This year was a special holiday for us: for the first time a long range trip with our baby Mariska, just seven months old.
The plan was to fly to Hong Kong, spend there a few days to return to that rapidly changing Chinese world and to adapt to the jet-lag. Then we planned to fly to Western Australia and spend there 2 months travelling with a campervan. It was our 4th trip to Australia in 5 years, but we never were in this part of the country. Interesting, there is the world's only continental barrier reef on the west side of a continent, so it must be interesting to dive there. Especially as here are the giant whale sharks. Hopefully we are in the season that the they show up. They are there 9 days after the first full moon in March, the coral releases then suddenly eggs and sperm and that's a treat for the giants, then they are around as well.
We discovered that around that area many relatives of Birgitt lived, they invited us for the first days.
The planning was, as always, done by Margret of Pacificislandtravel.nl. She takes care for everything, but the preparations still kept us fairly busy. Three quarters of the luggage was for the baby and carefully had to be planned what luggage would be taken in the cabin and what should be checked in. We took some extra hours to travel to Schiphol and felt like a beast of burden.It turned out that the checked luggage could not be labelled through to Australia, but had to be collected at Hong Kong. In a relaxed way we spend our time on Schiphol, where the Airbus A340-300 of Cathay Pacific was waiting. We had good experiences with the carrier, number 3 on the list of safest airlines (KLM is nr. 23 . Modern fleet, and always a nice and friendly cabincrew.
The buggy was allowed to near the aircraft door and further we had to carry everything and that was quite a lot. Mariska had a bassinet, that is a kind of cradle on a folding shelf, lots of space for 6 months babies. Mariska is however a big baby and she had to be folded in the cradle. Only when the 'fasten seat belts' light was out, the baby was allowed in the cradle and further had to be carried on the lap, in a strap attached to the seat belt. We met quite a lot times air turbulence and every time the baby had to be taken out of the cradle, even when she was asleep. But she remained a good girl.
There were many babies on board and most of them spend part of the trip crying, not exactly to the amusement of the passengers.
Only one baby was sweet, that was Mariska, enjoying the trip and smiling to the many passengers who stretched a leg on the 12 hours trip.
We saw a lot in the afternoon, passing over the white snowed Baltic and Russia and in the evening we saw huge fires in Siberia, in the oil and gas fields. Is it not better to use that stuff for heating?
The care Mariska required was such, that we could not sleep and arrived worn out in Hong Kong. The weather was comfortable mild, but cloudy. The reserved room in the Salisbury Hotel was still not available, so we had to wait at a moment we really needed to refresh ourselves. But when they saw us muddling around with Mariska, we got an upgrade to a harbour side room and that room was readily available. The view on the harbour was stunning.
After bringing the luggage to the room, I decided to explore Hong Kong, as a remedy against jet lag. We had see Hong Kong Island before, but not Kowloon and that is the real Hong Kong. You see hardly any British influence anymore. An incredible number of juwelleries and gold shops and further a shopping paradise. To better organise the luggage I bought a trolley for less than 9 Euro, It looks very nice and will be a big help to carry all the luggage.
In preparation of the trip we visited many websites. In one of them was warned for the trick: the salesman sells something you pay, but that is not in stock and then they try to sell you something much more expensive. That happened. I scored a bargain for a nice digital camera, paid with my Visa credit card and while the 'camera, new in the box' was fetched, the boss tried me to convince a more expensive one was much better. But when it became clear I persisted, he admitted that the camera was not available and I persisted to get back the slip of the credit card. We'll will see if they still charge me for the camera. It was an enjoyable stroll, full of new sights and smells in an overcrowded Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is certainly nice, but saves on maintenance of streets and buildings. Kowloon looks more like a run down Chinese town than the well maintained and pleasant Hong Kong Island, but far more authentic. Great to spend some time here. Interesting are the food shops in which usually strange food is sold. You like to try every restaurant as such for the nice smell. Countless food stands and shops are displaying their strange products. It illustrates the joke that Chinese 'eat everything that swims, except submarines and everything that flies, except aeroplanes' .
Birgitt took a nap after taking care for Mariska and later checked out the area. The evening we decided to stay in the hotel, to rearrange the luggage. And what can you do else, if you travel with a baby? Mariska is very sweet and likes to play, she does not seem to suffer from jet lag, she was just busy with her second tooth emerging.
The hotel room has a magnificent view of the harbour. Buildings across are beautifully lighted, in the evening there was a splendid light show around the harbour, light beams moved in the sky and buildings were colourful lighted, on music played on the radio, especially for that event.
The breakfast was rich and consisted of continental dishes and lots of Chinese dishes. Then time for another shopping spree. This time a nice 7.2 megapixel digital underwater camera, a small sophisticated Minolta 8.2 megapixel camera for Birgitt and a tele objective for the Nikon were bought.
Later a problem emerged as the instruction manual for the Minolta was in Chinese and the menu in the camera as well. How to find where the menu in English is hidden? Every time you hit a button you change the menu in something else, other intriguing Chinese characters show up, maybe to the midnight portrait movie mode without flash on self timer with spot metering with Korean date notation, who knows?? The camera reacted stranger and stranger. Removing the batteries did not help either as he has an internal battery that keeps the configuration settings for months, including everything I screwed up. The camera was showing ever changing characteristics and more Chinese characters, with no way to come back to the original configuration. On an American web page however we could later download an US manual and by comparing the structure of the menu lines, we eventually found the English language, and the problems were over. It turned out to be a very sophisticated camera, the latest model.
At midnight we would leave for Australia and so there was enough time to check out the shops at night. The streets were fully lighted by billboards and fully crowded with people.
The trip to Australia was uneventful. Mariska was sweet and managed to sleep most part of the trip, unlike us, who hardly could sleep. In the morning we got a warm welcome by Alexander and Elisabeth Neervoort. After taking a nap, to cope for the jet-lag we went to the beach and enjoyed a wonderful evening. After sun set he refreshing wind made it really cool and we had our dinner on the stairs to the beach, here shielded from the brisk wind.
Next day we relaxed a bit, to get used to the hot climate. Alexander Neervoort treated us on a delicious pool side barbecue
The following morning Alexander dropped me off in Perth at Apollo, to pick up the camper. That went not without problems. First surprise the camper was much bigger than anticipated. We do not need all that space and weight, but the size was required if you carry a baby. A special anchor point should be there to attach the child seat.
We never take insurance and then you must deposit some 5000 dollars but the Visa credit card was not accepted. Not a big problem as the other was. They return the deposit when the camper is returned without any damage.
The problem with the Visa card was solved a week later. After email contact with the company in Amsterdam, it turned out to be that the shopping in Hongkong was so unusual, that they blocked the card. After confirmation that it was all OK they release the card again in minutes. So never go travelling with only one credit card or bankcard!
The camper turned out to be a very experienced one, with lots of dents and a asymmetrically weared out front tyre. I insisted they replaced it and after some debate they did so-. They were unwilling to provide a baby seat as Mariska was not there, so I just went to the companies warehouse, asked one to someone hanging around and installed the seat myself.
After carefully studying the contract and bill, I asked if the 5000 dollar were returned to the credit card listed on the bill. They assured me that after 15 working days (so when we were 3 weeks back in Holland the money was absolutely credited to that number. Well, thank you very much, I responded. Then you credit it to the Visa card of someone else, you charged my Master card for 5000 dollar. They looked first very angry, then embarrassed and corrected it of course. I asked myself later if the credit card number, listed on the contract, was her own credit card! Anyhow, they did not charge me for the baby-seat.
They marked the damage of the camper on a picture, but 'forgot' a big dent in front, and the rubber seal of the window which was loose. So I id it all over. Later I noted that they marked damage on the top of the vehicle on the wrong side, but luckily enough I took detailed pictures of all that damage before using the camper.
The car was a big camper, with a diesel engine and was comfortable but of course a truck stays a truck. The comfort is less then a mini camper, but you get used to it.
The campervan had a toilet, shower, microwave, TV, DVD,VCR and so on and two air-conditionings of course. And heating, but you will not need it here. But the van was rather mistreated by previous renters and many things were fallen apart. Therefore I took pictures of any dent and scratch and damage I could see and checked even the underside for damage.
The first trip with a new camper, driving in hectic Perth with right hand traffic is always a challenge
The Neervoort family had some nice functions in mind, so we parked the camper on the entry and stayed in the house for some days. The house had a wooden flooring of Jarrah wood, very hard shining red brown eucalyptus hardwood. We later would see it growing in the forest.
Next morning it was cooler, as it rained all night, so a good moment to start our daily run again, followed by a dip in the pool.
Mariska had not yet adapted to the time difference. In day time she sleeps a lot and in the night she thinks she has to entertain us. In the evening we had a nightly picnic on the hill overlooking the harbour. A wonderful sight at night skyline of Perth from Kings Park.
On the 26th, Australia Day, the Neervoort family had a family gathering at the nice place of Gary and Sharon. It was great to meet so much family members of Birgitt who emigrated long ago to Australia. They all had settled well and it was interesting to hear the stories about their life and challenges they met.
The day after the holiday we went to the south, first met the father of Alexander and then set of to the Harvey district were there were many dams and the associated tourist area's. The came the first surprise, a camping without facilities. Our camper was build with all the luxury, so a hook up to electrical power was required. It was a challenge to organise our life here, on battery power. It was nice near the lake and at night the sky was so clear you could see the starts, planets and two nebulas very clearly.
The Potters Gorge camping ground at Lake Wellington was in a jarrah forest, a tall -up to 90m- kind of tall eucalyptus tree with very hard, reddish wood. The same as the flooring in Alexander's house.
The wind blew directly from the South Pole and was rather cold. In the evening we put on our winter jackets again. Quite unusual this part of the year.
We stayed a few days at the lake. Then it was time to discover Western Australia. Only 1.8 million people living there in an area 60x as big as Holland, let's say as big as Western Europe and as 80 % of the population lives in Perth, the country is very sparsely populated. The south west area is green, surrounded in the east by desert as is the Northwest. The closest town to Perth is Adelaide at 2700 km east. A barren desert area separates the two towns. Western Australia, more dubbed WA is rich in minerals, gold and diamonds. Perth is built with the wealth of mining.
Surrounded by vast deserts and oceans the flora and fauna of Western Australia is unique, even for other parts of Australia. Like a country in another part of the world, having its own development. In the Southwest everything is green, but differs total from the rest of Australia and of course the rest of the world. The trip went to the coast. The first time we went to the sea was at Yallingup, but the destination of this day was Margaret River, as there were lots of surfing opportunities. The camping in Prevelly was below standard so we decided next day to return to Yallingup. Hopefully there was a surf school active. The camping was indeed better than the previous. Soon a surf school was contacted and tomorrow is the day the course can start.
We passed along many wineries. This area produces lots of Australian quality wineries. However, wine tasting and driving is a bad combination. We are interested in wine as last season we produced our first wine in Hungary and hopefully we can learn some winers' secrets to make better wine!
The day started with a trip to the surf beach, Smith Beach. The weather was nice but not the waves. The instructor said he never had seen less waves, so we decided to cancel the course and we will try it later, somewhere else. We planned to travel to Augusta, to the most southerly point. But first we visited Canal Rock. This are canels in rocks which consist of gneiss. This material is transformed from granite, 750 million years ago and high temperature and pressure. Erosion did carve out strange channels. The clear sea was deep blue and many diver were around. This time of the year many stingrays were present.
We visited the Driftwood winery, where Andrew, the chief winemaker revealed how to make quality wines. He likes his job and gladly tells about it. If you look for quality Australian wines, look for Driftwood! Most important is the time of picking as the sugar content of the grapes rises, while the acid content drops. The content is continuously monitored and when the required levels are attained, there is only a 3 days window when the total harvest has to be collected. He told about yeast as he uses, it is special yeast and not the yeast on the grape skins. We keep in contact by email and next season Andrew will give me online advice how to make our own quality wine in Hungary.
The trip continued to the south were impressive forest of eucalyptus trees showed up. This were huge trees, meters in diameter.
Just before Augusta we visited Hamelin Bay. The sand is white and fine like table salt. The dunes were beautiful. Then we drove to Augusta, at the mouth of the Blackwood River.
It is the Southwest point of Australia, where the Indian ocean and the South Ocean meet. The lighthouse is a famous point, where often whales can be seen. In 1986 114 killerwhales stranded here and that event got Augusta in the world-wide press. This area has many Dutch shipwrecks of 300 years old and more. Dutch trading ships to Indonesia travelled from the South point of Africa due east with the prevailing winds, They sailed directly to Western Australia and then turned the north to Indonesia. Sometimes they hit the reefs on coast and the ship sunk. The land here is called Cape Leewin, name after the Dutch ship which passed here in 1622. In this relaxed area we stayed longer on an excellent caravan park near the centre of Augusta.
After enjoying Fish and chips we went beach to the caravan park. Enjoying however was only temporary, as Birgitt threw it up all through the night. Luckily enough it was over next morning so we could continue our trip. At first we drove along the Southern Ocean. It was bright sunny weather and the sea was crystal clear and deep turquoise. We went further till the lighthouse which separates the Indian Ocean from the Southern Ocean.
The plan was to travel to Pemberton a four hours drive. Pemberton is the centre of the logging industry. The karri forests supply lots of timber. Karri is a tall eucalyptus tree, The wood is red brown and extremely hard.
En rout to Pemberton we passed trough impressive karri forests, a loggers paradise. Even the replanted trees , 70 years ago were now more than a meter in diameter.
Along the road we saw many spectacular gold yellow flowering Christmas trees (Nuytsia Floribunda . It flowers around Christmas.It is a semi parasite, the largest relative of the mistletoe family which can grow till 15 meters high. It attaches its roots to other plants and if all plants are cleared around the tree, the tree dies. The tree is unique to Western Australia and of impressive beauty.
interesting are the banksia's in all colours and shapes. Each 'flower' consists of hundreds of individual true flowers. Of the 60 species of Banksia's only one extend to New Guinea, others are entirely Australian.
The grass trees and blackboys are good adapted to fire, which regularly occurs. After fire the plant will flower. The trunk is usually black but if no fire has occurred, the trunk is wide of dried grass leaves. they may grow up to n10 meters, but usually 2 - 4 m high.Here are two kinds, who survived a fire. Next to the common blackboys are the rare Pineapple Bush (Dasypogon hookeri)
Pemberton was a thriving loggers town, now living partly from tourism. Surrounded by karri trees it has a beautiful location. The karri forest is impressive, probably one of the tallest trees on earth. Slender trees, with a light metallic bark. The wood is very hard and heavy and red in colour.Ideal timer and the country was once a source of this valuable timber. Now many area's are national parks and protected. The karri forest should be experienced: the tall, beautiful trees up to 60 meters towering high above you, the birds and the shrub under the trees with many unusual flowers.
After spending the night Pemberton and a nice run in the morning we leave for Walpole, at the coast, with more giant trees.
Everywhere we see burned bark, as fires are recurring, even natural phenomena.The we see on the horizon massive smoke clouds. A forest fire? When we come closer it appears to be a forest fire, but a controlled one by the foresters, to rejuvenate the forest. An advantage as well is that the amount of flammable material is reduced. If it is piled up for many years, the heat can be so intense that everything is destroyed. In area's previously burned, a green carpet of young plants were visible. Burning is a kind of maintaining the forest. Various variables are taken in account like time between burnings, intensity of the fire, time of the year for which kind of animal of plant it will be beneficial etceteras, It is a real science.
When we were in Walpole the sky was covered with smoke of the forest burn, the sun gave a golden glow.
Stunning flowering shrubs can be seen. Often in bright red colours like the Swamp Bottle Brush (Beaufortia sparsa . You can stop every hundred meter to see something very interesting
Today we evaluate our travel plan. The initial idea was to make a short trip to the Southern Ocean then to the east in the direction of the desert to Esperance, then north to the goldfields and from there make the long trip to the North, past Perth again to the tropical part. Main goal is to dive at the Ningaloo Reef. But if we look at the map we have, after a week driving, seen only a very little corner of the South West. If we proceed in this way, it will consume 2 years and we have only 6 weeks to go. Australia is such an immense continent! So we decide to come back to this part another year and head to the north earlier. Today the trip will go to Albany, at the coast again. At first we visit the Valley of the Giants, an area in which giant trees are located. They are tingle trees, (eucalyptus jacksonii and grow till 75 meters high. A few karri's are there as well, they can be 90 meters tall. Interesting is that the huge trunk of the tingles is usually hollow, by fire or insects and forms a wide trunk of up to 20 meters measured around the tree.
The Tree Top Walk soars gently 40 meters upward through the tingle foliage and offers a view only birds can see of the giant trees.
Tingles were very common 200 million years ago but are now confined to a 6000 hectare area. Under the tingle trees are many unique plants as well.
The trip to the Valley of the Giants was a great event. From here we drove a few hours to Albany, a very interesting town with lots of old buildings. It has a big harbour and was till the 70's of last century, a whaling harbour. The sinister harpoons killing those magnificent animals still show in a garden. Now the whales are returned and whale watching is a booming business.
We saw a leaflet about surfing and called Roz, if we could follow surf lessons. No problem and next morning Roz picked me up. She could have left the set of Bay Watch and was not only beautiful, but friendly and an excellent instructor as well. We drove to a remote beach and on that magnificent sandy beach promising waves were visible. After a short instruction it was time to try surfing and after a few tries, many rides to the beach were made. Standing on the board in the surf was the goal, but only a few seconds were attained before swallowed by the white waves. Big fun!! Roz expected still one and a hour on the board en I could stand for longer riding the waves. So it will be on the program later this trip. Roz told that in Exmouth, in the north surfing possibilities were. Exmouth, here we come! Later that day we had to avoid the sun as surfing 3 hours around noon was too much for the poor skin. It is nice to relax: bright sun and a cool sea breeze. Mission completed, so next day we set off for the north. It's now Monday the 6th, we are now 2 and a halve week en route and time flies.
The camping in Albany was absolutely the best we have seen. We enjoyed the roomy and tasteful equipped family bathroom. A huge bath allowed us the three of us to enjoy ourselves in it. In other bathrooms even fresh flowers were daily put there. Ideally locate at the beach we enjoyed an extra day here Hen we left we went shopping and one of the items was a bodyboard. This is a short surfboard mainly to lie on. A normal size board is too long. Hopefully it will be useful when we are at the coast again.
While shopping we are again surprised about the high prices of fresh food While in the middle of the season, prices are double or triple what we are used in Europe. Sometimes even more. That high price are in the big towns as well as in the villages.Only the meat is usually as expensive as in Europe.
As soon as we leave Akbany we are alone again. Only a few cars per hour you see. If you stop along to road, to see something special or interesting, usually someone stops to ask ' if everything is all right?' nice people, Australians. But first we go inland, to the Stirling Range. It is an isolated 1000 m high rock formation, formed 100 million years ago, of limestone and slade. Buff Knoll is the highest peak at 1095 m. Rock formations are steep and impressive. Many plant species are unique to this region, due to the isolated location of the mountains. Only here in West Australia snow can be seen in winter. Indeed the plants look different here. Strange forms and colours. @
The camping is just somewhere in the bush. Birgitt hopes to meet other people but no one there, we are the only visitors. We put money in an envelope and in a box. Still there is power and hot showers. Amazing. We decide to eat early and make a walk through the mallee forest, but now it start most surprisingly drizzling, and do something else. Next morning we make a bush walk. We see incredible amounts everlastings, that are dried flowers, who retain their shape and colour and feel like paper. Further strange and lots beautiful flowers who are unique to the region. We see lots of kangaroos, big ones and a small black walibi. They are shy and are jumping away before we have the camera ready. Brilliant coloured birds as well and we find a sparkling green feather. We are enthusiastic about our experience and are happy we took the decision to stop here.
The owner got a baby 2 weeks ago and we paid a visit to little Madeline and brought her a present, a sterling silver windmill pendant and 2 tiny wooden shoes.
We continue through the wheat belt, mainly producing wheat. But interesting landscapes with various kinds of eucalyptus trees. Eventually we arrive in Katanning. a provincial little town with lots of stylish 19th century building. It is a centre for farming with one of the biggest stock sale centres. Over a million sheep go through there sales yards yearly.
Though Katanning is at a long distance from see, but we buy there lots of stuff, including a wet suit and flippers. Now we have the equipment for the surfing. Birgitt buys lots of sport clothes and lovely clothes for Mariska.
Surprisingly we see many Muslim's here. In a leaflet we learn that Katanning has a large Muslim community that origins from the Cocos and Christmas Islands They maintain their unique cultural identity by maintaining their own mosque.It is late and we decide to stop here. The camping in Katanning was a strange one. Apparently more for homeless or evicted people than for holiday purposes. We decided to keep our camper securely locked that night.
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