A few days in the WA Wheatbelt

Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012 at 10:39

ExplorOz - David & Michelle



Our family was well overdue for a little getaway in the bush. So we set aside a few days midweek during the recent school holidays and simply hoped to get a few nights around the campfire together.

As usual, things never go to plan perfectly easily. We had done a "breakdown" the back of the cruiser after our last big trip so that we have better use of the vehicle around home, but to put it all back together is a full day's job. Just to clarify, we had removed all the following:

- double rear drawer system with fridge slide
- cargo barrier
- inverter
- 65L custom stainless water tank

It's all large stuff that has to be dragged out from the back shed, and fiddly to fit into place. So, we agreed we'd just cope without it all and keep it simple!. As we started packing, I found certain inconveniences I had to get around such as not having my special spots to hold the condiments, and the proven perfect place to store all my bulky vegies and fruit. I thought I solved that quite well, but it must have really thrown me (as we later discovered when we arrived at camp)... but more about that later!

So our packing arrangement ended up being the Engel plus an insulated soft fridge-bag, 2 tubs (1 food, the other cooking equipment), and the gas cooker & clothes bags inside the wagon, and on the roofrack we had a 25L water can with the swags & the gas bottle.

I'd also asked the kids to leave their iPods & DSiXLs at home, and they happily obliged! Probably because they know it's no use arguing with their mother over such issues when she's made her mind up. Unfortunately, David is not so easily swayed to my way of thinking and as we setup off I was confronted with the Spot tracker & a 7'' tablet running OziExplorer for Android and topo 250 maps suctioned to the windscreen, plus his iPhone in the car-kit, and the iPad also made a guest appearance (but was actually never used). I posted a status on my Facebook profile from my iPhone that we were going away unplugged, and then shutdown the phone and put it in the glovebox. It felt soooo good!

Here's the User Trek file of where we went.
And here's my diary if you care to read it. (by Michelle)

Day One - Monday 8th October 2012

Perth - Dryandra

We only had about 200k to travel so whilst we were ready for a morning getaway, we had to stop for a fuel-up, and again at a camping store to buy a replacement headlamp (for the one that never turned up).

We took the Albany Highway south until reaching a little turnoff at North Bannister, and from here we tracked through some minor roads where the countryside was coloured by the late spring wildflowers which delighted us all. We arrived in time to make a camp and prepare a yummy fresh lunch of wraps with ham, lettuce, avocado, grated carrot, grated raw beetroot, yellow capsicum and lebanese cucumber.

Our spot was the Congelin Campground on the edge of the Dryandra Woodland a little north of Narrogin. It must be very underrated, because I'd never heard of it till this week when someone lovely in the Forum gave me the tip and it's so perfect! But it was disappointing to be confronted with a "no-campfires" sign. Had we been there just a week earlier we would've been able to enjoy our much sought-after campfire, but it was not to be.

Our kids noticed however that down by what they call the "caravanner's camp", people were having campfires despite the ban. Whilst we could see that the fire risk was low its disappointing when other people think they're above the rules. We were camped in another section far away from others in the "individual camps" section, where the long-drop toilet was completely new and all we had was the sound of bees! They didn't bother us, but we all started to feel itchy after a while and had to get out the repellant. That was a first for the season!

We had a lovely afternoon under the trees at the camp, playing games of GREED & Yahtzee, reading books, and walking around the area. There's a very short stroll up the old rail line from the camps to Congelin Dam itself, which we all found enjoyable. The kids loved this site - and took off into the dense tree growth to explore and play - it sounded like music to my ears!



But the best moment of the day was when another family from the caravanners camp area walked past our site with a little girl who loudly asked her father what we were doing there, to which he replied "that's their campsite", and she said "but daddy, where do they sleep", to which he pointed and said "they sleep in those swags". The little girl found this unbelievable and squealed "outside...? with all the mosquitoes?!" and we all cracked up laughing!!! Our kids repeated it over and over copying the girls incredulous intonation for the rest of the trip.

Because we'd had a late lunch, and had to head off early for the nocturnal walk at Barna Mia, we opted to have a late dinner upon our return. We were lucky enough to see all 5 species they have there - sightings are not guaranteed but the rangers prepare trays of fruit and pellets and we put them down at set "feeding stations", whilst the ranger uses a couple of large diameter flash-lights with a red cover to illuminate the area without upsetting the animals. I'm pretty sure everyone felt as I did when within seconds we saw the little fluffys creep and bounce out of the bushes to tuck into dinner without a care in the world about us looking on. They skitted through our legs, bounded over foot and performed their special antics much to the delight of the kids. The nocturnal house at the zoo is always our favourite spot, but to see not one, but two Bilbies in the wild, Wurrup, Quenda, lots of Boodies, and Woylies, was really very special. Flash photography was not allowed, so sorry about the fuzzy red images, but you get the picture. It was about 9pm when we arrived back at camp so I popped the chevups onto the hotplate of our gas cooker and some baby zucchini & cauliflower in the billy for a quick & easy but tasty meal. Unfortunately, we then discovered what I'd forgotten to pack... no dish-washing cloth, no tomato sauce, mayo, chutneys, tartare etc, no tongs, no paper towel, no Vegemite or jam, and no lollies for David's after-dinner sweet tooth. Oops! We also only had 1 bottle of milk with a use-by date of 9th October but I did remember the marshmallows for the kids to cook over the gas flame, and used a H2No towel as a dishcloth. I coped heaps of good-natured flak for it though.



Day Two - Tuesday 9th October 2012

Dryandra Woodland

We were just getting into the swing of being unplugged and in the bush and this was such a peaceful camp that we decided to stay another day. After a beautiful breakfast of muesli with yoghurt, fresh strawberries & kiwi fruit, we left camp in the cool of the morning to do a bit of exploring through the Dryandra woodland. It's a unique "island" of woodland surrounded by the wheatfarms. A series of walk, cycle and drive trails are marked on the DEC info map so we headed out to investigate.

We drove from the camp along the Sounds of Dryandra Audio Trail. I'm so glad the spring wildflowers were still out but I can only imagine how fabulous it would be earlier in September so might come back again it was so good.



We then did the 5km Ochre Walk, which turned out to be really very worthwhile and interesting. The kids loved rubbing their hands in the ochre pit and spitting to make paint. The walk trail is signed with delightful colour paintings and handwritten text by a child descendant of the Noongar people and is simple and sets just the right tone for appreciating the surroundings. Our kids are constantly taught about the Noongar people through school so they felt like they knew something and kept telling us "facts" and "stories" along the way about what the Noongar people did with the plants etc, which was backed up by some more signage. There's also a old fire lookout at the top of the hill. There is a road leading to it marked on the maps, and the track was in good nick but I don't think it's intended as a driving track and I think I spied the start of it had been bulldozed to stop people heading up it as we might have done. It was all pretty good really and whilst David and I would normally dash around a 5km trail in under 30mins we enjoyed the leisure of chatting as we strolled. I'm nursing a 10 month knee injury anyway and have another week until my running rehab program starts so I was happy to "take it easy". In fact, it was still uncomfortable on any downhill slopes.... (feeling decrepid these days).



After our walk, we then drove on to visit the area around the Old Mill Dam and then went for a look at the Dryandra Village. Oh my goodness, what a find this is! The kids dashed out of the car to play and climb all over the fantastic old-fashioned playground equipment in a field of yellow dandelions, while we made some big yummy sandwiches with roast chicken breast & salad. It was simply gorgeous to see them having so much fun playing outdoors. The cottages here are available for holiday rentals too - and by the looks would be fantastic place to be with a group of friends during early spring (if they can cope with the outhouse!).



Following this we drove up Kawana Road, which is little track through the scrub to the top of the Lol Gray Picnic Area. To our eye, this was probably the most overrated of the sites shown on their things to do map and I certainly would have been miffed if I'd walked 26km to get there. The fire tree lookout is not possible to climb like the ones around Pemberton and is just a tiny tree no more than 10m high. We then headed off along the Newell Road to pick up the Gura Road which cuts a line between the outer edge of the woodland and the neighbouring farmland which gives you the full perspective of this "natural island". The road then becomes Marri Road and you drive past Barna Mia. The route is labelled as the Darwinia Trail but we took a few of the site tracks too, and eventually came back to camp in the early afternoon for some more family games and hide n' seek in the dense trees around our camp.



In hindsight, we could've left camp then and there to shorten our driving distance the next day through the northern wheatbelt, but after our big excursion we were just happy to sit back and chillax, so we did!

Dinner was crumbed chicken tenderloins lightly fried in healthy coconut oil for the kids, with veal cutlets for us parents cooked over the grillplate on our gas cooker, and more zucchini & cauliflower on the side for all.

(Note: I've been using coconut oil for a few years now and have found it the perfect option for camping. You buy the "oil" in a 300ml or 650ml or 1L jar with a wide opening as it is solid at temps under 25 degrees and you scoop it out with a spoon. The jar is also often plastic so its a perfect travelling option and packs much better than narrow neck oil bottles. Best of all, pure unrefined extra virgin coconut oil is a healthy fat that doesn't break down when heated like many other oils that convert to unhealthy trans fats and is perfect for high-heat cooking like frying. It's taken off in Australia over the last few years, and now you can even buy it in Woolies at about a third of the price it used to be in the health food stores).

Day Three - Wednesday 10th October 2012

Dryandra - Ellachbutting Rock

The milk was still tasting fresh even though it was now past its use-by so we poured the last of it on our cereals then packed up and left camp before 9am. Although my original plan was to only drive as far as Kookerbin Rock (outside Bruce Rock) we thought we'd easily make it to Ellachbutting Rock if we just put the pedal to the metal so that was the plan for the start of the day.

We navigated our way north-east and followed every off-bitumen track we could find that would keep us on the shortest path. We were rewarded by thick pockets of wildflowers, tons of ringneck parrots, active snakes & bobtails, and no traffic. By mid-morning we'd arrived in the lovely little country town of Corrigin where the people are delightfully friendly! We stopped and patronised the cafe (homemade pie for David) and a jar of chilli jam made by the owner to spice up our dinners, and across the road to the supermarket for ice-creams for the kids, and a dishcloth, Vegemite, etc to replenish the larder, then into the newsagent to buy the kids a new novel as they'd already finished what they'd brought with them. For $6 each I found hard-covered Edith Blyton books - perfect! The local cop parked alongside our truck and immediately quizzed David about our Bridgestone tyres, and we stayed chatting for some time. I think we enjoyed the people of Corrigin so much that we decided to patronise the local establishments of Merredin next with a yummy lunch at Cafe 56 I think it was called.

We poked around the back of Merredin investigating Merredin Peak, and the old Hospital ruins. Unfortunately, we felt we'd better not stop anymore so we skipped out visiting Sandford Rock, Baladjie Rock, Chiddacopping Hill, and even Yanneymooning Hill as we expected the afternoon campers would already be arrived at Ellachbutting Rock and wanted to ensure we didn't come in too late to get a suitable camp for our swags - sometimes not easy in established campgrounds.



We actually found a pretty good spot, although there were quite a few other campers about, we didn't really come into contact with anyone. We had unwittingly timed our arrival perfectly as it turned out. Our camp doesn't take long to set up, and the kids had already climbed to the top of the rock by the time we took a walk to the toilet and back. But with the setting sun about to happen, we decided to drive back around to the other side to explore those walks in the afternoon light. Not far from camp on the one-way loop road I spied a faint sign marking a 4WD track that took us right up to the top of the rock! It wasn't bad, just had a few deep sections of erosion that had badly rutted the track that you certainly couldn't take a standard vehicle or any low clearance vehicle up. That track wasn't listed anywhere on the map or info signboards - its so refreshing to feel you've "found" something. Anyway, when we got to the top and got out, the kids said we were at the spot they had climbed up to so we explored around the top and placed our stones on the cairns up there for a bit. Great views.

Moving on in the vehicle, we got back to the marked walk trails to Monty's Pass and the Wave. We had so much fun. Monty's Pass is a fantastic walk-through cave-like split in the rock. It's pitch dark in the middle but I took some interesting photos.

On the other side, and again, unmarked or mentioned anywhere, we noticed another little cave that we called Echo Chamber because if you stand in the right corner and stamp your feet or make a sound, you'll hear a fantastic reverberation as it rolls and bounces around the curved walls and comes back to your ears. David and the kids got a big kick out of that! There was also a cute little porthole window to look out.

As we walked back to the cruiser, we picked up some great little nuts on the ground with swirl patterns that amused the kids. I don't know the name, or which tree they were from but the kids plan to make a necklace from them.



David was having such a great time that he realised he really didn't want to leave this camp tomorrow but had a valued client expecting him to visit to do a server upgrade on Friday morning. I didn't know of this, but had expected we'd come back to Perth Thursday night anyway. He tried to get enough service to send a text message to see if the appointment could be pushed back to the following week but had to climb back up the rock to send it.

Back at camp we had plenty of time to build the campfire and prepare our meal. Kids had another meal of crumbed chicken fillets with pasta and vegies, and we had spicy marinated beef steaks and vegies topped off with the chilli jam from Corrigin. Best of all, the kids got to sit around the campfire, toast their marshmallows and gaze at the stars.

Day Four - Thursday 11th October 2012

Ellachbutting Rock - Perth

Despite David's client responding to the text and being very obliging by suggesting a shift of the job to Sunday, David said he was happy to head back and we'd still have time to poke around today along the way. It was apparent there was heaps more to see out here, so we intend to come back out another time (perhaps next Spring). Before packing up, we let the kids show us their way up the rock, had our eggs & toast (on vegemite of course).

We poked around Geeraning Rock and found a very pretty gully full of red wildflowers growing on the rock but I didn't have my camera with me on this walk to show you! There's also a well at the bottom of this gully, similar to the one at Ellachbutting Rock. Next stop was Beringbooding Rock, which required a fair bit of time to explore. Quite impressive and well worth the stop. We continued heading west following the abandoned railway line dotted with wheatbins that serviced the surrounding wheatfarms. The kids didn't think much of these "farms" - indeed these farmers would be doing it tough and much of the area looked on the edge of the being arid. Most of the sidings once supported early townships that have now disappeared, but there are still wheat bins along the way that seem to be in use despite the railway line being unserviceable.



At Merredin I picked up a little brochure/map with a few local sites noted and headed for Datjoin Rock and cave, where a man named Brockman apparently on the run from police had attempted to hid out with his family of 12 kids and wife. The brochure depicted we'd find a delightful picnic site etc but all that was left now is a rustic "charm". There was as sign at a well at the site with a little story and another sign at what appeared to be ruins of a hut where it was said the man hid-out. However the brochure told of the story of the family hiding out in the rocks themselves and showed a photo of a large family at a distinctive looking rock formation - so off into the scrub went the Martin family in search of that exact spot. I'm sure we walked around for 40 minutes then drove off and poked around in every little track nearby and other rocksites simply not to miss this "spot" and in the end when it got hot and the flies were bothersome only David was left to continue his hunt for the illustrious rock pictured in the brochure. This last attempt took an awfully long time, while we waited in the vehicle and when he came back scratched and battered and dejected for not finding it I don't think he was too impressed with the rest of the information in the tourism brochure I had found. But we continued on into a little township called Beacon.

This part of the wheatbelt really wasn't rewarding, so we turned south and drove down to Bencubbin (again on advice from the glossy brochure) that we'd find many places of interest, in particular Marshall Rock, and Pergandes Sheep Yards sounded appealing. Arriving at Marshall Rock was a ridiculous long historical story on a signboard that made the eyes glaze over when trying to read it out the car window so we drove into the carpark area and tried to find the best way to get up the rock, thinking this would be a walk but found the road took us right up to the top. We planned to have lunch here but it was blowing a gale and the view whilst vast, was uninspiring so we drove back down the rock to pick a spot under the lovely big trees but it still seemed too windy so we thought we'd drove on and see what conditions were like at Pergandes. It was very nearby and quite interesting but totally unsuitable for a lunch stop. So we went back to Marshall Rock to make lunch. The temp had increased significantly that day but it was the flies that made lunch almost unbearable. We just couldn't get food into our mouth without a gazillion flies trying their luck so it was a quick stop and high-tail it out of Bencubbin bound for Koorda and beyond that Wongin Hills. On approach to Wongin Hills the landscape become greener and traffic increased. David was starting to get a bit weary from so much driving and no coffee, and we were kicking ourselves for not getting a Jet Boil Flash Cooking System with Coffee Plunger. Now would be the ideal time to use it for sure (note to self to add it to the Xmas wish-list). Along the way, I spied a sign on a tree promoting fresh coffee 7 days at Cadoux. It was about 3 o'clock as we rolled into town - perfect time for an afternoon coffee break so you can imagine our disappointment to see the sign "open 8.30 - 2.30 7 days". Who would close a town coffee shop at 2.30pm?

Anyway, we're nearing civilisation and surely Wongin Hills would have a coffee shop. Well indeed they do - 3 in fact. And all closed when we arrived around 3.30pm. I dug some sort of snack out of the food tubs and kept my drowsy eyes on David's drowsy eyes all the way to Bindoon where we knew there was a very gourmet coffee shop (Bindoon Bakehaus & Cafe). It was overcrowded with police, which seemed a bit off putting at first but after chatting to them was assured there was no incident just a cops celebration for the new recruits who'd just finished their course. The kids had fun spying off their guns in holsters and chatting with the lead instructor who asked the kids if they'd been sleeping in a tent, to which they loved shocking people with their reply "no! we sleep in swags". They are seeing the fun in realising that some people really do think we are crazy to lay down on the ground to sleep, especially the girls. Even the cop in Corrigin told us the story of his daughter not liking being away from the conveniences of a caravan park. I'm hoping our girls will continue to know that there's so much more to be gained from camping with the basics. In anycase, when they arrive home they're just like us - quietly respectful of the mod cons, and equally aware of how much our modern lifestyles have come to depend on what is in reality luxuries. It is important to be reminded of how easily a human being can survive with the bare basics. And yet, in comparison to our early pioneers, we were doing it easy with our big comfy cruiser with aircon, fridge and maps confirming what lay ahead.

That signboard I mentioned at Marshall Rock with all the history.... I did actually speed read it, and retold the gist of it to the kids, which told the story of how and why the first pastoralists came to be in the Bencubbin area. They are just old enough to start to appreciate how good they have it compared to how hard it would have been for the early settlers.

Arriving back home in Perth our vehicle was broken into overnight but thankfully we had already stripped everything out and off it and all the gear was locked in the garage on the floor, which is why the vehicle wasn't inside the garage. The little buggers - it just leaves such a nasty taste in your mouth when people invade your privacy. Nothing was taken, and nothing damaged. I think the street light may have picked up the suction mounts (empty) on the dash and perhaps they thought they'd find the navigator in the console or glovebox but thankfully we were one step ahead.

This trip was the first chance we've had to use the H2No towels in a camping situation - and we couldn't believe how many uses we all found for them. Even the kids took to keeping themselves clean. And the the spare wheel rubbish bag makes such a huge difference, that's a definite winner. So easy to use and heaps of room, did the job perfectly.

Now... when's the next real big trip? Maybe we'll try another short local trip over Easter next year. Hope you enjoyed our blog.
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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