LOVE TO WANDER
A conveniently located apartment style hotel - a short walk from the Main Street in Kalgoorlie and the Tourist Information Office and Museum.. Wi fi is a reasonable speed. There is a nice spa style bath in the room. There is no restaurant here though and no laundry facilities. Our room was up a long flight of steps , which could be awkward if you have luggage to haul up.
It is a 4 and a half hours drive from Esperance to Kalgoorlie, which gives you limited time to explore once you get there, so we made an early start (8am) and chose not to make any stops en route. We drove through Norseman - gateway to one of the harshest tracts of land in the world - the Nullarbor. Interestingly, you can play the Nullarbor links golf course - a total of 1365 kms starting in Kalgoorlie WA and ending in Ceduna SA - a par 72 (www.nullaborlinks.com).
We moved from coast, through the bush and out into the wild "Golden" Australian Outback, with only the odd passing road train (max. length 53.5 metres) for company. The Outback wasn't so much gold as deep red - and it heated up dramatically as we moved inland reaching 36 degrees by the time we arrived in Kalgoorlie. The aboriginal population here is 7.5% - double the State average - this was the first time I had seen any of the indigenous people in WA in two weeks of the trip.
Tip for Future Travellers:
Aim to arrive in Kalgoorlie on any day other than a Sunday - it is shut! The Super Pit Lookout over the massive gold mine usually opens from 7am to 7pm, but that was shut today too owing to electric storms(?!). We didn't have time to do a Super Pit Tour here, which may have been interesting. There is a rather splendid looking Tourist Information Office here in the Town Hall. If you wanted to gamble, you would be fine here - the only licensed Two Up shed in WA is on the Goldfields Highway. No worries getting hold of a beer here either - even on a Sunday - and you'd probably be OK for a short term room let and a massage too(?!). There aren't that many restaurants in town. There is one at the Palace Hotel and the York Hotel (both shut on Sundays). we were left with the option of either the counter service at the Kalgoorlie Hotel or the Dome. We opted for the Dome, which was maybe a mistake. It serves an uninspiring fast food style menu and isn't licensed - the best thing about the meal was the sparkling water we drank with it. There was live music at the Kalgoorlie Hotel, but we were too tired to join in the fun there.
The Historic Goldmines Museum was open (fortunately), but it shuts at 3pm. The museum houses the State's largest collection go gold bars and nuggets on display in its vault and gives a really good description of how mining started in this area, what life was like for the miners and their families and how it all impacted on the indigenous aborigines (not at all well, of course, sadly). The gold mining destroyed the woodlands (where they had existed inn harmony with nature and the seasons for so long) and destroyed their food sources in the process. Difficult times lay ahead as land right laws and evangelical missions were established. Children could be forcibly separated from their families and sent to missions (see the movie Rabbit Proof Fence for more on this unfortunate piece of history).
The gold rush of the 1850s marked the end of Australia as a prison camp and it's beginning as a nation. Tension between races/nationalities grew during the next decade and eventually gave rise to the White Australia policy, which effectively forbade the immigration of non-European people until the 1970’s. After WW2, Australia became convinced that it had to fill up its empty spaces to protect itself from being occupied by someone else, so in the years after the war, it threw open its doors and its population expanded rapidly from seven million in 1945 to 18 million by the end of the 20th century. People were welcomed from all over Europe - particularly Italy and Greece - and the impact on the culture, cuisine and the whole rhythm of life was immense.
In Kalgoorlie, the gold was discovered in a horse's hoof by one of the three Irishmen prospecting here when he was changing the shoe. In 1893, he found 100 ounces of gold and his life changed forever - and so did the whole of Western Australia. The population of Kalgoorlie grew from 48,000 in 1890 to 180,000 in 1934.
It takes 20 tons of rock to have sufficient gold to make a single gold wedding band - no wonder they are so expensive then!
At one time, water was more valuable than gold here. 5 million gallons a day were needed to serve the miners and the mining operation. That wasn't possible until the giant pipeline was constructed which carried water from its collection site 569 kms away (there isn't enough rainfall in Kalgoorlie to build Italy closer than that). An outstanding feat of engineering - but the man who invented it (C Y O'Connor) was driven to suicide by those doubting his project would work and never lived to see the first water drawn less than a year after his death.
In 1896, rocks containing gold tellurides (which had been mistaken for pyrite or fool's gold) were strewn on cart track and walkways and used as building stone until an assay test confirmed their value. For a short while, the streets of Kalgoorlie really were paved with gold!
We spent the whole of today driving the 40kms scenic loop that is the Great Ocean Drive, stopping all the way along the route for long walks and lookouts. We have driven along beautiful stretches of coast before in South Africa (The Garden Route) and California (Big Sur Drive), but this was way better than either of those. Maybe because of the intensity of the light here - the sun made the deep blue water sparkle all the way along and the wind gave us really BIG waves - awesome. A piece of street art in the town carries the message “Wanju Kepa Kurl Boodja” - aboriginal for welcome to the land where the water lies like a boomerang and driving the Great Ocean Drive, you can see how apt a welcome this is.
Sensational West Beach was our first stop. Sharks have a breeding ground on the two islands just offshore from the beach. Locals tell tales of men eaten whole - they don’t find any remains - by the ‘big bitey” (AKA White Pointer shark). Aussies have a refreshingly fatalistic attitude to these risks though. The guy we talked to on the beach rationalised that it made life exciting and you’re going to go somehow anyway so you may as well not worry about it and enjoy every day. Good advice I reckon.
The road wound round through Twilight Beach - voted Australia’s most beautiful beach to our lunch stop at Eleven Mile Beach. It was pretty peaceful when we arrived, but four motorbikes soon arrived and sped down the beach right in front of us. These guys were taking fun to a whole new level - WA is one of the few places in the world where you can still drive right along the beach.
Lamingtons. An Australian cake, made from squares of cake coated in an outer layer of chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut. The thin mixture is absorbed into the outside of the sponge cake and left to set, giving the cake a distinctive texture - delicious.
This hotel is everything you would expect from a Comfort Inn but with the useful bonus of a really good restaurant that is popular with locals. The hotel is well located on the Esplanade in Esperance within easy walking distance of two other restaurants (that's the sum total of choice for dinner in Esperance!), a Woolworth's supermarket plus "bottle-o" and the very helpful Tourist Information Office. Cape le Grand NP and the Great Ocean Drive are both just a short drive away. There is a guest laundry and a small swimming pool. The decor is very 1970s, but the hotel has everything you need for a comfortable stay in Esperance. The wi-fi speed here is excellent - another real bonus! All in all - it does exactly what it says on the tin - it's very comfortable.
The road from Bremer Bay to Esperance was long - very long - and straight. There were hardly any vehicles on it except the odd road train (shortish) which gave you a start as it rushed past. The road took us through interesting sounding places like Jerramingup, Munillinup and Nindilibillup. Up means "place of" around here - I wonder what these places we were passing through were places of ...? They didn't have enough interest to make us stop long enough to find out. We were keen to press on to Esperance - home of Australia's best beaches. It took us around 4 hours in total to get here.
Click on Read More to find out what there is to see and do in Esperance ...
The only accommodation in the Fitzgerald River National Park. Quaalup Homestead Wilderness Retreat is situated on 40 acres of privately owned bushland in the western side of the National Park, near the town of Bremer Bay. It is 189km from Albany via Devils Creek Rd. and a further 49km by 2WD road or 17km on a 4WD only track (check conditions) to the Retreat. There are four self contained units ( studios ), with private bathroom in the building next to the historic Homestead. Three units have queen beds, one unit has 2 king single beds. The units are complete with bedding, linen and towels plus a 4 burner gas cook top, bar fridge, basic cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery. There is a veranda outside and a BBQ area is next to the units.
The Quaalup Homestead is a really long way from anywhere. It is pretty basic accommodation, but comfortable and there is everything you need here. A gas cooker with a cheerful whistling kettle, a fridge, a shower and a little heater, if you need it, for cooler nights. Don’t expect any toiletries though and bring your own wine/beer. The homestead is solar powered and drinking water (filtered rainwater) is limited. Washing water is salty - keep your mouth firmly shut and don’t drink it! You can’t use a hairdryer here, but you can charge electric devices in one plug socket for a maximum of two hours a day in daytime only. Kangaroos bounce all around the grounds - we saw a mother and Joey very close up. There are a number of walks from the property through the surrounding bushland including a Nature Walk which has botanical signposting all the way through and a look out tower from which you can get a great view of the surrounding countryside. You get a really good impression of what life must have been like for the first settlers when you stay here. Dinner in the homestead was a three course carefully prepared, home-cooked meal served in a pretty candlelit room in the original Homestead - very memorable. Meals have to pre-booked (The shopping trip to Albany is made only once every three weeks). If you are coming here from abroad, you need to settle your account with a bank transfer (awkward to arrange) or cash. Karin and Carsten could not have been more accommodating hosts and did everything possible to make sure our stay here was happy and memorable. Karin took us on a trip to see the Leopard Orchid and the (stubbornly elusive) sun orchid, which would have been impossible to see without her help. Carsten took the trouble to show us the stunning Milky Way. Highly recommended.
We woke early and enjoyed a hearty brekkie at the Three Anchors in Alby. (Hey - this learning the lingo is a real breeze!). A group of other early risers were lifting weights with big grins on their faces outside the cafe. Middleton Beach has a net line set up for swimmers (large marine animals can’t pass through it, but small fish can) and there were half a dozen of them braving the cool morning to have a dip in the ocean. They all came in to the cafe to warm themselves against the roaring log fire - standing in bare feet to sip on their flat whites and long blacks. No-one opted for a London Fog (a very sweet coffee, apparently) - we didn’t try it either.
It was interesting to see that a 3 bedroomed house the same as the one we were staying in was on the market for $299,000 AUD (about £165,000). The news in WA this morning is that the euthanasia is on the brink of being approved by the WA government in response to public pressure. Same sex marriage is definitely nowhere near getting to the statue books though.
We pulled in at a garage in Albany (Alby) and were surprised to find that our car was filled up for us - the garage is proud to declare that it is 100% locally staffed. It’s a long time since that happened in the UK. The drive to our next stop near Bremer Bay was about two and a half hours straight, so we took a short detour via the Stirling Range National Park, which allowed us to climb Buff Knoll and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The propensity to change colour through blues, reds and purples is captivating. The Park has over 1,500 species of wildflowers with more than 100 different species of Orchids including renowned Queen of Sheba Orchids and Stirling Bells. The hike up to the Bluff Knoll (6km return 3-4 hrs) is well graded tourist track and the view from the top is spectacular. We decided to get to the half way point (2 hours return) as we had a fair drive on gravel roads in too country ahead of us and didn’t want to risk arriving after dusk. The path was very steep, but decorated with many pretty wildflowers - many of them white, interestingly.
Tip for Future Travellers
Many of the National Parks do not allow dogs or any other domestic animals. They are treated with poison to deter anything that may prey on the indigenous wildlife (possums etc.).
The road passed through changing countryside as we drove past large fields of wheat en route to our next stop close to Bremer Bay. A powder blue sky opened out before us - a sky so big you felt like you were right in the centre of the world somehow (rather than at the end of it!). The sky was filled with whips of fluffy white clouds all around us - as if someone had spent the night tearing strips of a humungous cotton wool ball and let them go in the breeze to float away. You just can’t do this sort of landscape justice with a single photo. We stopped to refuel (never miss an opportunity!) at the Boxwood Hill Roadhouse - the last fuelling stop before we hit the wilderness of the Fitzgerald River National Park. I’ve heard that Roadhouses are nicknamed a “chew and spew” here - this one didn’t serve any food though, so I suppose it wouldn’t count as one of those (unless you include mint flavoured Tim Tams, which I couldn’t resist purchasing.
Click on READ MORE (under photos) to find out what Quaalup Homestead - our Wilderness Retreat in the Fitzgerald National Park was like …
Breakfast at the Three Anchors Middleton Beach was generous and set us up well for a day's hiking, although the day started cool and damp, which took a while to clear. A short distance out of Albany brought us to the Gap and the Natural Bridge in Torndirrup National Park, both of which can be visited from the same access point. Even in dull weather, they were pretty spectacular. The power of the Souther Ocean rages beneath you as you reach over the ledge to take your photo, backed by the safety of some mega sized steel girders. The rock is Gneiss (pronounced 'nice' endearingly) - a meta orphic or 'changed' rock.
A short drive away along th coast brings you to the blowholes. When they blow, these could be pretty spectacular I think - up to 3m high - but they weren't blowing today. You could hear them beneath you, but you couldn't see them. The path was slippy in the rain and the health and safety protection left a bit to be desired - there was nothing there basically other than a sign that looked like it was ready to blow away into the ocean. You could have easily stood practically on top of a blowhole and not even realised it - until it blew.
Read more to see what the afternoon held in store ...
Spacious self catering accommodation with a fully equipped kitchen and a washing machine. Our unit (No 10) had three bedrooms - more than we needed, but great if you are travelling with a family. A sea suite for two is $143 pppn (£85) - we were upgraded foc. . The property is located a stone's throw from the Fish & Chip Restaurant that has been voted the best in Australia (for very good reason!). There are a couple of other nice restaurants within easy walking distance on the beachfront too. There is a boardwalk along the beachfront if you want to stretch your legs a bit and It is just a short drive from here to Torndirrup National Park. A great place to stay in Albany - we could have easily spent an extra night here, but had to be content with just two.
It takes about 3 hours to drive straight there, but we chose to break the journey at Walpole and visit the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. Walpole Visitor Centre gave us a very helpful map which helped us navigate our way there via the scenic route which gave good views of Walpole and the coast.
En route, we visited the Giant Tingle Tree that you can stand in the middle of. You could actually drive a car through the middle of it the gap is so huge! It was 300 years old with a massive girth of 24m.
A stop at a cafe was another good opportunity to talk to locals here. They really like watching Escape to the Country and look wistful as they talk about visiting the UK one day to explore the rolling green countryside. There is a great fondness here for England - I'm not sure it would live up to those great expectations in some areas these days?
It's always great to pick up the local paper in a cafe too. Today's told of flights starting from Melbourne to Bussletopn - 3 times a week $75 one way. That will change things a bit down here - hopefully not too much?
The avocado harvest is in - the headline in the paper was "It's time to smash an avocado!"
Flora and Fauna:
Eucalyptus Trees - “Australia has some 700 varieties of eucalyptus trees and they have the most wonderfully expressive names: Kakadu wollybutt, basgtard tallow-wood, gympie messmate, candlebark, ghost gum … and … stringy bark.” Bill Bryson - Travels in a Sunburned Country
“Australia borders nothing and is on the way to nowhere. It feels in every sense like the last place on earth.” Pico Iyer Five Thousand Miles from Anywhere. It is a very long way away from the UK, that's for sure, and it's gradually getting further away too. Since it split from Antarctica 45 million years ago, is is moving steadily northwards by 6cm a year. It is like a giant Noah's ark, moving into increased isolation with its unique array of wildlife passengers.
Photos I wished I had taken:
A kookaburra - sighted just outside the cafe in Walpole. I suppose they are fairly common place if you are Australian, but I was amazed by its laugh. So amazed I forgot to reach for my camera and click the shutter.
The forest after rain. Pear shaped raindrops hung from the delicate flowers on the tall bush and ferns like a string of glistening jewels. A photo just doesn't do it justice (at least, mine didn't - keep practising ...!)
The Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk was good fun. It sways from side to side a bit and is 40m up in the tree tops, but a must do experience here really, even if you do have a bit ofd vertigo (like me!). There were people pushing pushchairs along it, in the rain - how =hard can it be? You get a great view over the forest and feel as though you have climbed to the top of the trees to do it.
Tingle trees grow to great heights on a very shallow root system. Swaying in the wind stimulates growth of the trees lower limbs and roots which broaden out in the shallow soil to stabilise the tree - like angle brackets.
Glad I packed:
Souvenir I wished I had bought:
Koala fart. A eucalyptus preparation that's good for soothing insect bites etc. Very astutely named - not sure it was worth the $13.95 for a small bottle just for the name though?!
Bronze Whaler. A shark - absolutely delicious battered and fried. Enjoyed at Hooked on Middleton Beach - voted the best fish and chip restaurant in Australia and conveniently located went steps away from our front door here in Albany. Think 14 choices of fish and a wine list - this is definitely way above your average chippy!
The great Aussie Pie. If you can't resist, they do a tiny version too - the party pie.