Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Western Australia Day 4: Busselton Jetty, Wonky Windmill Farm & Eco Park

Busselton Jetty Interpretive Centre

This morning, the sun was out such that when we stepped out of the shade, we could feel the heat beating down on our skin. But when we stepped into the shade, the wind chill was enough to make us shiver. Interesting!
Breakfast, if there was such a thing on road trips, was a bag of chocolate coated cookies, finished up in the car on the ride to Busselton Jetty which was located just a short drive away. We wanted to make it for the 9 am train ride and observatory tour, and found ourselves running into the ticket counter to buy a family day pass while a staff of the centre held the train for us. Just in time!

Our family pass includes the morning train ride and guided tour at the Underwater Observatory.

Calm and crystal clear waters. Great weather to enjoy the ride.
Our group was about a dozen strong including us, and Warren, our guide, gave us the housekeeping rules before taking us down to the different platforms at the intertidal, open water and ocean floor levels. At each level, he explained a little more about the marine life at each level and the history and significance of jetty.

The children are right in front with their faces pressed against the glass to get a glimpse of the 'inter-tidal' region. Life in this region is dynamic as the organisms are exposed to tidal changes throughout the day.

The 'Open-Water' region is fun to watch as many fish and animals that depend on the currents for their food can be spotted here. The colours and formations of the encrustations on the jetty pylons can be appreciated as they are illuminated by the sunlight coming through the water's surface.

The children try to discover little fish and animals hiding among the jetty pillars.

At the 'Sea-Floor' region, the jetty structures are heavily encrusted with coral and life-forms, and the rubble at the bottom of these structures provide shelter and hiding-places for all sorts of underwater life. It is a little darker down here as much of the sun's rays have been filtered out, so it takes patience to spot the smaller animals. Here, the resident batfish greets the children.

After the guided tour, participants are given time to explore all the platforms and ask our guide any questions. We had a good time asking Warren about life working in the observatory and what it takes to be a guide.

The train took us back to the Interpretive Centre, and along the way, we observed the jetty spring to life as people threw in fishing lines, took a stroll down the jetty and even use it as a diving platform. The weather was turning out to be the hottest since we got here and the beach was starting to look a little more like summer with sunbathers and swimmers out and about.

There is a new platform built near the beach that is a safe, designated swimming area.
Our next stop was the Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park, which lets children feed a variety of animals by hand. These include smaller animals such as chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits, and larger animals including kangaroos, llamas, ponies, cows, sheep and emus. The highlight of the visit had to be the bottle feeding of the energetic and adorable little lambs. Although full of enthusiasm at the start, the girls soon realized how large some of these ‘adorable’ animals were. They ended up spending most of their time in the pen with animals actually smaller than themselves – guinea pigs and rabbits turned out to be their favourites.

Bottle feeding the lambs! Each entry entitles you to one bottle feed.

The smaller animals were extremely popular with the girls. Not only were they less intimidating, but they had such adorable faces too!

Enthusiastic llamas can appear daunting especially when they are twice your height. That's when Daddy had to take over.

We headed back to the shed where the rabbits and guinea pigs were. It was nice to get out of the heat.

It took us over an hour to finish four bags of feed, and after washing our hands, it was our turn to get something to eat. There is an air-conditioned café that serves warm homemade scones, pastries and freshly squeezed juices.

There's a whole range of olives and pickles for tasting.

Simple toys and souvenirs for sale.

Outdoor dining area would be wonderful if not for the heat. 

There was a nice sand-play area outside, but it was too hot to enjoy today.

The homemade sausage-roll was full of juicy minced meat.

Scones with cream and jam for tea.

We decided to grant the girls their wish to take it a little slower today and spend time enjoying the amenities at the caravan park. However, they were so tired they knocked out on the short ride back. Once back, however, they changed out quickly. The sun was so strong that there were no kids out on the jumping pillow yet, so they played a little while with the neighbours before heading outdoors. Daddy joined the girls in the swimming pool and after their shower, our neighbours set up an ‘outdoor cinema’ with their iPad, which turned out to be quite a hit. We topped up the experience with a big bag of popcorn we picked up at Woolsworth the day before.

The girls had a dip in the pool to cool off from the heat.

While the girls bounce around outside, Mummy cooks up some tasty spaghetti.

Chicken sausage and vegetable stew.

No drive-through cinema, but just as fun.

Tonight we’re turning in early. A last night snack before brushing up. Tomorrow is our last night in Busselton before heading up to Perth. Heard it’s really hot up there.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Western Australia Day 3: Cape Leeuwin, Jewel Cave, Bellview Seashell Museum, A Maze'n Margaret River

Another cold morning outside, but inside the cabin, the heater kept us cosy and had to be blamed for keeping us in bed a little longer that we had planned. We washed up and the girls headed out to the jumping pillow to join the other children already getting their morning exercise, while Daddy and Mummy packed our daypacks to explore the great southwest. Another late morning, as by the time we were ready to go it was 9.30 am.

We skipped breakfast but brought into the car some ready-made honey and blueberry jam sandwiches and a box of chicken flavoured crackers to fuel up during our 1.5 hour drive to Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta, arriving just in time to catch the 11 am guided tour. Despite being already fully booked, we were allowed to join the group as a couple of participants did not show up. Mummy, who was a Geography major was looking forward to her chance to see the spot where the Indian Ocean meets the Pacific Ocean. Our guide explained to us that this was one of the reasons why Cape Leeuwin is known as one of the most dangerous seafaring routes, alongside other capes with bad reputations, such as the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.

Up we go... it's a lot more tiring than I expected.

The view from the top is gorgeous!

We were provided with audio guides and the girls had a lot of fun using them.

Just 20 minutes away from Cape Leuwin was Jewel Cave, another place of interest for our Geography-buff Mummy. The cave is just one of the many well-known caves of Western Australia, and once inside, we could only wonder how the pioneers who discovered the cave must have felt as they uncovered it piece by piece without modern lighting or technology. The cave is known for its amazing ‘jewel’-like formations (hence its name), and also the discovery of five Tasmanian Tiger skeletons.

Information boards about micro-fauna in the cave.

One of the Tasmanian Tiger skeletons found in the cave.

The walkways have many steps taking us into the different levels of the cave. It is dimly yet artistically lit. One can only imagine what it must have been like for animals trapped inside here.

Green light pans over this formation to give it a 'coral reef' effect.

All this exploration is making us hungry... sandwiches please. The Jewel Café serves quality creations but we felt it was a tad pricey.

After our tummies were full, the kids fell asleep quickly after we had left the cave and Daddy decided to take this opportunity to sneak in a quick peek at the Bellview Shell Collection, Australia’s largest private collection of shells, corals and crustaceans. The plan was to leave the kids in the car with Mummy, but when the car was parked outside the house-like museum, the older girl woke up and decided to tag along. Daddy spend a little longer inside the gallery to enjoy the larger than expected display to his heart’s content, and by the time he was ready to leave, the whole family had joined him. The collection is one man’s lifelong passion. Peter and Kathryn Ignoti are the proud owners cum curators. Kathryn played host to us by keeping Daddy engaged in ‘shell-shock’ whilst providing answers to any of the questions we had.

From the outside, the Bellview Shell Museum looks like just another house.

After the the geographer and scientist were satisfied, we finally decided to get down to something the kids were looking forward to – A Maze’n Margaret River – a children themed garden for kids and grownups where the highlight is a giant hedge maze you can easily get lost in. Just how much time do you need to spend here? That’ll depend on how long it takes you to get out of the maze! The kids were full of energy and enthusiasm at the start, but this quickly wore off after we kept getting lost! However, I must admit that the screaming and shouting from the other visitors to their fellow company who were in the other part of the maze did make me feel better as we were not the only ones going around in circles...or in lines. Either way, everything looked the same after a while that we didn't even know what we were doing. By the time we got out, we had spent over half an hour finding our way. Half an hour doesn’t seem like much, but try being stuck in a maze with no clear way out and half an hour would feel  like two hours. There was a point where we were so tempted to take the emergency exit to end our ordeal, but we’re proud to say that we made it to the exit together (before the park closed at 5 pm and the staff sweeps out the stragglers)!

We were given a hand-drawn map of the garden grounds. The large hedge maze takes up about a quarter of the compound.

Here we are at the beginning of the maze, all ready to solve it...

Hmmm... this feels a lot different from a pen and paper exercise.

Enthusiasm soon gives way to frustration as all turns seem to lead us to a dead end. The heat and irritating flies are also getting on our nerves. We feel trapped!

This structure marks the centre of the maze, and we finally find our way here for a quick breather before continuing on our mission.

After over half an hour, we finally make it to the exit! A sense of accomplishment indeed. I'm glad that even though we were tempted to take the easy way out by leaving the maze via the emergency exits, we chose to press on.

There are many other games and the beautifully landscaped garden is the perfect place for an evening walk. However, it is fast approaching 5 pm and the gardens will be closing soon

A quick go at the mini maze.

It was close to dinner time, and we stopped by Margaret River for an ice-cream and some groceries before a 40 minute drive back to our cabin to finish our left-over lasagne and chicken from yesterday, in addition to some goodies we picked up a the Woolsworth. While Mummy and Daddy prepared dinner, the girls went out for another round at the jumping pillow.

We dropped by the Margaret River Fudge Factory for ice-creams.

Morish is another local brand of locally processed nuts.

Chilli Milk Chocolate?

Fudge tasting station.

Welcome to the fudge kitchen.

We ended the day with another round of ‘Hangman’ over supper, and turned in a little past ten. Another eventful day, but the girls requested that we take it a little slower tomorrow so that they could spend more time enjoying the amenities at the caravan park. We were certainly glad that the kids enjoyed the park as much as we did.