How The West Was Done
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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From our hotel in Perth's centre we made our way to Hertz in the back of a cab, and as usual we were eager to sign paperwork and jump into a van to zoom off into the distance. What we hadn't accounted for was a receptionist who was Perth's 'Chatty Woman of the Year' especially when we told her we were going to cover most of Western Australia in just nine days.
"Ooooh, with only nine days you should really only cover the north or just the south of Perth." And so it continued.
There were tourist lures 800km north of Perth and 500km south as well, and we hadn't come all this way to miss them so I told her in my best voice of conviction that:
"Listen lady, we're from the UK and it's very rare that you get a nice stretch of empty open road in front of you so we're gonna make the most of this chance and we'll take in all the sights as we go, so if you don't mind, the keys please!"
This hurried things along a bit albeit my attempt at seriousness was nearly ruined by Soph's giggle, and we were soon speeding off into oblivion and an endless void
After filling our new little van with freshly hacked cattle limbs we set off in earnest out of town and onto the Brand Highway heading north for blue skies. Just outside town was the Swan Valley, home to Perth's local vineyards and before you ask, no we didn't stop for a quick guzzle, which was just as well because a few kilometres along the highway was a police roadblock pulling everyone over for a quick blow into a bag . . . very cunning positioning. The officer clocked my accent and came back with the right answer: "Pommieland". It was lucky it was a 'breath' test because if he'd taken a blood sample he would have noticed that the aroma of blackcurrants and vanilla that was pulsating through my veins was pure Pinot Noir.
About 250km further along the road we turned left off the highway towards the coast for our first look at something worthwhile. The Nambung National Park is home to the Pinnacles Desert, over a thousand limestone pillars rising up to four metres high from the sand. They were created over millions of years as rain leached lime from the sand and an acidic layer of . . . anyway it's a long story. We took a two-mile drive through the park stopping off on the way like good tourists should to take hundreds of silly pictures of ourselves popping our heads out from behind them
After being waylaid back in Perth by NatterWoman and Woolie's meat department we pressed on for the final 200km along the coast road to the town of Dongara where we set up camp for the night to make inroads into our very own EU meat mountain.
After an early start we were soon eating up the miles as we drove north along the North West Coastal Highway. It was a hot day and was getting hotter by the mile as the road stretched out into a haze on the horizon. The drive was now becoming how we'd imagined Australian roads to be and what cars you passed would receive admiring waves that were nigh on congratulatory for even thinking about driving in these parts. This was a desolate highway with only the odd roadhouse offering respite from this trance-inducing roadtrip.
The roadhouse we were looking out for was 'The Overlander', an apt title, and it would be there that we'd indulge in the 'Three P's': Pies, Petrol and a Pee before leaving the highway to head for the Shark Bay Marine Park and the town of Denham
Further into Shark Bay we stopped at a stunning lookout called Eagle Bluff for views out to a five-tone turquoise sea and an island full of nesting eagles, but once more we were chased off their patch by a battalion of bluebottles and at one point Soph had 12 on her back hitching a lift. And it's not even Summer!
We drove onwards to the fishing town of Denham, one of the most westerly towns in Australia, and carried on through without stopping to the reserve/resort town of Monkey Mia famous for . . . two guesses . . . wrooooong, dolphins, and what a blockbuster of an attraction this would be, but we'd have to wait for tomorrow morning.
We were planning on staying in Monkey Mia's camp site but being a year round phenomenon the site was packed to the cloisters so we bought a couple of tickets and did a quick U-turn led us 25 kms back down the road to Denham where we parked up in a nice caravan park overlooking the Indian Ocean for the night to eat . . . two guesses . . . yep, a barbeque. You scored two out of three for today's quiz, not bad!
For all you statiticians out there we'd driven 556 kilometres today, a new world record. Kilometres sure tick off quicker than miles.
We were up at the unearthly hour of 7 o'clock this morning as we had an 8 o'clock appointment with a bevy of friendly wild dolphins. It was a gorgeous day as we drove to Monkey Mia with the pure blue sky clashing agreeably with the red soil like a 1980s England football kit (bet it's never been described like that before).
We parked and made our way down to the beach for ten to eight and a two-deep crowd had already assembled along the shoreline, and as we burrowed our way through to the front we could see some dolphins hadn't altered their alarms and had turned up 10 minutes early. A ranger was paddling in two feet of water and giving a running commentary as four dolphins glided along the shore making sure everyone was getting a decent snapshot of them, and at times one of them would face us, arch their back and lift their head and tail out of the water for the money shot
It was now time for their first feed and along came a couple of rangers carrying three steel buckets with about eight fresh fish in each. The rangers then hand fed the dolphins and once the buckets were empty the dolphins swam back out to sea without a word of thanks.
Over the next hour they came back twice for a couple more feeds and at one point there were two adults with four youngsters darting about in the shallow water chasing each other which was a sight to behold and confirmed my belief in eating only tuna-friendly dolphin.
The rangers than began to pick out lucky punters from the crowd to have a go at feeding them themselves, choosing only snotty-nosed little oiks who didn't really appreciate the situation. Once the dolphins swam out to sea that would be the cue for a family of pelicans (who were proving to be as popular with the tourists as the dolphins were) to waddle out into the sea in search of leftovers. By 9 o'clock the show was over as the dolphins are encouraged to spend the rest of the day offshore, socialising and foraging for wild food
Monkey Mia was as far north as we were going so it was back on the North West Coastal Highway for the trip south, stopping off once more at the Overlander Roadhouse to engage in a couple of the 'Three P's'.
Western Australia was like another world compared to our three previously visited states but there was just one little thing letting it down:
The lack of a little slogan on their numberplates.
New South Wales was the 'First State'; Victoria was 'The Place To Be'; South Australia was 'The Festival State'; and from what we'd seen on the roads Queensland was 'The Smart State'; Tasmania was 'The Natural State' and the Northern Territory was 'The Outback'. Western Australia had just boring old letters and numbers just like British ones, which got me thinking (uh-oh), how about our counties having little catchphrases on numberplates?
Buckinghamshire could be 'The Loaded County'.
East Anglia 'The Inbred County'
Lancashire 'The Damp County'
Essex 'The Easy County'
And London obviously 'The Intelligent, Attractive, Gifted, Most-times-in-a-single-night, Modest County'
We arrived in Geraldton, half-way back to Perth, by 3pm and booked into the Belair Caravan Park where we sat outside the van for the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine
We left Geraldton at 9 and continued south towards Perth. The weather was glorious but judging by the state's radio station we were heading into a rainstorm. The local radio DJ was obsessed with people calling her to inform her of the weather in their little corner of the state and a whole two-hour show was dedicated to the elements and any mention of rain bought squeals of delight from the host.
Sure enough, about an hour outside Perth the clouds started to appear and the heavens let rip with thankfully the brunette at the wheel as it was her 200km segment. As visibility turned to four inches we pulled into a layby for a half hour Pot Noodle break watching road trains scream by with no regard for the weather conditions or the vehicles going the other way who were being flung into the verges from the displaced air of a 50 metre long lorry. This was real road train country with signs warning you of 'up to 53.5 metre long road trains', which equates to about half the length of a football pitch or for the more shallow of you out there, the girth of 15 Pamela Andersons
As the rain and roadtrains let up a little we got the Toyota up to a head of steam and got to Perth by early afternoon. We were due to stop-off for the night at a nice big 5-star site but being as it was still honking down we decided to press on to our next planned stop which would put us a day ahead of schedule.
So from Perth we headed south-east along a strangely not-quite-finished highway which was tarmacked and two-laned for a mile before turning into a single lane with gravelly verges on either side for the next mile which meant you could enjoy a nice game of 'chicken' with oncoming vehicles for about 200km, and this mile-on, mile-off pattern would continue until we arrived in Hyden for the night, aaah what fun we had.
With the constant rain the barbie was called off tonight and was substituted with pasta, but one good thing came out the day - another world record drive of 755km in one day
By morning the skies had cleared which meant we could enjoy our next soggy-sounding 'must-see' without the threat of a drenching. A five-minute walk from the caravan park was 'Wave Rock'. This was a perfectly smooth life-size 'Old Spice' wave formed over eons of epochs from wind and water erosion complete with blue and brown vertical sediment stripes to jazz the whole thing up a little more. It was very smart indeed and provided untold opportunities for climbing up on to crouch down in cool surfer dude styley, which we milked for all its worth for the camera, and being the only ones here there was no one else to see us act the goat except the camera lens.
Once our immaturity-fix had been satisfied we took off for a coastal city with my award for nicest town name so far, Esperance. The weather held out until we hit the town of Ravensthorpe where we stopped for pies, coffee and a Coldplay tape as the local radio was now pushing us to the limits of sanity. We were served by a little Asian lady who went about her business as if we were her first customers of the year and it wasn't long before her Scooby Doo character of a husband made his entrance
"Where you be off to then?" he enquired.
"Esperance - sir" we answered in a please-don't-hurt-us tone.
We were now expecting the classic horror movie line to pass his now quivering salivating lips, of:
"Ooooh, you don't wanna be going to Esperance . . . bad things 'appen there", followed by a crack of lightning and a storm-damaged window smashing open.
Instead he suddenly turned pleasant and told us that we'd love it there and that we should take the scenic coastal route there instead of the highway, which was a bit rotten of him as it spoilt my spooky tale
We left Ravensthorpe and continued along a roadkill-lined highway with Chris Martin's dulcet tones whining in our ears and soon arrived in a rain-lashed Esperance diving straight into an Internet café until it subsided a little. Whether Esperance was nice or not we weren't about to find out in this weather so we found Esperance Bay Caravan Park and did the unthinkable . . . we booked a cabin for the night forsaking our little van for a night of creature comforts. It was also the night of the FA Cup final so having a TV swayed us as well.
£14 bought us a room for the night and at 8pm we settled down for SBS's big game build-up. Two hours of incompetent presenting and bungling discussions culminated in a quiz between two pairs of Aussie Man Utd and Millwall fans. After about twenty questions I think the score finished 0-0 and when it came to asking the United fan who was going to win the game he answered: "Manchester!" Not Man U or United but 'Manchester'. Spoken like a typical United fan.
We all know what the final score was but it was a joy to see Wisey up to old tricks again by trying to gouge out Ronaldo's eyes so he couldn't play on
We left the caravan park early for breakfast in town and yesterday's downpour had given way to a scorching hot Sunday morning. We sat outside a café and were joined by a maple leaf emblazoned Canadian who greeted us in true Joey Tribbiani fashion with: "'Ow yous doin'?" It turned out he'd been partying all night, as young whippersnappers do nowadays, and had left his drug den to watch the sun rise. He was like, out there man.
After a quick flick through the Sunday papers we set off cheerily along the South Coast Highway but with a foreboding sense of terror in the backs of our minds. The Joanne Lees/Peter Falconio backpacker murder trial was presently taking place in Darwin and it wouldn't be long before we'd be passing by the murder scene in the Northern Territory.
Our drive to the town of Albany thankfully passed without a homicide of any nature except for the three hundred insects on the windscreen of which we respectfully laid to rest with a bucket of hot soapy water
We found Emu Beach Caravan Park and once more booked into a $36 cabin for another night in TV-land. After washing a compost heap of dirty laundry we headed along a coast-hugging road into Albany's pleasant enough town for a stroll and a visit to the only food shop open to buy ingredients for tonight's omelette.
Westward-ho we continued this morning seeking sunny skies and finding the Valley of the Giants treetop walk in the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. Although this would be our second walk of this type in Australia this was the first of it's kind in the world.
The Valley of the Giants matched it's newer contender on the Great Ocean Road for heights and wobbliness of walkway and wobbled sufficiently so for the Dutch guy in front of us to have a slight panic attack forcing him to slope by us for the safety of terra firma. Too much wacky baccy in Amsterdam methinks?
This walkway didn't have a spiral staircase leading to a crow's nest like the previous one but had a far more interesting ground-level walk complete with colossal trees that had been hollowed out by bush fires and were somehow still standing
We left the treetops and sped on to the west coast through roads lined with giant trees and green countryside but still edged with now familiar Western Australian red soil. The trip seemed to take an eternity today as we took a couple of wrong turns and were bombarded with local radio stations that were obsessed with making a jingle out of everything:
"Got the syphilis blues? Then come to the Venereal Warehouse for a bargain cure." Sang to the tune of Zip-a-dee-doo-da. And every now and again they'd put a nice Country and Western track or talk for hours about the complexities of a hand-pass in Aussie Rules footy.
We finally arrived in Margaret River as the sun was setting but could see through the growing gloom that we may have actually found our first liveable town in Australia, and after finding a tourist park we shot back out for a wander along a main street of wine bars and specialist shops. Sadly all the shops were shut for the evening which meant we had to go to a wine bar. What a shame. We sat on a leather couch sampling the local produce in a swish bar that wouldn't have looked out of place in SW1 and weren't in the least put off by the fact it was called 'Winos'.
Back at the site we were in the mood for a barbie after a few nights off the wagon but found a filthy grill that wouldn't light that forced us back in the van for a stove-cooked meat-fest.
We were in no hurry to hit the road this morning. We'd found a great little town and we weren't gonna give it up that easy. We strolled around and after a browse through the local shops it confirmed what we had believed from last night which led to browsing estate agents windows for an idea of what we could buy with our £5,000 savings. We were disappointed. Vineyards surrounded Margaret River and our previous favourite town of McLaren Vale was hemmed in by gallons of fine wine as well. A pattern was emerging.
The thick cloud had finally broken so we headed 10km to the coast and Prevelly Beach for a lunch of homemade burgers at the Sea Garden Café overlooking surfers getting flung around by the Indian Ocean. After lunch we pointed the van north along the Bussell Highway and set course for an overnight stop in Bunbury, stopping off in the seaside town of Busselton en route for a walk along the prom, prom, prom, where there wasn't a brass band in sight, but there was a 1 mile long pier that's apparently the longest in the southern hemisphere with its own little train that takes Japanese tourists to the end and (unfortunately) back.
With a marked lack of ducks in Western Oz (and roos for that matter), and being the mad bird people that we are, we had to settle for feeding seagulls on the beach with the last of our stale bread once more gaining the wrath of relaxing locals by attracting the entire gull population of the town for a shrill, squawking, feeding frenzy. We were now beginning to become known throughout Australia and we were soon going to make the front-page headlines in a sleepy town's local paper.
Bunbury is the second largest city in Western Australia and was made up of industrial estate shops, tacky houses and one main shopping street. It seemed a dull kinda city and was probably best viewed from the highway travelling at 100mph but tonight it would be our home.
It was a bitterly cold night in the van but as was usually the case a clear blue sky followed the next morning. Our destination today was the outskirts of Perth and the town of Fremantle, or 'Freo' as the locals call it. Sophie, or 'Soph' as I like to call it, took the wheel for our final drive north and two hours later we were parked up in a car park and striding into a fine looking museum called 'The Shipwreck Galleries' for a look at some stories of local shipwrecks would you believe. Pride of place went to a couple of Dutch ships, the 'Batavia' which had part of its hull pieced together in one room and the 'Zuitdorp' whose cargo was artistically displayed upstairs, although not all the cargo was on show as the captain smoked most of it before slamming into the side of Australia in a fit of giggles.
Around the corner we visited a round building that was around 170 years old and was called the 'Round House' and in a round about way was the oldest building in Fremantle. It was round.
A short walk through the docks led us to the Western Australian Maritime Museum which was housed in a nice big modern building perched on the edge of the harbour. I asked the teller if I could pay for the tickets with my credit card and was told I could as long as it wasn't American Express. I asked if this was because of their invasion of Iraq and their general target of global domination while still hiding behind the illusion that they were the good guys (or words to that effect), but my hilarious quip whizzed over his head like an off target US missile. Steady Gary.
We wandered around for what seemed hours looking at various boats hanging from the ceiling including the 1983 Americas Cup winning 'Australia II' before heading back into town for lunch.
Fremantle seemed an interesting town and one we'd need to explore a little more tomorrow but for now it was a night in Woodmans Point Caravan Park with a bottle of Maggie River wine and our last barbie in WA.
After packing our bags and cleaning the van we headed into Freo again and after shunning the gaols of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide we booked in for a cheery morning tour of Fremantle Prison.
The prison had closed as recently as 1991 and was originally built in 1855 by the prisoners themselves so why they didn't build secret escape tunnels is beyond me. It sounded interesting and with an oddball bunch of fellow tourists including a transvestite, an Ozzy Osbourne lookalike and a giggly guide who couldn't have picked a more unsuited profession it was sure to be an experience.
We were led through cells, chapels, kitchens, yards, solitary confinement and the gallows room and proved fascinating as well as a reminder for us to always be fine and upstanding citizens of the community.
A noose still hung in the gallows room with the trap door open which led the well-spoken, red-haired, skirt-wearing, shaved-legged tranny to provide us with an interesting fact. Death row prisoners used to ask friends and family to stand downstairs as the trap door opened so that they could grab the inmate's ankles and pull down to make death arrive quicker which is where the expression 'Hanger-Onners' comes from.
On that cheery note we left Freo for Perth to drop the van off before catching an evening flight back to Adelaide.
We'd driven 2,500 miles in nine days and seen a good cross section of WA's charms and we weren't disappointed. Perth was a nice big city with small town appeal; the Pinnacles desert was a natural wonder of the geological kind; Monkey Mia was a natural phenomenon of the animal kind; Wave Rock was better than we'd imagined; you can't have too many treetop walks; Margaret River was the kind of town we'd been searching for; and Fremantle was the perfect getaway from the city. In our three months in Oz it was touch and go whether we'd get to see WA but we're sure glad we did.
Next up . . . a famous train ride to the Red Centre and a gander at a big rock.
Scooby & Scrappy Doo