It was finally time for us to leave the Great Southern and start to head back towards Perth. From Denmark we drove straight west and entered a region known as the Southern Forests. As the name implies there are large forests here, mainly of tingle and karri trees. Our first stop was at Walpole-Nornalup National Park at a place known as the Valley of the Giants. The park contains a large forest of red tingle trees - the only place in the world where they are found. The trees are members of the eucalyptis family but are quite large. They can be 50 feet around at the base and almost 200 feet tall. They live for up to 400 years. Walking through the forest with these really tall trees towering overhead is quite inspiring. But the Treetop Walk gives a unique perspective on them. The Walk is an elevated path constructed through the tingle forest that climbs 150 feet above the ground and lets you walk through the forest canopy. There is quite a difference between walking on the quiet, shaded forest floor and being high above the ground in the leafy canopy.
From the valley of the giants we continued on to Walpole and further to Mt. Frankland. This mountain is a granite dome that rises above the surrounding hills. It doesn't compare to Yosemite in the US - it's only 1336 feet high. But it is higher than anything around and provides an impressive viewpoint. After a short approach hike we climbed up metal ladders and stone steps to reach the summit of the dome. On top was a working fire lookout and sure enough there was a park warden stationed there. I told him that I was impressed by his office, and then we headed back down the dome. On the way back we took the scenic route - a path that went completely around the dome before returning to the parking lot. On the backside there were actually some impressive cliffs - the only place I have seen so far in Australia that looked like really good rock climbing. The whole hike only took us an hour and a half till we were back at our car.
Later in the afternoon we passed through Shannon National Park. This was a large kerri forest that had been logged for many years but now was set aside as a park. We at least had to stop for a sign shot.
We finally reached Bunbury. After the Great Southern, Bunbury seemed like a big town. Our hotel was just opposite a long beach on the Indian Ocean and was right next to downtown. The hotel itself was nothing special, just a generic hotel, although we did have a view of the ocean. For dinner we walked into the downtown area. It was somewhat mixed. I think Bunbury is in the process of "being discovered". Some of the area near downtown was old and run down. Other parts were obviously brand new and very expensive new housing developments. I think people from Perth are starting to buy vacation homes and so the new development is gradually replacing the old run down stuff. Might be a good spot to invest in real estate if you have a couple of million sitting around. I would be interested to come back in ten or twenty years to see what the place looks like.
It was Valentine's Day and the first thing we found out was that the restaurant at the hotel was fully booked. So we walked downtown. Sure enough, just about every nice restaurant was fully booked. We thought that we might starve but then we lucked out. We found a pizza place! Ok, so it was mainly a takeout place with just a couple of tables, but hey, the pizza was good. What more could you want for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner? Then it was back to our hotel and hanging out on our balcony with a view of the Indian Ocean and one of the bottles of wine we had bought earlier in the week.
The next day we went to the Dolphin Discovery Center. It is on located on Koombana Bay, a sheltered bay that is home to a pod of wild dolphins. Unfortunately it is also home to a large commercial harbor, so while the dolphin center was really interesting, it wasn't particularly scenic. There was a museum which was nothing special but the real attraction was the wild dolphins. And sure enough, about half an hour after we got there the call went out that the dolphins were coming in. We rushed out to the beach. There were about 50 visitors and the people from the center organized them into a long line that waded out into the water. Two dolphins came in and swam right by everyone. These were wild dolphins who just came in to check out the people. No feeding. No nothing. They probably just thought the people looked silly all lined up in the water. The two dolphins were a mother and calf. The mother was named Levy (note that her page is old and somewhat out of date). She is about ten years old. The story behind her name was that the first time she had come to the center as a young dolphin with her mother, there were some astronomers there. At the time the big news in astronomy was comet Levy-Schumacher and it's collision with Jupiter. So the young dolphin ended up with the name Levy. Her baby was named Eclipse. I guess they stuck with the astronomical theme. It was pretty cool to see two wild dolphins up close.
After the dolphin center we spent the day wandering around Bunbury. We found the local mall that even had a WalMart (called Big W in Australia). We checked out the local quilt shop, game store and tshirt shops. We took a long walk along the beach from our hotel. But this was the one cloudy and overcast day that we had on our trip. That evening we had a really good dinner at our hotel which did have a nice restaurant with one whole wall of glass that looked out over the ocean.
Finally it was time to head back to Perth. Our flight wasn't until 5pm so we stopped off in Fremantle, a port city at the mouth of the Swan River about 10 kilometers from Perth. We spent the morning wandering around Fremantle (or Freo as it is known locally) and it was much more the "tourist place" that I had expected to find in Perth. Lots of shops, restaurants, cafes and street activity. We spent a few hours in the Fremantle Markets which reminded me a lot of The Rocks in Sydney. Lots of arts, crafts, souvenirs and generally interesting stuff. We made a number of purchases there so you may be getting something from the Fremantle Market next Christmas. I found a great crepe place for lunch. I also found a tshirt shop with some hilarious but rude tshirts. Sandy was too emabarrassed to come in so she waited outside for me. I wonder what she would have done if I had bought one and worn it home.
And that was our trip. We drove to the airport. We joined up with Shannon and heard her stories from her week in Western Australia (I'll leave that for her to document if she wishes). Then back home to Singapore with another trip in the books.