Living Fossils ~ Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Endurance

Along the shore of Lake Clifton, just south of Mandurah in Western Australia, is a reef of smooth, round structures covered by shallow, brackish water. The wind stirs up sea foam which gathers around them and there’s an eerie feeling that something ancient exists here.

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They look like rocks but the reef is actually composed of thrombolites – the creation of micro-organisms called cyanobacteria. Their ancestors were among the first forms of life on Earth during the Archaean eon, 3.8 billion years ago. These microbes create a film of calcium carbonate during photosynthesis and gradually, through a process of clotting, the thrombolites are formed. It is only the very outside layers that support these tiny living organisms and depending on water levels they can be exposed, or like the day we were there in mid-winter, completely underwater.

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Once the oceans of the Earth were full of thrombolites but now Lake Clifton is one of only two places in the world where living examples occur and measures have been taken to ensure their protection. It’s a short walk through the bush to the edge of the lake and on to the specially built boardwalk, which allows visitors to see the thrombolites up close without causing any damage.

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In geological terms these thrombolites are in their infancy at just 2000 years old. Let’s hope they endure for at least another 2000 years.

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Weekly Photo Challenge – Endurance

Waistlines Go West in Western Australia!

The bounty of the Margaret River region of south west Western Australia is renowned for its quality, freshness and lack of food miles. There are more than 120 wineries, eight breweries and a multitude of food producers to visit. Several companies offer culinary and winery tours of the region but if you’re an independent traveller it’s easy to plan your own itinerary. We spent a day driving through fertile farmland and small country towns sampling gourmet delights and enjoying a range of fresh produce; here’s our list of ten great places to eat and drink in Margaret River.

  1. Margaret River Chocolate Company

The viewing windows at this chocolate factory allow you to see chocolate bars and truffles being made by hand while friendly staff members wander round bearing trays piled high with samples for tasting. With 200 different chocolate creations to choose from, taste testing is essential in order to help with the decision making process. That’s our excuse anyway! We chose chocolate with Jamaican coconut…and chocolate with sea salt caramel…and chocolate with cashews…and Rocky Road.

  1. Providore Margaret River

Enter gourmet food heaven when you walk through the doors of Providore. Jams, chutneys, sauces, salad dressings and olive oils are amongst the more than 40 home made products available here. Each day different foods, all produced on site from ingredients grown on the farm, are available to taste. Outside, wander through the extensive orchard, olive grove and vegetable garden with the free range chickens for company. Our recommendation – Sambarino After Dinner Mint Chocolate Liqueur. Divine!

  1. Bootleg Brewery

There’s more to this brewery than the five beers and one cider produced here. The café serves delicious food, there are regular live music gigs and visitors can learn about the history of the brewery in the small upstairs museum. We enjoyed a generous serve of beer battered chips and a luscious slice of hazelnut and sticky date cake by a warm pot belly stove.

  1. Cowaramup Brewing Company

Seven beers are produced at this family owned brewery and keen beer drinkers can take part in a tour to see how they are made. Dishes on the menu in the restaurant are made from local produce and the view over the valley is beautiful – take advantage of both on the outdoor timbered deck. A glass of special pale ale was savoured here.

  1. Margaret River Cheese Company

The dairy cows grazing contentedly on lush green pasture are the best evidence that there are luscious cheeses on sale at the shop here. There’s a range of camembert, brie, cheddar and feta cheeses. Tastings are welcomed and it’s difficult to stop at one, and even more difficult to decide which cheeses to buy. Our favourites were double cream camembert and smoked club cheddar.

  1. Gabriel Chocolate

Decadent chocolates are made from scratch at the Gabriel Chocolate factory, from cacao beans imported from all the growing regions of the world. Tastings are available at the Chocolate Gallery and include milk and dark chocolates, sauces and drinks. The ginger chocolate was sweet and spicy.

  1. House of Cards Winery

Handcrafted wines are the specialty of the House Of Cards. The wine is made only from grapes grown in their own vineyard and the labels on the bottles reflect the inspiration of the winemakers – “you have to play the hand that you are dealt.” I can highly recommend “The Joker” Sweet Rosé.

  1. Swooping Magpie Winery

This boutique winery at Yallingup is named for a resident magpie who used to live in the trees on the property and he is featured in the winery’s logo. As well as wine tasting there’s a café with coffee, scones with cream and jam and light lunches. Gourmet platters designed to complement the wines are also available. We bought a bottle each of the 2009 Cabernet Franc and the 2012 Chenin Blanc – delicious!

  1. Simmo’s Ice Creamery

With more than 60 flavours of ice cream to choose from, your dessert desires will be taken care of at Simmo’s Ice Creamery at Dunsborough. The regular flavours like vanilla and chocolate are always available while the more adventurous can try something a little different, like Whiskey Prune or Apple Pie. We had Cinnamon Ginger and Coconut Chocolate. There’s a shady park, an adventure playground and even a mini golf course so you can stay a while, relax and try more than one delicious ice cream.

     10. Yallingup Woodfired Bread

This small family business is a well-kept secret known only to locals. We heard about it at the Swooping Magpie and even though we followed the directions the bakery wasn’t easy to find; the woodfire symbol is discreet and easy to miss. It’s worth the effort to ask for directions though because the bread, made from locally grown stoneground grain, is tastiest straight out of the wood fired ovens and goes on sale every day from about 3pm. We bought a still-warm loaf of wheat sourdough “with some rye and a touch of spice.”

There are many more wonderful food producers which could be visited while holidaying in Margaret River but there are other places to see as well. At the end of the day we were happy with our selection, and also happy with the range of delicious treats we collected along the way.

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Five Western Australian Loos With Wonderful Views

If you’re on a road trip, comfortable bathroom facilities along the way are a lucky find. When they are in amazing positions with fantastic views it’s more than good luck – it’s good planning. These wonderful amenities are all located at sites along the south-west coast of Western Australia where the ocean can be wild and the scenery is spectacular.

Sugarloaf Rock is a small granite island off the coast near Yallingup. Completely surrounded by the pounding waters of the Indian Ocean, Sugarloaf Rock is a safe haven for red-tailed tropic birds which fly from the tropics to breed here.

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Travel a little further south to Canal Rocks, a group of rocky islands and reefs which trap the ocean in a series of canals and channels. The rocks here are composed of gneiss, a metamorphic rock formed when the supercontinent Gondwana began to move 230 million years ago. The ocean swirls as it rushes in between these tiny islands and the current is strong – don’t be tempted to swim here.

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Head east for 600 kilometres to the dramatic coastline of southern Australia and you’ll find these newly built comfort stops at Hamersley Inlet in the Fitzgerald River National Park. The inlet is a salt water lake, sometimes connected to the Southern Ocean by a narrow fiord in the sand dunes. It’s a good spot for fishing when the salt levels aren’t too high.

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Not far from Hamersley Inlet is Cave Point. Put on your coat because the wind blowing off the Southern Ocean feels like it has come all the way from the Antarctic, 4000 kilometres to the south. It’s worth braving the icy wind though to see the ancient coastline stretching away on both sides. In one direction is East Mount Barren, a rugged rocky mountain rising out of the sea. In the opposite direction is West Beach with its fine white sand and crashing waves.

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Continue in an easterly direction past the small coastal village of Hopetoun to Southern Ocean Road. This road hugs the shore and there are several places where you can stop and marvel at the deserted beaches, high dunes and vast expanse of the Southern Ocean. Two Mile Beach is one of many along this part of the coast and if you’re lucky you’ll have both the amenities and the beach all to yourself.

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You can also read The Original “Loo With a View”  and A Loo With A View, Part Two.

Come Sailing With Me

In 1606 Captain Willem Janszoon and his crew sailed along the northern coast of Australia in the little Dutch ship Duyfken – Little Dove. They journeyed from the Spice Islands of the Dutch East Indies to the Gulf of Carpentaria and mapped 330 kilometres of the coastline of Cape York as they went. They made the first recorded European landing on the Australian mainland and met the local aboriginal people as they travelled along the previously uncharted coast.

To do some travelling of your own, take a trip back in time by visiting the replica Duyfken at Fremantle in Western Australia. The replica was built using traditional 17th century methods at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in the 1990s and the design came from three known sketches of the original Duyfken. It is berthed at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and when it’s not out on sailing expeditions the ship is open to the public.

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We are given a guided tour of the ship by volunteer guide Ellie who, like the Duyfken, is Dutch. She tells us about her childhood home in Amsterdam, built in the 1600s from the same durable timbers as the sailing ships. The ship is fully fitted out with rigging, sails, a masthead and maritime tools typical of the past.

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In the galley it’s as if the sailors are just about to come for a meal, and below decks in the hold there’s a load of precious cargo.

The floor of the hold is lined with Dutch bricks, carried as ballast before being sold in the East Indies, and chests and hessian sacks are filled to the brim with precious spices. Spices were highly prized and valuable and members of the crew were never allowed in the hold because of the risk of theft. “One bowl of nutmeg could buy a house in Amsterdam in the mid-1600s,” says Ellie.

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The musky scent of spices, the creaking of the rigging and the gentle lapping of water on the side of the ship all add to the feeling that we’ve left the 21st century behind. At any moment we might hear sailors calling as they raise the sails. The Duyfken is ready to leave on another voyage and we could be tempted to join the crew!

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You can go sailing on the Duyfken. Read more at www.duyfken.com

Silk Between The Vineyards

The Margaret River region of south west Western Australia is famed for its production of delicious specialty foods. There are 35 wineries as well as breweries, chocolate factories, dairies and gourmet shops. All are open to the public and offer tastings of their superb produce.

For a less calorific but equally tempting experience a visit to Silk Road, Australia’s first commercial silk farm is a must-see on any Margaret River itinerary. Walk through the door and you enter a luxurious world of rainbow coloured creations and industry in miniature, where thousands of silk worms are hard at work.

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Amanda Tagliaferri and Rob Sheahan are the farmers of these tiny creatures. Amanda explains the life cycle of the silk worms to curious visitors and says: “The worms are encouraged to produce silk all year round. The eggs need to experience winter temperatures before they germinate, so we keep them in the refrigerator.” Then an artificial springtime is created in the incubator and the eggs hatch. In this way, the farm produces between 35,000 and 50,000 cocoons every year.

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Silk worms might be small but they will increase their body weight by 10,000 times in their short lives, so a constant food source is a necessity. The favourite food of silk worms is the leaves of the mulberry tree and, in order to have enough to feed the worms as they grow, both black and white mulberry trees are grown in a custom built hothouse. This keeps the trees in leaf all year round and ensures that the silk worms will continue to produce their silken cocoons.

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Once the cocoons are harvested and processed, they are sent to Cambodia where the silk is spun and woven into fabric. Silk Road works in partnership with a Cambodian co-operative, where Cambodian farmers blend the Australian silk with their own silk, spin and weave it and create luxury items such as scarves, men’s and women’s clothing and small purses. Silk Road then buys these beautiful pieces from the farmers and sells them in their Margaret River shop. This philanthropic partnership between the Australians and the Cambodians has enabled disadvantaged people to make a living with the guidance of humanitarian aid groups. “We have a wonderful relationship with the Cambodian farmers and we know it’s having a positive impact in their communities,” says Amanda proudly.

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As well as beautiful silk garments in exquisite colours, there are some tasty by-products of silk worm farming. The mulberry trees fruit every year and the shop sells mulberry jams, vinegars and sauces. These delicious treats can also be enjoyed at the café – freshly baked scones with cream and mulberry jam are popular.

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On this farm nothing is wasted. Even the worms’ saliva, which has to be removed from the raw silk yarn, is put to good use. The saliva is actually a protein called sericin, known for its skin nourishing properties. Amanda explains that the sericin is washed out of the silk yarn using a mildly caustic shampoo in boiling water. The subsequent solution is then used to make soaps and other indulgent bath products which are also sold in the shop.

After seeing the silk worms in production and the mulberry trees in the hothouse, enjoying fresh scones and hot coffee in the café and choosing a silk scarf or two it will be time to move on to the next stop on the Margaret River gourmet trail. The workers will probably be just as busy but they won’t be quite so small!

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The Valley of the Giants

There are giants in the forests of southern Western Australia and they’re not difficult to find. You only have to look up!

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Red tingle trees, unique to an area of 6000 square hectares within the Walpole Wilderness region, grow to a height of 75 metres and a girth of 20 metres. These ancient trees can be up to 400 years old; their ancestors were here in the time of Gondwana, 65 million years ago. At the Wilderness Discovery Centre in the Valley of the Giants near Walpole there are two ways to see these goliaths of the forest.

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The Ancient Empire walk tracks across the forest floor through bright green patches of sword grass past burled, red tree trunks with massive blackened hollows. These hollows are formed over time by fire and insect attack and give each tree a distinctive appearance. Some are large enough to walk through. The walkways have been designed so that visitors can get up close to the trees and the undergrowth on the forest floor while the trees are protected from receiving too much attention.

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If your neck tires from looking up, try looking down for a change – from the Tree Top Walk.  A 600 metre steel walkway, suspended between massive pylons resembling the native tassel flower, rises to a height of 40 metres above the floor of the forest.

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The walkway is designed to sway gently to enhance the feeling of walking in the forest canopy. Even on a slightly windy day, with the breeze blowing through the branches and unseen birds calling to each other, it’s like you are part of the forest. Away in the distance are the blue-tinged ranges of Mt Frankland South National Park while much closer the tops of the tingle trees are still another 20 metres or more above you.

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Stop for a moment and close your eyes. Listen to the birds and the wind in the leaves. The giants of Gondwana are calling.

 

Our visit to the Tree Top Walk and the Valley of the Giants was hosted by the Walpole Discovery Centre.