Sunday, 23 November 2014

Cactus- an Australian Surfing Reserve.

The change from Nullabor to farming lands and civilisation is very startling from West to East. The sameness of the landscape is suddenly shaped by the odd fence, endless grain crops and ever increasing letter boxes. We turned left at Penong, headed for Cactus, an Australian Surfing Reserve and I had an odd de ja vu feeling, like I’d been plopped straight into the middle of a Tim Winton  novel. The beautiful colour palate of yellow and blue was in everything- the sea, the crops, the dusty roads and that ever present sky.
Overlooking Caves, 'LOCALS' carved into the wood.

Driving into Cactus had the same feeling as Red Bluff back on the Western Australian coast, but in a much more luxurious way- the absence of goats, toilets that flushed and even hand basins were dotted around the clearly demarcated campground giving an air of order and cleanliness missing at the more organic Bluff. Off to the west, Caves pumps relentlessly and there was a noticeable absence of the supposedly agro locals who surf the break and hate tourists - God forbid you drop in on them! The only fights we witnessed were over whether Coopers really is better than Little Creatures. Seriously, there were legions of ‘Old Guys Rule’ t-shirt wearing blokes on their annual old boys’ trip, all calling wifey somewhere between the last surf and beer o’clock. Few short boards were around, though there were a few on ‘short’ Stand Up Paddle boards- Fiela was bemused to say the least, being a staunch hater of SUPs in general. Rock shelves, coastal heath and white beaches add to the charm of the place.  
Cactus seagulls.

Ron the owner and caretaker came around each night to collect rubbish and fees and drop off fire wood. Thirty years ago Cactus was feral with surfies carving up the waves and destroying the fragile dune ecosystem. Ron came on a surf trip, bought the land and set about regenerating it in such a way that Cactus became recognised as an Australian Surfing Reserve. Competitions and corporate events are prohibited and even the publishing of photos is heavily discouraged. His concern for the land is palpable: our two wee treasures had zoomed up and into the dunes the minute we pulled up before I could give them the low down on its regenerative status. Marguerite admitted immediately to Ron she’d been through the fence in a fit of naughtiness, to which he replied simply “I saw. Don’t go back in there.” Sometimes the quietest voices are the loudest and Marguerite became the Dune Police for the rest of our time here, dobbing on anyone seen even remotely walking near the cordoned off area.
Beautiful Cactus.

Fiela fished more than he surfed, landing a big Australian salmon off the rocks and a heap of anxiety off the beach: despite the near perfect surf, the numerous brass plaques commemorating those people who’d lost their lives in the water to sharks had put him off setting foot in the water. He’d finally worked up enough surf envy after a morning watching the barrels roll in, but by the time he’d ummed and aahed over whether his spring suit would really be warm enough (to be fair, we’d watched a guy that morning pour hot water into his steamer- it was cold!), the wind had turned and it was all blown out anyway.

But despite the missed opportunities for surf we’d had a lovely time here. I’d cooked all our fresh vegetables up in lieu of the quarantine checkpoint we would have to go through in Ceduna and after a week of brief showers out in the wind, we were all ready for the creature comforts of a caravan park. Our next stop was Streaky Bay and the Eyre Peninsula.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Crossing the Nullabor.

The Nullabor is one of those quintessential Australian icons, a journey based on vast distance, strange characters and dramatic scenery... All in the middle of nowhere. Everyone we talked to spoke of this 1200 kilometre drive with deep reverence, of great planning in regards to fuel consumption and head winds, the best places to camp and where you shouldn’t stop, water supplies and snack options. It was beginning to feel like the Never Ending Story, though I was fairly sure no fluffy winged dragon was going to come and zoom us out of there when it all got a bit much.
Whilst being warned of these dangers, the only wildlife we saw as we flew through the Nullabor was crows.

We left Esperance, made a quick lunch stop at Norseman (unremarkable except for the strange child who literally climbed onto Fiela in his quest for one of our chips. His mother only bothered to come and collect him when Fiela gently pushed him away, at which point this child stage dived like a professional soccer player onto the ground and began to scream. So many issues here, I couldn't stop thinking about it for days and am forever thankful for my own children who, despite our efforts, are reasonably well adjusted) and entered hallowed driving territory.
The Nullabor Plain.
The Nullabor Links, a "the world's longest golf course" expanding 1365 kilometres from Kalgoorlie to Ceduna. We drove passed most of the 18 tees, and had a good time at this one running around on the astro-turf.

I'm not sure what I expected. An epiphany? A road sign congratulating our adventurous spirits? Mythical creatures? But there was none of this, just undulating terrain, straight roads  and the odd bush. The kids watched movie after movie, I blogged and Fiela drove. The sky was enormous and I'll admit to feeling as small and insignificant as an ant.
Our final Western Australian sunset. Sigh. What an unbelievably amazing state!

We stopped at one of the free camps on the Western Australian side in the cold and wind along with 15 or so other travellers in varying rigs. The most interesting thing here was the graffiti written in half metre high letters in the drop toilet (spelling error and all) "This is were u poo" with a big arrow pointing to the loo. Yep, spot on dipstick.
At the Bunda Cliffs.
The next day was cold and windy but otherwise much the same. We drove over the border into South Australia  and after going all day we stopped at the Bunda Cliffs lookout. Here we camped, looking out over the Great Australian Bight,  imagining we could see Antarctica just over the horizon and toasting to what had been an amazing almost five months in Western Australia. Our entry into South Australia had been less than overwhelming, but the weather was about to change for the better and home,  family and friends were getting ever closer.
The Bunda Cliffs on the Great Australian Bight, Antartica in the distance.

On our third and final Nullabor day we drove on, almost falling over when the scenery finally changed to wheat fields and the odd flock of sheep. It was over; we’d conquered that great expanse with nothing more disastrous than an overflowing nappy but we were all tired of being in the car. Luckily the western part of South Australia is built for recharging weary bones.
The Nullabor Plain.
Typical scenery.
More Nullabor.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


It was official; we'd spent almost half of our entire trip around this great continent in Western Australia.  We'd started all the way back at Lake Argyle and Kununurra, the fruit bowl of the state, and in a fitting whip around the grocery store, we were ending it in the wheat basket of the Great Southern. I'd found Kununurra to be a strange kind of Frontier town, and its partner at the southern part of the state,  Esperance, proved to be the same.  Same, but different.
A few kilometres from Esperance are these beautiful beaches.

 Esperance is a weird town, sort of like an adolescent chicken with that beautiful cute fluff underscored by adult feathers and a gangly neck. Don't get me wrong, there is natural beauty surrounding this town rivalling anything West Australia had offered thus far, but the town itself is dated and there is a real gritty under current I haven't felt since I last walked down a main street in Broadbeach at night. Delinquent buildings stand next to flash new ones, a brilliant foreshore development is underway with beautiful parks overlooking the port, silos and container ships, and 1970s fibro shacks sit overlooking the water alongside enormous new holiday homes. Yep, Esperance is in the middle of a big change.
Outside the local surf club.

In an Uyshuis first we dove out of one of the caravan parks in town due to its exorbitant price and instead stayed at one which had had mixed bordering on negative reviews on Wikicamps. But we managed to find a spot up the back away from the packed in hordes and for the first time since Kununurra, locked up our bikes and anything else of value.
More magical coastline.

So while Esperance itself is really not that wonderful, its beaches and surrounding National Parks most definitely are. There is a 40 km coastal drive allowing you to take in some of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen: white sand and that clear blue water-it's magnificent. 
Lucky Bay.
Lucky Bay: make sure you bring your sunglasses.

We drove out to Cape le Grand National Park to walk along what had apparently been voted the most beautiful beach in Australia at Lucky Bay. And it was. Squeaky white sand and blue water surrounded by coastal scrub and dramatic rocky peaks. Yep, it was pretty special.

We shopped, we washed everything we owned, we managed to keep all our possessions from the local delinquent crime ring (unlike some other campers we'd met there) and we were ready for the next momentous leg of our journey: the Nullabor.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A Little Bit of Perth.

Rockingham is to Perth what Palm Beach is to the Gold Coast or Maroubra Beach is to Sydney- very pretty but with lots of doof-doof-racer-boy-hoons getting around. If you get beyond your fellow road users though, it’s actually a pretty cool place; luckily we had friends living here and used this as a base for exploring a little bit of Perth.
Beautiful coastline at Rockingham.

We drove into the quiet suburban street and caused quite a sensation as we reversed onto the driveway and bundled out of the car like tinkers. Geoff and Nanga (our incredibly gracious hosts) have wonderful neighbours and I felt like we’d stepped back into a community not unlike that which we belong to in Sunrise Beach. The beers and jokes flowed, people marvelled at the amount of crap which could actually come out of a camper trailer and we lost our children to the boxes of trains and tracks Nanga had squirreled away for a time such as this. I lost Fiela to Geoff and the BBQ, meeting up with him later at some ridiculous hour when he woke me up with his inebriated snoring. I was lost in the kitchen- an oven! A thermomix! Dishwashing water that went down the sinkhole, never to be seen again! The Uyshuis was happily lost in the suburbs, loving the sunshine, friends and comforts of four walls…
King's Park, Perth.

We popped up to Perth for the day on the train (so exciting for Caesar!) and while we waited for the most boring walking tour of the city ever (“This is the Post Office. You can send mail overseas, express, do some banking and there’s even some lovely calendars for sale… That is the ANZ Bank building, open from Monday to Friday…” WTF??) to start, watched as a drunk homeless guy did the ‘right thing’ by walking two metres down an alleyway off the main thoroughfare to go to the toilet. I forgot that sort of thing happens in the city and that homelessness occurs in our first world country. The most exciting thing about being in the city of Perth? Finding a South African biltong shop.
The Uyshuis overlooking Perth.

Anyway, we finally got clued up enough to take a bus up to King’s Park, the botanical gardens which overlook Perth. What a magical place! Apart from the stunning view over the city (much nicer than the urine soaked close up!) the gardens are amazing and we happily spent the bulk of our city day here.
King's Park hi jinx.

We did little else apart from a quick trip over to Fremantle, go to the park and make nuisances of ourselves at Geoff and Nanga’s. We would have liked to explore the Swan Valley and stay a few nights at Rottnest Island, but with the weather was changeable and we had other places we had to be; a proper exploration of Perth would have to be left to an entirely different trip.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Cape Riche

Cape Riche. Aaaaah. Inhale deeply and then let the breath back out nice and slow. That's how we felt upon finally setting up here. 

I was still homesick. A bit tired.  Also slightly premenstrual. So it's amazing that we even managed to set up at all given these factors coupled with Fiela gagging at the bit to get out and FISH (it'd been 4 days).
Beautiful sunset at Cape Riche over looking Cheyne Island.

Cape Riche is located 100 kms east along the coast from Albany and is a little protected bay with blinding white sand and azure blue water. It was incredibly popular around 150 years ago, when cluey settlers and even smarter merchants used this as an impromptu store front to avoid the King's tax man back over in Albany. Now there's nothing much but a Council campground with toilets, cold bore water showers and some gas barbecues, all looked after by caretakers who were possibly there to unload the boats in the 1800s.
Cape Riche.

Shame,  this couple were lovely, but she showed us the two worst sites in the campground because she couldn't face the extra 150 metre walk to The Most Amazing Camp Site we'd been in yet. Of course we'd already half set up in one of the crap areas before we discovered our camping mecca, so it was even more wondrous that the Uyshuis managed to end the day on speaking terms, what with the decision to move: 
("But do you want to move?" 
"I don't care." 
"Well that's not really a f#$@ing answer is it?" 
"Yeah alright if you want to, let's just hurry up and do it!" 
"Geez you're frustrating at times."), 

backing into the awkward though wonderful new site: 
("It's very simple! Do I go left or right?!" 
"Right! I said right! I didn't say 'Right at high speed please'!! Now you're too far over." 
Exasperated sigh.  
"F#@$ it's easier just to do it myself!" 
"Well wish f$#@ing granted!!"), 

and then the general tedium of making sure the kids don't kill each other or are killed by us during this process:
("Get out of the way the car is reversing!" 
"No you can't eat anything." 
"Because I said so."
"Stop hitting! " 
"Don't touch that." 
"Get out of it!"
"Because I SAID SO!!"). 

Aah, love those wonderful setting up times...
Finally set up...

So after what was a fairly frustrating day (which began back in the Stirling Ranges with our failed walk, I mean climb), we ended on a high.  With a fire going, the almost full moon rising and the water gently lapping the sand we looked down the barrel of four nights of excellent camping.

In the summer months the local kids come down for their swimming lessons right in the bay, and just five degrees extra would have allowed us to as well. A few extra degrees and I would've got in and had a snorkel right out the front of the campsite, but alas.  Fiela did go fishing and caught some King George whiting, squid and unidentified reef fish.  It all tasted pretty awesome. We waited for the full moon to rise and realised we were in the prime position for a lunar eclipse we had no idea was happening. The rocky parts of the bay were perfect for hours of rock climbing and crab catching, and the campground was populated by only three other groups of campers.
Fire, sundowners and happy campers.

The weather played along for the most part though we were definitely here too early for any kind of water sports besides fishing. As the wind picked up and the rain clouds gathered, we rallied ourselves for the first leg of our great push east. First stop Esperance.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Stirling Ranges

We left Parry Beach and its so-so weather on the only day in a week which wasn't wet. We'd been wearing jeans and jumpers for over a month and hadn't stayed anywhere longer than 4 days. The Uyhuis had travel fatigue and at the end of seven months of tripping around we had finally turned 'the Australian corner' and were heading east for home. But with three months of this crazy trip left, homesickness arrived.

After glimpsing the Stirling Ranges on our Porongurup adventure with the McGary’s, we'd made the decision to make this our first stop on the long return trip across Australia. These mountains pop up out of the flat farmlands like ancient giants, stuck suddenly waist deep in some enormous fertile bog, now a patchwork of wheat and yellow canola. The Stirlings are also incredibly important as a flora and fauna reserve and is on the National Heritage List for its biodiversity. Spider orchids and mountain bells are every where.
Spider orchid found on the road into our camp spot.

 We stayed at the National Park campground and luckily turned up relatively early in the day (1 pm) as sites were very limited and in an amazing turn around for the region's weather of the last month, it was sunny. We zoomed through our set up, plopped down in our chairs in the sun overlooking those amazing mountains of the Stirling Ranges and tucked into a Vasse Felix chardonnay (Thanks Mum!) and a heap of cheese, dolmades and salami courtesy of the Denmark Cheese Company.  Now this was holiday! I don't know if it was the warm sunshine, the afternoon wine or the stunning scenery, but what had we been thinking? Homesickness Shmickness!
The first afternoon of sunshine in weeks.
Play time. 

The next day we walked Mt Trio (865m), a 3.5 km trail.  Did I write walk? I meant climbed. We'd chosen this walk to do as it was the shortest of all the walks and whilst it was described as' steep' I think 'vertical' would have been a better word choice. Anyhoo, the climb was worth it for the views are spectacular, especially of those showers of rain heading this way, fast. So after a brief and exultant look around, we hot footed it back down. Actually Fiela hot footed it down while I couched Marguerite down one step after another. Luckily we had the umbrella.
The only time when red lollipops are allowed- as bribery to get to the top and energy for the way down!
The view from Mt Trio, shower of rain to the left.
Mt Trio.

The rest of the day was spent huddled in the camper, drinking hot chocolate and assessing the weather which was very wet and very cold. Oh for that warm dry house of ours in Sunrise Beach
Mt Trio view.

On the way back down Mt Trio.
We packed up in the morning (dry and cold) and decided to try one last walk. The description was still using the 'steep' adjective but not as much, surely this would be an easier walk? Fiela wasn't convinced but then he just wanted to make a bee line for our next coastal campsite and its promise of fishing greatness.  But I would not be swayed. I was tired of compromising on things I wanted to do for the sake of the possibility of maybe perhaps having some fish for dinner. To be sure, one of my finer moments, especially since we had to drive 20 kilometres out of the way and we were all still fairly fatigued from the previous day's efforts.
Mountain bells.

Steep, dangerous, slippery, vertical,  ridiculous. Perhaps these would have been better descriptors. Talyuberup is a 2.6km return walk starting in a benign enough fashion through a lightly sloping wood, though soon enough we were scrambling up a trail on loose shale,  marvelling at the view and the summit which, whilst getting closer, was definitely becoming more and more elusive.  In fact with every few metres I became increasingly concerned, not with how we'd reach the top, but how we were going to get back down since we had no rock climbing gear, little feet were slipping going up and Caesar had not stopped screaming for the last 10 minutes. The decision was made perhaps 300 metres from the summit, 90 minutes into the walk, to turn around.

We'd completed every walk we'd set out on over the past seven months and I felt a deep sense of failure. For about five minutes. Fiela had had the good grace not to "I told you so" all the way back down the mountain so I moved on too.

Onwards but perhaps not upwards, we got to the bottom and drove on to our next camp, Cape Riche.
The view from Talyerberup, the Porongurup's in the background.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Parry Beach and How External Factors Can Make or Break Any Stay.

It was with tractor chains and a fair bit of screaming that we managed to extricate our daughter from Nana and Poppy's grasp when the latter duo finally finished their tour with us. Marguerite had been sleeping in the White Mansion for pretty much Mum and Dad's entire visit, being indulged in (almost) every whim and generally having the time of her life without the pesky intrusion of parents or a sibling... It was a sunny day when the tears fell, the tantrums began and the oft cried "Poh-ie! Na-na! Poh-ie?" were heard around camp until our children realised that the golden days of the grandparents were behind them for the moment and it was back to the United States of Mum and Dad. Yes, they were trying times.
Looking for grandparents at Parry Beach.
Having my parents around for 10 days had been great (even if their Britz motorhome was simply an enormous white mechanical lemon) and whilst their visit had buoyed us all for the remaining few months of our trip, their departure also meant our time in Western Australia was almost done. It was nearly time to head East once and for all. But not yet...
Coastline goodness.
 We had wanted to take Mum and Dad to Parry Beach, an almost-free camp just southwest of Denmark, but the motorhome had been too big for this treed area, so we backtracked here after our second and final stop in Albany.

When we stayed at Parry Beach the weather was OK; there'd be a dump of rain followed closely by sunshine and wind, just enough to dry everything out for a few hours, then the process would repeat itself. So we'd get a few good hours per day to look around this little part of the Great Southern along with a fair bit of indoor curse-the-weather time.
Calm seas=fishing off the side for...? Back to lean times in the Uys huis. Sausages again.
The camp itself is quite organic in that people find a spot in between the trees and set up pretty much where they like. It was West Australian school holidays when we stayed, so despite the weather it was fairly busy, but we managed to nab a spot away from everyone else by chocking the camper up on a Leaning Tower of Logs on the side of a slope. There were other, flatter sites, but we like to have a snoring buffer at the very least if we could help it, and there was definitely not enough space amongst the tents and campers for that to happen.
Beautiful Parry Beach.
Parry Beach is also a Council run park, so it's incredibly cheap ($10 per night).

The beach out the front is lovely, with a heap of rockpools and crabs slow enough for the kids to catch. We met some locals who were also camping and the kids played while we chatted. The Bibbulman Track runs through the campsite. We managed to walk a part of the track, a few kilometres west amongst some beautiful wildflowers with vistas out to the coast and met a couple of blokes who were 40 days into the track. They looked slightly crazed and emaciated but then I suppose you would if you'd been walking at least 10 hours per day for well over a month. (I was already re-thinking my need to return in a few years and do the track myself... might just walk the Margaret River wine trail instead. Or drive it. Probably just drive.) They only had another 70kms or so to go before they got to Albany and had a lie down for a long long time.
Bibbulman Track markers and Marguerite dragging her feet.
So we'd had OK weather, had a reasonable camp spot and had had some lovely interactions with our fellow campers and the natural environs. We wanted to move on but were happy to wait for a dry morning before we packed up and scooted out of there.

We recommended Parry Beach to the Doves, who subsequently planned to stay for a week or so... until they camped right next to bogans who made the cast of Breaking Bad look well-to-do and it bucketed with rain the whole time. So they packed up after a night and moved on, never to return.

We met another family doing a similar trip to us and discussed Parry Beach, which they adored and stayed at for "only" a week having a sunny flat camping spot surrounded by like-minded families with kids the same age and wonderful weather.
Coastal forests and the view back to Parry Beach and Denmark.
Which brings me to perhaps the best part of camping for more than a week or two at a time- if you're not feeling wonderful in a camp spot,you can just move on to the next. And if it is great, stay stay stay. Of course  the down side is that if it does rain, you can't just pack up and head for your warm bed in your dry house. And the Uyshuis was starting to want just that: Our warm dry house. Let the Homesick Games begin!

The Bibbulman Track.

A tiny orchid we found on the track.

Some perspective, the orchid is just above Marguerite's knee on the right.


And more.

And more.

And more!