I have decided to fly to Perth to see one of my good friends from University and drama days - Teresa - for a little Western Australia road trip!
Typically when people visit Perth they tend to head North to see sights like The Pinnacles and swim with the dolphins at Monkey Mia. The landscape gradually becomes drier, deserty and more barren.
We are not going to go with the in crowd - the South is home to greener, lusher landscape with forestries and wineries as well as the opportunity to do some whale watching so we head to the South Westerly most point and Teresa's friends in Denmark have very kindly lent us the use of their beautiful - built from scratch - home for a few days.
We start our roadtrip by driving for a few hours to a little village called Margaret River. Its a beautiful picturesque drive down with a winding road surrounded by native Australian trees called Karra trees. Their bark is almond coloured, spindly and bare until the very top which erupts in soft green clouds of foliage. Margaret River is a small village famed for arty little shops and cafes. Although its pretty there are still some rather ordinary brands and fast food chains here so it doesn't quite have the quaint feel of an old fashioned British village. The best thing to do in Margaret River is sample some of the local wineries however we are going to continue our way down to stay in Denmark and Albany to do that. We decide to stay just outside of Margaret River in another small village called Augusta which in hindsight is a BIG mistake! We should have got the hint at the local hemp store when we asked for good places to eat in Augusta and pretty much got laughed out the shop.
“oh well girls...” the shop assistant says
“its not the place that matters right...its spending time with good friends, cracking open a good bottle of wine.....”
We check into our hotel but its a bit of a dive for the price (around 60 quid each a night!) oh well at least we get a free breakfast...
Every single cafe in Margaret River and onwards shuts around 3pm so on the hunt for dinner we are left with two options. The only pub in Augusta is brightly lit with plastic table tops, 80s rock and filled with “Bogans.” Australian chavs.The menu is a typical pub menu of steak and fish with fries except they are charging horrendous Ozzie prices of between 30 and 40 dollars a plate -and there is only one vegetarian option – noodles. Which puts veggie Teresa into a mood.
The only other alternative is a Chinese which is BYO so we find the bottle shop just before it shuts and then make our way to the restaurant. Its a bog standard affair– we order all the vegetarian options and crack open the wine. The Chinese owner lets us stay and drink it all as she is happy watching "Australia's Got Talent." God we needed a drink and after a bottle each the woman from the shop is right – if you have the company of good friends and enough of a half decent wine it really doesn't matter where you are....
The next morning we are up with the lark to go whale watching with a company called Albany Whale watching tours.
As we've already established -sea sickness is a particular strength of mine - luckily the company seem to be well used to people with less than average sea legs and advise on taking some pills the night before as well as up to an hour before the boat leaves.
John is our Captain – a hoary old sea dog with snowy white hair, a freckly sun burnt pate and comfortable paunch. He starts with a speech to us all before we set off -explaining his personal philosophy around the tour - the deep respect he so clearly has for these magnificent creates and the joy it gives him to share this moving experience with other people. Then he talks around the physics of sea sickness and gets us all standing up and moving as if we were rocking a baby in our arms. This allows the body to get used to the fact that it is in motion – and then he explains the best part of the boat to stand on (at the back near the centre for future reference.) It's the first time anyone has taken the care to explain the science behind my illness and even practical tips to try out helps focus the mind.
We head out from the harbour where two hump backs have already been seen – and John consults the group of us at every step of the way – explaning how rough each patch of water will be, where there have been sightngs and taking a vote on whether or not we want to venture forward.
We leave the tall peach coloured cliffs and softly rising green backs of the hills behind. The sea is a deep deep navy blue and swells all around with huge waves that must be 10ft tall. They tilt the boat and froth and crash against the side. John's sea sickness tips along with the tablets last night and this morning have worked miracles as after a brief patch of queasiness where he gets me to stand up with him and take the wheel (!) i feel fine.
“This - this is my cradle...my bassinette” he says wiping hs glasses and moving gently from side to side in time with the waves.
He kills the engine and the only sound is the gentle creaking of the boat as we rock in the huge swell. And then - rather unexpectedly - he pulls out a recorder and begins to play.
“I'm going to play them some music to see if we can lure some of the gorgeous creatures towards us...”
The high pitched and haunting melody of the recorder floats eerily out over the waves and as the sound dies we see the slick black backs of two whales rise in unison out of the sea and come crashing down to dive down deep again. It is a strange and magical experience. In a few moments we see two spurts of steam and saliva far off as they make their way further out to sea.
They are a pair – John informs us – “the female will lead the males a merry dance of exhaustion unti only one remains for her to mate with...its not unlike us in a nightclub..." he muses.
And so with some sightings under our belt its time to head back inland. The cabin crew - who have been serving us tasty little snacks all afternoon - continue to feed us with afternoon tea. John's wife, Forrest, has made home made scones and apricot jam which are delicious.
Whale watching has brought us all a hearty appetite except some of the poor younger passengers who have been throwing up steadily down below for some of the trip. My heart goes out to them and I empathise! Parents never really take motion sickness seriously for some reason.
Back on dry land we make our way to Lewin Lighthouse - the most Southern Westerly point of Australia where the pacific and indian oceans meet. ne a great grey wash coming straight down to be kissed and criss crossed over by the other a deeper blue .(Or tto visualise it another way -the litte dangly bit that hangs of its bum cheek – to the left – if you imagine the map.)
Our final stop tody is to visit one of the many caves in the area – we opt for the Jewel Cave – said to be the most stunning.
Standing deep inside its bowels - the cave is a beautiful natural sight to visit. Calcite shards hang from the ceiling and soar from the ground glowing a dainty pale pink. Some are tapered into icy thin straws that narrow into points like pen nibs - some are huge and salty cylinders. The guide shines his torch on places of interest and at one point he switches all the lights off so that we can stand in the cool and silent stillness of the dark. He points out how sometimes the formations of the stalactites and stalacmites mimic nature from the nearby outside world – and shows a great corally mass of crystal that have delicately formed themselves into the shape of a cluster of Karra trees. Isn't nature wonderful...
Later on in the afternoon we go visit “the blowholes” - natural made holes in the rocks along the shoreline which blow steam and sea spray. They are not so much craters as one large slit – that puffs out a little steam every now and agian -so fairly underwhelming -but hey we've ticked it off the list.
The marketing of W.A is keen on promotion through superlatives. The most this...the largest that...but they really outdo themselves with this one and even Teresa has to admit that playing home to one of the "largest pine cones" in the world is clutching at straws - just a teensy bit...