Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

93. The South-Western Tip of Australia

Karen and I almost set a distance record the day we rode out of Dunsborough. A climb up to the top of a ridge and a similar length descent to Yallingup gave us a total distance for the day of eleven kilometres - our second shortest day ever!

We stopped at a caravan park near the Yallingup Cave but it's owners were asking eighteen dollars per night, which was magnanimously reduced to sixteen when Karen expressed her amazement. Not surprisingly, we went looking for another caravan park, and found a good one right on the beach which only asked twelve dollars and fifty cents.

Yallingup Cave

After setting up our tent and having morning tea, we walked up the hill to Yallingup Cave for the 11:30am tour. The cave was excellent - formations everywhere - but the real attraction was the format of the tour. It was basically self-guided and Karen and I were able to dawdle around at our own pace for an hour, taking long exposure photographs in the Amphitheatre and the main cavern. Outside again, we continued our walk up the hill to the coastal ridge, following a walking trail north for a while before descending to the coast and returning to town. It was a pleasant walk, but not outstanding.

A shower of rain fell shortly after lunch, forcing us into the laundry, but when the sun came out again we did a walk down the coast to Torpedo Rocks. Again, nothing special. Upon our return we checked out downtown Yallingup - not too hard as it consists of only four shops - and sat on the caravan park tables and chairs overlooking the beach. The views, right up as far as the Sugarloaf near Cape Naturaliste, were pretty good.

The view from the Yallingup Caravan Park

A couple of locals were surfing in big, onshore slop. Karen and I watched them for a while and soon noticed a group of dolphins a bit further out to sea. When they neared the wave area, a few of them decided to go for a quick surf too. We were astounded to see them not only surfing, but jumping right out of the face of the waves!

After dinner and wine we walked by torchlight up the track to Caves House for a brief look at the spotlighted building, and returned via a very dark road to the caravan park. We decided to forego showers as we only had one twenty cent piece between us - and a shower cost twenty cents for three minutes. The walks we had done during the day had not worked up a sweat, and the morning ride had been a doddle, so we were not exactly filthy. Rather than have a piddly little shower, we figured it was better to have none at all and save our money.

Almost a dozen dolphins cruised down the coast while I sipped my pre-brekkie cuppa on the Yallingup beachfront the next morning. After packing up, Karen and I followed a maze of back roads to arrive at the Fonti Cheese Factory just north of Cowaramup around morning tea time. We availed ourselves of some cheese samples and a bought a milkshake to wash them down, then headed off again, soon finding our highlight of the day. We had a long, clear look at an Elegant Parrot as it sat in a tree beside the road. Number four hundred and sixty. Lunch was spent overlooking the Gracetown beach on Cowaramup Bay, the site of the cliff collapse a year earlier which had killed nine people.

Riding through Watsonias (weeds) south of Yallingup

Karen had the address of a girl named Malvina in Gracetown, but our efforts to find the house proved difficult. The town is built on the side of the hill, and the house we were after was atop a heavy climb. When we finally arrived at the address, nobody was home. Karen called in to the general store to buy a phone-card and to ask if anyone knew Malvina. The cashier had no idea, but a waiting customer told Karen that Malvina had recently moved to Yallingup, the town we had just ridden from. I was keen to retrace our steps, mainly because Malvina had been Karen's aerobics instructor at the Coca-Cola gym and according to Karen she was not only good-looking, but she had an absolutely fantastic body as well. Karen though, was reluctant to back-track, and the boss prevailed.

Another recommendation we had received from the birders at Busselton was the creek near the Gracetown beach. Karen and I searched for red-eared firetails but found nothing, although we did get attacked by a very territorial magpie who must have had a nest nearby. This had become a regular occurrence over the past few weeks. Spring was definitely in the air, and so were the magpies.

Near Caves Road at the top of the hill which leads down to Gracetown, and with over fifty kilometres behind us for the day, we pulled into a caravan park and set up. A short walk gave us sightings of a bunch of white-tailed black cockatoos, an Aussie Grebe sitting on at least one egg in its floating nest, and our second sighting of the white-breasted robin. We studied the cockies closely, trying to determine if they were in fact the rarer long-billed black cockatoos which we had never seen, but without a direct comparison for certainty we could not credit ourselves with a new sighting.

Over a dinner of pasta and salmon we listened to news of the now infamous October 1997 stock market crash. Beauty, we thought, there should be lots of cheap shares around now. A few days later when we checked the latest share prices in the paper, we discovered that a lot of other people had already had the same idea as us, and almost all of the stocks we were considering had bounced back to where they had begun. It served us right for being so out of touch.

Four months ago we had been talking to Neil McLeod in Exmouth who had said that if we were ever down near Margaret River we should stay for a while at the family property where his brother Keith now lived. Karen rang Neil to remind him of his offer and to get him to arrange some accommodation at Keith's place for us. He gave us directions to the property and assured us that he would fix everything.

Next morning we rose early, luckily dodging a shower of rain which struck just as we were finishing packing. We hit the road wearing rain jackets for a thirteen kilometre jaunt down to the crossroads between the inland town of Margaret River and its coastal counterpart called Prevally Park. I had been a part of the surfing culture when I was younger, and Margaret River had always been known as the prime surfing location in Western Australia. It came as quite a shock to find the town eight kilometres away from the ocean.

The Margaret River

We followed Neil's directions and were soon riding along Keith's driveway, hoping that Neil had forewarned him of our imminent arrival. Luckily, Keith was expecting us. He showed us around the property, pointing out some likely camping spots for us, and we even investigated his children's tree-house to see if it was suitable for accommodation. I was not too keen on spending a night in a tree-house, but I could not help thinking that it would make an interesting paragraph in a book about our travels. Keith eventually suggested that we sleep on a double bed in his back-room - an offer which we jumped at. We all got to know each other over a cup of tea. During the conversation Keith discovered that Karen and I were birdwatchers, and he recommended a nearby raptor rehabilitation centre called the "Eagles Heritage". We were soon lightening the loads on our bikes in preparation for a visit.

A short time later we arrived at the centre. Large aviaries, well separated from each other and set in natural bushland contained a variety of raptors - various owls, kites, falcons and eagles - plus a few other birds as well, such as some bush stone curlews. Karen and I even saw a black-breasted buzzard, a truly beautiful bird which we had failed to see during all of our travelling around the top end, despite it supposedly being fairly common. We also saw a terrific flight display with a black kite, which Karen later got to hold, and an osprey.

Karen flying a Kite

We rode into Margaret River to check the post office for the film which Kevin had sent, but were told that nothing had arrived for us. While Karen did some shopping I made enquiries at a travel agent about the Indian Pacific train service between Perth and Adelaide, or Perth and Port Augusta, and about the bus services as well. Our studies of the wind data we had picked up in Perth had shown us that the prevailing winds across the Nullarbor would be from the east. In other words, headwinds. As a result, we were toying with the idea of riding to Albany and then directly back to Perth, taking the train to Port Augusta, riding back to Perth with the winds behind us and then bussing back to Port Augusta to continue our ride home. My preliminary enquiries told me that this option would be expensive, but feasible.

Another patch of rain came and went while we sheltered in the Tourist Bureau, then we followed a great bike-path out to Prevally Park and the mouth of the Margaret River. A south-westerly wind was howling along the coast, making life very unpleasant, so we soon departed to our new safe haven up the hill. Keith presented us with three herrings he had caught in the Margaret River earlier, and we used his barbecue to cook onions, zucchini, capsicum, potatoes and the fish. We were even offered some Margaret River white wine to drink with our meal, and needless to say, it was gratefully accepted!

The inevitable topic of birds came up during the evening conversation, with Keith showing us his copy of Pizzey, one of the most popular field guides for Australian birds. We looked up the long-billed black cockatoo, hoping to find some information which would allow us to make a positive identification if we ever saw them. The book said that the white-tailed black cockatoo usually feeds on small nuts because of its broader bill, while the long-billed black cockatoo uses its bill to get into the large Marri nuts arboreally. When we had seen the cockies a couple of days earlier, they had been eating marri nuts in the trees. A local birdwatching pamphlet also stated that long-billed blacks were resident in the Gracetown area. We had been staying in the Gracetown caravan park when we spotted them, so we retrospectively claimed the sighting as long-billed black cockatoos - a new bird.

Keith was expecting the rest of his immediate family to arrive home later that night, but Karen and I were in bed prior to their arrival. We had begun watching the ABC Young Musician of the Year Awards, but after the pianist, the mezzo soprano and the tuba player, boredom had gotten the better of us and we had retired for the night.

The south-westerly blowing in from the Southern Ocean produced a cold night. While we appreciated the roof over our heads, Karen and I knew we would have been warmer in our tent, with its smaller volume of air around us and the insulating effect of its two layers. We also would not have been awakened by the sound of the in-house possums running across the ceiling, but possums, of course, had found many other ways to disturb us in the tent.

I awoke early and went for a walk around the property before anyone else had risen, accompanied by Brownie, Keith's demented and totally hyper dog. Even he could not protect me from more magpie attacks. Karen eventually surfaced and we breakfasted with Keith, his wife Pauline and his son Jackson, before thanking them for their hospitality and riding into Margaret River to check the post office again. The film which Kevin had sent over a week ago had still not arrived. We were told that when the package finally arrived at Margaret River, we could get it forwarded to any other post office we desired, so we were free to continue riding.

A postcard of Lakes Cave

We rode back out to Caves Road and made our way south to the Lakes Cave, arriving in time for our usual morning tea and an 11:30am tour. It was a nice cave, with one particularly good formation, but it was not worth the twelve dollars we each paid for the privilege. Back on the road we tried a detour along Boranup Drive, but after a few hundred metres of struggle we decided it was too sandy and soft to ride. The forest around us was impressive, and the sound of birdsong was everywhere, so we stopped at a picnic table for lunch and a bit of bird watching. Birds sighted included spotted pardalotes, white-breasted robins, white-naped honey-eaters, dusky woodswallows and one new bird - the red-winged fairy wren.

Me in the Lakes Cave

After lunch we returned to Caves Road for a further thirty five kilometres to Augusta through a succession of lovely Karri forests. We rode through town and down a short, steep hill to a caravan park which had been recommended to us by caravanners. It had a beautiful location near the river, but none of the facilities needed by bike riders, so we rode back into town, cursing the wild goose chase and the steep hill. The other caravan park in town was excellent. I made use of its free wood barbecues to cook bacon, egg and tomato muffins, then we retired to its television room for the evening.

The following day we booked another night at the caravan park, left our tent set up and rode out to another "geographically significant" site. The south-western tip of Australia, Cape Leeuwin, is less than ten kilometres from Augusta. Karen and I parked Elle and Mel at the lighthouse but with the recent experience of Cape Naturaliste fresh in our minds, we refrained from paying the three dollars and fifty cents each to climb the thirty nine metres to the top. How much better could the views be?

The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

We asked the girl at the desk whether she knew anything about the rock parrots which were supposedly seen quite regularly at the Cape. Although a total non-birder, after we had described the bird to her she recalled that she had actually seen the bird we described on the lawns around the three lighthouse keeper cottages just down the road. We thanked her, and walked down to the nearby cottages to find a group of about a dozen birders armed with three or four tripod-mounted telescopes all trained onto a rock parrot which was feeding on grass seeds on the lighthouse keeper's lawn. Why can't the sighting of a new bird always be as easy as this?

After a good look, we walked around the lighthouse, took a few pics of the spot where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, then rode out to a fossilised waterwheel for a few more pics before returning to Augusta to veg for the rest of the day. This had been our eighth straight day of riding, and although we had only ridden three hundred and thirty kilometres during that time, our legs needed a break. Tomorrow we would spend a rest day at Augusta.


The next day, a Saturday as luck would have it, Karen and I watched a lot of television, mostly sport. We visited the local museum in town - which was pretty good - and Karen caught up with her reading while I studied our bird book. I figured out that if I ignored all the sea birds - like albatrosses, penguins, petrels etc - and all the land birds that are extremely rare, vagrant or only occasionally migrant, Karen and I could possibly see about six hundred of the seven hundred and sixty birds on the Australian birdlist. Beauty, I thought, only one hundred and forty species to go, instead of two hundred.

A south-easterly breeze sprang up overnight. At half past midnight I pegged down the outriggers - the strings which help stabilise the tent in strong winds. The wind was still solid in the morning, not what we wanted as our intended route would now take us north-east. Hoping the wind would ease later in the day, Karen and I decided on a walk around town during the morning. We received grudging permission from the caravan park owners to stay a little longer than our 10am check out time, and walked out to the coast near the river mouth, returning to town along the river. The highlight of the walk was a huge raft of red-necked avocets.

In town we went to the supermarket, book exchange, bakery, and finally to the post office. The postmaster rang Margaret River which reported that our parcel had still not arrived. We requested that they forward the films to Bridgetown, which we hoped to reach in a few days time. Back at the caravan park we pushed the hospitality of the management to the limit, having a leisurely morning tea before packing up and hitting the road just before midday. There was only one other tent in residence when we left the caravan park.

A very short afternoon ride took us to a camping area on the Blackwood River. The headwinds had been strong and unpleasant, so we decided to camp where we were. Four caravans were already on-site - a comforting presence - but while we had lunch, set up and went for a walk all of the caravans departed. A later arrival gave the area the once-over and left as well, leaving us alone in a public area near a highway on a weekend - not a highly desirable situation. Luckily, a truck-mounted mobile home pulled in and stayed later in the day, giving us the illusion of security, and a little while later the site caretaker came around to collect his money, making us feel a bit more comfortable as well. With others in residence, we had the luxury of an excellent fire, which Karen used to cook yet another culinary masterpiece of pasta and salmon.

The night proved uneventful, with no unwanted disturbances from animals or humans, and the day dawned warm and clear with little or no breeze. The weather forecast on the radio predicted a hot day so we attempted to leave as early as possible. Had it not been for the completion of a cryptic crossword and a read of the paper we would have left a lot earlier, but 7:40am was pretty good for us anyhow.

As we headed out we realised that yesterday's riding marked the first time in the entire trip that we were actually headed for Sydney. We had ridden out of Sydney to Cairns and returned by bus and car. We had ridden out of Sydney to Darwin and returned by plane. We had ridden out of Darwin to the south-west tip of the continent, but had now turned eastwards to cycle home. The actual finish of the trip was now in sight.

It was a sobering thought.

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