News of heat waves across Australia and seeing photos of friends enjoying the summer swelter has meant I am still dreaming of our big adventure. We’ve had the case of the grey blanket in Munich over the last few days – not too cold but still enough to make you want to be huddled under the blankets all day.
Over the last week I’ve found myself flicking through the photos we took – mouth still agape at the vibrant blue skies and endless horizon. In my previous post I mentioned how varied the landscapes were across the trip – every new section revealed something new. And while it is hard to believe when you are driving in the same state, it is no wonder that when covering hundreds and thousands of kilometers that both the structure of the landscape, the weather, as well as the flora and fauna can dramatically change. Driving 4,500km from Munich – lets say we’re heading south east, and I would be somewhere close to Tehran, Iran. How many countries, landscapes and political disputes would we cross along that journey? Hmmm…Australia is big.
I won’t do the land justice if I continue being so vague, so I’ll provide a little description of some of our memorable stops we made across the journey.
For years I had been told that I must visit Margaret River and in the meantime had enjoyed many a fine glass of wine from the region. The town was quaint, and a little smaller than I had expected given all the hype – but what it had was just right and I was most impressed that we could score a good coffee and some fancy eggs at 6am.
We head a little further down south to Hamelin Bay, a beautiful bay which, if you head further south, takes you down to Cape Leeuwin – the most south-westerly point of mainland Australia (you know, the south western tip required when drawing Australia). Stepping on to the sand after so many months and standing in the silver light was simply elevating.
You won’t get lost looking for wineries along Cave Rd, most are quite neatly (and conveniently) positioned one after the next, differentiated by elaborately-designed gates and impressive driveways. The road itself is beautiful, and when driving through we both had flashbacks of our 2013 summer road trip through Chianti. An odd likening given that I didn’t spot a gum tree in Italy but the landscape was comparably beautiful.
Being 10am in the morning, we kept it conservative and stopped at only two wineries – Cape Mentelle and Brookland Valley – and picked up some fuel for the road (after an alcoholic morning tea of course).
We picked up some tips from a local on how best to drive to Albany – passing through Nannup, Manjinup, Pemberton and Walpole on the way. Two things struck out on this path – the black stumped trees with flowers the colour of an American school bus and the contrast of native gums – the modelesque Karri trees neighbouring the massive stumps of the Red Tingle trees.
Valley of the Giants – somewhere between Denmark and Walpole, on the way to Albany.
Amazed by the surroundings on our way through to Albany we made a small detour at the Valley of Giants, where one could walk 40m above the ground, brushing shoulders with the treetops (Tree Top Walk). Bouncing along the suspension bridge, the view was breathtaking as we were surrounded by varieties of Eucalyptus including the towering Tingle trees, which can grow to more than 75 metres.
Back on solid ground and we toured the path to admire some beautiful specimens – some Tingle trees were over 400 years old and had a trunk the size of my bathroom.
Albany, a well established port city, fooled us a little with the size of its town centre. Driving in to the centre at about 6:30pm on a Sunday night, with empty bellies of course, and the town was already tucked up in bed. With McDonalds, Burger King and a buffet style family diner that screamed 1986, we were obviously spoilt for choice. The main street of Albany became the illustration of all towns we were to drive through on the trip – a wide street containing the basic amenities, leading down to the waterfront. Optimistic that we could find something a little more nourishing we headed towards Middleton Beach, where we were to sleep for the night. A beachfront bistro, positioned at the end of the beach as a mirage, provided a much-needed (grilled) fish and chips, a local cidar and some good atmosphere.
We had planned to improve our German winter tan the next day on Middleton beach, but to our luck the weather turned, with strong winds and an impenetrable grey mass above us. We embraced the moment, threw a few eggs on the BBQ and stared out to sea as we ate our breakfast in the sand – pretending we had blistering blue skies all the while.
With the weather in mind we decided to play it strategically and headed out of Albany, making a brief stop at WA’s oldest church on the way.
With our plans for a hike through the Sterling Ranges having fallen through (safety first!), we passed through Torndirrup National Park – with some natural rock formations to see. It is here where Australia’s coast line evidences its connection with Antarctica as Gondwanaland. The Gap (not to be confused with the controversial location in Sydney’s eastern suburbs), is an impressive granite rock formation resulting from the collision of Australia with the Antarctic plate.
A step to the right and the coast lines next feature – the Natural Bridge – proved to be a site of foolish tourist behaviour, some deciding to lie close to the edge to pose for the camera despite many warning signs and reports of accidents.Sorry, sometimes I am just a stickler for safety.
The third formation, the Blow Holes, were sadly a non-event when we visited, but could only be expected given the weather.
Breathtaking, overwhelming, unreal. A bit of research before the trip and I knew we were in for something big when coming to Esperance. However, we never expected to be blown away. We managed the 481km drive from Albany to Esperance before the sun set, racing to beat the clouds that were heading east across Australia (i.e. our direction).
Similar to Albany, Esperance was also a ghost town by 7pm, but we didn’t care – we were in a beautiful place. After watching the sky turn from streams of pink and purple to darkness, we went on the search for a camping site. After a few knockbacks (who in their right mind could expect a tourist park to be open after 7:30pm!?) we landed a spot, and headed for some fish & chips – the food was described to us as really “top end” but this ended up just being the name of the joint. Despite the strong stench of oil the place was full of locals – and must be doing something right to survive with the town’s McDonalds positioned directly opposite.
The sun woke us early which was our cue to pack our brekkie items, put on our swimmers and head for the beach. Arriving at Twilight beach at 7am, there were only two others on the beach and the sun had already warmed us to a good 29 degrees.
I was in awe the whole time. I have seen some beautiful places before, but there was something special about this place I find hard to describe. It was a mix of the visual; the whitest sand, the bluest, clearest water – with the psychological; knowing that there was nothing between me and the great Southern Ocean before me.
The water temperature was fresh but that didn’t stop me from splashing about until my fingertips became wrinkly. At about 9:30am we noticed our skin beginning to sizzle in the 35 degree heat and decided to begin the Esperance scenic drive (a must do!). The breathtaking views continued along the 38km route – with look outs and hidden entryways to public beaches. It hit 48 degrees that day, something I hadn’t felt for a very long time. We managed to hunt down a fresh fruit smoothie in the town centre but even while enjoying this in the shade, the perspiration ran down our arms and legs.
Even with the heat, this day was the best of our trip – with an afternoon siesta, a twilight walk along Twilight Beach and a veggie grill-up on the BBQ as we watched the sun set, the day was complete.
By the next day the rain clouds had caught up with us, but this didn’t deter us from some coastal exploring in Cape Le Grand National Park. But this I will leave for my next post…