Western Australia Road Trip

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Country: 
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14 years
12 years
10 years
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Parent
Date: 
2013-02-09 to 2013-02-16
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The number one out of Perth headed south looks a lot like the wilds of Arizona, and occasionally like the north loop around Chicago, with the highway divided around the commuter rail down the center. Of course the gum trees and the left hand drive separate the experience from the midwestern states, as does the fresh hibiscus laying on the dashboard. Yellow sandy soil dotted with bleached barked scrub and foliage in every shade of dusty green line the highway with buildings thinning out the further we move from the city. Perth is the most isolated city on the planet. It’s closer to Jakarta, Indonesia than it is to it’s own capital city of Canberra. It’s a little island of civilization on the extreme west of Australia.

Western Australia Road TripIt’s a beautiful serendipity that we find ourselves rolling towards the National Parks that line the coast of the state of Western Australia for a week of camping and exploration. It’s a piece of the planet that we never really planned on visiting, but the best adventures are like that, aren’t they? If you find yourself on the coast of Western Australia with a couple of weeks to burn, I highly recommend surfing the black band of highway along the fringe of the world towards Margaret River. There are some beautiful places to explore; permit me to share a few snapshots from the road:

A place to camp:

The scent on the morning breeze, as the sun yawns into her golden arc and warms the grey green leaves of a eucalyptus forest, is intoxicating. It’s a forest smell unlike any other I’ve had the privilege of waking to, being born of northern forests on the Canadian Shield with their sharp, piney scent and deep peat undertones. Forests are a bit like wines, with their layers of aroma and flavour that make up the nose of a place, wholly dependent on ingredients and age.

Boranup CampsiteKarri trees, which retain their aboriginal name, are unexpectedly beautiful. Imagine the biggest oak for basic shape, but with clusters of leaves only at the ends of the branches. They look as if they’ve been badly sunburned. Their bark bubbles and peels off in long stretches like shoulder skin on a summer’s afternoon. Take your peeling tree, the colour of a silvery grey beech, and imagine how it would look dipped in honey and then set to drip dry on a hillside with a thousand just like it. Now insert the subtle, sweet, eucalyptus scent on the morning breeze. There are very few other trees competing for space; the long legs of the Karri trees stretch into the shadowy distance of the forest with giant fern growing four feet high around their ankles. Add an emu to the undergrowth for visual interest. A pair of magpies weave between the trees shrieking like sheep bred with wailing cats, tearing the fabric of the silence. Look up and see the kookaburra watching silently from the nook in the branch right above your head.

You are in Leeuwin Naturaliste National Forest, Boranup Campsite, on the south coast of Western Australia.

A winery to visit:

So, two Belgians, a Hobbit & Ghandi walked into a bar... 

West Cape Howe WinerySounds like the opener to a joke; instead, it was our afternoon; swap the bar for West Cape Howe Winery in the wilds behind the town of Denmark; on the coast of Western Australia.

Finding ourselves at the musical afternoon hosted by the vineyard was a bit like being dropped into a local production of an obscure play without any context for the plot, or the characters.

The poster we’d seen had billed the musicians as “emerging acts.” Indeed. Local acts are always colourful: From the bashful redhead with his tie tucked into his shirt, nervously making jokes that only his mother (video taping proudly) thought were funny, to the tone-deaf, gravely voiced middle age man who had great lyrics, to the quad of Hobbits and Dwarves who looked like they’d stepped straight out of The Lord of The Rings set, with felted hats, pointed beards, instruments made out of pots and a dented trombone. They were fantastic. 

The crowd was a portrait gallery in the making:

The spritely fairy princess, bedecked in layers of hot pink tulle and sparkles, with a lime green hula hoop instead of wings.

Four freckled teenage girls with long blonde hair twisted in a variety of ways wearing dresses straight out of a 1950’s postcard. One had a tan felt hat with a bent brim and bow, like the one I’ve seen a black and white print of my aunt wearing before I was born.

Climbing the Bicentennial TreeThe hipster Dad with his pink floral bundle of wiggly joy: swinging her up and down, between his legs, over his shoulder. Sitting her on his head. Toddling her with two fingers through the grass.

The Belgian boys, could not have looked any more classically Belg if they’d looked themselves up in the dictionary first. French, not Dutch, it was important for them to point out. They’re pretending to be backpackers and itinerant fruit pickers, but really they’ve got marketing degrees and are just seeing how the other half lives for a while. “It’s hell,” one confided, as he offered me a squashed strawberry from the morning’s picking, “Seconds,” he apologized, “But they’re free!”

The German hippies, complete with dreadlocks. It must be hard to be German and also a hippie; they are dichotomous in definition. He licked his browning teeth and discussed with the Belg boys where to find the magic mushrooms and how much is too much of the “deadly nightshade” when balancing the hallucinogenic and lethal properties.

Ghandi was the cherry on top. Imagine the classic picture of the Indian hero, add a pair of John Lennon style sunglasses and a black Buddhist tattoo t-shirt along with a heavy necklace with enormous chunks of amber and jade around his scrawny, wrinkled little neck. Don’t forget the requisite silver bracelets which flash in the late afternoon sun with the classic Indian affectation of talking with his hands. 

“I’m over a hundred years old, you know...” (if he  was a day over sixty I’ll eat my hat) and then he set out to spin yarns that would make my Dad’s jaw drop in admiration. 

“I’m the only bloody Indian in all of the Denmark region!” he punctuated some tale with, “Everybody knows me! Even the police! I can’t get away with bloody anything!”

Who knows, perhaps he really was over 100 years old and simply acquainted with Ponce de Leon from his participation in that famous quest. It could happen.

Perhaps my perceptions were just washed in three quarters of a bottle of a very fine blush moscato. 

A place to stop and swim:

Coastal Western AustraliaToday we walked across the big boulder rocks that roll right into the sea at Green’s Pool. So many people have told us we must visit, and so we did. They were right, all of them. The boys snorkeled and mountain goated all over the giant rubble. I snuggled into The Man to stay warm and watched insane people leap into a frothy, cool sea and float like seals on the the currents running between the rocks. Part of me wanted to strip to the skin and follow them in. But the part of me wrapped in leggings, tunic top and hoodie over that won out. I stayed dry.

I breathed in the sea air and marveled at the huge tubes of surf rolling endlessly against the rocky shore, threw my arms wide and pretended I was a kite, lifted by a string from my belly button and floating up, up, up into the air. I flew down the coast, over the endless white sand beaches of this coast and dipped into bottle-glass green coves filled with pelicans and fish that leap from the water. 

It was one of those moments that looks like nothing but a crazy girl standing on a rock with her arms outstretched but is the entire universe expanding on the inside. The absolute miracle of my feet leaving prints in the aubergine coloured sand on the far side of the planet, on a beach I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams rippled my skin with delight. 

A place to risk your life:

The view from the top is spectacular, but it’s one heck of a climb.

75 meters straight up, in a spiral, around, and around a giant Karri tree. This particular tree, the Bicentennial Tree, was pegged in 1988 as part of the bicentennial celebration, as its name suggests. It’s located in the Warren National Forest, in Western Australia and is one of three remaining fire tower trees used as look outs to monitor the forests as far as the eye can see in every direction; which in the case of this tree is about 40 km.

Hamelin BayI stood on the almost-half-way platform and debated the remainder of the climb. My palms were sweaty. My knees a bit shaky. I knew I wasn’t yet half way. My Dad would have told me to get down immediately, and I thought of him as I watched half of my precious cargo head up as the other half headed down. I’ve never been much on following sensible advice, so I turned my back and started to climb. It occurred to me somewhere around 70 meters that the second, scarier half of the climb is exactly like the first twenty rungs (with the slight exception of the fact that a fall from the first 20 rungs wouldn’t kill a guy.) The difference is 100% in my own head. 

Breathe in: Move my hands.

Breathe out: Move my feet.

By the time I emerged in the little cabin in the treetop (still four stories from the tip top viewing platform, with four ladders to finish the climb) I’d remembered a very important life lesson: That the really tough part of the climb, is exactly like the really easy part: you simply keep going. One foot in front of the other, eyes on the next thing, paying attention to the details. This is how the truly great things are done in life. Climbing a tree is just an afternoon’s bit of fun, I need to apply that to the bigger projects and do something that really matters. 

The children chattered to me as we worked our way down. 

“Don’t talk to me right now!” I chirped at them, “This is the same kind of breathing that brought you into this world, and it requires concentration!” 

Actually, I just wanted the quiet to think, to feel the fear coursing through my veins, turning my muscles to jelly, and to conquer it, one rung at a time.

A place to walk:

Hamelin Bay RaysHamelin Bay is one of the perfect places in the world. White sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see in either direction. The water is a blue that even National Geographic couldn’t manufacture between their glossy pages. It’s the perfect place to walk, swim, and I imagine on some days, surf. 

It is a place to step onto the white sand and into the azure sea and sky of every postcard you’ve ever seen of the Australian coast. When people say that Australia has the best beaches in the world, this is what they mean. If beaches are your idea of perfection, then Hamlin Bay is going to be your definition of heaven.

Hamelin Bay is also a sting ray sanctuary.

On any given day there can be ten or so rays were cruising the shallow waters along the shore, whisking in and around our feet and sticking their wings out of the water. The biggest we saw was about four feet across; that’s larger than it sounds when you’re eyeball to eyeball through a snorkeling mask, and impressive inches from your ankles.

Gallery: 
Western Australia Road Trip
Boranup Campsite
Green's Pool
Coastal Western Australia
Hamelin Bay Rays
Beach Art
West Cape Howe Winery
Hamelin Bay
Climbing the Bicentennial Tree
Places: 
Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions

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