Saturday, November 7, 2015

Southwest Australia

When we first arrived in Australia, Madeline was reading "In a Sunburned Country" by Bill Bryson. It's about his epic tour of Australia in 1999. It's been a great resource to help us decide what we really want to see while we are here. She decided her must-see item was the Tree Top Walk in Walpole. But it's all the way on the west side of Australia, waaaaaay down on the southern coast. We'd have to fly to Perth and then drive 5 hours south to see it. Remember Australia is as big as the United States. Flying from Melbourne to Perth is like flying from South Florida to San Francisco. But I'm a nature lover myself so it was an easy sell. I thought we'd just take the two of us, but everyone else wanted to come, too. And we're only here for a year...chance of a lifetime...etc, etc. Everything gets big fast.

We decided to leave Allen with Henry so we didn't have to rent a huge car and deal with Henry's schedule. It was a good decision but I deeply regret that Allen didn't get to see what we saw.

But you can see it here. I've tried to narrow down the 755 pictures that I took. It's so hard. We packed in so many places and experiences in just 4 days. I'm so glad we went.

I'm breaking it into days because that makes the most sense. Please keep your seatbelt fastened. This is a fast pace! I'm keeping this as a memento and journal of our trip. If you get weary of the epic length I'm not offended. But you should at least browse the pictures. If you never get to experience this part of the world, I've tried to show you as much as I can and give you a little background so you can feel like you were there.

We arrived at the airport about 5:00am. This was strategic to maximize our sight seeing time and minimize hotel costs. We even gained 3 hours on the schedule because of the time change from East Australia to West. We got our rental and headed out to have a quiet picnic at a park to refuel. Today was planned to be low-key and just a little coastal drive.

Cute little park we found tucked behind some homes. That tree. Wow.

These looked so picture perfect. What are they?

We drove to a beach just a bit north or Perth. It was a little ho hum, but had cool tide pools and crabs. The rock formations were interesting. I notice the rocks at all the beaches we've been to are very distinctive. I love seeing the way they've formed over thousands of years.

They look subdued. Probably were. 
It was just the beginning and they didn't know how amazing it was going to get. 

 The beach had lots of tube shaped tide pools. There were lots of crabs scurrying along the rocks. 

Those little oval shaped things are FOSSILS. They were embedded in the rock, not ON the rock.

We were going to be staying in Bunbury for the night so we headed that way. It's about a 2 hour drive. Saw a dead kangaroo. And this is getting to be a depressing irony.

Bunbury was a delightful place. Very old timey and small. And our motel was directly across the street from the beach. The kids had a blast in the waves.

We were looking forward to seeing the sunset on the ocean since it faced west, but the clouds came in that evening and fizzled that possibility. We went to get some fish and chips. That's always a go-to meal. Mostly because the chips are $4 and it provides enough for all of us (even though Australians think it's only enough for 1). It's probably 4-5 potatoes worth of chips (thick-cut french fries). Fish is bonus. We got shark this time for fun. It tasted like fish. The teenagers working the restaurant looked like they stepped right out of Napoleon Dynamite. But with man buns.

We had breakfast in the motel with cereal and milk. We went to the lookout tower in Bunbury. It was 8:30am and we drove into the business district to get to it. It was DEAD. No one on the streets. I remembered my friend telling me this was a place people go to retire so that may explain some of it, but I was really surprised how vacant it was. We headed up a long set of stairs to get to the lookout. I didn't take a picture of it but it had a spiral staircase and resembled a lighthouse. There were a couple of people running up and down this course for a morning workout and I was jealous.

View from the top of the lookout tower in Bunbury

We then started on the long drive to Walpole.

It was supposed to take three hours. We settled in. I set the cruise control. For about 90 seconds at a time. The speed limits constantly would change from 100kmh, to 90, to 60, to 50, then 60, 80, 100. It was maddening.

I saw so many small town names. Here's how to name a town in Western Australia: get yourself some scrabble tiles. Toss a handful on the board, line them up and add "up" on the end. Dallyelup, Gelorup, Boyanup, Gwindinup, Beelerup, Mullalyup, Palgarup, Manjimup, and Nornalup, were all towns we passed through. And then there was Mandjoogoorap Drive. Apparently that word means, "meeting place of the heart." I didn't know I was about to meet my heart. My heart LOVED the scenery between Bunbury and Walpole.

I finally got past some of the closer towns and was able to get the cruise set to 110 and leave it there. That's 68 miles per hour.

I was screaming along making good time and then suddenly saw a sign that said, "Diamond Tree Lookout, 300 meters." By the time I had time to wonder what that was, I was there. I hit the brakes and we went to see it. It was just a wood chip covered parking area in front of a tree. I parked the car and then I could see the stairway going up the tree. THE tree. I had heard about this from some friends but didn't know where it was. I was going up that tree. With or without the kids.

There are giant rebar spikes nailed into the tree in a spiral fashion all the way up as a staircase. 

There is a lookout on top. It was originally built to be a lookout for fire spotting. 

Leo, Karly, and Maddie went up first. I stayed behind with Millie who wasn't really sure about it. We got to the halfway point in what seemed like just 5 minutes. It really wasn't bad. I was ready to go the rest of the way, but the advance party up top was worried it would be too much for Millie. They said it was sketchy in the last bit, and there was a sign prefacing the second half saying, "That was the easy bit." It also said to ask yourself how you feel and "if in doubt, do not climb." So Millie decided not to.

So I did what every kind, loving mother would do.

I left her on the platform and climbed the rest of the way.

Okay, really I was scouting it out for myself and was going to see if she could handle it. My assessment was that she could. And after hurriedly taking some selfies with the advance party, I went back to get her and bring her up. But she had changed her mind again when I arrived.

Millie at the halfway point. Notice how tall "halfway" is. 

At the top. It is 52 meters high. 170 feet.

Lizard we found at the bottom of the tree.

That sure woke up the kids' personality. They weren't subdued anymore after that. Leo said it was the most stressful things he's ever done. I really didn't feel I was in danger, but I was preparing myself to catch Millie if she slipped through the rungs or fell back on me. It was scary to think of the possibilities, but at no point did I feel my footing was unstable. The rungs were very solid. The tree somehow didn't seem to mind this? (Here is another video about people climbing these trees that can give you a perspective of what we saw at the top. At 2:11 is a breathtaking view that is pretty much what we saw.)

We had to keep moving. As we got closer to the forest, we noticed evidence of a recent forest fire. I found out it had moved through the area in March of this year. The trees told different stories in different areas as we drove. Some areas you could see how the fire and swept through quickly and mostly burned the under brush.

In other areas the fire had burned more intensely, burning off all but the thickest branches and trunks. The trees had begun to regenerate small sprouts that we tight against blackened trunks. I really have a thing for trees. I'm completely smitten with Australian trees. And this was fascinating to see. I couldn't stand it anymore and stopped in an area to take some pictures.

Here is seems that mostly the underbrush was burned away as there is so much of it freshly regenerating now. 

The black trunks contrasting with the brilliant greens were beautiful. 

Here you can see more evidence of a more intense fire. It burned farther up the trees leaving very few limbs. The tree is sending out lots of brand new shoots all along the still-living trunk. 

Another blackened tree covered with new growth. 

We finally arrived in Walpole. We had few choices for eating establishments. I had to swallow hard and buy $10-12 burgers for each of the kids. I had a less expensive (and less greasy) chicken wrap.

The place we were staying turned out to be amazingly beautiful. It's a small group of cabins or chalets run by the nicest couple. They were so helpful in suggesting sights to see and helped get us set to go canoeing on the river in the morning. I think I'd have been happy enough if we didn't see anything else in the area but just stayed right here for a few days. It was just beautiful.

Beautiful gardens. Beautiful. I can't believe people live here. Everyday. So jealous.

We pretty much dropped our stuff in the chalet and took off to see Conspicuous Cliffs. It took maybe 20 minutes, most of it on a gravel road. It is a place where we hoped to see some whales. But we knew there was a good chance they had moved on for the season.

It didn't matter. It was an amazing beach. There was NO ONE THERE. And it was so huge. And big. And the waves were roaring. The kids were playing in the surf. But I was eyeing some rocks in the distance. I thought of the little tide pools that must be over there. I thought I'd go for a quick jog to see what there was.

It was probably a half-mile away. Farther than I thought. Eventually everyone else joined me. I couldn't stop taking pictures. I just knew i'd never come back to this spot ever again and wanted to capture as much of this incredible piece of God's art as possible.

We all strolled back at our own pace. The waves were so loud that it didn't matter that I was singing "How Great Thou Art" as loud as I pleased. It was just between me and Him.

We headed off to catch a fish and chips place that was recommended farther to the east. We had to drive more on the gravel road to get there. By the time we got there they were just about to close. It was a dumpy looking place that was just part of the campground there. The fish was probably fresh and the chips were probably good, but the kids just wanted the ice cream in the freezer, so we had ice cream for dinner.

We drove away around dusk. And then we saw a huge kangaroo jump right across the road in front of us. Madeline screamed. I thought it was great! This one was ALIVE! YAY!

We were on more dirt roads and were surrounded by cattle ranches. Can you imagine living on a ranch with these kind of coastlines just moments from your door? Can you even comprehend how blessed that life would be?

The kids were pretty happy a loose now. They had climbed a huge tree, splashed in two different oceans in two days, talked their mom into having ice cream for dinner, and faced a huge kangaroo. Leo started joking about what kind of accent an Australian cow might have. "Maauuuuerrr." Oh. My. Gosh. It was so funny because he's so right.

A huge pelican flew overhead as we drove. It looked like a pterodactyl. It was graceful and I felt so lucky to be seeing all of this.

We were still on Melbourne time zone so I was pretty much wide awake by 4:30am. I waited around for awhile but we go going for an early morning canoe trip as soon as possible. Just as we approached the water, we heard a Kookaburrah call from the forest across the river. Leo and I looked at each other knowing we had just gotten very lucky to hear something so authentic!

I'm telling you the canoeing was really incredible! I was on a river that was a perfect mirror reflection of the most amazing trees! I couldn't stop taking pictures.

The people at the chalet had taught me a little about the kind of trees there. They are all different varieties of eucalyptus. Karri trees are the smooth barked trees. Tingle trees have rough bark and are the main ones featured at the tree top walk, and Jarrah trees are also in the area. The owners had a wood floor made of Jarrah wood. They said it resembled mahogany.

We had about an hour on the water. Then we had to go see the treetop walk. THE reason we were here!

The tingle trees have large tubes that channel water up the tree at a fast pace. The water can move so quickly that high pressure is created and the water can actually vaporize. If you were to listen with a stethoscope you could hear popping sounds! But the large tubes get crushed easily with things like cars from tourists. So the walk was built in 1996 to protect the trees from the damage caused by tourists driving their cars over their vast but delicate root systems. 

The understory tour was very interesting. I learned that some eucalyptus trees actually emit toxins from their roots that discourage growth of other plants nearby. They also have some toxins in their leaves, that get into the soil below when they fall and breakdown over time. We are always talking about how everything here in Australia is out to kill you--crocodiles, spiders, snakes, jellyfish. But even the TREES here are out to kill!

Some Tingle trees get a weak spot in their base as they start to buttress out. When a forest fire moves through, a fire can start to burn on the inside of the tree. Repeated fires will hollow out the base but the tree stays alive and strong because of the wide root system. In fact, the walk was inspired by a signature tree that had such a large hollow in its trunk that people could drive their cars right through it. The tree eventually died and fell over because the root system had been so damaged by the cars driving over its roots. 

The boardwalk is made of Jarrah wood. You can easily see the burned out interior in this tree. 

This tree is called "Grandma Tingle"

So in order to protect the root system, a canopy walk was built to keep people off the ground level. It only took 15-20 minutes to walk the course. Surprisingly brief. We had time to walk through once, and then catch a guided tour through the understory. Then we did the canopy walk again and took our time.

Honestly, it was was shorter than I thought but very cool. But not *the coolest* thing about our trip. I was okay with that. I was already so glad we had come.

We scarfed down some peanut butter and jelly then headed to Green Pools according to recommendation. We were just going to wade in the water and give it a quick look. We wanted to get back to Bunbury and see the sunset over the ocean. The kids took off ahead of me. As I made my way down Leo came bounding back to get his swimsuit with a huge grin. "It's really fun!" he said. The color of the water. The stone formations. The sound of the waves. But there was a small inlet that protected you from the actual waves so you could swim in peace but still hear the waves. There were swimmers jumping off a huge rock into the water. Everyone wanted to spend more time there.

Millie got some size able cuts on her feet while trying to climb up a rock face. I carried her back up the stairs to the car. Up a long flight of steps!

We drove out and took some gravel roads to see Circular Pool. It was sorta worth the long time on the gravel. Leo had a blast bounding back and forth across the creek on the rocks.

Can you spot Leo in mid-jump? The circular pool at the end of the falls is in the background.

Cooperation. Priceless. 

The Parcell Album cover. 

Then we dashed off to Swarbrick Art Loop. Somebody had some crazy idea to put modern art pieces in the middle of nowhere. And we drove to it. I think it would have been more disappointing but the scenery along the way is just so amazing. I just felt so giddy that I was driving out in the "whoop whoops" of Australia. Cattle farms and forests. I can never get over the idea that people LIVE here and wake up to this beauty EVERYDAY.

Australian cows say, "mmmmaauuuuerr."

The art loop. Just random artwork. Actually it wasn't random. They had explanations for everything. None of it made sense to us. We were kinda loopy tired by now and were hurriedly finishing our tour of Walpole.

This spiral growth on the tree wasn't part of the art. The tree grows like this. Weird. 

A giant golden ring suspended over the pathway.

Giant ants. 

We figured out that the "counties" here are called shires. Doesn't that just sound so poetic? We had been in the Shire of Denmark. As we left town we were in the Shire of Manjimup. 

We saw a sign out in all that rural driving called Allen Road. So naturally, I had to take a picture of that. The kids roll their eyes a lot. 

This was up in the mountain area on gravel roads. We found the street sign at the other end of this road that was asphalt and had a more modern sign. As I tried to poise and take a selfie there, I shocked myself on the electric fence. Keeping the "spark" in our marriage!

We headed back toward Bunbury and said goodbye to the beauty of the Shire of Denmark. As we were driving back I remembered Millie had decided she wanted to climb that huge tree. I woke her up and she was still determined. We arrived just before dusk so we had to hurry before it got dark. 

She aced it! At the top we met a spry older gentleman from England. He took a bad picture of us. He had already climbed another tree in Gloucester (that we didn't know about) that was 61 meters. We tried not to be disappointed that we hadn't climbed the higher tree. As he descended he stopped on the ladder to take a picture. Which meant he was holding his phone suspended about 160' in the air. Which FREAKED. LEO. OUT. 

We didn't put this here, but it seemed appropriate to take a photo keepsake. 

We had missed our chance for the sunset over the ocean, but it was okay. We got this instead. 

We stopped for food in Manjimup. The nice cashier thought we were crazy for leaving Melbourne on Cup Day. The Melbourne Cup is the Kentucky Derby of Australia. Horse Race. Parades. Crazy Hats. Big Deal. He offered Maddie a job when we mentioned she wanted to move to Perth.

We got some chips (fries) to have a little something warm in our bellies. One "minimum chips" is meant to serve 1-2 people but it's always plenty for the whole family. It comes wrapped in about 4 large sheets of newsprint size paper. Always very hot and stays hot. I tore the paper wrapping and made some cones for each of us and we scarfed it down in the car. 

It was now fully dark which helped us make better time since I wasn't constantly stopping the car to take more pictures. As we drove we smelled another forest fire burning. It was also in Bunbury and we could smell it all night long at the hotel.


We headed over to the Dolphin Discovery Center. It's a place where the wild dolphins often come to visit, but they don't live there. They have volunteers on the lookout and when a dolphins enters the area, they ring an alarm inside the center so all the visitors know to run out and get as close as they can. 

They had us all stand in a single line with little space between people. We had to stay as one line because the dolphin will only come in as close as the person standing furthest out. So we all wanted to be the same distance out. And we couldn't have space between us because if the dolphin gets spooked, they can dart between people at up to 70mph (or something like that) so that could hurt to take a tail fin in the leg at that speed!

We were lucky and got to meet Eclipse. Later we met Cracker and her little calf, Cookie. We didn't get to touch them but got lots of photos. They came within 18-24 inches of us. It was well worth the $22US entry for all of us. And we got punch cards good for two more visits that don't expire. So I'll hang on to them just in case. 

Inside the Discovery Center they had seahorses, sea stars, and some very interactive octopi. There were plenty of college age volunteers hanging around ready to tell us all kinds of interesting things about the animals. One told us something about the anemone. But the way she pronounced it rhymed with "alimony." And, just in case you didn't know, the MALE seahorse is the one that gets pregnant. There was one that was great with 2000 children. The volunteer said the father eats a lot of them after birth. "They eat whatever is in front of them. They aren't very bright." But they were adorable. They wrap their tails around the leaves so they don't float away.

Octopi are very smart. They can solve puzzles and make decisions. Apparently somewhere in the world is an octopus similar to Punxsutawney Phil. He always picks the winner of the Super Bowl correctly. This particular octopus liked to open the lid of his tank and explore the center. They started duct taping his tank closed because he would crawl into other tanks and eat less intelligent creatures. 

Leo could put his finger on the tank and this octopus would 
reach out and touch the spot where his finger was.

Leo and I found some great shells along the beach while we waited for dolphins and saw a couple of cargo ships come and go. They move faster up close. Out at a distance they seem to stand still. Apparently cargo ships are still the most cost-effective way to transport goods around the world. 

So, apparently the Simpson's have retired to Bunbury. 
I didn't take a closer shot because they actually looked a little disturbing. 

We went back to the first beach we visited here called Back Beach (not where the dolphins were). It has some black volcanic rock formations. At one point on the beach the waves compete with each other and made side splashing waves toward each other. I made a recording of the sound. It was magnificent.

We have eaten more peanut butter and jelly while in Australia than we did in the U.S. Thankfully we can buy it here! We did some more of that PB&J and then headed off to the airport. I was so glad to turn in the keys to the car and let someone else be in charge of transport! I could close my eyes and finally get some sleep. The flight attendants on this flight were both men and whenever they walked down the aisle they STOMPED and the floor bounced, so it made getting some rest impossible. 
Leo was a great co-captain on this trip. He was very helpful to me, always seemed happy to let me take pictures and go places that I was interested in. He seemed just as happy to geek out about the natural beauty as I was. He even made sure I was getting enough to eat. Next, we are taking a camping trip in the Australian outback to see Uluru together. I can't wait!

In case you ever want to go, here a map of the southern area we visited. 

We absolutely LOVED our trip!

It was Perth-ect!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your trip (pictures). I didn't get to Perth even though it was in our mission at the time. I suppose your parents may have mentioned that we have an Elder Scott from Perth in the ward. I ask him "are you sure I didn't baptize your grandmother" He laughed and said our family has not been in the church that long. I see that they still wrap the fish and chips in newspaper, and they still sell shark for the fish. Only in the day they didn't tell us but we knew it was. Great adventure for you and your family.