Our arrival in Perth and the pick up of the hire car goes really smoothly but we cannot find affordable accommodation in Perth so we decide to bite the bullet and head to the South and work our way backwards through the West Coast finding places to stay as we go.
We leave Perth in perfect sunshine but as we reach the tall forests of the Southern regions it starts to rain and the temperature drops considerably. I guess this is why the forests exist and we must be philosophical about our chances of meeting rain in this area that has an average of 180 days rain a year. The scenery gets greener and more forested as we approach the South coast and the rain gets heavier.
We had forgotten about the huge distances one has to drive to get anywhere in Oz. After all, we have had someone doing the work for us over the past two days. It is a good five hour drive to Albany on the South Coast but we find that there is no room at the inn to be had in this town and need to drive another hour or so to Denmark where we find a quiet hostel to rest up. It is comfortable and friendly and we decide to slow down and stay two days to get to know the local area a little.
It is also good to get to know some of the characters who are staying here. The manager is an interesting guy. He has walked the whole of the Bibbulmun Track that stretches 1000kms from Albany to Perth. He gets a lot of walkers staying at his hostel who are nearing the start or end of the walk depending on whether they are going North or South. We meet a young English guy, Chris, who is a year into a trip cycling around the world. He is preparing to cycle across the Nullarbor having already mastered Russia, the Gobi and Mongolia and China. Now that IS travelling. Looking at him you feel you could blow him away and he is quiet spoken and diffident. It just goes to show that it is impossible to tell someone’s inner mental and physical strength from their outward appearance.
Sunday 26th… We have decided to stay another night and to explore a little of the Bibbulman track that comes through Denmark so we embark on a four hour circular walk that takes us through some of the forest that stretches along the Inlet. The waymark is a yellow snake and for a while we are worried that it means that there are lots of poisonous critters to worry about until we read that it is based on an aboriginal symbol of the Dreaming and has been chosen as the icon that points the way for travellers for the full 1000kms of the track. All the sitting around on the train and in the car yesterday means that even this little walk tests our leg muscles and stamina, especially as it it quite chilly and it keeps drizzling. It feels good the stretch the legs again.
Monday 27th….. We move on to Walpole stopping on the way at Conspicuous Cliffs, a lovely secluded beach. We are back in wildlife spotting mode and see a strange looking Helmeted Guinea Fowl, what we think is a Sea Eagle, a Nankeen Kestrel and some families of Emus along the way.
We have to stop and do the famous treetop walk among the massive Tingle Trees that have remained despite the logging.
They are mainly found in this area because they need lots of rainfall to survive.They are monster trees that climb well over 50 metres and dominate this area of rainforest. An ingenious suspended walkway allows us to walk among the top canopy of the forest. I’m not great with heights and the swaying bridges make me feel a little woozy but the amazing vista is worth the discomfort. This is followed by a short walk at ground level through a patch of forest where we can enjoy the environment from a more comfortable viewpoint.
Tuesday 28th…We are moving on towards Margaret River where we hope, among other things, to find a little bit of sun. The weather is strange this year in Oz. Western Australia is experiencing heavy storms from Darwin down to Broome and they are expecting severe flooding in the Goldfields of the desert. Alice Springs in the centre is expecting a heavy downfall and the East Coast is still recovering from severe flooding for the second year running. This driest of continents is re-filling its aquifers and central lakes. I guess this means that these beautiful forests that we spend hour upon hour driving through will continue to exist.
We stop for a while at an interesting town called Northcliffe that has developed in a cleared area of forest that was destined to become dairy farms. We visit the Pioneer Museum and discover the stories of these early settlers who were enticed here after the First World War from Britain under the Group Settlement Scheme. I am lucky to have the opportunity to talk to descendants of these early pioneers who are happy to bring to life the many interesting exhibits in the museum. I hear first hand just how difficult it was to fell and clear one tree with a ten metre diameter and then try to imagine how one might get rid of thousands of these monoliths to create the space for a small farm. These families lived at first in tents then a tin shack until, if they stuck it for two years, they were lent the money to build a tiny wooden house. Many did not make it and left disheartened but the folk we talk to have seen generations stay and make a good life. The town did not get power until the late 60’s such were the harsh conditions and these people must have a special tough gene to have made it through those times.
We enjoy a fabulous drive through the Karri Forest, stopping briefly at a small lake where schoolchildren are enjoying the outdoors as they practice for a triathlon.
We are beginning to tell the difference between these lovely trees as we drive for hours through the changing forests all the time enjoying the heady scent of the gum. As the sun comes out and the sky becomes a strip of bright blue above us the light dapples in a peculiarly Australian way that we are becoming accustomed to.
And then we are driving through the vineyards of the Southwest and into the busy little town of Margaret River and our first night in the Youth Hostel. But that nightmare is a separate blog completely.