Wednesday, 29th March

It was our last time of waking up on the train. I have to admit to a bit of a slow start!  Out of the window it was still very rural through a heavy mist.  Difficult to think we will be in Sydney in a few hours!

By the time we arrived in the dining car for breakfast, the sun had come through and over breakfast we had a glorious view of the Blue Mountains – and I had left my camera in the cabin, so sadly no photos!  It was a great sight.  The Blue Mountains as the are called – I think they are more like big hills really – get their blue tinge from the way the light hits the air over the eucalyptus forest. We were so lucky that the mist had gone.  It was a fantastic ending tothe scenic kaleidoscope that has marked our journey.  

The kitchen had excelled itself again and supplied perfectLy poached eggs and smoked salmon.  

Time was running out on the train, it was as though the sand was running faster through the egg timer.  We returned to our cabin to pack and then sat in the lounge car with our new friends chatting.  We had now reached the outskirts of Sydney and the views were of the buildings of a modern metropolis.  The train continued its relentless journey.  Eating up the final miles.  It has been amazing.  Yet another journey of a lifetime!  We are so lucky.  

The train was too long for the platform, and High Five was in the second section and taken into the second platform.  People were queuing to get off as we moved down the corridor in the opposite direction to collect our bags.  On the platform our bags had been decanted from the luggage car and we picked them up, said a fond farewell to Aileen and Mick who have been the icing on the cake of this section of the 2017 Australian expedition, and the train journey was over.    We hope to meet up with them again  before we leave Australia.  They have invited us to their home (about 4 hours south of Sydney) next week.  We will try to make it happen.  Goodbyes and they were gone and we clamboured into the taxi, heading to the the last,  but not least, final phase of this Australian adventure.  

Sydney is in a bit of a pickle!  Some years ago they removed the tram system that operated in the city.  They are currently putting in a tram system………..  we sat and watched the taxi clock tick over the dollars as we sat unable to do anything to change the situation.  It was a beautiful day and quite hot.  Circa 30 degrees.  We crossed the harbour bridge eventually and started heading out to Collaroy.  We had a lovely Ecuadorean taxi driver who provided us with a running commentary on his family’s emigration from Ecuador to Australia in the 70’s for the whole journey.    There was time for plenty of detail.  

We started to recognise parts of the journey and identify changes.  We eventually arrived at Tony and Justine’s house, let ourselves in and had a wonderful afternoon sitting on their balcony looking over the ocean,   It was cooler up on the plateau – in fact it was perfect.  Once or twice we saw the little seaplane that we had used to get a sky view of the harbour on our previous visit heading down toward the city.   A pelican flew past and a couple of sea eagles came into sight.  

We had wifi.  I caught up with the blogging.  

At four the girls arrived and gave us a lovely warm welcome.  We were re- introduced ro the cats.  It was as if we had been here last week.  Justine was away for the night but Tony arrived and supper was enjoyed by all.   We were treated to several of Coco’s dance routines before the girls went to bed and we sat and yarned with Tony over adventures in Westerm Australia.  Perth is Tony’s home town. Great stuff.  

The only cloud (literally!) on the horizon is the weather.  It looks like wall to wall rain for the next week. 

Tuesday, 28th March

It was an early start as we were arriving in Adelaide where the train crews change and some passengers leave the train. Another excursion was on offer and we opted for a walk around the city – as much as anything we needed to stretch our legs. 

It was not a very long walk, but we saw a bit more of Adelaide than we had seen before. We set out at 7.30 and we started our walk just as the rush hour was taking off. One felt a little conscious of interrupting the flow! We saw the Governors House, built very soon after the first settlers arrived in Adelaide in 1836, after forming the South Australia Company in England and buying land in 1834.  There were several other notable buildings, including the famous Adelaide Oval cricket ground over the trees and the Cathedral.  A point of interest is that the current Governor arrived as a Vietnamese boat person not so very long ago.  

 There is a feeling of vibrancy.  A very modern Convention Centre and a new hospital have just been completed, but there are lots of parks and green places. Australia does seem to love its commemorative plaques and there were notable people from all walks of life with little squares on the pavement. It was good to see two bronze statues of women – one who got women the vote 20 years before the UK 

and the other a leading barrister, Dame Roma Mitchell, who I thought looked nice and determined.  

There was also a rather dashing statue of Matthew Flinders the first English person to circumnavigate Australia.  
 We then turned the corner to see the huge WW1 War Memorial.  Inside, all 5,000 Australians, who lost their lives in the war are listed.  What a massive blow to an emerging nation to lose so many of its young people. What a hideous thing war is and we seem to have learnt nothing.  We are nearing the time for Anzac Day here.  It is obviously a big thing and universally acknowledged.  I wonder if we give the same level of recognition to these things in England.  I don’t think we do………
It was interesting to learn that the creator of this amazing edifice was German.  There is a walk down from the memorial giving all the locations where Australians were involved in battles.  A sobering reminder.  
The next building of note was that of the Destitute Asylum.  Migrant groups have been arriving in Australia throughout its existence.   This is where those who had nowhere else to go were accommodated. Apparently the place used to be much bigger. What remains is the ‘lying in’ ward where many a young Irish girl found herself, having travelled to Adelaide looking for work as a servant, found themselves without any in the down turn in the economy in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Pregnant and destitute,  they had their babies in the Asylum and their children were sent to the orphanage on the other side of town. 1800 children are known to have met this fate.  A chilling place with overtones of the Cascades Women’s prison in Hobart. 

We wandered back to the river where they were dismantling the recent Adelaide Festival.  On the river was a rather jolly installation called ‘Talking My Way Home’ which comprised origami looking boats with writing all over them …… I thought they were really fun and the cormorants obviously liked them too!  We also saw some black swans…… 

We had breakfast by the river, complete with Buck’s Fizz. This is definitely the journey that gives and gives!!
We boarded the train again by 9.00 am.  It took some time to get out of the city but an hour or so later we were back out in the desert and heading for Broken Hill our next stop. 

Over lunch we saw three eagles and a hawk from the window of the dining car. They were wheeling over a harvested field.  It was all a bit weird because after passing several more isolated communities, the train suddenly changed direction to heading north west and we were facing forward in our compartment. For the first time I saw rubbish by the track. Someone had dumped some white goods by the side of the line.  They sat rusting in the sunshine.  Very much a blot on the landscape.  Muddy water holes, sandy coloured hills in the distance came and went.  We had been told to look for wild life again.  I saw an emu!  Tara!!

Then we were back to flat desert lands again, with the the occasional line of fencing in various stages of repair and an old water tank.  

We slowed and eventually stopped as a long goods train passed. They go on for ever…….

Late afternoon we arrived at Broken Hill.  Broken Hill’s notoriety comes from it being on the progress of Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  It’s main industry is the mining of silver, lead and zinc. There has been miming here for 133 years and over those years 2000 different minerals have been found.   In the height of its popularity as a place to live in the 50’s and 60 ‘s 37,000 people lived there.  Now the number is much lower.  It now also has a solar farm with 677,000 solar panels on it. 

It is a strongly unionised town.  Historically very male orientated.  An unlikely venue for a Drag Show – but it was a drag show to which we were taken!   It was quite bizarre.  100 people from the Indian Pacific train – most of them  of the silver haired variety – being taken to a pub to watch a drag show.  The building itself was covered in murals of the Australian outback……..???

The show was grim……..

I think most of the repartee went over the head of the audience!!  
Luckily it did not last long (!) and although we had been taken there by coach – the train was only up the road so we took the opportunity to walk back.  It also gave us the opportunity to view the buildings in the main street which must have been quite impressive in their day!

We all sort of scurried back to our metal home, slightly relieved it was over I think.  However it was a lovely sunny evening and the train glowed in the light!
It was Aileen’s birthday and our last supper on the train.  We had a great night!   The wine flowed.  Indian Pacific came up with a nice gift for Aileeen and post dinner a small but beautifully formed group adjourned to the bar.. ……

I have to say that climbing my ladder to bed proved somewhat challenging!  

Nevertheless I made it.  Tomorrow Sydney!

Monday, 27th March

We woke early to lie in bed watching the kaleidoscope of scenery passing the window as the train trundled along. Early in the morning it was a blue grey shrub that covered landscape. It was sunrise, so the time for seeing animals, but we did not see anything. There were sandy pathways between the shrubs. It was mesmerising. We seemed to be back into cattle country. 

Having said this, an hour or so later, we had a breakfast on the train rather than on the sheep ranch at Rawlinson Station, that was advertised. Recent rain had rendered the area where we were to have our breakfast waterlogged. So we did not get to have a sight of what a 2.5 million acre sheep station with more than 70,000 Sheep might look like. I cannot visualise the size or numbers!  I am not sure I would have done even had I had the opportunity to have breakfast in their midst!

The breakfast on the train was similar to that we would have had on ‘terra firma’ and was huge.

I did not want to eat again until dinner time! We whiled away the day watching the scenery. I struck up a conversation with a very nice lady called Aileen as we sat poised at the window with cameras ready to record us passing over the Western Australia border. Needless to say, we were so busy chatting we missed the moment! Plus ca change!  A rather dry gentleman pointed out that we had missed a sign saying ‘Welcome to Western Australia’ about five minutes after it happened – helpful! You could only laugh.  

I passed on lunch having had too much for breakfast. Keith went off with Aileen and her husband Mick while I read my book, consumed a glass of champagne and watched the world go by.  

We were now in the Nullarbour desert and on 300 miles of straight track. The longest straight stretch of track in the world. It runs straight for over 300 miles.   We had originally considered driving across it, but were dissuaded from doing so. Looking out on the vast landscape we rather wished we had. As it was I had more time to view it.  

Several times during the day the train stopped to deliver mail and supplies to small communities along the track. One of them, Forrester, had its own airstrip big enough for a jumbo jet to land there if need be.

 At a place called Cook we stopped to bring mail and supplies and to allow the train to take on more water and change drivers.

 We had time to get off and stretch our legs. The desert here stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. In a previous life there was a small township at Cook. It was established to support the Trans Australian Railway which was completed in 1917. There were a number of small settlements set up to help maintain the line. Cook became a major base for this activity providing accommodation for resting crews. At its busiest it had a population of 200. Privatisation of the Railway led to its demise and now there are just 4 people permanently living there.  

We got out and were surprised that it was not terribly hot. The temperature was comfortable, but the flies were a real problem. We were constantly brushing them away as we looked at what used to be the school house and the two Goal cells. It has a real feeling of isolation and abandonment. 

 A mural marked the passing of Murray Sims in Cook having worked on the Railway there for 28 years. I can only believed he had a hat well endowed with corks!!! 
 There was also a plaque indicating the time spent there by a French artist some years ago – describing Cook as being in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

There has been some tree planting in Cook as part of a much larger initiative to make Australia more green.   We were somewhat amazed to see a very green leafy tree by the side of the track with fruit on it! I fear someone has to work very hard to keep it going.  

We got back on the train and our journey continued. At 2.00 pm we had an announcement on the tannoy that we should put our clocks forward 2.5 Hours.  Suddenly we were at late afternoon. I was doubly pleased that I had not had lunch as dinner was looming large! Despite watching very carefully I missed the point the desert stopped and the trees started again, but it happened and we were into a bush area with a floor of red sand banks. 

We gathered ourselves for dinner and wandered along to the lounge for a pre dinner drink. Here we met up with Mick and Aileen again. A very jolly evening ensued as we found that we were like minded souls, with a lot of similar experiences. They were both retired HR people! (We will not hold this against them!) They come to the UK a lot so I think we will be seeing more of them!

Sunday 26th March

We had booked a cab for 7.30. We were not that consolidated. It took two trips to get our collected bags downstairs. We arrived at East Perth station we thought really early, but there were others who were earlier!
A young man on a guitar played and crooned to the ever increasing throng of people. The train is 32 coaches long. The majority of the carriages are Gold  Service, the accommodation we are booked on. This provides us with an individual compartment with a comfortable couch that lets down into a bunk bed arrangement, plus en suite bathroom. They have apparently discontinued the Red Service carriages without sleeping accommodation.  There still some platinum carriages whose giddy heights of luxury can only be imagined. Every few Gold Service carriages there is an Outback Explorer lounge for general use, viewing and socialising with a bar and occasional tables and at the end of each of these is a dining car. 

Coffee and cakes are being served when we arrive and the train’s staff, suitably uniformed in smart jackets and felt, brimmed hats ( no corks!) are mingling. We sit down at a table and chat to a couple from north of Sydney. Time passes and after a rousing version of Waltzing Matilda from our musician, we are eventually encouraged to board the train. We are in compartment I 5 or, as Keith helpfully points out to aid my deteriorating memory, High Five.  

Sometimes he can be too helpful!

At 10.00 am we leave. After a briefing from our compartment attendant, ably supported by her colleague Wednesday (I cannot believe that is her name!), and after identifying which trips we want to take part in (all part of our Gold Star service!) we settle down to our journey. Oops! Not quite. The next person to appear is the meals person, who nurtures us through sittings and timings. And then we settle down to the journey. 

Once we are out of Perth, we are very soon out into the countryside and before long travelling parallel to a tree lined river valley as it follows its course over rocks and boulders. We then move out into a cleared landscape and we are in the grain belt. Harvested fields stretch out to the horizon. We pass the occasional homestead, but mainly it is acres and acres of stubble. At one stage we passed a huge grain store that seemed to go on for ever! There was a small township there called Merriden. 

The passing scenery is mesmerising. We sat in our compartment listening to Jennifer Saunders autobiography read by her on audible and literarily watched he World go by……

We adjourned to the Explorer Lounge for a pre lunch drink. I could not resist a few bubbles to celebrate being here. It’s funny, there always seems something to celebrate….!

Lunch was far too good. All the good resolve of the past 6 weeks could be seriously undone by a few days on this train! The salted caramel and macadamia nut and honey ice cream was just too nice. Where is my resolve?!?

At lunch we had shared a table with ‘Betty’ an elderly lady who had more allergies than you could shake a stick at (wheat, dairy, sugar – the list seemed endless!) all effortlessly catered for. I guess it must have been so exciting to have a meal that meticulously catered to her needs that she savoured every mouthful. We waited.  She was quite ethereal and other worldly.  Keith thought she might have over done the drugs at an earlier age. She was definitely a child of the 60’s who wandered through the trip with a half smile as if she was remembering a bygone delight……,,

Apres lunch we adjourned to our room to ‘finish off’ Jennifer Saunders. (An old book I think, but well worth the read or listen.)

The afternoon moved on, as did the scenery and light. Just before sunset we were passing some beautiful trees with their leaves shining in the fading sunlight. They were mesmerising.  

We had dinner at about 6.30. I had eaten to much for lunch so just had the main course of fillet steak and then helped our meal companion (Trish?) with her cheese…. it seemed churlish not to, but these Australians need to learn about cheese needing to breath before eating.  

Now for the last couple of weeks at this time I would have been creating our bed. But no. Not tonight. Because we had an evening outing! Much to our dismay we were going to  Kalgoorlie, the probably most famous of gold mining towns, at 8.45. If we were to see it, it had to be this evening. Hence the late night outing! So, discreetly trying to suppress our yawns, we joined our fellow travellers in leaving the train at just after 9.00. We were off to see a gold mine. Not any old goldmine, but the world’s largest open cast mine.

As usual, let us go backwards first. Kalgoorlie, now teamed up with its neighbouring town, Boulder, and called Kangoorlie Boulder, began it’s days of glory in 1893 when three down-on-their-luck Irishmen, Patrick Hannan, Tom Flanagan and Daniel O’Shea came across 100 ounces of gold just lying on the ground near a sandy water course, when they were forced to stop to replace a shoe on their horse. While the others staked out their claim, Patrick Hannah rode the three days to the nearest town to register it. Almost immediately other men rushed to the spot where this amazing find had taken place. The Goldrush had begun.  

Kalgoorlie is now a town of 30,000 people and is the largest outback town in Australia. It has some very splendid Victorian buildings, not to mention one hotel with a definite Alfghanistan architectural influence, a tribute to the Afghanistan camel men who drove their camel trains across the desert to supply food, water and equipment to the miners. Some of the buildings are quite grand as of course money was no object to those who found gold. The clock tower even has a gold dome on top. In its day, Kangoorlie boasted 96 hotels. I was surprised to learn that it still boasts 27!  

There are all sorts of stories about Kangoorlie and its colourful history. Gold found in basements, murderers let off because the killing was generally approved of and the fact Edward Hoover lived in the town for some time and left a barmaid in some distress as he returned to the US to do great things and marry someone rather special. He did send the barmaid a rather large and grand mirror to remember him! Nice touch!!

We first visited the Hannah’s North Tourist Mine where there was a short play – performed outside in a gold miners camp setting. To ward off the night chill (it wasn’t too bad actually) we were handed a tin mug with port in it – another interesting touch. The vignette made the point of the extreme conditions the gold miners experienced while waiting to strike it rich. A major issue was the scarcity of water and how expensive it was. This led to any number of problems as cleanliness was the last thing that the precious water would be used for, so disease was rife. Women were certainly in the minority and would often outlive husbands and take new ones. The mortality rate of children was high. There was little in the way of medical help.  

People literarily walked the 500 miles from Perth if they had no other means of getting there. The equipment was a spade and pan. A tent was a must, until a strike could mean your removal to one of those many hotels, I guess. The lottery of its day?

Having pondered over this and the play completed, we were taken to see up close some of current mining equipment. I stood next to the width of a wheel to one of the dumper type trucks. 

 It was nearly as tall as me! The trucks themselves are huge and cost $4.5 million each. In the mine they look like ants. There was a scale model of the mine in the Visitors Centre. The size of the mine is unbelievable and even more so when we were taken out to see it! We would have loved to see it in the day light. Very odd to see it in the dark! However by the time it is daylight we will be well on our way to the Nullarbour (in Latin ‘no trees’) desert.  

The Super Pit as it is called has been in operation since 1989 and a recently found new seam will see it continuing until at least part 2021. New seams are now found by equipment flying over the location in ‘planes, pinpointing areas for exploration. The hunt for gold goes on 24/7. The big truck machines are driven by men and women working shifts of seven days on and seven days off. The current huge mine came about by all the mines in the area being bought up by a conglomerate and joining them all together. This now makes so much money that Keith’s calculator could not calculate the figure and we did not know how to articulate what it did come up with before giving up the attempt – lets just say it is sqiuillions!!

Perhaps a better picture of the mine from a magazine…….. 

We peered into the enormous hole, lit up to appear like daylight with minute yellow ants moving about the ridges. Photographs did not really capture the mine in all its huge awesomeness. I had picked up a magazine about Kalgoorlie and its middle page spread gave a better view of the site.  

It was then time to to turn away from this modern ‘gold rush’ and move back through the dark streets of Kalgoorlie to rejoin the train, passing the Cathedral made out of local bricks, found to have gold in them……..

A sign at the tourist mine site ……….

I always learn about these things after the event!

Saturday, 25th March

It was going to be hot, so we decided to get up and out early. We had decided to spend the day in Fremantle or ‘Freo’ as it is locally known. City buses in Perth are free, so we hopped on the Red Cat to the station and caught the train out. It only takes 20 minutes but it is said that the temperature in Freo will always be at least 5 degrees lower than that of Perth. 

I have to mentioned here that we met an ‘old’ English chap at the bus stop. He had to be English he had black socks, sandals and a sleeve less v-necked sweater over a t-shirt. Anyway, he had no teeth. He was 73. 5 years older than me. Keith has carte Blanche to leave me if I deteriorate that much in five years. It is written!

Back to the day. Fremantle is great. It has a wonderful atmosphere. Very laid back. It has a lot of things going for it – a lot of water front as well as the big docking area we saw when we went to Rottnest Island, a big indoor market, and a couple of breweries for good measure.  

First stop for us was the market. We would have had a wonderful time there had we been staying and cooking – as we won’t, we just looked and sampled and soaked up the atmosphere. There was all sorts of things for sale in addition to the food. It was busy and bustling. Outside there were performers and musicians. It had a good humoured, carnival feel. The sun shone, but there wasn’t the intense heat of Perth. 

Having made a thorough investigation of the market and all it had to offer, we made our way to the water front. It was a colourful scene. First we came to a big Ferris wheel and skate board park, with young people performing amazing feats on their skate boards and younger chaos precariously weaving in and out of them on their scooters. 

 We crossed a railway line where a busker played blues on the guitar and had a small snare drum for any passing player to join him. A nice touch. We then found the Little Creatures Brewery. 

 Quite an amazing set up, with its frontage on the water. At this pre lunch stage all was quite calm, with the odd person having a beer. An hour later it was mayhem, but more of that later. We walked out onto the boardwalk around the harbour. This area had started life the fisherman quarter and there were two magnificent bronze figured of fishermen on the Quay.

 More people were beginning to gather as we approached midday and the Saturday lunchtime crowd began to assemble to take advantage of the sunshine and the location. The place was abuzz, it was great. 

 We walked on, taking the Manjarree Trail towards the various art galleries. This follows a route of the Nyoongar aborigines along the coast. The galleries and workshops were in old sheds and building on the waterside. In one we found the work of the sculptor who had made the fine bronzes we had seen earlier on the waterfront, Greg James. We had also seen his work in other places, most memorably the pregnant whaler’s wife in Busselton. It was an amazing workshop – definitely a place where magic happens. A very nice lady showed us the wax model of his latest work which is in preparation. It was fascinating. What a privilege.  

Leaving here, we passed a short underground passageway or tunnel carved out by the whalers apparently. This went under some buildings, including a sturdy Goal. Another gallery contained beautiful pictures of marine life in startling blues, greens and oranges. Fish of amazing proportions and colours. Piercing colours. Wonderful.  

We meandered back along the waterfront and joined the pandemonium at Little Creatures. I think for Keith it just had to be done. The beer was great. The food good. The noise deafening and the chaos amazingly well managed by superbly trained staff who good humouredly weaved their way between drinkers, wanderers, table hunters, children chalking on the floor and the many tables, to be charming, take orders, deliver food and clear debris. What looked like total confusion was a well oiled machine. The cooks worked away in a kitchen totally on display. A clay oven provided an endless stream of pizzas. Saturday lunch time at Little Creatures………

We left the brewery to pass the busker, who had found a passing drummer who was doing his thing and thus forming a slightly incongruous duet, back past the Ferris wheel and skateboard performers. A little retail therapy and another beer and we were on the train back to Perth. Very satisfied with our day and Keith has found another favourite spot on earth.  

In Perth we very cleverly found the correct bus home, missed our stop and managed another sighting of the WACA. It was then back to the apartment to consolidate our belongings. We are allowed a small carry on bag for the train while the rest of our luggage goes in the baggage car. Tricky but do-able with a bit of dedication. Hopefully. 

Tomorrow the Indian Pacific Railway

Friday, 24th March

Luckily the sun was shining when we woke up. We needed to give Apollo a bit of a brush up before handing it back. We have been parked on sand for most of our trip and, although we have done our best to keep it under control, it has inevitably crept in. We have not cooked in the van at all which has meant that none of the cooking equipment has been used which makes the sprucing up much easier. I have at the back of my mind the bad press given to a fellow narrow boat hirer overheard when we were giving back our pristine craft on one memorable occasion. I would have been mortified to have been found so wanting……..

Anyway, Apollo could not be faulted by the time we had finished. Even the unused taps had been polished – another tell tale factor in some quarters (!). By 10.00 am we were on the road back to Perth. It was over 200 Km so not a protracted journey but I found myself feeling somewhat apprehensive. I have flashbacks to the experience of driving into the centre of Melbourne. In the event it was quite straightforward. Not nearly as much traffic and as Apollo’s stable was on the perimeter of the airport complex, we went nowhere near the city. It was all amazingly painless – except the wrench of parting from our little Apollo. Quite honestly I was envious of those just starting out on their journeys – I would quite happily have gone round again! Ridiculous girl!!

Seriously we have loved the experience and would not hesitate to do it again. We have learnt a lot about life on the road. The overwhelming feeling is a definite thumbs up!

We caught a taxi back into Perth, where it was really warm again. We had booked ourselves into the same apartment block as when we were in Perth before and I had the washing machine on in no time. Packing for the train journey is going to be a bit technical as our main luggage goes into the luggage van and we are only allowed a small bag in our cabin. We will be on board for three nights, so some fancy footwork again in the planning department. We really enjoyed the Ghan last time we were in Australia and hope the Indian Pacific journey will be equally enjoyable.  

When things had cooled down outside, we gathered ourselves and went around the corner to a small Italian restaurant for supper. By the time we got back it was quite late for us- given that we have been in bed by 8.30 at the very latest when we were travelling!

Being out after dark was quite a heady experience!

Thursday, 23rd March

It was quite warm but overcast when we woke up. I needed to do some washing and this was in the laundry by 8.00 am!  Radical though it may have been, we decided to go out to breakfast! Very exciting, but as we had already decided to lunch out – it could only be put down to total decadence! There is a cafe called The Goose opposite the end of the jetty and it proved to be a prime spot for being naughty and having a breakfast out.

We both had an excellent meal although we had to retreat when a heavy shower cooled our ardour sitting outside!  We set off back to our chores very heartened! Although the day looked very dodgy weather wise, I decided to put the washing out anyway. We then decided on an hour’s free time (that’s what happens when decadence creeps in!) before taking off to the underwater Observatory…….

It was, therefore, somewhat later that we found ourselves once again setting forth on the mile walk to the end of the pier. Although it is in very good shape now, the jetty has obviously had something of a chequered history. It was originally built to accommodate the delivery and despatch of goods and materials from what was then called the Vasse settlement. Then, as the ships coming into the port got bigger, the jetty had to be extended to accommodate their draught. It is a very shallow bay. Since then there have been fires and cyclones, all of which have taken their toll and demolished all or parts of the jetty. The original wooden structure has now been replaced by concrete sleepers and it feels very substantial. Along the way there are areas for fishing and diving, commemorative plaques to mark where people’s ashes have been scattered, places to clean your fish and of course the railway for the train. Add to this the people strolling up and down and you have a really busy thoroughfare.  

The wind was really strong as we walked up to the end for our Underwater Observatory experience. Just as we got to the end it poured with rain, to add just one more element of excitement! Right at the far end there is a signpost denoting the distances of various capital cities from Busselton.  

The tour was great.sadly our photos do not do it justice.  (I will put a few in anyway so you can get the gist.)   As you descend, you initially see the water as it edges up to the first level window and then as you go further down, amazing corals that have embedded themselves on the jetty pylons. Then as you reach the bottom, beautiful fish. Some in shoals, others fishy individuals living out there lives beneath the ocean.   The tour guide was excellent and took care to ensure that we all had the benefit of her expertise. I have to say that fish are not usually my thing, but as a non swimmer, it gave me a rare opportunity to see under the water. The corals were as fascinating as the fish I think.  

The Observatory was built in Fremantle and floated down to Busselton. Whilst it is not all that far down – only 8 meters to the sea floor, it obviously needs quite a lot of looking after. The outside of the windows are cleaned by divers every week. We were lucky to visit on a Thursday as Wednesday is window cleaning day. One of the window cleaning diving team, a young woman, was actually visiting from the inside with with our party, she was a real underwater enthusiast. It was all very interesting. We stayed for well over an hour in total just peering out into the water. We even saw a small octopus. What fun!

Eventually it was time to wander back. Despite the bracing weather we decided to walk back to justify the lunch we had promised ourselves. By the time we ate it was well into the afternoon. It was then back to Apollo, after a quick visit to the town centre, to see how the dreaded washing had fared given that it had rained on and off all day. In actual fact it had not done too badly and with some fancy footwork with an iron and a lot of airing it was all dry by the end of the day. It had to be – tomorrow we drive back to Perth.  

Given that we had lunched, it was a snack for supper and a bit of consolidation of items ready for the morning. The last time the bed has to be put together. I am going to miss this nightly ritual……   

Wednesday, 27th March

After a very turbulent night, a storm raging all around us, we woke up to a much calmer morning. The evidence of the night’s rain was all around in the puddles and dripping awnings. Young Apollo had done well!

It had the makings of just a driving day as we had decided instead of getting to Busselton, our last stop before returning to Perth, for just one night, we would drive straight to Busselton and have two nights there. It seemed quite a good idea, particularly in view of the weather on this southern coast. Busselton is quite a bit further north. With this in mind we secured the equipment in the back of the van and set off. We took the road out of Albany towards Perth and then turned left along the Muir Highway at Mt Barker. We had not been going long on this stretch when we came to an area where there was evidence of a very recent fire on both sides of the road. We could smell woodsmoke.  In some areas there was still smoke rising up from the ashes. It did not affect our progress but madeus very mindful of the impact of bushfires. There are notices everywhere about them.  

At Manjimup, where we had originally intended to stay, we had a bit of a pit stop, but decided we weren’t missing too much by not overnighting there. From Manjimup we took the Western Highway to Bridgetown and then the rather beautiful Brockman Highway. This gave us a real change in the landscape. Here there were vast expanses of cleared ground and rolling hills with trees scattered on their tops.  You cannot look out on these huge cleared areas without thinking of the men and women who worked on clearing it of the trees and undergrowth that makes up the Australian bush. It must have been backbreaking work. Sheer grit and determination. For us it provided a very attractive backdrop to our journey. To them it must have been hours, days, weeks and months of heartache.  

In contrast, today there are a number of ‘wineries’ along the way all encouraging the passer by to try their wares. We maintained our high resistance. We still had some way to go.  

At Nannup we took the final turn to Busselton. Back on the west coast we arrived there at about 3.30. Although we had experienced mixed weather during the day, we arrived at our destination in bright sunshine. We asked at the tourist office for the least commercial caravan site and were directed to the Kookaburra Caravan Park situated just behind the famous Busselton Jetty. There is a lot of work going on on the seafront here and our site was just behind it – next to the cemetery!

Once again it was very busy and we realise how lucky we have been in our earlier campsites. As we had been driving all day, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and walk out on the jetty – a walk of just over a mile. It is the longest jetty in Australia we are told and second only to Southend in the world (we smiled politely upon being told this – but I did wonder if Southend was still in existence, I am sure I read that it had burnt down…..). Anyway, Busselton Jetty is in fine form and it was a wonderful walk in the late afternoon sunshine.

 People were fishing, others were either strolling or travelling on the small train that carries the less able. At the far end is an Underwater Observatory which we decided we would visit on Thursday. The light was great and the walk was an unexpected pleasure at he end of the day.  

The clouds had begun to form on our return journey, but the light over the water was very special.  You can fish on the jetty throughout the day and night and we met a number of fishing hopefuls, armed with their equipment,  heading out as we walked back to the beach. 

Supper was barbecued lamb cutlets which were very nice with the vegetables we had purchased along the way, all washed down with our Margaret River wine. Perfect!!

Tuesday 21st March

It was cool and dull when we woke up, with an anticipated deterioration in the weather forecast for the afternoon. We decided to walk into Albany town.  It was about 6km each way from Middleton Beach into Albany ‘city’ centre.  The route started as a boardwalk and then moved into an asphalted walking and cycle path.  

As we left the bay a very large group of school children were sitting on the edge of the beach looking rather chilly in swimsuits, obviously waiting for some sort of watery event to take place.  You could almost see their goosebumps from the pathway!  I am sure this sort of thing is character building! Sometimes being old and not required to do these things is a blessing!

The boardwalk started to climb and we looked back over the bay where the Beagle with  Darwin on board moored,  having taken 4 years to travel here from England, in 1868.  He and Captain Fitzroy (one of my heroes!) came ashore apparently to dine with the Governor who had set up home at a place called Strawberry Hill, just behind Middleton Bay.  It was probably a child involved experience.  The then governor had 9 children……..

The path took us up and down along the headland.  We had amazing views over the water that looked a bit dark and sinister.  The wind generated white crests on the waves. It is apparently a great place to watch for whales between June to October.  We were aware that there was a big Anzac Museum in the Princess Royal Fortress above us on the path, but there was no indication of whether the two areas connected so we carried on walking into town. Further along we came across some rather grand bronze sculptures.  One a rather wonderful head of Baudin the French sea Captain who circumnavigated Australia and made the British rather anxious that the French were going to lay claim to the area before they had made their own claim.  The other full statue was of Atterturk….. which was interesting.  He apparently made rather a grand speech indicating that all the Australians killed in Turkey would be considered sons of Turkey, which did not sound much of a comfort to me.  Hundreds of young Australians left Albany never to return to join a war that seems such a long way off…….

We kept going. Eventually the new nice cycle/footpath finished and we were on a road in the industrial part of town.  It was some sort of gas depot on the dockside.  It certainly was n0t the most attractive part of town.  There were gasometers and huge hoppers built right in front of some very nice houses that must have been gutted to have such commercial enterprises built right in front of them. I hope none of them had called their houses ‘Sea View’  because most of them had not got one any more!  Some had wonderful gardens.  Once we were past the docks things improved again and there was a municipal garden trimmed to within an inch of its existence with rose beds and borders…..

We then arrived into what was referred to as ‘historic Albany’. An area of town with definite Victorian overtones.  It was there that we found ‘la  Gourmonde’ , a cafe that had been recommended to us.  It was very good with a definite French influence.  We took advantage of their offerings – I found an English elderflower cordial which was great. We then wandered up Main Street which really had nothing to commend it so we headed to the museum and the replica of the brig Amity. The little museum told interesting tales of the old lighthouses and their keepers and families.  They also had the light from one of them – all parts shipped from England.  Amazing to think of the organisation that went into setting such a thing up, in terms of letters and waits and then putting things together when all the bits were assembled – no mean feat when everything had to be landed in invariably rough seas.  

We then moved on to the ship Amity.  What always strikes me is how small these vessels are. The original Amity was made in Canada in 1816, worked Scottish and Irish waters and then journeyed to Hobart via Rio de Janeiro!  There was just a Captain and a crew of 6. After spending some time transporting stores, livestock and men around the Australian ports. The Amity was tasked with bringing those who were to start a new settlement in King George Sound, the waterway outside of Albany’s Princess Royal Harbour, in 1826.  She carried 21 soldiers, 23 convicts and what was referred to as a ‘small support staff’ plus a variety of domestic animals and materials to build shelters and grow crops. It took over 6 weeks to get from Sydney to Albany.   It is difficult to visualise that journey.  There is so little room inside!  

It makes the space in Apollo feel huge!  Well perhaps not.  The list of supplies is pretty impressive. 

Having enjoyed our wander around the Amity, we did a bit more history on the local aboriginal tribes and then set of to walk back.  By now it was really blowy, the waves were crashing into the rocks below and dark clouds were scudding across the sky.  

We decided to have a late lunch at a local restaurant when we got back rather than battle with the elements, which were obviously going to be a bit unpleasant, and cook ourselves.  This proved to be a very sensible move.  By late afternoon it was pouring with rain and a storm raged around us most of the night.  The sound of the sea was drowned out by the roar of the wind and rain pounding on the roof.   A good night not to be in a tent!

In looking back over our day in Albany, I could almost agree with a quote from Darwin as he left Australia to travel back to England.

‘Farewell …… you are a rising infant and doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South.  But you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough to respect; I leave your shores without sorrow or regret.’

I am sure we did not see the best of Albany and it would have been a very different view if the weather had been better!!

Tomorrow we start to head back to Perth. 

Monday 20th March

Another chilly but bright morning.  We had breakfast watched by the local kookaburra and his friends the magpies.

It was ‘moving on’ day so things have to be stowed fairly carefully to prevent breakages.  We are getting quite good at this!

It has been a great couple of days but I am not sure we totally exhausted the delights of Walpole, but Albany calls and we want to call in to Denmark on the way…… We had in fact got on the road very promptly, so we decided to call in to a place called, a little presumptuously I thought, Beautiful Beach. (I thought we should be the judge of that…..) In the event we did not get to give our view because the road went round in something of a circle and the said beach did not seem to materialise! We later resisted the urge to take a sign to Conspicuous Cliff on the basis that we ought to judge that too, but resisted the temptation. 

We reached Denmark just after 11.00 am.  It is not a large town but has the distinct feeling of being somewhat ‘new age’ – there was a distinct smell of joss sticks wafting out of one or two shops!! We wondered around the town – it did not take long – and after a quick shop we boarded the trusty Apollo and headed off for Albany.  

Albany is a much bigger place altogether.  Rather than heading for the centre of town we headed out to the Middleton Beach where we had been told there was a campsite. There was.  And a lot of campers.   It is a bigger and more commercial set up than we have to date experienced and would probably rather not experience again if the truth be told!  A saving grace was that the ocean was just a sand dune away and we were to go to sleep with the sound of the sea – but that was later. Middleton Bay is seen as a safe haven for ships as it is another of those big inlets and there were one or two big ships bobbing about. 

As it was, the bright start to the day had deteriorated and it was overcast and windy as we wandered along the beach front to find some lunch.  We found an excellent platter to share which  was very yummy!

We also sighted a new bird……. 

Given the somewhat inclement day, we gave ourselves up to getting our communication up to date on a very slow wifi connection and adjourned with Rob Brydon reading his autobiography on audible.

Our least exciting day …….