Esperance to Caiguna

Traveling East from Esperance,it is first necessary to leave the coast behind and head North toward Norseman, “The Gateway to the East”. Here we turned right, and into the desert proper. Just prior to the longest stretch of straight road in Australia (all 146.6 kms of it) we refueled in Balladonia.

Balladonia, like many “towns” in the desert is really just a roadhouse with attached accomodation. Balladonia’s particular claim to qurky fame is that a large piece of Skylab crashed to Earth in 1979, after streaking spectacularly across the Western Australian sky above Esperance. The recovered junk (and yes, it os fairly large) is on display in the lovely little museum that is part of the Balladonia roadhouse complex (free to enter).

My favourite part is that apparently then President Jimmy Carter rang the manager of the roadhouse to apologise for the near miss and the inconvenience. Balladonia it should be stressed is in the middle of nowhere. Here in 2009 there is no mobile phone signal, no internet connectivity (the internet booth, which kind of looked like a computer built into a Space Invaders game console, was broken), and runs on diesel powered generators. What it would have been like in 1979 boggles the mind.

The image of President Carter sitting in the Oval Office talking to the manager of the roadhouse kept me amused for quite a while as I headed down the straight stretch of road heading toward our destination for the evening; Caiguna. I could only begin to imagine how All the President’s Men even managed to obtain the number for the roadhouse, let alone get patched through – 1979 obviously being before the days of the globally accessible information sources we now rely upon ubiquitously.

Ah….and then we have Caiguna.

*LANGUAGE WARNING FOR MINORS*

Caiguna is a shithole.

Caiguna, like Balladonia, consist of no more than a petrol station with attached few rooms and a take-away style eatery. However, whilst Balladonia has capitalised on its 1979 brush with disaster and fame by building a quaint museum, Caiguna roadhouse looks like it hasn’t even been dusted off let alone painted since 1979.

Gee, I wish we had stayed back in Balladonia for the night (did I mention they have a swimming pool at the Balladonia roadhouse?). It was so bad it was sorely tempting to drive the 146 kms back along the road to Balladonia again on the off chance they’d have a room for the night. Caiguna roadhouse has to be the worst place I have ever paid large amounts of money to stay at and eat crappy food at. Just to cap off what was a thoroughly ordinary and dreary place, greeting us at the doorway of our (tiny, horrible, grubby, old, worn out, mean, ugly, single) room was a snake.


But it turns out that this was no less than an Acanthophis pyrrhus, or more commonly known as the Desert death adder.

DEATH!

ADDER!

Also known as the LIFE SUBTRACTOR.

www.toxinology.com has this to say:

“As with other venomous snakes causing snakebite in humans, death adders have complex venoms with many components. Overall death adder venom is highly potent. About 60% of death adder snake bites result in significant envenoming, requiring antivenom therapy, and envenoming is often severe and potentially lethal.”

Our friend slithered away after having its photo taken. Fortunately we did not cross paths again.

My advice is – do not go to Caiguna if you can help it.

PS. Apparently the town of Esperance fined the US government $400 for littering after Skylab scattered its myriad bits and pieces across Western Australia. Wahahahaha….

Posted in WA

Esperance

Whilst in the coast town of Esperance the need to decompress and clear the mind after a day at the wheel compelled me to flick on the TV that was in the room. One particular news story caught my attention – the results of a recently completed survey of bird population in the country’s South East state of Victoria. The survey was led by the Deakin University, and the for our feathered friends news isn’t good. More than 80 species of native birds are seriously threatened. Many, including the kookaburra are facing extinction. At this point in the newscast I was becoming twitteringly interested.

Kookaburras.
Extinct?
I just couldn’t wrap my laughing gear around the idea of putting those words in the same sentence.

Since landing in Australia the sound of the Kookaburra had soon sounded out from the branches of a tree in Perth’s King Park. It is an iconic and bone chillingly familiar sound. It is one of the natural tunes that instantly grounds me as being in this wide, brown, sea girt land.

Extinct?

After the Deakin professor has said his bit, the interview then turned for reaction to a bald bloke who looked a lot like Peter Garrett – ex lead singer of Midnight Oil. However I realised as soon as he opened his mouth and started spouting off nonsensical drivel to the effect that the Federal Government was of course concerned and that it was already thinking of setting up an investigatory group to look at establishing a working committee to review the findings and that was anyway all a fault of the previous Howard Government due to their Eggs Overbird policy and blah, blah, blah, that he was in fact not Peter Garrett at all. At this stage I had to run into the kitchen to retrieve the fire extinguisher as my bed was burning, so I missed the rest of what the Peter Garrett clone had to say.

A newspaper report from The Age on the report’s findings is here.

Kookaburras extinct, along with 79 other species. No-one’s laughing Pete.

Daddy emu


Emu eggs are nested by the male emu, with the female heading off for an extended shopping expedition with the Besties once the eggs are laid. The father hatches the eggs, and then rears the chicks through to adolescence.

This fella was giving his chicks a lesson in how to browse for emu tucker in a field near Albany.

Dads – you gotta love us.

Blowhole


Also in Torndirrup national Park is a spectacularly blowy hole. Basically it is a fairly nondescript hole in the rock platform, 15 metres or so above the water line of the surf below, and about the same distance in from the cliff face. As the swells roll in from the Southern Ocean waves compress air into a cave hidden below, forcing air out at high velocity. The day we visited it was fairly calm – the signs warn that on stormy days rocks can be projected out the hole. Nevertheless the rushing of air is like standing in the draft of a body sized, high velocity hand drier.

Woosh!

Posted in WA

Torndirrup National Park – Albany

Torndirrup National Park lies just outside the coastal WA town of Albany. It covers nearly 4000 hectares, and looks to be a wonderful place for long and short walks along a spectacularly rugged coastline.


The waters of South West WA are an amazing azure, crystal clear and to me – as a snorkler – very tempting. Unfortunately at this time of year they’re are also colder than a beer slushy, and with my wetsuit locked up in a shipping container journeying its way to Sydney there was zero chance of getting wet.

Two of the attractions of the Torndirrup Park are the Gap, and The Bridge. Along the road out to see these natural highlights lies Cable Beach. As well as being a beautiful stretch of clean sand wonderfully empty of humanity the beach is a salutary lesson in the power of the ocean.

Halfway along the beach lies a large, round boulder lying up on a rock platform. It is apparently 100 tonnes in weight, approximately the same as a diesel locomotive.



One day it wasn’t there.

The next day it was.

It was lifted up onto the beach by the wild waves of a storm that swept the beach.

Now that is a hell of a break to body surf!

The bridge is an amazing suspension of granite and gneiss, carved by the relentless pounding power of the same waves that can lift 100 tonnes of rock faster than Superman.


Eventually the same waves will erode The Bridge so much that it will fall into the sea. Though I hope to revisit it again some day, I do hope I am not crossing it when a loud crack sounds.

Skywalker

West Australians love to get high up in trees it seems, all without ever actually doing much climbing. The Walpole-Nornalup National Park is about an hour’s drive West of the town of Albany, and is home to the Valley of the Giants. Only a moment of disappointment as we realised that this was not in fact the home of Jolly Green Herculeans sniffing the air for the scent of an Englishman’s blood. Rather it is home to the Red Tingle tree.

Red Tingles have fat arses. Or to be more botanically correct, they have an exceptionally wide buttressed base, a result of them being shallow rooted, and having a heart timber particularly prone to termite and fungal attack. Once the ants and the fungus have done their bit the next passing fire guts the centre of the base of the tree. Amazingly however the outer layers thicken until the base of the tree is some 12 to 16 metres in circumference. This buttress then continues to support and feed the upper tree structure, and Red Tingles live to over 500 years in age often with massive cave-like holes tall enough to stand in at their base.
Weaving through these giants is the Walpole Skywalk. It is a walkway that rises to 40 metres above the valley floor and taking the visitor to the height of the canopy. The steel spans bounce and sway unnervingly and signs warn that no more 10 people can be on any given span at the same time. Lucky we’re all pretty thin!

65 metres up a gum tree


Karri gums are the tallest gum trees, with some growing up to the lofty heights of 85 metres or so. Karri trees used to blanket the South West of Australia, however most of them have been logged for their straight and strong timbers, mostly being used for railway sleepers or exported to England in the 1800s. The Leeuwin/Naturaliste National Park and around the South Western corner heading to Esperance stands the last of the Eucalyptus Giants.

Near Pemberton stands the Gloucester Tree. It is by no means the tallest, however it has the honour of hosting a fire lookout platform high in its canopy. The tree has been “nailed” in a spiral from the widened base all the way to the spread of its highest branches. There nestles three tiered platforms, which are entered via hatchways in the floor. Eventually a climber stands on the highest platform, some 65 metres above the ground and above all the surrounding tree crowns. The forest stretches out endlessly below, and the calls of the Collared Parrot and countless other birds are sweetly below your feet, hidden amongst the leaves.

Happily, there were no fires to be seen.

PS. What was especially humbling was that after climbing and descending, 2 elderly couples were just arriving. Perhaps late sixties in age, and with figures that spoke of a lifetime of meals and beverages enjoyed to the fullest. In reply to a question from her friend’s husband, who asked jokingly whether she’d be climbing the tree, the most generously figured woman huffed disdainfully and said “Narrr….I did that 30 years ago before they covered the ladder in that safety net caging. Now THAT was exciting.”

Posted in WA

Where oceans meet

Cape Leeuwin is the point where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. Apparently if you look carefully you can see the actual meeting place of the waters, as the oceanic currents swirl and mix warm tropical waters flowing down the West coast with the cooler Antarctic waters of the Southern ocean. Personally, it all just looked like one big, wide, blue ocean to me. The passing pod of dolphins and the seals frolicking around the rock platforms below the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse were a nice touch though.

False advertising

Dear Madam / Sir,
I am writing to you to bring to your attention a breach of the Fair Description in Advertising Act (1987, amended 2005) in relation to the Jetty at Busselton. Said jetty is advertised as follows: “Busselton – the friendly town is backdrop to the glorious Busselton Jetty. Extending two kilometers from shore, the jetty is the longest timber pier in the Southern Hemisphere. It has been full restored after a battering from Cyclone Alby in 1978. While the jetty is used for commercial operations including light ship loading, the jetty is open to the public.”

The jetty may indeed be constructed of timber, it is indeed located in Busselton. Beyond that it isn’t, it wasn’t, and you can’t. The jetty has more pieces missing than a pub jigsaw puzzle. Our plans to walk to the end and enjoy our packed lunch were thwarted by the solid steel gate erected across the jetty, preventing access to all but the burliest of jetty-repairers. Moored alongside the crippled structure was a gargantuan construction barge, which was hammering new creosote soaked timbers into the sand with hydraulic efficiency.

While the workings of the hydraulic ram was exciting to my young boy (boys do after all love machinery), and the sight of the Bonds singlet clad workers, muscles rippling and skin a deep bronze excited my wife, I was left coldly unimpressed. It was necessary to remove both said members of my family to a safe distance, where they could cool their overheated interest in the workings of the erection.

To make maters worse, the sorry state of the Busselton Jetty is clearly no surprise to locals. You can imagine our confusion as we arrived into the small, coastal town, packed lunch at the ready and walking boots firmly laced for our 4km treck (2 kms out and 2 back in). All we could see however was a gapped and decidedly dodgy looking pier (which I may add doesn’t even look two kilometers long on the best of days). Confused, I asked two young local lasses who where exiting their car to have a quick elicit seaside lunch, fag and gossip break. In answer to my question “Are we in Busselton? We’re looking for the Southern Hemisphere’s longest timber jetty?” they replied “Yeah. That’s it over there. Been stuffed for ages. They don’t advertise that its stuffed though so the tourists don’t know.”

There you have it! Proof positive that the claims of the Busselton Tourism Board are nothing but a pack of Mrs. Mac’s Famous Meat Pies (which, while I have your attention, I question aren’t as famous as Mrs. Mac claims – I for one have NEVER heard of them!).

Busselton Tourism Board is clearly luring unsuspecting and well intentioned tourists on the blatantly false premise that the town is home to the Southern Hemisphere’s longest timber jetty. If I maybe so bold to say (as a newly repatriated Aussie), this is a right load of Dingo’s Giblets.

Sydney may indeed have its Circular Quay.
Gladstone may have its Pier.
Busselton sir, has nothing but the dark stain of civic shame casting a pall over its clear ocean waters.

Yours sincerely,
Appalled.

Lilies

Western Australia is a large, dry state. 1,021,478 square miles, you can drop the United Kingdom into it four times, and then fill out the margins with Ireland one and a bit times times. Or you could put Texas AND Alaska into WA and have room for lots of Russians to stand scowling around the edges staring at Dubya and Sarah Palins. The vast majority of the state is semi-arid or arid desert, with almost no precipitation falling in many areas. Australia’s largest state is however also home to 12,000 of the world’s wildflower species.

The South West corner is a micro-climate of lushness, albeit a micro-climate the size of several European countries. The ‘bottom, left-hand’ corner is a well respected wine growing region, as well as being home to hundreds of cattle stations, fruit and vegetable farms and a thriving tourism industry.

Tall stands of Karri Gum are the signature tree of the Cape Naturaliste National Park. Karri gums are the tallest of the Australian Eucalypts, and were prized by the early European settlers for their strong, straight timbers. Hamelin Bay beach is marked today by the remains of a timber pier that once extended 547 metres out, providing a berthing and loading point during the 1800’s for the ships taking on bellyfuls of Karri timber.

In the open flats extending beyond the Karri forests are extensive, flat clearings – cattle feed where only kangaroos once grazed amongst the original forests. Here and there lush, shaded wetland areas predominate. At this time of year in the shade of the gums water lilies stand tall, their roots standing in well watered and rich soil, with the white lily cupping the yellow stamen. The lowing cattle in the distance are collectively unimpressed, though the burbling, croaking, coughing frogs are numerous in their appreciative vocalization.

We passed this lily-grove yesterday. It was worth getting up early to capture it in early morning sunlight.

Wildflowers – Hamelin Bay






WA is home to the majority of the world’s wildflowers. Some 12,000 species of wild flowers are to be found across the expanse of the state, with 8,000 of them found in the South Western corner, and nowhere else. Anywhere. And that’s no Black Swan!

Along the 20 meters or so of sandy path from the carpark down to Hamelin Bay beach half a dozen or so examples are clustered amongst the hardy ocean side succulents. Only 7994 to go….

The view from the front deck – Hamelin Bay escape

Typical, everyone else is still asleep and I am up (6.30am). Time to make a mug of caffeine and go and see what the beach looks like. This is the view greeting me as I walk out onto the front deck of the little house we’re staying in.

And what can I hear.

Nothing.

Then a whoop of a currawong.

Nothing.

Lovely.

PS. That firepit is going to get a work out before the stay here is out.

Scooby Doo! We love you!


Simon: What is this?
Naomi: What’s what?
Simon: This car. This stupid car. Where’s the Cadillac? The Caddy, where’s the Caddy?
Naomi: The what?
Simon: The Cadillac we used to have! The Bluesmobile!
Naomi: Traded it.
Simon: You traded the Bluesmobile for this?!
Naomi: No … for a microphone.
Simon: A microphone? [pause] Okay, I can see that. But what the hell is this?
Naomi: I picked it up at the Mount Prospect police auction last spring. It’s an old WA Department of Agriculture Subaru Outback. They were practically giving them away.
Simon: Well thank you, darling. The day I get out of England, my own wife comes to pick me up in a Subaru.
Naomi: You don’t like it?
Simon: [pause] No, I don’t like it.
[Naomi: jumps the car over an opening drawbridge]
Simon: [impressed] Car’s got a lot of pickup.
Naomi: It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters, so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say? Is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
[Simon tries to use the car’s lighter, but it does not work; he throws it out the window]
Simon: Fix the cigarette lighter.

Naomi: It’s two thousand, eight hundred and thirty two miles to Sydney, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Simon: Hit it.

That’s a load of Black Swan


On my last Wednesday in England the Thames River was mirror still, with a low wisp of morning mist hanging over the surface. A glide of eight swans moved silently through the water, with the graceful stillness that swans have whereby no movement is apparent above the water line. It is almost as though they are being moved on sticks from below. The ephemeral beauty of the Windsor white swans is one of the defining sights of England in my mind and will be missed. The Spring cygnets with their dusky grey and brown fluffy feathers. The jossling gaggles of birds crowding for the attention of a birdfeed laden tourist. The grace of a solitary pure white bird, its wings cupped in a heart shape, moving with the slow flow of the stream.

In the Eighteen Hundreds the idea of a Black Swan was an anathema. To call “Black Swan” was the equivalent of calling “Bullshit”. So it is with a certain rightness that just days after my last sight of the white swans of the river Thames, I am standing on the pier next to a coffee bar called The Lucky Shag (named after the bird, not the sexual exploit), overlooking the Swan River. And watching black swans glide by.