What the Suby Saw

Aussie Driving Tour

 

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End of the Road

Useless Loop Rd

We have officially finished our road trip around Australia!

The last leg of the journey, all along the southern coast took 51 days and covered 11,777 km.

In total, we drove 22,500 km in 5 months.

Australia Road Trip Map - South

The Great Ocean Road

After leaving Tasmania, we had one final drive to complete the trip, the famous Great Ocean Road. Just west of Melbourne, the Victorian coastline has some beautiful cliffs, all in various states of erosion, falling into the ocean. There are many distinct features to stop and see.

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The London Bridge
The Razorback
The Razorback

The most well-known (and most-visited) are the 12 Apostles, twelve limestone towers scattered along a stretch of beach.

The 12 Apostles
The 12 Apostles
Christina & Paul at the 12 Apostles, on the Great Ocean Road
Christina & Paul at the 12 Apostles, on the Great Ocean Road
An array of tourists taking the classic photo
An array of tourists taking the classic 12 Apostles photo

Did I mention it was crowded? We had to actively dodge selfie sticks for 1 km.

The mob
The mob

The best part of the trip for me, was, of course, a chance to see wild koalas. There were several places to easily spot them sleeping in the trees in various towns along the highway. We lucked out at the first one with this beauty, hanging out with a flock of king parrots.

Koala
Wild koala
Christina & koala
Christina & sleepy koala
King Parrot
King Parrot

Next stop on the way back to Sydney was a fantastic microbrewery, Prickly Moses Brewery at Otway Estate. Paul got to taste 10 beers, and I had a nice refreshing cider. A rain squall came through while we were there so we happily stayed indoors drinking.

Paul tasting brews
Paul tasting brews

We stopped briefly in Canberra, the capital of Australia, to see the unusual government center, check off the last Australian state ACT (Australian Capital Territory, like Washington DC)– and see Star Wars 🙂

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Canberra Parliament House (we’d seen it in the aussie series “The Code”)

We finally arrived in Sydney on December 23, just in time for the holidays. We spent Christmas with Linda, Fergus and the rest of the family in the Blue Mountains (where we visited when we first arrived in Australia). It was wonderful to be welcomed into their family celebrations for our first Christmas away from home. Needless to say, we were well fed. A great Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner, and a Christmas lunch of salads, cheese, dips, ham, crisps and more.

Fergus slicing Christmas ham
Fergus slicing Christmas ham

After that huge lunch, Paul, Fergus and Linda managed to go out on a Christmas hike along Darwin’s Track (again, the same one we did back in June). I managed to get on the couch to watch a documentary instead.

Paul & Linda along Darwin's Track
Paul & Linda along Darwin’s Track
Fergus & Paul at Darwin's Falls
Fergus & Paul at Darwin’s Falls

Christmas Dinner was spectacular, roasted chickens, potatoes, vegetables followed by a smorgasbord of dessert: Christmas plum pudding (steamed and covered in brandy sauce), minced fruit pies, fresh fruit, whipped cream, lemon & mango sorbet, chocolates and ice cream. We can’t thank them enough for including us in all the delicious meals and the sharing of gifts.

Christmas Dinner
Christmas Dinner: Paul, Nick, Fergus, Mark, Laura, Christina, Linda

A few days later, Paul celebrated his 29th birthday at a great little Sydney microbrewery.

Paul drinking six 250ml tasters (by himself) at Batch Brewery.
Paul drinking six 250ml tasters (by himself) at Batch Brewery.

We also re-visited Bondi Beach, now in its summer-glory, full of holiday crowds.

Bondi Beach in peak summer
Bondi Beach in peak summer

And we finished up 2015 by going out New Year’s Eve to Darling Harbour, enjoying the beautiful light displays and a magnificent fireworks show!

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It’s been a fantastic 2015, full of crazy adventures and unforgettable experiences, we can only hope to accomplish as much in 2016. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

Love,

Christina & Paul

Van Dieman’s Land of Devils

Van Diemen’s land was the original name used by most Europeans for the island of Tasmania (later renamed after dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the first European who landed there in 1642). This infamous place was home to 40% of all convicts sent to Australia via the transportation system, some 75,000 men and women. It has a gory, tragic history (including the most thorough genocide of aboriginals), contrasted with the most gorgeous, dramatic, wild landscapes in all of Australia, home to unique and prolific wildlife.

Map-of-Tasmania

 

The Tasman Peninsula

Our first stop after leaving the farm was to the Tasman Peninsula, notorious for the penal colony Port Arthur, home to the worst re-offender convicts, and run by some of the nastiest, most brutal wardens. Driving down through the narrow isthmus Eaglehawk Neck, I vividly recalled the historical importance of this section of land. At only 30m (98ft) wide, it used to be fenced, guarded by soldiers, man traps and half-starved dogs, always on alert for escapees fleeing Port Arthur by foot.

Port Arthur
Port Arthur, one of the few original penal prisons still standing in Australia.

These days, it’s a lovely tourist destination. Since we had our dose of depressing penal history thanks to Robert Hughes’ epic book The Fatal Shore, we skipped the tour, and explored the glorious natural landscapes instead. First, a little sea cave, whose opening is shaped like the island of Tasmania:

Remarkable Cave, Tasman Peninsula
Remarkable Cave, Tasman Peninsula

From there we visited the stunning Tasman National Park, and hiked to Cape Hauy to see the amazing dolerite sea cliffs dropping into the ocean.

Cape Hauy track
Cape Hauy track
Christina enjoying the cliffs
Christina enjoying the cliffs

The next morning, we experienced our first car trouble of the entire trip– but it was only a flat tire. We put on the spare, and thankfully, we were headed back through Hobart anyway, so we quickly got a replacement and continued on our way.

 

The Little Devils

On the way to Hobart, we stopped at a little animal park called the UnZoo to see the infamous Tasmania Devil. Although we frequently saw road signs for them in the wild, they are increasingly rare since the rise of the horrible contagious facial-cancer in the 1990s. It’s killed off 80% of the population, and put devils on the Endangered Species List in 2009. Thanks to the tiny isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the disease has not spread to any individuals on the Tasman Peninsula, so the UnZoo Conservation Park is protecting and monitoring the last disease-free population in the world. We had a great time watching the devils and a few other animals as well.

Golden possum eating pumpkin
Golden possum eating pumpkin
Paul watching a possum
Paul watching a possum
Paul and some devils
Three little devils
Christina in the Devil Dome
Christina making friends with Nevil the Devil
Tasmanian devils, sisters.
The notorious Tasmanian Devil, two happy sisters.

 

The Wild Southwest
As we headed west, we drove through a large hop-growing area, which neither of us had ever seen before. A nice change from vineyards.

Hops
Hops, growing on vertical vines

Mt. Field National Park is home to arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Tassie, Russell Falls. The weather turned rainy here (how shocking in a rainforest!), so we couldn’t explore the whole park as intended, but we made it to the falls, and even ran into an echidna along the path.

Russell Falls
Russell Falls, Mt. Field National Park

The Southwest National Park is the most remote and wild part of Tasmania. The vast wilderness is virtually inaccessible, but for a narrow winding road up to Strathgordon, Lake Pedder and the Gordon Dam. It was another stormy day, but definitely worth the long drive to see the gorgeous mountains we’ve been missing after months on a dry, flat continent. The weather cleared for a moment just as we arrived at Lake Pedder.

Lake
Lake Pedder, Southwest National Park

As we approached the end of the road in the mountains, we were blasted with hail and rain. We sat in the car wondering if we’d have to brave the elements for a glimpse of the dam, but again, the weather cooperated and gave us just enough time to hop out and walk down to the immense Gordon Dam. It was so surreal walking along this megastructure in the middle of nowhere.

Gordon Dam
The Gordon Dam
Paul walking along the Gordon Dam
Paul walking along the Gordon Dam
Lake Gordon
Lake Gordon, with its submerged forest peeking out.

 

Across the Lyell Highway

To get to the west coast of Tasmania, we had to drive along the Lyell Highway through more mountains and forests. It’s a beautiful drive, with stunning vistas and our first glimpse of Australian snow! The southern end of Cradle Mountain National Park is Lake St. Clair, where the 6-day Overland Track ends (we hope to come back one day and complete it).  This is Australia’s deepest natural lake, at 200m (656 ft) deep, at an elevation of 738m (2,421 ft). We went on a nice stroll through the forest to the lakeside, where platypus live happily. It had a very different feel from the rainforest, almost like the Sierras at times.

Lake St. Clair
Lake St. Clair, Cradle Mountain National Park
River
The tannin-rich Hugel and Cuviers Rivers join and feed into Lake St Clair.
Mossy lichens
Moss and  snowflake-like lichen balls cover the forest floor.

On the west coast of Tasmania, we made a special trip out to Hells Gates, the tiny, narrow inlet to another infamous penal colony, Sarah Island, in Macquarie Harbour. Isolated by vast mountainous wilderness, treacherous seas and deathly tidal currents. Despite the location, several convicts managed to escape, most notably Alexander Pearce (who escaped twice, both times cannibalizing his fellow escapees. Yum.)

Hell's Gate
Hells Gates, the only way into Macquarie Harbour.

 

Cradle Mountain

We finally made it to the one and only Cradle Mountain National Park, by far the most visited and touristy parks in Tassie, complete with foreigner-filled shuttle buses. It was a cloudy, windy day, but we were excited to see this wonderful place…and as luck would have it, the last Australian animal on our list to see: the wombat.

Christina & Wombat
Christina & Wombat. Literally 100m from the trailhead (you can see the cars in the background!), and there were 4 more in the surrounding area.
Wombat!
Wombat munching away. She bulldozed right over my GoPro.
Mossy plain
Mossy, boggy buttongrass looks like a fantasy world
Paul & Christina at Cradle Mountain
Paul & Christina at Cradle Mountain National Park
Dove Lake
Dove Lake, with Weindorfers Tower, Smithies Peak and Cradle Mountain.

That night we setup camp in another lovely rainforest, near the wonderful Liffey Falls.

Liffey Falls
Liffey Falls

Bay of Fires & Freycinet

After driving a loop around the west coast, we headed east to the pretty white beaches and granite cliffs. Beautiful sandy bays make it an ideal swimming area, which I delighted in, even though it was pretty cold (low 60s F). We went on our last long hike of the trip along the Wineglass Bay & Hazards Beach Circuit (11km), and enjoyed every minute of it.

Friendly Beaches
Friendly Beaches
Bay
Coles Bay

Freycinet National Park also extends into the ocean as a Marine Reserve, protecting one of the most diverse and unique underwater areas in Tasmania.

Wineglass Bay
Wineglass Bay
beach
Wineglass beach

 

Narawntapu

Our last night in Tasmania was spent in Narawntapu National Park (the first Tassie park to revert to the Aboriginal name). A wildlife haven, we went on an evening hike around the grassy Springlawn where countless pademelons and wallabies grazed, and to the bird hide on the lagoon where we watched black swans, ducks and grebes float idly at sunset. A special end to a special place.

Pedemelon
Pademelon, a smaller macropod species
Swan sunset
Black Swan at sunset

After a pleasant trip overnight on the ferry, we made it back to Melbourne just in time for a stunning sunrise.

Sunrise
Sunrise over Melbourne.

Now all that remains is the Great Ocean Road, Canberra and the final leg back to Sydney!

A Room with an Ewe

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For the last month Christina and I have called Grandvewe Cheesery our home and place of work. Grandvewe is located about 40 minutes south of Hobart nestled in the hills of Birchs Bay. The name Grandvewe just about sums it all up. The cheesery is home to about 80 milking sheep, quite a few lambs, adolescents, older sheep, and rams (over 200 in all). Grandvewe is family owned and operated established by a a savvy business woman named Diane, her awesome her daughter Nicole, her son Ryan the head distiller and her partner Chris. The cheesery is located in a retrofitted house, where the dining room is where the cheese is made, the family room where the tastings are held, a small kitchen, and a terrace for patrons to enjoy the stunning view of Bruny Island and maybe some coffee or cheese.

Grandvewe Tasting Room
Grandvewe Tasting Room
Magdalie (France) working hard in the kitchen
Magdalie (France) working hard in the kitchen

From a WOOFers perspective Grandvewe is pretty idilic. In exchange for working a full 40 hours a week you get a free bed and food is provided all seven days of the week. The family also asks that woofers stay for at least four weeks since they train you to do a multitude of tasks from cheesemaking to caring for the sheep and lambs, preparing food in the cafe, or helping in the distillery. Plus all the odd jobs that come up on a farm. This requires the help a number of woofers to complete all the tasks.

During our four weeks there were nine other WOOFers, all of whom were fantastic wonderful people.

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WOOFers! top: Paul, Kieran (UK), Malaika (Germany), Florian (Germany), Yule (Belgium); below: Sarah (Canada) and Cheryl (Hong Kong) and a giant pan of lasagna
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Daily coffee break: Lydia (UK), Christina, Paul, *staff: Wiebke (Germany) & Pauline (France)*, Sarah, Kieran, Yule

The apartment for the woofers filled up quickly so Christina and I spent four weeks in a caravan parked under the Grandvewe terrace. This was only slightly inconvenient and cold, but did give us privacy which was lacking in the apartment.

Grandvewe Cheesery! wi
Grandvewe Cheesery! Our little caravan is tucked underneath the terrace.

Fortunately, the other woofers are wonderful people with whom we bonded over shared meals, drinks, board and card games, plus working eight hours a day together. These people enhanced our experience of Grandvewe in a way that is hard to put into words. In short, I am grateful to have met and got to know each and every one of them.

 

Farm

Sheep with doggies (Mylee & Rosie)
Sheep with doggies (Mylee & Rosie). Photo by Sarah Peterson.
Cheeky and her two new baby girls
Christina was the first person to greet Cheeky after she gave birth to two little girls, Itsy and Bitsy.
Christina getting pellets for the sheep. Photo by Sarah Peterson
Christina getting pellets for the sheep. Photo by Sarah Peterson
Paul & Christina milking sheep
Paul & Christina milking sheep. Photo by Claire Baker
Sheep derp
Sheep derp
'nuf said
Lambs!
Rams
Rams
Chickens!
Chickens. Paul named the one who liked to wander off on her own Beyonce.

Here’s a little video showing the milking process and more:

 

Cheese

We got to help make all sorts of cheeses, including roquefort, manchego, reblochon & camembert, pecorino, fresh, halloumi, ricotta, la mancha, crottin, extramadura. We helped make the cheese from the raw sheep milk, stir the curds, drain the whey, hoop the curds into molds, turn them, wash them with yeast (to make the rind), salt them (dry and wet), store them, cut and package and label them.

Diane, Yule, Christina & Pauline making blue cheese
Diane, Yule, Christina & Pauline making blue cheese
Yule, Pauline & Christina with curds and whey
Yule, Pauline & Christina over the vat of curds and whey
Finished products
Finished products

Distillery

On top of the cheese, they also make their own vanilla whey liqueur and the only sheep whey vodka in the world. I spent a lot of time down here.

Paul making Vodka
Paul making Vodka
Ryan and Paul with the new still
Ryan and Paul in the distillery. The new still arrived during our last week.

 

Days Off

Each week Christina and I had two days off together where we did our best to explore the surrounding area (or make a Thanksgiving dinner). Our first adventure was to the island visible from Grandvewe called Bruny Island. Bruny is accessible by car via a ferry which leaves from the town of Kettering ten minutes away.

Christina at The Neck. This tiny stretch of sand connects North and South Bruny Island
Christina at The Neck. This tiny stretch of sand connects North and South Bruny Island. It’s also the home of dozens of little penguins, who come in every night after dark and wattle across the neck.
Lighthouse
Lighthouse *NOTE* this is the farthest SOUTH we’ve been on the whole trip!

At the lighthouse we took photos, had lunch, and took a look inside the small museum that explains a little about the history of the lighthouse. The only thing that I remember is that at the height of the lighthouse before electricity, the lighthouse burned a pint of sperm whale oil an hour. After lunch we took a walk that lead us to one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen so far, Jetty Beach. Jetty Beach was much like the beaches we have back in Northern California with seaweed and other cold water plants.

Jetty Beach
Jetty Beach
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Beautiful seaweeds

Later that night we set out from our campground to find the animal that we came to the island to see, the fairy penguin (smallest species). The small penguins make their way from the water to their nests once the sun has set and it is quite dark out. The only way to see the smallest penguin in the world is by using a red light flashlight. Luckily, Christina had one on her headlamp so we were able to see these cute critters really well as they shuffled under the boardwalks and into their burrows.

The next day we took a short hike in Adventure Bay. Here we saw some really amazing dolomite cliffs as well as a boat touring around below us as we walked down from the top of the hill to the shore. And another adorable echidna 🙂

Christina at Fluted Cape
Christina at Fluted Cape

On our next weekend out we headed up to Hobart to check out the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). The MONA opened in 2011 and is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. Curator David Walsh is a Tasmanian millionaire who made his money through gambling. MONA is difficult to describe.

All trash bins should be labeled such
All trash bins should be labeled such
Christina jumping on a trampoline connected to lots bells
Christina jumping on a trampoline connected to bells

The museum itself is actually underground to preserve the beauty of the surrounding area (and the winery). The exhibits inside are diverse and at times very strange—mostly centered around sex and death. The exhibit that MONA is probably most famous for is the Cloaca Professional, a machine that is specifically designed to recreate the human digestive tract—culminating in real poop. It’s fascinating and smells foul.

Cloaca Professional
Cloaca Professional

We also made the best of our evenings when there was something interesting to do. We were invited to a pirate beer party by one of the full time employees at Grandvewe, a wonderful and generous young french woman named Pauline. She knew the owners of the brewery and knew that I have an interest in brewing, and wanted me to meet the brewer.

Christina, Paul Pauline
Christina, Paul & Pauline at the pirate-themed beer party

The next evening we went to a traditional bush dance in the town of Woodbridge, a two minute drive from the cheesery. We weren’t sure what to expect from a bush dance, but we knew we had to go and find out. So, we packed six people into the Subaru and headed out for the dance. Whatever our expectations were, I can say for a certainty that none of us were disappointed. We arrived fashionably late to find that the whole town had turned out for the bush dance.

Cheryl and Christina at the Woodbridge Bush Dance
Cheryl, Claire & Christina at the Woodbridge Bush Dance

The dance was held at the Community Hall, which was 125 years old. There were people of all ages there from babies all the way up to eighty-year-olds. The bush dancing was all choreographed by one man who lead the group through the steps of various folk dances and partnered those looking for a dancing partner. It was a moment of pure bliss when you let go of all inhibition and just have a good time dancing with strangers and friends alike. And yes, I even danced for a little while.

For our last weekend Christina and I spent our time cooking pies and the rest of the trappings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Our hosts were kind enough to by us a turkey breast and most of the rest of the ingredients we needed to make two pumpkin pies, an apple pie, potato boats, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. For many of the woofers this was their first Thanksgiving dinner and everyone enjoyed the exercise in over eating. We still have stuffing leftover from that meal!

Paul & Christina making Thanksgiving Dinner. Photo by Claire Baker
Paul & Christina making Thanksgiving Dinner. Photo by Claire Baker

Overall we’ve had an incredible time working for food, helping out a family business, and interacting with people other than just the two of us. We’re both going to have a hard time leaving this place, the view, the people, and the sheep and lambs. We’ll miss them all. Thank you to everyone who made this an experience of a lifetime.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1137.

South Australia

The Nullarbor

After two months in Western Oz, we finally make it across the border, into a new territory! We also travel along the longest straight road in Australia, 146km long (although I can’t say it seemed different from most of the other drives we’ve done).

Best. Sign. Ever.
Best. Sign. Ever.

Right along the border between Western and South Australia, we visit Eucla National Park, famed for its old telegraph station ruins, half-buried in white sand dunes.

Eucla's Old Telegraph Station
Christina entering Eucla’s Old Telegraph Station

The road east takes us through our last expanse of emptiness, the Nullarbor. The name comes from “nullus arbor” meaning “no trees”, a fact we can confirm. It also looks uncannily like Nevada/Idaho. The reason for this treeless plain is the rock underneath: 200,000 square kms of limestone—the biggest, flattest piece of limestone in the world, up to 300m thick. Even more amazing is that this giant slab of limestone juts right up against the ocean, along the Great Australian Bight. The resulting cliffs are stunning.

Nullarbor cliffs
Nullarbor cliffs

All along this coast we looked for Southern Right Whales, but sadly we were a little late to the party. The whales spend the winter here giving birth and resting in the shallow waters, sometimes only a few meters away from the cliffs (which has created quite a tourist industry), and spend the rest of the year in Antarctica. However, we don’t feel as bad about missing them when we find out it’s been a bad year altogether. It used to be you could spot several dozen mother and calf pairs at peak season, but this year the most they saw at one time were six. And they didn’t come nearly as close as years past. I think it’s probably a combination of climate change and El Nino.

Whale (not to scale).
Whale (not to scale).

 

Eyre Peninsula

We made our way down along the Eyre Peninsula to Lincoln National Park at the very tip. We had a nice time here, with a quiet little beach next to our campground in Spalding Cove, and lots of kangaroos and emus running around to keep us entertained. This is also the best place in Australia to see Great White Sharks, so we basked in the warm, fuzzy feeling that they were nearby. However, we were also being tormented by a much more horrible and terror-inducing beast… the Great Australian Fly. Although we brought one fly-net with us, we were wise enough to buy a second in Esperance. Most of hikes from here on out would be overshadowed by them. Literally.

Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera
Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera

From here we drove north towards the mountains, through a town called Whyalla, but it’s also known in some circles (my kind of circles) as Cuttlefish Mecca. Yet again, we missed the season. But something tells me we’ll be here again… Hundreds of giant cuttlefish court, fight and mate here in the winter, all with dazzling color-changing flashes and shows. Yup, we’ll be here again, somehow.

 

Flinders Range

Here, the flies worsened. In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, camping with swarms of flies is one of the least-enjoyable things you could do. Cooking is a pain, everything has to be constantly covered and fanned. Eating is impossible with a fly-net on, so we end up sweltering in the car (after killing the 5-6 flies that inevitably get caught inside with us). Our only escape is the tent. So after a difficult night, we hoped by climbing a mountain maybe the wind would keep them away.

With our fly-nets on, we set out on the trail. Most of the hikers we passed also had nets, so at least we weren’t the only people who looked like idiots. We even passed a group of people with multicolor streamer-wands to swat them away. As we made our way toward the trailhead, we were stopped by a mob of juvenile delinquents:

With our spirits lifted by the friendly encounter, we hiked up Mt. Ohlssen-Bagge, and were rewarded with a spectacular view. And fewer flies!

Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range
Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range

And we had plenty of company from the reptiles running around, too. The trail was very steep and rocky, and it seemed like every time I laid my hand down on a rock, it ended up inches from a skink or dragon, who just looked at my wondering why I was trying to steal her sunbathing spot.

Don't wake the dragons
Don’t wake the dragons

At our campsite, we also had a deadly redback spider behind the toilet. I hoped she would at least eat some flies.

Friendly neighborhood fly-killer
Friendly neighborhood fly-killer

 

Mt. Remarkable

Remarkable for somehow having more flies than any other park. And with the weather taking a turn toward hellish (38C), our usual respite, the tent, was quite unbearable. Luckily, the next day was going to be much cooler, so we planned a long hike to keep ourselves busy. We chose the popular Hidden Gorge trail (18km) which turned out to be one of our absolute favorite hikes of the trip. Since we started early, we saw lots of kangaroos, and even a pretty yellow-footed rock wallaby hopping straight up a cliff.

Hidden Gorge Trail
Hidden Gorge Trail

We also saw at least five goannas, one of whom wasn’t the least bit concerned about us and went about digging for food right in front of us.

Happy Goanna
Happy Goanna

And yes, the flies followed us the whole time. The photo below shows how many flies we typically carry around with us, but at their peak there were easily three times as many.

Paul and his flies
Paul and his flies

 

Adelaide

After a brutal week of flies, we were so excited to be in a city (and indoors at an Airbnb) that we completely forgot to take any pictures. We did manage to eat some fantastic indian food, though.

Fleurieu Peninsula

The marine emblem of South Australia is the extraordinary leafy sea-dragon. A spectacular animal (related to sea horses) they are native to these seaweed-rich coasts, and nowhere else in the world. And although we desperately wanted to see them in their natural home, the weather and water was pretty cold, and another scuba-diving trip was not in our budget. But at least we scoped out the dive site for in case we come back (Rapid Bay Jetty, in case you’re wondering).

On the southern side of this peninsula is Granite Island, a little island connected to the town of Victor Harbor via a 630m wooden boardwalk. Turns out it’s also South Australia’s most-visited national park, and it’s home to a small colony of Little Penguins (they come ashore in the evening).

Christina headed for Granite Island
Christina headed for Granite Island

The large granite boulders are what’s left after the limestone around it eroded, and has the same geology as “Remarkable Rocks” on Kangaroo Island to the west (which I visited 10 years ago). Although not as large and strangely-shaped as those of Kangaroo Island, these granite rocks still had some character.

Paul and Granite
Paul and Granite

The wooden boardwalk that connects the island can also be travelled by horse-drawn tram, which has been in service since 1894.

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Stare down

 

Naracoorte Caves

From the coast, we travelled inland to several other parks, including Cox Scrub (where we went on a rainy 4km hike through sandy terrain), Padthaway (where we searched unsuccessfully for koalas on a 4WD adventure…pushing our poor Subaru to the limit), the Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon.

Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons
Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons

South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, this cave system was excavated in 1969, and was found to hold some of the best fossils of ancient megafauna marsupials from 200,000 years ago. They have a strange old museum/animatronic display with recreations of these bizarre animals…which sounded too intriguing to pass up. It was meant to bring the creatures back to life and give visitors a chance to walk back in time, but now it just “frightens small children” as the receptionist said. And he was right. Even for a 28-year-old, the creepy jolty-movements of the moving stuffed animals was enough to give me scary flash-backs…especially the snub-nosed kangaroo that looked like an evil, giant Tim Burton-esque rabbit… Most of the displays were clearly 30 years old, showing wear and tear and molting fake fur underneath a good deal of dust. Unforgettable, I suppose.

Wonambi Fossil Museum
Wonambi Fossil Center –  Thylacoleo carnifex (Marsupial Lion)

After shaking-off the strange experience of the museum, we then made our way to the Wet Cave, where we explored the various caverns at our leisure.

Entrance to the Wet Cave
Entrance to the Wet Cave
Paul in the shadows
Paul in the shadows
Large Cave, with interesting roof bubbles from CO2
Interesting roof bubbles from CO2

Just as we where about the leave, we were graced with the presence of an animal we’ve been desperately searching for, and had nearly given up hunting. They are nocturnal, timid and yet fairly common across the whole country (which made us even more annoyed), and here we found one in the middle of the afternoon only a few meters from the parking lot, and happy to walk right up to us. Relative of the platypus, the echidna is the only other egg-laying mammal alive today. And again, impossibly cute.

Echidna, being cute as a button.
Echidna, being cute as a button.
More echidna
More echidna

 

Bool Lagoon

After the caves we drove over to our next campsite, at Bool Lagoon, and immediately made a new friend. This turtle was trying to cross the road (wisely doing so right past the turtle-crossing sign). After snapping the photo, I decided Paul needed a better look (he was waiting in the car), so I picked her up and brought her over to the car window. He was not amused.

Long necked-turtle trying o cross the road
Long necked-turtle trying to cross the road

The next day we walked along the many boardwalks in the reserve. There’s usually water under them, but with the drought everything was very dry and there were barely any birds at all.

Bool Lagoon Boardwalk
Christina on the Bool Lagoon Boardwalk

 

Canunda National Park

We thought we’d visit SA’s coast one last time, so we spent a few nights in Canunda National Park, where we went on a nice 10km walk along the cliffs and beaches on the Seaview Hike.

Seaview Hike
Seaview Hike
Cliffs
Cliffs

We then headed south toward the border, for a visit to our last parks in South Australia.

Piccaninnie Ponds

This little park (along with Ewans Ponds, nearby) is special because of its crystal-clear limestone pools, which you can snorkel and scuba dive in. We opted for a just a little walk around, which turned out be a boon for snakes! We saw 4 snakes within an hour (3 red-bellied black snakes, one eastern brown), all highly venomous, of course. Three of them were shy, and disappeared off the narrow grassy trail as soon as they saw us, but one of them was a bit more nervous. She stayed perfectly still, but she started flattening her neck (a sign of unease or aggression in snakes). We had to pass by her to get back to the car, so we waited a minute, and slide by her VERY slowly, and made it out without any trouble. Sure got our hearts pumping, though.

 

Red-Bellied Black Snake - highly venomous!
Red-Bellied Black Snake – Beautiful! -iridescent purple black on top, and red-orange belly. Lovely creature. One of the most venomous land snakes in the world.
Paul at the ponds
Paul at the ponds

Although we didn’t jump in the water ourselves, we got a glimpse of the strange underwater world thanks to the GoPro. Here’s a little video of what the ponds look like underwater:

 

That wraps up South Australia! Victoria here we come!

 

 

Forests of South WA

Karri Forest Drive

One of the main attractions on our road east was the Karri Forest Explorer Drive. The drive is a jagged loop that covers three different national parks over 80 km. Along the drive we stopped at Beedelup National Park to view the falls and walk over a planked suspension bridge.

Paul makes the bridge look tiny
Paul makes the bridge look tiny
Christina & Paul & Falls
Christina & Paul & Falls

The main attraction for the drive is obviously the large Karri trees which can grow up to 90 meters tall. That’s just ten meters shorter than some of the tallest redwood trees. The Karri is a large straight eucalyptus tree with a wide truck, which is ideal for climbing. Within the drive there are three Karri trees that are used for spotting fires and are accessible to the public. They are the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, the Gloucester Tree, and the Diamond Tree with a heights ranging from 52 to 65 meters to the highest platforms. Gulp. These trees have had rebar poles driven into the trunks and platforms built amongst the branches to help you feel safe while taking in the view. I’m terrified of heights, but faced my fears and climbed to the top of all three of the lookout trees. Apparently, only 20 percent of those who attempt the climbs actually make it to the top. This statistic played out hilariously when a middle aged gentleman had started climbing up the Diamond Tree after his kids, but came back down after only ten meters and exclaimed out loud, “I just remembered, I don’t have to do this shit anymore.”

Christina going down the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree - 71m tall.
Christina going down the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – 71m tall.
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree

D’Entrecasteaux

The day after climbing the trees we head south to D’Entrecastraux National Park. Nestled along the coast it had some very beautiful views of the southern ocean and amazing rock formations. Unfortunately, some of the coastal walks were closed due to fire damage, so we only spent a day exploring.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock

Albany

Continuing east we drove through a lush and vibrant landscape populated by forests, wineries, and a few breweries. Most of the time we just whizz by these things on our way to the next park, but just before getting to Albany, something caught our eye and we had to turn the car around to have a look. It was a meadery. Bartholomew’s Meadery, which had a variety of different meads to taste and even wider variety of honeys for sale, including a chili honey. We didn’t get any honey, but we did try some of the meads and actually bought a bottle for the potential cold night. The mead we bought was a spiced mead style called Methelglin, served warm. I can’t remember the spices used, but it was damn good and very special treat.

Bartholomew's
Bartholomew’s Spiced Mead

The next park on our list to visit was Torndirrup National Park. We wanted to stop here because the parks brochure said it had blowholes and we had yet to investigate Australian blowholes. I was under the impression that these blowholes would be visible with water or air spouting from them like what happens with whales. I was mistaken. These blowholes were not visible, but very audible. On days with particularly large swells, water and air are pushed up through small fissures in the granite rock creating a loud whooshing sound. It’s a bit shocking the first time you hear it, but it turns into something quite satisfying once you’re anticipating the whoosh.

Blowholes in Torindurup
Blowholes in Torndirrup
Paul
Paul blending in

Porongurup

Within 200km of Albany there are three very beautiful national parks: Porongurup, Stirling Range, and Fitzgerald River. And we were intent on seeing all three within a two day period of time. We were drawn to Porongurup because of the granite skywalk. This sounded interesting and it was on the way to the Stirling Ranges, so we decided to check it out.

IMG_3262 small
Looking down at Paul
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Christina heading up the ladder

The hike to the Granite Skywalk was two kilometers straight up a steep slope. Even though the hike was a little fatiguing, it was worth the climb. The Granite Skywalk itself is composed of stainless steel rods and rivulets, and see through plexiglass arranged so that it feels like you’re walking on air. In 2011 it was built by contractors who abseiled from the top of the granite peak along the sides to put all the nuts, bolts, and planks of plexiglass into place. The end result was aesthetically pleasing and offers some spectacular views of the surrounding area. A very memorable place.

Paul at the top of the Granite Skywalk
Paul at the top of the Granite Skywalk
View of the Stirling Ranges in the distance
View of the Stirling Ranges in the distance
Balancing Rock
Balancing Rock

 

Stirling Range: Bluff Knoll

North of Porongurup, and visible from the Granite Skywalk, are the Stirling Ranges. The tallest peak in the range is Bluff Knoll standing in at 1095 meters. The summit of Bluff Knoll can be reached from a carpark that is most of the way up the mountain. The rest of the way to the top is an short 6km return hike, meaning 3k all up hill (plenty of stairs). Since this was one of the only accessible hikes in the area we decided we had to summit this peak. The hike was by far the most strenuous hike that we’ve undertaken yet. We started off early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, and so we could get to our next destination at a reasonable time, with the peak of Bluff Knoll periodically shrouded in clouds. The ascent slow and steady, with breath taking vistas to give us an excuse to stop and rest. As always, the strain on our muscles was rewarded with expansive views and sense of accomplishment. Totally awesome hike.

Bluff Knoll from the carpark
Bluff Knoll from the carpark
Christina happy to be at the top
Christina happy to be at the top
Paul is also happy. No, really, I swear.
Paul is also happy.
Summit selfie
Summit selfie

Fitzgerald River: Kangaroo Attack

Fitzgerald River would definitely be on my top 5 national parks if it weren’t for a few factors totally unrelated to the beauty and splendor of the park itself. First, the road into the park was long, gravel, and corrugated. Second, the flies were horrendous! Third, the wind there was unrelenting, even at night. Ugh.

Fortunately, Fitzgerald wasn’t all terrible. It did have a couple upsides. One, was that Point Ann, usually a good place to see Southern Right whales, was one of the most beautiful places that we’ve had the pleasure of stopping. Second, while having dinner a small kangaroo came into our tent site. It was very curious about what we were doing and came right up to the table. I was very hungry and didn’t want to share the food so I stood to shoo away the roo, but in doing so it only jumped straight up in the air and scared me more than I scared it. I tried running at the roo, but it hopped away and shortly returned again. Christina recommended running and screaming, so I tried this tactic much to Christina’s delight and the roo ran away. The roo and I were both pleased that Christina and I were only staying one night.

Hakea flower
Hakea flower
Paul at Point Ann
Paul at Point Ann
Point Ann
Beach at Point Ann

Esperance

The next big town on our journey east was Esperance. But before arriving at our destination we had to make a quick detour to Stokes Inlet, which was said to be “one of the most picturesque and interesting estuaries along WA’s southern coast.” We didn’t find many birds but we did find this very interesting fish cleaning station.

Kill fish here
Kill fish here

Once in Esperance we had the intention of going straight to a neighboring national park, Cape Le Grand, but found that the all the campsites were full. Or so sign outside the park had proclaimed. Feeling a little defeated, we headed back to town to stay at a caravan park. Good thing we did. That night the wind was gusting ferociously and the rain came along for the ride. Luckily, the caravan park was well protected against the wind and we weathered the storm.

A couple days later we were back in Esperance and took a short scenic drive along the coast.

Observatory Point, Esperance
Observatory Point, Esperance

Cape Le Grand

Between our days in Esperance we did finally manage to get out to Cape Le Grand. Le Grand is about 60km east of Esperance and is home some very stunning beaches (whitest beaches in Australia), granite hills, and kangaroos on the beach. During our stay we climbed a medium sized peak, called Frenchman Peak, hung out with kangaroos on the beach, and generally took it easy. A great break from a very busy week.

Thistle Cove
Thistle Cove
Frenchman Peak
Frenchman Peak
Christina dipping her toes in Lucky Bay
Christina dipping her toes in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo mob
Kangaroo being mobbed by tourists in Lucky Bay

Cape to Cape

We have successfully finished the journey along the West Coast of Australia! From Broome to the Cape took us 50 days and we travelled 13,175 km!

Australia Road Trip Map - West Coast

As a grand hurrah (and a break from all the driving), we decided to go on a 4 day backpacking trip along the Cape to Cape track in the Margaret River area. It’s one of the most well-travelled trails, and we had plenty of company. Since there are a few towns along the way, many people opt for a more luxurious walk staying at hotels, eating out and even getting picked up/dropped-off each day, but we wanted to be true to form and pack-in pack-out everything we needed. We only did the first half of the trail which was 65km of gorgeous rugged coast and long sandy beaches, starting at Cape Naturaliste in the north and ending in Prevally–which includes crossing the Margaret River. [The full hike is 135km, and takes 5-8 days].

cape_to_cape_map

 

Here we are at the start of the trip, looking like normal people…

Start of the trip!
Day 1: Start of the trip!
Sugarloaf Rocks
Day 1: Sugarloaf Rock

Not even 2km into the hike, we saw a snake! Not just any snake, a brown snake…the first venomous snake we’ve seen the entire time in Australia (geez, only took us 4 months)!

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Christina with a brown snake!

The beach walking was grueling!

Beach
Day 1: Smiths Beach

One morning, we ran across this little bunny on the trail. We approached quietly so I could get a good photo, and slowly we realized she wasn’t doing too well. I got even closer and nudged her with my boot, and she barely noticed, and then almost fell over…poor little dying bunny…

Day 2: bunny
Day 2: dying baby bunny

Turns out A LOT of the trail was sandy, even inland. Sometimes we were on 4WD tracks, as a lot of good surfing beaches were tucked away along this coastline.

Day 3 : water break
Day 3 : water break
Our faithful track posts
Track posts…always happy to see we weren’t lost!

Days 3 and 4 we saw lots of goannas! We’d been missing them most of the trip, but here they enjoyed basking in the sun along the trail, so we were thrilled!

Goanna
Goanna

Finally, we made it!

Paul at end of the trip!
Day 4: Paul at end of the trip, looking back at Margaret River behind us

The next day (after a nice shower, pizza and cocktails) we drove down to the southern tip to officially finish our route along the West Coast!

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse!
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse!

Now, time to head east for the last leg of the trip!