Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday March 17 – Day 9 – Quinninup Camp Site to Margaret River

After my hot shower this morning we had quite a parade of animals through the camp site; the ever present kangaroos with babies, the curious emus, a rather magnificent cockroach-looking beetle that jumped into my bag and was sitting staring at me after my shower. Being in Australia where they say everything is poisonous, I thought I had better not touch it, so left it in the bag….of course after it disappeared I had to go carefully through every piece of clothing to shake it out! It seemed equally as nervous of  me and jumped away as soon as I exposed it…to I know not where!!

I was bent over my backpack on the ground by the back of the bus re-packing my clothes and felt an “energy” come up close beside me. I thought it was Ray and turned my head to speak to him. I came face to face with the outstretched head of one of the emus! So, once I got over the shock, I talked quietly to him and Ray came up just as he was about to stick his head into my back pack. Ray shouted at him, and he slowly pulled his head back. He was quite happy being around us and eventually ambled off.

We got on the road again around 7:30 and headed over to the Diamond Tree which is about 52 metres tall. We arrived just as the other group (20 x 20-30 year olds) headed up the tree. It was an old tree that had been (and maybe still is) used as a fire watch tower, so there were iron pegs all the way up the tree.  We watched them achieve, surpass, or almost achieve their goals on the climb; then came our turn. Ray couldn’t wait and was the first from our group on the tree. He made it to the more than half-way point about 28 metres high. Good going!! I was so nervous that I couldn't watch him, and consequently didn't get any pictures. He got one of me though!! One of the girls from the other trip quietly asked me how old he was. I told her. She was super excited to know that she could still be doing things like this at that age!!

I made it about 1/5 of the way – 12 metres – about 36 feet – and decided that the panicky feeling was starting to overtake my shaking body and I didn’t have time to do the “self” reassurance talks, so came back down. It was fun though, and given more time I feel I could probably have made it at least halfway, not sure about to the top!!! I think it would have been better for me to climb straight up instead of wending my way around the tree!! Somehow the turning around the tree was not comfortable for me!!

Our next stop was at Hamelin Bay to see the stingrays or eagle rays swimming in the ocean. There were several in the water waiting for the fishermen to discard the unused fish portions. There were several in the immediate area and one came right up to the shore to inestigate our “wiggling toes” at the edge of the water – HUGE – they are huge and quite fun, but watch out for that tail!!

Then it was on to Vase Virgin where we tasted olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and there was chocolate galore and coffee which we didn’t taste. I bought a jar of olive oil face cream. We headed back to the bus and off to the park at Margaret River for lunch. Margaret River was nice little tourist town and seemed like so much civilization compared to the Nullarbor.

After lunch we headed to the Margaret River Dairy Farm and tasted some cheese, then on to Provodore where the mint chocolate liqueur was delicious, but oh so sweet!! It was inspiring looking at the miles of vinyards – it gave me a momentary feeling of order in an otherwise disordered world.
We stopped at the Cape Naturalist Vineyard and tasted merlot, merlot/cab, cab/sauv, and shiraz. Decided I do not like the Merlot and that Shiraz is probably my first choice and Cab-Sauv my second choice. So we bought a bottle which we are keeping for a special occasion!

Our final stop in the tasting trip was at Gabriel’s Chocolate, and well, I just had to support Ghana and buy 2 blocks of the chocolate made from the Ghanaian cocoa beans. Mmmmm, delicious!!

We left just before 5 and headed to camp at Big Valley Caravan Park, RosaGlen. We slept the last night in our swags under the stars. It was cold and damp, but we were so snug zipped in like a Mummy. Just before we came to bed, one the girls had to be taken to hospital in Margaret River because some sort of a bite had gotten out of hand and was causing a ton of pain and swelling. She got back just as I headed for the swag. The doctor had lanced it and put her on antibiotics. Her father is a doctor back in Switzerland and she will soon be home for him to care for it with love.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wednesday March 16 – Day 8 – Stirling Range to Quinninup

We were up at 5:30 a.m. this morning and pulled out of camp around 7:00 a.m. We had 100k to drive to Albany with our lame bus, and we headed into the unkown with positive spirits and singing “On the Road Again!”

On the drive south to Albany we slowly inched our way back into a type of reality. The vegetation became rich shades of green, the trees grew taller and developed into trees the tops of which looked like bunches of balloons, and the pasture started to look as if it might provide some nutrition for the cows, sheep and horses that grazed on it. The bus surged and stalled its way into Albany causing moments of alarm then picked up again to a more positive speed causing yips of delight from the anxious passengers.

Annelies didn’t want to risk driving into the largest metropolitan area we had seen in a long time, so Sean took his group in first, then came back for us whilst Annelies took the bus off to the bus hospital. Albany was not a bad town to be stranded in and we walked around this oldest town in Western Australia with interest. We liked it. It had a laid-back look with Aussie Colonial buildings and cute cafes.  We ignored the cool, windy, and showery weather.

Annelies joined us for lunch while she waited to hear the verdict from the computer tests run by the Toyota dealer. They dealer finally announced that they did not know what the problem was, and it would take some time to fix. So Hassie and Annielies had found us another bus rented from “Busy Blue Bus. ” It was smaller, but much newer and quite cute. So we loaded up the little trailer with as much of the gear as we could from the original bus, piled in, even Annelies stuffed camel made it to his usual position on the dashboard. We were hoping to reach The Valley of the Giants before it closed at 5:00 p.m.

But, we didn’t make it. They had the gates closed by 4:45 p.m. when we arrived! So, instead, Annelies took us to see the Giant Tingle Tree near Walpole. The Tingle Tree is a type of eucalyptus and is 77 metres high. We took a short walk through a forest of variations of the Tingle. The root system of this tree is all on the ground or above ground and their trunks develop various patterns and growths that resemble something out of Jurassic Park. It was like walking in a forest on another planet.

After a beautiful drive through the forests we arrived at Quinninup Camp Ground around 7:15 p.m. After an uncertain day, we ended up back on schedule! Fittingly, the campground was one of the best on the trip – good hot showers, clean toilets, and a serviceable camp kitchen. Have you heard of Google Sky Map? Over the past few nights we have been watching the starry skies in ignorance. Lucie, one of the French girls on the other trip and whom we have been talking with, produced her “Samsung” and asked me if I had heard of it. I hadn’t, but I do now!  You hold your cellphone up to the sky, then look at it from underneath. You can see all the stars and planets plus their names. It is so neat. Try it!!

Tuesday March 15 – Day 7 – Camp le Grande to Camp Site at rim of Stirling Range

The wind subsided  a little over night and we awoke around 5:45 to blue skies and sunshine. You must be finding this part a little repetitive as I go on about the beautiful landscapes, oceans, and beaches, but it  just doesn’t stop.

We left the campsite around 7 a.m. this morning, stopped for provisions and coffee in Esperance, then headed to Twilight Bay for a swim. Twilight Bay was yet another serene and lovely cove protected by huge boulder islands. The ocean was filled with aquamarine, rippled waves as clear as glass, and the sand was white and silky like powder. We were soon swimming in the refreshing water and amazing at finding another paradise.

Our intention had been to stay there an hour, but when Annelies checked the weather report for the Stirling Ranges, it predicted heavy thunderstorm activity…so we voted to stay on the beach and forego the afternoon hike at the Ranges,

So, another swim, some lunch, and then on the road again.

Lake Warden is supposed to be pink, but it wasn’t, and neither was Pink Lake although it was pinker than Warden. A quick stop for photos, the way again.

We drove through Ravensthorpe, and made it to Ongerup when we started having problems with the bus after refueling. It seemed like water in the diesel which we had experienced in Africa. Annelies called Hassie and the mechanic and on their advice we kept going. All of a sudden she lost all power which meant no power brakes, no power steering, and no lights! She got a huge shock but kept her head and expertly steered the bus around the corner on the narrow road by following her GPS. We came to a stop. Fortunately, the other bus was following us, and between Sean and Annelies, they got the bus going again. We limped along the country roads sometimes at tortoise speed but we made it to Mt Trio camp site at the foot of the Stirling Range and just outside the National Park.

The skies helped to entertain us on the way. They put on a spectacular 360 degree light show illuminating the land around us and then sending bolts of brilliant gold straight into the ground.
Once at camp we raced the rain to erect the tents and then amazed by the dexterity of the skies, we listened to the sound show which filled the atmosphere with the beat of rain on the tin roof of the kitchen shelter we were all huddled into, and the rumble of drums in the back ground.

By the time we went to bed, the skies were exhausted and were ready to go to sleep with us.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday March 14 – Day 6 – Camp le Grande National Park

We were up early and set off to hike up Frenchman’s Peak (262 m), about 3k and 1 hr 35 minutes. The first part was easy but as we got higher it was straight up a sheer granite rock face at only slightly less of an angle than the climbing face of The Chief in Squamish. We stopped near the top to go down into the cave. It looks as if someone added a piece of granite to the top of the mountain to cover a big crater – imagine the crater of a volcano with a chunk of rock placed randomly on top. It was erie knowing you were underneath such a huge piece of rock but the picture frame view of the surrounding landscape kept our attention excited. Then we had one last scramble over more tock to the summit. The wind was ferocious at the top as the four of us competed for wobble space on the pinnacle. The views were well worth the climb. Below lay the turquoise ocean , the milky white talcum powder beaches, and the vastness of the coastal saltbush heath. I am addicted to reaching the top of any mountain or hill that is accessible to me and summiting gives me the same elation or “runner’s high” as completing a long run or race.

The journey down put a big strain on our knees and legs and although it needed less energy was almost as hard as going up. Another example of exercising our brains.

We came back to the campsite for some free time before setting off for the main event of the day – another cross country beach hike. Down on the beach I had a coffee from the little mobile cafĂ© set up to allow its customers to sit and ruminate over the picture perfect ocean while sipping on a delicious coffee. Bliss!! Four kangaroos on the beach sought our attention – two mothers and two babies. Sadly, I think people feed them, so they become very friendly and inquisitive to find food. They approached us brazenly, even allowed people to touch them, and the mothers stood motionless in front of us while their babies suckled their milk.

Then before we knew it, we were heading over to Hellfire Bay, lunch, and the start of our walk. I don’t have the words to describe the beauty of these smiling, friendly beaches with their white powder sand and aquamarine waters. So momentarily we exchanged our hiking clothes for a swim and had fun playing in the waves. Then we had an Aussie adaptation of hot dogs for lunch on the beach, and finally set off on our hike. This time it was about 7 k and 2+ hours of climbing up and down over the boulders and hills and coastal heath while feasting our eyes on the most beautiful coastline with an archipelago of islands and sheltered beaches of white sand and aquamarine oceans. Each time we climbed the view just kept getting better, until exhiliarated and filled to the brim with beauty we reached the end of the walk, to be welcomed home by a couple of kangaroos!!

We got back just before sunset, had dinner, and were in bed by 9:30 p.m. The wind had risen and it was shades of our visit to Patagonia in 2007 – but not quite as strong a wind. It knocked one of the tents down and broke the spokes. We had fun erecting a new one with the wind-bellows trying to blow the tent up rather than let us erect it behind the truck for Anne.

Then, the sound of the ocean drowned out the roar of the wind and lulled us into a deep sleep under the star lit sky. Are you getting the picture of how gorgeous it is here in Camp Le Grande?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday, March 13 – Day 5 – Bush Camp to Camp le Grande

Annelies woke us up at sunrise so we peed, dressed, wrapped up the tent, had breakfast, and set off to the ‘70s/’80s (?) music “On the Road Again” which had become our theme song!

It was a beautiful dry morning with lots of clouds in the sky and some sunshine. We are driving “Australia’s longest straight road – 146.6 km” or 90 miles.

We stopped in Balladonia where the Skylab space research laboratory crashed in 1979. The original entry location was planned for South Africa, but the lab burned up over the coast of Western Australia scattering pieces in a 150 k radius around Balladonia. NASA was issued a $400 littering fine which remained unpaid until a local radio station stepped up and paid it.

The Nullarbor incites freedom: freedom of thought, freedom of space, and freedom from all (or most of) man’s made needs and desires. Your mind is pulled into the moment like a magnet attracting a piece of metal towards it; it is too tired to worry about yesterday or tomorrow, and remains alert and sharp letting you experience the natural world which surrounds you. It is one of those rare places in the world where nature remains supreme.

There is nothing dull and boring about the Nullarbor; itssatbush landscapes and disappearing horizons hold boundless curious phenomenons begging to be understood and respected. In the past few blogs I have captured but a few of them.

We entered the town of Norseman, so called because of a horse. The information board told us that Laurie Sinclair tethered his horse one night and in the morning found the horse lame and with a sizeable chunk of gold bearing quartz in the horse’s hoof. The horse was named “Norseman”.

A little further on the road, we came to a town with some lovely metal camels and discovered a flowering gum plant. We then turned south and drove through a forest which had had a huge fire last November in which 4 people were killed, a local farmer and three German back packers. We stopped in Salmon Gum for the loo before heading past some little salt lakes. We came to Esperance and found ourselves back in the land of horses. We went to the supermarket, the bottle store, and then had lunch in a howling gale on the front.

The final leg of our journey took us into Cape le Grande National Park and a camp site on the edge of the ocean. Before dinner Ray and I went for a beautiful hike on the Coastal Trail from Rossiter Bay to Lucky Bay where the camp site was. We hiked through the coastal heath, up over some rocky hills, and down into the heath; we went around some lovely bays, and then a final climb and descent onto the massively long beach of the camp site; we watched the sunset from the beach and the dying sun’s rainbow reflections in the water lapping on the shore. We watched some guys  drive out for the sunset on the rocks, then head back along the beach. That was how we knew where the camp site was. We were the only two brave enough to do the hike, and we got back to the camp, just after dark, and just before dinner! It was a beautiful evening.