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1 October 2003

For two people on holiday, who are supposed to be having a lovely relaxing time, we have spent the most stressfully deadline-oriented day imaginable.

We had planned to do two major things, with a couple of others thrown in, as time allowed. We were going to explore one/some of the limestone caves which are all over this region (some 360 of them, it is estimated), and we were going to go to the local raptor center. The raptor center had a "free flight" demonstration (where they talk about the birds and let them fly around the arena) at 11 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. Piece o' cake.

That was before we realized we had brought the wrong photo card reader and would be unable to download photos to the computer, to free up the cards so we could take more photos. Peggy spent about half an hour trying everything to make the computer recognize the reader we brought, but to no avail.

Well, we thought, there is an Internet cafe in town; we'd check it out first thing in the morning.

First thing in the morning (or 9 a.m., which is when everything opens), we went into town. I went to the visitor center to pick up brochures about all the local attractions; Peggy went to the Internet cafe. She found out where we could find the local computer shop (which, coincidentally, happened to be on the road to the raptor center) and we set off to get a new card reader.

Only they didn't have them, of course. It was a software development shop and though they were lovely and helpful, they couldn't get us what we needed. For that we would have to go to Busselton, the town we didn't stay in the previous night so that we could get an early start at Margaret River.


What to do? Well, it was 9:30 and the raptor center didn't open until 10. It was a 35 minute drive into Busselton. The "free flight" demonstration wasn't until 11. We could make it.

Hot-foot Peggy got behind the wheel and we drove to Busselton (45 km), where we did find one (and only one) reader which would work. We bought it. One other thing we wanted to do, if there was time, was visit the Margaret River Chocolate factory, which was near the unpronounceable Cowaramup, a whistle stop between Margaret River and Busselton. We had passed it on our way into Margaret River, we passed it on our way out of Margaret River.

There was also a cave at Yallingup, just outside of Busselton. Time for a change of plans. We could explore the cave at Yallingup, stop at the chocolate factory on our way back to Margaret River and get to the raptor center before the 1:30 free fly. Piece o'cake.

We bought petrol, bananas, and chocolate bars (lunch...well, not the petrol) and drove to Yallingup to the Ngilgi Cave.

Ngilgi was the first cave to be discovered in this region and, they say, changed tourism in Western Australia. It is an amazing place. You climb down and down and down into another world of stalagmites, stalagtites, and other "ites" I can't remember. It's hot and humid and I was dripping sweat before we started, but we spent 40 minutes checking out the twists and turns in the passages. "Are you going to be all right climbing back out?" Peggy had asked me on our way in. "No problem," I answered. (Fortunately I hadn't said "no sweat," 'cause there was lots of that.) It was definitely worth it and, again, I was struck with how different my life is today than 3 years ago. Lots of flab on these bones, but I'm able to do stuff like this...and see wonders like this.

(NOTE: Peggy took almost all the photos on this page...all the good ones, she will tell you. Often.

Unfortunately, the cave trip took longer than we anticipated and we were in danger of missing free flight at the raptor center ("Eagles Heritage") so it was Hot Foot on the throttle again and we sped down the road once again from Busselton to Margaret River, no time to stop at the chocolate factory.

Lovely scenery, but no time to stop for photos.

We got to Eagles Heritage about 15 minutes before the free flight demonstration. Whew.

This raptor center opened in 1988 to take care of birds of prey that were injured or orphaned. It now boasts the largest collection of raptors in Australia and is run in conjunction with the Society for the Preservation of Raptors, Inc.

I absolutely loved this place...and even those who hate zoos would, I think approve. The unkempt grounds (raw bush land) are testament to the fact that this is not run for visitors, but for its feathered guests. These are birds who would no longer survive in the wild and they have been given a home at the center. The aviaries are large and covered with nylon netting, which prevents them from further injuring themselves. The aim of the center is education on the value of raptors and, it is hoped, to prevent the killing of these magnificent birds. They also have a breeding program, with young birds released into the wild when they are ready to leave the nest.

The free flight demonstration was an opportunity to learn about the life and value of (and threats to) raptors and anyone who wants is allowed a moment to hold a raptor on his/her arm so that the folks in the audience get a photo op. Seeing one of these magnificent birds up close, and looking him in the eye is an amazing experience.

All in all, we spent about 2 hours wandering the large park (which is blooming with wildflowers now) and taking lots of photos.

It was 3:30 when we left and the chocolate factory closed at 5, so we decided we'd head there, back toward Busselton again. Only (a) it was farther than I thought, and (b) we started out on the wrong road so we weren't sure where we were going. It was after 4 before we got there, but we were in time to sample chocolate and buy too much of it. We decided to have coffee, at least, but the cafe part had already closed.

Since it was about 4:30 when we left the building, we decided to see if the cheese factory nearby at Cowaramup was still open. It was. It was 4:45 when we pulled into the cheese factory parking lot, but we were able to sample (and buy) cheese.

By now we were into the free food samples and we thought that if we could find one more place, maybe we wouldn't need tea. The Candy Cow, another candy tasting place, was nearby so we went there, arriving 3 minutes before closing. Our sample was a sliver of fudge--not enough to fill anything--but we did buy lots more candy there.

We had by this time decided to splurge and order room service for dinner, but then Peggy realized I hadn't yet seen the ocean at Margaret River, which is purported to be different from other places along the coast, so she suggested we get take-away chicken and go watch the sunset. Only again we were on a tight time schedule because the sun was already setting and we weren't exactly sure where we were going. Back on the road to Busselton, of course, but only briefly and then over to the coast.

The ocean is different here. One would think, to look at it, that it was the place where two oceans meet, since the waves seem to be coming from two directions and meeting in the middle, creating wonderful waves (making this a great, popular surfing spot). I suspect the phenomenon is due to the shape of the reef, but it certainly was interesting.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare, and sat watching the waves crash, the surfers surf, the seagulls fly, and the sun sink into the Indian ocean while we munched our chicken and chips, before heading back to the hotel.

This deluxe room came with a spa and I fully intended to give it a try (I've always thought the jets of water would be good therapy for my shoulder), but by the time we got here, installed the card reader to check our photos, and sat down with a cup of coffee and a sample of our newly-purchased chocolate, both of us dozed off on the couch almost immediately and when I woke up, I was just too zonked to even think of doing anything but getting into bed and going back to sleep.

There's nothing like a nice relaxing vacation.

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