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 …….

Sunday, 19th March

The day dawned bright but mornings are feeling quite autumnal, with a nip in the air.  Nevertheless we breakfasted outside.

We decided to have a ‘domestic’  morning as washing was beginning to build up.  After breakfast we had a trip into Walpole and the supermarket before taking a short walk around an area which was the horse pound for the early settlers. Apparently the horses used to pull the huge cartloads of timber were kept on this land together with the communal horses loaned out to new settlers who could not afford horses of their own.  It is now a wooded area reached by a board walk.  We like boardwalks. We haven’t experienced one of those for sometime!!

We returned to the campsite to do the washing and have a light lunch and then set out for what was to prove to be an extraordinary experience, the Valley of the Giants tree top walk in the tingle forest. 

First some history of the area.  Over 180 million years ago there was a land mass which included Australia, Antarctica, New Zealand, Africa, India and South America. It is known as Gondwana.

 Over time this started to break up and approximately 45 million years ago, Australia finally separated from Antartica and drifted north, carrying with it plants and animals of Gondwana. Although Australia has experienced significant climatic change since this time, the south west area of Western Australia has experienced far less change than other areas which has enabled many of the Gondwanan species to survive.  

For 38,000 years the Noongar Aboriginal tribe lived in the area.  Europeans arrived in the 1820’s, with Albany seeing settlers arrive in 1826, Denmark (an area a little further along the coast) in 1896 and Walpole in 1910.  Initially the settlers did not do very well and by 1924 74% had left.  However, as early as 1910 the area was seen as attractive to tourists and it was made a National Park.    

One of the main attractions are the tingle trees that can be found only in  Walpole and its immediate surrounds.  Tingle trees can live for 400 years and grow up to 75 meters tall and can have a base circumference of 20 meters.  They have extremely shallow and sensitive roots and in order to preserve them, the construction of a Tree Top Walk was started in 1995. It opened in 1996.  I am proud to say that the Gregory’s walked it in 2017!   

No mean feat when you learn that at its highest you walk on a narrow, metal mesh footway that reaches at one point  40 meters above the ground (and the trees are still higher!).  And it moves.  It is built ‘to sway  slightly as you walk to give the sensation of being in the canopy of the forest’.  I think there is sometimes the issue of taking realism too far…..

It was incredible thing from every perspective and no photographs can do it justice i.e. show just how high up you are and how tall the trees are around you or the sensation of walking on a very flimsy metal highway.  We had the good fortune to do it when there were very few other people about.  Notices say that no more than 10 should walk out on any ‘span’ at any one time.  I cannot imagine what it would be like with 10 people  – it was hairy enough with 2!  

Having vertigo and 40 meter drops are not a good combination and we soon began the descent. (Keith had had enough, but I did it again as the sun came out later and I wanted to see if I could get some better pictures.  I went round on my own – it was awesome in the true sense of the word.  It was one of those special life moments.)

The Tree Top Walk is not the only experience in this amazing place.   Next came the ancient forest ground walk – equally magical in its own way.  For there we were at the bottom of these huge trees that have a knack of having a hollowed out base.  These hollows have been created over time by fire, fungal or insect attack.  The broad root system, although shallow, spreads to give the trees more stability.  What you see is enormous holes in the bottom of the tree.  It was a fabulous place. 

A particularly notable tree was entitled Old Grandma Ting………

You just wanted to drink up the memory of your time here and store it away as something very special.  

We did eventually tear ourselves away,  both made up with the experience. 

Back at the campsite the washing was dry and it just remained the steak to be put on the barbecue and we had a great supper too. An excellent day.  

Tomorrow we move on to Albany, the furthest east we are to travel in Western Australia.  

Saturday 18th March

It rained heavily in the night and the morning was overcast and chilly. We had booked a table at the Hidden River vineyard for lunch (Keith and I have a date!), so we packed up and then went to visit the cultural highlights of Pemberton. The town has a real pioneer feel to it.  The houses look as if they might have been part of an old cowboy movie. 

We started at the wooden art gallery that advertised a cafe and smokery. There was some amazing pieces. It is all so tactile. Keith found himself some tasting spoons which will provide some happy memories. 
We moved to the cafe where we found the first wifi we have come across in Pemberton. So we had a drink and hastily tried to get up to date with things. Sadly there was no time to settle down with the blog, so goodness knows when the last few days will be published. We bought some smoked trout for supper and then moved on to another gallery we had seen advertised on the edge of town. This was a real treat. Peter Kovacsy was showing some exceptional work in several different mediums (or is it media?). There were some incredible glass pieces. 

 He came and chatted to us and we talked of the Mona. He seemed to me somewhat jaundiced about the world of art and his own place in it. We left through his workshop and went away with several recommendations in terms of our firtcomng travels. It was a privilege to spend time with him. 

To kill a bit more time before lunch we travelled out to the Cascades. These were pretty ordinary at the point we could see them as we had not got the time to work to their source, but there was some interesting information about lampreys.   Now as we all know (?!?) lampreys in past times in England have caused more than a bit of havoc, with one king actually dying of over eating them.  It was against this background that I read with interest that there was a particular type of lamprey that is peculiar to Pemberton and a small handful of other places.   Somehow the Cascades took on a whole new meaning as they are apparently found in the Lefroy Brook of which the Cascades form a part.  How exciting!  Just so that my readers are fully informed on this riveting topic, herewith the location map for these lampreys.   ( Incidentally they look disgusting – probably a notch down from abalone).

The shaded area mark the lamprey sites……

It was by then after 12 so we set off for lunch. It took no time to get there, although it had been quite a walk on our previous visit. The day was brightening which was nice as there is a nice view from the dining area.   

The food was very good and Keith had an excellent glass of wine. We bought a bottle of bubbly for our journey (as anticipated!) and then set off for Walpole a couple of hours away. 

It was a good drive and we found a campsite by a beach (we are back on the coast). The weather was somewhat mixed – quite cloudy and cool. Nevertheless we took ourselves off for a short walk of exploration. We are just outside of the Walpole inlet, a natural harbour that must have made Walpole an attractive proposition to settlers. Once again I think timber was the local income earner before farmland was cleared. Walpole is still a very small town with a big preoccupation with tidiness and litter!

We also came across a new flower to us – the kangaroo paw – I have to thank Peter for this information!

Supper was the smoked trout we bought in Pemberton. While preparing it and ourselves we had a protracted visit from a kookaburra who seemed mightily interested in what was going on….

Supper was eventually consumed inside Apollo as it was pouring with rain. Sunshine predicted for tomorrow!

Friday, 17th March

A cold but bright morning. The forecast was for a cooler,  but bright morning and wet afternoon. We had decided to walk to the Big Brook Dam, a round walk we had been told of about 10 miles, incorporating part of the Bibbulman track which was supposed to run through the campsite. We searched in vain for a signpost, but after the usual disagreement about which way to go (I think my magnetic north has gone completely south) we set off to walk along the road to the Dam. This was after asking a young lad the way on the campsite and having him tell us it wasn’t worth doing because it was a long way…….

Although we were walking on the road and initially there was a long slog up hill, it was a great walk. The tall Kerri trees towered over us but after a sharp left turn, they eventually gave way to fruit trees and vines. A large pond came into view on our right. 

 To our left there was some new planting going on, carefully protected fruit trees in meticulous straight lines covered the hillside. We had walked about 5 k when we came across a sign to a vineyard and cafe that also sold beer. It seemed rude to walk past, so we set off up the track to the Hidden River Vineyard. Horses peered over a fence at us and some very smart chickens clucked around the road way. 

There was no one around initially, except a rather large soppy dog who sauntered off to find someone. It was all very casual. We had a drink and the menu for lunch looked so good we decided to return on Saturday for lunch on the way to our next port of call, Walpole.  

I took the precaution of asking if I could taste their fizz as I will be driving when we have lunch and we might want to buy a bottle……. That very satisfactory diversion over, it was back to the walk. About another two km further on we came to the Dam. What a beautiful spot! 

It had a footpath all the way round it with some interesting information about the area. It would seem that where Augusta owed its existence to whaling, Pemberton was a centre for timber. However over the years some friction arose between the timber people and the farmers, as the timber types were concerned that the farmers land clearance would exhaust the lucrative timber trade. 

It was just such a beautiful location. Given its easy access to the road, we saw the occasional stroller, taking advantage of the opportunity to stretch their legs, but mostly we had the place to ourselves.  We had our lunch on a beach by the water and then continued our walk around what is a quite a sizeable reservoir.

It’s about 4K round. Every now and then there was a hide built to enable you to watch the birds, particularly the black swans paddling elusively in the centre and too far away for iPhone photography. Apparently the dam is a good spot for seeing rakali, the Australian Water Rat. We weren’t lucky on this occasion. Our  ‘I Spy’ book of Australian creatures was left empty at the rakali page…….

It was a lovely walk. ‘Lovely’ seems a little bit lacking as a descriptor, but it is becoming difficult to find enough superlatives for these particular travels! We reached the head of the reservoir and turned back along the other bank, picking up the Bibbulman track again and at one stage looking across to the beach where we had lunch earlier. 

Birds chirruped and called and rustled in the trees but we saw no-one on this, the more remote side until, as we arrived at the dam bridge where we had started out, we found a cycling Yorkshireman(!) who pointed out the forest path that would take us back to Pemberton.

It was a great route. Paper bark (hope I have got it right!) from the surrounding trees crunched under foot like Autumn leaves in England. Butterflies danced along  beside us. The dappled sunlight made the pathway ahead mottled light pierced the tree canopy. It was a magical walk.  For the final delight the last hour and a half it was down hill as we made our way into the back end of the campsite.  

Here the numbers had swelled. Tents had arrived. There was a triathlon taking place in the town at the weekend, so a number of participants it appeared had arrived to take part. I walked up into the town to buy some bread to augment our supper and then – never had a beer tasted so good……! Nectar of the gods!

It remained hot and sunny until quite late and we ate supper outside and then another early night. Tomorrow we move on again………

One thing I did not mention was that apparently in recommending the route  we walked to Keith, the chap at the camp site office told him there was a strong possibility of coming across snakes out by the dam. Keith omitted to mention this until well into the journey. It will be discussed at his next appraisal………

Thursday 16th March

It was quite chilly when we woke up, but a lovely sunny morning.
  We had breakfast, with the support of the local ducks, and packed up.  We were off to Pembeton. Pemberton lies inland in a heavily forested area. Our route, as always was on an excellent road, with little traffic, although we saw more road trains than we have before on this visit.  We also saw our first dead kangaroo on the road for this trip. One always hopes that they are killed immediately. Having said this, it was a large beast – I am not sure what damage it would have done to the vehicle that hit it. 

It took a couple of hours to get to Pemberton, situated in a valley in the spectacular kerri forests. Kerri trees are exceptionally tall and this place is full of them.  First stop, as always was the tourist office where the lady was ultra efficient and we came away with so many maps, brochures and ideas of what to do that we were somewhat overwhelmed.  We could never do it all in 8 weeks let alone the eight days we have left to travel, but we felt obliged to rush off and make a start!  Next stop was the caravan site in the edge of town. This actually on the famous Bibbulman Track that runs from the outskirts of Perth to Albany, the furthest point east that we are heading.  The 964 km track looks really good, but not for us on this occasion, although we do hope to do bits of it over the next few days. 

In fact, after lunch we set off to walk to the Gloucester Tree.   Our walk took us up through the town and out the other side.  All on the Bibbulman Track (known as the Bibb Track here) and clearly signposted by the Waugul, or rainbow serpent, markers.  It was a warm afternoon and our outward journey was nearly all uphill – never mind, downhill coming back!  Initially we walked along roads,  but after a couple of kilometres we moved off on to a track through woodland.  

The trees soared above us.  We eventually came to a clearing and there was the Gloucester Tree, named after the Duke of Gloucester. It is 53 metres high and 24 ft round.

  It has stakes all the way up to enable you to climb to the look out platform at the top, previously used by fire watchers who would take turns to sit in the top of the tree throughout the summer to watch for fires.  These days fire watching is done by ‘plane, but in the past it was a very important job.  I was amused by the person specification on the notice board……..

I am glad they were required to be sober!

While we were there several people climbed to the top but both Keith and I were happy to watch from the bottom…..  it looked terrifying!

This is different bird country!  Having said this, kookaburras chuckled and cackled around about us but a much more red parrot than we have seen this trip happily sat and let us photograph him. 

There were the usual ring necked lorikeets (we think) hopping around the table where a young couple were eating food.  Other birds we did not recognise bobbed in and out of the undergrowth. 

We wandered back.  It was hot and the sun was quite intense.  We eventually got back to our campsite and had some down time before sampling the showering facilities. We had bought some fish before we left Augusta and Keith made a great shakshuka which we washed down with a nice glass of red wine purchased at the Red Gate vineyard in Margaret River.

And so to bed.