Sunday, September 25th, 2011: Albany, Australia
Our final day in southwest Australia was spent in the town of Albany. With only 29,000 people, it is still one of the larger cities in Western Australia, and allowed us access to a number of beautiful sights on the edge of Australia’s Southern Ocean.
Arriving right on time at 9am to the berth number 2 in this sleepy coastal community (it was a Sunday morning), we were pleased to find our Hertz rental car waiting for us again just outside of the port gates and our agent, Sally just a minute away with our keys and paperwork to get us started and on the road quickly.
On the road immediately, our first destination was just over an hour to the west to the Valley of the Giants, an area where massive tingle tree forests can be visited and explored in a most unique (and fun) manner — walking through the treetops on suspension steel bridges over 100 feet off the ground. This activity is known as the Treetop Walk and is a great way for young and old to see and experience these forests above the trees (in most instances) and not damage the fragile ground and ecosystems beneath that the trees and the plants rely on for survival.
Upon arrival to the Discovery Center at the Valley of the Giants, we purchased our tickets and passed through a small gate to begin the walk on the three foot wide steel walkways. Each segment of walkway is approximately 100 meters long and are connected by a circular rest platform about 8 feet in diameter. The idea is that each of the suspension spans are connected throughout the forest by these circular rest platforms, along folks to walk from platform to platform and view the forests not from the ground but from above, providing a unique vantage point, as well as testing the limits of some visitors’ phobias.
Phobia #1: Heights — as the platforms begin to gain in elevation, the highest platform places you 40 meters (or 120 feet) off of the ground, providing plenty of nervous laughter from some visitors who were none to excited at the prospect of walking on suspended steel bridges 12 stories off the ground…
Phobia #2: Suspension — Each of the 100 meter steel spans are suspended by steel cables from each of the circular platforms at each end, underneath the spans, similar to but inverse to how the Golden Gate Bridge does it. There were plenty of questions from folks as to how it was physically possible for these walkways to simply hang with no supporting beams or connection to the ground…
Phobia #3: The Wind — As these are suspension spans, they are subject to a large number of forces acting on them, principally the wind, but also the people walking on them. So, for the duration of your time on the treetop walk suspension spans, they are in a constant state of movement as they flex and compensate for movement in another area of the structure. This meant that they could move as much as 4-6 inches in each direction continuously as well as a few inches up and down and you walked along them. This provided the sensation of a minor earthquake movement for the entire time that you were on the spans, which for many, was nearly 30 minutes.
If you could get over those three factors (and happy to report that well over 99.9% of people do), the experience was truly unique as you walked along the dozen or so steel spans, that were connected by these “rest” platforms, as folks made there way through the elevated pathway amongst the huge tingle trees (similar to California redwoods, but with their own unique aspects) and marveled at the views across the valleys and to the forest floow below.
Thankfully, we arrived before the first tour buses of the day (one of our primary goals) and we were able to experience most of the place with only about a dozen other folks. As we began to reach the end of the span, the clouds because to darken and the crush of tour bus passengers made their ways towards the end of the walk quickly as the sky began to open up and rain… buckets! We were only about 50 feet from the shelter of the gift shop when the rain started to come down, so we waited it out for the few minutes until the downpour ended.
From here. there is a secondary walk (this time on sold ground) along a boardwalk through the forest into the “Valley of the Ancients” — visiting a number of very old tingle trees. These area is to provide information and better understanding of the lifecycles of these important trees to the ecosystem as well as to show how they thrive and adapt in the changing environment. Some of these trees were large enough to walk through, much like the California redwoods at home and it was fun to play amongst these massive tree trunks and watch many of the tourists taking pictures inside these massive structures.
From here, we continued west to our furthest point on the day’s driving and to the town of Walpole. We made a stop at a scenic view called Coalmine Beach and then began to make our way east back towards Albany. As we drove, we found ourselves in and out of massive downpours of rain, but fortunately they seem to only impact us while we were in the car and so we continued to enjoy the day without impact or loss of any of our sights.
Our next stop was about 9kms off of the South Coast Highway into an area called William Bay. This location provides two amazing sights, known as the Green Pools and Elephant Rocks. Both are accessible via pathways to the beach from nearby carparks and we walked out to both areas.
Green Pools is a stretch of sandy beach with massive boulders and rocks in the water, reducing the depth and providing for a number of the color corrected green pools in the shallow water. As the sun shown and disappeared behind the huge storm clouds in the sky, it dramatically changed the scenery of the oceanfront and essentially gave us two different and unique views on the same locations.
A short walk away are the elephant rocks, a simple name sake for the massive boulders in the water just off the beach’s edge look much like a herd of elephants making their way along the beachfront in search for something, leaving amazing smooth rocks rising from an otherwise peaceful sandy cove. We walked into the cove and got to enjoy it by ourselves for several minutes as the waves lapped into the tiny bay and the rocks reflected the sun’s rays when they were out and the entire area falling under a gray haze when the sun was blocked out. Reaching this area was just as fun as the massive rocks form a tiny “hallway” only about 4 feet wide with which to reach the bay. As the tide rises, the water begins to fill the hallway and you can’t get back out. Thankfully, the tide was low and we were able to enjoy the site for a while before others began to arrive.
From here, we continued east through the coastal community of Denmark and headed out on Ocean Beach Road to Ocean Beach and Wilson Head for long stretches of white sand and crashing waves as the Southern Ocean began to churn with the big strom clouds overhead. Again, raining buckets on the way out to our stops, but somehow taking a pause long enough for the sun to push through as we got out of the car to admire and to take pictures of these places.
In the tiny town of Youngs Siding, the road forks and we took a scenic route along Lower Denmark Road, on a lesser used path towards our final destination and admired many tiny farming communities of Tillerup, Tennessee, Kronkup, Torbay, Elleker, and Little Grove as we made our way to our final stop of the day in the Torndirrup National Park and to the Natural Bridge, The Gap, and Cable Beach.
Natural Bridge and The Gap are both located at the end of Gap Road in the park and are one of the known spots were Australia separated from Antarctica hundreds of thousands of years ago. These sheer granite walls and rock formations are so specific (like a fingerprint) that their exact match can be found in Antarctica to this day where this location broke off and formed what is now Australia. Even today, the continent of Australia continues to move north at about 5 centimers a year, so thankfully it will still be thousands of lifetimes before the country decides to meet up with Indonesia and Thailand.
We arrived late in the afternoon as the sun was pouring onto these amazing granite sites. The Gap is a sheer wall of rock that is constantly feeling the stress of massive wave activity from the Southern Ocean. There is little more than a small metal fence to keep visitors from plunging down the sheer rock face into the water more than 50 feet below.
The Natural Bridge is a point where the water from the waves finally won and wore away the rock underneath, leaving a natural bridge of granite rock above it as the waves and the ocean churn below it.
From here, we continued a few more minutes to Cable Beach, a nearby strech of beach that was receiving its own sunset sun, intermixed with huge storm clouds, making for more enjoyable views. As we were nearing the end of our day, we headed back to the port, after a quick stop to refill the rental car, dropped off our vehicle right at the port entrance and walked back onto the ship after another great day.
It has been three amazing days in southwest Australia, from Rottnest and Fremantle Prison, to the amazing wineries and grounds of the Margaret Valley, and walking the tingle treetops and exploring William Bay and Torndirrup National Park… We’re ready for a few extra hours of sleep and fortunately will get a chance to catch up with two upcoming sea days. Talk you all again soon!