The Margaret River area is the south west toe of Western Australia about 3 hours drive from Perth. I had been there before on my previous visit to my cousins in Perth back in 2002 but definately wanted to go back there again as there was so much to see.
We started by visiting the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse situated at the most south western point in Australia which is where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. After the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and Cape Horn in South America this is one of the most treacherous capes in the world. The lighthouse was built in 1895-96 and is 132 feet (40 metres) high with walls 7 feet (2 metres) thick at its base - and 176 steps we had to climb to reach the top!
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
The Lighthouse Lens at Cape Leeuwin
The view of the rest of Australia from Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Me at the meeting point of the Indian and Southern Oceans
Next stop moving north was Lake Cave, the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge which is the backbone of the Margaret River Area is peppered with over 100 of them most of which have the most amazing natural cave formations. Lake Cave is considered the prettiest of them with an impressive colapsed cavern entrance known as a doline and its stalactites within reflecting in the stream that flows very slowly through it. From the karri trees growing in the entrance it is estimated the doline colapsed about 700 years ago and inside Lake Cave there is a very unusual cave formation known as as suspended table formed by the flowstone beneath columns being eroded away.
The impressive entrance down into Lake Cave
Stalactites reflecting in the water inside Lake Cave
The suspended table inside Lake Cave
The deepest part of Lake Cave
Day light again! Re-emerging from Lake Cave into its doline
The Boranup Forest above the caves contains an amazing forest of karri and marri trees, driving along the Caves Road that runs along the spine of the area you are aware the trees are tall with similar sized trunks but all of a sudden the trees seem to be 3-5 times taller than they were previously - very belittling! Karri Trees are a very straight trunked hardwood tree with all its branches high up that can grow upto 200 feet (60 metres) high. The most famous karri is the 200 feet high Gloucester Tree near Pemberton about an hour's drive away to the east which is used as a fire lookout tree and can be climbed but I was quite happy keeping my feet on the ground!
The view from the Boranup Lookout across the Karri Tree Forest to the Indian Ocean
Karri Trees line the track as we drive through the Baranup Forest
To give an idea of scale, our car stopped on the track amongst the Karri Trees in the Boranup Forest
Where the Margaret River enters the Indian Ocean is also world famous for its consistent surf and I remember a fun day on the beach there during my previous visit. Since then the shape of the coastline seems to have changed a lot and still shows the scars of a bushfire that ravaged the area a couple of years ago but as we stopped for old times sake we could still make out the surfers practising in the waves on Surfers Point for the annual Pro Surf Competition being held there starting at the weekend.
Surfers practice at Surfers Point, Margaret River
Lifeguard Notice at Margaret River Beach
Surfers encampment at Margaret River in readiness for the Pro-Am Competition the following weekend
Scrubland at Surfers Point recovering from the Bushfire that ravaged the area in 2011
However what Margaret River is famous for more than anything else is for being Western Australia's premier wine region so what else were we to finish our trip to the area but with a tour of a local winery? The winery we chose to visit was the Leeuwin Estate, one of the original wineries in the area when it was identified as an ideal place to grow grapes back in 1972 and which often hosts open concerts for famous entertainers such the London Philamornic and Sting. Our tour was given by a very enthusiastic guide and one of the senior growers and was very interesting and fun - honest I learnt a lot! We then finished off by sampling some of the different vintages before starting our long trek back to Perth.
The entrance to the Leeuwin Estate Winery
The stage all set for the next open air concert at the Leeuwin Estate
Where the grapes arrive from the fields
Wine fermenting in the vats at the Leeuwin Estate
Wine aging in oak barrels in the cellars of the Leeuwin Estate
Of course no tour of a winery would be complete without some wine tasting!
A must see for me was Milford Sound only 40 miles (64 kilometres) away as the crow flies although with mountains and lakes in the way the actual distance by road was 180 miles (290 kilometres) and took over 3 hours. The drive there was spectacular and we stopped at a lake with a particularly pristine mirror refection of the surrounding mountains and forest before making our way through the Homer Tunnel to Milford. When we emerged the other side the weather had totally changed, Milford Sound is the wettest place in New Zealand!
The stunning scenery on the way to Milford Sound
Mirror Lake on the way to Milford Sound
Sign reflected in the Lake on the way to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a 10 mile (16 kilometre) long fjord with very steep sides; Mitre Peak is the most famous and towered 5,551 feet (1,692 metres) over the Sound as we arrived to board our tour boat. With forest clinging to the sheer cliffs, waterfalls cascading into the Sound from high up and seals colonising the rocks (apparently there are dolphins in the Sound as well but we didn't see any the day we were there) it is one of the most stunning places in the world and part of a World Heritage Site covering the south west corner of New Zealand.
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (5,551 feet - 1,692 metres), for an idea of scale note the tour boat at its base!
Me by Fairy Falls in Milford Sound
Close up of the Fairy Falls in Milford Sound
St Annes Point at the mouth of Milford Sound, next stop Australia!
Seals on Seal Rock in Milford Sound
Bowen Falls on the left as we return up Milford Sound
Unfortunately it was when I arrived at Milford Sound that my camera began to indicate it had a problem. Two and a half months and five countries into my round the world trip even with most of them backed up (in triplicate - I am an IT Project Manager after all, always got to have a contingency plan!) you can imagine how I felt!
Fortunately it turned out to be the new SD Card I put in my camera after the Franz Josef Glacier Heli-Hike that was the problem so I was able to use my camera's internal memory (and borrowed photographs) until I got a replacement the following day in Queenstown. Two photo stores in NZ and LA have tried to recover the lost pictures for me since with no success so I'm pretty sure they are not recoverable.
I try to put on a brave face after realising there is a problem with my camera
For the first few days of my stay in Colorado we travelled up to my cousin's mountain house at Keystone in Summit County high up in the Rockies. On the way up into the mountains we stopped to visit Mother Cabrini's Shrine near Golden just off the I70 Freeway. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was born in Italy in 1850 and originally planned to do missionary work in China but the Pope asked her to go to the USA instead. The religious order of nuns she founded provided a lot of support to Italian immigrants and after her death she became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church.
The main building at Mother Cabrini's Shrine at Golden
Inside the Chapel of the Mother Cabrini Shrine
Mother Cabrini is credited with founding 67 religious institutions across the USA and Americas. Her national shrine is in Chicago where she was based with this smaller one on a hill top on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. It amused me seeing my name in large white letters on a nearby hilltop although I am sure they should have spelt FRANCIS the female way with an 'E' rather than the male way I do with an 'I'.
The steps up to the big statue at Mother Cabrini's Shrine
Close up of Mother Cabrini's Statue at Golden
'ST. FRANCIS' written on the hill on the way up to the shrine
Bison (also known as American Buffalo) roam right up to the fence beside the I70 Freeway out of Denver. We didn't seen any last time I visited a few years ago so I was keen to try and see them again as we made our way up into the mountains. At first it looked like I would again be disappointed but just as we decided to give up looking any further - there they were! Then a bit later it was bonus time as we passed some Bighorn Sheep on the hard shoulder, again something rarely seen.
Bison grazing on a hillside next to the Interstate 70
Bighorn sheep on the hard shoulder of the Interstate 70 on the way up into the mountains
We then passed through the 1.7 mile (2.7 kilometre) long Eisenhower Tunnel to go under the Continental Divide and entered Summit County. Summit County with its well developed ski-resorts such as Breckenbridge and Keystone is the busiest of Colorado's mountain areas. Although the local ski season had largely ended with spring just around the corner there had been a heavy fall snow only the week before I arrived so we weren't quite sure what conditions to expect.
Entering the Eisenhower Tunnel under the Continental Divide
Lake surrounded by mountains in Summit County, Colorado
Mountain view over Breckenbridge with the Colorado Flag flying above a building in the foreground
Mountain view in Summit County, Colorado
The epicentre of Summit County is Lake Dillon (a reservoir which supplies Denver with fresh water) which was still largely frozen. Avalanche tracks could be seen on the nearby mountains where they had crashed down flattening trees in the forests below. Unfortunately there were a lot of felled trees since the last time I visited that had been lost recently to a pine beetle infestation which will take decades to recover but many had been saved by spraying. One thing that hadn't changed however was the beauty of the alpine meadows.
High mountains and a frozen lake in Summit County, Colorado
Avalanche tracks on the slopes of Buffalo Mountain near Dillon, Summit County
Alpine meadows in Keystone, Summit County, Colorado
While in Keystone we went for a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad from Devil's Gate Station to Silver Plume and back again. The railroad was originally built during the local silver mining boom of the 1880s but closed down in 1939 before being re-opened by railway enthusiasts in 1984. During the summer the railroad runs 1920s steam trains which would have been a sight to see but unfortunately we were several weeks too early in the season to ride on one of them.
Train crossing the High Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
Our train makes its way over the High Bridge on the Georgetown Loop Railroad
At the back of the train there was an open boxcar
We were in one of the comfortable parlour cars instead of the open boxcar and had a very enjoyable ride through the mountains as the track gained more than 600 feet (183 metres) in elevation over a distance of 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) twisting and looping through trees and across several bridges to cope with the steep gradient. On the return trip to Georgetown we stopped at a small halt for a visit the Lebanon Silver Mine.
Our train makes it way around a bend in the track
We cross one of the railroad's four bridges over Clear Creek
Our train stopped at the little halt for the Lebanon Silver Mine
Work on the Lebanon Silver Mine began in 1869 and by 1876 there were 76 miners with 19 lodes under development although the really big seam it was originally excavated for 1,110 feet (335 metres) from the portal (entrance) wasn't reached until 1881. Our tour lasted about an hour and a half and took us over 900 feet into the mountain during which time we had many of the working practices and superstitions of the mine described to us and saw naturally occurring “silver pearls”, calcified hobnail boot prints and stalactites from over 100 years ago.
Me stood by the entrance to the Lebanon Silver Mine
The mine shaft into the mountain
Winch down to the lower levels of the mine
Naturally occuring 'Silver Pearls' on the mine floor
A lot of the miners came from the tin mines of Cornwall back home in the UK and I particularly liked the story about how the crusts of the Cornish Pasties they took down with them to heat up and eat were superstitiously left behind for the "knockers". Traditional Cornish Pasties were made by miners wives filled with beef, potato, onion and swede. They had thick crimped crusts which served as a means of holding them with dirty hands without contaminating the meal and were then discarded in the mine.. as an offering to the "knockers" or little people to not cause mischief and watch over the miners.
Black bleeding on the side of the tunnel indicates a silver lode (seam) close by
An abandoned drill inside the Lebanon Silver Mine
A colapsed tunnel inside the Lebanon Silver Mine
Daylight and a mine truck as we emerge from the Lebanon Silver Mine
Afterwards we looked around Georgetown itself which is an elegant little Victorian mining town that feels like it has been left behind in time. It was founded in 1859 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush and started to grow rapidly following the discovery locally of silver in 1864. Georgetown's main shopping street is 6th Street and the whole town is peppered with heritage listed buildings many of which have painstakingly restored such as the Town Hall/Police Station with its white bell tower, the Hotel de Paris and a couple of firehouses.
6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado
Town Hall/Police Station, Georgetown, Colorado
Hotel de Paris on 6th Street, Georgetown, Colorado
Alpine Hose No.2 Firehouse and Tower, Georgetown, Colorado
The Snetzer Tailor Shop and the Grace Episcopal Church on Taos Street
The following lunchtime before we made our way back to Denver on the I70 Freeway, there was just enough time to add another brewery to my list and sample the ale at the local brew-pub, the Dillon Dam Brewery.