Rather than heading directly west to Perth and to continue our coastal trek, we turned south at Norseman as we were keen to explore the southern coast of WA. First stop was Esperance where we stayed at the Pink Lake Caravan Park. The lake is not even vaguely pink – don’t ask!
This is a lovely seaside town of 14,000 although you need to be prepared for cool weather. While enjoying a delicious lunch at Taylors Beach Bar overlooking the sea, we were thrilled when our waitress lit the fire – in December. The beach foreshore area is well laid out, with further development under way to extend this recreation area.
Next day was warmer and we headed 50 kms out to the national park at Cape Le Grand. We were pleasantly surprised by to find a bitumen road all the way as this makes this wonderful region so accessible to visitors. There are so many beautiful bays and landforms. Lucky Bay was stunning due to the contrast between the ice blue and deep blue water along with the super-white sand. Even a magical caravan on the beach serving hot chocolate and damper with quandong jam – yum! Such a magic place and now high on our list of camping spots for another day.
Mt Le Grand and Frenchman Peak are two examples of huge granite outcrops, exposed after being submerged under the sea for a long, long time (OK, 600 million odd years). There is a beautiful variety of wild shrubs and flowers, especially banksias all along the way.
We then headed southwest to explore the Fitzgerald Coast, with first stop at Hopetoun. We felt as if we were staying in a nature reserve at the Hopetoun Caravan Park – wonderful gardens and the dawn chorus of birds was a beautiful wake-up call.
The Fitzgerald River National Park covers a huge strip of the coastline extending inland between Hopetoun and Bremer Bay. We found this an amazing place to visit as the scenery is so varied – rugged cliffs and gorges, pebbly beaches, rivers, mountains, plains…. plus lots of birds and wildlife. The area has gas barbecues and toilets provided at various locations and are in first class condition. A lot of thought has obviously been applied in the layout and design of these picnic and camping areas.
There were still some beautiful wildflowers and bushes to see although it is close to the end of their season.
Again, first class roads and a range of camping options – that list is just getting longer!
From Hopetoun we circled around the mighty Fitzgerald National Park to end up in Bremer Bay, another delightful coastal town.
A visit to the Wellstead Museum revealed lots and lots of early pioneer memorabilia and agricultural equipment – tractors, bikes, coaches, antique vehicles and even a horse drawn hearse. We then enjoyed dinner at the Bremer Bay Resort prior to making an early morning start to Albany.
This lovely town was the last Australian port for ANZAC forces leaving for World War I, 100 years ago. This was commemorated recently and we watched the ceremonies live on TV, so it was great to see the new infrastructure built specially to mark the occasion. A visit to the National ANZAC Centre at the Fortress at Mt Adelaide is recommended. We took in the conducted tour of the old guns and other installations which have been updated and are very interesting and attractive for tourists.
The Mt Clarence Memorial to the Light Horsemen was also a highlight of our visit.
A couple of whinges:
1. It is sad that many WA restaurants do NOT serve evening drinks… ‘no sorry, dinner begins at 6.30 pm’. Don’t they realise that while we are there with our drink that we will check out the menu, maybe come tomorrow night or at the least, pass on the lovely experience to our neighbours? Hybla on Middleton Beach was a notable exception, welcoming us for a great glass of Shiraz at their beautiful location overlooking the sea.
2. We were disappointed that the former Middleton Beach Hotel, built by Paul Terry some years ago and since demolished (?) has not been replaced and the site remains overgrown and very unattractive… Ian had stayed at this hotel and it was the best and newest in Albany at the time. Why did it need to be demolished, who now owns it and what is going to happen to the area?
Albany maintained its reputation as a cold, windy and wet destination at any time of the year… We were back into wet/cold weather gear for most of our stay. Next morning we packed up the caravan in windy and wet conditions and it was a real relief to get into the car and head off for home… We stopped for breakfast at Williams and changed into shorts and T-shirts again! Then we managed to roll into the backyard at Greenmount at 12.30pm.
The caravan has covered almost 10,000km and the car a little over 25,000km in 8 and a half months. Phew! This trip is over – BUT we are already researching our next one, and plan to showcase some beautiful places to visit in the Hills region of Perth in future blogs – so stay tuned!
One of the experiences we have most been looking forward to on this trip was the famous Great Ocean Road… and it really lived up to our expectations!
First though we caught the ferry across Port Phillip Bay from Sorrento to Queenscliff to catch up with old friends in Geelong for a few days. Kathy and Geoff Strachan took us for a magnificent dinner at Man Bo, and it was great to see the Fitzpatrick’s new home and catch up with Tim as well. Ginny enjoyed walking along the waterfront esplanade down to Eastern Beach – a beautifully restored Art Deco swimming enclosure, fountain and kiosk which is very popular with both residents and tourists. Ian was also impressed with his visit to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.
Thanks to the many people who gave us good advice on the best way to enjoy the Great Ocean Road. Towing a caravan along a busy, winding and fairly narrow road is not much fun, especially for the driver! So as suggested, we chose several spots to stay along the way. We then retraced our steps or moved further along, returning to our base camp each night. An unexpected bonus was the beauty and diversity of the regions just inland from the coast.
Stop 1: Wye River, staying in the lovely caravan park and ambling up the hill to the pub or out to the beach. Koala-spotting became our newest hobby but we didn’t expect to see our first one racing towards us on all fours along the river bank! The wildlife in this caravan park is marvellous to experience. All manner of birds are attracted to the trees and shrubbery in the park and are a constant presence here… Very pleasant.
Stop 2: Bimbi Park. We were surrounded by the beautiful manna gums which are the preferred food source for koalas, so we felt privileged to see so many in their natural habitat doing what koalas do best – eating and sleeping! Once again a wildlife wonderland.
They also make the loudest noises. Apparently they have a unique voice box that allows them to make a ‘belching’ call that only large animals like elephants are capable of usually – read about it here. Very weird the first few times you hear them – listen here and see what you think!
The nearby Cape Otway Lightstation has been operating since 1848 – the fact this area is known as the Shipwreck Coast probably gives you the rationale for that! The views from 80m up were spectacular.
Two day trips stand out in our memory:
1. Tanybryn, Forrest and Deans Marsh and back to Wye River via Lorne
2. Lavers Hill, Beech Forest, Skenes Creek and back to Cape Otway. A narrow road wends through beautiful forest, tall stands of plantation timber and huge tree ferns between Beech Forest and Haines Junction – very beautiful, but put your headlights on!
Next blog – further west on the Great Ocean Road…
Our base camp at Mooloolaba Beach Holiday Park was great for exploring the Sunshine Coast…. walking distance to excellent shops – loved Think Pinq! plus the beach, marina and the Surf Life Saving Club for sundowners or lunch with friends Shauna and Allan.
Two great day trips stand out; firstly our drive north along the coast to explore the many beautiful beaches. We stopped in Noosa Heads to window-shop along the pretty streets, listen to live jazz in the mall, drool over amazing restaurant menus and finally settled on a gelato – too much choice! We returned south via the inland route and visited some sadly disappointing tourist spots (think overpriced and underwhelming).
Another fun trip was travelling west into the Hinterland, a big change from the coastal sun and surf, and we could easily have spent a week exploring this beautiful region. First stop was the Maleny Botanic Gardens and Bird World for beautiful views of the Glasshouse Mountains. The gardens were delightful, the Devonshire tea was magnificent (truly amazing scones with proper teapot and all!) but our top pick was the tour of the aviary which only opened last year. Our guide managed to impart so much information; survival tips e.g. which bird would pinch your earrings or hearing aids! as well as the history and habits of each bird species.
Walking around the town of Maleny was a joy, especially when we discovered there were FOUR bookshops (we have been to many towns where there are none – so sad but apparently we are all buying our books online now?) The Pallet Life Gallery and Cafe was fun – our family is very fond of recycling pallets but there were lots of new ideas here, plus good coffee!
Our stay at Brisbane Holiday Village was perfectly located (5 minutes from the city!) for us to catch up with friends. Brisbane is a hilly city, so our first stop was the highest peak Mt Coot-tha to get our bearings. This is a great spot with a botanic garden, a planetarium and many walking and bike trails to explore, plus a cafe for those in need.
Ian was keen to get photos of koalas so off we went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. We sometimes feel ambivalent about going to wildlife parks or zoos as some just don’t measure up – both for the animals and the people visiting. However this sanctuary is not at all glitzy with the animals definitely being the stars, along with many knowledgable staff. Plus there is a waiting list for volunteers to join up (pretty rare these days!)
Of course the koalas were gorgeous, doing what they do best i.e. sleep and eat, and the one above really hammed it up for the camera – don’t you think he is grinning?!
The sanctuary rehabilitates all sorts of animals and birds that have been injured. Unfortunately many can’t return to the wild but here they play an important role in demonstrating their skills to us mere humans. This was very evident in the Birds of Prey display.
The black kite in particular thrilled us with his speedy (scary) flights through the audience.
It must be so rewarding for the staff to see amazing creatures like the sea eagle take to the sky again. Great to see so many families enjoying this place, with many using public transport or combining their visit with a daily launch trip on the Brisbane river.
Next stop… Tweed Heads to visit friends and explore the Gold Coast.
No wonder that Hervey Bay is such a popular tourist destination with the magnificent Fraser Island beckoning, and whale tours galore! We were quite amazed by the size of the city – for some reason we had been expecting a small coastal town. Our stay at the Fraser Coast caravan park in in the seaside suburb of Scarness, one street back from the esplanade was lined with lovely shops, cafes and hotels – a great base for exploring.
Fraser Island is simply amazing, an island completely made of sand but it grows beautiful variety of trees and plants! Apparently this happens because of mycorrhizal fungi that naturally occur in the sand and these release nutrients in a way that plants can absorb. We feel really privileged to have seen such a variety of landscapes and ecosystems in one place.
Only 4WD vehicles are allowed on the island and we enjoyed exploring the inland regions while most people seemed to descend on the beach in droves. One interesting site was the Maheno wreck, a steamer which operated on the trans-Tasman route in the early 1900s. Once decommissioned in 1935, it was sold for scrap to a Japanese company. En route, a freak cyclone in July separated it from the tow ship and it was grounded on the eastern coast of Fraser Island. It became a training base for Z force and an artillery target. Such a sad story but she still captures the imagination of more than 250 000 visitors each year!
Seeing a pod of the mighty humpback whales swim and frolic around us rated way up there on our Richter scale of amazing experiences. Freedom Whale Watch guaranteed that we would see whales in Platypus Bay and it was a brilliant showtime as they seemed to be just as interested in us as we were in them. We also now have a greater appreciation of the female humpback’s lot in life… a mere 15 days after giving birth to a gynormous calf, she is ready to conceive the next one so the males are pretty much courting her ALL THE TIME. This causes lots of angst and jostling ‘whale-style’ while mum and her calf just ‘keep on swimming’…
All in all a great day out with a fun crew including our return transfers to the marina and yummy home catering.
Great to catch up with friends Jamie and Jan again in the lovely city of Bundaberg, famous in Australia for what else but Bundy RUM – Australia’s favourite spirit! So off we went on a visit to the distillery that was set up to use the molasses left over after sugar was refined. They certainly faced hardships over the years with two enormous fires – in 1936, the rum escaped into the adjoining Burnett River, and the local paper noted:
‘Strong men stood with bowed heads and a suspicion of a tear in their eyes as they watched the bubbling toddy just stream past them.’
True tragedy Australian style!!! Tasting the array of rums and liqueurs was fun even for non-rum drinkers like us. Unfortunately no photographs could be taken on the tour and Ian had to take out his hearing aids as well (supposedly the batteries could cause an explosion) so as far as he was concerned it was pretty underwhelming…
The Botanic Gardens were pleasant to walk through although the main draw-card for us was the amazing bird life (apparently 100+ species) concentrated on a large island in the middle of the lake. Ian took some great photos….
The magpie geese were just so funny – these big birds land on the most tiny little tree branches creating a constant seesaw motion for them all.
The Hinkler Museum is also located in these gardens. Bert Hinkler was born here in 1892 and was a famous pioneer aviator throughout the early 1900s. The Bundaberg community is justifiably very proud of him. For example, the home he built in Southampton while he was designing and flying experimental aircraft in England has been dismantled and rebuilt alongside the museum. It now overlooks the lagoons where as a boy he sat and studied the ibis in flight – probably dreaming about the famous Ibis aircraft he would later build and fly!
Next stop – Hervey Bay and Fraser Island…
I recently saw a pamphlet at the Malanda Dairy café and gallery advertising a weekend wild life photography workshop with Steve Parish and Martin Willis. I have admired Steve’s work over a number of years – I’ve always thought of him as the ‘calendar bloke’. Martin’s work is on display in the gallery and I was very impressed. I decided to enrol and take the course.
It was a revelation – I learned a great deal from these people. These blokes are top notch photographers, extremely passionate about their subject and photography. They had arranged for people from the wildlife centre at Kuranda to bring some animals for us to photograph and the 13 of us on the course had a lot of fun getting images of them.
It was a privilege to spend some time with Steve and Martin – not mention Martin’s partner Samantha who looked after us very well. Here’s some happy snaps taken at the workshop – I hope you enjoy these couple of photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.
Western Australians may be interested in several workshops Steve is holding in WA in the future.
Watch this space as I start to offer photographs for sale later in the year.