Around Australia Week 36 – Margaret River, Esperance and Cape Le Grand

What we liked about our visit to Margaret River was getting a sense of the local infrastructure… the ‘wheels within wheels’. Tourists so often see just what’s on the surface (which is to be expected: lots of the places we see depend largely on the tourist dollar for survival). But there are unexpected rewards for taking the time to look beyond the obvious. The dozens of brochures advertising local attractions are a good starting point, but once you start to talk to people you often find other little gems.

Take Amaze’n Margaret River: the maze that Russell McKnight took so long to see come to fruition. He patiently panned, and planted… and years later, the maze grew high enough for him to open Amaze’n. We found out about the maze when we asked Julie at Taunton Park Big 4 (a great place to stay, by the way!) about lesser-known attractions; maybe something new or something off the beaten track. She recommended half a dozen things, and we didn’t have time to see them all… but we did go to the maze and to Swallows Welcome, the smallest boutique winery in Margaret River, according to Tim Negus.

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As it turned out, Pat Negus and Cathy McKnight from Amaze’n played squash together for years, and are very supportive of each other’s business ventures. Although in Pat’s case, it was never intended to be very commercial… she did what she wanted; Tim did what he wanted with his vines and wine, and hey presto! It became a popular spot to visit. Locals love having weddings in the quaint Wildflower Chapel, a labour of love made with handmade mud bricks by Tim.

We really liked the Margaret River area (not just the town… the whole area) and we’ll make sure we come back and enjoy it again. (And part of the fun was certainly having our good friends Marg & Chris from Shellharbour join us for a few days!)

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After we waved goodbye to the film crew from Caravan & Motorhome, we pottered about at the Albany Gardens caravan park doing the washing, cleaning the van, and chatting to other travellers.

We met Peter and Sue who were coming to the end of their year’s ‘sabbatical’ in their Jayco outback and were starting to think about going back to work, after a really enjoyable time away. (It’s a bit surprising that more people don’t think of taking a year off to do something like this!) Gary and Elwyn Johnston were also staying at the park for a few weeks while they caught up on some painting (Gary does lifelike paintings of Australian flora and fauna on primordial rock, and tourists can’t get enough of it!) They sell their popular wares at markets and other outlets. Keep an eye out for more about Gary and Elwyn on the C&M DVD and in the magazine…

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Dudley and Carol Nicholson, on the site across from ours, were also selling goods… in their case, things that caravanners are always in need of: good quality hose fittings and hose bags. As we’ve discovered, there are many and varied ways to help fund your travels! We also had Lorraine and Bob checking out Rob’s cooking in the Shuttle Chef (you’ll see the results in the cooking column in issue #155) (I think.) Other travellers we caught up with were Terry and Anne Boston (Anne showed me through her Swift van – thanks, Anne: nothing we girls like better than to be given a ‘caravan interior tour’ – much more interesting than 4WDs and engines… and explained how they worked their way through seven vans to get to this one, which suits them just fine.) Visiting Terry and Anne were Theo and Martha Vandeligt, who were in Albany for some time, because Theo is on call as a firebomber in case of bushfires. How’s that for an interesting occupation on the road???

In the pic here you see Gary, Elwyn, Dudley and Carol all watching with great interest while Rob hitches up with the new anti-sway bar for the first time. Bob Black – owner of another on-the-road business – fitted it while we were at Albany. (Note: it performed very well in the windy trip down to Ravensthorpe and Esperance!)

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Rob and I really liked the layout of the Albany Gardens Caravan Park. It might not be as modern as some of the other parks around, but the layout is brilliant. The sites are set diagonally to the roads, and you can drive INTO every site rather than backing in… and you can choose which direction to come in, as well. This means that you can angle the van to catch the sun on whichever side you like, or position your sat dish to point north and avoid a tree. We met up with a family of 7 travelling together in two vans (in one van: Chris and Shirley Anderson; in the other: their daughter and son-in-law Stacey and Jason, and their three kids Jai, Zarlia and Coen.] Thanks to the layout of the caravan park, they were able to park their vans with the awnings opposite each other and the kids could run back and forth between the two vans. The family has been on the road for a couple of years… and Coen was born in Townsville while they were travelling!

After a few days catching up on some writing tasks (articles, blog posts, etc) and having a very nice meal out at Rustler’s Steakhouse with Janet and Bucko to celebrate Bucko’s birthday, at we travelled on to Esperance. Rather than make the haul to Esperance all in one day, we stopped at Ravensthorpe. Now, Ravensthorpe is pretty much just an overnight-type park as you travel somewhere else. It’s the first park where our site has had a front-row view of a rock crusher and several mounds of dirt! BUT, on the plus side, the site was big enough for us to be able to stay hitched up after backing in. It was also nice and close to the amenities, which were well-looked after and, although old, were equal to those of many higher-priced parks. Each cubicle had a shower, toilet, drying area and handbasin – almost like having an ensuite!

The next day we arrived at Esperance. Because it’s so windy here on the West Coast – at least at this time of year – we decided to avoid the big caravan park overlooking the Bay and instead tucked ourselves away at the small Top Tourist park closer to town, just opposite the Port Authority. This turned out to be a good choice: we’re relatively protected from the wind and it was a pleasant little park to stay in.

There’s plenty to enjoy around Esperance, from the half- or full-day wildlife cruises that dock at Woody Island and explore Esperance’s Bay of Isles, to walks around the foreshores and exploration of the gorgeous Cape Le Grand National Park. We put our heads down and forged our way against the wind to the end of the long Tanker jetty (coming back was a lot easier, a bit like travelling the Nullarbor with the wind behind you!). We loved the sea lion swimming lazily around the fish cleaning station at the end of the jetty, waiting for dinner on demand. We also liked the relaxing Don Mackenzie Waterfront Gardens at the Esperance Bay.

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A morning spent exploring Cape Le Grand was well worth it. Next time we come this way, we’ll be aiming to stay at the Le Grand Beach campground. The camping bays here are terrific: all are screened with bushes to make them both private and well-sheltered – and of course there is a beach to die for just metres away. All the beaches along here are breathtaking: white, white sand and jewel-coloured water.

Until we came down this way, I thought water this colour went hand-in-hand with the tropics… but Esperance can rival those beautiful shades of blue and green found anywhere. What a place! We spent time at Le Grand Beach, Lucky Bay Beach and Campground, and Thistle Bay… and there are lots more to enjoy if you give yourself plenty of time in this beautiful area.

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People sometimes complain about the cost of passes to National Parks, but honestly, the deal in WA is hard to beat. Currently, an All-Parks Annual Pass costs $80 a vehicle ($50 for a Concession Pass) and gets you into any National Park in WA for 12 months. Not only that, but you can stay at any National Park campground for $9 per adult per night ($6 concession). That’s pretty inviting!


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