I was supposed to go straight from Margaret River to Albany. Then I looked at the map to plan my fuel, and saw that the Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta stands at the South-Westernmost point of the Australian mainland. It also marks the meeting point of the Southern and Indian Oceans. I’m not one for ticking items off a travel checklist -I think it cheapens the experience of discovering for oneself, and puts a firm clamp on impulsivity- but I absolutely had to go here. Great last second decision.
I get why you’d want to twist a wrist that little bit more on winding roads: the elevated heartbeat, those fleeting moments with your breath held, the deceleration and acceleration as the bike tips into and out of corners, the jaw and butt clenching instances when you realise you’re closing upon either your riding or machine’s limits…
But none of this happened on Caves Rd. I couldn’t help but slow down and take it in all along the 110 km stretch that is Tourist Drive 250. I found myself pulling over more often than I ever have anywhere in my life.
I checked out Calgardup Cave. The stalagmite and flowstone features resemble melted candle wax. Minerals from the soil above result in their colour; the rain, gravity, viscosity and a fair chunk of time do the rest. Nature: art that doesn’t require humans to create, yet humans can appreciate. Humbling, and worth the small fee to maintain this unique wonder.
The 3 varieties of local eucalypt trees grow between 45 and 75 metres at maturity. They smell, look, and feel other worldly. They dominate the skyscape and define the canopy around these forests for an estimated 400+ years. Despite their shallow root systems, they establish a firm grip where they stand due to their rapidly expanding girth once they are of appropriate height, about 100 years into their lives.
Of course, I knew none of this until I did a guided tour of the famous ‘Valley of the Giants’ tree top walk. The walkway was designed to emulate the natural sway of treetops in the canopy, so it’ll move with the wind and adequate foot traffic. At the highest point along it, I let go of the railing, stood there, and despite the hippy-ness of the idea, looked out at the majestic natural skyscrapers and pretended to be a 75m tingle tree just for a minute. That was soothingly therapeutic. Probably not the best idea for those with a fear of heights, but thoroughly recommended for everyone else.
Albany is a bigger city -not town anymore, technically, because of the population of 35,000- than I imagined for a place between Perth and Adelaide. I’m currently here perched at a bar, on my second beer. In between writing this and befriending the smoking hot waitress with half her red hair shaved, I’m looking out at a significantly darker shade of water on the harbour here compared to the north.
On 1st November 1914, this harbour would’ve presented an anxious sight: 38 ships comprising the first Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force sailed out that morning. 30,000 men and boys, clueless about what awaited them once they arrived in Egypt.
The Anzac Center at the top of Mt Clarence is a sombre reminder of the tragedy that followed, and defined military history in this part of the world. I’ll go up there later tonight to see the Field of Light.
Another profound insight into the history of this place is the Cheynes Beach Whaling Station, the last of its kind until Australia banned commercial whaling in 1978. They were actually fined $2000 for technically carrying out ‘whaling operations’ on a kill procured the day before the ban came into effect. Some exhibits are gruesome, but there is untold value in not censoring history.
For those thinking it was purely an environmentalist’s win, it wasn’t. The demand and supply curves for whale oil, meat and byproducts were in fact dictated by alternative technologies and innovations such as petrochemicals, profitability of whaling operations, and the importance of human occupational health and safety. Just like its dark history, it’s important to realise this fact of life.
I’ve been here for 2 days now, and despite the best efforts of my local host to show me all of the local sights, especially along the Vancouver Peninsula/Torndirrup National Park, I still don’t think that’s enough time to spend in this corner of heaven.
There never is enough time. I’ve come to accept that. And I’ll happily miss out on ‘must-do’s, my confidence in the act reinforced by the sentiment of dedicating my full perception and attention to what I have chosen to experience.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep… but I’ll leave Albany tomorrow, squinting in the mornings towards my newfound eastern bearing.