Western Australia

Western Australia is big. Really big. Even for Australia. This single state accounts for a third of the land area of the country, yet only 10% of the population. In honour of WA, this will be the longest post to date -:) The penultimate stage of my Aussie adventure would be spent here, including a visit with my Godparents who I hadn't seen in thirty years - fortunately we met at the airport without trouble, so I clearly look like a six year old šŸ™‚ After a brief walk around Perth's Kings Park and a relaxing night in Willeton, we headed for a day trip north of Perth. The Pinnacles are a large field of strange limestone pillars just off the coast. A driving circuit around the pillars offered pretty good views, but wandering around off-piste was better - it was a very eerie place at times. We also visited a farm owned by friends of my hosts, which was an interesting window into real Australian country life - farming and firefighting - complete with meeting the local livestock šŸ™‚
Perth view from King's Park

Perth view from King's Park

The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles

One of the weather-worn limescale outcrops

One of the weather-worn limescale outcrops

Cows.

Cows.

My hosts were extraordinarily generous in letting me borrow one of their cars for a few days, so I planned a circuit of southern WA, designed to allow me time to see things en route, and arriving before dark so I would be able to explore my overnight stay. The first place that I chose was Margaret River, one of the main one producing regions on the western side of the country. The day's stop was planned to be at Cape Naturaliste, a lighthouse and whale-watching spot on the coast - however this was cut very short by the clouds of flies that swarmed around me from the moment I left the car. They weren't biters, but the sheer quantity of them - landing on my sunglasses, ears, nose, camera - quickly drove me back to the safety of the car Whether this number of flies was a year-round thing or not, I didn't ask, but for the sake of the locals I would hope not. The next stop was less fly-impacted - the Ngilgi caves - which are one of a number of cave systems along that area of coast. The caves were quite impressive, and the elf-guided nature meant that everyone could explore at their own pace, and not be held up (or rushed) by others. The day finished at Prevelly Beach where I'd be staying the night. Watching surfers from the cliff-top while eating fish and chips as the sun set was very relaxing, and a perfect end to my first day on the road. The drive to Albany, on the south coast, was a fairly pleasant one mainly through dense forest. Driving for an hour without seeing another car is always a pleasure, and this road didn't disappoint. I broke the journey with a visit to a tree-top walk at Walpole - a raised path up to 40m high through giant tingle trees, which are curious for the fact that they thrive on having their cores burnt by fire. Unfortunately the flies were round in force at ground level, but high in the trees a gentle cooling breeze kept the flies away and the temperature down. Reaching Albany (a former whaling town) presented a choice, to continue on a long drive further eastwards along the coast, or stay for an extra day and explore the local area - I chose the latter, not least because the next day's driving would have been for around seven hours!
Sunset at Prevelly Beach

Sunset at Prevelly Beach

Tree top walk at Walpole

Tree top walk at Walpole

Stone Arch near Albany

Stone Arch near Albany

Koala at Whaleworld

Koala at Whaleworld

Albany itself is a pleasant small town, with a busy port, and quite a few local natural sights - blowholes, stone bridges, and sweeping coastal views. One thing particularly piqued my interest, however - a museum dedicated to the history of whaling in the town. The site of the whaling station, which closed in 1978, had been converted into a tourist attraction, and I was very curious to discover how well this had been achieved. Unfortunately, the result was very confused, which I suppose should be expected from a museum built and run by the local community. The museum seemed unable to decide which way it should face - while the ecological agenda was clearly represented, with plenty of information on whales and other sealife, there was also significant praise for the 'bravery' of the whaling crews, with lots of detail on the lives of the former employees. The mixed message seemed further muddled by the worst cheaply designed, and poorly executed mini-zoos I have ever come across, situated next to the museum. Heading northwards from Albany, I stopped in the Porongurups, a small national park of granite domes. Feeling a little lazy after so much sitting in the car for the previous few days, I chose to hike a circuit around the mountains - a walk of around four hours. I hadn't quite expected so much vertical movement though - climbing a total of about 700m over three peaks in sandals with no socks wasn't the most cunning of plans, though the sense of achievement reaching the top of the Devil's Slide (a 'challenging' walk) was fantastic.After the hike, I continued north for another 2-3 hours until I reached Wave Rock. I had seen pictures of this rock formation when I was at school and had vowed that I would see it if I ever went to Australia. Never mind that I had thought it was in the Bungle Bungles in the north of the country šŸ™‚ The rock itself is pretty much what it sounds like - a 15m high limestone outcrop sculpted by the wind over thousands of years into a wave shape. Once I managed to ignore the teeming flies which constantly pestered me, I stood for minutes just staring at it - and mentally ticking off a long-term bucket list item. The view from the top of the rock was fairly impressive too, as the outcrop stood out above a generally flat plain, and watching the sun set casting orange rays across the bumpy surface was a glorious end to the day.
Tree-in-a-rock at Porongarup NP

Tree-in-a-rock at Porongarup NP

View from the top of Devil's Slide, Parongurup NP

View from the top of Devil's Slide, Parongurup NP

Wave Rock

Wave Rock

Christening the new barbecue with my fine hosts.

Christening the new barbecue with my fine hosts.

A resort, of sorts, has been built next to the rock - a campsite, tiny zoo, doll museum and nature walk - though these were clearly poor sideshows to the area's main event. I fairly quickly began the long drive back to Perth - around five hours through gently rolling farmland that often seemed like it would never end. Returning to my hosts' house in the Perth suburbs marked the end of my mini road-trip around WA, and I was very happy to spend the following couple of days relaxing, eating local fish and chips, christening a new BBQ, and preparing for the next travel epic - the Indian-Pacific Railway from Perth to Adelaide...
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