15.09.2009 - 22.09.2009
When we touched down at Perth International Airport in the early afternoon we were informed that it was 14 degrees and when we stepped outside it was quite a shock. Despite being in the green corner of the country, and therefore acknowledging that it has a slightly moister climate we still both naively believed that it was always hot in Australia. I mean they do tend to go on about how wonderful the weather is!
We jumped in a cab and made our way to the mechanics garage where we were picking up the van. The company is based on the East coast and is a one man show I think. He then simply has vans in different cities throughout the country and entrusts one or two guys to deal with dishing them out and their general up keep. When we reached our destination we were met by a very friendly Aussie named Geoff who showed us all the ins and outs of the van. We were really impressed and pleased that Adam had found this small company because we knew we were getting loads more for our money than we would with one of the larger organisations. They were pretty much giving us everything including chairs, a table, blankets, an a-z, even the kitchen sink, so we were happy. As Geoff milled about the van checking this and that he idly asked us where we were going and we said we weren't sure but aiming to head down to Margeret River. His response surprised us slightly, 'You're going South?' he said looking slightly alarmed. We had never considered this to be a problem as in our minds we presumed it would be warm everywhere and I hadn't actually thought about how South could now equal cold! He quickly russelled up another thick blanket for us to take as it slowly dawned on us that it could actually be quite chilly and our thoughts of sweating in the van at night were well and truly out the window.
With everything packed into the van we waved goodbye to Geoff and headed off on our new little adventure. Adam seemed to get to grips with the van pretty quick and as they correctly drive on the left hand side of the road so there were no major complications. We stopped in at Woolworths, yes it lives on! In Australia it is a supermarket very much like Tescos and it was nice to wander up and down the aisles. An ordinary and usually tiresome task at home was so different to anything we'd really done in the last six months that it was fun. Once we'd bought supplies we started the journey South out of Perth.
From what we could see of the skyline it was clear that Perth was a very small city and we intended to have a look round at the end of the trip. By now it was rush hour and we made quite slow progress to begin with as we headed down past Fremantle and on to Rockingham. We had read in a number of places that you could free camp in Western Australia and as this was already costing us a bomb we were hoping to do this as much as possible. There was a book which listed all the well known spots which we had searched for but thus far had not found so we were hoping to pick it up at some point. Without it though we just kind of had to guess and after a bit of driving around in the dark we pulled into a sandy lay-by by the beach and called it a night.
With the extra blanket and our clothes on it was not really cold at all over night. It was pretty chilly when we woke up though and it was quite an effort to leave our makeshift bed but we managed it. In the morning light we could see exactly where we were and went to have a glimpse of the sea. Unfortunately despite it being daylight the sun was hidden behind cloud and so although it was nice to see the sea it wasn't perhaps the sight it should have been. As we were still in the middle of Rockingham we decided to continue on until we found a better place to have some breakfast. We began our daily routine of opening all the curtains, tidying the bed away, and washing up the dinner plates before we set off.
After a bit of driving we saw a sign for Preston Beach and parked up in a small deserted car park. All the facilities by beaches, play grounds, and in the national parks are really good. You are never far from a well maintained toilet and a cold shower which unfortunately for us was not appealing. However the access to toilets was a big help with us not having a campsite as a base most of the time. We made ourselves some breakfast and our first cup of tea of the day. Then we had a look at the beach and the ocean, the sun had broken through the gloom and even though it was still quite brisk it was a nice sight.
A couple of local people out to stretch their legs struck up a bit of a conversation with us and asked where we from and then the guy informed us, 'you've come at the wrong time.' Which was really helpful but we just laughed it off. For a good part of this trip people have told us we were in their country at the wrong time weather wise. For us though it generally works because it's quieter and that's the way we like it.
The rest of the day we did a lot of driving. We saw our first Kangeroos as they lazed around in a field. We weren't sure whether it was some kind of farm, or whether people even farm Kangeroo but we never saw them in that large a number again.
They were also enclosed in a paddock with a very low fence, one which they could easily jump over. Another couple had also stopped and the woman was out of the car and in amongst them which we thought was pretty silly seeing that Kangeroos (as Adam informed me) could be pretty dangerous. They seemed quite skittish though and moved in unison when they felt threatened. We left them to it and continued on.
Margaret River which is the next place we reached is renowned for its wine and we passed vineyard after vineyard. All of which looked incredibly fancy and not the kind of places we would feel comfortable pulling in to for a bit of a tasting. The closest we came on the trip was visiting a small toffee producer and sampling some of their hard work! As we were still without the free camping book we pulled over into an area which was marked as National Park (so we knew it wasn't private land) and found an area concealed from the road by trees.
Another cosy night in the van and another chilly morning but we still managed to set off again nice and early. We continued to head down the coast towards the most South-Westernly point in Australia. This part of Western Australia is characterised by its rugged, slightly wild coastline and in land the tall trees of the forest.
Much of it has been declared National Park which in many ways was good for us because it offered places to camp and good, basic facilities. We decided to hug the coast for now before heading into the forests. Augusta is the last town in this corner of the country and as with many of the dwellings in the area it mainly consists of one through road with a few shops, a petrol station or two, and a school. The resident's houses then spread out from it. More often than not they tend to be blink and you'll miss them places but they have country charm to them and the people are always incredibly friendly.
We made our way to the light house which sits on a cliff above where the Pacific and the Southern Ocean meet.
It was very, very windy and wet but it was refreshing and we enjoyed breathing in the clean air. Due to finances we decided against going up the light house and you got a good enough view from the cliffs. We also began our dedication to whale watching as we stood for a while squinting out at the ocean not exactly sure what signs we were looking for but hopeful nonetheless. After all of our cobwebs had been well and truly blown away we dashed back to the van to escape the torrential downpour and were off on our travels once more.
As the early evening approached we began searching for a place to stop for the night. We decided to pull in to one of the many information bays and were presented with a map which marked some places near by where you could camp in the national park.
Twenty minutes later we pulled into Susan's Bridge which was a nice area in the woods by a river. There was another caravan there with some smiley oldies and also some poor sods in a tent. We found a good, flat spot with a fire pit and Adam's caveman instincts/boy scout teachings surfaced with determination. It costs $7 per person per night (roughly £3.50) to stay in a set up and maintained National Park camp. You have to complete a form and pop the money in an envelope then post it into a little letterbox. It is obviously up to people being honest, which we of course always were but I think generally people follow the rules. While I was completing the paper work Adam went about collecting wood for the fire. Unfortunately the elements were generally against him as the wood was pretty wet but he persevered and given the circumstances did amazingly well to get a fire going.
It was a bit of a battle to keep it lit though and when the rain came again we decided it was time for bed. We heard a few interesting noises outside the van that night, including a large squelch and after Adam discovered a footprint we decided a Kangaroo had been having a nose about.
In the morning Adam got the fire going again when the wood was a little drier and we watched the pretty flames before it was time to move on again.
The next couple of days we drove around the acres and acres of forest that cover this part of Australia and camped in the National Parks. Unfortunately we couldn't get out and do much exploring because it continued to rain and rain and rain. Still our spirits were quite high because we were really enjoying being in the van. Being pretty much self sufficient was incredibly satisfying and as long as we ignored the money side of things it was ok, which I did quite effectively by avoiding writing down what we were spending. Although the true horror of it is now recorded!
Our basic diet became sausages and potatoes which we wrapped in tin foil and buried in the hot coals of the fire. Very rustic grub indeed but yummy and certainly cut down on the washing up. We had a couple of good fires despite the damp conditions and Adam seemed to be in his element. Good clean living!
After a couple of days in the dense, damp forest we visited a very blustery beach. It was the site of a Norwegian ship wreck and is called Mandalay. The Southern ocean has this beautiful colour, similar to that of glacial lakes which I am presuming may have something to do with all that ice in Antarctica. Whatever the reason it was wildly beautiful with the beach deserted, the sand golden and the sea rough, green and frothy white.
A small plaque described how every few years the ocean uncovers some of the wreck from the ship and there poking out of the sand were dark, eroded pieces of wood, it was all a bit ghostly. There were also some extracts from the Captain's diary written before, during and after the wreck, he was a jolly and humorous fellow considering his predicament and it was an interesting insight into the history of this very new country.
Our time on the coast over we were back in the woods around Walpole and we went to have a look at a massive Red Tingle tree which you can stand in the middle off.
The trunk is naturally hollowed out and even though it looks like it should be keeling over it continues to thrive. There used to be an even bigger one which people could drive cars through but all this damaged the roots and it died. After the big trees we ventured on to Denmark!
Not the country but the town on the South coast of Australia. I really wanted to find out why it was called Denmark and I also thought I might feel some natural affinity with place being half Danish and all but neither happened. I found nothing to inform me as to why it was called Denmark and it was really just like most of the other towns in the area.
In Walpole we had finally managed to purchase the free camping book and that night we headed to Parry Beach were there was a small camp site set up in the trees by the bay. The book details free spots and also ones which cost a minimal fee. So for example to camp at Parry Beach cost $7 for both of us and we gave this to a nice lady caretaker. That evening we didn't have a fire as there wasn't much firewood about and it was still very damp. Instead we walked along the beach a bit and there was a lovely rainbow.
It was a pretty spot and the weather held long enough for the warm glow of the sunset to give the scenery that soft fuzziness before it started to rain again.
The next day we backtracked a little so we could visit the Tree Top Walk. We had decided not to go the afternoon before because it was pouring down and the car park was busy. However at 9am the following morning it was raining even harder and the car park was just as busy but really it was now or never. This little tourist treat consists of a elaborately erected bridge which takes you high up into the tree tops.
Its construction involves springs and I think is doing the least amount of damage possible to its surroundings. Even though it was wet and cold it was worth doing. It was a completely different perspective of the forest as it opened it all out around you. The bridge was quite bouncy which I enjoyed but I think anyone who has a fear of heights should definitely give this one a miss.
On our way to Albany which is the largest town in this part of the country we stopped in to sample the traditional toffee and bought a bottle of homemade cider. I also purchased some olives which Adam thought was incredibly extravagant, to be fair it probably was but I still find myself fighting this strict budget at times! Then we went to the beach and the sun came out which it seemed to do whenever we came to the coast.
Here there were some rocks shaped like Elephants and narrow passage ways to pristine beaches.
The wind whipped round and over all the obstacles in its way which Adam demonstrated by climbing on top of a massive rock and almost taking off.
As much as I was loving camping and I really was, we hadn't come in to contact with a shower since this adventure began and it was beginning to get to me. Taking this in to consideration we decided to splash out on a camp site which was situated on the opposite side of the bay to Albany. It seemed expensive for what you got, basically a patch of land and some hot water but in my opinion worth it as I felt like a shiny new penny when I emerged from the shower block.
Seeing as this was a two week expedition I thought I'd divide it in half. So that's part one!
Laura & Adam