We woke early and enjoyed a hearty breaky (pronounced brekkie) at the Three Anchors in Alby. (Hey – this learning the lingo is a real breeze!).  A group of other early risers were lifting weights with big grins on their faces outside the cafe.  Middleton Beach has a net line set up for swimmers (large marine animals can’t pass through it, but small fish can) and there were half a dozen of them braving the cool morning to have a dip in the ocean.  They all came in to the cafe to warm themselves against the roaring log fire – standing in bare feet to sip on their flat whites and long blacks.  No-one opted for a London Fog (a very sweet coffee, apparently) – we didn’t try it either.

​It was interesting to see that a 3 bedroomed house the same as the one we were staying in was on the market for $299,000 AUD (about £165,000).  The news in WA this morning is that the euthanasia is on the brink of being approved by the WA government in response to public pressure.  Same sex marriage is definitely nowhere near getting to the statue books though.

We pulled in at a garage in Albany (Alby) and were surprised to find that our car was filled up for us – the garage is proud to declare that it is 100% locally staffed.  It’s a long time since that happened in the UK.  The drive to our next stop near Bremer Bay was about two and a half hours straight, so we took a short detour via the Stirling Range National Park, which allowed us to climb Buff Knoll and enjoy the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.  The propensity to change colour through blues, reds and purples is captivating.  The Park has over 1,500 species of wildflowers with more than 100 different species of Orchids including renowned Queen of Sheba Orchids and Stirling Bells. The hike up to the Bluff Knoll (6km return 3-4 hrs) is well graded tourist track and the view from the top is spectacular.  We decided to get to the half way point (2 hours return) as we had a fair drive on gravel roads in too country ahead of us and didn’t want to risk arriving after dusk.  The path was very steep, but decorated with many pretty wildflowers – many of them white, interestingly.

Tip for Future Travellers
Many of the National Parks do not allow dogs or any other domestic animals.  They are treated with poison to deter anything that may prey on the indigenous wildlife (possums etc.).

The road passed through changing countryside as we drove past large fields of wheat en route to our next stop close to Bremer Bay.  A powder blue sky opened out before us – a sky so big you felt like you were right in the centre of the world somehow (rather than at the end of it!).  The sky was filled with whips of fluffy white clouds all around us – as if someone had spent the night tearing strips of a humungous cotton wool ball and let them go in the breeze to float away.  You just can’t do this sort of landscape justice with a single photo.  We stopped to refuel (never miss an opportunity!) at the Boxwood Hill Roadhouse – the last fuelling stop before we hit the wilderness of the Fitzgerald River National Park.  I’ve heard that Roadhouses are nicknamed a “chew and spew” here – this one didn’t serve any food though, so I suppose it wouldn’t count as one of those (unless you include mint flavoured Tim Tams, which I couldn’t resist purchasing.

Click on READ MORE (under photos) to find out what Quaaluup Homestead – our Wilderness Retreat in the Fitzgerald National Park was like and see more photos…

We were not sure what to expect from our next stop – it is in the heart of a wilderness area – and if I’m honest, we were a bit apprehensive.  As we drove up the long and winding gravel road to the Homestead, the landscape began to change quite dramatically.  Man-sized spires of fiercely bright orange and red Hakea punctuated the bush at the roadside – they were so bright, they looked as though they were on fire – amazing.  They stay this colour all year long.  The Homestead is basic, but really comfortable and our welcome was very warm – so we had no worries mate!  We hadn’t brought any provisions as we had pre booked breakfast and dinner each of the two days we were here, but a friendly Australian in the neighbouring unit sold us a 6 pack of Emu Export for $10 – thanks mate and no worries again!

Fitzgerald River National Park
Mid-way between Albany and Esperance – a gem of a national park declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. More than 1,800 beautiful and bizarre species of flowering plants thrive here, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. That’s nearly 20 percent of Western Australia’s entire collection of plant species.  It contains half of the orchid species in Western Australia (more than 80 – 70 of which occur nowhere else).  Wildflowers are generally blooming until the end of October, including royal Hakeas, Quaalup Bells, Sepulcralis, weeping gum, Pincushion Hakeas, woolly Banksia, possum Banksia and Grevilleas Macrostylis, four-winged Mallee, Barrens Regelia, Isopogons, Verticordias, orchids, tinsel lily, red kangaroo paw, fringed lily, painted lady and oak-leaved Dryandra.

On our first morning here, I woke at first light to a chorus of birdsong I had never heard before and the loud snoring of the friendly Australian guy in the next unit who had sold us the beers the previous night (no worries mate – honestly – such a nice guy!).  The light in Australia really is like nothing else on earth – it is out of this world.  The sun makes everything glow with a ferocious intensity – the sky was a deep cornflower blue by lunchtime, the earth a bright rusty red/ochre and the Hakea Victorias continued to glowed bright red, green and orange – like a natural kaleidoscope.  It is truly an incredible landscape here – unlike anything I have ever seen before.  We spent the morning walking through the bush from the Quaalup Retreat out to the gorge, through a rainbow of wildflowers.

Tip for Future Travellers:
If you want to see orchids at their best and carpets of flowers, you need to come a bit earlier than we did i.e. August/September.  By mid October, some of the flowers are over, so we are not seeing it at its absolute best, although it is still pretty spectacular.

Highlights:
The roos right in front of our door at the Retreat – some with a young Joey in their pouch.  We spent a couple of hours in pleasantly warm sunshine this afternoon just watching them at play – a real privilege. They bound around the Homestead and the surrounding bush so frequently that you are pretty well guaranteed to see one at close quarters if you stay here.

The unique vegetation/landscape. We saw a tiny leopard orchid – exquisite.  The sun orchid across the road stubbornly refused to open its petals for us though.  It would be extremely hard to spot even if it was in bloom, but out of bloom, it blends into the ground alarmingly easily – you could easily tread on it if you weren’t careful.

The milky way.  There is no light pollution here, so you can see a star filled sky at night if you get there before the moon comes out and ends the very spectacular show.  I couldn’t capture this on camera this time – but I will have a go at working out how to do that before we get to Exmouth, where I am hoping for another opportunity.  For now, you will just have to imagine it.  Think  of a huge diamond necklace torn apart and scattered all across an inky black sky for as far as you can see … just stunning.

Lowlights:
The flies – we needed our fly nets on the walk today.  Apparently, they are a real nuisance only in October/November, then they disappear.

The snakes – we saw one on the road on the way in – they are DEFINITELY out there!  The big question is have in key mind is – do snakes ever bite kangaroos?  If you k now the answer, please send me a comment.  If I had internet here, I would check it out!

Road closures – the road to Point Ann was closed until late on Wednesday afternoon due to previous wet weather – so no chance of spotting any whales/dolphins.

Foodie Firsts:
Local honey – eucalyptus of bauksia – served at breakfast and absolutely delicious – fresh and herby tasting and satisfyingly stiff to spread.

Glad I packed:
A torch, a fly net and my slippers – the nights are very chilly here at this time of year.

Photos I wished I’d taken:
Duck Orchid
An echidna
Dolphins at Point Ann

They are all here – right now – but very hard to spot.  The orchid is tiny and the echidna is nocturnal (once the days grow warmer).

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