This whole region of the WA Coast (in fact the entire WA coast) is stunning with it’s turquoise water and sandy beaches, really just continuing the theme that was started from the moment we hit the coast line of this State. Our primary intention here was to visit the dolphins of Monkey Mia but being homeless nomads we opted out of paying exorbitant fees at the conservation area itself and instead checked into the Shark Bay Caravan park in Denham, only a 10 minute drive past the Francois Peron National Park to Monkey Mia.
I’ve only been vaguely aware of Monkey Mia – there were stories of how you can swim with dolphins there and feed them but it wasn’t something I paid a lot of attention to. Once we were headed there however I thought it would be an exciting thing for our children to be so close to dolphins in the wild and have a greater appreciation for these beautiful creatures. That’s not quite how it went though!
The story of this area is a little sad, when it was discovered people would swim with and feed the dolphins at will and apparently they became so dependent on humans they would even leave their calves out in the deeper water to die while they came in to be fed (I’m not sure what that says about Dolphin maternal instincts, a free feed never enticed me to leave my babies?!) Now it’s a strictly controlled conservation area and the dolphins come in several times in the morning to be fed but within this area there is no interaction with them (unless you are one of the lucky ones to be called forward and give them a fish) and they are restricted to several fish each.
When you arrive there is a board stating when the dolphins had come in previously and how many people were on the beach watching them, luckily for us they had only been in the once and that was much earlier so we were expecting a sighting soon. We setup for play time on the beach and awaited the royal guests arrival. It was exciting sighting the first shadows slipping through the water near the jetties, and the park ranger (or whatever they were called!) started issuing orders about where to stand and what to do. We were able to stand in the water initially as three dolphins started slipping past the gathered crowd entertaining us all – once they moved onto feeding though everyone had to return to the beach and they selected three people to come into the water and hold the fish. We missed out on that count which might have held the kids interest a bit longer – as it was I was shocked to hear them asking if they could go get lunch while the dolphins frolicked right in front of them! I know my children like their food but really? Apparently natural wonders still only hold their attentions for a short period of time but as we were enjoying it they were ordered to entertain themselves on the beach.
Arrival of the Visitors
Ready for the Close Up
Chilling at the Resort Area
Turtle Sighting from the Jetty
We also went out on one of the two catamarans that operate out of Monkey Mia, once for a sunset cruise which was all about relaxing with a glass of wine and watching the sun go down and then the next day for a wildlife cruise of spotting dolphins, turtles and sharks – all of which were sighted. The girls had a great time as the catamaran was loaded with kids of a similar age and they all took over the netted areas between the hulls and screamed “dolphin” in unison when there was a sighting – I’m very surprised they dolphins came in for a bow wave ride with all that noise going on! We however had a very relaxing time with the short ones off with the gang, had almost forgotten how wonderful it is to be out on the water after so many months of looking at it from a beach (yes, I know, terribly hard life we lead)…
Ok, so Bali doesn’t technically qualify as part of our around Australia trip – however – since we were reliably informed by our Western Australian counterparts that Perth-ites often travel there three times a year I’ve decided that it can be an honorary State of Australia for the purposes of my blog. Why Bali? Well until now we had resisted the Australian Bali craze however flights are so cheap out of Perth and it was roughly half way through our mammoth tour of Australia – there is only so much living in a campervan one can do before going slightly (or a lot) batty. So we left our campervan parked in our friends drive way (love you KL and Cam), repacked our bags with summer clothes and hopped a plane to Bali. It nearly didn’t happen, Craig and I are both a little risk averse when it comes to travelling with the short people and there were many discussions about the fact that Sophia can’t resist experiencing her surrounding through her mouth (not advised for South East Asia) and how Bali Belly could ruin the whole two weeks. However, we hopped a plane and went and joined the ranks of thousands of Australian’s who flock to this Indonesian tourist hot spot every year.
Having spent time in Asian destinations before Bali was pretty much as expected – hot, humid, crowded, slightly unsanitary by Western Standards but also fascinating, charming and exotic. As usual seeing things through children’s eyes is a whole new perspective, they couldn’t have cared less that people looked different, that there were broken sidewalks or that nothing seemed like home – there was just endless fascination with the shops selling so many bright and unusual items, a love of travelling everywhere by taxi and spending half of each day in the pool.
As we were told by so many others who had travelled here, the girls were a source of endless fascination for the locals – not so much in the tourist hot spots of Kuta and Seminyak but when we travelled out into the regional areas of the temples where local tourists from Java frequented. After a dozen requests to take photographs with the girls (and one couple who tried to actually pick Layla up) our Nanny informed us that many of the Javanese hadn’t seen white people before let alone twin girls so they were as fascinated by us as we were by the local Indonesian culture. Layla seemed to take it in her stride (born exhibitionist) however Sophia took to hiding behind my legs as soon as anyone with a camera came near her! We were also constantly amused by the local taxi drivers who questioned Craig every trip about why we weren’t having a third child – didn’t he want a boy??!
I loved the local culture, the colour, the food and being able to dine out every night in another beautiful restaurant and having a local nanny smoothed the way in regard to obtaining great local food, especially fruit (although I was a little bemused by the road side vendor in the mountains who attempted to sell me a rifle when we hopped out to buy strawberries!) Another highlight was the local man who was merrily bathing in the local drainage system completely naked (as you do when you bathe) right next to the main highway! The amount of pollution and rubbish accumulating in local waterways was a little sad for me, it feels that we are contributing to their economy with our tourist trade but the down side is also generating a ton of plastic water bottles amongst other detritus that often makes its way into the environment or gets burnt resulting in a constant atmospheric smog.
We made some amazing family memories – riding elephants at the Safari Park, stroking a sleeping tiger cub, being harassed mercilessly by the local cheeky monkeys, watching the sunset over the water at Jimbaran Bay while eating seafood and visiting some stunningly beautiful temple locations – as well as spend a lot of time just idling around our hotel pool and reflecting on life in general. Somehow in amongst the crowded busyness this became a time of being able to rebalance and refocus on what life is really about. Although we were all more than ready to return to Australia after two weeks (the girls weren’t that chuffed about Indonesian food I have to say!) it was with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for how lucky we are to be on this trip and looking forward to the remaining two months.
We had the unfortunate timing of arriving in this famous food and wine region of WA on the last day of the long weekend and busy was an understatement! It was a stark contrast to the peace and tranquility of the forests however also a welcome dose of civilisation – cafes and shops!!! Needless to say there was a little bit of mummy time where I escaped down the main street just to browse and revel in it all (albeit still in my hiking pants and boots but can’t have it all on this trip). There was something bitter-sweet about returning to this area as a family, Craig and I had both visited the region previously and had fond memories of winery hopping, restaurants and maybe, ahem, a slight sense of inebriation the entire trip. Visiting with kids does change the entire dynamic but in some ways make it even better – the excitement of visiting Simmo’s ice creamery (and milking the pretend cows), the overwhelming, giddy thrill they got from the chocolate factory and especially their joy walking around Cowaramup with all the cows placed around the town almost made up for the fact we only got to visit a handful of wineries!
The Margaret River Icon
Simmo’s Ice Creamery
We all scream for ice cream
Another advantage of not being all cosmopolitan and hanging out in trendy places was I actually explored the Margaret River itself (the name has previously been more synonymous with vin rouge than nature walking in my memory!). Our van park was tiny and situated right by the river and after venturing out one day for a walk I discovered there were trails starting there that meandered for miles through forest and alongside the river – it was beautiful and peaceful and I covered many french lessons wandering along the water way.
Since our last visit there has also been an absolute explosion of brewery’s and although beer is not really my thing – but is definitely the husbands thing – this turned out to be the best family activity around (does that sound like irresponsible parenting?) Some of the breweries were very family friendly, featuring massive playgrounds right next to restaurants with child friendly options and we spent many hours sitting in the sun sampling their wares (with a duty driver of course!) while the kids played. It was amusing listening to the winery owners accounts of this competition, apparently there has never been any problems with drunken rowdy behaviour until the breweries became established (although I find that a little hard to believe) and the police have only started breathalising in the area since their arrival as well (once again, might be urban legend!)
Another sign of our new family friendly status was our joy in finding Olio Bella, a little boutique farm featuring delicious, organic, cold pressed olive oils from virgin through to parmesan/lime/lemon infused oils (there were a whole bunch in between but as these are the ones we bought I remember them!) There little cafe area was peaceful and serene – when our children were absorbed in their colouring books at least – and they provided a full tasting of every single oil, tapenade and olive they sold – bliss.
The entire trip around Australia our children have been disappointed when we visited lighthouses. Not because they thought they were boring, or because we usually had long, windy, cold walks out to where they stood watching the ocean, but because they couldn’t go inside one! When we discovered that you could go on a guided tour of the historic lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin on the most South Westerly point of Australia, this was our chance to fix this small issue. Not only was this site absolutely stunning, with the backdrop of two oceans meeting at the Cape – Southern and Indian – and the lighthouse shining white in the sun (which led to me madly taking a thousand photos while the sun peeped out around rain clouds) but I actually learnt a lot about Australia’s history – which I’m not going to bore everyone with on here! Needless to say there were a LOT of steps and I was quite proud of the little people for making it all the way to the top and our jolly guide regaled us with stories of ship wrecks and facts about mining the limestone locally to build the lighthouse itself. This is still a fully operational light house as well and the light is on continually so it was fascinating to see.
I’m finally catching up on blog posts after a very lazy month (that included two weeks in Bali so that one is yet to come as well!) In the interest of catching up I’m lumping all of our time in the forest areas into one, as it was really just a case of wandering from one patch of really tall, old and beautiful trees to the other in this lush and ancient area 300 kms South of Perth. We started camping in the Shannon National Park and despite being a long weekend (maybe because it was a particularly freezing long weekend!) there was only a scattering of campers here. We loved it – there were fabulous hot showers, clean toilets and pre-cut fire wood (the ranger here needs a medal). Nights were pitch black other than the one of those amazingly thick star fields above (which fascinated our city living kids) and so peaceful and quiet we all slept like the dead.
From here we explored all the old growth Marri, Karri and Jarrah tree forests of Walpole, Pemberton and surrounds, finding what felt like secret circles of giant trees (the Karri grows up to 90 metres high!), buying local honey harvested from the aforementioned trees – which tasted like nothing you’ve ever bought in a store and generally just wandering around feeling awe-struck. It’s not like I haven’t been in forests before, but to be surrounded by these absolute behemoths of trees in the complete silence of the wilderness was almost (almost!) a spiritual experience…until the five year olds emerged from the Prado and completely shattered the peace of course and then it became much more of a guided nature walk again. As a quick aside, I think silence is the thing I miss the most since becoming a parent!
Big Tree Grove
Big Tree Grove
Snake Gully Look-Out
Snake Gully Look-Out
There were a couple of highlights from our forest sojourn… in particular the massive “fire tower” trees of the area that have previously been used as look out points to check for forest fires – complete with cabins built at the top of these 60+ metre high trees! Even more astounding is the fact tourists can climb three of these trees just for fun – using metal stakes driven into the trunks…yikes. Despite being employed in safety I often think that public safety regulation has become a little ridiculous but it does seem brave of the WA government to encourage thousands of tourists to precariously climb a massive tree using nothing but footholds and with the odd bit of fencing wire for protection! We watched with fascination as groups of tourists went up – and down – the same rungs and negotiated their way past each other A sign advised there were a maximum number of climbers allowed at any one time but there didn’t appear to be any actual control on that. Funnily enough one of our shorter family members was keen to get climbing herself, despite the fact I had to ‘rescue’ her from the 2 metre high playground equipment the day before….that bright idea was quickly vetoed by the taller members of the family. We did let them climb a short distance for a photo opportunity – and of course to make all our friends on Facebook think we are totally irresponsible parents for letting our children climb ridiculously tall trees. I also had to exercise all of my social restraint after witnessing the groups of tourists blatantly feeding the wild birds (from a bag of bird seed – who carries bird seed around?) right in front of the “DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS” sign. I’m sure the birdies were happy about it…but still….
Intrepid Tree Climbers – For Now!
Forest Walk – Tree so huge you could play hide and seek around it
Putting it in Perspective
Still couldn’t get the whole tree in shot
Although not the hubby’s cup of tea, one of my favourite activities here was the “Understory” walk in Northcliffe, a winding walk through bushy forest populated by large outdoor artworks including sculptures, music and writing. It was also one of the most peaceful – husband remained behind so there was no grumbling about the ridiculousness of art, the girls were given an iPod each so they could listen to children’s stories about the forest and its animals and plants and I was able to wander through reading the brochure about the artworks as I went and soaking up the atmosphere. All three of us returned relaxed – although there was much giggling from the short ones about the little ‘people’ statues they discovered in the undergrowth!
Girls Loudly Exclaimed – Its a Boy!
Listening to the bush stories
As peaceful and beautiful as this area is pretty soon we had all had enough of tree watching and driving through forests – particularly as the next port of call was Margaret River and the red wine was already calling to us!
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!
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!
Seasoned tree walkers
We didn’t do much…
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!