Western Australia has numerous coastal regions all with an archetypical nomenclature to define a particular region. The Coral Coast in the north-mid of WA was a previous region we spent considerable time in earlier on in the trip – click here to read our CC post if you have not already seen it …however this weeks post is about the lovely Rainbow Coast of WA’s south-west.
After a pleasant 3 hour run down from Cowaramup (near Margaret River) we pulled into Walpole just after midday on route to our next camp at Peaceful Bay – another 40kms on. There is not much at Peaceful Bay except a basic campground, beach boat ramp, a jetty and a few old ramshackle beach huts which is what appealed to us about the place in an effort to avoid the summer holiday crowd. A brief, but necessary Walpole stop, was required for stocking up on supplies and fuel for the next week – so off to the IGA we go.
Whilst inside the local supermarket we bumped into a local pro photographer and we quickly got chatting about the regional photographic jewels on offer, as it were. He did not give much away, he was quite cagey the ol’ boy, however in our 10 or so minute chat, he started off by asking;
“Whatcha here for in the area to shoot, mate?” I replied, “Predominantly landscapes …mate“!
After a somewhat awkward pause, he says rather nonchalantly ,”Good luck with that mate …too much bloomen wind round here – it can blow a 6-legged tripod over down ‘ere“.
Blimey, I thought to myself, 6-legged tripods. He then proceeds to school me even more;
“Yeah mate, I’ve lived in the region for the past 20 years – shootin’ (photo’s presumably) and fishin’ (not sure fishing for what) and in making a modest livin’ as a photographer down here and I only shoot macro (Close-up stuff) and studio portrait work these days …all to avoid the bloomen wind.”
Oh, great, I thought …was he hamming it or what? Too windy and 6 legged tripods and all, surely not?
The subject quickly changed and after a few minutes of debating the “ethical merits” of a particular pro landscape photographer creative photoshop practices, we exchange pleasantries and he went off to find his wife …and I went off to find mine.
As it turned out, we had 8 of 10 days in the Peaceful Bay area with gale-strength winds with the local-loyalists saying it’s the worst weather they have seen this time of year in a very long while. Oh the irony, Peaceful Bay indeed we thought …the 6-legged tripod guy was right …but, it wasn’t all bad.
Denmark, 46kms from Peaceful Bay, is lovely and well serviced town to support regional tourism, travellers and regular holiday makers alike. And we’ve seen more than our fair share of holiday makers over the past 3 or 4 weeks but more about that later. If you have not been to Denmark it reminds us of a town that would be a cross between Bright in Victoria and Tilba Tilba in NSW’s mid south coast with a temperate to cool climate. It has an unusual coastal feel being a couple of kms from the sea, but it also surrounded by old growth forests and was once a major regional centre for logging back in the day.
The town also has an excellent purpose-built visitors centre (like Exmouth in the north of the state) and offers high-quality drinking water at no charge which makes a welcome relief to fill our van water tanks with good stuff and not have to use other (at times awful) unreliable water sources.
Months ago, we were warned by other travellers in the north to pre-book van parks well in advance of the Xmas holidays as spaces will be difficult to get. We didn’t want to free camp over the Xmas holidays due to the amount of people around and the safety of a camp site when away exploring the region – so we booked a couple of van parks from Wikicamp app reviews and Peaceful Bay (between Walpole and Denmark on the coast) was our chosen site for this area.
The weather again was not (always) pleasant. The high winds were consistent day after day to the level we simply could not go to the beach, wet a line or explore along the coastline without getting a face full of sand or being blown off a sand dune. I was yet again reminded of my 6-legged tripod mate at the IGA. Nonetheless, to pass the time a little more productively, we decided to drive further afield to spent a lot more time up in the mountains to the north of the bay in the many old growth Karri (eucalyptus) forests that exist throughout this region.
Most of the forests 4WD tracks in the area have well-signed access points and using these tracks (especially if you have a 4WD with reasonable clearance height and low-range for soft sandy and steep sections) for the most part are straightforward to navigate with decent mapping tools. We have been using the HEMA maps since the start of our trip (both in book form and iPad) and the HEMA maps will get you in and out of most places that we’ve either accidentally found or seen on their detailed 4WD maps. We have a couple of times however become lost in heavy forested sections whereby no roads or tracks correspond to the maps we have and the Land Rover GPS is utterly useless in these off-road excursions. It also doesn’t help when you cannot obtain a visual bearing when lost. No reference on anything. As a result, we have found ourselves having to double-back (sometimes even having to resort to reversing a few Kms as it was impossible to to turn the D4 around) in an effort to finding our bearings again. This can be tedious and time consuming when this happens, but it’s all part of the fun of discovery.
To the more touristy stuff, we did the obligitory “Valley of the Giants tree tops walk” which was fantastic. We all loved it and the whole facility setup in this ancient Tingle forrest is truly excellent, providing you do not suffer too easily from vertigo. The NP’s have engineered and built a series of bespoke narrow steel mesh walkways which are 420 metres long and 40 metres up in the Tingle tree canopy. We enjoyed it so much we did two laps and at $47 for a family ticket was a bit steep, we thought it was worth it in the end and the boys would not stop talking about it on the way back to Peaceful Bay.
Rant: At Peaceful Bay caravan & campground where we were stuck for 10 days with a pre-booking, after a couple of days we were not liking it too much. The vast majority of campers in the park were holiday makers going back year after year and had some weird self entitlement to being there. We were also all wedged into a spot in the park like sardines in a tin. They placed us on a site which was nothing but soft sand, was terribly uneven, and our neighbours very, very close. It was also noisy a lot of the time (and usually till late) and the park amenities (ablutions) were often left in worse condition than you’d find at 1AM at Sydney Town Hall Station on a Friday night. What made all of this difficult to ignore was the park owners were charging $64.00 per night. Ah well, you live and you learn – never completely trust a picture in a camping brochure. Celia gave the park 1 out 5 in TripAdvisor and that was because the app didn’t allow ‘0’. Okay, rant over!
Good National Parks Stewardship
We also frequented numerous national parks in the region – as we’ve mentioned, not much use trying to do stuff on the coast with all the high winds we’d been having of late.
We’ve enjoyed many of WA’s National Parks immensely and the one thing that has stood out and impressed most about some of them are the often excellent facilities the NPaW have implemented.
For instance, often good access roads (usually well maintained dirt), good carparks, the latest high-tech eco-friendly toilets, well-designed and engineered made pathways and ramps, sometimes fresh water, nifty long-life weatherproof self-service information huts (a lot made of local stone), a number have free automatic gas BBQ’s that are clean (yes, clean) …and just about all NPs we’ve visited had sturdy hardwood picnic tables that are oiled and well maintained. Are you reading this, Mike Baird?
And equally impressive is the massive efforts in walking trail building the NPaW have done. What we’ve noticed is that walking trail quality and it’s designed and maintained is of vital importance to good parks stewardship. Rather than allow park users to walk almost anywhere they see fit from a carpark, some of the parks we’ve visited cleverly force you to walk built trails you cannot easily venture off. In areas of old disused walking trails, in some cases, they have built hardwood boardwalks or steel mesh walkways well above them and you can see the new growth occurring again. In other cases, creating newly developed trails with routes that reduce erosion from older tracks and thus less impact to flora. There are also well detailed signs about the different flora and fauna that are abundant in a particular area and these can be found seemingly in the middle of nowhere in some parks. Its all very well thought out and implemented.
On the flipside, as it’s always a bit of a balance, right …a lot of the old NP campgrounds of yesteryear have been shut down maintaining all but a handful in some parks. We can see how how this broader strategy has a much better and more predictable stewardship on how forests with their flora and fauna should be better managed for future generations to come. The Fitzgerald National Park is a great case in point of how all of this is working (most about this park in following blog) and when you visit truly unique parks like this one, you can immediately see how stewardship is key in all this.
On the whole, NP’s remain as much places of recreation as ever-increasingly important preserves for natural protection. We all love them for their trails, vantage points and other activities as much as for their intrinsic natural value. For many people however, and perhaps with me also, NP’s are the very few natural spaces we have left whilst general society is continuing its mainly impassive detachment from the natural world. Its fantastic to see the NPaW doing a great job in not only making NPs more enjoyable, but far more sustainable as well.
I remember when I was growing up seeing an old film at primary school of the whaling industry in Albany. The short film was more or less an advertorial depicting the importances of whaling (in those days) and why whaling was important to society – and let’s be honest, it was. Greases, lubricant’s, petroleums, cosmetics, special oils & fats and other useful things all came from them. Today of course, we still use these types of products, but arguably, from other more sustainable sources. And now, we all love whales and are universally protected. As a result, some whale species are now at record numbers that once were thought to be near extinction only a decade or two ago. And from this change has spawned the creation a much larger whale industry in the form of whale watching tourism which now functions all over the world.
Although we did not see any ‘living’ whales in Albany (wrong time of year) we did visit Cheynes Whaling Station at Discovery Bay. This is the same station I saw the film of all those years ago.
Cheyenes commenced operations back in 1952 with a second hand whalechaser (obtained from Norway) and given a small quota (by the Govt) of 50 Humpback whales. Years later, the station went on to have 3 whale chasers and a spotter aircraft and the business did rather well (EBITDA one year we saw was 8M) however, eventually the station was wound up and closed in 1978. Subsequently, 98% of all whaling the world over ceased by 2002 except for those few countries with “scientific research” initiatives.
After the whaling station was shut down, the station was then transformed into a wonderful museum just two years on in 1980, now heritage listed, and is owned & run by the WA government. Today, the station has restored all the original whaling infrastructure to give the visitor a first-hand view into this fascinating old-world such as; Massive boilers, huge presses, oil vats, Flensing tools, various machine-shops, and all other manner of equipment the whalers of yesteryear used. We were all interested by what they did with the whales and serves as a stark reminder what a beautiful creature the whale is and why we all seem to now admire them. The station is a must see attraction and you could easily spend three or four hours (as we did) learning all about the processes to create all things we used decades ago that came from hunting whales.
Green Pool and Elephant Rocks (William Bay National Park)
Despite the incessant wind in the south-west, there is sometimes a place on the coast no matter where you go that never fails to impress one – even when its “bloomen windy”. Green Pool (the feature image of this blog) and Elephant rocks (below) is one such impressive and fun place.
You’ll see these two spots on brochures of the Rainbow Coast and other types of tourism stuff and it is a great spot to look and frolic in the surrounding big seas in relative safety. Even though we are in the middle of summer here, the great southern waters down this way are cold. They are nutrient-rich, very clean and clear and rich with all types of sea-life and organisms. This essesentially means, if you’re game, swimming here in some of these places can be an awesome experience and the boys and Celia braved the teeth-chattering waters to dive and jump into natural rock pools and swim in beautifully naturally coloured waters of vivid green and azure. The water temp is around 17-19 degC mostly so even on a hot day like we had swimming here, was highly refreshing, if not very short. 🙂
We also made it out to the award winning National ANZAC Centre in Albany.
We had read about it sometime back and in the days leading up to being in Albany, was often mentioned by others in passing. Apart from the war memorial in Canberra, this facility is right up there with the best we’d seen – anywhere.
Apart from the typical guns, tanks, etc … in the new ANZAC Centre (opened in Nov 2014), the Centre offers visitors to assume the identity of one of 32 Anzac-related characters, and you follow their personal experience of the Great War: from recruitment, through training and embarkation, ship-board life on the convoys, and on to the conflicts on Gallipoli, in the Middle East and on the Western Front, and post-war – for those who returned.
You become involved with your ANZAC and the centre has clever interactive electronic screens to allow you to find out every detail, including if they come home, did they marry, where they lived, how many children and how they lived the remainder of there life. None of ours lost there life at war – but two came back with physiological and other problems from the war which plagued them in later life. An enjoyable experience and leaves you with a greater appreciation for what hardships ANZACS went through during and after the war.
Still in Albany, on a final day before heading down to Bremer Bay, we finally had some rainy weather. Just before the rain rolled in, we drove out the natures bridge (near Discovery Bay) and arrived just as a thunder storm was building up at sea and thats were we’ll leave you on this weeks blog.
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