Docking in Albany, Australia, we were greeted with blustery winds, rain, and a lone ‘bagpiper’ (pictured here) with an airstream whipping his kilt…and other unmentionables! The foul weather followed us for most of the two day trip from Kangaroo Island, reminding us that our floating hotel was indeed a ship at sea. Cheryl and I very much enjoy the pitching ocean, though at times we found it challenging to walk the decks and many guests sequestered themselves in their cabins.
Our stay here was a short 9 hours. Albany is a small city of around 35,000 – an old whaling community with a lot of history. The durations of our ship-sponsored tour was scheduled at just under 8 hours, and we took advantage of every minute. Our bus left the pier at straight-up 9:00am, and we were off to the Valley of the Giants, about 80 miles inland from Albany. Before I describe this amazing forest destination, I will share with you that our journey through the countryside (both ways) was quite inspiring itself, with Emu, Lama, & Kangaroo roaming near the roadways casually going about their daily norms. The Kangaroos (or ‘Roo’s’ as they call them locally) were of the largest variety, or the big greys. Reds are the second largest, and we saw several mobs of reds as well. As much as the deer are a road hazard back home, our guide and bus driver said that vehicles, unfortunately, hit ‘Roo’s’ much too frequently here because they are in such abundance.
So, the Valley of the Giants – there were only about 50 of us who took this tour. By the time we reached Walpole, Australia, the rain had stopped and the temp was a comfortable 70. We were met by a local guide (pictured below) who very enthusiastically lectured us on the Red Tingle trees (some of the largest in the world) and the suspension brides constructed to accommodate visitors. The trees themselves (aside from their mammoth size) can be identified by its rough fibrous bark of a grey-red color and can have a base circumference of up to 60 feet, which makes it the largest buttressing eucalypt. This tree has an extremely restricted range and can only be found in an area of approximately 6,000 acres between the Deep River in the west and the Bow River to the east, and within 10 miles of the western coast of Australia which is why we wanted to take this particular tour. The flowering cycle starts after the tree reaches 30 years of age, when it begins to produce small white flowers once every four years in the late summer and early autumn. This can continue for the life of the red tingle, which is approximately 400 years. Trees reach a height of 240 feet. The tingle’s shallow root system and reliance on surface humus for nutrients makes it vulnerable to compaction by people walking close to the base – which is why the Tree Top Walk was built – to allow folks to enjoy this magnificent forest without having any adverse effects on the trees.
The Tree Top Walk itself was first proposed in 1994, & construction started in 1995 – again, it’s a land management tool designed to minimize the impact of humans on the trees. As such, it was important that there was an emphasis on the protection of the environment during construction, so the skywalk was built using a minimum of machinery. No helicopters of cranes were involved at all. First, the pylons were erected by riggers using scaffolding. The spans, which had been prefabricated in Perth, were then moved onto the site using 4WD vehicles and bolted together on the forest floor. They were then hoisted into their positions between each of the pylons using a hydraulic jack and other mechanisms. The end result – construction that consists of six 180-foot lightweight bridge spans on seven pylons, reaching a maximum high of 120 feet over a small creek at the bottom of the valley. The Tree Top opened in 1996 at a cost of $1.8M (not bad) and has since attracted about 2.6 million visitors they say. This was a truly amazing experience – much better than the Tahune Air Walk we went on a few days ago in Hobart, Australia, and much less scary! That said, I’d still recommend both to anyone who enjoys nature the way we do.
After we left the forest, we stopped in Denmark, Australia for a pre-arranged buffet lunch at a beautiful restaurant known as The Southern End. The restaurant setting itself was much more special than the cuisine, as it was high atop a bluff overlooking the ocean. The cooking was good, but not great. The people, as you would expect, were fantastic, which has been the norm every place we’ve been throughout Australia.
Before returning to the ship, we stopped at a local winery… Madfish Wines. Don’t let the name influence you – Madfish is one of the premiere wineries in Western Australia, and they produce a superb Cabernet. It’s called Carnelian – a NEW grape variety, and is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Grenache. This is a well-balanced, full bodied wine of excellent character, firm tannins, intense chocolate and dark berry fruit flavors. Back home, you would pay well north of $100 per bottle – the price at the winery…$20. We purchased several – Cheryl doesn’t particularly enjoy red wine, so I think I’m set for several weeks! Cheryl’s Bacardi, diet coke, and my bottles of Grey Goose & wine…the bookshelf above the desk in our cabin now resembles a small beverage depot!
We now head for Perth…a large metroplex 400 miles to the west, then north – our last port in Australia and one that is said to rival the beauty & charm of Sydney. We’ll see…