Saturday, October 6, 2012

Goulburn-Jervis Bay-Fitzroy Falls

Back in June, we decided we needed to finally start taking advantge of Canberra's location and do some of the day and weekend excursions in the area. Top of the list was to go to Jervis Bay on the coast to watch the whales migrate north. The waters of the Antarctic get too chilly for them in the winter, so for two months every fall you can watch them swim up along the Australian coast (or back down it every Spring). We decided to make a weekend of it and stopped at a few places along the way.
The first stop was Goulburn, which was Australia's first inland city. City, of course, being used very loosely here. Goulburn's economy was, and still is, powered by the local wool industry enabled by the importation of a large number of Merino sheep from England at the turn of the century. To honor this tradition, the city of Goulburn has constructed "The Big Merino." Isn't he majestic?
There is a small musuem and gift shop. Laurel got some really nice leather gloves. You can also walk up inside and look out the sheep's eyes. Totally worth a stop. The Big Merino is part of a, mind the pun, grand tradition in Australia where small towns build large monuments of ordinary things as a way to boost tourism. There are giant bananas, prawns, the list goes on and on. Laurel's co-workers insist that this is just one of the many things Australia is world famous for. That's a little bit of a stretch.

The town of Huskisson is the nearest town to Jervis Bay and we stayed in a very cute Bed and Breakfast right off the main stretch of town. The following morning, after an amazing breakfast that included homemade poached fruits, we set out to the bay to meet our whale watching boat, and for an ice cream snack.

Our boat! We were on the Whale Watching Extreme tour, because that's how we live our lives- EXTREME!!

Australia is a very rugged country, and it does not have the long, sandy beach coastlines that we associate with the ocean from east coast United States. It's more sheer cliff-face, with small beaches and bays nestled in here and there. It's understandable why there were so many shipwrecks back in the day and why Sydney Harbor was such a prized area in the exploration and colonial days.

The ocean current (the same one immortalized in "Finding Nemo") runs right off the coast, flowing south, so the whales swim right up next to the rocks to avoid swimming against the current. Lucky for us since it makes it way easier for us to see them.

After a few misses and getting quite a few pictures of nothing but ocean, Laurel figured out the rhythm and started getting some great pictures. We figure we saw about seven different whales, most of them Humpbacks (thanks Star Trek IV!). Laurel also saw a seal, but Greg was looking the wrong direction.

The ultimate in whale pictures- the whale tail!

When one of Greg's coworkers came to Jervis Bay it was apparently a very windy day, and the boat was rocking so much that some people got seasick. Apparently, this is a great time to see whales, as their guide said, "Whales love wind." They saw several whales full on breach out of the water, and slam back into the ocean. We didn't have any of that, but we saw planety of whales, and it was a beautiful day. We'll consider it a success.

After saying hello to the whales we drove a little farther down the coast to see Hyamm's Beach, which supposedly has the whitest sand in the world. I'm not sure if it's the whitest, but it's pretty white. Also very rare, since the whole beach was maybe 40-meters across.

What is it about rocks that just make you want to stand on them?

This is the greatest sign ever. Beware of cliff.

On Sunday, as we were driving back, we first went a little farther south to enter the Jervis Bay National Park to visit the old lighthouse on the cliffs. It's also a great place to look out for whales.

This lighthouse has a great story behind it. When it was decided that a lighthouse was needed due to the frequent and catastrophic shipwrecks in the area, no one bothered to consult anyone with a nautical background. Instead the engineers just built the lighthouse and figured any high point was fine. Not so fine. Turns out, they put it in about the worst possible place, as the number of shipwrecks actually went up. Mariners followed the light, and it promptly led them into the rocks. It was also considered to be haunted as several of the lightkeepers and their familes suffered unfortunate tragedies. Eventually, the lighthouse was torn down, well blown-up actually, and a new one, after proper surveying, was constructed on the other side of the bay. 

Some of the nefarious rocks below.

On the return drive home we made our last stop at Fitzroy Falls. It's funny, you are driving along the highway, stop in the carpark, and only as you begin to walk along the trail do you realize that you've been driving pretty high up over the valley. The land just opens up, it's incredible. The Falls couldn't have been more than a half kilometer hike.

It's also interesting just how much of a change elevation makes to the climate. When we stopped for lunch in a small town in Kangaroo Vally it was sunny and hot. We had coats, but didn't need them. Just a thirty minute drive up the road, granted a road that took us up about 600 meters of elevation, it was quite chilly with a fair amount of wind. A very nice scenic walk, just a surprisingly cold one. We kept an eye out for platypus, but once again, sadly, we didn't see any.

Below the falls stretches the immense Kangaroo Valley. Such a beautiful country.

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