Getting Back in Gear
Busselton - Northcliff, 6th - 8th December
Today was a full day, especially for two travellers emerging from a three-week hibernation. Like bears after winter, it takes us some time to get back on our feet and remember what’s what. Fortunately, we have a list of places to visit from Eli and Bogi - to guide us on our way.
We start with Busselton Jetty - the longest pier in the southern hemisphere with its 1,841 meters. It is long enough to have its own train which connects the two ends. Naturally, back in the day, this was a cargo train when the jetty was functioning as an export port. Today it is simply a bright red tourist attraction which we decide not to use. The weather is wonderful and we will have a nice walk to the other end without spending unnecessary money.
There are metal plaques attached to the wooden railing along its entire length. After a quick read, we realise that once again, this is an interactive way of telling the story of the facility without boring texts on large signs in a stuffy museum. The plaques alternate, every other one has a question written and when you get to the next one, you get the answer. In between, there is plenty of distance for you to consider the possible answers. The meters pass quickly with this game and before we know it we are at the end looking out to the endless ocean. There is also a museum with a natural aquarium here. A glass room has been built under sea level and due to its distance from the coast, you can usually see all sorts of ocean creatures swimming around. But we find out that this isn’t a strong season for the fauna so we walk back after taking in our surroundings.
The platform we are currently walking on isn’t the original jetty from 1865. The old one was put under the most unavoidable element for any wooden structure - a fire. After it burned down they had to rebuild it - new and more lasting. However, some old remains in the ocean are now home to the local seagulls and their babies - small, fluffy and brown. A few cormorants are also using this facility to keep the fish under eye. After all, it is time for lunch.
We also arrange our lunch quickly and we treat ourselves to our new supermarket discovery - vegan chocolate cake. Do you really think we are missing something because we are vegan? Because I don’t!
The early afternoon takes us to Naturaliste Cape to show us what views the local beaches have. It doesn’t disappoint. Whichever way you look, you can find a new desktop picture. In some places, is more ocean, in others more greenery and red rocks but they are all worth it. And despite the name Naturaliste, this is not the name for the local nudists. But it is for expert surfers. From the car park, we are watching them run down towards the beach so they don’t miss a precious wave. But only once we get to the front, we realise how good everyone in the water must be. The sharp rocks aren’t only close to the shore. Out to sea, every wave uncovers a new sharp point in the centre of the surfing path. Well, even if I enjoyed surfing, I would never reach the skills required for this beach.
The views for today don’t stop here. Nic has also picked for us to see some ocean canals - Canal Rocks. These are rock formations that have given way for the water to flow between them. But to actually observe that it is almost impossible without the bridge built to allow you to take as many pictures as you wish and to see exactly what they mean by calling them canals. If you substitute the uneven rocks with terraced houses and instead of the ocean horizon you picture more bridges it might seem as though you are in Amsterdam. Only one thing I can’t remember finding in the Dutch capital - crab colonies. Perhaps they are new residents because here they are, everywhere and in an array of colours and sizes.
We reach the campsite relatively early but they have mini-golf so we have no issues filling our time. To my surprise, I don’t manage too badly with the game. As we have already established, sports with extra equipment don’t work out very well for me, but today it is okay. Perhaps it’s because of the kookaburra that is keeping an eye on me the entire time from the top of the fence. And while the children in the campsite watch Toy Story 4 on the huge outdoor projector, we turn our attention to making dinner and other standard camp activities - writing the diary and carving a stick from the forest.
They warned us last night that it will rain this morning. It will what? We have again forgotten the meaning of the word. So we end up unprepared. After it didn’t rain earlier in the morning we didn’t pack away the tent quickly as a precaution. Of course not. We took our sweet time until we had to do it in the pouring rain … Typical!
It is Saturday today but the blog post for this week is far from finished. I haven’t even started translating. Therefore, we are chaotically walking through Margaret River searching for a coffee place with plugs by the tables. In the end, we give up as it is still raining on top of us and we are hungry. We decide to fill ourselves properly first and then move to the local library.
I don’t usually talk about the food we find on the road but this place deserves it for one particular reason - the bacon. I ordered a vegan BLT sandwich which traditionally consists of bacon, lettuce and tomatoes. The bacon was the most realistic version I have tried in the last three years - salty, smokey and crunchy but soft. What else should bacon be? Even the women next to us specifically asked if it’s like a real one. It’s damn close!
Now we can happily transition - cosy and welcoming. We stay until they close and we get countless things done. I upload the blog for the Blue Mountains in the last minute (“Refraction through Eucalyptus” if you haven’t already, I advise you read it because there are many references to it in this text). But it gets to 4 pm and it is time for them to kick us out of the warm and dry library. Okay fine, we’ll get out in the rain if we have to.
But we will go do something that no one should ever miss out on when they visit Margaret River - wine tasting. The region produces just three per cent of the wine on the continent and yet it is incredibly popular for its quality. We know nothing about wine so we just choose the first vineyard that comes up on Google and is still open - Voyager. The place is luxurious and spacious with carefully arranged rows of vines, fancy sitting room and restaurant. Everyone around us is all dressed up in dresses and shirts while we arrive in our “I’m cold uniform”. We apologise to the chateau for ruining their image but we promise to pay. This is a typical activity after getting cold - after the snow in the blue mountains, we went to warm up in a winery too.
A menu is handed to us in which all wines they offer are separated into individual sets. We order the two red sets to see what they have to offer. With every poured glass, the lady explains in detail about the wine and we sit opposite her, nodding approvingly and pretending that we understand every word. If only Kenneth could be with us at this moment (Nic’s dad) - to raise our game! We sip and look for a connection between what we heard in the presentation and the sensations on our tongues. But let’s be honest - at the end of the day, it all comes down to the taste. You either like it or you don’t. We leave with two bottles. One is a classical red to drink at the cold campsites and one which is a bit weirder to keep for mum and dad’s arrival - something like a young, fizzy, cloudy rosé. (Ten days later after drinking the bottle, dad said it is simply a sturm wine. I told you I know nothing of wine!)
Tonight we will be sleeping at Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. Conto Campground is close to our first goal the morning. The forest is wonderful although we are still paying an extortionate amount for what it has to offer - a standard space with a table and a toilet far away. But for today we will let it go as it is big enough to take out the awning and relax without any responsibilities. The evening is cool and requires layers of clothes and a blanket while we are under the stars. Which then allows for a good nights sleep - if you haven’t established it by now, Nic and I prefer sleeping in the cold. Even in the winter, I leave the window ajar at home.
This morning starts with an important December task - we decorate Bertie for Christmas. At our last lunch, Eli gave us a Christmas present to open right away and another one for the twenty-fifth. Well, the first was an assortment of festive decorations to make the car more festive. The wooden shapes (stars, angels and hearts) we hang on the curtain ropes in the back and the colourful pompoms I string on a thin rope instead of tinsel. With Michael Buble’s Christmas album playing, I think it is starting to look a lot like Christmas.
As I mentioned, our camping location was chosen to be in close proximity to our first sight for the day - Lake Cave. We get up to buy tickets and it turns out there is only one spot for the next tour. We should either wait for the next one or go to a different cave nearby which is for independent walking. Oooo, no! This time you will not trick us to go to the boring cave. There is a lake in this one - we want to go inside this one. That’s it. With a little charm and a lot of stubbornness we convince them to let us both in - where there is one, there are two. Yes, it will be a bit crowded but we have other things planned to see today. It is not just you and your cave.
The group is big and primarily made up of Eastern Europeans. Other than me, a big Macedonian family are coming along. Most of them are clearly visiting as you can tell they hardly speak English. They were surprised when all of sudden a question flew to them that they understood: “Where are you from?” - I ask in clear Bulgarian. “From Bitola” - they respond in clear Macedonian. And we continue just like that, everyone in their own language until the walk descending the endless steps distracts us.
It is not difficult to establish that this approach to the cave was once a part of it. The tour guide confirms that this used to be one of the caverns. However, many hundreds of years ago but the roof fell through and is now just the entrance. The stalactites are still here. Blackened by the oxygen, blanketed by the spiders and broken by the wind. Like a surreal gothic cathedral with the pointy decoration on the inside. Or like an exaggerated Adams family house. You choose.
We walk in the cave. It isn’t big but is entirely formed around a lake that is actually a river. A local sort of micro-algae lives in the waters and it can only be found in this cave. And as the water has started receding over the years, they’ve placed a layer of thick tarp under the sand to keep the water level by stopping the water from seeping deeper into the soil.
The main sight of this cave is the “hanging table” - two columns hold a layer of rock up that used to be part of the cave’s floor. But over the centuries, the river has washed away the base and only this plate was left, suspended from the ceiling. They offer us a light show to show us the table in its full glory. Here, they switch off the lights fully for us to experience full darkness but it isn’t like in Cave Lukas. There it was so much more indescribable and unreal. The visit here was worth it for the hanging table. To finally see something new in these caves. And allow me to repeat myself but it was next to water … that is enough for me.
From the dark depth, we get out at the sunny beach of Hamelin Bay. I am still cold and I don’t plan any swimming but the view is too stunning to not have a proper walk around. The sand, the waves, the yellow seaweed, old wooden structures and ideal lighting for portrait photos. Guess what we will be doing. We also see a stingray in the water. Not that it can be seen very well but the moving shadow is definitely not seaweed. And if the beauty at the water level isn’t enough for you, you can get up on the hill and admire it from above.
I am not entirely sure how the events after this developed but all of a sudden, we are in a pub in a small village with a pint in hand. I will say it again … I don’t know how we got there. And considering the destination that was to follow, the beer wasn’t perhaps a great idea. After half a litre of beer, we get to the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree. This is a seventy-metre high eucalyptus which because of its shape and height used to be a bushfire observation platform. In a spiral the entire height of the straight trunk, large iron bars have been installed. There are a few such trees in the area but tourists aren’t allowed to visit or climb most of them. But not this one! It is said to be Australia’s scariest tourist attraction. (Mums, if you want, maybe don’t read the next few paragraphs!)
There is no one set up next to the tree to monitor visitors and ensure safety. There aren’t even signs in support of the crazy tourists. The spiral reaches one platform in the middle of the tree and another one at its top. But other than the net NEXT to you, there is nothing to stop you falling down between the pegs which are spaced out enough for a falling body to easily get through.
Although it is not easy at all, climbing up isn’t a problem. Getting down is. At one point, my eyes can’t focus well and I lose my depth perception- I am neither sure where the next peg that I need to hold on to is, nor do I know if my legs will make the right step. Nic manages to reach the middle platform at thirty metres above the ground but the fear can definitely be heard in his voice. I climb only about ten metres but the thought that at the end I will have to get down makes me return to earth.
A Dutch couple arrives shortly after us. She reaches slightly higher than I did but quickly joins me in my neck bending activities of tracking where our men are. Hers reaches the very top - well, he is obviously not scared. With the bravery of those two, I decide to try again! This time I climb another third up but I give up again. Not only is it higher, but the distance between the pegs gets smaller and smaller and turns more into a vertical ladder which I do not wish to wrestle with. I get down.
On the way to the campsite we cannot establish how is it possible for this tree to still be accessible, its climbing allowed or even legal. They can at least wrap all sides with a thick net if they don’t want to put a person to keep watch. But we can also not believe the physical reaction we experience. How our bodies would allow us to keep climbing. Something deep down, a self-preservation instinct.
(Mum, you can start reading again!) The campsite is weird. On the land of a man - Sid, who has collected randomly sheet metals, doors, windows, toilets, tables, chairs and what not to build a miserable but equipped campsite. At the entrance we are welcomed by a box, painted like a pig and Sid has left a note to all arriving: “If I’m not here, pay the pig!”. We pay it, find a place between the kitchen and the toilet and settle for a calm night.
I have not expected that this area is so rich of tourists sights. Geographically we are now in the south-west part of the continent, but federally we are still in Western Australia and will not be leaving it soon. Yes, this state is this huge! And as it is so full of places to visit down here, I will leave some for next time. For tomorrow, the list is full again!
Vassya (and Nic)