After our rather unceremonious ousting from the Kingsley Motel, I wasn’t keen to bump into Charlie or Andrew so avoided their end of Manjimup. A swift drive by to show Livi where I’d lived for my first two months in Oz and that was it. Driving Livi down memory lane, everything was exactly as Kelly and I had left it, down to the pothole that almost broke our axels each morning to the barking audible from the road outside the kennel we worked at. I even spotted my favourite Mum dog, Black Butt, out for a walk.
6 months ago, I’d reveled in telling Livi and my mum of the perilous Diamond Tree that Kelly and I had scampered up and down as an occasional work out. 52m vertically up, no harness, no safety net, just a curving ladder of metal poles stabbed into the vast trunk of a Kari tree. So long as you’re not stupid (climbing in the rain or in flip flops for example), you really are unlikely to slip; it’s not actually that dangerous. Still, the last 10m of vertical ladder up to the viewing platform is fairly stomach churning if you make the mistake of looking down. From the top, the thick canopy let’s you imagine the floor is just 5m away. I’ve watched the sun set from this height with the dusky purple of WAs evening skies at my back, the sun hazed with smoke drifting from ever present fires. The ocean of leaves shifts in the breeze, sighing tranquility. Our legs burned at the bottom but it’s a cathartic experience in more than just the calorie purge.
Back in town we indulged in cheesecake from Dejavu which made us both feel pretty sick after the three breakfasts we’d had on our way down (stale cereal and car warm milk followed by New Norcia fruit bread and finished up with the worlds best pies and Eccles cakes). There wasn’t much else to show Livi really; the Reject shop where we got our discount chocolate; the hostel where blood covered bathrooms had scared us off after one night; the Timber Museum that was closed for the entirety of our stay. We’d found a free camp site in nearby Nannup but it looked like it might be in the middle of nowhere and difficult to find so we left with plenty of daylight to spare.
Despite our planning, we arrived in Nannup as it grew dark and continued straight through the town to hunt out our place to stay. Driving further into the woods we still hadn’t seen any obvious places to stop. Retracing our rout, scouring right and left all we could find were spooky, long, cleared logging tracks; ghostly grey strips of moonlight scars in the depths of the shadowy trees. We were beginning to think someone had just pulled up to the side of the road and added it to wikicamps with a sense of humor.
Darkness had fully settled and we were bored of hunting, so we headed back to Nannup, hoping for hot running water and toilets. To our luck, the receptionist had been waiting up for a booked-in late comer, she thought it might have been us and booked us in for the night ($28 for 2 people in an unpowered site). We cooked up some pasta in the fairy light bedecked communal hut and I fell asleep to Livi reading off facts about bull shark attacks. Each night she picked some dangerous animal to educate me on, my favourite was the tiger shark with its ‘insatiable and indiscriminate appetite’ that means it eats pretty much anything that enters its path.
An unusual number of people were lycra clad the next morning; the whole campsite buzzing with activity heading towards the river. We followed them down to the water where people were lining up in teams of two with very basic looking racer boats, all with gaping holes in the back. One by one the teams clambered in and shot off, one member laying across the front for steering and ballence, plumes of water jetting into the air in their wake. The whines of the engines could be heard in the distance but then suddenly the hustle and bustle was gone, the audience moved off to the first check point and almost the entire campsite had emptied. A huge Kari tree stood by the waters edge had markers all the way up it’s trunk to indicate the height of various floods, the deepest came high above the towering bridge we perched on but there was no devastation still visible from the most recent deluge.
Heading towards the coast, the clouds grew heavy in the sky which soon transformed into a sheet of white. The drizzle didn’t begin until we were sat in the car park of Mammoth Cave ($22.50 entry), snacking on me goreng and tuna. There are several caves in Augusta, previously I’d been to a self guided cave where they send you down with a helmet and a torch. We’d found a vast flat, sandy floored cavern where we’d turned off our torches and played Marco Polo our voices echoing uninterrupted as the only visitors in the narrow Cave system. Mammoth cave was more expansive and more touristy. Metal walk-ways guided you through the maze of stalactites and lift you above the floor littered with stalagmites, bright lights highlight interesting features explained on the audio guide. The place gets its name from the fossilized jawbone of an ancient giant marsupial which takes a little imagination to spot.
The Voyager Estate
After the humidity of the cave, almost a month in our road tripping clothes and the fact we’d been living in the back of a car, Livi and I were definitely not looking our most lady like in this last stretch of the trip. So what better a time to indulge in a touch of class; wine tasting. Not at just any vineyard, the grand, rustic Voyager Estate, a beautiful villa set among carefully tended rose gardens. We rolled Pea up next to pristine white Toyotas you could see your face in and chucked on our mucky trainers, we figured thongs probably weren’t allowed.
The vines weren’t sagging with fruit at this time of year but jubilant roses burst with colour at the end of each row. Impeccably trimmed lawns lead us past a stupidly oversized Australian flag, easily bigger than Pea (so heavy it hung limp from it’s pole) and up to the Mediterranean style Winery, not a fingerprint smearing the glass door. Pretending to consider the lists of wine we actually had no idea how to go about getting a wine tasting. Self assured tourists around us were sipping away, talking to the waitress about the aromas and palates; I can tell red from white and could only laugh at our sarcastic attempts of mimicry.
Eventually someone realized we were lost and explained that the ‘flights’ on the menu were the tastings or we could make our own up. Livi chose a white ‘flight’ and I chose a red. Our waitress brought us an ipad on which we could look the characteristics of each wine and then explained how to properly smell and taste. We each tasted all 8 wines and agreed the Cab Sav was disgusting, all the whites were very drinkable and that we clearly didn’t have an expensive taste in wine.
Having to drive, we had no idea how much wine was actually in front of us, and how much would put us over the limit, so to ensure nothing was wasted we embarked on a vino experiment of epically classless proportions. We mixed all 4 whites together and all 4 reds, making a super red and a super white, giggling far too loudly for the vaulted echo-ey restaurant. We had much improved the qualities of the Cab Sav in combination with the more subtle, light tones of the rose. The super wine made of all 8 samples was undrinkable and thus we left this gift to the vineyard and drove on, very pleased with ourselves and also two bottles of wine heavier. One a present for each parent, well thought out after hours of careful deliberation of their tastes in comparison to many samples.
Parking up that evening in Capel we experienced one of the more dodgey free campsites. An RCV parking spot next to a campervan that was void of any signs of life from our arrival to our departure. This was to be our last day on the road, our goal for tomorrow, Perth. We were in a celebratory mood. A few shots of Opihr remained, and half the packet of no longer frozen berries we’d been using in the absence of ice cubes, but we were out of tonic!! And it was 8pm, in a rural WA town! Nothing was open, our British class wouldn’t let us shot the celebratory gin, would we have to drink the precious wine we’d bought our parents?! Eventually we found a drive in bottle-o. Livi’s first drive through bottle-o, one of the finest products of Australian culture! Tonic acquired we headed back to our roadside home, set up our G&T station (flimsy cup holders) and our in car cinema (Livi’s iPhone) to watch Sticky Fingers interviews until we fell asleep.
And that was it for our road trip, our final night on the road and our final night in Sweet Pea after just over 3 weeks. A couple from our diving trip in Exmouth, PJ and Nathaniel, had told us to give them a call when we reached Perth and they’d put us up for the night in their house in the hills. We headed up to Gidgegannup laden with offerings of wine from a second drive-through bottle-o and freshly tattooed (a manta ray that Livi had drawn me that morning).
Nathaniel and PJs house was incredible, set in the midst of its own nature reserve, their land fully claimed by native flora backed straight onto a reserve as if it were their own garden to roam. We spent several alcohol soaked days in their company, waking up to a mother kangaroo and her baby outside our window and spending the day playing snow white with the birds and snakes, roaming the hills. Pea was in a bad way and it took several trips into town and back up the clutch murdering hill plus a lot of negotiation before we found someone who wanted her. Passed down through backpacker generations, I’m not sure how many more coastal trips she’ll make but she did us proud.
Several grand richer and a good few kg heavier after our hosts indulgent cooking, Livi and I parted ways at the airport. She flew back to the UK and I flew on to Brisbane for the last chapter of my year in Australia.