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.

Underground Adventures

Winter days in the south-west corner of Western Australia don’t always start with crisp mornings which warm to mild, sunny afternoons. They can also be very cold and very wet. When the wind is blowing a gale and the freezing rain is horizontal, outdoor activities aren’t really an option and going underground on a caving adventure is a great way to fill in the day.

In the Margaret River region more than 100 caves have formed in the limestone karst system of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge. In geological terms the limestone is young; it’s only 1 million years old. There are four caves open to the public, and even though there are stalactites and stalagmites, helictites, shawls and flowstones in all of them, each cave is different and has its own story to tell.

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Jewel Cave is the largest of the four show caves and whether you visit in summer when the outside temperatures are high or, like we do, in winter when it’s freezing outside, the temperature inside the cave is a constant 16 °.  The cave entrance is just outside the visitor centre. A concrete walkway leads to 500 steps which descend 42 metres to the floor of the cave.

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The massive chamber is richly decorated with limestone formations, including one of the longest straw stalactites in the world. Our guide Crusty illuminates each different formation as he explains how they are created.

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Neroli is our guide when we visit Lake Cave, the deepest of the show caves at 62 metres. This time the entrance is much more dramatic, at the bottom of a massive crater known as a doline. A narrow, twisting staircase winds down from the edge of the doline to the cave entrance.

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The surface of the lake which gives the cave its name is absolutely still and the perfect reflections are magical. Water droplets sparkle in the artificial light and the glittering, white limestone formations resemble a fairy tale city.

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At Mammoth Cave a tour guide isn’t necessary; an audio player directs visitors on a self-guided tour through this massive cave. Enter Mammoth Cave and you enter a vast, silent underworld of giant stalagmites and stalactites and colossal balancing boulders.

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There’s no need to hurry here, although it’s easy to imagine how fast we would go if we met one of the megafauna which roamed this area more than 50 000 years ago. More than 10 000 fossils have been discovered in the cave and the jawbone of one enormous creature is still embedded in the wall of the cave.

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For the ultimate caving experience we venture into the most fascinating of all the caves – Moondyne. We put on overalls, gloves and hardhats before climbing down a steep ladder into this pristine cave.

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Our guide on this specialty tour is Matt and there are no paths, boardwalks or platforms in Moondyne Cave. We climb over rocks, slide on our bottoms and scramble on all fours through narrow tunnels with only the light from the torches on our helmets to show the way forward.

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There’s evidence on the walls that we’re not the first visitors here. Graffiti is pencilled on the limestone, dated 20/8/99. 1899, that is!

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At a depth of 28 metres, in the deepest part of the cave, we sit on a narrow ledge and turn off our torches.  The light from a single candle hardly stops the darkness from enveloping us and the absolute silence is almost overwhelming.

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As he turns his torch back on, Matt says: “Every time I go down this cave, I see something new. It’s a privilege to work here.” Just like Matt, it’s been a privilege for us to explore each of these remarkable caves too.

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Our visit to the caves of the Margaret River region was hosted by Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association. www.margaretriver.com

Walking on Water

From where we are standing at the end of the jetty, the Indian Ocean is like a sheet of silvered glass, stretching away until it meets the sky, a tinted version of itself. There are seabirds taking full advantage of the winter sunshine while only metres away in the water a mother dolphin frolics with her youngster.

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We are almost 2 kilometres out to sea – at the end of the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. Busselton Jetty has extended out into Geographe Bay for nearly 150 years; it was built 33 years after this area of south-west Western Australia was settled. With increasing demands from whaling and timber industries in the Busselton area and the shallowness of the bay, additions were made to the jetty several times until it reached its final length of 1.841 kilometres in 1960.

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The little town of Busselton is only 220 kilometres south of Perth and it’s a favourite destination for summer holidays. When the jetty’s working life ceased in 1972 it was developed as a tourist attraction. Today over 400 000 visitors come every year to Busselton to see the jetty and its Underwater Observatory.  The artificial reef that has formed on the pylons is home to more than 300 marine species, and inside the observatory there are eleven viewing windows going down to a depth of 8 metres. In summer seats on the little red train which trundles out and back every hour are often booked up well in advance.

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In winter, it’s a different story. The tourists are fewer, the beach is quiet and the soft light is perfect for photographers. It’s easy to get a seat on the train for the 25 minute ride out to the end of the jetty, and when all of our travelling companions take advantage of their return tickets we have the jetty to ourselves.

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Unfortunately for us the observatory isn’t open on the day we visit because visibility is down to less than a metre. Sue Mountford, the jetty’s marketing officer, explains that they’d rather not open than have visitors buy a ticket and be disappointed. There’s a screen in the shop showing live coverage of the view 8 metres down and we can see for ourselves that recent storms and high winds have stirred up the ocean.

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Sue says: “We want to encourage people to visit in winter because there’s more to see at the jetty than just the Observatory” and she’s right. We have no trouble spending several hours here. We take our time walking back to the shore and along the way we see another family of dolphins, seagulls nesting on the worn timbers and more seabirds basking in the sunshine. Occasionally a motorboat chugs by and there are fishermen young and old trying their luck in the calm waters of the bay.

Along one section of the jetty’s railing plaques are dedicated to those whose ashes have been cast over the waters here, some of whom were workers on the jetty in its heyday. Their love for this place is evident in the inscriptions, which are fascinating to read. Inside the Interpretive Centre is a Cultural Heritage Museum. There are displays about the geology and geography of the bay, historic photographs of the jetty and stories of the Indigenous inhabitants and the first European settlers.

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There’s a tangible sense of community at the jetty. Many of the staff are volunteers keen to share their passion for the jetty and its history. Dick has been a Jetty Host since the jetty first opened to tourists. While his duties include answering questions, guiding people onto the train and making sure everyone is safe, he goes further than that. He’s not just a mine of information about the jetty but also about Busselton. “I can tell you where to get the best fish and chips in town. And did you know that there are more wineries in Busselton shire than in Margaret River?” he says proudly.

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Even while he’s talking to us, Dick watches out for people needing help. He darts off to meet and greet before returning to continue our conversation. Over the years he’s met thousands of people who have come to Busselton to see the jetty. He smiles as he recalls his most memorable encounters: a family from Iceland and a man whose father worked at the White House.

The temperature might be chilly and the sunshine is pale but we agree with Dick, the dolphins and the birds. It’s well worth spending some time at Busselton Jetty – even on a quiet winter’s day.

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*Our visit was hosted by Busselton Jetty and we would like to thank the staff for welcoming us.

* Busselton Jetty is open seven days. The Underwater Observatory and Jetty Train operate weather permitting. You can walk on the jetty for $3 or take the train for $12. A ticket which covers all entries costs $29.50 for adults and $14 for children. Family passes cost $75. All profits go towards the maintenance and improvement of the jetty.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Zigzag

Zigzag patterns, both natural and man-made, catch the eye all along the boardwalk at Wanggoolba Creek on Fraser Island. Sunlight sparkling on a delicate spider’s web; the sharp leaves of the palms on the creek bank; a walking track with lots of corners; the aerial roots of a climbing fig. Zigzags are everywhere.

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