Perth/WA trip day 6: caves, wineries, and back to the big smoke

Tuesday 10th July

We’d be heading from Margaret River back to Perth today, so we packed up the serviced apartment and loaded everything into the car, then headed to cave number two of our tour: Lake Cave.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave has guided tours, and while we waited for it to begin, we pondered the displays and the new-fangled terminology used. Their “Caveworks” display is not a museum exhibit — it’s an “eco interpretive centre”. And these are not just caves inside national parks that you can look around — no, they’re “living windows”.

The cave itself, like Jewel Cave the day before, is quite spectacular, particularly the steps down to the entrance mouth, which is itself a collapsed cave. Inside there were some amazing formations, and the guide noted that in the early days of cave exploration and tourism some damage had been done as there wasn’t much care taken by visitors.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave, Western Australia

On to Mammoth Cave, which includes no mammoths. It’s self-guided, using an industrial-strength iPod, and again, was spectacular in quite a different way, with vast caverns to explore. The way out reminded me a little of the Mines of Moria in the Lord Of The Rings film.

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

After all those caves, we craved lunch, and after a quick look at the Leeuwin winery (where I took a photo of some very wary cows), we ended up stopping off at the very impressive Voyager winery for food. It was so amazingly pristine that it gave me the impression of being a product of the slave trade, and they had the most massive Australian flag you’ve ever seen. We had a very nice, very posh lunch there, then headed north.

Cows at Leeuwin winery, Western Australia

Voyager winery, Western Australia

Some winery I can't remember the name of, near Margaret River, Western Australia

Our next stop was the amazing Canal Rocks formation, near Yallingup. We clambered all over them to have a look. My aunt reckons the same rock formations can be found in Madagascar, showing that we were all once part of Gondwanaland. It’s hard to describe them, so I’ll just post a few pictures.

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

North again, and another brief snack and toilet stop at Dunsborough, with each of us devouring something tasty from the bakery there. The boys, despite their unfavourable review of Spearmint milk a few days before, were rather impressed with the wide variety of flavoured milks in the bakery fridge.

In a fridge in Dunsborough, Western Australia

Then it was the drive back to Perth, happily against the peak hour traffic, which was pretty busy at that time of day.

After arriving back at my aunt’s house and unpacking and having a rest, we headed out for dinner: at Sizzler.

Sizzler is something that used to be common in Melbourne but has disappeared now… according to the Sizzler web site, they’re only now in WA, Queensland and NSW.

It’s all-you-can-eat buffet, surely words of joy to two hungry teenagers. The pricing is such that you basically order a main meal and get bottomless salads, pasta, soup, desserts and other yummy stuff all included.

My recollection is that Pizza Hut restaurants in Melbourne used to do a similar deal (but more pizza-oriented, obviously)… but Pizza Hut seems to have got out of the restaurant business; they only really do takeaway now.

Sizzler was pretty busy, even on a Tuesday night. Cunningly, they feed you “free” cheese-on-toast while you wait for your meal to arrive, surely a strategy to get you to fill up on the cheap stuff and eat less from the buffet.

The food itself is reasonably tasty. We all know that the deal is it’s not going to be fine cuisine, but neither is it horrible greasy euchy fast food.

I lost count of the number of times we went for refills of everything, but by the time we finished we were thoroughly stuffed full of food, and waddled out, very satisfied after a long day of travel.

Perth/WA trip day 5: The dizzying heights of Pemberton’s climbing trees, Margaret River caves

Monday 9th July

After breakfast we had a walk around the beach close to our accomodation. It was windy, and pretty bleak to be honest. What we hadn’t seen the night before thanks to it being so dark was that there was a considerable amount of recent fire damage to the surrounding scrub. Apparently the fires late last year had got very close to where we were.

Our accomodation, and nearby fire damage at Prevelly, WA.

Prevelly beach fire damage

We jumped in the car and headed initially south back towards Augusta, filling up with petrol at an old-style service station (though not so old-style they served you) at Karridale. In fact there was another one nearby branded Ampol — a name I haven’t seen in quite some time; I thought they’d all become Caltex.

I had to laugh at a dingy wooden shack adjacent to the service station, which was a bus shelter for TransWA (the government operator) and also bore a sign proclaiming it to be a South West Coach Lines/Veolia (the parent-company of departed Melbourne train operator Connex) “luxury express coach stop”. I can only hope the coaches are luxurious, because the stop wasn’t.

Veolia luxury express coach stop, Karridale WA

Karridale, WA

About 90 minutes on the road headed east (the Brockman Highway, I believe named after Kent Brockman from the Simpsons… or possibly not) brought us to our destination, the town of Pemberton. A quick stop off to use the loo and pay a national park entry fee, and we headed for the Gloucester tree.

On the road to Pemberton

Pemberton General Store

I must thank the readers of this blog, who had suggested the Gloucester tree. We looked up and around it, and finally decided that Jeremy and I would go up; Isaac and my aunt decided to stay on terra firma.

Gloucester Tree, Pemberton

The steps are just metal bars stuck into the tree. There’s also wire — I’d hesitate to call it a mesh because it’s so wide — to prevent you falling out or off the steps.

If you go all the way up, it’s 61 metres. Yikes. (It appears that some consider 61 metres/200 feet to be the minimum height for a building to be considered a “skyscraper“.)

Once I’d started, I tried not to look down. In fact if I’d been on my own there, after a few metres I probably would have been tempted to stop and go back down, but I kept climbing.

Gloucester Tree, Pemberton

We encountered another group coming down, and “hugged the tree” while they went past. One guy remarked that he’s terrible with heights, and if he could do it, we’d be fine… so we kept going.

We reached first platform at the top. From there you go a bit higher via more steps and a ladder until you reach the very top.

The view was terrific. You’re above the tree tops (which is the point of course; it was designed as a fire lookout). I could see the other trees moving in the wind, but the viewing platform appeared to be rock-steady.

Then I realised we were above the tree itself, which made me a tad nervous.

Another kid arrived at the top, having left his parents at the bottom and climbed up.

View from the Gloucester Tree, Pemberton

Top of the Gloucester Tree, Pemberton

After a while we headed down, which was harder, because you can’t see the next step without looking down. I tried to focus on just the steps, not the fact that we were many metres off the ground.

It was something of a relief to get back to ground level.

We headed a few kilometres over to the next tree: the rather less-regal sounding Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, which is even taller. Alas, it was closed for climbing (though secretly I was rather relieved, as my legs were still wobbly from the Gloucester Tree.)

Dave Evans tree, near Pemberton

Nearby we found something odd: an old arcade game cabinet in a shed by the side of the road, with the signage “Fruit and Veg”. Odd.

Near Pemberton

Lunch at Pemberton

We went back into town for some lunch. In perhaps a scene which you see more often in country Australia than in the big cities, two cops strode in, ordered lunch and ate it with their families, one holding his tiny baby on his shoulder.

The intention was to then ride on the Pemberton tramway, which (similar to the one in Walhalla) heads out for a tour around the nearby forest. Alas, like Dave Evans, it wasn’t functioning on the day we were there. The lady in the booking office said there was some problem down the line, aluding to tree branches having fallen on it or something of that kind. Oh well.

We took a look at some of the old trains stored nearby… there was one familiar logo on a diesel locomotive.

Comeng, Pemberton

Steam train, Pemberton

So we headed back towards Margaret River to start our run at the “Grand tour” of three of the caves in the area. There are many, many more, but my aunt reckoned these would give us a good taste of three distinct caves, without being overwhelmed/bored by them. First was Jewel Cave.

The tour guide moved us through the various parts of the cave, while explaining the features as we went. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a cave before, but Isaac has — on a school camp. He said this was quite different, and much bigger. Quite spectacular.

Jewel Cave, near Margaret River, WA

Jewel Cave, near Margaret River, WA

Jewel Cave, near Margaret River, WA

After that, back to our hotel room for some relaxation before out for dinner in Margaret River — yes, the Settlers Tavern with its free wifi again. (Hint: don’t get the nachos if you’re very hungry. They’re tasty, but not a big serve. Other than that, no complaints about the food though, and they gain extra bonus points for the wifi and prominently placed free water. I’d go back.)