Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Geraldton to Denham

Day 23—Thursday, June 19, 2008 (con’t)
According to Bill Bryson (author of In a Sunburned Country, a tongue-in-cheek travelogue of Australia), Australia is famous for BIG statues of small things. While we were driving today we saw the first of the famous (to us and Bill Bryson, at least) BIG statues/sculptures/whatevers: a really big crayfish. This crayfish is not just big; this crayfish is BIG—about 4 metres long and about 1.5 metres high and set up on a pedestal where everyone can see. It was awesome! We’ll see as we travel around the country if there are any other BIG statues. Bill says there are.
BIG statues aside, the statue of the crayfish (not crawfish, mind you, that’s in Looosiana, USofA) was surrounded by oodles of beautiful bougainvillea! They were white, pink, fuchsia, purple, scarlet red, and yellow, and blooming in profusion. Hard to notice, however, overshadowed as they were by the giant crayfish.
Continuing down the road we did actually see the famous—according to our guidebook—stands of Leaning Trees of Greenough. They belong to the native WA Eucalyptus camaldulensis, the River Gum. Their characteristic “lean” is caused by constant strong southerly winds that burn off growth on the windward side, called flagging. They are bent almost flat to the ground.
As we have been driving, we see really green fields because of the winter rains. The green is so verdant that I look at the fields and think it’s a golf course without the flags. There are acres of beautiful green punctuated by occasional stands of stunted, wind-ravaged trees. This is a golf course wanting to happen—think of Cypress Point and Spyglass in Monterrey.
Another plant indigenous to this area is the Banksia. Or more properly, plants indigenous to this area are Banksias. There is an arboretum (which we did not have time to visit, unfortunately) devoted JUST to Banksias. They are pretty but the flowers look like small hairy pineapples. But people do love them. I mean, how many arboretums are devoted to just one plant?
As an aside, much later in the day, we had a nice steak dinner with mushroom cream potatoes. Why, yes, I did manage to do that in a small, 3-burner kitchen in a 100 square foot campervan. Along with that delicious steak, we had an Amberley Margaret River First Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. It was absolutely delicious. We really had a great time tasting and choosing wines while we were in the Margaret River area. I’m sure we will run out before we start out camping trip. Bummer. But—we are heading for the Barossa Valley after the camping trip and will replenish our supply and perhaps bring home a bottle or two. Unfortunately a bottle or two is all we can bring home.

Day 24—Friday, June 20, 2008
The heater isn’t yet fixed but we will cope with that later in the day; we have too much to do and see today!
First we went to the Geraldton Lobster Cooperative for a tour of their facility. They are justly proud of the sustainable harvesting that they do and the lack of “footprint” that they leave when fishing for lobsters. The guide told us that they had some huge number of pounds of live lobsters—in the warehouse at that moment—worth over $6million. All of the lobsters are kept in ocean temperature sea water and all the sea water is pure enough to be recirculated right back into the ocean. There is no pollution from the lobster processing and that is why, she says, their Brolhos Lobsters are famous from the fish markets of Los Angeles to the Arab Emirates. A dinner of their lobsters in Tokyo would cost $200 per person. Wow!
Then we were off to the Geraldton Department of Meteorology (DOM) at the Geraldton Airport (our Garmin GPS doesn’t recognize that there is an airport closer to us in Geraldton than Perth) for a tour and a release of the daily weather balloon. Actually they release several weather balloons each day at each of the 50+ national weather stations. The one they release at 7am has a data transmission module attached, a one-time use item that costs $350 (let me see, $350 x 50 stations x 365 days a year, that equals, oh, I don’t know, a LOT of money just for weather! And that’s just data, no forecast) but the other one, the one we will see, is just tracked by radar to tell the winds aloft. It rises to 60,000 feet (yes they do use feet and inches for some measurements; go figure) or so before bursting and falling back to ground. Gary (the weather guy doing the tour—just for us two, I might add) said that they fall to earth who-knows-where and once a farmer tried to sue the government for a weather balloon that fell on his house. The courts have decided that where it falls is “an act of God” and therefore the government is not liable for any problems caused by weather balloons falling.
Australian weather balloons still use hydrogen (can you spell Hindenburg?) as opposed to the helium balloons the Americans use. Gary said it was ok to say “inflate the balloon,” or “fill the balloon,” but it was NOT ok to say “blow up the balloon.” They have quite a few safety precautions, needless to say. The balloon is filled remotely and there is a flashing light to tell people not to get closer than 20 metres to the building where it is being filled and the weather guy releases it remotely as well. It is then tracked by radar (this is the afternoon balloon, the morning balloon has that $350 gizmo to phone home with) to tell the winds aloft.
Gary doesn’t believe in the 7-day forecasts, he thinks the farthest ahead the forecast is even remotely reliable is 4 days. That said, however, the current 4-day forecast is as reliable as the 24-hour forecasts were even 5 years ago. Did we remember to ask what the forecast was. Nooooo, we didn’t.
We did however ask about whether low pressure areas rotate clockwise or counterclockwise? Doesn’t everyone want to know that? In the northern hemisphere they rotate counterclockwise (or, anticlockwise as they say in Australia. Australians may speak English, but their ”Strine” and my “American” are often very different) but sure enough, in the southern hemisphere they rotate clockwise.
That was a tour that was definitely worth while doing—of course, not too many aren’t worth doing. I learn something with every tour we go on. Among other things, I learned that I can access (when and if I have internet access, to get the latest weather forecast.
On to the Catholic Cathedral tour. As usual, interesting, and this tour we had tour-guides-in-training along with us (just 4 of us this time—almost a private tour). When I give tours at the Desert Museum I feel bad for the visitors when there are just a couple or just one person. I need to remember how special it feels to me as a visitor when we get a guide all to ourselves.
Monsignor Hawes, the Catholic priest who built the cathedral (which, by the way, is painted in orange stripes inside; nobody said priests were interior decorators!), was also an architect. Which was exactly why he was recruited in the early 1900s to come to Australia from Rome to help the diocese build their church.
He had many definite ideas about building churches (he built about 16 in Australia in his approximate 30 year tenure); at one point the Geraldton bishop wanted a larger sacristy. Hawes said no. The bishop said yes. Hawes said no—you get the idea. Well, finally the bishop put his churchly foot down and Hawes acquiesced. Sort of. When you look at the cathedral, you notice a very strange addition with a conical roof unlike any other part of the cathedral. THAT is the sacristy. It’s as if Hawes said, You want a sacristy that will bastardize my design? I give you a bastardized sacristy design. So there!
Additionally, when he was sent to another parish by a subsequent bishop when he didn’t want to go, he designed one of the gargoyles on the new church he built to look like the new bishop. He seemed to always get the last word. Not the obedient priest! But not exactly disobedient, either!
Saddest part of the tour was the guide’s talking about the amount of vandalism. Not just to the inside (where they have had to close off several of the exhibits with glass barriers) but also people shooting the stained glass windows. Lots of people from Geraldton have donated some beautiful stained glass windows in memory of their departed friends and family; vandals have shot holes in those stained glass windows. So sad.
After we did all that, we took the caravan to be re-repaired at Batavia Coast Caravans. I mention the name because they were so nice, especially Alex who did the bulk of the repairs. We brought it back at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. Did anyone complain? No. Did Alex moan and groan? No. He went right to work, and Pete, the boss, joined him shortly. They spend an hour and a half on the repair, finally, they thought (rightly, it turns out), getting it fixed. It wasn’t easy because the design of the installation sucked! The heater is in the upper cabinets (first design mistake) so Pete was, at one point, bent over backwards, his back on the corner of the counter under the heater, working on the heater from underneath because you couldn’t pull the whole thing out from the front (another design mistake). Finally the two of them thought they had it fixed and they jokingly told us they were not open for the next 5 days or not until we had left town, whichever came first. (Nevertheless, this morning—I’m writing this on Saturday—Alex, who happens to also live in the caravan park where we are staying, stopped by to make sure everything was working! How amazing is that?)
Since our heater problem was solved, we celebrated by taking a great bottle of wine with us, a Clairault Cabernet Merlot 2002, to the Bella Vista, a non-licensed restaurant (meaning they do not sell liquor of any kind, but you are allowed to BYO. Very, very common to BYO to restaurants and often they don’t even charge a corkage fee.). At 5:30 we called for a booking and couldn’t get one until 8. After a while we realized that 8 was too late and called to cancel. Almost immediately we got a call back from the owner that we could come “now [6:30], but we have a booking at 7:30 so you have to be done.” We went and what a hole in the wall it looked like, but we stayed and what a great meal we had! All that stuff about book covers is right! We had a few little problems with parking and driving on the left at night, but all in all, a great evening!

Day 25—Saturday, June 21, 2008
Before leaving Geraldton, we happened upon a wonderful sundial that was actually a sculpture of two children holding up a curved gnomon. If you could figure out the whole sculpture, you would know not only what time it was but what day of the year it was. We couldn’t, even with the directions! I took pictures so we could try again later. Yeah, right.
The fuel prices are so bad here! Several fuel stations have promotions: at Woolworth’s grocery, spend $30 and get $.04/litre off; at IGA, spend $25 and get $.04/litre. And the latest, buy wine and get $.20/litre off. Something seems strange about a promotion that says Buy wine and drive your car less expensively. But we will take advantage of any promotion we can and now we have 6 bottles of wine to drink as we drive north. Well, not actually WHILE we drive! But we did save $9 on diesel and have 6 bottles of wine, not a bad bargain.
Today we went from Geraldton to the town of Kalbarri and Kalbarri National Park. It ‘s a pretty short drive and it started with strong winds blowing off the ocean and obscuring visibility somewhat. We still aren’t in the real outback yet; we can see farms and the occasional lonely house off the road in the distance. Every once in a while you see a “school bus stop” sign and a rutted dirt track off to a presumably distant and invisible farm or ranch.
We’re starting to see more signs of 3-trailer-roadtrains as we travel north. The signs tell us they are 54 metres long; the 18-wheelers we are accustomed to in the US are 54 FEET long.
I am also surprised to see agaves and prickly pears. I guess I shouldn’t be as I know prickly pear cactus is an invasive pest here, but I am.
We stopped in Port Gregory to see the Pink Lake. It is indeed pink. They harvest beta-carotene from the lake. I don’t know what the source of the beta-carotene is, but the lake is truly PINK! Makes a lovely picture, looking across the pink lake to the green farmland and the deep blue sky beyond.
Kalbarri NP is one of the many NPs who have lots of 4WD roads—and Aussie 4WD roads are nothing like our US 4WD, therefore we have rented a 4WD car for tomorrow when we plan on driving far out into the Park.
Today, however, we went to the Rainbow Jungle, a parrot breeding and rescue place. It also has Australia’s largest free-flight aviary. Pretty cool to wander around among hundreds of beautifully colored parrots, many of them endangered and being bred here to keep the species viable.
We have checked into the Tudor Caravan Park, another Big4, in Kalbarri.

Day 26—Sunday, June 22, 2008
Since we have our very own 4WD vehicle, of indeterminate age, I might add, we are free to go when and where we want. The vehicle is a Patrol of not only indeterminate age but also indeterminate mileage. It has 30,000 kilometres on the odometer, but we are guessing that means 130,000 kilometres or 230,000 kilometres or even 330,000 kilometres—I lean toward the last kilometre-age (is that the right word? I’d say mileage but we ARE in Australia) given the aroma inside and the fact that the right-side mirror is missing and the covers for most everything else inside are missing. Not to mention the repaired bullet hole in the passenger-side windscreen. I’d say it was dead center but that may not be the appropriate word to use in conjunction with “bullet hole.”
We don’t NEED a 4WD for the road out to the Murchison River gorges but that was all that “Cars 4U2 Rent” had on hand so we took what we could get and headed out to the gorges.
The Loop has the longest trail and the beautiful Nature’s Window, a hole in the layered sandstone that is used in every picture advertising Kalbarri because it is so stunningly beautiful. Beyond Nature’s Window is a hike of about 8 km around the land inside a big turn in the river. In not too may millennia the river will become an oxbow lake, but for now it is a long a apparently quite beautiful walk. We elected not to carry on as the hike is quite strenuous in parts. We hiked about 2 km and then turned around.
Our next stop was Z-Bend. I don’t quite understand the Z-Bend designation and we didn’t see any Z-bends, just a meandering river in a beautiful gorge. We hiked out to a lookout and admired the view of a gorgeous (OK, OK, no pun intended) river and had lunch at a picnic site that was mercifully somewhat free of flies. Only somewhat, however. We have to get used to the pesky critters as they will only get worse as we go north.
Those two stops were each about 25 km in on a dirt road. Not too bad, but corrugated. I’d love to know why, the world over, dirt roads get corrugated. What is it about car/truck traffic that makes them eventually have this awful washboard wearing of the dirt base?
The last—although not planned to be our last—stop was at Ross Graham Lookout, a stop that was on a paved access road. The Lookout is dedicated to a teacher in Kalbarri who apparently was singularly responsible for getting national park designation for the Kalbarri area. He taught there for only a short time as he died at 30 (or 31, depending on which sign you read) but he made a huge impression on the area. Another very nice viewpoint of the Murchison River.
We intended to go on to the Hawkes Head Lookout but the car wouldn’t start even though we had only driven it 15 minutes before. t was a diesel and we did all the stuff you do with a diesel wait for the glowplug to light, not crank it for more than 30 seconds. The battery was fine, it cranked like a champ. It just didn’t catch. The possibility remains that it was out of fuel. We had driven it 130 km and the fuel gauge had not budged from the full mark. Maybe it wasn’t full to begin with? Remember my ruminations on the age of the vehicle? Maybe it was older than we thought. Maybe, maybe. We’ll never know.
Our cell phone had no service nor did the cell of a Swiss couple who were there. There was one other car in the lot with a Kalbarri license; we hoped for their cell to work. Nope. The Swiss couple was going to take me into town when they got back from their walk but the Kalbarri couple convinced us both to come with them. That way I wouldn’t have to drive the campervan 50+ km out to pick up Randy.
Back to town we trundled, packed like sardines in their little 4WD and they took us to the car rental place. Turns out it was his brother-in-law who was there to meet us! Anyway, there was no problem with our abandoning the car out in the Park, and brother-in-law took us back to the caravan park. All in all, not too bad an experience. It could have been a LOT worse if we had decided to head off into the hinterland—which we could have done, since we had a 4WD. Once again, friendly Aussies helped us out. My only regret is that we didn’t get the names of the couple who rescued us.
Since we were back early (about 3pm) we sat outside and just relaxed in the sun. Yes, the weather has been and is forecast to remain clear.

Day 26—Monday, June 23, 2008
Our destination today was Denham and the Denham Seaside Tourist Village. Not a Big4, but very nice, nonetheless.
Denham is the gateway to Monkey Mia (My-ah) where we will be able to feet the wild dolphins, assuming the wild dolphins have a mind to visit the morning we will be there (day after tomorrow, on our way to Carnarvon).
Another interesting stop along the way was to visit the stromatalites. What, you may ask are stromatalites? Among other things, they are the oldest living things on earth. To me they look like rocks but scientists—the first of whom discovered (or rediscovered) them in 1956 in Hamelin Pool (down the road from Denham)—call them “living fossils” as they first lived over two billion years ago. They occur in very few places on earth any more as they need very specific conditions in order to live at all. The colony at Hamelin Pool is the first living example found on earth and is ONLY 3000 years old. It’s a very nice exhibit, but rocks are, well, rocks. Dolphins will be much more exciting.
But they have done a great job with the exhibit; lots of information beautifully and humorously presented on exhibit signs posted quite often as you walk around. The boardwalk is especially nice, as it enabled us to walk right over the stromatolites (which are easily damaged by people walking or wagons driving over them. Wagons? Yes, wagons. Years ago wagons full of wool would actually be pulled out through the stromatolites to “lighters” for carriage to bigger ships. Of course they didn’t know they were killing “living fossils” but the wagon tracks can still be seen through the stromatolite “rocks.”
On the walk to the stromatolite beach we walked through the shell block area. I don’t know how to describe that better than “shell blocks.” Over thousands of years, shells have concreted to the extent that they can be quarried much as granite or other stone is quarried. They are true building blocks and many building in the area are built from the blocks. They have great advantages, not the least that they insulate extremely well. The blocks are layers and layers of small shells concreted together by the action of sea water on the lime in the sea shells. This action has been going on or thousands of years before the Aussies discovered what great building blocks they were. Later we will meet a guy who built several houses from these shell block and we will have dinner in one of those houses.
We checked into the campervan park and got a beautiful site. We overlook the ocean from a site high on a hill. Really, really nice!
After sitting outside drinking a nice Aussie beer (Victoria Bitter), we decided to go on a tour tomorrow—we’re a little snake-bit from our experience of renting a 4WD yesterday! We’ll leave the driving to others!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

from Albany to Geraldton

Thursday, June 12, 2008
Off to the way south of southwest Western Australia (WA—the Aussies say Double-U-A) to see and walk the Tree Top Walk outside of Walpole, the old whaling town of Albany, and maybe the whale-watching town of Augusta.
It’s a beautiful drive down to that area through sheep and cattle country and since this is their rainy season (it’s winter and they get about 185 days of rain every year, mostly in the winter) everything is green, green, green.
Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate (winter, did I mention that?) and it was raining off and on by the time we got to Walpole. We decided to continue on to Albany and spend the night there and leave the Tree Top Walk for Friday. The visitor bureau in Walpole couldn’t get hold of the people in the B&B (luckily, we found out later) where we wanted to stay, so we just pushed on to Albany, hoping to get a place when we got there. We did, a beautiful complete house, although all we wanted was the bedroom.
I already wrote about the Whaling Museum and how gross it was. I am glad we went there just so that I can attempt to understand what whaling was all about. In the years they were whaling in Albany they killed 40,000 whales—one whale weighs as much as about 35 elephants! That is just one whaling town. Immediately I can think of many more; Hawaii, New England to start and I’m sure they all killed at least that many. I find it difficult to comprehend that much living-to-dead flesh. The whaling museum attempts to put a nice face on all that blood at the same time that they pull no punches in the tour of the areas where they skinned (“flensed”) the whales and broke up their bones (using giant “head saws”—our guide said the name should be “self-explanatory) all the while warning us about the “graphic” nature of the color pictures on display. And the graphic nature of the descriptions. Australians are much more graphic than we are.
After the whaling museum, we went to “The Gap.” No, not the store, the area of Australia that was attached to Antarctica until Gondwana broke apart 25 million years ago. We are able to see rocks that have their sheared-off counterparts thousands of miles away in Antarctica. Kind of cool, but we’ll see even older rocks in a few days at Wave Rock.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Albany and the weather is fantastic! Just a few tiny, puffy clouds and the temperature is about 15°C. We walked to a little restaurant, Bay Merchants, that serves breakfast and, to quote our Lonely Planet Perth and Western Australia: “Just a sandy-footed stroll from the beach, this café-cum-providore makes the best coffee in town and to-die-for gourmet sandwiches.” Definitely the best coffee we have had so far (although the train was pretty good as was the B&B in Freo); the sandwiches sound great but we will withhold judgment until we have lunch (later: they were fabulous!). I passed on the octopus-and-chilli [sic]-sauce sandwich however and ordered a sandwich of chicken with mango salsa and salad on a whole wheat roll. Don’t remember what Randy ordered but it had chicken and some kind of Thai sauce on it.
Before leaving both the hotel/house and the restaurant Randy was subjected to many minutes of political questioning. Both proprietors, one a man and one a woman, wanted to know if we thought there would be a change in political parties this fall. Both—and many others we have talked to on the train, in passing, after breakfast, on a tour, pretty much anywhere there is time and they realize we are Americans (pretty difficult to hide THAT!)—really hoped that Bush’s policies won’t be continued. Trish, the owner of the breakfast place, wanted to know if Obama was really a Muslim! We explained how dirty tricks work in American politics and she pointed out that we don’t have a monopoly on that!
It seems that whenever we get to talking with Aussies, politics and specifically Bush, comes up. Outside a restaurant in Freo we were looking at a map and two Aussies stopped to ask if we needed help; as soon as they heard our accents they asked if we were Canadian or American—we should have said Canadian. When we replied that we were Americans, he said, “Too bad. I used to like Americans.” That is probably the rudest thing an Aussie has said to us, but he continued by telling us how much he dislikes Bush and that’s why he doesn’t like Americans.
Apparently there aren’t too many Americans who make it to WA which may explain why everyone wants to talk politics with us—more correctly, with Randy. This is a rather macho society.
We have yet to meet another American outside Sydney (we were, as far as we could tell, the only ones on the train). Which in many ways is a lot of fun. I don’t want to meet and talk with Americans, I want to meet and talk with Australians!
We are still shell-shocked with the prices here: breakfast this morning (essentially bacon, eggs, toast and coffee) and two sandwiches to “take away” was $56.33! The fill-up this morning after 431km (270 miles) cost $55.72. Dinner last night was over $75 for an appetizer, pasta, and chicken and no alcohol!
Pleasanter topics are the tourist spots we visited, notably the Tree Top Walk. What a spectacular venue! Forty meters—METERS!—above the ground is a steel walkway through the tingle treetops.
An aside: The Aussies have wonderful names: tingle trees; wineries: Howling Wolves, Catching Thieves, Moaning Frog, Mad Fish, Suckfizzle (I am not kidding about the name and we even were told by a vintner that it is very good wine, so we have a bottle to drink for a special occasion); not to mention all the Aboriginal names like Cowaramup).
I am afraid of heights. No, I am TERRIFIED of heights. I have no idea how I managed to walk FORTY meters above the ground with an open walkway beneath my feet. I even looked down. It is so breathtakingly beautiful to actually walk in the trees—no, not in the trees, in the tree TOPS. Tingle trees (eucalypts) are amazingly tall trees—well, if you come from California and have seen redwoods they aren’t THAT big, but a tree that grows to over 45 meters tall and up to 20 meters around is no slouch in the size department!
The walkway itself is pretty amazing, too. It was designed by an engineer who said he looked at the tassel flower plant and the design came to him. I don’t know about that, but the design looks to me like an upside-down suspension bridge: all the support is underneath rather than above. But then I’m not an engineer. Eventually I will add photos to this journal, but I may not be able to do it for my blog; too bad because the pictures of the suspension are awesome, especially considering that they used no cranes or
To describe the construction I can do no better than quote, “The construction consists of 6 x 60 metre lightweight bridge spans on 7 pylons, reaching a maximum height of 40 metres….The spans were especially designed to sway slightly as you walk in order to create the sensation of being in the canopy of the forest. The see-through steel decking reinforces this sensation of being high up in the forest canopy.
“The inspiration for the design of the pylon platforms and the trusses is the tassel flower Leucopogon verticullatus and sword grass Lepidosperma effusum. These are both understorey plants of the tingle forest. The pylons are constructed from Austen steel, which oxidises and develops a rust colour that blends into the forest to give the impression of the walk being suspended in the air.” Over a million people have walked the Walk since it opened in 2002. Pretty impressive, considering where in the world it is.
Leaving aside my stupendous achievement of actually walking on a path that had holes in it AND was forty meters (have I mentioned that forty meters before?) above the ground, we had a tour guide for the walk around in the tingle forest at ground level who was fabulous! Tony. He was informative, entertaining, and knowledgeable; what more can you ask of a guide? He was earthy as well—he described the Karri wattle (Acacia pentadenia) as smelling like “Tomcat piss.”
Tingle trees are eucalypts and there are many, many subspecies. The ones that have the walk through their tops are Red Tingles (Eucalyptus jacksonii). In the same forest are Yellow Tingles. They have one thing in common with saguaros: their roots are very shallow. So shallow, in fact, that if many people walk on the roots it will kill the tingles, which is why the Tree Top Walk! A distinctive feature of the red tingle is that the center of its trunk gets hollowed out by fire, ant, and fungus; so much so that one could drive a car through the center of the larger ones, which they did until they realized that that would kill it eventually and until several trees, because they were so weak from the opening in their trunks, fell over on people. Tends to put a damper on wanting to walk or drive through them!
Day 18–Saturday, June 14, 2008
I’ve decided that I’d like to keep track of which day of our trip it is. I expect to be here for 75 days. That’s assuming we leave on August 10, as we plan.
Today was our last day in a timeshare and our first day in a campervan (Australian for motorhome).
In spite of our GPS we got lost. It didn’t recognize that 266 Great Eastern Highway was in Belmont, just outside Perth; it thought it was who-knows-where WAY outside Perth. Luckily we recognized that we didn’t go past the airport when we picked up our car (we are getting our campervan from the same company).
Apollo has upgraded us to a an almost new (11,000km) 6-person campervan although we had ordered a 3 person campervan. We watched their DVD on how to do everything and walked around the campervan with the Apollo woman and drove off into the sunset—almost literally; we left Apollo about 3pm. Stopped for some groceries (we get 4 cents off a litre if we spend $30 at Woolworths grocery and every penny helps when diesel costs $1.90 and UP per litre!) and drove like hell to get to a caravan park by dark. Just made it at about 5:15 (sun goes down early in the winter!).
An Australian campervan is nice, and as Australian campervans go, this is very nice, but they don’t compare to US motorhomes! For example, we have only the water we carry onboard, there is no way to hook up to a water faucet; the black water goes into a tank that we have to physically carry to a toilet to empty. Guess what we are going to try not to use!
Anyway, we got to a campervan park and we got a powered site (very important!) and we cooked our first meal (hamburgers, natch!), and we slept well. Pretty good, all in all.
Day 19–Sunday, June 15, 2008
Our first diesel fill up: $125! Ouch, ouch, ouch.
We spent the morning running ahead of a storm to get to Wave Rock before it could start raining. We made it by a couple of hours and had Wave Rock to ourselves—how neat is that? We are getting spoiled by the number of attractions that we have to ourselves!
So, What, I can hear you asking, is Wave Rock? It is a granite cliff, 15 metres (45 ft) high whose shape and coloration resembles a large surfing wave. Weathering and water erosion have undercut the top, leaving a rounded overhang and thus the resemblance to a wave. Particles from Wave Rock have been dated at 2.5 billion years old. That’s really, really, old! Yes, Doug, and weird!
We also drove over to the Hippo’s Mouth formation and yes, it looks somewhat like a hippo’s mouth, but it pales in comparison to Wave Rock.
By now the rain was getting closer so we have headed off to the north. After an overnight in York, we will head to the Benedictine Monastery in New Norcia.
It sounds easy, a drive of about 300km and it would have been except we were dancing with the leading edge of a front and the winds were horrendous and mostly from the side, so our slab-sided campervan was buffeted about quite smartly. Then the rain began and pretty much continued for the entire time from Wave Rock to York. It was no fun to drive!
Our York campervan park is a lot nicer than the last one, but, honestly, who cares? We pull in, attach the power cord and go inside and fix dinner—at least we do when it’s raining—well, first we have a martini, then we fix dinner. No TV—although we do have a TV set—because there IS no TV out here!
Day 20—Monday, June 16, 2008
Another rainy day. It’s not all bad as the rain is showery rather than an all-day downpour but it is still depressing. To relieve our depression we took a side trip out of Mundaring to the Kalamunda National Park where there were some delightful Aussies, a young girl who just started working there (she told us) and her boss, another delightful Aussie and they seemed to take as their mission in life to help us figure out where to go and where to stay overnight and which National Parks we could get into without 4WD.
We have been treated so wonderfully by the Aussies! Everyone—EVERYONE—seems to want to make our holiday the best we have ever had. What a treat!
Anyway, they told us about the Zig Zag Road—that is really the name of the road—and they write the number of the zig on the roadway: 1, 2, 3, and 4. The road is two-way but we sincerely hoped that nobody would be coming up the other way as there was no room for two vehicles to pass, even if one went to the edge of the paved roadway.
Before we started down the Zig Zag, there was a beautiful view of downtown Perth from a pull-off. We parked there and had lunch looking down on Perth as rain showers alternately obscured and then cleared the view of the skyscrapers. We could see the airport and jets taking off and beyond that the skyscrapers of downtown Perth and then the Indian Ocean. Too bad it kept raining and obscuring our view!
After that we just drove in the intermittent rain northward to a small town called Ledge Point. We stayed at Ledge Point Holiday Park, a Big4 (but hadn’t decided to join yet—bummer) that promised internet but it was out of service the whole time we were there. That is our problem here in outback Australia, very spotty internet. There are internet cafes, but I like to sit in the camper and write my journal and then just log on and send it. Isn’t happening very often.
The caravan park, in spite of the non-availability of the internet, is very nice. Brand new, hardly anybody here and everything is so clean and modern. Although we have a toilet and shower in our campervan, we are using the public facilities in the caravan parks; much easier!
Day 21—Tuesday, June 17, 2008
From Ledge Point we headed north to Cervantes and Nambung National Park, better known as the Pinnacles. Since we will be going to several more National Parks—I think the Aussies must have the most National Parks of any nation in the world, including the US!—we have bought their equivalent of a pass. But it only is good for a month. That’s all we need; by then we’ll be on our 4WD tour and they will take care of all the National Parks that we go to.
We saw our first road train. In the US we think that an 18-wheeler with two trailers is pretty big. That’s like saying to an Alaskan that Texas is pretty big. These road trains are a tractor with three—THREE!—trailers, each with 20 wheels. So a full blown road train is a 66-wheeler behemoth! And they don’t give way for anything. If you are going the opposite direction, you’d better pull over a bit because the wind gust from their passage could blow you off the road. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to meet one on a dirt road. And yes, they do travel dirt roads as well as paved roads. We have read that at 110kph, it can take 2.5km to pass one going the same direction you are. We may find out as we get further north and further into the outback.
I’ve been trying to keep track of the (wild) animals I have seen so far. There aren’t actually that many yet. I’ve seen emus, wedge-tailed eagles (and, of course, lots of little birds I can’t identify), a bob-tailed lizard (that’s what I was told the name was), two live kangaroos and innumerable dead ones, some vultures (on the dead ‘roos), one small snake the size of a pencil (I’m leery of ANY snakes in Australia as I think they have 10 of the top 10 most venomous snakes in the world), and quokkas (marsupials). Randy is really unhappy as he has not yet seen a live ‘roo. We are told that the further north we go the more likely we are to see them. This is not all good: they tend, we are told, to jump onto the road and hop along with the car and then suddenly hop in FRONT of the vehicle. Especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon. I can hardly wait.
So we got to the Pinnacles fairly early in the morning (no ‘roos yet). The National Park gate lady suggested, nicely, that we not drive the Pinnacles Drive as we probably wouldn’t fit between a few of the pinnacles. So we walked a 1.5km trail through the pinnacles that was much nicer anyway.
The Pinnacles are hard to describe; I think of it as being a desert that formed upside down from the way a cave forms. Rain leached lime from the sands and sea shells and it accumulated beneath the sands. Plants stabilized the sands and a layer of acidic soil built up and as more and more leaching of the lime developed a layer of what they call calcrete (sounds like caliche to me) formed over some softer limestone below. Cracks formed and gradually the soft limestone was worn away by water and later, wind. What was left were pinnacles: pillars of calcrete in amongst the sand. Eerily beautiful. They remind me of the Greek mythology story about Jason.
That was the highlight; the lowlight was the caravan park. Crowded. We were 3 metres from the next vehicle. ‘Nuff said. It was however, close to town (Jurien Bay) and close to the beach so we could do some walking around.
Day 22—Wednesday, June 18, 2008
We’re in Dongara-Port Denison in a beautiful Big4 Caravan Park. We’ve decided to join Big4 so that we will get a discount and so that MAYBE we can get some internet coverage as they have wireless and supposedly all Big4 parks have the same and you can carry forward your balance. We’ll see.
The weather has turned “fine” at last. By my count it has rained at least part of every day for the past 12 (of course the first 10 were fabulous so I can’t really complain) and all day for many of those 12. Into each life, etc.
This was a leisurely-drive day. We’ve only gone 129km and stopped lots along the way to see little towns and walk around.
The drive did have one exciting moment—well, it actually was several moments long. We—uh, Randy was—happily driving along the main highway, the Brand Highway. Some signs warned us about upcoming construction and we expected to have to stop for a signman and one-way traffic as we have had to do before. Nope, they had completely torn up the whole highway, from one side to the other, and all it was was dirt. Fairly deep, uncompacted DIRT (at least it wasn’t mud!) currently being made even more uncompacted by several large pieces of machinery. Randy drove through it, the huge road graders nicely moving to the side so we could get by. I, in the passenger seat, felt as if the campervan was slewing to the side. Randy, in the driver’s seat felt even more that it was slewing to the side. There was little traction, little stopping or going power, and he had to drive about 500 metres that way. I was SO glad Randy was driving at that point. The good news is that we made it through but if we had any ideas of ignoring the rental company’s dictum to not drive on dirt roads, that convinced us that it would definitely not be a good idea!
Got to Dongara about 1-ish and had lunch at Southebys, a good Aussie lunch: fish ‘n chips.
The Big4 park is in Port Denison. One town runs into the other with no clear demarcation other than the river between them. The town(s) have designated several Walks around from 1.5km to 9km. We decided to walk from the park up to the river and over it to Dongara but didn’t make it further than about a kilometer or so because I got a blister. So back to the campervan for some of the wool from the sheep-shearing a ways back. Works like a charm! I just got a small bit of wool, wrapped it around my toe and it didn’t need any tape or anything, kind of stuck to itself—remember all that lanolin. My toe has been fine ever since. It’s like a miracle bandage and free to boot. I will definitely take it with us on our 4WD tour.
It is taking so little to make us so happy: we have what is called an “en suite site.” This means that we can park our campervan next to a bathroom (I haven’t figured out completely what “en suite” means but it at least means a complete bathroom) of our own. This is bliss. I can get up early in the morning and not have to get completely dressed to use the bathroom. As I said, it isn’t taking much to make me happy! And our view, filtered though it is by the cabins in front of us, is of the ocean and we can hear the waves crashing. That will be so nice to fall asleep to!
The park also is putting on a little “nibblies” feast at 4:30, BYO. So off we go with our VB (Victoria Bitter) beer to mingle. We looked through their sign-in book and have only seen one other American in the past month! So we will probably be mingling with Aussies and Europeans. I have seen a lot of Japanese and Singapore tourists in our travels, but none in caravan parks. I have no idea why.
At the nibblies party we met a couple of Brits who have an even longer and more exciting trip than we do: They were in New Zealand for about 6 weeks, then on the east coast for a few weeks, now they are travelling pretty much where we are and then flying to South Africa and driving to Nairobi from South Africa. Quite ambitious! I envy them in a way, but I’m not at all sure I’d want to be driving in Africa right now—especially with an American passport!
Day 23—Thursday, June 19, 2008
Our day started with a nice bacon and egg breakfast. Note to Yolanda: Aussie turkey bacon is better than the pig bacon, so we’ll probably stick to that rather than trying to cook what the Aussies call “bacon.”
Unfortunately, after that we had to attempt a collect call to the US to VISA to make sure that the letter Greg got talking about an address change was not a identity stealing. It wasn’t, thank goodness.
Today we go to Geraldton to get the heater fixed. This morning we could see our breath and that was after we had heated up the place a bit with cooking brekkies (breakfast) and making coffee. It will be good to be warm again in the mornings!
Arrived early at the repair shop after the Garmin GPS yet again led us astray. I am glad we have it, but the maps of Australia are woefully inadequate in Western Australia in the outback at least. Perth and Fremantle were pretty good but when we get out a ways it doesn’t seem to even recognize that roads exist when the roads have clearly—to me, at least!—been there for a while. Where they tried to send us today bore no resemblance to the actual address at all. Thank goodness for paper maps! I’m still glad we have it although I suppose it’s like the old question: Would you rather have a watch that’s slow or one that’s stopped? At least the stopped on is right twice a day!
The heater was fixed quite quickly, complete with offers of coffee or tea for me (Randy was supervising).
We have a whole schedule of things to do tomorrow, thanks to the, as usual, wonderful visitor bureau. I’m really sorry I didn’t check out what trinkets the MTCVB (Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau) might have had for me to bring to share.
After some grocery shopping we headed to the memorial to the HMAS Sydney, a ship that went down in WWII (November 19, 1941), all hands were lost, the ship has never been found, and it was a loss of a third of the Australian Navy at the time. It is as touching a memorial as I have seen: a canopy of 645 stainless steel sea gulls (representing the number of men lost) looking out over the harbor of Geraldton, a sculpture of a waiting woman staring out to see, and WA granite walls with the names of all the men lost on the HMAS Sydney. And just to make sure we would have difficulty suppressing tears, someone had laid a fresh wreath of flowers on the steps to the monument. The Australians know how to memorialize their war dead with elegance and pathos at the same time. “Lest we forget” are the moving words we have seen over and over on memorials around Australia.
So we come back to our home away from home, all 100 square feet of it. If we had had to live in this for a year or so while building our houses—well, we wouldn’t have survived it. We’ll make 27 days—or is it 28 days? Or 26?—but it won’t be easy!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fremantle to Albany

Fremantle to Albany
Friday, June 0, 2008
Because Friday was to be our last full day in Fremantle, we had intended to go to Perth for the day but Randy has been sick with a bad cold so we decided to just stay in Freo and wander around after breakfast and have an early dinner as well.
Although we went to the WA Maritime Museum, we hadn’t been to the Maritime Museum Shipwreck Galleries so off we went on the CAT bus. The Shipwreck Galleries are about—surprise, surprise—shipwrecks! The coast of southwest Australia is notoriously dangerous. One man said it was the brick on the doorstep of Australia, just waiting to trip someone up.
It was a beautiful day to wander in Freo and too beautiful to stay inside the Museum very long but it is a fascinating place. They had, among other things nautically disastrous, a video on raising an old engine from a wreck. You wouldn’t think that was very interesting but watching them take apart a piece of machinery that wasn’t even recognizable as an engine to me and put it together, believing it will actually run one of these days, was pretty exciting.
We walked around the park that is just outside the Galleries and across from the harbor enjoying the birds cavorting around. There are some particularly obnoxious-sounding ravens called, logically enough, Australian ravens, who sound like wounded sheep. And they are everywhere in Freo. I hope they are not everywhere in the rest of the Australian continent that we are visiting.
Anyway, it was lunchtime and lunch in a fish-and-chips restaurant in the harbor was a must. Kaili’s Fish & Chips is, according to several people, the best in Fremantle.Kaili’s sells fish and pearls. Interesting.
Saying they are the best fish & chips is not saying much in a town of 25,500, but is was good. However, for a town of 25,500 the bus service is spectacular. There are about 15 bus routes, counting the CAT bus (all the others have a charge but I don’t know what it is as the CAT bus was more than sufficient for our needs), and when we would sit at a sidewalk café and people watch, there seemed to be a bus every few minutes. It does make me wonder why Tucson can’t have an equally busy bus schedule, considering it has a MUCH larger population.
The harbor of Fremantle is extremely busy (it’s the harbor for Perth) and there are oodles of large, luxurious yachts in the harbor as well as all the working boats.
Dinner was outdoors (even though it’s winter here, the temperatures have been great and anyway they have those wonderful outdoor heaters!) at an Indian restaurant. We started at a restaurant on the harbor called Char Char Bull’s (who knows what that means) but they ignored us so long that we left. The prices in Australia, whether at a fish and chips stand or a nice sit-down restaurant with linen table cloths (we haven’t found one that has linen napkins as well), are close to unbelievable. $A16 (which is so close to equal to American dollars that I’m not even going to bother writing $A anymore) for a burger and chips (what we call French fries); $35-40 for a small steak; $23 for fish. Plus you pay for bread brought to the table or coffee or dessert or entrees (appetizers are “entrees”, what we would call the entre or main course is called “mains”) or pretty much anything except perhaps tap water. This is becoming a very expensive vacation. I can’t wait to fill up the car or the campervan we’ve rented. Petrol (gasoline) is $1.619 per LITER! As a rough guide, 4 liters to a gallon (not quite, but close enough) means petrol is about $6.25 a gallon. And we think it’s bad in the US! Plus we just heard today that oil went up $11 in a week. The Aussies figure every dollar up means about .10 per gallon up at the pump. Ouch. It could be worse, it’s over $9 per gallon in England.

Saturday, June 7, 2008
A leisurely morning of packing (Randy is such a great packer!!!) was followed by a trip to the Fremantle Market to buy fruits and veggies for our timeshare. Then the great adventure of driving the 250 or so kilometers to Busselton on the left side of the road.
Finally found the timeshare and it’s pretty nice although sparsely furnished. It’s a 2-bedroom unit and has a kitchen and 2 bathrooms. The bedrooms have a bed, nothing else. The closet has 2 drawers, that’s all. The living/dining/kitchen has 2 sofas, 1 chair, 1 coffee table, 1 dining table, 4 chairs. That’s it. Well, there is a TV. The kitchen also has bare minimum, the usual knives, forks, and spoons and 1 frying pan, 2 pots, and a couple of glass bowls we could use in the microwave. Not on the level of timeshares in the US but the location is fanatastic, very close to the Margaret River wine country so I can’t complain too much!
Sunday, June 08, 2008
The bed in the timeshare is very comfortable but I have now come down with whatever Randy has. He is feeling better—and therefore able to take care of me!
We went out to Naturaliste Cape National Park and took a short hike out on one of the trails almost to the tip of the cape and had our lunch in the shelter that was there. Well, we got to the shelter and the wind was blowing about 40 kph so we ducked behind some bushes to eat. What I thought was going to be a beautiful, romantic lunch was just a quickie. Too bad.
The cape is beautiful, though! We should be able to see whales migrating but didn’t see any today. Further south at Augusta we might.
Monday, June 09, 2008
I am not feeling well and so today was a stay-in-the-timeshare-and-vege-out day. Because of that we watched a lot of television. In Australia that means that you watch a lot of sports. They have sports here that I’ve never heard of and LOTS of other sports that are covered ad nauseum—however, to a sport fan this is probably nirvana. In the US the newspaper’s last three to five pages MAYBE are sports—Here the sports coverage is at least half the paper. There is tennis and cricket of course (we have yet to understand THAT sport), and Rugby Union and Rugby League (yes, those two are different but I haven’t a clue how. All I know is that they are really macho guys dressed in almost nothing tossing and kicking a ball around), and Aussie Rules Football (also wearing almost nothing— no wonder they think our football players are wimps!), and soccer, of course. Not to mention the occasional American sport like hockey and baseball.
Then there is the sport we watched tonight.
We think it is called Netball but nothing is certain in Australia. It looks a lot like basketball but there is no backboard behind the net—it’s just a net on a pole—and the players apparently cannot dribble the ball, it must be passed from one to another. The other weird thing? This is the first game I have ever seen where an INDOOR game was called on account of weather. Rain to be specific. Apparently the stadium leaks and it was pouring cats and dogs and therefore leaking onto the netball floor. Every few minutes play would stop so the towel people could come out on the floor and wipe up. At first we thought it was just the normal wiping-up-sweat towelling of the floor. But the poor women who were covering the match (a national championship, no less) kept having to talk and talk and talk (no comments about women’s talkativeness, please) and finally they told us that the game which was 33-16 had been called and the score would be shown as a tie!!! How would you like to be the team on the 33 side of that score?
We were watching TV because I was not feeling well but also because it was raining cats and dogs (see above). When we watched the local news we saw that there was a rather bad tornado in Rockingham, about 150km north of here. I am so glad that the first 10 days we were here was so nice!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The weather is a bit better and so am I so we’ll go out and do a bit of wine tasting. Probably tomorrow we’ll go do the Treetop Walk outside Albany.
Tasted several wines, all reds, and bought a couple. To ship a case to the US is $250. That is mitigated by not having to pay the GST of about 25%. Whoopee. That means we’d have to pay $1000 a case to make up the cost of shipping. I hope I can convice Randy that the wine here isn’t worth it.
We went to Jindalup Fauna Park, a “mom-and-pop” zoo. The woman who greeted us is quintessential Australian friendly; we must have chatted with her for 15 minutes before starting around the “fauna park.” There were kangaroos just wandering around the grounds. Well, really they were just lying around doing nothing. Except for the ‘roo that was in the reptile/fish house just lying around. We let it out and it seemed very happy as it hopped quickly out from the dark reptile area to the bright, light outdoors!
They also had a bunch of caged birds and quokkas (a marsupial that we were supposed to see a lot of on Rottnest Island) and rabbits and a “butterfly house.” The butterfly house was more properly a lizard/crocodile/butterfly house, certainly an interesting combination. But they do all like warmth!
After that we went to the Eagle Rest Bird Rescue to watch their 1:30pm version of “free flight.” Their “free flight” is a bunch of wild black kites who realize that free food is available every day at 1:30. They also bring out a bird on the fist and allow the audience, including children (while we were there) as young as about 5 to also hold them on their fist. The bird today was a “barking owl” and it truly did sound like a barking dog. It was absolutely uncanny! When we walked by the cage, we kept looking for the (rather annoying, in fact!) small dog. They apparently don’t start “barking” until they are about 4 years old—the bird on the fist was only 3 and the handler said she occasionally “woofs” but doesn’t yet “bark.”
I have to say I was disappointed in the “show” but glad someone is trying to rescue birds of prey here in Australia. Their primary focus is the Wedge-Tailed Eagle, a sub-species of which they say is the most endangered eagle in the world. The Tasmanian sub-species has 40 individuals left in the wild and yet Tasmania still—technically—offers hunting permits for the bird! Tasmania says it will never actually give out the permits, but just the fact that a permit to hunt the most endangered eagle in the world is on the books is appalling.
By now we were very hungry and ate at a pub in Margaret River. But it was 3pm so that kind of killed dinner appetites!
My cold is getting worse, my nose is stuffy, I have a sore throat, and I’m coughing. And it’s raining again. I’m having so much fun.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Still sick but feeling better so we headed off for a day of wine tasting and doing touristy things.
First off, we went, reluctantly, to a sheep-shearing demonstration at the Shearing Shed in Yallingup. I love these names—if I can pronounce them! Although we were reluctant initially, it was a wonderful experience, up-close and personal as they used to say for the Olympics. Very interactive, the guy doing the demonstration had one visitor climb up and tromp on the wool (kind of the way they used to press grapes) to compress it into the bales; he had some of us feeding the lambs; and some sweeping up the wool—which, lest you think that a menial job, is an entry level position for teenagers that pays $170/week! He didn’t let anyone attempt to shear the sheep, however. I would have volunteered!
After the sheep-shearing demo we got to watch the sheep dogs working. He has 3 Border Collies (16 years old, 9 years old, and 3 years old) and 3 similar aged Australian Kelties (or Kelpies?), a cross between a dingo and a border collie. The border collie goes out and herds the sheep back to the shed and once they are back at the shed in a small corral, the Keltie walks over their backs. Yes, walks over their backs. I never got a good explanation as to why this is a good thing, but he said that if he didn’t have the Keltie, he would have to have a jillaroo or a jackaroo (girls or boys) helping out. Some things non-Australians are destined to never understand.
As a souvenir, he gave anyone who asked a sample of the wool. I wasn’t going to take any but he explained how great raw wool is when you are hiking and get a blister! The fibers are naturally about 4 inches long and have lots of naturally-occurring oils to cushion your incipient blister. He told me that when I went on my tour, to ration the wool because everyone would want some! We’ll see.
The wool certainly feels different, very greasy/sticky, sort of. Like you had put lotion on your hands before it’s absorbed. I think it is lanolin in the sheep wool and I believe that sheep-shearers have very smooth and soft hands because of the lanolin in the raw wool. There are still full-time sheep-shearers; they are itinerant and if they’re good, they keep coming back to the same sheep farms year after year. one has been shearing for the Butterlys, the Shearing Shed family,, for 28 years. A sheep-shearer, since the advent of electric shearing, can shear 150 sheep a day at $3 per sheep. Before electric shearing, only 50 per day. The stomper of wool would make $200 a day but now they have a machine (but only for the last 20 years, before that, the only way to compress the wool into the bales was by foot stomping).
We’ve been to a few wineries so far and usually we are the only ones there; I suppose it’s because it’s winter and it’s the off season. That will change when we go north where it WILL be the season, especially when school holidays start. Luckily, shortly after the fall/winter (hard to believe it’s winter!) school holidays start in WA (Western Australia) on July 5, we will start on our “swag” (camping) trip and all our stops are pre-arranged.
The weather has been cool (it IS winter!), with highs about 20°C (68°F—I am able to remember the celsius equivalents by just remembering that 59=15 and every 5°C=9°F so 20°C is 68°F, 25°C is 77°F and so on); by the time we get to Darwin and Broome and Alice the highs will be 33°C, quite a bit warmer!
Anyway, the rest of the day was wine tasting and a walk on the longest timber jetting in the Southern Hemisphere! The jetty is apparently a BIG tourist draw (after all, we felt WE had to walk the 2 kilometers out to the end!). Busselton is very proud of their jetty and it is a walk that is so long that a rain squall passed between us and the shore while we were out there.
Because we had such a hard day, we had to stop at a pub for another Aussie beer. Randy had a draft VB and I had a Carleton. I hate to tell my son and son-in-law, but I liked the Carleton draft better.
We finally filled the car with petrol. The good news is that the petrol pumps are very fast. The bad news is that Randy made the mistake of timing the fuel pump—$1 per second! Yes, $1 PER SECOND. Our car is quite economical, about 40mpg. $1/sec is for petrol, not diesel. Diesel will be even worse. The fill-up was $88. Ouch. We have another 2 months of driving. Double diesel ouch.
Dinner wine was Watershed Shiraz 2004. Fabulous! Tomorrow we are off to Albany (pronounce AL-ba-nee not ALL-ba-nee. We were corrected.)
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Today we drove about 400k to Albany (remember the correct pronunciation!). Really we came here because we want to walk in the treetops but the weather is (still) crappy but supposed to be less so tomorrow, so we’re staying in huge luxury in Albany. We were just looking for a B&B and got a house. A 3 bedroom house with dining room, kitchen, living room, family room, a garden patio, the works. I feel as if I am back in the 1950s, however. The house reminds me of my grandmother’s house in Alameda, California, where I lived in the 1940s and revisited in the 1960s. Anyway, it is very comfortable and we could have a huge party here if we wanted to. Too bad we don’t know anyone!
The day started looking great, sunny, a few low fair-weather-Q, but rapidly deteriorated and we spent most of the day driving in intermittent rain. It cleared a bit when we had lunch at a rest stop outside the information center in Walpole, WA. Walpole is just shortly before the Tree Top Walk but the weather was so bad and forecast to be better tomorrow so we went on to Albany.
As I said, we drove over 400k—in all those kilometers we passed 3 cars and 2 trucks going our direction. Just in case you didn’t realize how lonely it can be out here. And this is the populated area of southwestern Australia!
The Visitor Information places here are so wonderful! They are, unlike our Tucson Visitor Center, a one-stop help place. In Tucson we will give you brochures and tell you about great restaurants and hotels; here (and apparently in every Visitor Information Center in Australia) they will actually call the hotels/B&B/restaurant/whatever and not only get you a reservation but you pay for it at the Visitor Center so you don’t have to do anything else.
In our case, we went to the Albany Visitor Center and she called several places and bargained with one guest house to get us the best room (room? We have a whole house!). It was all paid for there so we could go about doing what we wanted to do which was see the whaling museum without worrying about getting to the hotel to pay for our room.
So, off the the whaling museum. As an aside, several museums in Australia that we have seen so far change their logo that includes the word “Museum”—notably the Australian Maritime Museum—so that the letters ‘use’ in Museum are highlighted as if with a magnifying glass. I think it’s quite creative.
The whaling museum is gross. There is no way around it, killing and “flensing” (skinning) whales is gross. There are color pictures, there are movies, there are highly creative uses of holograms in explaining the whaling life. But it’s gross. Our guide even said that she had worked with offal in an abattoir and the whaling station was worse. She is the same age as Greg, my son, and her 3rd grade trip in 1978 (the Albany whaling station closed in late 1978) was to the whaling station to see what they did and she said she still remembers the stench. But, she said, it didn’t make her into a vegetarian.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008
Today was Rottnest (Dutch for Rat’s Nest) Island (also called Rotto) day. Have I mentioned that the weather has been absolutely spectacular? The high is about 78, clear blue skies, maybe a few fair-weather-cumulus; just stunning weather. I’m sure it can’t last but we’ll enjoy it while we can.
The catamaran ferry takes about 30 minutes and on the island they have a Bayseeker Bus that goes all around the island (about 11km long by 5km wide) and will drop and pick up and any of the multitude of bays—hence, Bayseeker Bus. We did the whole route checking out where we wanted to spend an hour or so and chose the Lighthouse because of the spectacular views of Perth and Fremantle. It’s a short hike up the hill (700m) and you can see forever!


Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Today was let’s be tourists day and we had a ball! All due to the tour guides we had.
The Western Australia Maritime Museum has the HMAS (Her Majesty’s Australian Ship) Ovens which is, our guide Dave told us, an “artifact”—meaning it must be complete and original. It has all the original gauges and engines and you-name-its, right down to the paint they had to order from Scotland from the original paint supplier. She is named after an Australian Explorer John Ovens and has the motto "Silence is Golden." During WWII Fremantle was one of the largest if not the largest sub base for the US Pacific fleet; 126 American subs were based in Fremantle, 11 of which were lost at sea. None of the British or Dutch subs were lost, but they had much smaller fleets.
We (we is just Randy & me and our guide; we were lucky to get a private tour) got to climb down into the sub (no mean feat for a pair of over 67 year olds, let me tell you! And Dave is no youngster, either.) through the hatch that they used to load the torpedoes. Neither was he a submariner (pronounced sub-MAR-i-ner in Australia, not sub-ma-REEN-er) but he knows as much as any submariner does, I’m sure. He’s been leading tours on the Ovens since the Museum got the boat in 1998. WE llearned how they used the periscopes and how they recharged the batteries; we learned that submarines of that era (before nuclear subs) did not have to surface to recharge the batteries they used snorkels invented by the Dutch and they used them not at night but at dawn and sunset to hide the trails they might leave and to hide the sounds they might make (fish come to the surface at dawn and sunset to feed and that noise covered the sound of the periscopes travelling through the water). We learned that under the whole of the accommodation area of the sub are the two massive batteries that have 224 cells in each, producing 2.2 volts or a total of 448 cells. At over half a ton for each cell, the batteries weigh in at nearly 200 tons and contain the power of 94,000 car batteries!
The WA Maritime Museum is a beautiful building very reminiscent of the Opera House in Sydney. I don’t know exactly how tall it is, but the height of the building was determined by the distance from the bottom of the keel to the top of the mast of Australia II (displayed proudly at the Museum), the 12-metre boat that beat Dennis Connor and wrested the America’s Cup from the US for the first time in 132 years, still the longest winning streak in any competive sport. Fremantle is justly proud of winning the America’s Cup from the US but many people who knew we went to the Museum worried that we would not like the fact that they were so proud of their win. It is typical of the Australians we have met that they care so much about other’s feelings. It didn’t bother us in the least that they won! Especially not that they beat Connor!
After a good Aussie pub lunch—we are not very systematically attempting to try every Australian beer there is—we headed off to the old Fremantle Prison, winner of several tourism awards and as far as we are concerned those awards must be due at least in part to Colin, our tour guide. Again we had a small group, Randy & me and an Aussie couple and their 7 year old girl.
As with most old prisons, conditions for the inmates were abysmal. Of course new prisons aren’t so hunky-dory either! I asked Colin if he was ever a guard at the prison (it only closed as a prison in 1991) and he told us they aren’t allowed to tell us because there might be ex-prisoners on their tours! I think he was, however. We got to see what you would expect—the cells, the solitary cells, the kitchens, the exercise yards—and what I didn’t expect, the execution chamber. The last hanging was in 1964 and it took approximately 60 seconds from the time the prisoner was taken from his cell until he was hanged. 60 seconds! They didn’t waste any time.
The little girl didn’t go into the execution chamber. I wish I hadn’t!

PER to Fremantle

Tuesday, June 3, 2008
We arrived in Perth right on time at 0910am and immediately hopped on a tour bus for a quick (2 ½ hours) tour of the city before picking up our rental car. The only place we got off the bus was at King’s Gardens, the botanical gardens of Perth. The Botanical Gardens says that there are approximately 25,000 species of plant life in Western Australia and 75% of those plants grow in grow nowhere else in the world. Yet a lot were recognizable. Hundreds of different eucalypts and hibiscus and roses and although it is almost official winter (June 21) many were blooming joyously.
Our car is a very nice, very non-descript beige something. We almost lost it in the parking lot of the shopping center where we stopped for lunch and to pick up some snacks. Nonetheless, we did finally find it and actually navigate to our B&B in Fremantle.
Fremantle is a great city to walk around. We have parked our car because it’s so easy to get anywhere on foot or on the free (!) CAT (Central Area Transit) buses which run every 10 minutes (!).

Train from SYD to PER

Monday, June 02, 2008
Our tour of ADL was somewhat disappointing; an hour and a half in a bus with a very informative guide, but I wish we had been able to get out and walk around the city. The train terminal is too far from the city for easy access on foot and by the time we got back from the tour there wasn’t enough time before the train left for us to do much of anything.
We did find an internet café ($A2/20 minutes) to email Kathy about our lost/stolen phone. She will try to cancel the Verizon service. We’re hoping we are still in the 30 day cancellation period. We’ll have lost the cost of the phone but we won’t be locked into 2 years with Verizon.
Dinner for the late seating was very, very late. We didn’t finish eating until 2300!
They have very imaginative names for the early and late seatings as I guess it’s too easy to just say Early and Late. Breakfast is Daybreak (early) and Sunrise (late), lunch is Bushman and Swagman, and dinner is Sunset and Moonlight. The times are wildly different thus ensuring that your digestion is never aclimated. Dinner tonight will be at 1930 and last night started at 2100 (by the time it was finished I was falling asleep over my coffee—and we eat dinner late at home!
I gave up last night trying to sleep in a small (VERY small) double bed with Randy and climbed up to the top bunk. That wasn’t much better but at least I could turn over!
We get awakened with coffee each morning at 0630 and the coffee is pretty good. I’ve learned that what we ask for here is a “long black,” meaning no sugar or cream and not a small espresso size. I think you can also order short white, long white, and who knows what else. At least it’s easier than Starbucks’ (yes, they do have Starbucks here) half-caf latte grande gobbledy-gook!
This morning we will be travelling through the Nullarbor Plain (I’d call it a desert but its official name is Nullarbor Plain), part of the Great Victoria Desert. This part of it reminds me a lot of the Sonoran Desert. We’re speeding by at 115kph so it’s hard to distinguish plants but in general the plants are reminiscent of the creosote and turpentine bush with some scraggly trees that look like mesquites. There is even the rare prickly pear (an invasive species here). And, although I cannot distinguish it at this speed, I believe there is lots of spinifex, a nasty plant that leave glass-like shards in your flesh if you brush against it. I know we’ll learn more on our 4WD tour next month.
We have a short stop this morning in one of the most remote towns on earth, Cook, 1100km from ADL and 1500km from PER. Perth itself is closer to Singapore than it is to ADL.
When we actually crossed into the Nullarbor the scenery really changed from the Sonoran-desert-like land with shrubs, bushes, and trees to a land where what little vegetation there is, is extremely sparse and very low-growing. The Nullarbor itself changes only from a desert with a few creosote-like shrubs (salt bush, I think) to a desert with no vegetation taller than maybe 10 cm and the only color change is from a pale gray-green to a darker gray. We were told it is the largest expanse of limestone in the world. As we travel across the Nullarbor I get the merest glimpse of what it must have been like to cross this desert—they can call it a Plain all they want, it’s a desert in any of my senses of the word—the isolation, the lack of water, the featurelessness. There are occasional dual-tracks from cars or wagons and single-tracks from animals across the red dirt but mostly it is flat and featureless as far as you can see. We are travelling along the longest absolutely straight stretch of railroad track in the world, 477km without the slightest bend.
We have sighted few living creatures other than the rare wedge-tail eagle (wingspan of 2-3 metres and the symbol of the Indian Pacific train) and even rarer smaller birds. There was one quick sighting of wild camels (I know that camels have only one hump but the Aussies making the announcements said they were camels). There is no ranching here at all, no sheep, no cattle, nothing but they do capture “camels” for export to Egypt and Arabia.
I try to imagine what it would be like to cross this desert by horse-drawn cart, or on camel-back, or on foot and I cannot. It’s difficult to even imagine driving across although a couple of our fellow travellers have done so. The towns are very few and most have populations in the single digits. Any hotel is likely to be one of the only two or three buildings in town. And best you have spare petrol (gasoline—I am learning to speak Australian!).
From a few hundred kilometers outside Adelaide all the way to Perth there appears to be nothing but red earth, some small plants and a few animals. The occasional town of few (Cook has 2 year-round) inhabitants shows up but mostly it is vast plains (desert). The view to the horizon isn’t even broken by any trees. Just flat, reddish-brown earth and plants that grow no higher than 1-2 feet (half a meter). There must be rodents because we do see the occasional eagle but very few animals larger than a rodent. I thought it would be boring but I found myself staring at the landscape through the train windows, mesmerized.

The Train from SYD to PER

Saturday, May 31, 2008
This is the day our vacation really begins! All the rest has been fun but the train journey is what I’ve been looking forward to—as well of course as the other journeys we have planned!
We puttered around all morning at Melinda & Ian’s house, got some liquor and some books for the 65 hours we will be on board and arrived at Central Station an hour too early at about 1315. Nevermind that our tickets said we must—MUST—check-in no later than 1355, the train did not start boarding until 1420.It’s a beautiful engine, blue with an eagle spread on it, the symbol of the Indian Pacific.
Our cabin is definitely the best on the train; it’s twice the size of the other sleeper cabins and has a full bathroom, albeit the bathroom measures approximately 2 feet by 3 feet! The toilet pulls down from the wall, the sink pulls down from the wall, and the whole room is a shower. Quite efficient. The cabin has a double bunk bed (as opposed to the regular sleeper cabins that have very narrow single bunk beds. We also have a table with two comfy chairs, a built-in instant hot water heater for tea or coffee, a fridge stocked with complimentary unlimited (!) champagne (Eat your heart out, James!), soft drinks, beer, and milk. They even asked what brand of beer we wanted stocked—VB, of course. That’s Victoria Bitter for the non-Aussies, also known as Vitamin B. Our cabin steward says, we drink it, they replace it. Pretty cool.
The Indian Pacific pulled out right on the dot of 1455 and we got to the Blue Mountains at about sunset. Doing this trip in the summer would be much better because of the longer days, but this is very nice even if it does get dark early (5-ish).
Australia has 3 time zones; Perth is 2 hours ahead of Sydney and Adelaide is 30 minutes ahead of Sydney. Why the 30 minute time change? Who knows. So we changed our clocks at dinner. Tomorrow will start at 0600, otherwise known as O-dark-thirty. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one 6 o’clock and it isn’t in the morning!
Sunday, June 01, 2008
The day did indeed start at 0600 with an announcement in our cabin that coffee and muffins and fruit were available to the Gold Kangaroo class and breakfast later; the Red Kangaroo class only gets breakfast at 0600. Red Kangaroo class has some sleepers but most sit in seats similar airplane coach seats. I cannot imagine sitting in those seats for the 65 hours it takes the train to get to Perth, but apparently many do. The train will be full in all classes after Adelaide. So far as we can determine, we are the only Americans on board. That may change in ADL.
The train holds either 244 or 348 passengers, depending on whether the train is a single or double and most operate as doubles. The 348 includes 192 in Gold Service, 32 in Red Sleeper Cabin, and 124 in Red Daynighter Seats. The train is 687 metres at its longest and weighs 1326 tonnes excluding the loco (as they call it). It averages 85kph (max is 115kph, although we clocked it at 118kph on our handy dandy GPS). The trip, as I said, takes 65 hours including stops in Broken Hill, Adelaide, Cook /Nullarbor Plain, and Kalgoorlie and tours are offered in each town. The IP will pass through 86 towns on its transcontinental journey.
We walked around Broken Hill, a quite delightful town and quite interesting to us because of the many union related sights. This is definitely a town that unions made—not surprising for a mining town. There are beautiful old buildings and some wonderful outdoor art—including a gigantic ant; all in all a delightful stop, even if it is 6 in the morning!
From Broken Hill we head to ADL, arriving about 3 this afternoon and we’ve signed up for a tour of the city. After which we hope to find an internet café as we do not have internet access on the train.

Friday, May 30, 2008 SYD

Beautiful weather in Sydney: about 20°C, clear blue sky. Off we went to the Royal Botanic Gardens and got treated to the sight of about 5 men and a girl taking down, piecemeal, a very large tree that we were told was killed by the fruit bats (flying foxes) that live in (or infest, depending on your viewpoint) the Gardens. These bats are HUGE! I estimate their wingspan at about 2 feet and they were either flying about (no doubt disturbed by the chain saws) or hanging about in most of the trees throughout the Gardens. Feisty things they were, too! If one landed too close to another it unfurled its wings and started fighting off the interloper.
After we got bored trying to get a decent photo of the bats we wandered about the Gardens just enjoying all the plants. Even though it is winter, there were lots in bloom including a beautiful euphorbia. We were going to go to the Sex & Death exhibit (orchids & carnivorous plants) but we just ran out of time.
We did however, manage to hook up with a tour just about the time we were in the succulent and cactus garden. We also managed to see the Wolemi pine, the “dinosaur plant.” It was thought to be extinct for millions of years and to exist only as fossils until 1994 when a hiker ( David Noble, hence Wollemia nobilis) stumbled across it in Wollemi National Park. He brought it for identification to the university which initially identified it as a Chinese pine and only later realized it was a plant previously thought extinct.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our Marriott Hotel roomFinally got a good night’s sleep last night. I realize I will get absolutely no sympathy if I complain about trying to sleep in first class, so I won’t even try. But today I feel so much better after a sleep in a real bed.
Ian brought us their Rav to drive to Narrabeen to see Nick & Jan. Randy did a great job of driving on the left (I am trying not to say “on the wrong side of the road”!), only signaling with the windshield wipers a couple of times. For me sitting in the passenger seat—he left side—it is a bit disconcerting to be on the left side and HAVE NO CONTROL! But I’m getting over it.
Nice visit with Nick & Jan and they gave us a bit of a tour around the countryside near their house. Nick still won’t come to the US with Jan when she goes in a couple of days. He wants to stay home and watch the European soccer games. Too bad! We were hoping he would go up to our cabin and so a little work up there. He is going to have bilateral knee replacements in August—the 20th, I think—so Jan will have to be back by then.
In the evening we had decided we would like to go to some performance at the Opera House. Any performance. Just to go to a performance at the Opera House. How could we go wrong at a world class venue? Let me count the ways! We bought tickets to Edward Scissorhands; great reviews, an avant garde performance that has opened to rave reviews in Paris and London. That alone should have told us to be wary.
The tickets said the performance was at 7:30pm so we arrived at 7:10, expecting to be able to be seated (in row X, the very back of the bottom floor) soon if not immediately. Wrong. At 7:50pm the doors opened and the performance, such as it was, started at about 8:05. Meanwhile the entire sell-out crowd was jammed into the halls, the stairs, the lobby, anywhere there was room for a warm body. Heaven help us if there were to be a fire! Luckily, there wasn’t. It also didn’t help that we paid $A90 per seat (!) and the woman next to us paid $A45!
The performance starts and the music is kind of nice but there is no dialog. None. And lots of weird sets and dances. Not my idea of how I wanted to spend my evening and my $A180! Each of us fell asleep a couple of times and thus decided that we would bag the rest of the “performance” and go have something to eat. We did get our pre-ordered intermission glass of wine and thoroughly enjoyed sipping wine of the patio/deck of the Sydney Opera House. That was great.

Monday/Wednesday, May 26/28, 2008; SFO to SYD depart at 2247, arrive 0623

A wonderful start to what I expect will be a wonderful trip: we saw my brother Lance and sister Victoria for lunch in San Francisco and then walked through the San Francisco Arboretum. I miss the blooming cactus in Tucson this time of year, but the flowers in San Francisco were spectacular! The weather was cool and damp, typical San Francisco. I miss it! But one can’t have everything and all in all I really like Tucson.
We are currently a little north and east of Brisbane, altitude about 10,200m, heading for a landing in Sydney at 0623. We’ve been flying for about12 ½ hours, ground speed is720km/h. We’ve travelled 10960km and will be late into SYD because we have a 162km headwind. (I have to start thinking in metric! And I have to try to remember how to convert liters/km to miles/gal.)
Lost my birthday by crossing the International Date Line. Oh, well. Randy has a younger wife!
I’ve had a few little problems to solve, like how do I charge an Australian cell phone (borrowed from Randy’s cousin) when you can’t buy an Australian-to-US plug converter? I learned that there are phone chargers that will plug into a USB port on my computer. Slick!
And how do I keep my computer running on the airplane when it only has a charge that lasts about 1 ½ hours? Airplanes have power ports; one just needs the specialized plug for it. It will do double duty by being able to charge the computer in a car. And we’ll be spending a lot of time in the car! On the left side of the road. After 2 ½ months of that, we’ll have trouble re-accommodating to driving on the right!
Arrived right on time at about 6:23, met by Ian Hill, Melinda’s friend and fiancé, and delivered to the Marriott where, wonder of wonders, our room was ready even thought it was only about 7:30 in the morning. Beautiful room overlooking the Sydney Harbor Bridge and on the Executive floor (meaning we get “free” breakfast and cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (presumably not at the same time). We have pretty quickly decided to stay an additional night at the Marriott and then we will stay one night with Melinda & Ian and then get on the train.
The morning and afternoon we spent on the Bondi Explorer bus just riding around the suburbs for an overview of the city suburbs including the duplex of Nicole Kidman, up for sale for $A6 million. And incidentally to have lunch at Doyle’s, the quintessential seafood restaurant in Sydney, right on the water at Watsons Bay.
The ferry to Mosman Bay, where Bob & Vee live, leaves from Circular Quay, about a 2 minute walk from our hotel. The weather had been quite fine until we left the hotel to walk to the ferry but the heavy rain held off until we got on the ferry and Bob met us so we had no real problems and after seeing Pauline, the rain stopped. Kind of Camelot! Pauline is still Pauline, even at 92. I think she is just existing, visited often by Bob & Vee and occasionally by Jilly and the rare (us) visitor.
We had dinner with Bob & Vee at Ripples, an absolutely great restaurant on the shore of the Sydney harbor, looking across at the city lights and right beneath the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It’s a BYO restaurant, a concept we don’t really have in the States except in a very few places. The charge to bring your wine is about $A6 and Bob & Vee brought a delightful Pinot. Great conversation, great wine, great views, what more could we ask?