A short drive to Bunbury to get us back into travelling after having a few weeks rest in Perth having stayed a bit longer than intended because Richard was ill with a cold and a fever. Bunbury is on the coast and is regularly visited by friendly dolphins. The Dolphin Discovery Centre there had good info on all the different types of whales, sea lions and dolphins that live in or pass through the waters around Australia and the centre also runs cruises and swimming with dolphin tours but we just sat on the beach and waited to see if any dolphins would visit the bay that day. We had a long wait but eventually one dolphin swam quite close while we were paddling in the water which was amazing.
Margaret River is a pretty area and town with wineries, caves and lots of other things to do. Once again I restrained myself from visiting the wineries. Instead we visited a birds of prey conservation centre, the Eagles Heritage Centre, a self-funded project which does good work taking care of orphan and injured birds. We found out lots of interesting things about birds of prey, in particular they have amazing eyesight: they can see in infrared, read newspaper headlines from 1km away, see a fly's wings beating and also see lots more colours than we can. We saw a lot of birds of prey at the centre and during a flight display of black hawks and a beautiful blue/grey peregrine falcon, Richard was lucky enough to get to hold an eight week old black hawk on his arm.
Most interesting was finding out about the biggest bird of prey in Australia, the wedge tailed eagle, which we'd seen eating roadkill in the remotest parts of Australia. It has such a large wing span (up to 2.5 metres) that it looks like it struggles to take off the ground, we've had some looks from them as we've driven towards them on outback roads which seemed to say, 'Why should I leave my dinner to get out of the way of your poxy car?'. Fair point, I reckon they could do a lot of damage to our car. They are majestic creatures but their numbers have been fallen greatly from 2 million to 10,000, part of the problem being that you can buy a license to shoot them for sport which ironically you buy from the Conservation and Land Management Department - not sure that having conservation and land management in one department is a great idea.
We also visited two of the Margaret River caves (Mammoth Cave (it's big) and Lake Cave (it has a lake in it))created because there is a layer of limestone running through the ground in the area. Lake Cave was very beautiful, a few hundred steps down to a cave which has an underground lake in it so that the limestone formations were reflected in the water. On the way out of Mammoth Cave we were stopped in our tracks by this big goanna that wanted to cross the footpath.
For once we enjoyed the backpackers we stayed in - Margaret River Lodge was a friendly and relaxing place with a swimming pool, pretty grounds and even free fresh herbs to add to your dinner. We found a pub with a band on that evening and decided to wait for a couple of hours for the band to start. The band's name, 'Days of Contempt', should have given away that the music was going to be heavy. It turned out to be thrash metal the likes of which I haven't heard, thankfully, since university days.
Cape Leeuwin is Australia's most south-westerly point so it warranted a slight detour to take a look at what was a pretty spot. So now we've been to the most easterly point (Bryon Bay) and the most south-westerly point but I don't suppose we'll make it to any of the other most ...erly points because a lot of them are quite difficult to reach. Not surprisingly for a cape there is a historic lighthouse there and it's also where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.
Then we drove to Albany which is also on the coast and is a small former whaling town but it is close to some interesting rock formations like massive natural bridges and some beautiful coastline which apparently can be matched like a jigsaw to some of the coastline of Antarctica from when they were joined. We actually thought that dog rock was the most interesting rock formation in the area! Another interesting live band that evening, 'The Hip Club' whose repertoire went from Credence Clearwater Revival to AC/DC to The Banana Splits!
The Whaling Station in Albany was the last Australian Whaling Station to close in 1978. It opened in 1962 and sperm and humpback whales were caught and then hawled back to the port where every part of them, except the teeth, was hacked up and boiled to produce oil which was used for many products including clean fuel and perfume. We toured a former whaling ship and also the decks where the dissecting took place which would have been swimming in blood. It sounded like a gruesome process and apparently it was impossible to get rid of the awful smell, not only did all the workers smell terrible but the odour permeated through the whole town for many years. Synthetic materials are now used in all the products that formally used whale oil and so whales are no longer needed. We heard interesting hunting stories, the worst one was of the man swallowed by a sperm whale and found alive in the whale's stomach 14 hours later. His skin had been completely bleached by the acids in the whale's stomach and he was in a coma but amazingly he recovered physically although not mentally, not surprisingly he went mad.
Wave Rock is pretty much what it says, a wave shaped rock. It's in the middle of nowhere and we hadn't thought it was worth a whole day's return trip from Perth to go and have a quick look at a funny shaped rock - although we did for Uluru. But, luckily we figured that we could drive to Kalgoorlie, a famous gold mining town in WA via Wave Rock. So we did and I'm glad we did. We only spent half an hour or so there but it was a pretty impressive rock and given his track record it's probably safest if Richard sticks to surfing wave rocks rather than real waves in the sea! The coloured bands on Wave Rock are caused by dissolved minerals which run down the rock in water from springs in the wetter months. As an added bonus we also got to see a cave shaped like a hippo's mouth called Hippo's Yawn.
Australia is full of wonderful freakish rock formations and often to reach them you have to travel into remote parts of the country that you wouldn't otherwise visit along dirt roads and single track roads.
One of the original Australian 'goldrush' sites, gold mining is still producing enough gold to be profitable in Kalgoorlie over 100 years after the first gold stike. Paddy Hannan struck gold after eight months of prospecting in the area at the grand old age of 53 years old but unfortunately he didn't make his fortune from it although many others will have profited heavily from the Kalgoorlie gold rush.
The town has been saved from the fate of other gold towns, now ghost towns, where the gold has become too sparse to support the town,
partly because the area is rich in other minerals and metals including nickel. Nowadays there is still some underground
mining going on but other mines have been opened up to extract the remaining gold by blasting. The 'Super Pit' is an open cut gold mine
Kalgoorlie that has blasts most days. The huge trucks which have wheels that are 2 metres in diameter look like
dinky toys in the massive pit which is currently about 290m deep, 1.5km wide and 4km long.
To find out more about the process of gold mining and panning we went to 'The Mining Hall of Fame' a museum built around a former underground mine where we went down just a few floors in the elevator into the tunnels where a former miner told us what his job used to entail - back breaking and deafening work. Seven and a half hours on the drill everyday meant that they constantly had the shakes and a lot of people died as the dust accumulated in their chests in the old days. Conditions have improved to some extent as they now dampen the dust with water to help minimise the amount breathed in by the miners but the miner that showed us around had stopped mining when the company he worked for lengthened the shifts to twelve hours.
We tried our luck at gold panning in a man-made creek which had been stocked with a small amount of gold. Richard didn't quite strike it rich but he found a very little bit which is probably worth about ten cents. He actually found gold twice but the first time he dropped it!
The gold pour demonstration was impressive and we got to handle what we thought was a very heavy gold bar but which turned out to be bronze because, obviously, they can't risk having quantities of gold around because they would need so much security. The Perth Mint is the only place where real gold pouring can be viewed in Australia. All in all Kalgoorlie is a very interesting place to visit, giving you a real idea of how life used to be while still being a thriving town with wide streets and big traditional old saloons. Oh and one last thing about Kalgoorlie, it is the only place in Australia where brothels are legal and one of the tourist attractions is a brothel tour.
The word nullabor is apparently bad latin for 'no trees' and is an appropriate term to describe this vast expanse of nothingness although some sections of the plain do have trees. The only civilisation on the Nullabor that we saw were a few roadhouses. We spent two nights at roadhouses and got a great view of the stars because there were no other houses and hence no light pollution. One of the longest stretches of straight road in the world is here - the 90 mile straight (146.6km) but there were lots of other long straight sections of road. The absence of visual stimulations (wildlife, towns and windy roads) meant that it was easy to lose concentration while driving and we had to crank up the music to keep alert. The only things of interest we saw were the odd road sign, I don't think we saw camels, wombats or kangaroos anywhere near this road sign but we did see these beautiful wild dingoes.
Near the end of the Nullabor we crossed back into South Australia and then travelled down the Eyre Penninsula making a couple of detours off the main road. The first detour took us 20 kilometres down a dirt track past striking scenery, with massive sand dunes and salt lakes adjoining the road, to see a popular but remote surfing beach. We had a bit of an incident on the way as Richard took a corner a bit fast and the car skidded from one side of the road to another and then back again - it felt like it was in slow motion but luckily Richard regained control of the car and we came to a stop with no damage done. It's very difficult to judge what the car is capable of on dirt roads but no taking chances from now on. The second detour was 55 kilometres on dirt road but worth it to see a big colony of sea lions basking on the shore and the rocks (they just look like big slugs in this picture). They were very lazy but would move very slightly now and then in an attempt to cool down, a wave of a flipper or a slight raising of the head and then flopping back down onto the sand. We were looking down at them from a view point as there is no access to the beach so as to protect this breeding colony. It was great to watch the youngsters swimming and playing and the others lazing about.
Port Lincoln was a nice spot. Lots of cafes and bars overlooking the sea and nice at night because the moon was reflected in the water. Unfortunately we got another speeding ticket while in the Eyre Penninsula, the policeman told Richard that they were stepping things up before Christmas - they probably get a bonus the more people they nick. This one, at $220 was more expensive than mine in Queensland but Richard was doing the same number of k's over the limit as I had been, 22 kph. Later that day we arrived in Adelaide, our stop for Christmas and New Year.