Naturaliste to Leeuwin

November 18, 2011

A drive between two lighthouses with glorious scenery, back to co-evolution tomorrow.

Back to the coevolution theme tomorrow, for the moment I took my enforced one day off per week and drove from the lighthouse at Naturaliste to the lighthouse at Leeuwin in one long day

DSC_8127.jpgMy ACS lecture tour took me south of Perth for the first time in my life to an evening lecture in Bunbury on Thursday night. Looking at the schedule I decided that I might as well drive myself down and take Friday off rather than Saturday to allow an exploration of the coast between the two lighthouses of Naturaliste (left) and Leeuwin (right). I also reasoned that there would be fewer people around disrupting my shots (I still have nightmares about Italians with brightly coloured puffer jackets in Pompey) on a Friday than the weekend.

Wednesday had been a bit frantic. I’ve been keeping East Coast time during this brief stay in Western Australia so the day started at around 0400 with the morning’s batch of email. By lunch time my mind was swimming with spreadsheets so it was a relief to pick up the hire car and drive the coast road down to Bunbury picking up on some windswept scenes at Lake Clifton with its living rocks en route.

I’d booked into a $100 motel for the night and I drove past it twice, wondering if I could justify going back into town and trying to find somewhere with rooms which didn’t look like it would collapse in the first high wind. But I finally reconciled myself by the its only one night argument and made it into the lobby through two doors one of which fell of the hinges as I opened it. I was greeted by the australian equivalent of the old retainer grumbling about how the f***ing bitch had not printed the booking forms. Armed with key the room was a pleasant surprise, well against very low expectations, in that it was clean, there was no smell of damp and I had a view of the ocean. The free internet turned out to be using the lobby router but no passwords were provided and the old retainer mumbled something incoherently and refused to write it down. Thankfully a friend had leant me a wireless modem so I had connectivity but I blame myself. The ideal of free internet in Australia, where hotels regard using more than 50mb as a mortal sin, was obviously an indicator of some elaborate fantasy or hoax.

The earlier lecture in Perth had been packed, in Bunbury the quantity was less, but quality was maintained and we had a good session followed by the pre-Christmas b-b-que in cold and wet conditions! I ended up sitting by a Kiwi exile so the conversation turned within seconds to Rugby and thence (with more people included) to science fiction. By the time I got back to the neo-Bates hostelry I realised that my plan to see the sunset from Leeuwin and then manage a four hour drive to Perth was hazardous. Two micro-sleeps on a ten minute drive indicated that I needed to exercise more caution so I found the Augusta Hotel/Motel again at $100 and about the only thing available. Taking the its only two nights argument I attempted to book it on line but the hotel web site insisted that they were trying to take more money from me that quoted so refused to take the booking. This was novel to say the least but I took it as an indicator of honest and booked via Wotif who had no such compunctions.

DSC_7549.jpg The need to take a conference call delayed my departure, but I finally made it to the car park at Naturaliste and headed off on one of the extended walks over the headland and down to the beach returning via the Whale watching lookout. The flowers in this part of Australia in spring are spectacular. The waves crashing in on the rocks at the appropriately named other side of the moon beach enlivened my mating birds of prey and the deep blues of sky and sea that seem unique to this part of the world made it a spectacular walk. There were rumours on the platform of a Blue Whale sighting, but I couldn’t see anything and neither did anyone else in the half hour I spent there. I rather suspect it was wishful thinking from the small group of enthusiasts who were set up there for the day!

From there a diversion to the picturesque Shelly Cove and then a gentle drive down Caves Road stoping at all available beaches en route. I resisted the various temptations of caves. I’m partially claustrophobic and while I can do the tourist stuff for the sake of children its not a happy choice so on my own I can ignore it. Finally found a good source of coffee and then stopped off in the Boranup forest for some of the tallest trees in Australia (pictured).   

This was a very peaceful spot, until a troop of motorbikes roared through in single column. I’d previously met this group at the first lighthouse. These days motorbikes do not come in gangs, but are mainly late middle aged people who are terribly politely spoken despite the awful threats and assertions of their black leathers. Hence by choice of the collective noun more commonly associated with boy scouts. Once that was over there was time and space just to sit and look, and find the best positions to take shots of the trees. The car park had a lot of photographers and some very elaborate get ups including lights, tripods and stepladders. I just lay on my back a few times and climbed hillocks.

The wreaked pier at Hamelin Bay was my next stop and the walk out to the headland revealed the majesty of the reef. The weather was good, but the swell from the Indian Ocean as still impressive and the limestone of the headland created a weird other worldly sensation. From there I drove through Augusta, spotting the next motel, but moved out to the Leeuwin peninsular to scout out the land for what I hoped would be a spectacular sunset.   

The journey had kept the best still last. Just short of the lighthouse I drew into a small car park by a cove with a water wheel (after which it was named). The tide and light were just right and the movement of the sea awesome. I took some 500 photographs to get thirty (two of which are shown here)that I considered half way worthy of the atmosphere of that place; and I had it to myself.

DSC_8022.jpg From there I went up to the lighthouse and got in for a donation rather than the normal entry fee as it was approaching closing time. It is the place where too oceans meet – the Great Southern and the Indian. Its a bit reminiscence of the Cape of Good Hope, without the ostriches, but with snakes which provided a slight scare when I went off path to attempt a shot. It move faster than I did however. My description, black with a flash of red elicited the suggestion from the keeper that it was a Western Crowned Snake, and the further suggestion that I read the earning signs in future and not jump down into sunny spots from rocks without making a lot of noise first. I gather it is one of the least dangerous of snakes in Australia, but that is no great comfort especially when I didn’t get a photo before it disappeared.

Two hours to sunset so I headed back into Augusta and checked in to discover a marked contrast with the previous nights stay. I also had the added bonus of a french window which opened onto grass overlooking the river. The place also had somewhere to eat which was a bonus although it stopped serving food at 2000 which is ridiculously early, especially when sunset was due at 1900.

So settled in, wireless modem working and no major problems on email I returned to the water wheel for the sunset. It did leave a little to be desired if I am honest. I opened this post with one shot and there were some spectacular ray effects. However as the sun neared the horizon it was obvious that it would be obscured by low lying cloud and there would be no spectacular colours. So I left early stopping off to get a retrospective of the lighthouse with clouds behind it. More pictures on flickr by the way,

Returning to the hotel I went down for a meal to discover an atmosphere of off season tourists, local fishermen and kids on some ritual break. You queued up to order food and took the number to the table picking up a pint on the way. The food was basic but good, the company a curious mix of ages and attitudes and (thank god) no pretension. I had a few conversations, read a few chapters and then retreated to bed after lavish use of after-suin cream, setting the alarm for 0500 in part to catch the Blues v London Irish game live on twitter, in part for a conference call and in part to get back to Perth by 0930 to put in a days work before flying onto Brisbane on Sunday.

The next time I come out here I am going to try and take a few days off and do the coast walk between the two lighthouses. Its around 140km of fairly rough walking and enough access points that hotels and guest houses can be utilised with taxis to make it a good trip (my days of tents and bivouacs are behind me).

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