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About A Week: Dwarfed In The Valley Of The Giants

Peter Hinchliffe finds himself in high places while touring in Western Australia.

When you are 100ft up in the tree tops it is all too easy to start thinking about Tarzan.

"If we climbed over this rail and scrimmed along that branch could we work our way down to the ground?" I mused.

"Yes," said my elder son Dave. "But I'm not going to try." A sensible chap, our Dave.

Ah well. Forget childhood dreams of imitating Tarzan's gymnastics in the high branches. Bouncing along this metal walkway is sufficient excitement to the day.

We are in the Valley of the Giants, Western Australia, walking through the canopies of the towering tingle trees. No modest elm or oak, these. Some of them measure 50 ft around the base.

We are surrounded by sound, the chirps, screeches and squawks of birds that are alien to English ears.

The narrow steel span on which we're walking sways dramatically at each step. The ground is a long way down. At its highest point the walkway is 120ft above the forest floor. There are trees, and yet more trees, stretching further than the eye can reach.

And I thought Western Oz was a brown barren place!

There are four million acres of forest. More than 20,000 people are employed in the timber industry. If you are unlucky you may encounter half-a-dozen cars in an hour as you drive on the undulating roads through that towering greenery. It's reassuring for someone from traffic-choked Britain to find one place on the planet where cars and humans both seem to be rare species.

At Cape Leeuwin you are keenly aware of the vastness and remoteness of Australia. There the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. In the days when most Australia-bound ships battled their way round the Cape of Good Hope the first Australian landfall was usually Cape Leeuwin. A finger-pointing sign should announce: This way to Antarctica. Last stop before Shiverland.

"Hold on to your glasses," I was told on arriving breathless at the top of the Leeuwin lighthouse. "It's a bit breezy out there." Breezy? It was a case of hold on tight or be blown all the way to the Polar icecap.

At the base of the lighthouse two chaps were gazing through tripod-mounted telescopes. "We're on the lookout for albatrosses," they said.

Earlier, at Cape Naturaliste, two chaps were gazing through binoculars. "Whale watching," they told us.

"Have you seen any?"

"Two 40 footers went past ten minutes ago, heading south."

Drat! We saw neither whales nor albatrosses. Though we did watch humans swimming in the sea with a dolphin at Koombana Beach. And we were within snout-shaking distance of a dolphin which popped up to say hello in Freemantle harbour.

Western Oz is full of natural wonders. Then there's the man-made wonder of Perth, one of the loneliest cities on Earth, and one of the most beautiful.

Towering office blocks are reflected in the waters of the Swan River. Behind this spectacular 21st century facade is a city on a human scale. It's an easy-going liveable place. There's sea, sand and sunshine, good beer, good food and ample helpings of fun.

Emu bitter flows freely in the Brass Monkey pub. Fifties rock 'n roll echoes from open windows. Restaurants offer a gastronomic world tour. What should we eat tonight? A Thai stir-fry? Indonesian? American spare-ribs?

Or we could ride downriver to Cicerello's, a huge fish restaurant beside the harbour where the boats land their catch. Families descend on Cicerello's in hordes, inspecting aquariums filled with colourful sea creatures while queueing to place their orders. Dad, mam and the kids then spread out wrapping paper across a table, give a few shakes of the vinegar bottle, then dig into a feast of fried food.

For les than 4 you get a basket containing fish, chips, onion rings, a pineapple fritter, fried prawns and fried calamari. Delicious! And the fish batter is up to the best Yorkshire standards.

In the dreary damp of an English winter we all need a bright place to hold in the mind's eye. A vision of warmth to remind us that the dark days don't last for ever.

As the mists roll in and the rain sluices stick on Open I'll now be thinking of Western Oz. If you see me gazing reflectively at the dripping cherry trees in our garden I'll be picturing myself winging through the high tingle branches, emitting an occasional Tarzan yell.

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