Day 109-114 Signs of the Nullabor

It’s 1181 km across the Nullabor from the little town of Norseman (itself 200 km North of Esperance) to Ceduna on the western edge of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. 1181 km. Walk in the park! Although it turned out to be the most consecutive days we have spent in the car since Mum and I tackled the drive from Canberra to Darwin.

In my mind the Nullarbor was a treeless flat desert from start to finish, baking hot and with a steady wind from west to east (just as our weather travels) to blissfully glide us on our way. Turns out I was 0 from 3 in my assumptions.

The Nullus Arbor (treeless plain) itself is in fact only about 100km across extending roughly from the Nullarbor roadhouse through to somewhere just before the Yalata aboriginal community. The rest of the drive was through varying density of woodland or mulga like scrub. Very pretty, often with huge numbers of budgerigars, such as I had only previously seen in peoples aviaries, moving in swarm like numbers in and above the woodlands.

On the WA side of the drive much of the landscape while dead flat on the southern edge was accompanied by an escarpment, not unlike that of Lake George, just to the North. As for baking hot, it certainly was not. Rather it was wet and cold in the west and tepid as we arrived in Penong, the town of 100 windmills, in the east.

The discovery of these truths as compared to my imaginings was all fine, a pleasant surprise in most regards. The awful truth about the predominant winds was, in my estimation, much more of a crises. West to east, Huh! It blew east to west for four days straight varying only by roughly 90 degrees to swing from the south east to the north east. With a feeling of dismay ( from me at least) we slogged it out sometimes travelling little more than 70 km an hour lest we single handedly drain the remaining oil reserves of the middle east. ‘What’s up?’, Emma inquired of me at one point. ‘The wind is irritating me’, I grumbled in return.

Still I managed to drag myself out of my wind blown depression with a reminder from Emma that it really mattered not one jot and wasn’t it great just to be here? You bet it was, so I endeavoured to return to my focus my photographic journal of Nullarbor roadhouses and to trying to stop singing Mary Poppins. Yes Mary Poppins. You know ‘supercalifragalisticexpialadoscious’. Those 16 vowels and 17 consonants that would have prevented the Roman Empire from entering the abyss! It kept Amy and Oliver entertained for countless hundreds of kilometres. Oh supercalafragilistic… No. STOP IT!

Amy and Oliver were exceptional the whole way especially considering this has really been the only part of the trip where we have started to feel like we have been in the car a little too much.

Along the way we took in the very dramatic Bunda Cliffs which fall some 90 metres straight down into the ocean, stayed at some great camps like the historic Fraser Range Station and the windy Bunda Cliffs and visited the old Eucla telegraph station, perhaps the most ignored heritage building in the country (see photos). We also called in to Head of Bight, but only to discover the last of the whales had left two days ago. ‘But the sign on the highway said they would be here until the 31st’, is what I didn’t say.

The Caiguna Blowholes was another attraction high on our list of things to see. After all our trusty tourist literature said, and I quote, ‘Visit a spectacular blowhole located just 10 m of the Eyre Highway.’. We thought, well if its anything like the one back at Carnarvon that’ll be a must. The photos below tell the rest of the tale. In fact the blowhole ‘blows’ due to changes in the barometric pressure affecting the airways in the limestone caves below. We moved on.

We also consumed 7 to 8 days worth of fruit and vegetables in just 3 after realising the Quarantine arrangements for entering South Australia. We were well prepared entering WA. Don’t know what we were thinking this time around. Anyway after Emma whipped up an apple crumble with our last seven apples last night (which was @!;$:-?! delicious) we were forced to forfeit just a couple of onions and some garlic.

We also paid for the most expensive fuel of the trip at $2.04 per litre. I’d been ignoring signs on petrol bowsers insisting that fuel be paid for before filling up for nigh on 15,000 km. But the guy at the Nullarbor Roadhouse was not going to turn the pump on until he had my drivers license in his hand. ‘Read the sign!’ he barked from behind the till as I stood there waiting impatiently for the pump to be turned on. I was already grumpy, as previously mentioned, about using 24 litres per hundred km for the pleasure of cruising at 69 km an hour and this fellow did nothing to improve my humour.

So today we drove just 76 km to Ceduna and our Nullarbor adventure was done. A very memorable drive.

Day 105-108 Best beaches in Aus

Esperance is a nice little town. An active, if not busy port dominates its eastern edge and we enjoyed watching a couple of ships sink deeper in the water each day until they fired up their engines and put to sea.

Near to the centre of the town is the Tanker Jetty, home of Sammy the sea lion. Sammy is a seemingly lazy critter who spent pretty much all of our visit to town sunning himself on the sandy shore.

The beaches to the east and west of town are just stunning. The colour of the water rivalled that which I enjoyed so much at Coral Bay. The beaches were whiter though and the rocky granite headlands and dark green coastal shrubbery ensured that was where the similarities with Coral Bay ended. The water was also much cooler than Coral Bay, but not so cool as to keep Amy, Oliver and I out of it altogether. It was enough however to ensure Emma’s toes didn’t get wet. We spent a fantastic day splashing in and around the waters of Twilight beach which was apparently voted (by whom I do not know) Australia’s best beach in 2007. It wasn’t too hard to see why.

While driving the Great Ocean Drive (not to be confused with Victoria’s Great Ocean Road) I learned that Esperance is named after one of two French ships which anchored in the lee of Observatory Island about 20 km east of town back in 18 something or other. The other ship, the Recherché, gave it’s name to the Archipelago of islands just off the coast.

A day spent in Cape Le Grand National Park was more of the same nice beaches, but with much larger granite outcrops as a backdrop. Not much more can be said, you’ll have to look at the photos.

We stayed at a caravan park right on the waterfront, and positioned ourselves next to a terrific old style playground where Amy and Oliver found likeminded friends. Just the way we like it, kids happy and in view while we sip our tea and coffee overlooking the ocean.

Day 103-104 ‘Dad I caught a crab!’

Holy hell what do I do now? There’s only one thing in that ocean that could bend Oliver’s fishing rod like that (other than the two whales lolling about 25 metres off the rocks we are standing upon while a lazy swell drifts backwards and forwards). It’s got to be a fish. Amy’s gone and caught a fish! That was unexpected. But, but, but… I still haven’t watched the relevant episode of ‘Nick the informative fisherman’ where he tells me what to do once you actually catch a fish.

I watch in vain hope, as Amy excitedly wrestles with her haul, that whatever it is on the other end of the line will free itself before I have to. But alas I hope to no avail, there’s a fish on the line and it does not possess the opposing thumb necessary for the task. It’s a mottled green and brown looking character with big googley eyes over what looks to my inexperienced eyes like a groper’s mouth. It has broad spikey fins on its side and a huge top fin with more spikes than an echidna.

Ok, ok, don’t panic… Think it through. The rag you put in the car to help deal with this scenario is…still in the car. That’s ok. An image flashed in my mind from my youth of dad holding a fish down under his thong while prising the fish hook loose. But that wasn’t going to be possible either my because my thongs were on the beach next to where Emma was sitting reading a book. That’s ok.

‘Oliver pass me the needle nose pliers from the tackle box!’. Nick the informative fisherman had mentioned they were very useful and so I had thrown them in. Oliver leapt to it and was back by my side in no time. No doubt with complete confidence I knew exactly what I was doing.

Amy passed me the line and I hauled the fish out of the water where it dangled helplessly from the end of the line. Taking the needle nose pliers I grabbed the hook without touching the spiny fish and twisted the hook backwards. The weight of our 6 ft monster (well it is a fishing tale) was enough to pop the barb free and it fell back into the water and away to it’s home under the rock ledge wishing it had never got out of the seaweed that morning.

Triumphantly Amy, Oliver and I danced around the rocks celebrating our great fishing success. Who needs Nick the informative fisherman anyway.

15 minutes later it was on again. Oliver, who had been casting unassisted like a pro, mistimed one and sent the line into a crevice just below us. As he reeled it in one of the local crabs had decided squid (our preferred bait) was just the ticket. Panic began to set in again as my mind immediately began to grapple with how to joust with a crab. Fortunately it seems crabs are unaccustomed to altitude and the squid was set free before I could intervene. ‘Dad I caught a crab!’ called an excited Oliver.

Little Boat Harbour is at the bottom of the peninsula below Bremer Bay and was the site of our fishing mission. Gorgeous spot with a pristine little beach nestled deep between two granite headlands. It was sheltered from the prevailing winds and the whales in the steely light blue water were icing on the cake.

The population of Bremer Bay swells to 4000 during peak season, but for our visit I think it was just us and the guy next door. The van park was like a ghost town. We loved it. The kids swam on the shores of Bremer Bay itself, as did I on our second morning there after knocking off a quick 5 km in 22 mins.

Native Dog Beach was another unexpected joy. We took a lazy afternoon stroll along the white sands while the Southern Ocean swell through itself at the beach and surrounding granite rocks. There are just too many of these little gems in this part of the world and stumbling across them rather than seeking them out seems to add a certain something to the experience.

PS Emma says I need Nick the informative fisherman cause without him we wouldn’t have had the needle nose pliers on hand. She may have a point.