The second day we spent completely in Esperance, which was a nice break from all the driving on day one. Our first stop was a climb up Frenchman’s Peak, which was pretty nice and offered panoramic views of the coast around Esperance. Back at the bottom, we went to Lucky Bay which was just stunning. The sand was as white as I’ve ever seen though the wind was fresh from Antarctica we still had a bit of a swim. Hellfire Bay was next, apparently named for a bit of St. Elmo’s fire happening on an explorer’s ship mast as he took refuge from a storm there. This was also a beautiful spot, we sat on the rock as the waves flew in past us and crashed maybe 20m below. I understood why people rate the beaches here so highly now. And that was BEFORE we took our little trip up the Twilight Road to see some of the other beaches closer in to the actual town; Esperance’s self-titled beach is one of my favourites. Or at least, it would be… until I came upon the Green Pools the next day.
Day three of our five day tour, Feb 20, brought us a long way once more. In fact we drove and drove and finally reached Porongurup National Park sometime after lunch, where we ascended Castle Rock in the late afternoon. The view was of scattered boulders – one balanced quite precariously – on the mountaintop and once we conquered those, of vast plains and mountains fogged by distance. Something like looking at the far western prairies of Alberta, I suppose. It was a nice walk up and, low and behold, I got reception with Vodaphone – the worst carrier in Australia, in my opinion – at the top. This was handy as I had to give my credit card details over the phone to an optometrist with whom I’d organized to get some more contacts dropped at Daren’s place. I also discovered that my iPod had been dropped off at Matilda Bay, presumably operating normally. Then back down and into Albany. While supper was being prepared, I went with Rowan and the Germans to a brewery down the street which did a nice white/wheat and blueberry beer. In fact, their pilsner was my favourite, but as you can tell I did some sampling. Back at the hostel, banana cake as an appetizer, spaghetti as a main, and more pints for dessert.
Day four was probably the best day of the trip. We were out of the hostel and on the road by 8AM, and it’s just as well, we had a lot of business to attend to that day. Our first stop, about 20 minutes later, was Natural Bridge. The rock here is an exact match with that found on the northern coast of Antarctica, which is pretty cool to think about. I remember feeling a breeze coming directly from the south and thinking that I was being called to explore the vast expanses of the south. Someday. Back in the real world, we got back on the bus and headed further along the coast to some blow holes. While water wasn’t coming out (luckily), massive blasts of air were. One of the Japanese girls on our trip volunteered her long hair to the blow hole and just about volunteered her shirt, too, when a deafening blast suddenly hit after a couple very mild ones. Then we were off to one of my favourite beaches in Australia, probably second after the Whitsundays – that is the Green Pools. The water was perfect, sheltered, and green, the sand white, and boulders were strewn everywhere, perfect for diving around and having a great time. The one boulder was a bit of a trick to climb but I got up my first time and had a couple jumps.
Not bad for a morning out. By noon, we were at a honey winery, sampling some tasty and some less tasty wines. I really liked their medium-dry wine, but I already have a bottle sitting in wait for my return to Perth. We were off to the toffee factory next for toffee and lunch, though lunch was hurried by a sudden downpour. Thankfully the rain let up long enough for us to do the treetop walk in the Valley of the Giants, which climbs up to 40m above the canopy. It was developed because the tingle trees below have some very delicate roots which don’t like being walked on all that much, and it’s become a huge attraction down here. Much more exciting was the diamond tree down the road, where you could climb 65 metres on pegs drilled into the side of the tree with no safety net really. It was the scariest thing I’ve done in Australia but really a great experience. That night, we had a house to ourselves and therefore a party and a big dinner to go with it. We played 20 questions and I was first Chewie and then Spock, which I guess means they’ve discovered I’m a geek. We all had a lot of fun that night.
Our final day we stopped at a chocolate factory, Flying Fish winery in Margaret River, and an aboriginal centre. The aboriginal centre has to be the best one of its kind in Australia, very hands-on and visual, including a tool-making demonstration. The amount of things they used the trees and rocks for is astounding – they even found a tree which could deoxygenate the water temporarily and thus send fish to the surface where they could easily be scooped. We also learned about their barbaric but effective punishment of crime. Steal a boomerang? Two warriors were dispatched to find you and bring you and it back, whereupon your hand was placed on a rock and another rock at the end of a stick was brought down with full force on your dominant hand, breaking every single bone and identifying you as a thief after you’d been outcast. No second chances here. If you managed to escape, you knew that after two weeks a family member would be taking the punishment for you. Prisons were not an issue.
Finally, we stopped by the Ngili caves which were quite spectacular. Lots of recording has been done down here and I can see why, the acoustics are great, nevermind the ambience. Our final stop was Busselton Jetty, the longest jetty in the world stretching 2km into the ocean. We got some ice cream, a group photo or two, and returned to Perth that Friday night. Saturday morning brought three hours of talk with everyone back home, some errands in the city, and a trip to Matilda Bay to collect my iPod, final pay and tips – which for some reason Belinda had sent away to the office instead of leaving for me to collect – and say goodbye. I got a ride back to the city with a couple of the chefs, ran a few errands, and went home where I ordered Eagle Boys pizza delivery and cracked open my bottle of Rockford Basket Press Shiraz. Janine was home not long after and we watched a show or two and finished the wine, which was much better with company.
Sunday, I met with some of the people from my tour and Janine for my first and last Sunday session – a Perth staple – in Cottlesloe. I met some of Janine’s and Daren’s friends there as well as a few of the tour folk, we had some drinks in the hot sun, played pool with some crazy Aussies, and before I knew it the sun was down on my trip to Australia. I was at the airport at seven Monday morning, on a Garuda Airlines flight by nine, and somewhere between scenes of the inflight movie (The Ex) I caught my last glimpse of Australia, a reverse oasis; a sprawling desert paradise in my middle of the ocean, an immense piece of land so large that it is largely taken for granted and forgotten. I looked back out the window again; an empty ocean stared back at me.