The Start Of Many Years Of Travel Around Australia
We Set Off At Last!
After being delayed several times by unanticipated events, Pam and I finally towed our new caravan out of Perth at nine o'clock on the morning of Saturday, 4th December 2004 for our much anticipated trip around Australia. Were we scared? A little. Were we excited? Were we ever!
Our initial destination was Ceduna in South Australia, and after that . . . who knows? On that first day we drove east for ten hours solid before camping at dusk amongst some trees twenty kilometres outside Norseman. We were still in Western Australia. By the time supper was ready it was quite dark, but still warm enough to sit outside and eat. It was very quiet out there under the stars until Pam jumped up and, pointing behind me exclaimed,
Three bright lights were rapidly approaching through the trees almost directly towards us. Next second a big freight train roared past. In the poor light we hadn't realised that we had camped right beside a railway line.
That night our sleep was interrupted by road trains on one side of us and railway trains on the other, so 5 a.m. found us up and moving. After filling our tanks - both fuel and water - in Norseman, we were soon heading east on the Eyre Highway which goes on for ever. Well, as good as; it terminates in Port Augusta in South Australia, 1,650 km distant.
The driving was easy but we had to watch approaching trucks and road trains as the highway was narrow and our closing speed was around 200 k.p.h. There was scarcely a metre's clearance as they passed and several times their bow waves left our right hand mirror extension hanging off. We finally found a way to secure it so it didn't happen again.
On previous short caravan trips we had discovered that caravanners, being friendly people, wave to one another when they pass on the road. We had learned to do that. On the Eyre Highway we found that most
drivers gave a little wave as they passed us. We studied this wave carefully so that we could do it right and be 'one of them'.
The right hand is draped over the top of the steering wheel, not really holding the wheel but just resting there. As the photo shows, there isn't a lot of steering to be done on the Eyre Highway. As a vehicle approaches in the opposite direction the index finger is slowly raised, still bent, to about 45°. And that's it! We practised this carefully. It gave us something to do as the long hours passed, and it was the only exercise we got. Some drivers didn't wave back but we weren't too offended. We'd done the right thing and that was what counted.
That night we again camped by the roadside. We'd put 1,450 kilometres behind us and we were shattered - but not too shattered to spend a little time marvelling at the night sky. Until you've gazed at a clear, night sky with no city lights within a thousand kilometres you can have no idea how many stars are up there. There are millions
and they're so bright!
I have to admit that I was a little nervous about our non-reflective brethren,
the Aborigines, as we camped alone in the dark. I had heard many myths about
them in suburbia but I needn't have worried. The truth is - and I'm inserting
this five years on - that you seldom find Aborigines far from white settlements
except in the far north of Australia. Aborigines are like a race of lost
children. Their hunter-gatherer skills are gone and many have become addicted
to alcohol with which they can't cope. In outback towns they are quite scary
as they roam in groups and are given to shouting loudly and aggressively.
However, they shout at each other, not at white people whom they appear
not to see. That works both ways; white people don't make eye contact with
them either. On our travels we never, repeat NEVER, had a problem with Aborigines.
But back to our travels.
If our drive to Ceduna did nothing else, it made us appreciate the truckies, the men and women who drive the road trains across the continent and back.
The flimsy little white box on the left is our 'big' caravan!
Those rigs are just enormous. We thought our caravan was big until we parked next to the two refrigerated semis in the picture. That flimsy little white box on the left is us! Those trucks have 42 tyres (not counting the spares) - all but the front wheels are in pairs.
Talking of tyres, take a look at these.
What do you reckon they would fit? And how much would they cost? You wouldn't
want to get a puncture and have to change one of those on the roadside.
We saw this at the Nullarbor Roadhouse where we camped on the third night.
The roadhouse had a restaurant so we decided to treat ourselves and have
dinner there. When we found we were the only diners we got a bit worried
- not a good sign in a restaurant near Christmas. But then, being hundreds
of miles from anywhere, it's not really the sort of place where you'd hold
the company's Christmas bash.
As it turned out the meal was really excellent - as were the two bottles of wine that went with it. However, a certain little lady was not going to be satisfied with just two bottles, she tried to refill one bottle as the picture shows. Perhaps it was just as well the restaurant was empty!
We are quite used to seeing signs along the highway warning us of the danger of kangaroos on the road, but along the Eyre Highway we saw signs warning us of emus, wombats and even camels on the road! Fortunately we didn't see any camels, dead or alive, though we saw many, many dead kangaroos and a dead emu. We also saw a dead snake with a wedgetail eagle feeding on the remains. Waste not, want not.
Another unusual sign we came across a few times warned us that a stretch of the road on which we were travelling was an emergency landing strip for Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft - one such sign is pictured below. But why not? The road is straight enough and wide enough. Beats waiting twelve hours for the nearest ambulance if there's an accident. What we did find rather disconcerting was that there was a
sign on the right hand verge at around the point where an aircraft would touch down. So unless the R.F.D.S. aircraft had very high wings or a very alert pilot, it would stand a good chance of losing a wing tip at the very least. If you look carefully at the photo (below left) you can just about make out the white 'piano key' markings on the highway signifying the runway threshold.
The Eyre Highway almost clips the coast where it runs adjacent to the Great Australian Bight. Along that stretch there are a succession of lookout points where you can walk right to the edge of the unfenced cliffs and look down at the waves of the Southern Ocean crashing against the rocks far below. It's about then that you notice just how undercut the next cliff is and realise what might be underneath you. Or rather, what might not
be underneath you!
Australia to the left, the Southern Ocean to the right. A long way down and no fence.
Soon after leaving the Nullarbor the harsh, bleak landscape began to soften
as we advanced into the State of South Australia. Unending scrub gave way
to unending wheat fields. What's more, fuel prices started to reduce from
astronomical to just plain exorbitant. A couple of caravanners we'd made
friends with on the road had tipped us off that the place to refuel was
Penong. (No, we didn't have to drive to Malaysia, that's Penang.) They were
right, diesel was almost affordable there so we filled up and travelled
Finally we reached Ceduna. It was wet, it was cold and the wind was blowing a gale but we'd made it! We booked into a nice caravan park for three days to regroup, plan our next move and recharge our batteries. And not just our personal batteries; the caravan's battery, the computer's battery, the camera's battery, the mobile phones' batteries and the torch battery.
Thus ended the first of many, many stages of a wonderful journey around Australia.
Naturally we wanted to restock our supply of red wine. It transpired that legislation had been passed by the town council limiting liquor sales before 4 p.m. for
health and social
reasons. As always, political correctness rules! However, the man in the bottle shop winked and said he’d put a cask of red wine into a brown carrier bag for us since we hadn’t given him 'a dark look'. We heard of towns where the problem is so bad that liquor sales are banned altogether every second Thursday – the day dole money is paid. That way the Aboriginal kids stand a chance of getting fed before the money goes on ‘grog’. Such days are known as Thirsty Thursdays.
Ceduna's Weather Station
While at Ceduna we visited the weather station and watched the daily weather balloon being released. Similar to a child’s balloon, it was about a metre in diameter and filled with hydrogen. We expected it to carry aloft a range of instruments to send back readings. In fact, it carried no instruments whatsoever. Beneath the balloon was suspended an inverted cardboard pyramid coated in foil – cheap and expendable. After releasing the balloon, the met. man quickly focused something resembling a telescope on it as it ascended. This instrument sent directions to the radar scanner on the roof, aligning it with the balloon. As soon as the radar detected the reflection from the foil it locked on to it and plotted the balloon’s position and altitude as it rose. From that information a computer calculated the wind’s strength and direction at various heights. We watched the radar track the balloon and the computer print out its data. The only thing that might go wrong is if an aircraft flew too close to the balloon, then the dumb radar would lock on to the aircraft and follow it home, really mucking up the results. As we watched the Ceduna balloon rise, weather balloons were being released simultaneously all over the world. The data from all the weather stations are then collated to obtain global patterns. Because air pressure reduces with altitude, the balloons expand to many times their original size until eventually – at very high altitude – they burst and fall back to earth.
We were also taken to a fenced-off area nearby and shown instruments that monitor temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, etc. Pam and I nodded and tried to give the impression we understood it all. The man told us the biggest hazard in his job was brown snakes. One killed his dog at that very spot last year. C'mon Pam, let's go back inside.
Neither Pam nor I were sorry to move on from Ceduna. The caravan park was excellent, but in the town there were groups of Aborigines hanging around the streets. Not that they harmed or threatened us, they just make us feel uncomfortable.
Leaving Ceduna we travelled south, down the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. Pam found a camping site in her copy of Campsites of Australia.
Perlubie Beach was very secluded – there wasn’t even a sign to show it was there. We camped for a night in the sand dunes, almost on the beach. We might have stayed longer but for an apparently demented Aborigine woman who wandered the dunes and screamed abuse at the ocean. The ocean totally ignored her.
Camping At Perlubie Beach. Will Those Grey Clouds Ever Clear?
The next morning we moved on to Streaky Bay. The name dates back to 1802 when Captain Matthew Flinders, RN, sailed into the bay and thought that the streaky appearance of the sea was caused by fresh water from a river estuary. Today's theory is that the streaking effect is caused by oils from certain seaweeds. Since P.J. and I can’t, for the life of us, see any streaking, it’s all quite academic to us. However, while young Matt Flinders was knocking around this part of the globe in his sloop at the expense of the British taxpayer, he named everything in sight, mostly after his superiors. Brown nose.
Mrs Bucket, Roughing it.
At Streaky Bay we camped right next to the beach in a beautiful caravan park. Could have stayed for ever but too much still to see elsewhere.
Streaky Bay at dawn. A racehorse on exercise galloping along
the water’s edge woke us just before the sun came up.
There was a proliferation of gulls (silver and pacific), pelicans, cormorants, mudlarks, willie-wagtails and – would you believe – house sparrows. In twenty two years in Western Australia we never saw a sparrow (though The Birds of Australia says there are some in the south). Sometimes in the evening large flocks of galahs would come screeching in. We saw the ubiquitous crows, of course, but not one magpie.
While we were camped at Streaky Bay we visited Point Labatt. According to the book, Point Labatt is home to the only permanent sea lion colony on the Australian mainland. To get there we had to drive down a million miles of dusty, corrugated, dirt roads. I didn’t buy the Pajero to get it dirty so I wasn’t best pleased.
Sea Lions At Point Labatt
The sea lions are viewed from a look-out on top of some very precarious cliffs. It was like looking down at a bunch of slugs. The picture was taken with a zoom lens and so is rather deceptive. Even so, they look like . . . a bunch of slugs. And I got the Pajero dirty for that? What appear to be truck tyre prints in the sand are actually the marks left by the sea lions. Or, perhaps . . . a truck.
Leaving Point Labatt, we visited Murphy’s Haystacks. These are a collection of very large boulders, some of which certainly do resemble haystacks. As for Murphy, his only claim to fame is that he happened to own the land on which the boulders were found. These rocks are 1,500 million years old – the book says so.
Not all of the rocks resembled haystacks, one was hollowed out like a huge, toothless mouth yawning.
The picture (below) showing Pam next to the rock gives an idea of how large it is. Or how small Pam is.
Pam With Her Very Own Opera House
Oh, I nearly forgot. On the way to Point Labatt we turned a bend and there, right in front of us was a 'snow scene'. Perhaps it just looked like snow because it was only ten days to Christmas. It was really white sand, of course. Could almost be snow, though. From a distance. Don’t you think?
Looks Like Snow To Me
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