Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rolling on the River

Forest along Caves Road
If you have all day to do it, the drive from Perth along Caves Road (Hwy 10 and 250) through the karri forest and then along the coast is a gorgeous. One of our detours took us out to Eagle Bay to look for a whale or two, but all we saw were beautiful beaches and people soaking up some sunshine. When the weather warms, this will be a great place to enjoy snorkeling and other water sports. Yallingup, another scenic town, is where the smaller waves come in and nearly every day you can see people trying to catch a wave or two. Farther along the road the forests and open areas allow native animals to roam, treating us to mobs of kangaroos and wallabies with a few emus thrown in. These are not animals in wildlife parks, but those that still inhabit the bush. Margaret River is an area much like the hill country in Texas in that there are oodles of wineries, lots of tall trees, and loads of hilly roads. They call the climate Mediterranean, since we’re near the coastline, but it's cooler than what we expected. The warmest temperature was in the low 70s (20s centigrade) with
Top L to R: Pirate cow, Golden cow, Cow with mailbox
Bottom L to R: Wine store, Social Club, Cow with helmet
on and off sunny skies. Caves are also found in this area ranging from completely guided to ‘Here’s a helmet and a torch, see you later’. One of my favorite sites on our drive was the small town of Cowaramup. Normally you’ll see all sorts of life-sized cow statues in this town, but during our visit there was a bicycle rally so the statues wore bicycle helmets!

Our first stop, after a few round-about rounds (with GPS instructions to ‘get off at the first
Top L to R: Step down to cave, Soda straws
Bottom L to R: Table with red lights, Table formation
exit...get off at the third...go all the way around and get off!), was at Lake Cave. The cave is a small but deep requiring visitors to descend about 130 steps (some much steeper than others, and more so walking out). Flowstone, stalagmites, and stalactites adorn the cavern. The children in the group were fascinated with the ‘cave pearls’ that continued to glow even after the guide’s flashlight (torch) was switched off; some of the adults wanted to see the glow, again and again. In at least two areas are column formations with a typical table at their base. What makes these unusual is that the water has receded, leaving these tables suspended and allowing a reflected view of the underneath. Our guide reassured some nervous folks that the ceiling was, indeed, strong enough to hold the massive weight of columns and table without collapsing on us. The cave is active with lots of soda straws that seemed to be waiting just to drip water on Dave's head. Lake Cave is the only one left in the line of caves between the hills and the beach that still has water flowing continuously allowing for year-round critters, albeit very small blind ones. Occasionally the cave has some bats during the winter, but not a large colony. Outside and at the cave entrance are spiders with thick webs to snare any insects that venture near. Visitors have little effect on the animals that call this area home. Kookaburras nesting close to the upper platform laughed, then flew every time we got our cameras
Black Skink
focused on them, but a large, black skink couldn't be bothered to move much no matter how many tourists went pounding and blowing by on their way either up from or down to the cave. The jarrah forest that surrounds this area is home to an abundance of small birds; while we were relaxing in the little restaurant near the visitor center we could see these colorful callers flitting back and forth among tree branches.

Along the Caves Road were a couple of 'self-guided' caves. Dave was disappointed when 
Top L to R: Stalactites, Water drop, Frog, Crayfish
Bottom L to R: Helmet near roof, Tree roots
the first one was closed; the second one, though, was open. At the Calgardup Cave entrance park rangers gave us helmets with lights on them and torches, told us to stay on the boardwalks, encouraged us to mind our heads and sent us on our way. So off we went with that ‘fixin’ to get in trouble’ look on our faces! We were the only people in the cave; the ranger said that if we weren't out by 5:00PM she'd come looking for us. Once you enter, the cave stretches out to your left and right. We went down lots of steps and then chose to go several hundred yards to our right. We got to duck walk a ways, but when it opened up, the cave was a beautiful. The floor of this cave is covered in a thin sheet of water reflecting the stalactites, draperies, and flowstone. The stalactites ranged from tiny soda straws to spikes so large that you weren’t sure how the ceiling could support the weight. There were also some oddly stringy, black ‘formations’ that reached almost to the floor without ever increasing in size. Eventually we realized that these were the trees roots that had broken into the cave chamber in search of water. They were so fine that blowing on them, as you would to extinguish candles on a cake, made them swing and sway. Traveling back to the middle of the cave and then proceeding the other way about the same distance we found critters. On that side of the cave we saw three different crayfish and a frog, none of which were blind. One of the crayfish had begun to lose its coloring, so we know it had been in the cave the longest of the three. As with the other side, there were lots of different formations and lots of dripping water. We had a good time exploring on our own and Dave loved not being rushed from one site to another.

Caves Road, so named because of all the caves on it, winds through the jarrah forest, allowing occasional glimpses of the ocean. The trees and flowers were gorgeous and the
Top: Dave in tree
Bottom: Cynthia in tree
dirt road didn’t look too bad so we ignored the GPS and our map to see what was around the next hill. The dirt road led to camping areas that are hidden in these very tall jarrah trees. This week there were lots of folks in everything from one-person tents to large trailers enjoying nature. As we slowly drove along the track, a car approached us with something strapped to the top, or so we thought. Actually it was a young man, who looked a bit like a deranged leprechaun, sitting on the roof with his feet hanging down on the windshield. He was delighted that spring was coming to Australia with a break in the school year close at hand.  Laughing and waving, he and his friends meandered on down the road toward their tent site. We continued on to an ocean overlook where Dave made me climb a tree so I could see more of the beach; it's always something with him.

I wanted Dave to see the lavender gardens that were such a treat the last time I was in this
Two views of Canal Rocks
area, but they seem to have disappeared. The Cape Lavender Tea House was the only remnant of the gardens, so we had tea and scones while planning our next stop. Since were very close to the west coast we took the short drive to the Canal Rocks. It's a wild beach with an intermingling of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks on the brink of a very rough sea. The water has eroded the softer limestone away leaving the canals that the water surges through making great sprays and froth. It was, however, cold and windy down on the beach so rather than playing at the water’s edge we got some great pictures and moved on to other adventures.

Although the Margaret River area is known for its wines, they also have other culinary delights. At the Margaret River Chocolate Company they were making some sort of white chocolate bonbons, which wasn't too exciting, but the free dark chocolate was. This
Top: Bowls of chocolate
Bottom: Varieties of vinegars
business has expanded its holdings and now includes the Providore, which has chocolate liquors that would be good in coffee or on ice cream. The liquors were okay, but not wonderful enough for us to even buy a bottle to drink while we were there. But what I really liked was their assortment of flavored olive oils and vinegars. Their offerings made me wish we could get some bottles in our suitcases without the danger of them breaking. We followed up our visit to the chocolate company with a couple of wineries; needless to say we weren't really overly hungry after all of the free nibbles available to go with tastings. The wineries we visited had some wonderful grounds with many mature rosebushes and other great plantings. Evidently these vineyards have been around for lots of years and have had enough success for the owners to put money into the appearance of the grounds and shops. The wines weren’t to our taste, though, and were pricey. If you are planning to have lunch at any of the wineries in the Margaret River area, take time to make a reservation. Even a late lunch (about 1:45PM) required at least a two hour wait on a week day.

South of the Margaret River and near Augusta is the tallest lighthouse in Australia. On the
Top L to R: Leeuwin beach, Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Bottom L to R: Yellow crab, Shore birds
way we saw a mob of kangaroos; we thought they were cows at first, but then one hopped and that was all it took. Once we got to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, we found that they have blocked off the road to it and now charge $8 a piece to enter. There is another charge to take the tour and climb to the top of the lighthouse. From its top you can see where the Indian Ocean meets the Great Southern Ocean. The water turns an amazing color that defied our best efforts to photograph it. Since it is so tall, you can see this lighthouse from a bunch of the beaches along the west and south coasts. It's a rough, rocky shore with lots of igneous rocks, snails, a few crabs, but no tide pools. We crawled all over the rocks, enjoying having cold sand blown into our faces. The shore was alive with birds, poking into the nooks and crannies of the rocks in search of a snack. Sheltering from the wind were typical pioneer plants doing their best to stabilize the sand and help make permanent the dunes.

Kangaroos rolling in the grass

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