Western Australia Two - 31 March to 6 April 2011

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April 29th 2011
Published: April 29th 2011
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We arrived in Rockingham where we were told there was some good snorkelling in the Shoalwater Marine Park. We booked into a caravan park for a couple of days and met the resident manager who said that her husband was from Bath, UK as was the owner of the park and they had both met at school there. It’s a small world as both Paul’s Mum and Dad, my sister Gillian and my Aunt Mary all lived in Bath at some time and our niece Stacy and nephew Shaun are both currently working there. We have many happy memories of Bath and our eldest daughter, Sharon was born in St Martins Hospital on the hill overlooking the beautiful Roman City. The next day we caught the ferry to the strictly protected Penguin Island just off the mainland which only took a few minutes across the shallow water. The island gets its name from a colony of little penguins, the smallest of the penguin family, which nest in sand depressions under dense vegetation and in limestone caves on the island. There are estimated to be about 600 breeding pairs currently on the island and there is also a feeding centre for long term injured or orphaned penguins which we viewed whilst they were being hand fed. . The Islands in the bay are also breeding and nesting sites for colonies of Australian Pelicans and we saw huge numbers of these on the ground and in the air during our visit. There is a network of boardwalks that allow easy access to the islands features without disturbing the vegetation and also allows you to wander freely around the white sandy beaches. We walked around the island before snorkelling off the western side, having the whole beach to ourselves after a group of kayakers left the beach. There was quite a few colourful fish but also lots of seaweed which was best to avoid but the water was lovely and refreshing. We then walked across the island to view the nesting pelicans before moving over to front beach to swim. This is one of Western Australia’s earliest ‘island resorts’, a cave dug out of the limestone cliffs by the eccentric ‘King of Penguin Island’ Seaforth McKenzie where he used to invite ‘tourists’ to stay. As we waded around the island on the waters edge we viewed several of these caves and as we came to the last one we could reach we noticed that it was ‘home’ to a huge Australian Sea Lion so we kept well out of his way and waded back around to the jetty. Obviously not the ideal place to stay nowadays – in fact there isn’t any tourist accommodation on the island which is one of the reason it’s so special. We met one of the island rangers at the jetty who pointed out that there was an owl in a tree on the beach; he said that he had never seen an one on Penguin Island before so we were lucky to get a glimpse of it particularly as it was midday. The next day we travelled on down the coast to Busselton where we had a pitch for our van literally yards from the beach. As you can guess the first thing we did was have a ‘dip’ in the clear sea and wander along the long stretch of beach. As we were settling into our new ‘home’ we heard this loud noise coming from the beach area and then several outriggers (seating ten to twelve crew members) were being carried past our motorhome and parked by the barbeque area. Striking up a conversation with one of the crew members we discovered that they had paddled from Bunbury to Busselton a distance of 65km, something that they do once a year, although this year they only had four canoes whereas they usually have around ten. I can understand why as I do not think I would want to do such a mad thing in this heat but they all seemed to enjoy it apart from being extremely tired. They all settled down in the campsite for a well earned rest and a few ‘drinks’, it was going to be a ‘noisy’ night on the campsite. In the next pitch to us was a young chap who was studying for his medical doctorate and he was having a weekend camping experience with his son who was ten. We spent some time chatting to them about Australia and as he originally came from Cairns he gave us some good tips on what to do when we finally get there. He also mentioned that a lot of the reef was not in good condition due to ‘crown of thorns’ infestations, more of that in a later blog. That evening as we are now eight hours time difference with the UK we managed to Skype Sharon and Geoff and also see our lovely granddaughter Maisie, how she has grown and she is turning into a right little comedian! The next morning we drove into Busselton which boasts the longest timber jetty in the southern hemisphere at 2km long. Constructed in 1865, at the shore end there is a small museum and at the ocean end an underwater observatory for those undertaking the long walk although there is also a small train that travels the length. Yes, we walked and chatted to several fishermen on the way as well as watching a skilled elderly man clean his catch which included several large squid he had just caught. He took delight in explaining the best way to prepare it – it looked quite simple but he was an expert! It was fascinating to watch, especially extracting the central bone which looked like a squashed plastic straw and turning the body inside out. We left Busselton continuing around the coastline and stopped at Meelup Beach hoping to snorkel but it was more of a surf beach although very scenic and good for a dip. We also stopped at Bunker Bay a little further on and had the most delicious sweet desserts, Lime Pie and Quince Frangipani with flat white coffees (which we understand they are now serving up in Costa’s in the UK!!) The café is located right on the beach and definitely worth a visit if you ever get to this area. Paul then decided to have a dip in the sea whilst I just sat and watched as the waves were far too huge for me! We continued on to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse built in 1903 which had good information signs and several lookouts over the Indian Ocean. We moved on to Sugarloaf Rock where we were hoping to see the southern most nesting colony of red tailed tropicbirds - but alas they had flown the nest! We did however see a pod of about a dozen dolphins playing in the scenic bay. Finally we continued to our overnight campsite set in the middle of bushland at a place called Gracetown, passing a multitude of vineyards on the way and settled in for the night. We saw quite a lot of wildlife including many parrots as well as the Australian Ringneck a striking green, black and yellow parrot.. It was however very noisy at night with animals wandering around the motorhome - did not venture out to see them though! We were hoping to Skype our friends Bob and Elaine in the UK but believe it or not this was the first time we did not have a broadband signal since we had arrived in Perth, so we hoped to catch up with them next weekend. We are now 8 hours ahead of UK time so weekends are the best time to get anyone on line. The next morning we moved on to Margaret River (MR), the town named after the wine region and also an area for world surfing competitions. We stopped in town to restock our supplies and wandered around the MR Wine visitor centre – so many wines we had not heard of, but some quite familiar (dot dot dot). We then drove on to Hamelin Bay and had a cooling dip in the Indian Ocean before moving on to Augusta to visit the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse which opened in 1896 and had magnificent views of the coast at the point where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. We continued to Finders Bay to have lunch and a swim in the Southern Ocean. Quite surreal really as we swam in the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean all within a couple of hours - we did notice that the Southern Ocean was very much cooler. We stayed overnight at Coalmine Campsite at Walpole, again in the middle of the bush but also right next to a small beach. We strolled along in the evening and noticed an elderly man and his grandson on a boat just off shore trying to remove their anchor from the seabed but it remained firmly wedged in the sand and in the end they had to cut the line. The next morning was Paul’s birthday and he was delighted to open up his e-cards on our laptop which was quite strange without any post! We set off later towards a place called Denmark (not the one in Europe) and stopped at Greens Pool a most idyllic and picturesque beach very much like the beaches in the Seychelles. So we spent a lazy ‘birthday’ on the beach, swimming and snorkelling off the rocks in the beautiful bay - bliss. We had lunch and then walked along the coastal path to Elephant Rocks which was in a stunning location and indeed the rocks did look just like a herd of elephants – see what you think. We continued our travels along the southern coast road towards Albany where we visited the Torndirrup National Park to see some dramatic rock formations, including Natural Bridge and The Gap the latter had an extremely steep drop off at the cliff edge with the sea pounding hundred of metres below - so I kept well back from the edge. Finally as this was as far as we were going along the bottom of WA we started our long drive inland heading north to the Stirling Range National Park where we stopped overnight. We hardly saw any other vehicles for several hours apart from a number of major road works along the way. Not road works as we know them (no diversion signs or roads) as the road just completely disappears and is replaced by dry red sand and rocks. It was like driving through a giant sandpit which you have to try and follow (OK if you have 4WD not a rattling motorhome), whilst in front of you heavy lorries and diggers were still churning up yet more sand and dust (no H&SE). The dust was dreadful and we had to ensure that we kept all the vents in the motorhome firmly shut as we travelled for ages through the road works. We finally arrived at our overnight stop located in the middle of the ranges and also in the middle of nowhere! The motorhome looked bright red instead of white and blue so we will have to give it a clean which is difficult with a water shortage everywhere. The Stirling Range campsite was a lovely retreat, peaceful and quiet apart from the numerous birds including many Western Yellow Robins, like UK Robins but yellow breasted and not red. Beautiful and pristine Stirling Range National Park is famous for its staggering range of wildflowers – more than 1,000 different species, some of which are found nowhere else. We were out of season for most of these which was a shame although there was some lovely Banksia in full flower around the retreat. The national park is also known for its good bushwalks and to one of Western Australia’s highest peaks, Bluff Knoll, which peeks more than a kilometre into the air and could be seen for miles around. It is one of the few places in Western Australia where it actually snows – but only very occasionally and definitely not whilst we were there. It was so dry and there was a severe water shortage which limited all travellers to only 3 minute showers!!!!!!! – so better not clean the van! When we arrived the campsite was very quiet with only a couple of vans and some campers although later that evening a van load of about 40 Ozzies arrived. On chatting to them they told us that they were connected to ‘Greening Australia’ and were here to attend a meeting. They had all travelled from various places all around Oz to get together in the Stirling Ranges. The next morning we had a long journey ahead of us to get back just above Perth for the start of our northwards adventure. However we decided to do a ‘slight’ detour to Wave Rock which was about 250k north and if necessary stop there overnight as it was a long journey with not many places to stop in between. It took us about two and half hours of straight road driving through extremely desolate countryside and we only saw a couple of tourist and a few giant road trains on the way. This vast rural region called the Midlands and Wheatbelt sees vibrant displays of spring wildflowers but at this time of year it was quite barren even more so as there had been no rain in the area for many months and everywhere it was extremely dry and dusty. We stopped to photograph some of the many salt lakes but on venturing out of the van you were surrounded by horrid flies so Paul let me take all the photographs!!! We did at last eventually arrive in Hyden the home of Wave Rock and it was definitely worth the long detour notwithstanding the dust and flies. We parked the van and bought a ticket to visit the rock, there was only two other tourist vans in the car park it was so deserted and quiet. Wave Rock, formed some 60 million years ago by weathering and water erosion was perfectly shaped like a giant wave about to crest, the 15m high and 110m long multi-coloured granite rock was truly amazing to see particularly being in the middle of nowhere. We wandered along its length and took a number of photographs before heading back to the van to try and get some shade from the soaring temperatures. There was a small campsite by the rock but we decided that we would try and get a few more miles behind us and continue northwards. We did in fact cover another 300k that day - again hardly seeing any signs of life before arriving at a small town called Toodyay in the late afternoon where we stopped and settled down for the night. The campsite was occupied by many ‘permanent’ locals and there were only a couple of other visiting travellers and a few ‘retired ozzies’ doing their ‘round the country’ tour. We had met many of these travellers along the way usually driving huge 4WD UTEs towing an even bigger caravan and attached cycles. Very much self sufficient as they have to be, including huge American size fridges, TVs and satellite dishes larger than you would ever see in UK! We settled in and had a barbeque supper before retiring to bed, really early – exhausted. Tomorrow we have another long journey heading further north towards Cervantes and Jurien Bay – see you there.

PS: Live Today – Just managed to watch ‘live’ the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton on our small laptop via the Internet which was quite weird, the music was playing in Westminster Abbey the guests were arriving in all their finery and the crickets were singing merrily in the bush outside our motorhome in the outback of Western Australia. The picture kept cutting out but still managed to watch the event and it brought back pleasant memories of Judith Anderson and I sitting on the pavement for hours outside Windsor Castle for the wedding of Prince Edward to Sophie a few years ago now………………

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