooking in the microwave or on the two burner gas hob and pottering along the isolated roads of Western and Southern Australia, across bush and arid land, a very different world from the cosmopolitan beaches and wineries of the Margaret River area, where the sophistication of the restaurants is evident from the exciting and creative menus using ingredients from around the world to the total absence of an 'ordinary' plate. Meals arrived in novel and challenging containers, anything from chips in what look like mugs to very impractical slate trays with high handles. We are hoping the next few weeks will enable us to lose the weight gained since arriving here.

As I mentioned earlier in the blog we came at this time to see the spring wild flowers. I have photographed what seems like hundreds of varieties, many of which still require identification. So in this blog I am including lots of flower picture but to hide my ignorance many will be grouped together into two categories, pretty and strange, and hopefully I will eventually be able to add their names. I never dreamt there would be so many varieties or that they would appear in such profusion, they are wonderful and make it worth putting up with the cooler temperature.

Next time you can follow us as we move east from Perth across the Great Australian Bight to discover if it is an adventure of a lifetime or a boring drive across arid emptiness.

Additional photos below
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