We departed Denham headed for the famous Ningaloo Reef via the town of Exmouth – not that we had actually booked anywhere to stay, after perusing Camps Australia and determining that were five or six camping areas within the National Park area itself we decided that surely we would be able to find a site even during school holidays? There had been mutterings from some of the grey nomads we had chit chatted with about having to get there first thing in the morning to wait for a site but I think we had forgotten that in between having the conversation and arriving (or completely forgotten which area they were talking about, after four months it was all starting to blend into one!)
So it was a bit of a rude shock driving into Exmouth to find a big board up on the outskirts stating the national park was full! Mind you – so were all the caravan parks. We were beginning to think parking on the side of the road might have to be an option (you aren’t supposed to but driving hours back or forward from Exmouth didn’t really appeal). So began the big caravan park ring around to find that two at least had overflow areas – now this is a new concept for us, not sure if it’s just a WA thing but we have discovered that the parks in these high traffic tourist areas reserve areas for folk like us that turn up in town without a clue that it’s school holidays and wonder why we can’t get a site. I think it must be bad for tourism turning people away because they keep the overflow areas and the Lighthouse Caravan Park we checked into was only just finishing grading the new overflow area that afternoon and were even still waiting on council approval!
Anyway – crisis averted and a dirt pad is better than driving on – although it was really annoying to drive into the national park the next day and find that sites had become free! We even extended our stay here for another day, this is close to one of the most beautiful spots we had stayed so far with the clear green water, snorkelling, beach combing, massive clam shells to be collected and perfect weather. The beach was a short walk across the road and over the dune and we spent a lot of time there while the husband attempted to catch fish – or I should say attempted to catch legal size fish as there were some throw backs!
Beautiful Coral Bay
Finding a Spot
We failed miserably at our attempts to teach our kids to snorkel however – they found the water too cold to wade in and try it at Coral Bay, where you can literally snorkel off the beach (but perhaps with a wet suit at this time of year?) We took a glass bottom boat tour out to the reef itself (after discovering the exorbitant cost of swimming with the whale sharks – unbelievable!) Where it was attempted to put the girls in the water with a pool noodle to snorkel – but this too ended miserably! Admittedly there was quite a strong current so it wasn’t like we could just float along side them and teach some technique, it was all I could do to stay in one place while they got their snorkel and mask on – and the first mouthful of water pretty much stopped their snorkel escapade dead in tracks. Oh well – two wet cold short people returned to the boat while the grown ups took turns snorkeling at least! The fish and coral were beautiful, perhaps not as amazing as the Great Barrier Reef but the whole stop over in Ningaloo was a relaxing, sunny beach retreat.
Snorkeling with short people Mark I – battling the current while trying to keep short one afloat on their pool noodle while hearing “it’s cold” loudly shouted. Attempted immersion resulted in water filled snorkels, loud complaints and a prompt return … Continue reading →
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)…
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!
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.
Heading up – too much energy to start with!
Balancing rock – how many people have taken this shot?!
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.
Elected not to have the kids “scramble”!
Walk with a view – don’t look directly down though
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).
Inside the whaling ship
The Blue Whale Behemoth
The beautiful harbor where wholesale slaughter used to take place
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!
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.
Emu Point at Sunset
Emu Point in the Sunshine
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!
The swimming pool clear Albany Harbor
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.
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!