Tuesday, February 28, 2012

10 - THE LAST LEG

After a week in the city we headed down to the south bypassing the other major towns, spending our time travelling country roads and bushland.  We spent a night at Big Valley Sheep Station, then Windy Harbour (no more windy than the rest of the state!), and Fernhook Falls.

By now it was getting close to "going home" time and the weather was showery a lot of the time.  We spent a wet night in Albany, an overnight at Meridian Rest Area and had a quick look (again in the rain) at Esperance and it surrounds before getting to Cape Le Grande, another of the "must see" places.  We had planned to go on to Cape Arid, but as time was running out and we were told it was very similar to Cape Le Grande, we decided to give it a miss (save it for later).

We opted to take a short cut road to Balladonia rather than go all the way to Norseman, however this proved to be a long way round in the end as we got a flat tyre on the front of the truck.  When I went to put a chock under the back wheel on the opposite side, I thought that one looked low too, but presumed it was because the weight was all being biased that way with the front being on the jack.  By the time the front wheel was changed, the back one was completely flat!.  Fortunately it was a slow leak which held until we got to Balladonia where we were told we could go back almost 200k to Norseman or 500k east for the nearest places to fix tyres.  We plugged the front tyre and put it back on, but it soon went flat again.  We couldn't find a leak on the back, but it was holding up fairly well.  This left us with no spare and a slow leak so we decided we'd better go back to Norseman.  The result was that the front tyre was a write-off but the back was an easy repair.

After that it was a quick look in at the various vantage points along the Bight and one night stops at rest areas and caravan parks until we got to Wagga where we spent our first night in a house (guests of my sister and brother-in law) since leaving Melbourne five and a half months earlier.  The next night we were home.

9 - A BIT FURTHER SOUTH

We turned inland again and found Coalseam National Park, so named because of the visible coal seam in the cliff face along the river gorge, and site of old coal mining operations.  The park was almost deserted, the camp hosts had departed and there was no camping fee collection facilities so it was a free camp.  Two other vehicles made camp there overnight, but it was very quiet.  A rather nice place, but the weather was getting too hot and the wildflowers, which are a big feature of the area, were almost finished.

However we saw plenty of flowers at Western Flora Park.  This is a caravan park operated by a botanist who specialises in WA native wildflowers, on a 60 acre property which is mainly virgin bush.  For no extra fee the owner conducts a tour of the flowers explaining a lot of interesting facts about the flowers, the reason for the diversity of plant life, interesting aspects of the many different insects and birds required for pollination and all sorts of other interesting details.  After about an hour and a half of exploring the grounds, we were then taken into a room where he showed us specimens he had picked up on the walk, under a microscope (projected onto a screen via CCD camera).  Flowers that were so tiny the details are impossible to see with the naked eye looked totally different when magnified x 40.  We also saw them under ultra-violet light, which is how the birds and insects see them and the learned of the differences in colour due to this.  He also explained that although the "Wildflower Season" was considered to be over there were flowers to be seen all year round and we were seeing things that people who come earlier do not see.  After that we saw the plants and the country in general through different eyes and noticed much more as we were walking through the bush.

Next stop was another relaxing beach-side camp at Sandy Cape.  This was a very popular place.  We arrived about lunch time on a Friday and lucky we did as it was filling up fast.  Well before dark all the spaces around us were full, and well after dark vehicles with camper trailers were driving in, doing a lap and leaving again.  I don't know if they found places further around in the deep sandy areas, or had to move on further to other camp sites.  We spent two nights here, meeting up again with some friends from earlier camps, and spending the days exploring the nearby parks.

Another "must see" was the monastery town of New Norcia.  It is certainly unique with it's lovely old buildings and history.  Camping is also very reasonable - a donation  of about $7 allows you to camp on the sports ground on grass, under big shady trees and just across the road from the main part of the town.

After the pleasant little villages and wildflowers, we again headed back inland doing a big loop north and east to the old gold fields and sandstone country stopping at Mt Magnet (caravan park), Leinster, and Niagra Dam.  Leinster was interesting in terms of camping - a proper caravan park owned by the mining company so not expensive and meals available at the mess for a very reasonable price - "all you can eat" buffet style.

We also visited Lake Ballard, with the 'Inside Australia' art sculptures.  We were extremely under impressed and unless you are a devotee of modern art I would consider it a completely worthless trip.  The sculptures are ugly lumps of iron, supposed to represent the residents of a nearby town.  All I can say is that if they look like that they must be terribly inbred or from another planet!  It is spread out across a huge area of a salt lake and would take hours to walk around all of them.  We walked past the first two and decided we wouldn't waste our time and energy looking at any more of them.

Next stop was Kalgoorlie.  We spent two nights camped at Lake Douglas, a free camp not far from town and travelled back in each day to explore the town, and generally see the tourist attractions.  On the Sunday we went to Boulder markets and did a bus tour of the "golden mile" mine.  We spent one night in a caravan park to "clean up", then the last night at a free site in town with a 24 hour limit.

Leaving Kalgoorlie we continued on to Coolgardie and down to Wave Rock (and various other interesting rocks along the way) camping at Koralee Rock (very interesting stone walls on the huge rock area for water pipe line) and Wickepin before reaching the "Big Trees" country.

We spent a couple of nights at Shannon National Park, then Big Brook Dam doing walks and drives through the forest areas.  We had planned to go from here to the Margaret River area, however several bush fires broke out in the area and we woke one morning to find everything covered in fine ash, and ate our breakfast with it raining down on us.  This meant some of the roads we were planning to take were closed and we had to find detours, consequently not getting into the Margaret River wine growing area as this was the worst affected.  About 38 houses were destroyed, but fortunately no loss of life.

After trying to find a camping space in a National Park with tiny spaces and bollards everywhere we gave up and stumbled across Heron Point which was a much better place all round.  It overlooked an inlet and had nice walks and views.  It was another Friday afternoon, and again the place was full before dark.

This brought us into Perth where we spent eight nights, doing a boat trip down the river to Fremantle, visiting the markets, two maritime museums and old gaol.  We spent a very nice day in Kings Park, then visited friends from our Canning Stock Route trip three years ago, and met up with relatives from the UK who were passing through.

Friday, December 30, 2011

8 - BACK TO THE INDIAN OCEAN

First stop back on the coast was Cape Range National Park/Ningaloo Reef for a few day, then down to Coral Bay.  We hired snorkels etc at both places and went swimming amongst the coloured fish and coral.  It's easy to get to - only a few metres off the beach, not a boat trip like the Great Barrier Reef, however it's not as colourful at GBR. On one of the beaches near Cape Range we were fortunate to see a lot of huge turtles both on the beach and in the shallow water just off the beach.  Some were still mating, but many had come ashore to rest before laying their eggs.  The ones up on the beach looked like they were dead and half buried in the sand but after standing around quietly for a while we'd notice an eye blink, or another one take a few steps and settle down again, so they were obviously just having a good rest after coming ashore from a long sea voyage. 


A bit further down the coast was Quabba Homestead with a large area of rock above the cliffs, and a further rock shelf below just above the water, with a lot of blowholes in it.  Some were only little, but others were shooting water way up into the air well above the top of the cliff.  From there we called into Carnarvon for a day to catch up on grocery shopping, then down to Hamelin Pool to see the stromatolites.  Another interesting natural phenomenon and one of only a couple left in the world (stromatolites are what made our oil deposits that we all depend on these days)

There are two caravan parks there, one at the Old Telegraph Station site and the other one at the nearby homestead.  We opted for the homestead and had a wonderful time.  The facilities were 5 star.  A beautifully clean, tiled amenities block that looked brand spanking new (but about 3 years old actually), another building housing a big commercial style kitchen for campers to use, an adjoining dining room and big verandah with gas barbeques.  (They also have rooms to let and do fully catered accommodation for groups of geologists coming to study the stromatolite pool.)

The couple hosting the campground were very friendly and joined in with the campers for happy hour etc.  On the morning after the first night we set out to go into Denham, but only a few kilometres up the road we saw the sky ahead was very black and then a severe storm warning came over the radio - expected to cross the coast at Denham with severe lightning, large hail, high winds, a lot of rain and possible flash flooding.  People were advised to stay indoors, get their cars etc under cover - and we were driving straight towards it.  So we decided to make a U turn and go back to the homestead where we would have some shelter.  When we arrived back Jock, the camp host checked out the weather web site and saw that it could possibly come over there too, so everyone "battened down the hatches", parked vehicles close up to the buildings etc, and people who were about to leave decided to stay.  Consequently it turned into an all-day happy hour on the verandah and everyone had a good time.  Fortunately the wind changed slightly and it crossed the coast further down, so we only had some heavy rain for a little while where we were. That was two nights there instead of one.

Next morning we set off again to Denham, and Francois Peron National Park and spent two nights camped there.  There had been a lot of rain out at Peron Point and the camping areas the day before so it was a good decision to turn back the day before.  It was an interesting place, both at the end of the park - Peron Point and Skipjack Point, as well as a few lookouts along the coast before Denham where we could see humpback whales out to sea plus sharks, rays, and one dugong swimming in the shallow water and at the edges of the huge areas of sea grass.

We decided not to go the the highly publicised Monkey Mia to "swim with the dolphins".  They charge a fee just to get into the area and apparently once there it's all very "commercial" and you can't actually swim.  You can stand in the water up to about knee deep, and someone comes down with food for the dolphins, which will swim in close and around you if you are lucky.  This is done about 7:30am and a couple of times later in the morning if there are enough dolphins about.  We were advised that as most of them had babies, they were not coming in to shore much, and they were only doing the one feeding at 7:30.

After the National Park we went back again to Hamelin Pool Homestead - third night... because we also wanted to go to Steep Point, the most westerly point on the mainland, just to say we'd been there I guess.  We were lucky enough to get a camp site after being told the day before that it was booked out for the next 2 or 3 weeks.  They had a cancellation and we were there in time to get it.  It's a 'fun' drive in through the sand hills but it wasn't much fun camping that night.  Late in the afternoon the wind got up and by dinner time it was blowing a gale - one of the times we were glad of the extra feature our camper has of being able to slide the kitchen inside the tent, as well as the normal outside position.  We just heated up tinned Irish Stew and went to bed, but couldn't read in bed because I thought I'd be seasick we were being rocked around so much by the wind. After thorougly exploring the area, seeing the Zuytdorp Cliffs, False Entrance and another area of blowholes (which weren't blowing because the swell wasn't right) we headed back again to Hamelin Pool, planning to leave the next morning.  But ..... next day was Melbourne Cup and the property owners had organised a lunch, inviting some of their nearest neighbours (up to 60 kilometres away) and any of the campers who wanted to stay.  So we decided to stay, have a few drinks and a good time and stay for another night, making it five nights in all.  So hard to drag yourself away from some places!


When we finally got away we went to Kalbarri where we stayed three nights, seeing all the sights of the National Park and enjoying what was left of the famous wildflowers.  Although it is getting late in the season there were still quite a few very nice patches of colour.  And from there on there has been quite a bit of coloured flowering plants of all types along the roadside and out into the bush, where is is not under crops or being grazed.

Kalbarri is definitely the best of all the National Parks and also the most accessible.  There are a few very easy walks to some river gorges and even the climb to "The Window on the World" is not difficult.

After exploring everything there, we had a couple of days just relaxing at Coronation Bay where we caught up with people who had been at Ningaloo with us.  Then it was off to Geraldton for a 20,000k truck service and the usual grocery shopping etc.