Chugging out of Denmark on a bright and breezy Friday in our trusty Hyundai Accent, our first stop was a treetop walk called The Valley of the Giants, which makes it sound very fairytale impressive. In reality, it was very impressive, though also very bouncy – meaning Katie got round the whole thing faster than Usain Bolt would have through fear she was going to die. We had to go round a second time just for me to get photos that weren’t blurred and videos that didn’t feature Katie’s panic, but still, I enjoyed it…
With Katie’s heart rate slowing to only about double its normal level, we headed to our next and my most anticipated stop of Margaret River. This is a town, a river and a region all with the same name, which is awfully confusing. Its about 3 hours drive south of Perth and has become a renowned wine region around it in the last 50 or so years. It won’t surprise you if you’ve read previous blogs that I will skip descriptions of the drive between the two, but we arrived at our backpackers intact to find that they’d double booked us.
At this point, we were pretty much praying that we were going to get upgraded from the 10 bed dorm we’d paid for to a private room. The manager shuffled around trying to fit us in, blaming a ‘new member of staff’ for the mix up – unfortunately for him Katie and I have both worked in retail and have both heard and used that excuse, so you can’t fool us. We obviously didn’t say this to his face as he was a huge Pacific Islander who probably weighed more than double me and certainly could have crushed us with one hand while double booking someone else with the other. (Sneaky little dig at the end there)
Fortunately, or at least so we thought at the time, he managed to move things around so that we were in a 6 bed dorm together for our first night and then a 10 bed dorm for the other 4 nights. Joy of joys. No private room or hotel upgrade for you. As we stepped into our 6 bed dorm at 4pm, the room was in darkness and one girl still asleep, which was an interesting introduction. With a quick drop of the stuff, a glance around and first impressions rapidly descending we got out of there.
Our Friday night plans had been decided for us already, as our old pal Carly was working at Colonial Brewing Company so we just had to go and see her. Our decision to visit was absolutely not impacted or swayed by the fact that they did $10 pizzas and Carly promised to shout us a beer either. Not one bit. (but cheers Carls.) Two pizzas and lots of good beer later, this turned out to be an excellent decision:
Katie drove home, because she is responsible and stuck to soft drinks, while I had grossly underestimated my ability to drink 6.5% IPA and spent the whole drive home slurring reassurances to Katie that there was no way we were going to hit a kangaroo. I’m not sure I was hugely convincing.
Luckily when I came round in the morning, the car bore no imprints of hopping marsupials so I can only assume the journey was a success. We had to be up at 10am to change rooms thanks to the double booking and found ourselves in a 10 bed dorm, with 8 long term residents.
There is a stage of travelling, that I’m sure everyone gets to, where you get a little bit tired of all of these new friends and the same conversations over and over. Here’s a handy guide to how any first conversation in a hostel will probably go;
- Make eye contact over something someone was saying and say hello
- Find out which countries you are from
- Ask how long you’ve been in the place you are in
- Ask how long you are staying in the place you are in
- Talk more about your plans for the place you are in
Naturally for most people, this gets repetitive repetitive and your enthusiasm for new friends and conversation dulls, though I will say that in Australia your German geography will improve immeasurably from these conversations as it appears half their population is over here.
Back to our case, the 8 residents had formed their friendship group in the hostel months ago and, somewhat understandably, had zero interest in these new arrivals (us). As a result, our hello’s were met with grunts, nods and turning away to their original conversations about which variety of narcotic the night would bring. All of this combined left us feeling a little uncomfortable in our dorm and along with the state of the kitchen, drove us to the decision to spend our time away from the hostel whenever possible.
If anyone’s feeling sorry for me at this point, that sympathy is about to disappear when I tell you that as a result we ate had our breakfast on the beach that morning looking out on the sparkling Indian ocean. It was only bread and Nutino (a budget Nutella, for all those who haven’t stooped as low as I have), but with the view it tasted just like the real thing. Sort of.
Our first day we avoided the wineries to make the most of everything else that Margaret River had to offer – which is a surprisingly large amount for a wine region. First up was Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, at the southernmost tip of the region.
Now. I am about to sound very tight. So please bear in mind that I haven’t had any income since October and won’t have any until at least April 2017. The cost of just walking up to this lighthouse, no entry, no tour mind – just going up to have a look at it, was $8 per person – around £5. Katie and I looked at each other and, weighing up whether not doing this was sensible financial planning or straight up ridiculous tightarsed-ness, nodded, turned back to the car and got out of there.
No regrets. It was a lighthouse. We just weren’t that bothered. Plus, $16 is like 1 and a half pints in Margaret River and I know which I’d prefer.
So! Onward, with cash safe in the bank and pursestrings so tight that even the most talented of London pickpockets from the Victorian era would find them a challenge. Next stop, something we were already aware of the cost of and happy to pay for because Carly had said so and we are nothing if not easily impressionable – Jewel Cave. Margaret River is full of caves, so much so that they’ve named the road that runs through the region ‘Caves Road’ and this was supposedly the best. Fair play to Jewel Cave, it was impressive, mainly for the reason that it was absolutely bloody huge (the biggest in the region) and yet lay undiscovered until the 1960’s. One note on Jewel Cave – not really any Jewels. It was called that because when it was discovered there was a giant lake at the bottom which made the limestone sparkle, giving it the appearance of jewels. Unfortunately the lake has now dried up, so there’s not really any sparkle. An interesting case of the Aussies naming something a little bit differently rather than the usual straightforwardness (think ‘Wave Rock’, ‘Cave Road’ and ‘Pink Lake’) and it completely backfiring. Should have just called it ‘Discovered A Bit Late Cave’. Still, it was very impressive.
After Jewel Cave our next stop was Hamelin Bay, another recommendation by Carly, thanks again pet. Here, Manta Rays swam in the shallows right next to the beach and luckily enough one was in the water when we arrived. It really does increase your admiration for Planet Earth cameramen when you try to take a photo of one of these rays;
Wildlife photography failure achieved, we headed up to Redgate Beach – a place I had been to in 2009 and remembered for the massive waves which are the reason I now know what life in a washing machine is like. It was as good as I’d remembered if not better – waves bigger than me crashing spectacularly over huge rocks, providing a surfer’s haven (Surfer’s Paradise was already taken by the selfish lot on the Gold Coast).
After collapsing on Redgate for a burn-worthy number of hours in the sun, we headed to Surfers Point for sunset before battling through the unfriendliness of the hostel common area to bed.
Our relationship with our new roommates continued to deteriorate when they insisted on leaving the window next to our beds and nowhere near theirs open all night. For them this meant a comfortable temperature. Which was great. The cramp we both woke up with and awful nights sleep preceding it was all worth it for these generous, welcoming, admirable –
You know what. It’s hard to be this sarcastic all the time.
Despite our eventful night, we entered the next day with optimism – and not just because I was about to spend a full day drinking good wine without paying a penny.
Summing up this day is a story of much wine and beer, all going my way, with food, chocolate and, weirdly, soap all added into the mix.
Instead of a long, boring and ultimately repetitive narrative, we’re going to go headfirst into this one in a Match of the Day style with the best stuff at the top and Stoke-West Ham left for the end, so you can feel free to drop off to sleep in true MOTD fashion at any allotted point.
Unlike Gary Lineker, I won’t be doing this in my underwear, just to reassure you.
To unnerve you again, you’d never know if I was writing this in my underwear.
So, let us move on from THAT awkward moment to our first highlight;
- The Margaret River Chocolate Company & Providore – Those who know me won’t find it entirely surprising that this kicks us off today. On walking into the chocolate company I was greeted by 3 insanely vast bowls of chocolate drops – white, milk and dark, all free for tasting as much as you could carry in your hand. Naturally I over filled my palm and ended up with melted chocolate everywhere. Providore, the shop attached to the chocolate company, had oils, jams and wine to taste for free, all of which I massively over indulged in and was a cracking start to a day to continue in the same indulgence.
- Knotting Hill Winery – Beautiful views with nice wine and thankfully no pressure to buy anything, which is good when you’re a backpacker and have to pretend you might buy something to justify free booze
- Blacks Brewing Company – Beer, lots of it and good beer too. Big fountain (do you think they’re compensating for something?). Arty photo opportunities
- Vasse Felix – If you need more evidence than the picture below, let me know
- Vasse Virgin – Soapy girly bath stuff for Katie, free food tasters for Al. Excellent all rounder.
- Bettenay Wine and Nougat – Superbly friendly staff and good wine. Can’t comment on the Nougat, as I don’t like Nougat. Nougat is a funny word. Not sure why I went to a Nougat place but there you are.
- Laurance – Nice, but a bit French. Shame.
Our day of wine tasting completed (due only, I will stress, to the wineries closing – I was still well up for it), we dropped the car and headed to meet Carly for a couple of drinks.
I now present two facts, without judgement;
- Carly is a Geordie
- We ended up spending over $100 and got sloshed
I’ll leave it for you to decide if they are related.
Alex Odlin has just realised that numbered lists are becoming a more frequent habit. He has 2 things to say about this;
- Can’t stop
- Won’t stop