Despite there being a rodent outside the van all night I slept well. I guess a combination of sea air good eating, being in my happy place, and living my best life makes all the difference. I also woke Simon when I needed the loo and made him come with me just incase I was savaged by monster rodents on my way there or back.
Funny story... the very first time I came to Australia. We were acting caretaker for the guy who owned a backpackers up on the Gold Coast. I was working at the time in a steam laundry and to get in to work for 0500 hrs so I was up at 0345 to walk down the beach to work. This particular morning, after stumbling, half asleep down the corridor in the darkness to the bathrooms, I could hear splashing coming from inside one of the cubicles. I knew there were just two of us in the backpackers, and one of us was still in bed. Thinking I'd scare whoever was in the cubicle I pushed the door really hard, it wasn't locked,(a good start) And there was nobody in there. Out bloody standing. What was in the toilet bowl all puffed out and soaking wet was a gigantic ninja rat, it was looking at me with those awful beady little eyes that horrible pointy nose and great long whiskers. I have NEVER seen a rat so big, it was almost cat size for gods sake!! It was so big it filled the toilet. And no, I am NOT exaggerating!!
Predictably I screamed my head off and sprinted back up the corridor to wake up Dorian drag him out of his bed by his big toe, and haul him into the bathroom to check it out and 'do' something. Seriously unimpressed at being hauled out of bed in the first place, he was even more unimpressed when we got to the bathroom and all that was left was a massive amount of water all over the floor, a soaked toilet seat and rappelling ropes dangling over the bowl (ok so I made that bit up). My only evidence of said rodent was a gallon of water all over the place. After making him check every cubicle and toilet bowl in the ladies bathrooms AND the gents, I was forced to admit it had gone. For the remaining time we were there I refused to go in the ladies bathroom and made him check the gents before I went in. Not trusting the sneaky devious rodents I felt it wise to hover for our remaining time there.
Sorry, I digress, we packed up early and then faced the toilet before moving off. Oh my god it made our eyes water it was so bad. I am now eternally grateful to Cait my singing teacher, for enhancing my lung capacity, so much so that after dashing out side for a deep breath I was able to not inhale again until I'd got back outside.
The campsite was in such a beautiful spot, I could in all honesty have stayed another night, but we were headed for Albany, which is the oldest European settlement in the state , it was settled in 1826, just before Perth. Albany's sheltered harbour was a whaling port up until 1978, and in the First World War it was the gathering point for transport ships for the Australian and New Zealand army corps (Anzac) troops heading to Egypt and the Gallipoli campaign. On the peninsula south of Albany there is a historic whaling station that is now been converted into a museum. At the time the station closed ut was the last operating whaling station in the southern hemisphere and English speaking world. Since whaling was stopped whales have returned to the area, and now humpback whales can sometimes be spotted from the bays and coves of King George sound. Sadly we were too late for that sight, yet another reason to come back.
Albany itself is spread out, no high rise buildings and the majority of the original settlers buildings have been preserved. York Street in the centre of Albany has old buildings either side the wide roads, and the roundabouts are full of flowers. The town hall (built in1888)is a two storey building with a gorgeous clock tower. It's still used and was the venue for the first regional meeting of the state parliament.
It has a being a Sunday there wasn't much open, although it was only 0800hrs, we found a nice little coffee shop and had a cheeky bagel, well I had half a bagel and gave Si the rest. I'm good like that. On our way back to the camper, loads of sparkly vintage cars passed through. The temptation to follow them was strong! Given the number we figured that there was a vintage car meet somewhere. Either that or they were out on a sunny day living their best lives with their old faithfuls.
We left Albany and headed towards our next destination, Denmark, another quaint little town, colourful and vibrant. It has a chilled out vibe to it, There was a market going on, but we didn't visit, the temptation to buy beautiful works of art would have been too strong for me to resist. The scenery around Denmark is picture postcard stuff, and driving around it with the windows down was a delight for the senses. The town itself was established by European settlers to supply timber to the early gold fields. There is evidence of early Aboriginal settlement in the 3000year old fish traps found in Wilson Inlet. Tourism started in the area during WW1 when stationed American soldiers from Albany took trips there. Once the war ended Denmark became really popular with Western Australians as a holiday destination.
Bidding Denmark farewell we headed for our base in The Valley of The giants eco park. This time I had booked ahead and we wanted to make sure we were sorted before carrying on with site seeing. We were greeted by Chris. He and his wife Maria took over the place 3 months ago. The site has underground electric hook ups, ultraviolet filtered water, hot showers laundry and washing lines. We were given a spot near the wash rooms that also had a concrete pad and a concrete path to the facility's. There is a wet room toilet and sink for guest with mobility issues, kitted out with grab rails and everything on a lower level, including a shower rack. The floor is painted in non slip paint and there is a plastic chair to sit on. Both Chris and Maria were very helpful and had some great recommendations for us. Whilst we might be a bit limited in the walking department that doesn't stop us enjoying excellent food and drink. Maria does sound healing, reiki, ultrasonic massage, and I think the environment lends itself to it. The site is just off the road but you don't hear the traffic so it's very very peaceful. Brightly coloured trees are dotted around the site and Chris doesn't put people right on top of each other. So it feels very private.
Once we had our bearings we drove to the Valley of the giants, a huge Tingle Tree Forest. The tingle trees only occur in this area and some of the plants can be traced back 65 million years to the super continent Gondwana when Australia was joined with what is now, Africa, India, Antarctica and South America.,50 million years ago the continent drifted apart and formed continents more or less where they are now, and they are still slowly moving.
In The Sourh west region of Western Australia the climate has changed very little from Gondwana times. The annual rainfall is between 1000-1200mm, the soil has poor nutrient content and is gravelly and well draining. This being the case, species from Gondawanan times continue to survive in the forest. Cool huh??!!
The forest canopy ranges from 30-80 metres in height and has both red and yellow tingle trees. The red ones can have a base circumference of up to 20 metres, can live up to 400years old and reach a height of 75metres. Big old buggers aren't they? They have really distinctive bases(aside from the size of them) in that they are hollowed out. The hollows are created over time by fire, fungus and insects,
Weirdly, (imo) the red tingles don't have a tap root, instead they have a shallow root system that spreads as they age causing them to buttress. This gives them more stability and the ability to absorb nutrients and moisture from the shallow soil. The shallow root system makes the trees vulnerable to compaction by people walking close to the base of them, and this is why the tree top walk was built so we can enjoy the forest without negatively impacting the trees. It also gives you the unusual perspective of looking out over the forest canopy , which is something quite special. The tree top walk was built in 1996 and is 600m long 40 metres above the ground, it has an incline to get to the top making it wheelchair and pushchair friendly which gets a big thumbs up from me. They allow 10 people at a time on a section. As Morgi will remember well, it's quite bouncy and sways a little. It's a metal and mesh construction and if you weren't a huge fan of heights you might feel a bit uncomfortable on it looking down through the mesh. Bob had a total melt down. The trees have grown in the 20+years since the kids, Jim and Kay and I were there, and it's as impressive as I remember it. There's a nice gift shop and also some educational buildings, but Si noticed there were stuffed rodents in there and steered me past them I bloody love this man!!!
Around the base of the forest is The Ancient Empire walk, its free to access and you can take as long as you want to do it. Again fully accessible to wheelchair and pushchairs, and a beautiful walk with masses amount of information about the forest life. The dappled sunlight highlights the trees and grasses, its fair to say I loved my tree bath. It's definitely a thing and I shall be doing more of it!
This place is another that holds precious memories of fabulous times. Now Si is part of them too.
Leaving the Tree Top Walk with the biggest smile on my chops, we drove towards our next stop. Valley of The Giants winery and olives, as recommended by Maria. Only a few KM away from the campsite, Chris very kindly offered to pick us up if we had to much wine tasting to drive. The limit here is 0.05, and not worth risking it. The winery is off the beaten track and on an unsealed road. The drive up to it passes through farmland vineyards and olive groves. When we pulled up outside the building we initially thought it was closed, then the owner pulled up beside us on a quad and led us inside. Ona wooden topped bar were bottles of olive oil and wine. We started off with a slug of olive oil in a little white cup. We were instructed to keep it in our mouths for about a minute to let the goodness absorb into the blood vessels and savour al the different flavours before swallowing it. It tastes was quite mild tasting but also a bit grassy in a good way. As it's an antioxidant it absorbs toxins from your body and then it gets eliminated. Next up was the wine, as Si was driving we shared a taster glass. Started with a white, moved onto Rose and finished with a red. All were really really nice, and I'm not a massive wine fan. The grapes are all picked by hand in full bunches to stop them spoiling. They aren't crushed but they are left for the juices to run from them freely given them a better quality wine. The white had been fermented until no sugar remained, so technically I could have had a barrel of that without consuming a calorie. The Rose was a little sweeter as they stopped fermentation early. Very good. The red was sweet, and apparently paired well with mammon, a fresh water fish that has quite a sweet tasting meat. The owners had been there 30 years and brewing for that length of time. It's a family run business and they make 10000 litres of wine a year. We were hoping to buy some olives for supper but they were sold out so we had a bottle of the delicious plice oil, a bottle of red for Si and a Rose for me. A perfect little excursion.
We got back to the camp site plugged in the van and sorted out tea and poured the wine. A chat with Chris decided our next day's adventures and with the kookaburra laughing at us from the trees we had a few games of cards until it got dark then went to bed. looking forward to our next days adventures.