Monday, 11 February 2013

Holy Cow

9 February 2013

Just north of the town of Margaret River is the town of Cowaramup which has gone crazy in the few years since we visited here last and have invested in dozens of life-sized statues of fresian cows and calves to adorn the streets and park. My favourite is a cow atop a 30 foot pole in the local park, coloured in gold, standing on her hind legs about to take a faultless 2 and half turned pike (or so I think).  She really is a Super Cow.

We enjoyed the Sundowners concert with all the locals on Sunday night and we think we might head there again next Sunday to enjoy more local talent (or endure, in some cases).  When you’re travelling it’s going to these small, community gatherings that give you more insight into a place than anything else.  The juggler-cum-comedian who was really not that good, although the kids loved him, received polite applause rather than being heckled off the lawn as might happen in other venues.  The local tennis club was selling home-made cakes and slices, the Lions club was selling hot chips and the local primary school was quite enterprising and they were selling cold drinks, hot dogs, cheap chairs and were doing a spot of face-painting. 

The highlight into our few days here at Margaret River has been our visit to the Department of Environment and Conservation-run Calgardup Cave (some of the other caves around here are commercial enterprises).  There are more than 300 caves between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste (the road joining the two capes is called Caves road) and has an internationally recognised karst system. 

At this cave you don helmet and head torches, and a great LED torch hung around your neck, and descend the steep, narrow stairs into the cave. We all loved the adventure of exploring this cave in our time, style and pace; Isobel was our leader for the first leg and Hugo was our leader for the second. At one place we all had to crouch (except Otto) so our heads didn’t bump the stalactites growing on a low section of the cave.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had in a cave and I really appreciated the beauty of these amazing stalactites and stalagmites. 

You could see hundreds of drops of water on hundreds of straws on the ceiling and they really did look like jewels. We saw 5 motorbike frogs and fortunately not the dugite (poisonous snake) that was in the cave last week. The rangers were incredibly informative and warm and answered all the questions the kids had, brought out activity sheets for the kids to do, and really made the visit special. We’re thinking that Simon might take Hugo and Isobel to check out the DEC run Giant cave that requires you to be at least 6 years of age and willing to climb down ladders (and up), scramble over boulders, squeeze through gaps and again, provides you with a helmet and torch as these caves are not lit up by permanent lighting. I’m sure the kids would love this adventure as well. Isobel is already plotting her adventure story of “Explorer Isobel” as she swings through the cave because in her story, there are no stairs or platforms.  I look forward to reading her story.  The kids’ imaginations are being fuelled all the time by amazing places like this.

Even our Otto got bolder and more adventurous and walked most of the way himself and sat on my lap as we all sat in the dark and listened to the drops of water…it’s the darkest dark I’ve ever experienced and he sat their silent and content.  Hugo later said he loved the dark and the silence. 


Early February 2013

While we were at Parry’s Beach (Denmark) one of the bolts that holds the back tailgate of the trailer was sheared away. As our trailer is our home, we pondered what was the best way to get it fixed with minimum fuss. We decided to head into Perth and stay with Simon’s uncle. 

Turns out WA means Wait Awhile and the assertion that the bloke would fix it ASAP to get us back on the road immediately was a little wide of the mark.  Four days later we hit the road – fortunately Simon’s family are very accommodating and obliging!  Not everyone can withstand Cyclone Hall in all its madness; a bit like a Jack in the Box – once we’re out it’s really hard to stuff all of our belongings back neatly into that tidy little box. 

Thanks to Moon, we discovered the wonders of the Riverton Leisureplex.  What a top name! It’s a pool run by the local council and it’s the only pool I’ve ever been to that gets patronage from every part of the community.  It covers a broad spectrum of age (from babies through to older people at least in their 70s) and from all the ethnic groups who live in the community (we saw lots of Indian families, a few Aboriginal families, Chinese families, and anglo saxon families), and it was designed for people with low mobility and we saw a man with acute learning difficulties enjoying the tyre tubes and the ‘creek with a current’ that we loved.  Ten marks to the local council for funding such a great community space, that really is inclusive for all members of their community.

I should explain they had two undercover pool.  A lap pool for those serious about swimming and another pool that had a toddler section, a section devoted to those who want to walk in water for fitness, and ‘creek with current’ so that kids and adults alike could be washed around an oval circuit by jets of water…it really was a hoot. 

When we hit the road we headed down to Margaret River, an area we were planning to skip!  But a number of families had recommend the same camping ground on a sheep farm and when we realized it was affordable AND had washing machines we were won over.  On our second day there we were heading into the bustling town of Busselton when our faithful 4WD encountered some steering problems. At first Simon thought we had a flat tyre but as the problem grew worse and we limped the final kilometres into town, we realized it was the diff locks playing up. 

Fortunately for us a 4WD place was just around the corner (which by this time was incredibly hard to steer around) and when we realized it was a significant problem (and it was a Friday afternoon) and we wouldn’t be able to drive it back the 60km to our campground we were rescued by RACQ. It really does pay to fork out the extra and take out the ‘Ultimate’ membership services that includes anything you are towing.  Less than 30 minutes later they had called us back to confirm they had booked us a car (up to 12 days of car hire, if needed) until our beloved Roary is back on the road. Phew. Can’t fault that service at all!  Thanks RACQ.

Parry’s Beach – anything goes

17 January 2013

I think Parry’s Beach campground deserves a blog post all to itself.  If anyone knows of any other campground that comes close to Parry’s for services and price, let me know!

This campground is situated at the other end of William Bay and is owned by Denmark Shire but is run by a volunteer management group. This group are constantly fighting the Shire to keep it as a ‘nature-based, affordable, family holiday destination.’  And affordable it is!

At $10/site and kids under 13 are free it’s a bargain given there are clean, flushing toilets, solar-powered showers, shaded peppermint trees and a beachside location. Oh, and if you stay a week they give you a discount; you can stay for $50/week.

Unlike an ordered caravan park, there are no site numbers, people camp on top of each other (land is a premium here, with so many willing campers at such a cheap price), fires are allowed even when there have been total fire bans everywhere else we’ve been from South Australia westward, and you can leave when you want. None of this 10 or 11am check out business; if you decide to leave at 7pm that’s OK. Kids cycle to the toilet block at all times of the day and night, in fact kids rule here.  All the cars crawl through the campsite as you just never know when a kid is going to shoot out in front of you enjoying an enormous amount of independence even if they’re not quite ready for it!  I saw an 8 or 9 year old girl one night pushing her baby brother or sister around in a pram while their path was being lit by a dim torch positioned in the pram. Never mind the fact that tiger snakes were regularly seen around these parts. It’s this kind of behavior, this anything goes business, I wasn’t sure if I liked or not. 

We met some lovely families here, the kids made some great friends including Otto, and we now have the contact details of families in the Illawarra and Broome who have both offered for us to camp in their backyard when we’re in their woods.  You’ve got to love people who offer you their backyard within 5 minutes of meeting them! 

While we were here the caretakers at Parry’s were a very old couple who have been volunteering for 3 months each year for the past 50 to keep the place rolling along as it does. How amazing is that?  It really is a one-in-a-million kind of camping ground.

A fortnight in Denmark

17 January 2013

Only 50 kms west of Albany is the lovely town of Denmark. Denmark has it all.  The town sits alongside a river which flows into the big Wilson Inlet and is close to some amazing beaches. There are hills, beautiful big trees, farmland, vineyards, foodie tourism places to enjoy and a brewery.  We love it and could easily move here.  I found some great blocks of land for sale!

The highlight of our fortnight in this area was William Bay National Park and Green’s Pool. The summer days are surprisingly cool so any day that was warm enough for a swim we hit Green’s Pool to swim, snorkel and jump off the rocks.

At Madfish Bay next door we saw a giant sting ray feeding off the rocks, and next door to it was Waterfall Beach where the freshwater stream meets the beach on some rocks about 2 metres high and forms a lovely little water fall. But the fresh water is a bit chilly and none of us had a shower.

Lights Beach was an amazing find; we found it late one afternoon and discovered a series of rock pools that start high and end low and the waves wash over the higher rock pools and the water cascades down to the lowest and sweeps around a huge boulder back out into the ocean. We had our evening meal sitting on top of a big granite boulder enjoying the views and the warm water pool left behind when the tide went back in.

We left Denmark sadly and still haven’t done so much of it; none of the walks along the Bibbulmun Track (the long distance walk from Perth to Albany with some lovely sections along this stretch of the coast), not investigated Wilson Inlet or the Nullaki Peninsular, headlands and beaches not explored, so we’ll just have to come back!

Finally, we will only just miss Walpole’s Ficifolia Festival. It turns out this flowering gum tree only grows in this tiny section of Australia naturally…and mostly only along the Ficifolia Road near Peaceful Bay.  So Drouin, you’re not the only one to celebrate the ficifolia when in full bloom!

Familiar territory

16-17 January 2013 ??

It felt weird to travel into Albany as we were entering, for the first time in a long time, countryside we’d traversed before.  In 2008 we spent a week in Albany and loved it. We wondered if it was just as we had remembered, or if the memory of the amazing beaches at Esperance would change our minds.

The country 40km north of Albany felt strangely familiar, and I had a strange sense of longing and nostalgia. For some reason it reminds me of Athlone in the summer and I just love it (both Athlone and this countryside).

The town itself, in peak tourist season, was buzzing and alive and has a great energy about it. Guess how much a powered site at one of the caravan parks on the beach was?  $90/night!!  We found a cheaper place about 10kms from town and it was idyllic with a site right on the river, on a patch of our first bit of green grass in ages and we loved it.

The salt and pepper squid at the Squid Shack was as good as we remembered it, the ocean pool at Emu Point was alive with hundreds of kids and King George Sound was still amazing. We took the kids to Whale World and had a whale of a time.  Who would’ve thought that a tour of a grizzly, gory whaling station could be so captivating and engaging. The turnaround from hunting whales to whale-based tourism is amazing.  The highlight was being able to walk all around and up and down every ladder of the old whaling boat Cheyne IV.

Stirling Ranges

Around 13-16 Jan 2013

The Stirling Ranges look magnificent as you approach them from any direction across the plains. We chose to go via Ongerup to visit the Malleefowl Centre and to our delight we finally got to see some malleefowl!  We’ve travelled across mallee country for over a thousand kilometres and not seen a single malleefowl as they are so endangered these days by loss of habitat. The Malleefowl Centre has two huge aviaries and had a pair of fowl in each one. They were more beautiful than I was expecting and walk as though they have crippled feet. I’m sure, from my learned position, that this trait has contributed to their rate of decline as well.

While at the Stirling Ranges the whole family climbed Mt Trio with lots of encouragement.  Isobel needs lots of moral support to get herself up and down under her own steam but she did it and we are so proud of her. Otto got up as well, one step at a time checking out every leaf, ant and moth on the way. He has no idea that he climbed such a tall mountain! He slept in Simon’s backpack on the way down.

Hugo continues to astound us as the very next day he climbed Bluff Knoll, the tallest peak in southern WA. Isobel tried but at the first lot of steps baulked at the idea of climbing more stairs.  Simon said the plants on the summit were amazing (they’re alpine plants) and many of them were still flowering. Congrats Hugo, you’re a legend!

Simon had his sites on Toolbrunup, the second tallest peak in the range and a harder climb but the temperature rose, the air was humid, and we decided to head to the coast instead. Turned it was a good call as they closed the track that day when a lightning storm hit as they were worried it could start a fire.

From Esperance heading west

5 Jan 2013 

It’s only about 500km along the southern ocean from Esperance to Albany and it took us a mere 2 weeks to cover it. And we still didn’t do it justice!

Our two night stay at Fanny Cove in Stokes National Park became four as we were having so much fun snorkeling at nearby Shoal Cape. What a magical spot.  We camped right on the beach at Fanny Cove and saw a fisherman catch a sting ray (and try to release it) and a 6 foot shark. How exciting! We tried to see the octopus that makes it’s home in one of the rock pools but it just wasn’t going to come out and say hello.

From here, we skipped the rest of Stokes National Park and checked out Munglinup Beach (great camping and another beach protected by a reef), saw the very first Rabbit Proof Fence (Fence No 1) and free camped at a beautiful spot at 12 Mile Beach (about 12 miles from Hopetoun).  The free camp turned out to be not so free as we left our fabulous hammer behind that also had a tent peg hook at one end of it which made pulling out tent pegs a breeze.  We enjoyed our refreshing swim in the beach the following morning as it was also protected by a reef.  We didn’t take single photo of this lovely beach.

I was really looking forward to spending some time at the Fitzgerald River National Park as it is the biggest national park we’ve seen in WA so far, is a UN designated biosphere, and is a floral wonderland with plants growing here that grow nowhere else on our planet. But we were sorely disappointed.  Yes, viewing the East Mt Barren ranges on the horizon was special as we approached them, but the sites at the campground were too small for our camper trailer, the road through the national park was closed 10km into its 122km because their sealing it, so we couldn’t get to Sepulcralis Hill the only place in the WORLD where the sepulcralis tree grows.

It was a long drive from Hopetoun around the perimeter of the national park (via Ravensthorpe) to drop back into it to camp at Point Ann.  It was a 90 minute drive through the park from the South Coast Highway to reach the campground.  Here we saw where Rabbit Proof Fence No 2 began on the headland of Point Ann when the WA government realized the first rabbit proof fence wasn’t working.  Perhaps if we were here in wildflower season we might have left with a different impression but we were expecting big things from Fitzy and it didn’t deliver.  Mind you the Royal Hakea plant didn’t disappoint, it was weirdly beautiful.

On the other hand Bremer Bay exceeded our expectations.  We thought it would be a comfy place to stay for a few days but Dillon Bay was a beauty with a number of beaches along it so no matter the weather, you’d find one protected from the wind.  The weather had turned cool, not suitable for swimming, so after lunch and a short game of beach cricket with other holiday-markers we headed to the Stirling Ranges.