Thursday, May 04, 2006

Melbourne -> Apollo Bay -> Port Fairy -> Adelaide -> Kalgoorlie -> Perth/Freo -> Margaret River

After 'smash and grab tourism' raids through Sydney, the Blue Mountains (Katoomba), Wollongong, Kiama, Jervis Bay (great beaches and coast), Canberra (great museums and a friendly pub called the Phoenix), Lakes Entrance, Wilsons Promontory (lots of wildlife and very windy), Phillip Island (Penguin parade, and all round penguin hilarity) , Tasmania (Cradle Mountain, Strahan, the Mount Field Eucalypts and waterfalls, Queenstown, Hobart, Freycinet Nat Park, and lots more) and Melbourne (Victoria Market, St Kilda and the Old Gaol where Ned Kelly was disposed of), amongst others, it was time to get over to Perth via a few place on the way...

A cheaper hire deal through the YHA was secured with Europcar (the one through Thifty wasn't very thrifty) and Fowler was once again mobile to complete the Great Ocean Road. First stop was Bells Beach near Torquay where the Rip Curl Surfing World Tour was in progress, it was a bit overcast and windy. Luckily the swell was reasonable and Fowler was able to watch a few heats from the beach: Bruce Irons versus Bede Durbidge, Taylor Knox versus Kelly Slater and Andy Irons versus Bobby Martinez. The swell was not bad and there was plenty of locals at the next beach along having a go themselves (many of whom seemed to be almost as good as the professionals). Kelly Slater put in a very good showing despite some people in the crowd describing his performance as 'sick' - which Fowler thought especially harsh on the poor lad ( in fact Slater went on to win the tournament a couple of days later). There was some very nice 'tucker' available at the surfing - so lunch was taken at a nice spot overlooking the beach from the cliff top. It is easy to see why Bells is so popular - the large plateau of rock and the steady swell make for some long sweeping waves that come in at good intervals perfect for surfing.

After the surfing it was on to Aireys Inlet then Lorne to see the Teddy lookout and Erskine Falls then down some lovely coastal roads to Apollo Bay. The YHA was all booked out so Fowler went for Surfside Backpackers - very friendly and quite comfy if a little chilly. The weather had really turned at this point and it was bucketting down. Shark and chips was bought down in town for diner - though it tasted different to the Tasmanian Gummy Shark previously tried - and there was a mix of friendly Irish, Swedish, German and Israeli (not so friendly) backpackers in the dorm.

The next day it was off to the Ottways and Shelley Beach which was a nice secluded cove, then on to Cape Otway Light Station. There was a few old buildings to walk round and a climb up the lighthouse provided some good views - although the wind was really whipping up a storm at this stage... definitely a good time for a coffee to get out the wind and rain for a bit and to cop some flack from the Ozzies that 'the Pom had brought the weather with him'. Next was the famous Twelve Apostles and the surrounding rugged coast. The weather was still quite filthy - so this made the huge formations and wild sea even more imposing. After being buffeted for a good couple of hours along the coast it was time to get down to Port Fairy and get a bed for the night at the YHA. A nice place and Fowler decided to get to bed early as he was tired out from the driving. There were a couple of other people in the dorm and they seemed to be chatting for hours with a simmering Fowler trying to sleep. More chatting in the morning was not welcome and Fowler decided he may as well get up. When getting out of bed it became apparent that it was only one person who was having the conversations (with himself !) - and it wasn't just idle chat - it was a full blown discussions. So basically one guy was asleep while the other bloke chatted to his imaginary friend. Fowler interupted and said 'good morning' before this increasingly scary bloke said 'hello' before resuming the conversation. Fowler decided to skip breakfast have a quick shower and get the hell out of there, with his car leaving trails of flame reminiscent of Back to the Future when the Delorian hits 88mph.

After the disturbing start to the day it was off to Portland for a quick look at the Maritime Discovery Centre - and some pictures of incredibly big sharks. Then it would have to be a long drive up to Adelaide through the wine region. There was just a couple of stops on the way, one for coffee at 'Keith' and a food stop at the town of 'Hahndorf' - the oldest surviving German settlement in Oz complete with huge beers, gut busting breakfasts, leather shorts and oompa bands - absolutely superb.

After the drop off in Adelaide - Fowler stayed at 'My Place' backpackers and had a couple of days walking round Adelaide. The South Australia Museum was a bit odd - more like a Natural History Museum but the Bradman Collection was interesting - a timeline of his career with a few bits of memorabilia. A nice little trip was down to Glenelg on the tram to see the beach and the Rodney Fox Shark Experience (they love their sharks over here - even when they get chewed and spat out by one). At this point Fowler was feeling a bit footy deprived so the evening was spent watching the north london derby with a Swiss from the backpackers in town.

Soon it ws time to get the Indian Pacific train to Kalgoorlie. A trip that Fowler had booked in advance as it tends to be quite popular. A large part of the journey is through the bush and the Nullabore plain where the track is dead straight for about 400km - it was nice to slump in the lounge car and peek out the window and relax for a few hundred miles instead of driving..

Kalgoorlie is an interesting place - a gold mining town - which instead of disappearing off the map is definitely around to stay. A tour went round the cavernous SuperPit (the second largest open mine in the world), the mining hall of fame, the town itself and a couple of museums. Pubs are popular in Kalgoorlie and our guide reckoned there are 46 still open- usually catering for the miners with topless waitresses called 'Skimpies' - some of whom were staying at the backpackers (fully clothed though).

Before long it was time to get down to Perth on the prospector train to see Lorna (Fowlers' Mum's cousin who comes over to Blighty frequently - so it was nice to make the return journey). The weather was really good in Perth and Fowler was spoilt rotten at Lornas place in the Attadale district - quite close to Fremantle ('Freo'). There was also time to see some of the extnded family on Lornas side - all of whom are living back in Perth. Fowler also took off down to Margaret River for a couple of days - stopping at Busselton, Dunsboro (eagle Bay), Cape Naturaliste and Prevally. Theres 2 major things to do in margaret river, visit vineyards and surf - so Fowler followed suit. The wines were very good though after an entire afternoon drinking wine at 5 different vineyards (Tassell Park, Knotting Hill, Harmans Ridge Estate, Woody Nook, Bettenays) the taste buds tend to get dulled a little and the mind a bit hazy. Surfing lessons were available at Rivermouth Beach - and the instructor Mick (from Wales - came to Oz 20 years ago) was great and got Fowlers technique in shape so he was able to catch a few decent waves on a long 8 foot board - which was really great fun - especially as it was so quiet and the water so clear and actually quite warm. Lorna told Fowler later that a surfer had been killed by a shark last year from the same place, gulp..

On getting back to Perth, Lorna took Fowler round Kings Park and the many beaches down the coast including Scarborough. Fowler took an extra nosey round Fremantle in the 'arvo' and the Shipwreck Museum, the Marimtime Museum and the Round House were ticked off. The Ship Wreck museum was especially good - charting in detail what happened to 4 of the old dutch ships wrecked on the west coast in the early 1600s - while on their way to Java. In fact its surprising that Oz isn't a dutch colony considering how long they've known about its existence.

Once more it didn't feel like very long before it was time to get to Brisbane where Boland had kindly offered to put Fowler up for a couple of nights in his nice pad.

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