Valley of the Giants

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Heading to Shannon National Park (between Albany and Pemberton) we stopped to see one of Australia’s National icons, the Valley of the Giants and its tree-top walk. Even if you aren’t a tree hugging hippy this site makes you understand the urge they have to climb a tree to protect it.  The massive red tingle trees that have given this area it’s name apparently hark back to when we were “Gondwana” land and are now only preserved in this small niche in Western Australia where conditions remain similar to ancient times – they are gnarly, often holllowed out at the base and totally fascinating. The tree walks (one suspended 40 metres above the ground in the tree tops and one winding it’s way past mammoth tree bases) lets us visit these giants without trampling them to death.  One huge tree has previously been ‘loved to death’ from it’s shallow roots being trampled and fell over – that would have been a terrifying site to behold!

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The suspended walkway through the tree tops was surreal – looking down at these huge trees but also looking up where they still continued way above our forty metre vantage point as the metal grid swayed gently under our feet.  Even with other tourists winding their way around the walks the lush forest absorbed so much sound you felt totally isolated – I didn’t want to leave but eventually decided it would be a little uncomfortable to sleep on.  The engineering for this birds eye view is incredible and has won a bunch of awards – apparently the actual foot-print on the forest floor only occupies 3-4 square metres (depending on which brochure you read) supporting six, 60 metre suspended spans – not something to think about while you are hanging around forty metres in the air swaying in the breeze!

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Seasoned tree walkers

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We didn’t do much…

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Awesome views

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Tranquil

 

The winding path through the forest floor was just as breath-taking in it’s own way, standing at the bottom of the giants gazing up into the tree tops you feel tiny and unimportant – but also incredibly lucky to be able to see a glimpse of history like this. I also just loved that the girls were so interested in all the botanical signs and what they were seeing – Sophia in particular seems to have an avid interest in all things natural and stated that she would much rather be out in the trees than watching a movie.  Considering we are on a six month nature tour (essentially) that bodes well.  I’m not convinced Layla is as enthusiastic (our princess) but she is at least willing to be a good sport about it and not be outdone by her sister in the outdoorsy stakes!

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Albany Continues – Granite Sky Walk, Whale World and Wild Weather

Deciding we hadn’t tortured the children for a while we headed up to the Porongurup National Park (45 kms North East of Albany) so we could drag the blossoms up to the top of Castle Rock to see the Granite Sky Walk.  The walk itself was 2.2 kms and quite steep towards the end, climbing through beautiful green karri forest – however every time we came to a sign saying how far we had yet to climb it came as a shock – surely we’d gone further than 500 metres?!  The girls impressed us yet again with their tenacity, everyone making it to the top despite Layla asking every two minutes when would we get there and Sophia playing David Attenborough (still), stopping to stare in amazement at every new ant hill on the way up.

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Heading up – too much energy to start with!

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Balancing rock – how many people have taken this shot?!

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View to the top

 

The Sky Walk itself involved a ‘scramble’ up the massive granite boulders using well placed metal foot and hand holds to reach a vertical ladder up a rock face to the viewing platform – so we elected for the adults to go up one at a time while the girls played on the lower karri lookout.  This incredible piece of engineering had to be seen to be believed, freely suspended 570 metres above sea level on the Eastern side of huge granite rocks the brochures tell me are more than 1,000 million years old. The vista was also breath-taking, lush green farming land, more karri forests, vineyards and the Stirling Ranges in the distance.  It didn’t pay to stand too close to the edge and look straight down on the Eastern side though, vertigo inducing doesn’t even begin to cover that sensation.

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Elected not to have the kids “scramble”!

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Walk with a view – don’t look directly down though

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Going down was much quicker

On our last day in Albany the weather seemed to decide it had indulged the Queenslanders enough and returned to what is more expected down South when it’s nearly June – cold, wet and blustery.  We had done most of our outdoorsy touring so headed to “Whale World” to hide from the elements. I really should have paid more attention the tourist brochures – initially I thought this was a whale information tour, turns out to be the last Australian whaling station that has been preserved complete with a whale ‘chaser’ vessel.  The girls had a ball climbing through and over the whaling ship (the beds were about their size, were men all short in those days??!) however the actual historical revelations about the whaling industry required a strong stomach – the guided tour of the site included the ‘flensing’ deck, boilers and a massive saw they used to detach the poor old whales heads. However there was some great general information about whales and even the suspended skeleton of a massive blue whale (but apparently this 24 meter behemoth is half the size of the biggest known blue whales).

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Inside the whaling ship

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The Blue Whale Behemoth

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The beautiful harbor where wholesale slaughter used to take place

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The Cheynes IV – Whale Chaser

Returning from Whale World (immensely relieved that most of our species had realised that whaling is barbaric) the weather became even wilder, to the point where we removed the girls from the campervan and installed them in the Prado with a movie – just in case!  Massive wind gusts off the ocean were rocking our little home and even once we decided it was safe enough to return Craig threw a tie down strap over the top and lashed us to the ground as added security.  Sleep was in short supply on our last night with the wind, rain and noise and we were actually relieved to be on our way – Albany was fabulous but the wild wind gusts that come with coastal winters were a little unnerving!

Albany

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Five days and nights free camping reached the record of Bay of Fires in Tasmania so when we departed Millers Point for Albany there was high level of shower desperation in the air (so to speak)! Also we had been free camping on dirt sites so the key requirement for a caravan park in Albany was grass – lots and lots of clean, green grass. Emu Point Acclaim turned out to be the park of choice and Emu Point itself was delightful, literally a point of land near the van park that had a little cafe perched at the end, a playground and calm stretch of beach that little ones would enjoy – and an off-shore ocean lap swimming pool complete with lane ropes! So wished it was summer at that point. Every morning I managed to escape for some peace and solitude, walking along the beach path that wound itself along the harbor and gazing out at the islands dotted around.

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Emu Point at Sunset

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Emu Point in the Sunshine

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Beachfront Walk

Our lucky streak with the weather continued as well (initially at least) and we were able to see Albany Harbor in all it’s sunny, crystal clear blue-green water glory – almost warm enough to brave the cold water and jump in, it was incredibly tempting. However instead we went fishing off the jetty and enjoyed the view – but not the fish, only catch of the day was a small crab attempting to steal bait, cheeky sod. The water was so clear that every single detail of the ocean floor was visible – in retrospect it was pretty obvious there were no fish to catch but the short people enjoyed the practice!

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The swimming pool clear Albany Harbor

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Fishergirl

Albany turned out to have a lot to see and do within close range and we ended up extending our stay twice, finally spending five nights and days in this neck of the WA woods. The wind farm we thought was going to be a bit boring (a walking track through a wind farm?) was actually awe inspiring, a field of eighteen wind turbines soaring into the air above us while we wound our way through a pretty walking track with elevated viewing platforms and visual of the nearby wild ocean coast line. The route also collided with the “Bibbulmun Track” a path that is sometimes boardwalk, sometimes dirt, sometimes part of a remote track and makes it’s way from Albany to Perth for those fit enough (or crazy enough) to want to walk/ride roughly 1000 kms. Being there at sunset the photography was perfect and even the girls were impressed with this spot – and it’s not easy impressing five year old girls with technology! Apparently this supplies 80% of Albany’s power supply as well, I’ve been surprised by how many towns in WA use wind power for either some or most of their power needs, great to see.

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A visit to Elephant Rocks near Denmark yet again made me pine for warmer weather – the Blue Pools looked devine in all the pictures but not quite the same under cloudy skies however the short walk to see the massive granite boulders that resembled wading elephants was worth the effort. I’m sure I could see Elephants – but the husband wasn’t sure, maybe it an individual imagination thing!

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Elephant Rocks

Bremer Bay and Millers Point – Serenity…

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After Hopetoun we decided to continue with the free camping theme, braving further bathing in our sink and use of the little foldup toilet seat that has become invaluable (especially for those short people only learning the art of the “bush wee”!) We found a little spot in the Camps Australia book called Millers Point, half an hour out of Bremer Bay and both of these places turned out to be absolutely stunning (I’m going to run out of descriptors if this beautiful scenery continues!)

Millers Point is actually a finger of land that juts out into the Beaufort Inlet West of Bremer Bay and is also a popular fishing spot based on the shacks setup there and the fisherman putting their boats in each night.  We arrived late in the afternoon on a dead calm day without a ripple on the glassy surface of the inlet in front of us or behind us.  We setup in record time and parked ourselves in the camp chairs to watch the inlet turn to orange, pink and finally royal blue as the sun set behind us.

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View from our campsite over Beaufort Inlet from Millers Point

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…and our view as the sun set….

 

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Sun setting behind us – you get the idea!

This was possibly the most perfect spot we had found to date in terms of camp setup – we were the sole occupiers of the camp ground, it was so quiet you could hear the surf breaking in the distance, the girls entertained themselves on the shores of the inlet, splashing and fossicking, we had a superb fire pit already established, wood was plentiful and the view – well, that was amazing.  In the morning we were entertained by these tiny little blue tailed birds that were fascinated by their own reflection in our car windows – although Craig was less than impressed with the bird poop on his 4WD!  I don’t think we had felt this relaxed since Coles Bay in Tasmania, not even the lack of a shower detracted from the absolute serenity of this camping spot.

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Chateau d’ InnsPlayground

 

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Foreground and background – beautiful 🙂

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My husband is a pyromaniac

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Marshmallows anyone?!

 

From this little hideaway we explored the nearby Bremer Bay, where once again we were gob-smacked by the gorgeous beaches. We could drive onto the main beach in town, a sweeping vista of white sand and green water (yet again!) and even the ‘fisherman’s beach’ where boats set out and local’s tried their luck at the jetty was a little gem of a blue green cove. Speaking of locals – this place was incredibly friendly, everyone went out of their way to help or advise travelers, especially the two gentleman in their boat who picked up our daughters ‘croc’ shoe that was sedately floating out into the harbor as we watched helplessly from the rocks!

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Jetty at Fisherman’s Beach Bremer Bay

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Fisherman’s Beach – apparently we aren’t fisherman!

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Main Beach in Bremer Bay – no words

 

Although Craig tried his hand with the fishing rod alas we were still fish-less by the end our stay, think the lack of boat may be seriously hampering his style – although it’s always fun trying (I guess). The up side of his fishing expeditions was the discovery of a beach just out of Bremer Bay only accessible by 4WD and with the deepest, softest most extensive dune system I’ve ever come across, it was like the Sahara.  Yet again we had the entire stretch of white sand to ourselves for the day and surprisingly for this far South in late May the day was warm and sunny – so all the girls (somewhat daringly) stripped down to underwear to romp around the sand dunes and soak up some Vitamin D. Needless to say clothes were within quick reach just in case some other intrepid fishermen decided to turn up in our little piece of heaven!

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Home away from the Chateau

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Hot enough for this!

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Beaches of WA – Sigh…

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..but no fish!!

 

 

We reluctantly headed off after three days in this glorious location, headed to Albany and probably yet more overwhelmingly incredible scenery – Western Australia I think I may be in love with you….

 

 

 

Hopetoun

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Hopetoun was a little footnote on our journey across the bottom of WA, where we free-camped for a couple of nights just of the town at 12 mile beach and built fires each night and played on what was almost our own private beach. We did venture into the sleepy little town of Hopetoun for coffee and phone/internet connection however the weather was behaving for us so we mostly played in our own front yard.

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Dancing Queens

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Just us for miles – 12 miles actually as this is 12 mile beach!

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Other direction – still nothing – random child though, who does she belong to?!

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No more fishing – time for a beer

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Layla decided to take a nap in Hopetoun itself (or at least pretend)

 

Hello Western Australia! Esperance

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After the Nullabor we were looking forward to a few days of ‘civilised’ camping and arriving in Esperance was our first taste of the Western Australian coast – and what a feast!  Living in Queensland you tend to think we have a monopoly on  beautiful beaches and incredibly colored waters –  Tasmania gave us pause with the beautiful beaches of Bay of Fires, however WA has now completely put paid to that misconception!  We had heard a lot about how beautiful the Southern end of this State is but seeing is believing.  From the beachfront where we watched an entire pod of dolphins (and a seal) play and catch fish to the nearby deserted beaches with four wheel drive access, white sand and blue-green water this place was devine.  On a personal note this is also the place our two little blossoms finally got their bike riding technique perfected and no longer need mum or dad to push start them of pick them up off the ground when they stop – huge relief!

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Esperance Beach Front

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Miles of Beach

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One of many little coves

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Heaven!

Esperance is also home to the famous ‘Pink Lake’ which I have read so much about, all the pictures I have seen feature this candy pink water which is apparently a combination of salinity and a particular algal growth (it took many years to actually discover this apparently).  However what I hadn’t read is the lake isn’t always pink! Unfortunately for us this is one of those times when it isn’t – there was a very very slight salmon tinge if you caught in the right light but alas that was all.

Venturing further out of town we also visited Cape Le Grand National Park, an area that seems to specialise in an array of stunning little coves, bays and beaches with the customary green water and white sand of the Whitsundays (but at this time of year, just a little colder!) We completed a little bushwalk through to a sheltered cover and admired all the local wildflowers and flora along the way – Sophia in particular has no desire to hike for exercise, she stops and examines every inch of the ground along the way.  Delightful from a naturist point of view but a tiny bit frustrating when you are actually trying to get somewhere the same day!

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Hellfire Bay – apparently they get “St Elmo’s” fire around here!

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Nature Girl

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Wattle in Bloom – love winter here!

The highlight of the day however was Lucky Bay – an incredible bite of white beach that we were able to drive around to find a nice quiet spot and romp around on the beach for a bit.  Tourist brochures always show kangaroos lazing around on the beach here and we did see one sun-seeker hopping around the edges! Temperatures weren’t really favourable for swimming but I did venture in up to my calves – momentarily. If this is the standard being set in Western Australia I am looking forward to seeing the rest of this State…

Lucky Beach - Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach – Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach - Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach – Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach - Le Grande National Park

Lucky Beach – Le Grande National Park

The Nullabor

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Driving across the Nullabor always seems like some magical mystery tour that all Australians should complete one day, like a rite of passage. The very name is part of Australian folk lore and it has always evoked images of desert, dust and aboriginal tribes in my mind. We initially considered shirking this rite of passage, looking at endless kilometers with bored children, however investigation into the cost of freighting the car and camper soon put those thoughts to rest! We decided to man-up and head for the border – sort of like Thelma and Louise but with a husband and two kids in tow instead – so nothing like them except in my imagination…sigh…

The launch point across the Nullabor crossing is Ceduna in South Australia, we arrived in the middle of a storm in the dark so decided to book into a cabin for the night to avoid setting up in the rain. Looking back I’m still convinced that our good friend Lisa telling us to “enjoy a night of luxury” via facebook was what jinxed us – the first indication of trouble at the cabin site was the fact they were all ATCO huts. This could have just been an aversion from years of staying in them for military purposes so we reserved judgement – until opening the door. I’m not a snob, I have no problem with budget accommodation as long as it’s clean and in good repair – this place was neither. At first it was just funny, like staying in the middle of an op shop – or maybe someones garage sale, but once we realised the extent of how grubby this place actually was it became slightly horrifying – almost as much as paying $110 when we could have been in our comparatively pristine camper. This did however make me realise how unpretentious children really are, there is no pre-conceived notion of standards with them – the girls thought the place wonderful as there were bunk beds and a deck out the front to sit on.

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We were out of there first thing in the morning with a great sense of relief – and no bed bug bites amazingly, and off across the plains. The reality of the Nullabor crossing was nothing like the images in my mind – instead of dust there was this rainy, wild vista with huge cloud formations on the horizon, stretches of blue along the Australian Bight and a lot of low shrubbery adorning the red dirt beneath. There were road houses and towns so fuel was never an issue and we met a bunch of lovely grey nomads who always seemed to be towing absolute behemoths of caravans for just two people and maybe a pooch.

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Did not expect pouring rain!

It was a bit frustrating at first not being able to see the coast line from the road – as soon as we came to a look-out area we pulled off to gawk at the Great Australian Bight for the first time. The look-out area had multiple warning signs, thorough fencing and a prominent cross to make sure everyone stayed away from the edge – apparently the cliffs around here are very prone to slippage. Once you glimpsed this coast line for the first time it was apparent why – there is nothing but sheer edges on this particular edge of our great Southern Land! Stunning though, reminded me of the great ocean road in Victoria but on a grander more threatening scale.

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Great Australian Bight

We spent our first night in the Nullarbor National Park free-camping 52 kilometres from the border and although it was possible to drive right to the cliffs to camp this spot had no fences and edging up to take a photo made my stomach contort in ways its just not supposed to. The thought of having our five year olds racing around there just about made my stomach revolt completely so we backed off closer to the road and safety where they entertained themselves thoroughly in the piles of road construction gravel and puddles (who knew that would be natures playground?!)

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The girls favourite gravel pile

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Muddy Puddle Fun

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Sunset over the Plains

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Watching the sun go down over the horizon with a glass of wine in hand atop our adjacent mound of gravel in the middle of nowhere – really felt that we were seeing how magnificent our backyard is. Although a little nervous about being in the middle of nowhere camped just off the main highway overnight there were plenty of other intrepid travellers doing the same thing and we made it through all three nights across the Plains – only incident we had was a couple of German back packers who turned up unexpectedly at our door one night to borrow our axe – that sorted of felt like the start of a bad story but Craig ended up going over and having a beer with them all later that night so clearly I have watched one too many horror stories! As beautiful as it was we were all very glad to get to Norseman and the end of three very long driving days – the girls were absolute troupers but enough was enough of endless miles of straight road..

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Sign Post at the Western Australia-South Australia border – long way from home!

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Setup on the Plains – Hitched up Still in Case of Quick Getaway!

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The Great Australian Bight – stunning!

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Close up View of Unprotected Cliff Edge – Yikes

 

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