We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of Country throughout Australia. We recognise the continuing connection to land, water, language and community. We pay our respect to the cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
We are committed to walking lightly on the land of your ancestors, only taking knowledge and understanding, only leaving footprints and the whisper of our spirits, breathing in the awe of this great land we are privileged to call home.
We come from the land of the Yugara and Yumambeh peoples and have stopped to rest and learn in the lands of the traditional owners, the Menang Noongar people. These significant coastal areas are important to the Wadandi (salt water) people and we are grateful to walk their Boodja (country).
As we neared the bottom left hand corner of the country the grass grew greener, the farm animals became more abundant and all the towns ended in ‘up’ (which means place in the Noongar language). I had heard that Albany was beautiful, but unfortunately the Hopetoun rain of the morning accompanied us. Rain, rain, rain. And then more rain. It was difficult to see the beauty. We went to a nearby pub, Hybla, for dinner. It was lovely. And warm. And dry. After dinner we returned to camp and went straight to bed. The only way to stay warm and dry!
The following day the kids braved the water park but this didn’t last too long. Teddy was freezing and Joey’s protruding hip bones were getting bruised up from the slide’s joints as he went down head first on his tummy. It reminded me of my teenage bruised hips after a day at Wet n Wild. Leon unsuccessfully chased some fish from the jetty that afternoon, and the kids had a few rounds of mini golf which they loved. (…Excuse me, I’ve been corrected. Leon tells me he in fact caught a small herring on a blade. Bravo Lenny, bravo…) I stayed at camp and put together something like an ANZAC slice, and cooked a most delicious Rendang, grateful for my trip to the Asian grocer before leaving home. This meal, and the fact that we booked an ensuite site, were the clear highlights of my stay in Albany. While I’m sure I would view the town differently had I experienced it in different weather circumstances, I have absolutely no desire to go back and don’t feel like I missed a thing.
After two rainy nights we packed up and headed to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and the Margaret River Region which I was pretty excited about. We stopped for a coffee in Manjimup where I also spent a short time on the phone to some friends who used to live in Margs to get all the local hot tips, and how our three nights and two days would be best spent. As both Matt and Nat suggested – we were to learn that this was definitely not enough time!
From Manjimup, GPS took us the fastest but most ridiculous route down 7 Day Road. This road is stunning. Had I not been hauling over 5 tonne, without ABS etc. I’m sure it would have been a glorious experience. The road is lined with freshly growing produce, there are signs for the Manjimup signature black truffles, and where it’s not fruit orchids it’s beautiful thick tall timber forest. As well as kilometre after kilometre of wet, windy, hilly, severely corrugated, rutted, narrow, red dirt road, with the most unnatural road camber. This road was comparable to the worst of the roads we’ve travelled. And… I believe there was a route that was fully sealed highway, that would have only taken an extra 5 minutes. Once again, had I not been towing, I’m sure I would have very much enjoyed the picturesque scenery.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park: Day One
Advice was to camp in Boranup Forest, but for whatever reason we struggled to find accurate directions and instead stayed at the Conto Campground. Conto is lovely, and we had a pretty private site along with a picnic table and fire pit. A bonus was that firewood was supplied. Unfortunately, the supplied timber simply did not burn. Even when it had the bejeezes blasted out of it with mapgas and some fire starters thrown in. Unknowingly we chose a site right near the group camping area which must be a an over night stop for those doing the 123km Cape to Cape Walk Track along the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. A walk I’d very much like to do one day. The group staying there was an excitable group of late teens/early twenties who were having a great time, but reminded me that my break from managing teenagers has not yet been long enough!
While the weather was cool, the rain that had me frustrated in Albany had significantly eased to an occasional drizzle with some lingering cloud. While I would have liked to have frequented the Margaret River Farmers Market, unfortunately it didn’t make the day one itinerary. After breakfast we headed to Boranup Forest as our first stop. It’s spectacular. Much more beautiful than Conto. And quiet. The beauty of the towering Karri trees was mesmerising. Not only the sight, but the smell of eucalypt. I felt in good company as the sun peeped through the noble Karri giants as though it was walking with me. Weaving threads of light into a sheath and that would catch me should I fall. It’s moments like this where I wish our time was endless. I could have walked and sat and breathed with these trees for hours, but our visit was brief.
We had heard there was a forest maze to visit so we stopped in there, it was just across the road from the Boranup. It was not what I had imagined- epic forest trees forming a luscious labyrinth. It was rather a cute little maze for a bit of fun. It was definitely a maze and not a labyrinth. Lots of dead ends and a bit of a challenge to find the centre and your way back out again. The kids enjoyed it, and thought the complementary piece of fruit as you left was the perfect parting gift. Next stop was a must do for us; exploring Jewel Cave. When it comes to caves you trust Matt’s opinion and he said Jewel was the biggest and the best with the most interesting formations… We were sold.
This experience alone was enough to confirm that the experiential open classroom of this trip delivers far richer learning than any classroom within a bricks and mortar school. The kids’ engagement in this experience was phenomenal. From watching them test themselves and overcome the fear of going more than 40 meters under ground (especially when the guide clearly highlighted the point of no return), to the intelligent questions asked with confidence throughout the guided tour, and their wonderings and amazement that continued long after leaving the cave. The stories that accompany the epic underground structure are equally as amazing. How the cave was first discovered, the remains of a Tasmanian Tiger that were recovered and preserved. The whole experience was incredible. Our family really enjoyed when the guide turned off all light in the cave when we were closest to the deepest part. It was the blackest of blacks. I wished the small crowd would have been silent so I could have a deep and significant experience, but it wasn’t meant to be. Apparently after a certain amount of time in such darkness, people begin to hallucinate.
After Jewel Cave we thought we’d swing by Hamelin Bay which is known for its sting rays that swim in the ankle deep water of the beach, and despite it not being prime season, we were treated to quite a few rays as we walked along the rocky shore or stood atop the cliffs and looked out. It was here that again I could tell that the kids have been saturated in natural beauty and amazing experiences. Had we been fishing in Currumbin Creek for the day and seen rays this large, this close to the shore, let alone this many, it would have been the absolute coolest thing our kids had ever experienced and they would have talked about it for weeks. Years probably. While they thought it was cool, the degree of excitement and amazement was not what it would have been were we living our usual every day life. We are all so incredibly spoilt for experience.
As we were leaving Hamelin bay a group of people on the beach caught our attention. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, but eventually we watched one man stand on the beach holding a large fishing rod with an electric reel, while another man used a drone to transport a large trace with multiple large baited hooks far far out to sea, and release it. We didn’t hang around to see if they had any luck, but it was cool to watch.
I am the one chasing the sun, and I will watch the sun set at any opportunity. We drove back to camp, but drove past it and continued down to Conto Beach where the sun was setting beautifully over the ocean and the kids enjoyed exploring the rock pools and watching the waves crash fiercely into the walls of rock that frame the ocean.
Once back at camp we had a simple quesadilla dinner and watched the last hour of Avatar that we just hadn’t got to yet.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park: Day Two
Again using the advice of locals we had mapped out our day. First stop was Redgate Beach. It was a beautiful beach, and is said to have great fishing. Today it was too blustery to spend time here with the family, so we continued on to check out Prevelly/Gnarsbup. The Margaret River Pro was just days before so they were still packing down. It was a lively little suburb on a Sunday morning, super cute houses, people meeting for coffee or catching a few waves. Our kids can’t believe people surf in this weather.
We walked down to the mouth of Margaret River. Leon and Malachi fished while Joey, Theodore and I explored the rock pools that were alive with crabs and an abundance of snails. ‘Layla’ a bronze statue of a woman breastfeeding a baby whale, that rests in the rock pools by the mouth, really took Teddy’s interest. He was totally infatuated. It was created by artist Russell Sheridan and Theodore was captivated. He couldn’t stop smiling, as he sat in her lap, gave her a massage and inspected her face.
Leon recently noticed the alignment of the trailer wheels is out so we stopped in at Bunnings to get get some supplies to help with doing this job on the road, and afterwards stopped in town for a look around and walked the main Street. It’s a low key, relaxed and pretty town with a nice feel about it. While temping to stop in at the pub for lunch, we drove a little out of town to visit Bootleg Brewing, another recommendation.
What a place this was! Quiet, but the perfect atmosphere for a family friendly afternoon. A nice billabong was the view, and on the lawn there was a huge chess set and board ready to be played. There was also a playground and corn hole (a family favourite), it was great. The chilli beer was awesome and the kids would say the burger they had here was the best of the trip so far.
How do you come to Margaret River and not visit a winery? I couldn’t leave this place without sampling the wine, but yes, we definitely didn’t spend enough time here. We dropped in to Domaine Naturaliste Wines at Wilyabrup and purchased three of their best – if only we had more room! I could have listened to this sommelier all day. She spoke about wine like it was poetry, but completely lacked all pretentiousness. Zero wank factor. Which I very much appreciate. I left with a red, a white and a rose. I’ll share more about them as I drink them!
It was then on to Canal Rocks, which was another little piece of natural eye candy. Especially as the sun decided she was done for the day and threw her amber colour palette across the sky, soaking the clouds gold as a perfect accompaniment to the tranquil blues of the sea and sky, and the burnished copper of the rocks. Our kids could rock climb and explore these coastal rocks for hours and hours. The perfect ending to such an enjoyable day.
Side note: Here in the Margaret River Region… North = South.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park: Day Three
Today is leaving day and we have two days to get to Kalbarri to stay on schedule. Before we go, we must align these wheels! I wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that Margs had turned on the most ideal weather for our departure and wheel alignment endeavours.
We packed up and hitched up and went in search of a random place that was level enough and somewhat appropriate to carry out the job. It took us a while to find this spot, but we got there. While in the process of realignment, we discover that one of the tyres was so worn the canvas was exposed. So we have to change the tyre. While changing the tyre we learn the bearings are loose. So we tighten the bearings. And then… We do it all on the other side. And re-check the alignment. While this might not sound like an ordeal, and we did a stellar job of accepting it as part of the adventure, it was time consuming and somewhat frustrating. Especially considering we were on the side of the road, in the dirt, operating with a limited tool selection. If an extra few hours in Margs was to be had, I can think of a plethora of better ways to spend it! This area of the world is one of the most arresting natural environments I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing, and I am already planning my return.
Finally on the road and we need to reassess our plans. After a very quick late lunch from McDs, I am reminded again that I don’t miss other people’s children… with the exception of a few. We were there at 3:30 and I had no intention of hanging around to be amongst the after school shenanigans any longer than necessary.
After sussing out how far we could get before dark, and deciding to spend the following night at Sandy Cape before heading to Kalbarri and decreasing our Kalbarri stay to one night, we decided to take a risk on a 24hr rest stop at Preston Beach.
Once again we find ourselves driving directly into the sun setting in the west as we leave the highway to stay on the coast. There was a close call with a Kangaroo who decided to play chicken, but we all survived. Preston Beach was a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and an evening, even better because it was free!
I’m glad you enjoyed Margs. I walked from our camp in the NP to Redgate beach and back.