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SW Western Australia, April 2011

Photos from this trip start here. They are not labelled.

A convention we sometimes attend was held in Perth over the Easter weekend, providing an excuse for Eric and me to take an extra 2+ weeks to do some touring in southwestern WA. Although Eric had been through parts of that area on an air tour a few years ago, I hadn’t been there for nearly 30 years (other than a stop in Perth in 2004).

We set out mid-morning on Monday, 4 April, to catch our Qantas flight to Brisbane, with connection to a direct flight from there to Perth. I had booked us into Business Class using some of my accumulated Qantas Frequent Flyer points, so we were able to relax in the Qantas Club lounges in Townsville and Brisbane.

Arriving in Perth after dark, we caught a taxi to the CityStay Apartments on Wellington Street in West Perth. The CityStay is close to transport (train and bus) and just around the corner from the Europcar depot. We had a one-bedroom apartment with a small kitchen, for a reasonable price. It would be ideal for a longer stay, but was too far away to be practical for the convention later in the month at the Hyatt Regency near the eastern edge of the city.

The place is across the street from a large factory-outlet shopping centre, which even when open had little useful in the way of food, and at that hour it wasn’t open. The motel offered a room service breakfast, so we each ordered a Big Breakfast for the next morning.

In the morning (Tuesday, 5 April), we were awake far too early, given the 2-hour time change from home. The Big Breakfasts were enormous: each contained two eggs, two large sausages, a heap of bacon, two slices of toast, baked beans, and a hash brown patty. We took the sausages with us for a lunchtime snack on the road. After breakfast, we walked to the factory outlet mall to get a newspaper for Eric and some bread rolls to go with the leftover sausages.

The Europcar office was open, so we were able to collect the car a bit early. We were delighted to receive a Forester, almost identical to our own car.

We were packed and heading south on the freeway out of Perth before 10:00. The countryside was flat but well wooded, though not densely. There were a number of plantation pine forests. We stopped for a rest break near the Lake Clinton turnoff around 11:00; the temperature was already 33C. Another rest break just before 13:00 where we ate the sausage and rolls.

At Busselton we looked at the little train that travels the long, long jetty, but didn’t ride out on it. There was also an old lighthouse converted to a water slide park. Nice beach in the area also. The famous Busselton Jetty was damaged in a cyclone a few years ago, but enthusiasts raised money to get it repaired.

Past Busselton, on the way to Dunsborough, we passed a seemingly unending set of Christian youth camps. We kept hoping to find the next one was Scientologist or Atheist, just for variety, but no luck.

We visited the Leeuwin Cape Naturaliste lighthouse but did not attempt to climb its steep interior stairs, although that was allowed (for a fee). By now I was fairly tired (having done all the driving, by choice), so we drove along Caves Road to a turnoff that would take us into Margaret River township. Along the way we passed dozens of wineries and a deer farm, giving me hope of finding venison at one of the restaurants (no luck on that, alas).

Adamson’s Riverside Motel and Apartments, our accommodation in Margaret River, proved to be a pleasant place to stay, far enough down at one end of town to be away from the noise of enthusiastic young tourists, but very close to some eateries—had we wanted to eat out. We realise that in Margaret River (famous WA wine country; also famous for cheeses, olive oil, and generally good food) one should eat out, but neither of us are thrilled with loud sound systems even in the unlikely event that they’re playing music we consider acceptable. So on the first night we bought takeaway gourmet pizza instead, washing it down with some fairly pleasant Churchview 2008 Cabernet Merlot purchased from reception.

Eric had managed to buy some breakfast food at a supermarket in town, so on Wednesday, 5 April, we had cereal and fruit before heading off for the day’s sightseeing. We drove south towards Augusta and Cape Leeuwin on a good fast road with little traffic. We stopped at the Augusta Bakery and Cafe to collect an apple-and-bilberry pie for morning tea. The toilet block at the riverside park looked like it had been made from the funnel of a ship, all concealed in the hillside.

While we were photographing the river and the boats, a woman drove up, parked her car, got out clutching a takeaway cup of (presumably) coffee, jumped in a small boat with her dog, and motored across to the other shore. An interesting variation on “I’ll just pop out to the coffee shop”!

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse looked impressive from a distance, with a light that still rotated. They had expensive lighthouse tours and tearooms, but we just wanted a look at both the Southern Ocean and the Indian Ocean, seen from the same spot. There was also a fascinating old waterwheel nearby, once used to pump fresh water to the lighthouse. It is now fossilised by lime from the flowing water.

Back through Augusta and onto the Caves Road, which unsurprisingly goes past a series of limestone caves. The first was Jewel Cave, where there was an elaborate and elegant tourist structure and tea room. We didn’t do the cave tour.

We stopped at Lake Cave but didn’t go in there either. We also drove out to Cape Freycinet to photo­graph the ocean crashing into the cape. From there it was a back road filled with wineries as we returned to Margaret River. Rain was now threatening. I rested while Eric went for a walk, returning with lunch supplies and chocolate. The rain caught up with him before he got back, so he was soaked. Turns out it was the first rain in 5 months, so the locals were happy. We spent the afternoon reading our books.

Rain continued on Thursday, 7 April. After break­fast we went for a walk through the town, dodging the showers. Bought more chocolates and some food to take back to the apartment. We never did get to a winery, either on a tour or on our own. No doubt some of our friends would be aghast, but we didn’t care.

Friday, 8 April, our day to depart Margaret River, started off cold, damp, and miserable. We set off for Pemberton, our next stop. On our way south, we passed a few pine plantations, some small cattle stations, and later some sheep stations. Didn’t see any more deer.

We took the Blackwood River valley to Nannup, a small town, well set up to cater to tourists. When we visited the bakery to get a snack, they were unloading freshly baked meat pies from the oven, so we had one each for an early lunch. We wandered through this interesting small town, noting an internet access place, typical of West Australian country infrastructure. The tourist information centre was also pretty good.

Next was Karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) forest: giant trees native to Western Australia. We drove through some impressive stands of them. Our first stop was the short Beedelup Falls walk, in the National Park. As expected after the lengthy dry spell, the little recent rain had not really replenished the water for the falls. Eric has some contrasting photos from a few years ago. We took the circular track over the swinging bridge to return to the car park. Next was Warren National Park, where we stopped at the Marianne North tree, commemorating the artist.

Then the big tree, the Dave Evans Bicentennial tree. This is one of three trees tourists can (if young and fit and silly) climb. From 50 metres up you can see a wonderful distance over the Karri forest. This is a relatively recent climbing tree, not one of the original fire lookouts that were the purpose of the original spike ladders around the trees. This tree has a rest platform part way up. Since few people were around, we did climb a short distance for photographs of each other.

Gloucester National Park was next, with a walk to the Cascades. Again, these were sadly reduced in flow by the lack of water.

In Pemberton, we visited the tourist info place before checking in to the Best Western Pemberton Hotel, a renovated older place in the centre of town. Then we headed off to the closest climbing tree, only 2 km out of town. This is the Gloucester Tree.

Dinner at the hotel was the sort of pub food we appreciate. Jean had the fresh water trout, while Eric had barramundi fillet with lemon butter.

On Saturday, 9 April, we had bacon and eggs at the hotel before departing early to drive to Windy Harbour on Route 10, which was in great shape. Lots of small cattle stations, plus plantation timber.

We saw some big Western grey kangaroos on the dirt road approaching Windy Harbour. They seemed not too concerned by vehicles, although they hopped off into the scrub as we approached. Windy Harbour seemed a well organised community. They obviously put a lot of work into keeping the place clean and pleasant, despite a lack of major facilities. There was a playground for children, tourist information on signs.

Later, on the way to Cathedral Rock, Eric saw what he thinks was a Euro, since the jaw shape did not seem totally appropriate to a kangaroo.

Other stops included Salmon Beach and nearby lookouts, which had great views along the coast. There were lookouts along the road, so we stopped often to take in the views. At Tookulup National Park there were lots of cliff top views to Salmon Beach.

We continued to D’Entrecasteaux Point and took a loop walk with views around a modern lighthouse, with solar panels and that sort of stuff. Nothing like a traditional light at all.

At Northcliffe, some distance inland, we had lunch, then walked around a bit. I found some garden orna­ments at the Windmill Gallery. These consisted of a tall stand, with a balancing design resting on top, all in a distressed metal. One was in the shape of a bird with top hat, the other a dragonfly. On impulse, we bought them. We’ve been looking for garden ornaments, but didn’t want the standard ones available locally because half our neighbours have them.

Next we visited Shannon National Park, after having driven through it on the main road. There is a Giant Forest Trees drive, and we drove half of it. This is a well made dirt road. We stopped at Snake Gully Lookout to view trees, then at Big Tree Grove, for a short walk through the towering forest. By the time got back to the South West Highway, we were tired.

Back in Pemberton, we returned to the hotel to collapse. We dined there that evening also.

On Sunday 10 April, we wanted to get the garden ornaments we bought packed and posted. The local postal agency (at the newsagent) opened at 08:00. The staff there seemed to enjoy helping us pack the orna­ments, offering suggestions for the best method. For about 2/3rd of what the garden ornaments cost, we mailed them home in 3 separate large parcels. (When we got home, they were waiting for us, undamaged.)

We headed for Albany. A long road through some spectacular forest, with breaks for farm country, mostly with breeds of cattle, but a few sheep. We were headed for the Valley of the Giants to see the giant Tingle tree. First stop a lookout, over the countryside. Next a hollowed-out Tingle tree with a fire-blacked hole in the heartwood many times my height. Then the loop walk to the giant Tingle tree. That hollowed out monster was enormous.

The Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk at the Walpole Wilderness was less than 30 km away. This is a steel bridge walkway hundreds of metres in length through the treetops, so you can see the tops of the giants of the forest close up. The highest point is 40 metres above the ground, and the trees still tower above the platforms and walkways. It was a most impressive walk. Naturally it has been designed to sway, so you get the real feeling of being up in the air with the tree limbs.

In Albany, we were staying at the Best Western Albany Motel. After doing the laundry, we set out just before 18:00 seeking dinner. Our first choice was a very close micro­brewery pub. It was playing raucous noise, possibly music, so we skipped that. We found many Chinese restaurants as we approached York Street, but we did not want Chinese. Finally on York Street we found The Venice, a wonderful Italian restaurant. I had the marinara pasta, and Eric had their special pizza. He says it was the best pizza he’s had all year. We booked for the next evening as well.

The nearby Premier Hotel bottle shop supplied a 2007 Parish Lane merlot. It went well with the food. We bought a few extra bottles for later in the trip.

On Monday, 11 April, we had breakfast in the motel’s breakfast room. We switched off the TV set, since we were the only people on hand, and we both hate TV making noises at us at any time, but especially at breakfast. The cook remonstrated, but left the TV off.

From the top floor of the motel, we could see the Albany wind farm, about 12 kilometres southwest. After breakfast, we visited the Verve wind farm, checking turbines 1 to 3, of the 12 there. We took a walk among the turbines. The few early lookout points are high up hills, and provide a wonderful view of the magnificent cliffs and coastal scenery. There are more views along the coastal walkway.

The wind farm at Albany was the first large Western Power grid connected wind farm; it opened in October 2001. It runs twelve 1800 kW Enercon E66 wind turbines from Germany, which have 65 metre towers and each blade is 35 metres long.

After the wind farm, we entered Torndirrup National Park and took the Cable Beach turnoff, but alas could not reach the lighthouse on the point due to a closed road. There was a flock of Carnaby’s black cockatoos at the parking lot, and excellent scenery from the parking lot and the beach.

Still in Torndirrup National Park, we viewed rocky coastal scenery at The Gap and Natural Bridge, then stopped along the road at Vancouver lookout, looking over King George Sound.

We gave up on the well-publicised Albany Whale World inspection tour when we found it is a 4-hour family edutainment tour of the last whaling station to exist in Australia (it closed as recently as 1978).

Salmon Holes lookout gave us views over a pretty beach. On the way back to Albany we stopped at the Great Southern Distilling Company. They have an attractive cafe that lets you sample their single malt Whiskey named “Limeburners”. The name comes from the government limestone and lime quarry at Limeburners Creek nearby.

We tried the high-strength Directors Cut Whisky which was delightfully smooth even uncut. Plum liquor would go very well with desserts. The citrus vodka was dangerously smooth. There was lots else to sample, but we were driving, and even tiny nips add up. They have local cakes and light lunches. Plus you can order over the internet and have spirits shipped. Had we known they also had free WiFi, I suspect we would have packed our computers and stayed for lunch.

Back in town, Jean walked to the sushi place in York Street to get lunch. After lunch, Eric took a walk in the now warm sunlight. He started by checking the University of West Australia in the old Post Office building. This is the earliest purpose-built Post Office in West Australia, completed in 1869. It also for a time housed the court­house, the magistrate’s office, and H.M. Customs and Excise. The post office relocated in 1964; Customs left in 1966. The building had many tenants after that. The most recent is the University of West Australia.

He continued his harbourside walk to the distinctive looking (like a ship sinking) new entertainment centre via an overhead pedestrian way across the highway. Then he walked up York Street taking photos of the Town Hall, the library, St John’s Anglican church and other tourist style buildings, plus the Alison Hartman Gardens. Naturally he stopped at bookshops: Angus and Robertsons, ABC Shop, and Dymocks.

At The Venice Italian restaurant for dinner, I had an Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) and Eric had another of their pizza specials. We drank the last of yesterday’s bottle of 2007 Parish Lane merlot.

Tuesday 12 April: After breakfast at the motel, we worked on our notes in the room until nearly 10:00. We were headed for the Stirling Range National Park, which is only about 80 km north from Albany, so we did not have a long drive. Poor weather and rain slowed us down as we travelled through sheep stations and more pine plantations. Even when we could see the Stirling Ranges, photography was difficult, with poor light, cloudy conditions, and some rain.

Kamballup service station 24 km from our destination was very small but had a restaurant that we later learned is very good and is popular with people staying in the park. Then we ran into a series of road construction, which slowed us down more than the rain.

Stirling Range National Park (the Noongar call it Koi Kyenunu-ruff: mist moving around mountains) is an abrupt transition from generally flat plains to sudden low peaks. It is a world heritage site noted for its biodiversity. Bluff Knoll (Bular Mial) at 1095 metres is the highest peak in the southern part of West Australia. It even snows there, sometimes.

Reached the 10 hectares of Stirling Range Retreat on the far side of the Stirling Range National Park just before midday. They kindly made our cabin available soon after we arrived. Alas, the local Bluff Knoll cafe was not open Tuesday or Wednesday. We had not brought sufficient food to last for three days without eating out. We could buy some supplies (including very nice ice cream) at the park office, but not as much as we wanted or needed.

We drove about 8 km past the park boundary to Amelup service station. They had meat pies, so that was lunch. We continued on 30 km to Borden, where there was a Post Office and general store. Got a heap of supplies, mostly based on what we could find rather than what we needed. The store gave the impression of a place awaiting a supply shipment. However we got enough to do.

Back at the Stirling Ranges Retreat, we settled in to continue our notes of the trip. The wet weather did not encourage much wandering around at the time.

Wednesday, 13 April: The cool of the morning made us reluctant to get moving all that quickly. However we eventually got going, for the sun was shining through the clouds and we wanted to see what we could before the weather changed again.

Stirling Range Drive is around 40 km of dirt road going through much of the Stirling Range National Park. Although we were at the wrong time for wildflowers, we could at least check the more distant peaks before the cloud came in. Alas, we only had a minimum amount of sunshine for taking pictures, as it was overcast most of the time inside the park.

We stopped at Mt Hassell car park for photographs. The walk itself is two hours for those younger and fitter than us. Talyuberup car park also offered views, so we stopped there. Talyuberup Peak is also a two hour walk to a steep cliff.

At Central Lookout we scrambled up a path that got less and less distinct the further we went. When it started to involve actual climbing we gave up. We think we had stopped at the actual lookout earlier in the walk. Some of the rock formations there are interesting, both in colour and their distinctive stripes. There were also some interesting plants around. The views were good too, even if the weather wasn’t ideal for photography.

Mt Magog was a 3- to 4-hour class 5 walk. No way! Our last stop was the Western Lookout. This had some flowering red plants.

The threatened rain caught up with us as we were leaving the park, but luckily was very light, not enough to cause problems on the dirt road.

Back at our room at the Retreat, we had lunch, then Eric went for an afternoon walk around the area. There are a lot of amusing road speed signs, setting the limit as 8 kph, on behalf of the local wildlife.

Many of the bushes, plants and trees throughout the resort have informative labels. These often went in series, giving a history of the use of the plant. The Retreat has a set of nesting boxes set on trees around the place, and handouts listing the bird species seen in the area, with checklists for people to fill in their own sightings and note what bird or animals they see in the nesting boxes. I believe the bird info was provided by enthusiasts from Birds Australia.

Thursday 14 April: After a cold morning, during which we both walked around the Retreat a bit and looked at the rammed earth cabins, the pool, and other features, we visited the now open Bluff Knoll cafe for lunch. We had hamburgers and a glass of house red. The hamburgers were enormous (as was the wine glass) and very tasty, but we couldn’t finish them, so we left most of the rolls after eating the rest.

Later we drove to Bluff Knoll. It is only about 8 km to the large modern parking lot and lookout. With good weather (finally), we were able to get some photos of the magnificent area. Afterwards we headed out to Mount Trio. Once again some great views from the parking area.

Friday 15 April: With the weather now fine and sunny, we did not need to wear cold weather gear. We headed north from Stirling Range until we met the east-west road that would eventually take us to Esperance.

One place we wanted to see was the Mallee Fowl centre at Ongerup, but it was closed on Friday! We also wanted to view some of the Fitzgerald River National Park, so we took the Hammersley Drive road south. Seven or eight km later, we came across a road closed sign: No entry to the National Park. (Turned out to be an attempt to limit the spread of dieback fungus through this ecologically sensitive area.) We had to turn around and return to the highway, and travel through Ravensthorpe, where we took the turn off to Hopetoun.

Hopetoun was larger than we expected, a neat and tidy town with nice looking facilities. We checked in to the Hopetoun Motel and Chalets, near the Esplanade and centre of the small shopping area. The rooms had thick rammed earth walls.
We walked around a bit, looking at the shops and the town’s facilities, before collecting fish-and-chips dinner and retiring to write notes and read.

Saturday 16 April: As we had neared Hopetoun on Friday we could see two wind turbines, so today we set off to have a look at the Hopetoun Wind Turbine Power Station, run by Verve. We were able to get a close look at the two turbines. One was installed in 2004, the second in 2007. They have made use of the strengths of wind in the west; the wind generates around 45% of the electricity Hopetoun uses.

We took the Springdale Road east, despite it being a gravel road. This left us closer to the coast so we could more easily drive in to view interesting spots such as Munglinup Beach and inlet. We visited Stokes National Park, and Stokes Inlet and beach. There were brand new facilities there, opened in March 2011.

Arriving in Esperance, we were too early for the motel, so we had lunch and then took the Great Southern Drive past numerous magnificent beaches on a splendid day. Views from the drive showed beautiful sea colours. We got a look at part of the Esperance wind turbine plant.

Our room at the Best Western Esperance on The Esplanade was ready when we returned from the 40km drive. Eric went out for a walk to collect some milk at the IGA food store a block or two away. They also had a Cellarbrations liquor store attached. He also discovered a hot bread bakery that opened early, a Subway, and a Jaycar electronics agency.

At dinner at the motel restaurant, Jean had the sirloin steak, which proved not as gigantic as she feared. Eric tried the ham, tomato and pineapple pie with a parsley cream sauce. It basically had a filo pastry top, rather than being a full pastry pie shell. It was excellent, and not so large that he could not eat it all. The wine was a Dalyup River 2006 Shiraz.

While awaiting our meal, we noticed a group arriv­ing; turned out to be a 90th birthday party. We over­heard them saying something about Townsville; it sounded like they were discussing cyclones, so Eric leaned over and said we were from Townsville. Turned out they were talking about an earthquake that had happened that day. “What?!” we chorused, reaching for our iPhones to check the news. People at another table (also around our age) then chimed in with what they’d heard (“Bowen… Mackay… Collinsville”); before long, half the restaurant was engaged in a lively group dis­cussion, which ceased when meals began to appear.

Sunday, 17 April: We drove off at 08:00 on Merivale Road to Cape Le Grand National Park, about 40 km away, much of it through Kalina Tree Farm, which appeared to have kilometre after kilometre of mature trees growing, plus more smaller trees in patches. We saw large black cattle along the way, and some emus.

After paying our park entry fee to a real person at a real entry barrier, we drove the few kilometres on to the stunning Le Grand Beach. Ambitious 4WD folks can drive the entire distance along the beach from Esperance. We are far less ambitious, especially in a hire vehicle.

At Hellfire Bay, we noticed only one person on the entire beach. I thought I saw some people surfing. That actually turned out to be three dolphins playing in the surf. We also saw more emus as we headed back to the main road.
Viewed Frenchman’s Cap from two lookouts. The prospect of climbing all the way up there, and standing on an obviously fragile rock through which you could see sunlight did not appeal at all.

We stopped at the beach at Lucky Cove, and filled the car floor with sand (not by choice). The beach is a very damp one, unlike the firm sand of the first beach we visited.

Our furthest excursion was to Rossiter Bay, a mostly rocky coastline along a dirt road. As we returned we stopped at Thistle Cove, a pleasant spot with a wind carved whistling rock. We left the park around midday for the drive back to Esperance.

At dinner, Jean had the swordfish dish of the day for her dinner, while Eric had lamb cutlets. We had a white wine: West Cape Howe Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010, which was a light fruity wine that went well with our dinner.

Monday, 18 April: The showery weather settled in, along with lower temperatures. After breakfast in the room, Eric went along to the museum on the next block and took some photos of the old experimental wind turbines from the 1990’s.

We both went out before midday to check the French hot bread shop and collect some lunch, then in the afternoon we wandered along The Esplanade. We discovered that one of the parks had a lengthy miniature railway line all through it. Alas, open only on weekends, so we never did get to see the train.

Once again we had dinner at the Best Western Esperance Motel, for lack of a better idea. I had the fish of the day, on pumpkin mash. Eric had the meatballs on pasta. The wine was a Margaret River Driftwood Classic White. It seemed much like the Evans and Tate cleanskins we favour when at home.

Tuesday, 19 April: We set out at 08:45. Drove to the old (decommissioned) Salmon Beach wind farm near Esperance, perhaps the first in Australia, for a brief look at the remaining turbine on display. We then started on the long drive to Perth, which would take us two days, with a break at Hyden for the night and a chance to look at Wave Rock.

I had not realised (or had totally forgotten) that the “Wave” part of the rock is only a small part of a much larger rock known as Hyden Rock, which has a stone rainwater-diversion wall built on top to funnel water into the town’s reservoir. Publicity photos use an angle that doesn’t show the wall. In addition to taking the obligatory tourist photos, we climbed steps and walked around a small part of the top, then returned to the “wave” and walked around part of the rock’s edge to a formation known as “Hippo’s Yawn”. We were late enough in the day that no tourist buses were around, and very few individual vehicles.

We stayed at the Wave Rock Motel in Hyden and ate in their restaurant, which featured a do-it-yourself barbecue with breads and lots of prepared salads to choose from. I indulged in a t-bone steak, while Eric had sausages. They probably also had desserts available, but we couldn’t fit any in (just as well).

Wednesday, 20 April: Another long drive today, through small towns and down from the plateau to the flatlands around Perth. After dropping off our bags and checking in to the Hyatt Regency, we returned the car to the Europcar office and caught one of the free buses to the central shopping area.

We walked. Jean found a Woolworth’s and picked up some food supplies for the next few days, while Eric went looking for other things. We met at the Perth Apple Store, which at that hour was extremely busy. We had a quick look around, with the plan to return the next day. Then we walked back to the Hyatt, around 2km or more. Eric carried the heavy pack full of groceries, but even so I was worn out by the time we got there. We should have taken the free bus, but I had wanted to walk.

The rest of the trip was mostly spent in the Hyatt, attending a convention.