Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ah the west coast...

Last blow-out in Perth with my Danielle

Have been on the road for a week now, travelling north from Perth through the wilds of Western Australia. Life in these parts can be very rural and 'local'.

Well that's half the luggage in...

After a bit of a cock-up with the hire car and a swap of cars, we left late on Monday, July 16 and headed for nearby Quinn's Rock - about an hour and half north of Perth centre. We managed to put our tents up in the dark and get a half-decent, if very cold, night's sleep and work our gas stoves in the morning for a cuppa and pasta and sauce.

Then we headed up to Cervantes, a small town near the Pinnacles desert. Near the sea, it is a sandy landscape covered in phallic shaped pinnacles of varying sizes - all very eerie as the sun set.

The roads can be very straight, with bush extending as far as the eye can see in all directions, the odd car passing on the other side, many dead kangaroos on the hard shoulders, road trains and red sandy earth.

We spent the following day travelling to Horrocks Beach - a tiny town by the sea past the weird 'local town for local people' Geraldton. It seemed that way to us anyway.

We arrived as the sun was setting (below) and found a cabin on the campsite for the night. The next morning we walked along the deserted beach soaking up the sun.

After visting the pink salt lakes at Port Headland (something to do with beta carotene), we visited the weird and wonderful independent Hutt River Province.

The farmers here had a dispute with the aussie government back in the 1970s over wheat prices or something similar, and declared themselves independent.

Down a rough and dusty red road, the province is pretty tiny and the 'capital' consists of a toilet block, a few rough and ready homes, a tea room, gift shop/museum, a chapel and a post office complete with their own stamps, visa passport stamps, national anthem and money. Very very weird, not least because it was not at all tongue-in-cheek. Princess Shirley (below), who showed us around, was not laughing at all.

Then we headed for Kalbarri - a pretty town next to a national park full of impressive gorges and rock formations. We spent a couple of nights here chilling out and investigating the gorges and spending evenings with a couple of Brit lads and a Swedish girl we had befriended. One of the lads broke my camera at the Hutt River Province by dropping it in sand...

It was then a haul up the coast to Denham at Shark Bay. The bay area is a conservation zone and is rich in marine wildlife and geology etc. We stopped off at the Stromalites, weird 'living' rocks made by bacteria that apparently hold the key to evolution, and Shell Beach - a huge crescent of tiny shell dunes.

Denham itself is a small, fairly decent town but the major attraction here is Money Mia - a place wild dolphins have come to the beach everyday for decades. So we popped over there to see which of the regulars turned up for a fish or two and saw two females and a baby. Very cute.

On a walk around the headland afterwards we saw red kangaroos too - a bit of a wildlife bonza.

After Denham, we made a long trip up to Coral Bay - the start of the Ningaloo reef. We spent a few nights here. The weather is now hot enough to sunbathe and we;ve ditched the mulit-layering needed to camp at night and scarves and hats have been consigned to the bottom of the rucksacks.

Coral Bay saw us snorkelling off the aptly named Paradise Beach - an unspoilt stretch where the reef lies just metres from the shore.

Now we are at Exmouth and are to dive with whale sharks tomorrow and hopefully see some manta rays, dugongs, sharks etc. It's not a bad life...

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Whales and wine...

A humpback whale plays around our boat

Sniffing the bouquet, savouring the flavour, inspecting the colour - three odd wine experts - or should that be winos?

So a fair amount has happened in the past few weeks.

My brother has been to vist and gone, I've seen some fantastic wildlife, got lost twice, worked hard and played hard. All in all - quite a lot of fun.

I finished up work - both the bar and reception/admin jobs - last week when my brother Jonathan arrived on Wednesdat. After a long flight from the UK to Perth via Singapore, we decided the best course of action was food and drink - of the alcholic variety of course.

After snacking on bread and dips with Danielle, we moseyed to the lovely Moon Cafe on William Street to share a pizza, tales of everything and anything and to induct Jon into Aussie beer and wine.

After, we headed to Mustang bar with the Britannia backpacker bunch for some more alcofrol, dancing, a band and to introudce Jonny to another of the great backpacker joys - Jaegermeister.

The lightweights (Jon and Danielle) went home while I headed to Black Betty's for another dance, only to return home after an hour and find my sozzled younger brother, who had bailed due to jetlag, had been boozing in the courtyard with some other retirees.

The next day, Jon and I set out to see the (limited) sights of Perth. I took him through town (via a few shops to buy a coat - poor lad) down London Court and to Barrack Street Jetty where we sat and had a coke in the sunshine overlooking Swan River.

We then meandered up the steep hill to King's Park and ate wedges and looked at the stunning view, did the treetop walk and up the DNA tower (a big spiral staircase). At the top, a post in the middle pointed out the scenic parts of Perth - a tower block masquerading as a hospital, the Kwinana freeway, another hospital, rottnest island (too far to be seen)... and so on. Gotta love their enthusiasm for the drab.

We then headed to Subiaco in the rain to find some food. After a long walk throught he 'burbs we found a pub still serving ridiculously expensive food and shared some bruschetta and fries before heading around the pretty funky area to see what we could see.

A train home, picking up some Hare Krishna $2.50 veggie wonderfood on the way, snuggling on the sofa with Danielle and early bed...

On Friday, Jon and I headed to Fremantle - or Freo as the locals love to call it.

We had coffee on 'cappucino strip' - a road of mid-western style buildings with overpriced coffee shops, Italian eateries and self-satisified rich people dining out. Although the previous day and been miserably cold and wet, the sun was shining brightly in Freo and we were able to wander around happily in the sunshine to the weekend markets, the parks, the anchors embedded near the waterfront and around the harbour.

We popped into the odd Shipwreck Galleries which were far more dull than they sound, and then headed to a famous fish and chip place for some nosh.

The weather turned stormy as we headed to the E-shed markets and the Maritime museum for brother to check out the architecture, so we caught the free CAT bus around town, had a coffee and then headed to Freo prison to meet my friend Tanu for the torchlight tour.

We were given small souvenir torches and led out into the floodlit courtyards of the prison. It was built by convicts in the 1850s and was used right up until 1991. It was a place of hanging, flogging as well as hard labour.

An orb of light or a trick of the light?

So our guide Julie told us it had a spooky past and encouraged us to take photos and look for orbs of light. I don't know if there were any ghosts, but it certainly had a horrible atmosphere as we walked through the kitchens, courtyards, Junvenile and various other blocks and to solitary confinement, the gallows and flogging post.

Tanu, Jonny and I then went for pasta on cappucino strip - with the hugest portions ever beheld by man or beast...

On Saturday, we hired a car for our adventuring trip down to Margaret River wine region. Jon, Danielle, Oirish Laura, Caroline and I piled into our Toyota Corolla and I drove south to take us to colder climes and wine.

We attempted to find Australia's best pie shop (and failed) in Mandura and had a break at Busselton where we walked the 2km jetty to the end and back and then headed for Cape Natualiste where whales are often sighted and there are lovely walks around the cape and lighthouse.

The sun was beginning to sink in the sky so we took a short walk and saw the orange sunset highlighting the purple and pink hues of the landscape while Danielle hunted for wildlife.

Then we hopped back in the car to make for Margaret River town and to find Inne Town backpackers. It's slogan is 'the only backpackers in town', which may go some way to explaining why it was pretty scummy.

Margaret River is pretty goddam cold at this time of year and when the sun disappears, it's postively antartic. After a slap-up dinner at the Settlers Tavern (a pre-taste of the wine) we tried to sleep in the feckin cold hostel.

Sunday was our wine day. Cleverly, we had booked onto a Bushtucker tour which ensured that none of us had to drive and we could taste away to our hearts content. Luckily. After five wineries,a brewery, a cheese shop and a chocolate factory, I was rather merry. Maybe it was the witchety grub which I ate for lunch.

It was a perfect day, the sun shone, it was warm and we had a fine lunch of locally produced foods like humous, chilli pesto, homebaked breads and so on.

The wine was mostly excellent - far better than the Hunter Valley - and Danielle and I were delighted that one of those we visited had posh wine in goon bags. Perfect.

Monday, we left the backpackers bright and early in the crisp and frosty morning light. We layered up and popped down to Augusta - where the Southern and Indian oceans meet with great crashing force.

After a warm-up coffee and supplies for the rest of the day, we embarked on a whale watching tour around Flinders Bay.

Humpback and Southern Right whales congregate here at this time of year on their winter journey north to warmer waters. It is right at the start of the season and we had been warned we may not see much.

But after about 20 minutes, the skipper spotted some spouts of water several miles away and it was full speed ahead. Our hearts were beating fast, and we were all excited, when suddenly I glanced over to the other side of the ship and to my atonishment, saw a huge whale rearing out of the water.

i wasn't sure if it was the eye infection or not, I sort of yelped - ah - over there! While Jonny translated with a precise clock position. There were two humpback whales and they played around the boat for a while, becoming curious of this weird object in the waters.

Soon after we spotted a large group of humpbacks and went to join them... we would circle around after them and then lose them, only for them to surface just metres from the boat. It was an awesome sight and made perfect by the appearance of a school of common dolphins who sped alongside the boat and lept playfully over the whales...

And then back to Perth. Jon has just left for an adventure in Sydney and I am now preparing to leave this city adn travel up the west coast on another adventure.

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