Perth and the South West

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October 29th 2015
Published: October 29th 2015
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Barb arrived as scheduled on Thursday afternoon the 15th October and early the next morning we headed off on our tour of the South West region, taking in all ports from Freemantle to Augusta and almost everything in between.

I think I probably made a mistake choosing to go south the way I did – but I wanted to revisit Freemantle where I had professional memories of functions and meetings that I had attended, and so we headed off first to Freemantle. That was fine – it is very upmarket and much the same as I remembered even though my last visit was in the mid 90s. We managed to find the Freemantle markets and I don’t think they have changed one jot. We took coffee in a very nice gallery/coffee shop which turns out to be right in the middle of the Notre Dame University which now (maybe it always did, but I don’t remember it) has a campus right there on the water in Fremantle.

From there we headed south on which I presumed would be a nice coast drive. But No, it turned out to be a nightmare of sprawling suburbia and monstrous industrial areas, all the way to Bunbury. We attempted to take a Tourist Drive somewhere in Rockingham as it appeared to be heading to the coast and promised to show us some appealing aspects of this section of the country. Unfortunately that promise petered out very quickly as someone had forgotten to continue to mark the route clearly for out of town, or out of state visitors, and we very quickly became lost in the urban wilds of that very densely populated place.

Thus started a very funny string of events that had the two of us holding our sides with laughter over the coming days. (They were funny to us, I hope they are in the retelling here!). The first was the bus driver that I finally succumbed to asking for help to get out of the Rockingham area and back onto the highway that would take us South to Bunbury. He was exceedingly helpful and very nice – he was delighted to actually get out of his bus (which was full of overseas tourists), with ipad in hand to show me where to go. Trouble was the sun was shining on the screen and I couldn’t see anything. But I got the gist of what he was telling me. When I explained that we had got into our mess because the tourist drive signage was appalling he just laughed and said, well you are in WA now – Wait Awhile, and eventually you will get what you need.

In quick succession over the next 24 hours we saw some behavior from individuals which led us to think that there is definitely something very strange in Wait Awhile land. A small red car was stopped at the side of the highway in a remote place and a woman, dressed in a bright red skin tight dress and bottle blond long hair was standing beside it – just looking. I commented as we flew by that I hoped she was OK, and wondered if we should go back and see if she needed help. Later that day as we were having coffee in a café in Bunbury, in she came – not only was her dress a body hugging red, she wore 4” high white stiletto heels. Clearly she was a working gal and our previous sighting of her had been on the job!

On that same highway, we caught sight of another woman who had stopped at the side of the road, and was holding a phone conversation seated half way up a quite steep embankment on a fold out reclining chair with grass up to her knees – presumably good snake country. We both just cracked up as we went flying by, it looked so weird.

That afternoon, we were having a snack before taking a walk through Bunbury’s one surviving stand of Tuart eucalypts when were approached by a woman with a large sign inviting us to join a Council hosted walk in the forest with a well renowned botanist to explain everything to be seen. While waiting, another grey headed chap approached us and engaged us in friendly conversation by enquiring what part of NSW we were from. He heard me enquire of the Council woman if she knew of any caravan parks or free camp grounds in the Bunbury vicinity (we had earlier ascertained that because there was a soccer carnival in Bunbury that weekend, all caravan parks were full – there was no room in the inn so we were going to have to keep going). Anyway, this gentleman was obviously quick to suss out an opportunity – would we like to spend the night at his place. He had a three bedroom apartment and we would be very welcome for the evening. He would be more than happy to put us up he said. Needless to say we declined. But we were somewhat bemused at his offer!!!

That evening we ended up in Donnybrook – well inland – we gave up on the coast road (while looking for the Luxton Tuart Forest as it happens – again we took a wrong turn. By this time I was thoroughly unamused at the quality of Wait Awhile signage. (By strange coincidence we accidentally found the Luxton Tuart Forest on our last morning of Barb’s visit, when we were en route back to Perth). But Donnybrook was great, a really nice little town. We had thought to free camp at a lovely spot en route to Donnybrook that we read about in the Free Camps book, but when we got there it was pumping out heavy metal music from the cars of several thoroughly wild looking WA youngsters clearly “high” who even though they said they were not staying overnight, nevertheless made us decide that it was wiser to press on than stay.

All in all we loved the South West. Lovely drives through beautiful forests, and stunning farm land. Cute little “mountain” type villages; Nunnup, and lots of other “Ups”. National Parks with roadsides bedecked with wildflowers – I even managed to find some orchids to show Barb. Augusta and Flinders Bay just georgeous. The meeting of the oceans at the Leeuwin Lighthouse, and the stunning coastline of wild seas, big waves, and myriads of rocky islands and outcrops. We toured the Jewel Cave in the Leeuwin National Park, and Barb climbed the stairs of the tallest lighthouse on Cape Leeuwin. I had a ticket, but as my back was starting to play up after the 300 steps in the Jewel Cave, I decided all those stairs were beyond me, and was rewarded by being able to find and photograph the Rock Parrot while I waited for Barb to come back to earth.

The tourist drive from Augusta to Busselton along Caves Road through the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park and other areas is just wonderful. The most delightful Kari forest was worth a second look – we returned just to take photos. We stayed two nights at Conto Campground in the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. What a stunning place and while there I actually walked a (yes very small) section of the Cape to Cape track, along the edge of a ridge that ran right around the campground with the most spectacular views across the surrounding forest and all the way out to sea. In that campground I saw my first Western Rosella, and managed to get one photo, though not a very clear one. I was hopeful I would see more of them, but alas they did not reappear.

We dipped into Margaret River off Caves Road for fuel and groceries, but did not hang around – too suburban again. Back out onto Caves Road and up to Yallingup for the night. We called in at the Driftwood Winery to sample their wares and were stunned more by the building and the fact that the owners had actually constructed their very own replica Greek amphitheater in the grounds. Check out the photos. The wines were good too. Oh and we dropped in to Prevelly Beach for lunch after leaving Margaret River – this is a stunning place – its where some of the big surfing tournaments take place and where the world’s best surfers try to conquer the famous Margaret River Break. The views out to sea and up and down the coast there were spectacular, and the waves were BIG. The Margaret River actually enters the ocean there and that too was very pretty.

Yallingup for a night was a breath of fresh air with some very strong onshore winds blowing all night. Fortunately we were well sheltered in the caravan park that evening. Yallingup I later discovered means “the place of love”. I love the way all these WA place names that end in “up” have a meaning usually derived from the Aboriginal name for it – Up means place of, and so you can get a real sense of the area and the indigenous use for it from the names. Barb purchased herself a book of “Words” – aboriginal words and their meanings – it is fascinating rather like a dictionary and an attempt to preserve the language of the people of this land, and we were able to look up several and glean for ourselves a little more knowledge of that place.

Onto Cape Naturaliste – another lighthouse, more headland walks and promises of wonderful things to see – I was very excited to read that Sugarloaf Rock near Cape Naturaliste was the most southern breeding place of the Red Tailed Tropic Bird and that from September to April each year, these amazing birds could be seen engaged in their nesting and courting routines from a viewing platform there. Unfortunately the Tropicbirds had not read the same book – or they were out that day. Certainly they were not to be seen and I was disappointed, but as you will see from the photos, the rock itself is spectacular and was worth the visit.

Our last two nights together Barb and I spent just out of Busselton in what turned out to be a very upmarket strip of residential Busselton. Of course I had to photograph the famous Busselton Jetty – but the rest of our time there we were just relaxing and getting ready to re-enter Perth and for Barb to repack for her flight home. Within walking distance of our caravan park at Sandy Bay there was a very upmarket restaurant/watering hole called Stilts – happy hour from 5-6pm Monday to Friday the campground people told us, so off we wandered to have a look. Sure enough, it was packed and we partook of their generous $4 a glass happy hour wine. A group of “locals” joined us where we were sitting and I got into conversation with one woman, whose name I have already forgotten. She had my number very quickly and said she knew I was a Greenie. When I confirmed I was, and asked how she knew, she said it was because I had said I loved whales earlier in our conversation. She then went on to disclose that she herself was a liberal voter, a staunch support of Tony and was very sad that he had been rolled. And oh, she does not like that Malcolm, although she is trying to very hard. But Tony was so compassionate, yes, not the best at putting his point across she admitted, he could put his foot in it, but a lovely religious and compassionate man. She is trying very hard to like Malcolm Turnbull – he is a self made man after all, so that must mean there is something good about him. She used to be a hostess with Ansett, but had to stop that when she married. She and her husband lived in Perth for 45 years, now they have retired all the way to Busselton where they have spent every holiday while their girls were growing up. Oh, and she had to delay moving down here because she allowed her name to be put forward for Local Council and “goodness me”, actually got elected. How did she like that I enquired? Oh it was such fun. She left all the planning and development stuff to the male councilors, they were good at that. She concentrated on looking after the interests of the little old ladies who lived …. I stopped listening at that point. And suggested to Barb that it was probably time we went back to the park.

We took ourselves back the next night for dinner since it was our last night together. The place was the venue for a wedding that night – the ceremony on the point out front on the water’s edge and then the reception in the function room there. We had fun ogling the wedding attire on display while we had our dinner – I had salt and pepper squid. Yum.

Sunday morning saw us on the road by 8.30 am and back in Perth by 1pm. This time we took the inland route and it was a very pleasant drive, but unfortunately we had run out of time to stop and explore the national parks and other interesting looking places en route. We searched for coffee and something to eat in Harvey which is a rural town in very prosperous horse country, though the town did not appear to reflect the wealth of the surrounding properties. A French bakery was the only place that appeared to serve real coffee and we were served by a beautiful young Vietnamese woman whom Barb quickly discovered had spent most of her childhood growing up in Cabramatta – so she and Barb got on famously and by the time we left the shop, there was a queue of rather disgruntled would be customers waiting to be served while outrageous reminiscences of Cabra took place.

Yes, it’s a very small country really. In Perth last night I was camped in a caravan park next door to a couple who live in Tomakin. “And had I ever camped at Moruya Heads?” they asked. “My wife thinks she has seen you before.” It is really a very small world.

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