Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

92. South of Perth

We rode off through Freo, with Karen planning to stop at a book exchange we had visited previously in the hope of getting some money for four books we had recently finished reading. Not surprisingly, she got lost, and I had to call her back and direct her down the correct street to the exchange. Karen was then offered only one dollar and twenty cents for the four books, all of them thick, quality paperbacks, so Karen politely told them where to go and kept the books.

A stiff easterly wind was making riding tough as we headed south out of Freo. Just outside of town my bike suddenly stopped dead. I overbalanced forward off my seat, but luckily I was moving slowly enough, because of the wind, to arrest my momentum. If I had have been moving at normal speed I could have done my private parts a nasty injury. I called out to Karen to stop, and inspected my bike, fearing the worst. It had felt like my back wheel had buckled or collapsed, but I found that both of the bottom bolts of my back rack had worked loose and fallen off. Carrying two heavy panniers on either side and the tent on top, the rack had subsequently collapsed onto the back tyre, bringing Elle and I to a rapid halt.

I fixed the problem with a couple of spare bolts which had been waiting for more than fifteen thousand kilometres for just this moment. We were riding again within ten minutes. The road was a bit like the old sections of Highway One in the east - two lanes, narrow, and with hardly any sealed shoulder, so it was a relief to reach the outskirts of Rockingham for lunch at a seaside park near the grain loading facility. With the wind continuing to blow, and Rockingham looking like a nice play to stay, we rode to a caravan park a couple of kilometres from the new town centre and set up for the night, having cycled only forty kilometres for the day.

In the afternoon Karen took her books with her as we walked along the beach to the seaside shopping strip and headed for the centre of town. A second-hand book shop offered her six dollars for the books, provided she used the money to purchase other books, and also provided she spent at least two dollars of her own money as well. It sounded like a much better deal than the Freo offer, so Karen selected an almost new copy of John Grisham's "the Chamber" for nine dollars - six dollars credit and three dollars real money. Happier now that she had made the right decision and saved a few bucks by rejecting the initial offer, Karen decided we could splurge on a movie. We strolled over to the Cinema Six complex and saw Contact with Jodie Foster, which was okay. We spent even more money later when we stopped at Hungry Jacks for dinner on the way back to the caravan park.

The next day dawned warm and sunny with an easterly wind, a typical summer weather pattern for the south-west. A forty five kilometre day took us to Mandurah. After a brief walking tour of the town, whose main tourist attraction seemed to be a cotton-palm tree almost forty metres high, Karen and I spent the afternoon doing essential domestics, like washing and shaving.

During our month-long stay in Perth Karen and I had done very little riding. The day to Rotto was short too, and the couple of forty odd kilometre days since had not been much longer. Even after a good night's sleep, neither of us woke too easily the next morning. Despite the small distances, the first week of any tour leg is always the most difficult. It always takes a few days to convince our legs that things are not going to get any easier.

We took things real easy over brekkie and the pack up, not hitting the road until half past nine. A dawdle around the inlet and the coastal areas to the south of Mandurah brought us back to the highway. We soon crossed an impressive bridge across the equally impressive Dawesville Cut - the biggest maritime engineering project in Western Australia - which connects a formerly landlocked lake to the sea. A side-road took us along the Harvey Estuary where we had morning tea before cycling through Dawesville. Lots of kilometres later we returned to the Old Coast Road. Along this stretch both Karen and myself were subjected to a long and furious attack by a nesting magpie defending its territory. We were thankful for our helmets.

The bridge over the Dawesville Cut

A good climb and descent to Lake Clifton followed, plus another twelve kilometres to the Preston Beach turn-off. We stopped at a remote picnic area by Lake Howard for lunch, then completed the last few kilometres into Preston Beach itself, arriving at 3pm surprisingly drained by a relatively short day of only sixty five kilometres. After afternoon tea, we walked over to the beach, determined to do all the usual tourist things despite our lethargy. The beach was pretty - long and straight with the waves blown flat by the easterly wind. We retraced our steps past the caravan park and walked around the town and out to Lake Preston to try to spot birds, seeing nothing new but getting a great view of a male splendid wren. Preston Beach town is one of the most remarkable places we have visited. A nine hole golf course is intertwined with its streets and houses, running around and through the town.

Karen and I attempted a cryptic crossword during dinner, but failed dismally. During our walk we had been given a perfect indication of the mental incapacity which had been caused by our return to cycle touring after the month in Perth. As we had walked along a road between two lakes, we had noticed a pipe running underneath which allowed water to pass from one side of the road to the other, but when I tried to comment on it I found I could not remember what it was called. It took twenty five minutes of concentrated effort by both Karen and myself to remember the word "culvert"!

In 1995 when Karen and I had been in Hervey Bay, we had exchanged names, addresses and telephone numbers with a retired couple from Western Australia named Ron and Gloria. They lived in the town of Harvey, not too far inland from Preston Beach so Karen telephoned them to find out if it was okay to visit. It was. It had been over two years since we had met them, and we could not remember what they looked like, but we figured we would recognise them when we rolled up at their place. We also figured that they probably could not remember our faces either, but they would obviously know it was us when we arrived on our pushies.

We left Preston Beach shortly after 8am, riding into a strong easterly wind back out to the Old Coast Highway and across onto a road through pine and gum forests and farmland to Yarloop. After taking a morning tea break by the side of a side-road, we started back down the South Western Highway before Karen decided we would return to the side road and follow it out to the Logue Brook Dam where we could enjoy a pleasant lunch. Big mistake! We soon discovered that the dam was six kilometres UP the valley - a climb so hefty that Karen actually walked some of it.

When we finally arrived at the dam wall the easterly wind was howling across the water so we rode across to a sheltered terrace above the far end of the dam wall where we lunched out of the wind. A large number of blowflies soon joined us. Lunch was finished quickly and we raced back down the hill to the highway. Again we turned southward towards Harvey, but this time the only thing which delayed us was a short photo opportunity at one of the Bigs - this time it was the Big Orange.

We had covered fifty five kilometres by the time we arrived at Harvey. Ron and Gloria welcomed us at the door and invited us in for an afternoon of catching up on each other's news, lots of cups of tea, and an extensive look at Ron's wood-turning equipment. I have always wanted to get into some form of woodwork, so it was inspiring to see the good, finished products that Ron had produced with very little prior knowledge - things like bowls, cups, lamp stands and chess pieces. Gloria too was keeping busy in retirement, turning her hand to winemaking, which was something that Karen wanted to start when we finally settled down. The only real interest I had in wine making had more to do with wine drinking.

Karen and I were invited to stay the night. Ron and Gloria treated us to a home-cooked dinner of braised steak and vegetables, with a dessert of home-grown pears and icecream. They also gave us samples of their pear wine, their red wine (made from grapes) and their mead (honeyed wine) as well. A fine night was had by all.

We slept well, the sound of an occasional train from just down the road more of a comfort than a distraction. After brekkie all four of us went for a drive in the back country up to the Sterling Dam and the Harvey Weir. We ventured out of the car for a couple of short walks, but the only new bird seen was spotted as we drove along a fire-trail, the colour of the Rufous Tree-creeper making its identification positive despite the fleeting glimpse. Karen missed it, but I was so sure of the sighting that we marked it down as confirmed.

After the usual photos, thankyous and goodbyes, Karen and I left the hospitality of Ron and Gloria and headed off towards Bunbury. Seven kilometres down the road I got a Mr Toughy flat tyre and quickly replaced the tube. We averaged twenty plus kilometres per hour to the Brunswick Junction turn-off, with the town name prompting something in Karen's memory. She checked her address book and discovered the names June and Trevor, whom we had met at Barn Hill. Their home was on our route, so we dropped in unannounced just to say hi. Trevor was not home, but we spoke to June for about an hour.

The day had turned hot by the time we left. A quick trip west took us back down to the coast at Australind, where we lunched in a park near the water, then it was on to a caravan park at Bunbury, just across from the Dolphin Centre. We booked in for two nights, then walked into town to investigate the movie situation, which was grim. The social life of the caravan park campers kitchen was far more preferable to the movies which were on offer, so we walked back home to make dinner, drink lambrusco, phone home, talk to a couple from England and a single mum of two from Switzerland. Not only was the evening better than the movies, it was cheaper too.

While Monkey Mia is world famous for its dolphins, Bunbury has also built up a similar reputation. Many people from the south-west had told us that Bunbury was better for seeing dolphins than Monkey Mia, and a lot closer to civilisation as well. Prepared to be disappointed, Karen and I walked over to the Dolphin Centre just after 8 o'clock the next morning.

An expectant crowd of about fifty tourists were waiting at the Centre and the nearby beach for the dolphins to make an appearance. We saw a couple of dolphins in the distance, but they were taking their own sweet time coming in so Karen and I walked across the street to do a walk in the mangroves while we waited. We did not see very much in the way of birds, but the boardwalk was pleasant enough. Back at the beach we talked to Elizabeth - the Swiss mum - and her two kids before retiring to the Dolphin Centre to escape the heat of the sun after the morning overcast had disappeared.

At 11 o'clock the word went out that a dolphin, Misha, was in "the zone" so we stripped down to our cossies and walked into the cold water. The whole set-up was very similar to that of Monkey Mia, but not quite as well organised. The only real difference, apart from the temperature of the water, was the surroundings. Monkey Mia is natural and beautiful, whereas the Bunbury beach is part of a highly industrialised harbour.

The dolphin soon left, so we had a swim and walked back to the caravan park for morning tea. For the rest of the day we walked all over Bunbury, traipsing up the hill to the Bunbury Tower for panoramic views over the town, the beach and the bay, before walking down to the ocean and back into the centre of the city to pick up mail from Kevin via Rhonda. We circumnavigated the Leschenault Inlet, seeing no new birds, and eventually returned to the caravan park in the late afternoon. The park next door had a free barbecue, just like in Broome, so we cooked sausages and steak, potato, zucchini and onions, and quaffed a few plastic cupfuls of the inevitable lambrusco. After a beautiful sunset behind the city skyline we returned to the campers kitchen to eat our dinner before the mozzies could eat us.

The Bunbury skyline

We spent a second rest day in Bunbury, primarily because all the walking we had done during yesterday's rest day had left us buggered. Reading was the major activity of the day, interspersed with a load of washing, airing the sleeping bags, and a free hour of tennis on the caravan park's court. We also walked into town to watch Demi Moore in GI Jane. It was pretty good, especially once we had suspended all logic.

On the way home we rang Kevin's answering machine and left a message asking him to send some film to the Margaret River post office for us. We did not know it at the time, but this was the start of a ongoing saga that would take weeks to unfold.

A cool, windy night turned into an overcast morning, with rain in the area and a slight south-westerly breeze. We had initially planned another rest day in Bunbury, but the iffy weather changed Karen's mind. After breakfast she suddenly decided that we would ride, so we packed up, had our photo taken by Elizabeth and rode out of the caravan park at around 9am. A rufous night heron watched us ride the short distance into town, where we dropped some books at the Red Cross shop, posted some bee information to Peter, and had one last view of Bunbury from another lookout. After a quick detour around the Big Swamp and some of the beachside suburbs, we were off down Highway One once again.

We had morning tea outside Capel at a rest area alive with yellow rumped thornbills, striated pardalotes, western gerygones, a few Port Lincolns and a couple of red-capped parrots as well. A tourist road took us nearer the coast and lakes through some excellent original Tuart forest, big, thick trees which whetted Karen's appetite for the karri and jarrah forests we would soon be encountering. We stopped for a stretch at a rest area in the forest, leaning our bikes against the table and chairs provided, and were promptly attacked by mozzies. A nearby sign caught our attention, but instead of informing us about the Tuart forest as we expected, it told us of the dangers of the Ross River virus which was carried by mosquitoes in the area! Why not just remove the rest area, rather than entice people to stop in the forest and then warn them off with a danger sign?

As we approached Busselton we saw a group of people near the river, armed with binoculars and a telescope on a tripod. They were obviously birders, so we stopped and spoke to the group. A CALM officer who was in charge gave us some information on possible locations to sight some of the new species we were hoping to see, as did some of the ladies in his group. We filed the knowledge away for future reference. In Busselton we had lunch at the beachfront near the town's main claim to fame - a two kilometre wooden jetty. With rain threatening, we soon rode to tourist bureau for info, then had a dangerous ride along the narrow highway to a caravan park a couple of kilometres west of town.

The Busselton jetty

The seventy kilometres we had covered was our longest day of riding since leaving Perth, but we were conditioned to riding now and feeling no pain. After setting up our campsite we walked back into town along the beachfront, trying to find Pioneer Cove, a site which had been recommended by the birders. There was not a cove in sight, so we eventually went into a newsagency to look for a map of the local area. We asked the manager if he knew where Pioneer Cove was, and he pointed us in the direction of a new housing estate about a kilometre to the east.

We eventually arrived at the estate, making our way through tiny blocks barely big enough for a house to a hoot of a "bird viewing platform" - a couple of wooden steps and a railing which overlooked the estate rather than the river and wetlands beyond. With no birds evident, Karen and I made our way quickly back to the jetty for a few sunset photos then hurried back to the caravan park in fading light. After a dinner of nachos cooked in a barbecue area and eaten in the caravan park games room while watching television, we played a couple of games of eight ball (very badly) on the free table provided before reading, showers and bed.

A very short day of only twenty four kilometres took us along a bike-path parallel to the beach and out onto the narrow highway to Dunsborough, over a series of drains connecting the river to the ocean. Karen was astounded at the eight dollars per person per night charged by the Greenacres caravan park for a tent site, and haggled with the youngish owner/manager until he dropped the price by one dollar per person. Even so, a fourteen dollar site fee was one of the highest been charged of late, especially because we were staying for two nights and had to fork out almost a full day's budget for a patch of ground, the use of a toilet and a couple of hot showers. And as far as we could see, there was not anything particularly special about either Dunsborough or the caravan park to warrant such a price.

Our opinion was unchanged after a walk into town to look at some art galleries and shop for food and wine, and a beach walk back to the caravan park. We dined at a table on the beach of Geographe Bay, but the open shelter had no lights, so after dark we were forced into the laundry where four foreign backpackers were engaged in a noisy game of cards. Karen and I soon realised that reading was impossible, so we hit the sack early.

Spring was fast disappearing, with summer only about a month away, and the sun was rising earlier and earlier. Karen and I had once again set our body clocks by the sun. We breakfasted on the beach very early before setting off for a return ride to Cape Naturaliste. With the exception of the tent, mats and sleeping bags, we took most of our gear with us for the day - food, stove, metho, plates, coffee etc. This proved to be a slightly silly decision, as we were soon riding through hilly terrain where the extra weight on the bikes was not appreciated.

Detours through Miller Bay and Eagle Bay were followed by a climb back up to the main road, and a wonderful one and a half kilometre downhill shortly after. Another detour led us to the Sugarloaf, a jagged rock formation just off the western coast of the cape. A couple of tourists at the lookout pointed out the tell-tale spouts of whales way out to sea, with occasional large splashes of white as they breached and plunged back into the water. If only the whales had been close enough to see...

While we watched, the sun disappeared behind some very dark clouds and the first splatters of rain began. A very steep and very wet ride out of the bay took us back to the main road and on to the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse. An entry fee of four dollars got us out of the rain and into a tiny museum, and also entitled us to a climb to the top of the lighthouse and a walk around the Cape. The price was a bit of a rip-off, really, but for once in her life, Karen was disinclined to argue.

After inspecting the museum, and with the rain now gone, we made use of a sheltered table outside to set up the Trangia stove, boil some water and have morning tea, trying to get as much value as possible out of our entry fee. A climb of the lighthouse was followed by a walk down to a whale-watching platform near the actual point of the cape. We saw more whales, but they were still very distant. The sighting of a new bird - the white-breasted robin - was worth the price of admission, and took our total up to four hundred and fifty nine. A quick ride back to the caravan park was followed by lunch, and a deep discussion about a moral dilemma which had presented itself.

Up until today the criterion for the distances we added to the trip total was based only on days when we actually moved our campsite from one location to another. Sightseeing jaunts on rest days had never been added to our total distance, and we had done some pretty long rides on some of those days. If we had included the distances done on days like the rides around Darwin or Kununurra or Broome or Karratha or Carnarvon or Kalbarri or Perth, we would have added another couple of thousand kilometres to our total trip distance.

The ride out to Cape Naturaliste had been important though, and it somehow seemed wrong not to include it. After a lengthy debate, Karen and I amended our definition of total distances, retaining the distances on days when we actually moved our campsite from one location to another, and adding the clause "and side-trips to geographically significant places". And so it came to pass that the forty one kilometres we had ridden out to Cape Naturaliste and back were added to our total.

We celebrated the successful conclusion of our debate with an afternoon of complete relaxation, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord at a Chinese restaurant in town, a semi-decent two litre cask of Riesling, and a quiet night of reading in a thankfully deserted laundry.

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