December 2009

P.S. To Ben’s parents: blame the late post on Grandpa. Grandma had it ready to go before we left for Oz, Grandpa blew the upload.

We arrived safely back in Perth, dropped off the van after a two week marathon of 4700 kilometers and found our way to our hotel. We spent the day cycling around the harbour, and now are going to have a wee nap before we go out for the evening to celebrate our New Year’s in Australia.

Our lovely vacation is saddened by the news that my 90 year old Mom has fallen and broken her hip, and is awaiting surgery in a hospital in Lincoln. Not the best way to end her year, but we trust that she will be well looked after and the surgery will be successful.

We do hope that your year ends well. Thank you all for your visits to our site, for your prayers for our ministry, and for the love and care many of you have shown to us for many years. We count it a very great blessing to share what God has been doing through us, and we trust that in the coming year, the Lord of all greatness will show His greatness to you in special ways.

The campsite at Pemberton had a wonderful kitchen and very clean facilities. It was also remarkably quiet at night, which may have been why I was able to sleep till past 7! While we were setting up breakfast we listened to two kookaburras having a set-to above our heads; it sounded like a laughing contest and you couldn’t help laughing in response. We cleaned up and set off at 8:30 down a winding road towards Denmark for lunch.

Just outside Walpole was saw a detour for something called a ‘tree-top walk.’ We had read in the Rough Guide that this was a worthwhile experience, so we drove up and found a parking spot – Pam physically blocking another driver from stealing it from us, much to my amazement! – and paid a very reasonable $10 for the walk. It was incredible!

What we saw was a very old stand of Karri and Eucalyptus trees – the locals call the latter Tingle trees, a most inappropriate name for such a magnificent creation – and how we saw them is by a 120 foot high walkway that winds its way among the trees in that forest. At this height you are about halfway up these enormous structures that tower above you from their massive bases in the forest floor below. The metal walkway sways with the weight and movement of the many people walking this aerial trail, and it is more than a little unsettling. But the sight of these trees, their majesty and beauty literally take your breath away. Pictures cannot hope to do justice to the scope and size of what we saw.

Lunch after that was anticlimactic, and we drove in kind of mesmerized stupor to Albany, our destination for the night. The campsite was crowded and not particularly nice, but when we broached the sand dunes separating us from the sea, the view took our breath away. We were staring at a simply spectacular view of the Southern Ocean, sparkling aquamarine under the afternoon sun, with the headlands of the bay marching seaward in the distance and the waves crashing on the foreshore in front of us. We had but one collective thought: we must swim!

We returned in haste to the camper, put on our suits – cossies, in local parlance – and retraced our steps to the beach. We figured we would probably freeze to death before we got waist high, but we were in for a surprise. The water was warmer than the Indian Ocean in tropical Coral Bay, 1,000 kilometres closer to the equator. We swam and body surfed the waves for an hour before we tired and dried out under sand that was as fine and white as icing sugar. We had burgers for supper and I finally got an internet connection that allowed me to call Mom and wish her a very belated Merry Christmas. We have just two more camping nights on what has been one of the best vacations of our lives.

P.S. I can’t seem to upload pictures through this weak internet connection, and will try again when we get back to Perth. My apologies, and thank you for your visits and your comments.

I can’t seem to sleep much in the van, despite retiring late with a movie and a book. I was still up at the crack of dawn, doing my exercises and talking a good long walk outside before heading to the showers. I chewed up an hour and a half on these things, but Pam was still not terribly happy at being woken at six-thirty; can’t say that I blame her for that. We had a light breakfast and rolled out about seven-thirty, just enough time to get to the Dome in Margaret River for a Skype call to Jon and Nic in Canada.

They weren’t home, but Jon was savvy enough to put call forwarding on Skype so we could track him down at Nic’s parents’ place. We had a lovely visit with them and Ben and Abi, who were delighted to “see” us and blew endless kisses at the monitor. Their cheery manner and happy faces have been with us the entire day.

We headed back to the Caves Road through the awesome Karri forest that lines the road and made a detour into Hamelin Bay to see the ruins of jetty that once loaded these enormous trees for shipping to London, England to build the stately mansions and stores of the 19th century. The relic in the sign above refers to the jetty, not yours truly, although after this trip it is likely to be true of me as well!

We also made a trip to Cape Leeuwin, the most south-westerly point of Australia where two Oceans, the Indian and the Southern meet. The drive across to Pemberly was uneventful and uninteresting, but the forests around Pemberly were a different matter. We had a lovely tour of the Warren Forest, filled with old growth Karri trees, some that were clearly more than 500 years old. After an unsuccessful and ill-advised attempt to take the van down a virtually impassable road to the river, we back-tracked to a much more civilized road that had a sweet little tea house where we could sit on the patio and watch the breeze move these magnificent trees in a gentle and endlessly varied dance.

Pam’s patience and watchfulness was rewarded with our first sighting of a mother kangaroo, her joey clearly visible in the pouch beneath her front paws, slowly making her way across the back field. They remind you of deer in their alert grazing, but their tails give them a clear advantage in providing both balance and locomotion, freeing their front paws to assist in the feeding process. We returned to our campsite and had a nice steak dinner and did a load of laundry. We settled into an evening of reading and blogging, quite happy with our lot in life and very grateful for the technology that allows us to visit with our children and grandchildren from the other side of the world.

I stepped out of the van this morning and found myself staring into the curious eyes of a kangaroo. He didn’t seem much fussed and continued browsing on the grass at his feet. I debated letting Pam sleep, but decided she would much rather see a kangaroo and woke her with a call. He scampered when I reached for the camera, but not before we had both taken a good long look at each other.

Pam cooked us a breakfast of eggs, ham and onions and once again we hit the road early, heading out for the town of Margaret River. We arrived in time to do a little shopping at a local farmer’s market, and filled in what was missing at the local IGA. We eyeballed an internet cafe for future reference, but the town was a little too touristy for our tastes, and we headed across country on some single lane back roads across some gorgeous hills and valleys lined with orchards, cattle and vineyards, some things we hadn’t seen much of further north.

We parked for lunch overlooking a place called Canal Rocks, a rocky intrusion into the Indian Ocean, weather and water beaten, and looking beautiful under a clear blue sky. We had to position a mosquito net across the tailgate of the van so we could see out without being pestered by ‘face flies’, these annoying little flies that are so desperate for moisture in this dry climate that they immediately go after your eyes, nose, mouth and ears. The netting was a charm, and we had a very pleasant and unmolested lunch of ham and feta salad.

After lunch we headed for the Ngligli Caves, an extensive limestone network that took us an hour to cover. It was well-managed and well-lit with a strong catwalk and informative displays. It was neither wet nor bat-infested, two things that we both hate, and in fact reminded us of the Beatushollen Caves near Interlaken. Feeling a little sleepy, we drove to Cape Naturaliste and parked in the shade for a wee kip.

Then it was on to some local wineries to sample their fare and talk about varieties. Australia is justly proud of its wines, and exports to much of Asia and many parts of the rest of the world as well. We ran into folks from Italy as well as Ireland and enjoyed the scenery and gentle ambiance as much as the taste of local flavours. Then it was back to the campsite for a quiet evening of blogging and reading.

I woke early in Freemantle thinking about calling home. I wasn’t going to let our last chance at a reliable internet service go without making another effort. I did some brief exercises, went out to the van and took up some coffee and milk and had it ready by the time Pam woke. Thus equipped we paid the 11 Aussie dollars to get the internet in the room for an hour so we could call the kids.

Jon and Nic were first, but although we left a message on Jon’s phone, there was clearly not much hope of getting them that morning. We found out later they had gone skating. We had better luck with Liz in Calgary, catching both Liz and Greg shortly before they went out to Greg’s folks for a Christmas meal. They both looked happy and relaxed and looking forward to a family meal. Greg’s folk’s just bought another place in Phoenix, but neither Greg or Liz can afford to go there this Christmas.

Then we called Dave and got an equally cheerful visit with him. He had delivered the Christmas gifts we had sent to the three of them and was planning on going to Greg’s place as well and had a couple of other Christmas invitations to look forward to as well. We tried Jon and Nic a second time, but no joy there. It was too early to call Mom, but Pam put in a call to her Dad, who was delighted to hear her voice. The nerve pain in his head had miraculously abated, leaving him pain free for the first time in years. Many of the family had been able to get together at Christmas at Ray and Diane’s new restaurant in Ipperwash. We praised the Lord for both of these answers to prayer.

The drive south from Freemantle was a real joy. Pam found us some really lovely roads to drive, free of traffic and full of interesting little towns. We stopped at one called Pinjarra with an old church and a wooden bridge over a verdant grass-lined stream. Lunch was hard to come by on Christmas day, and we made several stops in vain before we found a little deli with some amazing meats pies. We split a beef and Guinness and chicken and vegetable in the lightest flaky crust. We bought two more for lunch tomorrow.

Banbury on our drive south had a beautiful drive along the ocean front and we stopped for a short walk on a completely deserted beach. Busselton a little further south had a tacky beach with an enormous pier and four young kangaroos on the grass entertaining the tourists. The drive from Busselton south to our campside went through a tree-lined road that wound through bucolic vineyards that looked much the south of France. We marked a couple for further exploration tomorrow.

The campsite itself was set among the trees like you would find in Canada, and like all of the sites we have been to in Oz, was clean, well-run and quiet. The Aussies clearly love to camp as much as we do back in Canada and they take very good care of the natural environment. We have seen no signs of litter or vandalism anywhere at these sites, and everyone cleans up the kitchen and dining areas as if they were living at home. We set up camp quickly on a very nice site and went to bed very happy on Christmas Day. The Lord is good to us.

Geraldton proved to be a nicer stop than we had bargained on. The ocean was close, and as wild as it has been up north, with a wicked rip tide that scared us off an evening dip. The chairs were a nice addition to our evening meal, and we had another early night and got up early and we out of the campsite by eight. The drive to Perth was increasingly pleasant, the scrub of the north giving way to wheat fields and trees. Traffic was still light, and we drove through Perth without any trouble, thanks to Pam’s unerring navigation. I don’t think we have made a single wrong turn for over a week.

Perth is a very nice town, sun-washed and clean, and Freemantle was even nicer, with older buildings well-preserved and narrow streets that discourage traffic and invite pedestrians. We stayed at the Esplanade, a poor choice as there were plenty of B&B’s with more character in the neighbourhood, and the staff at our hotel were snooty. But the town itself was charming and we went out for the evening and quite enjoyed ourselves. We had eggplant pakora at the Maya and olive/salami pizza at Mad Max’s. We met a couple from Malaysia at the first place and a lady from Denmark at the other and had a pleasant evening.

The lattes at the Dome were a bust, far too sweet and much too small. Worse yet the internet, the only reason we went there in the first place, was patchy and we spent a frustrating half hour trying to call Canada and England. We finally gave up and retired for the night.

I was up at 5, as I usually am when I have to drive a long distance. It used to drive the kids nuts when they were younger. I would bundle them all into the car with their jammies and their pillows and drive two hours before they were awake enough to want breakfast. Today we got to Carnavon, about 250 clicks south before we stopped for gas and a coffee. Another 250 clicks got us to Bilabong Roadhouse for more gas, lunch and a ten minute kip before we hit the road again. That left us only 200 clicks after lunch. We got into Geraldton about three.

We saw our first (live) kangaroo today, bouncing across the road in front of us and then along the verge as we drove down the road beside it. It finally found a hole in the fence and bounded away into the outback. We saw an emu along the side of the road as well, looking bemused and unconcerned, and what was either a very skinny dingo or a fox slinking into the scrub. The wind in this part of the world is constant and strong and driving an extra height camper van is more like piloting a boat in a gale than driving; my forearms are weary from fighting the wind for seven hours.

In Geraldton I finally found a jack splitter so we can both listen to Pam’s iPod, and as a bonus we picked up a couple of campchairs at Kashie’s Kash Konverters. Would that make them kampchairs I wonder? They are a nice addition as they allow us to eat outside the van and be a little more sociable with our camping neighbours. Some German would help as well, as many of our fellow travellers are from Germany.
We bought a barbeque chicken along the way, and warmed that up with the leftover potatoes from last night. It looks like it is going to be another early night for the old folks tonight, as it has been an early start and a long day on the road. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and we have a hotel room booked in Perth for the night as a special treat. I am hoping to get this first week’s worth of blogs uploaded when we get to town, along with some pictures. Internet has been patchy at best, with slow service and coin operated machines that will not allow for thumb drives.

We saw pictures of the camp site destroyed by the cyclone just up the coast from where we were staying. There wasn’t much left. We are so grateful for the way the Lord has been watching over us on this trip. We are coming up on three thousand kilometres of travel over some pretty barren roads. If we did have car trouble, it would several hours in the blazing sun before someone else came by on some of the more barren stretches we have been on. He has always been so good to us in this regard, and we count this among His many blessings to us.

With the cruise in the outer reef behind us, we settled for a day of snorkelling from shore. The coral in Coral Bay comes within a few feet of the beach. In fact as we put on our masks and tucked our heads under water we were startled to see huge, almost transparent fish staring back curiously at us. We had not noticed them against the white of the sand.

Further from shore, maybe 20 feet, the coral started and what a variety of it there was. Stuff that looked like giant cabbages, stuff that looked like brain matter, pink and purple coral that looked like amethyst, great heaps of almost circular mounds and long spaghetti strands. And among the coral all manner of fish; tiny little electric blue neon fish, stately angel fish and brightly striped clown fish, fish that looked like they had been painted by an interior designer, with chevron stripes meeting each other on different angles, bright yellow fish with bright pale blue tails, thin yellow fish with dark eye spots on their tails, charcoal black fish with body length fins along their backs. It was wondrous.

Fortunately we had kept our wet suits from yesterday, as the water even close to the shore was too cool for our tropically adjusted skin. Even then we could stand no more than 30 minutes before we would have to get out and warm up in the sun before we could go back. And go back we did, for most of the day. Finally at around 3 we had to stop for lunch and reluctantly returned the wetsuits. We bought some Aussie beef at the local supermarket – the cheapest meat by far – and cooked it up with some potatoes and peppers on the campsite’s grill; a very nice meal at a reasonable price for a change. We had an early night as we are facing the longest drive of our trip tomorrow: 700 clicks to Geraldton.

There is a cyclone playing havoc with the north coast around Broome, and the effects of it could be felt in the waves and the wind at Coral Bay. So far we have managed to avoid any really nasty weather, and we are hoping that the cyclone doesn’t move any further south. We heard news that a trailer camp up the coast had been totally wiped out, but there is nothing to be done and nowhere else to go at this time of day. The cyclone is still 600 clicks further north, so we hope to be gone tomorrow before it gets this far south.

We had kind of a slow start to the day, the long drive yesterday taking its toll on both of us. When we did finally stroll down to the water to check out our snorkelling gear we were in for a nasty surprise. The waters off the coast of Australia, even in the tropics, where Coral Bay is located, are no match for the warmth of the South China Sea, or the Andaman Sea, our usual haunts. We were cold; too cold to snorkel! The locals assured us that it was warm; a balmy 24 Celsius. That’s 75 Fahrenheit by my calculations, and that is cold! We scooted back to the cruise office and inquired about wetsuits. Fortunately they were available to rent at a reasonable price, and thus equipped we caught a quick lunch in the van and headed out to sea.

The boat was glass bottomed, and with only a few of us on board, there was plenty of room for all of us to see the wildlife floating by underneath us, and there was plenty to see. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef off the East Coast, which can take over an hour to reach by fast boat, the Ningaloo Reef starts just a few metres off shore. The coral lives in symbiosis with a plant which needs to photosynthesize to produce the food the coral live on. The coral provides the structure in this mutually beneficial arrangement. As a result the Ningaloo Reef is in shallow coastal water, and thus easy to get to and see. Some coral mounts actually break the surface of the water in low tide.

On our way to the outer reef we saw an abundance of fish and a staggering variety of coral configurations. The highlight of the wildlife was a two meter long tiger shark, looking powerful and completely at ease prowling through the reef for turtles that nest in this area. With three tiger sharks on the hunt – other two just menacing shadows that we failed to float over – turtles were not abundant, and we only saw one loggerhead, too briefly seen for much of a picture.

Safely down current from the sharks we anchored to snorkel. Both the coral and the fish were amazing, and after a slow start to get accustomed to the strong currents on the outer reef, they had to drag me out of the water to get underway again. I keep thinking of Finding Nemo while we explore along the coast in these waters. The animators of that show did a good job of capturing the appearance of the clown fish and the seagulls in this part of the world. Today I saw the prototype for Marvin from that film, austere and self-assured feeding among the coral.

We had to settle for supper from the van again tonight. The local restaurant wanted 26 bucks for fish and chips. I guess when you are 100 clicks from the roadhouse on the main highway which is 500 clicks from anywhere significant, you can charge pretty much whatever you like. We had a baked potato and some beans from a can, and retired early again, our heads still floating from the cruises of the last few days.

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