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Great Drives of Australia - GSA Tours WA's Icon's

January 18, 2006
Great Drives of Australia - GSA Tours WA's Icon's

By Lisa Morrison and Kitty Laredo

Western Australia is so fresh and the people are friendly. We covered a lot of good highways in extended touring for Go SeeAustralia of Australia's biggest state. We stayed in Perth and then moved to the beautiful beachside suburb of Sorrento Beach. We toured from there to a really interesting range of attractions and experiences.

Away to Wave Rock
We surfed Wave Rock, near Hyden. It is amazing and we rate it the best experience we had while in Western Australia.

This came as a surprise as many people advised us not to take the 339km drive southeast of Perth. They said it was boring, we do not agree.

Hyden is home town to Wave Rock; via the Brookton Hwy. There are other formations too. Hippo's Yawn, and The Breakers.

Open wide Hippos Yawn near Hyden WAWave Rock is 4km north of Hyden. The 15m high rock formations have been carved by the wind over the last 2,700 million years. There is a 72km scenic tour which includes Mulka's Cave. Mulka was an original terrorist. The Wave Rock Nature Park has white kangaroos, wallabies and emus, there are aviaries with bright parrots, quail, curlews, wedge-tailed eagles, koalas, wombats and alpacas.

There is a fee per car. The Wildflower Shop has dried wildflowers. The flowers are spectacular from July to September and there are about 20 species of wild orchid.

There are more orchids around Hyden than anywhere else in the southwest. The Wildlife Park is beside the caravan park. It is called the Wave Rock Resort and Caravan Park. It is 5km east of the Hyden PO. Dogs are allowed on leash, outside only.

Camera  action  near  Hyden WAClimb to world beating heights
One of Kittys favorite sports is abseiling so when we got to Manjimup, 304km south from Perth, on Highway 1, she had to climb the Diamond Tree.

It is a fire lookout 52m up in the sky. There are two others in WA. They are the Gloucester Tree (61m) in Karri country near Pemberton. The Gloucester Tree is in the Gloucester National Park. The third tree top fire lookout is the Bicentennial Tree (68m) it is near Pemberton too in the Warren National Park.

All three are open to climbers. They are the three highest fire lookout trees in the world. You can prove you have scaled them by getting a Tree Tower Passport from the Pemberton Tourist Bureau. Pemberton has the biggest sawmill in Australia and tours can be arranged.

Kitty climbs the Diamond Tree Manjimup is the start of the Southern Forest area of Western Australia. There is a Timber Park whichalso has the local Tourist Bureau. There is a timber museum and a lot of history linked to the timber industry.

Holm-Lea Cottage and Ensuite Caravan Park near Pemberton WA has just opened with ensuite caravan park sites. They are pet friendly too. A $50 refundable bond applies.
Holm-Lea is a typical country destination about 366km south of Perth only one kilometre from Northcliffe on a 300 acres fully operational Angus beef cattle farm.
It is central to beaches and karri forests. The area has some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. Conservation and Land Management Park Passes are available at the Northcliffe Visitor Centre in Wheatley Coast Rd. The centre also houses the notable George Gardner Rock Collection.
Holm-Lea built somethingspecial in its caravan park facilities. Guest get their own private ensuite in beautiful caravan park surroundings. Ensuites include shower, toilet, storage area, washing machine, clothes dryer and clothes line.
There is a peaceful, communal barbecue area, shaded by beautiful old trees and an extensive lawned area with lovely gardens. As the caravan park has a limited number of bays, a totally private and restful holiday is easy at this beautiful Northcliffe farm.
Northcliffe also provides a seven day a week news agency and general store. The caravan park daily rate is $35, weekly $180 to $200 and $8 for an extra adult and $4 a child.
The cottages at Holm-Lea have been newly renovated in the style of the early group settlement homes with an open fire and memorabilia from the early days of the surrounding timber towns.
Holm Lea Cottage comfortably sleeps seven, two double and three single, and is fully self contained.

Worlds fattest tree
The Valley of the Giants and The Ancient Empire are such grand names and the experience, near Walpole and the hamlet of Nornalup, met our expectations.

At Walpole the Karri forest comes right down to the sea. It is the only place in Western Australias southwest where this happens.

Tree-mendous WAThere are three rivers, the Walpole, Deep and Frankland. With so much water rushing to the sea there is white water rafting.

Only 3km east of Walpole there is a tingle tree which is thought to be 450 years old.

It is the fattest eucalypt tree in the world as it has a big stomach which measures 24m around the trunk.

Ancient trunks seem to talk
The Valley of the Giants is well named. The Tingle trees are massive and they are only in the area around the Tree Top Walk. The walk gets up to 40m in the top of the trees. Down on the ground is the Ancient Empire Walk which winds around and sometimes through giant trees. Some of the trees seem to have weird faces, like something from a fairytale. We took pictures of one which seemed to be trying to talk to us.

Sky high tree top walk near Denmark WAThe Tree Top Walk is off Highway 1, on Valley of the Giants Rd which loops around to rejoin the highway at Bow Bridge. Once back on the highway the Valley of the Giants Interpretive Bird and Reptile Discovery Centre isa little way along on Bandt Rd heading for Denmark.

Kojonup tells Australian story
We returned to Perth via Denmark and Mt Barker on the Albany Highway (30) through Kojonup, about 256km south of the WA capital. The town gets its name from the traditional peoples word kodja which means Stone Axe. An authentic stone kodj (pronounced korch) with a hardwood handle is the pivot for an Australian experience.

Aboriginal instruction Kojonup WAAt the Kodja Interpretive Centre we got into the melting pot which is the typical of rural Western Australia. It is brave merging the racial, cultural historic and economic elements that make Kojonup the community it is. There is a guide to assist youwith the self-guided tour. The ties that link the rural community which includes a million sheep are challenging. But togetherness extends to the Noongar request that their stories be told with those of the Wadjela (non-indigenous community). This is a real Australian story which includes all its people. The Kodj Gallery Noongar Seasons mural was painted by Craig McVee and tells of Mardjit (snake) who in traditional lore made water holes streams and creek beds. The outer colours of the mural are the skies and the inner colours show the changes in the colours of the land. The eggs of Mardjit represent new life. The three solid lines which cross the gallery floor trace the stories of three women, Yoondi a local Noongar, Elizabeth a British settler and Maria an Italian settler. They cross the courtyard into the Rose Maze where the stories unfold.

Sheltered pool William Bay  WAPure pool set in granite
On the way back to Perth Kitty and I were so happy at William Bay, National Park. It is about 414km southeast of Perth and just west of Denmark where we went to see the Valley of the Giants and the Ancient Empire (trees).

Denmark is only 51km to the west of quirky Albany. Albany 409km southeast of Perth on Princess Royal Harbour has a European feel and was settled in 1826, which makes it the oldest settlement in WA.

The Tingle tree is watching Valley of the Giants and Ancient Empire WANear Denmark, Greens Pool has a ring of granite reef around it so it is great for swimming and snorkelling. There is 10km of beautiful beach. If you walk over the rocks you get to Elephant Rocks, Madfish Bay (they have a wine named after it) and Waterfall Beach where you can swim and fish.

Fremantle is so coffee
Fremantle is only 18km from Perth, but it is another world. It is a busy port, fishing harbour and commercial centre right at the mouth of the Swan River. We took the train from Perth.

Cafe society Fremantle WASouth Terrace is the cappuccino strip with shops, boutiques and arts and crafts. Fremantle is the place to pick up the Rottnest Island transfers at C shed Victoria Quay. The first ferry goes at 7.30am.

It is a real coffee culture with great cafes and a quirky atmosphere mixed with boats and markets, Army Museum, Corvette Memorial, Fremantle Chocolate Factory, Museum and Art Centre, a Prison, Tram Tours, War Memorial, a Tall Ship, horse and carriage tours, heritage like Samson House, Shipwreck history, a submarine called the Ovens and the WA Maritime Museum. It is a pity that Victoria can't get the Oberon it has at Hastings up and going as a tourist attraction, WA really knows how to make maritime history interesting.

Fremantle Prison WAThe 12 metre yacht that won the Americas Cup Australia 11 is on show and there is the World of Energy which looks at the way the state powersup and WA House, which is the oldest public building in WA.

Rottnest is remarkable
Rottnest Island is a short ferry ride from Fremantle, WA, about 18km west of Perth. You can catch a ferry from Perth, Fremantle or Hillarys Boat Harbour. It has the whitest beaches and the clearest iridescent sea. Its coves and beaches must be among the most remarkable in the world. It has wonderful nature stuff, like the quokkas. The first explorer to see it in 1658 was Dutchman Samuel Volkerson. Later in 1696 explorers following in his wake thought they were rats and named it Rats Nest (Rottnest). Private cars are not allowed on Rottnest and it is so peaceful. Bikes are the best way to get around and you can hire them. You can also hire a boat mooring for the week. There are kayak tours, a heritage walk trail, there are salt lakes and they attract birds from all over the world.

The water is like champagne Rottnest Is WAThe museum records a lot of sadness in the islands past, particularly in relation to the Aboriginal prison. There are some huge 9.2in guns on Oliver Hill which are the only ones still in one piece anywhere in the world. You can get there on the old military railway which has been restored.

The lighthouse in Henderson Ave is built from limestone quarried on the island. It was built in 1896. You can take a guided two hour coach tour. There is also an Underwater Explorer experience to see wrecks and tropical fish. Vlamingh Lookout is named for the Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh. He landed on the island in 1696 and probably is to blame for the mix-up with quokkas and rats.

Swan Bells ring changes
On the Swan River foreshore at Barrack Square, Swan Bells has spectacular views of the Swan River and Perth. The Swan Bells include the 12 bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields which are recorded as being in existence from before the 14th century and recast in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I.

Swan Bell tower Perth WAThe bells were again recast between 1725 and 1770 by three generations of the Rudhall family of bell founders from Gloucester in England, under the order of the Prince of Wales who was later crowned as King George II. They are one of the few sets of royal bells and are the only ones known to have left England.

To commemorate Australias bicentenary in 1988, the 12 bells of St Martin-in-the-Fields as well as five especially cast bells were presented to the University of Western Australia, the City of Perth and to the people of Western Australia.

The London diocese of the Church of England and the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields gave authority for the project to proceed. The additional bells cast in 1988 include two from the cities of London and Westminster, who each gifted one bell to the project, and a total of three bells bestowed by a consortium of British and Australian mining companies.

Swan Bells views WACompleting the ring of 18 bells, a sixth new bell was commissioned by the Western Australian Government to mark the second millennium.

The 18 bells at Swan Bells are hung for change-ringing, an English folk art probably developed in the sixteenth century. It is not possible to play tunes on the Swan Bells, as can be done on some bells, nor are they bells swung together in random order, both of which styles of ringing are usual in Continental Europe.

Instead the bells are rung in full circle, each by one ringer, and controlled by a rope attached to a wheel beside the bell. A wooden bar called the stay engages with a sliding bar beneath the bell, and this enables the bell to be set in the upright position ready for ringing. The bell strikes once each time it turns, and an experienced ringer has such good control over the bell that it is possible to ring the bells in sequence with the required gap in between each one.

Easy rider Rottnest Is WAThe bells ring - Bell Handling Demonstrations (single bell): Wednesday Friday, from 11:30am-12:30pm. Full Bell Ringing: Monday - Tuesday Thursday - 12pm-1pm Weekends - 12pm-1pm. Days and times are subject to change without notice. For more information contact The Swan Bells Phone: 08 9218 8183.

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Strange sentinels
Western Australias Nambung National Park, 245km north of Perth, is known for The Pinnacles, a group of limestone pillars, standing like sentinels in the desert.

They are a natural wonder of the West Australian coast. The limestone regiments of the Pinnacles stand blasted into shape by the sea winds. They are from less than a metre to more than three metres high above the yellow shifting sands. We did not enjoy the experience as much as we expected. It is a long drive and we read our map wrong and went to Lancelin.

The Boss checks the PinnaclesLancelin, 131km from Perth, is big on water sport, surfing, body boarding, wind and kite surfing, fishing and snorkelling. Dolphins are regulars in the bay. For 4WD this is a little explored world of beaches and tracks. There is a 4WD shortcut to the Pinnacles, but check track conditions first (08) 9655 1100

When we got back on track we decided to come back to Sorrento Beach via the Swan Valley. We visited Houghton Winery on the way home and that improved the day.

Swan Valley WAThe Pinnacles, 2 hours north of Lancelin, were formed about 30,000 years ago when seashell deposits were left behind when the sea receded. To see them against the gold of sand is an amazing Western Australian experience. The Pinnacles turnoff is about 2km from the Cervantes town site. Geraldton, the main centre of the region is four and half hours drive (425km) from Perth via the Brand Highway, or five hours (498km) via the Midlands Highway. The area is home to one of the worlds finest collections of flowering plants. All main roads are sealed and ancillary roads well maintained. The main wildflower season is from June to November.

FromSeptember on is the best time to visit Nambung. There is a lot more than the Pinnacles, the 17,000 hectares park has beautiful beaches, coastal dunes, trees and flowering plants typical of the northern coastal plain. There are Tuart woodlands in the valleys. The brilliant orange flowered Banksia prionotes is common. Most animals in the park are nocturnal, but emus can be seen during the day along with western grey kangaroos. There are many reptiles, particularly bobtail skinks and snakes and more than 90 species of birds common to the Swan coastal plain have been seen in Nambung.

Handy vines right beside the road Swan Valley WACALM says the Pinnacles Desert Loop Drive and Lookout is a one-way track with the lookout at the northern end. Caravans and trailers should be left in Cervantes, CALM says. There are no camp sites in the park. Fires are not allowed at any time so BYO gas barbecue or use the free ones provided. The walks are interesting, but the summer is hot and there is no drinking water in the park. If longer walks appeal let the Park Ranger in on the plan before you step out. (08) 9652 7043.

Access to the Park and the Pinnacles Desert is via sealed road from the Cervantes Road. South to Grey and beyond the coastal track is 4WD only. Caravan Park, petrol, water, medical treatment, motel accommodation and food stores are in Cervantes. Within walking distance of the town is Lake Thetis. It is one of the few places in the world where Stromatolites can be found. They are the oldest known form of life on earth. Their remains have been dated back 3.6 billion years. Cervantes has great beaches and the fishing is outstanding. We know you wont, but please dont climb on the Pinnacles, it is bad for them and it could be bad for you too.

We always travel lightSwan Valley colourful blend
The Swan Valley is only 20 minutes from the centre of Perth and it is Western Australias oldest wine growing region. There is a colourful blend of history, people, art, world-class wine, gourmet goodies and fresh produce.

We loved Houghton Winery. The late Jack Mann created Houghton White Burgundy in 1937 and for 51 years he improved Houghton making himself a legendary character of Western Australia in the process. His long time friend Dr John Gladstones has supported the regionlised direction of Houghton, endorsing the Frankland River super premium Shiraz with his name.

This followed the development of the Houghton Regional Range holding aligned varieties within Western Australian sub-regions. Houghton Wines, based in the heart of the Swan Valley, contains a wealth of romantic history.

Fire in the sky Sorrento Beach WANamed after Lieutenant Colonel Richmond Houghton in 1836, the first commercial vintage was produced in 1859 totalling 25 gallons, the foundation for one of Australias oldest continuous winemakers. The picturesque Houghton winery property has 50 hectares planted with premium grape varieties including Verdelho, Chardonnay, Semillon and Chenin Blanc.

Early documentation and current research suggests the first vines were planted between 1830 and 1836.In addition Houghton operates four of Western Australias biggest vineyards at Moondah Brook, Pemberton, Mt Barker and Frankland River, along with sourcing fruit from Margaret River, Harvey and emerging premium areas. These diverse wine regions provide fruit for the production of premium table wines, which are distinctly Western Australian. We think you can taste the dry crispness of WA and the essence of the sea winds in the wines.

Hanging out at Hillarys WA Hillarys is a great place to be
Hillarys Boat Harbour boat launching facilities were built in November 1986 just in time for the Americas Cup Challenge Series. It is not just about boats. We think it is great place to be.

There is a big selection of specialty shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, accommodation and a leisure park with water slides and mini golf. The Aquarium of Western Australia is located in the harbour as well and it caters for beach goers, tourists and local residents. The harbour has water access ramps and a fishing platform for the disabled along with boat launching ramps, 2000 parking spaces, cycle and walk paths and park areas.

Christmas lights at Hillarys WADiving trails are available on reefs adjoined to the breakwater. The breakwater is a popular spot for recreational fishing. We took one of the regular ferry services to Rottnest Island. There are also whale watching tours which leave from the harbour and we also got on to Jet Skis hiring them from Sorrento Beach. They are three-seaters and they fly over the water. We loved it and went back for more. Kitty rides a motorcycle, but she says the Jet Ski was quite different to handle.

Cottesloe sands shine
We found the white sands of Cottesloe Beach about 15 minutes west of Perth. It is really famous with international visitors and has terraced lawns overlooking the Indian Ocean. Cottesloe and North Cottesloe Beaches offer excellent swimming and there are surf lifesaving patrols.

I want one!Surfing, kite surfing, sea kayaks and fishing are popular and are beach experiences. Cottesloe Reef is a popular snorkeling site. The ecosystem extends intermittently about 4.5km along the coast, and about 1.5km offshore from Cottesloe. The reef is composed of limestone pinnacles, elevated limestone platforms and water eroded outcrops, with patches of sea grass, kelp beds and sponge gardens.

There is a vast range of aquatic life, including fish, shellfish, crustaceans, weedy sea dragons and the rare leafy sea dragon, lives in the reef. The reef has become a Fish Habitat Protection Area and the local community assists in its promotion, protection and management. The suburb has old, well preserved homes from the 19th and 20th centuries. Norfolk Pine trees, some more than 70 years old, line the streets.

Sorrento Beach WAPristine Sunset Strip
Some of the most pristine coastline in the world stretches from Perths western suburbs to Lancelin, 125km north of Perth. You can hire a bike or car and make the most of the sunshine with a beachside picnic along the Sunset Strip.

Sorrento Beach is home to the Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club and is accessed via West Coast Drive. The beach has a midweek lifeguard patrol in summer supported by the City of Joondalup in conjunction with Surf Lifesaving WA and volunteer patrols provided by the surf club on weekends and public holidays. There are excellent beach facilities including large shade shelters.

The shops are close, and families enjoy swimming and sunny times together. The re-development of the foreshore area provides grassed areas including picnic shelters, barbecues and raised boardwalks.

Happy 2006 everybodySorrento Quay has timber boardwalks lined with cafes and specialty shops. Sorrento Beach is on the Sunset Coast, just 20 minutes drive north of Perth. Hillarys Boat Harbour, The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA) and Rottnest Island ferry are just a short walk away.

There are world-class golf courses, Arena Joondalup and Challenge Stadium sporting facilities, major shopping centres and cinemas are also nearby. Some of its accommodation resorts are the closest to the beach in WA with sweeping Indian Ocean views.

Amazing Aquarium
The Aquarium of Western Australia is amazing. It covers the kelp beds of the Great Southern Coast to the tropical wonderland of coral reefs in the Far North. AQWA takes an underwater journey to discover the marine life of Western Australia.

Under the sea Aquarium of WAAQWA is divided into five distinct regions that reflect the unique marine environments and amazing marine life found in each area.

They are - Great Southern Coast, Perth Coast, Marmion Marine Park, Shipwreck Coast and Far North.

Secure swimming
Mettams Pool is a calm snorkelling spot, ideal for children and new swimmers. You can follow the oceanfront cycle track from Sorrento Beach to Trigg.

Giant waterslide arrivalThe City of Joondalup maintains more than 300 passive and active parks and reserves for the use and enjoyment of residents and sport, recreation and community organisations. The Cities passive parkland areas are a great place for family picnics and barbecues or just to relax and walk the dog (dogs are permitted at most of the Citys parks).

A King among Parks
We spent a lot of time in Perths beautiful 400 hectares Kings Park. There are sweeping views over the Swan River and Perth. People walk, cycle, walk, jog and run. There are barbecues, playgrounds and picnic lawns. There are memorials to the courage of Western Australians in times of war and peace. There are guided walks or a pamphlet from the Perth Visitor Information Centre with give you all the direction you need. If you need help just ask the polite, friendly locals. There is a walkway which reaches 16m above the ground called the Federation Walkway. Plants are everywhere, about 250 species are represented and there are 100 kinds of native birds, animals, reptiles and insects. In spring the park has a wonderful show of wildflowers.

The War Memorial Kings Park Perth WAThe Nyoongar people first settled in South Western Australia and lived in a big community in the area on which Perth now stands for thousands of years before Europeans came ashore.

Dutch navigator Dirk Hartog landed at Shark Bay in 1616 and Von Edels came further south in 1618. The following year Fredrick Houtman saw the dangers of the rocky, low islands near Geraldton and named the Abrolhos (Lookout).

It was not until 1828 the British reached the Swan River and in 1829 Captain Charles Fremantle raised the flag to take possession of the territory. This brought Captain James Stirling and the Parmelia with settlers and led to the founding of Perth near the site of the present Town Hall on August 12, 1829. Western Australia is particularly city centric. The 2001 Census shows 1,400,507 living in metro Perth in a total State population of 1,906,114.

Kings Park flower showFame has a special flavour
Hillarys Boat Harbour is about 20km north of Perth on the Sunset Coast. We stayed at Sorrento Beach and that is close to Hillarys. There are famous beaches all around, like Scarborough, Trigg and Cottesloe and famous chefs too. We celebrated Christmas at Jettys Restaurant on Sorrento Quay with great harbour views and food to match. Jettys has won the Gold Plate Award for Family Dining for the last three years. It won the Prix dHonour in 2002 and was named the Best Tourism Restaurant in Australia in that year in the National Tourism Awards. It is one of 19 restaurants and cafes around Sorrento Quay and Boardwalk.

Under the ocean
The AQWA, as the locals say, is the Aquarium of Western Australia. In an interesting approach the aquarium provides an insight into 12,000km of Western Australias coastline in a day tour.

WAs emblem in action on the Swan RiverIt covers the southern kelp beds to the coral reefs of the north.

We saw marine life of all kinds, turtles, fish, rays and sharks, glowing coral and funny seals.

It has Australias biggest underwater tunnel which took us under the Indian Ocean and into another world which is supported by a run of presentations which go all day.

Stuff like Under the Jetty, Meet the Sharks, Secrets of the Seal, Island Adventures, No Bone Zone, Dangerous and Deadly, Animals from Outer Space and Seal School.

There is even Mettams Touch Pool, which as its name implies makes sea creatures extremely real.

Thanks to Sarah for a lot extra Our WA trip would not have run as smoothly as it did without the guidance of Sarah Hayes from Harvey World Travel at Forest Hill. She helped us planand stay within our travel budget. She also advised us to take travel insurance which we refused initially but later reconsidered after thinking about Sarah's advice. We saved a lot of money because of the travel insurance as each car hire asked us to pay extra for insurance and we said no because we were already covered. Also the travel insurance made us feel safer. Sarah did a lot more than a little bit extra for us. We will never forget when she emailed us in Perth to say that she was concerned that we would be travelling on Christmas Day and she thought we might have trouble finding somewhere nice to have lunch. She asked if she could find somewhere for us. She found Jetty's Restaurant on Sorrento Quay at Hillarys Boat Harbourand with our approval she booked us in for Christmas Dinner. It was so good and then the lovely people at Jetty's Restaurant invited us for a complimentary breakfast the following morning.

Lisa and Kitty

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