Bananas and Mangoes

Trip Start Jul 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 11, 2008

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Where I stayed
Big 4 Plantation Caravan Park

Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Monday, August 25, 2008

Quite a lot of caravans that morning passed us heading north and before long we were driving through the Banana Plantations and orchards of flower laden Mango trees, alongside the Gascoygne River, just outside Carnarvon.

Carnarvon is a fascinating little town that once boasted a now superseded satellite space station with plantations on both sides of the river stretching almost to the town. There were not only Bananas and Mangoes but hectares of Capsicum, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, table grape vines and all sorts of other vegetables. 

This wide river flows just below the sand bed and the farmers draw their water through the sand. There is no visible water and the river only flows above the sand for a short time every year or two when there are heavy rains further upstream.  The Plantations Caravan Park is literally in the middle of the Plantations surrounded by Mango and banana trees.  By the entrance there is a vegetable stall that is replenished with fresh produce every morning. The vegetables selected are paid for by means of a honour box on the stall counter.  We soon settled down to begin the eighth week of our trip in the middle of all these lovely fresh vegetables and fruit.  What a treat!

At 9.30am we arrived at the Bumbak (Croation Family Name) & Sons plantation on North River Road, Carnarvon. In the shop they had an amazing variety of pickles and jams made from their local produce. Half an hour later one of the Bumbak Family Daughter-in-laws took us on a tour and explained all about the workings of the plantation, water allocations, irrigation systems, banana trees, mangoes, vegetables and table grape vines. All very interesting and just wish that I could remember more of the details. No pesticides are used as there are no pests in the area but they are afraid that within five years if travellers from the eastern states do not heed the ban on bringing fruit and vegetables into the region, that pests could be introduced.

The Gascoyne River flows over a rock base covered by fine orange/yellow sand which stops the water evaporating. Every plantation has a border on one or the other side of the underground river and is given a weekly allocation of water which is strictly regulated by the Water Corporation.
We then walked to the seedless water melon patch which had just been planted under black plastic to protect the plants from weeds and water evaporation. The whole irrigation system is computerized so that every plant, whether vegetable, bananas, vines or whatever receive exactly the right amount of water at the correct time. If a leak occurs anywhere the whole system shuts down within ten seconds until the problem has been corrected. The drip system of irrigation now used was initially researched and developed in Carnarvon, exported and used on Israeli plantations where they then computerized the process and exported the new system back to Carnarvon.

A bunch of bananas weighs approx 55 kilo and the small lady who herself only weighs 50 kilo is able to carefully pick each bunch and take it to the trailer using a special technique. She positions her left shoulder in the middle of the bunch, cuts it from the tree and from there carries it straight to the trailer. There were many huge mango trees laden with flowers that will fruit and be ready for harvest in November. They will be picked while still green as it takes about a week to get to markets in Perth by which time they will ripen ready for the consumer. Picking green creates some problems as the sap oozes out of the fruit when taken off the tree which can cause some nasty allergies. A worker covered from head to foot in protective clothing puts each mango on a rack with the stem down so that the sap can drip out.

Carnarvon grapes are the first to reach Perth supermarkets and are not allowed to be picked until they have reached the right fructose level. Going on this tour and hearing about the plantation problems made us realize just how difficult and costly it is for the grower to successfully bring their crops to market so we will not complain too much about prices again.
After buying some preserves in the shop we drove down Southern River Road. Along the way we took photos of the beautiful huge bouganvillea bushes in all their different colours and then stopped at the first plantation stall to buy some fresh vegies. We bought Bananas, corn, beans, broccoli, cauliflower etc. I had already bought some tomatoes, Zucchini and capsicum at the stall in the Caravan Park where we were staying so we are now well stocked with fresh vegetables.

During the afternoon the clouds came over bringing with them a lovely cool breeze and we enjoyed some time walking around the pretty plam lined streets of Carnarvon and along the Fascine of the ocean at the end of the town. Carnarvon is a clean little town with murals painted on many of the buildings, including the Visitors Centre and the Backpackers Hostel.
Later we had tea with Jean and Geoff, who were on the site opposite our caravan.  They left South Africa in the seventies and now live in Adelaide. In the tree above our caravan sitting on a low bough was a large Kookaburra which from a distance looked just like a big white ball!

Late morning on Wednesday we drove up to the OTC Satellite Tracking Dish on the hill just out of Town - very impressive - and from the viewing platform we had a great view over the surrounding area. While we were there, we were joined by the Cooks who attend Riverton Baptist Church. Jo first recognised me from my Girls Brigade days. We chatted for quite a while and as I had a bunch of bananas in my backpack we had a picnic together up on the tower. Next stop was the One Mile Jetty but we found we couldn't walk to the end because somebody had set it alight a couple of weeks earlier and it hadn't yet been repaired.  We walked behind the Coffe Pot Train as far as it could now go to save a dollar, pity there wasn't a taxi going along the jetty or we could have saved a whole lot more!

The original lighthouse, which has been replaced by a modern light on top of a mast behind it, now forms part of the lighthouse museum next door. We spent a good hour looking around and reading about the history of the area.

By now dinner time was looming and we joined Jean and Geoff at the camp kitchen and enjoyed a glass of wine and braai together with fresh salad made with all the fresh produce we had acquired earlier.  We also met there a young couple, he from Queensland and she from Normandy in France, who were living in the carvan park and working on one of the plantations picking zucchinis and capsicum ten hours a day.

A couple of nights while here we had some good rain falls - the first rain we had seen since leaving Perth seven and a half weeks earlier. Thankfully it was at night so it was lovely to listen to it falling on our caravan roof and not interfere with our daytime sightseeing. Next morning we had a very delicious omellette for breakfast made from the local free range eggs. I then walked down the road to the nearby banana plantation to buy some fruit. As the stall only had an honesty tin and I only had a twenty dollar note, I ended up carrying back so many bananas and advocados that Mike thought I had gone quite crazy. But the bananas and advocados are so yummy and many are still green so they will last a while.

After filling up with fuel for our forward journey, we drove back into town and had another lovely walk around, this time going right down to the boat harbour and fish shops. We stocked up with bread from the local bakery so had fresh tomato and corn rolls for lunch.  It is the first time we have made salad with Zucchini, capsicum, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, beans and tomatoes all at the same time and it was really delicious.

On our last evening we joined together with the rest of the campers around the camp kitchen where the manager put on his weekly sausage sizzle with fried onions and fresh bread rolls. Mike ended up cooking the onions while another couple from mount Barker cooked the hundred or so sausages. It urned out that they are the in-laws of Max Zeller, a Swiss we know living in Riverton, they next suburb to ours. With our van full of fresh produce it looks like we are going to live on veggie salads or cooked vegies during our four days at Denham and the week in Kalbarri.
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