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July 14, 2006

Australia Bound

It is such a rush to purchase tickets for a trip. It feels like you are walking to the edge of the high diving board and jumping. And doesn't the water feel great once you have jumped in?

We have decided to go to Australia this year. It took a long time to decide just where we wanted to go. We went to many tempting slide presentations at Wide World Books. Bhutan? Turkey? Balkans? We thought about NYC or Rome since G hasn't been to either city. But just a couple of weeks ago, G was reading one of his plant books and came across a map of the Mediterranean plant regions of the world. It turned out that we have been to four of the five regions, California, Chile, Southern Europe and South Africa. There was one region left, Western Australia. That started us down the path to Perth.

The more and more that we read, we realized it would be perfect for our interests. And it would fit in the time we wanted to travel, late September - Early October.

We spent last week discussing and debating how to organize our trip. At first, we were going to only focus on the Southwestern corner but the more and more we read, we realized that we should do a loop going north a bit and then down south.

After two weeks in Western Australia, we'll return to Sydney for a few days of sightseeing in Sydney.

Now to start booking accommodations.

July 16, 2006

Itinerary

We sat down and worked out most of our itinerary. Here is what I'm starting with

Sept 24 - overnight in Sydney
Sept 25 to Sept 28 - Perth
Sept 29 - Jurien Bay or Cervantes
Sept 30 to Oct 1 - Kalbarri
Oct 2 - Dalwallinu
Oct 3 - Narrogin
Oct 4 to Oct 6 - Albany
Oct 7 to Oct 10 - Margaret River
Oct 11 to Oct 15 - Sydney

We were not going to go North at first but after reviewing several wildflower tours we decided to go up. The area between Jurien Bay and Kalbarri is supposed to be great for wildflowers but it all depends upon the rain. So far, the winter rains have not come to Western Australia and we may not be able to see the fields of flowers. Oh well, we still may be able to see some of the more perennial flowers and shrubs.

July 24, 2006

Itinerary on Google Maps

Pauline posted about the moderators traveling this summer and listed a link to this blog. I guess I need to start keeping it up.

I now have my itinerary on a google map. It is so cool. I mentioned to Pauline that I wanted to try to do this and she said she could do it on Slow Travel. I just had to get the latitude coordinates and create an xml file.

I have all our planned stops on the map. I hope to put more details such as the parks we want to visit. But for now it is just the towns we plan to stay in. Full screen is best viewing and scroll town a bit to see all the spots.

Google map of our trip.

My del.icio.us tags

I've been bookmarking sites using del.icio.us. It is great to use when you are working from different workstations or out of town. Let's see if I can see my tagroll as a cloud.

Kalbarri and Margaret River booked

It is a school holiday At the beginning of October while we are in Australia. I've heard it is busier during school holidays so I wanted to get the more popular places booked.

Kalbarri - We booked at the Kalbarri Palm Resort. It is a Best Western motel. Nothing fancy. But I might change my mind and try the Gecko Lodge instead. I've come across several 'adult-only' accommodations especially in the holiday areas.

Margaret River - I've been torn between two places. The Hilltop Studios sounded very nice and romantic. Studio cottages located on a private farm. It is only 10 minutes away to the town or beach.

The other place rental is in the town of Margaret River; Margaret River Macs. It is great looking. It has two bedrooms, a large kitchen and nice interior. It is within walking distance to restaurants.

The larger rental and walking distance was very appealing but we decided to take the Hilltop Studio instead to be able to be out in the country.

Decisions... That is always the difficult part. At least it is a start.

August 2, 2006

Perth, Turquoise Coast and Albany

We have booked a few more accommodations. For Perth, we will be staying 4 nights at the Sebel Perth East apartments. We went for a 1 bedroom river view apartment. I wanted a full kitchen even though we may not cook. A river view should be nice. Here is what Frommer's says about the apartment.

On the way to Kalbarri, we have decided to stay in Jurien Bay instead of Cervantes. It just seemed as if there would be more facilities in Jurien Bay. Plus, the Best Western was booked. I've found a new B&B, The Heights in Jurien Bay. The Jurien Bay Hotel doesn't seem to have any web presence so I decided not to call. I tried an email in the Lonely Planet and got no response. The Heights have been very responsive which is great. I think it will be good for the Turquoise Coast.

For Albany, we were trying a B&B between Albany and Porongurup. They have a botany focus and would have been great. But I haven't gotten a response from email. So instead we have gone with what was our original first choice, Balneaire Seaside Resort. The owner has been great to work with and very responsive. It is a little bigger than we need since it is a two bedroom but it is near Middleton Beach which will be nice. I also considered the Foreshore Apartments. A Fodor's member stayed there and had good things to say about the apartment. But the beach won out.

So we have almost all our accommodations. We only have to do the 'Wheatland' area between Kalbarri and Albany. That is a little bit harder because these are small hotel/motels with no email.

But I am starting to finally get excited. Just under two months!

August 11, 2006

Mail from Australia

Stamp_web.jpg I got a packet from The Heights today. It was exciting. It contained several brochures on parks in the region. The mail service between Australia and US is very good. It took about 5 days. That better than mailing a letter across the US.

The owner also had a short note about the current expectations for wildflowers and some recommendations for driving in the area. We'll definitely bring some good walking shoes so we can go out into the 'bush'.

I'm also studying a great wildflower guide from the Wildflower Society of Western Australia. It is a great site with lots of suggested places to go in each region. Right now I'm looking at Eneabba. I can find most of the roads suggested on Google Maps.

I still have a couple of sites to book and Sydney. Maybe I'll get those done this weekend.

August 25, 2006

One month to Australia

Where did the time go? Here it is almost the end of August. And it is less than a month before our departure for OZ. I am getting so excited.

We have almost everything done except for one night in Dalwallinu and overnight at the Sydney airport. I also need to get a car.

This week we booked The Blacket for our stay in Sydney. They had a Cityscape Loft suite and we splurged and took it. We are thinking it might be a bit like the Metropole in Cape Town which we enjoyed. We also booked a motel in Narrogin.

September 20, 2006

Three more sleeps

I've signed out at work and tomorrow we pack. I'd been very excited to leave except our kitty Mina is sick. We realized that she had stopped eating two weeks ago. It turns out that she has Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) and needs daily care. She's somewhat stabilized but is still not eating a lot. Fortunately, the assistants at our Vet will do home care so we have a assistant who will come by daily and give her fluids and check on her. That is such a relif. There is still a possibility that something terrible will happen while we are gone but we know that she is in the best hands.

We are off on Saturday. We are flying via Honolulu and Sunday night we will be in Sydney. We are going to stay the night at the airport and then on to Perth.

Then it is 4 days in Perth to visit the area and see Freemantle and other sights in the area. We'll also get a chance to see the King Park Wildflower show. Then we pick up our car for the Western Australia Road trip. Up the coast; Jurien Bay and Kalbarri. We will hopefully see some flowers around Eneabba. Then we'll head back south. Originally we were going to go through Dalwallinu but since it has been so dry, we are going to leave that night open so we can adjust our itinerary based upon where the flowers are. I suspect we may go through Moorea. Then on to Naggorin and on to 3 nights in Albany. Next is Margaret River and then on to Sydney.

We hope to blog as we go along so check back.

September 25, 2006

G'Day from Perth

Here we are in Fremantle on the shores of the Indian Ocean. We are on our second day here in Australia. We are here to see the wildflowers. It is the 5th Mediterranean area in the world and the only one we have not visited. Until now.

Our trip to Sydney went smoothly. The lines at Sea-Tac were long but went smoothly. Of course, I got caught with a banned item - a corkscrew! Fortunately it was just an extra one we had thrown in the pack a while back and I didn't mind losing it.

The trip to Honolulu was fine. We arrived on time and had about an hour layover to change planes. We wanted a snack and ended up grabbing some trail mix before our second leg. We had tried to stay awake but the movies sucked so we did sleep a while.

Our arrival in Sydney was a breeze. Our bags were the first off for once and no time to go through customs. We found the shuttle and headed over to the Holiday Inn at the airport - functional and clean. A nice long hot shower and then to sleep. It was nice breaking up the long trip with the quick overnight.

The next morning we woke around 6am and had the expensive and boring breakfast buffet. We were hungry so it did the trick. We took the shuttle on to domestic for our next leg. We were surprised at how quick we checked in and got through security. No taking off shoes here. Our flight was on Virgin Blue the low-cost no frills airline of Australia. Nothing free on this flight. $2.00 for headsets and $2.50 for a Coke. We arrived on time around 1pm and caught the shuttle to the Sebel Residence.

The apartment is nice with a great view of a small inlet on the Swan River. The decor is modern in grey and greens. It is well equipped with a full kitchen and even a washer/dryer. I love the bathroom with the modern fixtures and large walk in shower. But it was time for a quick exploration of the CBD.

We walked into the CBD since we needed to stretch our legs. It was about 15 minutes. We noticed the birds right off - parrots and cockatoos. Lots of noise. George also noticed the plants in bloom including huge bottlebrushes.

Overall Perth is much smaller and quieter than we expected for a city of 1.4 million people. The CBD was pretty quiet especially since it was Monday. We made a stop at the Visitor's information to get information about the flowers. It sounds they have finished blooming already in the North but we will see what we can find starting Friday.

Most of the restaurants are closed on Monday but we found a nice cafe No 44 King Street and had a late lunch. I had the spring risotto - peas, fava beans and aspargus with a nice scoop of goat cheese and George had the goat cheese pizza. The breads are made on site and both dishes were yummy. I had a local white semillon-Sauvignon Blanc wine and George had a local microbrew.

Next it was to the Woolworths for breakfast provisions. Wow! was that crowded at 5:00pm when everyone was picking up stuff after work. The line snaked through the store but moved very quickly. We caught the last free CAT bus back to the apartment and watched the sun set and lights come on the riverfront walk.

The travel finally caught up with us. I fell asleep at 7:30 with the TV going and the lights on. George said I snored! Of course, I say I didn't. :) He was asleep soon after and we both slept a full night.

Today, we walked a little bit more around Perth before catching a ferry to Fremantle. It was a lovely hour ride down the Swan River. The houses that line the river are gorgeous. It feels a lot like a cross between California and Miami. The weather had been fine with bright sunshine.

Tomorrow we hope to go to the Aquarium and on Thursday the wildflower show. The show will get us familiar with what we can see. We'll pick up our car on Friday and head off in search of flowers.

September 28, 2006

Keep to the Left

"Keep to the left - Look right". It is my mantra. I repeat it over and over. I am struggling to remember to walk to the left and go up stairs on the left. Going right is such a habit.

The weather continues to be "fine" as they say here in OZ. The sun is brilliant and strong. We'll use lots of sunscreen. It seems a bit hot for the beginning of spring.

We left off in Fremantle. We finished our sightseeing with lunch at Little Creatures Brewery. The brewery is located in an enormous previous boat hanger over two stories high. The tall beer tanks are behind the bar, the latest tunes are playing and it is great place to watch people. The beer is great. It has become our favorite brew. Unfortunately the food was way too salty for us. We had barely recovered from airplane dehydration. The last thing we needed was salt.

We walked around and viewed the architecture which is somewhat like the French quarter with lots of rod-iron railings on two story buildings. Then it was on to the Western Australia Maritime museum. The building is shaped similar to a boat with sails and is big enough to house several large boats including the winner of the America's Cup - the Challenger II. It won the America's cup in Perth in the '90s. The museum details the influence of the sea on Western Australia from early Indian Ocean traders to whalers to immigrants arriving from Europe to modern day sports.

Wednesday we made a trip to Hillary's Bay to see AQWA - the Aquarium of WA. We got a chance to see the local fishes including sharks and mantra rays up close and personal in the walk-thru underwater tank. We also saw many of te tropical fishes of the Indian ocean including several species that we had in our marine tank several years ago. We were also wow'd by the Sea Dragon - a leafy seahorse.

We returned to town and had time to visit the art museum and saw some neat aboriginal art. I must comment on how easy it has been to get around by bus and train. So much better than Seattle.

Thursday - it was time for the Kings Garden Wildflowe show. It was a perfect introduction for George. It was nice selection of wildflowers grown in pots and setup in backyard displays similar to the NW flower show. Lots of emphasis on growing natives including lectures and examples. There were also labeled displays of natives and orchids which George studied to become familar with what we would soon be seeing. We also took the guided bush walk in the park. Part of the park has been left native which gives city dwellers and easy way to experience the bush. There are also a botanical garden separated into the different regions of WA and a tree top walk. But best of all, the park has stunning views of the city and river. Many people were out lunching with picnics.

Tonight is our final night in Perth. Our apartment has been perfect. Tomorrow - we head north.

September 30, 2006

West Coast Eagles 85 - Sydney Swans 84

We have gotten a quick introduction to Aussie Rules Football or "footy". Today was the Grand Final between the local team - the West coast Eagles and Sydney. We were on the road driving to Kalbarri and it was deserted. We pulled into Geraldton for lunch at the local pub, the Freemason's Hotel. The town was like a ghost town but the bar was full of fans. We could barely place our order at the bar over the din of cheers. They were watching the game on three big screens. Everyone was decked out in blue and yellow - the Eagles colors.

Aussie football is like non-stop football without any padding and the players all wear tight little shorts. You can't pass the ball as you do in US but you can kick it. Scoring is by kicking. Even if I didn't understand it, I did enjoy watching the players. :)

We had to move on before the end of the game so we found it on the radio. It was a nailbitter ending. But the Eagles prevailed and won by one point. Every town we passed through had fans. We could tell from the balloons, streamers and flags. And they were still partying when we arrived in Kalbarri. But I've gotten ahead of myself.

We picked up our car on Friday and it was a snap getting our of Perth. No traffic. We left on the Great Northern Highway which took us out through Swan Valley. We switched over to the Brand Hwy. I am surprsed at how easy it is to drive this time. I'm certain it is partly due to driving on the left last year in South Africa and partially due to having an automatic for once. But there is a unique item on the highway here - road trains. These are trucks with several trailers attached. They are very long and definitely a challeng to pass on a 2 lane highway.

Our destination was Jurien Bay about 200 km north of Perth. It should have been a 3 hour drive but we got distracted by the plants. All along the hwy is native bush - banksias, grevillas and other prickly bush plants the equivalent of the chapparel in California. We had heard good things about the flowers at Badgingara so we stopped at the road house for lunch and information. A roadhouse is like a freeway gas station minimarket with food to go or a small restaurant. We had a couple of sandwitches and picked up a brochure on a local walk at Phoebee's reserve and went off to explore. Two hours latere we were still finding new things but we needed to head on so we could
make the Pinnacles at Cervantes before sundown.

We found our B&B, The Heights and we were welcomed by Alan, the owner. It is a very cozy and clean B&B - perfect for our quick stay. Alan gave us some information about the town and the Pinnacles and a warning about the Kangaroos. They come out in the evening and night and are similar to deer in the US. Very unpredictable so watch out. You don't want to hit one.

The Pinnacles were about 40 minutes away and pretty interesting. Sandstone pillars in the bush created by wind. In the late afternoon light they turn golden. We stayed until sundown and slowly drove back. So far we have seen more dead kangaroos on the road than live ones. We have had more luck seeing emus. We even saw a baby.

We got an early start on Saturday and drove into Leseur National Park. We hit the mother lode of wildflowers. Everywhere we looked there was something new to see. I couldn't keep George in the car. He'd wander ahead looking for plants and I had to drive up and pick him up. Hopefully on our wan back down to Albany we can stop and explore more of the park.

Today we plan to explore the parks and shores of Kalbarri. Time to slather on the sunscreen and find some more flowers.

October 3, 2006

Fossicking for Flowers

West Australia (WA) is in a drought and had very little rain last winter. So we have been "fossicking" (Aussie for searching) for flowers. This involves stopping along the roadside and combing the brush along the sides of the roads for something in bloom. Because of the drought, we have seen no large fields of everlastings. These are "ephemeral" flowers blooming only when there is sufficient rain. Then the roadsides are lined with swatches of white and pink flowers. Now we have only saw the red dirt on the roadsides.

But we have found many of the prickly grey Kwongon shrubs in bloom. These are banksias, grevillas and the most familiar plant to US gardeners - the red bottlebrush bush. Yesterday we also looked specifically for orchids. These can be tough to find because they are wispy or camophloged to blend in with the brush. They also grow on the ground much like our native lady slipper orchids. But as we travelled south it has become cooler and wetter - better conditions for orchids. And we have found several yesterday in Cranbrook. We hadn't planned on stopping in this small town on the edge of the stirlings but we saw a large sign for a wildflower show. Of course, we couldn't pass it. The local wildflower club had a nice display especially give then poor wildflower year. We asked where we might see some flowers and they directed us to the local natural area. There was a 1km walk and we spotted 6 orchids on the walk.

October 5, 2006

Rolling through the Wheatlands

We are now in the Great Southern. The past few days have been spent on the road moving from Kalbarri in the Midwest to Albany in the Great South.

We enjoyed our time in Kalbarri. Even though it is a school holiday, it was not extremely busy. There were lots of opportunities to take guided or adventure tours but we decided to drive it ourselves.

First was a stop at the Wildflower Center, of course. We took the walk but found very little left in bloom. And it was getting very hot! It was around 30 in the region. Next we drove the dirt road into Kalbarri National Par to see the gorges cut by the Murchison River. There were several overviews which gave us views into the deep red colored gorges cut by the river. There were a couple of trails down to the river but it was too hot for me. And the flies were really annoying. I think they are attracted to any type of moisture so they try to crawl into your mouth, nose and eyes. And the more you sweat, the more they come. I was certain I was going to swallow one but fortunately never did.

It was time to leave and we decided to stay the night back at Jurien Bay. We enjoyed our stay at The Heights B&B and they had such a comfy bed. We decided it would be a good place to stop for the next leg.

Once we got near the town of Eneabba, we took several side dirt roachs to search for flowers. We found one or two new ones but not much. The flowers had been better closer to the coast. But we did find a blue tongued lizard also called a 'stubby' because it has a fat stubby tail. It is not a small lizard like geckos but a large fat reptile on short little legs. It also has a dark blue tongue that it sticks out when you get close. Of course, George wanted to get close. We found him munching on a Kangaroo carcass. We also saw and dodged several later on trying to cross the dirt road. And we finally saw some live kangaroos. Coming back from dinner to The Heights, a couple jumped across the road just as everyone had warned us. Up until then, all we had seen was roadkill.

Tuesday was our large drive day to Narrogin. We left early so we could stop a bit if we saw any flowers. We didn't even make it back to the Brand Hwy before pulling over. We pulled into the Smoke Tree Nature Reserve and spent a bit walking through the bush. It was close enough to Leseur to have a good amount in bloom.

The terrain changed as we got farther inland from the coast. We were now into the wheatbelt. This area has large rolling hills dotted with eucalytus trees. There were green hills planted with wheat, yellow hills planted with canola and purple hills planted with blue weedy echiums. The purple hills were very pretty. They had a hazy quality to them that made them seem to float on the horizon. The roadsides or 'verges' did not have the boarder of bush like the Brand Hwy.

We did have one stop planned Wongan Hills. The news reports on the wildflowers that we picked up in Perth had said it was anothe hotspot and it was. We drove up to the top of Mt. O'Brien and the drive was lined with bush in bloom. But the weather had changed and it was really really windy at the top. The rain also started so we quickly moved on. The remainder of our drive took us through the Avon Valley east of Perth. Several of the small towns had charming houses. We rolled into Narrogin just in time to pop into the local info center to find out what was locally in bloom. They were very helpful but unfortunately we had missed the bloom. The heat had dried out all the flowers.

Weds we were back on the road this time to Albany. First we checked out the local Nature reserve - Foxes Lair - which just happened to be right across the street from our motel. Everything was dry so we headed off again. We had plans to investigate the wineries and Banksia farm near Mt. Barker. The farm had tours and there was a chance to make the noon tour but as we rolled into the town of Cranbrook we saw signs for a wildflower show. We decided to check it out. It was great. The local women have permits and they go out and collect specimens in bloom. They bring them back and display them in vases. We got to see several Darwinia - Stirling Bells - a gorgeous large red bell shaped flower on heather like follage. It was a plant George had specifically wanted to see. There was also a white one with a red lip that was native to only Cranbrook.

The woman at the flower show directed us to the community nature reserve. What a lucky tip! We spotted orchides right off and ended up finding 6 different species. I love the airy spider orchids with their long spidery petals.

Next we headed on to the Banksia Far. The owners bought the property in 1985. At that time it was a large field. They have since built several buildings and planted the area with banksias. They are fanatical about banksias and in the past 20 years they have gone all around Australia collecting every species that grows in Australia. Kevin, the owner, gave us a talk on how the aborigial people used banksias. They used the large seed pods to carry fire from camp to camp. The pods burn slowly due to a natural fire-resistant center. They would light the pod and then wrap it with a tree bark that didn't burn. This would keep it smoldering. They would then stuff it in a pouch made of roo skin. It would keep burning slowly as they moved to the next camp. We also learned how the plant was pollinated and how the seeds are dispersed. We then took a walk around the property to see the diverse types - from large trees up to 30 feet in size to small ones that grew underground to survive in windy conditions.

We finally rolled into Albany about 5pm and ehecked into our apartment for the next few days - the Balneaire. It is a great apartment - spacious two bedroom townhouse near the beach. It is fully equipped so the first thing we did was laundry. It is also a little cool but the apartment has a woodstove. Firewall, kindling and started are all provided. We had a great meal last night at Tanglehead Brewery. It is a new brewery in town. George had salmon on a nicoise salad and I had prawn risotto. Both were yummy. The beer was also great. I had a white wheat beer brewed in German Weiss style and George had an IPA. We're going back on Friday.

Today we are heading to the Stirling Range and a hike up Bluff Knoll. It happens to be the highest peak in WA. But not very high compared to what we have hiked in the US. It is about 3500ft and the hike is about 1500ft.

October 6, 2006

Bluff Knoll

One of our goals of the trip was to climb Bluff Knoll in the Sitrling National Park. At 1073 meters (~3200Ft) it is the hightest point in Western Australia. The Stirlings rise up like islands on a sea of green farm land. They remind me of the Sky Islands in the desert around Tucson.

We ate breakfast and got going around 9am. It is about 100k or 1 hour drive throught the cattle and sheep farms to the Stirlings. The terrain turns into mallee scrub once your enter the park. We signed in at the turnoff and headed up to the parking lot at the base of the mountain. The lot was about 1/2 full and we noticed right off the amount of families preparing for the climb. We saw a lot more young children on the trail than we would on a similar trail in the US. Surprising.

We grabbed our packs and headed out. The trail is 6.2 km rt (~4 miles) and 634 meters up (~2000ft). It starts out on a paved trail for a short while and then starts to climb. The trail is in great condition but it had a lot more stairs than I expected. I was soon groaning at the stairclimb. The terrain was scrubby mix of eucalyptus, acacias and other plants just about at shoulder height.

As we climbed the views got better and better. The parking lot looked like a small dot. We were so fortunate to have great weather. A bit warm but no mist or rain. The bluff is frequently covered in low clouds or very windy. It did get windy as we got to the first saddle. It whipped across the low spot almost blowing off our hats. The trail curved around to the other side of the peak and we climbed the last 1/2 mile to the top. It was crowded with families huddling in the shrubs to avoid the wind. But everyone was happy - eating their lunches and snapping photos.

The trip down was fast but we got a chance to talk with some of the other hikers. Everyone is surprised that we are from the US. Americans rarely visit Western Australia. We explain that we've come for the wildflowers and discuss the drought. We're always getting asked how we find Australia and we always answer - We love it!

October 7, 2006

Mucking through the Swamps

Cephalotus follicularis

Another goal of the trip was to find Cephalotus, an extremely rare endemic carnivorous plant that only occurs in Albany. It is also called the Albany pitcher plant. We knew it was in the area but didn't know where to find it. But we found out about a site from a local enthusiast who promised that they would kill George if he told anyone where it could be found. So mum's the word on exactly where we found it. :)

So off we went to explore the bogs near Albany. You know you really love someone when you're willing to explore swamps. Or just crazy! The instructions led us to the end of a deadend road and down a sandy track to a swappy area. We knew we were in the right spot when we heard the frogs but it took some seaching still to find them. But we did. George was in botanic heaven. He's grown them at home but to see them in the wild is always a joy. We took lots of photos. We also found a couple of other carnivorous plants in the area - a bladderwort with a nice purple bloom and a couple sundews which seem to be everywhere.

Next it was time for some normal sightseeing. We drove out to Torndirrup Park on Flinders Peninsula. Gorgeous beaches but windy. It is so windy the city of Albany has built a wind far. The area around the wind turbines was also a good spot for flowers. There was lots in bloom and it was quite colorful. But it was also very interesting to see the giant turbines that generate 70% of the electricity used by Albany.

We had one more spot to check out - Two Peoples Bay and Little Beach. Little Beach had repeatedly been recommended so we drove to the east of Albany and out to the Bay. Along the way we had a chance to see a group of kangaroos lounging around in a field of alfalfa. They were laying around with just their heads poking up out of the plants. But one or two would stand up and watch us as we moved along the side of the field taking pictures. They are so much like deer - cautious and a bit stupid.

We drove on through the scarlet banksia forest to Little Beach. It was almost deserted. The beach was brilliant white sand with turquoise water. We took off our shoes and waded into the cool water - definitely warmer than what we find in Washington.

The coast line reminds me a lot of Northern California around Sonoma and Mendocino. Rocky coves and green fields. But the color of the water is so beautiful here with a wide range of blue. I can just imagine what it would be like here in the summer.

October 8, 2006

Big Trees

Saturday was time to leave Albany. We could have stayed several more days. There is so much to do in the area and our apartment was very comfortable. Next stop Margaret River.

The drive took us through the big southern forests. Huge trees of different varieties of Eucalytus. At times I thought I was in the hills behind Berkeley. The roads are lined with tall trees and the air is very aromatic. There are three major varieties in the region, Marri, Jarrah and Karri. Most of the region has been logged in the early parts of the 1900's but they have lets lots of the region grow back. You won't find the huge trees like in the past but they still grow very fast compared with the coniferous forests in the US.

We stopped at the tree top walk in Walpole. It is a 600 meter metal path ramp that raises up to 40 meters above the forest in the tops of the tall tingle trees. These are also eucalyptus but have huge wide bases. The walk is very easy but a bit spooky because it sways in the breeze.

We stopped for lunch in Pemberton, a former mill town that is now becoming a wine region. We visited another microbrewery - Jarrah Jacks. We had a sampler rack along with lunch. The restaurant overlooked the vineyards. The food and beer was good but Tanglehead in Albany was so much better. I miss their Southern White already.

We arrived in Margaret River around 5 as we expected. Our home for the next 3 days is Hilltop Studios. It is located about 6km out of town on a famr. Very secluded and peaceful. Each studio unit is separate. The north side of the studio is filled with windows and light. So relaxing to just sit and gaze over the field. We even saw a group of Kangaroos bounce by this morning. It is also very well equiped and has luxurous spa bathroom. The window lining the wall open up to have an indoor-outdoor spa. We are definitely getting spoilt. We'll spend the next few days exploring the wineries, beaches and wildflowers.

October 10, 2006

No Worries

We have just wrapped up a most wonderful stay in Margaret River. The Hilltop Studio was a perfect retreat for our stay - beautiful, quiet and very peaceful. We spent two days exploring the region. Our days consisted of a winetasting, lunch, sightseeing and a bit of botanizing. I loved Cape Mentelle wines. They started Cloudy Bay in New Zealand which was one of the early Marborough Savignon Blanc specialists. We also loved the gardens at Voyager but it felt a little out of place for us since it was specifically styled in the Cape Dutch style of the wineries in around Cape Town.

We also went to Jewel Cavel. The whole Margaret River area is on limestone and there are several large caves to tour. The beaches are also well known for surfing and we spent time at several especially at sundown. I thought the facilities in the town were great. You can pick up some great fixings for picnics or to take back for dinner. We had a wonderful picnic lunch at the beach with takeaways from Wile Thyme. Jones Good Food also had lots of good options for prepared meals.

We even found several new orchids. Of course, we had to go searching through on little roads to find the areas listed in the book George bought on Orchids of Western Australia but we did luck out and find some nice spider orchids.

We finished our stay with lunch at Lamonts. It was overlooking a lake and had great food and wine. George got a chance to try marrons, fresh water crayfish/crawfish. I had a nice baked trout. With a cool glass of wine, heaven on a spring day.

But best of all was waking each morning to the sun gently coming in the window and watching for kangaroos while drinking our morning coffee. Heaven.

October 13, 2006

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie - Hot, Hot, Hot

It is hot! Yesterday it was 38 degrees C. (~99 F) and it is only the beginning of Spring. It isn't a record but it might be today since it may have been even hotter. We are now in Sydney sweating away in a heat wave. If not, it is definitely a record to have multiple hot days this early in the year. We arrived in the morning rush hour after the red eye from Perth. We took the train into town and into a sea of black suits. Our room wasn't ready yet which was expected so we dropped off our bags at our hotel and headed off to explore.

After getting some information at the VIC (visitors information center), we grabbed breakfast in the Rocks. Our first view of the opera house was breathtaking. It is one of the icons of the world and it was so exciting to see it. We walked around Central Quay and checked it out close up.

Then it was off to the Botanical Gardens next door. We had to check out the fruitbats. A huge flock of over 4,000 bats have taken up residence in the park, hanging from trees and eating nectar. Unfortunately, they also kill the trees they roost in. Their tremendous claws girdle the bark as they land and swing down to hang. There doesn't seem to be any way to get rid of them either. We also checked out the Wollemi Tree, a species of conifer tree recently discovered in the 1990's in a canyon here in Australia. It was previously thought to be extinct. George could have bought one but the custom agents would have confiscated it. Unfortunately we forgot our hats and sunscreen. By time we returned to the hotel, I was pretty exhasted from the heat and sun.

We are staying at The Blackett. It is an easy walk from the hotel to many of the tourist sites in the Central business District. We have a loft room which gives us more room. It was originally a bank so the has a tall ceiling and the bedroom and bath are on a loft above a small kitchenette and sitting area. The decord is ismilar to the Seibel but not as good of view. So far quiet althought we did hear a bit of the club last night.

The sun or something took its toll on me. After a shower and a bit of relaxing, we headed out for dinner at the Palisade Hotel in The Rocks. It is a Aussie style Hotel which is more like a pub to Americans. The downstairs is a pub/bar, upstairs the restaurant and above rooms for rent. The food was very good but my appetite was nil. George had a great grilled kingfish and salad. I had roasted lamb with greenbeans spiced with pistacios. I didn't feel good after eating due to the heat but I made it back to the hotel and quickly fell asleep.

The next day George felt the same. We dont' know if it was the heat or something from the plane or lack of sleep. A women across the aisle was sick on the plane so it is very possible that we picked up something on the ride.

We didn't want to spend much time in the sun since we didn't feel great so we headed to the Sydney Aquarium. I was a bit disapppointed with it after the aquariums in Perth and Cape Town. We were also surrounded by swarms of elementary private school kids. We escaped and headed back to our room to crash. We needed to be able to get around that night because we had tickets to "Pirates of Penzance" at the Opera House. The rest did us well but we did skip dinner because we weren't hungry.

It was a great performance. We had seen a local performance this summer in Seattle so we were very familiar with the play. The pirate king was a lot of fun since he was the spitting image of Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribean. And he hammed it up just like Depp. Everyone in the cast were excellent singers. Of course, the interior isn't as dramatic as the exterior but it is till wonderful to have a glass of bubbly at intermission while viewing the lights of Sydney.

Friday we felt better. We slathered on the suntan lotion, grabbed our hats and took the ferry to Manly Beach. Originally our plans were to hike from Spit Bridge to Manly, a 6km walk through native bush and Manly but it was too hot. So we hiked a few km to see the views of the harbor. We returned and had lunch near the beach.

After lunch we walked along the promenade. The beach was packed with mostly teenagers. We watched a bit of volleyball and headed back - only to discover a lot of others had the same idea. No views from the ferry for us.

We went back and took a cool shower before heading out for a sunset walk across the Harbor Bridge. We finished the evening with a beer at Lord Nelsons Hotel Pub.

Today was another scorcher. We could feel the head as soon as we stepped out of the hotel. We decided to take the Bondi Explorer bus to the beach. The driver told us that it was already 35 degrees and it was only 11am! The bus trip took us through many of the northern suburbs with stunning views over the city. There were several small beaches and harbors but we stayed on until Bondi. We arrived at noon and the beach was packed. And there was no shade. Manly had a nice line of trees but not here. We walked a bit and then went in for a pizza lunch and gelato. Very good but the cool water was even better.

We spent a bit more at the beach people watching. I just didn't want to get in the water in the crowd and intense sun.

Tomorrow we return home. It has been wonderful and quick three weeks. We are somewhat dreading returning to fall especially in misty grey Seattle. But we miss our kitties. Australia will call us back in the future... And we will answer the calling.

December 15, 2006

Photos of our trip to Australia

I finally have posted my Australia photos. I am happy how they turned out. I've added a slideshow this year which makes them easier to view.

Australia Photos

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Postcards from the Trail in the Australia category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Africa is the previous category.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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