Living in a Marsupial World
 
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Busselton Jetty
After being told by countless people that the Southwestern region of Australia is one of the most beautiful places on earth, it was difficult not to make the trip. We wanted to devote at least a week to this piece of country renowned for its vineyards (all of which do FREE tastings!), breweries, national parks, and laid back vacation towns, but extenuating circumstances denied us. We were thankful that we were able to spend a weekend though, and tried to make the most of it.

Our first stop was Busselton, a major town along the coast of Geographe Bay. Among its claims to fame are it’s super long jetty (over 1 km long) and underwater observatory. Unfortunately, the last 900 m or so of the jetty were under construction, meaning the observatory located at the very end of the jetty was also closed. Lame. Our interest in Busselton quickly waning, we momentarily dipped our toes in the gloriously cool water and marveled at the unwavering refusal of Aussies to follow the directions of beach warning signs.


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Australia in a nutshell...
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We moved on to Dunsborough, where we got our first sampling of local microbrew at Occy’s Brewery. We immediately liked their beer garden, especially since it featured a kid’s backyard swing set and jungle gym. We sampled a few of their beers, but were not very impressed. While some had good potential, they came across as just some guy’s OK homebrew. As a fellow homebrewer, I can confidently say that I (and Matt) have made better beer – and we gave it away for free! At most we demanded our drinkers entertain us somehow, but that’s about it.


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Camping in front of the Wise Winery vines. This looks like an emo acoustic album cover.
For accommodation that night, Ita had taken it upon herself to find us a place to stay at a winery near Dunsborough. She apparently was good friends with Sandra Wise, owner of Wise Wines in Eagle Bay, and was confident that it would be no problem to camp on their property. We were put in touch with Sandra’s daughter-in-law, Antonya, who was the only one on the property at the time. To our humble appreciation, Antonya was incredibly hospitable, inviting us into her home and offering anything we needed, with only a vague understanding of why two strange Americans were camping in her backyard. 


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Per her recommendation, we drove over to Meelup Beach to soak in the last of the afternoon light. The beach was pristine, as well as surprisingly small. Located along the northeast-facing shore of Cape Naturaliste, this little cove was naturally protected from the powerful surges of the Indian Ocean, making the water as calm as a lake. North of the beach was a long stretch of piled rocks and tidal pools, which of course meant it was scrambling time.


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Ita had mentioned that there were beaches like Meelup all along the cape, so to start up the next day we made it top priority to really explore Cape Naturaliste. Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park was spread all along the western coastline, and through it ran the Cape-to-Cape hiking trail – a multi-day backpacking trail that links Cape Naturaliste in the north to Cape Leeuwin at the southwestern most point of Australia. Cape Naturaliste held several other good walking tracks as well, with great views of the Indian Ocean and Geographe Bay where Blue Whales, Humpback Whales, and Southern Right Whales could be seen this time of year.  Fun fact: the testes of a southern right whale weigh the same as a large car, and are the largest in the animal kingdom!


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Even this doesn't quite capture the plague of flies
We waited for a good while to try and spot a whale, but the flies were in full force. As we will explain in our upcoming post of the top 10 worst (and best) things about Australia, flies are without a doubt at number one of the worst list. Australian black flies have been a horrible nuisance in our travels, but they were by far at their nastiest here at Cape Naturaliste. Mar counted at least 45-50 swarming around my back as we walked along the trail. Gross. You would think that there would have been at least one dead kangaroo somewhere that would have been more appealing. I’m not sure how I should feel about this in relation to my personal hygiene. It was quite amusing, however, to watch all the other visitors and backpackers do their interpretive anti-fly dances.


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Canal Rocks
Further south along the coast were all sorts of incredible rock formations and surf beaches. With the Indian Ocean pummeling this section of coastline (much like Dirk Hartog’s western coast), it made for some very striking and surreal scenery. One such spot was “Canal Rocks,” where the ocean had exposed and shaped huge outcroppings of rock resembling deeply scoured clay. The wave action of the water had also created a natural, but impeccably straight, canal through a large portion of the rock, hence the name. We could have spent all day exploring the many ins and outs of the rocks – an excellent adventure spot.


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To give you some scale.
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Those clam-rocks can be dangerous
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Climbing in wine-tasting attire
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Grapes Galore.
So now that we were plenty sweaty and dirty from ‘sploring, we decided it was high time to quench our thirst at some of the classy wineries nearby. Most of the vineyards and wineries of the Margaret River region are located along Caves Road, which for some reason has a speed limit of 90 kph. You would think a small, windy road like this would be 60-70 tops, especially since there were so many turn-offs, and even more especially because of the abundance of boozed-up wine tasters driving around. Our first stop was at Windance Vineyard, solely because it was the first turn-off we were able to take without having to slam on the brakes. Windance had a tiny, intimate tasting room and their wines were pretty good, but nothing special.


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Some Raging Bull at Bootleg
From there we hopped over to one of the few local breweries, Bootleg Brewery, whose motto is “an oasis of beer in a desert of wine.” With a slogan like that, we thought we’d give it a go. Unfortunately for us we landed there on a weekend and, due to the brewery’s popularity, is the only time of the week they don’t do tasting paddles. Beer glass sizing is odd in Australia and, aside from the pint, isn’t standardized between states. You can order a “midi” or a “schooner” in one state, and ask for the same next door and get a weird look because they sell “pots” instead. Schooners happened to be the next size down from pints in this part of Australia, so we ordered a couple. Bootleg’s signature brew is their “Raging Bull,” a highly alcoholic but surprisingly non-astringent dark ale, with significant malt overtones. It was tasty, and certainly unique. Their Hefeweisen was also quite good as well as a seasonal ESB on tap. 


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Enjoying some ESB
Just before the wineries shut their cellar doors for the day, we snuck into Flying Fish Wines for a tasting. A very nice, classically Australian dude – blonde, surfer type – served us. Overall the wines here were quite good, and it was here we discovered a specialty in Aussie wines, the sparkling Shiraz. Having a bubbly red was unexpectedly refreshing and delicious.  While tasting in Flying Fish we met a couple from Vancouver, natural disaster insurance assessors, who had been living in the area through their company, assessing damage from the recent hail storm in Perth. We immediately hit it off, talking about our travels in Oz and our mutual appreciation for the great white north. When it was time to kick us out of the tasting room, the Aussie wine dude graciously gave us the remaining half bottle of Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from the tasting as a parting gift. 


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Unfortunately this is the only photo evidence we have of R&B, but sweet nipple van Batman!
Outside the winery, the Canadians, Rob and Brandi, invited us to have a drink at Bootleg Brewery, and though we were reluctant to spend more money that day, we knew it was a rare social opportunity that couldn’t be missed. While sipping our beers and exchanging Oz stories, it became clear to the Canucks that we poor backpackers, like abandoned kittens found in an alley, needed a home for the night. We hadn’t actually determined where we’d be camping, and the sky looked dark and stormy, so we were immediately invited to stay at their B&B and share their room. Over and over again we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers during our travels, and this was no exception. Rob and Brandi had only known us for about half an hour, and here they were offering up their vacation space for us to crash. Good stuff.


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Flat Whites and Muffins
Absolutely thrilled to have a bed for the night, we joined our new Canadian friends for dinner in Dunsborough, where we had a deliciously fresh, spicy fish salad at a Japanese restaurant. I was really excited to taste truly spicy food in Australia – a hard thing to come by in a British colony. After a bit more socializing and a restful night’s sleep on their pullout couch, we parted ways and ventured into the town of Margaret River for a spot of breakfast. 


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Juan Valdez is a sausage fest of one.
That day we traveled south to explore a different section of the national park – an old growth forest with spectacularly tall karri trees, a landscape that we had not seen before in Australia. We were amazed at how different this lush forest was (think forest planet of Endor in Star Wars) in contrast to the northern section of this peninsula, which mainly featured beachside scrub brush and pseudo-subalpine vegetation. Tramping through this forested area was much more satisfying than other bushwalks we had taken, because here were trails blazed by feet rather than by landscapers with wood and asphalt. We really felt like we had found a secret haven of true wilderness with a wonderful lack of tourists. While it was truly dizzying to look up at these trees, what really blew me away was the sheer abundance of birds, many of which I had never heard before.


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See if you can spot all the Ewoks
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Exuberant Hiking
While we were exploring the national park surrounding the karri forest, we happened upon the Cape to Cape trail and decided to hike it for a bit. It didn’t seem like many people take this trail, unlike the many other multi-day treks in Australia like the Overland of Tasmania or the Bibbulmun of SW Australia. The atmosphere was calm and quiet and the surrounding plants and trees seemed to press in around you like a cocoon. It was incredibly tranquil and made for a very relaxing walk.


On our drive out we almost ran over a huge black snake – which in Australia terms usually means harbinger of painful death. Much like the sea turtle in Shark Bay, it seemed to have an “oh shit” moment and quickly slithered into the bushes. We hoped that the encounter would qualify as a deadly snake sighting and fill our quota for the year.



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The compound - no idea why there's a fibreglass cow sitting on the lawn (it has braids, weird)
We continued south to Cape Leeuwin, the southwestern most point of Australia where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean collide. When we arrived we were appalled to find that a compound had been established right at this point and that they were actually charging an entry fee just to walk out to the tip. We did manage to subvert this atrocity a bit by walking around the sides of the compound down to the shoreline along the rocks. The weather was a bit stormy, which produced some beautifully intense scenery and a tumultuous sea. Looking out into the churning grey waters we spotted a large pod of dolphins bobbing through the waves.


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Historic waterwheel encased in lime and Ben facing the Indian Ocean
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Cape Leeuwin from the Southern Ocean side
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Tasting at Cowaramup Brewery - One of only 2 in Oz that know what hops are for
The southern coast of Western Australia (and the towns along it such as Albany) are also supposed to be incredible, and like many other places we’ve mentioned, we regretfully didn’t have time to visit as we had to catch the train east. So we headed back northwards, but along the way stopped at one last brewery (Cowaramup - had great beer!) and one final vineyard for a last tasting and to pick up a thank you gift for Ita. Vasse Felix happened to be a winery Ita had mentioned enjoying, so we dropped by their cellar door. While there, the young guy who served us our tastings provided us with a novel way to visually describe the difference between Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and how they combine in a Sem Sauv Blanc: If you think of Semillon as a donut – rich, round, sweet and packed with flavor – and of Sauvignon Blanc as a long stick that goes through the donut – light with subtle, grassier flavors that last for a long finish – the two balance each other beautifully. We liked the analogy.


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Ben soaking in the subtle flavors of fine booze at Vasse Felix
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Heading back to Roleystone that night, we found a campsite in a conservation park north of Bunbury. It was a lovely, isolated spot away from the highway, and with the ample amounts of free wood the park provided we were able to enjoy the sunset with a great little fire. After dark, we were visited by two very curious possums who appeared to have been hand fed one too many times. Though they were adorable and provided for some great up close and personal photographs, we tried to make sure we seemed scary enough to shock them back to their natural instincts (without any personal possum injury of course). This campsite allowed for us to complete our weekend in the Southwest without having spent a cent on accommodation! Thank you to all that made that possible for us poor travelers! 


Dad, Deb, Liv
12/18/2010

Enjoyed these most recent posts. Hiking, rock scrambling, wine tasting, beer tasting-- livin' la dolce vita down under! Wonderful! As an aside, it's also nice to see (in the exuberant hiking photo) that a Cowdin has any sort of a vertical leap (I guess that skipped a generation-- your Dad and your uncles are jealous!).

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