There are so many beautiful coastal walks and recreation spots dotted along the coast near Denmark (Western Australia). One place highly recommended by our daughter Mlle (see here for her guest post) was the beautiful William Bay National Park, about half an hour’s drive out of town to the west.
The two best-known attractions are Greens Pool, a popular spot for families as the rock formations provide shelter from the force of the Southern Ocean and the nearby Elephant Rocks and Cove. However there are also a few other beaches and viewing spots such as Waterfall Beach and Madfish Bay (more how the latter got its curious name in due course).
We visited the park on a crisp winter’s day – the sun was darting in and out from the clouds (a harbinger of the rain to come). The car park and facilities had recently been extensively renovated in an eco-style to protect the fragile environment. We needn’t have worried about finding anywhere to park as, midweek and out of season, we had this unspoilt corner of the world practically to ourselves. The moody light highlighted the greys and soft greens of the vegetation and the sandy hues of the rocks.
It was such a peaceful and tranquil spot though the photos don’t tell the full story as the sea breeze was really starting to pick up.
There were several information boards, which told the story of the area and also the history behind some of the more curious names such as how Madfish Bay allegedly got its name (subsequently it has lent its name to a local winery).
We didn’t see any seals in real life but this photo seemed too cute not to share.
We walked along the path to Elephant Rocks where you can climb down a staircase through a chasm in the rocks to access the cove below.
There are warning signs here as you don’t want to get stuck at the bottom with the tide coming in! I would be especially careful too if we had had young children such as our granddaughters with us – it would be quite easy to slip especially on a wet day. We didn’t linger too long as the tide did indeed appear to be coming in quite fast so we headed back up the staircase the way we came.
We had also planned to visit Lights Beach at the eastern end of the national park. Unfortunately we soon came to a road blockade – the area was inaccessible due to renovations being carried out on the car parks so we will have to save Lights Beach for another day.
However we still had a very enjoyable afternoon in the William Bay National Park doing plenty of walking and savouring the outstanding beauty of the region.
Lunch overlooking a lake, beautiful food platters and delicious wines – it was worth the slightly bumpy road down to The Lake House nestling in the rolling countryside of Shadforth on the hill above Denmark. The recent winter rains (we were there in early August) had damaged the unsealed road further – no fault of the owners who have been trying to persuade the local council to seal the track for some time.
We were able to sit out under the patio area enjoying the view and ambience whilst wondering if our holiday would be over before it started (rumours had reached us of a potential Covid lockdown in Perth). We had visions of being confined to our room wearing masks but thankfully that didn’t eventuate. Nevertheless we decided a detour to the cellar door and produce shop would be a wise move so left stocked up with some essential supplies.
The Lake House enjoys an excellent reputation and is also a popular wedding and function venue – can highly recommend if anyone ever finds themselves in Denmark (the West Australian one that is!).
You can find my other Denmark posts here (still a couple to come).
Springdale Beach, on the east side of Denmark, was originally situated along a now disused railway track. Back in the day trains used to trundle along the track bringing holidaymakers to the local beaches and providing a way for local farmers and smallholders to transport goods. You can walk and cycle from the Heritage Railway bridge (part of the Mokare Trail I covered in my last post here).
We drove round to Springdale Beach after lunch and had a walk along the beach. It was so quite and peaceful – we had the place to ourselves apart from a few water birds. The waters take on a slightly ochre hue, which seems to be distinctive of the soil in this area.
At the end of the beach we came across a small wooden hut, which housed an interesting collection of information boards put together by the local historical society. The history of the Springdale Beach area was fascinating – there used to be a guesthouse there and the place was once a thriving tourist resort. There was something a little poignant about the stillness and the loss of the railway track – it harked back to a bygone era. Nonetheless the Denmark area is still a very popular tourist spot – just in a different way (people travel down by car for example though some do hike the whole way down from Perth along the Bibbulman Track).
There was also an interesting board identifying the wildflowers and birds that can be seen around the inlet.
Our lunch, by the way, was at Mrs Jones’ Cafe (recommended by our daughter Mlle see here for her take on Denmark). You can probably tell by the photos what I had for lunch and what Monsieur did!
The Mokare Heritage Trail is one of the many trails and walks found in the Denmark region of Western Australia. Approximately 3 kilometres long, it wends its way along the Denmark River between the Denmark traffic bridge (on the South Coast Highway) and the Denmark Heritage Rail Bridge, which crosses the river just before it opens out into the waters of the Wilson Inlet.
The trail takes its name from Mokare, an Aboriginal leader from Albany, who assisted Dr Thomas Wilson on his 1829 expedition to the Denmark district.
It had been raining heavily for several weeks when we visited Denmark earlier this month and parts of the trail were quite water-logged. We even had to cross the path at one point with the aid of some large sticks, clinging onto the trees and hoping not to fall into the water! Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, though in the warmer months keep a look out for snakes (there were several warning signs!).
With the wetlands teeming with the sounds of birdlife, no doubt happy to have some fine weather at last, and a canopy of beautiful trees (mainly karri and paperbarks) skimming the water, it made for a very pleasant and peaceful walk.
The Bibbulmun Track intersects with the trail at the Heritage Rail Bridge, a perfect vantage point for taking photos of the pristine waters of the inlet.
Trails WA has comprehensive information on walking trails throughout Western Australia. You can find out more about the Mokare Heritage Trail and other walks here.
We’ve recently returned from a winter’s break down in the pretty southern coastal town of Denmark (the Western Australian town not the European country!). You may remember our daughter, Mlle, did a guest post on her trip to Denmark earlier this year (see here)?
After a gap of nearly 20 years since our last visit (on that occasion a day trip with friends from nearby Albany) we decided it was time for a revisit. Set a few kilometres inland from the Southern Ocean overlooking the peaceful Wilson Inlet, Denmark enjoys an idyllic location. Forests surround the town and the Inlet, which in turn wends its way out to the open ocean at Ocean Beach. There are plentiful walking trails, including a section of the Bibbulmun Track, rolling hills, vineyards and boutique farm and craft shops and cafes. All in all a perfect place to relax and get away from it all.
We arrived early evening after a 5 hour or so journey from Perth including a food stop. After weeks of heavy rain and winter storms we finally had a few days respite, which coincided nicely with our trip. We made the most of the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
I have several posts to write up but here are a few photos taken on our first day out and about near the Wilson Inlet and Ocean Beach. The latter had been heavily eroded from the winter storms and local workmen were in the process of shoring up the Surf Club and the pathways leading down to the beach. A few days later the beach was closed to visitors so we were glad we took the opportunity to visit on the first day of our trip.
After our incredible trip to Denali National Park (see here and here) we bade farewell to our accommodation at Carlo Creek and headed up the highway north.
The last stop on our Alaskan trip was the northern city of Fairbanks – the end of the Alaska Railroad and for that matter more or less the end of bitumen roads too.
You can continue a little way north by road from Fairbanks and then you come to the start of the Dalton Highway. This is not a highway in the traditional sense though! It is often little more than a gravel track and for several months of the year the track is actually an ice road. The Dalton Highway runs parallel to the oil pipeline and is used mainly by trucks ferrying cargo for the oil industry (it featured in a reality TV series called Ice Truckers, which followed the fortunes of truck drivers on the icy roads of Canada and the USA).
The Dalton ends at the settlement of Deadhorse by Prudhoe Bay just south of the Arctic Ocean, very close to the oil fields. It is not a good idea to drive along the highway in small or recreational vehicles – in fact it is recommended to take survival gear with you if planning a trip. A more sensible option for tourists is to do what our friends did and take one of the bus tours that operate in the summer months up to various points of interest including driving across the Arctic Circle (see here for more details). The return trip to Fairbanks is by light plane and our friends said it was a memorable experience. By that stage though we had left Fairbanks to fly down to Seattle for a few days before our long journey back to Australia (via Vancouver).
Fairbanks is certainly an intriguing place. It seemed to be heavily populated with personnel from the nearby military base. As a strategic location along the oil field pipelines and geographically close to eastern Russia, there is a heavy US military presence. We found large clumps of mud deposited in the foyer of our hotel and along the corridors, left by service personnel tramping in from their army manoeuvers. What with that and the ubiquitous stuffed animals decorating the walls or in glass cases it all felt a bit surreal.
We also caught up again with the conman, Soapy Smith, whom we had first encountered in Skagway in south east Alaska on our cruise – see here for that post and the links to Soapy’s story and the Klondike Gold Rush. Soapy Smith’s Pioneer Restaurant in downtown Fairbanks is a themed restaurant looking back to the time of the Gold Rush miners. The food was typical northern American fayre, which certainly helps to keep the cold at bay (it must be especially welcoming in the bitter winters). The decor and the memorabilia plastering the walls was a fascinating insight into the rich past of this region.
Wandering around the town centre we also passed memorials to the Chena River flood. We found out that a devastating flood had hit the town in 1967 – unusually heavy summer rains had swelled the main Chena River and the smaller Little Chena River so their levels were dangerously high. Flood waters poured into Fairbanks and outlying areas causing considerable destruction. 7000 residents were displaced from their homes and extensive damage done to infrastructure such as roads and bridges. To mitigate against future disasters, the Chena River Lakes Flood Control Project was inaugurated by Congress. A complex of dams and levees including Moose Creek Dam (on the Chena River) and the Tanana River Levee were constructed to reduce the flooding risk to Fairbanks and surroundings settlements.
Fairbanks is on the traditonal Iditarod Trail, which we had learnt about when we stayed in Skagway and visited a dog mushing training base (see here). I can’t quite work out whether the famous race follows the same route each year but it looks as though it varies (I’m not an expert on this though!).
There is an attractive square down by the river, a small community and dog mushing museum and a few cafes and eateries downtown. It was the furthest north we had been and a part of the world that in hindsight we have felt even luckier to visit than we did back then (August 2018). Who knows when such trips will be possible again without stringent restrictions?
Just in case here is a link to the Fairbanks Tourism website,which gives more detail about the activities and exploration opportunities available in this part of the world.
So Fairbanks rounds off the series of posts about Alaska (see here for all the posts in the collection).
I’ll sign off with a few lingering shots of Alaska. After that I do have a few posts about our trip to Seattle (marred a little by me coming down with the worst flu I’ve had for a long time – this was in 2018 pre Covid days). I also have several local posts out and about in Perth to share.
There’s only one road in and out of Denali National Park Alaska. We headed back out the way we had come in along the narrow and at times precipitous route till we reached the park entrance.
Since we had a long stop for lunch at Denali Backcountry Lodge (see here for Part 1), we didn’t linger long on the return journey, though we had a couple of short breaks including another chance to see the excellent Eielson Visitor Centre.
The Visitor Centre is situated on a high plateau called the Eielson Bluffs and was named after a pioneer Alaskan aviator named Carl Ben Eielson. It was originally set up in 1934 but was just a tent camp back in those days. Since then it has been remodelled a couple of times and now has evolved into a proper building, which tastefully blends into the surrounding countryside so as not to detract from the beautiful scenery. It is only open during the summer months and naturally there have been added restrictions with the Covid Pandemic.
The Centre houses some artwork inspired by nature, information about the environment and wildlife and there are also opportunities for hiking tours guided by local rangers. I don’t remember seeing a cafe there as such but I do recall getting some hot drinks, which helped to warm us up as it was very cold and damp outside. We were certainly not going to get views of the Denali mountain peak that day!
On the way back as the afternoon wore on we were treated to glimpses of some of the local residents – I realised then that I should probably have acquired a zoom lens for this trip. Some of our bus party seemed to have professional equipment with them but these were the best photos I could get!
First out of the mist came the caribou – the close up photo was taken by our friends so I can’t take credit for it!
Then after our earlier sighting of the mother grizzly bear and her cub in the morning, we had the thrill of seeing another pair later in the day – hopefully you can just about spot them? Obviously we were some distance away in the safety of the bus!
We had managed to see Grizzly bears, Dall sheep and caribou but as yet no moose on our Alaskan trip apart from one at the side of the railway track as we sped along from Seward to Anchorage (and I only got to see a brief glimpse).
The next day we left the Denali area and headed off to drive further north to our last stop in Alaska, Fairbanks. By the side of the road I spotted what looked like a large horse – we turned the car around, came back and there in a small clearing at the side of the road was a mother moose and her calf. The calf quickly took fright and scampered back into the coverage of the dense forest but “mum” stayed around for quite a while, seemingly unperturbed by our presence (at all times of course we stayed in the car!).
Apart from our short stay in Fairbanks, which I’ll post about next time, I’ve finally come to the end of our Alaska trip. Despite the inclement weather Denali was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of our trip.
Following on from last week’s post (see here), we had arrived early evening in the little settlement of Creekside, just on the edge of the wild and rugged Denali National Park .
We had booked a day excursion to the national park through our accommodation hosts at McKinley Creek Cottages. The assembly point for the trip was at a nearby hotel and we drove to the meeting point around 6am when it was still dark. There were a few hitches though before we could head off into the national park. First there was some confusion over picking people up from the various meeting places and then owing to a misunderstanding between the tour operators and bus driver/tour guide (nothing to do with us!) we found ourselves on the wrong bus before having to pile out again. Finally we boarded the correct bus – it turned out to be an old converted school bus, which did not have the greatest suspension!
It was a very long day out (14 hours in total) and the weather was as dreary and misty as the previous few days had been. Despite the misty weather, we still managed to take many photos and learnt so much about the park, its wildlife and history.
The park and preservation area covers 6 million acres of wilderness land in the heart of Alaska’s interior. The land comprises woodland and forests at the lower levels, followed by tundra and high plateaus before rising to the glaciers and snow-topped mountains of the high alpine areas. The centrepiece (on a clear day) is the 20,310 feet (6,190 metres) high Denali, North America’s highest peak (formerly known as Mount McKinley). Unfortunately visibility was much too poor on our day trip to have any chance of seeing the mountain at all let alone the summit.
There is only one rather narrow road that runs through the park area and you need a permit to enter (all formalities were organised by our tour leader and guide, the bus driver). Private cars are not allowed – you have to take one of the park buses or do a private tour like we did. The roads are not for the fainthearted – at various points it is best to look away if you don’t like heights!
The park is home to wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep. During the warmer months popular activities include biking, hiking, walking and, for the more intrepid, mountaineering.
Our main focus was trying to spot wildlife from the bus.To give everyone the best chance to capture photos, if you spotted anything you had to quickly shout out port (left side) or starboard (right side) and the clock position for example 10am or 2pm. The bus would then come to a halt for photos and we would hopefully all be looking in the right direction. However, apart from a few Dall sheep, which looked like tiny specks up the mountain-side, the first part of the day was not conducive to seeing any of the local wildlife. No doubt they were sensibly seeking shelter from the elements! At last, however, came the highlight of the morning when someone spotted a mother grizzly bear and her cub in the bushes near the road.
It was very hard to take photos and I’ve just got a few of the mum – the driver reckoned her cub (or cubs) were very close by. We were of course safely on the bus at this point! At this time of year (late summer) the bears are busy eating as much as possible to stock up for the winter. These bushes would have had a plentiful supply of berries, which are apparently a bear treat. Mother Bear munched her way along the clearing for some time, apparently unfazed by our presence nearby, then sauntered off up the hillside.
There are a couple of official stopping-off points along the way including the Eielson Visitor Centre, (which I’ll cover more in the next post). These are a few of the photos I took on the outbound journey in the morning – clearly it was not a great day for photography but it does capture the atmosphere and the feeling of isolation you get in this part of the world.
We reached the midway point of our trip just in time for lunch – a very welcome break after a few hours bobbing along in the school bus!
The Denali Backcountry Lodge, the end of the Denali Park Road, is situated in the tiny settlement of Kantishna and offers a wilderness escape with private cabins, warm hospitality and the chance to get out into nature during the day (you can read more here). For anyone arriving on the Alaska Rail Road they organise a shuttle bus to and from the station at the settlement of Denali Park.
We weren’t staying overnight of course but had full use of the communal facilities. The lodge provided us with a hearty buffet lunch – very welcome as breakfast seemed a long time ago!
The settlement of Kantishna was originally an old gold-panning outpost and the lodge is adjacent to the rushing waters of Moose Creek, once a spot where prospectors searched for the coveted metal in the icy waters. We had the chance to pan for gold ourselves as it was one of the optional activities organised by the tour. However we decided instead to go for a stroll over the rather rickety-looking wooden bridge and head towards the lookout point on the opposite bank of the creek.
There was a word of warning beforehand though. We thought we just had to be worried about the possible presence of bears but apparently a couple of weeks earlier a young child (a 7 year old boy from memory) was crossing the bridge with his parents. Suddenly a local ranger noticed something behind the boy (not his mum or dad) and to her horror realised it was a lynx (see here for more information on lynxes from the Denali Visitor Centre)! It was a very rare sighting – the ranger could hardly remember seeing one in the park especially so close to the lodge. Fortunately by some miracle they managed to signal to the boy to stop dead still so the lynx would be less likely to pounce and after a short time the lynx turned around and strolled off in the opposite direction. Phew! It must have been an extremely unsettling experience to say the least.
We set off feeling a bit like the Billy Goats Gruff trying to cross the bridge without disturbing the troll – somewhat hesitantly! Fortunately we made it across the bridge without any lynx sightings, which was a good start.
It probably took fifteen minutes or so to get to the lookout point though I wasn’t really counting. In fact most of the way we were looking at the ground trying to detect any recent animal footprints (which was the advice we had been given). By the time we arrived the rain had set in again but despite the slight worry of being watched by a hungry lynx (or bear for that matter) it was lovely being out in the pure fresh air and listening to the waters of the creek gushing below us.
On this occasion we were very glad to return safely to the lodge without any wildlife sightings. We repaired to the warmth of the lounge to enjoy some refreshments in front of the roaring log fire before it was time to set off back home along the Denali Park Road, (Part 2 to follow).
I’m linking this post to Restless Jo’s Monday Walk – she’s tirelessly curated this series of walks round the world for several years now (certainly since I started this blog in 2014). She’s talking about taking a well-earned break soon – hopefully there will be more walks to come but in the meantime many thanks to Jo for her wonderful contribution and blogosphere camaraderie!
After our couple of days sojourn in Anchorage (see here) we continued northwards on our Alaskan trip by road, having picked up a large station wagon from a car hire firm in downtown Anchorage.
We could, however, have taken the rail option with the Alaska Railroad, which runs services up as far north as Fairbanks (our final destination in Alaska). The evening train ride we had done from Seward to Anchorage, after disembarking our cruise ship, had introduced us to the impressive trains with their distinctive blue and yellow livery (see here).
The Alaska Railroad is still running services throughout the northern summer albeit with reduced capacity to comply with Covid social distancing requirements.
Further details are available on the website here – the basic summer service appears to follow the traditional route (as far as I can tell) from the information the company provides:
“2021 Modified Service Update: The Denali Star Train will operate a modified schedule summer 2021: in addition to the train’s standard stops, the Denali Star will also provide flagstop service between Talkeetna and Hurricane“
Having seen a few travel documentaries recently, which follow the course of the railroad (both in winter as well as summer) it looks a fantastic journey. If I ever went to Alaska again I would love to do the whole journey from Seward to Fairbanks or back the other way.The road route intersects with the railway along many parts of the route but some scenic spots such as the spectacular Hurricane Gulch Bridge are accessible only by rail.
However our mode of transport wouldn’t have made much difference on the day we set off north from Anchorage – it was pelting with rain and visibility was extremely poor.
These are some of the photos I took! The middle one with the Target sign was taken passing by the town of Wasilla, which intrigued us as it is the home of the former US presidential candidate and one time state governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. We didn’t hang around here too long though!
Further along the highway we came to the pretty little town of Talkeetna, a popular stopping-off point for Alaska Railroad patrons as well as road travellers such as ourselves. It was reputed to be the basis for the fictional town of Cicely in the TV series Northern Exposure (which I’ve not actually watched) though this claim has never been verified by the production company.
Whatever the truth of the story, the town has thrived and become a bustling little place humming with tourists (alas this may have changed since Covid came along). The historical main street was packed with a myriad of shops selling arts and crafts, trinkets, souvenirs, hiking and fishing gear plus a number of cafes. Most importantly for Monsieur there was an ice creamery!
The weather remained inclement to say the least – it was certainly very chilly for an August day. We did brave the showers to have a wander round town and down to the river, which was practically overflowing. It was also fun to catch up with the Alaska Railroad train again in the small station – the bright colours stood out against the dreary greys and mist.
Our friends had sensibly stayed in the car and by now everyone was getting hungry. We read about a small bakery and cafe situated just out of town near Talkeetna and decided to give it a try for lunch. The Flying Squirrel nestles in a clearing off the main road surrounded by woodlands. Inside it was warm and homely with the feel of a rustic farmhouse. The food was delicious using fresh local produce and their home-made bread was especially tasty – just what we needed to warm us up.
Fortified with hot drinks as well as the food we set off on the road north to find our accommodation for the night. We had booked some cabins at a little settlement called Creekside just outside the boundary of Denali National Park. As their name suggests, McKinley Creekside Cabins and Cafe are situated at the edge of Carlo Creek surrounded by trees against a backdrop of mountains. Unfortunately the mountains were nowhere in sight on this particular day but the setting was still beautiful and pristine.
Although it remained grey and misty for most of our stay, the fresh air was invigorating and the cosy cabins were perfectly situated next to the fast flowing creek. The Creekside Cafe and Bakery was just down the way from our cabin so there was no need to go off site in search of food and refreshments. However there was an adjacent pizza place and a very nice restaurant, about a kilometer up the hill, where we went for a drink one evening.
We needed to be in bed early the first night though as we were being picked up early the following morning to take us into the nearby Denali National Park for the day.
I just have a few posts to finish off my Alaska series (see here for all previous posts).
It does seem strange to to be writing this over two years later when travel seems somewhat of a distant memory. In the best of times the tourist season in Alaska was relatively short from May to August and as far as I know the cruise season was cancelled completely in 2020 after the Covid pandemic hit.
Given that the revenue generated by tourism was a major component of the Alaska economy, I wondered what would be happening in 2021. I came across a recent article here, which as I thought confirmed most of the major cruise lines have already cancelled any sailings for this northern summer. A couple including Holland America (which was the line we went on) haven’t ruled out some late sailings from July onwards.
Owing to Covid regulations, large cruise ships sailing up from the USA are banned completely in Canadian waters. There are however some loopholes regarding smaller boat tours with reduced passenger capacity, which means some tours may still go ahead this year.
We arrived in the largest Alaskan city, Anchorage, (note Juneau is in fact the capital) late evening on a rather damp cold August day. We had booked into the Lakefront Hotel Anchorage for a couple of nights, which bills itself as “A wilderness lodge in the heart of the city”. Certainly it felt very rustic with wooden panelling and a cosy homely atmosphere slightly spoiled for me by the decorative features on the walls of a plethora of stuffed animals unfortunate enough to have got in the way of the local hunters.
It turned out it that we had arrived in the midst of the short 6 week hunting season and the place was full of enthusiastic hunters who seemed to carry their guns around in the way I would a handbag. We made our way to the restaurant for dinner slightly bemused by a number of patrons nonchalantly strolling around with ‘violin cases’ dangling from their shoulders or in their hands.
Locals use seaplanes like cars and the lake in front of our hotel was always a hive of activity with light planes coming in to land and taking off.
It was certainly an eye opener into Alaska – a place we found of large contradictions. Blessed with wonderful scenery of outstanding beauty and pristine wilderness conservation areas juxtaposed with hunters, oil pipelines that cross the peninsula from north to south and US military bases.
The next day dawned even greyer and wetter than the previous one. Indoor activities were the only sensible option so Monsieur and I headed to the museum to discover more. It happened to be his birthday and turned into one of the more memorable ones.
The Anchorage Museum is a fascinating exploration of the many facets of history, daily life and the rich cultural history of the First Nations People that have helped to shape this part of the world. There are art collections, interactive exhibits and the exploration of themes such as the environment and the effects of climate change. We lost ourselves there for a few hours – below is a visual tour, which is the best way to illustrate a small selection of the available exhibits. Please excuse the poor quality of some photos – the challenges of being indoors with tricky lighting!
As I said earlier I have now collated all my Alaska series of posts into their own category which you can find here.
The following day having collected a car we set off by road to head further north into the Alaska heartland.