Oz and the Big Lap travel blog

1 March

Wow, it's March already, where has the time gone?

Awake early again, though not due to the birds, must just be the early nights. I went straight out to catch Wave Rock in the early morning sun. Sun shone on the far end only at this time, but there was no one else around, always a bonus, after showers, breakfast etc., we walked to Wave Rock together, Ruth was distinctly underwhelmed, but agreed to follow the trail around the base of the monolith, the 'Hippo's Yawn Trail'. The vegetation changed as we walked around, due to the water catching walls built on the edge of the monolith, directing water into the dam, the water supply for Hyden. Under the walls vegetation was sparse and mostly eucalyptus but once the walls stopped it became more lush and green including the sheoak or teatree (so called because Captain Cooks expedition used the leaves of this tree to make an acceptable tea).

We reached the Hippo's Yawn, a rounded block of granite, sculpted by wind and weather, said to look like a hippo's wide opened mouth. Ok, enough, we returned to the car and drove on to Mulka's Cave, set in 'The Humps', more granite monoliths about 18km distant. Mulka's Cave is famed as one of the best preserved examples of aboriginal art in Western Australia. Well, it was mostly hand prints, it wasn't part of the folklore of the local aboriginals, and frankly if this is the best example in WA, we may not be going to visit many more! Well, despite that we did look around the cave, a good size cave at the base of the monolith, with a lot of handprints, and a few what appeared to be random lines in red ochre.

So, back through Hyden to refuel and to drive on west. We passed through miles and miles of wheat fields, slightly interesting was that some farms had burnt the stubble so the fields were blackened and barren, but others had left the stubble and grass was growing through, making the landscape much softer. We are now in the Great Southern. Kondinin was the first real town we passed through and very uninteresting. Other towns seemed to hve a bit of history and were very well kept. Narragin was a lovely town, money had been spent on faciliites, such as a new school, 50 metre swimming pool, old folks housing projects,, one could sense the civic pride here. The WA government were obviously keen to support and maintain the towns of the wheat belt. Ruth spotted a little market garden selling its produce by the roadside. We bought some beautiful little cherry tomatoes and some peaches, then discovered the proprietor was Ron Williams. (Same name as Ruth's father in law!)

We ended up in Wagin for the night. The local authority had built a caravan/campsite compete with toilets, showers, barbecue and a laundry for $20 per night. We made full use of all the facilities, but as we sat down to dinner, the mossies arrived, and boy did they arrive. We beat a very hasty retreat to the tent, lit citronella candles and finally sat down to eat. Wow these mosquitoes were voracious, we were covered in them and their bites stung. We were told later, the population had exploded after the recent floods, during which the town was cut off, all the roads were flooded and temporarily impassable. Maybe we will not stay another night.

2 March

A steady procession of road trains passing nearby woke us. There must be either a depot or an overnight rest stop in town.

We packed and took a slow tour around the town, lovely old buildings, dating from the late 1800s/early 1900s. There were three hotels built around 1905, close to the railway station, none of which now appeared to be hotels, but the railway must have been very busy at that time to support three hotels. There was also the usual huge wheat storage and shipping area. This is definitely wheat country, though it was sheep country before that.

So, heading south on the Great Southern Highway, still in the wheatbelt, small towns along the way had huge grain storage facilities next to the railway. There were small areas of bush and ephemeral lakes, filled now after the rains and stagnant water in ditches and on the edges of fields, they really did have some rain. One guy at Wagin camp said there had been 200mm in six hours!

At Cranbrook we joined the Albany Highway, connecting Albany to Perth, all newly resurfaced,a lovely road to drive. At Mount Barker (WA) we spotted a tourist route to Albany, only 20km longer than the highway, so as it also had a wine route and lunchtime was approaching, seemed like a good idea. By now it was 31degrees and cloudless, a pretty drive, along the edge of Porongurup National Park, quite hilly and wooded, and a great change from the prairie-like landscape we'd been in for the past few days. The first few wineries we passed showed no sign of offering lunch, or that their cellar door was open, but we passed through the village of Porongurup and shortly after a sign at the side of the road: Ironwood Wineries - cellar door open for tastings and lunch. Great!

A small winery, but it had a fair range of wines, many of which were prize-winners and they tasted like it too. Lunch was a smoked salmon salad accompanied by their reserve chardonnay, it was excellent and not at all like what we have come to know as the Australian big and busty chardonnays. So, we bought a few wines and picked up a leaflet about the Porongurun Wine Festival to be held on Sunday. We may return!

Great views of the Stirling Ranges as we drove on, before turning south again for Albany. Only a few kms and we arrived in the outskirts of Albany, it has certainly sprawled, and it was not a pleasant approach, with the American-style edge of town development. We found the campsite, at Emu Point, at the eastern end of town. Campsite ok, facilities a bit tired but the showers and camp kitchen were great. Quick tour of Albany town centre in the gathering cloudy gloom before returning for dinner then bed.

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