Monday, October 27, 2014

Week 16 - Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Perth – Hyden (Wave Rock) – Bush camping – Albany
Kilometres          18531 – 20279 km

Our 2nd week in Perth started similar to our first week, busy busy and we were constantly on the go! We headed back into the city on Monday to check out a few more city sights. We’d heard so much about Kings Park that we spent much of the day there catching with an old Wollongong SES friend of ours. The park overlooks the CBD and offers great views of the Swan River and city skyline. With the park being split 50/50 between grassed recreational areas and bushland it’s a great place to unwind. The War Memorial and its scenic backdrop would have to be one of the best we have seen.
War Memorial and Perth Skyline
On Tuesday we were keen to see Wave Rock but since it wasn’t on our intended route and it was too far to do in one day we decided to do it as an overnight trip. Leaving the van behind we headed out through the Perth Hills and Avon Valley into the rich wheat belt region where as far as you can see there were paddocks after paddocks of different grain growing. By late afternoon we’d finally made it to Wave Rock, the long drive had taken its toll on us and we didn’t appreciate the attraction as much as we should have. Half an hour later we were driving away from the rock in search of a cheap nights’ accommodation. We soon had a cabin where we spent the night curled up in front of the TV watching movies with the kids.
Wave Rock
Wednesday had a real sense of “here we go again” as we undertook the return trip back to Perth. We took a slightly different route, one that took us along the “Tin Horse Hwy”. This novel stretch of road is where many farmers have built tin structures (predominantly horses) in the paddocks depicting various characters or themes. We spent a good hour laughing and photographing the zany horses that line the roadway. It certainly made the trip home a bit more exciting, but none less shorter. Our adventure to Wave Rock had been a 700km round trip for 110m of rock…. Once we were back in Perth I finished off the night with a few local geocachers as we did some night caching around Perth.
Tin Horse Hwy
Thursday was moving day for us, our time in Perth had come to an end and we were once again on the road. Our original plan to follow the coast down around the bottom of WA had to be changed as it clashed with a major upcoming event in Albany, so we decided to go straight to Albany and thus miss the 60000 people expected in Albany later this month…… The drive south to Albany is easily done in a day but we were keen for some more bush camping so we decided to split the trip and have a night in the bush, but with rain clouds threatening to spoil our camp fire we settled for a nice quite spot in a reserve just off the highway. A chilly afternoon ensured we spent the remainder of the day in the van cowering for our jumpers and long pants.
Castle Rock Skyway
Friday saw us wake to the pitter-patter of rain on the van but as luck would have it, it cleared by the time we were ready to pack up. We detoured off the highway to the newly opened Castle Rock Skyway. This spectacular high-rise platform is bolted directly to the side of a cliff with about 50m of nothing but free air underneath the see-through platform, reaching the platform requires climbing an exposed 7m high ladder. The kids loved the change and tackled the dizzy heights with ease. The views were well worth the 2.5km walk and climb up the mountain…. After arriving in a chilly windy Albany we spent the rest of the afternoon in the van park catching up on domestic chores.
The Brig Amity - Albany
A pre-arranged caching get-together on Saturday saw me head across to Denmark for the day. A few Perth geocachers had travelled south to do what some say are “Australia’s best geocaches” and after spending much of the day finding these unique caches I would say they are on par with the best I’ve found. While I cached, Leonie and the kids had a nice relaxing day back in Albany. Some friends we’d met in Perth arrived at the park allowing the kids and mums some catch-up time around the pool.
The Natural Bridge - Albany
We used Sunday to check out the many sights of Albany, the most notable being the rugged cliff line and endless bays that litter the area. The Granite coastline boasts some spectacular natural features like the blowholes, The Gap and the Natural Bridge. These were amazing to watch as the huge seas pounded the coastline. Another impressive sight was the ANZAC memorial on Mt Clarence, the views southward from here were postcard perfect. Meanwhile the nearby wind farm with its 18 towers makes for an impressive sight as they capture the winds directly off the Southern Ocean. To complete our beautiful day we had dinner with a lovely family we’d met from Adelaide who likewise are traveling this amazing country.
Wind Farm - Albany
The weather this week has been a real mixed. The further south we’ve ventured, the more the temperatures have reminded us of home. We’re actually at a latitude which is more southern than Wollongong now.

Until next, bye for now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 15 - Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Kilometres          17948 - 18531 km

As we’d finished last week on a lull, it was only fitting that we start this week by picking up the pace. Monday morning saw us head across town to spend the day at Fremantle. The kids were excited to drive past the tall buildings of the Perth CBD and across the Swan River for the first time. We were soon in Fremantle and the first thing we noticed was the endless mariners filled with multi-million dollar boats, to the point they are stacked like small apartment buildings….. Our first stop was the Fremantle Prison.  This place was a maximum security prison until its closure in 1992. We did a very informative tour of the prison where they offered to keep all kids in lock-up but somehow we kept our 2 for further parental punishment. We then headed down to the mariner where we sampled some of the award winning fish n chips the area has to offer. By mid-afternoon we were at the WA Maritime Museum where we ticked another thing off my bucket list…… The winning 1983 Americas Cup yacht – Australia II is on display here along with an “Oberon” class submarine, which we did an onboard tour of. We all loved the experience of going below deck of this once working Navy sub.
Inside Fremantle Prison
Tuesday was meant to be a little slower and it started that way. While most of the family lazed around the van I went out to get a slow leaking tyre repaired. About lunch time we headed out for an afternoon in Swan Valley, this is a smaller version of the Barossa or Hunter Valley. A picturesque tourist drive only 25km from Perth seems like another world away. We visited some spectacular chocolate factories, an ice-creamery, a working honey farm and tasted some very nice wines. Late in the afternoon we detoured into the Perth hills where we stopped at V8 legend Peter Brocks fateful crash site. After a moment reflecting on this legend of the sport we headed for home and a well-deserved happy hour.
Oberon Class Sub - about to go below deck
Wednesday was a scorcher in Perth. While many of our friends were lashed by the severe weather back home we had temps of 35deg so we naturally headed to the beach, more specifically the northern beaches. Starting at City beach where the kids dipped their feet in the chilly water, we travelled north along the coast stopping at Scarborough, Trigg and Sorrento beaches and finally the picturesque Hillarys Boat Harbour which is a meca of expensive boutiques, eateries and a kids amusement park. After checking out all the expensive boats for-sale, many of which were worth more than the average house, we headed further to Joondalup where a massive shopping plaza entertained us for the rest of the afternoon.
Old grape crusher - Swan Valley
Thursday was a bit of a nothing day for us. We had the car booked-in to have some suspension mods done so we were at the mercy of the mechanic and as it turned out they pretty much had our car for the entire day. By the time we got the car back we were happy just to return to the van.
Hillarys Boat Harbour & water park
The tempo of Friday was go go go! We headed into the city just after the peak hour rush and soon found some all-day parking. From there we jumped on the free metro bus service. We used the 4 interconnecting bus routes to get around the city, checking out many of the sights. Ethan and I headed to the WACA sports ground where we got a tour of the facilities while the girls did some retail therapy. After lunch we all did a tour of the Perth Mint, which is where much of Australia’s gold is handled. Under heavy security the tour shows you Australia’s largest existing gold nugget (Normandy Nugget – 25kg) and the only Australian $1 million dollar gold coin. As night fell we stayed in the city where The Mall comes alive with a variety world food stalls and buskers. We had a quick bite to eat before headed to the Perth Arena where we watched the Perth Wildcats defeat our own Wollongong Hawks in the National NBL series.
Ethan and I at the WACA
After a late night we didn’t surface till late on Saturday. We eventually got motivated and headed out to see more of the city sights. We drove to Rockingham and the surrounding area where we had a look around before slowly making our way back up to Fremantle. The place was a hive of activity, the Freo markets (local lingo) were on and the endless mariners were buzzing with people attending to their boats. Once again we spotted our boat of choice, only to see it was owned by someone else…. By mid-afternoon a huge storm hit the city, it forced us to take shelter as we watched the boats on the Swan River get smashed. Unbeknownst to us at the time but our van park and surrounding suburbs wore the brunt of the storm. We returned to the van to see the area covered in hail. It looked like we’d had a dusting of snow with a few vans being damaged by the hail, luckily we weren’t one of them. The inclement weather hung around for the rest of the evening.
Lets go Hawks - Perth Arena
Sunday was the first time of our trip that we’d woken to the sound of rain, it was nice to lie in bed and enjoy the sound of rain falling on the van. The kids however had other ideas and were soon up and armed with raincoats headed off to play with other kids in the rain and puddles. Pretty typical of kids who haven’t seen rain for so long…… By late morning we were heading to a geocaching meet n greet with some of the local teams. Unfortunately the first hour was spent huddled under a gazebo as the rain continued, but thankfully the weather improved and so did the enjoyment of the event.
"Freo" Markets
Our first week in Perth has been pretty much non-stop. We don’t want to leave wishing we’d done or seen more. Who knows, maybe next week we might slow down!

Until then, ciao 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Week 14 - Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Kalbarri – Geraldton – Bush camp – Perth
Kilometres          16992 – 17948 km

From the outset of this week the first thing we’ve noticed is how much cooler the days and more so the nights have become. Granted we’re traveling south and its only early spring, but the wind is a constant factor every day now and one night this week we’ve had an overnight low of 10deg. We no longer look for van parks with a pool or ones on the coastline because of the weather.
Natures Window - Kalbarri
Monday was our only full day in Kalbarri and being a popular school holiday destination we were awake early as eager fishermen headed off and then kids yelled and played outside our van, but that’s life and we were soon off exploring the local sights. The Kalbarri NP is a popular destination and we spent most our day exploring different spots within the park. The Murchison River cuts a deep gorge through the park and the “Natures Window” is a very popular photographic spot. By late afternoon we were happy we’d seen enough of the area deciding that we’d move further south the next day.
Pink Lake
Once again it was a start to Tuesday but since we were heading off today it didn’t really matter being up early. For the first time in a very long time the countryside had changed significantly. Gone was the arid flat boring landscape, we were now driving through the Mid-West region now with its rolling hills and endless crops of wheat and barley. At one point we stopped near Port Gregory to see the pink lakes which is something to do with bacteria reacting with the salt water. Of course Sam wanted to know what other colours were available….. By lunchtime we’d arrived in Geraldton and were soon setting up camp. We spent much of the afternoon doing domestic chores and restocking the cupboards as it’d been a while since we’d a supermarket the size of woollies. As night fell so did the temperature and it was here that we had our coldest night in some time.
The kids playing in the rain
We all managed to have a sleep-in on Wednesday which was a pleasant change. The kids crammed a few days’ worth of schoolwork into a few hours before we headed out to see what Geraldton had to offer. The colourful lighthouse, HMAS Sydney II memorial and the marina/port were among a few places we visited. The kids also spied the harbour foreshore playground and waterpark so we couldn’t go past without stopping.  Returning to the van late in the day we were hoping to see the blood moon eclipse but the clouds had rolled in ensuring we couldn’t even see a thing.….. Oh well!
Geraldton Lighthouse
The inclement weather continued into Thursday, to the point that we got our first heavy rain while being setup in the van. The kids thought it was great and immediately got out their umbrellas so they could play in the rain. I’m sure others in the park thought the kids were crazy, but the rain didn’t last long and in less than an hour the sun was out baking us once again…. We headed out soon after for coffee and a catch-up with some caching friends we’d met a few years back…. By the afternoon our day had taken a cultural twist, we took the kids to the Art Gallery and the Maritime Museum. The Art Gallery sucked us in as they advertised “LEGO” with the words “City collection” directly underneath. We thought this would be a nice exhibit for the kids, but it turned out to be a play on words and we were soon out of there. Meanwhile the Maritime Museum was very interesting with a great display on the Dutch ship “Batavia” which sunk off the Geraldton the 16 hundreds and a very moving tribute/display about HMAS Sydney II which was only found a years back off the Geraldton coast. We finished our day with a bit of therapy for all – caching and shopping.
HMAS Sydney II Memorial - Geraldton
Friday was moving day but with only a short distance to travel we didn’t pack up with any great urgency. We took the coastal road heading south with our likely destination being somewhere near the Pinnacles or Cervantes. The drive was one of those highly rated, very picturesque, coastal roads that hug the shoreline. We went through some great little sleepy holiday towns with plenty of  them being worthy of an overnight stay but the kids were super keen for some more bush camping before we got into Perth so we pressed on till we got to the Pinnacles. These amazing rocks seemingly spring from nowhere and certainly not where I expected. I thought they were a desert feature, not something that’s only a few kms from the coast. We explored the beauty of the Pinnacles before heading inland to find a suitable free camping spot. It didn’t take long before we found a nice isolated spot where we had a nice night in the bush around the campfire.
The Pinnacles
We had a beautiful night under the stars, the kids were constantly asking us to impart some of our bush stories and adventures onto them….. Our eagerness to get into Perth had us on the road by mid-morning. It didn’t take us long before we started to hit the urban sprawl of Perth. The immediate influx of traffic congestion, traffic management devices and population density was a formidable concept after being in a rural environment for so long. Thankfully the Navman soon had us at our preferred caravan park and we’d quickly setup home for the next 2 weeks. We spent the remainder of the afternoon lazing about the van with a beverage in our hand.
Bush camping in the middle of nowhere
Our first day in Perth was a pretty relaxing one, we spent much of our day by the van. The kids played in the park, jumping on the huge pillow or swimming in one of the multiple pools at the van park. We did get out in the afternoon to get some groceries and a bit of geocaching, oh and I did get to watch a bit (a lot) of the Bathurst car racing.

Till next week


Monday, October 6, 2014

Week 13 - Purposeful Meandering around Oz

Coral Bay – Carnarvon – Denham – Kalbarri
Kilometres          15514 – 16992 km

It was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend here in WA so come Monday morning the Coral Bay caravan park started to resemble a ghost town as many people, us included packed up and headed for home or for our next destination. We were heading to Carnarvon but not before we’d said goodbye to some fellow traveling friends. Sam and Eliza had become really close friends and had both vowed to catch up again further down the coast…. The run down to Carnarvon once again highlighted the huge arid land we live in. The rolling plains seem endless, the creeks and rivers have no water, livestock graze by the roads and you constantly see caravans and road-trains traveling the roads. Our one highlight of the day was crossing the “Tropic of Capricorn” for the umpteenth time. By lunch time we’d arrived in Carnarvon and had found a home for the next few days. The first thing you notice in Carnarvon is the huge satellite tracking dish which stands out for miles…. As most things were shut because of the public holiday the rest of our day was spent grocery shopping and washing about 8000km worth of dirt off the car.
Carnarvon Satellite Tracking Dish
On Tuesday we went in search of a few local attractions, our first stop was the huge OTC satellite dish. This facility played an integral part in tracking the Apollo XI Moon landing and was last used to track the Skylab project. Today it’s a museum offering a glimpse of early space exploration…. By late afternoon we came to realise that Carnarvon doesn’t have a whole lot to offer the tourist and we could have moved on after 2 nights. We capped off our day with a nice sunset walk out along the “one mile jetty”.
1 Mile Jetty - Carnarvon
As we’d already paid for our 3 nights in Carnarvon we had a lazy morning on Wednesday. The kids caught up on some necessary schoolwork while we did a few loads of washing. By late morning we decided to take a drive out to a place called Quobba. This remote area of the WA coastline is infamous for its blowholes and killer waves that have tragically taken many unsuspecting people. With rugged cliffs and monstrous waves it was easy to see how people’s lives are lost here. The blowholes were spectacular with water spouts coming out of the rocks up to 25m high. Not far from here we stopped at a memorial for the HMAS Sydney II which was sunk near here killing 645 crewmen.
Quobba Blowholes
Thursday was moving day and once again the scenery didn’t offer much, the kids quickly became acquainted with their iPads while Leonie starred out the window. After turning off at the town of Overlander, the scenery quickly changed as we headed towards Monkey Mia. This area is World Heritage listed for its beauty and it was easy to see why. We stopped at Hamelin Pool where we saw some amazing underwater rocks called Stromatolities. The waters had a beautiful turquoise colour with distinct patches of dark blue running through it. By mid-afternoon we’d arrived in the windy coastal town of Denham where we setup camp for the next few days. This small town provides the gateway to the Monkey Mia dolphin feeding experience at a much more affordable price.
Samantha feeding the Dolphin
Friday started at a ridiculous hour of the day for us, we were keen to be part of the Dolphin experience and thus didn’t want to be late for the first session. We weren’t sure what to expect as its changed so much over recent years. As it turned out we were among 300 people who were at the water’s edge to experience the Dolphins. About 12 Dolphins came close to the shoreline but only the mothering females (5) are fed. Samantha was lucky enough to be chosen to feed a Dolphin one fish, an experience she’ll remember for a lifetime. With the feeding over we had a short look around Monkey Mia before heading back into Denham where we’d booked an adventure quad bike tour. This was something Ethan had written on his bucket-list before leaving home so you can imagine the excitement he was feeling as we took off on our 3-hour tour around Denham. The quads were a lot of fun as we explored the sand dunes and bush tracks reaching speeds of 70km/hr. By the time we returned Ethan and Sam were adamant we’d be getting quad bikes when we got home, oh and a pet Dolphin for Sam….. Reflecting on the day we’d had as we lazed around the van late in the day, the kids both agreed that it’d been the best day of their trip so far. To complete the perfect day we headed out to Denham Lookout on sunset where we watched a beautiful sunset over the Indian Ocean.
Waiting to be fed 
As Saturday dawned the kids were still talking of their respective thrills they’d had the previous day. For us, we headed back out to Monkey Mia again to be a part of the Dolphin experience again. This time we hung around for 2 feeding sessions and bit more time soaking up the relaxed atmosphere as we sat and looked out across the turquoise water. Heading back to Denham we detoured via the Francois National Park where we explored the Peron Homestead and Big Lagoon which are part of the peninsula….. By late afternoon Sam’s friend Eliza and her family had arrived in town and with Sam eager to catch up with Eliza we headed out with a few other families for a beautiful BBQ dinner by the lake. It was well after dark before we returned to the van.
Budding riders
Sunday saw us on the road again as we headed for Kalbarri. For the first time dark clouds loomed overhead and the constant wind seemed to blow more intensely. We hadn’t long left Denham when our 3 month run of dry weather came to an end and for the next couple of hrs we drove through heavy showers. However each time we stopped, either for lunch or at the Cockle Shell beach so did the rain…. By the time we’d driven into Kalbarri the rain had passed and we were thankful to setup in the dry. Fortunately we have TV reception and were able to finish the week watching the NRL grandfinal.
The girls really enjoyed themselves
The weather has been a real mixed bag over the past week. We’ve certainly noticed the temperatures cooling down, especially overnight from those we experienced in northern WA, while the wind which seems relentless is apparently common for this time of year in this region and there’s today’s rain. So our dream run of beautiful weather is looking a little shakey as we head further south.