Albany: a town with history -Friday 23rd March 2012


So, it was a commercial campsite,and it was windy, but the view from the van door over the estuary is so lovely. Hundreds of ducks, scores of black swans and tens of pelican inhabit these waters with many migrating companions.

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We feel refreshed after our two night stay. As a final destination with the van, we want to head to Albany, and it’s only 50km away.
Proves to be a very large town, sprawling with history.
What a strange concept, for someone brought up in England. In UK things date back to 1066, well even earlier because there’s Stone Henge and Roman towns like Bath and remnants of Roman roads and Saxon kings and Sutton Hoo…so, local history has always been long, for me.
Albany goes back to 1840 with the first consecrated ground in Western Australia, an early goal, a whaling station (no longer used, of course) and a brig on which the first Europeans arrived (sadly a replica). Even things from 1926 are worthy of merit as part of their local history.
There is a large area dedicated to WW1 and the Battle of Gallipoli, where ANZAC landed in 1915.

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This pie shop serves excellent pies but we are not persuaded to stay the night. Camp fees are twice what we have been paying and they seem overcrowded and unappealing.
Our strategy is to
1. Find some more sun- but the forecast is not favourable
2. Find somewhere pretty with space to stay
3. Find somewhere cheap

We end up far further East than we had intended at Cheyne Beach, 19km off the highway with immediate access to a beautiful white sand beach. At one end of the beach a mountain of seaweed has built up, but at the far end, it goes on forever, white, clean and squeaky. It’s true, the purest, finest white sand really does squeak underfoot when dry!
We walk for miles enjoying the space and tranquility.

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Back at camp a family of kangaroos graze and it’s warm enough to have the van doors open while we cook. Things are improving but, we really want to end our travels with more sun. Tomorrow we consider heading back to Perth and then further North to find more warmth.

Lazing and camping – Thursday 22nd March 2012


Oh, bliss! A lie in!
It’s a very windy spot, yes! But we lay in bed, listening to it howl around us feeling kind of cosy in the van. We stretch out and read our Kindles. All these books at our fingertips and hardly any weight. These are a great invention.

It’s nearly 10.00 before we get up. We even have breakfast in bed, which is actually a cramped affair as floor space is now down to about half a square meter when the bed is made up! You have to dance around the fridge door! The windows in this van are glazed black. It is virtually impossible to see inside the back even when the curtains are open during the day. Different thing at night, of course. However, now this tricks us into thinking the weather is far worse than it really is. Looking out through the darkened glass, we are convinced that it is dreadful, the sound effect of the wind off the water makes it sound bad too. But as soon as we open the door, we realize that actually it is warm and there are the smallest patches of blue sky, even the wind is warm.
One of the things which govern our decisions at present centers around food. We are out of milk, butter and coffee. It is just over a km to the shops in town and a lovely riverside walk.

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A discussion, prompted by the fact that John is reading “Freakenomics”, on estate agents absorbs us as we walk. Which words are the most successful in a sale? How do you judge success? What about ‘honesty’? In Australia, real estate agents go in for ‘headlines’ to attract attention. These seem far from core values of the property and, instead, encourage choice on lifestyle options.
Just as we are comfortably into this conversation,a rustle sounds in the undergrowth nearby. We are both suddenly alert. Snakes come to mind. There had been a sign at the head of this path warning of snakes but we see these so frequently…
Even as I push past overhanging bushes, I think of spiders. Nothing happens, but I find it hard to walk relaxed in Australia. This town is called Denmark. Good shops, jewelry, clothes, estate agents!! We nose around them all. I’ve long since given up the idea of buying anything. Baggage, weight restrictions, carrying it round until mid April see to this concept. There is a box of treasure waiting for us with my friend in Melbourne, of things we have already not been able to resist as present and souvenirs. Sometimes I think they will have to go home by sea!
Food we can buy, so it provides a pleasure of the sopping experience without the nag of carrying it far! We really needed this mooching day.
It’s all good. The walk to and from town proves to be beautiful, along the river and away form the road. Back at the van we see the pelicans flying over head, standing in the river. They are amazing birds, huge.

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Agony and Ecstasy – Wednesday 21st March 2012


Funny! We slept well, loved the campsite, loved yesterday, but this morning as we move on, we are both in a mood! Nothing grand! Just … What is it?
We drive through forests, the sun is not shining.
Well, that’s one thing. We are never as happy when the weather is poor.
We stop at Walpole: there is nothing much here. A toilet (useful), an info site but we can’t be bothered to go in.
That’s the second thing. We are underwhelmed by tourist sites. Should we have taken a four wheel drive? That way we would be able to access more beaches, more roads. At the moment we are bound by the highway.

Was this actually an expensive experiment? The campervan? Everyone told me I was not suited to it! Should we have driven North from Perth?

Neither! I think we are experiencing two phenomena.

We have been traveling for 5 and half months, and will go back to UK by 18th April. A fear and a longing to go home. A jaded greeting to another new experience. I keep hearing about this pressure which occurs about this point in a long voyage.

Secondly, this van somehow induces us to keep moving. We spend all our time on the road and in the van. Sometimes when we stayed in motels, even hostels, we spent days exploring an area. Maybe we should have stayed in Shannon, where we had so much pleasure.

Re-think! Let’s do the tourist thing. There is a very famous tree walk round here; Walpole-Nornalup National Park. We go round the tree walk twice and delight in the swaying motion. Once we say, “how many tree walks have we done in our life?” but the Tingle trees are old and we respect them.

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We are still feeling the agony of indecision and missing the ecstasy of Shannon forest. Next campsite: let’s try a beach.
First one: full.
Second one: horrid commercial thing.
Third one: commercial but it s getting late and e can have a pitch right on the waterfront and watch hundred of black swan, ducks and pelicans. It’s got wifi, electricity, water. Ok let’s stay two nights.
And we cosy down, email friends, Facebook and begin to feel happier.

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A perfect forest campsite – Tuesday 20th March 2012


It’s time to move on: I mean literally push over the map. Distances in Western Australia are huge but if you travel South from Perth the initial part of the journey finds towns close together, and a feel of Perth holiday resorts. Now, the feeling changes to isolation, and it becomes greener, which surprised me at first until you remember that South equals going North (to the UK mind) and colder climes!

A bit divided about the next overnight stop. There are several ‘free’ campsites in the locality in our “Camping 6” book but I like the look of one which has a ‘tick’ by it as the authors especially like it.

The forest is beautiful. Tingle trees and Karri trees make up the most of it, Karri trees are simply wonderful, with a bark constantly in renewal, making the forest floor light.

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Pemberton makes a convenient stop over. It’s lovely, with a store which sells everything from salt to spades, evocative of a former time, and a butcher who wraps his meat in clean newsprint, just like the butcher in Leytonstone (East London) where I lived aged about 0-10.
Back on the road, we play Led Zeplin and Rolling Stones until the battery gives up on the IPod. Sometimes I notice a kangaroo, or a kookaburra, lots of sheep and cows but mostly trees. We feel totally happy. No fuss about sights to see, no worry about where to stop. We follow our noses.

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A detour takes us to Flinders Bay and a lighthouse which still uses the prismatic lens (Cape Leeuwin). We pay $5 to walk around the grounds, watching out for snakes and watch the Southern Ocean meet the Indian Ocean. Not as spectacular as the oceans meeting at Cape Reigna in New Zealand (North Island)
Finally we reach Shannon National Park and the campsite. It’s practically empty, but has excellent showers and ablutions. It is really spacious, clearly provides wood for fires, except there is a total ban at present. Shame!
We pitch our van, cook the lamb we bought from the butcher and there really is no one around. We are the noisiest thing in the forest. We eat outside as the trees loom black against the deep dark sky. It’s beautiful, magical.

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This is an amazing journey. Over the 5 months we have seen so many wonders, had such fun and we sit and muse over our fortune this evening. It’s an incredible adventure, for two very business like people who spent their working lives dedicated to achievement in a professional world.

Margaret River and the manta ray – Monday 19th March 2012


We’ll be arriving home exactly one month from today. We have been traveling for 5 months so far!

I’m told the last leg of a journey can turn arduous. A longing to get home sometimes creeps in. Certainly, we decided to take this campervan to give us a brand new experience, to stop us from wandering about, just waiting to go home.

We have no great urge to travel far. Margaret River is the area to be in South West Australia. Various people have told us not to go as far as Esperance, which we originally planned to do. So we plan a move to Hamlyn Bay.

Wifi connection is a constant difficulty unless you are in a town. Even then it is often Edge/ H or simply an enhance version of 2G- in other words slow! The town of Margaret River has good car parks and you can find a number of campervans here, all intent on using their pocket hot-spots to email. We do the same! We also buy muesli and yogurt. We book accommodation in Perth, back in the YHA because it is central and cheap.

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If anyone thinks they are going to camp on grass in this area in March, they need to think again. It is difficult to get fresh water for our tank, unless we would like bore water, and the pitch is sand here. But we are adjacent to the beach of white lime sand and the bay of turquoise sea.
Having set up camp, we walk the length of the stunning beach. It’s a steep sand waterline and not good for body boarding, but exceptional for walking, our feet plunge into the soft sand.
We think to move off the beach and towards the headland. We have been sitting, gazing out to sea for some time. As we climb the steps, we saw them. Black circles of underwater menace, cruising the shoreline. We’ve seen stingray before, once as we drove over a bridge to Philip Island, and then again in Russell. Then we were scared of them, remembering Steve Erwin’s fate. Here, however, people stand in the water watching them. We join them.

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The ray sweep the coast line for fish guts thrown back by fishermen. They Hoover up debris, keeping it clean. We see three large one and a smaller species, brown rather than black. We watch them eject water from a socket behind their eye. Fascinated, we stay for ages.

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Back at the van we download and sort our photos. It’s a small competition we have to see who has taken the best. John has a far superior camera to my Cannon Ixus!
While we eat a group of ducks visit the back of the van, sifting the sand with their beaks for food. They make a curious intense sound, that is very quiet!

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Body boarding – Sunday 18th March 2012


Waking in the National Park is awesome: silent, sun streams through the trees and gradually the birds stir.
Breakfast takes an additional edge as we sit virtually alone, watching birds: parrots, wax eye, fan tails and birds whose names I cannot guess.
We drive North to Prevelli. This weekend there is a surfing competition here, but we cannot get close to it. Instead, we park by a bay, observed by life guards.
The surf seems strong against the rocks, coming in short bursts near to us. John asks advice on the best place to body board, weed and rock free, just down the sandy beach…off we head.

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John just gets better and better at it, riding over higher and higher waves. I love watching him. Mostly I enjoy swimming today.
Despite being a wine growing area, well perhaps because of this, it is incredibly arrid. Dust lines the roads, blackened trees remind the grim possibility of fire.

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Because there is very little of colour, the sea seems an even more vivid blue, the waves shine brilliant white. It’s very inviting.

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Eventually we just sit on the beach in the blistering heat before admitting we need the shelter of the van.
By 2pm we have found our next campsite. We get a corner plot, take on water, empty the toilet cassette, which proves to be less difficult than we had thought. The dust is hopeless. This is a sheep farm and the sheep are grey. I think back to New Zealand sheep and their white coats.
As we sit under the shade of a tree, a strong wind sets up. Whilst it cools us, it also picks up the dust.

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Perfecting the camping experience – Saturday 17th March 2012


Now we are more familiar with the monster, Transit Van, and we have the special map for finding campsites, we feel much more laid back. We have no need to do anything! The camper van has become an end in its own right. It’s like being a snail, your home is always with you.

When we hired the van, there were a list of extras. To be honest we felt we were already paying lots for the van, but a picnic table and chairs seemed essential and a body board…

Now, my son-in-law makes surfboards by hand. He has a wonderful eye for a line. The boards he makes are works of art in themselves. He is a pro-surfer, entering competitions, able to judge them. His life was built around them until he met my daughter, but that is another story.

Anyway, he is always telling us to try surfing. Once, I tried swimming in the huge waves he loves so much. He taught me to dive through them, under the crest so it was safe. But I never, never felt I would like to get on the board.

Maybe that is why I wanted to take the body board with us in the van. Today would be a good day to find suitable waves.

The first beach is too rocky and only has small, really gentle waves.
The second beach is beautiful, but only the softest waves lap the golden sand.

Is this sounding too much like Goldilocks?

The third beach is a resort, an area for swimming has been cordoned off with a long pontoon. A little further along a massive pier stretches as far as the eye can see and a train takes those who wish to spend $29 to view the underwater observation area. There is a serious volley ball match on the beach and lots of families lounging under trees enjoying their weekend.

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No waves, no open swimming and too public for a first attempt.

Fourth beach: more promising. A boat ramp, waves just right, lovely sandy beach but sea full of sea weed.
OK this is getting a tad irritating. But John spots the ideal place just a few hundred meters away. And it is lovely! A stepped sandy beach, clear waves you can almost see through, a few people sun bathing and others swimming.

This is where the van comes into its own. We change into swimwear, leave everything locked in the safe, walk straight down to the beach. An ideal nursery board site.
We take turns to ride the waves, taking photos for evidence.

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I once saw a photo of John about 10 years old. He was in the sea, riding a piece of plywood, a body board. His face at 10 is the same as now, in the waves. Excited, full of adrenalin, achieving something a bit scary!
We spend ages taking turns. I have to admit that John seems to manage longer runs than me. The old pro!!

Done it! Hooray!

We picnic by the trees on the beach, dry off and set off South, again to Margaret River. The next site in our “Camping 6” book. For $14 we stay in the Canto campsite in the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. The individual pitches are spaced to provide complete isolation. There’s water but no power – thank goodness for our solar panel!

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We dine outside and watch the Milky Way intensify. As John says, it’s magical! It’s the perfect combination. Totally at one with nature, but with the luxury of our van, providing for us.
After dinner, John stays for ages admiring the stars, while I read. Then I join him, silently: the two of us sit in total darkness pondering infinity.

The camping experience – Friday 16th March 2012


Yes! I quite like waking up to the gentle light dappled by trees. The ability to reach orange juice straight from the fridge, whilst still being in bed is a good one too. Despite our last minute rush to choose a site to sleep, it has turned out well. We use the shower block, breakfast al fresco and wander over to look at the estuary before we pack things down so they won’t slip about. The only disadvantage is the water source is bore water so we don’t fill up our tanks.

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It’s a little daunting not knowing where we are going. Clearly, you cannot just pull up at a beautiful spot and decide to spend the night, no matter what the nice lady from Go Camper said. If the authorities don’t get you the sandy road would.
When we turn a corner, the fridge door swings open, spilling 6 bottles of beer over the floor. One opens with a mighty fizz and beer effervesces around the van. It smells strong! I resist the temptation to begin singing: “Six bottle of beer on the floor, six bottles of beer, you smash one down to fizz on the ground and there’s 5 bottles of beer.”
There is a little catch supposed to hold the fridge door shut; it doesn’t! After it has played this trick twice, we tie the door closed with string.

The main roads are very good, far better than we dared hope. We decide to go to Bunbury- why not! En route we visit Australade. We brew coffee, bring out the iconic table and chairs and admire the estuary, the cockatiels and the seagulls.

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Me? Sitting next to the van in a car park? I never thought I’d do this!

Bunbury is quite large. Again we park up by the sea and again we walk over to the sand for a while. When we return, another campervan has joined us. We wait for the owner to return. W need insider information.

They have been touring for months. This is their 4th trip. They are on the road for a year, enjoying their retirement! They produce a book, price $60, which has free or cheap camping sites throughout Australia. It would pay for itself after two free nights.

More and more I realize that retirement is full of people like this. Adventurers, who take their time. A whole travel industry rests on our pensions! Campsites are full of off season travelers, who are over 60 years old. They seem to fall into two camps (no pun intended). Those who are young at heart, and those who have more limited aspirations and cosier ideals. I hope I fall into the first category!

We march into town and buy a copy of “Camping 6”! It transforms our trip. We head for the nearest free site. It’s a picnic site, just off the highway. If I was unkind, I might call it a lay by! It’s in a forest and has no facilities at all, but it is free!
Of course we are not the only people here. Others have bought the book! About 6 sets of vans including a massive coach, done out for permanent living, build up through the night!
But I get a sense of natural camping, munching raisin bread with my coffee, sitting with my back to the crowd.
OK
We’re near a road. Sometimes cars go rushing by, but as darkness falls, it is silent. We have everything we need.

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Campervan – Thursday 15th March 2012


I love the YHA! Not that the rooms were sound proofed- which they were not- but a clean bed, inexpensive, right in the centre of Perth, with an ensuite, near all transport…and breakfast! Coffee, raisin toast and orange juice for two costs $14.

I also love Australia for its connected sense of public transport.plane, shuttle us, free bus circuit round town for sightseeing, underground just around the corner connecting with a bus service just over the road in Rockingham. All pretty impressive and easy.

By 11 o’clock we are at the camper van hire depot to pick up our Ford Transit. It takes nearly two hours to complete the paperwork, briefing and packing. The Welsh lady who owns Go Camper likes to explain things, mostly how well she is doing and how brilliant her business is and, of course her vans. Woe betide us if we have any problems with the van. I can tell, it will be deemed our fault!

We decide to leave our suitcases at the depot, so unpack (and re-pack) in the yard. There is very little room, of course. Dinky little cupboards, lift up storage under the seat/bed, a minuscule wardrobe, a safe (!): all get crammed with our things.

We had chosen a top of range, because I cannot see us being happy if we are too cramped or too uncomfortable. We have a shower, toilet, sink, cooker, tv with satellite dish, air conditioning and microwave which will only work if we are plugged into the mains. Then of course we have the solar powered battery and fridge.

We set off, very nervy with the odd judder of unknown clutch, to the supermarket to stock up. We cram the remaining space with food and drink.

It feels like such a massive, heavy vehicle, but John seems confident and parks in the car park like a pro, maneuvering it round bends and between parking bay lines, although I am aware it is slow to respond.

We drive to the nearest caravan park but recoil in horror! It’s more like a small city than the rural idle we had in mind. We retrace our path and park on the esplanade, making coffee and delighting in the experience of our new mobile lifestyle. But where to spend the night?

Out of town we head South, still trying to get the feel of our monster.

Our map feels inadequate and sketchy, but we take a right to a National Reserve. At first the road is straddled with houses but on the boundary of the National Park we get the feel we have been searching: rural, isolation, forest. Within a few km the road becomes dirt and very quickly after that sand, fit on,y for 4WD. John makes a three point turn and tries a different road, only to find the same!
In just an hour it will be dark. Best quit while we are ahead. On the other side of the main road is another campsite. Shady, better spaced pitches, quite friendly and for $30 we have power in a reasonably isolated spot. By the time we are settled it is dark. We have dinner, enjoy a beer and learn to set up the bed. It is large and reasonably comfy, it’s warm and we sleep well.

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Travel plans – Wednesday 14th March 2012


All the time we’ve been in Melbourne we have struggled to establish a mobile wi-fi connection with the best range within Western Australia. More by luck than judgement we have ended up with both Vodafone and Telstra. We spent ages trying to hire a campervan for two weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll take to confined living, so 2 weeks is plenty.
My wonderful Melbourne friend has agreed to hold some of our stuff, to reduce weight, until we get back to Melbourne on the way to Sydney and then home to UK.

Every thing is washed and packed.

What will Perth hold? And which way shall we travel when we get there? And…what will it be like in a campervan?

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We begin with a night in the YHA in Perth and treat ourselves to a meal out. The Korean restaurant was full, and no wonder. The BBQ set in a table with meat to cook yourself was fantastic. It came with 7 little saucers of potato, chutney, vegetables, soy sauce. For $24 it was a bargain. There are not many bargains to be had in Perth.
In our one night it appears a bold, busy city with everything you could think of. It must have grown considerably in the last 5 years because everything seemed so new.

Looking forward to tomorrow and getting the van!