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A true travel experience is never complete without scaling dizzy heights or getting down and dirty as Megan Czisz found in Western Australia.
It’s no secret that travel forces you out of your comfort zone. All you can do is suck it up, and confront your fears. It’s all about the trip, after all. However, Western Australia is not somewhere you would usually expect to be required to get up close and personal with your phobias. Unless you’re anything like me, and heights and enclosed spaces make you a little uncomfortable.
I’m in the region for a few days to taste some Margaret Riverwine and chocolate, and hang out in windswept seaside towns. Instead, I find myself staring up at other backpackers hugging the trunk of a 75 metre tree, like koalas with stage fright. The Dave Evans Bicentennial tree, near Pemberton, was once used as a fire lookout, thanks to its height. Today, it attracts tourists wanting to haul themselves up (and back down) to the two lookout points: one at halfway, and one at the pinnacle.
There’s a wet chill in the air after a night of rain, and the metal pins rammed into the trunk of the tree are so cold your tongue would stick to them if you licked them. These 130 metal pegs winding around the tree function as an open-air staircase. All that prevents you from plummeting to the ground is your grip on the shiny, slippery pins and some half-hearted chicken wire wrapped around the outer side.
Well aware of my limits, I stand back and watch the more adventurous members of the group struggle up to the first platform. Like mountain climbing, it’s not so much going up that’s the hard part – it’s coming down. Only one person makes it to the final platform, and it’s so high that he disappears from view. He doesn’t respond to our shouts. I wonder if he is staring helplessly down at us, wobbly-legged and overcome with paralysing vertigo.
It turns out not everyone is as wimpy as me, and he’s laughing as he clambers back down to the ground.
Heights, it seems, are the order of the day. The Valley of the Giants Tree Top walk is an award-winning tourist attraction in Nornalup National Park near Walpole. Built to have a minimal impact on the environment around it while allowing visitors to get up close to the forest canopy, the walk is made up of six bridges spanning seven pylons through the treetops. It’s wheelchair accessible and has been conquered by grannies and mums with prams, so I set out with a spring in my step that sets the walkway swaying. I switch to a slow shuffle.
Shafts of sunlight filter down through the morning mist that still hangs between the karri and tingle trees. The bush smells like wet wood and eucalypt. The view would be amazing if I could bear to move my head to look at it. I’m too preoccupied with gripping the supports on either side of me, hoping desperately we won’t be seeing my breakfast again.
I discover later the bridges were designed to sway so you feel as if you’re amongst the trees. As I climb higher, I start to feel less like a character from Fern Gully and more like I’m on a boat. On a calm day, but still, a boat. The tops of the trees are getting closer, and I realise I’ve reached the roof of the forest, and the viewing platform at the highest point of 40 metres. For the briefest moment, I pause and look out through the trees. It’s clear why they call this the Valley of the Giants. These trees are high.
When the platform itself suddenly begins to sway, I have to stop myself from finishing the walk on my hands and knees. I spend the rest of my visit meandering safely at ground level, along the Ancient Empire walk through the bush, adjacent to the walkway and designed in part for chickens like me. The Tree Top walk receives exhilarated reviews from the rest of the group, and I’m almost convinced to attempt it for a second time, but it will take a motion sickness tablet too long to kick in.