DM and MM's Western Australia 2010 Diary

Day 3 - Cape Leeuwin, Lake Cave

Monday, 16 August, 2010

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We're resting for a bit in our room before heading out for dinner later.

We rose a bit after 07:00 and ate breakfast of cereal in our room. We headed out for the day around 08:20, first stopping in town to get a coffee for M. Then we hit the road south to Augusta. The drive to this tiny town was fairly quick. We stopped at the small shopping area to get some cash out of an ATM and then kept going south to Cape Leeuwin and the lighthouse there.

Lighthouse Maintenance
Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

The plan was to take one of the guided tours of the lighthouse, which left every 40 minutes from 09:00. We arrived in time for the 09:40 tour, but were disappointed to find that the lighthouse was closed for annual repairs this week. The lighthouse grounds were open though, and we paid $5 each to enter and have a walk around the historic buildings and out to the lighthouse and adjacent lookouts.

Cape Leeuwin
Small outbuilding at Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

The lookouts gave views of the wind-whipped ocean beyond, the confluence of the Southern and Indian Oceans, and the violent meeting place of contrary currents. As we watched, tall waves rolled in and collided with some offshore rocks, sending great plumes of spray into the air, where it was whipped away by the wind in a shower of rainbow plumes. A lookout down a series of steps from the hilltop and on to a rock platform let us watch the roaring waves while sitting out of the wind.

Lighthouse Keeper's House
Cape Leeuwin lighthouse keeper's cottage

On the way back, I took photos of the lighthouse and the old lighthouse keeper's cottages. Then we headed off in the car back through Augusta and turned on to Caves Road to head north via the various limestone caves that we planned to visit.

The first stop was Jewel Cave. Alas, this too was closed for renovations! Back at the lighthouse, the guy who sold us our tickets had apologised for the lighthouse being closed, but said they needed to do maintenance at some time because it was still a working facility, and they scheduled it during the non-tourist season - but then he quickly added, "Well, it's tourist season for you..."

Eucalyptus Forest
Eucalyptus forest that we drove through

Being unable to visit Jewel Cave, we continued north to Lake Cave, which thankfully was open. We paid the tour fee and waited the 10 minutes until the 11:30 tour in the "Cave Experience" display, which was a small and basic display of some of the geology and palaeontology of limestone caves. Our cave guide was Sarah, who gave a lively and informative talk as we descended into a huge doline, or hole in the ground caused by the collapse of a cave at least 800 years ago judging by the growth of trees in the resulting hole.

Lake Cave Sinkhole
Sinkhole entrance to Lake Cave

The sinkhole is about 70 metres across and 40 metres deep, with a crack in the rocks at the bottom leading to the cave. Francis Bussel, a teenaged girl at the time, found the sinkhole in 1867, while out horse-riding through the bush on her parents' property. She naturally went home and reported it, but the forest is so thick around here that - search as they might - they never found it again until 30 years later! For all that time poor Francis kept being accused of lying, only to finally be vindicated when in her 40s.

Our Guide, Sarah
Our guide Sarah, in Lake Cave

At the bottom of the sinkhole was a narrow passage beneath a dislodged slab of rock, through which a single file steel staircase had been threaded. Sarah led our tour group of about 30 people down the stairs and into the bowels of the Earth. After a descent of over 300 steps from the surface, we emerged in a long horizontal chamber dripping with thousands of cave straws and also showing lots of larger, thicker stalactites and stalagmites. The floor of the chamber was covered by the large lake that gives the cave its name.

Lake Cave view
The underground lake in Lake Cave


We've just returned from dinner, but more about that later. Back in the cave, we took a walkway over the lake in the large chamber to the far end, past some intriguing formations including an amazing suspended "table" of rock held by two thick columns over the surface of the water and reflecting beautifully in it. Sarah talked about various formations and played with the lights, highlighting parts of the cave and even turning all the lights off so we could experience it as though exploring it with nothing but a candle like the first explorers. A faint glow of the entrance showed only the direction of daylight, but no details or features whatsoever.

Exploring Lake Cave
Our tour group in Lake Cave

On the way out, Sarah let us dawdle and take photos and make our way at our own pace. Although we didn't cover a lot of distance on this tour, it was worth it for the formations and the spectacular lake. Climbing back up the 300 steps to the surface was hot work, and we had to strip off some outer layers as we emerged back into the sunshine. We had a muesli bar each and then thought about finding some more substantial lunch.

We decided to head over to the small settlement of Prevelly Park on the coast to see if there was somewhere to get food there. This is a holiday village based on the surf beaches of Margaret River. It turned out to contain only a general store and a cafe, which was closed. With no other options we drove back inland to Margaret River and its multitude of shops and cafes. We chose one called Urban Bean, where M. had a spinach and haloumi frittata, while I had a slice of bacon, tomato, mushroom, egg pie. Both were very good.

Then we did a walk up and down the shopping strip of Margaret River to check out what was there, and if we could find a place to eat dinner tonight. I spotted a pizza place called Goodfellas and grabbed a menu from the take-away menu leaflet holder by the door. It looked good, with pizzas named after various Mafia- or gangster related things.

We decided to head over to the Leeuwin Estate winery, which had a guided winery tour at 15:00. We were there about 20 minutes early and browsed at the small display of wine-related stuff, then relaxed in front of the open fireplace until starting time. We were the only people on the tour, so got personal attention from Rhonda, one of the women who was running the wine tasting bar. She donned an orange safety vest before leading us outside to tell us the history of Leeuwin Estate and the Margaret River wine region. Then she led us into the wine processing area, where we saw the grape rushing hoppers and a destemming machine and a chiller. Then it was into a cold room where rows of giant stainless steel vats held fermenting wine. One vat was being pumped into the bottling region as it was currently bottling time.

Leeuwin Estate Winery Tour
Fermenting vats at Leeuwin Estate

We saw an historical old barrel press, which Rhonda said was a great way to press grapes because it got the juice out in some particularly nice way (that I can't remember the details of). They had a larger mechanised barrel press used for a small fraction of their harvest, destined for premium wines - the rest got crushed by the giant screw crusher. Next we went down a steep slope into the od barrel storage room, which had been outgrown by production and was now converted into a small art gallery showing paintings by Australian artists that have been used on the labels of the Leeuwin Estate premium series of wines - the Art Series.

Leeuwin Estate Wine Barrels
Wine barrels at Leeuwin Estate

From here it was back up to the wine tasting area, where Rhonda poured a series of wines for us to taste. We went through about ten wines, trying sips of each with Rhonda describing them all for us. Interestingly the Shiraz was the first of the reds, leading into fuller bodied Cabernets. This is because Margaret River is a coolish climate, not the hot South Australian climate that produces the strong, bold Shiraz style. We ended up buying three bottles - a Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, and the excellent Art Series Chardonnay - easily the most pleasant Chardonnay I think I've ever tasted, subtle and elegant rather than overpowered with oak.

We left Leeuwin Estate just after 16:00, planning to go next door to Voyager Estate winery to sneak in another activity before they closed. Alas it turned out they had closed their winery at 14:30 according to a sign on the gate for their annual director's meeting! This made the third attraction we'd attempted to visit today that was closed! We tried to find a nearby gallery for some art perusing before 17:00, but failed to even locate it amidst the tangle of back roads that weren't marked on our map.

Eventually we gave up and returned to our hotel for a rest before dinner. We emerged at 18:00 to drive into town and the Goodfellas Cafe wood-fired pizza restaurant. I tried a Wild Bull dark ale from the local Bootleg Brewery here in Margaret River - it was very nice. After a garlic pizza base which was exceptionally thin, light, and crispy, making it delicious, M. had a "Scarface" margherita pizza, while I had the "Marlon Brando", which was a Mexican pizza with chile con carne and jalapeƱos on it. Both were very good, on the same light and crispy base as the garlic one. I made room for a delicious dessert of hot chocolate pudding with rich chocolate sauce and ice cream - also excellent. Altogether it was a lovely meal - somewhat expensive, but hey, we're on holiday.

Goodfella's Pizza
Pizza at Goodfellas

We then headed back to our room to turn in and look forward to another day of adventure tomorrow.

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