ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast … Lake Clifton and Preston Beach are happily between here and there

For Hidden Treasures, Ro sent me to get salty and explore an area that hasn’t changed, thanks to sliding door moments and big roads. Let’s hit the road and travel south. Not ‘down south’. Just ‘south’.

The first thing you need to know about Lake Clifton and Preston Beach is that they’re not backwaters.  Just like the thrombolites that lie by the lake, it looks like they’re not doing much but they’ve successfully survived by not doing much and they do it very well. 

Let’s start with the Lake Clifton Caravan Park which if you’re looking to have a quick getaway that includes your dog then this is perfect.  There are a few permanent onsite residents and while most of them are kangaroos and emus there’s a few people who call the park their permanent home. 

I love that their website asks you to make a booking but if you’ve made a last-minute decision as you’re driving past they’ll help fit you in.  It’s that sort of place … very laid back and very welcoming.

The 10th Light Horse Bridal Trail is 45 kilometres long and starts at the Harvey River Bridge alongside Yalgorup National Park and just south of the Harvey Estuary and Kooljerrenup nature reserve.  There are no real hills and if you love your walking and camping, particularly with kids, this would be a good way to spend a long weekend.

The Harvey River

Lake Clifton is a long thin lake that starts just south of Dawesville and ends at Myalup just to the north of Australind.

This is where you’ll find the Thrombolite reef. 

Science says Thrombolites are fragile rock like structures that are the work of microorganisms and represent one of the earliest forms of life on Earth.  But the oldest living culture on earth says they are Waggyaals Noorook, eggs left behind by the creator spirit.

Lake Clifton Thrombolite site

For bush walks the Lakeside Loop is around 5 kilometres and there’s kangaroos everywhere and little blue wrens flitting along the path to make you feel you’re in some sort of nursery rhyme – they’re just magical little birds.

There are several wineries to stop at and taste some local wines and ginger rum.

One of the wineries is even brewing some fierce ales and stouts as well. Ed, from the Thorny Devil Brewery, points out the flavour notes of his stout, slightly less eloquently than maybe Matt Preston would, “You can almost taste your sandshoes in it.” You know I love a good word and a hint to Ed’s age is his use of the word ‘sandshoes’.

There are a couple of great tour operators covering this area:  Mandurah Dreaming is an accredited Aboriginal tour operator and have a tour of the Thrombolites every Saturday from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.

Salt & Bush run a Wildlife Nocturnal Tour through Yalgorup National Park that takes in the Lake Clifton and Preston Beach area, including the lakes.

Lime Kilns located in bush next to Lake Clifton are a really interesting example of a sliding door moment for the area.  While dredging and transporting shells from the lake had been going on for a number of years over a hundred years ago, the kiln only operated for two days before they realised the quality wasn’t what was expected when making lime onsite.  So the industry folded and with it much of the settlement, leaving the environment to slowly recover and be seen for what it is today.  

Old Lime Kilns

As you pull into the Preston Beach General Store you’ll notice a couple of signs proclaiming how good their burgers and fish and chips are. This is a general store where I was lucky enough to be looked up and down by a couple of locals sitting out the front and a couple more standing at the counter when I walked in. 

It was assumed I was after bait as I have that rugged, salty fisherman look about me.  A nod of the head indicated where the bait fridge was but I quickly explained I was after a fish burger.  As I waited for the burger, I wandered the store, looking at the range of squid jigs, poppers and burley cages. 

I looked at the thong rack, ready for travellers who need a pair for the beach.  There were sandcastle buckets, jumper leads, crossword books, stubby holders and pocket knives.   

This is the General of general stores.  There was even flotsam and jetsam adorning the front veranda of the store!

Preston Beach General Store. Putting the ‘General’ in ‘general’.

Preston Beach is about 12 kilometres long and perfect to sit and eat the best fish burger in the world. It’s accessible for 4WDs or you can park in the carpark and walk through the dunes to the beach which is great for swimming and more often than not, good for losing your thong in the soft sand – good thing the general store is just up the road.

It can be soft even on the track to the beach so make sure you’re prepared to lower your tyre pressures or the only place you’re going is deep into the sand.

Eat the best fish burger in the world on a beach, from the bonnet of your car, looking out to sea. Perfect.

Lake Clifton and Preston Beach are Hidden Treasures because nothing has changed from when they were both popular, it’s just that a fast road was built that takes you past it. 

They’re still great spots for camping, bushwalking, beach driving and fishing, looking at ancient living things, sipping some very good local wine and brews and eating the very best fish burger in WA from the best general store in WA with a bait fridge bigger than the drinks fridge and the best sign in WA that boldly says “Bloody Good Fish & Chips”. 

As published in the West Australian, “Courtesy & Lovely Customs”

https://thewest.com.au/news/world/courtesy-and-lovely-customs-ng-ya-133501

For two families, comprising four adults and four children, our holiday to Bali has been much anticipated.

This is my family’s second visit to Pan Pacific Nirwana in Tabanan and on arrival I’m met by Riske, a member of the concierge team we met last year.

I tell her the kids are in the Sunset Lounge and she heads straight there. Before I catch up I hear the cheers and then I see the hugs.

There are not many places you stay where hospitality becomes friendship and these are the only places I return to.

Pan Pacific Nirwana Conceirge

Our days at the resort are defined by as much time by the pool as possible.

My plan for today

I’m there one morning with my daughter Matilda when general manager Guy Owen and staff member Romy Mansoer come over to introduce themselves. Matilda’s drawing of a turtle has been chosen as a logo for the Pan Pacific turtle conservation program and poster that appears around the resort.

Matilda’s turtle design, adopted by Pan Pacific Nirwana

They invite us to be blessed at the Tanah Lot temple so we dress traditionally and are given an offering of flowers and food to take. Tanah Lot attracts hundreds of locals and tourists each day, many drawn by the sunset.

Crossing at low tide, hopping between rock pools, we climb the steps to the temple which perches on the top of the island. We sit down, facing the main temple. After a blessing with holy water, we receive rice for our forehead. Rice is the seed of life and signifies a blessing by a priest for happiness and prosperity.

We’ve promised our friends a visit to Bali Treetop Adventure Park in Bedugul, in the north of the island, where the fun includes zip lines, rickety bridges, spider nets, flying foxes and Tarzan ropes suitable for all skill levels.

The quiet up in the jungle canopy is remarkable and is only pierced occasionally by an excited squeal.

After a couple of hours, we head to a hilltop overlooking Lake Bratan to enjoy a picnic lunch.

On the way back to the resort, we visit Melanting Waterfall and spend time looking at Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple, on the edge of Lake Bratan.

There are horseriding adventures a short drive from Pan Pacific Nirwana and Matilda and my friend’s son Fallon enjoy a sunset ride at Yeh Gangga Beach, just to the north of Tanah Lot. The two younger kids, Tom and Saoirse, have a pony ride at the Bali Equestrian Centre and then get to brush and feed the animals.

Not far away, Splash Water Park at Canggu Club is a good alternative to Waterbom Park in Kuta. It’s not as big and there are no queues but there are plenty of rides and a lazy river, just right for a couple of hours with the kids. The club also has a Bounce Trampoline Centre, tenpin bowling and a day spa where a dripping dad and daughter got themselves metallic temporary tattoos. Unfortunately, mine didn’t make it through the day but Matilda’s gold tree of life motif lasted several days.

One of the encounters I’m most fond of on this holiday is the walk with the kids to the nearby Pop Mart for the necessities of life; chocolates, chips and toys.

Walking back along the resort entrance road, we’re hailed by a trio of travellers on a golf cart. Inviting us aboard, Tom and Matilda are up on the seat before I can even make a comment about accepting a lift from strangers. As it turns out, two of the buggy’s occupants, Eza and Umer, are getting married at the resort.

The resort hosts about 50 weddings each year, with a quarter being Australian couples. In 1998, Rebecca and I thought the Left Bank in Fremantle was very special for our wedding reception but if I had my time again a balmy Tanah Lot sunset and a village gamelan orchestra would be hard to beat.

That night I arrange for a small gift and note to be delivered to their room as a thankyou for letting us ride with them and wishing them all the best for their life together. The next day there is reciprocation when delivered to our room is a lovely letter and two packs for the kids filled with an assortment of treats.

A Tanah Lot sunset

Isn’t it wonderful how friendships are made? This has been everyone’s holiday and it has been a bit more. It’s been about friendship; travelling with friends, staying with friends and making friends.

On our last morning one of the staff, Paramitha, comes over to see Tom. She has been so attentive of Tom, making sure he is always happy. She has a gift for him, a substantially sized Barong statue. This knocks him over like nothing I’ve seen before. He knows he has a friend and gives her a big hug, forgetting he’s climbed out of the pool and is dripping wet.

Other holidays have opened my eyes to more history, adventure and spectacle, it is friendship that has made this one the best of all.

As published in Just Urbane (June/July Issue): Pullman Bunker Bay Resort has Luxury, Landscapes and Culture

Beautiful by day and by night

For the June/July issue of Just Urbane I contributed a story about one of Western Australia’s best and most loved resorts, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort. Below is a pdf of the story published in Just Urbane:

Writing about resorts is always interesting.  I’ve just realised how much has changed for me in recent years when I’m looking for a resort.  Firstly, they’re usually overseas.

In the Age of Coronavirus I’ve had to look closer to home for the resort experience and I found one that is not only in my backyard but has developed a reputation for more than luxury, it is being acknowledged for including the history of Indigenous people in their story in an environment that feels like the resort is part of the local bushland.  It’s not about keeping the bush out; it’s about fitting in with the land how it’s always been.

Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is just over three hours drive from Perth and sits at the top of one of the greatest wine growing areas anywhere on Earth; the Margaret River Region.  These days it’s also world renowned for it’s other produce, including everything from cheese to truffles and steaks to ice-cream. There’s also world class surfing and fishing that can be experienced on a coastline that is both rugged and beautiful and if getting wet isn’t your thing, you can trek the coastline along the Cape to Cape Walk, an unforgettable journey through national parks alongside coves and cliffs for a distance of around 120 kilometres.

Hang on.  This is meant to be a story about a resort.  Well I promise you it is but it’s nice to know that you’ll be staying in a region that should be on the bucket list of anyone who loves good wine, great food, amazing adventures and awesome scenery.

But let’s get back to the resort and just relax, maybe planning a few short trips around the region but also taking the time to adjust to the time you’re in, resort time. 

It’s almost underwhelming when you arrive.  It’s not that it’s not sophisticated.  It’s just not grand.  You know when you arrive at the big resorts and there are long, wide steps leading up to the huge atrium style space for the reception and the concierge area and there’s also a community of staff to open doors, take your bags, offer you a refreshing drink and maybe there’s even a local cultural performance going on, or local musicians? That’s not the Pullman Bunker Bay way.  There’s lots of natural stone, a water feature, a simple driveway and an entrance that leads to a small reception counter.

But as I smile at the receptionist, I get distracted.  Peripherally my vision is being pulled to the left and my mind is telling me to forget about checking in and to check out the view.

This is why Pullman Bunker Bay Resort exists.  Bunker Bay.

Nestled just to the east of Cape Naturaliste, this small bay is extraordinary for being a sanctuary of shelter from the wild winds that batter nearby Cape Naturaliste to such an extent that a limestone lighthouse has been there for over a hundred years, warning ships from its rocky shores.

Bunker Bay is an aquatic paradise but probably not for those who seek the thrill of surfing.  There’s a lot of surf to be found in the region but this little bay is for those who want to dip a toe in the water, maybe do some paddling or snorkelling but whatever it is you choose to do your heart rate won’t take much of a jolt as this peaceful stretch of perfect sand and water immerse and calm you.

The resort is slightly elevated above the beach and the restaurant and pool have a view of Bunker Bay that is probably the only frustrating aspect of the resort.  I don’t know which way to look.

Is this enough blue for you?

This is a resort that provides meals that source produce locally and present it in a style that will make you regret leaving your phone in your room.  The view needs photos.  The food needs photos.  I need to lie down.

Ideal, comfortable and despite what’s outside, I don’t want to leave it

The resort has a community feel about it as you walk around.  There are no hallways or corridors, just open paths and vegetation between small blocks of earthy toned rooms that feature massive floor to high ceiling windows that allow the light and colours of blue sky and green trees to pour in throughout the day before being replaced by the brilliant starlight of a night sky that you only see when you’re away from the city.

So what has really changed for me in what I look for in a resort has probably been connected to the growing age and expectations of my children but it’s also linked to what we all have to learn when we start travelling widely again; thinking about out footprints and the footprints of the airlines, accommodation and travel services and experiences we all use. 

Beyond good sustainability and waste management, I’m looking for opportunities to engage with local culture as part of my luxury experience.  I want local art in the rooms that are available to purchase to support local communities, I want to contribute in a way that’s more than just coming to the area and staying, eating and drinking for a few days.  I want to meet local people and learn why their world is even more amazing than the most instagramable drone photo of yet another beach.

Pullman Bunker Bay does this.  I came home with local art, I came home having met local Indigenous Elders and having participated in a tour of the resort that opened my eyes not just to the worlds longest surviving culture but to what the plants outside my room could do for my health, why the coastal plants down by the beach were so delicious, how to find frogs on trees and lizards in rocks, how to speak local language and why the six seasons of the Wadandi people make so much more sense than our western understanding of the weather in Australia. 

This is a resort that is more than a base while you tour the Margaret River Region.  It’s more than a family vacation or honeymoon destination.  This is a resort that is like the best teacher you ever had.  Remember those teachers who inspired you and made you forget to look at the classroom clock and as you made your way home at the end of the day you were thinking about what you had learned in that lesson?  That’s what Pullman Bunker Bay Resort does for you.  Sure, you’ll swim in the pool, play at the beach, and groan with delight at the end of every meal but somewhere along the way you will also learn something about a beautiful culture and a remarkable landscape.  Best lesson I’ve had in a long time. 

Escape Plan

Covid-19:  While vaccination programs continue to roll out across the world and Australia has a program in place to vaccinate its population by the end of 2021 international travel is still not likely to resume until 2022. Check regularly with police, health and customs authorities before travelling.

Getting There:  From Perth, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is an easy drive of just over three hours, all of it on good highway roads with regular service stations and the regional cities of Bunbury and Busselton along the way. 

Visit the following websites for more information:

www.pullmanbunkerbayresort.com.au

www.margaretriver.com

www.westernaustralia.com

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Aboriginal Tourism around Perth and a bit further.

Beyond stories, Aboriginal tourism is about tangible opportunities to feel ochre on your face, touch kangaroo skins, dance and have some fun.

For ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast, Ro and I thought that we should do something to be a part of NAIDOC Week, which celebrates the culture and contribution of Aboriginal people in Western Australia. Below is a link to our discussion about Aboriginal tourism experiences in Perth and down the road.

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/saturdaybreakfast/naidoc-hidden-treasures/13449400

I thought we’d look at just a few of the immersive experiences that are available to learn and understand more about Aboriginal culture and just to enjoy and have fun.

As a local, it’s a great time to be exploring tourism opportunities.  Without the international tourists crowding the scene our world is our oyster and our world has the oldest and most remarkable living culture in the world. 

Whether you’re after education or entertainment the opportunities to immerse yourself in an Aboriginal Tour and Experience aren’t just limited to the great red dirt northern expanses of the state, they’re right here in your backyard and in your neighbour’s backyard.

They’re even increasingly around where you’ve always walked and cycled or gone to the footy.  Keep a look out for signage, statues and sculptures at your favourite spots, particularly for interpretive signs giving new life and understanding about where we live and who has lived here before us.

Here are a few of my favourite Aboriginal Tours and Experiences that are here in Perth and just a couple that are a little bit down the road.

All of them are accredited tour operators and are members of the WA Indigenous Tourism Operators Council who have the coolest corporate values you’ll find; 1) Connection to Country 2) Welcome to Country 3) Have Corroborees … to share and learn!

No buzz words.  They’re real words.

Let’s start in Mandurah and welcome you to Mandjoogoordap Dreaming. Anyone who has taken the Freeway and Forrest Highway down south has seen the longest name sign Main Roads has ever had to install.  The ‘Mandjoo’ means ‘meeting place’ and the ‘goordap’ means ‘of the heart’.  George at Mandjoogoordap Dreaming will teach you how to make bush twine and forage for bush tucker and learn the bushcraft of the region during walks along the Mandurah foreshore and estuary and a little bit on a bus for little legs and older legs.

Let’s keep going a bit further down the road but only as far Bunker Bay just to the west of Dunsborough.  Pullman Bunker Bay have partnered with local Elders to give guests the opportunity to do a Six Seasons Tour by exploring the gardens at the resort.  When I did the tour with my kids, Elder Nina Webb showed them the plants that could be eaten, used for medicine, and showed me what ones just look good as a bouquet for.  We found frogs behind leaves and lizards on rocks. 

This is one tour that showcases not just the flora and fauna but also the culture and language of the local Wardandi people and are showing how to work alongside a modern hospitality experience to include some authentic culture in your resort getaway.

Wardandi Elder Nina Webb takes resort guests at Pullman Bunker Bay on a tour of what is right before their eyes … and opens them!

We’ll stay south for another experience but head east to Kojonup to the Kodja Place.  It’s with great sadness that my friend and local legend Jack Cox passed away in March and I wish to thank his family for letting me mention his name today.  Jack used to greet visitors with a bush tea that was actually bought at the Kojonup IGA and he used to tell international visitors that he needed their help to find lost sheep in the gardens surrounding Kodja Place. The Kodja Place will continue to tell stories about his remarkable life and his family who lived in the area.  If you are putting together a bucket list of Western Australian cultural travel experiences, make sure the Kodja Place in Kojonup is on it because it’s a complete tapestry of stories from Noongar life to settler life in the area.

On our way back up to Perth let’s stop near Narrogin and go into Dryandra to meet my friends Ross Storey and Marcelle Riley.  As part of the Narrogin Noongar Ranger Tours and Experiences these guys tell beautiful stories through the use of dollmaking and in bush walks. I grew up with Ross and if you’ve ever wondered if anyone can talk more than me then just listen Ross talk about his country.

Ross Storey, based in Narrogin and telling stories about the Wheatbelt
Ross makes sure that all ages can participate, learn and have a lot of fun

Back in Perth let’s look at some tours that will be so immersive you’ll no longer see the land around you as a city landscape, you’ll see and feel the land the way it was.  Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences will walk you around the city, the river, and even on Wadjemup and get you singing songs, touching kangaroo skins, using tapping sticks and smelling ochre and crushed leaves in your fingers.  This is storytelling with knowledge, passion and fun and have you smiling all the way home.

Deadly Diva Experiences for Women is an experience I wish they’d let me participate in.  Tahn tells campfire stories and does wildflower walkabouts and it’s all for the ladies. It’s inspiring and intriguing and let’s use my favourite word of the day … immersive.  She is now looking at a once a year tour for the curious fellas so watch this space very carefully.

Get up to Kings Park as a family and participate in the Kings Park special events program that focuses on local Aboriginal culture and takes kids into the world of Kings Park before roads and playgrounds.

Finally, get to the Yagan Square Nyumbi where at 5:30pm every Friday you watch and participate in a smoking ceremony and dance.  The performers change each week.  Some Fridays it’s an Elders group and other times it’s the kids getting up and sharing stories with an audience that includes tourists, office workers and passers-by who never walk by when they see what’s going on. They also love a photo at the end of the performance and some of those kids will give you some cheeky feedback on your own dancing skills.

These are experiences for our community to be proud of and enjoy. Aboriginal tours and experiences are hidden treasures because they’re immersive and substantial on so many levels but most importantly, you can discover, learn, and have fun while you’re doing it.

As Published in Have a Go News newspaper … let’s go where the air is rarefied!

Have a Go News is a Western Australian newspaper with a hardcopy circulation of over 80,000 each month and a very strong online presence.

Click on the link below and hopefully you’ll be whisked away to the July issue of Have a Go News. Scroll through to page 40 and you can read my published story about hot air ballooning in the Avon Valley.

Have a Go News (July 2021)
Mist. And cold. Very cold.

There’s a reason that songs are written about being in the air. 

‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘99 Red Balloon’s, ‘Up, Up and Away’ and ‘Danger Zone’ are just a few classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Hidden Treasures is going on a special adventure beyond Perth this weekend.  We’re going further than we’ve travelled before, past Guildford and Midland that we’ve explored before and up and over the hills and out to the Avon Valley.

Our hidden treasure can only be discovered in the darkness but is soon revealed by the dawn of a new day. 

Let’s go hot air ballooning!

The Avon Valley isn’t far from Perth and if it was north or south it would just about qualify as part of the Perth Metropolitan Scheme.  Being just over an hour’s drive away it’s wonderful how easy we can leave the city behind, even if it’s just for a few hours.

Arriving at the Northam Airport I’m the first to arrive and there is nobody at the airport except for the resident cat.  It’s so cold that the cat jumps into my car. 

As other people start to arrive and huddle around the coffee making facilities, I’m taken by news articles on the wall that describe the history of hot air ballooning in the world. This sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s true, in 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster went riding in a hot air balloon in France. 

I had thought that the airport would be our take off point but Damien, our chief pilot, has been letting go of weather balloons and squinting at the night sky like an old sea captain. For this morning’s flight with Windward Balloon Adventures we must head west of Northam.

These guys have all the permissions required from the shire and farmers to access properties, so long as we remember to close the gates.

Still in complete darkness, our pilots inflate the balloons as they lie on the ground and the roar and brightness of the gas burners is a bit like those aerobatic displays of jet planes whooshing over your head. 

After a final briefing we climb into our basket and just like that, we’re away. No seatbelts. No worries.

I’ve done some wonderful air related activities in my life from the fastest and longest zipline in the world with my daughter Matilda down the side of a mountain in South Africa, to twice jumping out of aeroplanes, flying a beautiful Tiger Moth over Perth and the seaplane to Rottnest, and even trekking up mountains and being above clouds.

When I jumped out of an aeroplane I thought about the words of John Magee, a World War II Spitfire pilot who wrote a poem called High Flight with the first line, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” and the last line, “Put out my hand and touched the face of God”.

Astronaut Michael Collins died recently, and he once remarked that he wondered what John Magee would have been inspired to write if he could have been in orbit above the Earth. 

As we ascend from the paddock that becomes a mist shrouded valley beneath, I looked to the east and had author Douglas Adams’ words in my head, “There is a moment in every dawn when light floats and there is the possibility of magic.  Creation holds its breath.”

I can tell you I held my breath and it was amazing.  In so many of life’s travels and adventures it’s been the sights that are the most awesome but what was so immersively different about a hot air balloon experience is that sound becomes part of the canvas before you.

There is the possibility of magic ….

It’s mostly silent apart from the whoosh of the gas burners every so often to get some altitude. Looking down and around you’re suddenly struck by the sounds of parrots having an early morning squabble in the trees over who’s sitting on the best branch, sheep all going baa as they move across a paddock far below and even a dog barking from somewhere. 

There are other balloons to help with the perspective of what we’re all a part of this morning.  They drift along as we drift along and we rise and fall and our hearts sing with the joy of witnessing to a new day in a beautiful part of the world.

As we continue to drift, we travel over bushland with granite outcrops beginning to be warmed by the early rays of the sun and kangaroos jumping through the trees and in the distance on hills to the west we can see the shadow of our balloon and directly below us the reflection of the balloon is crystal clear in the river below.

We land in a harvester scarred paddock with a gentle bump and everyone helps roll up the balloon into a bag that is much easier to manage than any sleeping bag.

The Avon Valley stretches from New Norcia to Beverley, with the historic communities of Toodyay, York, and Northam all just a short Spotify playlist of flying tunes away.

Northam has the Avon River running through it and the champagne breakfast after the ballooning is held in a café overlooking the river, complete with white swans and suspension bridge.  During a champagne toast we are all welcomed to the club of Balloonatics.

Hot air ballooning in Northam is a hidden treasure because maybe Northam doesn’t seem far enough for a big adventure.  Also, ballooning may be somewhere on the bucket list but it gets pushed down the list because of the need to get up early. Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

You don’t have to be religious to feel inspired by creation taking it’s first breath for the day
Coffee and Have a Go News newspaper … a perfect start to your morning (especially on page 40)

How to Turn a Pinnacles Weekender into a Cut-Down Day Trip, as published by the West Australian.

As published in the West Australian weekend travel supplement, West Travel.

So Chris Parry has packed the car and the kids, and headed north. Not really north. But still north.

In an article some time ago, Travel Editor for the West Australian, Stephen Scourfield, showed how to do the Pinnacles area as a weekender. Now for the cut-down version, designed to tick the box on a great experience and demonstrate great parenting by me.

School holidays should be relaxing but the pressure as a parent to deliver new experiences and encounters can become a quest. “Not another playground!” was the despairing exclamation the night before. Inspired by Stephen’s article, I thought I could do a version that would be cheaper and maybe leave the kids exhausted the next day (and on the following day there was cricket on the TV).

Stephen had left home at 10.30am on Saturday. Scratch that. Get up at sparrows, wrap some toast in some Alfoil for the kids and hit the road.

The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park is about 250km north of Perth and a trip is made all the more enjoyable since the 2010 opening of the Indian Ocean Drive. Trying to enjoy a northbound day trip on the heavily trucked inland Brand Highway is near impossible.

How good is the Indian Ocean Drive? If you ever spin a bottle to work out what direction you’re going to head for a day trip out of Perth, make sure the bottle points north. Indian Ocean Drive offers a great driving experience. It is scenic which is enough to tick the boxes of all the occupants in my car.

Looking at Stephen’s itinerary, we are experiencing the wonder of the Pinnacles just after he has left home. It’s a summer’s day and by 10.45am it’s warm but the Kids’ Driving Songs CD still hasn’t melted on the dashboard from my apparent carelessness. Yes we still like a good compact disc in the domain of my car.

While Stephen is still on Wanneroo Road, I have paid my $12 entry per vehicle and begun the 4km Pinnacles loop in my seldom-tested four-wheel drive.

Here’s a photography and driving tip in one: you don’t need a 4WD for the Pinnacles loop but your photos will look better with a rugged vehicle to match the landscape.

As Stephen explains, the Pinnacles are “limestone pillars thought to represent the remains of a forest covered by moving sand dunes and petrified”. Alternative suggestions for their creation include the raw material for the limestone coming from seashells that broke down over time into lime-rich sands and then a bit of research adds some descriptions none of us are going to remember, such as “vegetation forming acidic layers of soil and humus” and “precipitation of indurated calcrete with subsequent erosion of the aelolianite”.

The Pinnacles Discovery Centre has now taken it under my advisement that my kids’ explanation deserves a display board. According to them, the Pinnacles were formed in ancient times by a group of children competing in a sand castle competition.

All of the children coincidently built the same style of structure that we now know as the Pinnacles. To celebrate this coincidence, it was decided not to smash the sand castles at the end of the day and let them stay there forever.

While we’re at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre, I reckon on Stephen’s trip you would probably be somewhere around Seabird, a small community 100km north of Perth. The Seabird community of the 1960s rejected the proposed name of Chalon and chose the name Seabird after a schooner of that name wrecked nearby in 1874.

The Pinnacles Discovery Centre is a very well articulated display of history and local flora and fauna. While the displays of snakes and lizards easily impress, it is noticeable how intrigued people are by the display of sandgropers. All I’ve ever known about this elusive insect is that it is the colloquialism for West Australians.

The sandgroper is subterranean and occurs widely across Australia in sandy soils. In WA it was available in the 1970s as a soft toy to raise money for Telethon.

After stocking up on some cold drinks, snacks and other essential items, such as glow-in-the-dark tshirts at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre shop, we make our back to the now suitably dusty 4WD and back on to Indian Ocean Drive, but only for a minute.

Spying a track on the coast side of the road, I pull into it and we make our way along a suitably narrow, sandy track, a genuine air of concern in the car. Surrounded by scrub with just a narrow band of white sand ahead of us, we round a bend and there’s a vehicle in trouble, spinning sand like a sprinting sandgroper.

With the owner pulling the shirt off his back and kicking his floor mats under the back wheels I ask if he needs some help. I realise immediately it’s the wrong question to ask of a man in trouble being watched by his girlfriend. No man in trouble wants help. I should have said, “I’ve got some gear in the back. Do you wanna use it?” It’s too late. He’s committed to refusing my help. We look at each other, both of us understanding what I must do. Slowly I get back in the car and complete a 15-point turn. As slowly and as quietly as possible, I drive off back the way we came.

The silence in the car doesn’t last long. An even smaller track leads off to a massive sand dune that is crying out to be explored. We leave the car and climb this monster of bright, white sand, surrounded entirely by bush. I remember the kids just running, falling and laughing but my favourite memory is of my boy running off into the distance, at least 150m away, on his own, flat-strap and barefoot.

Back in the car, we continue the drive south, taking in the recommended scenic lookouts until we arrive in Lancelin. At the Endeavour Tavern we grab a massive wooden table outside in the beer garden and order some equally massive pizzas to fill it — and somehow make some space for drinks. The kids run off to explore the expansive lawns and roll down the grassy slope, occasionally colliding with like-minded happy kids.

Looking at Stephen’s itinerary he has checked into the Pinnacles Edge Resort, enjoying his exploration of the surroundings and looking forward to a luxurious evening before taking in more of the area’s sites tomorrow.

At about the time Stephen is slipping easily into the comforts of good service and good food, I’m making my way back down Indian Ocean Drive.

I will be home in a couple of hours, having provided my family with more stories to tell and more adventures to remember, and all done in just one day.

Any angle of a Pinnacle is a good angle but it’s the light you want to wait for. I didn’t have time for that though.

A Wheatbelt Weekender

There’s some bias to be declared. I’m a Narrogin boy.  I haven’t lived there since 1988 but it’s still where I call home and my kids love getting back there every year to see where I went to school, got into fights, played sport (sometimes well, sometimes not) and the houses I lived in.

For this trip we’re doing some different bush walks and we’re also going out onto a farm to drive across paddocks and throw nets into a dam and catch some yabbies which can be called coonacs, gilgies and I’m still not sure what the difference is.

Having checked in to the local motel we grab our coats and trekking poles and head off to Foxes Lair, a local woodland full of trails of varying lengths.

We take the Granite Walk which is only just over a kilometre but has what we’re looking for; lots of granite boulders to scramble up and over and the Old Rifle Range where we successfully fossick for bullets embedded in the old mound behind where the targets would have been placed.

Having secured in the Parry annals our somewhat surprisingly successful archaeological experience, it’s time to make our way out of town to try our luck at catching some yabbies.

Driving across the paddocks to get to the dam attracts the attention of the sheep who all thought we’re there to feed them and they watch every move we make.

We pulled in hundreds of yabbies using nets and we also tried the old way of meat on a string being slowing pulled in.  Slowly, Tom.  Slowly.

We were on a strict catch and release experience but if we were catching what we caught it would have been a feast for the ages.

Speaking of dinner, the sun was getting low in the sky and the glow of a slow burning tree stump reminded us it was getting late and it was time to think about dinner.

A chicken parmy at the pub for dinner, the venerable Duke of York, was the one request of the kids and I half succeeded.  In the world of Covid19 we couldn’t eat at the pub but they happily cooked up a parmy storm and delivered it to our motel room on the top of the hill.

The following day is spent slowing winding our way north through small towns and slightly bigger than small towns; Cuballing, Popanyinning, Pingelly, Brookton, Beverley and York.  Beverley in particular was thriving with art galleries and cafes open to all and lots of murals on the walls of shops in the main street.

We take some time on the way back west to Perth to explore the Wambyn Nature Reserve, a gentle woodland with easy tracks that is a nice diversion from the heavy traffic heading back into Perth.

That’s it.  A weekender with plenty of time exploring the outdoors and plenty of time in the car exploring each our Spotify playlists.  Something for everyone, the perfect roadtrip.

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Above: Foxes Lair, Granite Walk

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Above:  Whether you call them yabbies, coonacs, gilgies or marron…they’re great fun to catch and eat.

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Above: A few of the local lads.

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Above: The gorgeous Narrogin Town Hall

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Above: Down a little laneway in York

Wadjemup Rites of Passage and New Opportunities for Adventure

There’s a little island off the coast that for quite some time now has attracted Western Australians, other Australians and increasingly the international traveller seeking a genuine sand-in-your-toes destination or maybe just an insta-worthy-pic with the worlds cutest animal.

Wadjemup (Rottnest) has just taken a couple of Red Bulls and is revved up for a summer that can still remain laid back or it can put you on your back with exhaustion.

Skydiving, fishing tours for kids, water parks, walking tours and new facilities like refreshment vans on the west end of the island now mean you don’t need to carry litres of water on your bike (plus, always remember that the various tour sites with volunteer guides carry lots of water that you can use to top up your water bottle ….. for free).

Tom and I began our day a bit differently for a trip to Wadjemup.  Rather than Barrack Street, Freo or Hillarys, we head to the South Perth foreshore. Within minutes of our arrival, the Cessna Caravan from Swan River Seaplanes comes diving out of the morning sun and lands smoothly on the water in front of us.

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Above: From South Perth to Wadjemup

The take off was more graceful than my graceless body surfing at City Beach.  The aircrafts pontoons lift off the water in the direction of Crown Casino and the Optus Stadium before banking to the west.

There was time to take in the view of the city, the coast, the ocean and then Wajemup came in sight.

I was scheduled to go live on air, in the air, with 6PR radio to describe the experience but the flight was so fast we’d landed at Wadjemup before they could cross to me.  Even with two laps of the island to take in the view the flight was only 20 minutes.

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Above: Wadjemup from the air with Swan River Seaplanes

Meeting us on the island is the Rottnest Island Authority Executive Director, Michelle Reynolds, who has very generously accepted the challenge of showing us around the island.  For the next few hours we are regaled with historical stories, modern day plans and have the opportunity to learn and experience the island like I have never done before.

A climb of the Wadjemup Lighthouse is 155 steps and because I’m a father I’m allowed to generate the odd dad joke or two so I asked Tom how many steps it was coming down.  Easy. Remember he’s only ten.

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Above: Wadjemup Lighthouse and one of the new refreshment vans

We visit the bays, inspect the beaches, salt lakes and tuart groves and watch as ospreys nest and seals bask and loll.  We buy refreshments from the new vans and felt a bit guilty, as we entered Michelle’s airconditioned car, that we were possibly depriving a thirsty cyclist of a much needed peach iced tea.

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Above: Refreshments from the van at Fish Hook Bay

When we parted ways with Michelle it was with a new appreciation for the work that is going into making Wadjemup better but also for acknowledging what people love most about the island experience, a laid back lifestyle where even sunburn and grazed knees just don’t seem to hurt as much as they do on the mainland.

Tom and I headed to the bakery to get a well deserved cream bun and a choc milk before making the ten minute walk to The Basin for a well anticipated swim.  Along the way Tom met his spirit quokka.  We didn’t attempt a selfie but first contact was made as Tom got down to eyelevel with a quokka and his outstretched finger was sniffed and touched by this amazing little animals nose.

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Above: First contact.  Meeting your spirit quokka.

At The Basin, a Christmas choir was singing from the waters edge and even the fish were joining in.  As carols reverberated off the limestone cliffs Tom and I swam along the reef edge and spotted all sorts of fish that were bigger than my foot, in fact both feet put together!  Bream, Trevally, Snapper and even a couple of retired old cods, just hanging out by a weed bank discussing the latest flotsam, jetsam and tidal trends.

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Above: The Basin

The fast and comfortable journey back to Perth by SeaLink ferry was made even better by the opportunity for Tom to take the captains chair on the bridge and monitor the compass as we made our way into Fremantle Harbour.  He was in his element, scanning from river bank to river bank and warning pelicans to get out of the way.

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Above: Tom gets instructions from the SeaLink Skipper

What a way to spend a day in WA!

Need to know more?

http://www.swanriverseaplanes.com.au

http://www.rottnestisland.com

http://www.westernaustralia.com

http://www.sealinkrottnest.com.au

For information on my day with Tom on Rottnest have a look at my Instagram account @chrisparrywritesforus

With Russ and Nadia on ABC Breakfast Radio: What have you taken from a hotel room? Be honest now.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1HhYe64zC_Q_JH8k4Kl8eo6PdBLqfiOnC/view?ts=5df04623

 

 

Wonderful discussion on the ABC Breakfast Show with some very funny talkback callers confessing to all sorts of things that have just ended up in their bags.

Do we leave our values and compliance with rules at home when we check in to a hotel?  As the hotel card is pushed down to activate the lights do you scan for what you can put in your bags?  Pens? Notepads? Body Lotion? Do Not Disturb Sign? Lamps? Batteries from the tv remote?

I’m a pen guy.  Love them.

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Above: My favourite hotel pen from The Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South Africa.  If you’re reading this Sun City it was my daughter Matilda who put the pen in my bag.

My son Tom is still worried the Narrogin Police are chasing after him for taking the complimentary biscuits in the room at the Narrogin Albert Facey Motel.

The Top 10 items taken from hotel rooms:

  1. Pens and notepads
  2. Do Not Disturb signs
  3. Shower Gel, body lotion, shampoo
  4. Box of tissues
  5. Coathangers
  6. Globes
  7. Batteries
  8. Towels
  9. Slippers
  10. Robes

Things you will likely be charged for include:

  1. Robes and linen
  2. Emergency torch
  3. Kettle
  4. Hair dryers
  5. Art work
  6. Wheels on the bottom of the bed

Pocket a pen, squirrel away the toiletries and maybe take a few tissues if you need them but try and leave everything else for the next guest.

You’ve paid for the room, you haven’t paid for its contents.

 

Radio Melayu: From KL to Putrajaya and over to Amazing Sabah

radiom1

https://www.facebook.com/radiomelayuperth/

Radio Melayu is such a wonderful community radio station and I love any chance to contribute to their programming.

If the link above works it may not take you straight to my discussion but if you scroll down through the posts then my latest chat was on October 18.

DJ Wan and I talked about KL nightlife and views, the pink mosque at Putrajaya and then we talked about my time off the coast of Semporna on Mabul Island and a bunch of other islands with high peaks, white beaches, sea gypsies and Nemo.

I was travelling on the Tourism Malaysia Mega Fam with a bunch of travel writers, journalists and bloggers from India, Hong Kong, Malaysia and New Zealand. We shared adventures and quickly felt like we were doing more than capturing moments we could write about or describe on radio. We became friends and fellow travellers, soaking up experiences that were genuinely breathtaking.

The land below the wind always takes your breath away, whether from the exertion of a trek or just sitting on a beach watching a Sabah sunset. The resorts are safe and friendly and the adventures feel undiscovered and exotic.

Make the most of your time in Malaysia. Whether its shopping, street food or hidden bars in KL or the tropical paradise of life on the islands off the coast of Sabah, there’s something for all travellers, all the time.

sabah5Mabul Island:  All your days I will sing in praise of your forests, waters, your shining sands.