Australia is our neighbour, staunchest ally, fiercest rival. Like many Kiwis I’ve travelled there, but only to the east coast, Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast. I’ve often thought, I’ll leave Australia till last on my travel plans, because its close and its pretty much like New Zealand, it just has a few more gumtrees and a lot more desert.
I’ve been on a journey of discovery across the ditch. Going from Perth to Darwin the long way round, taking the road perhaps a bit less travelled. And its been a revelation.
I fly across the vast expanse of the Nullarbor plain. Looking down, the landscape looks like the cave art of the ancients. Aboriginals are thought to have arrived here nearly 70,000 years ago. It's as if they’d seen the land from above, from some giant flying saucer. The round spots I see are salt lakes; the curving lines dried-up river beds.
This is the Australia I’ve only read about. Long dusty highways, straight, not a car in sight. Already I’m overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place.
We hit a patch of towering cumulus and then suddenly we burst through the cloud and there it is… the coast, a great sweep of golden sand that stretches as far as the eye can see, a narrow band of green and Perth, the capital of Western Australia.
You immediately get the impression this is a frontier town, perched on the edge of the world. It buzzes. There’s a sense that anything is possible here. It's hot - pushing 40C - but it's not humid.
The city is the powerhouse of the Australian economy, 40 per cent of the nation’s wealth is generated here, thanks to the mining boom. It’s a magnet for thousands of Kiwis who journey to Perth in search of sun, surf and big bucks.
You can’t visit Perth without calling into Fremantle - or "Free-o" as the locals call it.
It's where we kiwis first dared to believe we could win the America’s Cup. Freo is gorgeous, a laid back fishing port, an historic town that boasts the best preserved 19th century port streetscape in the world. A great place to wander about.
From Freemantle I drive south to Margaret River, home of the legendary Margaret River Pro. Surfers come here from all over the world to tackle the multitude of breaks along this spectacular coastline.
Margaret River is also famous for its burgeoning wine industry. The first vines were planted here just forty years ago - now there are more than a hundred vineyards in the space of just a few square kilometres.
They’re picture perfect and what’s more they’re making a great drop! I catch up with one of their top winemakers at the Fraser Gallop estate - he just happens to be a Kiwi ... we’re everywhere!
Just south of Margaret River you’ll pass through the Bonarup Forest. Its breathtaking - especially if you managed to strike it just before lunch as the sun catches the slivery bark on the Karri gums - there’s something magical about gum trees.
If you do manage to drive through around lunchtime, make sure you stop at the Bonarup Gallery and cafe .. great salads.
I’m heading for Busselton, a sleepy coastal town that is the home of the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere. Dating back to the 1860’s it has a great underwater observatory. But the really special thing about it is the often quirky plaques of remembrance that line its railings. Take time to read a few.
I round off my Western Australia leg with a visit to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. It sits on the extreme sou westerly point of the great continent that is Australia. A beacon for the many mariners who have braved the stormy and unpredictable seas of the southern ocean. She is a beauty this lighthouse, my first lighthouse experience - and I can see why people love them so much, there is a romance about them, they’re full of mystery and adventure.
A fitting end to the first part of my journey of discovery.
Judy Bailey's diary entries are provided by Tourism Australia.
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