My van (I don’t have a name for this one other than ‘the box’ - look at the pictures, you’ll see why I’ve not had any flash of inspiration about names!) wasn’t ready for me this morning when I went to pick it up, so the company gave me a shot of this huge
4WD Nissan Patrol which is their bush camping vehicle, with a tent and all sorts of things stored on the roof rack. I was just to use this as a run-around for a few hours until hopefully my own van would be ready for me to take to the road with.
I think I must be very used to driving the automatics now; this one was a manual and it took me a few attempts to get it into gear and get driving again! I only stalled it the once, and that was after I’d been driving for a while, and forgot that you need to change into 1st gear to pull away! I had to laugh when they brought it out for me though; the man who would normally do all the safety briefings and off-road driving info just looked at me as if wondering why on earth I was taking this thing on the road and started to explain something about not waiting until the tank is empty before switching to the reserve tank (??!!). I told him I was just taking it down to Fremantle (about 20km) and back and he looked even more surprised - I finally had to explain that this wasn’t what I had booked and I was only borrowing it for the morning until mine was ready. Satisfied, he let me take it without having a full blown lesson on 4WDing. Anyway, I got used to driving it quite quickly - can’t say I liked it all that much, but it got me away for the morning rather than sitting around the campervan office waiting.
By the time I got back in the early afternoon, my van was just about ready, and I eventually got on the road around 3pm, so a lot later than I had planned, and not really leaving much time to get anywhere before rush hour kicked in and then darkness. I stopped off at Rockingham, and had my first night camping in Australia. Well, it rained and it rained all night long. Apparently they haven’t had rain in most parts of Western Australia for about 6 weeks or so; they’re making up for that now! I shouldn’t really complain, it’s nothing compared to the floods over in the eastern states.
Still raining; back on the road and heading for Bunbury. Rotten driving weather, between the wind and the rain, and even worse weather for sightseeing - you’re drenched the minute you step outside, so I didn’t really stop off much other than for food and drinks. After checking into the campsite, I thought it looked like it might be easing off a little, so I headed into the town and to see some of the sights. I ended up driving along the beachfront and stopping off at some of the swimming and surfing spots along the way. It looks like in good weather, this could be a really nice place to be, but not all that nice today I’m afraid! I had a little walk at one spot to take a couple of photos but the wind was so strong I could hardly make it back to the van, so stayed inside after that!!
Next day, still raining and very windy, I drove to Busselton where there is a famous 2km long jetty which has an underwater observatory at the end of it. I think there is maybe a train that you can take along the jetty too if you don’t want to walk. By the time I got there it seemed not so bad outside, so I braved the elements only to find that the jetty has been closed until Feb 2010. I vaguely remember hearing something on the news a couple of months ago about a grain ship hitting a jetty and causing loads of damage to both itself and the jetty - I wonder if maybe this is the one. I had a coffee at a place just beside the jetty, and was then quite glad that I couldn’t have gone along it because, just as I went to pay for my coffee up whipped the storm again and everything was blowing all over the place.
Back in the van and on the road south again, I reached my campsite for the night, just north of a little town called Cowaramup in the Margaret River region, which is of course, famous for its wine.
I spent some time around Cowaramup, which is on the road to the town of Margaret River; there is a wine centre where you can do all your wine tasting in one session rather than driving round all the wineries, or going on a tour, and then a few other little boutique shops selling yummy food and handmade soap and fudge; so I did my bit for the Cowaramup economy and purchased something from each of them, except the wine tasting one - that’s no fun when you’re the designated driver!
My spot at the campsite for the night wasn’t too badly affected by the rain as I was on a bit of a slope and it all just ran down, but the people on the next level down weren’t faring so well. They were in tents as well; I think they either gave up in the middle of the night or got up very early as there was no sign of them when I got up in the morning. I wouldn’t blame them for packing up and going to a motel - they must have been soaked through.
Today I headed down into the town of Margaret River, which is the centre of the Margaret River region. As well as having all of these wineries it’s also a good surfing region, and there are lots of caves around too. I wandered around Margaret River, picking up a few bits and pieces, then headed south along the Caves Road, which as the name would suggest, gives access to lots of caves along the way. Many were closed because of the weather or because they had no power, so no visits to the caves for me, and further south I went.
My aim for the day was to visit Augusta and a little further south, Cape Leeuwin, which is the most southerly point of Western Australia. It is also the place where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. There’s a big lighthouse there too. I made it down there; the rain had stopped and there was a nice blue sky with a few puffy white clouds and some wind, but nothing major, so I thought I’d have a little picnic with some of the goodies I’d picked up in Margaret River. Heading through the visitors centre which gives you access to the cape and the lighthouse, there was a big sign on the door warning that snakes had been spotted in the area and to take care and not approach them. Well, I think I’ve been doing quite well here in Australia, not freaking myself out too much every time I see a hose lying on the grass (especially when it moved!!), or hear the rustle of leaves, but that got to me. I could see that there was a roadway up to the lighthouse so I stuck to the middle of it and walked very quickly staying away from the grass at the edges of the road! I took my photos of the lighthouse, admired the view of the 2 oceans colliding together and then walked quickly back to the safety of the van, and got back on the road. It turns out that snakes or not, my picnic wouldn’t have lasted anyway because just as I was back on the road the rain and wind came in again.
I’m now thinking that this storm and me are on the same route, so I have decided to change my route, hoping the storm won’t do the same. I’m going to head back up the coast and this time go north of Perth and visit some of the areas around there instead of staying down here in the south west.
I had been thinking to myself that I still haven’t seen any live kangaroos while I’ve been driving around either here or on the Great Ocean Road. I’ve heard and read many stories about not driving at dawn or dusk as this is when the kangaroos are most active, and not driving at night in case you hit one - neither of which I do - for a start I’m not awake at dawn! I suppose I’m not driving at the times when they’re out and about, but I had thought I might have seen a couple, even just lazing around in fields. I’ve seen plenty of dead ones along the side of the road so they must be about somewhere. Anyway, today I was driving along and was just passing through a small town called Witchcliffe, and there was a kangaroo crossing the road just a little in front of me. It was a bit strange though as the bit of the road where it crossed over was the main street of the town, and it looked like it was heading into the corner shop - maybe it was going in for a pint of milk!
I headed up the highway towards Perth, not stopping much along the way to make sure I could get the distance covered. Probably the most amusing thing to happen today was that while I had made a brief stop off for a coffee, I was sitting in the cafe when a couple came in, both with as broad an Aussie accent as you can imagine; anyway, her phone rang, and her ringtone was “Flower of Scotland”. Apparently she’s very proud of her Scottish roots, which go back a couple of generations.
After missing a turnoff which then meant I ended up in Perth city centre, I eventually made it onto the Great Northern Highway and headed for part of what is known as the wheat belt region, presumably because they grow a lot of wheat here. North of Perth it was quite a nice drive; lots of huge farms, the odd little town and not much else. I saw a few kangaroos munching away in a field alongside some sheep - from what I could see neither group was particularly bothered by the other.
I visited New Norcia, which is Australia’s only monastic town. It was set up by Benedictine Monks 160 years ago. Everything in the town is owned by the monks, including all of the businesses (hotel, bakery, olive press, petrol station) which are staffed by local people. The monks use the money to preserve the town and their order and then I think the rest of their profits are used for charitable purposes. It’s quite a nice little town for a visit. You can stay at the hotel, or there is accommodation in the old convent, and I think you can go for a retreat at the abbey too.
I stayed overnight in a small farming town called Moora - it’s quite a sweet little town, although it looked like a ghost town when I arrived and went for a wander around - I think I maybe saw about 3 people, and 2 of them were at the petrol station! There were more people around the next morning though. The town is on what is known as the ‘painted highway’ and there are lots of murals depicting the town’s history and heritage painted on different buildings around the town.
I travelled a little further north and headed back over to the coast to a small town called Jurien Bay. Just south of here is the Pinnacles Desert, which I had read about way back when I was just starting to plan my trip, and new that I wanted if possible, to see them. They are limestone outcroppings in the middles of a small ‘desert’. It’s not a huge desert - you don’t need to go trekking like Laurence of Arabia to see them, or anything like that! There are thousands of these limestone pillars all over the place, and they have cleared out a driving route through the sand for you to follow. I’ve got some pictures, but I think they are one of these things that don’t quite look right in pictures - you really need to see them, but if I can upload pictures, then you’ll get the idea, although probably not the scale or the sheer number of them.
After this, back on the road and heading south; this is my last full day with the van and I want to get fairly close to Perth so that I don’t have a big drive in the morning before I take it back, as I then have to get over to the airport and catch my next flight.
So, that is the end of the Australian leg of my journey. I know that for you all it will seem that no sooner have I started telling you about it, I’ve left, but that’s just because it took me so long to get round to writing about it. I think I’ve been in Australia for around 5 weeks or so, I can’t quite remember!
I fly to Christchurch in New Zealand tomorrow; the ski season at Coronet Peak in Queenstown is due to start on 6 June and I’m hoping to be able to do some skiing there, and maybe depending on how things go, I’ll see about some of the other ski fields which are due to open up over the next few weeks after that. I haven’t skied since I was in high school, so there could be some funny sights and some sore bits - it’s a real shame there won’t be anyone to take any photo’s of me as I fall over!!
Hope everyone is well and getting ready for summer - let’s hope it’s a good one this year!
Lots of Love
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