Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

96. The Road to Albany

After goodbyes and photos with Noel and Denise, Karen and I rode out of Pemberton into a cool day with a heavy overcast and a moderate east south-easterly wind. A good climb out of the valley soon warmed us up as we headed towards Northcliffe. Again. After previous visits by tram and car, we cycled into the town about an hour and a half into the day, a red-eared firetail crossing our path in welcome.

After a relatively short forty minute break for morning tea, we hit Middleton Road - the route to the South-west highway. It was a big roller-coaster ride, but unfortunately there was not too much rolling or coasting on the uphill sections of the road. We passed through farmland and patches of forest, with rain often threatening but never actually happening for any great amount of time. After a day of sixty three kilometres we eventually reached Shannon, a ghost town of a 1940's mill site, now consisting of the camping area and not much else.

We set up, and had showers after stoking up the donkey boiler, then lunched and went for a late arvo walk to Shannon Dam and Mokare's Rocks - about six kilometres. The walk was so-so, with the only noteworthy incident occurring when Karen sprained her ankle again, a fairly regular event. We returned to our campsite shortly before dark to light a fire, have a cuppa, cook and eat dinner, talk to passing tourists, and sit around a bed of lovely, warm, glowing coals.

A few spots of rain overnight continued while we were breakfasting and we had rain on and off all day - mostly light but heavy enough and frequent enough to be irritating. We wore our rain jackets as we rode out of Shannon just before 9am, and they stayed on all day. We had morning tea by the roadside thirty two kilometres down the road a couple of hours after starting out. The terrain had changed from Karri forest to paperbark swamps which looked dark and bleak in the rain.

As we were approaching Deep River Karen pointed out a wind power generator on the ridge above us. While my attention was diverted Elle wandered onto the steep, gravel shoulder beside the road. Unable to turn back onto the road without falling, I gradually braked to a standstill as I moved further and further down the shoulder. Just as I stopped moving my front wheel lost traction and I lowered the bike fairly gently to the ground as I stepped off and slipped over. It was my second crash of the trip, and like the first one, it did no damage to body or bike, but severely hammered my ego. I had now fallen off twice to Karen's once.

After Deep River we climbed for about three kilometres to the John Rate Lookout over Nornalup Inlet, where a picnic table awaited us at the end of the boardwalk to the viewing platform. It was a good spot for lunch. A three kilometre downhill with absolutely no need to pedal then took us down to the coastal plain. A couple of kilometres later we rode into Walpole. While Karen shopped, I got talking to a guy who rolled up on a pushbike with rear panniers and an empty twenty litre jerry can attached. He asked me if I knew some people in Harvey named Ron and Gloria. When I said yes, he explained that he had recently dined with their daughter and son-in-law, and that Karen and I had been mentioned in their conversation. He had said he would keep and eye out for us.

Lunch at the John Rate Lookout

Karen and I rode around the inlet for a few more kilometres to the Coalmine Caravan Park, racking up seventy one kilometres for the day. After setting up our tent we were greeted by Noel and Denise who had just driven from Pemberton and would be leaving the next morning. We compared notes on where we would be and when, working out that all of us would be in Denmark the following Sunday. They invited to a baked dinner in their caravan on Sunday night.

The campers kitchen in the caravan park was excellent, which influenced our decision to stay in Walpole for a rest day. Today had been our longest riding day since Perth, and it had been fairly hilly and into a solid south-easterly breeze. Karen had pulled up a bit sore too, which was not totally unexpected because we had now cycled for two days in a row!

We hung out a load of washing to dry the next morning while we went for an excellent walk around Knoll road, taking in the north side of the Nornalup inlet, the south side of the Walpole inlet and the isthmus between the two. Birdwise, we saw nothing new, but other good sightings more than made up for this. We were treated to views of an osprey feeding its young on a nest, a scrub wren feeding a baby fantail cuckoo, more white-breasted robins, and Karen's first views of the beautiful Western Spinebill which I had first seen on the north side of Perth.

Rain fell very lightly a couple of times while we were walking, but it had cleared by the afternoon when we walked into town via the Heritage Trail and tracks around the Walpole inlet. There was no real birdlife evident along the track, but we did see a dugite curled up beside the track at one point. It disappeared down a narrow hole when our approach disturbed it, a fascinating scene because it looked like it was being sucked into the earth like a piece of spaghetti.

In town we shouted each other an icecream, and spoke to three guys who had just finished riding the Bibbulman Track - seven hundred and twenty kilometres of wet and boggy walking trails which began near Perth and finish at Walpole. While we admired their achievement and determination, we could not help thinking that they were bloody idiots. Riding on firm highways and backroads is hard enough - why make it harder by riding on boggy trails?

Karen got the shits, literally, and decided to go to bed early without any dinner. The early night seemed to help Karen's bowels so we decided to ride on the following morning, despite a few showers overnight which had continued into the day. When we dropped the amenities block key back at the caravan park office, we were given a message telling us that Noel and Denise were staying at the Rivermouth Caravan Park in Denmark.

We rode in our rain jackets again, mainly due to a cool southerly breeze rather than any real threat of rain. The town of Nornalup proved almost non-existent as we passed through. A short time later we turned off for the Valley of the Giants and then rode six or more kilometres uphill - how can you ride uphill to get to a valley? An attendant at the Tourist Centre allowed us to secrete our bikes at the back of the shop while we did the Treetop Walk, a basically square, elevated walkway through the canopy of the giant trees for which the area is famous. It would probably be very impressive for tourists coming from the east, but Karen and I had been travelling through Karri, Marri and Jarrah forests for weeks, and had climbed the three fire-tower trees, so the Treetop Walk did not have the same impact on us. In addition, I reckon the whole structure is dangerous and would not be at all surprised to hear one day that it has fallen down.

The Treetop Walk

The ride back to the highway through farmland was mostly downhill from the Valley. We rejoined the main highway at the Bow River, a series of undulations, a cool breeze and lots of traffic making the ride a real chore. Karen was feeling the blahs again so we shortened the ride and stopped at Parry Beach. The fifty seven kilometres covered during the morning took our total since Perth past one thousand kilometres.

Inside a Tingle Tree in the Valley of the Giants

With Karen still having some diarrhoea problems, we set up in the first bay we found. It was as close to the toilets as possible and possessed the only table in the camping ground. After lunch we walked down to the beach and saw the caretaker who charged us three dollars for the site and gave us a run down on walks in the area. Karen preferred staying near the toilets for the afternoon, but I was feeling gung-ho and walked around the coast to Hillier Beach, then even further along to Cape Hillier itself. I got back to the caravan park around 5:45pm, in time for our usual evening activities, and by 8pm, with no lights and nothing to do, we were in bed.

A sunny morning greeted us the next day, providing enough warmth for us to ride without our rain jackets. We had barely made it back to the highway when we turned off to William Bay National Park. The white sand, crystal clear water and granite rocks of Greens Pool sparkled in the sun, but a cloudbank soon rolled in, making our photos of the impressive, nearby Elephant Rocks a bit drab. Again we rode back out to the highway and half way up our first major hill for the day we stopped for morning tea at a scenic rest area, looking back along the coast to Cape Hillier.

Elephant Rocks

Karen talked a couple from Toowoomba into boiling us some water for coffee, and we also spoke to a French guy from Esperance who was headed for a job at Pemberton. We were forced to don jackets to stay warm in the cool overcast and a shower of fine, misty rain soon hurried us on our way. We turned off at the Denmark township and rode straight out towards the Rivermouth caravan park, with Noel and Denise stopping to greet us on their way into town to shop for tonight's Sunday dinner.

After getting established at the caravan park, Karen and I walked into town along the river for lunch - a Havenburger for Karen and the usual fish and chips for me, eaten in a park while we were subjected to a woeful entertainer on a stage across the river. We returned home via the other side of the river and a bridge near the caravan park, sprucing up during the afternoon in preparation for our social engagement.

Flowers adorned the Denmark Bridge

Noel and Denise proved to be excellent hosts, treating us to a wonderful dinner of a lamb roast with all the trimmings. We had cheese, chocolates and strawberries for dessert, and a long conversation until after eleven - our latest night for ages. A photograph taken of the dinner inside the caravan that night shows my face still swollen and puffy from the rapidly fading URTI, but my eyes almost back to normal.

We bought a newspaper the next morning! This was probably the only time that Karen and I had actually paid money for a paper since leaving Sydney in 1995. All of our reading had been gleaned from papers borrowed from others or found in garbage bins, from magazines found in laundries or along the side of the road, and from books bought cheaply and often swapped at op shops around the country. We savoured the fresh newspaper for an hour or two before going to Noel's van after morning tea for a half day of touring the local area in their Nissan Patrol 4WD.

We re-visited Greens Pool and then took more photos of Elephant Rocks, this time in bright sunshine. Waterfall Beach proved aptly named, with a small fall only a couple of metres high actually dropping directly onto the beach. We also visited Madfish Bay where a close offshore island can be reached via a sand spit where waves can hit from left and right. It was low tide when we arrived, so no waves were meeting and there were therefore no mad fish. On the way back to the caravan park we travelled on a scenic backroad along a ridge parallel to the highway to a good lookout over Denmark.

Waterfall Beach

After lunch I fixed a zipper on my sleeping bag with a pair of pliers and a fishing swivel, before Karen and I walked into town via another Heritage Trail. This one was totally unmarked and unsignposted and not surprisingly we lost it halfway along. After finding our way back to the road we continued into town to shop for dinner before returning to the caravan park for drinks with Noel and Denise until dark. Two cyclists arrived in the caravan park during the afternoon - Peter from Austria and Andy from England. They had travelled together from Three Ways in the Northern Territory! I cooked dinner while Karen was chatting to them and they both joined us while we were eating, but a fierce outbreak of mozzies soon broke up our conversation and put an early end to the night.

The night was surprisingly cool - Noel reported two point six degrees Celsius - but we felt okay in the tent. Another nice day dawned, just like yesterday. We spoke to the two cyclists for a while, then with two Canadian birdwatchers, and during the latter conversation said goodbye to Noel and Denise who were leaving for Albany. After paying for a third night Karen and I walked into town to hire a canoe for a couple of hours for ten dollars. The river at Denmark is not very long. We paddled up the river for as far as navigable (about one and a half kilometres) and back a little way past our start point. There was not much bird activity but the paddle made a pleasant and relaxing change.

In the afternoon we took Elle and Mel for a scenic ride down to Poisson Point on a walk/bike path which was more walker-friendly than biker-friendly. A large raft of hoary-headed grebes had our undivided attention for a while before we rode out to the Monkey Rock car park. After hiding the bikes we briskly climbed up to the rock to take photos of the good coastal views all the way to Cape Hillier and West Cape Howe.

After another evening of mozzie dodging we retired early. By 8am the next morning we were packed and ready to head east again. A shortcut took us across the river on the old railway bridge and along the old track for about five or six kilometres to Crusoe Beach. Returning to the highway we made good time on the flattest riding we have done since Dunsborough, even after turning off onto the Lower Denmark Road. Not long after morning tea at a bike rack/school bus shelter some time around forty kilometres, we cycled over a couple of small hills and arrived in Albany.

We gathered the usual tourist stuff at the Information Centre before riding to the post office to hopefully pick up the film that had successfully evaded us for the past three weeks. According to the post office people, our package had still not arrived in Margaret River! We planned to spend a bit of time in Albany.

Maybe the film would arrive before we left.

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