Over the Summer Holidays, we took the kids on their second trip to Western Australia. Having spent most of our efforts in the north and around Perth city the first time we visited, we decided to head down south.
Day 1: Dunsborough
We arrived at Perth International Airport in the late afternoon and made our way towards Dunsborough which was to be our home base for two nights. The plan was to visit the following locations over two days:
- Ngilgi Cave – open from 9am to 5pm with tours every half hour
- A Maze’N – a massively cool hedge maze
- Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
- Yallingup Maze
- Mammoth Cave – time permitting
- Cullen Wines (Wilyabrup) or Vasse felix (Cowaramup)
- Margaret River Chocolate Factory
Day 2: Margaret River
We were originally planning to visit Amaze’n. Unfortunately, much to our disappointment, we arrived at the gates only to discover that it was closed for their annual service! If it had been open, this would have been the biggest hedge maze we had ever been to. I think I was more disappointed than the kids, although G2 was quite looking forward to it, too.
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Built in 1895-6, Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is located at the most south western point of Australia. It is also the point at which the Southern and Indian Oceans meet. The lighthouse is 40 meters tall and there are 176 steps to climb if you want to get up to the balcony. It was constructed out of limestone from Quarry Bay. It used to be run on a clockwork mechanism and a kerosene burner up until 1982 when they converted it to electric.
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is open from 8.45am to 4.30pm daily. They offer Guided Tower Tours every half hour from 9.00am to 4.30pm. There is an entry fee to walk around the lighthouse and a fee for the guided tour. If you want to go up to the top of the lighthouse, you need to join the guided tour. If the weather permits, you can walk around the balcony at the top of the lighthouse.
On the day that we went, the winds were so strong that you could lean into it and it would hold you up. I think that was the real highlight for the boys – G2, especially. He kept walking around and around the top of the lighthouse.
Lunch: Vasse Felix
It was a coin toss between Cullen and Vasse Felix for lunch, but we ended up choosing Vasse Felix because it had slightly higher ratings. I had the truffle pasta which was quite unusual because the pasta reminded me of Chinese noodle.
It was a picturesque place – quite a far cry from the shed it used to be back in the days when DH was still a student in UWA. It was raining when we arrived but the sun came out just before we left allowing the boys a chance to run around by the bridge.
Margaret River Chocolate Factory
This was by far the highlight of the day.
Especially when G1 saw this sign outside:
Time was short and we had one more stop to make before the end of the day so I didn’t get to try out the desserts at the cafe.
Ngilgy Cave (pronounced nilgy – with a silent first ‘g’) is set up so you can do your own self-guided tour, or you can book ahead for one of these adventure tours:
- Crystal Crawl Adventure tour – 3 hours ($110)
- Ancient Riverbed Adventure Tour – 2 hours ($60)
- Explorer Adventure Tour – 2.5 hours ($88)
- Ultimate Ngilgi Adventure Tour – 4 hours ($158)
Here’s a bit of a preview of what an adventure tour is like – it’s definitely not for the claustrophobic:
Since we were with the kids and grandparents, we decided to stick with the self-guided tour. Well, I say “self-guided” but they do give you a brief introduction at the start and then leave you to wander off on your own. The paths are all clearly marked so there’s really no way to get lost.
Ngilgy Cave also has an interesting Aboriginal Dreamtime Story about a good spirit, Ngilgy, who battles the evil spirit, Wolgine. Click the link to read more about it.
Ngilgy Cave was surprisingly the biggest letdown on the trip. I thought G2 would be beside himself to get a chance to crawl around inside a cave. He was excited for the whole of five minutes until he reached a point in the tunnel and wanted to go back. I don’t know what scared him but he just balked.
I took these photos with my phone but it doesn’t really do justice to the majesty of the place. You really had to be there.
A word of warning about the cave:
The carbon dioxide levels in the caves are elevated which may make you feel out of breath. You’ll also breathe a lot harder with less exertion because carbon dioxide triggers your breathing response. My mother felt a bit ill in the cave and struggled a bit.
Day 3 – Dunsborough to Pemberton
We were initially planning to do Mammoth Cave, but after the lukewarm response from the boys and grandma’s discomfort in Ngilgy, we decided to give it a miss. If you are really interested in the caves, you can get a multi-cave pass and visit all the caves along Caves Road – Ngilgy, Mammoth, Jewel, and Lake Cave. There are a couple of other caves as well but these appear to be the main ones.
Naturaliste Forum Centre U 14 42 Dunn Bay Rd
This place brought back a lot of memories – not because I’d been here before, but because it reminded me a lot of the old-school milkbars I used to visit as a kid. Back then, ten cents could get you three lollies!
A friend told us about this maze and it’s pretty fun. There are multiple challenges to try:
- Find your way to all four huts in each corner of the maze.
- Increase the challenge by finding the huts in the correct order of 1 to 4.
- Find 10 local Aboriginal words painted on the walls throughout the maze.
There is also a cafe with board games that you can play indoors. If you like any of the games, they have a games shop on the side with loads of cool puzzles, games and other stuff, like the ones from Smart Games and more.
161 Commonage Road
Although we came to Simmo’s for the ice cream – all 60 flavours of them – you can make a day of it because they also have an adventure playground, picnic and BBQ facilities, and mini golf course! Unfortunately, we were short on time so we visited only to enjoy the ice cream.
I think we’d have to spend a week in Dunsborough eating three meals of ice cream a day just to get through all their flavours.
We left Dunsborough and drove out towards our next port of call – Pemberton. Along the way, we stopped by the iconic Lavender and Berry Farm for lunch and their famous berry pancakes.
It was lovely but there was just too much food! I’d forgotten how large the Aussie portions could be. It’s starting to remind me of the food portions in Hawaii.
Gloucester Tree, located in the Gloucestor National Park, is one of three fire lookouts (built between 1937 and 1952) in the Karri forest still in existence. Created to help spot bush fires in the Karri forest, it comprises of a series of metal stakes hammered into the trunk of the tree spiraling all the way up to the lookout at the top (61 m up). It is designed to be climbed like a ladder but there is no safety net to catch you if you slip.
The other two trees which are can also be climbed in this fashion:
- Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree (75 m) – in the Warren National Park, 15 minutes drive from Pemberton.
- Diamond Tree (51 m) – between Manjimup and Pemberton. This one has a tree top cabin.
Although you have to pay to enter the park, there is no cost to climb the tree. In fact, there is no one manning the tree at all so you’re on your own. I managed to climb partway up the tree before my Elvis legs quit on me and I had to come back down. Yes, I lost my nerve up there. I can go rock climbing but I could not climb that tree.
It’s funny how differently our minds feel about climbing something with safety versus without. I climbed up a similar distance at Skytrex but was not phased because I was wearing a safety harness. If I could have put on a safety harness and clip myself to the pegs along the way up, I know I could have made it. It is not a fear of heights (acrophobia) but a fear of falling (basophobia) that stopped me from getting to the top of the tree.
We stayed at the Forest Lodge Resort which was a picturesque little place with lovely grounds to walk around. Pemberton is a great place for hiking. For more information on these hiking trails, visit Total Trails.
The native animals are pretty friendly at Forest Lodge Resort. Mama kangaroo and her joey were just a couple of friends who came to visit us in the morning.
Day 4: The Road to Albany
The next day, we left Pemberton for Albany and visited these places along the way:
Valley of the Giants
The Valley of the Giants is located in Tingledale – some point that is roughly midway between Pemberton and Albany. Home to a grove of Tingle trees more than 400 years old, you can take the 600 meter tree-top walk or wander through the Ancient Empire Walk. Some of these trees are so large that they have been known to grow up to a height of 75 meters tall, with a trunk circumference of more than 20 meters. One tree was reputedly so large that you could drive a car through the hollow at the base of the tree. Unfortunately, the Tingle trees have a shallow root system that is easily damaged by visitors and that tree fell down in 1990.
In an effort to protect these ancient trees, the tree-top walk was built in 1994 to 1995 so visitors could still enjoy the majesty of the trees without harming them.
There is also an Ancient Empire Boardwalk where you can find Tingle trees as huge as this Giant Tingle Tree:
Mount Romance Sandalwood Factory
Shop everything sandalwood from samples of sandalwood to sandalwood cosmetics and personal care products.
The Raw Honey Shop
Great place to pick up some honey at bargain prices. We particularly liked:
- Jarrah Honey – which is antibacterial and antimicrobial and offers a host of benefits and uses, including the treatment of ulcers, bad breath and sore throats. It’s said to be even better than Manuka Honey!
- Karri Honey – which is unique to Western Australia where the Karri trees grow.
The Gap and Natural Bridge
When I added this to the list, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be worth. When we arrived, the winds were so strong that they reminded us of Nuuanu Pali Lookout in Hawaii. There are two sections to view here:
1. Natural Bridge
This structure reminded me of London Bridge near the Twelve Apostles in Victoria. Over many thousands of years, the sea water, rain and ground water eventually wear away the rock to form this natural bridge. With enough time, the natural bridge may collapse just as the Victorian London Bridge did.
2. The Gap
The Gap is a wedge-shaped area where waves come crashing into so violently that the spray rises up out of the gap and into the air. You can watch the awesome power of the waves recorded in this video.
Note of warning: if your skin is dry, like G2’s was, the spray from the salty sea water can sting quite nastily.
This was a last minute spur of the moment attraction we went to check out. Unfortunately, it proved to be a long walk to a disappointing end. There is a sign at the start with a warning that you may or may not see anything. When we went, the wind was so strong that it was hard to stand our ground. I didn’t feel comfortable taking the boys down the rocky terrain at the end so we didn’t get to see anything. It was a nice walk with pretty views but we could have skipped it. You can check out what others have said on TripAdvisor about their experiences.
Day 5: Albany and Return to Perth
On our fifth day, we visited the Albany Wind Farm and the Whaling Station before we made the long drive back to Perth. Apparently, you can do a bit of whale spotting at both locations if you’re lucky. Unfortunately, we weren’t.
Albany Wind Farm
It was pretty wet and windy the day we visited so we didn’t end up taking the trails but you can see what it’s like from this video:
The kids can also learn a bit about wind turbines from this video.
Albany Whaling Station
The Albany Whaling Station was one of the last whaling stations to cease operations in Australia. Now the station has become a museum for visitors to learn about whales and whaling. There is quite a lot to see and it is recommended that you reserve about 3 hours to look around.
Things to see:
- The Cheynes IV Whale Chaser that was used to chase whales.
- The harpoon cannon containing an explosive in the head to speed up whale death in an attempt to be more humane.
- The whale museum with skeletons of whales that used to be hunted, including a sperm whale and a baleen whale.
- One of the largest seashell collections
- guided tour of the whaling station – about 45 minutes
- three movie rooms located inside the re-conditioned whale oil tanks
- wildlife park
- wildflower garden
- souvenir shop and cafe
After the whaling museum, we drove back to Perth where we visited friends, Fremantle market (which you can read about from our last trip), and SciTech (more about this in the next post).
It was a bit of a whirlwind trip down south/southeast and there was so much more to see that we didn’t have time for. 5 days doesn’t really give you much time to do justice to the place, especially when we tried to cover so much ground. When had initially planned to take my 2 year old niece along but in retrospect, it was probably a good thing she didn’t come. This would have been a difficult trip for a younger child.
More Sights and Sounds from Western Australia: