We booked our fights with Thomas Cook and were pretty pleased with the price and the service they provided – except that about a week before we came away we noticed that they’d managed to arrange our flights so that we were due to leave Sydney twenty minutes before we would have arrived. As a result we had to sacrifice a day in New Zealand and stay overnight in Sydney – at their expense. They booked us into the same hotel in Darling Harbour that we’d stayed in when we visited Australia a couple of years ago, so at least we knew where we’d be staying and could plan a little bit of exploring for yesterday afternoon.
We mulled over whether to take a boat over to Manly or to catch the bus to Bondi Beach, but in the end decided to join the thousands of kids (anyone between the ages of 16 and 36) showing off their tans on the golden sands of Bondi. If anything’s guaranteed to make you feel your age it’s to sit on the beach in the middle of a sea of suntanned flesh trying to hold your tummy in for a couple of hours. To add insult to injury, as we were sat there a young guy who was going surfing asked us to keep an eye on his possessions – he said that we looked ‘trustworthy’, which I reckon meant that he thought we were too old to be dishonest!
We booked a shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport this morning. I think that the driver must have been a tuk-tuk driver in another life – if you’d think that travelling at 500mph at 35,000ft over the ocean in a thin steel tube would be more dangerous than to be driven though Sydney by a suicidal Russian you’d be wrong!
If this is Wednesday we must be getting near Melbourne. The Cockatoos were back for breakfast but worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for sharing. As we drove East from our overnight stop at Airey’s Inlet through Anglesea and Torquay the character of the area started to change – rather less quaint and rather more ‘big money’; this is obviously where the wealthy of Melbourne have their beachside houses and apartments.
After a brief visit to the Bellarine Peninsular, where we had coffee overlooking the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, we stopped off at the State Rose Garden at Werribee which (for the non gardeners amongst you) is rather more interesting than it sounds. Dozens of different varieties of roses (surprise) and most exciting of all…. fruitbats! With a wingspan of 2 to 3 feet, not something you’d really want to encounter on a dark night.
OK, so today was just a teensy weensy bit warm. Just as we thought we were getting used to the warmth of the Australian summer it decided to throw in a hot one; 41 degrees on the thermometer and a warm breeze blowing from inland – the effect was like putting your head in an open oven at regulo 5! Still, given a choice of this or a light covering of snow in the Cotswolds, its got to be a no-brainer hasn’t it? (Sorry Claire).
Just for a change the Great Ocean Road which took us from Port Campbell up to Airey’s Inlet was quite busy, so we took our time and soaked up the sunshine and the scenery. Most of the traffic was, like us, happy to coast along – not that we had much choice in the matter (note to self; if ever we decide to buy a small car be sure to avoid the Hyundai i20 which has marginally less power than Denise’s sewing machine). Still, it didn’t matter too much as around every bend we stopped, either for a swim or to snap some more photos of the fantastic coastline.
The Twelve Apostles are one of Australia’s most famous landmarks – the only problem is that from time to time coastal erosion does its bit and one of the apostles falls into the Southern Ocean. I think that at the last count there were ten; but no matter – they are , simply, stunning.
Now, believe me, in the course of my life I’ve seen a cockatoo! But when the bloody things sit on your veranda and demand to be fed that’s another thing altogether. Just goes to prove that no living creature can resist the smell of freshly cooked bacon!
No shortage of spectacular scenery today. The drive from Hamilton down to the coast at Port Fairy was the usual wonderful combination of empty roads and stunning countryside displayed in the largest imaginable number of shades of brown with vivid splashes of green. Port Fairy itself is a pretty little town with a number of historic buildings and a small quayside – the adjectives ‘historic’ and ‘scenic’ tend to get used quite a lot over here. In reality of course virtually nothing is truly historic, but absolutely everything is scenic.
A quick walk around the bird sanctuary at Griffin Island should have produced sightings of Mutton Birds, but they seemed to have taken the day off – however we did spot a Blue Tongued Skink which produced a predictable reaction from the female half of this partnership.
Driving up the coast towards Melbourne we joined the Great Ocean Drive which has enough scenic (that word again) viewing points to satisfy even the most enthusiastic ‘snapper’. Stopping every ten miles or so to take more pictures brought us into close conflict with the Australian Fly! If you’ve ever wondered why tourists in this neck of the woods tend to wave to each other quite a lot, the reality is that they’re actually executing the Aussie Salute. Frustratingly its all to no avail because there are so many of the little buggers that no sooner have you swatted one but ten more are making a bee-line (or should that be a fly-line?) for your salty bits!
Stopped overnight at Port Campbell and after supper popped up to one of the ‘scenic’ viewpoints to watch the sun set slowly over the Southern Ocean. Lovely.
Having decided to stay in Hamilton for a second night, the next day which happened also to be Australia Day, was spent exploring the Southern Grampians, a small but impressive range of sandstone mountains around forty miles to the north west of Hamilton which rise to something over a thousand metres – we decided that they looked a bit like ‘the Malverns on Steroids’!
A climb up The Pinnacle (2.7km, 285 metres of climb and 32 degrees Centigrade) gave us our exercise for the day.
The day started with a quick dip in the pool before we set off for a brisk walk along Rode’s 12 mile long beach – no, we did about four miles, but it seemed like a fairly energetic start to the day nonetheless. Aside from stopping briefly for breakfast in Millicent our first proper port of call was Mt Gambier which boasts (among other things) the Blue Lake – so named (yes, you guessed) because it has a wonderfully blue lake in the bowl of a defunct volcano . In truth it seems that the lake is only blue for certain months of the year , but it was certainly bluer than a blue thing for our visit.
The drive from Mt Gambier to Hamilton took us a little further than usual off the beaten track – down long, straight roads bordered by enormous stretches of open grazing land with the odd herd/flock of cows and sheep scattered around for good measure. This was our chance to see something of the local wildlife, but despite frequent signs warning us to watch out for koalas and kangaroos much to Denise’s frustration they declined to show!
We arrived safe and sound in Adelaide after the two and a half hour flight down from Perth. We’d originally thought about driving down, but the thought of 1,400 miles of nothingness and a couple of extra days behind the wheel soon put paid to that bright idea, Our flight was with Jetstar, which we soon found out is at the cheaper end of the airline spectrum – a bit like Easy Jet but with added courtesy.
The Sebel Playford Hotel in Adelaide was excellent and would have scored a 10/10 rating for comfort and style if only someone had bothered to check the settings on the radio alarm after the last guest left our room – Denise was distinctly unimpressed to be woken up at 4.30am and the Duty Manager now probably feels that its a mistake they won’t want to make again in a hurry!
After a quick swim in the hotel pool followed by a chat with a couple of nice ladies at the South Australia Tourist Information Office we drove the thirty miles down to Victor Harbor, which by chance was the setting for the fourth stage of the Tour Down Undercycle event. We didn’t see anything of the racing but there must have been five thousand followers, all on bikes – the thought of all that lycra makes me feel quite unwell!
The 200 or so mile drive down from the Fleurieu Peninsular through the Coorong National Park to our overnight stop at Robe was wonderful; fabulous scenery, empty roads and pelicans! What more could any man want?
Wednesday morning started badly. Some kind soul obviously misjudged their parking in the hotel car park and left a 40cm scrape down the passenger door of our innocent little hire car. Fortunately we’d had the sense to take out extended insurance with the hire, so we’re only (!) going to be $400 poorer as a result. Never mind!
After breakfast we found our way to the nearby Gloucester Tree, yet another massively high Karri tree with a lookout station at the top. Even Perthy wouldn’t go up this one – but that didn’t stop a group of young people (who I can only assume must have escaped from the local lunatic asylum) who were only too keen to clamber their way up those flimsy steep poles.
A few miles further down the road brought us to Big Brook Dam where we enjoyed a refreshing swim before starting the 150 mile drive back towards Perth. Great scenery – every shade of brown interspersed with lush greens – and virtually empty roads… fantastic.
The end of the day brought us to the Heritage Country Motel at Armadale – not much to look at from the outside, but comfortable and with that most essential of all Western Australian facilities, a pool!
Monday night was spent in Margaret River at the Margaret River Guest House – a pretty B&B within a five minute walk of the centre of this bustling and attractive little town. Converted a number of years from a small (and I do mean small) chapel and convent, its a comfortable little spot and they made us very welcome.
Next morning it was down to the beach down to Gnarabup beach just to the south of Prevelly for a quick dip. Despite it being the middle of the summer holidays the beaches we’ve been on have been pretty empty and of course they’re all well cared for. Heading down the coast we stopped off at Hamelin Bay which it turns out is a top spot for seeing stingrays – well apparently they’re Eagle Rays to be precise. I managed to get some better photos this time – but if only I’d had the polarising filter on the camera!
Turning east we made our way down to Pemberton which is noted for its Karri (a variation on the Eucalyptus) trees which can reach up to 70 metres. Here you see Perthy attempting to climb to the top of the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – the fact that the public are actually allowed to climb this monster is amazing! We declined to follow Perthy’s lead!
Having realised rather belatedly that our hotel booking in Perth included breakfast we did our best to make up for lost calories before striding off into downtown Perth to pick up our hire car. Why is it that the Japanese can get the big things right (like putting the steering wheel on the correct side), but somehow haven’t understood that the indicator stalk should be on the left hand side of the column? It’s all very well, but so far every time we’ve come to turn a corner we’ve managed to clean the windscreen and at the same time caused total confusion among other drivers.
First stop after leaving Perth was a quick trip down to Fremantle (or Freo as it’s known) and a saunter down the ‘cappuccino strip’ – which lays a justifiable claim to being the most laid back spot in all of Western Australia. Lots of good buskers (one lad making a really good job of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here), nice markets and well-preserved late 19th Century architecture.
A hundred miles or so further south and we hit Dunsborough and Geographe Bay with its fantastic deserted beaches, blue seas and wildlife. Within two minutes of having slipped off our sandals for a paddle we saw two enormous Rays (well, at three feet across they seemed pretty big to us) but as the only photograph I managed to snap looked like a close up of a couple of rocks you’ll just have to take our word for it.
Just south of Dunsborough is Cape Naturaliste; not, as you might imagine, the local refuge for those who like to get their kit off, but a favoured spot for whale watching (in the season) with some even more beautiful beaches and the most annoying and persistent flies known to man.
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a look at our family history