WARNING: LONG POST AHEAD! The 2nd half of the Australian Southwest Coast Roadtrip. (For part 1 click here!)
Cruising down Caves Road, Paul (the Irishman), Kim (the American), Annelies (the Dutchgirl) and myself (the Canadian) set out towards Augusta, in hopes of seeing the sunset at Cape Leeuwin — the most southwesterly point of Australia. We made a stop at a particularly interesting road sign amongst the huge karri trees. Apparently vandalising road signs into even more interesting road signs is quite a popular pasttime in Western Australia. In this case, the usual ‘pedestrian crossing’ sign was converted into 2 fairies walking side by side. Someone had put a lot of time and effort into it and we were sure to get some good snaps of it before it was time to get back into the car and continue on down the road to our evening’s destination.
We made one more quick stop about 15km outside of Augusta at Hamelin Bay – an extraordinary beach! The sand was so white, the water was so calm and clear and there were hardly any people around. About halfway down the beach were these large wooden arches and to be honest I can’t remember what the inscription said they were there for, but they made the beach look that much more interesting. Even further down – at the end of the beach were beautiful white cliffs (limestone possibly?). It was about an hour or so from sunset, so the light made it even more spectacular. But it wasn’t the mere beauty of the beach that made it memorable – since being away, I’ve seen countless beautiful beaches all unique in their own ways – rather it was the MASSIVE sting rays that were cruising up and down the shoreline about 3 or 4 feet into the water. Normally, if in the water, stingrays would scare the crap out of me, but these two were just minding their own business – one even had its tail/stinger missing. So what do I do? Pop off the flip flops, roll up the pants and march into the water. As they swam by I managed to touch one – super cool! After spending a good amount of time there, it was time to check into the campsite before the reception closed and race to see the sunset at the cape.
Now for those of you not familiar with driving in Australia, driving at dusk is extremely dangerous, because kangaroos are cute but retarded creatures and have awful vision at dusk – thus those hoppy bastards tend to jump in front of cars just prior to total darkness. So we sped along in our Ford Falcon station wagon ‘Sheila’, hoping that no “bouncy motherfuckers” as I so eloquently put it, would jump in front of our car – which would cause us to lose our bond money. We made it to the cape safely but only to find the actual point where the lighthouse was had been all locked up and there were huge barbed-wire fences around the entrance. So we pulled the car around the corner, noticed about 5 or 6 other cars/vans/campers parked and their passengers all staring up at the sun, which was rapidly disappearing lower down into the horizon. It wasn’t even the most beautiful sunset that I’ve ever seen, but the thrill of just making it in time, made it completely worth it.
After heading into town only to find that the only grocery store had closed at 5pm (WHAT!?), we grabbed some snack food from the gas station, a box of goon from the (drive thru) bottleshop, and returned to the campsite. We had a low-key night – pulled out my laptop, watched The Hangover while eating junk food and drinking half decent goon, until we all turned in and slept like babies till the sun came up.
We all woke bright and early the next morning and had very uncomfortably cold showers, ate brekky, and hit the road for a big day of driving. After driving for what felt like forever, we eventually turned off the road into the forest, went down a dirt road for a good 10min. Finally we had reached the first stop of the day – the Bicentennial Tree. This tree is absolutely ginormous! 233ft or 71m tall to be exact! There are metal rungs sticking out of the tree in a ladder-like fashion and 2 lookout platforms. One about a third of the way up and the other at the top. What is a slightly crazy, thrill-seeking backpacker to do? Oh that’s right… I climbed it…. about ½ way up. I was wearing my flip flops and the metal rungs were really hurting my feet – plus it was actually pretty scary as there were no safety nets or even anybody working there to supervise climbers. Annelies was the only one of us to make it to the top lookout. Back on solid ground, it was only then that I noticed the LARGE sign beside the start of the climb that said that there was a “risk of death” and climbers should not attempt in “thongs, flip flops or sandals.” WHOOPS! My bad.
We all piled back into the car and drove for another long while, stopped at a pretty lookout to take some snaps, then it was my turn behind the wheel. I drove us into Walpole (some would complain that I drove too slow… but they can all suck it, I’m not used to driving on the left side!) where we were going to settle in for a nice yummy lunch (food that required cooking, as opposed to boring sandwiches). Annelies and I went into the info centre to find out how far the Valley of the Giants/ Treetop Walk was from where we were. Turns out they stop admitting people at 4:15pm and it was, according to the nice old lady, at least a 1/2hr away. It was currently almost 3:30pm, so that meant scrapping the idea of a nice cooked lunch and we all got some quick, boring sandwiches. Back in the car with Paul, our resident speedster behind the wheel (not that he normally sped or drove unsafe, but he was more confident with driving on the left side of the road since he’s from Ireland), we managed to get to the Valley of the Giants – a karri and tingle tree forest – with tons of time to spare.
We bought our tickets and were soon walking along the suspended boardwalk known as the “Treetop Walk” – it’s highest point was 40m above the forest floor below – and we were walking amongst these 60m+ trees. To say that I felt tiny in comparison, is to put it lightly. Somewhere along the boardwalk we bumped into 2 familiar faces – 2 guys we had seen earlier at the Bicentennial Tree. They had been at the top platform when Annelies had gotten to the top and took a pic for her. We all exchanged hellos and continued on to the Ancient Empire Forest, a paved walkway that brought you back down to ground level. The roots and trunks of these trees were humongous. It was definitely a really cool experience to see these ancient trees that had reached extraordinary heights I believe I even read somewhere that they are second largest species of tree next to the Californian Redwood.
We made our way back to the carpark and it was now time to figure out where to sleep for the evening – we were at least an hour and a half from Albany (our intended sleeping destination). Again we bumped into the 2 guys from earlier and they had some sort of mapbook, so, me being the outspoken one goes up to them and ask what they’re looking at. They told me “the Bible” and flashed the cover of their Camp 6 book – a book showing all the free and paid campsites/rest areas/ caravan parks in ALL of Australia. I asked where they were heading and turned out we were going in the same direction. They gave me directions to the place they were going to be staying (for Free!) and we parted ways.
After discussing it with Paul, Kim and Annelies, we all agreed we’d check the free place out. We arrived just as it was starting to get dark. We found a little place to set up our tents – nice and close to the bathroom on one side and fairly close to the public BBQs on the other. Sure enough we ran into our two friends again – we did the formal introductions thing. They were Lionel and Thomas, both from France.
Now this is the part of the story where klutzy Melissa made her grande debut. I was helping with dinner and to be proactive in the cleaning duties I went to throw out some trash – there were 3 large boulders about 5ft in front of the bins. It was dark out and the only light we had was from a big outdoor camping light that belonged to another couple who were using it to light up their camping area next to the public BBQs. So I made a mental note of the boulders and managed to avoid them on the way TO the bin, but on my way BACK I don’t know what happened but before I knew it, I was ass over teakettle on the floor with the most excruciating pain in both feet. I hobbled over to the table and used the light on my phone to notice I had broken my left big toenail and had a cut on the bottom of the toe, and on my right foot I had an inch long gash. The dangers of living in flip flops I suppose! So I sucked it up and hobbled over to the car, searched for my previously unused first aid kit (which of course had gotten buried into the nether regions of my backpack) and brought it up to the front seat. Sitting there, alcohol swabs in hand and jean shorts in my mouth (to muffle the screams of pain), I cleaned up the mess I had made of my feet – all while our new French friends came to see what was the matter. They stayed and chatted with me as I bandaged up my poor feet and then helped me hobble over to the picnic table where my dinner had long since gone cold.
Just to make that night even worse, when I went to the toilet before bed, up in the corner –exactly where my light ended up shining- I saw my very first Huntsman. Needless to say, I cried out to Annelies, who was waiting to use the toilet after me and once I finished peeing, I grabbed my light and got out of there SO fast. This thing was massive. Easily the size of my palm. And I know that the Huntsman spider is harmless, but it’s just so big and it’s long hairy legs give me the complete heebie jeebies.
After an unsettling sleep (knowing the Huntsman was so close by made sleeping pretty hard – if it managed to get into the bathroom, it could surely find a way into our little crappy tent), we all woke to the pitter patter of raindrops on our tents and a disgusting grey sky. We had saved this particular day to be “beach day” but as Murphy would have it… such was not the case. So we had a quick breakfast, exchanged numbers with the French guys (since they too were heading to Albany) and made our way back into civilization. We stopped in the town of 26,000 – easily the largest we’d been in since Perth – and explored some of the shops and the information centre before setting off to find “Dog Rock”. It’s a giant rock that someone (probably who had dropped acid just prior to seeing) thought resembled a dog’s head – locals have even pained a collar on it. I didn’t even bother taking a picture, cause it was so totally ridiculous. And locals totally tried to cash in on the “dog rock phenomenon” cause there is a Dog Rock Café, Dog Rock Chemist, even a Dog Rock Motel with views of beautiful Dog Rock. Cue eyeroll.
Despite the weather raining (literally) on our parade, we went off to check out the two local beaches and were thoroughly disappointed in both, so we kept driving to see The Natural Bridge and The Gap. On the way to these natural marvels, we stopped at a turn off and followed the pathway to a set of stairs. Below was a gorgeous bay with the bluest water I have ever seen and the biggest waves imaginable. There were two men standing on the rocks at the water’s edge and we watched as they tried desperately to catch a shark. It was quite intense because we could see the shark swimming just meters away from them – clearly attracted to the gutted fish they were using as bait. Part of me wanted to see them catch it, but a bigger part of me wanted and hoped the shark got away. We watched for a good 15-20min and decided they probably weren’t going to be catching the shark anytime soon, so we headed back on our way to see some more natural beauty.
A quick jaunt down the road from that beach was an area that was pure granite rock. According to a sign it was a site where Australia and Antarctica broke apart from each other and the same stone that we were standing on could also be found in Antarctica. So The Gap. The Gap is a gap in the rocks that goes all the way down into the ocean – thus the waves crash into it with unbelievable force, and the water is pushed all the way up (it’s probably a good 70-80m high.) Signs cautioning tourists not to get too close, and no barriers to protect anyone from falling into the powerful waters below, of course we each got as close to the edge as we could mentally take it, grabbed a few snaps and then quickly retreated back to the safety of the paved walkway. Just to the right of The Gap, is The Natural Bridge. Which is a GIANT natural granite bridge that formed over the years. Both were absolutely spectacular sights and we all agreed it was well worth the trip to see them. Seeing these made up for beach day being rained out.
After a quick lunch and dinner shop at the store back in town, we grilled up some hamburgers and after coincidentally meeting up with our Frenchies one last time, it was time to start heading north, back in the direction of Perth. Since it’s over 600km from Albany to Perth and we had to get our rental car back by the 1pm closing time of the rental shop, we decided to get as far up the highway as we could. We ended up in a town called Kojonup and we stayed at a caravan park. Of course we tried to lie and say there were only 2 people camping, but we soon found out we were the only campers, and the campsite was pretty open compared to previous ones we’d stayed at. Needless to say, the woman who owned the place caught us and bought my “airhead –‘ I thought you said 4 not 2 people, so sorry it’s been such a long day’ ” excuse and asked us to pay the following day before we left. Kim, Annelies and myself all planned on paying and had the money out and ready, Annelies was even ready to quickly hop out and hand over the cash, but with speedy Paul behind the wheel, we were outta the caravan park in the blink of an eye and on the road and out of phone reception. When we got back into phone range, I had a nasty message on my voicemail, and we all decided it would be best that upon arriving back in the city to post the poor woman her $10; if only for the fact that none of us wanted any bad karma.
We made it back into Perth just in the knick of time, and managed to drop off the car with 15 minutes to spare. Outside of Traveller’s Auto Barn, Paul parted ways, and our wolfpack was down to 3…. Further down the street Kim made her graceful exit, then it was only Annelies and myself. Two lone wolfs on a mission to mail the crazy caravanpark lady her money. After finding one of the only stores open that we could get an envelope and stamp, we wrote a quick letter to the woman and dropped it in the mail. I even called to assure her that it was all just a misunderstanding and the money would be her way in the next couple days. And that was it. That was the end of the Australian Southwest coast roadtrip. It was a great couple days with some really cool people, and we all have memories of the wolfpack cruising along in our shitty Ford Falcon, Sheila, who was stuffed to the roof with all of our stuff!
Now playing: Santeria by Sublime