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.

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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
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Perth

Perth is the capital city of Western Australia, situated in the southern part of the west coast, the geographic equivalent of LA. As a metropolitan area it is home to around 1.8 million aussies making Perth the fourth largest city in Australia behind Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Perth, like many of the great Australian cities, is cut in two (north south) by the mighty Swan River. The north side is were the Central Business District (CBD) resides and the south is more residential with trendy bars and restaurants thrown in the mix. The CBD also has a free museum of Western Australia of which we took full advantage. But, a lovely city and free museums are not the only reasons we stayed in Perth.

Before arriving in Perth we knew that we wanted to spend a little extra time in the area and extend our trip in an attempt to arrive in Tasmania closer to summertime. To accomplish this goal we signed up for this service called Aussie House Sitters. Basically you pay a one time fee, create a profile, see what house sitting gigs are posted, and apply. Some house sitting is for a week others for a month to a couple months and everything in between. We had applied to several different gigs, but were turned down each time, until a lovely lady named Katie accepted our request. Katie had actually setup the account for her mom, Sue, who lives with her and her family. The gig wasn’t so much to watch the house, but to watch Sue’s three Maltese/Shih tzus. The family was going on an eight day holiday to Bali and the dogs needed company. Normally I don’t really like small dogs, but these guys were alright, even if they were a little barky.

Paul, Thomas, Pugsley and Chuck.
Paul, Thomas, Pugsley and Chuck.

During our stay in the Perth area we did a lot of sleeping, watching Netflix, and baking various treats for ourselves. You know, cookies, quiches, casseroles, fries, and chicken nuggets. Comfort food. Even though it was exceedingly difficult to pull ourselves away from the cute dogs and comfort of a roof over our heads, we did manage to do a little exploring. On our big day out we played disc golf, went to a brewery, and a park.

Paul goes feral
Paul goes feral

On another day we visited the very popular suburb of Fremantle. Fremantle, or Freo, is known for its laid back, do what you want philosophy. It is also know for its weekend markets which offer a wide variety of fresh and cooked food, buskers, koala petting, and other treats for the whole family. Like good tourist we walked around, Christina bought some chocolate covered strawberries, and later we washed it all down with some locally made beer and cider. All in all, a very lovely little town.

 

Ok, to be honest, the real reason why we stopped in Perth was so that I could attend a beer event and for Christina to change her hair color. And that is exactly what we did our last day in Perth. While Christina sat in a chair for six hours turning her hair aquamarine, I went to a local pub to celebrate Zwanze Day. What is Zwanze Day? It’s an international beer festival created by Cantillon Brewery in Belgium to celebrate a serialist art movement that was started in the late 19th century in Belgium and continues to influence the life philosophy of the people of Belgium. Or at least that’s what the breweries website claims. Either way the brewery releases a special beer for the annual event and only a very select group of bars around the world get a keg of the beer. Last year a bar in Melbourne was the lucky recipient for all of Australia. This year the bar happened to be in Perth. AND as luck would have it, we were passing through Perth at the same time. So, I had to attend. At the end of the day, the beer was fantastic and Christina’s hair turned out beautifully.

Cantillon's Zwanze Day
Cantillon’s Zwanze Day
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Christina’s new blue hair! and Chucky

Begrudgingly, we had to leave our new friends behind and hit the road once again to explore the national parks right outside the Perth area. The first place we visited was Lane Pool. Here we walked through Jarra forests and acclimated ourselves back into camping life. For those of you wondering, Jarrah trees are a type of eucalyptus that only grows in southwest part of Australia.

Lane Pool. Jarrah forest (with control burn fire in background)
Lane Pool. Jarrah forest (with control burn fire in background)

Jarrah forests are also home to a very endangered marsupials called numbats. To try and find these elusive critters we head east to Dryandra National Park.

We didn’t find any numbats but we find a wild honey bee hive, went on a very cool night hike, and had a face to face encounter with a brush tailed possum who wanted to eat our dinner.

Next we head back towards the coast and the end of the West coast…

Parks with Perks

Wildflowers

While we may not have timed our trip well for whale sharks, we did happen to visit southwestern Australia at the perfect time for spring wildflowers. From Kalbarri south, we marveled at the bright colors all around us. They brightened all our hikes, brought birds and bees right next to us, and made the landscape come alive on the long drives. Here is a little taste of the rainbow – all from one day in Kalbarri:

IMG_2589 small REDIMG_2610 small ORANGEIMG_2572 small YELLOWIMG_2558 small WHITEIMG_2616 small GREENIMG_2569 small BLUEIMG_2585 small PURPLEIMG_2787small VIOLET
Jump for Joy

As our little guide book describes it, Geraldton is the “key port and administration center for the region” – meaning there’s not much to do. And sadly, we had to occupy ourselves for a whole weekend in this town since we arrived on a Friday and had to wait til Monday to get the car serviced. Even worse, every shop in town closes at 1pm on Saturday, and nothing is open Sunday. There was, however, a nice little market (where we bought some fudge) and a nice museum about Western Australia’s natural history, local culture and the fascinating shipwrecks off the treacherous coast. The stories of the dutch ships Batavia (1629) and Zuytdorp (1712) include some serious blood-thirsty episodes, if you care to look them up…

The best part of our visit was hands-down the jumping pillow pad at the caravan park. There’s something amazingly satisfying about bouncing around like idiots until you fall over from laughing too hard you can’t move anymore. If you know of one nearby, go visit it NOW.

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More Parks

Although we were eager to get to Perth, we couldn’t skip over the last few parks on the way. And as luck would have it, just after entering Beekeepers Nature Reserve, where we planned to camp, I spotted a tiny creature on the road, with a unique wobbly gait, and I wailed for Paul to stop the car. He dutifully turned around and we manged to find the little lizard we were desperate (and unable) to find while in Shark Bay… the one and only Thorny Devil!

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Moloch horridus is a remarkable being that would be nightmarish if only it weren’t so small and cute. With pointy scales all over its body, and skin that changes color, it sits around eating tiny black ants and nothing else. Even more amazing, is its ability to collect moisture from dew on its body that flows via tiny channels between its scales straight into its adorable stubby mouth. BEST DAY EVER.

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While few things could ever top finding a Thorny Devil, we continued onward to Lesueur National Park for a wonderful hike to a lookout over the area. Apparently, it has more plant species per unit than anywhere in the state (200 of 800 are endemic to the park).

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Next, we made out way to Jurien Bay. We were hoping to see some friendly Australian Fur Seals, but alas, they hide away from humans on the offshore islands. The beach was still very pretty.

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Pinnacles

The most famous site in the area is undoubtedly the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. Thousands of limestone pinnacles pop out of the sand, up to 5 meters tall. They were formed when plant roots cemented with calcite in the dunes, exposed by wind and shifting sands.

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You can drive right between the strange structures, giving the place a very other-worldly feel.

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Paul wandering between pinnacles
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Pinnacles Drive

Our last stop before Perth was Yanchep National Park, where we spent a rainy morning wandering around the wildlife and flowers.

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Christina chats with a friendly kookaburra
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Christina walking with roos

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While we have yet to visit any captive animals parks (every creature we’ve seen so far has been wild), we stumbled upon the (free) koala enclosure in the middle of the park, and got to see our first koalas of the trip.

Deadly drop bear
Deadly drop bear

Coastal

Shark Bay

The next stop on our way down along the west coast is Shark Bay. It’s a huge marine park comprised of multiple national parks and World Heritage Areas. The first bay, Hamelin Pool, is home to some of Earth’s first creatures: stromatolites (cyanobacteria). While they’re not much to look at, walking amongst them is like walking back in time, to see the organisms responsible for making the oxygen in our atmosphere.

Paul and the stromatolites
Paul and the Stromatolites
Pied cormorants
Pied cormorants

A little farther up the peninsula is Shell Beach, a suitable name for a vast stretch of beach made entirely of little cockle shells that thrive in the super-salty water of the shallow bay, 25-30 feet deep in some areas. They used to make stone bricks out of them, too.

Endless cockle shells
Endless cockle shells

Farther still, is an amazing rugged cliff looking down on crystal blue ocean where the casual onlooker can sit back and leisurely watch all sorts of sea creatures wander into the bay. Within a few minutes we saw shovel-nosed sharks, several reef sharks, stingrays, a pod of dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales in the distance. Not bad!

Eagle Bluff
Eagle Bluff

That night we celebrated with margaritas! Our tequila even came with its own sombrero.

Christina enjoying her margarita. Quesadillas with guacamole in the making.
Christina enjoying her margarita. Quesadillas with guacamole in the making.

The next morning we made friends with a shingleback skink who was happily sunning herself in the middle of the road, who, when provoked by a waving hand, showed-off her fabulous blue tongue 🙂

Skink!
Skink! AKA bobtail, stump-tailed skink, bogeye, pinecone lizard or sleepy lizard.

Monkey Mia

Our next stop was a very touristy spot called Monkey Mia (I still haven’t figured out why it had that name) where local humans have been hand-feeding wild dolphins for decades. In the ’60s they used to let people feed them as much as they pleased, and the dolphins loved it, coming back every day to get a free meal. However, after about 20 years they noticed a sharp decline in young dolphins. Turns out all the free meals meant the mother dolphins weren’t teaching their calves how to find wild fish, and so they couldn’t survive on their own. These days, they are limited to 3 feedings a day, starting at 8am. All the humans line up on the beach and listen to the rangers while awaiting the dolphins (they all have names, and we saw mother, daughter and granddaughter). Some special people get picked to hand-feed the dolphins, while trying the evade the hungry fish-stealing pelicans. We were not the chosen people.

Australian pelicans waiting for their share of fish
Australian pelicans waiting for their share of fish
Monkey Mia dolphins come in to grab a bite
Monkey Mia dolphins come in to grab a bite

The dolphin experience was a nice treat, but the real draw of Shark Bay for us was the dugongs. Relatives of the freshwater manatee (with a forked tail instead of a rounded tail), dugongs are the only true vegetarian marine mammal, eating seagrass all day long. They are actually negatively buoyant, with very heavy bones, so they don’t need to exert any energy while feeding on the bottom. But this means they only have time for one breath each time they surface. While they remain a threatened species, about 20% of the world population resides in Shark Bay. The best way to see them is to jump on a wildlife cruise, so we dutifully followed suit.

Dugong taking a breath
Dugong taking a breath
Dugong taking a dive
Dugong taking a dive. 

The cruise also stopped at a pearl farm, which is a huge industry all the way up to Broome and beyond (and has its own crazy history involving kidnapping aboriginal women and forcing them to dive down to collect pearls, and later a huge migration of asian labor, including the still-best Japanese). We got to see some of the new inventive techniques they use to create unique shapes under the shell (hearts, anchors, dolphins, etc) and imbedding gold and gem stones to be covered in nacre (the white, iridescent coating that makes a pearl a pearl).

Oyster shells with anchor shape (top) , gold & opal (bottom right)
Oyster shells with anchor shape (top) , gold & opal (bottom right)

 

Kalbarri National Park

This park has both red rock gorges and rocky ocean coast, making it one of my (Christina’s) very favorite places in Australia. We started inland with a lovely loop hike (imaginatively called The Loop) starting on the rim at Nature’s Window (a large wind-created hole) and followed the trail down into the red and white banded gorge along the Murchison river.

Christina looking out at the Murchison River
Christina looking out at the Murchison River
Nature's Window
Nature’s Window with squatters
Tree with flowers
Tree with flowers
Interesting patterns in the rock
Interesting patterns in the rock
Pretty cliffs
Pretty banded cliffs
Friendly lizard
Cute lizard

The second part of the park, and its most spectacular in my opinion, it the wild coastline. Even though we’re farther south, the water still has that tropical light blue color, paired with white limestone cliffs or iron-rich sandstone. What is truly stunning about this part of Western Australia is the mix of warm-tropical and cold-water marine life. The west coast of Australia has the only southward flowing current in the southern hemisphere (the currents along South America and Africa both flow north). The Leeuwin current brings down tropical marine species from Southeast Asia, while the cold waters from Antartica bring the nutrient rich water north. They meet here and form a wonderful seascape that mixes coral reefs and bright tropical fish with seaweeds and kelps of the rocky intertidal.

Rock Island
Rock Island

One of the best places to explore was Eagle Gorge Beach, which was a small beach, but had an amazing amount of marine life, from little snails in the tide pools, to a huge crab-eating gull, and the remnants of creatures washed up on the beach (endless shells, urchins, cuttlebones, etc). I could have stayed there for days exploring all the nooks and crannies!

Paul in the tide pools
Paul in the tide pools
Shells galore
Shells galore
Urchin shell with seaweed
Urchin shell with seaweed
Literally every color of the rainbow...in shells!
Literally every color of the rainbow…in shells!
Cuttlebones everywhere, every size. Cuttlefish mate all at once and then die (like salmon), so their internal bones drift onto beaches around the same time.
Cuttlebones everywhere, every size. Cuttlefish mate all at once and then die (like salmon), so their internal bones drift onto beaches around the same time.

We continued along the coast to other beaches, lookouts and bluffs, each one presenting new and beautiful treasures.

Christina on edge
Christina on edge
Crab!
Crabs!
Sandy path around the beach dunes
Paul on a sandy path 
Kangaroo on the trail
Kangaroo on the trail
Christina at Red Bluff
Christina at Red Bluff
Paul at Red Bluff :)
Paul at Red Bluff 🙂

Where ever we went, the whales weren’t far, and today we managed to get a photo!

Humpback whale breaching!
Humpback whale breaching!