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Trip Report Western Australia (Denmark and New Norcia)

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We enjoyed a relaxed 2 week mini break in June, flying from Adelaide, opting for a visit to Perth to visit family, then a week in Denmark with a hire car, back to Perth, then an overnight in New Norcia.

Photos on flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm2Nd1WM

Perth is ferocious in summer, whereas June is a pleasant month, early winter but often blue skies, cold nights, minimal rain, usually not windy, temps ranged from max 15 to 23C. We previously stayed in Walpole over a sunny Easter, lots of traffic, carparks full, cafes mobbed. In out of season June, we had quiet roads, very few travellers, peaceful towns, easy parking. We had seen a few of the popular sights on our previous trip, this was more about relaxing and exploring in 'slow mode'.

Booked a holiday house in Denmark for a week ($1386) Honeymoon View,
a 3 bedroom pole home overlooking Wilson Inlet, in amongst treetops, on the Bibbulmun track. Beautiful, modern home, 5 mins from centre of town, recommended. Nicely decorated, comfortable leather lounges, great bed and pillows, quality kitchen items (good knives, we cooked a few dinners, so appreciated the well stocked kitchen), heating, balconies, bbq, very steep driveway that we avoided by parking on road. A lot of holiday homes available for rent in this street. Very glad we chose Denmark as our base, a pretty but small town, well situated for day trips, nice cafes, good walking, and a beautiful town park by the Denmark river with playground/ caravan parking/ huge trees.

The boring but most direct route Perth to Denmark is 4 1/2 hours on the Albany Hwy, but the drive on South Western Hwy is nicer, we took 8 hours (!) stopping in Donnybrook for our fresh food, would have liked a stop in Balingup, break in beautiful Bridgetown visiting the baker/ bucher/ local grocery store/ cute shopfronts, past Walpole, and Nornalup. Rolling green hills, vineyards, orchards, farms, forests. Gorgeous.

Day 1: Sunrise wander from house through Karri forest to Wilson Inlet, pelicans and other waterbirds feeding, pink skies, calm water, very pretty.
Morning coffee at Ravens, checked out their very promising lunch menu. Lovely day at Green Pool and Elephant Rocks only 15 km away, and a drive around the coves and river at Denmark. Wonderful healthy lunch back at Ravens, vegetable frittata and great salad, and a fab chicken/ veg wrap for him. Had a wander down to the inlet in the afternoon, locals jogging or dog walking, happy to chat, a pleasant vibe.

Day 2: Storm overnight, so off to Albany (40 min drive) for museums given it was a potentially rainy day. Visited the Amity Brig ($5 entry), a replica of an 1816 brig, usually a supply vessel, but on one contract it journeyed from Sydney to Albany with 62 men on board (soldiers, convicts, staff) and animals, building materials, tools, seeds, for the new settlement. Hard to imagine the conditions on board on this 6 week voyage. Tiny cooks galley (with staples of dried meat, salt, flour, biscuits, raisins), cramped sleeping bunk quarters, tiny alcoves for officers. A very worthwhile and interesting stop.
Next up was the National Anzac Centre, which overlooks the harbour ($24 entry, includes audioguide) an interactive museum of World War 1. Volunteers assist with use of multimedia as it is easy to miss some of the swipe style points to initiate the displays. Very modern building, impressively sited, great views. Excellent cofffee, caesar chicken toasted wrap and walnut scroll at Frederick's in Albany. Ended the afternoon with a drive to the various lookouts around Ocean Beach.

Day 3: Next day, brunch at Mrs Jones Cafe, comfort food toasties and cappucinos, very good. Pleasant drive on the Stockdale and Mt Shadforth roads, dotted with farms and wineries, lovely walk along river, walk along Ocean Beach, then Lights Beach. One other person walking these gorgeous beaches on a sunny June afternoon. The local bakery has won many pie awards, so we tried their beef madras pie, delicious. Another lovely day.

Day 4: A return to Albany today, via the Lower Denmark Road, turned off at Ellerker down Muttonbird Road, arriving unexpectedly at a stunning beach cove, protected from the strong seas by Muttonbird Island. So beautiful and we were completely alone. Then a stop at Limeburners Whiskey Distillery, before heading to the peninsula of Torndirrup National Park. Can pay the national park fee at the Gap stop ($12 car, per day, credit card only). The Natural Bridge and Gap are obligatory stops, weather started to look a bit grim, so no walking but visited the Whaling Station instead ($29 each), includes a whale chaser vessel and the processing station, and the adjacent cafe offered a rather good potato and leek soup.

Day 5: Today we stayed locally, with coffee and cake at Ravens, then hung around for lunch (nice spicy dhal and rice) making use of the free wifi. Sunny and still, so wandered down the track to the inlet again, pelican watching, so quiet. Drove back to the lovely Lights Beach, about 8 cars in the carpark on this sunny Saturday afternoon. Chatted to a few locals walking the track, good humoured, friendly people, all enjoying the outdoors. And then, joy of joys, some whales off the beach, impossible to photograph, but just such a thrill. Ironically after our whaling station visit yesterday.

Day 6: Feeling like locals, we headed to Ravens for a seat in the open verandah to enjoy some winter sun and brunch. It was a sunny Sunday and we then headed to the Valley of the Giants. Randomly picked a spot on the Bibbulmun track and started walking. Did not meet another soul. Lovely trail, through the forest, and a pleasant drive home. Great pizza at Massimo's for an early dinner.

Return to Perth, via some of the scenic drives nearer Pemberton, stopping for lunch in Manjimup - really excellent toasted baguette and a mixed salad plate at The Cherry Box. This is a fresh produce store that was busy serving lunch to locals, and some gossip and weather chat across the counter by a very cheerful server. Fun and friendly, with some very welcome healthy food choices. Manjimup is undergoing a city centre beautification (so we got to use the very modern new public toilets).

Enjoyed a few nice days in Perth with family, then an easy 90 minute drive to New Norcia, Benedictine Monastery. The small town of Bindoon (mandarin orchards dripping with fruit) en route has a few stores, but will soon be bypassed when the new road is completed. No stores in New Norcia other than the roadhouse and giftshop.

New Norcia was founded in 1847 by 2 Spanish monks as a mission. They returned to Spain to recruit additional monks with required skills such as building and carpentry. So there is a little bit of Spain in the Australian bush. The 'town' consists of the roadhouse, hotel, monastery and guesthouse, old school buildings, cottages. (We stayed at the Monastery guesthouse with ensuite, simple, clean accommodation, recommended fee of $80 pp per night. A serve yourself basic breakfast is included.)

In 1870 there were 70 monks. There are now 11 monks in residence. The surrounding farmland owned by the monastery is now leased. The monastery also own the roadhouse and hotel, which are managed by private operators. At one time, the settlement ran an orphanage, and 2 boarding schools (girls/ boys) each with its own chapel. The old orphanage is now a museum and art gallery, while the boarding schools provide accommodation for school excursions. The church, old flour mill, blacksmith workshop and cottages, also still exist. They also grow olives from the original plantings by the Spanish monks, harvested by the monks and volunteers, then crushed by a company in York, with the final product for sale in the shop at NN.

There is a daily bus service from Perth, with timing to suit 12.00 prayers and lunch with the monks (a substantial meal, soup, a hot main, dessert). Some people visit as a day trip, others stay a few days. You can join in (prayers, mass, meals) or simply observe, no requirement to be of Catholic faith.

A family member is a monk there, so we had a 'behind the scenes' tour, but there are daily guided tours, and 'meet a monk' sessions in their parlour on Saturday afternoons. I am of no religious persuasion and found our visit fascinating. Some of the retreat and Benedictine experience weekends are aimed at those seeking a deeper spiritual experience or considering monastic life themselves. But a visit as a traveller is also very interesting.

The museum and art gallery are very modern (inside the old orphanage building). The museum tells the story of the settlement and has a collection of memorabilia.

It really is a fascinating insight into an unusual part of Australian history and also into monastic life.

It was a lovely 2 week trip, there is a lot to see in the South West of WA.

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