Penguin paradise

By Jocelyn Watts

Braving icy winds and rain enroute to Penguin Island guaranteed plenty of room on the short ferry ride from Rockingham.

It was equally spacious on the island with only three other people making the trip that day. Even the fairy penguins seemed to have escaped the elements … but hiding during the day is their nature.

Arriving just before the 10.30am feeding session at the Penguin Island Discovery Centre, we were too late to see the shy birds in their natural habitat. The world’s smallest penguin spends most of its daylight hours at sea hunting or hidden away in burrows.

However, we did see the cute little birds in the discovery centre’s feeding area where the host helped guests thaw out with hot coffee before the penguins shuffled in for their morning feed of pilchards.

As they gulped down about a dozen pilchards each, the ranger said fairy penguins eat close to their own body weight, about 1kg, of fish at each meal, three times a day. In the wild, they eat more than 100 tonnes every year. The flightless penguin stands about 40cm tall and some live up to 20 years.

Penquin Island, accessed from Rockingham about 42km south of Perth, is home to Western Australia’s largest colony of fairy penguins. Guests can also explore the island and meet the occasional sea lion on the beach or visit the sea-bird breeding sites, which include pelicans, bridled terns and silver gulls.

A large colony of sea lions can be found on Seal Island, about 500 metres north of Penquin Island.
Penquin Island blog collage

Nature’s time capsules

Karri ForestPristine chambers beneath earth

Mammoth Cave, a 15-minute drive south of Margaret River, is a natural time capsule and home to ancient fossil remains of extinct animals.

Nearby are Lake Cave and Jewel Cave but we chose Mammoth Cave because of its audio self-guiding system, which allows visitors to travel through the fascinating underworld at their own pace.

Directly below CaveWorks lies Lake Cave, a stunning, pristine chamber deep beneath the earth. Inside the cave a tranquil lake reflects delicate formations that take your breath away. Visitors descend a staircase, gazing up at towering karri trees from a primeval lost world, before entering one of the most beautiful caves in Western Australia.

Jewel Cave seems to defy nature and dwarf those who enter its lofty chambers.
This spectacular recess with its intricate decorations and sheer magnitude is home to one of the longest straw stalactites to be found in any tourist cave in the world.

Giant trees mask fascinating underworld

Giant trees, Karri and Marri, dominate the forest around Mammoth Cave. Karri grows through the valley and on the far hillside, while more open forest consists mainly of Marri.

The Marri belongs to a group of trees known as “bloodwoods” because of the resin which oozes from gashes in its rough, fibrous bark.

In the late summer, when little else is in bloom, local vignerons pray for a heavy Marri flowering to entice the birds away from ripening grapes.

Mammoth Stream collects drainage from the swampy low-lying area to the east known as Nindup Plain. It flows westward towards the sea but there meets a limestone barrier known as the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge.

Its tannin stained, acid water finds weaknesses in the limestone which is dissolved enabling the stream to flow through the ridge.

The magnificent Mammoth Cave has been formed by this stream and by the later collapse of the surrounding rock.

Karri grows up to 90 metres high. The main belt of karri forest grows from Nannup to Manjimup to the Frankland River, then east to Denmark and Torbay, near Albany.

Karri has a long straight trunk with smooth bark that is shed each year. The outer bark changes colour as it matures, so the trunks are multi-coloured in shades of pink, orange, grey and white. Karri produces white flowers in spring.
Ancient lands blog collage

Mead’s the buzz at Margaret River

blackwood meaderyBy Jocelyn Watts

Friar Tuck was on to a good thing and he knew it. Overindulgent perhaps but the taste of his favourite beverage, mead, is one I could easily get used to.

While driving though the Margaret River region of Western Australia, hubby and I were faced with the difficult task of choosing which of the 100 or so wineries we would visit. Decisions, decisions!

Around almost every corner another winery beckoned but we couldn’t visit them all. The long list of unfamiliar names on a tourist brochure offered no clues as to the best; however one name, being a meadery rather than winery, stood out from the rest.

“What’s a meadery?” I asked. Hubby was more informed. He recalled a black and white television series from the mid-1960s called Robin Hood, in which a good friar indulged heavily in the honey wine. Not a bad pick up for a lad of about 10 years of age.

Blackwood Meadery, located in Karridale 25km south of Margaret River, was modest in size compared to surrounding wineries but very welcoming with sweet aromas drifting from the gardens.

For just $2 each we could taste a variety of dry to sweet meads, as the host filled in the blank details on the beverage.

Mead is wine made from honey rather than grapes and can be traced back at least 5000 years to Nordic legends. During these times the bee was held in high regard as honey was considered the giver of life, courage, strength and wisdom.

One legend claims that mead was the reason behind the word “honeymoon”. Supposedly, a Northern European tradition says a bride and groom were to drink mead every day for one month after their wedding, which was intended to increase virility and fertility.

Moving on to Hamelin Bay Wines and Briarose Estate we found a convenient way to stock the wine racks at home with Margaret River wines and meads was to buy cartons of 12 bottles, which were usually discounted and free of freight charges for bulk purchases.

For extra variety, we could also buy one bottle at each of 12 different wineries and ask the final winery of our choice to freight the carton home to Maryborough, Qld … where a bottle of 2005 Blackwood Mead is waiting to be opened on Christmas Day.
Margaret River blog collage