Kalbarri was great, so were Watheroo and Perth. Headed to the South West from there, dived a few times. Have now booked my ticket to the Philippines for 27th May. Current location Dunsborough. See you next time.
Kalbarri - you'll love it! That's what the adverts said, and do you know what? They were right!
I spent a week there, chilling out and becoming me again. I stayed away from pubs, and went down to the beach every day to walk on the sand and listen to the waves crashing in. Most days I went down for sunset and watched as the golden globe of the sun slipped slowly into the sea, taking my troubles away with it before returning to refresh me the next day.
Curiously I did actually see a rabbit while I was there. It was a big black rabbit, presumably some kid's pet that had escaped and gone feral. He was sat on the green munching on some grass - they had grass in Kalbarri. I gave him a wide berth.
On one of my days in the town I hired a car, a little 4x4 mini jeep thing, so I could go and check out the Murchison River Gorges in nearby Kalbarri National Park, and also the coastal gorges. I picked up the vehicle at half past eight, and eagerly set off to the National Park, pausing to pay entry at the honesty booth at the entrance.
After twenty-something kilometres over a ridged and bumpy graded road, past countless black boys and banksia trees, I arrived at the first lookout point, took the short walk to the vantage point and gazed down upon the muddy Murchison River far below. There were a few people at the view point at that time, most of whom were swathed in green net in an attempt to keep the flies at bay.
For the whole time I was in Kalbarri, the flies were pretty shocking; inland this day they were atrocious. At times I felt that I were stood in a shower of rain, only instead of individual raindrops trickling down my skin what I was actually feeling were flies. Thirty or forty were on or around my face at any one time, many more crawling on my body and bag. You would look at someone else's back, black and alive with flies, and know that you own would be no different. When faced with an extreme like this, there is nothing to do but get on with it. It is a testament to the outstanding beauty of the area that much of the time I was able to almost forget they were there.
I concentrated on enjoying the views and taking my photos - a few of which were obscured by flies. Occasionally the number on my face would become so excessive that I would stop and slowly pass my hand down my face, wiping it free of this beard of flies. On the whole though I did a remarkable job of ignoring the little blighters. I also allowed myself a chuckle or two at those hidden behind fly nets and the miserable looking sightseers who were walking along beating themselves. "How you going?" I would enquire cheerfully, whilst flies crawled around my face, over and under my sunglasses. Much of the time I was ignored.
I observed the mighty Murchison from Nature's Window, looking through the opening in the layered red and orange rock to the land that lay beneath. The rock itself was fascinatingly colourful. I wished I had the time to complete The Loop, a 4-6 hour walk down into the gorge and back up. Then I remembered that I am not only lazy, but not too good with heights. It was all for the best.
Returning to my carriage for the day I drove to the Z Bends for more great views, and to say g'day to a whole heap of new flies. Then it was off to the Ross Graham lookout and Hawk's Head Gorge for more photo opportunities before leaving the park behind and stopping in town for a spot of lunch before the afternoon's adventure exploring the coastal gorges.
In my eyes, where the inland gorges had been lovely and beautiful, the coastal ones were astounding and stunning. I always enjoy watching waves crashing in, and they do so with rock-sculpting force here. I enjoyed them greatly from my elevated position, but when I reached Eagle Gorge and saw the sign pointing down to the beach I decided to get a closer look. After making my way over the rocks I reached the golden sand beneath. I felt like I was the only person in the world, having this gorgeously wild beach to myself. The wind caressed my face, sweeping away the flies and my ears were filled with the sound of the sea hurling itself wetly against the rocks, smoothing their jagged edges. It was both peaceful and exhilarating.
My plan for the next day entailed walking five kilometres out of town to the Rainbow Jungle, a parrot breeding centre. Me and my winged entourage arrived at the centre, but they seem to have been refused entry, as there did not appear to be a single fly inside. Bizarrely I had noticed the previous day that although the flies abounded almost everywhere, there were none inside the metal structure that housed the long-drop toilets. I found this mystifying.
Anyway, back to the larger, feathered flying things. The place housed over forty varieties of parrot and cockatoo, mainly native to Australia, with a few foreigners thrown in, such as the sun conure from South America. It is set in attractive grounds, and contains walk-in aviaries as well as birds caged in suitably sized enclosures. I enjoyed it immensely.
From Kalbarri I was to travel to the tiny town of Watheroo to visit my cousin who is married to a farmer in Australia's wheat belt. The woman in the tourist information centre when I went to book my ticket had never heard of the place, and I don't think she really believed it existed until she managed to get me a seat on the bus passing through there. The bus driver asked me why the hell I was going there, as he struggled to lift my bags aboard.
Margaret and Graham met me at the bus stop outside the Railway Tavern, and drove me from there to their farm, fourteen kilometres away. After they had welcomed me into their home, Graham took me on a tour of the 1,700 acres where he grows wheat and farms Marino sheep for their wool. Being a long term vegetarian, I was happy that these were wool sheep not eating sheep. He told me that they rarely eat sheep, and certainly would not eat their own. The area is very pretty - rolling fields, a golden colour at that time of year, pockets of york gum trees nestled here and there, the odd taller salmon gum thrown in for good measure. Wide, open skies became a kaleidoscope of bright colours as the sun set. It was a tranquil place.
The population of Watheroo and the surrounding farms is around the 150 mark, and I wondered what I would make of such a small place. I have had little experience of anywhere this small. We call Dover a town, but by Australian standards it would probably be classed as a city. The village of Whitfield where I grew up would be a sizeable country town over here. I had arrived at time when Margaret and Graham's social calendar was rather busy. The cricket season had just finished, so there was a barbecue to mark the end of that, and their nearest neighbours were imminently about to move. As well as a number of farewell dinners, this meant a clearing sale would take place.
I found that in any of my interactions with the locals I was made to feel most welcome. They were interested to hear about me, and happy to tell me about their way of life. Really warm and friendly people. The majority of the men are of course farmers, though I met sheep shearers too. Many of the wives are ex-teachers - they would come to town as a teacher, after a while marry a farmer and quit teaching leaving a vacancy for a new teacher and so on. One young farmer told me that things have changed now, often the women remain in their jobs after they marry, consequently bar maids have become the new teachers; the town has a number of ex-barmaids turned farmers wives.
Graham and Margaret took me to the town of New Norcia, Australia's only monastic town. It was founded by the Spanish Benedictine monks, originally to convert the area's indigenous people, and later housed a boarding school, now closed down. Driving through the countryside one suddenly comes across these unusual Spanish style buildings that seem to spring out of nowhere. We took the informative town tour, and visited churches and chapels, the old bakery and the buildings that until quite recently were home to the boys and girls who boarded here. The monks were self sufficient, growing all manner of crops including olives and tobacco over the years.
Watheroo National Park is near to the town of the same name, and on the outskirts of this is Jingamia Cave. The orange rock almost glows and seems to have sprung up from nowhere. The wind whines as it weaves through the surrounding trees giving the place a decidedly spooky feel. If you climb down into the hole in the ground you will reach the gaping mouth of the cave, where darkness beckons.
I visited the pub on two occasions during my week in town (it was only in Kalbarri that I was drying out, you see!), where I had a ball. One of the barmaids, strangely enough, was a Canadian backpacker; I wondered whether she was soon to become a farmer's wife. After the pub a few of us went to the night-club - that is the bench outside the pub. The atmosphere is great, and you have little chance of being thrown out. And as long as you had the foresight to buy enough roadies, it'll stay open until all hours.
The day before I left we went to the clearing sale. When a farm is sold none of the equipment is included in the sale, instead it is sold separately in the clearing sale, along with the assorted junk that gathers over the years. The sale is in the form of an auction, and the various lots included amongst other things newish tractors, trucks and jeeps decades old, rust-covered antiquated equipment from bygone years, roofing tiles, yards of fencing, old furniture, and a handful of geese and rams. Oh, and a full size billiard table. It was fun following the auctioneer around the farmyard, hoping that my shooing away the flies would not be confused with a bid.
I was sorry to leave Watheroo, but grateful to Graham and Margaret for driving me down to Perth where I would be staying with my cousin Kath for Easter. Along with Paddy, the cocker spaniel I met on my last visit, Kath lives with Daisy, a unusually small King Charles spaniel, who is so ugly she's cute, with her bulging eyes and funny ways. I'm not a dog person, but warmed to Daisy as she was more like a cat than a dog! She especially likes to chase off the doves and galahs that Kath entices into her garden.
Kath had arranged for us to go out for a day's sailing on the tall ship Leewin on Good Friday, which was fun. I declined the offer to climb the rigging, even with the safety harness provided. The weather was calm and sunny, and we returned to the harbour under full sail - which the captain assured us was a real rarity. A jolly good day out.
From Perth I got the train to Bunbury, where I stayed with my gorgeous friend Mel, who has just moved back to Australia with her husband Brad and the bump that is to be their firstborn child. She took time off from house hunting to entertain me for a few days, which was much appreciated.
Around about this time I started to panic a bit when I realised that I only had six weeks left in the country, and had done bugger all toward sorting out my onward travel to the Philippines, or researching what to expect when I got there. I stressed over this for a few days, then decided to stop worrying about it and do something constructive, so I have now booked my flight to Manila on 27th May, saving nearly $200 on what I would have paid at Flight Centre by booking direct with Royal Brunei on the internet. Result. I will have to hang around in the airport there (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei) for 16 hours waiting for my connecting flight, but we can't have everything now, can we?
From Bunbury I travelled down to Busstleton, less than an hour away. I have to say that after a number of epic 16 hour bus journeys I have partaken in this country, it seemed almost indecent to have such a short one. I felt I should go further afield just for the sake of it. Busstleton had its draw though, namely the Bussleton Jetty, which juts 1.9 km out from the shore, and under which one can dive. It was a most enjoyable, cruisey dive, although the water was a perishing 20 degrees - brrr! I also did a reef dive and two dives on the HMAS Swan from there. The wreck dive was superb - so relaxing. The ship was scuttled a number of years ago, and has been specially adapted for safe penetration (oo-er). Not a huge amount of fish or coral, but heaps of fun swimming around inside. Really must go diving when I get home.
My next, and current, stop was Dunsborough, where I had intended to hire a car and explore nearby Margaret River region. When I got here though I discovered that there is no car hire here - Avis will deliver one, but charge $50 on top of hire charges to do so. There are tours around the area though, so I may partake of one of them instead. They do wine tasting tours too, but they cost around $80-$100 - I just keep thinking of how many bottles of wine I could spend that money on - surely that would be money better spent??
I'll leave you now with my patented guide for coping with flies, compiled after my time in Kalbarri. Hoping all are well and having much fun.
Serena's Guide For Coping With Flies
In areas where flies abound in their thousands it maybe useful to follow some of the following guidelines to avoid going completely batty:-
If you can manage to think of them as "little tickles" (© Sally Vickery) then fair play to you. It will help, and will also go to show that you have an extremely healthy imagination.
Similar good advice is to try and ignore them. Again, this may be easier said than done, but will work if you can pull it off. The more you focus on them, the more they will annoy you, the more you will focus on them, and so on.
A small branch, preferably from a gum tree, provides a useful tool for self flagellation, enabling you to keep the flies from landing on you. Though this is only really useful where flies appear in low to moderate numbers.
If you look down and notice your arms/legs/bag/someone else's back is covered in flies you would be well advised to leave them be. Failure to do so will result in a swarm around your head and face - ultimately much more annoying than feeling them crawling on the rest of your body.
Regarding the swarm around your head, be prepared for them attempting to get into every available orifice, and protect yourself thus:
Eyes - wear protective eyewear, e.g. sunglasses. You will get a close up view of them crawling over the lenses which is pretty gross, but on the whole it will keep them out. Occasionally they will squirm underneath, becoming trapped, in which case, squint, whip off the glasses quick, wipe flies off your face and replace protective eyewear.
Ears - probably the most annoying orifice, due to the noise, but relatively harmless. The best way to shake a fly loose is to smack yourself around the ear. Actually shaking your head or waving your hand in front of your ear usually suffices.
Mouth - this is the easiest orifice to protect . . . simply close your mouth. Feeling those little fly legs gripping on to your lip is really rather unpleasant, but simply blow them away keeping lips mostly shut, making a "pfff" noise. It can be quite satisfying watching them shoot off into the great blue yonder. Have competitions with your companions - see who can blow a fly the furthest.
Nose - as mouth remains shut, all breathing should occur via the nose. Important things to remember are to breath slowly at all times, else you risk creating a vortex and sucking flies up as into a vacuum cleaner. It is also essential to never fully breathe out; you must always have enough air in you lungs to huff out forcibly should one of the little critters start crawling into a nostril. If this fails, suck a quick breath in through barely parted lips, block clear nostril, and blow out through the other one, in a manner often demonstrated by sportsmen - the nose spit. (This can also be a good excuse to use if caught using a "bush hanky" and wanting to seem less vulgar than you actually are.)