Adelaide to Perth via the Nullarbor Plains, through the Australian Outback
Thursday 5th September
We hailed a taxi at Adelaide airport and headed to Apollo Camper-van head-office where the fun began. We had booked our camper-van with just the basic insurance to make it a cheaper overall package. We also booked flights and other bookings with my Visa platinum card so we would be covered for most eventualities! This was the fourth time we had hired a camper-van in Australia so we knew what to expect – the usual push for extra cover!
All went well for the first 5 minutes until the chap who was sorting the paperwork told us he would have to take $5000 from our visa + 2% and as we both wanted to split the cost we immediately got concerned. He would take 5K and pop it into Apollo account plus the 2% for three weeks and then return the $5000 but not the extra 2%. The other problem for us was that we would be away for over three weeks. As we would probably not be able to access Internet banking easily across the Nullarbor Plain, we could incur extra costs from our own banks in NZ for late payment and for what would appear to be a cash withdrawal. This was something very new to us but we were informed by the staff that it was new legalisation that had come into Australia in last few months.
However, if we took the insurance for $27+ per day we would still get $2500 deducted from account in same manner. This all seemed insane. Where in the world do you get a client to pop $5000 into your company account, charge them 2% on top of that and the client ends up out of pocket because of bank fees and the company ends up with the interest + 2%? Whatever happened to the old fashioned method of taking the imprint of a credit card?
We ended up taking out fully comprehensive insurance – for $44AU per day so that they would not take the money from our visa account. I suppose this is the same in each state? I am not sure that this is exactly what the legislation meant however, as I have recently discovered that Jucy Rentals still just take your credit card details but do not take the money out.
When we thought they could not squeeze any more out of us we were asked for a further $250 on cc (not deducted) in case we incurred any fines for speeding or drunken driving! I can assure you we will not be using Apollo again and suggest others check all their facts before you book with any of the big companies! . However, the camper van was pretty ok – old and a tad shabby but otherwise everything seemed to be in good working order.
We drove 150kms from Adelaide to Kadina (once a bustling SA Copper-mining center) and choose to stay the first night in Kadina Gateway Motor Inn, 706 Cooper coast HWY and not in our camper van. This gave us time to set the van up, shop and unpack more easily when we reached Ceduna. Also the town of Kadina got us out of Adelaide and close to the ferry for an early morning start. We had a lovely dinner in a local café – there were only two in the small town!
Friday 6th September
In the morning we had breakfast and drove down the road to Wallaroo to take the camper-van on to the car ferry. The ferry crossed the Spencer Gulf from Wallaroo to Lucky bay. By taking this ferry we saved ourselves about 400+ km driving – we had driven through Port Augusta on one of our previous outback trips so had seen that area. We were keen to reach the Nullarbor as quickly as we could. The ferry was very efficient and comfortable; it had glass panels along the edge of the floor so you could look straight down into the sea.
Once we were off the ferry we set off for a 400+kms drive from Cowell to Ceduna travelling through grain country. We joined the Eyre Highway at Kyancutta and alongside the road the whole way was a very large white pipe which we assumed must carry grain from one grain station to another as there were huge grain storage plants every 20-30 kms. The train tracks also ran parallel to the road. As we passed through Wirrulla we noticed a massive carving in granite representing the local grain and sheep industry. The next settlement of Cleve was a very pretty town where we stopped for coffee and the people in the cafe were very friendly and chatty. We came away with a dozen free range eggs.
We spent two nights in Ceduna Tourist caravan park (10% off $30 powered site with vouchers from Apollo). Lovely facilities very clean and comfortable. One of our aims for this trip was to play the Nullarbor Links Golf Course. You can start this course either in South Australia(SA) at Ceduna or in Western Australia (WA) at Kalgoorlie. It is a unique 18-hole par 72 golf course which spans 1,365 kilometres. A single hole can be played in each participating town or roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, each featuring a green, a tee and a fairway and each has a distinctive theme that fits with the rugged outback.
We had brought a basic golf kit with us as we were doing this for fun not as a serious challenge. We bought our Nullarbor Links card at the Information Centre for $70AU for each card. The man who sold us the card gave us some good advice and information about the golf course.
Saturday 7th September
It was polling day at the local hall and unfortunately/fortunately Tony Abbott was elected PM. As we were not voting we went for a lovely early walk along the pier and then down to the end of beach. Next we went grocery shopping, had a bite to eat and watched the sun go down over the southern ocean looking towards Denial Bay.
Ceduna is the start of the Nullarbor Plain: http://www.nullarbornet.com.au It is the last main shopping area until you hit Norseman 1400 kms across the Nullarbor Plain so we needed to stock up on essentials here, which we did.
Next we went to play the first two holes of the Nullarbor Links in Ceduna golf course and immediately lost a ball and battled the flies!!!! Hole 1 is Par 5 – called ‘Oyster Beds’, Hole 2 is Par 4 called ‘Denial Bay’. We did equally badly at both but had a good laugh. Each tee on each hole is named after a local identity.
Sunday 8th September
Today we started our drive on the Nullarbor Plain leaving the comforts of Ceduna. Just outside the town I stopped to take a photo of the yellow road sign that says ‘watch out for: Kangaroos, Camels and Wombats’ and ended up BLACK with flies!! The sign should also have warned about flies!
On to Hole 3, par 4 called ‘windmills’ in Penong, and we filled up with petrol there. It seems many locals still get their water using their own windmills! We stopped at the Penong Woolshed Museum. Lovely collections of old farm gear and local craft and a lady with lot of local knowledge kept us entertained for some time. On to Nundroo, to play the next hole – Hole 4, par 5 called ‘the Wombat hole’ because Nundroo has the largest population of Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat! Last census says 2.5 million inhabit the locality. We stopped at the local roadhouse for petrol (we decided we would always top up when available) and discovered that they sold fly hats – those ugly hats with netting all around to cover your face from flies. A man with a very strong Scottish accent sold them to us – we could not really understand him but we were in heaven with the hats!!!
We drove by the Yalata community hall and on through the Nullarbor plain which was now becoming spaced out with low-lying blue and green bushes. Up until this point we really did not feel isolated nor did the Nullarbor Plain look like we imagined it to look like.
Our next stop, which was a small detour, was The Head of Bight 78 kilometres west of Yalata where we saw many Southern right whales – mothers and their calves. According to the Nullarbor roadhouse, there were 52 mothers and babies this year including thee white ones. Mothers only calve every three years. We watched them playing, breaching, blow-holing and rolling belly up.The young ones would follow their mothers and loll beside them. They moved up and down under the magnificent white Bunda Cliffs that stretch for 200km down to the WA border.
On our return to main road we saw several blue tongued lizards moving very slowly across the road which of course we stopped for and were delighted with the opportunity to photograph these slow moving creatures.
The Nullarbor roadhouse and campground was our stop for the night. Once we sorted our site we played our next golf hole, Hole 5, par 5, called The Dingo’s Den, at Nullarbor and lost yet another ball. We did get lots of comments from tourists wandering pass who were staring at us as though we were crazy trying to hit a small white ball in desert surrounds! But they did cheer us on and watched while we putted the ball into the hole! After our ‘successful’ golfing hole we headed for the pub to have some drinks amongst the locals, but it was a quiet night there so we headed back to our camper van and settle in for the night amongst flocks of noisy galahs. The sky seemed so large at night and so full of stars. It was beautiful just to sit there and watch the heavens. We had a great night’s sleep and woke to a stunning sunrise over the plains.
Monday 9th September
On our way out from the roadhouse we saw a wild dingo staring at us from the bushes, we agreed that the golf hole 5 was aptly named, however we were very pleased not to have met him while on the fairway! Off along the Nullarbor plain to Border Village for the next hole. Hole 6, par 3, is called Border Kangaroo. Don Harrington, a local figure rebuilt Border village after it was burned to the ground in 2000. He is also the current Chairman of the Eyre Highway Operators Association which has developed and owns the Nullarbor Links – the world’s longest golf course. As we were about to leave Border Village we heard a massive roar and suddenly a huge procession of motor bikes arrived – we had just stopped to photo a dingo so we lingered longer to watch the bikies gather and take off down the Road to Perth.
This next part of the drive was the most scenic so far as we had amazing views over the Bunda Cliffs all along the way. Next stop was just over the border between SA and WA at a place called Eucla. As we were heading for the border and were not allowed to bring fruit or vegetables over the border, Marcia, as always very frugal, cooked potatoes for potato salad and cooked apples for stewed fruit to avoid having to throw them away at border. Good thinking and management helped by the joy of having your house on your back or rather on wheels that you drive.
Crossing the border we were stopped by a very funny Australian/Chinese man who asked us if we had any drivers licences as we were too young to be driving and he would have to report us to the police! We both loved his sense of humour, in fact anybody who calls us “young” or ‘girls’ has our vote. We pulled into a parking area just beside the border as we had spotted hundreds of policemen in riot gear whom (we discovered) were waiting for a bunch of bikies (a renowned bikie gang called the Rebels) to arrive at the border to escort them to their next destination. All the police were either camping or staying at Eucla motel, we discovered later!
Our next stop was Eucla campsite and when we arrived there it was pretty empty but soon after we arrived, the bikes started to arrive. We found ourselves camped in the Eucla campsite amongst between 500-1000 bikie gang members. They spread themselves between Eucla, Border Village, and Mundrabilla , to camp, eat and sleep. We were very surprised by the lack of noise and action as we were expecting the worst. In fact many of them were very polite and courteous except the one guy I asked to photo who told me where to get off! We soon discovered that they were on their AGM which involved riding from Adelaide to Perth as that was where it was being held this year! They came from all over Australia to this event and many believed that by the time they got to Perth there could be up to 2000 altogether.
We played Hole 7, par 4, called the Nullarbor Nymph. The story goes that in the Eucla bar a PR bloke from Perth, was broke and in search of work so couldn’t pay his bill so he told Steve Patupis, the motel owner, he could make Eucla Motel famous. He told a story to a national newspaper that a naked woman with long blonde hair, was wild and living with the kangaroos at Eucla on the Nullarbor Plain. It seemed crazy that a newspaper would run such a story but they did and the story went viral. Suddenly Eucla was besieged by journalists and camera crews from Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and even the US. The good old BBC even sent a full TV documentary crew. The locals made the most of the story as all these people were bringing in $$$$. Hence the name of hole 7!
Eucla was established in 1877 as a manual repeater station for the Overland Telegraph and what is now the old telegraph station was built. Today the telegraph station is in ruins and a large part of it is buried in sand and locals believe that the area is haunted by a ghost. It was a lovely gentle walk there and the whole area is great for photography. On our way back to the camp we passed a large cross known as the travelers cross. As we headed out from the camp shop the following morning we had fun trying to drive through hundreds of huge bikes.
Tuesday 10th September
Next stop was Mundrabilla, where the young person in the cafe we stopped at said she had never worked so hard in her life – she was referring to the hundreds of bikies looking for coffee, food and smokes! It was a lively spot as all the bikies were there, hundreds if them and hundreds of police. We heard they were about to depart so we went down the Eyre highway a little way out from town so we could video and photograph them taking off on mass and what a sight (and sound) it was. They were like little black and silver insects with their leather gear and their headlights on. Half of the police set off ahead of the bikies and the other half followed. They stopped frequently at each roadhouse and cleaned out all the food and drink along they way. But we did manage to get a really tasty onion, cheese, bacon and egg sandwich in Mundrabilla after they had left and then went and played Hole 8, par 4, called the Watering Hole. Mundrabilla Roadhouse is on the Roe Plains which were once a source of sandalwood that was harvested and exported to the Far East.
At Medura Pass Motel in Medura we played Hole 9, par 3 called Brumby’s Run. It seems that many years ago this area bred horses called ‘Walers’ used for polo and cavalry horses for the British Imperial Indian Army.
And on to Hole 10, par 4, called Eagles Nest. The tee is called Bindy and to quote from the links website “Bindy (Glen) Seivwright has been carting BP Fuel along the Eyre Highway since 1983. He provides an invaluable service to all Fuel retailers and Pastoral Stations.
Bindy has over the years become a very popular truckie with all the roadhouses. He is a well respected and obliging person. The roadhouse operators regard Bindy as a real mate and look forward to his weekly visits.
This Tee is dedicated to a great bloke and a real true blue, Aussie Trucker. Bindy was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to the Nullarbor.
A lovely story
We were making good time so decided to drive on the extra 65kms to Caiguna where we would camp for the night. Since starting along the Nullarbor we had strong wind the whole way and it rattled poor ‘Betty’ our 4WD camper van as she was fairly high and narrow. This meant we had to hold the wheel tightly and keep to a certain speed so we would not get blown across the road. It was a little scary when large gusts of wind would just whip at us and we could feel the van move with it. When we arrived at Caiguna the wind had dropped finally and we had a lovely evening without wind which made a nice change. We played Hole 11, par 4, called 90 Mile Straight at the Caiguna Motel. The hole is aptly named as it is here at this roadhouse that the most famous stretch of road in Australia begins, called the 90 miles (146.6 kms) stretch and is dead straight – no bends! This 90 mile straight is also the only ‘true’ nullarbor (without trees) section of the whole Nullarbor Plains!
Wednesday 11th September
We played Hole 12, par 3, called Skylab at the at Balladonia Motel. So called according to the links website “Skylab was a space research laboratory constructed by the United States National Aerospace Agency (NASA) when in July 1979 it eventually succumbed to the Earth’s gravitational pull, re-entered the atmosphere and landed in fiery chunks around Balladonia.”
The museum in Balladonia is full of remnants from the Skylab so worth a visit. Not far away is Afghan rock where it is rumoured that an Afghan Cameleer was killed for bathing in the local water hole because the two guys who killed him wanted to drink from it and resented him bathing in their drinking water as it was the only water-bearing rock pools for many kilometres.
Our next stop was 90 kms west of Belladonia just off the Eyre Highway called Fraser Range Sheep Station. (www.fraserrangestation.com.au) Fraser Range Station is a working pastoral property that specialises in producing Damara sheep. On the way there we spotted several Emus and of course we stopped for a photo op! We still had not seen a live kangaroo just several dead road-kills along the highway.
It was lovely to arrive into the peaceful Fraser Ranges Station away from the traffic and set well in from the road. So far all the campsites had been next to or close to the main Eyre Highway. We booked in for dinner and for the night and asked about walks in the area. Our job was to tackle Hole 13, par 3, called Sheep’s Back. As usual we were well over par but it was lovely to be out in the farming countryside. There was a big open camp fire that guests were encouraged to gather around at about five pm. Most seats were taken by the time we got there but it was a very pleasant way to meet and greet other travelers and to have a chat to other campers about where they had been and where they were heading to.
We had a really great sleep following a lovely hot shower and a pleasant meal which was a little too salty for our taste.
Thursday 12th September
We had asked for guidance from staff for a ‘wildflower’ walk that we could do the next day. I awoke early so I went for a wander around the station and I was so pleased I did as I saw an adult emu with 11 babies wandering around the farm and I followed them with my camera. Magic!The local farmer/camp manager told me that the father Emu incubates them then looks after them until they are big enough to cope themselves. A joy to behold but we did not find out what the mother did during this time. Probably exhausted after laying 11 large emu eggs! I raced back to the camp site to call Marcia to come and see them as well.
We set out on a suggested 6 km walk which took us along the old Eyre Highway and around a loop of the sheep station. We made lots of noise to ensure snakes were aware of us walking along through the grass and bush. We finally found our way around the large hill mass and saw several big red kangaroos in the bush. We also saw some angry wedge tailed eagles who chased and clawed a kangaroo who was obviously too close to their nest, they did not like our presence either so we hightailed it away quickly. It was wildflower season and we saw many different wild flowers as we walked. This camp was a real comfortable friendly ‘round the camp fire’ type of camp where the campsite manager was so helpful and pleasant.
Below many of the beautiful wildflowers we saw:
Friday 13th September
We were sad that our two nights at Fraser Ranges Station was over but we were heading off down towards Lucky Bay for another exciting adventure. We stopped briefly at Norseman to play the last two holes of golf. The final holes are in Kambalda (1) and Kalgoorlie (2)but we are turning left at Norseman to Lucky Bay not right to Kalgoorlie so these were the last two holes of the links golf course for us. Hole 14, par 4, called Golden Horse at the Norseman Golf club as was Hole 15, par 4, called Ngadju named after the Ngadju people who are the traditional owners of the land this hole is on. We had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing the Links and would highly recommend it to anyone crossing the Nullarbor. We went around a ‘famous’ camel roundabout in Norseman, did some shopping and went to the information centre to get our certificates for crossing the Nullarbor.
We had loaded up our sat.nav. Tom Tom with up to date Australian maps before we left NZ so he took us to beautiful Lucky bay. From afar we caught glimpses of the beautiful white sands and turquoise waters. Not many people at the campsite so we parked where there was an amazing view over the sea and sand from our van. We then sat at the table overlooking the bay and were joined by a couple from Esperance, Geoff and Anne who come out most weekends to Lucky bay and Margaret and John the other couple were heading home to Newcastle NSW following an anti clockwise trip around Australia. They were one of the hundreds of Australian ‘grey nomads’ and had been on the road for over a year and were very keen to get home. She told us she was running low on blood pressure pills but could not get into see a doctor in Esperance for three weeks! They reckoned that Lucky bay was the best place they had been to on their trip. There were lots of friendly local kangaroos some with a joey in their pouch and very happy to be photographed!
Saturday 14th September
Unfortunately we had to leave beautiful Lucky Bay very early as we had to be at the Esperance Jetty at 08:30 for a boat trip out to Woody Island. We had called Peter (the person running the trips) from Gibson to ensure the trip was on as it was still off season! We arrived at Esperance and searched for an optician to try to get Marcia’s broken glasses fixed as they were impossible to use but alas the opening time was 09:00 and closed at noon as it was a Saturday so no go.
Off we set off to Woody Island on our boat called the Southern Niche. It was a lovely new boat just about a year old. Peter was at the helm while he taught Roger to captain the boat and Teaghan to do the commentary. Peter was incredibly enthusiastic about the whole Bay of Islands and Esperance where he had come to from England in 1976. He told us the history of the area, how the word knots came into boating, the life of the white breasted sea eagle, the habitat of the grey cape bar Goose. Teaghan threw frozen fish out and the sea eagles swooped down to grab them. There were several variety of seals and birds, all fully explained and named by Peter.
We arrived at Woody Island and were given morning tea and a muffin. We were then invited to go for a walk around the island with Peter, first to the viewing area where we were regaled with stories of local characters and their adventures on this and other islands around. There were many ‘risqué’ stories and some horrific stories. He talked of the pink lake just outside Esperance that was so pink that one might think it’s a trick but the colour is said to come from the algae. There is an even pinker lake on Middle Island that can only be seen from the air. Each island has different habitat – death adders on one, black snakes on another. He also told us the story of a man capturing aboriginal women and using then to crawl around the rocks to attract the seals!
People come out to stay on Woody Island – there are various types of accommodation – safari huts, on-site tents and tent sites where you bring your own tent, the accommodation and facilities are quite basic – campers kitchen and three lots of ablution blocks with hot water. All quite adequate. One needs to ensure boats are coming and going when you need them as the service is weather dependent. Our tour was with “Esperance Island cruises & Woody Island Eco Stays”.
We were back into Esperance by 13:00 so we went to Taylor Road Cafe for lunch it was really beautiful and in a great position! We were booked into The Jetty Resort where we finished the evening with pizza and champagne.
Sunday 15th September
We drove around Esperance looking for some shops but all were closed except IGA on the outskirts of the town. We topped up our groceries and headed off around the 40 km scenic drive passing several beaches, then on to Ravensthorpe. There was only one campsite in the small town and when we drove in we initially thought it looked grotty but turned out to have very clean facilities. The reason for our stop here was the Annual Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show and Spring Festival which they hold every year for two weeks in September, so we ate lunch and went off looking for the Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show. I called into the first garage I came across and asked the way – told it was along in community hall about ten minutes in one direction but when I got there it was deserted! So I headed back into town where I met Marcia and we found a lovely lady in museum who directed us, in the opposite direction!, to the right place. We had no idea what to expect but we found a hall with seven hundred species of flowers in it. It is run by the local wildflower group and the women must have permits to pick the wild flowers in certain areas and they started picking two days before the show began. Incredible to imagine all the species can exist in the wild and wonderful to be able to view them up close as one may never find them on walks. It then started to rain and rain and rain. We waited in the senior citizen hall until the rain eased but still got very wet on our way back to the caravan park. Early to bed and listened to the rain all night.
Monday 16th September
Today we head off 159 kms deep into Fitzgerald River National Park to Quaalup Homestead Wilderness Retreat which is just outside the park.
(http://www.whalesandwildflowers.com.au/quaaluphomestead.htm). There were several ways into the Retreat but we decided to go via the route recommended by the owners. There were lots of wild flowers along the route. The road was pretty good at first but soon we came to a gravel road which eventually took us to the station. On the way we stopped to refuel at Jerramungup as we knew there was no petrol between there and Quaalup. We arrived at Quaalup at about 11:00, earlier than we expected. This Heritage Listed Building is owned by Karin & Carsten from Hamburg, Germany. Karin welcomed us warmly and took us to out little unit with an ensuite. We had decided to abandon Betty for a few nights of comfort. The unit was so quaint and was all we needed, clean functional and well maintained. Carsten advised us to take trip to Point Ann that day as rain was predicted for the following day and Fitzgerald NP would be closed if it rained. We drove 30km there and walked to the whale look out . We saw three Southern Wright whales and their calves in the bay. We then went for a walk along the rabbit proof fence to the cliff top to view Trigelow beach which was stunning with its beautiful crystal clear waters and white sands. There were wildflowers everywhere which made the walk even more exciting. On our way back through the park we had to let ourselves out through gate. The ranger had stopped us on way there to let us know that the park was being closed. He said we could carry on but would need to let ourselves out.
Back at the retreat we had some afternoon tea and then headed off on their own nature walk – so many beautiful wildflowers and all labelled so we could get to know some of them. Then there was a viewing platform about two story hight, where we climbed up to have a view of the countryside. There were also dozens of pretty tame kangaroos who did not budge when we walked close to them. We saw no sign of Edna, the local emu who had been missing for a few days!
Quaalup homestead was established in 1858 by the John Wellstead and then taken over in 1890 by the Hassel family and then taken over by Karin and Karsten in 2004. We had also booked for dinner and had a delightful dinner cooked by Karsten as Karin was recovering from flu. It was served in the old dining room by candlelight. We had corn soup followed by Turkish stew with lamb, mince and feta and then a desert.
Fresh air and silence ensured a great nights sleep and though it rained during the night we awoke to a blue sky and more wind. After breakfast we sat out on the balcony reading and listening to the birds and watched the kangaroos hopping about. The kangaroos sat around the homestead like they belonged there, not in the least disturbed by anyone walking close to them – just a stare and yawn! The day was unsettled, with rain coming and going but when it had stopped raining we set off to walk the ridge walk – 11/2 hours. What amazing views from the ridge and again we admired lots of wildflowers. We decided we just loved this place and could easily stay for another few days. When we got back from the walk we discovered we had neighbours and also discovered that the walls are a little thin!
Dinner was again served in that lovely little room in the old homestead and tonight’s meal was as tasty as last night’s. Our starter was orange and carrot soup, followed by Thai chicken and jasmine rice and desert. We shared our table with a couple Michael and Maureen from Perth but originally from England. This place is a mixture of wilderness, isolation and tranquility. No mod cons here in the wilderness, just living with nature. The property is entirely solar powered with drinking water collected from rain, and washing water supplied from a bore on the property so it is totally self sufficient.
Wednesday 18th September
Sadly we said good bye to Quaalup and the Quaalup Bell (Pimelea physodes), a spectacular wildflower found only in southwest of Western Australia. We had seen several at the Quaalup Homestead.
We are bound for the Sterling Ranges today and our first stop is Jerramungup, and again the wind is blowing very strongly but at least it is not raining. We topped up with petrol and groceries before we made our way to the Yongergnow Australia Malleefowl Centre near Onegerup. The aim of the centre is to reintroduce Malleefowl back to their natural habitat. They have several large custom built aviaries that are big and have several trees where the fowl can hide. They have one male and one female in one aviary and a lone female in another. These fowl were nearly extinct because the mallee bush was fast disappearing through fires. They look like big attractive turkeys and are stocky ground-dwelling birds that are about the size of a domestic chicken. Malleefowl are said to be shy, wary, solitary birds that usually fly only to escape danger. They also fly into the mallee tree to roost. They are hard to see even in these aviaries as they tend to freeze if disturbed and then slither into the undergrowth.
When we arrived at the Sterling Ranges Retreat, just inside the Sterling Ranges National Park. (http://www.stirlingrange.com.au) We were met by ‘Bully’ who greeted us warmly, found us a nice site out of the wind and gave us a long extension cord so we could use that particular site. We booked on an orchid tour the following morning and got settled into the park. Once settled I went for walk for about one hour. It was a lovely evening and I saw loads of wildflowers and fields of bright yellow canola seed. We used the camp kitchen to cooked steak and onions and met Mike from Perth who was very chatty and happy to share some thoughts about the local area.
Thursday 19th September
We were up early the next morning for our wildflower tour with Bully, the manager. We were to be outside the office at nine o’clock. There were a few other people waiting for the tour – one person from Albany WA information bureau, one Swiss couple who have lived on a boat for nine years. The boat is now moored in Cairns while the couple are travelling around Australia and one guy from NSW. We drove through various parts of Sterling Ranges NP and saw loads of orchids – it was refreshing to see a stocky man’s man so passionate and protective about tiny orchids and Bully knew exactly where to find them. We had morning tea at Mount Trio with biscuits and muffins supplied by Bully
The rest of the people (the owners) at the Sterling Ranges Retreat were efficient and helpful but not really friendly. They lacked enthusiasm, perhaps it was a bad day or they had been doing the job for too long. Excellent facilities and well organised but weather was very windy.
Friday 20th September
Today we needed to get to Albany to try to find an optician and get Marcia’s glasses fixed. We had intended to take the Sterling Ranges Drive right through the park and then through Porongrup but sadly the weather was so bad we decided for the more direct route. So a straight drive down the tar seal to Albany as it continued to rain and rain. Marcia managed to get her glasses fixed and again as we were in town we did a top up shop before heading off towards Walpole. On the way we saw a sign that said “Wild Food Factory” so we investigated and ended up having a delicious kangaroo burger and a slightly chewy kangaroo kebab. Stopped for coffee at a place called Phillipines cafe and then headed for Rest Point caravan park on west side of Walpole, having gone through a quaint town called Denmark. This pretty town in the Great Southern region of WA sits on the banks of the beautiful Denmark River. It has a rugged coastline and is surrounded by towering forests.
Rest Point Holiday Village is a picturesque village with a beautiful waterfront on the banks of the Walpole and Nornalup Inlet, in the heart of the Walpole wilderness. The village is 4kms west of Walpole and is surrounded by the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. It was wet and soggy everywhere after the recent rains. But when darkness came and the sky cleared the reflection of the moon on the inlet was beautiful. We cooked our meal in the tiny camp kitchen where we met three sisters and one brother and their partners who were having a family get together and dinner. They from all parts of Australia and try to get together in a different area every year. They were very chatty and friendly.
Saturday 21st September
Up early to catch the sunrise on the inlet and to watch the local fisherman set off for their day’s fishing. The inlet was like a millpond and the reflections of the boats in the early morning light was stunning. A local pelican preened and strutted his stuff on the edge of he water and swam up and down the inlet.
We then packed up and headed off to the Valley of the Giants to walk Valley of the Giants Tree Top walk and to visit the Ancient Empire, both of which are a few kms west of Denmark. This 600 metre long tree top walkway rises to almost 40 metres above the forest floor, which gives an amazing bird’s eye view of the forest. We then took the trail that links the Tree Top Walk to the Ancient Empire boardwalk where we could touch some of the 400-year-old giants of the forest.The Ancient Empire trail takes you through a grove of veteran tingle trees. Along the path we came across a gnarled old veteran tree known as Grandma Tingle. We loved it and were so glad we had taken the time to come here.
And on to another giant tree called the ‘Gloucester’ tree near Pemberton. The Gloucester tree had a narrow metal ladder winding around it to the top. We climbed about 1/4 way up and even there the view was amazing. This tree used to be used as a lookout for firemen to check for bush fires. While we were there one young man climbed to top and said he was very scared as it was extremely windy at the top. The whole drive along the coast road to Yallingup was very windy and we did not see any sign of the coast until we got into Yallingup! We had expected the coast road to be just that – along the coast!
We easily found the Yallingup Beach Holiday Park and we were assigned a van site, and took some wine, beer and nibbles to a table where we sat and watched the sunset over the Indian Ocean, with a bored dog and a hungry seagull. A young Australian woman joined us and it turned out she had been a cop up in Arnhem Land. She kept us amused for ages with stories of her time there. The wind continued through the night rocking and swaying our camper van which in turn kept us awake half the night
Sunday 22nd September
I went for a wander around Yallingup village and beach to see what there was – not much, most shops and cafe closed as we were a little out of season. We did our housekeeping and chores and then headed off to walk the Cape Nautaliste lighthouse circuit. Sadly, although the day was beautifully sunny and windy one minute, black clouds overtook us quickly and the next minute rain came lashing down. We got absolutely soaked! A change of clothes and off we went to look for the winery we had been told about called The Growers. It is a local vineyard that makes handcrafted wines and has been managed by husband and wife team, Doreen and Phil May since November 2011. They make a delightful white and red wine called ‘Shag on a Rock’ and the grapes are from the famous Margaret River area. We then went looking for places to eat but they were all either closed for weddings or routinely closed between 3-5pm. We ended up back at the Caves House Hotel which is a lovely big pub, cafe and hotel all rolled into one and where we were able to order soup. The wind continued blowing a gale so we hunkered down with a good book and slept better than the previous night as we were getting more used to the wind.
Monday 23rd September
We had booked a ‘Bushtucker Winery & Brewery Tour’ (http://bushtuckertours.com) for today and were being picked up at 10:40 by Peter. The tour visits 7 vineyards between Whitecliffe and Dunsborough, a chocolate factory, a brewery and a cocktail bar plus a bush tuckers lunch.
Our first stop was Cape Naturaliste Vineyard and here is a little information from their website. “The property now known as Cape Naturaliste Vineyard started life as the coach inn for travelers journeying between Perth and Margaret River on horse and buggy – a journey taking about 3 days – a history going back 150 years. Some later years the property then became a dairy known as Thorn Hill. During this time Whale ships came into the sheltered waters of Smiths Beach to purchase vegetables grown in the valleys rich alluvial soil. In 1970 the surrounding land was discovered to be rich in mineral sands. A mining company purchased the land with the intention to mine the valley. Fortunately the government stepped in and declared it “A” zone national park. Cape Naturaliste Vineyard was planted in 1997 by the owner, Craig Brent-White, who purchased the land from a mineral sands company in 1980”.
Jan was our host for the tour of this vineyard and her vine keeper husband is an oenologist. She really knew her wine and gave us some really good pointers about WA wines especially the Margaret River area. She also gave us a lesson on the right way for tasting wines. This vineyard has won several international wine awards and we enjoyed several of the wines we tasted.
The next vineyard was called Nottinghill Hill Estate Vineyard– a family owned business, the family were farmers originally but are now winemakers. Knotting Hill Estate has been owned and operated by the Gould family since 1997 and their philosophy is simple: they love to sell quality wines to happy customers. Michael Gould and his father Brian established Knotting Hill from scratch, planting and training the vines, building the cellar door and dam, while simultaneously managing their wheat belt farm. A love of wine swayed the family to move from farming to viticulture. Michael, his wife Sondra and three children all live on the property. It was Sondra that was our host for the tour. What I loved about this and the last vineyard is the absence of snobbery about wine – they just love to tell you about their part in the wine making,
Churchview vineyard was our next stop. All the vineyards were in beautifully landscaped ‘parks’ with user friendly tasting rooms and car parks. And of course the wines were really good. We heard that our ‘Chocolate’ visited had to be cancelled because the wind had caused them to loose their electricity and so the tour leader had to make some quick phone calls to fine another suitable venue.
We had our ‘bush tucker’ at Nottinghill Estate and tasted kangaroo, emu, crocodile, huhu-bugs and lots of bush nuts. An interesting experience, some of which I would not have again!
We were entertained by ‘pretend’ grumpy Steve at The Grove Experience. We had several cocktails while been ‘abused’ by Steve about where we were from, what people wore, one’s accent in fact anything he could pick on but all in great humour and we had so much fun. A great experience!
Then on to Duckstein Brewery, a little piece of Germany in the Margaret River where German-style craft beers are brewed on location. The bar was massive but was somehow divided into a few alcoves with very comfortable chairs. Many of the group chose to try a tray of five small glasses of beers to taste.
Tuesday 24th September
Today we set off to see some old friends in Bunbury and booked into Bunbury Caravan Park. Bunbury is a port city and is the third largest city in WA and is 175kms south of Perth. Our friends came and picked us up and took us on a tour of city and out to the Leschenault Estuary which was a beautiful drive and we ended up back at their home for a lovely meal and a taxi ride home to ‘Betty’ in the caravan park.
Wednesday 25th September
And finally on to the city of Perth to stay with some more good friends for a few days and to explore Perth & Fremantle. We went to Kings Park to see the wildflowers – the colours and array of flowers was spectacular. Kings Park is one of the largest inner city parks in the world and encompasses the botanical gardens, a variety of walks and is on top of a hill in a stunning location that overlooks the city and the Swan River. the views from the park are beautiful and you can see the coloured sails of boats on the river,and the famous ‘Swan’ brewery, the lights of the city and the distant Perth Hills. It is a mix of 400+ hectares of cultivated gardens and bushland. There is also a 750 year old boab tree, that has been transplanted, at huge expense, from the Kimberley region of WA. The shop and information area was also very exciting to look around as it contained lots of artefacts created by local artists.
We spent several hours out in Fremantle, Julie my friend drove us there and took us through the markets and down to the waterfront where we had fresh fish & chips and wandered around the hundreds of boats there. We happened to be there the same day as the Fremantle Roosters were in the final of the Rugby League and everyone there was dressed in the Roosters colours and settling into the pubs to watch the game. We wandered along to see the North Mole Lighthouse which began operation in 1906 at the entrance to Fremantle Harbour.
We met all the children and grandchildren of Pete & Julie and had some lovely family time with them. We also pampered ourselves and took Marcia out to a beautiful restaurant for her birthday near where they lived called Clarke’s of North Beach. The food and service was superb. Before we went for dinner Pete made us a ‘mean’ lemoncello’ which started the night well.
And then back home to New Zealand!