As promised, here are some more details on the rest of our camping trip.
Our first full day of camping involved some wildlife…
On day two we had to go to Albany for food, since we could really only pack enough food for one day in our little car, along with all the camping gear. First we went to the beach at Frenchman Bay, on the peninsula to the south of Albany. Despite the hot day, the water was surprisingly chilly, not that a bit of cold water would stop my little water babes from jumping in for a splash!
We also visited a pirate ship (also known as the Brig Amity).
There’s lots to see and do in Albany and I’m sure we’ll be back to experience it properly someday. We mostly wanted to get our groceries and get back to the camp ground, so that’s what we did. Young children can only handle so many tourist attractions per day anyway!
We got back to the camp ground, went for a swim, had supper (and toasted marshmallows) and went to bed. The stars that night were fabulous. If you’ve never seen stars with no light pollution dimming them, then you need to do it tonight! It’s seriously amazing how many you can see, including shooting stars if you look long enough. I’ve seen stars like this many times but it always amazes me, and this time I almost felt like the southern sky had more of them than what I remember of the north.
Day 3 was the day I was going to attempt to hike Bluff Knoll. I didn’t really tell my friends that I was planning on doing this beforehand, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to complete it. Silly maybe, but it is what it is. We probably should have checked the predicted forecast before I set off, as it ended up being another 40 degree day. I didn’t know that though, so I set off from the car park around 8:30 am with two litres of water and a few snacks. I knew there were a few other people on the mountain because of the other cars in the car park, but I was the last one to begin. It would have been ideal if I could have left earlier, but with getting the sleepy girls ready for their day out with Tim and feeding everyone and packing snacks, well… such is life!
I actually loved doing a solo hike. I only had my thoughts to contend with. It was quiet, which meant I got to see some wildlife. Best of all, I didn’t feel like I was slowing anyone down. For me, it was a mental challenge as much as a physical one. Initially I worried about getting lost on my own, but after seeing how well worn and marked out the trail is, I knew it wasn’t going to be an issue, so I just enjoyed the solitude.
The way down was difficult, to put it mildly. My right knee has been a bit dodgy, so I was favouring my left, which means it was doing a lot of work. If you’ve ever climbed a mountain you know that the way down is often harder, which proved to be the case. I didn’t stop nearly as much as I did on way up, but I took it slowly because the rocks were loose and I was afraid of slipping. I did slip at one point, which thankfully only resulted in a scraped ankle, nothing twisted. To make matters worse, it was approaching noon by the time I neared the bottom, which meant the sun was high, shade was scarce, and it was HOT. Despite having sun cream on (which I might have sweated off by this point) I could feel my skin burning. Miraculously I didn’t get more burnt than I did.
It was only when I got back to the camp ground that I I found out it had reached 40 degrees while I was in the sun in peak hours. I think I only sat down twice on the way down. When I started to feel shaky and dizzy I knew a break was in order, so I found a rock that was a bit shaded, sat and rested, drank water and ate a banana. It was a hard slog, but I finally reached the bottom, where I saw Tim and the girls waiting for me. For some reason they have built stairs that you have to climb up to get to the car park at the end… I actually couldn’t speak when they met me, I was so exhausted.
Tim helped me up the steps while the girls asked for cuddles…haha…and I drank more water, as much as we had left. I laid down for a while before I could move to go to the car. I was so exhausted from the physical exertion and the heat. Thankfully I didn’t get heat stroke or anything and only a mild sunburn. We got back to the camp ground and there was no relief from the heat or the flies. I wanted to lay down and rest, but the tent was too hot and stuffy and the pool was too exposed to the sun at midday. Instead, we sat in the communal kitchen, ate some lunch, and I eventually got to go lay in the tent and doze for a bit before joining Tim and the girls in the pool. Floating felt so good. I’ll let Tim recount his adventure with the girls that day….
While Kathryn was climbing Bluff Knoll, I took the girls down south – about a 40 minute drive – to the Porongurup Range and Castle Rock. This was a shorter hike, 2.2 kilometres each way, gradually to somewhat steeply ascending a large hill, finishing with a steel walkway/lookout area which is apparently pretty cool. I say apparently because we only made it about 1.7 km up the hill before I realised that:
1) The girls had nothing left in them – they’d already put in an amazing effort, especially Eden, and
2) If we didn’t start back soon we weren’t going to get back in time to pick up Kathryn from Bluff Knoll
So we turned around and cheerfully walked back down the track together…….
I mean, it was terrible. I ended up, for at least half a kilometre of the hike back, having a backpack on my back, Eden on my shoulders, and Kate on my front, clinging like a Koala. I had strangers offer to help me, but I didn’t want to pass my self-inflicted burden on to them, so I trudged along as well as I could. In hindsight, I should have let the strangers help me, but I’m a silly man.
We made it back to the car park in time, but we were all knackered. My shoulders were sore from Eden’s bony legs pressing into them (at one point she moaned, “My legs are soooore”, yet she refused my offer to let her walk by herself!) and all of us were pretty hungry and tired out.
Alas, we made it on time, collected the burnt and weary Kathryn, and headed back to camp.
When we set out on this holiday my heart wasn’t set on climbing Bluff Knoll like Kathryn’s was, but she strongly encouraged me to give it a go the day after she had, so I did. I woke up, scarfed down some breakfast, filled a couple of water bottles and set out by myself. The summit was shrouded in pretty white clouds when I arrived in the car park – quite beautiful.
Almost immediately when I embarked on the trail I was struck with the beauty of the flora. So much of Australia (WA at least) has been converted to agricultural land, even in some very hostile climates, so we don’t actually see a whole lot of native bush. Walking the Bluff Knoll track was refreshing, because it gave me a picture of what Australia really is. I didn’t see as many animals as Kathryn did, but I caught glimpses of a few small lizards and I also saw that eagle near the summit, as well as a few other small birds.
The temperature was ideal on my day, and since I’ve been doing a fair bit of cycling and playing soccer lately, I didn’t find the climb quite as challenging as Kathryn did, but it was still tough! I pushed myself to go quickly, and made it to the summit in about an hour and ten minutes. I spent some time there admiring the view, looking more closely at the interesting variety of flowers and rocks, and sweating. The wind at the top was invigorating, and surprisingly cold for WA in January (at about 1050m elevation) – as a matter of fact, the summit of Bluff Knoll is about the only location where it snows in WA, and even then it’s not on an annual basis, but more of a rare treat. Sorry Canadians, particularly in light of what you’re going through right now in the East…
The way down was tough, as Kathryn discussed, but my knees weren’t bothering me on that day so I kind of jogged down in the areas with lots of steps (most of the hike!). When you’re climbing up you can sort of fall into the hill, but on the way down you’ve gotta put a lot of effort into holding yourself back, which is why I think descending is so hard on the joints. Anyhow, it was a great hike and I would highly recommend it to anyone living in WA. It’s only a 4 hour drive from Perth, and it’s an ideal break from the city! Also, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Stirling Range Retreat if you’re looking to camp nearby.
It’s been a long post, so I’ll leave it at that. I really can’t stress enough how beautiful and unique Australia is. The climate is delightfully suited to human life, the smells and sights are like nothing you’ll ever see in Canada (or most anywhere), and we live here, so what are you waiting for? Come see it for yourself! I know it’s expensive and super far away, but…. #yolo