Saturday, 29 August 2009

Its a long way from Albany to Adelaide

Australia Map Adelaide

Whilst the last week has been totally focused on covering distance, there has been a surprising amount to see. Many other campers we have met have talked with dread or boredom about much of the route we have just covered, we would disagree with them and have been much entertained by what we have seen.

Esperance in the South West corner of Western Australia (Sunday night / Monday morning) (England won the ashes Sunday night) is famous for having sent the American space agency a littering fine when part of the Skylab space station fell within their Shire (the Americans paid up). It is also famous for a wonderful costal drive, which even when seen in the pouring rain is quite spectacular.

Spectacular Wave

and a set of rocks which have a passing resemblance to an animal

Turtle Rocks

Sam – can you guess what animal this looks like? Papa Paul took a video of one swimming under water. James - (turtle or tortoise).

The distance from Esperance to Cocklebiddy (Monday night  / Tuesday morning) is 642 kms and includes the longest straight section of road in Australia.

 Longest Straight

At Norseman, our SatNav told us to go straight ahead for the next two days or until we had covered 1197 kms (748 miles) and then turn left, a rather uncomplicated set of navigational instructions! The first 2000 kms of the landscape enroute has either been scrub forest

Less than that

or has been less than that. The video below shows what you can see around when on the straight section – not a lot but quite interesting in itself.

The sense of isolation is quite strong and the number of vehicles we have passed has been surprisingly low when you consider that there is no other road across the bottom of Australia. Roadhouses of course make the most of passing trade and fuel costs at least 25% more when you refuel on the way (as you have to do) compared to that at petrol stations at either end of the route.

Warning Sign

Cocklebiddy to Nullarbour (468 kms) provides proof that it is not wise to drive at night. About 1 hour into the day, we come across a car which had hit a kangaroo at 1930 the previous night. The collision made a hole in the

Kangaroo 1

radiator and the driver was stranded there all night until he could see what was wrong and how it might be repaired in daylight the following day. He was hopeful of making a repair, if only to avoid the towing charges which

Kangaroo 2

would be significant. The only help he wanted was water, so off we set again. Had the accident been serious, then medical help is some distance away. Some roadhouses are home to an ambulance (as at Cocklebiddy) and

Roadhouse Ambulance

there are sections of road which also double up as airstrips – we

Road Airstrip

have encountered one every 100 kms or so over the past few days. Perhaps the difficulty of getting immediate medical help explains the number of roadside memorial crosses we have seen.

One can off course stop off for a game of golf along the way. The Nullabor has its own golf green with tees every 10 kms or so – this is the tee at Eucla

Eucla Golf Tee

the mascot for the Roadhouse proclaiming the distance to London as being 17,517 kms

Eucla Mascot

and also the only chapel attached to a Roadhouse we have seen.

Eucla Chapel

Further on, we stayed at a Roadhouse where you could land your plane, refuel at the pumps and then carry on.

Fill her up please

Towards the end of the Nullabor plain, there is a place called The Head of Bight where during the Australian winter, Southern Right Whales come to

Head of Bight

give birth. When we went there, there were more whales beneath us than we could count, some breaching, others sleeping, some doing a tail wave, others with their calves. At one point, we counted at least 15 whales, many with calves, they were so close to the bottom of the cliffs that you could hear them breathing.

Four whales 

There are at least four whales close together in this picture

Mother and Calf 

Mother and calf

Two whales

Two whales

Nullabor Road House to Streaky Bay (418 kms). This is a relatively boring

 Nullabour Whale 

the mascot of the road house

section, a very flat plain which stretched for miles then gradually gives way to gain fields which also stretch for miles. Eventually one reaches Ceduna for a “Fruit Fly Inspection” and then on into the Eyre Peninsula.

So, although we are at least 800 kms from Adelaide, we have driven across the bottom of Australia and conquered the Nullabor Plain which we found more interesting than we had been led to believe. The early pioneers had to cross it in wagons like that below – thank goodness we had a van.

Pioneer Wagon

Streak Bay is a small town on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula. We were allocated a pitch which was adjacent to the beach and so for the first

Streaky Bay View

time ever, we could sit in our van and see directly onto the beach and the sea. Because of this and also because it had stopped raining, we changed our plans and stayed there two nights and dropped the idea of going down to Port Lincoln at the tip of the Peninsula.

On the way to Cape Bauer to see the whistling caves and the blowholes, we passed a 20 cm long Goanna (aka Bob-tailed goanna, Blue Tongued Lizard) – not very remarkable you may think but


when we were in Kakadu, one of the night time lectures included details of the mega-beasts which roamed Australia thousands of years ago and a 7 metre long version of this was quite common. Although relatively harmless, it was not afraid to hiss and open its mouth threateningly at the photographer.

The Whistling Rocks and Blow Holes at Cape Bauer turned out to be one of the most exciting sights we have seen on this trip. We heard about them by chance from other couple and found them after a 16km drive down a dirt track.

In summary, at the point on the coast the Southern Ocean rolls in with tremendous force and enormous waves. Over the millennia, blowholes have been created in the Limestone rocks at the Cape together with small  holes or pipes through the rock from the base of the cliffs to the top. When

Whistling Rocks 2

the waves hit the cliffs, they force water up through the holes and air up

Whistling Rocks 1

through the pipes creating a combination of water spouts and whistling

noises plus enormous crashing waves. A viewing platform right on the cliff edge provides the ideal place to stand and be amazed.

30 kms away are Murphy's Haystacks – giant chunks of rock either free standing or sticking up out of the hill top.  Murphy’s because they are on

Murphy's Haystacks

land once owned by Mr Murphy and Haystacks because someone thought that is what they were when he saw them from a distance.

The road from Streaky Bay to Port Augusta (393 kms) passes through unending cereal fields, the town of Kimba which marks the fact that it is half-way between the East and West Coasts with a giant Galah

Kimba Giant Galah

and then enters Iron Ore areas (the town of Iron Knob features large) until one gets to the foothills of the Flinders Range. At this point, Adelaide is a few hundred kms down the road.

Port Augusta also marked the end of sunshine (four whole days without rain) and just as we were about to set off to see the “Australia Arid Lands Desert Park”, it poured with rain! overlooked by the Flinders Ranges, the

Flinders Ranges

park is home to numerous plants, all well laid out and many with descriptions and explanations, including the fact that the Spinefex is also

Kangaroo Bed

called the “Kangaroo Bed” because Kangaroos like to sleep on it.


Saturday, 22 August 2009

Trams and Trees

Australia Map Esperance

We are now at Esperance, a port on the south western coast, 11,500 driving kms from Cairns.

The main activities in the South West seem to be Wine and Timber. Driving does not go well with wine (nor probably does our appearance and mode of transport when compared to that of the wine lovers who tour the area) so we are concentrating on Timber. The area is known for its massive trees (70 metres tall is common) and

Tall Timber

magnificent forests, many of which were destroyed in the early days of the colony (there is still constant pressure on much of the remainder). However, having recognised the tourist potential of trees,the region now promotes forest walks and tree climbing etc.

The landscape is very different to that we have experienced elsewhere with rolling hills and some trees out in flower now. This is the Black Wattle,

Black Wattle

which lines many of the roads in the region.

The Pemberton Tramway is a small diesel tram which runs from the old

Pemberton Station

timber town of Pemberton through part of the surrounding forest on track which has been used in the past to transport logs. It is the

Pemberton Tram

only train I have been on where the Driver’s kit includes a chainsaw, trees

Drivers Kit

falling across the line being a regular occurrence. The driver provides a

running commentary on the history and importance of timber to the area, the types of hardwood trees in the forest (Jarra, Karri and Marri), their uses etc..

To describe the trees as large is an understatement. 25m around the base is common.

Pat inside a tree

Big Tree 

Nearby is a very tall tree known as the Gloucester Tree which you can climb if you are so minded. At 61m, it is not the tallest climbing tree in the

Centenial Tree

area but it was quite tall enough for me.

Climbing the Gloucester Tree

To get to the top, you climb up 144 metal pegs which have been

Paul near top of tree

hammered into the trunk (arrow points to me nearly at the top). The view from the top, which I had to myself, is quite magnificent (over 40 kms I am told). Having climbed up

(and down!), my thighs took ages to recover from this unusual exercise. There is also a 4WD trail through the forest which we managed to negotiate easily (despite the mud and rain) which enabled us to get very close to some of

Bruce on Heartbreak Trail

these magnificent 300 year old trees. Not everyone of course likes to climb trees and therefore at the “Valley of the Giants”, the park authorities have

Aerial Walkway

created a 600m aerial walkway which ascends to 40m through and

View down from Aerial Walkway

around another forest.  This gives you the chance to look down on big trees and the forest floor with a totally new perspective.

Albany (heavy rain and strong winds) on the coast does however provide us with another set of magnificent moody beach images to remember the South West with.

Moody Sea 1

Moody Sea 2

Our trip now starts to take us eastwards with over 2500 kms to cover during the next few days (including across the Nullarbour Plain) to Adelaide with Dickens, Bill Bryson and Crosswords to keep us entertained.

Friday, 21 August 2009

South West through the rain and cold

Australia Map Albany

Having called in at Greenough on the way down, we thought we should also call in at Harvey as well to see what it had to offer. Harvey is a small town in the wine growing region with numerous mottos describing its character, the best being “determined, decisive, delightful”.

Harvey 1

Harvey 2 Harvey 3 Harvey 5 Harvey 6

The local hotel is the main place for entertainment there

Harvey Hotel

Its main claims to fame now are wine, cheese, orange juice and the home of a famous Australia writer of children’s books called May Gibbs (she writes about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie apparently). We had lunch in her old house, and walked in her garden which also was home to the Monarch Wanderer Butterfly.

Monarch Wanderer Butterfly

No one knows why it was called Harvey although it was established when Sir James Stirling (the first Governor General of Western Australia) was given a large piece of land in 1837 after he retired.

Whilst there, I helped the local tourist office take delivery of their new sign

Harvey Tourist Office

and (having signed the visitors book on the page reserved for visiting Harveys) they have promised to send me a picture of it being erected.

Over the past week we have spent one night at a succession of various towns in the region, Yallingup on the south western corner if Australia is a coastal village famous for surf, and sea views (and diving but it is too cold to contemplate that). Being winter, the weather shows its nature in the rain and waves.

Moody Sea Yallingup

Yallingup was also our first meeting with “ticks” – blood sucking insects. When we came back from our morning shower in the campsite loos, we both noticed we had a number of small creatures attached to various places enjoying a fresh meal. A mutual very close inspection of all parts with the aid of torch light followed in order to ensure we were both freed of them and remained free of them (proved thankfully through later close checks).

Margaret River is a favourite holiday destination for those interested in wine. We visited a Raptor Centre nearby which was focused on various types of Australian eagles, owls and hawks. Not only did we get to hold

Paul holding a kite 

a “Wedge Tail Kite”, we also got to see them “catch” food in a short display. Also present was our favourite Australian owl – the “Barking Owl”. Play the short video below and you will know why.

The coast around here is very wild, mainly because Cape Leeuwin is where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet.

two oceans meet

Two ancient mariners holding hands

The result is a very small area of extremely rough sea (just to the left of the above viewing point)

Exactly where two oceans meet

- the white froth in the centre of this photograph. There is of course a lighthouse here and a marker point also indicates the

P&P at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

direction of the next landmass (Antarctica which we went to last January) and the distance to the South Pole of 5435 kms whose direction is exactly through the froth of the two clashing oceans.

Sam - When we were out driving recently we had to stop at a level crossing to let a train go by which was carrying petrol for cars. How many wagons can you count as it goes by us?