6. South of the West
Hey, sorry it?s been so long between posts but this awesome foursome has been keeping mighty busy exploring, touring and adventuring along the magnificent southwest coast of Western Australia.
This stretch of coastline has long been on the bucket list for both The Driver and myself and it certainly lived up to all our expectations. It?s a wild and rugged; laid-back and typically rural; serene and picturesque all wrapped up in its intriguing maritime, industrial and indigenous history and bound together by the cold blue depths of the Southern ocean.
We did Cape Le Grand National Park in style, where we were lucky enough to grab a spot out at the recently upgraded Lucky Bay campground. The days were warm and sunny but the nights bought chill winds that proved too much for our ugg boots and lumber jackets. Even The Driver felt the cold seeping in to his tough old bones. The boys had a blast fishing in the deep waters around the rugged coastline while I tried my best to keep up with the Gorgeous Mrs G as she marched across beaches and rocky outcrops and nimbly climbed the hiking trails like a nanny goat.
After a cruise around the rest of the park in Mr Perfects jalopy and a mighty big lunch at the picturesque Condy Tavern we headed inland through flood damaged rural townships taking detours around washed out bridges and along freshly sandbagged roads to check out Wave Rock.
By the amount of European tourists visiting they?ve obviously done a good job of marketing this place to the wider world. But while the wave formation itself is truly unique, the place didn?t really live up to its hype. After exploring the rock we followed the boardwalks across the dried out lakebeds past the failed resort town boasting its own airport out to Hippo?s Yawn, a cool cave that looked like it would swallow us up in a snap. Later we checked out Mulka?s Cave but these painted remnants of ancient indigenous culture seemed far too vivid to be real.
Leaving our doubts behind we followed the Tin Horse Highway back towards the coast passing fields of wheat, shimmering saltpans and a bright pink salt lake before taking a dirt track down to Millers Point. This tiny fishing settlement consisting of a few old shacks on the banks of the Pallinup River just outside the busy hamlet of Bremer Bay looked like just the sort of place for a village, so we happily settled in for a few days.
While the fellas got stuck into fishing, crabbing and talking crap with the other boaties, the Gorgeous Mrs G and I took the chance to go off exploring Bremer Bay. Our grand tour took in the general store, the hardware and the op shop then after checking out the two massive caravan parks we ended up at a beautifully restored 1860?s stone homestead for a well-earned snack of home made passionfruit cheesecake and coffees.
Shortly after we got back to camp two happy fishermen returned bearing several large bream and quite a few blue swimmer crabs. The local pelicans stood sentry as the driver filleted the catch while Peter Perfect and Mrs G took their fine and fancy kayaks out for a paddle. The sunset was glorious but a chill descended with the dark so we again donned beanies and uggs to enjoy our seafood banquet around a roaring campfire huddled under colourful crocheted nanna blankets.
It was here we gradually became aware of a previously little known talent of the demurely Gorgeous Mrs G. It seems she has a campfire fetish or more precisely a pyrolytic poking predilection. Yes it true, our calm and softly spoken camping companion is capable of ferocious stabbing acts upon helpless logs, flame and ashes with any old long stick. After revealing this wicked trait it was soon accepted into our evening routines. We were soon saving sticks that looked like good pokers!
After a few more idyllic days we finally bid goodbye to our friendly camp mates and headed to the big smoke of Albany (pronounced elle-bennie by the locals). This port town was the first British west coast settlement and due to its safe boat harbour was considered for many years as the capital city. It?s also well known for its inclement weather.
But despite the wind and rain, we bravely removed our beanies and donned our tourist caps. We dutifully took in all the sights including a replica of the ?Amity? that bought the first settlers to the area and several old harbour town buildings that have since been restored along the waterfront. On Anzac Hill we paid homage at the grand memorial that marks the spot where the first two convoys of Anzac troopships were waved off with cannon fire and fanfare as they departed their homeland for the battlefields of Europe in 1914 and 1915.
The next day we toured the Anzac Centre built on the grounds of the original army barracks. Upon entry each visitor is given one soldier?s ID card to the follow his journey through the battlefields, the casualty stations, onto the hospital ships and back to the front.
It?s really very well done and a fitting memorial to the bravery of these volunteer troops and their mighty horses, especially for the thousands that never returned.
We took a break from our gruelling touring schedule so The Driver and Peter Perfect could get the boat wet while the Gorgeous Mrs G and myself toured the local shops and shouted ourselves a delicious lunch. The fishermen returned cold and wet without much of a catch but soon cheered up over a few cleansing ales around the campfire with a fun-loving group of not quite grey nomads from Horsham. They were quickly indoctrinated into the fire poking talents of Mrs G.
The next day we were up bright?and early to tour the whaling museum.
To their credit the community have managed to put the sordid relics left on site to good use to inform the public about the history, the process and the often cruel and gruesome lived experiences of the people involved in the multi-million dollar whaling industry.
Our little party had planned to move on up the coast the following day but it seemed most places were booked out due to the Easter break so we decided to stay put. At least that way we could be sure the Easter Bunny could find us. The fishermen set out early the next morning in the hope of sneaking up on some big fishies but they were back by lunchtime with a very sorry saga to tell.
It seemed that a massive gannet had somehow attached itself to one of their shiny lures (ie. pretend plastic fishies) and as Mr Perfect tried to free the distressed birdie another big seabird flew in to save its mate and subsequently got tangled up in the line too. The Driver passed over a pair of pliers to release these frightened feathered friends just as a whole flock descended en masse to attack our fearless fishermen. The pliers flew into the air as a Hitchcock-style invading army attacked Mr Perfect and one particularly nasty warrior pierced his left hand several times. The Driver managed to cut the line and set the birds free as our poor Pete profusely poured his precious pedigree blood all over the boat.
After a quickish trip to the Emergency department at the local hospital a much more subdued Mr Perfect returned to camp to supervise the washing of the cruiser, the lighting of the campfire and the cooking of the dinner before settling down to re-live his war story with our Horsham buddies over a bottle of health restoring dark red liquid that he swore was his prescribed medicine.
The next morning we woke to find that the Easter Bunny had indeed found us and left his calling card in the form of chocolate versions of himself and the many small eggs of his cousin the chicken. We had a sneaking suspicion that our very own fire poking Mrs G was a very close acquaintance of old EB.
As we left the drizzly shores of Albany we climbed the coast road into the mountains through thick forests and drove into an area that felt like the Victorian Dandenongs. We almost expected to see Puffing Billy choofing around the bend when we hit the pretty chalet-style town of Denmark. Peaked rooflines were just visible on the surrounding hillsides above lusciously green elaborately hedged gardens. The road wound up, down and around several similar small villages between towering eucalypt forests of marri and karri until we reached the waterside hamlet of Walpole.
We pulled into a caravan park complete with its own boat ramp and mooring area and before we?d even set up camp, The Driver was chafing at the bit to get his boat wet. Mr Perfect and his bandaged hand went along determined to catch only fish this time.
The next day we all went out on an entertaining cruise tour of the Nornalup Inlet with a fourth generation of the local pioneering Muir family. After navigating sandbars and a freak wave from the ocean as he imparted the history and ecology of the area, he docked the tour boat near the roiling entrance waves that had been luring surfers for generations and was recently used in the filming of Tim Winton?s book ?Breath?. We trekked across the spit to Circus Beach where his great grandfather had trained the wild horses that would be shipped out with the famed light horse brigade in WW1. He went on to tell us about Charles Darwin passing this treacherous piece of coastline aboard his ship, ?The Beagle? on his famous voyage of discovery around the world.
We returned to dry land inspired to visit the nearby rainforest. We toured ?The Land of The Giants? and learnt about the massive Karri, Marri and Tingle Trees that fed the thriving timber industry for generations followed by the decades of protesting to stop the destruction of these mighty forests before it was too late.
Later, we took off for Augusta, the southernmost tip of the west passing through remnants of once mighty timber towns, massive old growth forests and newer plantations in various stages before stopping in Pemberton. This was interesting to me as the setting for the recent filming of Craig Silvey?s book ?Jasper Jones but The Driver was more interested in climbing the old fire lookout tree. This 57? tall Karri had been fitted with grooved metal spikes in a gradually rising circular pattern to monitor approaching fire danger and had been named the Gloucester Tree in honour of a visit from the Duke of Gloucester.
We arrived at our campsite on a farmstay near Augusta to find our speedy travelling companions had already set up camp and taken off to explore the area. The Driver took the wrong track into the camping area and promptly proceeded to get bogged and then jack-knifed the boat trailer to boot. We were effectively up a creek without a paddle and after a few foiled attempts at digging ourselves out we called our mighty saviour for help. Thankfully, Peter Perfect and his trusty jalopy were not too far away and they promptly came to our rescue. Once again, well played Mr Perfect!
We had planned to tour the nearby Jewel Caves but by then it was getting too late so we all drove down the coast into Flinders Bay, a pretty little settlement on the last habitable section of Southern Ocean coastlines porting a state of the art safe harbour marina that captured both The Drivers and Peter Perfect?s attention.
Our next stop was to watch the sunset from the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse situated on the headland between the Southern and Indian Oceans. We found some space to sit between a few friendly European backpackers and a couple of young Aussie families with drone cameras and we all watched as a dozen or so Asian tourists took turns striking poses on the rocky outcrop for their friends telephoto lenses as if they were magazine models against the disappearing solar semi-circle and the following pastel-toned haze that filled the horizon.
The next morning Mr Perfect and the Gorgeous Mrs G left to check out some local wineries while we drove into town to get the boat trailer welded. We spent the remainder of the day cruising along the glorious coastline and through the lush green countryside of the famous Margaret River Region. It?s a very beautiful place; think the Red Hill hinterland on steroids but with much warmer water or maybe even the Yarra Valley combined with Sunshine Coast beaches. Our day ended at Cape Naturaliste watching another stunning sunset from yet another historic lighthouse in all its quiet majesty without the touristy crowds.
We toured the busy township of Busselton the next day. We visited the old gaol and courthouse and then spent rather too long in the tackle shops for my liking before taking a train out to end of the town?s very long pier. This was originally built to enable the loading of vast quantities of timber from nearby forests onto ships bound for Europe and the Americas but is now used to access their world-famous underwater observatory. Due to the warm current a colourful reef of woolly looking corals has established itself around the 150 year-old pylons and the waters are now filled with tropical fish, sharks, turtles and seals.
We emerged from these vibrant multi-coloured depths to bump into our camping pals from Horsham and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying a long lazy lunch under the shady verandah of a pier side caf? indulging in my favourite sport, people watching!