Doing Donnybrook

Donnybrook's Spring Valley Orchard is an organic wonderland of Pink Lady and Sundowner apples. We find EXACTLY the sort of hands-on orchard experience we have been hankering for - a tour of the sorting shed, meet and greet with the chickens and roosters in residence, a chance to pick from the trees til our buckets are full, topped off with a visit to the kitchen garden where the kids sample cherry tomatos and sunflower seeds straight from the earth. We leave an hour or so later with seeds in our pockets, silverbeet on our laps and ten kilos of fresh apples in the boot.

Apples lined up on the sorting belt in all their glory. Benji's first comment - "Why do the apples have leaves on them?" Unbelievable!
Intense concentration as Jack chooses just which rosy red apple to pluck from the tree next. We learn that the apple is not to be pulled or shaken or cut, but simply rolled backwards over the branch so that it snaps off by itself. We all master the technique and agree that there is NOTHING better than the taste of an apple freshly picked.
The happy apple picking gang with Spring Valley Orchard farmers Diana and Jeffrey. The kids are amazed to hear that Papa David actually spent six months on an apple farm in Shepparton after arriving in Australia as a toddler. Papa, a farmer from way back... who would've guessed! 

Nannaton, Papaton, Busselton.

And then there were seven.

In Busselton we have two guests join us in our adventure story, with Sam's folks flying in for a 48 hour visit. We snap lots of photos, take a day trip to Donnybrook: the apple capital of WA, walk the Busselton jetty (twice), go fishing, play lots, and cuddle lots more. We enjoy a mixed bag of meals together - caravan style with homebaked bread, picnic style when we're on the road, and even two dinners out (pure novelty for us, since our only other fine dining experience was at the Pub in Streaky Bay).  Mostly we just delight in sharing each other's company after almost three months apart before, all too quickly, its time to say goodbye.

And then - again - there were five.

Huge smiles all round at our meal together (EVEN from serious papa) - after we'd promised the kids there'd be a "couple of surprises" at lunchtime. Rikki's comment when we asked her what she thought upon opening her eyes and seeing her grandparents in the caravan- "I just kept thinking I was dreaming". 
Hard to tell who is happier.
Standing at the end of the reknowned Busselton Jetty, at 1.8km it is the longest timber jetty in the whole Southern Hemisphere. Walking it's length fills in the whole afternoon and is serious exercise, but with Nanna and Papa here, noone is complaining!
Returning to the jetty for a final morning fish.

Cave Wonders

The Jewel and Mammoth Caves in Margaret River are enormous, amazing underground kingdoms full of stalagmite and stalactite beauty. Our tours of both leave us shivering from the chill AND the thrill of being so deep in the belly of the earth. We also come away with the handy reminder: "Stalactites hang tightly to the roof; Stalagmites might grow tall." Will hold us in good stead for future cave exploring.

Staring at a stalactite or two in the Jewel Cave.
Meandering through the Mammoth Cave. In this one we had headsets instead of a tour guide - no points for guessing who got frustrated with their headset within the first two minutes (amazing how tantrums can echo in an enclosed underground space...)
Climbing our way out of the Mammoth Cave - Benji can just be seen towards the top of the stairs.

Farmstay at Margaret River

Finally, a farm stay! At Taunton Caravan Park, which is also an active cattle farm, the kids playground backs onto paddocks of cows, horses and sheep, and we can mark each day's end with the 5pm "Feeding of the Animals". Not unexpectedly, the park is a magnet for travelling families, and our kids are hard to spot amongst scores of raucous pre-teens.
We use the farm as our base for exploring the Margaret River area - after four days we're sorry to leave, but satisfied that we've managed to cram pretty much everything on offer into our stay. The jury is out as to what we loved the most. Hot contenders:
* Sampling our way through the valley of grape and food factories where the grown ups find wine, coffee and nuts... and the kids find cookies, chocolate and fudge. One word for all: Yum.
* Touring the Jewel and Mammoth Caves, each a breathtaking natural wonder of mind boggling proportions.
* Stumbling across a treasure trove of childhood memorabilia in Witchcliffe... including a bundle of vintage Mad and Cracked magazines (of course we snap up the lot).
* Enjoying two enormous scoops each at Millers Icecreamery... then having Jack steal the show with his ability to quote huge chunks of Mad Magazine humour verbatim (Mad having quickly usurped his Simpsons collection).
* Discovering the famous Coweramup bread that is unofficially ranked best in the west... That is, until Sam's new recipe delivers challah on Friday night that pips it at the post to win hands down.
* Watching Jack discover and then master the art of swing jumps... then pass the baton onto Benji, so that by our final day there are two blond heads soaring through the air.
Other worthy mentions include: the meat pie stop in Dunsborough, the "3 kids books for only sixty cents" windfall in Cow Town, the boiler stove marshmallows, the 7-hour rainstorm, and the family-run hedge maze - all delicious in their own way. As to whether there was anything we didn't love, nothing springs to mind. There was that unexpected (and eerily dejavu) episode of "pooze in my undies" during our visit to Happs Winery, but, well - we'll leave that one alone.

5pm Feeding of the Animals. Followed by the 5:15pm Feeding of the Biharys. Dinner time comes early now that the sun sets by 5:30 and we're all knackered and in bed by seven.
The kids enjoy a game of Bull Rush. Here Benji is the nominated bull and the rest of the gang need to race across the length of the jumping pillow without him tagging them. As always, Benji has his bike helmet on, which he now seems to wear from breakfast til bedtime so that he can jump on and off his bike at will.
Jack. Airborne. Again.

Augusta wind (a gust of wind...)

In our Augusta caravan park we are surrounded by ducks, and we take to the place like ducks to water ourselves. Situated right on the banks of the Blackwood River, we watch the sun rise each morning over the water as its many inhabitants awake to greet us - fish, of all sizes, crabs, and even dolphins. The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse that sits at the point where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet is a must see, so we make sure to see it twice - by day AND by night. And with the weather somewhat rainy, we find ourselves also enjoying some quality down-time, caravan style: catching rainwater to drink, fishing off the pier in the wet, and mixing new paints on the grass.

Benji poses for the obligatory Lighthouse snap. The other two kids are too grumpy to smile, after we find out that the lighthouse is closed for repairs for the whole of May, so we can walk around it, but not inside as promised. Bummer.
The other obligatory snap of the point where two great oceans converge.
A glass of fresh rainwater, anyone?
Sign sighted at the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. We wanted to find a replica for use INSIDE our caravan, but we're out of luck. 

The Almighty Tree Tower Climb

The tower on the top of the Bicentennial Tree in Pemberton is about 75 metres above the ground. The first rest platform is 25 metres up. There are 130 climbing pegs and in high winds the cabin at top sways up to 1.5 metres in either direction. Budge conquers the climb to the first rest platform, only to be greeted with a sign exclaiming “THAT was the easy part”. After deliberating for a long five or so minutes, he rises to the challenge and slowly but surely inches his way to the top. He returns to loud applause, an even bigger hero in all our eyes.

Setting off on the climb. Two other adults in front of us have attempted it already and made it to this point, only a few metres above the ground, before sheepishly backing down again. Note the complete absence of any sort of safety net beneath the climbing pegs and the sizeable gaps between them.
Onwards and upwards after stopping to catch breath - and summon up a good dose of courage - at the first Rest Station.
The full tree in all its glory... with Budge in all his glory,  in the tower at the very very top. 
The camera zooms in on our hero, hands held high in victory (and eyes focused firmly forward to avoid the inevitable vertigo when looking down).

Pemberton and it's Pets

Pemberton offers us another caravan park nestled within a forest setting, so that we almost feel like we are camping - except that we can keep the heater on at night (somewhat important at this stage as the night are increasingly chilly), as well as do our laundry. The park also scores highly for its hikings trails as well as the friendly wildlife that share our living space - and Pemberton proper endears itself to us with a tram ride, an impromtu picnic and the great Centennial Tree Tower.

Within minutes of our arriving at the caravan park, Budge is surrounded by ducks and birds and later that night, by the fire, finds a bandicoot nuzzling at his feet. Ace Ventura Pet Detective... eat your heart out!
Of everyone Rikki is the most enraptured by our feathered friends and disappears to feed them at every opportunity. We keep making her sing a few bars of "Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag..." before we hand over any bread or seeds from our pantry.
A spoonful of peanut butter has become a popular treat - and an artistic challenge, as the kids use their tongues to sculpt various landmarks we have visited, such as Frenchman's Peak, Wave Rock, Bluff Knoll, Woody Island... Benji's previous best was "the straightest road ever" but he surpasses it with this lateral work of abstract art, which he announces loudly as "Peanut Moustache". 
Another "Freak of Nature" entry.... two Marri redgum trees, same species, one with wrap around bark, the other straight up and down.

Windy Harbour blows us away

We blow into the seaside settlement of Windy Harbour – hike the cliff top, stoke two campfires, fish for salmon, revel in having a spacious grassy field outside our van to picnic and play, discover new pleasure in baking our own bread for lunch – and just over 24 hours later, we blow on out again.

Girl-With-A-Gap (now two teeth missing!) in front of the Rock-With-A-Gap on the D'Entrecastreaux Cliff Walk. 
The kids find out that the only thing better than a campfire at night ... is a campfire in the morning, with warm porridge to boot! The previous night they had taken the initiative to build the campfire from scratch themselves - scoring high on teamwork and cooperation, not so high on results (but nothing that some subtle tampering by daddy couldn't fix).  
During our morning of beach fishing we discover that even at a place named Salmon Beach we’re still not guaranteed a bite. Nevertheless the kids enjoy their new favourite game - playing chicken with the waves. Of course, no matter the weather, no matter the time of day, no matter the level of supervision, no matter how long or how short a window of time, Benji always ALWAYS ends up soaked, semi-naked and covered in sand like a chicken schnitzel.

Jack, meet Jack.

Since Port Lincoln the kids have been captivated by optical illusions (after encountering one on the Tuna Swim excursion). At the Circular Pool in Walpole Jack manages to star in his own when he takes a private moment reflecting on... himself. Which way is up, indeed!

Is is Jack on top? Or below?
Flipped the right way up, the big picture provides some perspective... and shows the captivating beauty of the river that kept us enthralled for ages. 

Land of the Giants

In this part of south-west WA the trees are on serious steroids and no matter how much time we spend in their tall company, we can’t really come to terms with the sheer size of the enormous Tingles and Karris that grow up to 80 metres high, live for up to 500 years, and can be found nowhere else in the world.

We spend two days in Walpole, and a night in Shannon National Park. Time enough to enjoy the views from the Treetop Walk in the Valley of the Giants, cycle 3km of the famous Bibbulmun trail (that stretches 965km from Albany to Perth), walk the 35 metre circumference of the Giant Tingle Tree, fish off an inlet pier (where we catch all the colours – BLUE swimmer crab, King George WHITEing, BLACK Bream… all too small to keep but at least we know the rods are working), introduce the kids to the simple pleasure of racing leaves down the rapids at Circular Pools, and even get a start on two novels (Sam finishing hers, a full 446 pages, in less than 48 hours).

Starting out on the Treetop Walk, another example of engineering mastery. Already all three kids have sprinted ahead, unimpressed by the trees that they have no way of putting into any sort of context... and their loud squabbles can be heard echoing across the valley as we amble our way, ever so slowly, to rejoin them.
Further into the Treetop Walk, which gets more and more magnificent with every step.
(As compared to the children's voices, which get louder.. and louder..)
Our tiny tingles at the base of the giant tingle.
Now inside the Giant Tingle and still feeling tiny as ever.

Denmark Delivers!

In Denmark we find a quaint, quirky, green village surrounded by lush pastures with fat cows and an array of distinctive beaches. We like it straight away, even more when we check into our caravan park, find ourselves on the banks of an inlet and discover that we can hire a boat - finally! - without needing a license. So we do. It’s a change from our usual cycling/ hiking/ 4W-driving repertoire … though we manage to fit in plenty of that as well.

Denmark also gives us our first social outing for the trip when we make plans to catch up with a friend who settled here years ago and has created an idyllic farmstead and family. It’s an intoxicating afternoon of great food and adult conversation, and we ride home in darkness laden with chestnuts picked from their garden. Thank you Sarah, Gavin and girls – your hospitality was awesome!
As tempting as it is to linger, what with Budge even receiving two offers of work... we push on.

Skipper Bihary sets sail, steering the tinny that we hire for a morning. The kids giggle themselves silly at how chubby they each look with lifejackets underneath their jumpers... and its a sunny smiley morning of fishing until the (some might say inevitable) loss of a fishing rod overboard. So far on our travels we have had to replace 3 rods. Time to go back for a 4th. 
Morning swim on Mothers Day at Greens Pool beach. Jack dares himself to swim all the way to the rock, which is impressive enough, but even more so when Sam joins him later and discovers for herself just how far out from how it really was. You can just see his proud little head bobbing in the water. 
Budge's beard gets a trim and we use the clippings to turn Benji into a mini Merv Hughs. We laugh almost as hard as we did the night before when walking along the beach at sunset and discovering that Budge's gait had him leaving footprints in the sand that had a big toe but no others. "Wow, look, I've lost my toes...!"

A whale of a time in Albany

Albany is the biggest city we've seen for a while, second largest in the state of WA after Perth. So it makes sense that everything about our visit is very big indeed.

* There are the big windmills at the city's wind farm, generating an impressively big supply of eco-power;
* The big rock shaped like the head of a dog, named, not surprisingly, Dog Rock;
* The big scenic bike ride that we undertake on the second day, spanning a hilly 6km along the coastline from our caravan park into the city centre - that takes us a big 2 hours to complete - sees us encountering lots of big goannas on the path - evokes lots of big protests (and necessitates lots of big rest-stops) along the way - but is rewarded with the biggest icecream sundae we've ever seen at the end - bringing big big BIG smiles all round;
* The big experiential experience at Albany's Whale World, formerly the last active whaling station in Australia (...and big sense of shame at how many of these beautiful creatures were killed in our waters up until the 1970s);
* The big leap of faith required to step out on the viewing platform after our hike to the top of Castle Rock;
* And the biggest bonus of all - after helping some locals tow in their boat, we receive a big thank you in the form of a big salmon that they caught, fresh, that day.

So with our big fish in the fridge and big grins on our faces, we are ready to continue on our big adventure. Denmark awaits.

The kids tap into their own source of energy at Albany's wind farm. (Where yet again, they manage to take the wind completely out of OUR sails... when, standing in the awesome shadow of an enormous windmill, they all suddenly lose interest after spotting a big red bull ant crawling at its base, instantly far more interesting: "Wow, look at the size of THAT..!")
The legendary sundaes, a ridiculous seven scoops of icecream in each. Evidently the cafe never got many orders for this obscure menu item, but was forced to replicate what it looked like in the poster on the wall.... which we later worked out featured a glass half the size. 
Taking in the view from the top of Castle Rock - whilst trying not to think about the engineering savvy needed to hold us up.
Jack trying to contain himself after Rikki does her best impersonation of a beached whale as we tour the exhibits at Whale World, huge skeleton of a Blue Whale mounted behind them.

No peeking at the Bluff

Stopping for lunch at a campsite in the Stirling Ranges, we discover an appealling array of hikes on offer, so decide to bed down for the night and tackle the most ambitious of the lot come daybreak - Bluff Knoll, the tallest mountain in South West WA. The kids put in an awesome performance, hiking the full 3km climb up the mountain to enjoy a 360 degree view at the peak. Sam is keen to stay and tackle another hike the next day... Budge cautions her to quit whilst she's ahead. The children, meanwhile, are all asleep before 7pm.

Taking in the view about a third of the way into our climb of Bluff Knoll.
Beginning the descent, Benji in his now familiar "koala bear" position on Sam's back (just like a heavy backpack only snuggly...)
Exiting the hike, the mountain in full view in the background. Rikki was the leader for the entire ascent, Jack for the descent, Benji completing a quarter of the climb by foot and the rest by mum's back. Champions, all three.