28 July—29 July 2002
Our stay at the chalet was perfectly enjoyable. The kids thought it was really special to be in a cute little cottage, and the proprietors had very kindly left half a dozen fresh eggs in a little basket for our breakfast. Susie cooked up some scrumptious omelettes and we were soon on our way to a National Park near Albany. This was only a short drive away, and we soon found ourselves on a windswept peninsula marked by huge outcrops of pale granite and low heath.
Our first stop was a fishing spot with wooden steps leading down to a very uninviting beach that featured a vast boulder that had been tossed there by a huge wave. A sign informed us that it weighed more than a diesel locomotive, and not to underestimate how treacherous and unpredictable the swell was. The point was well taken. As we watched a man rock fishing below, we discussed the mortality rate associated with this pastime. The large surf thundered in and the wind howled, and we put on more layers of clothing. It was exquisite.
Our next stop was The Gap. This was literally a gap that the sea had smashed into the granite cliffs. The southern ocean surged into the space and made a fearsome torrent and whitewash which, when it cleared, gave way to deep blue black water as cold as charity. We stood on the rocks above and pondered how many seconds one would survive in such conditions if you fell in. About a minute, if you were lucky, was our conclusion. If you were unlucky, you’d last five minutes. The grey skies above and the howling wind and the fearsome southern ocean made one think of death and the awesome forces of nature.
Near The Gap was a natural bridge formation carved into the granite. We paused there for a photo, and took in more of the rugged scenery.
We drove on to another spot called The Blowholes, and walked down to the granite cliffs where there were said to be fearsome blowholes that were active when the swell was up. They looked like an innocent gap in the rock. The kids were looking skeptically at these as some sort of non-event, when suddenly a clipped roar burst from the rock next to us, and made us all jump out of our skin. There was some sort of cavern below us, and when waves surged in the air was trapped and then forced under pressure through the blowholes. The sound was fearsome, but the setting was lovely. Even though it was rugged, there were grevilleas and banksias coming into flower all around. The Banksias were especially exquisite, and there were many different varieties competing for space in the scanty soil amongst the boulders.
After listening to the blowholes bellow out their fearsome song for a while, we headed back to the car. We visited a charming little lookout that afforded a view into the turquoise water below, and then a rocky hill that marked the highest point in the park. Here you could see Albany off in the distance, and you got a clear impression of the irregular shape of King George Sound, and how some of its waters are very protected and clear and turquoise.
We loitered here for a while. I marvelled at the perfect little gardens that sprang up in cracks in the boulders. The gray sky hung above us like so much corrugated iron, and the ocean stretched out below, measured out in the ridges of a swell that seemed to stretch back to Antarctica. The granite rocks on the shore were in fact once joined to rocks that now mark the extremities of the Antarctic continent. Time immemorial has separated the two with an ocean cold and deep as the night sky.
This was our first glimpse of the Southern Ocean on the trip. Having taken in the cold blustering wind and the stunning views, we turned back towards Albany in search of lunch. We found a nice warm café and sat down to hamburgers and lasagne and other winter café food, and admired the port below. Albany was indeed a pretty town. I would have liked to have stayed there and explored for longer.
After lunch we began the long drive back to Dunsborough. I sat in the back with the kids and nodded off while Susie drove for the first leg of the journey. While she and Cate chatted away in the front, Ruby studiously applied herself to some schoolwork. About two-thirds of the way home I took the wheel again. We travelled through some lovely back roads to Nannup, and arrived in Dunsborough after dark. On the way we played guessing games with the kids. It was great fun.
As we approached Aunty Clare’s place, a car madly flashed its lights at us. I thought someone was chastising me for failing to dip my headlights soon enough, but I slowed down in case it was a warning. Lucky I did so, as a big roo bounded straight out in front of us while we rounded a bend. I swerved and missed it, and miraculously the animal managed to avoid the back of the car as I corrected. This was a sobering reminder of why night driving is best avoided.
When we got home, Aunty Clare served up a delicious meal of chicken and rice. After dinner, I rang some old friends in Perth and in Fremantle to see if we had any chance of securing some indoor accommodation. We struck out at first, but my friend Geoff rang back to invite us to stay with him, notwithstanding the lack of a spare room. We were grateful for this. Perth wasn’t looking like an attractive option without indoor accommodation.
After the kids went to bed, Susie and I stayed up chatting to Aunty Clare, and after she went to bed we had a bath together and mulled over the wonderful trip we were having.
The next day was a service day for me. I did a load of washing in the morning, and took the car into Dunsborough for a minor service. Then I drove Susie, Cate and Clare to a Lamont’s, a local restaurant, for a slap-up girls’ lunch, and then drove back to Dunsborough to supervise the kids’ schoolwork. At 3.00 p.m. I went back to pick up the three Cornish women, who had eaten and drank their fill in very pleasant surrounds. We had a quick look around the art gallery next door (yawn) which was very tasteful I admit, but impossibly expensive. I returned to the house, did some more schoolwork with the kids, and then packed up the car with Susie. We made some pumpkin soup for dinner, and while Susie and Cate watched Jane Eyre on a video, I stayed up late chatting with Aunty Clare and writing this.