Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 137 - 141 Perth/Rottnest Island – 23-27 Oct 2009

21,535 kms, 26 degrees C, 11 snakes

Back to Perth – we had lots of “stuff” to do. The car is holding up very well to the rigours of such a trip, but a few things have rattled loose on the corrugations. It went in for a service and Stuey had to do a few "manly" jobs. Testosterone, its shocking stuff. The back bracket on the exhaust broke at 80 mile beach – Stuart borrowed a wire for a bloke in the camp next to us and that got us to Perth, 5 weeks and 6000km later.

We met Andrew Tait, a bass player with WASO and bass maker. Really nice bloke – he gave up and arvo to talk machine heads and stuff with Nicko and Stuey. Then got us tickets to go see WASO do battle with Don Juan, a Ross Edwards fiddle piece and Dvorak 6 (not his greatest piece, he still had the composer L plates on). It was a great evening and wonderful to meet Andrew having heard so much about him.

A pleasant Sunday was spent in the Art Gallery. We joined a guided tour – actually we were the guided tour, just us and our wonderful American guide Alan, who took us thro each section and explained lots of stuff behind significant pieces that we would otherwise have walked past. Its a wonderful collection.

We spent a great day on Rottnest Island, which is an hour’s ferry ride from Freo. Rotto, as is affectionately known, was named Rattenest by the intrepid but stupid Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh – he founds lots of small fury animals that he thought were rats, hence the name which means “rats nest” in Dutch. [you don’t just get great pix, videos, and wonderful prose on this blog, we are now branching into languages too!]. The little fellas are not rats, they are quokkas, very cute small marsupials. They must have huge rats in the canals in Amsterdam!

There is a lot to Rotto including aboriginal history, snorkelling, birdlife, snakes (we saw another one) cycling, beaches yada yada yada, but lets get to the point – its all about the quokkas. They are cute and abundant – it took next to no time after jumping off the ferry before we found our first quokka. It was a major effort to stop Nicky picking one up and taking home with us.

Bikes are the best way to hoon around the island. Bums and quaddies were no so happy about this on the ferry home – its hilly and windy.

And now for one of the craziest stories of the trip so far. A few weeks ago Stuart noticed a lump in his chest, hitherto not recognised. It is just below where the two rib cages meet. Fearing the worst, we managed to arrange an appointment with the Doctor, thanks to Peter and Sylvia Gregory. The good Dr had a prod then sent Stuart off for an ultrasound and x ray. The radiologist asked one question, “have you lost some weight recently”. The said lump is Stuart’s xifi-sternum, a bone that he has had all his life but in recent years has been buried under a blanket of blubber. So the good news was that its not the big C, and alls well. The not so good news was that it cost Stuart over $400 to establish this. The moral of the story is - losing weight can cost you money!!

And finally this is the last blog entry involving Nicko, who has now left for a few days with Michelle in Melbourne. Hats off to the old boy for sticking it out for 11 weeks. He was dropping into 30+ degree temperatures looking as white as a ghost fresh from a UK “summer”, then dragged thro 11,400km of NT and WA at a rate of 1000km per week. A brave man indeed. It was great having you with us Nicko – we are still arguing about who will pay for the diesel and more importantly who will be doing the washing up now that you have gone!!!!

Day 131 - 136 Margaret River – 17-22 Oct 2009

21,100 kms, 26 degrees C

Followers of this blog will have realised by now that the length of the blog entry, video and number of piccies are in proportion to the fun and enjoyment we had in the place. We had to be ruthless in culling our coverage of Margaret River as we had such a good time. So much so we are returning next week!

We stayed with the Kirsops – Dougie (Nicky’s cousin), Beth, Georgie and Paddy (the dog). Visitors to our Cape Paterson beach house will be familiar with our wonderful Kirsop painting – we stayed in the studio, with all Dougie’s current and recent paintings and we can sense another little purchase coming on!

The Kirsops are in the process of selling their wonderful house and moving to a smaller block of land just around the corner (see video). They have been in Yallingup for 20 years and though things have changed over that time it still retains its amazing charm. At dawn and dusk large mobs of roos pop out to get stuck into the grass. Ring necked parrots are beautiful creatures, even if they are not the most popular with rose growers like Beth! The Kirsop gardens are full of birdlife in the morning – the twitchers didn’t know where to point their lens.

We popped out for a couple of nights – the first on a day trip down to Cape Leeuwin. We did the tour to the top of the lighthouse which was informative, spectacular and a good workout for the legs. The road back passes through a wide range of country include Karri forests and some of the best surf beaches in Australia, for example Hamelin Bay.

The eagle sanctuary allowed us to get up close and personal with most of Australia’s type of raptor. Many of these birds are being rehabilitated, to be returned to the wild. The flying display featured a black kite (even though she was brown) – Stuart is looking particularly chuffed to have the glove on.

But all the wonderful tourist attractions mentioned above serve one purpose – to give the palate a break between tastings at Margaret River vineyards!! We went hard but didn’t really scratch the surface. Many of the household names (Vasse Felix, Leeuwin, Cullen, Moss Wood etc) have wines available back home in Melbourne, so we focussed on the smaller and up and coming vineyards. It was great to be able to pick the brains of the locals, especially Mitch, who really knows his wines. He brought round a Moss Wood and E&E Black Pepper Shiraz to dinner at Dougie and Beths – for readers who don’t know that much about Auzzie wines, these are very serious top shelf bottles. You will not find them at Woolies or Tescos!

Day 126 - 130 Fremantle – 12-16 Oct 2009

20,390 kms, 28 degrees C

Perth is the next flagstone on the trip. After four months on the road we have topped 20,000km, which is half way around the world, from London to Christchurch (the furthest city in the world) and have started to make our way back again!

WA is a big place. It is the 2nd largest subnational entity in the world, behind the Sakha Republic in Russia. WA is 2.6m sq km – by comparison, the largest US state is Alaska (no, not Texas) which is 1.7m sq km. And Queensland is also bigger than Alaska.

We have now driven from the NE tip to the SW corner. And we had to stop for fuel. A few times!

It was great to meet up with our good friends Peter and Sylvia Gregory for a fish supper in Northbridge. Peter is a Paediatric Dentist in Perth – Sylvia was busy organising a family function to celebrate her parents 60 years of marriage. That is not a typo, 60 years! Sylvia had letters of congratulation from the Queen, Prime Minister Krudd and just about anyone and everyone who counts below these two in the great food chain of life. Quite remarkable.

We stayed in Mosman Park, near Fremantle, where we spent quite a bit of time. “Freo” is a lively city that has been engulfed in the urban sprawl of Perth. It has a great market, wonderful streetscapes and microbreweries, such as the Sail and Anchor. We tried to sample the complete range of boutique draft beers, all of them wonderful, while watching, “the youth of today”, drink bottled Corona. Are we getting old and crusty? I thought so?!

There are wonderful walking trails, fresh seafood shops on the waterfront and great architecture. We spent more hours than planning in the maritime museum, which has lots of interesting stuff on migrants to Australia. This was of particular interest to Nicko as his mum visited Perth a long time ago. Stuart’s relos landed here while on a £10 passage to Adelaide in 1948. In many ways Freo really was the gateway to Australia.

There are a number of historical moments in Auzzie history where any true blue will tell you where they were when it happened. And they are all sporting, such as Kieren Perkins winning the 1500m freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 - we were in a shopping centre in Parramatta, watching it on the tele. Next would be Kathy Freemans win in the 400m hurdles at the Sydney Olympics. But the top of the stack would have to be when Australia II won the Americas Cup in 1983, with its controversial winged keel. It was financed by Alan Bond, a corporate crook known as the “lovable rogue”. Unless you were his creditors of course!

Australia II is in the Freeo Maritime Museum, along with the Auzzie jacket worn by Prime Minister Bob Hawke the day after celebrating the success in the US, when he uttered the immortal words, “any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum”. It doesn’t get more Auzzie than that!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 124 - 125 Cervantes – 10-11 Oct 2009

19,880 kms, 21 degrees C

After our short sojourn inland we returned to the coast and headed down to Cervantes. We arrived on the last Saturday of the school hols, where the campsite was pretty full – by the time we left on Monday we were in an empty field.

The big highlight around these parts would have to be the Pinnacles – a series of stone columns standing to attention in the desert. There are a number of theories about how these were formed, but one is that they were dead trees that have been covered by sand dunes, broken down and solidified to create vertical rocks.

There’s plenty of wildlife around here, kangaroos hopping across the sandy roads and heaps of birds, so Nicky is happy.

It’s getting cooler and dramatically we had rain for the first time in four months, since Fraser Island. A bit of a shock to the system. And yes, it’s still very windy – check out the video. We had a fridge full of food to cook but ended up in the pub as it was too cold and windy to try and get the gas stove lighted and sit outside the tent.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 122 - 123 Geraldton to Morewa – 8-9 Oct 2009

19,597 kms, 30 degrees C

Geraldton is the Big City in the mid WA coast (for a map, see the Kalbarri previous blog entry). It was a bit of a shock for us to have to deal with traffic lights and roundabouts once more – it seemed like they were from a previous life. It is one of those many Australian coastal cities that have amazing ocean vistas but are blighted by heavy industry, right along the beach, a bit like Gladstone in Qld.

The most notable feature of Gerry was the memorial to the HMAS Sydney, sunk off the WA coast in WW2. The Sydney was lost until 2008 when its wreck was discovered off Steep Point, WA. The memorial is a moving tribute to the 645 souls lost – the dome is made of seagulls, one for each person lost.

Next we headed inland to go Mullewa and Morewa, to see the wildflower country. WA is blessed with a dazzling array of flowers over huge areas in Spring – one of the hotspots was Mullewa where we went to see the wreath flowers, a plant that grows on the side of the road in a circle with flowers on the outside, as if an arranger has created a wreath. The appear for 300m and that it! The roads are full of colour that changes with each passing km.

We were tempted by the local rodeo, especially as we look the part with our Akubra hats!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 120 - 121 Kalbarri – 6-7 Oct 2009

19,140 kms, 24 degrees C

From Monkey Mia we continued our trek South and next stop was Kalbarri, a very popular spot in school holidays. The town is transformed overnight from a sleepy seaside town to a packed holiday destination when the kids break up.

Our first tourist stop was Rainbow Jungle, a parrot breeding centre. They have and amazing array of squarkers from Oz and overseas.

We are well and truly in the WA wheat belt country, which at this time of year is renowned for its wildflowers. The wildflower centre was OK, but the star of the show was a thorny devil, not the flowers. These are odd creatures indeed – latin name Moloch Horidus just about says it all.

One of the big attractions in the Kalbarri National Park is the loop walk – great views and wildflowers but the flies were unbearable, which is why we are sporting our smart flynets on the self timer shot taken on the cliffs just South of Kalbarri. We spent an hour on the cliffs watching whales breach in the distance and large pods of dolphins fishing closer to the cliffs.

Finally the wildlife in our camp was pretty awesome – a pair of splendid fairy wrens came out each morning with an awesome display of colour and stupidity. The bright blue dude is the bloke, the plainer colours bird his Mrs. They both insisted on attacking their own refection in both the wing mirror and windscreen of the car!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 115 - 119 Coral Bay to Monkey Mia – 1-5 Oct 2009

18,645 kms, 28 degrees C

We have turned left and are now heading South, after heading in a Westerly direction since early July. As the sign shows, we have crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, we’re no longer in the tropics, and don’t we know it. A month ago we had 42 degree temperatures in Mornington Wilderness Camp, now the numbers are reversed, as is it 24 here in Monkey Mia. We expect little sympathy from readers in cooler climes, er all of you! But we had to get the jumpers and jeans off the roof rack!!

Coral Bay is 100km South of Exmouth. We arrived in the middle of WA school holidays and it’s been wet in Perth. They have had 22 days of rain out of 23 in Sept, a record in what is normally a fine month. So even though it’s 1200km North of Perth the campsites and the beaches were chockers. Coral Bay has great snorkelling and protected family beaches.

Next stop was a night in Carnarvon, to break up the driving – the distancse are huge. We have done 3,600km in 18 days since leaving Broome, an average of 200km per day.

Shark Bay is one of Australia’s 16 UNESCO World Heritage Listed sites. Just when the think the superlatives would end, we find another outstanding, unique part of the world.

Our first stop was Hamlin Pool, which boasts the world renowned Stromatolites, “living rocks” who are responsible for us all being on the planet. 3500 million years ago the atmosphere was filled with noxious gasses. Stromatolites were formed from bacteria, some of the first life forms on the planet. They emit oxygen and over a wee while filled the atmosphere with 20% oxygen, creating an environment where air breathing beings could walk out of the water. And there are still alive here in Shark Bay. Check out Bill Bryson’s book Down Under.

We drove up to Monkey Mia where we had 2 nights in the resort, yes that means a bed, roof, windows and things that Nicky had forgotten all about. Monkey Mia was world famous for its dolphins, who have been coming up to the beach for a feed for the past 40 years. It’s a bit staged but a wonderful way to get up close and personal with wild animals and to learn about them. The one on the video being fed is called Nicky!

We could babble on forever about Denham, the history of the European explorers going back to 1616 when Dirk Hartog hit shark bay, the scenary, wildlife, it is all truly remarkable.

The first video features Nicko at Coral Bay then the dolphins at Monkey Mia. The second video shows Nicky at the stromatolite pool at Hamlin, then other sights around the Shark Bay area (swallow chicks in a nest at our resort, a Baudin Island skink, emporerfish, various sharks, moray eel, white eel, cuttlefish, squid and loggerhead turtle), the sealife being from Ocean Park.