Three Years on the Road
98. Into the Mountains
After goodbyes to Andy, and to Noel and Denise, Karen and I cycled into Albany to buy the usual week's worth of supplies before heading north towards the Porongurup National Park. Once we turned off the South Coast Highway and onto Chester Pass Road the initially flat riding became more undulating. Combined with a strong north-westerly wind and a very hot day, the small hills had us working hard.
Not too far away, we scrambled between some boulders and a climbed a couple of small ladders to the top of Castle Rock. The views were fantastic, from the Stirling Ranges to the north, to the patchwork quilt of farmland with Albany and the ocean to the south. I had seen a brilliant postcard of Castle Rock which I wanted to emulate, so I convinced Karen to scale the safety fence and stand near the edge of its sheer, vertical face. I climbed down to the boulders below and scouted around until I found a small rock ledge, obviously the spot from which the original postcard was taken, and I snapped the shot.
We returned to our bikes, rolled down the steep, gravel road and cycled a few more kilometres to a caravan park in Porongurup. The campers kitchen was a small house near the tent sites, with verandahs outside, a kitchen inside and a lounge area complete with lounge chairs and a couple of tables. Very civilised. We spoke with a couple from Canberra - Ivan and Rachel - and with two Germans who offered to give us a lift into the national park the following morning. We gladly accepted.
Western Australian Xmas Trees were in bloom as we rode towards the Stirlings. During our second stretch break at thirty five kilometres Karen took a couple of photographs of their wonderful yellow flowers. I wondered if these trees really were connected by their extensive root systems to the first Xmas trees we had seen near Geraldton. About eight kilometres later Karen and I had morning tea at the Moingup Springs camping area, noticing Ivan and Rachel's deserted tent set up on one of the sites. This national park campground was fairly spartan though, so we cycled on to the Stirling Range Caravan Park, adjacent to the Bluff Knoll turn-off.
The caravan park proved to be quite a haven for birds. We had long and close views of rufous treecreepers, which we had previously only glimpsed a couple of times. A new bird also made its way onto our list - the yellow-plumed honeyeater. With a quick lunch in our bellies we stripped the bikes and rode up to the Bluff Knoll carpark. At one thousand and seventy three metres, Bluff Knoll is not only the highest mountain in the Stirling Ranges, it is also the highest mountain in the entire south-west of Western Australia.
With our plans for the next day finalised, Karen and I continued up to the Bluff Knoll carpark and chained Elle and Mel to a horizontal fence post prior to beginning the ascent. I had climbed the mountain in 1975 when the route to the top had been extremely direct. The long, vertical scar of the old track is still discernible, but not nearly the blot on the landscape it had been a quarter of a century before. The new track is longer but much more environmentally friendly, angling across the face of the mountain at a much kinder angle and a lot less visible from below.
We passed three Pommy tourists on their way up the hill, and six others on their way down. The weather improved as we gained altitude. By the time we arrived at the summit, a little over an hour after starting out, the westerly wind was reduced to a zephyr and the morning overcast had broken up into regular sunny patches. We stayed on top for about half an hour, long enough to admire all the superb views. Long enough too for the three Pommy tourists to eventually arrive, one at a time, all looking very flushed with their efforts.
A little less than an hour after starting our descent, Karen and I arrived back at the carpark to find that Elle and Mel had been moved. The horizontal railing to which we had chained them was actually an access gate for a couple of national park buildings. The railing, with both bikes still attached, had been shifted about three metres to the right by national park rangers to allow their vehicle to get through.
We were back at the caravan park before midday. All four of us lunched together and even had a swim in the caravan park pool. Ivan and Rachel left in mid afternoon to continue their travels. Karen and I took it easy for the rest of our rest day, reading until dinner time and retiring early.