Go west crone, in your little motor home
August 22, 2018 3:53 AM   Subscribe

Western Australian locals and travellers: how would you spend 8 days south of Perth in a small camper van?

Leaving/returning Perth early October. Never been to the western half of the continent. I like trees, a lot. And walking through them. Looking forward to seeing a sun set over a broad ocean again. Rock-pools are cool. I love wine, it hates me, so I'll only be making pre-planned and judicious cellar-door stops. Keen on history. Not keen on caravan parks - happier bush van-camping. Will probably weave my way through the south-west corner, go east as far as Albany then head back to Perth.

Most interested in your specific do-not-miss locations and inexpensive/free experiences. Will spend money on the sublime.
posted by Thella to Travel & Transportation around South West, Australia (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Locals who know more will chime in with other recommendations, but do you like hiking? If so I'd thoroughly recommend walking some of the Bibbulmun track. The hiking isn't that hard and it's amazing. My partner and I walked for three days on it near Denmark and really liked it.
posted by deadwax at 4:01 AM on August 22, 2018

Response by poster: do you like hiking?
Yes, muchly. But overnighters won't fit with my schedule and luggage allowance. Day returns will be my thing on this trip. So I welcome pleasant 2-4hr medium-fitness bushwalk-loop suggestions
posted by Thella at 4:16 AM on August 22, 2018

Best answer: I'm your girl! I grew up in the Augusta-Margaret River area and it fills my heart. Caves Road from Yallingup to Augusta is stunning to drive and there are so many things to enjoy branching off that road. Such as cheeses, wines, chocolate. It's lovely to have lunch at the Leeuwin Estate, amongst the forest and with beautiful food.

You need to camp/walk/savour Boranup Forest! Tall Karri trees for miles, winding trails and right near beautiful wild beaches. You could have brekky at Boranup Cafe with my friend Cindy Watterson's awesome foods amongst the carolling magpies and absent-minded emus. There are campsites all around Boranup Forest. [Contos has loads of spots nestled in Peppermint trees]

Go for a big walk along Hamelin Bay/Boranup beaches, or any along that Cape-to-Cape walk. [Ray Forma and Jane Scott's book The Cape to Cape Track Guidebook is your bible for finding great tracks] You might still get some wildflowers but our season seems to be arriving very early this year, and you will be nearing orchid season. Look out for spider, donkey and butterslip orchids in the forest.

I like going down into all the caves there, underneath the Karri forests. Jewel Cave, Mammoth Cave, Lake Cave.

Climb up the Augusta Lighthouse and watch out for whales. You can see where the Indian and Southern oceans meet in a seam off the rocks of Cape Leeuwin. I love seeing that, there really is a seam. The scenic drive from Flinders Bay around Skippy Rock and Quarry Bay gives you a beautiful view of the cape. It's also lovely to walk that track too.

You could enjoy Caves House in Yallingup on a Sunday arvo with a band, chill atmosphere and a spectacular drive into town. Dolphins regularly join the surfers at the main break there. There's often a food truck in the car bay as you drive down the hill. It's a nice spot to take everything in.

Walk out the Busselton Jetty - almost 2kms. Camp near Meelup Beach and hear the kangaroos munching around you in the night. You can catch the sunrise over the ocean here, which for a west coaster like me, never loses its magic. The colours of the rocks, sand and ocean are gorgeous. The Dunsborough Bakery has lost a bit of its magic over the years, but it is the surfers' go to for post surf victuals if you are in the Meelup area. There are places to camp in that area - I recommend wandering along Bunker Bay, Eagle Bay and having a casual lunch at Wise Winery or the Eagle Bay Brewery

You must walk the wilds around Canal Rocks which is one of my favourite places in the world. The Injidup Natural Spa is great too.

Oh, so much to see!

In Perth, make sure you wander our glorious King's Park. There are free guided walks, but you're sure to enjoy it on your own too, and it's beautiful in October. Lesmurdie Falls on the escarpment is a great place to walk the Perth hills. It gives you a great view of the coastal plain and is a good walk.

Other places I suggest down south are - from Karridale/Augusta, drive towards Pemberton and Walpole. The Tingle Forests rival the Karris at Boranup. Denmark, Walpole and surrounds are magical.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:14 AM on August 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I want to say a little more about the Hamelin Bay area, mainly because you said you were interested in history. An [admittedly colonial] history that you have to look more closely to see now amongst the tourism, wineries, gourmet foodiness, small holdings and surf culture, but it's pretty amazing to ponder if you have an imagination as you look around that area.

If you stand at Hamelin Bay near the jetty remnants [or travel anywhere along the coast towards Cape Leeuwin,] and look out at the Indian Ocean, you are looking at a sea graveyard of at least 17 big sea vessels and crew that fell foul of the wild storms of the roaring 40s, broken moorings, parted cables in heavy gales when trying to hitch to the jetty, got struck by whales, got stranded on a reef or foundered as they were being towed into harbour.

Behind you was a busy community of several thousand people all in service to the felling, carting and shipping of timber worldwide. Over 10 000 loads of timber were transported from Hamelin Jetty. Where the caravan park is now was the policeman's station, a miserable post, especially freezing in winter with the howling southerlies shaking the panes, from which it was nigh on possible to get transfer. In the carpark you can see an old anchor from one of the shipwrecks - I forget which one now. If you walk up the timbered pathways above the limestone there are a few basic informational stands to read as you walk the headland, with old photographs of the jetty and some of the railway. MC Davies built the railroad there, now nothing remains, and there were vast networks of tramways amongst his forests.

The jetty serviced thousands of workers who lived in the town of Karridale [now nothing remains but a chimney stack and some European trees growing incongruously amongst the Karris when you drive past Boranup on Caves Road] MC Davies ran his towns - Karridale, Hamelin, Boranup and Jarrahdene - as an empire, via a sharecropping mentality with its own currency, inflated priced goods that were the only place employees could shop [punishments and aggression for those who tried to circumvent his control], and demanded social deference such that even in my grandmother's recollections, people stood in silence when the Davies arrived at social functions. They had a mansion and had balls, and lived like English lords and ladies. It's kinda gratifying to see that only a fireplace of that home remains, Ozymandias style.

Those ships were part of a busy sea highway transporting tall trees for railways, ports, bridges etc worldwide. Such as to London, where for example our Jarrah [Jarrah is a big part of WA's colonial history - originally called 'Swan River Mahogany'] and Karri was sent to Kew Gardens and lauded by the British admiralty and displayed at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in 1886. I think it was even used in the construction of the London Underground.

The remnants of the jetty make more sense if you have seen the Busselton Jetty on your way down to Karridale, and the imperial value of the tall trees telescoped by the scale of the infrastructure that timber moguls like MC Davies created. [Even if you don't walk out the jetty in Busselton, do at least go into the visitor centre at the entrance to the jetty and look at the photographs and details they have there about the forests of the SW.] As you drive into Hamelin Bay area, take note of that crazy steep hill bearing down to the ocean. Imagining how the hell they got the timber up to the top of that hill from Boranup is one thing, but think about how the loads of timber behaved coming down that steep hill towards the jetty. At the top of the hill, nicknamed 'the shunt' the loads were not attached to the locomotive which dragged them up the slope, and the wagons were 'driven' down the hill at breakneck speeds by the many Chinese workers who had to stand on the handbrakes and pray for their life. People died on that train over and over. It's like watching Deadwood - the Chinese and the timber wagons were seen imperially as the same expendable things to the Davies. The locomotive would follow down the hill gingerly on its own to bring the empty wagons back up.

It's free to wander through the modest Augusta Museum, and many great photographs of a mighty colonial empire are there to see. I'm biased about the museum as my grandmother and I spent a lot of time together donating all the random timber mill artefacts we would find buried on our farm, decades after the milling had stopped and dairy and beef farming took over. As you drive around that part of the SW you will see old 'Groupie' cottages - remnants of the Group Settlement Scheme of the 1920s. Myself, and most of my school cohort grew up in such cottages, old weatherboard n tin-roofed modest built by teams of miserable British immigrants who were seduced into a long sea journey only to be starved, rained and depressed out of the scheme thereafter. Around the tiny hamlets of the south west you will see the old company shops, depots for these settlers remain. Some are now teahouses. My favourite is Darnell's in Witchcliffe.

What you will notice on this side of the country is the influence of Dutch and French exploration and trade - in the names of places in particular. West Aussies are sceptical of "Australia Day" being anything but an East coast affair, mainly because our side of the land is littered with evidence of several centuries of European interaction. In Augusta and Albany you can see remnants of whaling stations for example. Norwegians, Americans etc were here well before the colony of Governor Stirling was set up in 1829. As a child in the 70s we had a school excursion to Albany and watched whalers bringing in whales, watched them get fleansed and toured the whaling station.

You can probably see from this focus on the colonial, that local and 45 000 year preceding colonisation Bibulmun/Pibelman/Wardandi folk are missing from this set of historical recollections. There is still a lot of detail missing in the Augusta Margaret River region's social history, late to the post-colonial party. Which is very much to our shame. Its hedonism in eating, drinking, surfing and hiking really needs re-thinking in terms of the profile aboriginal people have in the stories of the region, and that is what I am sure you will notice against even lands further to the east for the MR region, or in Perth.

In this part of the SW you will see very few local indigenous folks represented in the lore of the place.
Eg Jewel Cave is important to the Wardandi, Bibulman folks in the Boojarah lands, yet this barely rates a mention as you tour the cave.
Eg The story of Sam Isaacs who, as a 16 year old, rescued folks when the Georgette shipwrecked in 1876 by riding into the insane waves at Redgate Beach, was never originally told that way, it was Grace Bussell his, also 16 year old, and white friend who received the accolades for many decades. You can still see a bit of the wreck at Redgate Beach if you go down for a look at the shipwreck site.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:02 PM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

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