Western Australia 08 pt 2 - The Great Southern

Henry the Wine Dog

From Perth we drove south to a region known as The Great Southern. This is the area in Western Australia along the southern coast. We had chosen it because a long time ago I bought a guide book to the region in the travel section at Borders in Singapore. And when we were in New South Wales last year we found quite a bit of information at the tourist info center. It looked cool so that's where we went. It is famous mainly for spectacular coastline along the Southern Ocean. I'm not sure but I think Australia is the only country that has a coastline along the Southern Ocean. Antarctica isn't a country of course and South Africa, Chile and Argentina consider themselves to be along the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. It's all one World Ocean and the distinction is artificial but it still sounded exotic to dip our toes in a different Ocean.

It took us about five hours to drive the main highway from Perth towards Albany, which is the largest town along the southern coast. It confirmed that Western Australia is pretty empty. There were towns but between them there was almost nothing. Although Western Australia has lots of space it has very little water and the soil is very sandy and poor. So you see very few farms or even animals grazing between towns. When we got to within 50 kilometers of the coast that changed and we started to see cows and sheep and farms, and most importantly, wineries!

Torndirrup National Park

We stopped to check one out (Garlands Winery) a little after we passed the town of Mt. Barker and turned off the main highway. There was no one there and at first we thought that they were closed. We just learned that this area is like that. Most wineries we visited we were the only people there, or maybe one other group. Not exactly Napa Valley. We really liked the wines too. Just like in New Zealand they have a lot of Rieslings but they are very dry. When they have Chardonnays they are always unwooded. So most of the wines are much lighter than in a lot of other regions. We like that but some people might not. And they all had screw tops! Sounds like a dumb thing but when you are traveling and storing your open bottles in minature hotel fridges that is a big deal! We had our usual problem that we found many wines we liked but didn't have a way to get them home so we could only buy what we could drink on the trip. We made a valiant effort to do the best we could before we went home!

Steve at The Gap

At the first winery we visited we were greeted by Henry the dog as we came to the door. In their small gift shop I saw a book titled "Wine Dogs of Australia". Someone toured all the wineries of Australia and took pictures of the dogs that lived at each winery. Henry was indeed in the book and the owners had even made a post card of his page. Dummy that I am I didn't buy the book and never saw it anywhere else. I did send the post card to Laney. As we were getting into our car the lady came running outside waving at us. She realized she had overcharged us $5 and wanted to return it. I guess Diogenes can put away his lamp.

Our second winery was Galafrey Wines. When we told the lady there we were from Singapore she explained that they sold a lot of wine in Malaysia and that she traveled there frequently. They sold some in Singapore as well - we'll have to look for it - but said that the taxes on wine were a real problem. She also said that the distributors in Singapore ordered in really small lots which also made the cost much higher. She didn't have to tell us.

Near Cable Beach

We were staying at a small town right on the coast called Denmark. I would like to know who named the dumb town. How can you go to Australia and come home with a souvenir tshirt that says "Denmark" on it? Somebody really wasn't thinking.

Our hotel was right on the water on Wilson Inlet. It was rustic cabin style but our room was nice. We even had two floors which I really like. When Sandy goes to bed early I can read late without the light bothering her. But the "on the water" part was disappointing. The shores of Wilson Inlet are very overgrown. In fact the the brush grows out about about twenty feet from shore into the shallows. There was a small pier but we had to plotch through some mud just to reach it. Not very impressive. But it turned out that it was a great base to visit places in the area.

Natural Bridge - the span is about 50 feet across

That evening we had dinner at a restaurant/hotel/spa/campground (yes, that is a strange combination) up on a high ridge overlooking Wilson Inlet and the ocean. Two whole walls were glass and we had a great view. We got there early (not that we were hungry or anything) and there was only one other person in the place while we were there. The food was the best we had on the trip too.

When we finished dinner it was still light so we drove past our hotel and further along the peninsula to Ocean Beach. An accurate but not terribly creative name. This was our first close up view of the Southern Ocean. The view was beautiful and Ocean Beach is a long, white sand beach. But the sky was overcast, the wind was really blowing and it was quite cool. We were beginning to wonder if we had packed too light.

Old church in Albany

On the way back from Ocean Beach we passed a large meadow. We were reminded of the time on our last trip to Australia when the lady at our B&B in Port Stephens had sent us out to look for kangaroos in the evening in a big field. That turned out to be more of a wild goose chase but this time we noticed several kangaroos in this meadow. They were just grazing, looking a lot like deer when they come down to a meadow in the evening in North America. The meadow was swampy so we couldn't get close to them. And we didn't have our camera so we resolved to come back again the next night. It was really cool though.

The next day we drove about 50 kilometers to the east to Torndirrup National Park. It was still overcast when we left the hotel but the sky cleared rapidly enroute. When we reached the first viewpoint we had a brilliant bright blue sky and beautiful views. It was warmer than the evening before but still very windy. At least it kept the flies away. We noticed them whenever we were in a spot that was sheltered from the wind. But while the water was beautiful it was definitely not warm and inviting. It was more intimidating than anything, with huge surf crashing in some places.

Dog Rock in Albany - nice doggie!

We visited the Natural Bridge, a huge rock arch at least 50 feet across with the waves crashing right through the middle. Then we went to The Gap, a place where a huge chunk of the coast was just missing and the water rushed into the gap. At some time in the future the Natural Bridge will collapse and create a new Gap where the Bridge is now.

The coast here is very rocky with high cliffs rising out of the sea. There was an interpretive sign that explained how the coast had been formed when the ancient supercontinent Gondwana split up 50 million years ago. The rocks in Torndirrup National Park had been matched to identical formations in Antarctica where they had been joined. Now they are over 3000 miles away. Fascinating.

Enjoying a snack at Duckett Mills Winery

This section of the coast is also famous (or notorious) for what are called King Waves. The surf is quite large to start. Then of course some waves are larger than others. But sometimes conditions occur where everything just lines up right to form a monster wave. These can crash into the shore without warning and people have been swept away into the ocean and drowned. There is one beach where a sign indicates a huge boulder twenty feet in diameter which was tossed onto the beach by a wave. Fortunately we survived. I wasn't swept away by a King Wave. I didn't win the lottery. I guess statistically insignificant events don't happen to me.

Leaving the park we drove by a line of windmills that are the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere. So you can believe me when I said it was breezy. Getting hungry towards lunch time we drove into the town of Albany. It is the largest town on the southern coast of Western Australia and was the first settlement, founded in 1826. We had a good lunch and Sandy found a nice clothes store. We even tracked down a quilt shop although Sandy wasn't too impressed. Right in the middle of town is Dog Rock, a huge boulder shaped like a dogs head.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped at two wineries. The first winery (Madfish Winery) is partially owned by some Chinese people. So the whole place was decorated for Chinese New Year. We felt right at home. Then we went to another winery (Duckett Mills) that also had a cheese factory. They had a great deli counter where we sampled wines and cheeses. We also spoke to the owner and gave him a bad time about his funny accent (he was originally from North Dakota). They had a nice porch overlooking the countryside so we bought a bottle of their wine, one of their cheeses (a cheddar with garlic mixed in - yum) some crackers and a dish of olives. Quite the afternoon snack. After that we were ok for dinner with just some fresh fruit and bread from the market that we ate at our hotel.

Kangaroos gathering near town at dusk

We had read that kangaroos did tend to congregate near town and that the best place to see them was in the large field behind the shire adminstration building next to the town golf course. In the evening we drove over to check it out and sure enough the field was full of kangaroos. We were able to walk into the field and could actually get quite close to them. As soon as you started to approach they would stand bolt upright and freeze while they watched you. It was funny to see actually. If we were farther away they would ignore us. Once we even saw a fight - two kangaroos standing and hitting each other with their forepaws. Just like the cartoons when I was a kid that used to have kangaroos "boxing". They really do that.

And that was just our first day in Denmark.

Additional pictures

Looking towards Cable Beach