Sid’s campground

A lot of thought went into planning the inaugural trip in our new caravan. Our requirements were firstly fine weather. Then somewhere that welcomed dogs, somewhere that had fire pits, and somewhere with space so as we wouldn’t be camped on top of someone else. Using Wiki Camps, Paul thought Sid’s campground, near Northcliffe looked like it would fit the bill perfectly,  and the week-end looked like it was going to be clear of wind and rain. We hitched up and headed off.

Paul had done his research well. The place was perfect.

A lovely bush setting with plenty of space

At $5 per person a night, this place is fantastic. Or for $10 extra per site there was even power. We chose to have power for our first trip so as we could try everything out. We were directly opposite the fire pit and camp kitchen, and our site faced the north sun – perfect!

A big fire was lit every night for campers to sit around and swap stories. Unfortunately Paul forgot to take his camera when the fire was burning bright

Sid has put a lot of work into welcoming campers to his 100+ acres of natural bush. There’s several little rustic camp kitchens throughout the camping area, each equiped with the basics for cooking and washing up,  including wood heaters with plenty of wood for burning. Also dotted around are several toilets, or toilet/shower rooms, including a loo with a low window providing a great view of the forest. The water’s hot, the loo paper plentiful, and there’s even liquid soap at all the basins. It’s better equiped than most caravan parks where we would be paying the better part of $40 for a night.

There’s a lot of thought and work gone into creating walk tracks around the property for campers to enjoy.

Perfect tracks for dogs to walk
“come on you two”, he waits patiently for us to catch up
Lots for dogs (and people) to look at
Flowers planted around the camping area
with interesting pots for the colourful plants
Tall trees to walk under
One of several dams to walk around
Such a peaceful setting – note the table and seat in the distance, one of several dotted around for campers to find a quiet place and enjoy the peaceful sounds of the bush

Our first two night trip to christen the new van couldn’t have been in a better place. There’s clearly lots of wild flowers and orchids just waiting for spring to bloom and we’ll certainly be back to see them. Sid’s campground – what a pleasure!

 

Goanna Cafe and Gallery

On the last Wednesday of the month my walking group celebrate any birthdays from the month over lunch. The choice of venue is made by the birthday girls. It was my choice in May, so I chose the Goanna Cafe and Gallery, a regular choice with the ladies, and one that never fails to please.

Two tables this month
The second table sharing a joke

Located in Quindalup, towards the northern end of the Margaret River wine region the licensed Goanna Cafe is best described as quirky, unpretentious and relaxed. Their menu showcases the best and freshest of locally sourced ingredients in a choice of simple, understated dishes that taste superb.

House Lasagna of pumpkin, cauliflower, parmesan with sage and walnut beurre noisette, charred broccolini and mixed leaves
Sunja’s Korean Bibimbap, mixed rice with Asian vegetables, marinated beef mince, fried egg, kimchi with soy sauce & Korean hot sauce on the side

I choose the Korean Bibimbap – it was delicious. There were of course lots of other choices on the menu but I’ve only mentioned the ones I took photos of. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals, and followed with coffees and sweets chosen from the cake cabinet.

Mmmm – what to choose. I chose the home made rocky road, it hit the spot perfectly

A small gallery on the premises carries an evolving range of local artwork, jewellery, scarves, homewares, and produce, with a focus on handcrafted and quality pieces. The cafe predominantly gives space to emerging artists allowing them an opportunity to develop their work in a supportive environment.

I love scarves, but resisted on this visit
More items in the gift shop

The cafe is very popular on weekends, so it’s wise to book. There’s a normal playground for the ankle biters, as well as an adventure playground. Dogs are welcome too in the outside eating area with plenty of undercover tables to choose from.

Adventure playground to keep the young ones entertained

It’s situated in a lovely bush setting, which has been taken advantage of by the addition of a Sculpture Walk.

One of several sculptures

It’s not the first time the Walkers who Lunch have dined here.  As always there were no complaints, so it certainly won’t be the last.  Goanna Cafe, as usual, was a real pleasure.

Vasse Felix

What a busy time we’ve been having lately. Sunday 27th May, my birthday, commenced a busy week of wining and dining, and wow – did we commence it in style.

Paul took me to Vasse Felix winery and restaurant for lunch.

We arrived just on time so didn’t have time to take advantage of the wine tasting. Walking upstairs to the restaurant the first thing you see in the huge, and tastefully rustic dining room, is the suspended fire – I want one!

A warm welcome

We were shown to our table, and our waitress for the day introduced herself, and explained the menu. It’s a small menu, exactly how I like a menu to be. When it’s small there’s a much better chance of everything being fresh. The menu changes daily according to seasonal produce. With things listed like, Straciatella, Betel leaves, Bigoli, and Duck Yolk it definitely needed some explanation. I hadn’t heard of most of them, and even if I had, I’d never tried them.

Explanations given, we made our choices. Firstly a glass of bubbles for me, and a half glass of Cab Sav for Paul to have with our starters of sourdough with whipped burnt butter to share, marinated olives for Paul, and Marron, orange, chilli, and rice in a betel leaf for me.

The marron came as a shelled tail with the other ingredients in a betel leaf, served on a small hot rock. I was told that I was to roll the leaf around the marron tail and eat in from my fingers, much like a small taco.

The verdict on the starters: The marron – very different, and yummy. The bread delicious, the burnt butter – so good I’ve tried to replicate at home (the waitress told me how), the olives – ok.

Next came our shared entree of Duck parfait, stout and  chicken skin, served with Lees crisp-breads. The Duck parfait was a sort of whipped pate, very light, and I gather the stout was an ingredient in the parfait. I believe the crispy crumb sprinkled over the dish was the chicken skin. The Lees crisp-breads are made from the left over yeast sediment from the bottom of the chardonnay barrels.

The verdict on the shared entree: Wow, Wow, Wow!!! I have never, ever tasted food so good before. I moaned in ecstasy trying to savour every bite, but at the same time trying not to cram it in quickly so as to get more than my share. I hope I didn’t sound like Sally in that famous scene in, When Harry meets Sally.

Next our mains. Paul chose a fillet steak with Davidson plum, beetroot and hay (not sure what the hay was,  it wasn’t hay that a horse would eat). I chose the Pork, eel, eggplant and miso. We had a side of broccolini, romesco, lardo and almond with it. I had a half glass of the cab sav with mine. I’m happy with only a few sips of any wine, so Paul had to finish it for me (no hardship for sure).

The verdict on the mains: Paul declared his delicious. Mine was tasty but nothing memorable (perhaps that was because I was still in seventh taste heaven after having the parfait).

Then onto deserts: I chose the Mandarin, honeycomb, milk. Paul opted for Cropwell Bishop Shropshire cheese served with blackcurrant gel and lavish crisp breads (plus an additional portion of the Lees crisp-breads that we had with our parfait)

The verdict on the deserts: Paul thoroughly enjoyed his cheese and said the blackcurrant went perfectly with it. The Mandarin desert, which was a sort of a mandarin mouse with a mandarin sponge topping – well if I hadn’t just had the best food I’d ever eaten by way of the Duck parfait, I may well have been declaring the Mandarin desert the best food ever. It was light, and creamy, and absolutely delectable.

We spent nearly three hours over lunch. That length of time for two people can sometimes indicate the service was slow and the courses dragged out. Not so – everything including the timely service of the drinks and each course was absolutely perfect. Needless to say, Vasse Felix has jumped to the top of our list for special dining in the south west. It’s in front of anything else we’ve tried by a county mile.

And now before I close off this post, I’ll give you a bit of photographic tour around the public part of the winery.

Vines in all their autumn glory
Underground cellar in the distance, a bit like a hobbit home built into the hillside
A granite sculpture outside the cellar
A good selection of wines in the cellar (so I’m told – I wouldn’t know a good wine from a bad wine)
The wine that first saw Vasse Felix hit the world market in 1972
There’s lots of big sculptures, here’s another one

And there you have a bit of a summary of Vasse Felix winery, located on the corner of Caves Road and Tom Cullity Drive, Margaret River. A dining pleasure!

 

 

Storm batters south-west WA

We awoke this morning to the sound of battering winds and torrential rain. Winds of close to 110 kilometres an hour battered our coast. The rain was the heaviest I’ve ever seen. At one stage it was so heavy that I could have sworn we had ocean waves crashing over the house. To say it was ‘sheeting down’ was an understatement.

By mid-day the worst of the front had passed over and we were able to take Mr Tilly for his walk. Usually we incorporate a beach stretch for him to have a good romp off his lead. However, when we arrived at where our beach usually is, it was nowhere in sight. The tide was high and we had big waves surging as high as the beach shrubbery.

Our boat launching ramp under water with seaweed dumped well above usual water line
The small jetty beside the boat launching ramp

Several residents were out inspecting the beach damage, with some even braving the elements on zimmer frames and motorised gophers. It was clear what we were seeing was mild compared to the fury of the storm and tides during the morning hours. The walking track that runs parallel to the shoreline showed evidence of the waves having washed over the path. The path was littered with sand and seaweed. Benches had been ripped off their stumps and dumped high up in the beach shrubbery, or overturned in the water.

A concrete bench seat washed into the ocean

The fury of the ocean has washed out tonnes of sand, carving away at our shoreline.  The normally calm waters were frothing and awash with thick seaweed long after the worst of the weather had passed over. I have no doubt that once the water settles from it’s fury, it’s going to be leaving most of that seaweed where our sand should be.

The water awash with sand and seaweed

Residents were chatty as they inspected the damage sharing stories of previous storms. One resident said they hadn’t seen the ocean so high and wild since when Cyclone Alby hit in 1978. Others said it’s just winter as usual.

Usual or not, it’s going to take a while for our beautiful beaches to return to their normal pristine condition. Will Mr Tilly care – not one bit, just as long as he gets to romp along the shoreline.  As far as he’s concerned, the more seaweed on the beach, and the smellier it gets, the more fun he has. A messy beach, while not my cup of tea, is a joy to our Tills. He’ll be prancing around and charging after seagulls just as soon as there’s any visible sand to romp on. To him it’ll enhance his beach experience, he’ll be jumping for joy amongst the seaweed, and thinking to himself – what a pleasure!

 

Boranup Camp Ground

As you drive down towards Augusta on Caves Road in the South West of Western Australia you’ll find yourself driving through the some majestic and very stately Karri Trees. This is Boranup Forest.

Caves Road winding through the Karri trees

The Karri Tree is the third tallest species of tree in the world, growing up to 90 metres high.  They grow strong and straight up, with their trunks separating into branches only after their trunks are high up.  In Autumn their pale grey bark sheds, revelling new orange/salmon pink trunks underneath. They’re native to the South West, wetter regions of WA.

Boranup scenic drive takes you on a circuit through the forest

A semi circular drive will take you through the forest, with look outs on the way. There’s picnic spots dotted around if you’re only there for a day trip. The drive is gorgeous, but it’s only by stopping for a while that you get to hear the birds, and breath the ambience of the forest. What a pleasure!

Well maintained dirt track winds through the forest – suitable for 2 wheel drive

Towards the southern end of the scenic drive, the road branches off towards a campground. There’s only seven small sites suitable, each only recommended for tents or camper trailers, although I’m sure you could probably get a small off road caravan into a couple of the sites. Each site is well shaded by a mix of native trees and shrubbery.

The campground visible through the trees
Fire pits with barbecue plate

Each site has it’s own picnic table and a fire pit with a barbecue plate. Fires are banned through the summer months though, so if you’re planning a visit through the summer make sure you take your own gas cooking facilities.

Drop toilets

There’s drop toilets – not flush of course, but sure beats digging a hole.

A couple of campsites closer together

Three campsites are in close proximity – great for friends to camp together, but still far enough apart that you’re not on each others knees.

Most of the 7 sites are separated by distance and shrubbery

The other four sites are surrounded by shrubbery – secluded and peaceful. The sites can’t be booked, but they rarely get completely full except during the absolute peak seasons (Easter).

The Cape to Cape walk track passes nearby.

A great place to camp if you’re walking the Cape to Cape track, or if you want to drive in with your tent or camper trailer. Be aware though, it’s in a national park, so your four legged friend can’t come with you. You won’t lack for furry companions though. There’s lots of ring tailed possums to keep you entertained as the daylight fades to night – more about these fascinating and endangered creatures later.

 

Jewel Cave

The Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park is literally riddled with caves, and perhaps the jewel in the crown from amongst them is the aptly named, Jewel Cave. Located just off of Cave’s Road at the Augusta end, Jewel Cave is the biggest of the show caves in Western Australia, comprising of three massive chambers on display.

Fully guided one hour tours are available.

Entering the cave was an almost surreal experience as we were met with an underground wonderland of some of nature’s finest and most dazzling displays.

Stalactites coming down from the cave ceiling
Home to one of the longest straw stalactites in Australia

 

Enchanting
magical
Like flowing honey.
Organ pipes
The pure white

 

And the pinks, and creams….

It was stunning.

The tour guide explained how the stalactites and stalagmites form, and provided quite a bit of relevant information. I, though, remained awe-struck throughout, and quite honestly to have absorbed the technical information would have taken away from the fairy-tale experience.

In the words of Lex Bastion (walkabout 1958) – Like all great works of art, nature had done her job slowly. Jewel Cave, created naturally and slowly over many thousands of years, is indeed a work of art. Nature at it’s finest, it is glorious!

 

Cape to Cape walk

 

The first section of the track


The cape to cape walk follows the Leeuwin/Naturaliste Ridge for approximately 135kms. It starts near to Dunsborough and finishes at Augusta in WA’s South West. To walk the full length end to end will take between 5 – 8 days depending on fitness level, and how long you plan to walk each day. Some of the walk is definitely easy, and in parts, even suitable for wheelchairs and prams. Some of it is more difficult with a grading of level 4 and therefore only recommended for experienced bushwalkers. If you like walking, and love spectacular coastal and forest scenery, then this walk is worth putting on your list.

The Naturaliste lighthouse

On Easter Monday we decided we’d make a start on the walk, and what better place to start than at the very beginning, at the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. It was warmer than we’d thought, and the beginning of the track was quite exposed with no trees. We hadn’t taken water, as we only planned on a short walk, but we had planned to walk a little further than we actually did. A good reminder to observe the first rule of being in the WA bush – carry water. We’ve since ordered water bottles that can be carried in a convenient waist belt. We’ll prepare for a longer walk next time.

If we had taken water the first 3.8 kilometres (plus the same in return) from the lighthouse to sugarloaf rock would have been a breeze. This first section is definitely all wheelchair and pram friendly, and includes boardwalks in sections that would otherwise be a bit tougher.

Boardwalks in the first section of the walk allowing wheelchair access
A cormorant drying it’s wings to watch on the way

One of our friends completed the full Cape to Cape last year. He whittled away at it, section by section whenever a spare day gave him the time, posting some incredible photos on face book after each section. He definitely wet my appetite to give it a go, and I’d love to complete the whole walk in the same way – day walks. Section by section whenever time and weather allows, and coming home to my own bed after each days walking. I’m keen to get started beyond the wheelchair friendly beginning, but whether or not I’m capable of doing the soft sand sections remains to be seen.

I love beach walking on firm sand, but soft beach sand is hard work. From past experience, some of the grade 4 sections of this walk include several kilometres along the beach in soft, deep sand. I think I’ll manage most of the forest sections of the track okay, and once those parts are out of the way, perhaps I’ll just have to do the harder bits – just to be able to tick the whole track off my list.

For those of you who want to do the track end to end camping along the way, there are places to stay. There’s four campsites with pit toilets and rain water tanks spaced along the track, which are only accessible by hikers. There’s also drive in camp spots at Conto’s, Point Road, and Boranyup Forest, as well as privately owned caravan parks along the way. You can either pitch your hiking tent, or perhaps hire one of their self contained cabins in the caravan parks for a sleep in a real bed.

With our summer now over and the cooler autumn weather on the way, it’s perfect for bushwalking. Watch this space for some more photos and information on the track as we tackle some of the sections in the coming weeks.

Sues Bridge – Dog friendly campground, and day use area

I love this place. Located in the Margaret River area, the easiest way to get to it if you’re heading south from Perth, is to look for Sues Road off the Bussell Highway as you’re nearing Busselton. The Blackwood river is the largest river in Australia’s south west and runs nearby. Walk tracks will lead you from the campground to  the river. It’s a great place for launching a canoe I believe, or as we found out on our last camp trip there, a great place to watch the mist rising over the water on an early chilly, June morning.

A misty morning on our last camping trip here
Sue’s bridge visible as the mist lifts

It’s many years since we last camped there, and with our new caravan soon to be here, we thought we’d check it out again to see if it is worth putting on our list as a possible place for Mr Tilly’s first caravan/camping experience. I’m pleased to say it’s as good as I remember it for sure, and is definitely a strong contender.

There’s 25 individual camp sites with nine of them being of a suitable size for small to mid sized caravans or camper trailers, and the other 14 being more suited to tents. There is no power, no showers, and only drop toilets. Centrally located in the camp ground is a small camper’s kitchen with sinks serviced by rainwater tanks, gas barbecues, and picnic tables. Whenever we’ve been there, it’s always been clean and well maintained.

Our camping accommodation in pre-caravan days

Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. However, currently there is a total fire ban, in place, which runs from 30 November until 15 April. Campers can still cook on their own gas fuelled barbecues or camp stoves when the fire ban is in place. If you’re visiting when fires are allowed, please bring your own wood as it’s illegal to gather wood from the forest. I think the cost for camping is $11 per person per night, with an honour box system for payment (plus the ranger visits regularly). The usual concession cards are applicable to reduce your costs even further.

Gorgeous, individual camping areas
Great for cold weather camping
Our friend Wendy making use of one the strategically placed logs

Bookings cannot be made, so on long week-ends or during school holiday times it pays to get in early. Dogs are welcome, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Please note: 1080 poison is used in the vicinity so it’s important to keep your four legged friend close at all times. Whilst the baits aren’t dropped in the camping area, there is always the small chance that a bird could pick one up and drop it. Keep your eyes peeled, they usually resemble a small sausage – don’t let your pets eat anything here that you haven’t provided. 1080 is fatal, and has no antidote.

On our visit this week it was almost deserted. We enjoyed our picnic lunch with Mr Tilly, soaking up the unequalled peace and ambience of the forest. I have to say, I’m getting impatient now for the arrival of the caravan. I can’t wait to take Tills here, and sit with him under the stars on a cool night in front of his first campfire. It’s going to be such a pleasure to see him expanded his horizons to include camping delights.

We had the place to ourselves for our picnic

 

 

Mr Tilly Free Mondays

Last week we took a picnic lunch to Castle Bay in the Meelup Regional Park, wetting our appetites for more. More of the park that is, not the picnic lunch…..We did still take a simple little picnic with us again today though. In fact we’ve decided to make Monday a picnic day for Paul and I to have somewhere in the great outdoors. We’ll use the days to visit some of the  places in the South West where dogs aren’t allowed to go. Mr Tilly gets out and about quite a lot, so a trip out for us once a week without him isn’t going to do him any harm, and I’m sure it’ll do us a lot of good.

We had a bit of a sample walk along the track from Castle Bay towards Meelup last week, however, my ankle at that time felt a little to fragile to go very far, so it was just a taster. A week later and I’m itching to get hiking. What better place to start getting serious about walking again than to pick up from where we were last week.

Wildlife safe from prohibited dogs

We again headed to the Meelup Regional Park. The park is classified as an A class reserve that stretches along the coast from Dunsborough to Bunker Bay. Approximately 600 hectares in size it’s similar in size to Kings Park in Perth. To protect the wild life, dogs are prohibited, so a good place for us to be on our Mr Tilly free Mondays. There’s plenty of walking tracks between the different Bays, so you’re sure to be reading a bit about a few of them as we get ourselves out and about.

We started at Meelup Beach today with the intentions of walking the full return distance to Castle Bay (2.4 kms in total – not far I agree, but I am still being cautious as my ankle returns to normal mobility and strength).

Meelup Beach is definitely one of the most popular family beaches in the south west. It’s a small bay with a white sandy bottom, and the water is usually gentle for toddlers that want to play in the shallows. For the older visitors there’s canoes, paddle boards, and beach games available for hire.

Meelup Beach

The shore is dotted with plenty of old trees providing shade for picnicking under, and picnic tables are abundant.

Shady picnic tables
Civilised toilet blocks

The toilet block is in keeping with the rustic surroundings, and have cold water showers, and flush toilets. Compared to the drop toilets at some of the other bays in the regional park, Meelup is quite civilised.

We arrived in time to see a pod of dolphins frolicking just out from shore. The pod were heading towards Castle Bay, as were we. They kept a similar pace to us all the way and whenever there was a gap in the trees we could see them just off shore.

Dolphins accompanying us all the way

With my ankle well supported in hiking boots and my bush stick for added stability, the 1.2 kms was easy enough, so we went the 700metres extra that took us past Castle Bay and right up to the actual Rock. Up close it’s massive.

Castle Rock up close

The track was an easy walk, but not shaded all the way. Be sure to cover up suitably against the sun, and take some water.

Only parts of the track are shaded

Then from the rock it was 1.9kms back to Meelup where we enjoyed our cheese and salad rolls with a refreshing sparkling mineral water as a Kookaburra watched on from a neighbouring tree.

Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree

I love our South West. What a pleasure it is to live here!