I do not remember a trip, no matter how extensive, at the conclusion of which we did not feel that something special still might have been missed. Our last year’s grand sweep of Australia left us missing Aussie Open finals by just a few days, so as you know, I had to return. At the same time my South African dive master in East Timor mentioned that his last job in Western Australia was in a diving paradise called Ningaloo Reef, so the add on for this year’s plan was hatched!
As for Western Australia I barely knew more than its capital Perth. One big town surrounded by vast emptiness with a few mines sprinkled about. A few thousand miles of nothing before you get to any decent sized town in Eastern Australia!
Looking on the Google map we found the distance to the Northernmost tip reefs daunting and the Weather app predicted record high temperatures. Worst of all, our time frame showed no migratory movement of well known varieties of sea mammals that ply the coast of WA. All kind of whales, orcas and whale sharks seemed determined to ignore our plans to see them. So we set our sights on the bottom part of the state south of Perth and what an auspicious decision that was. Sometimes the best laid plans… become better plans.
Our first day on arrival was shocking in the best sense of the word. Instead of sweating our way to the North where temperatures were hovering above 40C/100F we drove in our little blue car straight to the 800km/500miles distant town of Esperance on the south coast in pleasant 25C/75C temperature. We encountered a surprising variety of greenery filling Australian bush with, to us yet unknown creatures like this cross between grass and palm and tree called, as we later found out, politically very incorrectly – Black Boy.
When we finally reached the vast emptiness of this continent, we marveled at the large plains occasionally inhabited by lone old trees and not much else. This is called “the wheat belt” as it is populated by farmers, which on a few thousand acres sized farms, make a decent living from grains of all kinds. They move between their farms, bars, general stores and bank ATMs on perfect roads, sometimes even below speed limit. In their isolation and solitude they forge close relationships with their pets, which are actually working farm dogs and love them beyond their useful lives.
People of the small town of Corrigin expressed their devotion in the special cemetery where touching tributes were paid to their “best mates.”
Sometime, between those farms we passed by strange lithium ore mines, an element needed badly by all of us who cannot live without lithium battery powered devices like iPhones, computers, Tesla cars, or Boeing Dreamliners. The by-product of the mining boom is good paying jobs for those willing to move into barren mining places from the rest of Australia and beyond. They eat forty bucks steaks for dinner flushing it down with ten bucks bottles of beer
in addition to filling vaults of banks in Perth or Sydney and coffers of Australian governments with cool cash. All that lithium goes straight to hungry Chinese production lines with the help of gargantuan road trains moving in short intervals to the newly upgraded ports on the southern coast. In our Mini Suzuki we feel like Gulliver hopelessly lost among giants. When we get scared off the road, we take a break to see places where Australia may still look like before the European settlers (or prisoners) showed up on its shores. Here, in the Mulka’s cave we got a cherished opportunity to snap a shot or two of the hundreds of Aboriginal hand imprints. We don’t particularly care for caves of any kind, except for those bearing the artistic presence of our human ancestors. Those we love and look for all over the world.
Just a few miles from the cave is a fitting reminder of what Western Australia may offer on its far away shores. This huge Rock Wave, almost 15m/50ft high, leaves no doubt in your mind of what you should expect further down the road. The surfing/wind-surfing/kite-surfing paradise at its best!
And when we reach those shores, Bay after Bay, they are better than we could have imagined. But nothing prepares you for Lucky Bay, the beach with the whitest sand in all of Australia. (Scientifically measured and proven.)
What would you prefer?
Having fun on your own jumping in the air over azure waves or enjoying some friendly competition with your mates? Kite-surfing … … or petting those friendly beach kangaroos? Hand feeding? Just seaweed?! You can’t be serious, Madam! Better just observe them in their own environment and leave them in peace!
The natural beauty of the pristine southern coast of WA is beyond description. It has to be seen and enjoyed in person. There are surprises around every corner: the yellow-orange blooming Christmas Trees (way past Christmas time) with the background of Rock Mountain sporting an interesting “needle hole” shaped top … … pretty strong Southern Ocean breeze on the Thistle Beach in the Cape La Grand National Park… … and more beautiful coves with spectacular colors (no filter needed) and attractive names like the Twilight Beach west of the town of Esperance.
The famous Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne has nothing on these phenomenal views! Driving around is not enough for you? Why don’t you get on the plane and fly over to see all those beautiful colors of the pink Lake Hiller on the Middle Island in the Cape Arid National Park.
Back on the coastal road you can find proud Norfolk Pines with funny, peculiar needles. Growing easily 40m/130ft high, they were planted on the shores to replace incoming sail ships masts frequently snapped in the brute “roaring forties” winds.
Inland you find remains of eucalyptus forests as they might have looked with some really tall tingle trees before they were rather mercilessly cut down (as reflected in this aboriginal painting – open to interpretation, of course) only to pave(!) the streets of London in 1900s.
The other tall presence here is wind turbines on wind farms. They are a sight, and a beautiful one, to behold. It is rare one can get up close and personal to these modern giants. There are actually tourist informational trails leading through the forest of wind turbines, no security concerns whatsoever. Talk about security levels here! As a matter of fact, on the Australian domestic flights we never even had to present an ID with our boarding pass!
After we turned the corner of the south-western tip of Australia, called Cape Leeuwin, we still had some interesting stuff to do. After climbing the steps to the top the thirst brought us quickly to the Margaret River wineries. As always, when opportunity arises, some of us never hesitate to stop by and DRINK!
Famous wines of Western Australia were tasted by our expedition tester-in-charge. After consultation with her pink Lake Hiller personal pilot named Will, otherwise part of one of the few sets of Australian quadruplets, it has been decided to visit Leeuwin, Voyager and Knottinghill wineries (the last having a distinction of being owned by Will’s cousin and also featuring as Will’s recent wedding venue). At the Voyager vinery the meticulously maintained and lovingly tended rose garden was one of the most beautiful we had ever seen. To our surprise each differently colored variety of perfect rose bushes actually smelled intoxicatingly differently. Such a rarity to find roses these days that really smell like roses. In the rarified environment and architecturally spectacular interiors of their taste rooms highly intellectual exchange ensued between our tester and Adam-the-Sommelier focusing on bouquet, flavor, terroir, and other subjects unknown to the writer of this blog also known as Driver, who was silently sipping from his glass of lukewarm water to avoid a possible DUI, while dully trying to record this sophisticated conversation electronically. Tasting was highly successful, conversation entertaining and exchange of business cards mutual. Future visit in the winery guaranteed!
At Knottinghill the architecture was more modern and the cousin happy to share her wine and Will’s wedding photos. Looks like more are in the offing as his three quad siblings have been getting engaged one after the other.
As we were heading towards the Perth airport enjoying the last rays of the sun setting over the modest cattle farms endangered by spreading developments from future Perth-Fremantle megalopolis, our regular end of the trip discussion moved slowly on.
But its conclusion was clear. We may not have seen the whales, orcas, whale sharks, giant calamari, manta rays or any others this time. As it happened in the past after each of our LAST visits to Australia, we decided, as expected, unanimously:
WE SHALL COME BACK!