Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Shuffle off to Busselton

Saturday morning we headed off to Busselton stopping along the way at the Margaret River Cheese Company and the Regional Wine Centre.

As we drove along we noticed the temperature outside was steadily rising. By the time we got settled in to our new temporary home the mercury had risen quite considerably and since we were camped on the foreshore we were tempted to spend the rest of the day at the beach but decided instead to drive into the town center to have a look around.

We hadn't really driven very far, but by the time dinnertime rolled around we were feeling lazy (mostly due to the heat) and decided against cooking. Mike fancied pizza and as we passed the pizza shop the aromas wafting out of the door were enough to convince us to go in. They had a special running and we bought two medium pizzas for under $20. Not bad considering it fed us for two evenings. Not wanting to leave Maggie in a hot car while we ate, we brought the pizza back to the caravan park and enjoyed some with a bottle of wine and then set out for the drive in movie theater which was just down the road.

We saw a double feature, the first was an animated film whose title I forget (about a bear being released back into the woods) which was surprisingly entertaining. The second was "The Pursuit of Happiness" starring Wil Smith, also very enjoyable. Even Maggie enjoyed himself, and was given a doggie biscuit to snack on during the movie by the ticket seller at the gate.

Bussleton's main attraction is the 2 kilometre long jetty which we visited he following morning in an effort to get a head start on the heat of the day. It is the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere (the longest being in England). They began building it in 1865 and it took 95 years to complete. It served over a century as a working port (until 1972) after which maintenance stopped and the jetty began to deteriorate.

Then in 1978 cyclone Alby destroyed a significant part of the jetty and the government decided to demolish it. The town of Busselton banded together to save the jetty raising in excess of 9 million dollars. As we walked along the jetty we could see how important the jetty was to the locals. There were plaques honoring the deceased of the town and even the guide at the underwater observatory at the end of the pier mentioned that she had her first kiss on the jetty.

The underwater observatory at the end of the pier allows visitors to descend 8 metres below sea level. We saw coral, schools of fish as well as other sea creatures (including a couple of divers who wandered through). It was really special and well worth the 4 kilometre walk. There was a tram that crosses the jetty but this was not in operation. Additional restoration of the jetty is planned and the beginning of more works evident, so I assume that the tram will run again at some point.






After the jetty we decided to take a drive inland (in the nice air conditioned car - it was starting to get hot out!). Along the way we stopped at "Gnome Village" where there are hundreds of gnomes hailing from all over the world.

The following morning had us heading to Mandurah...







Saturday, 24 February 2007

Goodbye Augusta (for now!)

Yesterday was spent with a morning cruising the river followed by visiting a few wineries at Margaret River. Our friends Ian and Sherri had marked off some wineries that they recommended which was a big help considering the 80 plus wineries in the region. We stopped at one called "The Berry Farm" where we had devonshire coffees in their garden cafe. The strawberry jam was made at the farm and delicious. The only fly in the ointment (literally!) was a march fly that drove me batty while I was trying to take in the scenery and enjoy my coffee.

They also had a cellar door with wines made from the fruit grown at the farm. We tried most of them and especially liked the sparkling strawberry, the mango and passion fruit desert wines, and the boysenberry and apple/vanilla ports.

Today was a fairly quiet, although productive day. We've decided to move on to Bussleton tomorrow morning, so Mike and Ian pulled the boat out of the water and gave it a clean. We also took down the annex and did the laundry and various other housekeeping tasks. It was a quiet day, and after all the running around we've been doing I enjoyed having the time to relax.

This evening we met up with Ian and Sherri for drinks before dinner and had a good time chatting with them. They are a lovely couple, and we've really enjoyed the time we've spent with them. We've exchanged details and hope to keep in touch.

So far Augusta is our favourite spot, and we are both a little sad to leave. Mike said he is sad to leave knowing that we may not visit here again, but I am sure that we will. We've had such a good time here and there is so much to do. Between fishing, boating, the caves, national parks, beaches, wineries, galleries - we could easily spend another few weeks here, and we would if our time was unlimited. Plus, we have some friends staying at another park that we camped with in Albany and Lucky Bay. We did spend some time with them here, but it would have been nice to have more time to spend. They are all on a permanent "holiday" though, so I'm not sure how soon they are moving on as it's still quite hot in Perth. The way things have been going though, we'll probably run into them again as we travel on.

Although we are not really on a schedule, there's a lot more places we'd like to see before we have to think about making our way home. It's times like this that we envy those who don't have dates or itineraries to be concerned about. How nice it must be to stay in a place as long as it took your fancy and then go where the grass is greener on a whim. It's now easy for us to see how people spend years exploring Australia. It would take a lifetime to see it all, and it seems that if you drive just a few kilometres up the road there's a whole new area to explore.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Fruits of the Sea .. and the Vine

The last few days have sped by. We've been spending a lot of time enjoying our boat, both on our own and with friends we've met here. The fishing has been alot of fun too, and yesterday I caught ten fish! Mike only caught 3 haha! (Of course that would have nothing to do with the fact that I kept him busy baiting my hook and helping me get fish off my line - the fish were being landed so fast that Mike barely had a chance to wet his line).

We went crabbing too, and I wish I had a camera to capture the look on Mike's face when we hauled up our first crab, legs moving everywhere and claws snapping.


Me on the boat using an extension tiller. The boat FLYS!

The need for speed..
We are going to visit our boat builder and talk about getting some mods done. Will let you know how it goes.


Bracing myself to get my nose pinched. Don't know who looks scarier, the crab or me!


On Tuesday after a morning of boating we decided to go for lunch at Voyager Vineyard. We sometimes find the larger wineries overrated, and usually prefer to discover the small out of the way places but we'd heard some good things about Voyager and decided to give it a go.

We were not disappointed. We had the most incredible lunch at their restaurant seated in big overstuffed wing-chairs and looking out over beautiful gardens. With soft music playing in the background, and impeccable service, it was the perfect atmosphere to enjoy some delicious food.

We started with a shared plate of Turkish bread and dips. There was a fantastic eggplant salad, dukkah, olive oil, kalamata olives and chorizo. Mike, who loves a good steak said it was the best he'd had in a long time. I had the salmon which was served on a tabbouleh salad, beautifully presented and cooked to perfection. It literally melted in my mouth. We each had a glass of wine with our lunches that left us keen to visit their cellar door.

Unlike the other winery we visited, every wine that we tasted was superb. We bought some wine and were given a free "Wine Dogs" calendar as well as an insulated wine carrier. They had a shop selling various things that they produce including the eggplant dip that we had enjoyed for lunch.

Needless to say, we didn't have much of an appetite for dinner that evening, but we did enjoy some wine along with cheese & crackers and the dip we had bought at Voyager.



Mike standing underneath an arbor with some of the many grape vines behind him.


A glimpse of one of several beautifully manicured gardens.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Going Underground Take 2

We went to Margaret River today and had a look around the town. We browsed the market and walked the main streets stopping to have a look in few shops. We finally managed to replace our flimsy plastic wine glasses for the camper. Ours were really champagne glasses and they so easily tipped over if there was any wind. These are also plastic, but they are clear and look like glass. They also have a better shape and a bit of weight to them so hopefully no more spilled vino.

As we walked we saw a restaurant called "Relish the Experience" which we had seen on television. The program "The Real Sea Change" had featured the owners and their move to Margaret River to open the Italian Restaurant.

We had lunch at a small bustling cafe that made a great Caesar salad and had wonderful coffee. When we passed the fudge factory on the way back to the car of course we had to go in for a taste. At least I didn't answer the ad they had out front looking for staff, and believe me it was tempting!

On the way back to Augusta we visited our first Margaret River winery. It was a bit disappointing as we weren't all that impressed with their wines. They did have one special wine that we liked though. It's made from grape juice and brandy. I forget what the style is called, but we were told that although it's fairly common in Europe that there are only a few wineries in Australia that make it, and only one in Margaret River.

After the winery we decided to do what we promised we wouldn't today - visit the third cave! We went to Mammoth cave which was really interesting as they have found many bones from animals that are hundreds of years old, and often extinct. These were megafauna, or giant variations of animals that exist today in Australia - giant kangaroos, echidnas four times the size of modern day ones, etc. At one spot we saw a jawbone in a wall of the cave.

Mammoth cave is very aptly named. It is HUGE. We had been under the mistaken impression that there wasn't much of a climb. There was, but it was fine. We were able to go in unguided except for an audio guide and we really enjoyed being able to tour at our own pace, spending more time in areas that interested us the most. As I am typing this Mike just said that this was his favourite cave for that very reason. He really enjoyed being able to take the time to explore at his leisure. The entry of the cave was at ground level which made the first chamber accessible to the disabled and those unable to climb the stairs. I thought that was especially nice, and on our way in we did see a woman in a wheelchair exiting with her husband.

Once we got past the first chamber the cave opened up into a huge labyrinth of viewing areas on different levels. The cave is 500 meters long and 30 meters high. Approximately the height of a ten story building. This is the only cave we visited that had a separate entry and exit. As we continued along in the cave we walked up staircases into different areas, so we were surprised to find that when we got to the exit at the end of the cave that we still had quite a climb up to ground level. The audio guide explained that we had been walking into a hill.

When we got back to camp we saw that a new arrival had the same folding boat that we do. He has made a couple of modifications to his and we're interested in seeing them. He also wanted to have a look at ours and we've made plans to meet him and his wife for some boating on the Blackwood river in the morning.








Saturday, 17 February 2007

Going Underground

Today was an interesting as well as an exhausting day. There are several caves between Augusta and Margaret River, three of which are very popular tourist caves. It rained overnight and was cool and overcast in the morning and threatening rain. We decided it was a good day for going underground.

Our first stop of the day was at the Jewel Cave. It is described in the brochure as "Tour an underground maze of mystery and beauty. Jewel Cave seems to defy nature and dwarf whose who enter its lofty chambers. This spectacular recess with its intricate decorations and sheer magnitude is home to one of the longest straw stalactites to be found in any tourist cave in the world." Sounds great huh? We thought so too, and off we went curious and full of a sense of adventure.

Our sense of adventure was surely shaken when we heard the ticket dude warn a ticket buyer that there were 250 steps down, and that the increased carbon dioxide in the cave makes you struggle more going up, We had our doubts. He went on to say that the carbon dioxide levels were monitored, and at a safe level, but that they do make breathing on exertion more difficult. - More doubt. But, that bloody "sense of adventure" led us to not only ignore our nagging doubts, but to buy the 3 cave pass.

While waiting for our tour to start people from the previous tour started emerging from the entry to the cave. First were a group of teenagers wearing thongs looking as though they had just gone for a leisurely stroll. Mike and I looked at eachother and smiled - surely this was going to be a snap. Then, some time passed and the rest of the group dragged themselves out of the cave, many wheezing and coughing, some dripping with sweat, and others who looked like it took their last bit of strength to heave themselves into a nearby chair. - Uh oh!

Still, we were commited, so I gave Mike my "what the hell were you thinking - 3 cave pass!" look, and off we went. There were indeed many many steps of varying degrees of steepness (some more like ladders), and some with cave formations so low that we had to descend while bent over at 90 degrees.

At one point when we were just inside the cave and could see the huge descent awaiting us, the guide announced "this is your last chance, if you don't think you're up to it, turn back now". Several people did - gulp.

Surprisingly it was a lot easier than we thought, and the cave was well worth visiting. When we emerged from the cave we both felt as though we had done a workout, but we felt good. We weren't huffing and puffing and were feeling quite pleased with ourselves. It was at this point that we decided we'd go on to visit another cave.


The "turkey"


Lake Cave, described as "A stunning pristine chamber deep beneath the earth. Inside the cave a tranquil lake reflects delicate formations that will take your breath away. Visitors descend a staircase in time gazing up at towering Carri trees from a primeval lost world, before entering one of the most beautiful caves in Western Australia". Another dont miss - we nearly did though, having stopped for a picnic lunch we arrived just in time for the last tour of the day.

As our group assembled Mike noticed a sign that said that there were 300 steps down! At the same time I was flicking through the visitors book, curious about what parts of the world tourists had come from. It was there that I saw their comments ranging from "I nearly didn't make it" "You need a lift" to "beautiful but you must be very fit". Oh crap!!

Well, the cave was truly beautiful, as I hope you'll be able to see from the pics below. But, to be honest, the trip down and back again kicked our collective butts! As it was a collapsed chamber, there were many steps going down, some on long steep staircases before even reaching the entrance to the cave, and then another into the cave. Even the guide is smart enough to meet visitors toward the entrance of the cave rather than walking up and down the steep bits. We struggled a bit going up, but we were fine after stopping for a couple of minutes on a landing to take some photos and chat with the guide.

We are so glad that we went though, we have both been in several caves and this is the most beautiful we've seen. The lake at the bottom reflecting the caves features was so tranquil, it was truly magical.

The "dragon" on the left and "floating table" on the right. Can you see the reflection of the underside of the table in the water? It was incredible in real life.



The start of a long climb out.

We now have one cave left on our pass - that can wait for a few days. :) Actually, it's for Mammoth cave which is supposedly a bit different than the others. More accessible (read less climbing) and there is a self guided audio tour. We'll be sure to tell you all about it once we've visited.

Between the Gloucester tree, the caves, and the lighthouse that we plan on visiting, this is becomming a real climbing sort of a town. Maybe we should ebay our treadmill in exchange for more cave passes?

Friday, 16 February 2007

Augusta Bound

Our first stop was in Mount Franklind national park in the town of Walpole. You may remember that we had taken a day trip to Walpole from Denmark to do the tree top walk and Ancient walk. This time we went to see the "Hilltop Giant Tingle" which is the largest known girthed eucalypt in the world.

We drove along Hilltop Road which winds through a red tingle forest. We came across a sign that said "no caravans" and were happy that we would be allowed access with our camper. We arrived at the small carpark and although it was no problem at all for our camper we could see where there just wouldn't be room to accommodate a bunch of large caravans.

A very pleasant 1/2 kilometre walk through the park led to a boardwalk that skirts around and protects the huge tree. Of course we took the usual tourist happy snaps, and noted on the information board that in the past many tourists used to park their car inside the tree and take photos. Since then the boardwalk was built to protect the tree from damage for future generations to enjoy.

Once we got back to Walpole we decided to stop for lunch, and stopped at a cafe called "Wooz and Suz". We should have just kept driving or gone to one of the other cafes in the area. We had a seafood basket which we expected to be delicious since we were in a fishy sort of town. It was okay, but just average, and expensive considering the small serving. Plus, We each bought an iced tea. Mine was iced green tea and it tasted sort of ick. Not spoiled, just a bit weird. Mike noticed that it was past the "best by" date and brought it in to exchange. They refused to exchange it since it was a "best by" and not a "use by" date, and we ended up throwing it out. I really can't understand their attitude, why would a business alienate a customer over $2.80 (which isn't cheap, and the drink should have been premium like the price not beyond it's optimum date!). I would have expected them to apologise and whisk it away and replace it with another. Although the atmosphere of the cafe on the covered porch was lovely, the disregard for customer service is what I will most remember.

Our next stop was in Pemberton at the Gloucester national park. At this park there was an entry fee ($10 per car) and an attendant collecting fees. I was concerned that they might refuse us entry since we had Maggie in the car. I asked, and was basically told "we don't encourage it, but go ahead". The way that she spoke gave me the impression that there wouldn't have been an issue as long as he remained in the car, but since I asked she had to give me the "right" answer. This was confirmed when I noticed other dogs in the car park, specifically one on the tray at the back of a ute. Luckily it was a cool overcast day and no problem for Maggie to have a snooze in the back seat while we explored.

The park was really pretty, and had facilities like picnic tables and a spotless toilet. (Hey, you notice these things on the road.. by the time we get back to Victoria I'll probably be able to tell you all the good spots for a pit stop in WA!). As we walked along the path the famous Gloucester tree loomed up in the distance.

The Gloucester tree is one of the highest fire lookout trees in the world. It's got 153 metal stakes in it's trunk spiraling up 60 metres to a viewing platform. Even standing at the bottom and looking up is dizzying! We watched people go up to various heights on the tree for photos, and one guy who got almost to the top and who kept saying that his legs were like jelly once he got down.

There were a bunch of lorikeets in an area in front of the tree and a fellow tourist gave us some bird seed to offer them. We photographed some of the results.


Apparently Mike's new hat is all the rage in Pemberton.

From there our next stop was Augusta and we are staying at the Westbay Retreat which is a great bushland camping site alongside the blackwood river complete with boat ramp and boat "parking". Perfect for us and our folding boat. The owners are so friendly and laid back, and it's a bush like setting with open lawned areas as well as niches under the shade of trees. Plus there is the luxury of an ablution block (which is interesting in itself and I'll have to write more about later) as well as power for those who need it.

There's even a plug for satellite tv in the power boxes for those like me who wanted to see the season premiere of "Lost" last night. :) Mike saved the day on that one btw. We don't have have a television, but we travel with our laptop with a TV card that allows us to watch DVDs and telly on it if the mood strikes and there's a signal. When I saw that they had satellite I really wanted to be able to access it to feed my "Lost" addiction. Unfortunately since we use the laptop we didn't have the right plug. Don't ask me how he did it, but mike took a bit of foil, some tape, and did something with a sewing needle and the next thing I knew I was watching satellite TV on the laptop! Maybe if I give him a bunch of needles and a whole roll of foil he could make me a jet ski to use on the river!

Rolling Rolling Rolling...

Yesterday was another day spent on the road. We left Denmark at about 10 in the morning and arrived at our new "home" in Augusta at 5:30. We had originally planned on going to Margaret River, but we heard some good things about the boating and fishing on the blackwood river, and also heard that Augusta was beautiful. As it's only about 40 kilometers from Margaret River we decided to base ourselves in Augusta and visit both areas from here. Also, there are some caves and other things to see between Augusta and Margaret River that we want to visit and had we gone straight to Margaret River we would have ended up driving back this way to do some touring anyway.

This time the drive was enjoyable though as we travelled through beautiful winding roads through national forests. (Denise, the kind of roads you used to always say that you loved driving). We went through the Mount Franklind, Walpole-nornalup, Shannon, Gloucester and Beedelup national parks. It was such a pretty drive, and I took a bunch of shots through the windscreen so that I could share it with you. As always the picture just doesn't do it justice and I ended up trashing a bunch of them due to windscreen glare etc.

The distance between Denmark and Augusta is only approximately 250k. Hmm.. so that gives us an average speed of 34k or about 20 miles per hour. Actually, the day was spent stopping and visiting various sites along the way.



Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

There's Something Fishy in Denmark

We took the boat out for a bit of fishing on the river this morning. It was a great morning for it, the bream were really biting. We threw back a couple that were too small, kept two nice sized ones (one was about 330mm and the other about 250). Of course there were a couple that we failed to land as well, but the constant nibbles made for a very fun and exciting morning.

Here's one of the bream that we decided to keep.

Mike scaling the fish

and filleting as another man arrives with his catch.

The pelicans notice that there is some fish cleaning going on and start to run onto the beach toward the fish cleaning hut.

The Pelicans jockey for position as Mike is about to toss a fish carcass.

Success! the pelican in the middle is the lucky fellow who catches the whole carcass in his mouth


and scurries off to the water to be alone with his prize.


Shortly after we are at the camper enjoying ours.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Denmark River

Happy Birthday Mum!!

We spent the morning cruising on the river. We're going to go back out later in the afternoon when the sun has lost it's bite and it's a good time for fishing.

We were going to move on toward Margaret River tomorrow, but we're having such a good time here that we're thinking of spending another night.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Denmark

Denmark is a very pretty little town (population 500) set on the Denmark river and surrounded by beaches, national park, rock formations and hilly tree lined roads. Of interest is that there isn't a single traffic light in the whole town. It is known for it's cottage industry - art galleries, fresh produce and food (locally made honeys, preserves, etc) and most of all for it's excellent wine. There are 26 wineries, plenty for even the thirstiest of tourists.

As Denmark is only about 50 kilometres west of Albany, we arrived yesterday and set up along the river with plenty of time to enjoy a day of touring the area. Naturally the first port of call was the wineries. We went to several sampling the wines and buying a few bottles as we went along. We were enjoying ourselves so much that the time flew by and it was only the sound of our rumbling stomachs that alerted us to the hour and the fact that we had forgotten to eat. We stopped at a cafe for a late lunch and then back to the wineries.

The woman at Matilda wines was from New York and I enjoyed chatting with her and "comparing notes" while sampling some delicious wines. We also went to a Honey Meadery where we sampled various types of honey mead and bought a spiced and sweet variety. They also sold various types of honey and other bee products (lip balms, moisturisers) and honey ice cream.

It was a warm day and by the time we got back to the camper I'd had my fill of both wine and sun and decided that a nap was the go. When I awoke two hours later it was getting dark and Mike already had the camper annexe up. I'd say I timed that one pretty well.. :)

Today we went to see the "valley of the giants" in the national park between Denmark and Walpole which is the next town to the west. We went for a treetop walk amongst the tingle trees followed by a walk on the forest floor amongst them called the "ancient walk". At the top point we were 40 metres above ground walking along the canopy of the trees. I thought it was great and really enjoyed it. The metal walkways had a bit of sway to them though and by the end of it Mike was starting to look a bit green around the edges.

We stopped on the way back at "green's pool" which is a very nice sheltered beach and great for swimming and rock fishing. Our last stop for the day was at the toffee factory where they make every flavour of toffee imaginable - Kahlua, Irish cream, liquorice, chocolate and a host of others. Of course we came back with some toffee as well as a packet of chili peanut brittle. They also made various sauces - mayos, salad dressings and dipping sauces. It was probably a good thing that it was a quick visit as we arrived near their closing time!

It's about 6pm now and I'm starting to feel hungry for dinner. We have a lamb roast and veggies cooking in our cob and the aroma is incredible.


Can you spot me in the distance amongst the tree tops?


I'd imagine the face on this old tree would be giving a few kids nightmares