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Monday, 30 April 2012

Go West, Young Man! (part 4 of 4)

A few days in the Swan Valley just to the north-west of Perth were just the ticket to let us chill out after the long days up north and prepare us for going home. The Vines Country Club was perfect as a base to enjoy a bit of luxury.  Driving into the Swan Valley, the first thing we encountered was a 'roo hopping about on our side of the road.  Don't think our Hyundai rental would have come out of a collision with a big 'roo too well.


Beware of local hazards!

The Vines was a model of understated luxury and the photo below is the view from our room - grape vines and fountain with a small pool.  Why do I always feel slightly out of place in this sort of luxury?

Courtyard panoramic

A pair of ducks were swimming in the small pool and as soon as they saw me emerge from the room, they were over in a flash, expecting a feed.  Even when we closed the French windows, they stayed outside tapping on the window with their beaks to remind us that they were still there!

 Tap, tap - got anything to eat mister?

We'd already visited some vineyards down south so we skipped these, visiting a nougat factory and coffee roasting place instead.  The range of products was amazing and not good for the waistline either!  We also paid a visit to the motor museum of Western Australia which had a great range of bikes and cars.  There's a selection of photos below but my personal favourite was a hand-built special which was completed by the owner when he was in his 80's!!!  The first photo is my photo of a picture on the wall showing the chassis during construction with the builder's wife looking on (no doubt rolling her eyes and tutting).

Sigh.. her car probably has to sit outside the garage!

Tantalising glimpse of a Jag V12 powerplant through the rear window

Front view - what a looker with hand-made alloy panels!

I guess when you get to your late 70's and 80's, a lot of people would would be thinking of taking it easy but this guy is an inspiration to us all!

 Early Honda car with 350cc twin powerplant

Superbly-restored 1929 Studebaker

Aussie legend Peter Brock's racing Holden Torana - brutal

Greeves twin port single motocross engine
massive finning, tiny crankcase

Flawlessly restored Kawasaki Z1

On the ANZAC day public holiday shared by Australia and NZ, we drove out into the hinterland for a look-see and ended up in the historic town of York.  We were standing outside a shop when the vintage car in the photo below came chugging along and parked.  Somehow, it didn't seem at all out of place!

York main street

York lookout

An Acorn Banksia - flower is bigger than your fist

Grass Trees which look very alien!

On our last day in Western Australia, we were driving through the Perth suburbs and got held up at the traffic lights.  There was some reconstruction work going on and at first, we didn't notice anything amiss.  Click on the photo and look closely at the 2 big signs - isn't the world better for people with a sense of humour?

Simply wonderful!

I hope that you've enjoyed the selection of photos covering our travels in Western Australia.  We thought that it was a fantastic destination although it doesn't seem particularly well-publicised.  You've certainly got to do a bit of planning though because of the distances involved.  We mixed self-drive with two very good limited numbers tours in small luxury coaches.  The tours were excellent from the perspective that they included stuff which would be hard to find or organise if travelling by yourself.  The tours were well-organised and it would be extremely remiss not to mention our drivers, Mike from Pinnacle and Terry from Travelmarvel/APT.  Both were fantastic ambassadors for their country and companies - extremely knowledgeable, funny as heck, and supremely organised.  In fact, driving seemed a minor part of their role. They both ended up more as friends than company representatives, which says it all really.

Also, many car rental companies won't let you take their vehicles off the tar seal which is a shame as there are so many things to see down the dirt roads which outnumber the sealed ones by a country mile.  Mixing tours with driving is the only way you'll see things properly.  By way of a parting bit of wry humour, there was a sticker in our car which said that rental vehicle travel on dirt roads was not permitted unless it was in a 4x4.  It then added that the Subaru Outback 4x4 was excluded from the dirt.  Ironic really, that the Outback isn't allowed to travel in the...... outback.  The ultimate irony!



Go West, Young Man (Part 3 of 4)

The Tropics

Leaving Carnarvon to travel to Coral Bay, the gateway to Ningaloo Reef Marine area, the sheer scale of Western Australia and the absence of people became very apparent with huge straights and the very occasional bend to see if you're still awake. Quite often, half an hour would pass with perhaps only one other vehicle in sight.

 
 The road to infinity

One of the infrequent road houses on this road for gas and food

Most of the roads leading off the north-south highway are red dirt,  If I was living in this area, I wouldn't be riding a sport bike with the long straights, dirt roads and cripplingly high temperatures / humidity - that would be sheer masochism.  The weapon of choice would either be a cruiser or more likely an adventure bike with a bloody huge fuel tank!  It was somewhere to the north where we saw a big sign saying "Limited water for the next 632 km", followed by another saying "Cyclone season - have you checked the weather forecast?" Kicked myself for not taking photos but at least Jennie and I were comforted by the fact that the cyclone season was pretty much done and dusted.  A short while later, we crossed into the Tropic of Capricorn.


Hot and dry on one side of the sign, even hotter and humid as heck on the other side!

Ningaloo Reef isn't as large or as well-known as the Great Barrier reef on Australia's east coast but it makes up for it by being a lot more accessible.  Also if you have time to venture beyond the reef into deep water (we didn't), you are able to see whale sharks and manta rays up close.  A pity to have missed them but one could hardly complain with all the spectacular stuff we'd seen so far.  We settled for a trip along part of the reef in a glass-bottomed boat.  Photos simply don't do the real-life colour and marine life justice, but here are some anyway.

Just wade out and jump on board....

Cabbage coral and marine life

Colossal piece of brain coral about 5 metres across

It was at Coral Bay having a bite to eat that I saw a heavily-laden BMW adventure bike pull up to get gas. It was the same bike I'd first noticed several hundred km south of Perth parked up without the rider.  It even carried spare tyres and from the writing on the panniers, bike and rider were on a round -the-world trip.  We didn't have the opportunity for a chat but the rider looked Indian or possibly South American.  If anyone knows who it is, perhaps they'd be kind enough to comment.  Certainly a very professional set-up and we saw him several times at a distance further north .

A round the world solo traveller

Heading ever north and stopping at a roadhouse, I spotted this old Holden refuelling.  With 'roo bars up front and loaded up with spare fuel cans and maybe the kitchen sink on the roof, it looked like a survivalists wet dream or perhaps a Mad Max prop.  Guess they were going to spend some time a long way from anywhere.

Mad Max revisited?

It was also at this roadhouse where two riders on adventure bikes pulled in.  They were seriously equipped for long haul riding and the Honda shown in the photo below had a massive Acerbis plastic fuel tank.  Despite the heat and humidity, the riders took their personal protection seriously, as opposed to many riders in the Perth area who rode in flip-flops, shorts and no gloves.

Honda adventure bike passing two mating trucks

It was around this area that termite mounds started appearing out of the scrub.  Some of them were pretty large as the photo below shows.

Decent size termite mound

The next part of the trip took us inland into the Pilbara region and the Hamersley Range.  It's an area rich in minerals, particularly iron ore and the soil is a fabulous rich red colour. We were heading for the remote mining town called Tom Price, named after an American geologist who was instrumental in opening the area up.  We felt instantly at home here as the "feel" of the place was practically identical to the pulp, paper and timber town which we spent much of our working lives in.  The hotel was well-patronised by the local miners and their families and the size and quality of the meals were, well....  "heroic" (an understatement!).

We took a guided tour of an iron ore mining operation which was a nice counterpoint to the natural wonders we'd seen, but nonetheless fascinating to a retired engineer.  Jennie thought it was great too!

Massive road train carrying iron ore

How to make a hill flat in no time at all

Monster ore-carrying truck approaching

Apparently, trials are currently being undertaken with driverless trains similar to the setup below carting ore from inland to Port Hedland and they're being controlled from Perth, some 1700 km to the south!!

Train carrying ore to Port Hedland.  Some are several km long!
(stock photo)

Not far outside Tom Price is the Karijini National Park.  I remembered seeing photos of this area or something very similar when studying geography at school in the UK and the topography was synonymous with Australia in my mind.  The region is geographically very old indeed with narrow, red gorges. Horizontal compression has caused the rocks to buckle and lift over the aeons.  If anyone isn't affected by the wild magnificence of the scenery in the following pictures, it's hard to know what will!  Incidentally, although it's currently autumn in this area, the temperature on the day we were there hovered close to the 100 degree F (38C) mark.  It didn't feel too bad as the humidity was fairly low inland but it's easy to see why water is so prized in this region.

Shallow angle waterfall feeding a rock pool

Amazing horizontal rock compression

Breathtaking - no other word for it

Water cascades down a narrow gorge

Panoramic showing watercourse and rock folds

The aforementioned photos simply don't do justice to this area so we bought a book of professional photographs as a further reminder of how fantastic Karijini is!

Billabong freshwater spring - a real oasis

Sturt Desert Pea in full flower

Here are a couple of oddity-value photos for you!  The first is a raised public toilet in a roadside rest area to avoid the flooding which comes in the cyclone season.  All good value, but if the water was lapping round the car windows, having a pee in comfortable conditions would be close to the last thing I'd be thinking of.  I'd probably have wetted myself already!

Hard to think of this area being flooded

The following photo was taken at salt evaporation ponds at Port Hedland and of all the photos taken, it's among my very favourites.  The salt accumulating in the water looks very much like ice and some wit had stuck in a brilliantly-painted cut-out of the Titanic sinking - sheer genius!  You'll also notice a shark's fin just in front of it!

People who do this sort of stuff are to be treasured!

Broome was the northernmost point of our travels and as we pulled up at the waterfront, the VW-engined trike below caught my eye which was beautifully finished in lavender metalflake. The rider was just putting helmets on two women who looked like they'd come from the cruise ship in the background.  Nice way of seeing the sights round Broome.

Broome by neat trike

Nearby was a cemetery full of beautiful headstones with Japanese characters on them.  Broome was the world capital of the pearling industry in the late 1800's and there were huge numbers of Japanese pearl divers who came to Broome. It was not exactly the safest profession in the world and the number of graves reflects that.   The cemetery was a beautifully-kept tranquil place.

Japanese pearl diving graveyard


We stayed at the magnificent Cable Beach Club Resort and there are some pics below.  The only downside of staying there was that we got lost every time we set foot outside our room!  Whether by design or by accident, every pathway in the resort ran in a curve and and it was virtually impossible to orient yourself among all the foliage.  Finding the restaurant for both dinner AND breakfast took forever. Should have put a few chalk marks on the path!

Our place at Cable Beach - sheer luxury

Weird-looking tree - or is it a Triffid?

Stunning Grevillia flower

A great place to soak up the sun

That was the end of the northerly part of what has been a simply superb anniversary trip.  It would have been a let-down to have flown directly back to NZ after having been so full-on so we flew back to Perth for a few days of chilling out in the Swan Valley wine region to do our own thing.  More on that in the final post.



Saturday, 28 April 2012

Go West, Young Man! (Part 2 of 4)

Perth and north to Carnarvon
After returning from the south, there was just time to book a day trip to Rottnest Island, some 19km off the coast to the west of Perth.  The plan involved hiring bicycles to explore the gently undulating island,although the 30 degrees C plus temperatures which were forecast meant carrying plenty of water in the backpacks.

Bell tower near the Swan River

The structure above is a beautiful piece of architecture.  A local explained that the bells were a gift from St Martin in the Fields church, London; following their purchase of new bells.  Undoubtedly a generous gesture but Jennie and I got the giggles imagining the London Clergy to be foisting old cracked bells on unsuspecting commonwealth colonials. ("Those colonials Down Under are tone deaf old chap, let's get rid of our junk on them!") We're told that they sound beautiful so either we're overly cynical or they've welded the cracks.

Leaving downtown Perth on the glass-like Swan River

Seriously expensive riverside properties - tens of millions each

Toys for the ultra-wealthy at Fremantle port

Harleys aren't the only thing with toothed belt drive!

The only worry when setting off on the bikes was a sign which cautioned people to stick to the cycle tracks.  There was little risk of getting lost - the warning referred to Australian wildlife which basically said, "All flora and fauna in Australia is out to kill you".  Mercifully, we only saw one significant creature and that seemed indifferent towards us. More on that in a moment.

Jennie at one of the white sand beaches

Salt stacks in a shallow lagoon

A Quokka - a bit like a 1/6 scale kangaroo with a rodent's head grafted on 
(Frankenrat? Frankenroo?)

We came round a corner to find several Quokkas (a quantity of... or a quorum of... perhaps?) foraging on the edge of the road and they seemed completely indifferent to our presence.  Maybe they were lulling us into a false sense of security.  They are clearly intelligent, possessing the ability to read if the symbols on the swing doors of the local general store in the photo below are anything to go by.

 Maybe Quokkas are serial shoplifters

The fast ferry coming for to carry us home, la la

A most excellent outing although thigh and calf muscles (ummm... and backside) knew they'd had a bit of an unaccustomed work-out by the end of the day!

The next day, we headed north to the Nambung National Park to see the Pinnacles.  The limestone structures up to 6 metres tall rise directly out of the desert and look completely surreal.  They're thought to be millions of years old.

The Pinnacles - totally surreal landscape (and bloody hot too!)

I don't believe what's written on my shirt, honestly!

What gives you the impression that it's sometimes a bit windy in this coastal region???

Our next port of call was to the World Heritage - listed Shark Bay, something I'd been looking forward to for a long time.  This area is BIG, covering an area of some 25,000 sq km!

A brick wall in the middle of nowhere!

There is a diverse range of marine life but our first stop was our waterside accommodation at the oddly-named settlement of Monkey Mia.  The first photo below shows a flock of wild emu wandering through the cabin area searching for food.  They're not an aggressive bird but a flock (herd? entirety?) of them will happily surround you with mugging on their minds if you're carrying something tasty!

Emus laying in wait for an unsuspecting victim

Shortly after arriving, we went out for a sunset cruise on a large catamaran.  Very relaxing and the sunset was worth waiting for.  The photo below caught the outline of another large sailboat in the distance.

Absolute tranquillity

Emus aside, the main claim to fame of Monkey Mia are the dolphins which have been visiting the area since the 1960's.  They're so friendly that they come into knee-deep water to interact with people, even bringing in their young.  The conservation rangers in the area give them little titbits of fish, although quantities are strictly controlled so that they don't become dependent.  I don't know what it is about dolphins, but I always feel both deeply moved and joyous at the same time in their presence.

An incredible sight

Lots of 'em waiting for a treat

The following morning, we visited Eagle Bluff which looks down on a shallow bay where big rays and sharks can often be seen.  Unfortunately, they must have been further out to sea whilst we were there but it was still stunningly beautiful.  The second photo below is looking back from Eagle Bluff towards the long dirt track approach.  Away from the main north-south sealed highway, dirt roads predominate and with the lack of population and high temperatures, you need to take sensible precautions when travelling.  It's not only creatures and plants which are out to kill you!

 The Indian Ocean from Eagle Bluff

Miles and miles of stuff-all

Further down Shark Bay was Shell Beach, a totally appropriate name if ever there was one!  Have a look at the following photo:

Fragum cockle shells, barely 10mm across

The origin of these shells is thought to stretch back 4000 years, although it's apparently a puzzle as to why they existed in such profusion.  The beach isn't a few shells mixed with sand, the entire beach is comprised of these shells packed together to a depth of over 5 metres, stretching for 120 km along the coastline.  The beach is so white that it almost hurts to look at it even with dark sunnies on.

Shell Beach stretching into infinity

A bit further round Shark Bay, we visited the Stromatolites, the world's oldest living organisms.  The living microbes that build Stromatolites in a similar way to coral are virtually identical to the earliest forms of life dating back 3000 million years.  They were important in releasing oxygen to kick off more advanced forms of life on Earth.  There are relatively few locations of living Stromatolites left on the planet.

Shark Bay Stromatolites

Tiny collections of bubbles (top right) are oxygen produced by the organisms

Shark Bay is an incredible place and deserves its world heritage status.  Our stop that night was at Carnarvon at the north end of Shark Bay and only a few kilometres short of the Tropic of Capricorn!