The Margaret River region

Tuesday 26th January 2021

It’s all about Western Australia this year and we are starting with a trip to the Margs. You might know it as the Margaret River region. It is of course renowned for wineries, but also known for surf, chocolate and fresh produce. It is also known for expensive holidays, in beautiful accommodation. Of course that’s not our style, so we are staying at Conto campground

We almost didn’t get to go, after the camper nearly burned to the ground. One of the batteries died, while attached to the charger and 240 volts. Fortunately Mambo Man smelled sulphuric acid, investigated and found a very hot pair of AGM batteries. A lucky escape, leaving us with one battery. We have a second under the hood so if need be we can swap them over. 

Initially we were heading off on 25th January, after work, but somehow or another I put an appointment in my work diary at 6pm! So we forfeited a night’s fees (another donation to WA National Parks) and headed down on Australia Day instead. It turned out to be a great idea. The traffic northbound was huge as we hurtled southbound, and the campground was almost deserted. When we were booking we got the last site for the 25th and noticed that there were loads of sites from the 26th onwards. It certainly proved to be the case. 

Having enjoyed a pizza at Yallingup Caves Hotel for lunch, we were ready to set up camp when we arrived at Conto. We chose a nice deep, flat, sunny site, opposite the amenities, that include water and a camp kitchen, as well as clean long drop loos. We have made an upgrade to the camper and installed electric legs! Not cheap, but hopefully set to revolutionise our experiences. It certainly seemed to make life easier setting up. A push of a button and all the legs go down. We have a spirit level that I monitor. Each leg can be individually adjusted until the camper is level. With that achieved it took moments to clear the tray, me to drive out and the camper to be lowered to its position. Wow wee! No nerves. No endless winding. And just moments, not many minutes. As part of our setup we also have a couple of awnings, one of which we put off the side, with a tent for our gear. 

All set up, we had a lovely walk around the extensive camp sight, noting many beautiful sites to suit many setups. The tent-only area is especially lovely, with loads of shade and an amazing camp kitchen. There are in excess of 100 sites, but each is well separated from the next, with its own campfire pit and picnic table. The whole place is very good value for money. 

After a light dinner we settled in for our first night, where I beat Mambo Man at bananagrams a few times. It’s a bit cooler here than we anticipated but we still enjoyed being outside and star gazing until late into the night. 

Wednesday 27th January 2021

This morning we started out with a drive down to Conto Beach. It’s a nice spot, albeit the surf is rough looking, not dissimilar to most beaches along the stretch from Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. The views to the north and the south are stunning and would be awesome from above. I was hoping to launch the drone and get some pictures, but the wind put me off. 

Our next stop today was Jarrahdene camp site. Just a quick drive through to have a look at alternative campsites. The sites here are far less exposed to the elements, with the whole site having been rehabilitated some time ago. There are awesome spots here too, among the tall trees and with all the same amazing facilities that Conto has. While it won’t get much sun in winter, it looks like a great place to have a big, warm fire for baked potatoes and toasted marshmallows.

Down in Augusta we had a nice lunch, before heading down to the lighthouse for a wander around, taking the opportunity to stand at the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. The lighthouse is one of the tallest in Australia because it isn’t on a headland. We spent quite a bit of time imaging what life would have been like for lighthouse keepers and their families. No doubt very dependent on the weather.

Our next stop for a look was what’s left of the water wheel, a wheel used to pump fresh spring water to the lighthouse back in the day. I bet the person who carried water from there to home was delighted when the wheel was installed. Technology! As we headed back to Augusta we took a side loop along Skippy Rock Rd. The view back to the lighthouse is amazing and gave me an opportunity to launch the drone. At last. I don’t suppose the photos are any better than with my camera, but it is definitely more fun. 

On our way back to Conto we had a look at the houseboats that leave from Blackwood River, stopped in to say hi to the cruising sting rays at Hamelin Bay, had a lovely walk down to Cosy Corner beach, then took the Boranup Loop to Boranup Lookout, passing through the Boranup campsite. At the lookout we were able to spy a huge eagle, which we enjoyed watching through the binoculars as it glided along in the warm currents, swooping down from on high to land in a faraway tree. Back on the loop we made a fair attempt to find Point Road campsite, to no avail. 

Back home we set up our shower tent inside the awning tent. This looks like it will be a good option for us, offering additional privacy, space and warmth. Our water heating option, the solar bags, worked well although we did heat a kettle’s worth of water each, to add to our bucket. Standing in the collapsible bath means that the water is largely contained and with a large bath mat, everything is surprisingly dry. It’s lovely to have a hot showers after a day spent exploring and before settling in to beat Mambo man at Skipbo! 

Thursday 28th

Funny how it can go for months with no rain and then the minute we decide to go away, down it pours!! Fortunately there were no leaks this time and it had stopped by the morning. After breakfast, which is always slow when we are camping, we decided to check out one of the caves. I should have added caves to the list of things that the region is known for. I have done the Ngilgi Cave before so we decided to try Giants Cave.

After ditching the back pack we were fitted with helmets and head lamps, given some very brief instructions, pointed in the right direction and sent on our way. The cave entrance is awesomely huge and then you turn a corner into the darkness of cave passages and tunnels. Did I mention I don’t really like tight spaces? It never ceases to amaze me that light can just not be there. Mambo Man reminded me that it can’t bend. I still expect to see a “glow”. But nothing. All signs of daylight gone. Further in we admired the stalactites and stalagmites, rock curtains and shiny crystals. Then we encountered the ladder. Did I mention I also don’t like heights? I was loud about the terrifying climb and the confusing dismount at the top. I am not sure how I got there but was inwardly proud of myself. That ladder was not the only one. It’s logical that there needs to be a way to ascend as the walk takes you 86m underground. I had just chosen to put my fingers in my ears when the instructions were issued. Eventually we emerged to the daylight, on the other side of the road (having crossed it underground). I was very pleased to back in the open air and on level ground.

All that excitement was hunger provoking, so we headed to Prevally and had a very nice lunch at The Sea Garden Café. The tables overlook the Indian Ocean and the driveway fence is lined with many many dead surfboards. After lunch we went for a look at the mouth of the Margaret River. As I have said before, it is a bit of a letdown, given the hype surrounding the phrase “Margaret River”. Today was no exception. It was blowing a gale, the beach was almost deserted due to rough surf, and it was bordering on being cold. So we headed inland to the Margaret River township, to send a postcard to my friend Margaret and have a wander through the shops.

Our last adventure for the day was another crack at trying to find Point Rd camp ground. The wiki camps reviews suggest it is a nice, secluded, largely deserted place to camp, but hard to get to. Looking at maps, it seems somewhat straight forward. Our experience proved otherwise. We bush bashed, seemed to circle the site, drove down roads that were almost imperceptible and finally gave up (without finding the site), deciding to head for Conto Rd car park. We were both relieved to see it come into view and then alarmed to realise that the road we were on abruptly stopped at the T junction to Conto Rd, thanks to a gutter about a metre high. It appears that the 2 roads were never meant to meet, with the road we were on being higher than Conto Rd, at the meeting point. People have obviously descended the metre, using strategically placed rocks and attacking it on an angle. So, after nervous bush pees, we gave it a go, me directing and Mambo Man (successfully) driving. No bones or car parts were damaged in the descent, which on camera looks underwhelming. Point Rd camp ground sure is hard to find.

Back at our lovely camp we showered for the day, before settling in to a lovely evening of me beating Mambo Man at bananagrams.

Friday 29th

After our leisurely camping breakfast we decided to walk along small part of the Cape to Cape Track to find Point Rd campsite on foot. The track cuts straight through Conto campsite, with walkers staying overnight in one of the sites if needed. The track is quite sandy and in this section, quite hilly. I wouldn’t want to walk too much of it in summer. But we headed off to find the Point Road camp and it didn’t take long at all. As reviewed, it is a nice spot, with a few sheltered sites. It would not really suit anyone wanting to base themselves there and then come and go, as it is really a difficult one to access. We walked back to our camp site, ready for coffee. I am glad we found it because I think Mambo Man was starting to think that Point Road campsite didn’t exist.

Our other activities for today included taking in the Lakes Cave viewing area, wandering through Cardalup Cave (that is part of the 2-for-1 deal with Giants Cave) and watching the surf smash over rocks at Redgate beach. The Lakes Cave viewing platform is definitely worth a look. It reminded me of Umpherston Sinkhole. The way the platform is constructed, around tress and with perspex flooring is great. We also got lucky in Cardalup Cave, when I spotted the little green frog that is apparently quite elusive. He looked happy, half submerged in stinky mud!

For dinner we decided to head back into Margaret River township to join to the masses at a summer street party. We had a nice wander down the main street and back up again, before having some really delicious tapas at morries. I love tapas and this place served up some really scrumptious croquettes, pork belly, bao buns and braised beef cheeks. The street party was obviously a great success, based on the large number of people enjoying the evening.

Back home we watched the full moon rise from the back of the ute, before packing down our rear awning and tent before a roaring gale took care of it for us. No wonder people say WA stands for “windy always”.

Saturday 30th

Yet another leisurely camping breakfast. What makes them so good? It’s hard to say but maybe it has to do with the fact that we are outside, we aren’t rushed to get ready for work, we have good coffee and often some fresh local bread or preserves. We have fabulously comfortable camping chairs and a small screen that we watch the news on too. So breakfast is just a lovely time of the camping day. After breaky we decided to head out and bag a very close by geocache. Brides cave was once open to the public but then along came a fire that burned down the stairs and so it is now only accessible to abseilers. The cave is completely unsigned from the road, so without geocaching we would never have known it is there. I thought it was a great spot to try out the drone but in hindsight it could have, and nearly did go bad! Fortunately I didn’t lose it in the huge hole, nor smash it into one of the massive Karri trees. After looking unsuccessfully for the cache we headed just slightly further down Caves Road, stopping to walk into the amazing karri forest, where the fairies live. My drone only flies to 30m so there is no way the height of these trees can be achieved by the drone, some of them reaching more than 100m into the sky. It is a very pretty place.

Although we went to Jarrahdene Mill campsite a few days ago, we headed back there for another look, this time stopping the car and getting out for a wander. This is a great spot. The whole site was a working mill, with a town, school, railway and homes. We spent ages here, reading the interpretive signage and trying to imagine what it would have been like. We found some great sites to come back to in the future to spend more time. We would highly recommend this campsite and it gets very good reviews on wikicamps.

Eventually we headed away from the coast and inland to the Berry farm for lunch. Yum yum. What a great spot, with an awesome share plate for two, complete with a cold glass of delicious white wine. During and after our meal the little silver eyed wrens dropped in to say hello. The onsite shop sells all of the things that were on our share plate as well as many more spreads, syrups, relishes, liqueurs. Of course we couldn’t leave without taking a basket full of goodies, our favourite of which is the choc mint liquor. If you are down this way, do yourself a favour and stop by the farm for a meal, a wander and some tastings. I bet you can’t leave without stocking up!

Wanting to keep on trying to master the drone, as well as wanting to bag a few caches, we headed to St. John the Evangelist Church in Osmington. It is very sweet, sitting alongside a dirt road. The door is open so we went inside, opened some windows and gave the place a good airing, while I launched the drone and had a fly around. Just before I was planning to land, a large bird perhaps a falcon or kite, came and swooped the drone, thinking it was another bird. I guess the actual bird was feeling protective of its patch. I would love to share the footage of the church and the bird strike with you, but it seems that for all the flying I did, I forgot to press record on the camera. See why I need practice?

Time to head back to the coast. On the way home we called in at Gracetown Beach, a lovely protected little spot, then drove up to the headland to watch the surfers brave enough to hit the waves despite the beach being closed due to shark attack the same morning!!

As our day wrapped up, so too did our cricket team’s season, with the Perth Scorchers losing the finals qualifier by one run!! At least there is always next year. I wonder where we will be then?

Sunday 31st

Packing up is always hard to do, especially when we have had a great time (which is always). But we got sorted, packed and loaded in record time, thanks to the electric legs and headed up the road to Canal Rocks and then Smiths Beach for a gorgeous swim, just before the afternoon breeze came up. As we were leaving the beach I heard one of the SLSA lifeguards say to another that we were entering “lockdown”. I had no idea what he was talking about, but thanks to Facebook and the radio we were soon up to date on the fact that our premier had announced a snap 5 day lockdown, to commence at 6pm today!!! Being outside a regional border we needed to get up the highway. But not before a lovely fish and chip lunch in Bussleton, by the jetty. If we are going to be lock downed we may as well enjoy our last hours of freedom.

At this point we were both lamenting not having our laptops with us so we could stay put and work from “home”. The radio and our own experience of trying to grab some groceries in Bussleton was painting a picture of community chaos again, a day before schools were due to reopen. The roads, despite the deadline, were quiet and we got back to the city and into the driveway by 5.45pm. As I headed for fuel at 6.30pm the main drag through our area of the city was eerily deserted for a balmy Sunday evening. What a strange way to end a superb summer getaway. Will the world ever be normal again?

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