Sigh….It’s getting cool: Barrie outdid us

Well it’s not a first I’m sure, and I’m sure it will continue to get more dramatic, but it’s the first time I’ve experienced it. The temperature in Barrie at 7 pm on March 27 was 3 degrees warmer than it was here in Mandurah at 7 am on March 28 (the same ‘time’). And from here we will continue to drop while you back in Canada head into summer…. ah well, such is life. (Despite how much we are enjoying our stay, we are missing you all and Canada too – although we’re not anxious to return just yet.)

For date night last evening, Mike & I headed to a local pub for dinner. It’s a bit different here – you go to the counter and order your meal and pay, and then they bring it to you (even some restaurants work this way). Not the same tipping as there is in Canada, and the price you see is the price you pay, taxes are all in. So even though the prices seem a bit high, it is probably cheaper in the end. We had a good hearty meal of roast lamb – warming on a cool evening.

From there we headed to the bowling alley and despite his phenomenal start, Mike failed to set his all time record. I must have been carrying something contagious, as Mike’s second game was nowhere near so impressive. And I was so miserable that I could not even hit 2 pins on my last chance to allow us to reach a grand total of 400 for our 4 games (2 each) combined. I’m blaming it all on Mike – he stressed me out by pointing out that I only needed to hit 3 pins to break the 100 average per game….OH THE PRESSURE….I’m just not used to it!!! Needless to say, Mike carried about 75% of that score….boy I am a lousy bowler!!!! Luckily I am able to laugh at myself….might as well as I’m sure everyone else did.

In honour of the temperature swing, I’m supplying another first – a blog with NO photos. We’ve now had several requests for more photos with us in them. I’ll speak to Mike – no promises, but watch for some ‘people’ shots as George and Marucia (Mike’s parents) visit this Friday. They are only here for a short stay – and on April 7 we (just Mike, Kyle & I) head north up the coast for 2 weeks on our first school break. I expect there will be a pause in posting as we likely won’t have internet access while we are away; followed by a flurry of postings as I catch up!!

Stay tuned!

Tail end of Rottnest Weekend

And here are the remainder of the photos from our Rottnest weekend. On Sunday Kyle and I attempted to squeeze in a very quick snorkel (no luck; the water was too rough and we did not have time to get to the other side of the island where it was sheltered). Mike meanwhile headed into town to catch some photos from the tour we did in the dark on Friday evening. He also visited the cemetery which we had not been to.

Photo’d here on the left is the quod, from the outside and below from within. It is now part of a resort, this being tourist accommodation. The centre of the quod is where the aboriginal slaves were hung if that was their sentence. The location will be turned over to the aboriginals once a decision has been made on an appropriate memorial for the spot. Given the large number of aboriginal tribes, that is not an easy, quick decision.

There are two churches on the island – the one here is the original (a service was taking place, so no inside photos).

Once Kyle & I reunited with Mike, we hit the local bakery for a sweetie and a marvelous loaf of bread to take to home. Then it was onto the ferry and back to the mainland (we had to leave the island early as Kyle had some tests to study for – after all we are here for more than a holiday you know!)

But before we rushed back home, we strolled around the sheds in Freemantle, and visited the submarine which was on display. There was also a ‘tall ship’ in dock which students and others can go on to learn to sail, or just to tour.



Then it was back home to work!!!!

The Rottnest Weekend Yet

We spent this last weekend once again with the educational exchange gang for a Professional Development weekend learning about (and enjoying) the Rottnest Island Environment. They really are a dedicated group to organize and donate so much of their time and effort on our behalf – MUCH appreciated!

Rottnest is a popular getaway for Perthonians – just a 1/2 hour by speedy ferry ride off of Freemantle (just west of Perth). It has many unique and interesting features. There are essentially no cars on the island. The island authority vehicles and busses are all that are allowed (we were lucky to have an island van follow us along on the bike route so that we did not have to carry all our gear!)

One of the first oddities you notice is the islands namesake. The island was originally (falsely) named for the ‘Rats’ – which are actually a marsupial – the Quokka. There are about 10,000 of them on the island. They are extremly adapatable and thrive where there are no natural predators. They are not the least afraid of humans and actually very cute and will let you pat them (although they are full of fleas and carry salmonella). Although nocturnal, there are still some out during the day also. On the mainland they are almost extinct with the introduction of feral cats and other predators – but on Rottnest they RULE.

We arrived on the island early Friday morning, picked up our bikes and headed to our accommodations – the barracks. We had our first educational introduction to the island with a seminar. Unfortunately the water was too rough so we had to forego our snorkelling tour. So instead we started cycling – and for the rest of the weekend it seemed all we did was cycle, and eat!! The island was originally about 70% forested – and they are hoping to get it back up to about 50%; now it is about 10%. Students take part in reforesting and the areas are fenced off from the Quokkas who quickly devour them out if not kept out. At the right here is one of the native ‘broccoli trees’.

Rottnest was a key strategic defense in the second world war protecting the harbour at Freemantle and Perth. The island was taken over and is still full of empty remnants of the posts. We visited the 9 inch gun which protected the waters. Surrounding the area were the original sand bags which are now totally fossilized – they even have the burlap still intact in places. The gun itself is one of only 3 remaining in the world.

We went below into the loading area where 5 men would man the gun. This gun was actually only fired once from this location with real ammo – as it was being retired at the end of the war (and that instance was a fiasco as it hit a sand dune).

We also visited the tunnels under the gun where the munitions and engines for the gun resided – you really feel a sense of history as you walk the steps of those who worked here. Most of the content is now gone since the scrap metal was all taken away after the war. Only the gun remained due to its weight.

All around the island there are lookout posts and pillboxes where men were positioned as lookouts. Check out the warning post below the graffiti on the this one munitions station (at left).

We returned and a had tour of the barracks before dinner (Mike took photos on Sunday which I will post tomorrow). After dinner, we did an evening walk into town and toured the original settlement. Again, lots of history. The island was also an aboriginal prison from 1838 to 1931. The original prison is now tourist accommodation – kind of creepy to me. Given the islands history, there are also many ghost stories which we were treated to!

The photo here shows the quokkas at night feasting under an olive tree. They do look a little spooky here, despite their daytime cuteness.
The next day (Saturday) we were back on the bikes to do the full island bike tour. The group of us totalled 21: 20 on the bikes and one in the van. Mike held back to get this shot with Ted (our gracious leader and host) pulling up the rear of our gang, with Lindsay (our fearless co-leader) driving the van behind. We are all strung out ahead of him as we headed to the lighthouse. As a group, we only got split up and lost 2 or 3 times….but given the size of the island (11km long by max 4.5km wide) it wasn’t too big a deal.

On our journey we passed several Osprey nests and several hovered overhead. This photo was from a family of 5 who were flying over us. We could hear them calling to each other. One was resting on a signpost also, but as Mike approached he took off. Very majestic, but not too smart apparently. We were told of one that drowned as it did not know to release a fish which was too heavy (their talons contract automatically in coordination with their legs

being pushed forward to catch a fish) and it was pulled under water.
The nests (seen at left) are used year after year and some are decades old. This one at left is quite old as you tell from its size. If a pair decides to use one, they just patch it up and each year they grow in size. There are about 8 breeding pairs on the island at this point.

We

made our way around the island, stopping at the midpoint for lunch with some spectacular views. The bays are full of boats of all varieties – and there is no shortage of yachts such as the one on the right here. There is lots of money on the west coast of Australia these days with all the mining and oil!!

But perhaps the highlight of the trip was the snorkelling. Although we did not get to snorkel on Friday, Saturday was a bit calmer.

The final unique fact about Rottnest is that it has the most southern coral reef in the world. The warm currents run down off shore from the coast and run right past Rottnest. There are wonderful corals right off shore which you can snorkel through. Our time snorkelling was short but sweet . You can see some of the coral reefs at right.

We have purchased an underwater camera bag for our little point and shoot camera and this was our first chance to try it out. Kyle at left and some reef fish at right (in case you weren’t sure which was which).

Hopefully we will become more skilled at taking underwater shots for our upcoming trip to the Ningaloo reef in a couple of weeks. This snorkelling has really whetted our appetite for more!!

Fruits of the Ocean – Fishing and Crabfest

We rose early on Saturday to meet Gwilly who very kindly took us fishing at the beach. We had dressed for a Canadian fishing trip, which we quickly found out is not quite appropriate! Fishing at the beach on the ocean it is impossible not to get wet – we just waded right in anyway – nothing the washing machine could not deal with.

Apart from the attire, the first noticable difference was the fishing rods which are much longer so as to cast out further. We could have managed that no problem were it not for the fact that the seaweed had come in shore this week. Naturally, the fish weren’t biting where the beach was clear, so we had to move to the weeds. Avoiding getting snagged was a real challenge – we lost only a small amount of tackle and Gwilly your patience was much appreciated.

The second difference was the bait. As per the photo, maggots are the bait of choice (which are perpetually raised using the fish heads from the last catch as breeding ground – works quite effectively). We did try worms also. They are not the same as our earth worms – these ones had legs and looked like a cross between an earthworm and a centipede.

 

As you can see, my first catch here in Aus, was not so impressive. Despite the common conception that everything is bigger down under, my first fish didn’t fill the prophecy. But larger ones followed (and this little fellow got to live for bigger days). We ended up with a reasonable haul considering our skill level (thanks to Gwilly primarily). Mike and I each managed to catch a garfish (the ones with the long snout like a mini-marlin). Despite his efforts, Kyle had no luck unfortunately. Gwilly very graciously gave us the haul to take home and taste (and you may notice that there was one herring in the bunch also). It was one of the ‘local’ experiences that are making our exchange very memorable and distinct from a regular vacation.

On Sunday I actually found a recipe on the internet and cooked up the bunch – which turned out quite tasty – although Mike & Kyle both struggled with the bones (nothing new there).

Later in the day on Saturday, we headed down to the waterfront for Crabfest.

 

Mike stopped by the skatepark to check out the competition. Some impressive tricks, especially given that the kids are local. The first aid van was right next to the park – but at least for our visit it was only on standby. The skate/bike parks are well used here. The skateboarders and bikers of all ages seem to share the park very peacefully and there is usually an impressive bunch of tricks being performed.

 

We hooked up with Richard & Phillipa and checked out the Crabfest parade. The aboriginal float was quite good, but I have to admit that another stuck in my memory the most. I am not quite sure what it was supposed to be, but it was a giant animated robot which looked the alien from the Predator. It was eating a giant crab. Running along side the float was a guy handing out chicken hats. The had a chicken body on top of your head with legs hanging down around your ears. Despite my best efforts, I could not convince Kyle to grab me one, and my own efforts to run the float down failed. Ah well, it probably would not fit in my luggage at any rate.

We headed along the booths with the rest of the crowds.

 

Lots of the crab dishes were already sold out by 5pm – the talk of low catch volumes appeared to be true. Saving most of our appetite (we did have a small snack), we hit a restaurant – Hans – for dinner. We also had our traditional St. Patrick’s day drink in memory of Dada (Mike’s Irish grandfathers birthday). The restaurand was very good value oriental food. We managed to consume enough food and drink to take us to fireworks time.

We sauntered down to the docks to have a front row seat for the show. The evening was perfect to sit outside – not even any bugs.

The fireworks were not disappointing. They were labelled ‘Ballet on Water’ – and we found out why. There were actually fireworks launched which landed on the water and after dancing on the water for a while they launched into their own display. There were two launch points from the shores and at times action was everywhere – on the water and in multiple points in the sky all at once.

I also found the colours were quite noticable – both the brilliant colours you have come to expect, but also subtle pastel colours which were still vibrant.

The grand finale was so bright that some of Mikes shots don’t do it justice since they are totally white – but hopefully this one gives you a sense of their brilliance.

We closed off the night by heading back to Richard and Phillipa’s sitting out on the deck watching natures fireworks (lightning show) and we were even treated to a very brief rain shower (lasted perhaps 10 minutes!) as we headed home.

Yet another great day with great company from start to finish.

Assimilation has Begun

Well it’s only been a few weeks, but in some small ways we truly are starting to become locals. We now are the proud owners of Mandurah Public Library cards (it wasn’t an overly thrilling date night, but we did get out :-). We borrowed a bunch of stuff – including some DVDs.

We know that we are assimilating after watching the movie – a driving scene. Something was wrong, it just looked weird. Then we realized that the driver was on the wrong side of the car, and was driving on the wrong side of the road. Both Mike and I were thrown off by how disoriented it made us feel. Is this what it’s like for the lefties of the world (and there are quite of few of you who could be reading this that I know of)? Everything just not quite right?

Pinjarra HS had their swim meet this week with the whole school attending. Lots of pool activity, with even the teachers competing! Mike was busy photo-ing, so he managed to avoid competing so as not to embarass himself too much :-).

This weekend is Crabfest in Mandurah, so we had crabs this week in honour – lots of fun trying to get them cooked. Mike headed over to the estuary and caught some photos of the ‘crabbing’. The small bird was essentially frozen in mid-air hovering over the catch area, hoping. The herons just look after themselves quite successfully.

Some travel updates, we’ve had a quick email from Marucia and GL (Mike’s parents) to let us know that they are in New Zealand safely and touring – by now in the south island. They will arrive here at the end of March and we will have about a week together with them before we head off on our April trip up the west coast of Australia, and they head off to tour more of Australia – quite the itinerary they have!

And Patrick (our OTHER son) has his flight booked also and will arrive here mid May till mid August. Plans are in the process for his activity while down here – don’t want to put anything in print until it’s firmed up. Can’t wait to see our baby!

And finally, I hate to gloat, but the weather here for the past many days has been perfection. The day time highs climb to high 20’s or low 30’s, but with a light breeze and no humidity. The evenings cool off to mid teens with a nice breeze for perfect sleeping conditions. It just doesn’t get any better.

But I must add, I did notice one instance where the temperature in Barrie was just 4 degrees cooler than here – looks like spring is coming in Canada and you will pass us soon I’m sure as we head into winter.

Fun Park (and note it’s only 13 hours)

You may notice that we are now only 13 hour apart from Ontario – this will only last for 2 weeks as we are about to come off of Daylight Savings Time here on March 24/25. This is the first year they have had DST in Western Australia. Very mixed acceptance – some like it, others hate it. Anyway, in 2 weeks time we’ll be exactly 12 hours apart – easier to figure out at least!

Last evening we popped over to a local abandoned theme park which had been in the fires just before we arrived here. It has been out of business for quite some time it appears as there is extensive graffiti around the property (Mike did his best to keep it hidden). Made for some interesting photos though as you can see.

The other interesting thing here is the rejuvenation of the vegetation. If you check out the tree on the large photo, you can actually see the new green leaves on the top of the tree. The ground is now covered with the dried leaves which are falling off the trees, but the new ones are now sprouting.

Not all trees are recovering, but the more established ones with thicker trunks/bark seem to be coming back now. The smaller photo shows a tree with a completely burnt trunk. It is now sprouting new shoots right out of the trunk. On the ground, some of the plants which you would think are totally dead are actually now starting to thrive. These fern looking plants (sorry, don’t know the name!) are cropping up all over – this one is right out of its burnt out shell.

Another Perth Visit

Back to Perth this weekend. We had coffee the first visit at this cafe, and just had to return for breakfast. We were not disappointed! I had a stack of blueberry pancakes (sans maple syrup however), and Michael had Eggs Benedict. Quite lovely.

Spent the rest of the day at the beach primarily – without the cameras. Sorry, but Mike needs some time off from behind the lens!

Albany, Bridge & Gap, Whales and the Gloucester Tree

We continued our long weekend on Sunday with a visit to Albany and surrounds. Mike found some interesting shots around the town while Kyle & I checked out the tourist info centre to plan our days itinerary.

First we hiked up to a lookout point from within the town. En route there were again memorial trees dedicated to those who fought in wars. Next stop was to drop by the oldest farm in Western Australia. Albany was the first settlement area in WA, so there is lots of history in the area. Had lots we wanted to see so didn’t go in, but did browse around the lovely gardens.

The local guide recommended ‘The Squid Shop’ for lunch which we did. Bit of a wait for our order as it’s a very popular place, but worth it. The shop was near the pier with the typical pelican regulars. This fellow landed on the light post straight over Mikes head.

Our next stop was back down to the coast for more rock formations. The bridge is a natural bridge formed by the erosion of the granite rocks. That lttle speck on the rock is Kyle (click to enlarge and you may be able to actually see him). The rock face to the right was quite spectacular also – very subtle colours which you cannot see in the shadows here. The bridge will eventually erode away to form a ‘gap’ similar to the one photo’d here.

These rock formations really do emphasize the power of the ocean. Standing listening to the waves pound on the rocks it is hard not to be humbled next to the forces at work. Beautiful and scary all at once.

It was then getting late in the day, but we decided to squeeze in one last visit – to the Whale World centre. This is not a museum to whales, but rather of Whaling. Very informative and they really did hide nothing – all the gore of the industry was on display. This whaling station was in production until 1978 when it went folded due to financial reasons – the ships needed replacing and the cost of whale oil was plummeting due to new synthetics – so they shut down. It was only recently made into a museum.

Dad will appreciate the engine at left – pulled from one of the ships. They even fired it up for us. Not so familiar to Dad would be the harpoon on the front of the ship seen here. The nose of the torpedo has an explosive inside and is meant to explode shortly after connecting with the whale. Quick painless death if they shoot it in the head successfully. They would go out at 4:30 am – 3 ships and an aircraft for spotting. Spend the day shooting whales, tagging, inflating (so they don’t sink), releasing. Then at the end of the day, they’d pick up the ones killed and drag them back to an off shore rock (mini island). Next day the processing would take place. One by one the land crew pulled in the whales and took them apart for ‘rendering’. Almost the entire whale went into the cookers – only the bladder was tossed back to the ocean. Lots of blood and gore – photos on display showed it all.

There were several skeletons on display along with the tools of the trade. The skeletons were interesting since they were mounted low – you really felt the size on the animals. We had seen large whale skeletons before, but they are usually mounted overhead and so you lose the scale a bit. We were quite rushed as they were closing, but very interesting and informative – worth the visit.

Monday morning found us back on the road for some final touring before heading home. We were looking for a beach from one of the flyers, but ended up at a deserted point – but there was one bloke out there fishing away from the shore – quite peaceful.

We stopped by a favourite surf beach – but it was too early and the surf wasn’t up yet. Lots of boards and lifeguards around actually, but all anticipating a day we could not wait for.

Our final stop for the day was at the Gloucester Tree. We parked outside the park and hiked in along a short stretch of the Bibblumun trail (runs from Perth to Albany).

 

 

Nice forest – but there are lots of signs warning not to wander into the woods due to the snake risk! We stuck to the path. Kyle did venture off a couple of feet to climb onto this fallen and cut tree so that you had a sense of scale however.

And this is the Gloucester Tree – it is a fire spotting tree – 63 metre climb to the top (which we all did – and my butt can still attest to that 2 days later!). It is one very long ladder climb to the top. The view was great from the top – but it was the feeling of being on the very top a single tree that was unique.

 

Back at the bottom, someone was feeding the ring neck parrots – any where there are humans with food the wild life becomes much less sensitive to our presence. As Mike was taking his shots, one of them landed on his shoulder – too close to photo unfortunately! (Can you spot all 5 of the birds?)

We did make one more stop at the beach in Bunbury since the weather is really warming up again, and it’s a long drive.

RIght now as I type this, it’s 37C here and headed for over 40 again today. Records are being broken with the heat. Guess summers not over just yet!

Denmark, Valley of the Giants, Elephant Rocks & Greens Pool

We started our day at our old stone cottage in Denmark. It was on the side of a riverbank. Further up stream were some mangrove swamps – sans crocodiles this far south.


Before heading out for the day, we caught this spider having breakfast. It decided to leave the first beetle – on the left – for later (just spun it up a bit to make sure it didn’t escape). But the second beetle – the one being dragged into the spiders den – was a quick snack right off.

While our destiny was elsewhere, we naturally had to stop at the local tasting outlet – this time the toffee shop. Much to Kyles and my approval, Mike went off to photo whilst we sampled the treats. The farm was quite picturesque with the typical farm animals. And again, the ever present crows and scenic trees.

We first headed to the Valley of the Giants – the
remnants of the Karri and Tingle Tree forests. There is a forest top walk which ramps up to the top of the trees allowing a wonderful view of the forest.

The vibration on the bridge is extreme – it was difficult for Mike to get any decent shots since there was always someone walking. The sway on the bridge was several feet without even trying to make it do so!

There is also a forest bottom walk where you get a very sore neck from looking up.

The forest is primarily Tingle and Karri. There are both Red Tingle and Yellow Tingle trees. The red have very shallow roots, so widen at the base for stability – and also have redder bark. The wider ones are often split due to age and fire damage. Several of them you are able to stand inside of (if you can avoid the spider webs)

These trees are amazing in their ability to survive. You see great chunks of a tree which has been destroyed by fire and yet the tree just plods on growing new branches and picking up where it left off. The Karri trees lose their bark and are very smooth.

Next we headed to the ocean – and the weather co-operated nicely as it was warming up and the sky cleared. Greens pool is a beautiful sheltered bay with white sand and green waters (photos are mostly from the outside rocks protecting the bay). There are rocks all around the shore which you can hike across to explore the coast – being careful to stay on the flat dry ones!

There are also scenic views back into the hills behind you from the coast. This area is much hillier than where we are living.

Further down the beach after a short walk (where we spotted our first large lizard), you come to Elephant Rocks. The white dots on the large rock on the right of the photo are people standing at the base of the rocks – they are quite large. I think I would have named them Whale rocks tho’, as they remind me of whales more than elephants.
The rocks in this area are mostly granite with veins of quartz. However there was this interesting slice along the side of the cove which seemed to be full of iron and the patterns in the rock were very different than the
surrounding landscape.

We finished the day with a visit to yet another beach – Madfish bay. It was very a cove with a small island where the surf came around both sides to meet in the middle at a sand bar. Just off to the side was a great area for body surfing – smallish waves as the bay was protected, but still enough for fun. Kyle had a great time while Mikey napped on the beach. I could not resist and joined Kyle in the water.

We headed back to the cottage all exhausted and rented our first DVD here for a quiet night. Needless to say, we slept well. All in all a great day – perhaps my favourite so far.

Trip through Dwellingup Fire Region

We started our trip down to the southern coast on Friday when I picked up Kyle and Mike from school and we started the over 4 hour drive down to Denmark. Our route first took us through Dwellingup where the fires did the most damage. It was eerily quiet and the devastation left you feeling empty. We passed several homesteads which were either fully or patially destroyed also.

These shots only begin to capture the effects of the fires. From accounts of those involved, one of the most terrifying aspects was the noise. The roar of the fire and the exploding of the tree nuts disturbed even those who were prepared for the fires. The most disgusting part is that most of the fires were started either intentionally by arson, or by careless tossing of cigarettes from car windows.

The tree on the left (not the one in the foreground!) was quite intriguing as it was obviously 1/2 in the fires, and 1/2 spared. What is most impressive however, is how the trees and landscape recover. In the future, we’ll include some photos of the local park which was burnt. There are trees which looked totally destroyed which are now beginning to sprout new greenery. Life here really has adapted to deal with the heat and fires which come with it.