Friday, November 7, 2008

A drive in the country

(A replica of the brig Amity, which brought the first English settlers to western Australia, on display at the maritime museum in Albany.)

ALBANY, Western Australia (Nov. 7, 2008) — Unless one is born in Panama, or maybe South Africa, they are unlikely to see two oceans for the first time on the same day.

But thanks to my excursion to Albany, on the south coast of Australia about 255 miles southeast of Perth, I got to see both the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean for the first time today. Yes, the Southern Ocean has officially been an ocean since the year 2000, at least according to Australia. You weren’t taught it in school because it wasn’t considered an ocean then.

Technically, what I saw was part of the Great Australian Bight, sort of Down Under’s answer to the Gulf of Mexico. So therefore on this trip I have taken two locations (Perth and the Great Australian Bight) off my list of the Earth’s geographical features/cities I wanted to see before I die. If you count Rawlinna, which I only half-jokingly would add to the mental list from time-to-time, that’s three, and I will soon see Darwin and Uluru (five and six). Sadly I will just miss seeing any part of the Gulf of Carpenteria.

(Other features on the list include the Kamchatka Peninsula, Marajó [the huge island at the mouth of the Amazon River], Munich in Germany and Table Rock [near Capetown] in South Africa.)

How did I get to Albany? I actually drove there! Yes, me, reputedly not the smoothest of drivers braving the “wrong” side of the road in a rented right-hand drive car. (I had some fun with the lady at the rental counter, jokingly asking her which side of the road I should drive on. But the best part was that she was actually named "Shelia!" Imagine, Aussie parents actually named their daughter Shelia ... ). I actually have been doing pretty well driving, although I tend to overcompensate when I feel I’m drifting to the left. I also have problems with two-laned traffic circles. I’m not worried about driving on the left when I’m thinking of it, but I do have bad premonitions of “realizing” with a start that I’m on what I think is the “wrong” side of the road and swerving into the right lanes. I think I’ll fight it.

The countryside was great coming down. There were, of course, the lengthy suburbs of Perth, which trailed into farmland, then forests of thick gum trees for hours on end, then finally farmland again before I got into Albany — site of Britain’s first colony in Western Australia (beating Perth, then the “Swan River Colony” by about three years).

Albany has a bit of old New England feel to it, not surprising considering it’s still a decent-sized port and was the key to Australia’s whaling industry until whaling was shut down starting in the 1970s. There’s also a spectacular war memorial just outside of town because Albany was the last place in Australia that many of the ANZACs who fought at Gallipoli in World War I ever saw.

(Below, a view of the Albany port and bay.)

I just had the best local lamb shanks at an Albany restaurant called Dylans on the Terrace. Frenched shanks with sweet potato mash and mint relish. MMMmmm. The restrained presentation was a bit different from the one I got in the small town of Balingup for lunch. I stopped in a nice little café and ordered the pork pie, thinking it was like a beef pie. The lady behind the counter said something along the lines of “Didja know that it’s English and served cold?” I hadn’t but decided to try it anyway. “Alright. And if you don’t like it, you can blame the bloody Poms.”

It was half decent.

Now for a drive back to Perth on a slightly different, more-direct route. I think I might see some kangaroos tonight up close, as they’re mostly nocturnal. I sort of drove by one today, but it was roadkill.

Update: Perth (Nov. 8, 2:40 a.m.) — The drive back at night revealed one more difficulty of driving on the left. When you just see a set of headlights directly in front of you, an American driver has to fight the urge to pull over the to right to feel safe. I also saw five wild kangaroos rather close, including one I pulled up about 10 feet from but ran away before I could take a picture. I also stopped briefly to take in the southern sky. The familiar northern constellations appear upside down! Orion and Taurus were both on their heads. I also finally saw Canopus, the second brightest star in the sky but too far south to be seen from the United States.


Rob said...

That picture of you is hilarious! Great description of the drive. I'm kinda "googling" your journey.

Jennie said...

Kangaroos! Finally!