Last day camping – Thursday 29th March 2012


So, this is it, then! Last day of camping with the van. Very mixed feelings: I’ve enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It is top of the range! The toilet was a brilliant idea. The shower was really effective. I loved forest living, chance encounters with wildlife, like the 5 kangaroo the other day, the parrots who came for coffee yesterday or the kookaburra who liked mince beef. I’ve loved beach life in a van. The instant ability to rustle up a sandwich. The ability to move from beach to beach, choosing the best attributes to suit your mood, the comfortable changing room! And if you forget something, you can just walk a few hundred meters to get it rather than spending the whole day wishing you had brought a hairband!
It’s offered new experiences which I may never have tried, like body boarding. But the bed is hard, living is cramped and having enough water is a chore.
I ask John if he would ever consider buying a van, and he pauses long enough for me to know just how much he has loved it.

There are several pages of map to cover today but it’s all easy driving. There is a list of instructions on handing the van back. John takes them very seriously and wonders how to replace the gas bottle. I sit back and say “This has cost us a fortune and they can get their own gas bottle!”. Not a nice attitude I know….

By 11.00 we are parked by azure water, waves not suitable for body boarding, sand – golden. We stroll, eat, read and then make it back to base, handover the van. No gas bottle required- we had paid an excess not to need it. So that was lucky for me!

Next we take the train to Perth and settle back into the YHA.

We go back for another Korean BBQ where they bring coals to the table and allow you to cook your own. Only I burn things and cause enough smoke for neighboring tables to cough! Twice the waiter comes over to check we are ok! Yes! We’re fine thank you

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I lie in bed, thinking about the parrots who decided to join us for breakfast this morning!

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Surf and the kookaburra – Monday 26th May 2012


Just a short way from Hamlyn is Gracetown, made infamous in Australia recently due to a man being attacked and killed by a shark! Happily, we are there before the attack took place and have no idea of such a danger lurking!

The campsite at Gracetown is very empty. There is an ‘end of season’ feel to the region.. However, there are two beaches just down the road, one for surfers and one town beach. We go to look at the surfers. About a dozen try their luck at catching the perfect wave. My son-in- law makes surf boards by hand. They are beautiful things and he has an eye for the perfect line. He would have loved these waves!
We go to the town beach, and laze in the sun. John swims for a while and a couple of hours pass without problem.

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The idea of taking the perfect wave photo has obsessed John for a while and today he adds dozens of shots to his portfolio.

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Apart from spray in digital form, we are also looking for good body boarding opportunities. However, the surf is either too rough or too short. We move on to Prevelli, where there is a lot of choice but the surf is truly up here, despite us looking at 3 different beaches. We could not cope with the conditions and remain safe.

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Braver souls than us throw themselves into the ocean, just for fun. Some are on surfboards, one on a body board and one (!)just plays in the sea, diving through waves that tower two meters above him!

Back at camp, we begin dinner, when I notice a kookaburra, nearby, smashing his beak on the ground as if killing a fish (though I can see nothing in his beak). Intrigued I go to watch him, and he clearly watches me. I slowly step toward him, and he bravely flies towards me.
What do kookaburras eat? Fish! I have none. Meat, maybe. I do have some minced beef. So I offer him a tiny piece. This goes down a treat, and he stays with us eating from the hand for some 15 minutes or so. Indeed, it goes dark, while he waits with us.

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Magnificent Sunset – Sunday 25th March 2012


I thought South Island New Zealand was quiet but the roads here in Western Australia can mean that nothing passes you, if you are static for at least 20 minutes and often half an hour; and that’s on the state highway!
We are heading back to Margaret River. John does the driving, I have not even tried to move the Transit yet. Today, I feel I really should, but John seems very confident.
We spread the journey by breaking for lunch and toilet stops, but most of today we drive.
We end back at Hamlyn Bay, where we saw the ray cruising round the beach.
Although the best of the sun has cooled by the time we get there, we go down to the beach. I swim for a while and we laze on the sand catching the last rays, admiring the view. Then a short walk takes us up the headland to see the neighboring beach. By the time we return the sun is going down. Sunset over the sea…can you beat it?

There is a group of photographers with a woman in a gold dress capturing the moment, but I prefer to snap with my Ixus. It is really good with sunset!

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Nothing like it for beauty, in my opinion. John and I gaze in wonder at the colours and reflection.

A turn for the better(white sand and turquoise sea) Saturday 24th March 2012


It’s amazing that some of the least planned things turn out to be the best! As we peer through the curtains from the van this morning, there was a hint of blue sky, but even as we have breakfast, the clouds blot it out.
Yes, that’s it! Drive back to Perth!
We are on the road by 9.00 and just detour to the headland, where we see a guy pull out an enormous fish from the ocean. He bends to inspect it, has his girl friend take their photo, and holds it up when we shout our congratulations. Then he releases it back to the sea!
Within 5 minutes he has another, different fish again around 70cm and he…releases it!

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I don’t get fishing!
This guy is on really slippery rocks, with large waves crashing over him at times, his clothes are soaked, his girl friend looks unimpressed and he just wants to pat a fish? Ah well, chaqu’un à son goût.
The light improves as we drive back to Albany. This is the best way to Perth. We just need some supplies before we start off. By the time we get out of the supermarket, the weather is glorious: hot, hot, hot! It would be crazy to miss it and be in the van all day, driving. Who cares about Perth!
We set off with no direction in mind, past Denmark. A hunch, tells me to turn left: we do so!

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Amazing place. Greens Pool. A beautiful lagoon protected by enormous boulders, behind which huge waves crash, flinging spray high into the air. The contrast is incredible against the calm lagoon. We snorkel, see a few fish, lie on the sand, promenade along the white waters edge. It could not be more perfect!
This evening we find another National Park to camp for $14. We erect a washing line to dry our swimwear, sit under the shade of dark branches and begin a wonderful evening.

And to think! We nearly went to Perth!

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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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