Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Cape Le Grand

13 December 2012 till 5 Jan 2013

Cape Le Grand is a national park just 30km from Esperance and we’ve been describing it as Girraween meeting the Whitsundays. For those not from QLD this means there are enormous granite hills/mountains dipping into the sea that are surrounded by white, white sand and turquoise clear water. We’ve been here 3 weeks and it’s been a beautiful spot to stop. We still haven’t done everything there is to do here and could easily come back and stay another couple of weeks! 

We’ve been told by other travellers we’ve reached our peak in terms of amazing beaches.

We’ve celebrated Christmas and New Year’s here, met some lovely families also travelling around and had lots of new experiences.  Both Hugo and Isobel have caught a few waves on a surfboard, Hugo and Simon have gone out on a sea kayak, they’ve gone boogie boarding, dug enormous holes in the sand, built elaborate sand castles, made their own Christmas decorations, walked a granite peak, spotted lots of exquisite wildflowers, survived 45 degree heat on the beach and explored the nearby bays, coves and beaches.  There is one beautiful bay after another around here.  Cape Le Grand beach, where we’re camping, has a beautiful beach which has been perfect for the kids to snorkel, swim, and jump waves in; it’s really safe swimming here.

We’ve spent a day out at Cape Arid National Park which is 100km further east and had a fabulous day. Yokinup Bay is enormous and staggeringly beautiful then there is the tiny Dolphin Cove and Little Tagon Beach which are secluded and covered in white sand and more turquoise water (but really rough).  We took the 4WD track to Tagon Beach and crossed through banksia forests and sand dunes to have a little BBQ on the beach. We walked to the rocky headland and found debris from boats, rock pools, sea birds and lots of things that caught our interest.

We’ve spent far too many days in Esperance town itself doing shopping, washing, etc. Highlights have been seeing Sammy the Sealion and his family on the beach/water just a few metres walk along the long Tanker Jetty. It was a real treat.  The town beaches west of Esperance are staggeringly beautiful, just one beautiful beach after the other. They didn’t bother naming the fourth one from town, it’s just known as ‘Fourth Beach’. Twilight Beach has a surf life saving club, a beautiful protected beach and a granite rock just off shore. The day before New Year’s some people were caught on the rock as a 5 metre white pointer shark was touring around. They had to collect them with a boat. Much to Otto’s annoyance we haven’t yet been to the nudie beach which is a few km up the Twelve Mile Beach.  

Getting into town has been fun too – it’s quicker to go along the beach than to go via road.

Another day we’ve headed out to Stokes National Park which is about 80km west of Esperance. One of the rangers in town said this was heaps better than Fitzgerald River National Park so we thought we’d take a poke around. At first we were disappointed as it didn’t look that much different to the other places we’d been, banksia forests, a beautiful beach and cove but it had taken lots of time to reach it because of the rough 4WD track.  But then we took the track to Shoal Cape. Wow!

At one point we came out of the banksias and had an amazing view across a valley, to some towering sand dunes and a view of the ocean. We went down the steep descent and came up the other side to Cape Shoal. A few people were camping in the day use area and I can’t blame them – it was a beautiful spot. There are stairs all the way down to the beach and there’s an outer reef that stretches a few hundred metres either side, then an inner reef.

Simon is a champion and trudged back to the car to get all the snorkel gear and we found a quiet rock pool within the inner reef just off the beach that was perfect for the kids to try their hand at snorkelling and not just seeing sand!  It was an amazing world under the water with at least 7 different types of fish, with lots of stripes and fancy bits dancing in the water, fish hiding in the rocks, beautiful plants growing on the rocks and at one place I could look over a rocky ledge into a underwater wonderland filled with plants and fish and rocks. It was very special. And even more special to share it with the kids – even Otto wanted a go at snorkelling but we’d left his little set at home.

And now our time has come to an end. The canvas shop has made us a new stone chip guard and it’s ready to be collected today. It’s overcast and grey and the beach is rough so we won’t be going to Little Hellfire today. Disappointing that our last day here at Cape Le Grand is like this – we should’ve spent the day at the beach yesterday when it was gorgeous and sunny instead of going into town and tidying the tent. Oh well.

Our new plan is to go back to Stokes so we can have a few more days snorkelling in our little rock pool as the kids loved it so much. Then we’ll move onto Fitzgerald River National Park for a few nights, perhaps a few nights at Bremer Bay and then onto the Stirling Ranges and then Albany. 
We’ve got a great New Year ahead of us!

Crossing the Nullarbor Part II

12 December 2012 

The track back to the highway is so much fun and so beautiful. When we were back on the sealed roads we were all so pleased we’d taken the time to get off the highway as the countryside is really quite different just 3km off the highway.

We stopped at Cocklebiddy Roadhouse to fuel up and I took a photo of the motel there for Dad as he was amazed there was a motel there now (when he crossed the Nullarbor in his Valiant in around 69 there was nothing at Cocklebiddy).  Caiguna Roadhouse was another uninspiring roadhouse where we stopped for lunch and then hit the longest stretch of straight road in Australia – I think it’s around 150km. We managed to stop a few times along it because the kids can’t time their wee breaks! 

By mid afternoon we’d taken a few snaps of the old Balladonia Telegraph Station that is privately owned and they will prosecute trespassers – so we stood behind the barbed wire fence.  

A good 20km on is the Balladonia Roadhouse and there’s some fairly distant sized trees there – what a surprise. It was actually quite beautiful and the best roadhouse we’d seen/been into. The playground was bizarrely placed smack bang in the middle of all the traffic (between two lots of bowsers) but they had a little museum there that had a part of Skylab in it (it fell from the skies in 1969 and spread bits of space debris from Balladonia to Esperance), had a nice story from a worker at the Roadhouse who is Indigenous and grew up in Balladonia when the roads were dirt and there was hardly any water. It was a bit exciting to see the Balladonia Road heading south from the highway, we had contemplated taking this track to Esperance but decided because it was summer and we had small kids we could leave that adventure for another time. As it turns out we could’ve done it as the track was in pretty good condition and it was mild, overcast weather.

We were originally just aiming for Fraser Range Station about 100km east of Norseman but after a vote, we all decided to push on so we could reach Cape Le Grand (the beach) a day earlier than planned. It started raining and a big storm was about to hit Fraser Range as we drove past it so we were pleased not to have to set up in the rain. Mind you it looked really beautiful with hills and tall trees and part of us wished we were staying. 

At Norseman we were surprised with how big and nice the town was, and had a great meal at one of the servos. We pulled up for camp at Bromus Lake as the sun was going down and got it set up just before it started to rain. We collapsed into bed and were pleased that we had crossed the Nullarbor! The next day was an easy 170km to Esperance on the coast.

Eyre Bird Observatory

11 December 2012 (I think)

The Eyre Bird Observatory is 30km off the highway, just before you reach Cocklebiddy.  The final 12 km is a 4WD track and you radio the Eyre Bird Observatory before you descend the steep escarpment to ensure you’re the only vehicle on the track. They told us about the blowholes half way down the escarpment. We got out to feel/listen and you could feel cold air blowing out the holes that were around 20cm across but mostly you could hear the bees that had turned it into a hive. 

Once off the escarpment the track led you through 12 kms of a dune system covered in mallee trees and for most of it following the old telegraph (many of the old posts and some of the wire are still there). We were amazed to see these posts were not made from wood but from steel and they were stamped with ‘London’ on it – they’d shipped them all this way to build the telegraph!  What a feat the telegraph was, when you see the country it passed through so people could communicate more quickly and easily. 

The Eyre Bird Observatory is housed in the telegraph station at Eyre and it’s a lovely old building.  It has a verandah wrapping around most of the building, built of stone and has impressively large windows, French doors and the highest ceilings we’ve seen in a building like this (that isn’t a mansion).  I reckon they could’ve been 3 metres high.  There was a fireplace in the lounge, one in our bedroom and there must’ve been a few others. 

It’s run by volunteer care takers who live there for 3 months at a time. A third of the building is theirs with an office, a bedroom and a lounge and kitchen (which we were free to use). The middle third was a hallway that cut the house in half that was wide enough to house all sorts of interesting museum pieces from old morse code machines to a collection of reptiles, animals and insects preserved in jars. The 2 bedrooms off this hall were for guests, like us and there were a few more rooms off the outside verandah.  Our room had a comfy double bed and a bunk bed so we could all be together. The final third of the building had a bathroom off the verandah and a little museum telling the history of the family who lived there for the first 35 years there was a telegraph station and mostly in the original building (not this big, grand building).  

The man who ran it was physically strong and he sounded like a brute to his family and the local Indigenous people who also worked there. It was distressing to read his daughter’s account of her life there…so hard and brutal. I wondered about his wife, was she brow beaten and downtrodden and unable to protect her children or did she support him and his ruthless parenting? 

Within five minutes of arriving and while being shown around the house (and the out-house, a long drop toilet a few metres from the end of the verandah) I saw a dugite between the verandah and the water tank. The water tank is about a foot from the verandah.  I walked back to the care takers quickly (half thinking it was a pretend snake placed there to scare tourists) and Joyce (in her 70s) casually took a few steps, looked at it and said it was a dugite.  I’d never heard of a dugite. And yes, it’s extremely poisonous.  It was only about a metre long and black and I surprised myself as I could see it was actually quite a beautiful thing.  But it did set me on edge for the rest of our stay there – making trips outside to the toilet an exercise in bravery. Poor little Isobel was absolutely so scared she could barely move.

For me it was interesting to think that the new building was built in 1897, the year Grandad Caldow (my great grandfather was born) and closed down in 1927, the year my Grandpa Smethurst was born.  

We went for a short walk through some beautiful mallee trees and past towering sand dunes and past some of the old ruins from the original buildings of the telegraph station. We drove the final kilometre to the beach (Otto’s legs were tired) and decided not to attempt crossing the final sand dune and walked onto the beach.  It smelt of sulphur and was SOOOO windy.  As soon as we crossed the final dune it went from mildly windy to gale force!  The kids loved it!  Their hats were blown off their heads and they’d chase after them, catch them, and let them go flying again for some more running. It was a brilliant couple of hours.

The dawn skies were beautiful as they lit up the towering sand dunes and then at around 6am the pink Major Mitchell cockatoos flew in. Otto and I were going to the toilet when we saw them on the roof of the house and he was so excited. He ran back along the verandah to tell his dad but Simon had heard them from his bed and met us on the verandah.  We sat entranced for about 30 minutes as they flew in, landed on the fence post or water tank and drank water and poked about.  Hugo and Isobel slept through most of it but eventually both were lucky to see at least one each. By  7am they’ve all flown off elsewhere for the day.

We had brekky on the verandah, checked out the museum and then headed off. We could’ve easily stayed a few more days but it would’ve been too expensive for us. Hugo summed it up best with his entry in the museum visitors book:

Caretakers Bob and Joyce lovely. Loved playing darts. First time here, loved it. 

Crossing the Nullarbor (Part I)

Around 10 December 2012

We wanted to take our time crossing the Nullarbor and take in everything there is to see.  From Ceduna in South Australia to Norseman in WA it’s more than 1300km.  It’s a long stretch of road and we were really looking forward to it.

After stocking up with food (you can’t take fresh fruit, vegies, honey or plants over the SA border) and fuelling the car at Ceduna we headed off to Fowlers Bay.  But we went out to see Cactus Beach as one of the surfie dudes we met had said he’d travelled around the world and got one of the best waves here.  The beach itself was OK, not being a surfie dude I could take it or leave it. But the drive to get us there was worth it.  We passed pink salt lakes via a causeway, and it looks like they harvest the salt too, majestic giant sand dunes with the wind twirling around the top so you can see how they can move at 11 metres a year, and some lakes (not sure if they are fresh or salt water) with sand dunes dropping straight into them. There’s no road sign at Penong on the highway pointing to Cactus Beach and I wonder if this is the local’s ploy to keep the numbers down.  We could’ve easily spent more time here.

Because of this detour, and spending too long over lunch at the Ceduna beach, we didn’t reach Fowlers Bay until late and the wind was fierce and freezing. We wished we had more time here as the landscape is staggering.  Towering over the edge of the little town were more giant sand dunes. You could look over the fence of the caravan park and see a beautiful old home/cottage and beyond it more salty lakes.  It was easy to imagine the early pioneers living here as it looked like the landscape/buildings hadn’t changed since their time.

The early explorers John Edward Eyre, Baxter, Wylie, Billy and another man and I can't remember his name, left from Fowlers Bay to walk to Albany in WA. They travelled along the coastline and would’ve been met with some breathtaking sights but we just can’t imagine walking that distance, this terrain, and with exploration in mind.  Travelling on the Eyre Highway that skirted the coastline for much of SA was easy with water on board and places that collected water on the way. 

We were amazed that the Nullarbor Plain stretched for a mere 20 km (!!) and the landscape changed from mallee trees to saltbush to the odd tree.  The difference in the landscape could change dramatically in the space of 5 km.

The Head of Bight cost us $10 for each adult and gave us great views east over the sand dunes we’d seen here and there since we’d left Fowlers Bay. Looking west you could see were the Bunda Cliffs begin. To me, the view east looking over the sand dunes was much more impressive than the famed cliffs (although they did get very spectacular later in the day).

We were told there were tracks across the cliffs for at least 100 km from the Head of Bight. We saw where the first track headed off the highway at the start of the Nullarbor National Park but didn’t take it.  We skipped all the things there are to see around 20km beyond the Nullarbor Roadhouse deciding  we had a long day and the detours were going to make it longer.

I was driving, Simon was sleeping and I was worried that we were missing all the lookouts along the way as none had been signposted. I slowed down, followed the GPS map relentlessly and when I saw a track heading south (you’ve gotta be quick otherwise you quickly pass them) I pulled into the track. We followed the track to a great little lookout (no fences, no warning signs) and took a look at the breathtaking Bunda Cliffs. We couldn’t look straight down as the overhang on the cliffs are notoriously dangerous so we stood well back and looked at the long views on offer.

We followed the tracks for around 30km or so much to the kids chagrin (they just wanted to drive fast on the highway) and a few times we reversed back and turned back down some tracks as they just followed the cliffs FAR too closely for our liking. It was spectacular; and the clear sunny skies and the crazy blue of the seas and the striped cliffs of white and then earth colour all just added to it.
Closer to the border the SA Government have put in 3 lookouts that have sealed roads to them, fences and signs telling you of the danger; these were nice too but we’re glad to have seen more of the cliffs on our own. 

The border crossing again involved stopping, opening up all our fridges, and this time we didn’t have to chuck out anything. I had peeled and cut up 3 onions and 3 garlics and froze them and had cooked the potatoes to make a potato salad.

At Eucla we were stunned to follow the track to the old Telegraph Station (you’ve no doubt seen photos of it being slowly covered by sand dunes) and to come around a corner and be faced with a staggering drop down to the plain below. We weren’t expecting this view and it was beautiful. The old Telegraph Station was a bit of a disappointment; not sure if it’s because it was cold, getting late and it was a long day or if it was the beer bottles and rubbish lying around.

Back on the highway we dropped down on the plain again and began searching for a free camp for the night. We found a great place to stay the night at the back of rest area in some mallee trees looking up to the escarpment.

We followed the escarpment for another 80 or more kilometres the next morning and then climbed it to reach the Madura Roadhouse (the first one that had some trees in the campsite) and the view of the Roe Plains was breathtaking.  Really breathtaking.  When the station on the plains was first established they bred horses for the British army in India – what a history. And what a journey those horses would have faced. 

The Eyre Peninsula’s West Coast

Early December 2012

We thought we’d get from Coffin Bay to Streaky Bay in a day as it’s only 300km.  But setting off late (leaving at midday never helps) and doing justice to this stretch of coastline meant we found a placed to camp midway between the two. 

The Flinders Highway is a lovely stretch of road with beautiful farm land and an amazing coastline usually just off past where you can see. The other drivers are really friendly, absolutely everyone waves as you pass them by, not just fellow travellers. Along the roadside we picked up some fresh eggs and loaves of bread cooked in a wood-fired oven (plus fruit buns).  Not your usual fare that you get from the honesty box system! 

We skipped most of the early beaches but from Sheringa onwards stopped in at every turnoff we came across.  It really is quite something to see a wheat or a sheep farm and then see a big sand dune rising up behind it!  Sheringa had an amazing sand dune heading southwards, a nice campsite, and then some great cliffs you could drive all over. Tracks were literally everywhere!  None of this ‘keep to the road’ business, or putting up fences of ‘danger’ signs.  We think it’s a symptom of being so far from the capital city.

We saw a giant wombat burrow but not the resident. We saw some sea caves and while at one saw a peregrine falcon catching the breezes and could hear some squawking.  We looked closer and across the other side of the cave (or giant hole in the ground) not far from the upper ledge we saw a few peregrine falcon chicks.  They were still quite fluffy and couldn’t yet fly so we felt pretty lucky to have seen them.

We stopped at Elliston for a while for the kids to stretch their legs.  We’ve noticed that all the playgrounds at all these little towns have been new and great care has been taken to keep them looking great.  This one was particularly great as they had collected driftwood and used that as part of the fence along with an old bicycle, some old farming equipment…it told a story of the local town.

The local visitors centre is also the Internet Resource Centre, op shop, book exchange, council library and centrelink office.  I love this blending of local, state and federal government agencies plus community services all into one seamless service/building.  And they also sold homemade biscuits! 
The staff told me about the clifftop drive just north of town so we drove around it late in the afternoon and it was breathtaking.  Big swells were coming in, there were some beautiful little protected bays we were not expecting and some great seascapes with cliffs dropping straight down. The quirky touches of the some sculptures strategically placed around the drive really topped off our afternoon! 

We camped at a Council campground that was on the edge of the Lake Newland Conservation Park but it was also right on a beautiful beach. We were the only ones there and the bees kept to themselves in the toilet and didn’t come over to pester us at our campsite. For tea, we had fish that Hugo caught with some pilchards the commercial fisherman had given us when we’d set off from Coffin Bay.  Perfect.

Around Streaky Bay there are more stunning cliffs with amazing sand dunes in between and it makes this coastline just so special. And there’s hardly anyone there! I really could rave about the southern and western coastline Eyre Peninsula for hours, we just had an absolutely wonderful time exploring this beautiful part of Australia.