A not so peaceful night in the bush with the wind ripping at the tent canvas all night. Fortunately we had pitched firmly and the wind did at least bring the wonderful rich scent of the bush to wake to. Out here nightfall and daybreak are also signalled by the raucous chuckles of the Kookaburras.
Today's adventure took us south all the way down to Cape Leeuwin (Lion), the most south westerley point in Australia, where marine cartographers have decided the INdian and Southern Oceans meet. At this exposed, windswept spot a lighthouse stands 56m above Mean Tide Level. Constructed in 1896 this protects mariners heading around the cape. Between this extremity and Cape Naturaliste at the top there is a 135km Cape to Cape walk which I imagine would be stunning to complete, particularly in late spring. Given how big a fan JJLB is of walking I figured it was perhaps something to come back and do another time.
The simplicity of the lighthouse is impressive and brings a flash of pride about British engineering. The walls are thick and builtfrom locally quarried limestone. The top will move in winds of about 50 knots, but it was only about 20 knots today .. enough to feel very wind whipped when stepping out onto the platform. The original light turning mechanism has been preserved and consists of a lead weight and counterweight running through a steel tube that the iron staircase spirals around. The keepers cranked this mechanism at the start of their shift and the movement of the weight turned the lamp. The lamp mechanism is all the original apart from now using a new electric motor rather than the weight mechanism to rotate it. Only a small motor is required and the lamp can be turned by hand despite its iron casing weighing over 3 tonnes because the whole thing sits in a bath of liquid mercury. Simple science making a highly effective, economical and long lasting mechanism. The 'guestimate' to replace the lead polished glass mantern blades is $1-6 million! No-one really knows because they aren't made anymore and they haven't had to find out yet. This entire mechanism was manufactured in Birmingham in 1985, was shipped over and has been running ever since. They still turn the lantern constantly, even when the lamp is off, this is because if the lamp stays still the sunshine refracting through the glass blades would set the surrounding bush on fire!
Our guide also informed us there had been an earthquake in the night!! In fact we discovered this was the talk of the town for a few days. It measured about 3 on the richter scale, its epicentre was probably in Antartica, it happened about 12.30am … and we slept through it!
We then started back up the cape stopping at pictaresque bays along the way to enjoy the surf and the clear turquoise waters caused by the sun glinting off the silver sand underneath. Hard to know what was more breathtaking, the stunning scenery or England getting jey man Hussey out for a duck as they continued to outplay Australia and step ever closer to retaining the Ashes.
Next stop was Jewel Cave, one of several cave formations in the area along the appropritately named Caves Road, a tourist drive that snakes up the entire peninsula. The local sand dunes were compressed into limstone approximately 1.5 million years ago, and the caves are relatively young having been carved out by water approximately 500,000 years ago. We descended 42m below ground now to explore about 700m of this particularly from towering caverns that give you vertigo, to narrow twisting tunnels. It was another jaw droppingly amazing natural wonder (or living windows as the local tourist board calls them) to admire.
From here we headed further up the coast to Hamelin Bay because we'd been told it was a great beach… and we weren't disappointed. This is a little slice of paradise, a long curving turquoise bay, soft silver sand fringed by wind breaking dunes. We walked up the the headland and back drinking in the beauty of it. A gtroup of friendly stingrays patrol the shallows entertaining the visitors. I spke to a local freediver who was feeding them and he told me that whilst they are quite tame on the shore and expect a pat they get a but more scary out in the deep whilst diving.
The drive along Caves Road up to Preverley is really stunning (I'm going to need to find some more adjectives I know…). It goes through a huge, still tranquil forest (called Harmony Forest – Jen thought it was a stupid name … she would), with tall Karri trees providing a shady canopy to drive through whilst underneath ferns grew abundantly in glades touched by the softest fingers of light. Lots of walking trails around here too.
Our journey for today ended half way up the coast in the Sea Gardens cafe overlooking the bay at Preverley where we tucked silently and appreciatively into beer battered snapper, chips and a peppery rocket salad washed down with another delicious glass of chilled white wine.
Jen said she wants to try blogging so I suggested she try writing a guest post as part of this tour diary to get started. Not sure what I've let myself in for but keep an eye out for it (if she can ever drag herself away from Facebook long enough)!!!
Over on the far peak from where we sat we could see a bush fire had started. The water bombing plan kept dipping out of the air to throw water on it and fortunately it had started right out on the coast and the wind was keeping it out there rather than rushing it inland. Even so it claimed 15 hectares of bush we heard. Whilst this countryside may be gorgeous at this time of the year it is a real tinderbox and bush fires a real hazard. On the radio regular fire bulletins keep interrupting the broadcast with information on the two large fires that are currently burning within the start. These pose a risk to lives and property and we keep hearing about Bush Fire Survival Plans and be prepared to evacuate of actively defend. Fortunately these are no-where near us but are a regular reminder of the danger that walks hand in hand with all this beauty. At the same time a disaster has been called in Queensland as they have too much rain and their river systems are bursting flooding huge areas of the state and encircling and cutting off whole towns. This follows the floods last week in the north of WA. It reminds you how huge this country is, and still how thin the veneer of civilization and how at the mercy of natural forces its inhabitants are.
The next day we started out even earlier thanks to another uncomfortable night being bitten by ants … time to give the homestead a sweep and a clean out and remind myself I do like the outdoors I really do, honest and I'm not just a pathetic city girl…
This time we headed north up Caves Road to enjoy more idyllic pastoral scenes and England wrapping up the 4th test and the Ashes (ha ha well I did, Australians are feeling pretty wounded but fickle supporters that they are they are suddenly not interested in cricket). There are some grand estates up this way with their smart, imposing entrances and gleaming restaurants perched next to lakes and surrounded by their acres of vines. We drove up to the lighthouse at Cape Naturiste to complete our journey across the peninsula. This lighthouse is a much shorter structure as it is situated on a higher headland. Surrounded by coastal grasses it is a beautiful start to the cape to cape trail but also offers a selection of shorter 2-5km walking trails around the cliffs of the National Park. We were going to do the lighthouse loop but firstly we headed the wrong way and set off down the cape to cape trail (yes Jen by mistake!!) and were then defeated by the swarming flies and the heat.
We dropped down to Bunker Bay for some breakfast only to find that – shock! – it wasn't open. Some enterprising earlyriser really needs to come and open a cafe around here .. they would make a fortune as the area was already full of walkers, surfers and cyclists hammering away at their pedals up and down the cape road. Still there is not much better than lying back in warm sand under morning sunshine watching waves lap against the shore .. it passes the time …. There was a cheeky little playful surf here, perfect for surf school and the kids were out catching the waves.
There are, however, few worse things than entering a cafe when it does finally open only to be ignored. Most of the tables were reserved … clearly the smart patrons book in advance so their tables is waiting after their early morning activities, but they could still get another service in first … if they opened in earlier. The staff concentrated on the few seated patrons and ignored everyone hovering at the door. Great location does not make up for poor service in my world so we headed to Dunsborough.
Jen isn't a fan but I liked it. Less overtly touristy than Margaret River, like most outback towns, even the very posh ones, it's really just a single street with a petrol station at the entrance and a row of clapboard buildings either side. Not quite Wild West but still evocative of a frontier town. Look closely at the business in Dunsborough though and you see high end clothing boutiques, spas and neauty parlours .. not hardware stores!
As there is, after waking up in the beach that is, not much better than unwinding with a paper and coffee in the sunshine head to the Meetup cafe in Dunsborough if you do want some good service. For extra pleasure try a slice of their hot, buttered Apple and Cinnamon bread. Whilst we are on the subject of service in Margaret River, come here to the Cybercorner Cafe for good internet access, good coffee and really friendly service. This is only my second visit and they remembered my coffee order from last time .. now that is impressive.
It was on the drive back that I began to wish I had a bike with me. Walking feels a bit hot, stick and slow but driving feels too fast and detached. What you realyl want is a bike, a camera, lots of water and lashings of ginger beer to fully explore the vinyards, pastures, forests and tracks out to secluded bays. Have bike, have picnic .. go explore….
I had neither but I did have a bottle of ginger beer. They make some tasty soft drinks around here too (and ice cream though yet totaste that!) and I had an ice cold bottle of Triple G (Ginger, Ginseng, Guarana) to try … seriously tasty and refreshing. With that, a breeze through the car window, all the gorgeous landscape to ogle, and the homely comfort of ABC local radio, which sounds like something pre-1950 but at this point was doing a retrospective on The Carpenters Close to You album (that was making Jen well up!), it was a blissful morning.
I had completed a full cape to cape journey if only in the car and not yet by saddle or on foot, that will have to wait.Next time we come back we'll hire an apartment at Hamelin Bay for 2 weeks. I'd get up at the crack of dawn each day, play in the surf then explore a bit of the cape by foot or bike each day until about 1/2pm. A quick dip, lunch and a siesta then a bit of diving before chilling out on the verandah orsome wine tasing and a nice dinner or cinema under the stars or music in a local tavern. Every day. For two weeks. Sounds like a plannnnn!
I thought I was going to go through this trip without seeing any kangaroos except in the zoo but last night driving back from dinner I suddenly shouted KANGAROO!!!! There was one sitting in a field of golden grass as the sun set. Then there was another one, and another and suddenly a whole group of them. Even better whern I got up at 4.30am for an emergency pee stop this morning there was a family of them sat munching on the delicious green, well watered grass outside the toilet block. A father, mother and a young joey they lifted their heads from the grass to warily watch me pass before calmly returning to their breakfast.