Returns, Reunions and Roadtrips: Adventures in South Australia

As with all posts, it was written much earlier than posted, so bear with me…

I haven’t posted anything in awhile and it finally seemed time to post again since Im in Western Australia! I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months. I feel like I’m finally getting with it and making good career choices back home, but that meant giving up a full time job for a partial contract. I love the staff and I have worked at the school before, but I do not teach any of the classes I am super passionate about. I have some great students but some challenging ones as well. The partial job also means when I get home in January I’m going to look for a second job. I hope by June I will be a full time or at least close to. Its for these reasons (aside from also simply loving Oz) that I’ve been so keen to get away.

The whole thing came about because I was in a long distance relationship and was hoping to see things through. I think when you care about someone you want to do whatever you can to keep it going. We spoke every day and made an effort but when it comes to it the distance between Canada and Australia is worlds apart. Things finally ended, amicably, but I had already booked a mutual flight to come visit over Christmas. I decided I’d like to keep my travel plans and visit friends as well as revisit some loved places.

Alice and I had met on a trip to WA in July. She was part of a group of five other Brits I spent the majority of my time with on that trip. When I told Alice about coming back in December we agreed to road trip Southwest WA. We started making plans and here we are!

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From camels in Broome to Christmas in Esperance

I took the train to Toronto Friday December 8 from Fallowfield to Toronto and then connected to Mississauga. I spent the night and flew Toronto to Los Angeles. I had an eight hour layover so I decided to get out and explore a bit. I took an uber and walked around Venice Beach for a few hours which was great as I really needed to stretch my legs. I loved the quirky aesthetic of the area; there were musicians, vendors selling art, henna tattoos and anti-Donald Trump pins. Skateboarders and bikers wove their way through the paths and you could never feel bad for your outfit as there were people in all forms of attire down there.  After a lazy lunch, I regrettably made my way back to the airport. A few hours later was my trip to Auckland. It is typically a super draining flight but the Air NZ crew were nice. The free glasses of wine didn’t hurt either.

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Plenty of sights along Venice Beach

There was a quick layover in Auckland then finally, finally onto Melbourne. The customs line was longer than the queue for Noah’s Ark but I finally made it out. Nick kindly picked me up and helped me do some necessary errands. My friend Rimma has been so  good to let me stay in her apartment while I’m in Melbourne. We had lunch at St Kilda and it felt SO GOOD to get back by the ocean. We spent a few hours relaxing in the gardens before going out to the Open Air Cinema. It was a soso movie but the experience was great. It started to get quite cold and even the blankets couldn’t help so we ended the night.

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Revisiting the Botanic Gardens
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Reunions at the Twilight Cinema

 

Tuesday was another good day. I think the first day I kept repeating how weird I feel because of the long travel, my tiredness, the elation of seeing Melbourne and a friendly face, and the odd sense of being misplaced… Why was I here? But Tuesday it was clear. I woke up in Elsternwick ecstatic and eager to go out for a Melbourne brunch. I enjoyed a quinoa bowl and flat white solo at Penta and relished every minute. I then went down to the Remembrance Shrine to meet two British Backpackers and we wandered the Botanical Gardens then grabbed a beer at Riverland. It was nice to hear Tom’s tales of Southeast Asia as he was so adamant about the kindness of people in that part of the world, and he made me so keen to go.

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Beautiful views in St. Kilda

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Wandering with fellow travelers

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I went to Captain Baxters to catch up with my friend Victoria and we caught up over some drinks. I also went to visit Rimma at her parents while her leg was healing up and it was so great to rebuild the ottawa to Melbourne connection as she was someone I’d met in Ottawa three years ago! I had a really early flight to Perth the next day. I was up at the inhumane hour of 3:30 and had my flight at 6. I took an uber into town and met Alice at the car rental. By 10 am we were on the road to Margaret River via Dunsborough. The weather was sunny and fair, a fresh 21 degrees with a slight wind. I must say I was fairly exhausted and felt bad for nodding off a bit so soon after reconnecting with Alice. We made our way to the Busselton Jetty. I had seen so many photos of this monument but we learned, just like all the lighthouses in the area, that it seemed it should be free for the public but wasn’t. We took a photo then on we went.

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The first great area came up around Yallingup Beach. We explored Yallingup, Meelup and Eagle Bay and had our first taste of the beautiful blue waters. We walked our first beaches in nearly complete isolation, so glad for the first taste of our touches with SWA nature. I had read about the Eagle Bay Brewing Company so we drove up the hill and sampled a beer flight overlooking the beautiful bay. I finally felt in holiday mode. A friend had commented on a post that it was really cold and snowing back home so it only made the experience sweeter 🙂

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Bunker Bay

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Sugarloaf Rock

We stopped along a few more beaches before making our way to our hostel. It wasn’t as great as Google reviews had claimed. An old hippie greeted us. He asked us what we owed, what room we’d requested. We could have said anything. The doors had no locks which we didn’t like but most people were working there long term and seemed to know each other. The location was fine so we got settled and explored Margaret River. It’s a tiny one-street town with lots of eateries and gift shops, but I liked it. I suppose I’d have no problem living close to beaches and wineries. We had pizza down the street then relaxed for an early evening.

The next day was a mixture of exploring. We visited a few wineries, the chocolaterie and a somewhat lacking dairy with decent gouda. We saw Canal Rocks, Sugarloaf Rock and caught a Sunset at Smiths beach. We visited winery of the year, Vasse Felix, where I picked up some red for Nick’s mom. Over the next two days we continued seeing the surrounding area. I took a day to do wineries by myself which I loved. Cape Grace was a small family winery down a long dirt track, but they had a cute old terrier and the best chenin blanc I’ve ever had. I had a great day exploring by myself, and was thankful Alice let me borrow the car to do so while she read in town. I must have visited 8 or 9 wineries, had lunch at Beer Barn (which sounds crass but was actually lovely) and had conversations with lots of lovely people. I can totally understand why this region is a romantic weekend away for Perth residents.

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Our third night was in an airbnb which was comfy if not interesting. The host in question had friends over and was casually polite enough to invite us to have drinks among other recreational activities which we politely declined. It was good to get out of the hostel and sleep somewhere comfortable. We had a big drive to Albany the next day and set off at a reasonable hour.

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Vasse Felix

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Sneaking in some beaches around the wine

The thing about  Australia’s southwest is that it isn’t humming with throngs of backpackers; the young internationals seem to litter the east coast in droves, while far fewer make it out to its western companion. Ask the locals and they won’t say they mind. The beaches of the west were some of the best I’d ever laid eyes on, but there is so much more. Pemberton, the Stirling Ranges and the many Forest State Parks provide ample driving and hiking routes, and there are so many 4WD tracks around to take you to hidden secrets where you find yourself alone. Many times Alice and I would drive dirt roads to find beaches where there was nobody but us, the wind…. And often those little sand flies. Win some, lose some.

Highlights of the next day were Hamelin Beach where the sting rays come right up to the shore for you to see and photograph. The drive to Cape Leeuwin was lovely though I wish they wouldn’t charge you just to see a lighthouse. From there it was a long drive via Nannup to Albany. We stopped at Mandalay Beach which was one of our first solo encounters with a heavenly beach. Greens Pool and Elephant rocks were also beautiful, though overcast when we visited.

As we were heading to Albany, we were exploring some back roads when the engine oil light came on. It wasn’t consistent. We started (ok, I started) freaking out once we heard a grinding sound coming from the engine. The last 20 minute drive to Denmark was agonizing. We pulled into a gas station and luckily a young mechanic was there who came out to look at our car. Apparently the engine oil had been SO LOW it wasn’t even registering. We bought oil to top it up and continued along. Our hostel, 1849 Backpackers was really good. They had good common areas which was nice as we lost a day to bad weather. Alice got along well with a Brit named Adam who we spent some time with. I wasn’t overly impressed with the town but Alice said she may go back and spend a longer stay there.

Car issues continued. Leaving town the next day, the engine oil light was on again. We decided to call roadside assist and an hour later a guy came to inspect the Car. He told us our sump plug had been so close to falling out, there was engine oil all over the ground. If we had kept driving we could have destroyed the engine. We were thankful we called, but frustrated the rental company had not taken better care of servicing your vehicle. It is not the sort of thing you want to be bothered with on a holiday.

Albany had 3 regions we explored during our stay: West Cape Howe, Torndirrup NP and Gull Rock NP. Gull rock only had Gull Beach and Nanarup Beach, but Adam sent us up to Little Beach and Two Peoples Nature Reserve which were gorgeous. Again, practically no one in sight. Torndirrup was an easy drive with lots of little stops like the Blowholes, Stony Point, Cable Beach, Salmon Beach and the Gap. The rain cleared for us but the wind that day was unreal. West Cape Howe had of course, more beaches, where I do believe we saw dolphins, but of the 3 I would skip it.

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The next big drive was to Esperance via Stirling Ranges NP. We had wanted to hike but the weather didn’t agree with us the day before. We drove up but weren’t sure where to go, so we managed some photos with some back road driving. Plan better than us! We got into Esperance late and went to the pier hotel for dinner. Our airbnb hosts were really nice. They were permaculturalists and the husband retired at 38! These last few days were some of the best. We got up early and drove to Cape LeGrande. When you google search Australia, you eventually see photos of a white sandy beach with kangaroos on it. That is Cape Legrande. Lucky Bay is the main beach that takes ones’ breath away, and upon arrival, it’s easy to see why. This beach stretches as far as the eyes can see with waters of the bluest blue.  We walked for half an Hour and took way too many photos before heading to see Hellfire bay and Thistle Cove. We had lamented not seeing kangaroos at Lucky Bay but a curious pair popped onto the road just as we were leaving! If I had the time, I would definitely camp here for three days with a special someone. SO beautiful.

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We finished the day with the Great Ocean Drive, much like Victoria’s Great Ocean Road in microcosm. 30-something kilometres hug the coastline with endless beaches before finally wrapping back inland towards Pink Lake. I was slightly disappointed to learn it USED to be pink until it flooded and the algae died… But you can’t win em all. It was still a really nice end to a good day.

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The last day was largely uneventful. An eight hour drive from Esperance to Perth awaited us with one stop at Wave Rock. It was cool, but it doesn’t merit a day trip in my opinion. Alice put her purse down when we were exploring, then…. Whoops. Fear set in but I assured her people were good. We went to the visitor centre and a young boy had just dropped it off. As we drove the interior it got so hot- 27 in Esperance became 36 by the time we were taking turns to drive. I would love to say I’m going home to Canada with a nice tan, but half of it has peeled off. I think my ideal temperature is 25 degrees. Anything over 28 in Australia just feels like my skin is melting off  🙂

We dropped the car off at 430 pm, very dirty but in one piece. Our shrewdness saved the car from being junked, so I would have said something if they had put up a stink. We killed an hour before heading to the airport. Waiting in airports seems to be my thing lately. I’m starting to feel like Tom Hanks a bit as I type this in the Pearson airport…. (how did he ever afford the food?) We arrived at 6 and I flew at 130am. We arrived early Friday morning and so began part 2 of my trip, 6 days in Melbourne.  That was a whole other adventure which deserves its own update.  What was the southwest? Glorious scenery, kind people, amazing wine, nice airbnbs, and time reconnecting with Alice. I felt good driving on the left. Just don’t ask me to drive in Melbourne. It felt good to tick the region off my list since I’d wanted to go for ages. Another part of my Australia story becomes more complete.

I’m about to board my flight home (finally!)….

Part 2 soon.

Much love from Pearson International 💙

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