Tuesday 4th February
Thankfully the long 500km drive to the Stirling Ranges was uneventful. I was sitting near the front and spent the time updating the blog which i was behind with whilst also playing the enigma puzzle game called ‘bolted’. Eventually i remember i moved up to the seat next to Nicole to help Baz put a play list together. I don’t remember where we stopped for our toilet breaks but what I do remember quite clearly is the way the Stirling Ranges just appeared to suddenly rise up from the ground. The sunset also looked quite spectacular however unfortunately we couldn’t quite get a photo of it because there wasn’t a convenient pull over place.
Whilst it was getting late the intention was to have dinner at our campsite at Mt Trio Farm Retreat where we arrived just as it was getting dark. We were all well drilled in what was needed and it wasn’t long before everything required was unloaded and Craig was cooking on the BBQ. We had electricity and showers again so made use of the facilities before settling down for dinner and drinks.
Craig had a special mug which kept tea hot and beer cool and when we were unpacking he noticed it had gone missing. I think i speak for us all when i say all the group felt bad. Even though none of us had touched it, we know what it’s like to have possessions that are important to you when travelling. I don’t mean the electronic items as such, more the items that remind you of home. Personally I have a lucky coin that was given to me by Caroline 3 years ago when I last went to Australia and everyday I check to make sure it hasn’t slipped out of my wallet. It’s the little things that make you feel connected and for Craig the mug was even more important because it was limited addition and a birthday present.
I spent that night sleeping under the stars again in a Swag but as I was tired i didn’t take any pictures of the night sky above which I felt bad about the next morning as it was almost like I was taking it all for granted.
Wednesday 5th February
Whilst we had missed out on the planned main walk up Mt Bluff in the Stirling Ranges, we were up early again to ensure we had a full day of activities. Our first activity of the day was a walk to Castle Rock in the Porongurup National Park.
After 2 days of walking I had anticipated my legs would be up for the challenge but despite starting off at the front my muscles began to ache and I decided to go at a more realistic pace. It wasn’t as steep or strenuous as Frenchman’s Peak but it was longer and a fantastic way to start the day as it was still before 7am. I made it to the top and saw the ‘Balancing Rock’ a 6m high granite boulder weighing 186 tonnes resting on a base about 13sq ft.
Next I decided to climb to the top of the more challenging walk to the top of the Granite Skywalk. This involved scrambling up rocks (there were hand and foot holders to help) and a ladder but the view was worth it. I made my way back down and headed for the easier Karri lookout which was rather underwhelming compared to what I’d just seen slightly higher up. Perhaps I should have done them the other way around.
We then drove to the Gap and Natural Bridge lookout in the Torndirrup National Park. The Gap is a 24 metre chasm and when the sea is rough, powerful sprays can be seen however like at Whalers Way it was relatively calm. The Natural Bridge is a large span of granite that has been eroded forming an archway. I was tempted to walk right to the end and thought I could see some of the others but then realised it was another mini bus load and that everyone had already headed back so it was a good job I didn’t.
We stopped in a small town called Denmark for some snacks and a second breakfast before continuing on to the Valley of the Giants. I’d read about this area in my Bill Bryson book and i had been pleasantly surprised when I’d realised we were visiting this unique area. The tree top walk reaching 40m in the air among the giant Tingles trees was captivating. The Red tingle is unique to the Walpole Wilderness and has big buttresses whilst the Yellow tingle has slimmer buttresses. The trees are amongst the biggest in the world and it was amazing to be as high as the canopy whilst the Ancient Empire walk gave a great ground level perspective.
We stopped in Walpole for lunch before carrying on to the Diamond Tree located 17km from Pemberton. The giant Karri tree is 52m high and we were given the option to climb to the lookout at the top. I’ve done a lot of crazy things over the past few months and I had little hesitation in deciding I wanted to try it. The first section was easy enough but the middle section was near vertical and as the ground gradually became further away I started to wonder what I was doing. By now up was the only real option and eventually I reached a ladder taking me in to the fire lookout platform which was built in 1939 making it the oldest lookout still in use today. As i got to the top Marco commented I looked white, and it took a few minutes to regain my usual composure but I’d done it and the view was impressive. The journey down was easier than I thought and it was back on the ground that I realised just how high I’d climbed and in case you are wondering what the fuss was about, there was with no harness.
We travelled through the Karri Forest and reached the Big Brook Dam lake. Pretty much all the group went for a swim except me because I’d yet again forgotten to put my swimming stuff in my day bag. The weather wasn’t that great, and it was quite cold sitting on the bank so eventually those of us that hadn’t gone for a swim headed back to the bus.
We arrived at the Carey Brook Camping Area and set up camp in Snottygobble Loop. Nicole had agreed to make a Swiss meal for us and Craig was making bread. It was unclear how long the meal would take but eventually Baz, Marco, Patricia, Gaby and I headed off on a short walk to Goblin Swamp. This was quite a surreal place and it was clear where it got it’s name. All the scene needed was some rolling mist and an actual goblin…
We arrived back just as the finishing touches to the dinner were being made. By now it was dark and a wondering kangaroo sounding like a person in the trees outside gave everyone a little jump because we were all around the table and in the middle of a forest with no one else around. This was the last night we could make noise and Craig showed us one more drinking game “little pink pig” which as usual frustrated many, especially Quentin on this occasion. Some went to sleep early but I and a few others stayed up a bit later.
As me and Lucas headed back to our tent we realised it was raining quite hard and there was a risk things inside would get wet. We therefore did the sensible drunk thing and carried it to the shelter. Lucas decided to sleep in the shelter in his swag as Quentin was doing but I decided to stay inside the tent, under the shelter.
Thursday 6th February
Next morning our tent had dried but some of the others that hadn’t realised how wet it was outside weren’t so lucky. We drove to Margaret River and on the way passed a number of forests that had been burnt in bush fires. Australian wildlife is better adapted to the conditions so whilst the trees still looked deformed they were not dead and were re-growing as were the shrubs. The non native Pines trees however had suffered badly and it was unclear if they were ever going to grow back.
We spent 40 minutes in the town whilst Craig filled up the petrol but it didn’t appear there was to much to see. We then briefly stopped off at the beach to see whether there were any surfers and whilst there were 2 the big waves were unpredictable making it difficult for them.
The day was really about Cheese, Chocolate and Wine as the region is quite famous for these and after my Hunter Valley experience i was more than happy to be spending another day sampling. Our first stop was the Margaret River Cheese Company where we had feta, cheddar, a Dutch smokey cheese, a camerbet and a chilli cheese. None were utterly amazing but I could still quite happily have eaten more of them.
Leaving the cheese shop we arrived at the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Again there were some free samples, this time dark, milk and white buttons which were nice but I had a few to many and they became a bit sickly sweet. There were a number of Swiss on the bus (7 out of 13) and Steffi from Belgium and I was initially surprised they hadn’t sampled each others chocolates but then realised why would they? I then had the idea of going back to Switzerland and going to all the chocolate factories in the regions I now know people.
We’d saved the best sampling for last and after leaving the chocolate store we headed to our wine tasting at Sandalford wines. We were given the Element Range and tasted two whites, and two reds before having a Late Harvest white that was my favourite and a brandy liquor. I think I have now established what wine I don’t like though I still don’t quite know what I’m looking for when I tilt the glass. We’d all put in $10 each and from this Craig brought us the Cheese and Wine as a group we wanted.
The next stop was probably my favourite of all as it was totally unexpected. Lunch at a local micro brew called Bushshack Brewary. I tried the selection platter and chose the following: Spelt beer – unmalted wheat, Chilli beer – a pilsner with a little after kick, Summer gold’n lager – a typical lager which seemed a bit bland, Chocolate beer – a nice stout, Old St Nicks 8.5% full of Christmas flavour, but it was a bit strong for my liking and finally a Scream’n cream’n – a refreshing alcoholic cream soda. The others made me close my eyes and I did a taste test which I was relieved to pass. Surprisingly the stout was probably my favourite though trying so many ales made me miss some of the British Beers.
I was feeling very content as we boarded the bus to the area surrounding the town of Yallingup. We got off for a brief stop at Canal Rocks another interesting coastal rock formation in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. The day had started off cloudy but the sky was now blue without a cloud in the sky which made the scene particularly beautiful though the waves continued to crash spectacularly. The cloudy start meant I’d not packed my swimming stuff again and getting it out of the trailer seemed a lot of effort. This was a bit of a shame because Smiths Beach our next stop was very pleasant and there were big waves that looked a lot of fun. Even Craig finally had an opportunity to dive in whilst Quentin dug himself a hole which was soon flooded by the sea.
After leaving the beach we headed towards Yallingup Maze Which was where Craig had brought a lot of his puzzles. There was also as maze to do and I thought that more of the group would have taken part as it involved 3D glasses and Water Pistols. Instead it was just me and Baz so rather than being in competition it was recommended we did it as a team. This took away part of the fun but we still got lost before realising there were a few secret doors. When we got to the final lookout Craig came out to join us and we returned back inside where it was evident a lot of people had brought themselves puzzles. Lukas brought himself amongst other puzzles one of those we hadn’t worked out so he had the solution.
We arrived at the camp and one of the other groups soon arrived as well as us being joined by someone working on the campsite. We had two final games of Mafia before settling down for Spaghetti Carbonara and our bottles of wine. There was a 9pm curfew which seemed quite early considering it was our final night as a group and we had drunk a lot of wine. Donkey got himself in to more mischief and I grew long blond hair and as the other group leader played guitar we performed our “Home Among the Gumtree” moves. Craig had helped Marco complete the puzzle we hadn’t been able to solve and gradually everyone on the group some with more help than others worked it out. I was finally able to because Sandrine left the puzzle half done on the table and as I knew/feared it would be the solution had been so simple. It was a fun night
Friday 6th February
The next morning we had a slight lie in but the other groups were up an hour before us and were incredibly noisy to the extent we all decided to wake up as well. We had all been in tents except Quentin who had stayed in a Swag and as he looked a bit like a tramp when he woke up he was told lots of people from around the campsite had taken pictures of him. I was feeling tired when we boarded the mini bus so I vacated the row of seats reserved for the non sleepers. As I had spent the previous days at the front my seat had become a dumping ground and Nicole not used to someone being behind her forgot I was there and accidentally chucked a large bag of ice backwards and towards me which woke me up quickly.
We started our journey back to Perth and stopped of at Ngilgi Cave where we were shown around by a Aboriginal guide before being given time to explore on our own. Our guide gave us some information about the Aboriginal culture including their belief on how the cave was formed, a battle between a good spirit Ngilgi and a bad spirit Wolgine. The caves was discovered by settlers in 1899 however the Wardandi tribe are the custodians of the caves in the area.
Exploring on my own I lost those from my own group and was following those from the other Nullarbor Group from the night before. It seemed the guy I was following was lost or at least I was before I saw the exit sign. Even when I found this I didn’t realise I was now late and everyone except the two behind me from the other group had headed out of the cave. Eventually I realised and made my way to the meeting place where the guide showed us various items including boomerangs, how to start a fire by rubbing a stick in a hole and played the digeredoo.
We had a early lunch near a beach but apart from Nicole, Lukas and Marco no one else planned to go down in to the sea though ironically this was the one day I had everything I needed. Corrine was thrown in the sea by Nicole and Lukas but the rest of us missed it only seeing the wet aftermath.
Part of the reason for not going in was to give us time to visit Simmos Ice cream. There were about 100 flavpours of various different varieties and eventually I settled on a carrot/orange sorbet and a lime sorbet. The carrot and orange one was surprisingly refreshing though I would have happily done a taste test to find out what I’d missed out on.
I slept the rest of the journey, waking up as we hit a traffic jam on the outskirts Perth just as we reached the town of Cockburn which rather fortunately isn’t pronounced how it is spelt. The next two hours are a long blur of Craig getting stressed as road works, a Bruce Springsteen concert and the cricket meant roads were closed. Finally everyone was dropped off and Steffi, Quentin and I arrived at the YHA.
We’d arranged to have a meal at a restaurant and after a quick shower and change headed out in to the city. Aside from the traffic problem my first impressions of Perth were favourable though it was weird to be in a city after 10 days where most of the perceived big towns had been a few 1000 at most. On the way to the restaurant we realised the Perth Fringe Comedy Festival was taking place. Perhaps this was why the city had such a good vibe and the main pedestrian street certainly looked nice with all the different lights.
Marco was running late as he was coming from Freemantle but eventually he arrived and we were able to order our food. I got a calzone because I had been torn between meatballs and pizza and Sandrine pointed out to me the calzone had combined both. After dinner Gabby and and Craig went to check out what was on at the Fringe and seeing a show appealed more to me than just going to a bar. Aside from Gabby and Marco the other 7 weren’t so keen so we split up.
We had to walk to the venue and when we arrived we were told the $10 tickets weren’t available but the girl at the window did us 3 for 2. The show was advertised as being Perth’s best comedians discussing a variety of sensitive subjects. The less said about it the better, it wasn’t the content that was bad (because I’d expected that) but the execution. If they are Perth’s best I should move to Perth and forge myself a new career. I think even they knew it was a disaster.
At times it had felt like a mini endurance test. We’d broken down twice and I’d had my spirit nearly crushed at the halfway stage when I’d been eaten by mosquitoes. But there were also unforgettable highs such as seeing Kangaroos on the beach, hearing koalas in the trees as I slept and swimming with the sea lions and dolphins. I’d known what I was getting myself in to when I’d booked this trip. The Nullarbor isn’t meant to be easy but all those memorable moments (including the not so highs) shared with a special group of people made it a pretty spectacular adventure.