WA Road Trip

South Western Australia
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

We landed in Australia at just gone 4am after a sleepless night on the plane. As the car rental company didn't open until 8am we decided to rough it in the airport and get a few hours' sleep. We found a space in between the other airport sleepers behind the car rental desks and with the aid of our trusty sleeping bags we actually managed to get a few hours quality sleep.

We collected the car from downtown just after 8am which was conveniently located just off the Albany Highway and we followed this road all the way to our holiday park. The trip couldn't have been easier and apart from pulling off the highway a few times for a break, we only had to do a left turn out of the rental place, turn left onto the Albany Highway and then turn into the holiday park 400km later. We did have our trusty S3 to help us but even with Sonya's sense of direction she could have navigated us there without getting lost :-)

So why Albany?

Albany is not on the backpacker circuit but as soon as we decided to visit Western Australia we had to add in Albany because Ross has relatives that live there. Just taking the scenic drive down the Albany Highway we already knew that we were going to love this part of our adventure and we were so glad we made the trip.

Out with the shorts!

On arriving in Albany it was noticeably colder than what we have been used too. We left Bali with temperatures of around 30°c and arrived in Perth to a chilly 10°c. We must not forget this is mid-winter, although mild compared to a January day in the UK we both noticed the sudden drop in temperature and decided we needed some warmer clothes for the coming weeks. We settled on a few hoodies but didn't go as far as the locals who were buying hats and gloves; apparently the weather has changed quite suddenly so we are not the only ones feeling the chill. We are hoping we won't need to resort to gloves and hats again especially with Sonya's habit of losing gloves, and although it seems a long time ago we shouldn't experience anything like Russia or Mongolia again on this trip!

Day 1 - Kia Kia to Albany

We spent the morning at the Western Australian Museum and visiting the Brig Amity. The museum was very informative and it was very enjoyable learning about the history of Albany and the surrounding region. Right next door to the museum we visited the Brig Amity a replica of the original Brig that brought the first English settlers from Sydney to prevent the French from trying to claim Western Australia.

We spent the afternoon at Torrdirrup national park just a few km south of Albany and we had a fantastic afternoon driving around the isolated and often deserted beaches. Luckily for us Misery Beach didn't live up to its name and was a beautiful white sandy beach where we enjoyed a lovely walk.

We also visited the incredible:

Natural Bridge, as the name suggests a bridge formed from the cliff face where softer rock beneath has eroded away.

The Gap, a natural cleft in the rock which channels the sea between two giant walls of granite. Unfortunately our camera just couldn't grasp the scale of the granite walls even though we did venture a bit closer than we should have.... oops! Mum it's a good job you weren't there to see us but even if you were you probably wouldn't have left the car park!

And finally the Blowholes, this is where sea water is channelled into the rock face and then expelled from crevasses at tremendous speeds. With an almighty whoosh, water can shoot up to 3m into the air as it is forced out of the rock with the next wave, quite incredible to both see and hear.

Day 2 - The National Parks

We awoke to beautiful blue skies and although it wasn't the warmest of days around just 10°c it seemed much warmer in the blazing sun.

We started the morning by visiting Porongurup National Park and took the 4km round trip hike to the top of Castle Rock. The views were exquisite and we were lucky enough to be at the top before the crowds arrived and we had the magnificent Granite Sky Walk all to ourselves.

Afterwards we continued to Stirling Range National Park. We decided against climbing Knoll Buff, the highest peak in Western Australia and instead took the very scenic trip along Stirling Range Drive right through the heart of the park. As our car insurance clearly stated we were only allowed to drive on sealed roads (which is blatantly stupid as there are massive amount of roads in Western Australia that are unsealed) we decided to take things at a very leisurely pace and the 42km journey took longer than we expected. We made regular stop offs on route for photographs and to visit the lookout points along the way. We only passed 2 other vehicles on the whole road and although there were a few cars parked up along the way with people hiking or enjoying a picnic, for the vast majority of the time it felt like we had the park all to ourselves. With no mobile phone reception and not a building in sight it was nice to be in such a remote location, the first time since way back on the Trans-Siberian. The air was some of the freshest we have ever experienced and combined with bright blue skies it was almost intoxicating.

In the evening we headed over to meet up with Ross' Auntie Jeryl who we haven't seen for 12 years since her last visit to the UK. We were both very excited to meet with her and when we arrived we also met her daughter Mary and son in law Colin. We both noticed the uncanny similarities between Auntie Jeryl and Dad and it seemed that the more we looked, the more we noticed. Her facial expressions along with most of her gestures were uncannily similar and it was a bit like talking to a female version of Dad! It was especially lovely to hear the nostalgic memories of when Dad visited Australia many moons ago, and even though Mary was only young she still recalls how besotted Dad was about Mum going as far as saying that 'every other word that came out of his mouth was Vivien this... or Vivien that' and the sweet thing about this story is that they are both still besotted with each other all these years later!

We had a great evening with lovely company and we were treated to our very first home cooked meal in nearly 6 months. It was a delicious roast dinner and it has to be said, we could certainly get used to it. What a great way to end the night with great company, tasty food and the best home brewed beer we have had the pleasure of sampling!

Day 3 - Beach Tour

We spent much of the morning catching up on the boring stuff before heading over to spend some more time with Auntie Jeryl, Mary and Colin before we moved on. Mary was kind enough to give us a tour of the local area and it is safe to say without her incredible local knowledge we wouldn't have been able to find some of the amazing places that she showed us. From the beautiful sights of the rugged coast line to the amazing sight of the eco-friendly wind farm we were very much spoilt for choice and we were more than happy with our guided tour. Like a magician Mary seemed to keep pulling new places out of the hat and we ended up seeing some of the most breath-taking beaches that we have ever seen and they all had one thing in common.... seclusion. We were really impressed with all of the beaches that we saw and even Sonya was lost for words which says it all! Sometimes however there are no words available to describe such beauty, although we have seen some amazing places on our trip, Albany and the surrounding region with its varied sights and landscapes is very high on our list of amazing places, we will be sad to leave such a gorgeous place behind.

After our much appreciated beach tour that took the best part of 4 hours we headed back to the house to have a well-deserved cup of tea and our second home cooked meal of the trip! It has to be said though, it's amazing how mashed potatoes can seem like a delicacy as it's something we haven't had since we left the UK. Sonya's mouth was literally watering!

Thanks to everyone for making us feel so welcome and when you plan your next trip to the UK, our door is always open and don't worry we won't dish up a roast, so stay in touch ;-)

Day 4 - South Coast

After waving goodbye to Albany we drove through Denmark and stopped off at William Bay National Park where we saw some lovely beaches and captured yet more photos. The first beach we visited was Waterfall Beach which had some amazing views overlooking turquoise waters that lapped onto soft sand broken up by rugged rocks; however it was the natural waterfall itself that looked so out of place on the beach. We also stopped off at Mad Fish Bay where we got some lovely shots of the bay.

Our next stop was The Valley of The Giants where we walked along the amazing tree top canopy. At 600m long with the highest point at 40m in the air it wasn't everybody's cup of tea and we saw a couple of girls heading back looking slightly green. However we are made of stronger stuff and really enjoyed being amongst the tree tops which gave a true perspective of how big these 'giant' trees really are. After the canopy walk with our feet firmly back on the ground we followed a trail through the woods which had more amazing giant trees. Quite a few were hollow at the bottom and big enough to walk through!

Next on our list was the Gloucester National Park where we visited the Gloucester Tree. It sounds strange to visit a tree but this is no ordinary tree. Standing at 60m tall with a lookout on the top this is the tallest treetop lookout in the world. Before fire spotter planes were introduced in the 1970's the tree was used to spot wildfires. It has now become a tourist attraction and it is incredible with so many people wanting to climb the tree it is still in its original state and no additional safety equipment has been added.

We did attempt to climb the tree but it was scarily tall. Ross managed to climb 33 rungs (approximately 1/5 of the height!) but Sonya only managed 25 rungs before she had to stop as she was paralysed with fear. We did see one lady reach the top.... however we didn't see her come back down so who knows, she might still be up there wondering how she's gonna get down, as climbing down was even worse than climbing up.

Day 5 - The Margaret River Region

We woke up to howling winds and torrential rain pelting against the windows. We thought WA was experiencing a drought, well nobody thought to tell the rain clouds that today.

We started the day with a trip to Cape Leeuwin the most South Westerly point in Australia. We also visited the tallest lighthouse in Australia, and on the short walk down the peninsula with the Indian Ocean on one side and the Southern Ocean on the other, the winds were relentless. After just about managing not to get blown over we headed back inland for some respite.

Unfortunately even though we jumped from lookout point to lookout point we were unlucky enough not to spot any whales roaming the waters. We did see something which resembled a whale in the distance but unfortunately it was too far away to make it out properly or take any photos. We were unlucky as the recent whale report showed that 17 humpbacks had been spotted frolicking in the Flinders Bay just two days prior to our visit. There had also been sightings early in the day but alas it was not to be our day.

Next stop was Jewel Cave, an impressive cave which unlike the caves we visited in China wasn't 'pimped out' and was lit with plain white lighting. The cave didn't need artificial lighting or effects to show off its natural beauty. There were two colourful light shows but they were done in a very tasteful way and did enhance the areas of the cave but only after they had been lit with white lighting and a full explanation by our guide. The tour was well presented with yet another friendly, smiley Australian and was undoubtedly the best cave we have visited, and well worth stopping by.

After driving past many winery's, beautiful beaches and rugged coastline we arrived at Cape Naturaliste. It has to be said that although we still appreciate the beauty of the coastline, moving from one amazing beach or rugged coastline to the next does distract from the stunning views, as we are almost becoming complacent with the scenery. When we arrived at Cape Naturaliste we were intending on taking a tour of the lighthouse but compared to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse it had a stunted growth problem and we decided to save our precious &'s as it was nowhere near as impressive.

Our last stop of the day was to see the incredible jetty at Bussleton. Not two words we ever thought we would use in the same sentence but at 1841m long it is the longest timber piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. Statistics don't really help to describe the enormity of the jetty so to put it into perspective it took us approximately 25 minutes to walk its length in each direction! The jetty is currently undergoing a refurbishment and when completed it will have its own train to chug up and down its length, how cool is that?

After visiting the jetty we realised we had successfully spent the whole day in the Margaret River region and had another 220km to go to Perth. The day ended as it started in heavy rain and although Western Australia is supposed to be experiencing a drought it certainly had its fair share of the wet stuff today, having the biggest rainfall for several months.

So next stop Perth.... to see what the most expensive city in the southern hemisphere has to offer!

Albany Hotel (Holiday Park) Review

We stayed at the Albany Holiday Park in an ensuite cabin. This is our first experience of a holiday park cabin, and thankfully it was a good one as we plan to stay in many throughout New Zealand. We booked a winter special and paid less for an ensuite cabin than a budget cabin with shared facilities. The main cabin had a well equipped kitchen, dining area, TV, DVD player and a separate area with a double bed. The cabin had been extended by adding a room onto its side containing bunk beds and a bathroom area. The cabin was spotless and had everything we needed for our stay. After staying in many budget hotels and hostels it was nice to have our own space and be able to do our own cooking. We had an enjoyable stay at the Albany Holiday Park and hope that it hasn't set the bar too high for other holiday parks.


Augusta Hostel Review

We stayed at the Baywatch Manor hostel in a double private with shared bathroom. The hostel was in the middle of Augusta within a few minutes' walk of the few shops the town has to offer. The room was basic and characterless with plain brick walls, but okay for an overnight stay. The common areas were massive with a great kitchen, dining area and TV room. The bathroom facilities were spotless and very well maintained. A great place for an overnight stay but the brick walls would feel like a cell after a few nights. Extremely helpful and friendly staff we would recommend the Baywatch Manor to other travellers.


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