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On top of the world down under

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 21, 2003


We arrived in Perth, in the middle of a driving rainstorm. It's winter here, and therefore the wet season. Sixteen hours from London seemed like an eternity due to the fact the seat next to me was occupied by the Stink Queen of Jakarta. Passing gas the entire trip, she also seemed hell bent on elbowing me in the ribs every 10 minutes, all of this without ever acknowledging my presence. Thankfully she left the plane in Singapore and I was able to stop plotting her untimely death before reaching our destination.

Perth is not unlike San Diego. In fact Perth is a lot like San Diego. Which is only fitting considering they are both coastal cities of the Southwest. The similarities are too numerous to mention. Sprawling suburbs, crisscrossed by rambling freeways, made me feel perfectly at home. The vibrant downtown area features a huge pedestrian mall, countless restaurants, museums, galleries, and ample park space. Australians love their parks.

One thing Australians can't be bothered with is marking all their streets. Unmarked intersections seemed to be the norm. When asked about this oddity we were informed that it was no big deal and after awhile we would get use to it. Fair enough. Imagine having to drive on the left side of the road without a clear understanding of where you are. We could not wait to get out of the city.

Renting a campervan we headed north. Our goal was to visit the Pinnacles in the Nambung National Park. Considered a "must see" these 30,000 year old limestone pillars punctuate an area of yellowish sand that is best described as otherworldly. With Adventure Barbie in tow we spent the morning taking photos before heading south again.

Our intent was to spend 5 days touring the Southwest, and we did just that. In Kojonup, we found an impressive heritage museum with a rose maze that featured the narratives of three women, which perfectly reflected the history of the region. More than once I experienced tears coming to my eyes as I read of the hardships faced by aborigines and the early pioneers.

In Albany we, made a point to avoid the whaling museum. There was no way I was going to buy into the glamour of extinction. Instead we went searching for a traditional aboriginal musical instrument known as a bullroarer. Although we did not find one, I did spend time comparing tattoos with a young aboriginal man who was surprised I didn't have any Mayan ink. He did. He also wanted to know about the strange American event known as Burning Man. Go figure.

In Mt. Barker, we hooked up with friends, and after a few pints in a classic Aussie pub, we followed them out to where they are in the process of building a sustainable homestead. Situated on a reclaimed sheep farm, not only are they restoring the land, the home will be completely off grid. Solar power provides all the energy they need, cisterns and water tanks ensure ample water supplies, and a composting toilet negates the need for sewage plumbing. Clay soils from the property were being fashioned into bricks from which the house was being constructed.

From Mt Barker, we made our way to Denmark along the South Coast Highway. Known as a hippy town, I found Denmark to share a kindred spirit with Leucadia, unspoiled and unpretentious, and not a strip mall or McDonalds in sight, I could totally live here. From there we visited Green Pool on the Southern Ocean. More photos and then off to the amazing Tree Top Walk. Situated in a forest of Tingle trees, a catwalk took us 130 feet into the upper canopy of the world's second largest trees. Believe me you have not experienced eucalyptus trees until you have seen these giants in their natural habitat.

Our last day in the campervan took us to through the mill towns of the Great Southern Forests. Pemberton, Manjimup, and the nearly abandoned North Bridge, all charming and under extreme pressure due to unsustainable logging practices. From there it was onto Bunbury, Australia's fastest growing city. Once again I felt right at home, as the amount of development made Carlsbad seem like a relative ghost town.

For our last night on the road we camped in Yorgorup National Park. Watching the sunset over a nearly deserted beach, we watched a solitary surfer pass the time alone in the vastness of the Indian Ocean.

At that moment California seemed not only a world away, but also a vague memory of a distant planet.

Sadly, this was no place like home.

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