Margaret River

When I booked my tickets to Perth to join a group of ThoughtWorkers heading to Margaret River in early March, it seemed so far off … I couldn’t quite believe that it had come around so quickly! Sydney was so dark and rainy on Thursday morning that it looked like evening outside, so I was glad to be heading off to somewhere with a real summer!

Amongst the things I had forgotten to pack was my sunnies, so when we reached the airport I headed straight to the shops, where Andrea helped me pick out a crazy pair with a red flowery frame. They’re different at least! We had time for a quick snack, a couple of glasses of wine and a catch up on the latest gossip from the week :) The flight was delayed by half an hour, which wasn’t too bad considering the bad weather, most of the flights had been delayed far more. Considering it was a domestic flight, it was really long at over four hours – I made the most of the free seats next to me, lying down across all three with Lana del Rey blaring through my headphones.

Scott and Alex posing

We met the rest of the group at the airport: I already knew the infamous Andy Tam (who had done the organisation so far) and the equally infamous Alex Ong and Scott Robinson, but I hadn’t met the rest of my fellow travellers: Magda, Silvio, Anette and Kai. We collected three rental cars and divided up so that everybody had a place to sleep before we headed out to Margaret River the next day – my allocated spot was on Silvio’s couch, I guess that’s one way to get to know somebody!

Breakfast on Friday morning was at a local cafe in Perth, where Andy laid down the main rule of the trip: No Talking About Work. This would prove to be easier said than done, but it was definitely a good ambition! After that, we headed out on the long drive to Prevelly, where we would be camping just around the corner from the beach – remarkably, the entire group was underway by around 10:30. We stopped halfway there to visit Harvey River Bridge Estate to sample their cider, although we had to buy it first – not a problem, Scott had purchased two large cases. We drove around the corner for some lunch, and Scott bought a water pistol in the tourist shop, unleashing it on all of us in turn and laughing a crazy laugh, muwahahahaha … Alex tried and failed to steal the water pistol and met with a rather wet revenge …

Muwahahaha, I will shoot you with my water gun

Back in the car and time for a nap. A couple of hours later we arrived at the campsite, having decided to pitch the tents before visiting too many wineries. Tents pitched and a couple more ciders down, I was hot and sticky and ready for a dip in the ocean. Alex, Kai and Scott were headed into town with instructions to buy food for the barbecue later, while the rest of us wandered across the road to the beach. The sand was coarse and sinky, our feet making deep grooves as we meandered across looking for a good spot to spread our towels. The beach was deserted – it was really windy and steep but the sun was gorgeous. We went for a dip in the ocean, the sea floor fell away steeply and I could feel the current pulling us with the waves, so we didn’t go in too far.

Andrea and I headed for a walk up to the top of the hill, meeting Kai along the way as he headed down with his kite and surfboard. Alex and Scott sped past us in their car, screaming out of the window as they went … they parked at the top before heading back down the beach to meet up with the group. We watched Kai kite surf for a while, whooping as the kite pulled him several feet into the air. He made it look so easy … I only found out later that it took a week of solid practice to be able to stand up.

We watched the sun set across the ocean until it slid below the horizon, then wandered back to our campsite to set up a barbecue. The fire-starting responsibility was handed to Anette, whose Norwegian heritage apparently includes a talent for this. She told us how every house in Norway must have a fireplace where they can light an open fire, in case of an emergency power outage during the winter when people could freeze to death without one.

Building the barbecue ready for dinner

There was a giant woodpile and a steel drum barbecue to build the fire inside, so Anette set to work with dry leaves and wood shavings to get it going. It was almost pitch dark, with only flashlights and a candle to work by! The fire was incredibly smoky at first but didn’t take long to catch, and she proudly built it up with the logs as we looked on hungrily. She may have done too good of a job though, we realised, when Andy tried to figure out how to get the “lid” on the drum to cook the food on. Luckily he didn’t have too many hairs on his forearms to get singed off, I don’t think he has any left now though. That fire was raging! Andy and Anette put tin foil across the top with rocks to weigh it down, then drizzled olive oil on top in preparation for the steaks … well, you can guess what happened to that, yep, pretty quickly there was a soft roar as it lit up. The sausages went on to the barbecue and within a minute or so the outsides were already cooked. Andy managed to get them off and cut them in half to cook properly.

Ultimately, we did get some very tasty burgers and steaks, along with slightly charcoaled sausages. The fire was so hot that the foil eventually caught on fire too, as well as the oil from the burgers, but eventually it did calm down a bit. Lesson learned: for the following night, we planned to light the fire much earlier so that it would be less fierce when we were ready to cook. It goes down as one of the most entertaining barbecues I’ve been too, especially watching Andy dance around it with tongs trying to avoid the flames licking the edges of the barbecue lid and remove some of the cooked sausages.

By 10PM, I hit the wall: with the three hour time difference it was time to head to bed! I woke again at 1am when the group in the cabin next to us were having noisy discussions outside, and my bed seemed to be starting to deflate … too tired to do much about it, I drifted in and out of sleep for a while until they finally wound down. It was incredibly warm, I almost didn’t need my sleeping bag at all. In the morning, the time difference was a benefit again, getting up around 7:30am felt like a lovely long lie in :)

Yummy breakfast

Even yummier breakfast

Farmer's Market

There was a farmer’s market on in town on Saturday morning, so most of the group decided to head over and find some breakfast. We almost missed the turning but thanks to Magda’s eagle eyes we found it. It was a fairly small market with some tasty looking veggies and a slightly bizarre guitar player massacring Coldplay and various other tunes, I had a very unhealthy breakfast including two sticky pastries, followed by a freshly squeezed juice to feel slightly less guilty. We met up with some other ThoughtWorkers who were in the region, and bought some veggies and food for a big barbie in the evening.

Andrea wants to be in our photo

Andy, Andrea and I headed out from the market to find out about a bush tucker canoe tour that we wanted to take on Sunday, and after that we planned to hit our first winery. Andrea opted to go for a surf lesson instead; I was feeling far too lazy! We started out at the Voyager Winery, where a lady called Claire introduced us to three white and three red wines. I liked all of them, and quite a few people decided to buy a bottle or two. We stayed for lunch, Andrea joined us after a while, then we headed off to go to another winery. We took a few photos in the beautiful rose garden out the back of the winery in the glorious hot sunshine.

Rose

Claire telling us about the lovely wines we were trying

Andrea and I in the rose garden

The wines at the next place were not quite as nice, it was darker and busier and by the time we’d finished tasting them all I was about ready to head home for a nap. Some of the others stayed for desert, some went out to the beach, but our tent was lovely and cool and I didn’t want to go anywhere! When I emerged around five, Anette and Magda were already on the case getting the fire lit and potatoes wrapped in foil ready to cook in the coals. The idea was to let the fire burn down slightly more tonight before cooking the meat :)

The wine was soon on the go and then the Captain was out as well, the potatoes and corn were in the charcoal and chaos reigned again. There were probably around twenty of us in all, trying to see by the light from the fire and our flashlights, dishing out food and losing our drinks … there was plenty of banter, and LOADS of food.

The time difference made itself felt before it got too late, and once again I was in bed fairly early. It was a clear night so slightly cooler, and incredibly windy – as I snuggled into my sleeping bag the wind howled around the tent. I could barely feel it inside, although there’s always that nagging worry about whether it will actually blow away … (it didn’t though). Sunday was bright and sunny again (I love Western Australian weather!) and we were up and excited about our canoe trip. Silvio joined Andy, Andrea and I to head up to the river mouth and meet our guide George, who handed us life jackets and oars, and led us down to the canoes. I was very amused that Silvio’s jacket had River Queen written on the back … Andy took on the job of steering our canoe, while the River Queen set the pace up at the front and George warned us that “relationships are made and broken on this trip”.

Happy rowers ... before the hard work began

We hadn’t gone very far down the river before Andrea complained that rowing was hard on her arms … well, she had done a pretty tiring couple of hours surfing the day before! The surroundings were beautiful though. George directed us into a small lagoon, where we beached the canoes and wandered through a small forest, and he described how the Aborigines would make their home in the forest for a part of the year, moving on when the river rose and claimed the land that we were standing on. The trees that grew there flourished even when the water was a few feet deep. Much of the land had been ravaged by the fire last November, a planned bush fire that had grown out of control. We climbed along the trees that hung over the river and joked about pushing each other in …

River Queen Silvio

Fellow canoeists

The mouth of the Margaret River

Back in the canoes, I decided to see how Quackers would enjoy a bit of a swim and put him gently in the water … the next minute he was being violently attacked by lots of small fish just below the surface. Poor thing! We got him back eventually though, and he didn’t seem too much the worse for wear – still smiling – I don’t think those fish had teeth.

Quackers gets attacked!

A little further along the river, George told us the story of the Bussels, who had built a beautiful house on the bank in the 1800s. The house is still there, along with one built more recently by the current owners, but sadly both had been burned in the fire last year. Although they are insured, it remains to be seen whether the walls of the old house suffered such bad structural damage that they would need to be knocked down and rebuilt.

We set off again and rowed further along the river, until it was time to turn around and go back the way we’d come. We stopped off for a refreshing dip in the murky water – Andy unexpectedly slipped over on a slimy rock, we tried not to laugh but it was hard … the water was lovely and fresh, but very brown, and I didn’t dare touch the bottom in case I sunk into the slimy mud.

Back towards the river mouth, we eventually stopped off for our promised bush tucker lunch. George laid a tablecloth over a crate and set out little wooden containers with many different types of unfamiliar foods as we all watched hungrily. He began with some crushed herbs: lemon myrtle, and a coffee substitute that apparently tastes worse than the cheapest available instant coffee, but for the early settlers with no option to grab a Starbucks, it was the only choice available.

Mmmmm, spicy

Trying out the various aboriginal foods

George explaining the different bush tucker foods

We had a small red fruit (I’ve forgotten the name) with a nut inside that resembled a tiny, hard brain; a tiny peppercorn with a fierce bite; a small tangy citrus flavoured fruit; and a nut that tasted like a combination of coconut or almond and paper. Lastly, George brought out some crocodile meat! It looked like ham and tasted a bit like a cross between ham and chicken – I went back for seconds, it was really good. With the tasting done, we could tuck in to our main course – emu, kangaroo and wild turkey, marinated and served with a choice of pestos and chutneys and sundried tomato bread. It was delicious.

The last part of the tour before we headed back was into a cave. Outside of the cave, the rock radiated heat like a huge cooker, but inside it was damp and cool. Water was dripping slowly from small stalactites on the roof. I wasn’t too keen on the cave – it was large enough to stand in, but I chose not to go through to the next cave, where people had to crawl in. Nobody opted to go through the tunnel of fun after George told it us would mean a bit of belly crawling … I was glad to get back outside into the sunshine.

Inside the cave

Quackers in the cave

George and the stalagtites

The sun was scorching as we headed back to the campsite, and none of us felt like doing more than chilling outside the cabin. Magda, who had gone off for a sky dive, returned around 3:30, so we decided to take in one last winery – Andy wanted to go to Stella Bella. It was definitely worth the trip – they had some lovely wines, an empty bar, and a lady who was very friendly and knowledgeable. We enjoyed several different wines and left with a good few bottles in the back of the car …

While most of the group headed down to the beach, Andrea and I decided we wanted to eat with at least a little bit of light, so we attempted to start a fire (all on our own, without Anette!). Just as we got it going, I nearly put the whole thing out by smothering it with a big block of wood, but it fought its way back and soon we had a lovely hot fire all ready to cook on! Andrea took charge of the food, so by the time the others showed up it was almost ready. It turned into another chilled evening with wine by the barbie, slightly less chaotic but just as much fun :) Scott, Silvio and Magda decided to leave that night after all, since they wanted to get back for work instead of taking a day off, leaving Andy all alone in his cabin.

Trying to set up the barbie for dinner

The rest of us got up early on Monday to pack up the tents and drive back to Perth. It was a bit cloudy, which made it slightly easier to leave … that wasn’t going to last though. Andrea and I carefully rolled the tent up and squashed it into its bag before she realised she’d left her phone in the inside pocket, so we had to undo it and do it all over again. Finally we were off – we made ourselves comfortable in the car with Andy’s pillows and stopped off for coffee and smoothies before heading down the highway … our lovely little holiday was all too soon over except for the long trip home and unpacking …!

Diving and Party Pies.

Party Pies! Yum yum

I was delighted last weekend to find a dive centre just around the corner from my new home in Manly, and even happier when they suggested sending in my CV with the prospect of helping out. I put together a diving CV, sent it off and they called back the same day to offer me a spot on their boat this Sunday – for free :) – how could I possibly refuse?

So Sunday afternoon I turned up at the shop to get a ride down to the sailing club nearly Little Manly, where the boat leaves from. It’s a lovely hard boat with room for twenty five people to dive from it comfortably, but they had a strangely quiet afternoon, with just five of us diving.

I was worried about getting cold, the water was around 16 degrees – not what I was expecting, but then again it’s only late spring – hopefully by January it won’t be quite as cold.

The first dive was at a site that the others hadn’t dived before – we called it West Blocks. The water was fairly clear, visibility was probably around 7m. I wore two wetsuits (5mm + 3mm shortie), with hood and gloves – I was pretty cold but we dived for around half an hour and reached 19m. As we ascended towards the end, the water warmed up, until our safety stop where I wasn’t cold at all.

Visibility was like a good day in the UK!

My buddy was Janine, a seasoned instructor from Cairns, who had a keen eye for small things – she pointed out loads of nudibranchs, and then we saw a bull ray who was missing his tail!

As we got out, Tony the skipper offered us hot soup – that was just what I needed! He then brought out hot Party Pies, and the group teased me for not knowing what they were (mini meaty pies with ketchup, apparently!) They were so good.

Pretty nudibranch

I took my camera for the second dive, but for some reason it was much colder, seemed like the water was dribbling down my back all through and I was shivering twenty minutes in. The water wasn’t as clear, but it was similar to dives I have done along the south coast of the UK on a really good day, with far more life.

This time, we saw four cuttlefish – three tiny baby ones, and one hovering in a cave. To my delight, we also saw a wobbegong shark! These are common sights around Sydney, but for me, seeing sharks is still really special and I was buzzing. We saw more nudibranchs and several different types of starfish, as well as some huge blue groper.

I struggled a bit on my safety stop – my legs felt sore and crampy, it’s been a while since I dived and I was wearing an unfamiliar combination of my kit. I don’t think I quite got my weighting right – I wore 18lb (around 9kg) and I think that was a bit heavy – I wanted to make sure I offset the aluminum tanks at the end of the dive.

I was also trying out my new Suunto D6i and comparing to my old Oceanic Geo. It made me realize how much I appreciate the familiarity of knowing where to look for the information on my trusty old computer, although the new one does far more interesting stuff like monitoring my air. It’ll just take some getting used to.

Two baby cuttlefish

Dives over, the weather was getting cold – there was a Southerly and it was making itself known. Eric kindly loaned me a towel – being so used to diving in a drysuit, I hadn’t even thought to bring one, doh!

I love being out on boats though, especially when they are covered in bad weather! So it was fun motoring back via Rose Bay to Manly, where we unloaded the boat on to the truck, then unloaded the tanks back at the dive centre (just like being back at home!)

At the centre I met Dan, the owner, for a quick interview. With the summer season coming up, there’s plenty of work at Pro Divers and I’m excited about the possibilities. There’s still some hard work ahead though: I’ll need to spend time learning more about how things work and spend time helping other instructors. That’s good though, I wouldn’t have wanted them to throw me in at the deep end!

So far they seem to be a great bunch of people, and I’m hopeful that I’ll find some good friends (as I did at Divecrew), who are nothing to do with work!