Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Don't Need to Know Where I'm Going... Just Need to Know Where I've Been

Apologies for the fact that this wasn't up earlier, I was exhausted when I got home last night and had a bit of a lazy day today.

Saturday was a full on day. Like, I was shattered by the time I got home and actually sat down, and it wasn't even 10pm yet, which rarely ever happens for me.

My day truly began when my friend Emily and I left from her house just before half past 9, headed for Mundaring. Our first stop was to be Mundaring Weir, the main supply point for the Goldfields Pipeline. We remarked over how beautiful the day was, and reached Mundaring Weir Road by 10am. A few wrong turns led us down the road to the old pump station, which is no longer in use but still stands as an education tool for sharing the history of Mundaring Weir and the pipeline.

Mundaring Weir was completed in the early 1900's, having been envisioned by C.Y. O'Connor in the late 1800's. It impounds the Helena River and pumps water through the well known Goldfields Pipeline, up the Darling Scarp, and across Western Australian to the mining town of Kalgoorlie. The dam is currently sitting at 35% capacity, a 20% drop in what it was holding at the same time last year. Western Australia is basically in a permanent state of drought. However, it has overflowed before, the last time being shortly after I was born in 1996.

Lake C.Y. O'Connor - the reservoir for Mundaring Weir. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
We soaked up the breathtaking views over the reservoir before continuing on the walk to the weir wall. It was a dizzying height above the ground, and I found I started experiencing mild vertigo if I didn't keep my head up while walking across the wall. The sloping wall of the weir seemed to just fall forever towards the ground, and the pump station looked so small from up on top of the wall.

Looking over the other side was a saddening reminder of just how bad the drought situation in Western Australia is. In the photo above, there was a time where the water would have come to about 10 metres lower than the level of the lookout, and looking over the wall towards the reservoir brought a sobering feeling. The water was perhaps 20 metres, possibly more, below the top of the wall. The pipe beneath the pump house on the walkway was rusted away almost to the top, a reminder of where the water once touched. It's hard to believe it could ever have overflowed.

As beautiful as Mundaring Weir is, it made me really think about what we are doing to our incredible country.

We walked across the slatted bridge to the southern side of the dam, where we read a plaque that gave some information about the purpose of the dam. Having soaked up the sights and relished in the beauty of the valley, we headed back to the car (which involved climbing about a million stairs, oh my god).

Out of Mundaring, we were on the road to Northam, and I was entranced by the scenery. The last time I had driven the highway had been the middle of the night, and the picture I had in my mind of the area around the road could not have been further from the truth. Rolling hills, lush green grass, and every so often, a glimpse of the pipeline through the trees. We started up a fun game of 'spot the pipeline', and the only thing I could compare seeing the pipeline through the trees like that would be watching an animal running alongside vehicles on the highway. It disappears often, deviating far and wide around the small settlements that hugged the road, but every so often, dips back toward the road to remind you it's still there.

We stopped in Clackline because I wanted to see Clackline Bridge. There's nothing special about it. At all. But it was once the carriageway for the Great Eastern Highway until 2008, and you probably know by now that I have an odd fascination with the highway, so that was a good enough reason to stop. I'm glad we did.

Clackline Bridge looks old and rickety at 81 years old, but it has a beautiful way of creating its own world beneath it. It is literally right next to the highway, you can see it as you drive past, but standing beneath it, I don't even remember hearing the cars and trucks flying past. Beneath it was a little stream, Clackline Brook, trickling over rocks as it pooled at the bottom, and my god, this place had so much beauty about it.

Clackline Brook. The Goldfields Pipeline is visible in the background. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
Walking under the bridge, most of the brook had actually dried up save the small trickles here and there, but on the other side of the bridge, I found a sight that made me go 'wow'. And then I snapped what I think is my favourite photo from that day.

Clackline Bridge. Beautiful. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
Back on the road, we finished the remaining ten minute stretch to Northam. Reaching the town centre, we headed straight for Bernard Park and sat down by the edge of the Avon River to enjoy a packed lunch. It was a beautiful day, and we were able to sit there for nearly an hour before some 'shifty' looking people started arguing a little way up the path and we began feeling uncomfortable. So we decided to leave and go to the Old Northam Railway Station. However, we found it closed, not opening until later that afternoon. Remembering there had been a lookout on the road in from the highway, we headed back up the hill.

The lookout was breathtaking. There's something very freeing about being out in the country, under all that open sky, with land and hills as far as the eye can see. The Wheatbelt is extremely beautiful if the right person can appreciate it. Many people hate the country, and I find it hard to understand why when we have such a beautiful country.

Mt Ommaney Lookout, Northam. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
I mean, just look at that.

We stayed up there until the old station museum opened, and headed back into town. The museum was tiny, but packed full of history of the old Eastern Railway, and it was clear the man who took us around had quite a passion for the stories he was telling us. He was rather impressed that I had such an appreciation for the country and knew of many small country towns; I guess teenage girls aren't all that interested these days.

The old engine that stands as a static model in the old Northam yard. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
 Northam Station closed in 1966, the same year the signal box burned down. Operations were moved to the new station on the new Eastern Railway alignment, and freight operations moved to Avon Yard, most of which was put out of service in 2013. The rail industry in Northam has all but died, being kept running only by the visits from The Prospector, the rail service linking Perth and Kalgoorlie, and the Avonlink rail service from Perth to Northam.

The signal box that burnt down 50 years ago in 1966. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
After perusing the museum, we got back on the open road, deciding to head to Meckering and see if anything was worth looking at. There wasn't much in Meckering itself (an earthquake exhibit that we couldn't find), but the views along the highway remained rustic and calming.

Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
In Meckering, we found an open field, in front of which sat a large section of the pipeline. I decided that here would be the best place to recreate an old photo from my childhood.

When I was six years old, my family drove to Kalgoorlie to visit my cousins. At one point along the highway, we stopped, and my dad lifted me up onto the pipeline for a photo. It was much bigger to me back then, but in Meckering, still proved to be a struggle to climb onto! However, recreating the photo was an awesome experience, however short lived, and reminded me just how much I want to keep in touch with my state heritage. The flat land and open views were very freeing.

Pipeline in Meckering. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
While our original plan was to head to Cunderdin, we nixed that idea and turned back for Northam. Having loved the lookout, we killed an hour or so back up there, getting some amazing sun flare photos through the trees.

Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
Before going to dinner at the Riverside Hotel, we walked across the suspension bridge over the Avon River. It is the longest pedestrian only suspension bridge in Australia, and the sunset happened to line up directly with the tall end of the bridge as we walked across, and it made for a stunning photo.
Suspension bridge over the Avon River. Photo copyright of Courtney Wright.
We had to wait an hour at Riverside for the kitchen to open, but we had some drinks and chatted with a couple of locals. Emily ordered a chicken burger for dinner while I had pork ribs, and the food was nothing short of amazing. Feeling completely stuffed, we climbed back in the car, and headed for the lookout for one last look over Northam, now cast in darkness. I did get a photo, but it wasn't a very good shot, so I'll just say that the view of the town all lit up with the full moon overhead was incredible. The hills were no longer visible, but speckles of light from farmhouses and the occasional car on York Road were. After fighting off a flock of mosquitoes the size of dogs that flew into the car, we left.

The drive back was not as dark as I remember, possibly because of the full moon. I was astounded that people were overtaking me when I was already doing the speed limit of 110km/h. Do people not know or care that driving like that on a country road could kill them?

We made it back in to Midland after driving through some seriously acrid burn-off smoke, and stopped for ice-cream. It was much colder than I remembered it being when we left. Feeling like we had achieved a grand adventure in the day, I dropped Emily home, and went home where I sank very gratefully into my bed.

All in all, it was an eye opening day. I have gained such an appreciation for the country I live in, and I can't wait to head out east again. There is something very very beautiful about the open skies over the Wheatbelt, and you can't help but feel so free. This Saturday I am off to York with another friend, Kat. It's going to be an awesome day, and I can't wait to share.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Visiting King Neptune

Saturday, 16th April - 3pm.

Having just got home from seeing The Divergent Series: Allegiant (LOVED IT!), Chelsea and I embarked on yet another adventure, albeit one not as far fetched or potentially dangerous as the midnight drive to Northam. This time, we headed for Two Rocks, the northernmost point of the Perth Metropolitan Region.

Two Rocks sits just north of Yanchep, a coastal beach community that started as a small crayfishing settlement and was further developed in the 1970's by Alan Bond. Once considered rather isolated, today it only takes roughly a 45 minute drive along Marmion Avenue to reach. The region is home to Yanchep National Park, which offers beautiful nature and wildlife, and absolutely breathtaking views.

Loch McNess at Yanchep National Park
The reason we were heading for Two Rocks was to see the well known King Neptune statue. For a short term leading up to the 1990's, Two Rocks was home to the Atlantis Marine Park, headed up by a massive statue of King Neptune and his trident. The park went defunct and was abandoned, but King Neptune and a few other small features of the park still remain.

The drive up Marmion was cruisy, and we finally reached Yanchep Beach Road without too much fuss. A lot of the drive was spent discussing the various dramas going on in our lives, but we were having fun either way. Following Yanchep Beach Road, we eventually hit Two Rocks Road, and this was where the drive changed. Houses and suburban streets gave way to shrub covered dunes that rose and fell with the road, and every so often, the ocean would peek through between the sand dunes to greet us as we drove along. The road felt like a country road in that there wasn't much around it, but those views are unparalleled.

We came around the bend after about ten minutes driving up to Two Rocks, and lo and behold, there was King Neptune, greeting us from atop his hilly perch as he looked out over Two Rocks. I cheered happily, not really sure why, but glad to see our final destination.

After parking opposite Neptune, we walked over to the fence to discover that King Neptune has opening hours, and we were three hours too late. But deciding that we weren't going to let the long drive be for nothing, we walked around a little way and found a hole in the fence. We followed the worn path into the bush, and found ourselves standing on remains of concrete walls, asphalt paths, and a wooden bridge.

We were standing in the remains of Atlantis Marine Park.

Now, there isn't much left. But if you have a keen eye and compare the land today to an old photo of the park, judging by where we were standing in relation to King Neptune, the area in front of us was once the main dolphin pool. And off to the left, we followed the path a little further to find an open flattened plain that had clearly once been full of bush, but was struggling to regrow. This had once been a set of three or four pools.

It was pretty cool to see where the old park had been, and we did get a fright when something moved in the bush right next to my foot, but it was a fun little walkabout, and after about half an hour and a few selfies, we got back in the car to head home.

As someone who hates driving the same road if there's another road with different scenery to see, instead of going back down Marmion, We took Yanchep Beach Road all the way to Wanneroo Road. This was more like a country drive, and then deciding I would happily go a longer way, instead of heading back down Wanneroo to home, we turned left onto Joondalup Drive, which turned into Neaves Road and took us through some isolated bushland as the sun was starting to set. The contrast of the purple/grey sky with streaks of pink against the dusty green bushland was very peaceful and calming, but unfortunately, I don't have a photo.

Onto Great Northern Highway at the end of Neaves Road, we passed through Bullsbrook and RAAF Pearce. I tried to get a glimpse of the jets, but they must keep them well out of sight of the road. Not sure why. Everyone knows they have them.

It was after six and dark by the time we got back to Chelsea's, but it was a fun excursion for both of us, who had never been to Yanchep or Two Rocks. I had seen King Neptune on the news, but seeing him in person was much cooler.

Next time, we'll have to go during opening hours and get some real photos with the King of the Sea. Oh well.

This week, I am back off to Northam with another friend, Emily, only this time, during daylight hours. We'll be making a few stops along the way for some photos and a bit of history, before having lunch and dinner in Northam. So keep an eye out here for the story, and on my Instagram (right sidebar) for the photos!

Drive to Nowhere

Monday, 6th April 2016 - 1am.

You see it on Tumblr all the time. People saying they wish they could just get in a car, take their friends, and drive. How they want to just start driving at night and see where they end up.

Well, my best friend and I actually did it.

We were bored. It was very late and we were wide awake, FaceTiming another one of my closest friends, Aoife, who lives in Canada. After roughly an hour talking to her, we decided to go for a drive. We didn't know where we were going, and we didn't really plan it. Chelsea, my best friend, had no suggestions, so I suggested getting on the Great Eastern Highway and seeing where we ended up. In hindsight, we probably didn't think this through, but it led to a surprisingly memorable night.

For a tiny bit of context, the Great Eastern Highway is a 591 kilometre long highway that runs from Victoria Park in Perth's central region, to Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a large mining town at the center of the goldfields. It's a long, largely remote, and sometimes treacherous highway that offers visits to unique country towns in the Wheatbelt, and amazing views of the landscape out in the areas where you feel like you're the only person left on Earth.

So we left. The drive to Midland via Reid Highway, which is the way I go to get to Great Eastern Highway eastbound, was quick and full of chatter. We were excited; we'd never really done anything like this before. We had a playlist full of music, a few snacks, and a bottle of water each. The ascent up Greenmount left our ears popping, and before too long, we had sailed through Mundaring and Sawyer's Valley, and were officially on our way.

There is something really magical about driving on a highway at night. For me, there is something especially magical about driving the Great Eastern Highway at night. I couldn't really tell you why. I've always had a bit of a fascination with roads, even though they're just flat plains of sealed tar. For me, Great Eastern holds a sense of grandeur. While it's not the only link, it is the most direct route out of Western Australia to head for the Eastern States. It's a vital road for the Goldfields and the Wheatbelt region, as many trucks use it to carry goods and produce to and from Perth, providing a thriving economy. And most of all? There is something beautiful about driving through rural Australia.

We kept driving, the only things visible to us being whatever was illuminated by my high beam headlights. We passed the turnoff for Chidlow, followed by Gorrie. When we passed The Lakes, a sign lit up by my headlights read 'You are now leaving the Perth Metropolitan Region'. By now, it was half past one. I looked at Chelsea and asked if we should keep going.

She said yes.

The road curved and rose and turned and fell. A few road trains passed us, probably glad to be back in Perth for a good night's sleep. A few times, I ran over the rumble strips while giving trucks a wide berth at the tighter turns in the highway. We blew past Wundowie, through the sleepy town of Bakers Hill, and when I saw the sign for Clackline, I knew we were far away from Perth.

Eventually, the road widened out and streetlights came into view. We had reached the turnoff for Northam. The army base was visible over the trees, lit up brighter than a Christmas Tree. I knew going any further than Northam would constitute getting home at sunrise, so I took a right and we headed into the heart of Northam.

Northam was dead. Absolutely quiet. Not one person to be seen. Granted it was half past two in the morning, but in Perth at half past two, there's always people wandering around.

Realising there was nothing to do or see, we decided to turn around and head back home. On the way out, we passed a sign that read:

Perth         99km

I laughed, upon realising just how far we had come.

The drive back felt faster, and we stopped for a photo of the city while descending Greenmount Hill back into Midland. By 4am, we were tucked up in bed.

It was a little pointless in the end, but not for nothing. It renewed my love of country driving, even though I couldn't see a thing. I now have some night time highway experience, which, when you live in Perth, is an invaluable skill to have. And I realised that night just how badly I wanted to explore this beautiful state and share it with the world.

And so Beautiful Wanderlust was born.