Wild in nature
During the right season, between May and September, whales can also be seen near where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in mainland Australia, was constructed from local limestone in 1895 and is still in operation today since it is a dangerous zone for vessels to navigate through.
From here, you get the best vantage points for whale watching, and to see much of the region from the top of the 39M-tall lighthouse. Named after the first known ship to have sailed the cape in 1622, the Dutch ship Leeuwin (meaning lioness) was built after 22 ships were wrecked in the treacherous area. Thereafter, only one ship sank to a watery grave with no casualties thanks to the presence of the lighthouse.
The place is barren, windswept and dangerously beautiful in a way that might have inspired Romantic literature. Just watch out for the venomous snakes slithering in the heathlands and the thick scrub, and stick to the designated paths. This is Australia, after all.
Along the way, we pass Witchcliff, a charming, little town with witch- themed decorations all over. There’s even a full-sized witch hanging out at the petrol station for seemingly no particular reason other than to represent its town well.
The Aboriginal people possess vast Knowledge of the myriad products of nature that can do anything from providing food to medicine for upset bellies, fevers, and wounds.
We reach Hamel in Bay with its friendly, massive stingrays coming to shore. A silly one comes far too close and there is talk of stingray barbecue amongst the Asians in our group, naturally, before it finally manages to swoop out of the sand and back into the waters. It is soon back again, floundering on the beach, attempting to propel itself out of the sucking, wet sand. There are several pretty beaches in the area, Hamelin Bay included, but Delaporte describes the prettiest by far nearby as only accessible by four- wheel drive. Alas, our snazzy, black limo-van is more suited to touring, and possibly covert surveillance, so on we drive for another spot of nature.
There are 24 national parks in the southwest region of Western Australia and we visit the Boranup Forest in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. The “place of the male dingo” is the Ward and I meaning for the name Boranup, the suffix “up” means “place of” in the language. Pale-barked Karri Trees populate the forest and the scent of eucalyptus permeates the air, making for a refreshing pit-stop before we head for a boozy lunch. It is a secondary forest. The trees were all logged in the early 20th century, but they were found to not be useful wood, and so were allowed to grow again.
Massive as they are now, they are still young’uns and can still grow even bigger vertically and horizontally given more time.
In wine country
Margaret River is best known for its wines and food, especially to Singaporeans just starting to get on the wining bandwagon. Naturally, a spot of each is what we need to make the trip a complete one. Down at the expansive, beautiful Voyager Estate, with its blooming red rose bushes guarding the lines of grapes, we are treated to a sumptuous lunch with wine pairing. I have a bottle from the Estate still sitting untouched on my desk thanks to my frequent travels and, here, I finally get to taste it.
The wines of Margaret River are not done with us. We carry on to Bettenay’s Margaret River, famed for their handcrafted nougat and wines, and this is where we fill our bellies some more with bites of nougats and sips of wine. With a basket in hand, I get a little too liberal with the sweeping of bars of nougat into my grasp and a shot of chilli-infused rose brings me to my senses. It is an experiment by the Bettenay family, but possibly a mite too strange for my tastes, even if my love for chilli caused a little meltdown in the kitchens of the restaurant where we had breakfast earlier.
For a short spell, we return to Olio Bello—our luxury glam ping grounds for the two nights in Margaret River- digesting all the food and the booze on a hammock by the lake. The ducks are quacking, the birds are singing, the wind’s rustling leaves, and the cool weather tempered by a little heat from the sun makes for a nice, quick snooze before we head on to our last activity for the day.Koomal Dreaming conducts tours in the region and, this evening, Josh Whiteland, the Wardandi proprietor of the company, takes us into Ngilgi Cave.
Nearing twilight, we begin with a bushwalk as Whiteland points out and explains the different trees and plants that provide bush medicine. The Aboriginal people possess vast knowledge of the myriad products of nature that can do anything from providing food to medicine for upset bellies, fevers and wounds. We then descend into the sacred cave of crystals, stalactites and stalagmites, where the good spirit Ngilgi lived, and Whiteland tells the story of Dreamtime, concluding with a hypnotising performance using a handmade didgeridoo gifted to him by an elder.
Recycled car tyres and PVC make up the steps and the handrails in the cave. It is cool inside, between 19°C and 21°C, but it gets progressively more humid as you go deeper. I am the only one to go through the kids’ crawlspace, fun for teacup-sized humans but, for an adult, it can get a little claustrophobic. The view is well- worth it though, and nothing beats the feeling of exploring the semi-dark unknown and being treated to views of natural formations running pareidolia on overtime. Here’s an elephant; there’s a woman with a child; here’s an oddly-shaped action figure.
By the time we emerge above ground, twilight has set. Our ride back to Olio Bello is in pitch darkness, with the odd, lone kangaroo on either side of the road silently hanging about, undecided about crossing the road. We reach the campgrounds but are unfortunately felled by a faulty, newly-installed gate. As our guides rally about, frantically figuring out a way to get us in—so remote are we that there’s nobody around for miles; the only in-habitants being us occupying the six luxury lodges and the owner’s sister who lives on the grounds—and end up performing an impromptu dance show by the gates to keep us entertained in the cold.
We eventually find our way in through a back gate, the owner’s sister guiding us from her car as we wind through the olive groves where numerous kangaroos bound about in the dark. A massive, muscled kangaroo stands silent by the vegetable patch, in the company of his friends, the rooster and the chickens, watching as we drive past.
The little adventure only served to heighten our excitement for the place. The stars are out in full force now, and being so far away from any source of artificial light, save for the meagre lights of the cabins, means we can see practically the entirety of the Milky Way splashed across the sky. It is an awesome sight, in the truest sense of the word. A few of us choose to forgo a bit of sleep—the wine and the food that we had at dinner still percolating in our bellies—for some star-gazing with blankets and mugs of hot tea on the back porch.
Wine in the belly, with stars in our eyes; the quiet only occasionally punctuated by our laughter or the hoots, the chirps and the rustle of wildlife. What better way to end a day than to wish upon shooting stars and swap stories in the wilds of nature?