Exploring high trees and wild beaches
Pemberton - Walpole-Nornalup NP - William Bay NP - Albany - Torndirrup NP - Fitzgerald River NP - Esperance
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Huge forests with towering trees stretch endlessly out around Pemberton in the uttermost South West of Australia. At least, to us it looks endlessly but as a result of the activities of the timber industry there is only a fraction of the trees left. Luckily in the last century trees have been planted also, the Beedelup NP for example was totally destroyed but regrown in the last 100 years. In Pemberton, the center of the logging industry, a heated discussion is ongoing between the logging industry and environmental activists. The timber industry – from which this area is for a large part economically dependent – claims their low impact logging policy ensures the continuance of the forests. The environmental activists try to protect the remaining old-growth forests and explain it takes centuries to recreate what is destroyed. You simply cannot replace trees that are 500 years old. Furthermore, by killing the trees you also destroy the life underneath, protected by the trees. The trees grow up to more than 60 meters and every part has its specific plants, animals and birds. The forests consist of jarrah, marri and karri trees – please don’s ask which is which. We have been studying the differences explained on informative signs on short educational walks in different NP’s, but especially the difference between so-called red karri trees (the straightest, highest trees) and red tingle (id) eludes me. I even thought these two different names where intermittently used for the same kind of tree, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. It are both eucalyptus trees? If you know the distinction, please e-mail me!
In the ‘Valley of the Giants’, Walpole-Nornalup NP, we do the ‘Tree top walk’. A metal structure has been erected between the giant trees, the highest point is at a height of 64 meters and offers a spectacular view far away over the tree tops. It is like walking on clouds. The structure slowly sways in the wind and while walking you can look through the metal grating straight to the far below ground – this walk is suitable for wheelchairs but not for people with fear of heights! Ah, do I see a trifle superior smile? Then you should try the Gloucester Tree ascend in Cloucester NP, close to Pemberton. You can climb a tree of a mere 60 meters high, a climb which is ‘not for the faint-hearted’ as the Lonely Planet puts it. A staircase consisting only of metal sticks fixed in the stem winds itself higher and higher. Around it small-mesh wire-netting, obviously intended as a kind of safety net, fails totally in creating a feeling of safety. After reading ‘not for the faint-hearted’ in the LP I had to climb the tree of course. But Jac, while explaining I must certainly do what I wanted, added uncharacteristically that he would feel very sorry for himself if our three months holiday where to end dramatically already at day 13. This sounded a bit unlucky and I started to feel guilty, Jac already complained about the camping facilities and about my tight planning and three months holiday wasn’t exactly his idea. I didn’t want to appear too much pushing (me, pushing?). So we did the Tree top walk instead, the view is probably even more beautiful but the ‘climb’ is certainly a little less exciting!
The weather is not warm any more. We had a rainy day which made the Southern ocean next to our camping in Walpole appear very uninviting and austere. Our neighbors on the camping assure us that normally around this time of year you can swim very nice in the protected ocean inlet only 20 meters further on. Since the weather forecast for the next days is bad we aren’t particularly happy with this information. When you want rain, gray skies and cold wind you don’t have to travel (at least, when you live in Holland). In between rain showers we pitch our tent, helped by three kookaburras. First we thought they wanted something to eat, but no, they are just very interested. One sits on the ground close to Jac, another lands on one of the flexible sticks used to keep the tent up, just as I’m busy handling it. At last al three sit closely together on the top of the opened backdoor of our car, obviously wondering ‘What’s the hurry?’. In Australia not only the people are annoyingly relaxed.
We see our first wild kangaroos in the Walpole-Nornalup NP while driving slowly in the middle of the forest over an unsealed road. A mother and a young are sitting right in front of us in the middle of the road. The mother quickly disappears in the bush, but the young kangaroo is curious and stays put. When I open the door to make a picture he thinks it wiser to create some more distance between us but goes on watching us. His mother joins him and both stand looking at us. The dark green of the trees, the red of the gravel of the unsealed road and the red brown of the kangaroos make an interesting picture.
From Walpole we drive east, to Albany. En route we stopover at ‘Peaceful Bay’, an indeed peaceful bay, protected by granite rocks from the ocean, with very white sand and water that varies from transparent light green to solid green blue. The wind is cold but the sun shines and life is good. Further on we visit William Bay NP with its ‘Green Pool’ and ‘Elephant rocks’. It is deserted except for two fairy terns and of course the elephant rocks. The terns drill small holes in the otherwise spotless beach, put their long red beaks in each hole and slowly pull extensive streamers of a kind of seaweed out of the hole, which they eat. I photograph the terns, the beach and of course the elephant rocks, who look from down here a lot like a flock of elephants coming out of the ocean. At least, that is my opinion. Jac strongly disagrees with the Australian tendency of naming lifeless rocks like animals and then telling tourist they should go and see this interesting animal rock. Anyway, he just sees rocks and no elephants. After closer questioning he is willing to agree that the place is beautiful, pff… We climb the rocks from the path behind, not difficult but on the beach side we suddenly are high above the sand. The wind from the ocean is very strong and I have to stand unyielding leaning against the wind to prevent being blown away. ‘Blown by the wind’ sounds very romantic but isn’t in this situation.
Albany is, like all small Australian towns, very spread out with wide roads, more than enough parking space and one, maximum two, storied houses with gardens. Not much fun to photograph, no special features and it is already difficult just to get enough road and houses on the picture to create the suggestion of a town! In Europe we have plenty of picturesque, centuries old villages cozily fitted in valleys or in between a mountain and the sea or even on top of a mountain. Roads are just big enough to accommodate a hand-pulled cart or sometimes a carriage. Last year in Italy we saw so many beautiful antique villages that somehow I thought this is normal. Even in Holland we have very nice villages, of course not situated against or on top of mountains, but we have a lot of water outside and inside the villages to make up for the mountains. So don’t expect to much of the towns in Australia, at least there are no parking problems and you won’t get lost in illogical winding tiny roads.
Close to Albany we visit the wild scenery of Torndirrup NP. We go to see a sleeping blow hole (the tide is not right) and the ‘natural bridge’. I ignore some mumbled remarks of Jac who seems not only to object to animal rocks (Albany features a ‘Dog Rock’, closely resembling a Labrador, Jac insists on calling the rock ‘The Chicken’…) but also to ‘natural bridges’. I make the obliged picture and watch a daring tourist, young and of course male, jumping higher and higher on the middle of the bridge. As a rule every ‘natural bridge’ collapses sometime and you can always hope that time will be now.
From Albany we drive 400 kilometers east to Esperance. In between we want to visit Fitzgerald River NP, but it is raining heavily and to prevent the spread of ‘die rot’ the park has been closed. At the south side of the park we try again, but also here the entrance is closed. The heavy rain has stopped, but the strong wind is very cold and the sky is gray. We walk to the beach, tiny plants are blown away by the wind and the ocean looks unforgiving. In Hopetoun, a close by town, we find a café where we drink a beer to console ourselves. Some locals, optimistically clothed in short trousers and sleeveless t-shirts, barefooted, gather shivering around the lighted fire. Other tourist, a couple from Austria, intended to spend this week at the beach as a relaxing end of a close packed holiday. They cheer themselves up with a lot of alcohol while looking reproachfully through the big windows at the angry ocean. Everybody ensures us the weather is normally beautiful at this time of the year: just not tó hot. It certainly is not tó hot, we agree.
Esperance is the end of our tour round the south west coast of West Australia. Esperance, also called the ‘Bay of Isles’ and named ‘Kepa Kurl’ by the aboriginals (the place where the water lies down like a boomerang), was first visited in 1627 by our own Dutch vessel “Gulde Zeepaard” under the command of Pieter Nuyts. They passed through the Archipelago but did not actually land. The French landed here in 1792, seeking shelter from a storm. One of that ships was called “L’Esperance”. Esperance has a spectacular coast: steep cliffs falling down on a small stroke of sparkling white sand, the water unbelievable clear with shades of blue and green that would seem a little overdone on a painting. Our camping – completely Jac approved with clean toilets (= antless, although I saw a spider with a big, compact body and extremely large, hairy legs nesting in between stones in the wall, I wondered if it possibly was a jumping spider), warm showers and a fully equipped camper kitchen – is close to the center of Esperance and of course close to the sea – already we are getting spoiled. It is starting to be cold, but next to the kitchen we sit protected from the wind, enjoying a whiskey while looking at the spectacular sunset with aggressively yellow coloring clouds, promising not much good…
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