Busselton Skate Park – not for the faint-hearted

A couple of years ago I saw my first ever proper ‘skate park’ at Bondi Beach. Paul and I stood and watched, mesmerised – and terrified.

These parks are not for the faint-hearted, and definitely are not for me. But to watch kids, the teenagers, and even kids as young as four or five tackling the biggest of the big dippers, – gobsmacking!

Just north of Busselton’s iconic jetty, and overlooking beautiful Geographe Bay, and the jetty, Busselton boasts it’s very own skate park. And just as awesome as Sydney’s Bondi Beach Skate Park I might add. Quite a claim to fame for this quiet little back water place with it’s well above average population percentage of retirees.

 

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One of the most photographed buildings in the area – the start of Busselton Jetty

With guests not far off arriving for the Christmas period, including two youngsters of around the early teen years, I thought a sneak preview of something other than beautiful beaches in the area may be in order. So, Emma and Luka – perhaps you may consider packing your skate boards, maybe even put one in for ya dad. I think ya granddad though will probably chose to just watch and be ready to pick up the pieces should there be any mishaps.

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For the beginners…

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And the intermediate levels..

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Two teenagers checking it out

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Whoosh!!!

In my wildest dreams I couldn’t imagine I ever, at any stage of my life time, could have tackled even the beginners area here. The one for the more experienced – well, me coming down that slope could only figure in the wildest of my nightmares. Even though of me whizzing down there almost brings me out in a cold sweat. But the kids do it with little fear. Surreal !!!

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Mr Tilly’s first big day out

Yippee, Tilly’s now fully vaccinated, and we can take him further afield without fear of him contacting the deadly Parvo Virus.

He started puppy training last week, and the comment was that we have a very intelligent dog on our hands. The comment came with a bit of an implied warning – beware, if you’re not firm he’ll run rings around you both! And don’t we just know it….. But so far we’re very happy with his progress, and his training.

We’re aware he needs lots of stimulation, so with spare time on a fine day last week it seemed the perfect opportunity to take him out and about. We started by attaching his lead, which usually means a walk to our beach – and didn’t he just let us know we weren’t living up to his expectations when instead of heading in the direction of the beach, we attached him to his tether on the back seat of the car. We ignored his complaints, and within a minute or two he had settled back to enjoy the ride.

First stop, Gracetown. Gracetown’s a gorgeous little surfing town near to Margaret River. The township’s small, with virtually no commercial facilities, but with some very expensive real estate. The surrounding location is gorgeous.

The 135 km Cape to Cape walking track has a section that follows the shore-line on the edge of the town. Most of the Cape to Cape walk meanders through National Parks, but the section on the edge of Gracetown is Dog Friendly.
We had only followed the track a short distance when we came across steps (lots of steps) leading down to an interesting rock beach. Tilly wasn’t sure at first how to tackle the steps, but one flight down and he had found his rhythm and would have made short work of the remainder had he not been on his lead. As it’s the first of the warm weather we have to be very snake aware as they start moving about, finding warm spots to sun bake in. So, even if he had fully learned ‘recall’ yet, he still wouldn’t be walking freely at this time of the year in bush areas.

Returning to the car, the next stop was directly above the surfers. The surf was good, but not fearsome by their standards. Believe me, it can get fearsome in that area. You’ll notice in some of the photos the surfers wear helmets for protection. The rides they get are good and long – but if dumped, the power of the water above, and the reef beneath can have dire consequences.

Note the crash helmet

The power of the waves as they crash into a rock

One more beach stop at Prevelly Point, Margaret River’s world famous competition surfing spot. There’s been a lot of work done on the foreshore since I was last there. What an awesome spot to sit and watch awesome waves, and the awesome folk who are brave enough to surf them.

Brave people

By this stage Mr Tilly was getting a bit tired, and we were getting a bit hungry. We headed inland to a place where Paul had been promising himself a sample of their ale – Cowaramup Brewing company. They have a lawned area where dogs are welcome, so Tilly and I settled down under the shade of umbrella while Paul headed inside to fetch some beers. A pint of IPA for Paul, and 1/2 pint for myself, and they provided us with a large bowl of water for Tilly. We ordered one serve of beer battered fish, chips and salad which we shared. It was easily enough for the two of us. The batter was crisp and delicious, but the fish was a bit tasteless and let it down a bit. The chips were perfect, and the salad small, but adequate. There were lots of choices on the menu, and we had trouble deciding on what would have. So, with the fish letting this meal down a bit, but everything else being absolutely perfect for a day out with our fur ball – we’ll definitely be making a return trip to sample one of their other menu delights.

Lunch over with we wandered around the grounds with Tilly’s leash extended so as he could romp around a bit. We don’t have any lawn, so the grassed area was something he hasn’t seen since he left his birth home.  He clearly loved it, jumping around happy as a pig as mud – or should I say, a pup in grass……

‘Are you looking at me’!

Grass – happy as a pig in mud

or ‘a pup in the grass’

He slept all the way home. He’s such a little treasure, a real pleasure!

Dog friendly – The Fire Station Bar, Busselton

Having the addition of a four legged family member changes our ‘out and about’ focus. Whilst we will still go out on our own from time to time, there will be many days where we’ll be wanting to include Mr Tilly in our outings.  Consequently, dog friendly venues are now on our radar.

You’ll notice I’ve included a new DOG FRIENDLY category. Posts such as this one will be listed under all the relevant categories – food experiences, tourism at home, WA the south west, and when appropriate will now also be listed under this new category – Dog Friendly.

On a particularly busy day last week we hadn’t had time to eat, and had passed our usual lunch time. We still had a number of things to do before we would be returning home, so we used the opportunity to try out a little boutique bar and eatery in the centre of Busselton’s Main Street – The Fire Station.

Located at 68 Queen street, Busselton, the fire station was constructed in 1936. Built in the inter-war, functionalist style of architecture, the building was used for its intended purpose until 1990. A number of years followed when it was  used by local art groups, or charity shops. In 2013 an application was made, and granted, for the building to be re-incarnated as a boutique bar, a welcome addition to the Busselton food and beverage establishments.

When we visited last week we didn’t have Mr Tilly with us, but when some patrons arrived accompanied by their fur baby we realised it was ‘dog friendly’. There’s an outdoor area to the side of the building, and also a pavement alfresco area where dogs are allowed. Not only did we not have Mr Tilly with us,  we hadn’t taken our camera either. So, apologies for the quality of the photos, all have been taken directly off the net.

From the food menu we chose to share a plate of steamed bao buns, along with a basket of chips with aioli. An IPA was chosen from the selection of rotating craft beers to wash down the buns. Both hit the spot beautifully.

After the light lunch had established the Fire Station is a venue worthy of a return visit, we enquired as to their happy hour offers. They offer ‘five at five’, between the hours  of 5pm  & 6pm week days. Five items are chosen each afternoon to list from between their food and drink menus. These are offered at the reduced price of $5. I’m sure we’ll find something to suit us when we return during their happy hour one afternoon, perhaps with Mr Tilly next time.

Now that we have our four legged family member, and are on the look out for places that allow dogs, we’re delighted to see an abundance of choices. Our last canine family member passed away almost 25 years ago. I remember finding the choice of places available to which she could accompany us were very few, and often far between. There’s so many venues, and places available now. Being able to include him in our outings is going to add to our outings, and to his lifestyle. It’ll re-enforce his acceptable social behaviour, and will help satisfy his need for mental stimulation. The positive changes in places that now accept and welcome dogs to their premises – what a pleasure!

 

 

Fields of Arum lilies

Driving through the south west of WA in the spring, the fields of Arum Lillies are breathtakingly beautiful. Growing with wild abandon absolutely everywhere, they create displays that must surely rival Wordsworth’s Daffodils. Beautiful, but not wanted in WA.

A perfect specimen of a flower – if only it was wanted


The Arum Lily, from South Africa,was introduced as a plant to glorify our gardens. The flowers are beautiful and indeed, glorious, albeit poisonous to both humans and animals. However, that’s not where the real problem lies. No-one could have anticipated how rampant it would become once it escaped the confines of the household garden. It’s now classified as an invasive pest, and you only have to drive through the Margaret River region in the Spring, knowing it’s not a native, to understand why

The 2011 bushfires that ravaged the area around Margaret River had an additional devastating consequence. The open soil left in the wake of the fires provided ideal conditions for the lilies to multiply, dare i say it, faster than wildfire!

In open areas, birds are spreading the seeds, and individual clumps are sprouting up, only to later multiply into visually stunning fields of toxic green and white. They’re taking over the land faster than our our own natives can regenerate, and are consequently making it difficult for the native bush to compete.

This years clumps become next years fields

Despite an eradication program, the banks of Arum lilies don’t seem to be diminishing. One day, hopefully they’ll be gone, but until that day, with reservations – I’ll still enjoy the stunning (albeit hopefully temporary) display they create in the spring.

Western Australia’s famous wildflowers

Life is settling down again after Mr Tilly’s arrival. His training is well on track, and we’re gaining a bit of freedom to come and go, sometimes with him (cautiously as he’s still not old enough to be fully vaccinated), and sometimes without him.

This week we took an overnight trip with him up to Perth to meet Alice’s older dogs. Of course, being a puppy, he loved them a lot more than eight year old dogs want to be loved. It’ll take a few interactions for them to be comfortable with a rat-bag puppy, especially in their territory.

While we were up in Perth, Paul treated himself to the long awaited camera upgrade. More on the new camera later. This post is about our first excursion to try it out.  What better subject to try it out on than the famous WA wildflowers.

Candle like Banksias

It’s spring, and the wild-flowers are blooming. We headed to Carbunup Reserve in the shire of Busselton, a wooded area just off Bussell Highway.  At first glance it doesn’t look like there’s an abundance of wildflowers, but as you walk along the track concentrating on the flowers rather than the trees, you start seeing them in abundance.

Full sized gum nuts on a baby tree

The reserve is full of gum trees and banksias.

Home for the critters

Big tall gum trees, small gum trees just sprouting, and old, dead gum trees. The dead trees still standing provide nesting spots for the birds that like the hollowed out dead branches to nest in. The older fallen trees provide shelter for all the little critters than rely on decaying tree wood for their shelter and homes.

And in between all the ordered chaos that forms the natural habitat of Carbunup Reserve sprouts an amazing profusion of wild flowers, and wild orchids.

Apologies up front, I know very few wildflowers by name, neither the botanical, nor the common names. It’s on my list to learn, but for now you’ll just have to make do with seeing the pictures.

 

My favourite amongst them is the Kangaroo Paws – Western Australia’s floral emblem.

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Vivid red and green everywhere.

We left the reserve and headed south past Margaret River to The Berry Farm, one of our favourites lunch spots. On the way we came across a mass of Everlasting Daisies at the entrance of Margaret River township. I think Everlastings are native to WA, but more so in the north eastern wheatbelt area. They’re so pretty though when planted on mass, and don’t seem to cause any invasion problems, so they’re often planted where a profusion of easy care, colour is wanted.

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A profusion of colours

A good start to trying out the new camera – and a new camera a great inspiration for getting into the great outdoors. A real pleasure to see Paul resurrecting a hobby from almost 40 years ago.

 

 

 

Critters

Four months on the road – countless critters seen and photographed. These are our favourites from this trip:

The water critters

With most of our times spent at the ocean we saw some amazing sea life. Amongst them lots of pretty blue spotted Rays at Corol Bay.

Ray at Coral Bay

We saw several sea snakes on the shores of Cable Beach as the tide receded. This one was actually quite small, but we saw some that were more than a metre in length. Although deadly poisonous, there’s little chance of being bitten by one. They have tiny mouths, so just keep your fingers away from their mouths and you’re pretty safe. Should one get you though, they say you won’t make it to the telephone to call for help. I’ve heard it said you get about 10 seconds……. Needless to say I kept my fingers well tucked in.

Sea Snake

We saw turtles swimming in Roebuck Bay, and also resting in the mudflats when we went on our Hovercraft tour.

Turtle in mudflats of Roebuck Bay

And then there were the smaller critters, lots of starfish on the shore at low tide,

Starfish buried under the sand when stranded at low tide

and several of these  amazing looking critters in the rock pools at low tide on Cable Beach. I’ve never seen anything quite like these Feather Stars. They look like a Fascinator that one might wear to the races. Apparently they start life like a flower attached by a stem to the ocean floor, then as they mature they break away from their stems. Dozens of feathery arms (or are they legs) dance around in the water. They actually walk around. That’s if you can call in walking, but definitely they move along the bottom of the rock pools with purpose.

Feather Star

We saw crocodiles, some saltwater, and some freshwater. The Johnstone Crocs (Freshies as they’re known colloquially) are relatively timid and harmless, unless cornered. Then, like any wild animal they will try and defend themselves, often doing themselves more harm than they do to their victim. They can inflict nasty damage, but in doing so are likely to do irreparable damage to their own narrow snouts. Wide snouted Salties, however, prey on larger animals. To them, any animals entering their hunting ground is fair game, and to them humans are just another animal.

Don’t be fooled by their common names either. Contrary to what some people believe,  Salties don’t only live in saltwater. They’ll make their homes in fresh water swimming holes, and if you see crocs in any potential swimming hole it’s important to know which kind. Salties won’t usually tolerate Freshies, so if you see a potential swimming hole with several freshies in it, you’re most likely safe. However, we always go by local knowledge, and will only swim in water holes known to be safe.

Freshwater Crocodile at Windjana Gorge

The Birds

We spent several hours watching Sea Eagles tending their nest in both Cape Range National Park, and at the lighthouse at Gantheaume Point (Broome). It was while watching the eagles in Cape Range that we realised our need to invest in a better camera so as to increase our chances of getting photos that do justice to these amazing critters. The need for a better camera was re-enforced many times whilst on this trip, and never more so than when trying to photograph birds. So, apologies for some of the following photos, I know they’re not up to scratch. We’ll get some better ones next time.

Sea Eagle’s nest

Darter with dinner

Peregrin Falcon

Owl Faced Finch

And flying creatures of the a smaller variety

Red dragonfly

Land animals

We saw lots of emus, kangaroos and wallabies, the stand out of which were these wallabies on the outskirts of Broome. The small female with the Joey in her pouch had apparently been hand reared as a baby, so had no fear of us when we approached for a photo.

Joey in the pouch

Mum bent over to nibble some grass allowing the little Joey to also graze safely without having to leave the safety of his snug pouch. Some great close-ups of some very trusting wild animals – I only hope they never pay the ultimate price for their faith in humans.

Mum and Bub sharing a meal

So, that’s the stand out critters from our trip.

We’re home now, almost four weeks earlier than we’d intended to arrive home. The reason for the earlier return – another little critter is about to enter our lives. ‘Mr Tilly’ wasn’t going to be with us until early next year, but an extra large litter of all boys meant there was one for us sooner than expected.

So, we came back early, and are currently cleaning out the caravan and getting ourselves and our house ready for our new arrival. We have lots to do – four months has given the weeds a chance to grown with wild abandon. We’ll try and get the garden sorted out a bit before we get side tracked with our new arrival.

Watch this space. Shortly we’ll be introducing, ‘Mr Tilly’.

Mt Whaleback, largest open-cut iron ore mine in the world

A tour of an iron ore mine has been on our list for some time now. Being stuck in Newman waiting for new tyres to be freighted up seemed like a perfect opportunity.

First, a look at two of the Haul Trucks on display in the town.

The superseded model:

The truck on display at the visitor’s centre was one of only 30 such trucks produced. BHP purchased 22 of the trucks for Newman’s Mt Whaleback mine in 1973 at a cost of $2.5million dollars each. Each truck could carry a weight of 200 tonnes, and when fully loaded the trucks weighed 75 tonnes more than the take-off weight of a 747 jumbo jet. In 1992 BHP sold one of the trucks to the visitor’s centre for the princely some of $1.00.

Superseded Haul truck on display outside Newman’s visitor’s centre

The newer model truck:

The second truck on display in the town is located near the south bound exit to the Great Northern Highway.

Currently there are 40 – 50 of these 240 tonne trucks in the mine’s fleet. The left hand drive monsters are produced in Ameria. They have 6 forward gears, reverse, and of course, power steering.

The air conditioned cabs are fitted with a 2 way radio, dust suppression kits, and a CD player. There’s also a monitor fitted that views the drivers face looking for signs of fatigue. This is linked back to an office in Perth, approximately 1200 kilometres away.

Length – 13.2 metres

Width – 7.4 metres

The newer model

Goodness me, if it ran over me and I was in the right place underneath, all I’d have to do is duck and it’d miss me altogether.

‘Duck’ and it could run me over without mishap

Those wheels would do some damage though

About the tyres:

Tyre weight – 3.6 tonne each

Tyre diamètre – 3.5 metres

Tyre weight with the rim inserted – 5 tonnes

Expected life-span – 100,000kms (average 1 year)

The on-site tyre store can hold $2million worth of tyres

Them’s big tyres!

The mine tours are run from the visitor’s centre. There’s clothing requirements for anyone going onto the premises, and we all had to wear long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and closed in shoes. The visitor’s centre then supplied us with the other compulsory items, the hard hat, hi-viz vest, and safety goggles.

Paul displaying his safety gear inside a loader scoop

Most of the tour comprised of being driven around the various areas in an air conditioned bus. Our tour guide, Michelle, pointed out the various working areas, provided statistics, and generally gave us a good insight into the workings of the mine. There were a lot of statistics, far to many to remember. Fortunately, Michelle gave us a print out at the tour’s conclusion.

Open-cut Iron Ore mine

Pit statistics

Mt Whaleback was originally 805 metres above sea level. They are currently mining down to 135 metres.

Each step on the sides of the pit are called benches, each bench is 12 – 15 metres high.

The water table starts on bench 18, they are currently mining on bench 30.

They pump 46 million litres of water out of the pit each week. The water is used in the water trucks used to keep the dust under control, and used to assist with other production processes.

The trains

Once the ore is mined, it goes through a number or processes before being loaded onto trains and transported to the Port (Port Hedland) for shipping overseas.

The average length of each train is 2.7kms.

Each train consists of 4 locomotives, 268 Ore cars, and only one driver. Two locos are at the front of the train, the other two are in the middle. The driver in the front loco operates the other three locos remotely.

Each car holds approximately 130 – 138 tonnes of ore.

Loaded trains pull a payload of approximately 33,000 tonnes.

When fully loaded the trains can reach up to 65kms per hour, with a braking distance of 3kms.

The conclusion of the tour

The tour lasts around 1 1/2 hours. We learnt much more than I have included here, but if you want to know more, I’d recommend doing a similar tour. It was extremely interesting, and definitely not just ‘a man’s tour’.

The tour concluded with coffee, scones and jam back at the visitor’s centre (included in the price of the tour).

But that’s not all

The following day our tyres arrived and were fitted by 10.30am, enabling us to get on our way again by 11am. We were heading south towards Cue when an oncoming support vehicle for a massively oversized vehicle approached us driving down the our side of the road. The driver of the support vehicle was a few kilometres in front of the oversized loads he was escorting, so we knew it was going to be a big one.

Next came a second support vehicle with all lights flashing immediately in front of, not one, but two trucks, each loaded with a massive piece of machinery on it’s back. Clearly we hadn’t seen the last of the mining machinery, as these two massive babies would have undoubtedly been on route to one of the mines. They took up the full road, so all traffic travelling south had to pull right off the road to allow them to pass, easy enough for us. Not so easy for any road trains though, and there were two in front of us. 

A mining vehicle being transported up Gt Northern Highway

A third support vehicle followed behind, also travelling down the wrong side of the road to prevent any following vehicles from attempting to overtake.

Rear support vehicle preventing any attempts to overtake

A lot of tourists won’t use the Great Northern Highway because it’s well used by big trucks and road trains. For those of you unfamiliar with road trains, they’re a big road truck pulling 3 or 4 carriages behind them. They’re long, and can get a bit of sway on the carriages, but the drivers are pretty good at controlling them. We always give them space when they’re passing, and we find by conversing with the drivers on our two way, they’re always really considerate.

Because the Great Northern Highway is used by such heavy vehicles, and often has oversized mining equipment being transported along it, it’s kept in tip top shape. Even though a lot of the traffic is big and heavy, there’s still a lot less traffic than on the coastal highway. We personally prefer this route when travelling up and down Western Australia. Mind you, we’ve never been stuck behind any convoys such as we saw today for any length of time. For us, the reduced traffic, the considerate truck drivers, and the prime condition of the road has always made travelling this route a pleasure!