There are more Germans in Australia …

…than there were before.

And that’s because my dear brother Kim came over from Germany for a visit! He took a month off to escape the dreary German weather to get some sunrays on his rather pasty (and later very sunburnt) body and to explore Western Australia a bit. When we asked him what he wanted to see on his holiday he just said “You guys. And Quokkas.” So we showed him that and a bit more as we made a tour from Perth to Meekatharra to Coral Bay to Rottnest Island to Esperance to Albany to Margaret River to Perth. Bit of a loop, six solid days of driving and Germans everywhere we went (apparently it’s our new way of conquering the world).

So now that we added another German to the country there are more Germans here …

…than there are mulga trees in the Outback.

And if you’ve ever travelled the Outback then you know that there are lots. And lots. And seemingly never ending plains of lots of mulga. Driving from Perth to Meekatharra is quite interesting as the vegetation changes from eucalyptus trees lining the roads and fields everywhere to pastoralist country with mulga trees and saltshrub going as far as the eye can see.  Those who have done the drive too often would argue it’s about as interesting as cardboard but I find it quite remarkable and part of me always gets very excited when I come ‘home’ into the red dirt country. Kim only had one full day in Meeka so we made it worthwhile and showed him all the sights around town. And “sightseeing” includes: The lookout. Rocks. THE supermarket. My colleagues. Rex the dog. The main street. The coffee van. The cemetery. The servo. Our award winning Recycling Centre. My veggie garden. More big rocks. Our chickens. After a hectic day of driving everywhere I really couldn’t understand why Meeka isn’t a tourist mecca yet.

The next day we were off towards the coast via Gascoyne Junction. Around about 400kms of dirt road and more mulga trees gave Kim a good sense of the Aussie Outback. It was interesting seeing the change in the landscape. From the red dirt around Meeka, endless mulga plains and the odd little hill, to green grass in the Gascoyne river region and its hilly, windy road, to long straight roads (bitumen!) between Gascoyne Junction and Carnarvon with increasingly dry, dusty and low vegetation. I could imagine this being very different during other, drier years seeing that this year we’ve had a lot more rainfall than usual which helped everything spring into life. The green grass was plentiful in the otherwise red dirt. The colour palette of nature is stunning.. The Murchison river was full of water with some big, graceful water birds flying away as we made the crossing. We saw kangaroos, emus, wedge tailed eagles and bungarras (sand goannas. Big lizards).

The Murchison River full of water

After about 900kms of driving (almost the length of Germany) we arrived in Coral Bay. So now there are more Germans in Coral Bay…

…than there are fish at the Ningaloo Reef.

And let me reassure you – there are a lot of fish! The Ningaloo Reef is   a m a z i n g.    I love it! Where else can you put on your snorkel, wade into the water, go flop flop with your flippers and suddenly be floating above a coral reef? It’s right by the beach! In fact it’s one of the largest fringing coral reefs in the world. As you walk into the water there are big fish (some kind of snapper I think) swimming around your legs. Once you’re floating around in the bay you never know what you’re going to encounter. Kilometres upon kilometres of coral to start with – in so many different forms. Whole eerie looking forests of Staghorn corals, massive cabbage corals, brain corals and lavender corals and so many more. According to the Department of Parks and Wildlife there are more than 200 species of coral and 500 species of tropical fish calling the reef home. Not to mention the reef sharks, tiger sharks, whale sharks, lots of other sharks, manta rays, blue spotted stingrays, lots of other rays and turtles that call the reef home. Plus probably so much more that my untrained human eye and brain couldn’t even absorb. That place is brimming with life.

A Green Sea Turtle

What I love so much about being in the ocean – be it snorkelling or scuba diving – is that you’re in this great big body of water with all the other creatures and there are no fences. No glass or walls or anything separating me from everyone else. If a shark or a whale or a turtle or a little fish wanted to swim up to me to check me out then they could do so. Nothing stopping them. I love it. And to be able to visit all the animals there right where they live and to observe them in their natural habitat is fascinating to me. You can watch them go about their business; graze here, take a nibble there, chase other fish away, swim over there, take a poop, have another fish eat the poop (waste not want not!), dawdle around, poke around some coral. Meanwhile they seem so relaxed about these big weird snorkel faced mammals floating above, gawking down at them.

I love Scuba Diving!

Kim took to scuba diving like a fish to water

And then there are the sharks. I find sharks are a bit like cats. They are graceful and amazing predators, very agile and skillful. But a lot of them are also quite shy and dart away quickly if they feel watched. We saw a little shark of some sort (<1m in size, only glanced at it before it dashed away) whilst snorkelling which was exciting, especially for Kim who’d never seen a wild shark before that. And then we went scuba diving at the Cleaner Station. That was so cool! There were all these grey reef sharks circling around; at any given time you could see anywhere between one and six sharks. Some close and some only hazy in the distance. It was so cool. I watched one shark drift across the cleaner station with its body at a 45 degree angle, mouth wide open, not moving a muscle whilst waiting for the little cleaner fish to finish his dentist appointment. This is the kind of stuff you see in a David Attenborough documentary and yet this was real life happening right in front of my goggly eyes! It was SO cool! (I think I may have mentioned that a couple of times now but believe me it was SO cool!)

A grey reef shark

A tiger shark

Coral Bay is also famous for its Manta Ray population that hangs around there throughout the whole year. And as I’d swam with the whale sharks last year in Exmouth (that was SO cool too! Everything is so cool here!) I was thrilled and very keen to get into the water with another gentle giant of the sea.

I’ve seen a few rays before – bull rays, sting rays, eagle rays, some of which were of formidable size and of amazing grace (somebody should write a song about them). Manta Rays are a whole different kettle of fish (well, still fish but different family of fish). Manta rays are biiiiiig! With a wing span of 5 metres (that’s more than 2.5 Svenja’s head to toe!) they are huge. And fast. And yet they don’t seem to be making much of an effort to swim. One flap of their wings and they glide forward. Evolution simply blows my mind when I look at all these different shapes and sizes that exist on this planet.

The water was quite murky where they were feeding (lots of sand and plankton) so you couldn’t see the manta ray until it was pretty much right below you. We were very lucky in that the rays that we saw were line feeding which means they simply swim back and forth with their mouth flaps wide open (I’m sure there’s a more technical term for that), inhaling all the plankton they could get their flaps on.

And then they started barrel feeding. That is where they chuck loopings from the seabed to just underneath the surface and just go round and round and round. We were instructed to stay out of their way as apparently they don’t stop for humans but my fight or flight or gawk response kicked in so I just stayed and gawked. This massive ray coming towards you with wings spread out, the giant mouth gaping wide open coming right at you so you think it’s going to swim into you for sure and you worry about vanishing in it’s throat when it gracefully continues it’s loop to then enter into another somersault. Unreal! Absolutely incredible.

Manta Ray barrel feeding

I count myself so very lucky that I got to experience the Ningaloo Reef and swim with these amazing creatures. I know that by travelling in fossil fuel guzzling cars and boats I am contributing to the problem of climate change and ocean acidification and coral bleaching. So I hope that by working hard through my life in various environmental projects and by investing my money into clean energy I can offset my personal footprint and try and preserve this amazing biosphere for more people to see and experience.

Because the way we’re going with human population there will soon be more Germans in this world…

…than there are Quokkas on Rottnest Island.

There are so many cute quokkas on Rotto! But there are also so many Germans (now also including our sister Lucy who joined us for the rest of the trip). With Rotto being so close and easily accessibly from WA’s capital Perth it is very touristy (especially when you’ve just come from slightly more remote places like Coral Bay and Meekatharra). The few tropical fishies they have there and the small patches of coral are nice too but once again nothing compared to the Ningaloo Reef. But of course we didn’t go to Rotto to see fishies or corals or tourists.

We came there to see quokkas.

And quite frankly Kim flew half way across the world to see quokkas (remember, his itinerary wishes consisted of seeing us and quokkas?) and they did not disappoint. They are everywhere. There’s one hanging out in the main shopping mall, begging for food and posing for selfies, there is one living by the bins on the ferry jetty, there are heaps living in the shrubs on the outskirts of town and then there are millions living all over the island. Some preferring the natural diet of shrubs and grasses, others preferring to raid unwary travellers’ bags for biscuits and other goodies.

You are not supposed to feed them any human food for good reasons so being good law-obeying Germans we didn’t do that. But Kim was given the tip that, with Rotto being quite a dry island, they never say no to water. So there he was, a bit of water poured into his hand and a quokka gratefully lapping it up out of his palm with its tiny little pink tongue. I think in that moment Lucy and Kim’s hearts melted into one big puddle of loved up gooeyness.

With their tiny round little ears, their cute button eyes and fluffy-bouncing-ball appearance it is not surprising that these unique animals attract so many people to Rottnest Island.

Due to Quokkas alone there are more Germans in Australia …

…than there are beaches on the South Coast.

And there are so many! And they are so beautiful! (Just like the Germans, Pete would say.)

Have you ever been to the south coast of Western Australia? Have you ever been on a beach that is so white it blinds your eyes and squeaks under your feet? Now imagine beaches like that one after the other for more than 1000 kilometres of coastline.

If you haven’t been to the south coast yet do yourself a favour and either plan a trip there now, or jump on Google Maps or Google Earth or similar satellite imagery and have a look at the coastline from Cape Arid east of Esperance to Augusta on the south westerly tip of the continent. See all those white lines fringing the land followed by the most exquisite turquoise water? See how there is bay after bay after bay of this? These are all drop dead gorgeous, beautiful, paradisaical, heavenly, stunning beaches. One after the other. It is amazing! It is so picturesque. Now that you’ve seen the satellite imagery go and plan a trip down there. It’s worth it.

Kim, Lucy and I (Pete had at this stage gone back to Meeka for work) grabbed some bicycles and did a 26km roundtrip from Castletown (Esperance) to Twilight Cove. It was such a beautiful and fun (and also exhausting) bike trail, I can really recommend it. Especially the last bit towards Twilight Cove was the best bicycle trail I’ve ever been on in my life. It was so much fun! A windy little asphalt track through the sand dunes along the stunning bay, really easy riding.

Later  on that day we drove in the same direction via car on the road and it was only half as beautiful. Taking a bicycle out for a spin is a great way of discovering what’s around you as it allows you to cover lots of ground quickly but is also slow enough to enable you to take a lot more in than when you’re in a car. I can understand why my friends Bobbie and Owen undertook their architectural cross-continent journey via bicycle with the idea of getting a better feel for the country (they are amazing people. And who can say that they’ve crossed Australia straight through the middle on a bicycle! They can! The Grand Section is their site. They are inspiring!) Our 26km roundtrip to the beach was certainly enough for my tender bum though 🙂

Esperance Coastline

Life is good. Especially with a hammock.

We also went to Cape Le Grand national park – home of Lucky Bay – Australia’s whitest beach, where Kangaroos hop along absolutely not phased about the humans walking beside them. As it was quite overcast, cool and drizzly we weren’t in the mood to go swimming so we instead took a lovely hike through the national park (well, through part of it) to Thistle Cove, another white and more remote beach.

Rainy weather – something Germans are quite used to.

Kangaroo at Lucky Bay Beach

Cape Le Grand National Park

Lucy is so tall

We admire her.

I often like to compare Australia with Germany. First of all you couldn’t have over 1000km of white-beached coastline because Germany itself is only just 1000km long and is landlocked for most of it. Next you couldn’t go to a gorgeous beach in Germany (that features tame wild cute fluffy kangaroos!) and have no-one else being there. It just wouldn’t happen. Australia, being so humongous and sparsely populated has so very many beaches that are simply too far away and therefore nobody is there. I love that! Even we went only to the accessible beaches. Looking at satellite imagery now I can see so many other beaches that are so far off any roads or towns that I wonder if anyone sets foot on there ever. It often feels to me as if humans are dominating the world and are taking every bit of land into their possession and using and abusing it for their purposes. To know that there are untouched and remote landscapes gives me hope that maybe we are not that big and important after all and that in the big scheme of things we are just a tiny little blip in the space and time of this planet. I like this feeling of just being one small part of something that is much greater than me.

If you’re not a fan of the ocean or big waves but prefer dry feet then there’s also Wave Rock near Hyden that may tickle your fancy. It’s a stunning rock formation. How does nature do this!?

Wave Rock

 

After contemplating the world for a bit whilst overlooking the ocean and big granite outcrops we continued our journey towards the Albany region where there are more people with German ancestry…

…than there are trees in the South West.

Well, actually don’t take my facts too seriously here. According to the Census there are 148 people with German ancestry in the Albany region whereas there are definitely more than 148 trees in the South West. In fact (and here’s another fact that’s not a real fact) there are millions of trees in the South West!

We drove from Albany through Denmark, Manjimup and Nannup and for that whole drive the road was just lined with forest.

The South West is such an important region and habitat. If you look at a map, or even better, a satellite image of Australia you see blue ocean, some green fringes and coastlines and a whole lot of red, rusty looking interior. The South West corner of the continent is special because it gets a fair amount of rainfall and has an amicable climate but is cut off from other such climatic zones from Australia through a whole lot of pretty inhospitable, dry country. This means that a lot of animals and plants were able to evolve in isolation from the rest of Australia (and the world) and have evolved into species that are endemic to this region (= found nowhere else). According to the Southwest Australia Ecoregion Initiative there are 3620 plant species that are endemic to the province. That is a lot.

It’s a pretty unique part of our Earth.

Some of the impressive species endemic to this part of the world are located in the Valley of the Giants. It has this name because there are lots of giants. Giant trees. The Karri tree (Eucalyptus diversicolor) is the third tallest tree in the world, reaching up to 90 metres in height. That’s huge! And the Red Tingle tree (Eucalyptus jacksonii) can get a base circumference of up to 20 metres. That is bigger than my stomach after Christmas! The Tree Top Walk is a fantastic way of immersing yourself in the forest without treading on the toes of these gentle and yet fragile giants.

The Tree Top Walk in the Valley of the Giants

And the well organised and punctual Germans that we are managed to get to this tourist attraction right as it opened before the flood of tourists, because there are more tourists in the forest…

…than there are wineries in Margaret River.

And there are so many!

I LOVE Margaret River. I’ve been there a few times now and my heart always feels right at home when I’m down there. I love the community, I love the forest, I love the pretty vineyards, I love my friends and the Permaculture Farm and I love chocolate and I love the wine. I love everything! Maybe not the traffic in the main street but they’re building a bypass so that will alleviate that problem very soon 🙂

We did so much while we were there.

We went kayaking up the Margaret River, we partook in a wine tour (oh our Irish tour mates surely must have suffered the next day. There must be something in the DNA in Ireland that breeds livers of steel), we enjoyed a gorgeous lunch at the Permaculture farm, we made pizzas and sat around the fire at our Permaculture reunion (so good to catch up with my course mates :)) we we watched surfers surf against the waves with the wind and then surf against the wind with the waves (brilliant!), we explored the world underneath the ground as we descended into caves, we gorged ourselves on gorgeous food at the Farmers Markets (I want to live somewhere with weekly farmers markets! :’-( ), we played giant Jenga and went horseriding through the bush (Kim the human-who-is-gifted-with-natural-talent-for-anything-and-everything even went cantering and survived!).

It was an all immersing experience for all our senses and I loved loved loved it. I’m already looking forward to going back to Margaret River one day. Enough words, here are some photos.

Kayaking on the Margaret River

Kayaking on the Margaret River – note the water level line on the rocks behind us?

Photographer’s Yoga – downward dog trying to take a long exposure sunset photo without a tripod.

Mega Jenga

Wind & Wave Surfing

Surfing out with the wind and back in with the waves. Perfect!

A suspended table at Lake Cave

Bunker Bay near Dunsborough

Bunker Bay 

It was such a memorable trip. This was the first time that the three of us have done a sibling holiday like this and whilst towards the end of it I was looking forward to not having to see their faces for every minute of the day (and listen to the friggin ukulele! 😀 ) I enjoyed every minute of it. This may sound like a cliche but I really was conscious at just how precious this holiday is. Having three siblings that get along well, spend a few weeks together, travelling some of the most stunning landscapes there are – that is precious. I hope there will be many more siblings to follow in the history of humanity, being able to appreciate this beautiful planet that we get to call home.

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