Me looking a bit worried about the climb to the top of the trees...It's 40 metres mind!
Not wanting to leave Australia without doing a driving trip of some sort, we decided to have a look at the travel books and see if there was anything worth seeing in and around Perth. Ayers rock would have been nice, but given that it takes around 7 days to drive to, driving 16 hours at a stretch, we decided against that idea! We had heard for sometime about a region down south of Perth called Margaret River, which is a famous wine region here in Australia. There are no less than 127 vineyards and some of the wines they produce are internationally renowned.
J, looking down, way down.
The area is said to be really nice, so we decided to hire a car and drive down to have a look for ourselves. We booked with Thrifty, and after a quick visit to the Chinese embassy in Perth (to sort out visas, which we can get easily in Bangkok or Hong Kong it turns out), we headed towards their offices. The car worked out at a very reasonable 119 dollars for 3 days, thats only around 16 pound a day, but we wanted to be back by Saturday to have more time with Dawn and the kids. We picked up the car from the city centre and had to negotiate our way out of central Perth, no mean feat in itself, and even trickier given that I hadn't driven in so long. We eventually wound our way unto the freeways heading south, and we began our supposed 3 hour drive to wine country. The drive went fine in our Hyundai Getz, and within no time we were whizzing past vineyard after vineyard and coming up on our destination.
The metal walkway swayed quite a bit.
The road was lined with signs warning about crossing animals, from harmless frogs and ducks to the slightly more dangerous Kangaroos which make night driving very hazardous. We arrived in Margaret River by 3 and had no such worries though. Our only plan for night one was to relax and shake some of the Port Headland sand out of our bodies. This was easy, as the 4 bed dorm we booked in the hostel was empty, so we had the clean and tidy room to ourselves. We headed into the extremely pretty town to get some food, and we decided to forget our Thrifty backpacker ways for once and dine in a more upmarket sort of establishment, in this case a sort of country pub/beefeater type establishment. The lamb shank on the menu had us sold, and luckily it lived up to all expectation as it was absolutely stunning.
In my room for the night..ha ha!
We dragged ourselves away from the warmth of the roaring fire by the pubs television after an hour or so, and decided to have an early night before another considerable drive the next day. We had a quick stroll around the charming town, that is really tiny when all things are considered but just so colourful and well planned that it was a joy just to be in. The short drive to our hostel went quickly and we hit the sack before 9 pm, not stirring an inch before 8 am the next morning.
Day two had another considerable drive, as is always the case in the largest state in the world (even larger than Texas!). There were 3 hours on the freeways to cover before we made it to our stop number two, the tree top walk in the Valley of the giants between Warpole and Denmark.
I had read about the tree top walk in a Bill Bryson book, and essentially it is exactly what it sounds like. The huge trees of the valley can grow to over 100 meters high, and the area in which they grow is all protected ground. So to give visitors a chance to experience the area without trampling all over the fauna, a huge steel walkway was created that sits about 90 meters above the ground, overlooking the forest and literally sitting beside the tree tops and birds nests. Huge pylons set about 100 metres apart hold the walkway in place, the trees and not touched or damaged in any way. While this is great for the trees, it does cause considerable swaying in the breeze, We arrived after a winding drive through the great southern forests, including the Karri Forest which has enormous trees, so big that they made us feel like the car and us inside had shrunk.
I loved having a car for a couple of days.
The tree top walk begins a gradual climb to its highest point (at 40 metres!), and it wasn't long before I was feeling a little daunted by the shrinking ground level. By the time we reached the top, about 300 metres into the walk, we were at the same level as the tree tops and could have reached out and caught the birds as they flew, if they came too close. The wind picked up a bit and the sight of the walk swaying from side to side in front of you was very disconcerting, but we managed to plow on and finish its 800 metre length before too long. Next was a walk along the ground floor along a non protected part of the forest where a walkway has been constructed. The route was lined with countless hollowed out trees, which had spaced so vast in the hollowed out trunk that you could fit 20 people in some of them.
On a train named Kate.
They were as big as rooms, and you could walk under and through them as part of the stroll through the woods. After another half an hour we had our fill, and we drove the 3 hours back to Margaret river for our final night throughly satisfied with the day. We headed to the country pub again, John couldn't resist another lamb shank (not as good as Welsh lamb though!) and I had a monster steak, and again we slept like new born babies until the next morning.
So that was it for us, we were heading home early the next morning after only 2 short nights. We stopped at a restaurant that had a cracking egg and bacon roll, and then pulled into a scenic bridge just outside town that was just crawling with ducks, there were hundreds of the buggers, and they were not shy either.
With the ducks.
After some photo ops with them and a nearby dis-used train we headed home, and back to Perth for what we thought would be a quite night watching movies. But we were sadly, sadly wrong! After getting back to within 5 minutes drive of Perth, we were sitting in Freemantle hospital waiting to pick up some malaria tablets that we needed for Asia. While sitting there, I wondered if we might need our passports as identification to pick them up, and suddenly it hit me. Our passports were sitting in the bedside locker in our hostel in Margaret river, 3 hours drive away. Along with our plane tickets, drivers licence, and just about every other 'essential' we had with us on this trip. We had put them there for 'safe keeping' and totally forgot about them when we left. And to add to the problems, it was now 4pm on a Friday and the car was due to be back by 5 pm! We panicked a bit and finally worked out that the only option was to drive back for them the next day, so I called the company and asked if I could have the car another day. This was no problem, except for I had to have it back by 2 pm since they closed then on Saturdays. This meant I had an early drive on Saturday, I was up and on the road at 5.30 am and whizzing down the freeways, hoping no kangaroos were up this early in case we would have an unwelcome meeting at 100 kms an hour. There was no drama though, I made good time due to the deserted roads, and had a good laugh with the receptionist in Margaret River about our error. I got the car back by 12.15am, and only had to pay another 16 dollars since it had not passed the full day mark. So alls well that ends well.
We went out that night with my cousin Christopher to watch the F.A cup final, which kicked off at 10 am over here. We watched it in a mobbed Irish bar, then we headed elsewhere as soon as the game ended. Most other clubs had huge queues being a Saturday, so we ended up in a r & b, hip hop type place where we were out numbered by black folk about ten to one, so we got some looks. Not that we cared, we shook our lily white behinds for an hour or two before heading back home, me knackered from the drive that day. Sunday was just a day for packing for our flight to Singapore the next day, and we broke that up with a great meal with Dawn and the kids in an all you can eat style restaurant where we had steak, of course, and tried to stock up some calories before the 'white rice for breakfast' setting of Asia.
So starts the last leg of our trip, only 13 short weeks to go, 8 countries left to see and then its time for our final flight home. Fingers crossed Asia will be as good as the other continents!!!