Footy (not to be confused with footsie)

The Aussie footy (Australian Rules Football) season has been in full swing for several weeks now. We made it out for our first pro footy game a few weeks ago – the West Coast Eagles vs. the Melbourne Demons. A colleague of my husband’s was kind enough to lend us season tickets for a game. I guess this is old news for fans of the sport. Still, I thought it might be fun to post some pics.

The Oval

Footy in Australia is about on par with American football or hockey in Canada. It’s big. We had to squeeze onto a train packed full to the doors with yellow and blue garbed fans to get to the stadium in Subiaco (just east of downtown Perth).

I believe it’s considered a winter sport, but as I’m still relatively new to the climate here I think it’s hilarious that the team uniforms consist of shorts and sleeveless shirts. Only in Australia…or someplace equally warm. I’m trying to picture American football players running around in similar clothing in below freezing conditions and I just can’t.

The bounce (I'm not sure what the technical term is)

The crowd, for the most part, was fantastic (there was an obnoxious drunk guy cheering for the opposing team a few rows behind us). I was impressed by how the fans interacted with the game as a single organism. It was easy to tell from the response if something good or bad happened because everyone shouted and sighed in perfect unison.

Unlike the sports matches I’ve been to before each team also had a theme song that played as they first ran out onto the field, to which much of the crowd enthusiastically sang along. I was particularly distracted by the Melbourne tune, an adaptation of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” You can check it out for yourself here. While I wasn’t the least bit offended, as an American it was too close to the original for me to take it seriously. You can also listen to the West Coast Eagles theme here.

I thought it particularly cool that the Eagles had a real, live eagle fly around the stadium just before game time. I didn’t see any real, live demons running around for the Melbourne team, but then again they weren’t the home team.

Player down

I noted a little preemptive pushing and shoving began before the game had even officially started. Later, when someone from the Melbourne team had the ball a woman behind me shouted, “Hit him!” And when he did, “Good boy!”

The kick

I’m hardly qualified to discuss the basic points of footy, let alone the finer ones, but I do know it constitutes a goal when the ball goes between the poles at the end of the oval. Maximum points if it makes it through the center two poles, and fewer points if it goes between a center pole and an outside pole (you can see all four poles on the far side of the oval in the picture at the top of this post).

The goal

I thought it was kind of odd that the crowd sighed a little dejected sigh when the ball went between the outer posts. I get that it’s not as exciting. Even so, it seems to me that points are points and something is better than nothing.

All in all it was a fun outing, and one I was glad to be able to participate in. It felt like a little initiation into Aussie culture. I’ve yet to commit my loyalties to any one team, but I think I’m beginning to see some of the allure in the sport.

Are any of you footy fans? What team do you root for?

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My mom, my grandmothers, and sewing projects with my girl

It so happens that Mother’s Day falls on the same day in Australia that it does in the US (this is not true for Father’s Day, which is in September in Oz). At 33 I’m the matriarch on my side of the family so the last few years I’ve decided to bask in the joys of being a mom instead of celebrating my own mother and grandmothers as I used to. Today Laura gave me a very thoughtful poem she’d written as well as a card she made for me – a Happy Mother’s Day card amusingly signed “a secret admirer.”

Even though I no longer pick out cards or plant flowers for my mom or grandmothers their influence lives on in my life. When I think of my paternal grandmother I think of a strong woman who persevered through adversity with a cheerful heart. She always had a smile and a treat for her grandchildren. I can still hear her reciting nursery rhymes as she joyfully sliced me an apple or brought out the M&M jar. Her easy chocolate peanut butter ice cream topping is one of my favorite indulgences.*

I picture my maternal grandmother singing one of her favorite hymns in her sweet old voice as she moved practiced but arthritic fingers over the piano. I remember one of the many times I slept over at her house we were playing Monopoly and I made up rules to turn the game in my favor as I filled the role of a somewhat shifty banker. I thought I was clever but I know now she must have seen through my act and lovingly played along all the same.

From my mom I inherited a love of books and music and shopping, as well as a passionate faith. More than anything she taught me the meaning of unconditional love.

I have no illusions that any of these women were perfect – they were not. But the positive effects they’ve had on my life are too numerous to count.

And so! In the spirit of Mother’s Day I thought today would be the perfect time to share with you my recent sewing projects for my daughter, as this is one of the many skills I learned from my mom. I’ve been meaning for some time to share more of my everyday “indoor” adventures, but if that’s not your thing don’t worry, there will be more outdoor adventures soon enough!

Pinning the pattern onto the fabric

At Christmastime Laura expressed an interest in a new sundress and when I didn’t see anything good at the stores I thought maybe we should just make one. She picked out the pattern and the material (from my existing stash).

Laura cutting out the skirt

Sadly I forgot to take pictures of the actual stitching but Laura helped to sew the seams on the skirt as well.

The finished product!

She really likes the back on the dress:

View from the back

The second dress I completed this week I actually started several months ago. Feeling super inspired by Marisa at the New Dress a Day blog I headed out to the thrift shop to find some dresses to restyle. I was thinking of turning this dress into a strapless top for myself but in the end I decided it would be best to rework it for Laura.

The dress: Scene 1

Laura really liked it as it was but at this point I was still planning to keep it for myself. First I got rid of the little flap of black that was hanging from the waist by a thread. I’m betting there used to be some sort of pin where that was attached. Next I got rid of the straps and the less than lovely elastic.

Losing the elastic

Saying good-bye to the straps

At this point I played with shortening the trunk and turning the dress into a strapless top for myself. I tried it out and it looked pretty cute but even with the elastic gone it was just a bit too tight for comfort. Then the dress went in a box for several months.

This week I pulled it out again and tried it on Laura, hoping for a little fresh inspiration. Rather than put the straps and elastic back on I consulted with Laura and decided to turn it into a sleeveless v-neck.

Cutting off the top and cutting out the "V"

I used my seam rippers to open up some arm holes and eventually cut more out of the V because it wasn’t quite deep enough. After I got to work on the seams I decided it would look better to have some lace trim along the neck and shoulders. Mostly I wanted to cover up my seams because they weren’t quite as perfect as I wanted them to be, but it really made a difference. I finished it with a fancy black button with fake jewels at the bottom of the V.

New dress!

It’s just a little on the big side (as is the first dress) but I sort of prefer that because she’ll be able to wear it for longer.

Dress #2 from the back

Fun times with my girl!

I hope you all have special women to celebrate on this fine spring (autumn?) day. Any favorite memories or skills they’ve passed on to you? Any cool sewing projects you’ve made recently? Do tell! πŸ˜‰

*Add Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup to a spoonful of your favorite peanut butter and stir, adding more chocolate syrup as necessary until you reach your desired consistency.

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Sculptures and other creative musings

We made it to Cottesloe Beach to catch the Sculpture By the Sea* exhibit on the final Sunday before it ended. My understanding is the exhibit comes to Cottesloe annually, so we’ll have to make an effort to go on a weekday earlier in the showing next year. The crowd was huge. It was difficult to get pictures of any of the sculptures without people walking in front of you, let alone creeping into the background.

Still, as promised, I want to share some details from our outing. Jon went to Sculpture By the Sea when it was in Sydney last year but this was my first time seeing it live. It’s really awesome. There were 76 large sculptures spread around the area at Cottesloe Beach, with additional smaller sculptures on display in the Life Saving Club building.


I’m not a highly trained visual artist so I’m not sure what technically defines “sculpture” nowadays, but most of these are not traditional blocks of marble that have been carved into beautiful naked people a la Michelangelo. Rather, these are large-scale creations that employ various materials and creative techniques. The metal in the sculpture above shone beautifully in the sunlight as it rested on its wooden base.

The sign on this one, by an Indian artist, says Indian Coca-Cola. I think the objects hanging off the back are supposed to be mangoes. Each one says Coca-Cola. The bike looked like something from another era.

Indian Coca-Cola

There was an artfully arranged display of shoes made of sand. After further research on the website I think there may be an actual shoe underneath each one. This explains why they were so remarkably real – looking comfortable and well-worn with their wrinkles and creases. I particularly liked the boots.


If I’d known I’d be pictured in the background I’d have stood up straight. πŸ˜‰

The following isn’t the most flattering shot, but there was something I really liked about the sculpture. What do you see when you look at it?

Large, mysterious sculpture

I like the angle Jon got on this next one, looking down to the beach. There were hundreds of folded papers on sticks going into the ground. Laura thought they looked like little paper boats, and I think that’s what they’re supposed to be. They sort of reminded me of the paper hats I used to make. If you got a glimpse of these out of the corner of your eye – the vast, sweeping display moving in the breeze – they’d almost look like flowers.

Paper and sand

Jon caught his own reflection in this polished metal sculpture. I’m not sure if he meant to do that or not but I think the reflection is part of the point of the piece. The metal flows seamlessly to granite on the upper right.


Many of the sculptures were larger than life, but a few, like the next one, were quite small. The tallest of these stood about knee-high.


The legs on this sculpture looked amazingly real with their perfect, human contours. I almost expected it to stand up and walk away. The lip of the pitcher has a tongue-like crease down the center.

Living vessel

Jon recognized this sculpture of rotund men walking on their reflection from the exhibition in Sydney.

Men walking upside down and right side up

I’m not sure if you can tell from the photo but here a man and woman are balanced on a large, chair-like structure as they meet in the air to kiss.

Airborne kiss

Do these guys look familiar? They’re a sort of imitation of the statues on Easter Island, although they make their own artistic statement.

Jolly Giants

Can I have a show of hands?

Pick me!

I don’t think the next one looks all that spectacular in the picture, but the wooden sculptures on the beach looked fabulous and warm as the sun set over the ocean. It brought a whole new life to them.

Giant wood carvings

Can you guess how much this little sculpture costs?


It sort of reminds me of the comically large characters in The Triplets of Belleville.

I always feel inspired looking at other people’s artwork. Some of the sculptures at the exhibit looked like they were made by highly trained artists with skills and materials no ordinary mortals possess. Others seemed to be relatively simple constructions. I think with a little confidence and a good spark of imagination more of us – even those with meager pocketbooks – could have beautiful artwork in our homes. Maybe not perfect sketches of people or scenery, but something unique that captures a valuable thought or idea.

I, for one, am planning to devote more time to such creativity. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but I have in mind to pick up some paints and canvas, or spend some time pondering other materials and the beauty I can find in them. I think our lives could all be enriched by a little throwback to the unselfconscious artistic play of our childhood – a time when perfection was a mother’s smile and a messy coloring page stuck on the fridge. I promise to post the results on my blog within the next year. Who’s with me?

*Believe it or not, you too can experience Sculpture by the Sea from the comfort of the chair you’re sitting in. πŸ˜‰ Click on the link at the top of the page and take the “Virtual Tour” of Cottesloe Beach’s Sculpture by the Sea exhibit. You won’t be able to smell the sea or hear the people, but it’s almost like being there. You can view all the sculptures as well as the details concerning them – artists, materials, titles, and concepts. Well worth the visit! πŸ™‚

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Terrific tunes and a tiger in South Perth

It took me a while to make some promising musical connections here, but a couple of months ago things finally started coming together. After contacting a local horn player I learned of a group of hornists who meet informally to play ensemble music. Then, a week or so later Jon found an article in the local newspaper regarding a new community orchestra that, among other things, needed horns. I emailed them and the next day I was invited to rehearsal.

Anyone who knows me knows that music is something I’ve trained in and am passionate about. It can be difficult to find music jobs if one isn’t willing to move where the jobs are, but I’ve learned a little humility can go a long way to establishing meaningful musical relationships. Professional auditions are surely to be pursued, but their outcomes can be unpredictable even for the best of players. Sometimes it pays to take the opportunities as they come. You never know what doors will open, or what great people you will meet along the way.

The South Side Symphony Orchestra was created to fill a gap in the community orchestras of greater Perth. We had our first performance today, after a mere six weeks of rehearsing together. Everyone’s very enthusiastic and the orchestra has come a long way in a short time.

The South Side Symphony Orchestra in South Perth's brand new Civic Hall

There are only two of us in the horn section at present, but we’re pretty awesome.Β  πŸ˜‰

SSSO Horns

It so happens the performance was in celebration of the grand opening of the new civic hall in the city of South Perth. In addition to musical fanfare there were other activities such as face painting, a bouncy castle, a pen with baby animals, story-time in the library, refreshments and raffles.

Can you guess what Laura did?

Laura in the make-up chair


In case you can’t tell she’s supposed to be a tiger. The effect was a little more dramatic live. Now that I post the picture it strikes me that she conjures images of the musical Cats.

She went in the bouncy castle and pet the baby animals as well but we didn’t get any pictures of that. I found it amusing that the calf was feasting on the grass that takes an enormous amount of effort to maintain this time of year.

For those back home, I suppose I should also mention that Jon’s been getting together with some jazz musicians for regular jam sessions. As for Laura we’ve purchased her a used violin but are still working on finding her a teacher. After a bit of a break she seems to be looking forward playing again.

In other news, we’re thinking of checking out the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit at Cottesloe Beach. I’ll be sure to share all the exciting details if we go. Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

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Yanchep National Park

Last weekend we went and explored yet another of WA’s national parks. A quick internet search reveals that the state of Western Australia alone has 96 national parks. By contrast the whole of the US, as of 2010, contains 58.

Yanchep National Park is located just north of Perth, much closer to home than the last few I’ve mentioned. The most notable feature of this park is the caves.

At the entrance to Crystal Cave

There have apparently been hundreds of caves documented in the park but Crystal Cave is the largest, and the only one with regular tours. Sadly there is an additional fee for the cave tour but it’s not unreasonable.

Straws and stalactites in Crystal Cave

If I’ve been in a large, underground cave before I don’t remember it, and I learned lots of cool things. This particular cave is rather young, at around 200,000 years old, and was carved out by the aquifer beneath it.

Laura in Crystal Cave

The entire cave floor in the above picture used to be covered in water. A raised walkway was created (where Laura is standing) so visitors could explore without getting their feet wet, but now even the lower (darker brown) area is dry. Due to increased water usage and decreasing rainfall in Perth the water table has fallen to 1.5 meters below the floor of the cave. What appear to be columns in this picture are actually stalactites that grew until they reached the surface of the water that only 18 years ago was still there. Preservationists are pumping water in to one of the larger parts of the cave in an attempt to save a species of tiny crustacean that has only been found in this cave.

More dry ground in Crystal Cave that used to be underwater

Above ground Yanchep offers an interesting assortment of wildlife. This Kookaburra was hanging out in the tree near our car. We’ve heard their call many times, but this was the first one we’ve actually seen in the wild. Although, the birds at Yanchep seemed to congregate in close proximity to the picnic areas so I’m not sure how wild they are.

Yanchep Kookaburra

We also saw these:

Yanchep Koala

We got lucky and caught this guy when he (she?) was awake. They spend most of their time looking like this:

Sleepy koalas

I’m not sure if koalas are native to this region or if they were brought in for the park. The only other place we’ve seen them is at the nearby Caversham Wildlife Park. Here they’re in a sort of naturalized area. By contrast the attendant at Caversham directs you to a particular koala so that you can pet its [usually sleeping] form. Definitely cool to interact with the koalas but this felt somewhat less contrived.

I like to think of these birds as thin blue chickens with really big feet:

If chickens were vain

The southwest of Australia is home to an endangered species of black cockatoo. There were huge flocks of these at Yanchep near the picnic areas and flying over the lake. You can faintly see a bit of white on their tails and heads. This distinguishes them from other types of black cockatoo that have red or yellow features.

Black Cockatoos

The lake, if it can fairly be called that, is named “Loch McNess.” I can’t imagine the name is coincidental but I really don’t know for sure. Here the effects of the drought are visible above ground. What appears to be dry land is actually a great expanse of mud. Jon and Laura threw a couple of rocks into it and were rewarded with thick, mushroomy splats of sludge.

Loch McNess

These finger piers stretch forlornly over the parched docking area. It’s difficult to see in the picture but if you look beneath the first one the shadow offers a little depth perspective. The docks are about 5 feet above the now dry ground.

Dry docks

With all the news of flooding in the eastern parts of Australia I’m not sure many are aware of the drought conditions we’ve been experiencing in the west. Last winter was the driest on record for Western Australia. Our cave guide said she’s never seen Loch McNess looking so dismal as it does this year.

While the decreasing rainfall is undeniable and concerning, as a newcomer to Perth I find the general water consumption here to be rather appalling. In all fairness many are making great efforts to conserve water, but the bulk of the population spends liters upon liters of water trying to maintain quasi-English style lawns and gardens that, in this dry climate, shouldn’t really exist. It seems to me that a large part of the impact humans have had on the aquifer is unsustainable and unnecessary.

Loch McNess with measuring stick in the foreground

After that little diatribe I feel like I should say something fabulously mournful and poetic about this last picture…such creativity escapes me. Nonetheless, I introduce the native water tree. The picture’s a little dark but if you look closely you can see that the branches are made up of something resembling piping with faucets attached at the ends. We found it along the banks of Loch McNess.

The water tree

We recently purchased an annual pass for all national parks in Western Australia, so it’s likely you’ll be hearing about more in due time. Meanwhile, I hope to share more about the wonders of everyday life. πŸ˜‰

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Australia Day!

Whilst I was busy procrastinating on my Denmark series Australia Day came and went. I thought about letting it go and waiting until next year to blog about it, but I’ve decided I want to share my pictures with you even if they are a bit late.

Giant Aussie flag flown over the Swan River

Australia Day is very similar to the 4th of July in the US – a summer’s day filled with patriotism, barbecues and fireworks! Ironically the Australians celebrate the arrival of the British fleet and proclamation of British sovereignty whereas the Americans celebrate independence from the British. I understand some of the aboriginal people look less than favorably on the holiday.

We had an early afternoon barbecue with family and then, as it was our first Australia Day, we decided to check out the festivities in downtown Perth. Multiple entertainment areas were set up near the Swan River for the enjoyment of the general public. Some areas had entry fees but we stuck to the free youth activities in Langley Park.

Laura running into the balloon...castle-ish...thing

Various stations were set up around the perimeter of the park, most with lines of children waiting their turn for a few minutes of fun. Meanwhile the music of local bands blared from a sound stage, kites soared overhead, and aircraft demonstrations were performed over the Swan River.

Laura on the giant balloon slide

Jon got in on some of the action too.

Jon on the giant balloon slide

Laura's hand painted bracelet of flowers

We watched these bikes while we were waiting in the long line for face/body painting.

Motorcycle tricks

All in all it was fairly entertaining. I think Laura had fun. I’m not sure if it’s worth fighting the crowds to go back next year but at least we can say we did it once.

The highlight of the day was the evening fireworks show. We were given a tip by one of Jon’s colleagues to check out a footbridge over the freeway for viewing. The bridge wasn’t everything we’d imagined it to be, but there were certainly fewer people there than the hoards along the riverfront. As there is no daylight savings time in Western Australia darkness falls sooner, so the show started earlier in the evening than it would have in North America.

The fireworks, I am pleased to say, were fantastic. After being disappointed by Canadian fireworks shows Jon and I were curious to see how the Aussies measured up to small town USA. Of course, this wasn’t a small town show, but it was quite impressive.

Fireworks over the freeway

The fireworks were set off simultaneously from a few adjacent locations.

Flowers or flying saucers?

More fireworks

Grand Finale

More Grand Finale

At the end of the night we made our way back to the train station. I can’t imagine what it would have been like trying to find parking downtown. Instead we parked at the station and took the train. It was a good choice.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi!

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Final ode to Denmark

Greetings, and welcome to my final post on Denmark! Yes, it has been more than a month since we returned from our superb vacation. I have no good excuse for the delay. I can only say that I’ve been too lazy to find my way on to my husband’s computer, where the pictures were stored. But I still have more to share with you, so here we are!

You may recall from my last post that we visited Ocean Beach inΒ  the shire of Denmark, but decided to move on as it was a haunt for surfers. Instead we headed east to check out West Cape Howe National Park’s Shelley Beach.

Shelley Beach

As the wind was blowing almost directly out of the south the beach was unsheltered from the pounding waves. The above picture hardly does them justice. Jon decided to wear a diving mask into the water “to see what he could see” only to have it pulled off his face the moment he went under. We didn’t get it back.

What you can almost make out on the right side of the picture is that this is a popular spot for camping. The great thing about camping here is that there are no fees – for entry into the park OR for camping. Or so we were told. The downside is that there’s only one little outhouse for everyone and, as the saying here goes, it’s “first in, best dressed” to get a camping spot.

To the left of the previous picture a giant gorilla juts out into the ocean, facing south. I have dubbed it “gorilla rock,” although to my knowledge this is not its official name. Can you see the gorilla?

Gorilla Rock

Unlike Ocean Beach, which was overrun with people, Shelley Beach was almost empty. There were, however, a few friendly campers who allowed us to join them where they were playing in a good-sized stream that flowed into the ocean. I’m not sure who initiated the enterprise but before long it turned into a full-fledged dam construction.

Building the Shelley Beach Dam

I think Laura got a little more into it than everyone else. You can’t quite tell from the following picture but she was very serious in her attempts at site management.

Laura hard at work on the dam

One last shot of Shelley Beach. This one’s taken from a slightly different angle so you can see the waves a little better than in the first pic. Still doesn’t do them justice.

Shelley Beach waves

The day after this we went further inland to Porongurup National Park. We’d intended to hike the very exciting Castle Rock trail, but sadly it was also very closed. Apparently it’s being renovated. Not to be dissuaded we opted for the Devil’s Slide trail instead. Although it wasn’t our first choice it proved to be worthwhile indeed. To reach the summit of this challenging trail one has to clamber over rocks and through small breaks in the vegetation. The path is discernible – most of the time – but if you’re looking for a casual stroll this one is right out.

View to the south from the top of the Devil's Slide trail

Interestingly the Porongurup Range rises up in the middle of extremely flat farmland, as you can see. Apparently many thousands of years ago these mountains were an island and the surrounding plains were all covered by sea.

Looking to the north you can just see the Stirling Range in the distance.

View to the north of Porongurup

Looking east from the top of the Devil's Slide

To the west we discovered what we considered to be the “real” elephant rock. Can you see the elephant? Jon and Laura are sitting on its head.

The real elephant rock

We spent a good hour or more at the top of the trail, eating lunch and enjoying the view.

Jon at Porongurup

The wind was quite strong at the summit but a few brave plants manage to grow up there all the same. I spent some time watching the butterflies flit around while Jon and Laura made their way to and from elephant rock. I also snapped some pics of these pretty flowers. It took a few shots to get a decent one because the wind kept blowing and they wouldn’t hold still.

Mountaintop flowers

And so this brings my Denmark series to a close. Thanks for coming along on my adventures! Or at least for reliving them with me. To my North American readers – I hope it’s brought a little sunshine into your bleak midwinter. Oh, how I long for a little bleak midwinter…but that’s a story for another post… πŸ˜‰

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One rainy day and several sips of wine

Our second day in Denmark it poured. The sun in Perth is so relentless that cloudy days are quickly becoming my favorite. Rain is absolutely glorious. I’m not kidding. We had a rare thunderstorm today and I could barely contain my excitement. I could write paragraphs about this, but I say it now to highlight the fact that a downpour does nothingΒ  to dampen my spirits. On the contrary – it makes me feel elated.

Even so, rainy weather is not ideal for hiking through parks and sitting on beaches, so we decided to take the opportunity to explore Denmark’s “Scotsdale Tourist Drive.” It’s basically a loop through the countryside, dotted with farms and wineries. From what I can tell, the Margaret River (a few hours south of Perth) is the most well-known wine region in Western Australia, but Denmark also has some great wineries. I’ve been told this state is known for producing Semillon Blanc and Cabernet Merlot, and that other parts of Australia are better known for other types of wine, but I’m not sure how reliable my source was.

Our first stop on the tourist drive was Estate 807. Estate 807 is a fairly new winery and the cellar door had only been open for a few weeks when we discovered it. They were quite friendly and seemed enthusiastic about the process that went into the production of their wines. We particularly liked their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which we purchased a bottle of, and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Alas that we are not yet wealthy enough to purchase entire cases of wine, but we had fun picking up a bottle here and a bottle there.

Next we visited Duckett’s Mill Winery. Unlike Estate 807, which was small and personable, Duckett’s Mill is clearly a bit of a tourist trap. To be perfectly honest we weren’t all that taken with their wine, we found it bland and unremarkable. However, they are also known for their cheese, and that we loved. After sampling their vast array of cheeses we selected some feta with basil, oregano and [I think] parsley, and a smoked cheddar jack. Both were delicious and neither lasted long. We also picked up a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil, but as we haven’t yet cracked it open I can’t comment further on that. Still, it’s cool to live in a place where you can buy locally made olive oil. Perhaps our little olive trees will aspire to such greatness.

Eventually the tourist drive turns south – unless, like us, you miss the turn or decide to carry on west on the “extended” part of the tourist drive. It was this lucky mistake that led us to Silverstream Wines. A bit farther off the beaten path, Silverstream’s cellar door isn’t open as regularly as some of the other wineries, but an unassuming sign announced their availability and welcomed us in. About the time we arrived it started raining buckets again and it was such a lovely place to wait out the rain, sipping wine and chatting with the proprietor. The setting was breathtaking, and she poured us generous sips of each of their wines and shared about their grapes and vine growing techniques. In the end we selected a bottle of their 2007 Reserve Merlot, which was fairly fabulous, and their 2009 Cane Cut Chardonnay. Jon and I haven’t had much dessert wine, and that which we have had we’ve found cloyingly sweet, but Silverstream’s was beautiful so we couldn’t pass it up.

Our last stop before returning to our lodgings was Tinglewood Wines and Puzzle Shop. At that point we’d sipped as much wine as we could manage and remain safe for the roads, so we passed up the alcohol and explored their puzzles instead. I was sort of hoping for a shop that made their own puzzles so I was a little disappointed, but they do carry a good selection of Aussie-made puzzles and the proprietor was a cheerful and hospitable Irishwoman. They have a nice little table set up with an assortment of puzzles where you can sit down and relax, which made this a perfect rainy day stop for families. We picked up Australian Puzzles & Games’ Patience Puzzle. Jon has solved it. I haven’t yet, but to be fair I haven’t spent as much time on it as he has.

Another day of exploration in Denmark led us to the Denmark Berry Farm. It’s been a long time since we’ve enjoyed a “pick-your-own” outing for berries, so I was excited at this prospect. As it turned out we hit the farm on the late side of the season so some types of berries were no longer available, but after meandering through rows and rows of berry bushes we found some nice marionberries, boysenberries, and raspberries.

Laura and I with our cache

I hadn’t realized that marionberries and boysenberries are actually hybrid types of berries originating from raspberries and blackberries so I learned something new. Sadly the cost of pick-your-own berries was a lot higher than for the berry farms I’ve visited in Canada, but berries in Western Australia seem to be really pricey unless you get them frozen, so all things considered it wasn’t unreasonable.

The Berry Monster

Following this we decided to check out the Denmark Maze. The maze was created and is maintained by a local family. You have to find your way in to the center and then find your way back out.

At the center of the maze

Given that it’s a donation only family run attraction it really was quite good. We decided that it could have been more challenging, but it was amusing nonetheless. For a family with young children it would definitely be a great way to spend an afternoon. Jon dubbed the benches in the dead ends of the maze “benches of disappointment.”

The bench of disappointment

Later that afternoon we visited Moombaki Wines. Another winery located off the beaten path, Moombaki is a small, family run establishment that is well worth the visit. The wine here speaks for itself, but the proprietor clearly knows his stuff. He’s incredibly passionate about wine and wine making, and unlike many wineries in WA that are owned by wealthy businessmen this family makes their living off their vineyard. You can really taste the love that goes into their product. They also have beautiful handmade artwork for sale at their cellar door. We picked up a bottle of their 2008 Shiraz.

Our final stop that day was Bartholomew’s Meadery. Quite simply, this place is awesome. They have a large assortment of honey available for tasting, and I think between the three of us we tried them all. Over the years I’ve had several food epiphanies. One of the most notable in Canada was leeks. In the Adirondacks in NY it was farm fresh maple syrup. My latest is honey. I was already beginning to appreciate its sweet goodness in a new way (occasionally substituting it for sugar), but the delectable offerings at Bartholomew’s Meadery have solidified fresh local honey as a serious pleasure in my book. We purchased a small vat of their wildflower honey which was both inexpensive and amazingly delicious.

Unfortunately we didn’t see the sign that said we were supposed to sample the mead before the honey until after we had sampled the honey. Oops. But we took some time out to find the queen bee in the hive, cleaned our palates with a bit of water and we were good to go. This was another learning experience for me. I hadn’t realized that mead – Ye famous olde beverage – was made from fermented honey. Moreover I expected it to taste like beer. It was much more like wine than beer, but sweet in a completely different way. They had several varieties of mead but my favorite was definitely the Metheglin – so named for the medicinal properties attributed to it in days of old. Metheglin is a spiced mead that can be drunk hot or cold. Hot, the spices really stand out and take this beverage to a whole new level. We picked up a bottle of that too. Another nice feature of mead is that an open bottle is good for several weeks, unlike wine, which really needs to be finished off within a day or so of opening. I expect it will make a nice nightcap come cooler, winter nights.

And, being a beautiful summer day, we couldn’t leave without sampling the honey ice cream. Laura got the chocolate and I got the vanilla. It was terrific. You could really taste the honey in the vanilla and the chocolate ice cream had a lovely dark quality to it – more like chocolate and less like ice cream, if that makes sense. As we have an ice cream maker I am now feeling inspired to try making honey ice cream at home. Soon…

The only other place we visited in the actual Shire of Denmark was Ocean Beach. It had been recommended as a nice, local beach, and it is, but it’s more of a hot spot for surfing than for general swimming and snorkeling purposes. It was windy and crowded the day we stopped there, so after checking it out we moved on to another beach, which will receive an honorable mention in my next and final post on our holiday in Denmark. πŸ™‚

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The Valley of the Giants

Featured today is the Walpole-Nornalup National Park, located about 45 minutes west of Denmark. This is the famous “Valley of the Giants,” home to the red tingle tree, an extremely large eucalyptus tree that only grows in this, the southern part of Western Australia.

The “Tree Top Walk” in the Walpole-Nornalup park is highlighted as a must-see destination in the tourist brochures for Denmark, and that’s what drew us there in the first place. Here, a walkway has been erected that climbs up from the ground and through the tops of the trees in this very old forest.

Sign on the Tree Top Walk

As you can see in the above sign, fires have occasionally ravaged this area. When posting pictures on Facebook a few months ago I reported that I didn’t think the black marks on the trees were due to fire, but I was wrong. I have since learned that fires are an important part of the natural ecosystem in Western Australia. Much of the vegetation thrives because of it. Uncontrolled wildfires can be extremely dangerous, so there are occasional controlled burns, and fires are prohibited throughout much of the year.

Having lived in a relatively damp place the whole “fire” thing was actually a bit of a surprise for me. At the start of the summer there were two wildfires very near Perth. We could see the smoke from the road while driving and it kind of freaked me out. It had never occurred to me that we might live in a place where fire was such a concern. Apparently some houses farther out into the country even have underground escape routes in case of fire. Most amusing are the fire danger signs posted here, there and everywhere throughout the state. The danger levels are: low-moderate, high, very high, extreme, severe, and catastrophic. It seems to me the scale isn’t all that gradual. Anything above low-moderate sort of blurs into disaster.

I find it remarkable the way the tingle trees in particular have adapted to the presence of fire and will share more about that in a moment…back to the Tree Top Walk:

Jon begins the ascent

If you are terrified of heights this walk may not be for you.Β  It’s a really popular tourist destination, and the more people there are walking along it, the more the walkway moves. Sometimes I had to hold on to the railings for balance. Although, as Jon likes to point out, the flexibility of the bridges lends to their strength.

Me on the next part of the ascent

There were rules about how many people could be on any one part of the walk, but as there was no one up there to enforce them I don’t think they were strictly followed.

Sign at the highest point. Don't slip!

The highest point really was quite high up, level with the tops of all but the tallest trees.

Tree from above

In this next picture you can see one of the highest parts of the walkway set in the midst of the trees. You can’t quite see the forest floor. It really is that far down…

View of the Tree Top Walk

The thing about the Tree Top Walk is that it gets a lot of hype. It is a nice spot to visit but given all the hype, and the price of admission, I think we were expecting a bit more for our money. I think I was expecting the walk to be a bit longer than it was – it only takes about 15-20 minutes to make the circuit. Less than that if you don’t stop to admire the view. And in the end it is just a walk through the forest. But! I don’t want to detract from the magnificence of these trees either. They were pretty spectacular.

Looking up

Once one makes it back to the forest floor there is a nearby trail at ground level. Here the red tingle trees can be viewed at the base. For some of the trees, this is equally as impressive as looking down at them from above.

"Grandma Tingle"

This is the part where the fire comes back into play. As fires have come through this area in the past, the bottom part of many of the trees has burned out. If any part of the tree’s trunk and root system remains intact, the tree continues to grow long after the fire has passed. As a result many trees have hollowed out bases. The center of the tree is completely charred, but the outside of the base is still alive, as is the top of the tree. In some cases I think the hollow part at the base increases with time, as the tree continues to grow.

Laura and I inside a tingle tree

Depending on the damage caused by the fire, some trees even have a tunnel that goes from one side all the way through to the other.

Tree tunnel

After we left the famous Tree Top Walk behind, we went in search of the “Giant Tingle Tree,” the most famous tingle tree of all. However, we made the unfortunate decision of trying to follow the GPS to the tree. Unfortunate, because our usually trusty GPS only thought it knew where the tree was, and it sent us on a wild goose chase on some seriously off-road trails (I suppose it is this sort of behavior that has led my mother-in-law to name a family counterpart “The Damn Machine”). Our little Yaris was a good sport and tackled these roads with gusto on two separate attempts into the unknown in search of this tree. I think it may have surprised itself with its accomplishments.

But, eventually we had the good sense to consult our maps, which gave us a much more direct and reliable path to the tree (on mostly paved roads). This tree is incredibly old, and the base is enormous and almost entirely hollowed out. You can see how high the burn mark extends in this next picture.

Laura at the Giant Tingle Tree

Still, looking up you can see that the top of the tree is thriving, despite the deteriorated appearance of the base.

Giant Tingle Tree looking up

A few more kilometers in from the Giant Tingle Tree is the Circular Pool. I’m not sure we’d have bothered checking it out, but as we were already deep into the park we figured we might as well. I think Jon in particular was really glad we did. It was a pretty spot, complete with water and rocks for clambering over.

Upstream from the Circular Pool

The pool itself is so named because of the way the water swirls into it, but it’s a relatively calm and beautiful place.

Circular Pool

Next up: fun in the Shire of Denmark, including one rainy day and several sips of wine… πŸ˜‰

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Torndirrup National Park

Lighthouse at Torndirrup National Park

About 45 minutes east of Denmark, just south of the city of Albany, is the spectacular Torndirrup National Park. Like William Bay National Park, and for reasons I will explain more fully in a moment, this place was worth visiting twice. I’m including pictures from both visits but mainly sharing details from our first outing to the park, as we spent more time exploring on that particular occasion.

View of Torndirrup National Park, taken near the Natural Bridge

There are several popular attractions at Torndirrup, including The Gap and the Natural Bridge, the first places we stopped. According to the signs at the park, this part of Australia was attached to Antarctica many thousands of years ago. Regardless of its history it is fantastic to behold.

The Gap, looking toward the Southern Ocean

The wind was blowing strong out of the south the first day and the seas around this area were roiling.

The Gap, viewed from the side - before wave

The Gap, viewed from the side - after wave

It’s difficult to convey the scale in these pictures, but these rock faces are enormous. I’d guess some of the splashes from the waves coming in were 30-50 feet high. Even in the parking lot, a short walk away, the sea spray felt like a light rain.

As the wind was out of the east on our return visit, the waves were calmer when this next photo was taken.

Natural Bridge

Jon and Laura are little specks by the rocks in the upper right, on top of the bridge. There’s a tiny anonymous person in the upper left of this next picture as well. Perhaps this helps a little to put the size of these boulders in perspective.

On the western side of the Natural Bridge

After viewing these imposing wonders we drove to the other side of the park. We took a brief stroll along a white, sandy beach facing King George Sound, and then stopped at an overlook for The Salmon Holes. I’m sure there’s a greater significance to the name of the latter but it was basically another beautiful beach, accessible by a steep staircase.

Next we decided to check out the trail to Isthmus Hill. Compared to The Gap and the Natural Bridge, this seemed to be a path less traveled. It was also the starting point for a much more difficult 16 kilometer (round trip) walk to Bald Head at the easternmost point of the park.

Isthmus Hill, viewed from the lookout at The Salmon Holes, with Bald Head in the distance

We were so glad we decided to take this trail. We had to do a little extra climbing to get to the summit from the path, but the views from the top of the hill were incredible.

Jon on top of Isthmus Hill, with the beach at The Salmon Holes on the right

Jon and Laura both added a stone to the top of the cairn.

Laura on top of Isthmus Hill, with King George Sound in the background

We didn’t take the 16k walk out to the point on this occasion, but I think it would be fun to go back for sometime. You can faintly see the trail out to Bald Head behind me in this next pic. It’s a thin line down the center of the hill.

Me! On top of Isthmus Hill.

Our final stop at the park was the infamous “Blowholes.” On special occasions, when the swells are huge and the waves are pounding, you can see the water shooting up from holes in the rock. Unfortunately the waves weren’t coming in quite hard enough for anything more than a light mist to appear from the top, although the accompanying sound certainly conjured images of whales and spouts. It was still a nice spot, though slightly less remarkable in the absence of the famed founts. It was for this reason that we made a point to return to the park on another windy day.

Sadly, as I mentioned earlier, the wind was coming out of the east on our return visit, so despite the choppy seas the waves were breaking in the wrong direction for the blowholes. Nonetheless, it was worth returning to this beautiful park.

Peak Head, Torndirrup National Park

Stay tuned for more on the marvels of Denmark. πŸ˜‰

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