Wine and Karri trees

The last time I travelled almost 300kms by road* I ended up in the capital city of another country, exchanging one language, monetary system and culture for another. This time I swapped the dramatic cliffs, pine forests, snowy fields and deep fjords for endless sweeping fields, flame coloured native christmas trees and towering forests. Rather than north we went south, stopping in at places known by the locals as ‘Bunners’, ‘Busso’, ‘Cow Town’ and ‘Margs’, proving that even within the same country, a language can change.

Margaret River, or Margs, is WA’s best known wine region, full of vines, big wineries, boutiques, chocolate stores and restaurants. Within minutes of sampling a local Cab Sav** you can be swimming on white sandy beaches or surfing in legendary beaches, or descending into ancient caves to see towering forms and fossils. If this sounds like I’m writing copy for a tourist magazine, keep in mind that when describing this area, it’s hard not to wax lyrical. Plus for a WA woman who has been to other, more famous regions, I maintain the right to be proud of the work of my fellow WA folk, from a state where we are not usually known for creating fine wine, art and culture. As we tasted Shiraz and Petit Verdot, chatted with the owners of the little, boutique wineries and drove along the tree lined, rural roads, it felt like another land where the days of indulgence and sun would meld into each other, and where we forgot about the days to come after the holiday. It was not this way for the whole of the holiday however.

We arrived in Busso with rain clouds dragging behind us, fat and sleepy from the food and relaxation of christmas, ready to drop our stuff and get started on the holiday mood. On our first and only stroll to the beach, just behind our accommodation, the clouds opened up and wind howled, sending us back to our rooms questioning our plan for an afternoon swim. Heading into town for groceries and dinner we went to have a walk on the jetty, which at almost 2kms long is the longest wooden jetty in the world.

Clouds approaching the jetty

Clouds approaching the jetty

Despite the intention to trek the whole length, the weather again conspired against us and with sheets of rain drove us back to our car, laughing and dripping. We dried out over dinner at a pub, and fell asleep almost before our heads hit the pillows, barely noticing the raucous chatter of our new neighbours.

The first full day had been planned sometime before, and so we headed off fairly early to our appointment at a jeweller, where we got a reality check and a day to think things over. After which we scoured the Margaret River breweries for a free table and eventually fed ourselves, lining our bellies for the wine to come. A chocolatier and a few boutique wineries followed in a haze of deliciousness and an edge of tipsiness, ending at a brewery that had just the right mix of casual and quality, and brought about a heart to heart and a happy glow to the end of the day. The glow extended as we happily contemplated our haul of wines that evening, and enjoyed a few glasses over our picnic dinner.

How do you know that a decision you make while on holiday, when your tastes run a certain way, and when you know that they could change, is the right one? Especially when it’s something that you will, quite literally, carry with you for the rest of your life? This is what we did on the next morning, confirming the order and walking out feeling simultaneously buoyed and flummoxed. It was done and there was no going back. From the forests of Yallingup, which translates as ‘The place of love’ in the Indigenous language, we followed winding roads to the Wardan Cultural Centre, where we were able to meet someone wonderful. We took a tour with her and her daughter, where we were shown the trees, flowers and fruits that her people have survived off for tens of thousands of years. We tasted the balga and the snakebush berries, and chewed peppermint tree leaves, and learnt of the sheoak and how to make a moi moi. Most of all we got to spend time with an elder who knew herself and her land, and was as much a natural leader as anyone else I have ever met. It was a privilege to hear her speak about survival, joke about people she’d met and watch her daughter learn, the girl’s eyes following everything and completely comfortable in her place.
I hope to be able to go on one of the survival camps she runs one day, so I can learn how to survive on the land that I call home. Even after most of my life lived in it, I couldn’t live on it.

From the life and tranquility of the bush we continued to sample wines, lunch in Margaret River and make our way further down south. The landscape changed from Marri and Jarrah forest, to Jarrah with absurdly tall, Dr Seuss-like balgas, paperbark swamps and recently burnt scrublands. In time we began to spot the trees that I love most of all, tall, white trunks sticking out among the old marri trees. They are the tallest trees I have ever seen, and when they fill the forest in looks like a haphazard temple, the columns and green canopy unmoving as we pass underneath.

Panorama from our cabin

Panorama from our cabin

We stayed at a well known resort just before Pemberton, where we had also enjoyed our first ever getaway holiday years before. In a cabin overlooking the artificial lake, with the rushing of the waterfall and the stately karri forest reflected in the water, it was another world.

Beedelup falls

Beedelup falls

It was a world that we shared with the wildlife, including ring necked parrots that didn’t take any encouragement to gobble the seeds that I put out for them. The resort provided them as an alternative to the bread and snacks and would otherwise make the birds sick, and they clearly knew the drill, warbling to bring in the whole gang as soon as the seeds appeared.

The local gang

The local gang

They also knew where the seed was coming from, and had a go at opening the plastic container with the seeds before I hid it, then watching me with eyes that were a bit too knowing. When no more seeds appeared, they moved on to the next sucker with a final squawk and beady stare.

Can I have another?

Can I have another?

Our own dinner was a more civilized affair with less mess, and without wifi or internet connection we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery and peace of the lake. All too soon we had to leave, with a hot, filling breakfast in our bellies and a few hundred kms of road ahead of us.

Morning view

Morning view

Before turning north, however, we couldn’t leave without properly seeing the karri trees and so I had my first go at proper off-road driving, albeit in an old Volvo.

Old growth by the river

Old growth by the river

A karri valley

A karri valley

Going off-road among the karri

Going off-road among the karri

The track wound down to a river, and through magnificent old growth forest, ending at the 75 metre tall Bicentennial Tree. It can be climbed with metal spikes covered by a net, which I didn’t attempt, despite what must have been an amazing view.

The Bicentennial Tree

The Bicentennial Tree

Leaving the beautiful trees and ancient forest behind, we went north, stopping for lunch, and an ice-cream at a lavender farm. We of course visited one final winery, an old favourite that didn’t disappoint, and so it was that we arrived home satisfied, laden with wine and chocolate and dreaming of the forest that awaits the next holiday.

* By strange coincidence, the distance between Göteborg and Oslo, and my home and Margaret River is exactly 293 kms.
** Cabernet Sauvignon, for non-Australians

Places visited:
House of Cards Wines
Gabriel’s Chocolate
John Miller Design
Ashbrook Wines
Cape Grace Wines
The Beer Farm
The Cheeky Monkey Brewery
Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Thompson Brook Wines
Balingup Lavender farm

Colours and tastes of Andalucia

Years ago I was sitting in a jazzbar with a friend, enjoying a live band and chatting away as we finished our meal. On the spur of the moment I ordered a glass of port to round off the evening. The taste was a mix of sultanas and a hint of chocolate and extremely smooth. As I exclaimed over the flavour and urged my friend to taste it, I noted the name on my phone and decided that I had to have a bottle of my own. So began a quest that lasted years. That phone died and was replaced, but the name stuck in my mind. Bar staff were questioned, bottleshops explored, bottleshop staff asked, friends of friends who knew someone put out a word and time passed. It seemed as if it was unattainable. Then one day in a bottleshop across the road from my home at the time, there it was. Despite the gasp-worthy price tag I pulled it off the shelf and took it home. It was slowly savoured, after a nice meal or over a good book.

Then came the time when we were to move overseas and we threw a party, leaving our accumulated bottle selection on the bar. My port was nestled at the back, out of sight, but as the night and drinking wore on it was uncovered and someone assumed it was wine and, well, let’s not dwell on that bit.
Having moved to a new country my search continued, checking the back shelves in the government owned monopoly bottleshops and the menus in bars. It began a habit more than anything else and not a sight was seen.

Which brings us to an early afternoon in Ronda, a couple of hours north-west of Málaga in Spain. Lunch was finished and we had begun our slow wander back to the bus station. We stopped in a tourist shop and found a lovely bowl, decorated with bright red hues and dark grapes that now sits as a contrast to the whites and creams of our Swedish apartment. My partner also wanted a souvenir of the bottle variety, so we investigated a little shop selling wines, cheeses and delicacies. As I glanced around, admiring the local reds, I saw it. A bottle of Alvear Pedro Ximinex Dulce Viejo 1927.

My precious

My precious

It’s now up on the shelf nestled between champagnes, wines and port from all around the world. It seems obvious now that I’d find it in Spain – perhaps if I’d thought of that I’d have visited sooner.

Still aglow from my discovery we crossed the bridge to the new town, dodging tourists, cars, cyclists and horse drawn carriages. We had enough time to sit and bask on the pagoda overlooking the valley and canyon as the guitarist played Spanish melodies behind us. Finally we left, glancing one last time at the view, as he struck up Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It had been the first thing I hear when we reached the platform, so it was fitting that it would play for us as we left for the bus, a sort of goodbye from the amazing views, sun and flowers of Ronda.

Goodbye Ronda

Goodbye Ronda

Back in Málaga we rested for a while at the apartment and planned our final night. After a few sips of wine, we headed out for dinner and finally settled on a place specialising in paella. We continued the night on the terrace of the apartment, finishing off the last of the wine as we looked out over the city.

The amphitheatre and fortress at night

The amphitheatre and fortress at night

The next morning we packed, tidied and cleaned, leaving the apartment in as close to the condition we’d found it in as possible. Then we said goodbye to the lovely little place and wandered town with our suitcases, using up our final hours with slowly perusing shops and windows, and seeing the amphitheatre and fortress for the last time. Down at the harbour we found a seat in the sun and finished off the fruit, chatting, napping and making notes for this blog.
Then the time came for the bus, and we said goodbye to the gardens, horses, sunlight, bustle and citrus-scented streets of Málaga.

Colours of Spain

Colours of Spain

I hope we can return someday, to snack on fresh fish at El Palo, gaze out over the Mediterranean from Gibralfaro and finish off a bottle of local Rioja over a table full of tapas.