ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures goes up, up and away in the Avon Valley

Giant Man and Tiny Balloon

For ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures, Ro and I went somewhere we haven’t been before … beyond Perth! Up and over the escarpment and east to the Avon Valley.

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 of the classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Let’s have an adventure that is 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.

Dark Shadows Welcome a New Day

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.”

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 sites and 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.

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.

A Collective Noun for Hot Air Balloons is a … Drift

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 in the north to Beverley in the south, 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 seems to be on the bucket lists of many people but keeps getting pushed down the list not from the fear of hanging from a basket but from getting up so early.  Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

Windward Balloon Adventures in the Avon Valley

Special Tip:  The National Ballooning Championships will be held in the Avon Valley between 30 August and 4 September, with lots of opportunities to be a spectator and a participant. 

Giant Man in Tiny ABC Studio

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

ABC Saturday Breakfast: From the Porongurups to Rotto, Tassy gin to South Australian cuttlefish and the wonders of Malacca.

A recent conversation with the ever bubbly Andrea Gibbs on ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast explored some destinations that took us around Western Australia, over the border to some of my favourite states and finally overseas to a destination that’s just so cool to say and even better to experience.

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Firstly, with ABC Producer Molly Schmidt firmly twisting my arm, we explored her hometown and holiday hangout, the Porongurups and Albany.  Then we ventured across the coastline with some descriptions of Elephant Rocks, Greens Pool, a bit of beach driving at Peaceful Bay and the discovery of giants in the forests around Walpole.

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ABOVE: WALPOLE TREETOP WALK

Then we had a chat about new ways to see new destinations and Rottnest is a great example of this.  This familiar destination is a rite of passage for Western Australians and a bucket list item for most tourists to the state.  With the new seaplane service taking off from the Swan River in front of the city you’re on Rotto in 20 minutes and can explore this incredible island, both on land and beneath the waves, before making your way back on one of the many ferry services available.

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ABOVE: SWAN RIVER SEAPLANES TAKE OFF ON WATER AND LAND ON … LAND.

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ABOVE: THE BASIN AT ROTTNEST ISLAND, MORE THAN A FAVOURITE, IT’S A RITE OF PASSAGE.

Next we took a trip to Tasmania and Andrea got very excited by my descriptions of the more than 20 gin distilleries to be found on the island and various DIY gin courses that are available.  We then came back to the mainland and to our great neighbour, South Australia.  There’s so much to see and there’s more to see than amazing wineries.  There’s some cage diving with Great White Sharks and a slightly more sedate wildlife encounter at Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf you’ll find the opportunity to snorkel with giant cuttlefish.

To finish our travel tour we hopped on a plane to Malaysia and visited Malacca.  I love just saying it. Malacca.  The Straits of Malacca have been an important sea trading route for centuries and led to an influence in this gorgeous town of food, culture and architecture in the styles of the Portugese, Dutch and British.  Interestingly, as well as having world heritage significance, funky hidden bars, evening river cruises and smiling faces everywhere, it is also one of the first large towns anywhere in the world to ban smoking in public.  Malacca.  Say it with me.  Malacca.

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ABOVE: AN EVENING CRUISE IN MALACCA

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ABOVE: MALACCA, OR MELAKA.

Travel discussions can lead you down a rabbit hole of inspiration.  This year try and think a little bit about trying to benefit the destination you’re going to.  Consider, for example, amazing destinations like South Australia who need our help as tourists to recover from the bushfires, particularly on Kangaroo Island.  In Western Australia, try a road trip to a country town you haven’t visited before or find a new way to visit a familiar destination, like a seaplane ride to Rotto.

Enjoy your travels, don’t be put off travelling, just try and contribute with your travelling.

6PR Radio: Chrissy and the Gentleman Traveller Find Luxury Abroad

 

On Perth’s best talkback radio station, 6PR, I recently discussed with my fine friend and colleague Chrissy Morrissy some options for luxury abroad; the magnificent Apurva Kempinski in Bali and the distinguished Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur.

A bit closer to home I spoke about day trips through the Avon Valley, from bakeries to canola crops, from Bentley Blowers to the history of this beautiful part of Western Australia.

The featured image for this post is the Apurva Kempinski Bali, located in Nusa Dua. The inspiration for the design are the classic and iconic rice terraces found throughout Bali.

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Above: The sumptuous lounges of the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur are perfect for high tea, gin and tonics or just resting between shopping sprees.

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Above: What makes a beautiful resort that you will return to again and again?  Water slides for the kids? Restaurants? Waterfront views? Rooftop bars? Maybe.  The Kempinski has all of these things but I think it’s the people who work there that are the greatest influence on your enjoyment.  Tom is holding a soft toy of the Bali Myna, an endangered local species of bird that the Apurva Kempinski is working hard to protect.

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Above:  The Library at the Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur.  Come for the atmosphere, stay for the food.  An enchanting and refined menu full of passion for the flavours that represent the melting pot culture of Malaysia.

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Above: The Avon Valley has rolling hills filled with wildflowers, rolling fields of canola crops and great towns with bakeries, museums, galleries and pubs.

ABC Breakfast Show with Nadia and Russ: Staycations. You don’t have to stay at home to have one.

A whirlwind opportunity to talk about and redefine the staycation.  You don’t need to stay at home and find yourself visiting Bunnings.  A staycation can be about getting out and about in your state.  Not very far from home but still out and about.

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A night away, not far from home is my new definition of a staycation

As Published in Have A Go News: Top Ten No Tech Travel Accessories

Have A Go News newspaper recently published my list of the Top Ten No Tech Travel Accessories that you should have on every trip.  They’re also all lightweight and easy to store.

Aquatabs are as close as I get to panic prep packing but because they are easy to tuck in your toiletries bag with other medications they’re worth having if you ever doubt the safety of the water you’re drinking.

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Have a Go News is distributed throughout Western Australia to nearly 2000 community centres, recreation centres, supermarkets and more.

So, my Top 10, in no particular order but I must admit the first thing in any of my bags is a pen . . .

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Top 10 Aboriginal Tours & Experiences in Western Australia

Are you a tourist?  Are you a local?  Are you interested, curious, amazed or attracted to learning more about the oldest living culture on Earth?

Here are my Top 10 Aboriginal Tours and Experiences in Western Australia, a state that stretches across a land that is over 2.5 million square kilometres with the worlds most beautiful beaches, remote deserts and ancient forests:

  1. Six Seasons Tour at Pullman Bunker Bay Resort (see featured image with local Elder Nina Webb showing Tom Parry how to use the guidebook while Pullman Bunker Bay Resort General Manager Leighton Yates watches on).
  2. Camping With Custodians (Pilbara and Kimberley Regions)
  3. Bindjareb Park (Pinjarra, South West Region)
  4. Black Tracks (Kununurra)
  5. Wuddi Cultural Tours and Centre (Dumbleyung, Wheatbelt Region)
  6. Laverton Art Gallery (Laverton, Northern Goldfields)
  7. Nyungar Tours (Perth)
  8. Yamaji Art Gallery (Geraldton, Mid West Region)
  9. Mandjoogoordap Dreaming (Mandurah)
  10. Jacks Story Telling Kojonup (Don’t let Jack tell you the tea is made from bush plants.  He gets it from the local supermarket up the road.)

These are experiences for the world to be proud of.

Discover. Immerse. Learn.

Top 10 Travel Essentials for Back in the Day … and Today.

Some of those golden rules about travel are still gold standard today.  The featured image for this story comes courtesy of my son Tom who took the photo while I was trying antigravity yoga at Four Seasons Jimbaran, a very safe and very luxurious resort in Bali.

Travel should increase your sense of daring but not heighten your sense of stupidity.  When we travel we should do things outside our comfort zone but not at the risk of needing a helicopter medical evacuation.

Similar to the choices we make when we travel, we need to consider what we travel with.  These days it’s the SIM cards, power banks, cables and chords to provide the life support systems for your phone which carries the apps, emails and photos of everything you need.  Or does it?

Back in the day, but still for me today, I have a standard list of ten things ready to go in my favourite bag.  I know they’re there if I need them and none of them need charging.

  1. Pen – Even if it’s just to complete the arrival card while you’re flying, it’s worth it.
  2. Alcohol swab – not to suck on if the bar prices are too high but for any scratch you get, particularly if you’re doing a bit of trekking.  Light to carry and easy to store in a pocket or wallet, just a quick wipe and you know that you’ve cleaned your little wound.  Also handy if you really need to touch a dodgy tap or door handle.
  3. Bags – Little zip lock bags and scrunched up shopping bags may be frowned upon these days but they have endless valuable uses when you travel.  They’re a quick and easy sick bag, storage for a phone if you’re heading near water, you can store wet clothes and unexpected things you’ve bought and you can safely store those stolen buffet breakfast items.
  4. Aquatabs – This is as close as I get to doomsday prepping when I travel but given they are light and easy to store it’s not like I’m stocking up on cartons of tomato soup for a nuclear winter.  If you get caught without a safe water supply these little tablets can save you and whoever you are travelling with.  In not much more time than it takes to dissolve, they turn a dodgy water source into a lifesaver.
  5. Safety Pin – This will make you look more presentable if you bust a button or zip and you can use it to carefully scratch at a splinter.
  6. Hard copy – Yes you’ve got all your passport copies, itineraries and bookings in your phone but what happens if the phone can’t save you because it’s broken or stolen? Save yourself by having copies (in a zip lock bag of course) and put them in the bottom of your bag hopefully never to be needed but they won’t take up any weight or space.  Countries like South Africa will want to see hard copies of travel documents, particularly if you’re travelling with a child.
  7. Tissues – Remember Elaine in Seinfeld being caught in a toilet with no paper and the lady in the next cubicle saying, “I haven’t got a square to spare.”  Last year in Italy I found myself in a cubicle with no paper and lets just say it was too late to back out of that situation.  Thankfully I remembered that in my little day bag I have a couple of tissues (in a zip lock bag of course) for that unexpected sneeze …. or worse.
  8. Spare glasses – If you need glasses you need to take a spare pair.  Why travel to see the sights if you can’t see the sights?
  9. Cut up photos in envelopes – This isn’t a dad joke bit it is the dad traveller in me. When tech fails and there’s a flight delay or other unexpected period of boredom, a few envelopes that have got cut up photocopies of photos make great jigsaw puzzles and keep young minds occupied for precious minutes.  Again, they’re light and easy to store.
  10. Repack – Not an item but a travel procedure.  Make time in your travels to repack and refamiliarize yourself with your belongings and where they are located in your bags.  Work out what you need for the next day and whether you need to keep the bundle of receipts from the days shopping. Is there anything you now realize you don’t need that you can donate to a local charity or post back home?

That’s my ten.  I like to think I’m a good traveller and that I cover bases for myself and those I travel with.  Remember it’s not just about what you’re prepared for but what those you’re with are prepared for.

The picture below is an example of where I possibly didn’t consider the wants of my travelling companion.

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Sorry mate.

 

 

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Long weekends, overnighters and day trips

What a great chat on Saturday morning ABC Breakfast with Christine Layton, discussing the Australia Day events from Broome to Albany to keep you entertained and then a few suggestions for daytrips and overnighters throughout Western Australia.  Get out there and find new adventures even on the most well trodden path.

Below are some pics to help you pick your next regional day trip or overnighter.  Have you been to Bridgetown or Rockingham recently?

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Above:  Go down The Rabbit Hole on the main street of Bridgetown for an amazing range of local artist workshops and galleries.

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Above:  There’s no way you will leave the lolly shop in Bridgetown without a smile on a face and a bag full of sweet treats.

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Above:  Get to Rockingham which has the best range of aquatic activities in Western Australia.  Kite surf in Safety Bay, visit the penguins and dolphins on Penguin Island and in Shoalwater Bay, swim with dolphins off Palm Beach, hire jet skis, jet packs, stand up paddle boards, kayaks or cast a line on the beach and flick in some whiting and flathead.