Having a whale of a time: Esperance to Albany

After three days on the Nullarbor, we arrived at Norseman, the first ‘real’ town since we left Ceduna on the other side. All the grey nomads we met along the way had been talking about it so we expected something special. Maybe a street parade in our honour, or at least a  ‘You won the Nullarbor’ certificate with a stamp in the shape of a viking or something. Unfortunately, the Norseman we found at the other end had none of these things. It wasn’t even named for a viking, it was named after a horse. The town was empty and largely derelict, with all the stores boarded up. We couldn’t even visit the old doll museum as oddly enough this had closed down too.

It did have a small supermarket, petrol station and a cafe, so we had a pie (naturally) and pissed off.

Derelict building, Norseman, Western Australia
Derelicte Norseman

Travels through empty Esperance and Cape Le Grand National Park

Next stop was Esperance – by all accounts a charming seaside village surrounded by Australia’s whitest beaches. Surely we could find somewhere  for a decent meal (anything but a pie) at 2pm? Nope. Esperance is very seasonal, and it being off season, everything was closed. We made do with a trip to the butcher, grabbing some fancy sausages made of chicken and apple cider and pork and maple bacon.

We drove out to Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park and set up camp overlooking the beach. As we struggled to set up the canopy Shelley recalled some vital information – Cape Le Grand was one of the windiest places in the country. This was all too much for Gaz (+1 tantrum).

We gave up on the idea and settled in for the night, cooking our sausages in a compression session environment as the wind picked up and the rain kicked in, rolling the van’s suspension. The squall turned into a storm and we lay awake for hours listening to the rain pummel the roof of the van, delivering the occasional uppercut to its flanks which rocked us from side to side. A big crack of lighting shocked us out of our drowsy state and it was then we remembered where the earplugs were. (Thanks Zalena!)

In the morning we checked out Lucky Bay beach. The sea was a beautiful shade of aqua, the waves were ripe for surfers and the sand was as white as it comes – it’s won an award and everything. It was still quite wintry, so we decided to hike Frenchman Peak rather than attempt a swim.

Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grande National Park Western Australia
Whitest sand in OZ they say
Boulder, Cape Le Grande National Park, Western Australia
A boulder to cry on
Backpacker mate, Cape Le Grande National Park Western Australia
We’ve run into this guy 3 times in WA now

The climb was steep and the winds were so strong we couldn’t stand on the peak. Instead we hid between the rocks at the peak to stop our faces blowing off and checked out the views. At 262 metres we weren’t that high, but we could see beaches, the islands of the Recherche Archipelago, a distance mountain range and acres of shrubbery.  We climbed down into the cave hidden under the peak, which functioned as a window revealing the rest of the national park.

Cave in Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grand, Western Australia
View from inside the Frenchman
Sliding down Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grande National Park Western Australia
Sliding down the mountain
Summit sign, Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grande National Park
Easy done…
Views out to Recherche Archipelago, Cape Le Grand, Western Australia
Views out to Recherche Archipelago
Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grande National Park Western Australia
We made it to the top!
Lichen, Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grande National Park WA
Who doesn’t like a lichen shot?
Cave, Frenchman Peak, Cape Le Grand, Western Australia
Troll hunting in the cave under the mountain

A bumpy ride through Fitzgerald National Park rewarded with more whale time

The following day we drove into Fitzgerald National Park. There were rumours that if you drove all the way through it – about 56km of unpaved road – you’d find a whale nursery at the end in Point Ann.  The road was terribly corrugated, and while the views were lovely and the native flowers such as the Royal Hakea, grevillea and banksia were doing their best, we began to wonder if it was worth all the bump and grind.

Point Ann did not disappoint. It was breathtaking. The beach was again a dazzling white, the water a deep turquoise and there was even some picturesque looking mountains framing the view.  But what made this beach really special was the whales, about a dozen mother and calf pairs sheltering in the bay. Many of these pairs were swimming just behind the breaking waves, so we darted down to the beach to get a better look. This was still too far as the whales were RIGHT THERE. Clothes off, we paddled out a bit to share their baleen vibes.

Point Anne, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Perfect day in WA
Whale spout, Point Ann, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Blowing off steam
Native plant, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Mystery plant
Grevillea, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Primo Grevillea
Nudie swim with whales, Point Ann Western Australia
Whale swim
Beach at Point Anne, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Fave beach so far
Whale fin, Point Ann, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Can you see the whale fin?
Barren Mountain range, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Barren Mountains – great name
Royal Hakea, Fitzgerald National Park, Western Australia
Weird and wonderful Royal Hakea

‘Call me Ishmael’ – our camper van finds its name

We forgot to mention in the last blog that we finally named our van.  After our previous encounter with the whales at the Head of the Bight, our particular fondness for the albino calf and the van’s resemblance to that very special mammal, we decided to call it Moby, after Moby Dick. Also, we wanted an excuse to play Moby’s album ‘Play’ in its entirety, really loud along the Nullarbor.

Former whaling town Albany still dangerous for backpackers

That afternoon we reached Albany. Having spent so long on the Nullarbor, we were pumped to finally find a fully-functioning town. We made our way past Chicken Treat, as tempting as that looked, to Liberte at the London.  A French-Vietnamese restaurant in a pimped out, turn-of-the-century building. Lots of peacocks, mirrors, claret drapes and roaring fires with intentional echoes to imperial France. To us van dwellers it felt rather luxurious so we treated ourselves to a nice bottle of Malbec and some truffle fries. There was also some crab bao and spicy porkbelly. Our little Mee Goreng-accustomed bellies struggled to accommodate all of this rich food.

Kicking on to the local brewery,  we quickly made friends with a rather entertaining driller who looked like a wildling and had spent a stint as a muay thai kick boxer before adopting his current profession of scaring water out of rocks.  In predictable Aussie fashion we were taken to the bar and pints were ordered with bonus tequila shots. This went on for quite a few rounds. Those mine workers are cashed up!

The following morning was a trial. Shelley had to walk around the town at 6am looking for somewhere to pee, while Gareth began to vomit 20 minutes after waking, something he didn’t conclude until around 4pm.  This meant lingering at various spots throughout Albany so said spewing could occur, such as outside Western Australia’s Department for Transport building.

Once vom intervals had reached an acceptable level we drove to Cosy Corner, a fantastic free camping spot on the beach near Denmark.  After a few spoonfuls of soup it was bedtime for broken Gareth.

Highs: Nudie swim with the whales (although it was probably a low for them)

Lows: Gaz drinks a lot of Fanta (it’s orange on the way out too)

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