Western Australia

THE INDIAN PACIFIC, WA, SA, & NSW

April 28, 2016

Just like that, our five weeks driving came to an end.
We had seen so much of this beautiful, vast country, crossing 4 state lines and 4 time zones, stopping at near private beaches and lakes, pausing to climb ancient trees, and playing wildlife spotters in the desert.

I often think that the best part of a trip or a journey is coming home, and certainly no trip is complete until you’re home, back to your point of origin. For us, driving home was not an option (no more driving! please!), and flying home whilst very practical seemed like an anti-climax after all our adventures.

The solution: rail!

Mez and I have always loved train travel, and together we’ve ‘trained’ through Japan, France, Italy…in fact, the first time we met was as a result of my travelling from Melbourne to Sydney on the interstate express. There is something so romantic about train travel; time slows down somehow, you can walk about, share a meal, watch the world go by.

The journey from Perth East takes 3 and a bit days, and 3 nights, though magically once on board, time has an elastic quality. I was content to stare at the ever changing scenery for hours on end, never losing interest. There was so much to see, I didn’t want to miss out on any of it; kangaroos, wedge tail eagles & their gigantic nests, camels, emus, grass tree forests, a million rabbits, an airstrip, abandoned towns…endless ochre earth.

Phone reception is limited, and with no internet or tv, it’s a media black out, instead I read a book. The gentle rocking of the train is very soothing, and with nothing to concern myself with, I feel the most relaxed I have felt in a long time!

We have two cabins, side by side, and it’s decided that we will time share the kids. They can come and go between cabins as they please, and it seems that all the younger families have been allocated cabins in this car, so there is a fun vibe, and little chance of disturbing our neighbours.

The cabins are beautiful. They are vintage, without being old…they have a sense of old fashioned glamour about them. It’s easy to imagine early travellers on this same journey, though theirs taking 75 plus hours and requiring more than 4 changes of train! I can’t enough of all the details, all the wood finishes! For a moment, I am living in my own Wes Anderson ‘Darjeeling Limited’ fantasy! I have anticipated this old fashioned travel vibe, and have packed nice clothes to wear at meals times…I miss those days of dressing up to travel!

At dinner time, the banquette is flipped and transformed into a perfectly turned down bunk, with another popping out above, and in the morning when we return from breakfast, the transformation is reversed, and bunks disappear, and the banquette returns.

Meals and beverages are included in the fare, as well as a complement of Australian wines, and basic spirits. The food is excellent. 3 courses at lunch and dinner, showcasing the best local produce, and every effort made to impress junior diners too. We have a dessert at each sitting, as well as cheese, because it would be rude not to! The highlight at meal times (aside from the actual meal) is dining in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant cart, with all its curlicues and ornate details, all of us piling into a booth and enjoying a changed perspective of the passing landscape.

There are four included whistle stop tours; Kalgoorlie open cut super pit gold mine (sadly cancelled due to delayed departure in Perth), a self walk tour of Cook (a near abandoned desert township), Adelaide (We went straight to the Central Markets!) and Broken Hill. The Broken Hill stop is particularly special for our family; we excuse ourselves from the scheduled tours (Desert Art or Mining History) and head to Mez’s mums childhood home… There are no longer any family members living there, but it’s a poignant moment nonetheless.

This experience really is bucket list worthy, and now that I’ve done west to east, I’m thinking of getting onboard The Ghan, starting in Adelaide and heading north to Darwin, or the other way round.

Uniquely Australian, no doubt about it.
We travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail

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MARGARET RIVER, WA, PART TWO

April 14, 2016

I mentioned in my previous post on Margaret River, that the region is huge, and that there is much for small folk to enjoy…
I think it’s only fair that I touch on a few things that for grown ups to enjoy too!

With it’s unique climate, the region is a foodies paradise, and prides itself on top notch dairy, seafood, and of course wine! There are 215 vineyards in the region, with over 95 cellar doors, ranging from farm style to architecturally elaborate, with many offering on site cafes and restaurants.

Here’s where we went during our week in Margs…

WILLS DOMAIN

I hadn’t heard of Wills Domain before, but our friends who we were staying with had been recommended this restaurant by a local winemaker friend…set in amongst rolling hills carpeted in bushy vines, flanked on one side by huge gums, and on the other by grass trees, the view alone is worth the 30 minute drive from Prevelly. Add in beautifully executed mod aus food, and ripper red wines, and you’ll be happy to eat, drink and lose yourself in the view for the afternoon.

VASSE FELIX

We had been to Vasse 4 or 5 years ago, and in the years since they’ve had a face lift. The cellar door and restaurant pavilion is beautiful, with vines and manicured gardens visible at each turn. We were fortunate to have had a fancy wine tasting organised for us…followed by lunch; D E L I C I O U S!!!! You can also have a cheese & charcuterie board/ploughmans lunch on giant beanbags on the lawn downstairs, perfect if you have small mobile types in tow.

VOYAGER ESTATE

The grounds of Voyager are incredible! Rose gardens, perfectly trimmed bushes, row upon row of perfect grapes, immaculate lawns! It is almost worth visiting for the grounds alone…however, the wines are excellent also! And there is so much variety that there is sure to be something to please everyone in your party. We were particularly impressed with their blanc de blancs; bubbly perfection! The restaurant here was on our hit list, but sadly we ran out of time. All the more reason to return!

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS TAPHOUSE & KITCHEN

At the very edge of Margaret River town, next door to the famous bakery, is Swings and Roundabouts Taphouse & Kitchen, and offshoot of the vineyard and cellar of the same name. The food here is rustic, with an emphasis on locally sourced and sustainable produce. Serves are super generous, all the better to share! And share we did! Pizzas, imaginative salads, and tapas styled dishes…we practically rolled out of there we were so stuffed!
34 DEGREES BLUE SEAFOOD

An honourable mention must go to the chaps at 34 Degrees Blue, who not only have the best selection of local seafood going, but are happy to share their local knowledge on where to get all your other food needs met too (10 Kinsella Road, Margaret River 08 9758 8900)

It’s not all about food & wine…Mez played golf the whole way across from Sydney; in Port Lincoln, across the Nullarbor (doing the Nullarbor Links), in Esperance and Denmark, and in Margaret River too, at the Margaret River Golf Club. Naturally after the desert course, he was very impressed with the beautiful grounds at Margs, and amused by the local mob of Roos who had obviously seen it all before and were largely unperturbed by Mez and Benny and their efforts!
He had this to say about it:
“Margaret river golf course is an absolute must! It’s a private course but welcomes visitors and Jon and the staff are beyond friendly! Ripping bloke! The course is in mint condition, lush fairways blur into greens on some holes. Few bunkers but plenty of water hazards particularly on the front 9. The back 9 is harder to play because it is sloped in many parts which hurts if you error your tee shot, so if you only play 9, go for the front. Heaps of roos, but that ads something to what is already one of the best country courses in the state. Most importantly, it’s easy to get on. We played N.Y.E with 2 days notice.” Thanks Mez!
MARGARET RIVER GOLF CLUB
599 Wallcliffe Rd, Margaret River 08 9757 3163

WILLS DOMAIN
cnr Abbey Farm rd and Brash rd, Yallingup 08 97552327

VASSE FELIX
Caves rd and Tom Cullity dr, Cowaramup 08 9756 5000

VOYAGER ESTATE
41 Stevens Road, Margaret River 08 9757 6354

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS TAPHOUSE & KITCHEN
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River 08 97587155

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MARGARET RIVER, WA

April 7, 2016

Arriving in Margaret River was exciting for the Watts family, as it was the very last stop on our epic migration from east coast to west. It was bittersweet in a way too, as it meant our adventure was drawing to a close. We were meeting some friends, and had a whole week to enjoy the region.

The Margaret River region is huge! It takes more than an hour to drive from Busselton at the very northern tip to Augusta at it’s southernmost tip…too vast to cover it all in one week!

Here’s my roundup of stuff to do with kids!

Gnarabup beach, Prevelly.
We spent new years day here after having breakky at the White Elephant Cafe (Yes! They were open on new years day!) This super kid friendly cafe is at the southern end of the beach, and is at the top of the staircase to get down to the sand, could not be easier. The area beneath the cafe is sheltered from strong wind and waves, and features rockpools and rocky outcrops to explore. There’s a pontoon a few metres out for bigger kids to jump off, and a boat ramp in the middle of the beach, should you have a boat.

Gracetown beach, Gracetown.
Gracetown is roughly the mid way point of the Margaret River capes region, north of the Margaret River township, west of Cowaramup and south of Yallingup. The main beach as you enter the township is located on Cowaramup Bay, a brilliant sheltered natural harbour, with a pontoon and a domed island for confident swimmers to swim out to. Easy access straight onto the beach from carpark for parents/pack horses carrying beach gear.

Hamelin Bay.
I was a bit nervous on the drive down from Prevelly (where we were staying) to Hamelin Bay…would there be stingrays? I had talked it up so much, I was going to be in trouble if they were no shows! It’s a 30 minute drive south, towards Augusta on Caves Road. The drive itself is quite beautiful, and at one point passes through a Karri forest that left us speechless, it was surreal, like being on Endor (for those not familiar with Star Wars, Endor is where Ewoks live!). We needn’t have worried, the rays were there; three HUGE smooth rays and a couple of eagle rays too. They are playful and curious and will swim over your feet looking for treats. They are up for pats too, and feel like giant slimy sponges. Of course, they are wild animals so exercise caution. Once you’re done with the rays, there are more rockpools to play in, and Mez and I even had a snorkel (damn it! we’d brought our snorkelling stuff from Sydney, we HAD to use them, if only once!). The car park here fills up very quickly, my advice would be to go as early as you can.

Swimming in Margaret River.
We were fortunate to have a track running from the back of the house we were staying at in Prevelly right down to the actual river that Margaret River is named for…swimming in a river is not like swimming in the ocean! A bit tricky to get in and out of, but refreshing nonetheless. Try it!

Horseriding at Jesters Flat.
Kinga wanted to go horse riding for her birthday, and so we booked the kids in for a ride at Jesters, a 25 minute drive inland from Margaret River town. Once on the ponies, the kids were welcome to stay on for as long as they liked, but there are only so many times you can go round a corral, and their enthusiasm peaked at 30 mins. Boots and helmets are provided. They also offer bush trail rides and sunset rides at Busselton, but nobody wanted to come with me. Sadface.
White Elephant Cafe
Gnarabup Road, Gnarabup
08 9757 1990

Jesters Flat Horseriding
1549 Rosa Brook Rd, Margaret River
08 9757 4562

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VALLEY OF THE GIANTS , WALPOLE WA

March 17, 2016

Some time ago I saw an ad on the telly for Tourism Western Australia that really stuck with me. You may remember it…it was Elle Macpherson, amongst the canopy of a eucalypt forest. The imagery was magical, a supermodel, in a super forest, the colours vivid in that way that colours in WA just seem to be. I made a mental note that I would go there one day. (As an aside, the ad went to air in 1997, almost 20 years later I STILL remember it!)

The Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk is in the Walpole Wilderness area, made up of a continuous chain of 13 national parks and reserves. Within this protected area are some of WA’s most beautiful wild landscapes, including Karri forests and Red Tingles. (Both Karri & Red Tingles are a species of eucalypt, only found in this south west corner of WA, as a result of high rainfall, and temps being cooler here than elsewhere in WA.) These forests are ancient, with some trees said to be over 400 years old!

Admission to the Valley of the Giants grants you access to a steel walkway, that juts out at strange angles, like a super sized Mechano set, and rises into the canopy above, reaching 40 metres above the ground at its highest point. There is a bit of movement to the walkway, which freaked Kinga out, but Wolfie loved it! There were signs advising no more than 10 people on a stretch of walkway at a time which freaked me out!

What really struck me once we reached the top was how peaceful it was, no noise save for the odd bird, just rustling of leaves in the wind, the gentle movement of the forrest. Strange how being so high off the forest floor could be so…grounding! The perspective up there is so unique that you seldom look down. It’s a rare opportunity, being up so high and surrounded by green.

The Ancient Empires Walk is the continuation of the tree top experience, but back on solid ground, on a 600m looped boardwalk, through and around the trunks of the giant tingles. There are felled logs to clamber over, and gigantic, gnarly hollowed out tree trunks to pass through, all of which the kids found terribly amusing!

It is just under an hours drive from Denmark where we were staying to the Valley of the Giants, and the drive along the South Coast Highway is a very pretty one. Keep your eyes peeled for the Old Kent River Winery on the way, look out for a GIANT blue marron (yabby to anyone on the East Coast!) out the front. The folk at Old Kent River have a dam with intensely cobalt blue marron in it, and sell them for $400/kg. We were curious to taste test, but had to satisfy our curiosity by checking them out inside a tub in the cellar door/cafe.

I loved being so immersed in nature, and history too.
This ancient and unique forest is a must see during your stay in the south west!

Entry to The Ancient Empires Walk & Discovery centre is free

Admission to the Tree Top Walk is as follows:
Adults (16 yrs and over) $19
Children (6 to 15) $9.50
Family (2 adults/2 kids) $47.50
Kids under 5 are free

(you can do the tree top walk as many times as you like after paying admission)

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DENMARK, WA

March 10, 2016

We were very fortunate to spend Christmas 2015 in Denmark, in the Great Southern region of WA. Denmark is a super cute town, named for the river that runs through it…it has a really great vibe about it; everyone is friendly, and it’s little wonder! The town has got it all; sensational beaches & a river (so lots of water based activities), incredible old growth forests, excellent food & wine…

Our home for 5 nights was the Denmark Ocean Beach Holiday Park, and it was a brilliant base camp. Our cabin was elevated and overlooked the playground and jumping pillow- chockers with kids of all ages during daylight hours, and a feeding ground for roos come evening time! The cabins had pretty good kitchen facilities, so we self catered the entire time, and over the course of our drive had amassed a comprehensive travelling pantry. For all our fresh food needs the local IGA was great. If you happen to be in Denmark and you drive past the information centre and see a man in a white van selling seafood, be sure to pull in! This guy has a great variety of local WA fish and it’s great value! The butchers down by the river on the way into town is also excellent, and smells heavenly, as they do all their smoking on site.

The main drawcard for us was the local beaches…Denmark boasts 100kms of coastline from huge surf beaches (not for me! I’m SUPER scared of waves!) to tidal inlets, and natural lagoons.

Greens Pools is a large sheltered rock pool, perfect for swimming, snorkelling, we even saw a family stand up paddle boarding in it! It is spectacular, with crystal clear water, huge rocks for the kids to climb and swim among, but be warned; the water is FREEZING cold! Somehow, this doesn’t deter anyone, and on a nice summers day it gets very busy, so it’s best to head there early. A short walk east, just over the other side of the headland is Elephant Rocks, thus named because the large grey rocks resemble a herd of elephants wading in the water…sadly it was too far for tired little legs to walk (and big legs carrying all our beach gear!) so we gave it a miss…next time!

Both beaches are located in William Bay National Park, 14kms south west of Denmark, an easy 20 min drive.

Ocean Beach Holiday park is in fact walking distance to Ocean Beach (big waves!) Wilson Inlet (home to about 400 black swans!) and Prawn Rock Channel which connects the two. The channel is very interesting, it changes colour dramatically depending on the tidal flow…with the tide flowing in from the ocean, it is clear as glass, with a strange greenish blue tinge, and the water changes to a tea stained colour as the water rushes out to sea from the inlet (the tea stain comes from tannins in gum leaves that line the shoreline in Wilson Inlet!) It’s a top place to keep an eye on smaller kids & less confident swimmers, and every now and then when the tide is coming in, kids body board up stream, then clamber out and do it again! It’s a lovely spot to go for a walk, and a little floating bridge connects the channel & a footpath that goes all the way down to the ocean.

Next week, we move from the beaches of Denmark, to the Valley of Giants!
We stayed at:

Denmark Ocean Beach Holiday Park
770 Ocean Beach Rd, Denmark 6333, Western Australia

You should try

A Vanilla Slice from the Denmark Bakery (they’re VERY good!)
Denmark Bakery
Shop 9, Fig Tree Square, 27 Strickland Street, Denmark WA 6333

Some locally produced wine from the Denmark Liquor store (it is a wine producing region afterall! We had a great local sparkling Shiraz!)
22 South Coast Highway, Denmark WA 6333

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ESPERANCE, WA

February 25, 2016

After the long drive across the Nullarbor, three days & three nights in Esperance was a welcome break…The town is great! Lots of young families, it’s super kid friendly, so much so that we spent our first afternoon enjoying the brand new playground and facilities on the foreshore, enjoying excellent coffee (for the first time in a few days!) from the Coffee Cat, a food truck that calls the new playground home. Bliss!

It’s not often that you see a picture of something, and it lives up to, or surpasses your expectations…Lucky Bay, in the Cap Le Grand National Park was BREATHTAKING. We were taken by the landscape all through Esperance, but this national park, a one hour drive out of town was incredible.

We saw plants we had not seen anywhere on our travels…unique, and ancient! The biodiversity was amazing, the flip side of all this was vast areas that had been devastated by the bushfires that swept through only weeks before.

We came up a hill, and on the other side, the whitest sand I’ve ever seen, paired with water that can only be described as aquamarine, and kangaroos on the beach (until Kinga decided she was going to teach them how to jump, bye Kangas!) The sand was squeaky (something to do with the high silicone content!?), much to the kids delight, and they revelled in running around making the sand screech…we walked up the south end of the beach, over mounds of dry (slightly pongy sea reeds) and climbed up the cliffs for a different perspective.

Also worth checking out, a short drive down the road is Thistle Cove, more of that beautiful pure white sand, and cliff looks outs to open ocean… next stop Antarctica should you get too close to the edge!

Fiona is an ex-Sydney sider (though originally from WA!) who now owns the Esperance Chalet Village, and was really one of the highlights of our stay…she went above and beyond to ensure we got the most out of our trip; from recommendations of where to eat,(Ollies Cafe for beautiful healthy breakkies & smoothies, call ahead, they are a bit random in their operating hours!) to walking us along a creek and over dunes to get to the local beach, to hooking the kids up with playmates (her kids are similar ages to ours) and pony rides! The chalets were a very welcome change from accommodation across the Nullarbor, with lovely beds (and bedspreads that were NOT bought in the 1980’s!) and mod cons. Top spot, just out of town!

Worth noting that Esperance is very far south, and seems to enjoy its own micro climate…It can get very fresh, even in summer, so it’s a good idea to pack some trackies & a hoody… the wind that blows in from the Southern Ocean is COLD!

Esperance has a feeling of a fast growing town and this hardly surprising given it’s proximity to so much natural beauty…Definitely worth the distance travelled!

We stayed at

Esperance Chalet Village

Frank Freeman Drive | Esperance, WA, 6450

We ate at

Ollies Cafe

51 The Esplanade, Esperance WA 6450

Taylors beach bar & Cafe

1 Taylor Street, Esperance WA 6450

Golden Orient Chinese

49 Dempster St, Esperance WA 6450

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NULLARBOR, SA & WA

February 18, 2016

When I started telling people that we were planning on driving from east coast to west, I was met with one reaction: Horror! “WHAT?! you can’t be serious? With the kids? It’ll be NULLARBORING! Why don’t you just FLY?!”

I was a bit concerned, but I needn’t have worried. I set aside my preconceived ideas of what an Aussie desert might look like, and took it all in. The driving was hard going at times, and if I’m honest, I only drove 2 hours out of the total drive, as I found passing road trains and other oversized vehicles pretty hairy. But I found the scenery enchanting. Varied too, for a desert; brimming with life. We saw loads of wildlife, both alive and not so alive (such variety in roadkill! Roos, lizards, snakes, birds, and even a bull!) and we enjoyed the subtle changes in landscape and plants between townships.

We stayed overnight in Ceduna (though I wish we’d stopped in Streaky or Smoky Bay, after the fun of Port Lincoln, Ceduna was a bit of a let down) and in Eucla, and finally Norseman. Eucla is the friendliest of stops on the eyre highway, and the staff at the motor hotel are lovely. Check out the specimens at the bar…they are well and truly pickled! Snakes! It was easy to imagine Norseman, now virtually a ghost town, in it’s hey day during the gold rush, as a vibrant outpost. The old Railway motel would have been quite something in its day.

So here’s a list of things that I recommend you do along the way!

Be sure to bring plenty of water! And it’s not a bad idea to stock up on fresh food in the bigger townships, as food along the eyre highway can be a bit hit and miss. Important to note too, that there are serious quarantine checks at the WA/SA border, and all fresh food must be surrendered. Yes, even that bunch of bananas you had every intention of eating 2 hours ago. And didn’t.

Play the Nullarbor Links: An 18 hole course that spans 1,365 kilometres with one hole in each participating town or roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia. An excellent excuse to stop, stretch your legs and avoid fatigue. At one hole there were two families of emus (complete with babies!) and a dead snake!
http://www.nullarborlinks.com

Stop off at the old Eucla Telegraph Station ruins (the station served as an admin office in 1877 for both Western Aus and South Aus!) then walk through dunes to the ocean. Wear shoes, take water, sunscreen and a hat. We forgot to!

Stop at one, or more of the Bunda Cliffs lookout points. Nothing between you & Antarctica…and so many hues of blues, there’s something mesmerising about the ultra blue waves crashing into the streaky layered cliffs.

Keep your eyes peeled for road trains and gigantic farming and mining vehicles and equipment. Interesting for the younger passengers, and it pays to be in front of them, not get stuck behind them, doing under 60 kms in a 110km stretch!

As a last resort, make sure you have a movie loaded on a charged iPad…!

And so, driving cross country was a rewarding rite of passage for this Australia loving Kiwi! I’ve done it now, and I am glad I did.

We stayed at:
BIG 4 Ceduna Tourist Park
29 McKenzie Street Ceduna

The Railway Motel
106 Roberts Street Norseman

Eucla Motor Hotel
Eyre Highway Eucla

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