Bunbury – Busselton (Western Australia)

17/11/16  Bunbury was our next destination. The looping drive that took us east from Perth to Darkan, Bridgetown and now Bunbury had brought us back to the coast only 170kms south of Perth, which was fine as we’d seen lots of very interesting and pretty countryside in the meantime. We travel to see things, not to cover distances.

As we drove around Bunbury’s points of interest, the Landy felt a little strange and wobbly, like a tyre had developed a high spot or something. So, back at the caravan park, it went up on the jack and each wheel in turn came off to be checked out. When the rear offside tyre came off – “Bloody hell!” – it was badly split and separating around the inner bead. While the outer sidewall looked fine, the inner was diabolical and ready to let go of the rim at any moment. Weirdly, it was still holding air pressure and looked quite normal on the Tyre Pressure Monitoring System. It was so lucky that I’d checked it, otherwise the tyre would definitely have blown very soon somewhere down the road, probably with the van attached. The tyre budget takes another hit. “Where’s that ring, Di?”

While in Bunbury, we met up with Murray and Jannine, who had just purchased a Kimberley Kruiser from Dean and Ros, the couple we’d met while in Perth. When we mentioned in passing to Murray and Jannine that we would be heading south from Bunbury, they very kindly offered us the use of their Busselton beach house to park the van. And we gratefully accepted.

Busselton is only 52kms to the south. The van was reversed onto the front yard of the beach house and plugged in to power. All the comforts of home. This was our camp for the next three days and a good base from which to see the South West Corner, the sticky-out bit at the bottom of WA.

We did day trips to Dunsborough, Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and Yallingup, and particularly liked the million-dollars-for-a-look-in community of Eagle Bay. The beaches in the Corner were very scenic with magnificent shades of blue water. We covered much of the area down to Augusta and Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the most south-westerly point on the Australian continent and the point where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. As chance would have it, we also called in to a few wineries and galleries in the Margaret River area. I must say that the reds, while not as big and bold as those from the East, are still very lovely, the scones at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse are the biggest and best in the world, and the Charcuterie Board at Voyager Estate Winery, in company with a tasting of their reds, is worthy of note.

“Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.” – Leonard Cohen (RIP)

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Bird Watching – Perth To Maranup Ford (Western Australia)

10/11/16

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Maranup Ford (Western Australia)

10/11/16

From Darkan, we headed south on back roads through rolling sheep and cattle country to the small town of Boyup Brook where we stocked up the pantry (gotta love those IGA stores), then went on a little further to Bridgetown and up into the very pretty Whinston Hills to a farm stay at Maranup Ford on the Blackwood River.

This very scenic cattle and sheep property, established in 1898, was our base while we did the tourist loop of nearby towns. The grounds surrounding the 99 year old homestead and adjacent grassed camping area were laid out with beautiful gardens in full bloom, with an Australian garden of WA natives at the entrance, a cottage garden with roses and self-sown plants and a more formal garden close to the homestead. Parkland extended down to the river. Maranup Ford has been a regular Open Garden in the annual Spring Festival of Country Gardens and while the festival came to a close the day we arrived, we were still able to enjoy the garden and birdlife at our leisure.

The loop drive through the nearby quaint heritage towns of Greenbushes, Balingup, Nannup and Bridgetown wound through some of the prettiest country we’ve seen in quite a while, often travelling alongside the scenic Blackwood River. In Nannup, we discovered that the main street and several of the commercial buildings had been used as film sets in the making of the Australian surf movie “Drift”. That night, watching the film back at the van, it was interesting to see how the streetscape had been cleverly transformed to give the appearance of a 1970s town.

Maranup Ford Farm Stay (WA)

Maranup Ford Farm Stay (WA)

After three nights, we decided with much reluctance to head off to Bunbury on the coast. Schoolies was looming and we should get beyond the popular party destinations before then. But peaceful Maranup Ford, with its parklike gardens and birdlife, including a couple of new birds that Di added to her list, was one of those spots that we just did not want to leave. It was like camping in the middle of the Botanical Gardens. We just loved it.

A plateau is a high form of flattery.

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Nanga Mill Campground – Darkan Caravan Park (Western Australia)

7/11/16  We’ve just camped for three days at a great little community caravan park operated by the folk at Darkan, a small town with a population of around 500 in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia between Collie and the Albany Highway. We pulled in with the intention of only staying one night but the facilities looked so new and clean that we decided to stay on a little longer. So far, there’s been only us and one other van here. Camp fees operate on an honesty system, too, which I think says a lot about the nature of a community. And, it’s so quiet, unlike the Nanga Mill Campground before Darkan.

Nanga Mill is one of a number of campgrounds in the picturesque Lane Poole Reserve, about 100kms south of Perth. We’d set up the van in a lovely spot among tall pine trees just up from a small flowing trout stream that dabbled over rocks and away through the wooded valley – all the makings of a very pleasant camp spot or so we thought. Serenity was swept away with the arrival in the afternoon of a dozen or more vehicles bursting at the seams with kids and tents for some sort of group weekend camp-out. From the moment the first car door opened, the ever-growing horde swept through the campground, trampling Serenity into the dust. Their most popular activities involved rampaging around the campground and high-pitched screaming, but for sheer ingenuity the prize had to go to the group of kids who went around late in the evening peeing on the remains of all the campfires. The level of uncontrolled mayhem was comparable to a primary school playground during a teacher’s strike. And on the topic of striking, where were the parents? If not for their cars still being in the campground, I’d have thought they’d made a rapid exit after dropping their little terrors off. Perhaps they were all holed up in one of the tents quietly getting sozzled, but wherever they were, they had obviously left Control and Discipline at home while packing Mayhem into the car. In the still-tranquil dawn light of the following morning, we were out of there, disappearing up the road in a cloud of dust, the earliest we’ve ever broken camp.

Darkan was a good opportunity to get a few things done like rearranging the gear inside the Landy to track down a persistent rattle, doing a good clean inside of the Kruiser, washing down the van and Landy, greasing the Treg hitch (which I’d missed doing for ages – oops), and swapping out the awful north Perth water for better local stuff. The Perth water must really be bombed with chemicals, still tasting toxic after ten days in the tank. Oh, and Darkan was also good for after-lunch siestas.

After three hours, it’s no longer called “resting your eyes”.

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Perth – Fremantle – Rottnest Island (Western Australia)

2/11/16  Coming in to Perth, we headed to the caravan park at Karrinyup Waters Resort and set up on a grassy site among the trees down the back, away from the crowded rows of caravans on concrete slabs. It was just like bush camping…but with power and bathroom facilities, oh and a pool and spa and laundry – well, similar to bush camping.

A couple of weeks earlier, I’d noticed a weld on the Landy’s rear wheel carrier that looked cracked and rusted. It was fitted by Opposite Lock back home in 2013 and had carried a spare wheel for well over 60,000kms, sometimes over very rough roads and tracks up to Cape York and all around Australia. When I mentioned to Aaron at OL that I was calling from WA, he suggested I contact the manufacturer who happened to be located in Perth, of all places! What’re the chances of that! We dropped in to the Outback Accessories factory and they said yep, no worries, we’ll replace that with a new one. It turned out not to be an actual weld break after all but they were still more than happy to replace it anyway as they had slightly changed the way they were making them since I’d bought mine. Great guys and excellent customer service. It’s terrific to deal with a company that will so readily stand behind their product without any hassles. The next day, the Landy was sporting a brand spanking new rear wheel carrier with a complementary wheel cover thrown in to the bargain. Thumbs up to Ross and Justin.

We caught up with Gary, an old friend and neighbour from back in the 80s in Townsville. Despite the 35 year interval, it was just like old times which is always the sign of a good friendship. We spent a great day being given a guided tour of the Sunset Coast beach strip and the old convict-era attractions of Fremantle, with lunch at Bather’s Beach House next to the old jetty. The following day, Di and I went back to Fremantle to see more, and caught up afterwards with “New Best Friend” (inside joke) and fellow traveller, Fleur, for coffee and a chat at her home. It was a shame we missed seeing Peter who was away for a few weeks chasing his El Dorado with a gold detector.

The Landy (aka Big Ears) is now wearing a set of Clearview extending mirrors for added towing vision, courtesy of Wayne, our “New Second-Best Friend” (same inside joke) and ex-Disco 3 owner who we met at Karijini NP.

Being back in a bustling city after so long in the bush was curious – more 2WDs than 4WDs; more people who’ve obviously had a bath that day; young people outnumbering the grey-haired baby boomers; fast freeways full of fast drivers who take a gap regardless of one being there or not – so noticeable after tootling around in the Serenity for so long. I drive like I’m in a 6.5-tonne rig – steady braking, steady acceleration, braking distance in front – not so easy to do when everyone else is in such a hurry. Get me back to the Serenity!

We went to Fremantle yet again to see the WA Maritime Museum, home to the winning 1983 America’s Cup yacht, Australia II. She’s under full sail and suspended up in the air in a large room in the museum, with her famous breakthrough winged keel on full display. Di enjoyed a coffee in the museum’s sunny outdoor café while I was escorted through the Oberon class submarine HMAS Ovens that is also housed permanently at the museum. My guide was an ex-submariner who served a large part of his 25 years in the Royal Australian Navy as one of the three Sonar Operators on a similar Oberon class vessel. I was the only person in his tour group so was able to see everything up front and close and ask him lots of questions. The guide was extremely knowledgeable about the sub, because every crew member regardless of their job, including the Cook, was required to know the subs full operations and how to work everything. The tour was very interesting and very cramped, even with just the two of us below deck. I couldn’t imagine the conditions on board with a regular crew of 63! With the shoulder-width corridors and doors that require you to go through sideways, it’d be like constant “Excuse me…after you…no, no, you first…”

We also visited the Freemantle Arts Centre, housed in an historic colonial gothic building in the heart of Freemantle, and built by convicts in the 1860s as the Convict Establishment Fremantle Lunatic Asylum and Invalid Depot. Not so much PC in those days. The buildings planned demolition in the late 1950s was halted following a public outcry and since that time it has been used for a variety of community purposes. Following a major restoration, it is now a lovely complex housing the Freemantle Arts Centre, with exhibition rooms and artist work spaces.

I made the mistake of filling the tanks with what laughingly passes in Perth for water. It was like I had a glass of swimming pool, leaving a metallic chemical taste like putting your tongue on a 9v battery. Perth drinking water is derived 47% from desalination, 46% from groundwater and 7% from dams. Then they must combine it and bomb the hell out of it with chlorine. Chlorinated water generally settles down after a day or so in the tanks and becomes tasteless, but not this latest lot – it’s been a week and still smells like spa water. We resorted to buying bottled water for the daily cuppas.

Gary took us in to Perth to the Bell Tower and Kings Park and Botanic Garden, followed by a drive to nearby wineries in the Swan Valley, where we had a leisurely lunch at the Ugly Duck Winery before more wine tastings at a few nearby wineries.

We took a day trip to Rottnest Island via Rottnest Fast Ferries from Hillarys Wharf. To get around on the island, the choices were 1) walk, 2) hire a bicycle, 3) catch the hop-on-hop-off bus, and 4) take a guided bus tour. Rottnest isn’t a particularly large island, but walking or bicycling around it was out for us. The hop-on-hop-off bus was also dismissed as a lot of time could be spent just waiting for the next one to come along. We decided on the bus tour which was very informative with the driver providing a running commentary, but the downside was that the tour went around the island in a clockwise direction and we found ourselves sitting on the wrong side to really see the magnificent coastline views. If you’re considering the bus tour, ask the driver which way you’ll be travelling to make sure you are on the best side. We also had a couple of dawdlers in the group who were regularly very tardy getting back to the bus, causing the latter part of the tour to be rushed to connect with the return ferry. Our recommendation – spend more than just one day on Rottnest to take it all in at a leisurely pace and use the hop-on-hop-off bus to get around and make sure to see the Quokkas and New Zealand Fur Seals (Eighteenth and Nineteenth Ticks for Di’s “Animals in the Wild” List).

Our departure from Perth was delayed by a day so we could meet up with Ros and Dean, fellow Kimberley Kruiser big-lappers who we’ve been corresponding with for some time via the blog and have been looking forward to meeting while we were in Perth. Over drinks and a fine Italian meal, we had a lovely evening sharing travel stories and anecdotes, followed by a nice stroll back to their place alongside the Swan River with a million dollar view of the city lights opposite. The fresh evening breeze was quite pleasant given the ambient level of friction (Ros’s First Law of Thermal Transmogrification – as yet unpublished).

The following quote is for my trusty second seat Navigator throughout our travels.
“When looking at your two paws, as soon as you have decided which of them is the Right one, then you can be sure the other one is the Left.” – Winnie the Pooh

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Bird, Reptile and Insect Watching – Gascoyne Junction To New Norcia (Western Australia)

19/10/16

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Wildflower Country 2 – Stockyard Gully National Park and Lesueur National Park (Western Australia)

16/10/16  Western Australia Wildflowers 2

(This post features some of the wildflowers I have photographed in the Stockyard Gully and Lesueur National Parks in Western Australia, and where possible, identified. Please let me know if I need to correct any I may have wrong.)

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Dongara – Billy Goat Bay – New Norcia (Western Australia)

19/10/16  Our next planned stopover was supposed to be the free camp at Seven Mile Beach but, on arrival, we both agreed that it was too hot and windy to stay, and had way too many flies. Furthermore, our water was running low and needed to be topped up very soon. So after a quick scan of WikiCamps, the Tourist Park at Dongara, 30kms south, looked pretty good and we headed there to hook up to the power and water facilities. Generally, mains power is no great treat for us as we do very well with the on-board solar panels but, ah, those lazy hot showers that aren’t coming from our water tank are just terrific. And aircon during the hot days is always an added blessing. A very cold swim in the Indian Ocean at nearby South Beach cooled us down and the Beach Belle was very happy to be in surf again after such a long time.

We ended up staying there five days, taking time to look around the town and its heritage buildings and used Dongara as a base to see the surrounding district, especially the fascinating 300 metre long Stockyard Gully Cave and the Monet palette of wildflowers in Lesueur National Park.

The definite highlight for both of us was the desert landscape of the Nambung National Park where the weathered rock spires of the Pinnacles sit among the yellow sand dunes like a host of terracotta warriors. We were fortunate to be there in the late afternoon when the light brought out the colours of the spires and cast long shadows on the sand. In the distance beyond the Pinnacles, pure white dunes of the White Desert provided a picturesque contrast with the yellow dunes of the Pinnacle Desert.

Perth was only a few hours to the south and, despite having a list of things to be attended to when we got there, we were in no real hurry to be back in a major city after being in the bush for so long. Consequently, we were taking our time getting there.

Our next stop, where we stayed two days, was a nice little free camp at Billy Goat Bay near the small town of Green Head and on the edge of Lesueur National Park. The beach was only a few steps from the van and the outlook was great across the pretty little bay with its turquoise waters and sweep of white sand. We’d have loved to have stayed longer at Billy Goat Bay but unfortunately had reached the 48 hour maximum allowable stay.

We headed inland, 200kms south-east, to the Benedictine community of New Norcia. The group of Roman Catholic monks have built, owned and operated the small town, Australia’s only monastic town, since 1847. The town is now registered with the National Estate and many of the majestic buildings are listed with the National Trust. Anyone wanting to live in the town would go through a process whereby each of the monks would vote using either a white marble for “Yes” or black marble for “No”. I’d much prefer white or black smoke out the chimney if it was us. We camped near the oval and did a self-guided tour of the many buildings and interesting displays around the town. Some of the local Benedictine Shiraz and Olive Oil made their way into our van, which we’ll share with friends back home who’d particularly appreciate them.

In closing, I’d just like to say that there is little that surpasses the excellence of an Anzac Biscuit or two for morning and afternoon smokos, particularly those that are not too hard or too soft but are just the correct chewy texture. They are a food group unto themselves and fully deserve their iconic status.

“A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.”

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Oakabella Homestead – Ellendale Pool (Western Australia)

11/10/16  Oakabella Homestead is reputed to be one of WA’s most haunted places and is renowned also for its daily-fresh scones. Two excellent reasons to spend the night there! We camped near the wonderful old whitewashed stone farm buildings which date back to when the property was established in the 1850’s. Now unoccupied, many of the old buildings have been faithfully restored over the past decade to provide an authentic reflection of pioneering life in the 1800s and 1900s. Oakabella Homestead has been acknowledged by the State Register of Heritage Places as one of the earliest surviving farms of Northampton and quite rare as an intact group of buildings illustrating how people worked and lived in the early days of European settlement. We were told that all the furniture and effects were original to the property and each item seemed a have a story to it.

img_7124The interesting caretaker, a part-Irish and part-Canadian Indian woman, took us on a tour of the buildings, introducing the ghosts as we went through each of the many rooms of the rambling homestead and recounting many stories from the properties past, including the black cat bones interred in door frames for good luck. The intriguing tour ended with some very yummy freshly-made Wattle and Date scones and coffee. That night, the van shook and creaked, and I preferred to put it down to the strong wind rather than any ghostly influences. We had no uninvited guests during the night – none that I noticed anyway. While we took a casual approach to the whole ghost thing, when Di was checking her photos the next day, she came across this one that was taken where our guide had pointed out a ghost…spooky!

img_7115

We headed off the next morning and, while travelling south through Geraldton, Di realised one of the pendants from her necklace was missing. A search of the van failed to turn it up. I reckoned one of those ghosts had nicked it during the night like some sort of spectral bowerbird! We’ll take ghosts more seriously next time.

img_7347We camped on a section of the Greenough River called Ellendale Pool, opposite a high sandstone cliff on a bend of the river. While we were looking around, a bird swooped in to land on the cliff face and, through the binoculars, we watched the Peregrine Falcon feeding three white fluffy chicks on a narrow ledge high up the rock face. Before light the next morning, the noisy chicks could be heard demanding a feed. It was a good spot for birds and we saw many as we wandered along the riverbank.

“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” – Winnie the Pooh

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Wildflower Country 1 – Northhampton Area and Kalbarri National Park (Western Australia)

10/10/16  Western Australia Wildflowers 1

(This post features some of the wildflowers I have photographed in the Northhampton Area and Kalbarri National Park in Western Australia, and where possible, identified. Please let me know if I need to correct any I may have wrong.)

Categories: Travel News, Travel News - Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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