My Visit To Western Australia
I went to Western Australia, with my friends Bill and Marcia, that I met in Bali. I had a great time touring around with them and this is what we got up to. Thanks again Bill and Marcia!
When we arrived and checked in at our resort, the lady gave us a package that had been waiting for our arrival. Of course, it was Marly, the teddy bear that would be accompanying us on our Western Australian adventure.
There was much to-do getting Marly out of his confinement from the five day trip across Australia from Melbourne to Perth!
And a thirsty little devil he was! A whole bottle of Coca-Cola right off the bat!!
Our first day trip was to drive south to Margaret River. It seemed to be the general consensus with the Australians we talked to that we had to visit Margaret River for its many well-known wineries.
Lunches are packed and Marly is ready to go!
On the way to Margaret River, we stopped in Busselton, the home of the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere. Our guidebooks said the jetty was closed in early 2009 for repairs but would be open again soon.
The jetty was begun in 1853 and continually added to for a total length of nearly two kilometers until it was closed to shipping in 1972.
A small train was used to haul goods, particularly lumber, in and out from the ships to the shore. A cyclone in the late 1970s destroyed a small branch of the pier which ran from about midpoint into shore and did tremendous damage to the main pier.
They have since tried to rebuild it as a tourist attraction boasting an underwater observatory in addition to a train ride.
Our next day was to Pinjarra and Dwellingup, inland from Mandurah.
We found the Pinjarra Visitor Center and wandered around inside for a bit. We went to the “historical park.” It turned out to be a lovely large park that the Murray River ran through. And over the Murray River was a long pedestrian suspension bridge.
The river was home to more ducks and other water fowl.
From here we traveled up in elevation to Dwellingup which is known for its Jarrah forests. Jarrah is of the eucalyptus family of trees and is highly prized for its hardness and termite resistance. When Jarrah is seasoned, Jarrah wood is so hard that conventional wood-working tools cannot be used. Jarrah was exported to England where it was cut into blocks and used as foundation under asphalt roadbeds.
We visited the Forest Heritage Center where they have a renowned working school of fine wood training. The building complex is shaped in the form of a big leaf. The two little leaves are the visitor center, the main school the large leaf. They had many lovely items from jewelry boxes to furniture made from Jarrah wood on display.
We were told we HAD to eat prime rib at a Hog’s Breath Saloon – and Mandurah had one we decided to visit. We went for lunch. Our waitress was an immigrant from Ireland; she and her boyfriend came to Australia for a visit and decided they liked it enough to stay a while. They travel around until they run out of money, find jobs and then work until they have enough money to travel on to their next destination. Marly had a great time!
On our final day in the Mandurah area, we decided to go south once more and check out the surfing beaches in the Yallingup area. After asking someone why most of the places in south western WA end in “up,” we were told that is Aboriginal for “place.”
It turned out to be a beautiful drive as this time we took any scenic roadway we found.
Most of them wound through forests that were beautiful and full of wildflowers. The recent rains had caused a spectacular growth in wildflowers.
Then we headed off to pick up our Wicked camper. The woman showed Bill how to check the fluids, how the seat/ mattress pads move aside for storage cabinets underneath and how to make the table.
We loaded our stuff and set off. As you can see, Marly was anxious to get going. It was after 1:00 and we needed to travel over 245 kilometers to Cervantes, a trip of about four hours not counting getting out of Perth! And we still needed to get gas and ice for the eskie – what we Americans call an ice chest. we needed to get going because our contract on the van mandated we not drive between dusk and dawn.
Cervantes was very small and right on the coast.
Caravan parks are just about everywhere in Australia – even throughout the outback. The Australians love to move around their country and will camp just about anywhere. Besides running hot water and electrical outlets, they offered kitchen areas which we could use that had multiple range top burners and usually a grill. It made cleaning up exceeding easy.
It was early spring in WA and the night temperatures were still in the lower 40s.
The cool night didn’t bother Marly in the slightest. And he loved the huge playground that we found the next morning. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world: kelp stinks and is covered with flies and gnats! However, Marly was oblivious!
Our next destination was Geraldton, 260 kilometers and about three and a half hours. We had to drive inland and pick up Highway 1 as there was no through road along the coast.
We reached Geraldton and drove around town to locate a grocery store, gas station and the caravan park.
The Geraldton beach areas were as desolate as the beaches south of Mandurah.
We checked into the caravan park and made ourselves some lunch. Marley was starving – and you can see Bill found Mountain Dew!
The next leg of our trip was up to Denham, 430 kilometers and five and a half hours away. This was probably going to be our longest scheduled drive.
And even though it would be a long drive, we were going to stay two nights in Denham so we took our time and had a leisurely breakfast.
The nights were still a bit cool but they were warming up the farther north we drove.
The 26th Parallel divides the Northern Territory from Southern Australia. In Western Australia, it is just an imaginary marking on the maps.
Denham, Shark Bay and Monkey Mia are in the World Heritage area of Western Australia. We were camping in Denham on our way north and in Monkey Mia on our way south.
The aquarium consisted of a large wooden building that was really no more than an old barn. The entrance was done nicely as a visitor center.
There was a series of small hallways that led to a large open room with six huge water tanks that had various sea creatures in each one.
They have several staff that take turns showing people around, explaining the animals in each tank and answering questions in a very informal manner. You just join the group and follow the guide around until you arrive back where you joined. You can either continue to look around or leave.
One tank had several turtles in it, some of which had been sick or injured. Sometimes they would be released back into the ocean but if their survival was questionable, the tank became their permanent home. One sea turtle lost a fin to some other animal and so was a permanent resident of the aquarium.
The tanks had various ocean fish and corals that we see regularly when we scuba dive but one also had a cuttlefish that was a rather curious fellow but a bit skittish. When the guide surprised him by throwing in a bit of fish for a meal, we actually saw him ink! It was just a little squirt and then he was off to the other side of the tank.
He was very hesitant to actually take the fish and we watched him change colors as his mood changed while he decided whether or not he was going to go after the food being tossed his way.
We next went outside to the Shark Lagoon. Every hour they finish off the tour with a demonstration of shark feeding. The guide strings heavy duty fishing line through the gills of a large dead fish and then attaches it to a pole. He drops the bait down into the water and waits for the sharks to circle and bite.
Again, most of these sharks have been injured in some fashion and are here only until well enough to survive on their own again. The lagoon connects directly to the ocean so they only have to remove a barrier and the fish swim out.
After we saw what there was to see at the aquarium, we decided to check out Shell Beach which is a huge bay where the 110 kilometer shore is made entirely of cockle shells. The salinity of the water is so high that the cockles have no natural predators and so have multiplied into areas ten meters deep. The shells eventually compact into Coquina limestone which was mined and used as building material – until the area became protected as part of the World Heritage area.
Carnarvon is known for the prominent role it played during the Gemini and Apollo space programs as a critical tracking station and communications link. The location was prime for the last hours prior to rentry to Earth for the space capsules. As a tracking station for NASA, it was closed in 1974 but the huge satellite dish and one small building is still there as part of a historical site.
Carnarvon is also known for cavendish bananas, fishing and tours to Ningaloo Reef, a big surfing and recreation area. Ningaloo Reef is north of Coral Bay where we were going to spend the next several days.
Our next stop was Coral Bay and the scenery between there and Carnarvon was the same desolate landscape but this two hundred kilometer stretch had a new addition: termite mounds. Some places had a termite mound every few meters. Each mound is its own colony, some being over six feet tall and equally wide. We did stop at the Blowholes on our way to Coral Bay. It was a beautiful ocean view and the blowholes were impressive.
One of our days was spent exploring Exmouth, the main tourist destination in this part of Australia. There is the Cape Range National Park, fishing, Ningaloo Reef, fishing, hiking, fishing. You get the point. Ningaloo Reef has been often recommended to us as having far better diving and fewer people than the Great Barrier Reef.
Exmouth has a population of about 2,000 people but during the summer tourist season, it is well over 6,000. What do 6,000 Australians do all summer in Exmouth? We guess it’s either fishing or drinking or both.
We found Exmouth to be a quiet place and could not imagine where they would keep all the tourists. The maintenance man in the caravan park in Coral Bay had given Bill a list of three or four places to see in Exmouth. “Wow! You’re a Yank!” Directions were “drive about fifteen kilometers past the RAAF and take the left but if you see this sign, you’ve gone too far…”
We passed the large Royal Australian Air Force facility which was good – it meant we were on the correct road. But then at this point, there was really only one road. One paved road, that is. We could see the communications towers in the distance. That was also good. It meant our turn for the Point Cloates Lighthouse was close by. Since we were looking for the lighthouse, and we could not see the lighthouse, this should give you a clue as to how far these distances really are.
There were the remains of the cattle ship SS Mildura that was lost enroute from Kimberley during a cyclone in 1907.
The cattle were rescued without incident and most of the timbers and iron were salvaged and used in renovations at the Yardie Homestead, presumably named after the Yardie River, which was back beyond the lighthouse some twenty kilometers or more.
Closer to Exmouth we investigated Bundegi Beach which had several small piers but was mostly also deserted.
A huge portion of land north of Exmouth proper is devoted to the naval communication station that is used by both the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Navy ships and submarines in the western Pacific Ocean and eastern Indian Ocean. It is the most powerful transmission station in the Southern Hemisphere. For many years, the central tower was the tallest manmade structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Coral Bay is a small, strictly tourist town right on the coast. There were two or three small caravan parks that also had cabins and one large hotel.
We discovered that the people in the town are trying to increase their tourism by building more hotels. There is also a lot of land advertised for sale. However, the Australian government is refusing to allow any more development until they rebuild their infrastructure. They are basically in the middle of nowhere and dependent on everything being brought into them.
There was no fresh water for general use. Fresh water was kept for drinking only.
Of all the places we had investigated snorkelling, this was the best one. One side of the bay was set aside as a shark breeding preserve and therefore no swimming was allowed there. Duh!
We dropped back down to the coast – and into Kalbarri.
Well, there is Kalbarri National Park, tennis, golf, surfing, the parrot breeding center “with tropical gardens and waterfalls,” and the daily feeding of the pelicans.
Don’t miss out on an invigorating horse-ride along the beach at sunset! There are also tours via Harley motorcycles, camel treks, canoe safaris, whale watching and boat cruises.
We spent most of one day in the Kalbarri National Park which is really a very small version of the Grand Canyon.
There were wild flowers in abundance.
Access off the main highway was about 20 kilometers on a very dry dirt road.
We drove through areas that had been destroyed by wild fires and about the only things standing besides charred bushes were grass palms which both Bill and I loved. Some of them had sprouted a long stick which is its form of flower – and we read somewhere that they do not flower except when in duress, such as a fire.
Not particularly pretty but interesting. The canyon was cut by the Murchison River – which is dry most of the year. There are three spectacular formations: “Nature’s Window”, “Natural Bridge” and “Island Rock”
Our day in Kalbarri was to be filled with birds. It was pelican feeding time.
Then off to the parrot breeding center, called The Rainbow Jungle.
The aviary was divided into two sections, one with large cages for the bigger birds, the other with a lot of plants, trees, and a couple of water features where the smaller birds were allowed to fly freely. We spent most of the day wandering around and watching the birds, some of which were real characters.
The Rainbow Jungle was a fun day. We got a kick out of some of the sculptures and watching the birds is always a good time for us. Most had either previously been injured in the wild and could no longer fend for themselves or were pets that had been abandoned when they got too big or hard to care for.
Port Dennison and Dongara are side-by-side on the coast about 250 kilometers south of Kalbarri.
We drove around a large curve and came across the historic site of the Lynton Hiring Station. The sign explains that Lynton was established in 1853 to supply convict labor for the Geraldine Lead Mine, 40 miles north in the Murchison River bed. Ore was carted from Geraldine to Port Gregory, an expensive two day journey over sandplain but due to several recent shipwrecks, ships were no longer docking at Port Gregory.
When the Wannerenooka Copper Mine in Northhampton opened in 1856, an alternate route to the port in Geraldton became the less expensive option.
Convict labor was also used to build the impressive homestead of Captain Sanford, the Superintendent of Convicts.
While he lived in as much luxury as the area allowed, the guards and their families were still living in tattered tents – even after two years.
The depot itself was barely finished when it was closed in December 1856 due to the harsh living conditions and transport problems.
During our travels we saw many more Wicked Camper Vans similar to ours – each painted bright patterns, some of which made sense to us and some that we had no clue. Whenever we passed one on the road, Bill would flash his headlights and wave and they reciprocated. When we got back to Perth, we first went to the airport to pick up our reserved rental car and then returned the van to Wicked. Several of the vans we had seen on our trip had already been returned.
It was now time to say goodbye to Marly and send him on his way home.