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Friday, November 8, 2013

Green Camping

I am finding it very difficult to be a ‘green’ camper on this trip. At home I religiously recycle and reuse. Here recycling rules are different from state to state, perhaps even city to city in Australia. None of the many campgrounds we have seen so far, have recycle bins or offer ways to separate garbage. We asked in several stores about bottle returns and were told they don’t do that here. We spotted one recycle station in a National Park today so perhaps it will become more readily available.
Living close to nature, I realize how recycable we all are! Many birds circle a dead kangaroo on the side of the road. In no time at all, there’s nothing left. Hiking on a trail, I notice a dead bug. It is surrounded by thousands of ants and, in no time, there’s nothing left.

Often there are water restrictions in this dry land, so I take very short showers. We use reusable shopping bags and use any bags we gather as garbage bags. Any plastic bags or containers are put to new use. But still, we seem to produce more waste here than at home. And of course, all that wrapping material represents danger to many animals. Turtles and dolphins have been known to be killed by plastic bags, when they mistake them for jellyfish, and by plastic six-pack holders. Many beaches are very clean and towns often have ‘tidy city winner’ signs so they do take pride in being clean. Nevertheless we do see garbage in the bush and on the beach.

I just realized that none of the homes or hotels we’ve stayed at, have central heating. Our hotel rooms have a small portable heater. And every bed, so far, has an electric heating pad. But it seems that no heating is needed besides a fireplace.

Australia gets 4 stars for clean air. I haven’t been in a place for a long time that has such little air pollution. The sky is brilliant blue, it smells clean and it’s a joy not to see layers of brown smog in the distance. Of course that is because there are relatively few cities, traffic and industries. It’s a far cry from places like Shanghai! The starry night sky is amazing. Pitch black with millions of sparkling stars. 

Hiking to the Pool!


 ...all our roads are new and strange,
And through our blood there runs
The vagabonding love of change
That drove us westward of the range
And westward of the suns.

 (From The Old Australian Ways)

Day 7, best day of hiking yet. We didn’t do any :-)
We both had enough. The organization of the organized hike we booked was perfect. The accommodations and meals were mostly perfect. The fact that our luggage was transported was wonderful. The route descriptions and everything else, were great.
The problem is the trail itself. It seems that the entire idea of a Cape to Cape hike is fairly new and still in its infancy. They’ve managed to connect a path all the way. But the trail is still very rudimentary. In a few places it is a nice hiking path, but most of it is too rough to even be called a trail. The sections of soft beach sand and crumbling dunes to climb really did us in. The scrambling over rocks, tripping over branches and boulders, just made it plain unpleasant.
Combined with relentless sun, we are zapped of energy.

Today our luggage was to be moved to a 5 star resort. We looked at each other and said “Let’s go with the luggage!” It seemed a shame to have a room in a luxury resort and not be there to enjoy it. This is why we are now in the most gorgeous bungalow, in a quiet tropical forest. Five minutes from a glorious white sand beach with turquoise waters. Best of all: a heated infinity pool. Imagine just coming here to sleep. That would be such a waste.
We decided that it really doesn’t matter that we didn’t finish the last section to the lighthouse. We had a good time, enjoyed the views, the whales, the beaches and the experience. But we all recognize our limitations.
Tonight we’ll enjoy a fancy dinner. Tomorrow we’ll catch the bus back to Perth. And then, on Sunday, we start the next exciting chapter of our Aussie adventure: the Indian Pacific train across the Nullabor desert, to Adelaide and then on to Melbourne. Stay tuned for more on this. But not sure when we will next have internet again!
A beer and 2 remotes... all is well.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Whale of a Time!

Orange tree
Day 6 had us wake up to a beautiful breakfast of muesli, fresh fruit salad and homemade bread. It’s a treat to get breakfast like that. Usually we are the ones serving it in our B & B. Gilgarra Retreat has its own grapefruit, lemon and orange trees. It rained a little bit last night, but this morning the sky was a brilliant blue. We almost wish for clouds when hiking because the sun gets just too hot.
Gilbarra Homestead

We hiked some 17 kilometers today. The trail started out as not too bad, although some sections were so narrow that we were scraping arms and legs on the bushes. Then we hit some steep boulder sections with no visible trail, just rocks to clamber down on along sheer cliffs with the ocean below.
The scenery is gorgeous
Gorgeous views but very treacherous clambering, not exactly hiking.

Trail? What trail?

The highlight for today came when we actually found... a bench! In the shade of a melaluca grove no less. We were just unwrapping a sandwich when, right in front of us and very close by, a huge whale breached! He came down with a thunderous roar. We watched whales on and off all day. Later on, several breached again but not so close. It was an awe inspiring moment.
I didn't catch the breaching, but here is some whale..

With sore toes and stiff limbs we are now in a lovely old hotel. Tomorrow will be our last day on this trail and we plan on touching the corner stone of Cape Naturaliste lighthouse.
The perfect end to a day of strenuous hiking!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Input and Output

On Day 3 Kees stumbled in after an even tougher day in the trail. He really pushed himself to the limit but he did it. Another 22 KM.
We stayed in a lovely condo on Prevelly Beach, it even had a washer and dryer so I managed to do our laundry and some work on the computer. That night we had a fantastic dinner in the resort: steamed vegetables, perfect steak, roast potatoes. Dinner never tasted so good. I came to realize that we had not had the best “input” to get the right “output”. You are what you eat and, in Augusta, the motel provided us with some white bread, juice and jam. When we arrive there, at the end of a long hard day, everything in town had just closed. The first night we found greasy fried chicken and fries at a gas station store. The second night, a small cafe stayed open ‘late’ to make us a hamburger. Not good food to hike on. After our steak and veggies dinner I could really feel the energy coming back.

It is hard to imagine the utter isolation of this trail if you are only used to European or North American hiking. Here, there is NOTHING. Once you hit the trail, you are on your own. We might see one or two people in an entire day. There is NO village, no cafe (C2C = Cape to Cape, not Café to Café!), not one place to sit and have a drink. There is not even a bench. When we need a break, all we can do is plop down on the track in the dirt.  No tree trunk, just track and scrub. Generally there is no shade to sit in. We carry daypacks with lots and lots of water.
The way we've come...

There is dead silence except for birds.
Shells on the beach
Sometimes the track is so narrow that we scrape our legs and arms on the scrub. I try to stamp my feet in the hope that the snakes will feel us coming and disappear.
It is daunting to know that you are completely on your own. There is no way out other than forward. There is, mostly, no mobile phone reception. No place to walk to in an emergency. All I do is hope that we don’t need help for there is none. Just wild bush country and us.

Day 4 saw us hiking from Prevelly to Gilbarra homestead. We made it but with no energy to spare so we are both skipping day 5.
The homestead is a gorgeous acreage with a large house and outbuilding. Overhanging verandahs, roses, a pond. Our hosts made us a Thai dinner and we slept like a log. Feeling better now but glad to have a day of rest.  Tomorrow we will continue in our quest to reach Cape Naturaliste.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Big Hike

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
     Leaving our hostel in Perth, we dragged our luggage to the central train and bus station to catch a bus to Augusta, the southern most tip of Australia’s mainland. Took 5 hours of driving like a bat out of hell, down narrow winding roads. I never get car sick but I did this time...
It was a short five minute haul in Augusta to our motel. We have a nice, self contained room with a kitchenette. Augusta is very blustery - a storm is howling through town right now. Getting here was a total climate change from the 30+ weather we had been having. It was 19 when we arrived, but a lot warmer today despite the wind.
This morning we embarked on our next adventure: hiking the Cape to Cape Walk, 135 km from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste!
Check out: 

We booked the hike through a special agency. This way we did not have to do any of the research and bookings of where to stay, where to eat etc. They book everything, sent us a big book of the trail, step by step, with hotel information, dinners booked, and our luggage transported to the next place.
We are in Augusta for 3 nights so we can wash clothes, and make our own lunches here.
We started off at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, by touching the corner stone. As the plaque states, the Dutch ship Leeuwin (Lioness) reached the southern most point of Australia in 1622 and the land was mapped as ‘land of the Lioness’. Fun to see all of the Dutch connections here.
The trail today was not easy. 25 km of bush wacking, clambering over boulders, trying not to step into deep blowholes, plowing through kilometer of kilometer of soft, sloped sand on the beach. Once in a while there was a nice section which made for easier hiking. But the Pieterspad was a piece of cake compared to this. The scenery is glorious, but a strong wind (thank goodness it was in our back) whipped up sand that pelted us.

Day 2 was more glorious scenery, great weather (hot sun and no shade anywhere!) but also more very strenuous hiking. Whenever there’s a real path in the woods, it is wonderful. But much of the time it was heavy slogging along the beach. In very soft sand that gives way with every step. Sometimes like quicksand, it pulled you down with every step. Try that for 2 hours... And then it was up the headlands, climbing quickly.
I decided that I was not enjoying this and so I am skipping Day 3. I don’t have anything to proof... The option of spending the day in a resort on a glorious beach, with pool and ... with wifi, was just too tempting.  Kees however is bravely trudging along. He loves the challenge. I did buy him some cold, dark beer. So he will be happy when he makes it here tonight!
The wildlife we saw included kookaburras, again finally!, a very large kangaroo on the trail and two very large (1.5 meters long) black snakes!

The Land of Aus

With trees like this
Grass trees

flowering grass tree

and flowers like that

Kangaroo Paw

 With names like...

and signs like that...

is it any wonder that I think of Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak every day?!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31, Halloween night

Farewell to our camper
October 31, Halloween night and we are checked into The Witch’s Hat in Perth. This morning we were in the perfect campsite to clean out and pack our bags. Our groceries were perfectly finished after our last breakfast and lunch in the camper. Sad to say goodbye - both to the camper and to the lovely sites along the ocean.

Soon after leaving Yanchep we found ourselves on highways, heading into Perth traffic.
We dropped off the camper. Another efficient and friendly Britz office. Then the bus, loaded with our backpacks, into the city. Checked into the hostel. Feels cool to be among young backpackers from around the world.

Our backpacks are stuffed and very heavy. Part of the problem is that we keep finding wonderful books. We bought an iPad specifically so that we
could have lots of books without the weight. The problem is not so much that we don’t like reading on the iPad. It’s fine. The problem is that we don’t come across good books online. We find them in campgrounds, in second hand book stores, on shelves in the youth hostel, etc. So they pile up.

This is the pile we now have in our pack.
I noticed they make a nice spine poem! Probably says something about us...
Who Am I?

Pizza and beer in the city for dinner tonight.
So now we are spending Halloween night at The Witch’s Hat. We both chuckled when we heard we had room... 13.
So far nothing too spooky but the lights ARE flickering!

Witch's Hat Hostel

New Norcia, a Monastic Village

New Norcia college

 In 1846 a Spanish monk made his way to the new world after having been given the task by the pope of establishing a monastry in Western Australia and converting Aborigines to Christianity.
Salvado with aborigals at New Norcia in mid 1800's
Dom Salvado had a somewhat unique view for the time. He did not try to convert and preach very hard but worked with the native populatin to win their trust. He appreciated the wisdom of the native population and made friends with them. Salvado eventually founded a small town in the Australian bush. New Norcia is a Benedictine monastic town. Separated from the Catholic church, these monks live in the town permanently and actively work to earn their own living. They grow and press olives, have a beautiful bakery and make a renowned wine and beer. It’s like a small Spanish town in the Australian bush country, with old mission buildings and palm trees.
Church at New Norcia
We took a tour of  the churches and several other buildings now used by educational institutions for retreats, etc. You can even spend the night in the monastary. If we weren’t running out of time, we would have stayed and experienced that. A night’s stay includes a small room, and three meals a day with the monks, time for meditation and prayer and just quiet time to relax and reflect. Salvado made several trips back to Europe to raise funds for the small village. By 1900 on his 8th trip he passed away in Rome and was eventually burried in New Norcia.
New Norcia monastry
New Norcia stain glass window

We opted to continue staying with our new Australian friends!
It was lovely to meet Australian people. We spent a few days with them and the last night they invited many of their friends for a little party. Wonderful to spend the evening with such friendly, jovial Aussies. They have a very admirable tight-knit community and take pride in building their own facilities like tennis courts, playing fields, a recreation hall and library.
Aboriginal art at New Norcia

Cuddly koala!
On Wednesday we stopped at Yanchep National Park and, finally, saw koalas! They are so cute, clinging to the tree in their sleepy positions. They look as if they will crash to the ground if they let go. They’d move to a more comfortable fork in a tree, once in a while.

After that we found a lovely spot in Yanchep’s caravan park for our very last night in the camper! Exciting to now embark on our next adventure: a ten day hike from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste in the south of Western Australia. Stay tuned for this adventure!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pink Lakes and Yellow Pinnacles


On the way to Geraldton we drove passed Pink Lake. The water is pink because of a microbe releasing beta carotine in the water.

Geraldton was the first regular city since leaving Darwin, several thousand kilometers ago. It was very nicely laid out, with large boulevards and a great waterfront. We’ve noticed in a lot of towns here that the waterfront is preserved as park, often with playgrounds and public beaches. It’s so much nicer than walking along private hotels and restaurants and not being able to get to the shore.
It was Kees’ birthday so we had dinner in a lovely place with view on the water. The library had good, free!, internet access so we got caught up on emails and work.

The Pinnacles
Now we are staying in Cervantes, right by the beach. Today we drove Nambung National Park to see the Pinnacles. We were curious to see these since they seem an Australian landmark. They are depicted on the cover of an Australian book we have at home. I always wonder what it would be like to be the first to come across a place like this. Normal scrubby desert and then, bang, bright yellow sand with thousands of stone pillars.
Scientists are not sure if they are stone (shell and sand) structures around which the soil has eroded. Or if they are fossilized wood. I would have thought it’d be easy to determine that, but apparently not. But, whatever it is, it looks cool to be surrounded by these pillars. We walked almost 4 KM among them. In the heat. So now I need a swim...


October 29, Dandaragan
We are visiting the sister of a Canadian friend, who is a teacher in a small rural town. Lovely, hospitable people. Nice to use a real bathroom again for a change! Today I did readings for little people in the public library, followed by presentations at the elementary school.
Our friends grow Australian wildflowers for the export market. Amazing to see them cut some 8,000 flowers, wrap them in boxes in a cooler and race them to the airport. These flowers might just show up in bouquets on the table in homes in Holland!