One of the easiest mistakes to make while travelling is to try to fit too much in and yesterday I definitely fell victim to the overstretched itinerary. As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m not one to take it slow and I do tend to travel at breakneck speed (even for a guidebook writer) so when I planned to make five stops and travel 500km in one day I thought I could handle it. Turns out I was wrong.
I left Margaret River around 8am and dashed south to make the first tour of the day at Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. I climbed its 176 steps with a lovely German couple I regretted offering to take a picture of (they posed for far more than was strictly polite) and a family of what turned out to be complete bogans. Anyone unfamiliar with Aussie slang may have to look that one up but its meaning may become clear when I say that the three grubby kids all climbed the tower in bare feet.
But I didn’t have time to soak it up. Back in the car it was two hours to the Gloucester Tree (an old fire watchtower you can climb up on metal poles sticking out from its sides), which I barely had time to call in at, and then another half an hour to Northcliffe and the Understory Sculpture Walk. WA was having its hottest November day in seven years or something (being so close culturally to us Brits, this of course made the paper) and I had chosen the peak of the heat to climb out of my air-conditioned bubble and walk 1.2km. Fortunately most of the sculptures were among the trees so shade was abundant and the MP3 player soundtrack meant it was easy to learn about the artwork without too much concentration. There were sculptures of all kinds, from carved wooden seats to thrusting metal flowers wrapped around a tree and I had the place to myself – a hint that Northcliffe’s plan to keep the visitors coming by building this may not be quite paying off just yet.
Back in the car I had about 1.5 hours to drive to the Valley of the Giants treetop walk and this is where I came a gutser, as they say in these parts. First I had to negotiate roadworks – not British roadworks where you barely pass within half a mile of any action, but Aussie roadworks where the bitumen was literally completely uprooted and the dusty, rutted underneath was my only way through. I passed a working digger with about three inches to spare and very nearly ended up in the ditch the other side thanks to its roadhogging but, thanks be to the car hire gods, the car survived unscathed.
The road from here was straight as a tightrope and there was barely an undulation to keep me alert for kilometre after kilometre. I felt very drowsy so pulled in to take a break and decided to climb into the back for a few minutes. The next thing I knew half an hour had passed and I felt like I’d been hit by a roadtrain – fortunately, my in-one-piece car attested that this was not the case. Now late for my 4pm appointment (who knew guidebook research was so much like being a travelling salesman) I had to push on, stifling my yawns.
Suffice to say, I made it in one piece and the tree-top walk was as spectacular as I remembered. Being level with the tops of the tingle and karri trees is by far the best way to understand their great height and the walk around the forest floor allowed me to sit inside a tree big enough to drive through.
Feeling more alert for the 45-minute drive to Denmark I even managed a pit stop at Williams Bay National Park where the deep blue sky made Greens Pool an even more spectacular shade of green than normal and the granite outcrops of Elephant Rocks seem utterly idyllic.
I was left with less than half an hour to shower and change for dinner at Pepper & Salt (a fab new restaurant at Matilda’s Estate winery where I had deliciously juicy steak and yummy shiraz) and wasn’t the best company I’ve ever been for meeting my contact from the tourist board. Feeling like I just wanted to go to bed during one of the nicest dinners I’ve had in a while made me realize that I need to build in more rest time and not spend 24 hours of every day thinking about work. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to sit and smell the coffee – both figuratively and literally.