High In The Tree Tops

Thurs. 9th May 2019

At the cabin at the top of the Gloucester TreeAugusta Escape, our apartment for the night, is not 5* luxury – indeed the synthetic leather & general design and construction of the sofa in the living room along with the overall appearance of the apartment inside and out make us feel like we are ‘trailer trash’. On the other hand, I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had since getting to Australia over two weeks ago now, so it isn’t all bad. In any case, we’d better get used to it because we have some more very basic lodging coming up over the next few weeks – not to mention some nights camping on top of a 4×4 Land Cruiser.

Signs of a recent bush fireHaving got to the very south-west corner of Oz, we are now going to spend the next week or so exploring the south coast of Western Australia and today we have about 125km to drive to the small (inland) town of Pemberton. The countryside here mostly comprises Karri forest (a type of Eucalyptus) and for a long stretch of our drive there recently seems to have been a bush fire as we see charred trees and some wisps of smoke all down one side of the road for mile upon mile. Other than the blackened trunks, most of the trees seem to be relatively unaffected and still have a good canopy of green leaves.

Beedelup Falls - not the most dramatic we've seenOur route takes us past Beedelup National Park and we see that there are waterfalls (and trails) advertised in the park. These are definitely the sort of things that float our boat and all the more so as prior to leaving the UK Janet bought an annual pass for all of the National Parks in WA which we now want to get full use out of. Although longer trails were available (including a section of the 1,000km long Bibbulmun Track) the trail to the falls was only a short loop out to an observation point, across a bridge, down along the far bank and then back across a swaying suspension bridge. As we’ve had no problem meeting our daily step target whilst in Oz, the short walk suits us fine and we grab a picnic table for our lunch.

Green parakeet who was keen on our lunchWe’d no sooner got our quiche and ham roll divided up and laid out in front of us when there is a swooping sound and the brush of feathers across our faces as a Kookaburra flies down between us, takes a stab at Janet’s quiche and carries a chunk of it off to perch on a nearby park sign. He’s clearly not encountered quiche before as it is the wrong texture to be carried off in a bird’s beak. But from that moment on, he (or she) takes a very keen interest in our lunch and never goes too far away – though he does get distracted by a (very nearby) centipede at one point and flies down to make short work of that. The commotion then attracts a clutch of green parakeets who also fly down to see if there is any food on offer.

Cheeky Kookaburra who at least had the decency to pose for photosKangaroos by Pemberton Wine CentreWe reckon that this is all fair game and that if they are going to hang around us, we’re going to get the cameras out and do some easy wildlife photography. In the end we think we got the better end of the deal – losing a piece of quiche in exchange for some really good photos. Taking these pictures is so much easier with our big cameras rather than the compact cameras we had when going round the world (we do have much more clobber with us this time though). We do, however, need to move on as there is stuff to do after we get to Pemberton and check-in to the Best Western (Least-worst Western more like it). Pemberton is an even smaller town than Augusta. A trip out to the nearby dam & lake at Big Brook doesn’t yield any photos and the Pemberton Wine Centre is closed (possibly just as well) – but does have some kangaroos outside!

Climbing the Gloucester TreeOn our way back down the Gloucester TreeThe main attraction of Pemberton though is the Karri forest and in particular the big fire lookout trees there. Karri trees grow big and tall, and right up until the 1970s, the tallest specimens were used as lookout points to spot the breakout of any bush fires. Long iron spikes were driven into the tree to form a spiral ladder going all the way up and then a cabin was built right at the very top. The Gloucester Tree, a 10 minute drive from Pemberton is 53m tall (and c. 8m in circumference at the base). Whilst the iron spikes look solid enough, as you look up they just spiral on seemingly forever and you don’t need to climb very many of them before you’re higher than you’d like to be.

The view from the top is stunningAfter a bit of “are you going to climb it?”, “well, I’ll climb it if you will”, “well, if you’re climbing it there’s no way that I’m not” up we go. I think back to what I’ve read about rock-climbing – 3 points of contact at all times and don’t look down. Up one spike at a time all 153 of them, encouraging each other as we go. The spikes are quite regularly spaced out apart from a section near the top where a horizontal bough needs to be negotiated. Even when you get to the cabin at the top you are not yet done as there is another set of spikes and then a ladder to be negotiated. But when you do get there, the view from the top is stunning and you realise just how effective they were as fire lookouts – you can see for miles with the canopy of trees stretching out in all directions.

[Many thanks to Evelyn and her husband, on their own road trip from Melbourne, whom we met both at Beedelup and then at the Gloucester Tree and who kindly shared the photos she took of us climbing the tree]

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