Margaret River: blues, Bowie & a yogi’s houseparty

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We were so utterly excited to be on the road again. Music loud, windows down, eating well and discovering new places – that’s when Rob and I are truly happy and at peace with the world.

The trip from Rockingham to Margaret River took between 3 and 4 hours, through a host of national parks with sometimes towering, humbling forests and other times vast, arid expanses of land either side of the road. It was a nice drive, actually. We stopped at a town called Bunbury on the way and, to our shock and dismay, discovered our beloved 12V car fridge wasn’t working. We’d only had it a week! After all the problems with Speedy, finally getting her back on the road, we couldn’t be in for more bad fortune, surely? Thankfully there was a Super Cheap Auto chain store nearby (the shop we bought the fridge from) so we paid them a visit. It was a faulty charging cable, which they replaced with no questions asked – “too easy” as the Aussies say!

We felt like the most smug pair of travellers to ever grace the land when we stumbled upon some free. indoor. showers(!!) in the town of Busselton. There was even a lock on the door! And okay, they might have been lukewarm and possibly not the cleanest of places. But it was so hot anyway, the water felt perfect. Grinning like Cheshire cats, we could preen, shave and scrub to our grubby little hearts’ content, and I don’t think the smile left my face that whole day. We also had a huge fresh seafood platter that evening with a few beers. When all runs smoothly, life on the road is oh so sweet.

Just chilling in a ma•HOO•sive forest, no biggie

On arrival in Margaret River, we instantly felt a welcoming warmth from the place and people alike. It has one main bustling highstreet with all the shops one could want or need. The focal point of the highstreet is The Settlers Tavern (“The Tav'”), a pub specialising in local beers, wines and live music – it’s consistently busy. It was always going to be a hit with Rob and I, having two pool tables and a tasty varied menu. We went there on our first afternoon in Margaret River and there was a brilliant bluesy band called Howlin’ On Shores- I’d highly recommend checking them out if you like old school blues. Their music instantly transported me to the era of cowboys in the southern American states. That night, there also happened to be a David Bowie tribute act on, starring Jeff Duff: an Australian cabaret singer and former transvestite who embodied Bowie for the evening. He had a great voice and stage presence and the band behind him were also incredible – the pianist could sing, the drummer could play guitar, the guitarist could drum, and they switched roles for some of the songs. We boogied all night, and met a lovely and eccentric Scottish lady called Lorraine who is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Bowie’s greatest fan. She bought a framed photo of David to the night because Jeff Duff, although a true talent, doesn’t particularly look like Bowie, so we had a Bowie shrine I think the man himself would have been pleased with! We’ve become firm friends with Lorraine since and she has helped us to no end – giving us somewhere off-road to park the van (because Margaret River is super strict when it comes to free camping), laundry and cooking facilities, a toilet and even a cheeky hot shower when we really need it. She has such a huge heart. She also has the best balcony on earth. It’s my idea of Heaven – full of succulents, cactii, flowers, mismatched old furniture and trinkets. It’s such a relaxing space, we’ve nursed a fair few hangovers away there over a green tea, with the birds tweeting above.

There’s a star man… waiting in the sky 🎶

Lorraine’s place

We also met a lovely local called Dave the night of the Bowie tribute. He has a wicked sense of humour and an even better taste in music. A week or two after we’d met, incidentally it happened to be January 26th (“Australia Day” – but if you read my last post you’d know my thoughts on that), he invited us to his friends’ housewarming party. It was set in its own land out in the sticks (a great place to murder someone) so we caught an Uber there. He said it would be fun, there was a live music act and the more the merrier. Well. The party was interesting, to say the least. Fun? You can make your own mind up.
It was set in a multi-million dollar home which reminded me of the starship enterprise, all white walls, bright spotlights and chrome, full to the brim with aged 60+ ‘hippies’, yogis and arty/musical people – the sort who don’t believe in shoes and preach organic, wholesome living, yet are secretly loaded and seem to have more money than sense. (The homeowner was a millionaire yogi – am I the only one seeing the hypocrisy here!?). On more than one occasion, Rob and I side-glanced at each other as if to say, “How the hell did we end up here?”

As I see it, ‘hippies’ by definition should be all about one love and respect – but I’ve never felt so unwelcome anywhere in my life! I would like to say that Rob and I get along with people of all ages, but especially those in their 50s and older, it’s just something we’ve noticed over the years! We always seem to make new friends who are a bit older than us wherever we go, because we love to hear stories of people who have much more life experience than us – that’s how you grow as as person! So I can only see the problem being with these guys – not us.

One stand-out moment was when the owner of the house’s gorgeous little granddaughter – she couldn’t have been more than 3 years old and had been so well-behaved all evening despite not being given anything to occupy her – was playing shops with me. I thought I’d give her some time, seeing as nobody else was bothering to, and she was so sweet! She happened to put her bare feet on the wall behind her. Her grandfather – yogi bear – came striding over, reprimanding her for potentially dirtying the wall. Seriously, dude? That’s what’s really important here? I’d just be pleased my granddaughter was enjoying herself…without shoes, too, that’s gotta be worth at least 10 yogi points. We voiced our honest opinions to Dave whilst sneaking off behind the parked cars on the edge of the land (I think we spent most of our evening there, it was much more fun just the three of us) and he laughed uproriously and admitted, “I knew! I knew it would be awful! I needed you guys here – no one else is on the same level as me!” The bugger. We couldn’t help but laugh too. We stayed to enjoy the live music – a husband and wife acoustic duo – they were extremely talented, although their names escape me as I was a few beers down by this point…

That guy Dave knows how to rave \o/

We managed to extract Dave eventually, and headed back to The Tav’. We stayed for a beer and then headed to Dave’s place which he shares with a friend – the yogi’s brother, incidentally. We chilled in the garage playing old school rock tunes and drinking until the wee hours, and when the sun started to come up we thought it was time we make the walk back to the van to snooze.

The Tav’ is basically the best and only place to meet anyone in Margaret River. We heard about the local soup kitchen there after getting chatting to an English expat who runs it. His name is also Dave, he’s lived here for almost 30 years. He’s in a band, and he’s a bit of a pillar in the community. He’s basically a cool ass guy and has a lovely wife and a gorgeous pooch called Sonny too (a New Zealand sheepdog). They do a $5 vegan curry night every Monday and Wednesday at the community centre, which is great for backpackers living cheap and those without much money. You pay, get a big plate of delicious homemade curry, and it doesn’t hurt to help them clean up too. They’re always looking for help so if anyone reads this and goes to Margaret River in future, it’s a great thing to do!

With Margaret River being such a hub of musical and creative energy, Rob and I got a bit carried away in a music shop and decided to impulse buy a ukulele. This was a great idea. We’re already learning a few songs and thinking to maybe busk along the way when we’re a bit more confident. Watch this space!

We have applied with a few local agencies to do some grape picking work when the harvest starts, which should be in the next week or two. It’s all weather dependent, because obviously the grapes need enough sun to ripen, so we’re waiting on their call. This work is classed as ‘regional’, and if we complete 88 days of this type of work, we will be eligible to apply for our second year working holiday visas – which is definitely an option we want to have. We are also running a bit low on cash at this point, so could really do with some fresh funds!

I’m so happy Margaret River is going to be our home for the next few months. It’s definitely a place you find yourself blending into the furniture of, which is probably why I’ve met so many expats who have been here 20/30/40 years and don’t ever want to live anywhere else. I’m looking forward to seeing where the next few months take us.

Until next time…

Ana x

Every cloud has a silver lining

As my previous blog post told you, our next move was to travel four hours south to Margaret River, a huge grape growing and winery region, to find harvest jobs for the next few months. Well, all did not go to plan.

Whilst in Rockingham, we decided to take our beloved Speedy to the garage for a routine service, seeing as the previous owner hadn’t provided us with any service history (I know, I know – alarm bells – but Rob had test driven her and checked the obvious things, and there were seemingly no problems) and we wanted to make sure she was fighting fit for the road trip ahead. We took her to the Auto Masters garage, as it was highly rated online and also part of a chain of stores across Australia, which made us feel safer as neither of us had particularly extensive car knowledge.

Speedy was looked over by the team and her diagnostics came back. We’d expected to pay a couple of hundred dollars to get everything sorted, but, to our dismay, the repairs to get her to a safe standard came to $2,000 (about £1,200). She needed a whole new timing belt kit, water flushing and a new water pump, engine degreasing, rear cylinders replacing, oil leaks looking at… the list went on. We checked with my dad who said for all the things wrong with her, it seemed a fair price. We decided to just bite the bullet and go for it. We loved Speedy, she was our home for at least the next year and we wanted to be safe. Plus, we’d have proof of all repairs so this would benefit us when we sold her on.

Whilst Speedy was in the van hospital, we amused ourselves by taking a short ferry over to Penguin Island. It’s a beautiful little nature reserve that is home to the smallest breed of penguins in the world, and you can snorkel, swim and picnic there. We only saw one penguin as they are mainly out feeding in the day, however the island itself is gorgeous so it was an afternoon well spent.

The repair work had taken all day, but was finished in time for the day’s end so we could drive Speedy away and park by the coast to sleep. She was driving like a dream! We enjoyed a leisurely evening and, the next morning, woke up and swam in the ocean. We didn’t foresee any more issues (apart from the issue of me losing my purse earlier that day – great). However, when I tried to start the engine, Speedy wasn’t doing a thing. CRAP. We thought we’d run out of petrol – never mind, we were across the road from a petrol station! A kind man called Jim helped us push Speedy over the busy road so we could fill her up. She still wouldn’t start. Ha! It must be a flat battery from charging my phone overnight. We attempted jump starting Speedy with the help of a sweet young couple. There was no response from our beautiful van. By this point, I had tears in my eyes and Rob was raking his hands through his hair, looking stressed. We felt helpless, like Speedy was nothing but a money pit and buying her was a big mistake. We had to be towed back to Auto Masters so they could have another look at her.

Craig, the owner of the Rockingham Auto Masters branch, is one of those genuine diamonds you rarely meet in life, but when you do, you feel very lucky to have done so. Whilst at work, he’s very matter of fact and extremely busy, there’s never a dull moment at the shop. Rob and I felt that the front desk should be filmed fly-on-the-wall style and made into a sitcom. He and front-of-house lady Rosemary are always griping at each other hilariously but keep the busy days ticking over with fine precision. Some days, you’ll even look over the counter and see his gorgeous little dog, Fraser, lying serenely on his bed, just happy to be with Craig. At the end of the day, Rob and I went back there to hear the damage. Craig looked a little white in the face as he told us the new timing belt kit they’d fitted the previous day had failed, and this in turn had damaged Speedy’s cylinder heads so these would all need to be replaced. He said there was more chance of us winning the lottery than a brand new part like that failing – so I suppose we were just unfortunate. It was no one’s fault, it was the part. He was very nice, saying it would all be paid for through the company’s insurance and the damage would be rectified, but we couldn’t help wondering what would happen to us in the meantime without our little travelling home?

Craig seemed to see this in our worried expressions, so off the cuff he offered for us to stay at his family-owned luxury hotel just outside of Rockingham, ‘Peel Manor’, for the night until we could make a new plan, as he felt responsible for the situation. This amazing offer was gratefully accepted, so we quickly packed our bags with what we thought we’d need and jumped into Craig’s 4×4! Peel Manor did not disappoint. A beautiful stone house set in rolling green grounds, immaculately kept, including a lake with ducks and its own ancient rock garden, similar to The Pinnacles mentioned in my last post. It’s mainly used as as wedding venue and you can definitely see why. Craig’s elderly mother lives there and keeps the place ticking along, and we had a lovely evening having food and drinks and meeting her as well as Craig’s 14 year old son, Callum.

Peel Manor lake

We had a glorious night’s sleep in a big comfy bed, and got an Uber back to Craig’s shop in the morning. Craig said after speaking to the mechanics, they expected the work to take a full week or more. He said he trusted us and liked our company, so we were welcome to stay at his house in Perth for a few days if we wanted to! Believe me when I say, he’s nothing but a kind-hearted soul. Rob and I spent a wonderful time at his house, enjoying the swimming pool, going out for drinks and dinner, chilling out with Callum (and Fraser the dog of course), watching movies, meeting his friends (big love to Ana-Maria), going to the beach, visiting wineries and breweries for wine and beer tasting – making a friend for life and memories we will cherish forever! There are some people in life you just connect with, and Craig quickly became like family. He did a lot for us and we will always be grateful. As some of you may or may not know, my sister has an illustration business – Arthouse Illustrations – and is insanely talented. She does bespoke drawings and we commissioned her to do a drawing for Craig as a thank you gift, which he loved!

Friends for life

The face that launched a thousand ships

We didn’t want to get on Craig’s nerves or outstay our welcome, so after a few days we headed back to the Witch’s Hat hostel. Auto Masters’ insurance would cover the costs so we would get the money back. People were certainly surprised to see us back so soon, after our “bye guys, we’re gonna miss you, we’re off to start our road trip down south now!!” goodbyes from last time. In total, we’d made it 50km south of Perth… We spent time perfecting our CVs and hanging around, trying not to spend too much money.

Rob is a bit of a golf fanatic and our friend Preston from the hostel worked at a golf pro shop in Perth. Rob was dying to venture onto the course with him but didn’t want to impose. One day, Victoria (his girlfriend and also our good friend) just said “Preston, why don’t you play golf with the poor guy?!” so we, naturally, went to buy some booze and caught the bus to the course. We had so much fun – the boys playing whilst sharing a bottle of red, and me and Victoria thrashing the golf buggy around the course, our driving becoming more erratic with every sip of cider.

Who knew a day on a golf course could be fun?

Something we wanted to do which we’d missed last time we were in Perth was visit Rottnest Island, so we booked tickets for a ferry there from Fremantle. We went for the ‘ferry and bike hire’ combination so we could cycle around the island. We made the error of only carrying 500ml of water each, assuming there would be water fill up stations around the island. It’s hot…people are cycling…it makes sense, right? Alas, there were none. We cycled 23km on 500ml of water each, stopping briefly to eat lunch and strip all our clothes off to dive into the sea and cool down. That said, the cycle was lots of fun, the beaches around the island were stunning, and we made friends with Quentin the Quokka, who I suspect wanted my fries more than my friendship.

Quokkas are relatives of kangaroos & wombats

And here are a kangaroo & a wombat

The day finally came (20th January) when we could pick up Speedy again! We checked out of the hostel (thanks for another great stay everyone) and got the train to Rockingham. I went to the bus depot first as my previously lost purse had been found on a bus and handed in! We were so excited to have our independence again. Free of steep hostel bills and free of public transport… however it was sad knowing we would soon be leaving Craig behind as we’d struck up such a great friendship. That night we met Craig after work and drove to Peel Manor as we were staying there and going out for food and drinks with his friends Peter and Theresa. We had a lovely night and some great conversation. Theresa was from Africa so it was very interesting learning about her upbringing and culture, and it turned out Peter was from Portsmouth of all places (the same city Rob is from for those of you who don’t know)! It really is a small world.

This post is titled “Every cloud has a silver lining” because one of the main lessons travelling has taught me is that there’s always a light if you’re willing to look for it. Speedy’s costly issues, not being able to get on the road to Margaret River as soon as we would have liked, the initial repairs failing, these all seem like negative things. However, if these hadn’t have happened we wouldn’t have met Craig or his family and friends, spent time at Peel Manor, or visited parts of Perth we had previously missed. I wouldn’t have discovered that I actually do enjoy some wines (something that shocked me more than anyone else), and we wouldn’t have spent a fabulous afternoon playing golf with our friends when we went back to the hostel. We made some of our best memories of Perth that week! If you keep a positive mental attitude and your mind and heart open, even the bad things can lead to good.

A huge thank you to Craig for welcoming us into his life! We had a fantastic time. See you again when we’re back in Perth.

Until next time…

Ana x