Western Australia travel notes, February 2008
February 29, 2008
Our great Australian sojourn of February 2008 ended with a terrific look at some of the wonders of Western Australia — from mining-boom Perth on to King George’s Sound and an overnight stay at that very southern WA point of Albany, over to the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk at Walpole and then north through Nannup for a tea stop with kookaburras, a stop at the Cambray sheep/cheese farm and on to Dunsborough and Yallingup for an excellent stay of three days at the Empire Retreat. An excellent visit to Cullen Wines in the Margaret River Valley (see separate posting,) plus dinner with Tony’s friends and cousins on his deck, highlighted one day at Yallingup. Kangaroos live peacefully around Tony’s house, as do cattle on the neighboring farm.
Another day found Linda happily painting watercolors of pastoral tree, yellow pasture and cattle scenes from Tony’s deck and one at Cape Clairault after having a fresh sandwich at the Yallingup post office/general store while Michael and Tony visited the town of Margaret River, its galleries and nearby countryside. The beaches and bays of the Cape Naturaliste point of Western Australia are stunningly beautiful and the surf really does curl in a powerful pattern. And the art galleries in the area are filled with superb sculpture, paintings, ceramics, glass and jewelry. To be more specific, the Cape Naturaliste beaches on the Indian Ocean are Yallingup, Smiths Beach and Indjdup and our favorite galleries near Yallingup are Gunyulgup and Yallingup. From various points along the coast you can see some of the world famous surfing breaks, including Three Bears and Windmill.
The town of Dunsborough might look like a big shopping center to some, but it really is a an unusually wonderful collection of coffee shops, hardware stores, just about anything you would need and the good restaurant The Food Farmacy (see separate posting). Tony identifies other useful restaurants in town as Bax, and Bay Cottage. He says that The Wine Bar has a very pleasant atmosphere with good food complementing the wide range of wines and that just outside town the newly opened Cape Ridge has had good reviews and is a pleasant location, set among the trees. We recommend the peaceful Empire Retreat, where Linda took early morning walks to see kangaroos in neighboring pastures near the Empire vineyards; where the creative breakfasts were good and plentiful; where possums dropped onto our room’s roof some nights and the scampering along the boardwalk sure sounded like roo’s to Linda; and where Linda sampled some good Empire Spa treatments. When we eventually had to pull ourselves away from the Cape Naturaliste area, our countryside experience continued on the drive north to Fremantle with a stop for excellent Ma Marshall emu “bush” pies at Myalup (see separate posting).
Arrival at the very nice Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, on Marine Terrace near the fishing and pleasure craft harbors, found us faced with a lobby full of conference-attending people….an incredible contrast to the peaceful countryside filled with kangaroos, brush and sunshine galore. Fremantle is a port bigger than most of us can imagine. In the old city/port area one of the main features is the Maritime Museum of West Australia, full of history of the founding of the west coast of Australia, Fremantle, the Swan River and Perth. Linda’s early morning walk around part of the fishing fleet harbor after a swell coffee stop at the Mill Bakery Cafe on Marine Terrace won her a close-up look at prawn trawlers being readied to return to sea the following week. The people of Western Australia, a kind trawler worker included, are as marvelously hospitable as the Australians we met in Tasmania and Sydney. We also enjoyed a visit to the hundred-year-old Fremantle Market (separate blogpost.)
Our 1,500 kilometer drive from Perth, southeast to Mount Barker and Albany and then northwest showed us an excellent slice of Western Australia. It’s a five-hour drive to Albany, but once out of Perth ‘s seemingly endless suburbs you pass through scenic forests and farming country. If we had had more time, we would have taken a detour through the Stirling Range. Tony says that in spring the range is definitely worth a visit in its own right, with a world-renowned assortment of over a thousand different species of wild flowers. We did take a shorter detour through the Porongurups — more like large hills than mountains, they loom ominously over the normally flat Western Australian countryside and have their own microclimate. There are a number of wineries scattered around the national park borders that would be worth a day’s outing and it looks like there are some excellent hiking opportunities, all about an hour from Albany.
One can imagine the end of the world from Albany as you look out over King George’s Sound toward Antarctica. From the war memorial grounds, where the Princess Royal Fortress museum is tended by volunteers, a diagram and displays help you imagine the Anzac Australian and New Zealand ships lined up to convoy to Egypt in 1914. The museum displays help you imagine Anzac Diggers going on to Gallipoli and the survivors reforming to fight in France.
The drive from Albany to Denmark (about an hour) is very dramatic, especially taking the lower, more coastal road. There are a number of spectacular beaches down side roads. We went to Cosy Corner beach and were very impressed. From Denmark one is really in tall tree country. There are many wineries, restaurants and craft centers spread out in the hills surrounding Denmark. One could easily spend a few days gently touring the region and enjoying jaw-dropping views of the coast from the hills. An hour or so from Denmark one is at the world renown Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, near Walpole. Once one gets used to the slightly-swaying strong metal structures that somehow were built within the middle of the forest, you focus on the ecology at the top of these giant trees. It would probably be best to do this either at the opening or later in the day when more birds would be out but we were there late morning and it was still very worthwhile. From the Valley of the Giants it’s another hour or so to Pemberton, which used to be a major lumber town and has a number of interesting furniture and art galleries. The Fine Wood Craft Gallery is amazing in the quantity, quality and variety of its wood furniture and artistic turned wood. Along the way we saw emus grazing in the fields by the road. Another hour and you’re in Nannup, a laid-back village with a number of cafes and a wonderful folk music festival every March. Another hour and you’re at the coast in Busselton–gateway to the Margaret River Region.
In Perth we found the West Australian Museum (of natural and other history) excellent and its Culture Center neighbor, the Art Gallery of Western Australian, very good. The Perth Botanical Gardens are lovely and provide good breathing space in a bustling city. The Perth Festival gave us a fascinating evening at a multilingual Midsummer’s Night Dream at His Majesty’s Theatre. With English and six south Asian languages, an acting company including acrobats, street musicians and martial arts experts, it was Shakespeare like never before. Or perhaps Shakespeare like it was originally performed? Our Perth restaurant and Richardson Hotel postings are found separately.
Written by Linda