A Travellerspoint blog

October 2017

Crossing the Nullarbor

From Western Australia to South Australia

sunny 26 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

After an enjoyable stay in Esperance with Dave & Pat we then went our separate ways. About 40 minutes from town I kept seeing flashes of dark red in the bush and Judith managed to find a convenient layby for us to investigate. The red was from many kangaroo paws but unlike the WA state emblem which is red and green and quite large, these were just dark red with smaller flowers. In the same area we found blue sun orchids, a few spider orchids which had mostly seen better days and many other wildflowers, red, blue, yellow, mauve etc. The bush had a fairly bland overall appearance but, as so often, closer inspection reveals the richness of WA’s flora.

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In Norseman we found Hole 15 of the world's longest golf course which starts in Ceduna, South Australia and ends in Kalgoorlie - a distance of 1,365km! We had a cup of coffee in the town but found nothing else there to tempt us to stay longer, so carried on to the motel at Balladonia, getting into the general area of the Nullarbor Plain as we did so. Dave & Pat had warned us about the water situation in Balladonia but it was still rather unpleasant to have brown water for flushing the toilet and to feel that the tinted water from the tap was probably best used just for washing. Luckily we had our own supply of water for drinking. Balladonia's main claim to fame is that it was near here that large fragments of Skylab came to earth in 1979. We saw one surprisingly large piece in the little museum attached to the roadhouse. The museum also housed some relics from the Redex Around Australia Rally from the 1950s. The photo gives an idea of the long straight roads we drove, often through apparently unchanging countryside.

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The bush quickly became sparser but not as desert-like as we had been given to believe. We pressed on eastwards, travelling over Australia’s longest straight piece of road (just over 146km) which included landing strips for the Royal Flying Doctor Service! We had planned to stay at Cocklebiddy but made such good time that we cancelled our booking there and drove on to the Madura Pass Oasis Motel where our ‘budget’ room was definitely budget-price but had brand new and excellent bathroom fittings, although the bathroom door was still propped up outside – clearly a work-in-progress! Just before reaching the motel we had stopped at the pass where there was a lookout point giving superb views over the plain – we had not realised that either we had climbed as high as we had or that the land dropped away so sharply. To our pleasant surprise the motel had a rather smart restaurant where we had a delicious dinner. Near the end of the day's trip, we were pleased to see two or three live kangaroos after the carnage that we had witnessed while driving. Madura featured relics from the Redex Rally and in earlier days had been a military establishment which trained brumbies (wild horses) for use by British cavalry regiments.

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From Madura to Mundrabilla, where we stopped for coffee, the number of dead kangaroos increased markedly. We have found the Nullarbor thus far less boring than people have said. The bush changes quite subtly sometimes and the mind boggles thinking about early explorers such as Edward Eyre after whom the highway we are travelling is named. A remarkable man – I am now looking for a biography as he seems to have been a fascinating bloke. He crossed the Nullarbor in 1840-41 with his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, travelling some 2.000 miles - they were lucky to survive the trip as two other Aborigines who started out with them murdered Baxter, the other European, and stole most of the supplies. However, near Esperance they chanced on an American ship commanded by an Englishman and they were able to obtain supplies for the rest of their journey. Our drive this day was quite short, ending at Eucla, close to the South Australia border. Before checking into the motel, we visited the Travellers' and Eyre Memorials and the ruins of the old Telegraph Repeater Station. This was set up in 1877 with the original town around it but the old town was abandoned in the 1890s due to a rabbit plague and has disappeared under sand dunes. The Telegraph Station remained in use until around 1927 but is slowly disintegrating. Sadly, most walls had either been daubed with graffiti or had names or initials carved into them – some people should be put down at birth! As we were in good time, we took a short drive over the border to look at some of the lookout points on the South Australia side which is more elevated than most of the WA side. We had two nights here and used the full day here for a bit of R & R and exploring the local area on foot.

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As we had already taken a short trip over the border to look at a couple of lookouts over the top of the cliffs we were able to get quite a way along our trip to Ceduna before stopping for a couple more clifftop views. Along a stretch of about 200km, we saw little or no roadkill but as this area truly lived up to the name of 'Nullarbor', perhaps few animals lived here! This stretch did become a bit ho hum although when we stopped for a leg stretch, even this rather drab bush produced surprises with several plants having colourful but tiny flowers. Then we reached the Head of the Bight where the local Aboriginal community manage the tourist facilities which were excellent. Once through the shop, we walked down a zig zag boardwalk to a point close to the edge of low cliffs from which we had great views of five Southern Right Whales - two females with calves and one other. For most of the rest of the drive we were flanked by low scrubby brush which was finally relieved by a single distant tree. Finally we reached Ceduna which did little to add to our memory banks, although we did have the pleasure of looking out onto flocks of waterfowl in the water behind the cabin.

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Posted by SteveJD 20:53 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

From Ravensthorpe to Esperance

Slowly heading east

sunny 25 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

We started to travel roads that were completely new to us as we made our way eastwards to Ravensthorpe. The paintings on the grain silos which show the 6 stages of life of Banksia baxterii were irresistible for the photographer in us - they were truly fascinating and a really good use of what would otherwise be a bit of an eyesore. After an abortive attempt to get into the Fitzgerald River National Park via dirt roads, we finally succeeded on sealed roads just north of Hopetoun. Among the star plants were the Royal Hakea which has brilliantly-hued leaves but insignificant flowers (as far as we could see!) and the Qualup Bell. Sadly we did not bring a flower book with us other than a small volume which covers only some of the flowers that we saw - hence the usual lack of names! It would have been wonderful to have been able to see the rest of the park as what we did see was so different and the park is renowned for its variety of flora and fauna - maybe another time. We had a light snack in Hopetoun, a delightful small coastal town, before continuing to Esperance.

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There was only a short time to explore the town and waterfront before Dave & Pat (my brother and his wife) joined us, having come from Balladonia. We had a few days together before they headed west to Albany and we headed east to Balladonia. Our first day together saw us taking a morning drive on the Great Ocean Drive and we could just see through the murk how lovely the coastline is here but we had to go out again in the afternoon when the rain stopped, the sun shone and the temperature rose a degree or two to really gain a clear picture of the beauty of the coast here! It truly is a beautiful coastline with sparkling, clear, waters in several shades of blue - too cold to swim in as yet though! In the evening we all took a walk along the Esplanade as far as the Whale Tail monument, a reminder of the whaling industry which forms such an important part of Esperance's past.

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Luckily the weather gods were kinder on our last day with Dave & Pat as it was a lovely sunny and warm day - ideal for a drive to Cape le Grand National Park. On the way, we visited WA's own Stonehenge - a farming couple had taken on the task of erecting a life size replica, using 2.500 tonnes of local granite - an amazing feat which they completed in 2011. The result is apparently how Stonehenge would have looked in 1950BC.

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When we reached the national park, we stopped at Le Grand Bay where we shared our picnic lunch spot with a large kangaroo. After lunch we called in at Hellfire Bay where we spotted a handsome goanna as we made our way down to the beach. Pat opted for a post-lunch rest while the rest of us wandered along the beach. We stopped to look at Frenchman's Peak on our way from Hellfire Bay to Lucky Bay and found some lovely little trigger plants. These have a coiled 'spring' in the middle of the flower and when an insect alights, it gets dotted with pollen as the trigger is activated. At Lucky Bay we had coffee on the beach before backtracking to Thistle Bay which was a very rocky bay with far less white sand beach or, at least, less easily accessible. Although all of the beaches were beautiful and the sea as clear as glass, we were still not tempted to take a dip in the Southern Ocean!. Later on we made a return visit to Lucky Bay where Judith traipsed along the beach to see one of the kangaroos actually on the beach (they apparently come down to drink from freshwater streams). The rest of us were content with a mother with a joey in her pouch and another young 'roo, all three of which were quite unconcerned at the attention they drew just by the car park. In the evening, Dave & Pat treated us to an excellent meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant as an early birthday present for Steve.

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Posted by SteveJD 05:33 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

We are on our way

...at last!

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Apologies for the delay in posting but we have had either no or limited internet access but we now seem to be back in the real world for a while - well Broken Hill at the moment!

To start our journey, we quickly made our way from Perth down the highway to Mandurah where we stopped by the waterside to have a picnic lunch. I (Steve) drove for a while from there and had no trouble other than my thigh starting to ache – practice, practice, practice!

After checking in at our very comfortable motel in Margaret River, we drove on down into Boranup Forest which was every bit as beautiful as we remembered. The following morning we made a repeat visit to Boranup Forest where the light was even better. There were also a few orchids to be found - Pink Fairy Orchids and some different Donkey Orchids.

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The forest gobbled up more time than we had intended, so we hastened up the Caves Road and then down Metricup Road to find Woody Nook, an old favourite of ours. It has been expanded but retains its character. When I sat down, I looked through a window and saw a face that was very familiar – Les Cooper, former Director of IT when we were both at Lotteries. It was lovely for us to chat with him and his wife, daughter and grandson before tucking in to a delicious lunch. We felt duty bound to buy some wine and some Nooky Delight before we left. We also called in at Cowaramup, nicknamed "Cow Town", a name which the locals have taken to heart with cow statues being found all through the town!

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From Margaret River, we detoured to Cape Leeuwin where there is a handsome lighthouse, just outside the small town of Augusta and enjoyed some wonderful scenery and the sight of masses of peppermint gums in flower along the nearby scenic route. The flowers are insignificant on their own but they form a mass of tiny flowers along the tree branches so that the tree looks as if it has snow on it. At one point, we looked down into a valley which was so thick with peppermint gums that there was a white 'thread' through it - quite spectacular.

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Leaving the south-west corner, we weaved our way through countryside which some times looked like the parkland around a large English estate and at others reminded us of places we had seen in New Zealand. There had evidently been plenty of rain as everywhere was green and lush. We had a short break in a pretty little town, Nannup, before continuing to Bridgetown where we stayed three nights with Judith's cousin Judy and her husband, Bill. It was good to catch up with them again and we enjoyed the sweeping views from their hilltop house on the outskirts of the town. Judith enjoyed a misty morning walk with Judy while Bill and Steve sensibly remained abed! While with Bill & Judy, we visited Greenbushes where we were able to look down from a lookout point into the workings of a tantalum/lithium mine before enjoying a walk around Greenbushes Pool where we found five different orchids as we walked along the short path around the pool. We had a braai lunch in Balingup, another pretty little town and then went out to the Golden Valley Tree Park which hosts a superb collection of trees, still being added to. Unfortunately, I was unable to walk as far as I (and the others!) would have liked but where we did walk, it was delightful.

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From Bridgetown, it was a short hop to Pemberton where we revisited a couple of cafes which were just as good as we remembered - just helping the local economy! Jet Set joined us at the Lavender and Berry Farm where he valiantly fought off silvereyes trying to steal our crumbs!
We also enjoyed a drive through Warren NP, stopping here and there for walks and photographs. Just outside the park we revisited the Marianne North Tree. Marianne North was a remarkable 19th century traveller and she arranged for a gallery to be built in Kew Gardens for her paintings to be displayed. Among the many, varied and colourful paintings is one of a karri tree with an enormous burl on its trunk, painted while Marianne was visiting Western Australia. The tree looks very healthy and should be around for many years yet. If you should visit Kew Gardens, the Marianne North Gallery is well worth a visit.

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We set out for Mount Barker but deviated to Quinninup where we had a fond look at a house in the forest which used to owned by Mac & Sue who very kindly allowed us to stay there on several occasions, with and without them. From Quinninup we travelled along the Muir Highway, stopping at irregular intervals to search for orchids and other wildflowers, although we were not as fortunate this time as on our last trip when we found Flying Duck Orchids which are quite difficult to spot. There were, however, many colourful wildflowers in all shapes, colours and sizes. We reached Mount Barker and checked in at our B & B before taking a trip into the Porongorups. We had not allowed enough time for a really good revisit but it is a lovely area with good walks through the bush and, should you be so inclined, up onto the top of the rocks. We were not so inclined and did not have time!

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Having fed the very large fish in the pond at the B & B, we drove up to the Stirling Range National Park which did not disappoint with a huge variety of plants including some which are special to the area. We managed to get some photographs but the weather was not very helpful being mainly overcast and quite windy. As with so much of our trip, we realise that in many places we simply do not have enough time to do as much as we would like so just have to thoroughly enjoy what we can see and do.

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Posted by SteveJD 23:58 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Before we finally set off

Thank you

semi-overcast 18 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

This whole trip would have been impossible and certainly less enjoyable than it has been so far without catching up with our friends and receiving invaluable assistance from them.

Len Stewart collected us from the airport and has continued to provide so much assistance and friendship that we can never thank him enough. He has saved us a heap of money with his DIY skills and has always been there when we needed a bit more help. Len's granddaughter, Mikaela, welcomed us into the household as if she had known us for ages. Len and Mikaela both gave us so much help in feeling 'at home' in WA once again.

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Tony & Stella Weldon provided masses of really helpful advice both while we were still in the planning stages in England and once we had arrived and recovered from Steve breaking his hip! They were among the first people to visit us at Burns Beach.

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Kathy & Keith Walsh have been really great in arranging meetings with many of Steve's former colleagues and friends from his days working at what was then the Lotteries Commission (now Lotterywest). With all the lunches and feeding that we have enjoyed, I suspect we may start our trip just a bit heavier than when we arrived. Thanks Kathy for enabling us to catch up with my other former Lotteries colleagues Peter Y and Peter P, Barrie, Marion, Moira, Darrell, Chin, Kay and Joe. We also caught up with Alex Graham (one of our friends through photography) both with Keith & Kathy and Peter Yong and again with his family.

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Although we have not had to call on them for help, it has been wonderful to catch up with Mac & Sue and their family (Judith's former employer).

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We also enjoyed catching up with Mark Greenland and Ray Meckenstock (other friends through photography but unfortunately we have no incriminating pictures). It was also great to see Davina Drage again when we visited Geraldton.

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Posted by SteveJD 03:54 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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