Diary—August 2006




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30 July to 05 August 2006

Geraldton–Mt Magnet

We made it to Geraldton by Sunday and were therefore able to meet Graeme and Rachael at church. Graeme has just inherited the whole church responsibility (after joining as an assistant minister at the start of the year) because the senior minister had left for another parish the week before. In the past week Graeme had a funeral, baptism, marriage guidance counseling and two services, so he was pretty worn out. We were able to help out a little, including leading a Bible Study while Graeme and Rachael attended a birthing classódid I mention that they are pregnant?

There was patchy rain most of our time in Geraldton. We have both had colds which may be related to the rain and the cooler weather. I think we caught them from the locals in Broome, who complained when the temperature dropped below 25. We spent an afternoon visiting the HMAS Sydney memorial, which was hauntingly beautiful, and in the Geraldton Museum, which was very interesting. The museum had lots of info about the wreck of the Batavia and about Portuguese exploration of the Western coastline about 150 years before Cook arrived on the East.

On another day we drove out to a hamlet to the south of Geraldton where the trees lie down and had lunch in the 'Hampton Arms'. The place is a mix of English pub and second-hand bookshop. The owner is a real character. He loves to chat and has a very interesting history (if true) involving house boats and arms dealing and PLO and CIA/FBI visitors to the pub. Anyway, he had an eclectic selection of pommy beers, made a tasty ploughman's lunch and had a log fire in the library where we could relax and browse the books. We loved it.

From Geraldton we took a 'slight' detour inland to Mt Magnet to catch up with Bill and Jackie France, parents of Simon, our minister back in Canberra. Of all the BCA folk we have met, they seem to be doing it toughest—an isolated town, in a huge parish (they service 4 towns each up to 200km from home base in Mt Magnet) as well as the usual challenges of small towns, aging populations, declining social structures and low literacy levels. Although you would never know this to meet them as they are so full of life and cheer.

We experienced their warm and loving hospitality and were able to help out by doing some electrical, plumbing and gardening jobs. Robin joined a ladies fellowship group one afternoon and really enjoyed getting to know a couple of the ladies. On Saturday we accompanied them to their weekly Saturday church service at Meekathara, 200km to the north. They do this trip every Saturday—we stopped for a brief picnic lunch and to look at the view on the way back.

Mt Magnet is supposed to be in the wildflower area but it has been so dry (despite the rain in Geraldton) that the carpets of flowers have not yet made an appearance. The locals are hopeful they will eventually come up. We saw some!

Week 18

Part of the HMAS Sydney memorial in Geraldton

Andrew Short Real Estate in Geraldton

Leaning tree south of Geraldton, where the winds are gentle!

A partial carpet of wildflowers on the way to Mount Magnet

The Meekathara church—a 200km round trip each Saturday

More wildflowers between Meekathara and Mount Magnet

Mine in the foreground and Mount Magnet in the background

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06 to 12 August 2006

Mt Magnet–Busselton

We toured Mt Magnet after church on Sunday. From the lookout, there is quite a contrast. From the sparse plains and township on one side of the hill to the massive open cut mine works on the other. Most of the 'mountains' in the area are actually man-made tailing dumps from the mines. On Monday we said goodbye to Bill and Jackie and drove towards Perth.

The rain and winds are catching up with us as we head south. One night we sheltered from the winds against the walls of the New Norcia monastery, just north of Perth. Apparently the benedictine tradition is still observed in this monastic town and we could have sheltered inside, but they may not have approved of us sleeping together. New Norcia is where several old paintings were stolen from 20 years ago. We had a look through the museum. It was interesting to see how self sufficient the monks were, making everything from wine to pasta, bread and all household items.

We were in Fremantle for Census night. We considered spending the night at some obscure campsite to see if the Census people really could find us but practical considerations overruled. Besides, we were able to catch up with Kanishka and Kayley for coffee on Census night, which was great (he hasn't changed at all!).

While in Fremantle, we went to the Maritime Museum. Hutch dragged Robin on a tour of the submarine Ovens (yet again). In the days Hutch served on Ovens Robin had been onboard so often she could almost give the tour. Hutch took heaps of photos that he was unable to do when it was operational. The guide was happy to have a 'real' submariner on board to fill in some examples of submarine life. He let us into the wardroom to update a photo that Robin has been carrying around in her purse for the past 20 years!

After a few days in the city, we headed bush again for a bit of quiet and the opportunity for camp cooking. We travelled inland to Wellington dam and the Wellington National Park. The countryside looks unrealistically green, especially when contrasted with more northern inland areas. The rain that brought the green meant that it took a few hours to get the fire going and dry out wood enough to cook. Hardly worth the effort for a few burnt sausages.

Robin had a close encounter with a parrot that flew onto her chair, then walked over her head and onto the ground in front of her before accepting a gingernut biscuit and casually eating it in front of us.

We are looking for warmth again so drove to the coast and Busselton. We were originally going to dive the jetty and HMAS Swan wreck from here. However, in Exmouth we had met a dive shop owner from nearby Dunsborough and she told us the shop was shut for a few months because the conditions are so bad at this time of the year. Our dive gear stayed dry.

We walked the length of the 1.8km jetty. The water was dirty and we were swept by wind and rain. Oh well, yet another place to revisit in another season. We also explored a little through Dunsborough and the Cape Naturaliste National Park. We climbed the lighthouse on Cape Naturaliste and viewed the threatening sky and troubled sea from the windy balcony. Wisely retreating we went in search of wineries.

Week 19

Part of an exhibit in the Fremantle Maritime Museum

The submarine Ovens at the Fremantle Maritime Museum

Replicating the image Robin has in her wallet in the wardroom of Ovens

Wellington dam wall east (inland) of Bunbury

The cheeky 'wild' parrot at our Wellington dam camp

Same parrot from Robin's perspective which was just a bit too close!

The Busselton jetty—all 1.8km of it

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13 to 19 August 2006

Busselton–Margaret River–Pemberton (Big Brook Dam)–Shannon NP–Denmark

We settled into Margaret River for a few days as a base for touring the area, and because it is so wet. We even lashed out on the luxury of an en-suite site—only 2 steps from Tim to the toilet and shower!

We celebrated Hutch's birthday on a wine and bush-tucker tour with 13 others. This was a great day, touring vineyards, sampling their products, a bush-tucker lunch and a visit to a chocolate factory. The strangers on the bus soon became friends and we had such a great time together that most went to a karaoke night after the tour. Iain (the Scot) was a hidden talent and we (Hutch and Robin) did an impromptu version of 'My Sherona'.

The days were too poor (wet and windy) for walking, so we drove around the south of Margaret River. We saw the Margaret River itself, breaking free from a huge sandbar thrown across its mouth by the last storm. However the famous surf breaks were disappointing—lots of big waves but non that surfers would tackle.

At one stage we escaped underground into 'Lake Cave' and oddly enough it is suffering a problem of a dropping water levels. We also climbed the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to see the reefs where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. They have had to replace most of the windows and the upper door on the lighthouse as they have blown out during storms.

Finally leaving the coast, we ventured into the big tree territory. We climbed the Diamond and Gloucester Tree Lookouts for amazing views over the forests and down to the coast. We walked among and over the trees (on the tree top walk) to get a real appreciation of these giants.

Some of the best experiences were a few nights camping in the forests under the canopy. It still rained, but they kept the wind out and the bird life was entertaining. We had blue wrens feeding under the trailer and a Robin that attacked the mirror on Yoda for hours on end defending his territory from a rival.

We were the only people in the parks most of the times—it seems that the weather has put most others off. We could drive for hours and not see another car and we were the only people at the campsites.

Our only complaint is the poor maps and road markings in the forests. We came across many dead ends requiring us to backtrack. Along one track we came across an emu and his chicks running along the track. He kept looking over his shoulder at us but had to wait for the runt of the litter to keep up. Eventually he managed to work out that running off the road was the best option—and took the young ones with him altho' they had trouble climbing the bank he chose! We also found a creek crossing reported as open which was in fact knee-deep (on Hutch) and fast flowing across slippery rocks, due to recent rains. We are a little wary of water crossings at the moment.

It has now been raining at least once a day since we left Mt Magnet, often with strong winds—several houses in the town of Australind were damaged last week. We are safe and dry in Tim, but he has been shaken around a bit and we are glad we are not in a tent (or a less well built trailer). Still, one day we stayed at camp all day because we were concerned at reports of gale force winds—reading books makes for boring diary entries.

On our way to Denmark we have managed to travel through an astounding number of national parks (NP) so here is a list: Leeuwin-Naturaliste NP; Warren NP; Gloucester NP; Brockman NP; D'Entrecasteaux NP; Shannon NP; Walpole-Nornalup NP. It is a bit like visiting lots of gorges—yet we still love the forests.

Week 20

Wine trip bush tucker lunch on Hutch's birthday

Margaret River meets the sea

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

The entrance to Lake cave

Us at the top of the Diamond Tree

Shannon NP Robin

The water crossing we didn't—Moons crossing in Gloucester NP

Walking among the tops of Tingle and Karri trees on the Tree Top Walk

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20 to 26 August 2006

Denmark–Albany–Wave Rock–Kalgoorlie

For the observant few who saw the Four Corners report 'Seachange', we had our three seconds of fame driving Yoda and Tim down the main street of Denham. This was filmed as we were leaving Shark Bay at the end of July. We managed to see it in a camp kitchen as we sheltered from the rain to cook dinner.

From Denmark we deviated inland to visit Mt Barker and the Goundrey winery. Another good Australian winery bought out by the Constellation group. We toured the complex and were told of the new economies brought to the winery including the loss of 25% of the staff. The whole process seems to be a bit clinical now.

In Albany, we found the best coffee of the trip, a great little cafe on the main street. There was a discussion about tourism on the radio and a tourist commented that "it takes more than a coffee machine to make good coffee". This barista knew what she was doing.

Out on the edge of the sound, the whaling museum was fascinating. An old whaling station has been converted into a tourist venue, including video displays in the old whale oil tanks. It looked to be pretty gruesome business, knee deep in whale blood and blubber in the middle of summer. The displays enabled the experience of everything except the smell.

Also in Albany there is a rock shaped like a dog's head, which reminded Robin of whats-her-name back home [Hutch comment]. We toured the sites like the natural arch, the blowholes and the wind farm. We loved the fantastic coastline and spent ages gazing out to sea (with many locals) looking for the whales that are migrating past here at the moment. We didn't get to dive the former HMAS Perth as diving had been blown out by the storms that have been through the area in the last weeks.

Still raining every day, so we headed north and inland, rather than following the coast. We stayed at 'Wave rock' overnight. Most of the tourist improvements here have been done by locals, which shows a great community spirit. They have set up a 3.6 km walk around the rocks and salt lakes in the area. It was an easy walk and well signposted. We also checked out 'Mulka Cave' where (legend has it) a giant, inbred, aboriginal cannibal lived and terrorized the neighbourhood many years ago (who said history is boring).

Finally, in Kalgoorlie, we get a sunny day and 24 hours without rain, for the first time in nearly two weeks. We are staying a few days in Kalgoorlie and the place seems to be full of Canberrans—at least six other Canberra vehicles in the caravan park we are in along with some from Queanbeyan, Cooma and Nowra. (And a 4wd with 'VNAM69' number plates that we seem to have followed for the past 4 months.) It is amazing how many times we bump into the same travellers. Most of the people we meet in the south seem to be, like us, heading home—either quickly (5 days) or more slowly (5 weeks).

The town seems to be thriving and mining is a big attraction for tourists and prospectors alike. The main area is a group of leases consolidated into one big concern called the 'Super pit'—a truly enormous open cut gold mine. This is mining as it is done today and the Miner's Hall of Fame shows how it used to be done. Fun.

Week 21

Goundrey wine complex—the romance of wine making has gone!

Two whale skeletons at the Whaling Station, Albany

Dog rock, Albany

Spectacular coast near Albany

Wave Rock, outside Hyden

The Super Pit, Kalgoorlie—the little trucks have 4m wheels

Almost an ounce of gold at the Kalgoorlie Miner's Hall of Fame

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27 August to 02 September 2006

Kalgoorlie–Norseman–Nullarbor–Streaky Bay–Coffin Bay–Port Gibbon

We joined our Anglican brothers and sisters for church in Kalgoorlie before we left this mining town. And on to Norseman, stopping off at the excellent Coolgardie museum and their amazing bottle collection from as early as 300 BC. This was our second last night in WA.

We have now crossed the mighty Nullarbor. Three days of relatively easy driving but it still reinforced how big this country is. It certainly is not all treeless, but it is arid. One section of road was ~150km dead straight—we did a couple of practice weaves before tackling the next corner.

CALM have closed all the caves along the Nullarbor and removed the road signs, but a petrol station owner sketched a map out to one, 'Weebubbie cave', for us. It was a rough track but a fascinating hole in the ground leading to a water-filled cave. Further on we also walked over the Eucla telegraph station that was abandoned many years ago and is now almost swallowed by a sand dune.

At the middle part of the crossing we stopped at 'Head of the Bight' to see the whales. This large bay was FULL of them—we were told there were over 95 Southern Right Whales in the bay, mostly mothers and newborn calves. From the cliffs we could look down to several whales and calves less than 100m away. The mothers were lifting the calves with their tails to assist in their breathing. Some of the older calves were discovering the use of their fins and tails, rolling and slapping the water. A bit like gambolling lambs but bigger and in slow motion. The tail of a baby Southern Right Whale—kinda babies first steps

The other animal that has dominated this section of the trip is Stumpy Tailed Lizards. Every few kilometres there was one crossing the road. Millions of Stumpies on the move—like grey nomads, but much friendlier.

Streaky Bay and Coffin Bay were very relaxing, the days warm and the nights mild. At Coffin Bay we had Kangaroos grazing under our bed at night. They are very noisy eaters and often have small skirmishes with each other!. They grunt and cough—why do Australian animals have such ugly voices!

In the Coffin Bay National Park, we toured as far as we could as the tracks were often covered by moving sand dunes.

We saw two black snakes, lots more Stumpies, heaps of emus. We saw at least three dad emus with up to 10 chicks—one dad thought our car was a threat so fluffed out his neck and looked meaningfully at us as his chicks scurried into the scrub.

We shared our lunch with a very confident wren.

Our lunch time companion in Coffin Bay National Park

It was a rugged and absolutely beautiful park and it was fully in bloom.

Week 22

The long straight road of the Nullarbor

Weebubbie cave—one of many in the Nullarbor plains

The vanishing telegraph station at Eucla

Mother and child at Head of the Bight

One of the tracks that vanish into the dunes in Coffin Bay National Park

Sunset over one of bays at Coffin Bay