Great Southern Forests of WA

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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.

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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!

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Goodness

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Big Tree Grove

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Big Tree Grove

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Snake Gully Look-Out

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Snake Gully Look-Out

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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….

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Intrepid Tree Climbers – For Now!

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Local Visitors

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Forest Walk – Tree so huge you could play hide and seek around it

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Putting it in Perspective

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Forest Moment!

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Still couldn’t get the whole tree in shot

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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!

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Understory Trail

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My Favourite

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Forest People!

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Girls Loudly Exclaimed – Its a Boy!

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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!

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

Grampians National Park

We returned to the ‘mainland’ from Tasmania without incident or sea sickness (phew) and moved into my dad’s place en-masse for a few days. My dad and step-mum are always good natured about these invasions, dealing with the noise, chaos and mess in exchange for cooking, cuddles, fresh made juices and for my dad assistance with the odd job. The husband had lined up a bunch of modification to our camping setup after the trial run in Tassie – which at first I thought was just more male tinkering. However, it was proved he does know what he’s on about (no-one tell him though) as the carpet on the floors absorb noise, dust that would otherwise end up in beds and stop our feet from freezing. The new high density foam on our bed has dramatically improved our quality of sleep (and lowered the level of crankiness) and a hand held vacuum? Worth every penny with the camper now carpeted! Dad and husband spent a day making some very nifty movable steps for the girls to climb into their bed without demolishing the couch cushions and I think there were other things that were technical and essential but slip my mind – not being directly related to comfort or security.

After all this busy-ness it was a little reluctantly (again) that we packed up and hit the road for South Australia. First stop was the Grampians National Park, I hadn’t been to this area since I was a teenager on Youth Camp but I had vague memories of it being beautiful. Apparently I’m not senile yet as it is an absolutely stunning part of Victoria, driving into Halls Gap there were kangaroos literally everywhere – in the school grounds, camp grounds, by the local shops – everywhere! This was exciting until I walked around the back of the camper one morning with the girls in tow to find a reasonably large buck just lolling around behind our living quarters! He didn’t seem in a hurry to get away from us and the girls were almost hypnotised by him so we all just stood for five minutes and stared at each other. This impasse ended when Craig came to investigate and the kangaroo stood up to full height in quite a threatening manner – apparently even male humans aren’t popular with these boys.

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Seemed to like the girls pink pyjamas !

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Hello Roo

Once again we subjected our children to the cruel and unusual practice of hiking for hours on end over mountains but to their credit there was only one truly monumental melt down otherwise they were complete little champions about it all. It would have been good to do some of the more challenging hikes and access the stunning scenery from these paths but that is just going to have to wait until the girls are older. Evenings were spent around the camp fire toasting marshmallows and we were glad that it was this route we had decided on rather than the Great Ocean Road (also beautiful but done many times before).

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Post Short Person Melt Down – I’d had enough too!

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Big Day for Short Legs!

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Looks like a face to me!

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Follow the Leader

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Beautiful View after a Very Long Walk!

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Coming up the Canyon at the Peak

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Troopers

The only down side of this stop-over was a slight safety malfunction that was extremely embarrassing considering I am a so called safety professional (don’t mechanics always have the worst cars??) One other modification Craig made in Melbourne was a connection for the van stabiliser legs that allows us to use an 18V hand held drill to wind them down instead of man (or woman) power. I objected initially as it seemed like quite a good upper body workout while on the road but Tim the Tool Man insisted. So in Halls Gap he passed me the drill and requested that I wind up the stabiliser legs – after looking at him blankly I think the penny dropped that I really am not that familiar with electric drills – especially not in this capacity! So a very brief instruction session followed which included making sure I slowed the drill down as the legs were nearly up – the first two were a bit quick so the next I bent down to check what where the legs were and obviously loosened my grip on the drill. I’ve never been punched in the face but in the movies it never looks like a big deal – I’m assuming this is incorrect if the big heavy handle of an 18V drill smacking me in the eye socket at full speed is anything to go by. To the husbands credit he initially cradled my head and made sure my eye was still in it’s place before commenting that people were going to think he hit me! Although no-one accused him of this, as the beautiful blue, purple, green and yellow hues of my eye emerged I did get a lot of funny looks – and very few souls actually worked up the courage to ask me what happened, I’m assuming in case I said I walked into a door (because the drill story is so much more plausible!) There have been many jokes about me not doing as I’m told or listening and needless to say I haven’t been authorised to use power tools since then….

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Ouchy

Deloraine, Mole Creek and Cradle Mountain

I think we left our run to Cradle Mountain a little late – by the time we arrived in this region it was freezing, rain was coming in sideways and any thoughts of hiking through this beautiful area had turned into camp fires and hot chocolate longings!  However – our first stop after Launceston was delightful, the little town of Deloraine – beautiful, quaint, featuring a meandering river with modern art on the banks and a supply of hippy types camping out on the sidewalks! I loved this spot, nestled in between mountain ranges with a melting pot of tourists, locals, hippies, overseas back-packers and picturesque scenery.

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Funky Art Work

Beautiful Deloraine

Beautiful Deloraine

Walking Path

Walking Path

Deloraine River Bank

Deloraine River Bank

Our camp site was about half an hour on from here at Mole Creek – an unfortunate name for a beautiful spot at the foot of Cradle Mountain. We had tried to book a powered site at Cradle Mountain itself however none were available – after freezing our butts off all over Tasmania we decided that no heater was a deal breaker so we booked at Mole Creek – this turned out to be a stroke of luck. The van site was right next to one of those crystal clear streams that should be in an english fairy tale but was reportedly inhabited by platypus – which weren’t sighted despite the girls searching high and low. The husband was delighted as camp fires weren’t only allowed but fire wood supplied AND we had power for a heater – funny what becomes nirvana after weeks of camping. Only draw back was the possibility we (as in Craig!) offended the lovely group of young french back-packers next door by putting on a terrible fake french accent. This was partly because I’m walking around repeating french phrases constantly as I learn and partly because he just can’t help himself – seems to think that putting “la” in front of everything and putting on a bad accent is the equivalent of knowing French!  Level of french affectation seemed to be proportional to the amount of red wine consumed around our camp fire so hopefully they were oblivious as well by that time of night.

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Best of all was this area had relatively clear weather compared to up the mountain so while we did venture up to the peak and wander around some of the child friendly tracks the constant rain and wind (avoiding the wombat poo at every step and turn) made us very happy not to be camping up the top! W

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What’s with the Weather?!

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Wonderland Walk at Cradle

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Cold!!!!

This was also the site of the girls fifth birthday celebrations so will always hold a special place in our memories of Tasmania.  The day was marked by lamington cake, balloons, small toys (emphasis on small) and exploring the local caves – the glow worms were a huge hit as was the point at which the guide turned out all the lights in the deepest darkest spot possible.

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Happy Birthday Littlest Campers

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Camper Party (it was raining)

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Making a Wish – hopefully not to go home!

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Celebrating in the Caves!

I do wish we had made Cradle a priority when we arrived, it’s a disappointment not to have completed some of the walks around this incredible area, however the husband has pledged to bring the girls back to do the overland track when they are old enough – there was no mention of taking me though, maybe he thinks I will be too old by then???!!!

The Retreat – Coles Bay & Freycinet National Park

This is hands down so far my favourite place in Tasmania.  Everyone raves about the East Coast and with good reason – this is truly a wonderful spot.  We invaded the Big 4 caravan park at Coles Bay with our multiple birth tour group and terrorised the current residents with five children under 6 (tee hee).  Luckily we had the perfect position – right next to the playground, toilets, barbecue area with a view of the bay in the background…heaven for traveling parents.  Nothing comes close to the joy of being able to setup and pack-up while your kids play!  Also there was a Tavern practically on site and a really short walk down to the beautiful Muirs Beach so truly heaven.

Camp Inns at the Big 4 Coles Bay

Camp Inns at the Big 4 Coles Bay

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Sunset from Camp Inns

If you ever needed a place to hide for a while, to recover from life or just ‘find yourself’ as the saying goes this would be it.  I walked every morning and evening along the beautiful curved bay of Muirs Beach, complete with rock pools where the kids could play David Attenborough and discover crabs, shells and prawns while the adults watched the sky scape.  I took so many photos of the same horizon as every time the light, clouds and time changed it dramatically – from the opposite end of the beach you could look back at where our camp site nestled in the green finger of land right in front of the ‘Hazards’ as the series of Mountains in Freycinet National Park are known as.

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View Back to the Hazards from Muirs Beach

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Another Face of Muirs Beach

Rock Pooling

Rock Pooling

Evening Fisherman at Muirs Beach

Evening Fisherman at Muirs Beach

Fun at Dusk on the Beach

Fun at Dusk on the Beach

We all decided to challenge our children and take them on the Wineglass Bay hike (which involved a mountain so it was dicey!)  Have to say I was impressed with all of them, a 2.5 hour hike took us threehours and that was pretty much constant motion for little legs up and down some very steep rock steps.  It was well worth the effort, you couldn’t stay in Freycinet and not experience this stunning Tasmanian icon of a beach.  Mind you, coming from Queensland we had no intention of swimming but apparently children have no nerve endings and our crazy Victorian friend joined them in braving the chilly water – but not for long.

The Beautiful Wine Glass Bay

The Beautiful Wine Glass Bay

Who's in First?

Who’s in First?

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Kid Collection Taking a Well Earned Break

Cape Tourville Lighthouse Board Walk

Cape Tourville Lighthouse Board Walk

The only down side of this stay was saying good bye to our new friends as they headed off after two nights and we settled in for five.  It’s not often you meet people on the road that are completely camping compatible (apparently it took them one and half years to find us!) and the kids especially were very sad to separate from their new friends.  On the plus side they were travelling ahead of us so we’ve had regular updates on the best places to stay and where to go.

I found it very hard to leave this little haven, it will always be high on my list of perfect places to retreat to.

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