October 16-25 Cape Naturaliste to Esperance
Busselton, entrance to the Cape Naturaliste region was a bit of a bust. We stopped over there because we wanted to see the Underwater Observatory that we'd read about virtually everywhere - only to discover that the tram to take us there was "out for repairs." The shifty condition of my arthritic ankle precluded the four km walk so that was that.
I consoled myself with a visit to the cemetary next door to the caravan park. First body was buried there in early 1800s, last in 1933. They stopped burials after that because they discovered that the water table was rising under the graveyard. Nice thought that - bodies floating in their caskets.
It was an interesting visit though - dramatic contrast between the weathered, wooden, no-name crosses and some very elaborate memorials, complete with wrought-iron fences. Fascinating inscriptions on the most elaborate headstones - the name of the "erector" was bigger than the dead person. For example, an inscription might read:
"Mary Simpson, beloved mother of James, George, Emma, Elizabeth,
and Louise. This memorial erected by her LOVING
Next morning we continued up the cape to Bunker’s Bay. This lush little corner of the continent is not the sunburnt Australia we are familiar with. Here the landscape is idyllic - rolling pastoral lands, huge jarrah trees – gnarled and ancient, leaning in every which direction. Thousands of white calla lilies are growing wild in every marshy little ditch. Sheep and cattle graze the lush green hillsides.
Bunker’s Bay, as well, is a different beach again from anything we’ve seen before. Big rocks – but these are looking almost volcanic – like they were formed with a lot of bubbles in them. When you look closely you see that the caverns in the rocks are home both to tiny shellfish and to small plants
The cliffs that overhang the beach are obviously limestone – but these look different, like a golden brown whipped cream confection swirled with chocolate. The dark chocolate bits are actually caves and crevices tucked under the licks of overhanging cream. Very difficult to describe but I just gave it my best go.
There are more than 100 caves in the 110 km cape-to-cape area we are travelling through. Ngilgi is one that has been made accessible to the public and Steve is keen to see it. Me, not so much.
There are two main parts to the cave. The one area, called the amphitheatre is easy to see. There is a viewing platform just inside the cave entrance or you can descend about 50-60 stairs down to the floor of the amphitheatre and watch the “light show” from the floor.
These are limestone caves, so the water drips down through the limestone, forming what are called stalactites, pendulites, helictites, straws, and shawls. What this means in English is ...rock formations that look like icicles hanging from the ceiling or arising from the floor. Some are long and sharp and pointy. Others are knobby and bulbous and look like soldiers at attention. Some are lacy and “shawl-like”. The whole effect is other-worldly and amazing. Photos show it better than I can explain, but even so, photos are too flat to even begin to portray what walking among them feels like.
The second part of the cave is the “deep bit,” as they put it. There are some 700 stairs and the trail descends down some 37 metres.
There is an optional attraction, a long and narrow tunnel you can descend down in the dark. It was built to simulate the caving experience of the original explorers. Steve had to try it, of course. He said it was quite narrow and you had to proceed on your hands on knees. His small daypack was scraping the top of the tube most of the time. Not for me. I don’t like confined spaces.
We started down and at first it was just an amazing walk through the limestone formations. There are good stairs with handrails on both sides. Then the manufactured stairs turn into steps cut out of the limestone and there is handrail on only one side. Then the steps start getting very deep and very shallow and the handrail isn’t always there.
The large open, awe-inspiring spaces we were climbing through disappeared as the trail got narrower and steeper. The walls were closing in and there were places you had to stoop to get under and stand sideways to squeeze through. I was getting more and more and more uncomfortable with this. I am game to go up or down any trail one step at a time, but I do not like confined spaces.
My mind was continuously focusing on “What if the lights go out – and we didn’t bring our flashlights?” From there I started to think about earthquakes and how long it would take to die down here since it was patently clear no one would ever get us out ...and the path got a considerably narrower and steeper and it suddenly occurred to me that I am a grown-up. I have choices. I don’t have to do this.
I was only going down it to make Steve happy and surely I could find some other way to make him happy. So I told him that ...turned around and walked back up to one of the open awe-inspiring areas. There I truly enjoyed sitting and looking carefully at the amazing formations around me.
Had some interesting conversations with other people coming up or down. There were some anxious moments when a father got stuck following his young sons down “the tunnel” mentioned earlier. Took him a good ten minutes to work himself out of what should have been a two-minute slide through. Guess he shouldn't have had lunch.
Even though I didn’t descend to the full depth of the cave I truly enjoyed the experience.
Carried on to Margaret River for the night. A lovely drive through undulating terrain – lush green fields, large shady trees, calm blue ponds. Apparently there are some 200 vineyards in the area, belonging to 80 wineries. We passed by quite a few of these, with signs out at the road inviting visitors to come in for tastings and “cellar door sales” as the sign said.
We settle in Margaret River at the local caravan park for the night. The wind is blowing, the clouds are billowing. No telling what the morning will bring. We expect rain tonight – it has that feel.
First stop this morning is Prevelly Park – just to the west of Margaret River and the site of the big west coast surfing beaches. The surf looked pretty good to me but obviously was not “right” because no one was surfing. Got a kick out of the "Tribal Law" posted on these beaches. Apparently there is quite the protocol to who-takes-what-wave-when. I never knew that - now I do.
From there we carried on to Redgate Beach – also highly recommended. This beach is all about BIG rocks ...and interesting rocks. All striated in bands of red, orange, brown, black and glinting through in places, blue. Very beautiful in its own way.
While it’s no longer raining, the weather is blustery – fleeces, long pants, and socks in the sandals kind of weather for walking the beaches.
There are lots more caves in this area and since we enjoyed Ngilgi so much we decide to see another – Lake Cave.
This cave includes a guided tour and another 700 stairs. Actually, a few less – 336 stairs down and 336 stairs up again. But it’s just one step at a time and there are good handrails all along the way. There were never any rough or scary bits. Once below ground you descend immediately into a large open cavern, no small and confined spaces.
Lake Cave is a truly beautiful world with creamy white columnar formations and shawls and straws and pendulites all reflecting in the still and lovely waters of the lake. It is an enchanting place – the castles of your childhood dreams. I loved it. The tour guide explained all about the formations, adding a lot to the experience.
Then the long trip back up to the surface – one step at a time.
Made it up eventually and carried on to Karridale where we took a left turn and headed east – the west coast is now a blurring image in our rear view mirror.
The objective was Pemberton, a small town in the heart of the Karri Forest. The karris are huge old trees, dwarfing the roads that snake beneath them. It is an enchanting drive through lush forest opening onto pastoral vistas of cows and sheep grazing in the meadows. Many vineyards as well, the rowed vines marching in perfect symmetry up, down, and over the hills.
We saw lots of emus and kangaroos on this road, some hopping directly in front of us when we approached.
Karri National Forest
Today is all about touring the Karri National Forest. First stop is the Gloucester Tree – which is a very old tree some 68 metres high. You can climb this tree – there are rebar “rungs” drilled into the poor tree, and after the first few metres, a wire cage encloses the climber. So, Steve had to climb the tree and he did make it to the top.
While I waited there was a poor fellow who suffers from fear of heights or maybe just adventure ...he was there with someone else who was encouraging him, firmly stating, “This is the seventh time we’ve been here and this time you are going to do it.”
So they started up and the other guy was talking the fearful guy up, rung by rung. I was thinking this is going to take till Christmas, but eventually they seemed to get a rhythm going and last I saw of them, they were up.
Now, whether or not they ever made it down, I don’t know. “Fear of heights” usually means you have more trouble coming down then going up. All evening I kept thinking of the poor guy ...imagining him stuck up in that cold and windy place through the night, his buddy trying to talk him down.
When we first arrived at the site of this tree, beautiful parrots had descended on us When Steve got some bread out they were all over him. Even without the bread they were all over me, gorgeous colourful parrots – red, green, blue. Highlight of our day for sure.
After the Gloucester Tree we followed a track through the forest called the Karri Forest Explorer. The majestic karri trees grow to 85 metres in height and some are as old as 350 years. They tower over the track, opening now and again into lush green valleys, the grass so green it looks fluorescent.
Lots of cows and steers and bulls here. Saw three bulls fighting. Also saw goats and lots and lots of emus.
Towards the town of Denmark we dipped down to the ocean to visit a place called William Bay. This terrain is much different than what we’ve seen till now. The beach is populated by huge granite boulders, worn smooth by the action of sand and water and wind. They are majestic and lovely to look at. It is a lovely, placid bay. Would be a great place to swim or snorkel on a warmer day. Unfortunately today is cold and windy. But we enjoy it anyway.
We are getting used to “Australia the cold” and are just dressing warmer.
Driving today from Denmark to Albany. It’s pretty country – magnificent tall trees knitting a canopy of foliage overhead. Narrow country roads that undulate up, down, and around the hills and valleys. In the marshy areas there are lots of wild orchids – both a peachy-orange colour and a mauvey-purple variety. Never seen orchids growing like that – in ditches by the road.
In the Albany area we went out to Torndirrup National Park. To get there you take a scenic loop out of Albany that takes you onto the Cape. There are really well maintained roads out to a series of lookouts and beaches and blowholes. The terrain here is all granite rock and it makes for a spectacular and dramatic coastline. At one place we went out to see a “Natural Bridge” where rock has fallen onto rock in such a way that the ocean comes in underneath. Another place is called “The Gap” because the ocean has found its way into the rocks, rushing in and out through very confined spaces making such a lot of fuss and bother as it does so. Magnificent noise that powerful surf.
So it was early afternoon before we got on the road again ...heading for Jerramungup. Didn’t make it because on the map I noticed a diversion to Cheney Beach. This was a 19 km diversion off the main highway into the Waychinup National Park. As it turned out, the park itself was only accessible by 4WD but we were able to go to the actual Cheney Beach and stay in the caravan park there.
Steve was not too happy about this diversion because he gets a bit goal oriented once we’ve decided where we are headed to on the map ...but he was semi-gracious about it – and since I was driving, there was not much he could do.
So we checked into the caravan park and went for a walk on the beach. At first we didn’t think there’d be much in the way of shells but once we really started looking we came up with another bagful. But what was even more interesting was that there were two big Southern Right Whales just offshore. They were HUGE – just lying there, lolling about on their backs. Every once in while they’d roll over and their tail would come up. If the weather were nicer you could have swum out there or taken a small boat – not that I’d want to, but they were that close.
So eventually we came back to the van and settled in for the evening. When it came time to shower, I opened the van door and there were eight large kangaroos feeding on the fresh grass. Some of them hopped away but others just stayed put, ignoring me while they munched away. I actually had to chase a smaller one away from the bathroom door so that I could go in.
Steve had great fun stalking kangaroos in the dark with his flashlight. I think he must have terrorized them because they never returned after that. Every time I awakened in the night I'd look for them out the window but never saw them again, only one long-eared rabbit.
Next morning we are off to “Ess-pranz-ee” as the locals pronounce it. “The Great Ocean Drive” was recommended and rightly so . Beaches here are a lovely pure white sand, giving the water a bright tropical translucence that is remarkable this far south of the tropics. The massive granite cliffs sculpt intimate little bays, the surf rolls in, white foam on clean aqua waves, just spectacular. It isn’t that long a drive and loops back around to Esperance again. We take a couple hours to do it because we stop at virtually every turnoff.
Fish and chips from the take-away dive were also recommended – and they are good. Only cost $16.90 for fish and chips and drinks for two. Pretty cheap dinner.
The weather has improved immeasurably so we book a ½ day catamaran cruise into an area called the Recherche Archipelago, a string of 110 islands in the waters just off Esperance. There are sea lions and birds and dolphins. The dolphins seemed very interested in the boat – the captain had the boat going in circles and the dolphins were cruising the wake, dipping up and down, seemingly having a good time playing in the water and performing for the appreciative audience.
The islands that we saw were uninhabited, except by goats and snakes and the like. Woody Island has some facilities for snorkelling and camping. The boat stopped there for “tea,” an Australian institution that has been observed on every tour we’ve been on. They actually do serve tea and sometimes juice as well as some kind of sweet. In this case, chocolate cake.
On return we took some time to get an oil and lube on the van, then headed 200 km north to Norseman – the gateway to the Nullarbor. That will be our next adventure, 1200 km across the Nullarbor Plain and into South Australia and the next phase of the trip.
We leave in the morning.