Day 154: 31 October – Spring arrives in the south of WA!

Author: Mr A

Location: Esperance & Gibson’s Soak

Stepping out of the Zone this morning it felt….warm….and spring perhaps has finally arrived in this rather cool end of WA. We had to drop the caravan off for a new ensuite door to be fitted…dé jà vu indeed. The last one had arrived in Perth damaged and so Zone RV had shipped one down to Esperance, no questions. They are good guys! 

First thing on the list was a trip to Bunnings to get another chair – they have a special on and we bought one yesterday as my chair seems to be occupied by a small cat more often than not. We were so pleased with it we thought we’d pick up another one, again for the princely sum of $5s. Bunnings is the best! 

Next I was sent into the local super IGA for some provisions, a dangerous move. I went in with the mandate to purchase two bottles of Diet Coke, and came out with four bags full! I just couldnt resist their Cornish pasties, and the tequila and lime olives were just begging to be tested. The cheese counter had a wide selection of sheep cheese, so I thought it was rude not to stock up for Mrs A. Etc…etc…. I am approaching the Nullarbor crossing knowing there will be very little of anything but pies and the very ordinary Mrs Mac’s sausage rolls for sale along the 1800km of culinary desert that awaits us. 

The Anderson family then headed to a park by a small harbour on the edge of town. It was beautiful. White sand and blue water, the essence of this Esperance coast for me. Tassie was quite happy to have a wander about.

We had planned to go back into town for a fish and chip lunch, something Esperance with its fleet of fishing boats was famous at doing well. However, it wasn’t to be. The number one rated restaurant had closed on Saturday and was opening again today, Tuesday at 4.30pm – way past lunch!  The four other options we looked at were all closed. It seems Esperance with a French name is looking to emulate their business hours, and double the price we paid last year for a plat de jour in a beautiful little Parisian cafe. I don’t profess to understand how everything has got so expensive here, but the European tourist is definitely noticing and not happy. 

It was time for plan B then and break out the supplies. A marvellous picnic lunch in the sun, a very relaxing afternoon before heading off to pick up the Zone. I wish we had a little more time here but time is marching on and the Nullabor beckons. 

We only had a short drive to our planned camp for the night, a field beside an old pub called The Gibson Soak Hotel. I wandered into the bar to check WikiCamps was up to date and it was still OK to pull up. It was, another very friendly bar man who was pleased with the extra custom from grey nomads I would think. Another caravan was there already and three more pulled up while we were setting up. 

Tassie was fascinated by the range of farm animals she had spotted out the window. Not entirely comfortable, she quickly retreated to her “safe space” behind the pillows!

We ambled over to the pub and a couple of locally brewed beers soon hit the spot (oops, forgot our dry pledge…oh well, we don’t start the Nullabor until tomorrow…). The locally caught Snapper and chips were brilliant. Finally…our fish and chip craving satisfied. 

Day 153: 30 October – Esperance finally shows us some warmth

Author: Mrs A

Location: Esperance & Cape Le Grand National Park

Distance driven: 120 km return

Distance hiked: 10 km

Finally the wind dropped this morning, with gusts around 30 km an hour instead of 70! So yes, still ‘breezy’ by usual standards, but not uncomfortably so. We had earmarked today to head to the nearby national park – Cape Le Grand – to do some hiking and so the upturn in the weather was a relief.

Cape Le Grand is named after one of the officers on the ship L’Espérance (after which Esperance is named – French for hope) which sailed here in 1792. There are rugged granite peaks and cliffs, the remains of a huge mountain range which once stretched along the coast here, originally higher than the Himalayas, but now smooth and eroded. The many turquoise bays are what it is mostly famous for, and the flora and fauna which exists here and nowhere else.

We commenced our section of the ‘Le Grand Coastal Track’ at Lucky Bay, following an extremely scenic route along the cliffs to the next bay, Thistle Cove. Lucky Bay has been voted the whitest beach in Australia, with sand so fine is literally squeaks as you walk on it. A beautiful bay which stretches round in a great arc, its coastline stretching out to the archipalego of islands off the coast.

Everywhere we looked was stunning, and barely anyone else about either, certainly not on our walking track. Birds, kangaroos, wildflowers and lizards often tried to block our view of the great blue, but we managed to dodge past them.

(Below an Ornate Dragon basks on the warm granite rocks)

We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the white sand beach at Thistle Cove, before retracing our steps back to Lucky Bay. We called into the serenely named Hellfire Bay on our way back to Esperance…no hell or fire, just more turquoise water and glaringly white sand.

We are moving on from Esperance tomorrow, heading further east. We will be travelling across the Nullabor Desert, so this afternoon popped into the local supermarket to stock up on supplies, mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, as these will be few and far between on our 1,300 km (808 miles) journey.

This evening we treated ourselves to a meal at the local Chinese. Once again, our first and second choices of restaurant were both closed (!), but the Chinese was delicious. No more mention of wine for a while – we have been alcohol-free since dinner on Saturday. We have decided to abstain until we reach South Australia. A dry desert crossing if you like!

Day 152: 29 October  – Esperance: cold and closed but oh so beautiful!

Author: Mr A

Distance driven: about 55 km

We wandered along the coast road this morning into Esperance along Ocean Drive (how did they think of that name?) and were blown away  – literally and figuratevely. The wind has again gusted to just under 70km an hour (44 mph), trees were down and I was gripping the wheel of the rig like a mad thing – again. When we reached the ocean though the view was….I must use a word other than about stupendous!

The first thing we (i.e. my lovely artistic wife) noticed were the colours, every shade of blue (apparently – I thought blue was blue). The waves were huge and smashing against the rocks, it was all very dramatic. Although Tassie was quite unmoved by all the fuss. 

We arrived at the caravan park, called Bather’s Paradise. We looked at each other and shivered at the very thought of bathing. The temperature was supposedly 17 degrees (at midday) but that wind was bitingly cold. Anyway the park seemed nice, and we ploughed into a laundry mountain. Keeping the washing from leaving the line and not providing clothing for some deserving person in Darwin was our next challenge. 

It was a Sunday and we had read the market was on. But it was closed because of the wind. Bloody wind. We needed to do a food supermarket shop. But they were closed because it was a Sunday. We needed to buy some things at the pet store. It was closed. The chemist was closed. Target was closed. The restaurant we planned to go to was closed, the plan B for dinner was the chip shop that had been recommended…it was closed. The fresh fish shop at the harbour….you guessed it. Esperance is either deeply religious or stuck in a 90s time warp. I’m betting on the latter. 

So its a pre-cooked curry from the deep freeze and a (another) quiet night in. Good job I’m such remarkably exciting company. 

Day 151: 28 October – Snakes on the way to Paradise

Author: Mrs A

From: Munglingup Beach

To: Paradise Farmstay, Dalyup

We left early this morning, blue skies overhead but continuing strong winds. I had not had a good night’s sleep due to a pinched nerve or similar causing pain from my neck to my right arm – I’m hoping this is not going to be a regular thing – it seemed to get better during the day.

As we drove out from camp we spotted our first snake in a long while – a sunbathing diamond python along the roadside – this one is not venonmous. He posed for some photos. Not long after spotting this beauty, we crossed paths with an actual venomous black snake, which reared up at our rig and slithered quickly into the bush – no photo of that one!

We continued our journey eastwards towards Esperance, stopping at Paradise Farmstay along the way. We had some difficulty finding the location due to the lack of signage, but once we had settled, found out from Tom the farmer/butcher that he wasn’t allowed to advertise due to the Esperance caravan parks. Thank goodness for the Wiki Camps App!

We settled in for the day – I had an hour’s catch up nap, then we purchased some organic sausages, fresh eggs and some diced steak from Tom. We cooked up three of the sausages for brunch – delicious! I swear there is a difference from the usual butcher or supermarket sausages. The strong wind continued so we mostly settled inside out of the breeze (strong breeze which prevented the awning from going out and blew over chairs and stools outside!). Tassie loves it here though – no dogs or anything threatening – she had a great day strolling around the paddock or dozing in the sunshine,

At 4pm we congregated on Tom’s deck for happy hour with the other people camping here. We have a couple from the NSW Central Coast, a family from Southerlandshire, also in NSW, and a couple from Mackay in Queensland. We all shared drinks, nibbles and stories for a couple of hours, before retiring to the mobile apartments to cook dinner after enjoying a proper bush sunset.

Mr A and I have a beef rendang, cooked with our local organic beef (we are trying to disassociate dinner from the cattle strolling around in the next paddock), and the remainder of last night’s delicious Brash Vineyard Shiraz.

Day 150: 27 October  – A campsite and pristine beach all to our ourselves

Author: Mr A

From: Hopetoun

To: Munginlup Beach

Distance driven: 113 km

Distance walked: 7.5 km

All these little towns off the main tourist trail are just so friendly. We got a smile at the local IGA, and useful local information on road conditions from the bakery. We just had to buy a sausage roll to start the day. After talking to a a couple of friends yesterday who described themselves as ‘hitting the gym’ and ‘eating healthily’ we aren’t looking forward to Christmas around the pool together! 

After an hour’s drive we decided to head down to a little bay (Munginlup beach) on the coast for some lunch. Arriving, we saw a well laid out campsite, new toilets, and noone else. So…we thought let’s stay here the night. Tas was keen to explore so a walk to the ocean was in order. 

After a spot of lunch and a read (John Le Carré’s new one for me, it’s a cracker) it was time to hit the beach minus Tassie. The wind was howling but it was a stunning vista that awaited us as we walked along. Not a single footstep was visible. We marched up the sand and came to a lagoon, again not a sign of anyone. 

Heading back to the caravan we decided to use up some pancake batter and try making Yorkshire puds in our oven. Worked out very tasty – washed down with a Chardy from Mt Barker’s Plantagenet winery. Main is a chicken Pad Thai, absolutely yummy, so we decided it needed something special to show it off. I fished out the Brash Vineyard 2014 Shiraz. More medals than Usain Bolt’s mantelpiece. 

It’s so nice to have a place all to ourselves, with only the sounds and smells of the ocean keeping us company.  This is a great time of year to be travelling along this part of the coast. The weather may be not the most beachy, but hasn’t often stopped us from getting out and about. I would trade sunbaking and swimming for less crowds any day. 

Day 148: 25 October – Exploring Bremer Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Bremer Bay

Distance walked: 6 km

Today we had decided to take a short 20 minute drive up the road to the nearest settlement, Bremer Bay. We set off with very little in the way of a plan, all we could gleam from a bit of Googling was “a small settlement surrounded by fabulous beaches, with fishing and surfing opportunities”. Well that describes 99% of all Australian coastal settlements…what was special here? We soon discovered that as we came to our first view of one of the surrounding beaches. What incredible colours, the vivid blue of the ocean was in stark contrast to the almost white sand. One local described it as ‘Whitehaven Beach without the temperatures and crowds!’

The cold wind soon drove us back in the car again (a great day to be behind glass) and we carried on around the town trying to find its centre. Looking at Google Maps it wasnt really apparent, because it doesn’t have one. Is the pub near the houses? No. Are any of the few shops clustered together? No. It was quite odd. It’s called a town, has 250 permanent residents, and apparently this swells to 11,000 in the school holidays. But really had no feeling of hanging together. 

We drove around and found another spectacular beach though, and then headed to the local fish processing plant, as we had been told they would sell us some fresh catch. They hadn’t got any prepared, and we had no gear to gut and scale, so we brought some vacuum packed, frozen but locally caught, shark and sardines. The owners were delightful and we chatted for a while about their move from Gosford on the east coast of NSW to run the business. 

We finally found the pub we had been told served a pretty decent feed, and were warmly greeted by a very friendly barman. Everyone here has the time and genuine inclination to have a natter. Food was ordered and delivered to our table, sheltered from the wind. 

We were a little thrown by the very scary sculpture on the way out though! As the Ranger we spoke to said, he’d lived here for 15 years before he realised what it was. See if you can guess.

We took a bit more of a drive around and then headed back a bit ambivalent about the place. Yes, it was surrounded by such beauty, but seemed to have no coherence, just a series of buildings scattered about randomly. Lots of land was up for sale so clearly there’s an appetite to develop the town, but it needs more infrastructure and planning. Get a new town council! 

Back at the camp a rather lazy afternoon followed, with Tassie being the recipient of far too much attention. 

We dragged ourselves out of the cosiness of the Zone though for one final sunset walk around the property, as we will be leaving tomorrow. This has been a fantastic bush camp and all credit to Terry, who keeps the place immaculate, and to Robert, the owner, for setting this facility up. Everyone here has been so friendly.

Day 147: 24 October – It’s all about orchids!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tozer’s Bush Camp, Bremer Bay

Distance walked: 6 km

We did something quite different today, joining Terry, an amateur botanist passionate about orchids, on a wildflower hunting expedition around the bushland surrounding Tozer’s bush camp. I must admit we have very limited knowledge of Australian flowers, and Western Australia seems to be richer in diversity than anywhere else we have been – possibly due to the smaller population and poor soils for farming purposes.

The three hour tour commenced at 10am and we were immediately educated with stories of the importance of the right amount of bushfires to help distribute seeds and open hard seed pods and shown the impact fire can have on the land. Then there were the orchids. Many are dependent on the sun to open (particularly the Shy Sun Orchid which will close up as soon as the clouds come over), whereas others just need warmth.

Below a few that we saw – I will try to remember all the names, but can’t guarantee they are all right!!

1. Leopard Orchid

2. Shy Sun Orchid being shy

3. Purple Enamel Orchid

4. Cowslip Orchid

There are many many more but they will have to wait for a wifi connection – we’re running low on mobile data.

It was a fabulous morning, and we returned for lunch with our heads spinning with all our learning.

We concluded our day with another walk, trying to remember what we had seen during the morning and spot more flowers, while enjoying the serenity of the bush. We finished up at the communal campfire for a chat with our fellow campers before heading back to the mobile apartment for dinner as the sun set. Just another day in paradise!

Day 146: 23 October – Back to the bush

Author: Mr A

From: Denmark

To: Tozer’s Bush Camp, Bremer Bay

Distance: 233 km

After a very civilised few weeks working our way round the vineyards and cafés of the SW of WA, we headed off this morning  into the wild and wooly hinterland further east along the coast. Firstly though we thought we would detour through Mt Barker, and of course a winery beckoned. Well Ok then, just one more tasting. Plantagnet Winery was just on our route…it would have been rude not to…so we spent a very happy hour tasting some of their range. I know, what a way to spend a Monday morning.

We had a few hours drive ahead of us and were overjoyed that Tassie had decided to crash rather than stomp around the car, as is sometimes her want. Catherine employed the “Thunder Shirt” technique that is used on dogs to calm them when there’s fireworks or thurnderstorms. Basically swaddle them in something warm. In this case Catherine’s waistcoat. Seemed to do the trick, she was flat out the whole trip – wonderful!

We then drove through the magnificent Sterling Range, stopping for a roadside lunch to admire their towering presence, rising almost sheer out of the flat country surrounding them. 

It was finally time then to head bush, this time to a place called Tozer’s Bush Camp, which had shown up on WikiCamps as a relatively new place getting 5 star reviews. We headed off the tar and onto the dirt for the first time in over 6 weeks…it felt good. We met Tozer himself briefly, and his 9 month old kelpie. Tassie woke up and viewed both from the safety of my driver’s seat. We were told to go and pick ourselves a spot, which we did, a fabulous array of wildflowers surrounding us. This looks like a top location. Only 3 other caravans are here, and 50 metres to our nearest neighbour. We are so loving travelling in the off season here. From December on it will be heaving. 

I know it’s a Monday, and in the “old days” that meant fasting and alcohol free, but what the heck, madam was cooking up a storm of a fish red curry, so I brought out the big guns with a bottle of the Rockcliffe Third Reef Chardy we had brought in Denmark. A Halliday rated 97 pointer. We can’t believe how we have both been converted after such a short sojourn in the Margaret River. Such floozies! So easily swayed from “Oh no we don’t really like Chardy”…stereotyping a whole genre of wine with one foul swoop. The delicacy of the oaking is quite remarkable. It’s there in the background, but not shouting at you. 

The evening concluded under the stars with a glass or two of Plantagenet Shiraz, meeting the neighbours around the communal fireplace and exchanging tips and stories. One of the many joys of travelling.

Day 145: 22 October – Birds, beaches and blossoms

Author: Mrs A

Distance cycled: 22 km

Distance walked: 3 km

Turning left out of our campground we followed a cycle path without truly knowing where it would take us, enjoying the adventure of spontaneity. The path followed the forest behind the water’s edge with occasional diversions down to white sand beaches and incredible views.

We continued on as the paved pathway made way for an off-road route, following the Bibbulmun Track for a couple of kilometres, and back out through a housing estate. We chatted with a couple of local cyclists out for a Sunday morning explore who gave us advice on directions to go. We chose to follow the river towards the ocean, finishing up at a lookout with a vista of the spectacular Ocean Beach.

It was a warm and very humid day, with temperatures in the late 20s, constantly threatening storms which we would have welcomed, but never came. We returned via the other end of the rail trail, which brought us conveniently back to camp.

After a BBQ lunch, we spent the afternoon cleaning. Fridge, floors and shoe cupboard for me, mountain bikes and car for Mr A. After a shower and quick pick up of final supplies (we are off bush camping for a few days, and the IGA supermarket here is fabulous!) a walk to enjoy the stunning evening was in order.

The water was very still, offering mirror-like reflections.

(Below: A drumstick – threatened species in these parts, with phytophthora dieback which feeds on the root system, rotting the plants)

(Below: a pelican checking to see whether I had any fish to feed him)

(Below: one of four kookaburras which stalked me on the walk)

Tomorrow we farewell this beautiful water and woodland paradise, and head further east. We’ll be sad to leave serene Denmark. It’s not quite Western Australia’s answer to Byron Bay as some suggest, but a far sleepier, more peaceful version of it. Denmark – it has been wonderful.

Day 143: 20 October – Walpole to Denmark in an hour

Author: Mrs A

From: Walpole

To: Denmark

Distance driven: 73km Cycled: 28km

Well who knew you could travel to Denmark in less than an hour and still speak English? Denmark Western Australia was named by Europeans in 1829, not after the country as you would imagine, but after a naval surgeon, Alexander Denmark. The resident aborigines called the area Kwoorabup (place of the black wallaby). 

We turned in an easterly direction from Walpole and drove through stunning scenery, Marri, Karri and Tingle forests lining the roads with blue skies overhead, the morning sunlight filtering through the trees. Beautiful. We booked into a campsite down by the Wilson Inlet, a shallow lagoon full of birdlife with forest and white sand beaches lining the shoreline. We were keen to enjoy the beautiful day and so after setting up jumped on our bikes for an explore. Denmark is very bike friendly with shared pathways throughout town. 

We decided to embark on a ride along the Heritage Rail Trail which starts just 100 metres from the campground. 

It was a beautiful ride, along relatively flat pathways, mostly alongside the inlet and beaches, and frequently reminding us more of English countryside rather than typical Australian landscapes – it was only the flora and fauna which reminded us where we still were.

It was a stunning afternoon’s ride taking us to a little under 30km return and working up a good appetite for the evening’s activity. 

Just before heading off on our cycle, we had received a knock on the caravan’s door, as you do. It was the skipper of the the caravan site’s boat, popping over to let us know they were doing an evening cruise – $35 to head up the local creek and out into the inlet to see the sun set, including a fish and chip dinner delivered by the local pub! That was something we couldn’t say no to, so of course we booked on.

The cruise departed at 5.30pm sharp, and took us up the river, allowing us to see some incredible reflections while learning a bit about the region’s logging and farming heritage.

It was BYO so of course we took along a rather delicious chilled white to accompany us on the journey and to enjoy with our food. With a cloudless sky, sunset was lovely but not spectacular, and best enjoyed through the glow on the trees and scenery. 

A lovely end to a fine day.