The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Hyden Seek

Wave Rock, Hyden

Ever seen a wave that’s 15m high and over 100m long?

It was a long weekend in Western Australia for Anzac Day, so with a few friends I took a road trip to a town called Hyden — and to the iconic Wave Rock.

Wave Rock is about 350km east from Perth, out in WA’s wheatbelt. You can do the drive in about four hours, but if you want to see anything of Wave Rock and the surrounding area, it’s best to take an overnight trip, making some stops on the way.

Getting out of the city always excites me, there’s so many new places to see and the way the empty road stretches out in front of you seems like a red carpet, or an invitation. With WA, the desire to get in your car and just drive and drive and drive is a real possibility — and that’s just going north. Imagine if you pointed the car east and just kept driving.

Our first stop on the journey to Hyden was the town of York, and calls itself the oldest inland town in Western Australia. Whether that is true, or true depending on a certain definition, I’m unclear.

York

York, WA
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:York_WA_town_hall.jpg

York is a beautiful historic town with some original architecture and heritage buildings dating back to the gold rush.

If you’re ever passing through, it’s a good place to stop or to visit for a few hours. You can have lunch at a local cafe and have a look around the town, it’s one of those places that could use your tourist dollars now there’s little to be made from traditional agriculture.

Corrigin

Statue to acknowledge the world record convoy of 1527 utes with dogs, Corrigin WA
source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corrigin_dog.jpg

After a short break in York, and a visit to a local bakery, we pushed on: to another notable town, a placed called Corrigin.

As difficult as it may be to believe at first, Corrigin holds  the world record for ‘the most dogs in a ute’.

It may sound incredible, but this WA town took the title back in 2002 with over 1,500 dogs in utes.

I’m presuming that’s separate utes, not one ute piled high with 1,500 dogs. The town even has a statue to commemorate the historic event. It also has a large pet cemetery, but that didn’t seem like such an important thing to visit.

Hyden

Wave Rock, Hyden, WAIf Corrigin seems like a difficult place to beat, even if you don’t see any dogs in utes, then the only thing left to do is keep pushing on to Hyden.

While the town of Hyden might not have historical, heritage buildings, or world records for dogs and utes, it does have a big draw: Wave Rock.

Big is the word for Wave Rock: it’s nearly 15m high and over 100m long. And yes, it kind of looks like a crashing wave, appropriately enough for Western Australia.

Some people think I’m slightly crazy for wanting to drive for nearly 4 hours and stay overnight in a motel in a country town just to see a rock. I think those same people are slightly crazy to prefer to spend that time watching sport on television.

Hippo's Yawn, Hyden, WAWave Rock isn’t the only thing to see in Hyden, either! So don’t think it’s a wasted road trip, and that all there is to do is look at this one rock.

There is also the Hippo’s Yawn: a short walk through the bush from wave rock. Hippo’s Yawn is a rock that’s over 12m tall that kind of, maybe, looks a bit like a hippo’s gaping mouth.

Once inside the mouth of the “hippo” if you’re so inclined you can climb and wriggle through gaps in the rock to get on top of the rocks behind it, for a view of the surrounding area.

Another “must see” place in Hyden is Mulka’s Cave. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much — not after Wave Rock and Hippo’s Yawn. But, much like with people and a Kinder surprise, it’s what’s inside that counts. What some of the legends about a child-eating cannibal don’t tell you is that inside the cave are original hand prints and paintings on the rock. That kind of thing always excites me more than any footy game on television ever could.

You don’t need much more than 24 hours in Hyden — and technically you could do Wave Rock in a day, if you wanted an 8-hour round trip, but it’s worth taking your time, stopping on the way, and getting a room at the Wave Rock Motel.

An Unlit Side Street in Newtown

Mary's, Newtown

Down an unlit side street in Newtown there is an unmarked door. Unmarked except for the graffiti.

Above the unmarked, gratified door, down the unlit side street, a red light hangs.

You might think at this point in the story you know what is behind the door.

If it was a brothel, someone would have to be doing something very special because people are lining up down the road to get in like it’s a nightclub.

Except it is barely 8pm and this unmarked door down the unlit side street doesn’t have thumping bass coming from behind it. And there’s just one doorman enforcing a 1-in, 1-out policy.

You’ve been told that this unmarked door is Mary’s.

You don’t know if that’s really the name, or if it is just called that by people since it has no real name, but it is on Mary St. Either way, rumour has it some of the best burgers in Sydney are behind this door. So you join the line.

After about 30 minutes of anticipation you are eventually admitted, and it’s only since you’ve been closer that you have been able to hear the rock tunes that remind you of your teens and 20s.

You push through double doors into a crowded bar.

Your next challenge awaits.

If you want food, you need a table. Either you need to join another line, that of people queueing for a table upstairs, or take your chances in the bar. The only hurdle is how to grab a table and also order food when you’re alone. Surely an unattended table is unoccupied?

Leaning with your back against the bar, you keep an eye on the room. Who has drinks. Who has lots of food. Who is clearly waiting for food. Who might be about to get up and who is also watching.

One table of people gets up to leave and before you can even think about staking your claim, they offer the crowded table next to them the opportunity to join the two together, giving them ample space for everyone seated. A fair gesture, even if it means you still can’t order.

Then a table becomes available. And you get it fast. Through skill and a little magic you manage to balance your half-drunk bottle of beer on top of your leather jacket, with both on the table. The statement is clear: this table is taken, observe the drink and the jacket of someone with no friends to dine with but the determination to not just go out, but to get a table.

You keep an eye on both, waiting at the bar, worrying that the jacket could be stolen (especially since it’s a replica of the one worn by Kurt Russell in Death Proof), beer drunk, table taken, and hopes of dinner dashed.

Maybe the people in Sydney are more polite, because both are left untouched.

The Adventure to Save the Turtle

Australia's threatened flatback marine turtle
Nullabor plain
source: http://motherlode.com.au

I got to thinking, after my last post. With the up-front cost of Costa Rica so insurmountable, it struck me that I needn’t travel so far for adventure.

Australia is this incredible, vast and diverse country. I have barely even touched it, let alone scratched the surface of this great southern land.

I am already thousands of miles from where I grew up. Why can’t I find an adventure here?

A while ago I tried pitching the Flat Footed Adventurer as a concept to places like Lonely Planet and in-flight magazines. I would have adventures and I would write about them. It’s a pretty straight-forward concept, and the driving idea behind this blog. To inspire some people towards adventures, and provide entertainment and escapism to those who prefer to just read about it.

Some adventures would be big. Some adventures smaller. There would be spear fishing expeditions, but also adventures of quiet introspection and self discovery in Buddhist monasteries. Adventures to find the coolest small towns, and adventures in the jungles of South America.

For in-flight magazines I was even willing to find adventures in locations they wanted to promote. All I wanted was the adventures, and the opportunity to write about them all.

The fact that I’m writing about it here, and not directing you to websites, books and magazines where I am published, tells you that they didn’t go for it.

But the point is adventures don’t always have to be pushing yourself to the limit of your ability, multi-activity, many thousands of dollars worth of expenses. Some adventures can just be about going somewhere new and doing something out of your comfort zone.

Australia's threatened flatback marine turtle
source: http://scienceillustrated.com.au/

With this in mind, I am focusing my current adventure dream on volunteering with the West Pilbara Turtle Program. The program aims to monitor and track the threatened Flatback marine turtles that are native only to Australia.

This might seem like an abrupt change of direction: where’s the hiking, rafting, cycling, kayaking? And what about South America? It is a change of direction, but I feel that it is doing important work, for something I care about, and it fulfills the wanderlust inside of me.

To get to the beach where the monitoring takes place is something approaching a 16-hour drive from Perth, although the closest airport is only a 2-hour flight. I would first have to attend a training day this year before being able to be a volunteer — so that means there might be two trips. Just getting there would be an adventure in itself.

This is still in the earliest stages of a plan, but even flying there would have costs  dramatically lower than Costa Rica and it would be doing good in the world, something that is important to me: leaving things slightly better than I found them.

Going Over the Edge

52 floors. 220m.See that speck, second from the right? That’s me, totally abseiling down the tallest building in Western Australia. For the record, it’s also the highest urban abseil in Australia.

I wrote last month about how I was taking this “plunge” to raise $1,000 for Kids’ Camps, a charity that gives recreation and respite camps for children with disabilities. As ever with these things, it has gone from an idea in an email that I enthusiastically accepted to being all too real. This Sunday past was my day for taking the plunge.

The Measure of Adventure

People kept asking me in the days leading up to the event if I was nervous. It was a very different sort of challenge to either the Inca Trail or the Arctic Adventure — one that a surprising number of people found scary just thinking about it. The truth is, I wasn’t really nervous about it. I don’t have a fear of heights, I’ve abseiled down structures before, and climb frequently (albeit indoors) — which also involves a small amount of abseiling. I also have a kind of mental block when it comes to this sort of thing: it’s too big to really conceive of it as real.

When I visited the roof of the Central Park Building with the newspaper reporter and photographer last month, there was admittedly a small bubble of nervousness, seeing the city so far below, and imagining hanging from a rope — but I got used to it quickly.

On Sunday we all had to arrive an hour before our descent time. After checking in at the registration desk, this left us with a lot of time. A lot of time just standing at the foot of the building. A lot of time to spend looking up at the ropes, and the 52 floors, and time to spend thinking about what we were going to do. Time to spend thinking about all 220 metres of the building above us.

Shortly before our descent time, my team was chaperoned into the building and whisked up to the top — the lift ascending 50-something floors in much less time than the several flights of stairs we had to climb from where the lift finishes and the top floor starts. The top floor of the Central Park Building was a big open place office — but completely empty of all the usual things like desks and computers. Instead there was a core team of people to help us get into our abseiling gear, and give us a crash course in how to get ourselves down the building. It was also our first real view of the city below us.

I mentioned before I don’t have fear of heights, so I enjoyed standing by the large windows and staring out — but I admit to feeling a small bubble of nervousness. I’d seen this view before, but this time I was going to be dangling above it by a rope.

Stepping over the edge

Once we were kitted up, and familiar with how to work the rope and belay, there was no more delaying. We were given our rope numbers, and headed out on to the roof. Without a doubt, starting the abseil itself was the hardest part. We were clipped into our ropes, given some brief instruction on what to do, then there was nothing else to do except go over the edge. I stepped up onto the edge of the building — and had to walk backwards over it, lowering myself with the rope, with nothing but a 220m drop behind me.

Once over, I stopped almost immediately while I was given further instruction. Dangling in the air with the city so far below, I was told how to signal if I wanted to stop, and then it was all up to me. The rope was heavy, and required a lot of effort to pull through — but with my body weight and gravity on my side, it was easy to get the hang of it, and before long I was making good progress, speeding my way down the side of the building.

One thing that was different about this abseil to my other experiences was that we were asked not to “push off” — the kind of bouncing technique you might have seen — because being an office building there was a real danger that we could crash through a window. Smashing through a window into an office like that could add excitement to the whole experience, but I wasn’t so sure that it would be appreciated. Instead, I used a combination of walking down the vertical side of the building and lowering myself, hanging.

Enjoy the Ride

The total abseil was 220m, but it was staggered in two stages, because of the nature of the building. The first part was 90m, and then another 130m. Because of this we had to do the whole stepping-backwards-off-the-edge-of-the-building thing twice. It also meant that we could use the first 90m as a kind of warm up.

It was a fine, sunny day and at times I had to consciously try and slow down to try and enjoy the journey and the experience. The mirrored windows of Central Park would give me views of the city behind and below me — though friends have since suggested I should have spent more time looking down, to make it more intense.

From start to finish, we were told the whole abseil took 30 minutes — but as I didn’t wear a watch, it’s hard to say how long of that was spent on the side of a building. For an adventure that made so many people uncomfortable, it felt easy — unlike other challenges in the past, it didn’t require a lot of training, and didn’t scare me like it might have done others.

Now I have to find a new, bigger challenge to take on. Like base jumping…

Or like this one.

7 Summits: A Real Adventure for a Real Adventurer

Want to hear about a real adventurer?

Over the course of four years Cody Hudson is summiting the seven highest mountains in the world.

Cody Hudson

Yes, that includes Everest.

And yes, it also includes Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica.

Why would someone want to do such a thing?

It’s all so he can raise a quarter of a million dollars for Save the Children, going towards children’s education in Nepal.

Cody’s lust for life and taste for adventurer comes from his late grandfather, whom Cody describes as “an avid hunter, trekker and mountain lover, often volunteering on rescue teams operating on Mount Cook: New Zealand’s highest and deadliest mountain.”

While his grandfather wasn’t able to realise his dreams of scaling peaks around the globe, he did pass on his passion for the great outdoors.

Summit 1: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa

Summit 1: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa

Cody’s 7 Summits Project began last December, with Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The highest freestanding mountain in the world, in true Cody style he describes it as “without a doubt the most popular, and probably the easiest, of the Seven Summits – bar Australia’s own Mount Kosciuszko.”

Despite this, the effects of altitude on a climber make it far from certain that even seasoned travellers will make it the summit of the roof of Africa.

For Cody, the journey to the snow-capped peak on summit day was a mere seven hour hike.

Summit 2: Mount Kosciuszko, Australia

Summit 2: Mount Kosciuszko, Australia<Hot on the heels of Kili’s snowy peak was the tallest of the Australian Alps, Kosciuszko (“Kosi” to its mates) in New South Wales.

Cody notes on his blog that there is a lot of debate since around whether Kosi should be included among the 7 Summits. He notes that it was included in Dick Bass original list of the 7 Summits in 1985, but the controversy centres around whether Australia is a continent.

It turns out that there is no one hard-and-fast definition of what a continent is, how many continents there are, or what the continents are.

Some sources will list six continents, each starting and ending with the same letter for ease of memory. These are Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Antarctica and Australasia. Others will tell you there’s seven continents, counting North and South America as separate continents.

While agreeing on seven continents, there’s further debate about whether Australia is a continent, or whether it is Australasia or Oceania.

It might sound unimportant, but these distinctions matter: because it means the difference between the 2,228 metres of Mount Kosciuszko, the smallest of the summits, or all 4,884m of Papua New Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid.

Cody describes himself as “a circumstantial patriot” who considers Australia a continent, and Bass’ original list to be definitive – so he crossed Kosciuszko off the list in March.

All Work and no Play

Training on the Kokoda trail

What does an adventurer like Cody do between summiting mountains?

Easy: he trains. It’s no surprise that Cody’s craziness doesn’t begin and end with just the summits.

While you’d expect the usual training, like running, or swimming (which Cody swears by, for helping with lung capacity), or rock climbing, Cody goes all out.

On any one day you can expect to find him scaling the 30 steps of Jacob’s Ladder in Perth’s picturesque King’s Park 50 times in one day, or going running along the Kokoda trail: while carrying a 17kg pack on his back.

Summit 3: Mount Elbrus, Europe

Summit 3: Mount Elbrus, Europe

This month found Cody on the slopes of Europe’s Mount Elbrus.

The Russian giant rises 5,642 metres into the air, and is a long-dormant volcano — with its  snowy slopes making Cody’s home for eight days.

After a few days of acclimatisation hikes, Cody and his group setting off at 3am for the summit. Conditions were fine… at first — but by the time they had reached 5,200m a blizzard set in — and would follow them to the top of the continent’s highest peak.

This didn’t stop them reaching the summit, marking the 7 Summits Project off as three down, four to go.

Get Involved

Aside from training hard, another important activity for the 7 Summits Project is fundraising, and raising awareness of the project.

It’s with both of these in mind that Cody will be climbing the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest this August, without even leaving Perth.

At the University of Western Australia’s annual book sale event for Save the Children, Cody will spend over 15 hours on a treadmill, spread over two days. Anyone is welcome to drop in and join Cody for part of his journey: there will be a second treadmill alongside the crazy climber if you want to cross Mount Everest off your own bucket list without having to deal with the little things like training, altitude, or international air travel.

Now it’s your turn to get involved. Follow the 7 Summits Project blog, on Facebook, or Instagram – and most importantly donate to help raise vital funds for the children of Nepal. The country has been hit with two devastating earthquakes this year alone, so your help is needed more than ever.

The 7 Summits Project

Taking the plunge in Perth

Taking the Plunge: Central Park Perth

While I wait and plan for new adventures, I have decided to take the plunge, and go abseiling 220 metres from Perth’ tallest tower next month.

This one-off mini-adventure is called the Central Park Plunge, and it is to raise money for Kids’ Camps, a charity that gives recreation and respite camps for children with disabilities.

My abseil is making the news this week in Perth: it’s just a little unfortunate that this first article to come out doesn’t include a link to my fundraising page.

I was asked by the reporter if I would call myself a “thrill seeker”. I told them, no. I’m an adventurer. Also, an idiot, and a fool, who thinks it’s a good idea to climb down tall buildings…

The fundraising link, by the way, is here: http://bit.ly/JayCPP

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Amazing Albany

Middleton Beach jetty, Albany

 

A little place called Albany is where the Amazing Aussie Adventure all started.

Albany has the distinguished honour of not just being where I lived for the first few months on arriving down under. Albany us also the first place in Australia that I visited: Perth airport doesn’t count.

Right on the south west coast, Albany is the edge of Australia where it once joined to Antarctica — and parts of it still look like it.

Albany feels more like a town than a city, to me — maybe because of the preserved old colonial architecture, and a lack of highrise office buildings. It also has a population roughly equivalent to my home town in the UK, although here — like all of Australia — it’s on a much bigger scale.

Something in the water in Albany

Because it’s right on the Southern ocean, the water in Albany can be colder than swimming in Perth, where you’re swimming in the warm currents of the Indian ocean.

There’s lots of good beaches in Albany. Duh, it’s Western Australia — of course it’s going to be awesome. But they aren’t just good for swimming, they’re also good for whales. Albany is known around Australia as a place for whale watching: the humpback whales migrate in from June, and when the humpbacks leave, the southern right whales come for a few months. Sometimes, I’m told, there are even blue whales.

At the right time of year, you can stand on the beach in the early evening sunshine and watch whales happily splashing their tails in the water a short way off the shore.

The edge of the earth

Natural bridge, Albany

In Albany, you can stand on a rock, stare out to sea, and the next landmass out there is the endlessness of the Antarctic continent.

The pounding southern ocean has formed the coast into vast cliffs, and in one place a huge, granite natural bridge — where the waves crash underneath.

You shouldn’t ever try and walk across the natural bridge (maybe it should be renamed the natural bridge of death), other than the risk of a gust of wind blowing you over the side, or slipping on a wet rock, there is also the danger from king waves knocking you off.

It’s much more interesting to look at than climb on, anyway.

Albany: scenic city

Amazing AlbanyOther than the rocky outcrops of Antarctica, and the marine visitors, and the beaches (of course, the beaches, always the beaches), Albany is just plain scenic.

The boardwalk at Middleton Beach on a fine day is a favourite walk for me.

Even if there are no whales to spot off the shore (though you’ll often see cars parked on the hill in the lookout spots, with people staring out, just in case) there’s lots to stop to take in.

If you’re feeling energetic you can also take a walk at the Albany windfarm, taking in as much or as little of the Bibbulmum track as you’re comfortable doing — where there’s hills and lookout points and wooden steps leading down to the water’s edge.

Albany is one of those places that’s a must-see in Western Australia.

As a footnote, a little piece of trivia I recently picked up is that Albany is apparently one of the best places in Australia for viewing the southern lights, the Aurora Australis. For someone that loves space like I do this is quite exciting, and promises many more trips on the future.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: One year on in Perth

Aussie Adventure, 1 year on

I’ve been living in this great Southern land for more than a year now, and the tipping point for what feels like a dream has been reached.

With any big change the new ‘reality’ feels completely unreal — this is particularly true if you leave a dark, cold and rainy London and find yourself in sunny Perth.

However, there comes a point where the balance shifts and it’s now what was there before that doesn’t seem quite real any more.

This Aussie adventure of mine is about the lifestyle more than anything. Sure, living in a city in Australia isn’t so very different to living in a city in England — but then it’s the small things that make the difference.

Fish & chips and the sunset

Small things like eating fish and chips at Scarborough beach and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean — or just getting out of work promptly on a scorching hot day to join the rest of the population swimming in the ocean to cool off.

My Home is Your Home by Ken UnsworthOn any particular day, you will find people swimming in the ocean and playing games on the beach until it gets dark.

Or the lifestyle is things like the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition started at Cottesloe beach, and though it’s spread east to Bondi beach and internationally to Denmark, it feels very WA — the setting sun adding an extra element to the art works.

Not just beach…

The lifestyle is not all about the beach life, either.

With friends, we meet up each month for a BBQ in a different spot in Perth — from Leighton beach, to the river foreshore, to Banks Reserve, and Kings Park: going for a picnic every month is something I couldn’t dream of doing in the UK. Unless you didn’t mind having your picnic inside the car or in the rain. And most people in the UK have done both of those things on more than one occasion.

the PinnaclesA short drive out of the city takes you to national parks where you can see koalas (they’re not native to WA, it should be noted, so don’t expect to just see them in all parks) and kangaroos.

You don’t even have to travel to see kangaroos — at dusk they will be hopping all over your nearest oval. I hope that the small thrill of seeing koalas and kangaroos doesn’t get ever old — except for the kangaroos that jump into the road when you’re driving.

Busselton Jetty, WAA longer drive north of Perth will take you to the Pinnacles, but even when you’re standing on a hill in the desert and admiring the rock formations, you can still see the sun glinting off waves not far away.

Driving south from Perth takes you through forest and down to Busselton and its famous jetty, and on to the vineyards of Margaret River — where people will go for a week or a weekend and decide to never leave.

Shorts and thongs

I still stand out as a stranger, here. Although I find myself unintentionally saying words like “thongs” when I mean “flip flops”, and greeting friends with “Hazzitgawn?”, other times I am very conscious of how posh and English I sound when I ask “Please may I have…” instead of the more Aussie “Can I grab…” and being caught off guard when someone asks me “How are you travelling?” when they mean “How are you?”scarborough beach sunset

Summer is waning in Perth and it reminds me of the best times of year in England, when it’s warm and fine. Although I know that winter is on its way and our house has no heating and very little insulation, it isn’t like there will be wintry things like ice, frost or snow in Perth.

Life here has tipped over so that now 30-something years in England now seem like the part that’s unreal.

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Surfing Dude

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Surfing Dude


surfing WA

Image: allianceabroad.com

One of the things I wanted to take up when I came to Australia was learn to surf.

It seemed like a simple enough task — I’d surfed once or twice in the past and had managed to get to my feet. I figured some dedicated lessons would refresh my memory and after a short course I’d be ready to buy my own surfboard and start hitting the surf at weekends.

My first surf lesson in Australia, a wave hit me the wrong way and I wrenched my shoulder. These things happen, I didn’t think so much of it at the time. Except it carried on hurting throughout the day, in a way a pulled muscle doesn’t.

I cancelled my following day’s lesson to avoid making it any worse, but by the Monday morning although it wasn’t any better I didn’t want to miss another day’s lesson (they’re non-refundable) so got through it with pain killers.

My ideas of buying my own surfboard were seeming more far-fetched: I wasn’t getting any better at surfing (that is, I still couldn’t stand on the board without falling off) but it was only my second lesson…

A few days later, with my shoulder still hurting, I saw a doctor. I described the pain, how it happened, and demonstrated the limited range of movement. The doctor told me it was a torn shoulder rotator cuff, and referred me for an ultrasound.

An ultrasound and an x-ray later confirmed a partial tear, but luckily not a bone chip that the ultrasound suggested.

It was more than six weeks before I was able to surf again, and complete the surf lesson course. By this time, summer had faded in Western Australia but sunny mornings spent in the surf, mostly falling off, were time well spent.

And no, I never did buy that surfboard, or really ever manage to learn to surf properly.

Although I did get a certificate.