Blog 3: Western Australia & South Australia - Esperance to Elliston
Preamble: Sorry this one is a day late, but the internet in Elliston really sucks. We wrote this yesterday, so at least the writing time is consistent.
Priorities! Here is the Map first this time. Since last post we have travelled 1 715 km, all the way across The Nullarbor.
After you last heard from us, we escaped the crowds, hustle and bustle of Esperance (pop. 9 919) to journey towards more National Parks, and hopefully a bit of solitude (a big ask over the Christmas / New Year high season, but we were hopeful!). On our way towards the Cape Le Grand National Park we stopped at a local attraction – a full size replica of Stonehenge.
Adam’s maths and engineering brain had fun looking at the construction and alignment of the locally quarried stones. The summer solstice, when the sun sets in the gap between the two largest stones, in front of the altar was a couple of days before our visit – but apparently it was overcast and you couldn’t see the sun anyway! The stones have a kind of presence about them, they are LARGE! And the acoustics inside the circle are reflective and cathedral-esque, making one feel small and large at the same time. A quick drone flight around the stones (still not checked or edited!) and we were off for some beach time.
Cape Le Grand National Park is as gorgeous as everyone has told us. Even though it was very windy, it is hard not to bliss out on the fine white sand, paddle in the beautiful aquamarine and turquoise waters and marvel at the pink, grey and brown granite outcroppings that define this rugged coastline. Those lucky enough to claim the (full the fortnight before Christmas, or more) available camping spots at Lucky Bay and Le Grand Beach were very lucky indeed!
On Christmas Eve, with no room at the inn, or even the stables in Cape Le Grand, we turned eastwards again towards Cape Arid National Park. Beautiful in a different way, this place is more rugged, less accessible and drier than Cape Le Grand. The time of year was perfect, with Banksias flowering everywhere and small birds enjoying the abundance of nectar very much. Arid, but far from desolate, this landscape was teeming with life. And wind. And Horse Flies. And dusty sand. But gorgeous. We decided to spend three nights at the Thomas River campground, easy walking distance to a few beaches and not quite full of other campers.
Christmas and Boxing Day were spent enjoying the water, sunshine, views and nature of the National Park, in the company of some newly made friends (May and Neil, also from Perth – please send us that selfie you took if you read this!).
We had our first piece of equipment breakage in the high winds at Cape Arid, one of the plastic hinge mounts for a Foxwing Awning spar snapped off. Luckily the awning came with two spares and Adam (with some cursing, rotary tool drilling, pliers, lever and multigrips) was able to extract the broken one and replace it when we settled into Elliston.
From Thomas River we couldn’t depart after only seeing the smallest and westernmost part of the National Park, so after packing up, dusting the sandy dust off everything we could and saying goodbye to our new friends, we travelled further east, deeper into the Park for a morning swim at Poison Creek (Sandy Bight). The water was just as glorious as Cape Le Grand. Crystal clear, cool and that soft, fine white sand that seems to go on forever down there. Beautiful rugged hills, scrubland and coastline accompanied the drive in and out again. Travelling the same road in two directions can actually be a joy – the perspective changes entirely when coming from the other way.
Rather than drive aaaaalllllll the way back to Esperance, north to Norseman and then east again along the Eyre highway, we decided to cut through along Balladonia Road (skipping the part in the Cape Arid National Park that leads to Israelite Bay, and past Mount Ragged, on the advice of the camp host and a local who told us the roads are very slow going and pretty bad) by way of Parmango Road and join the Eyre Highway near the Balladonia Roadhouse.
We left Fisheries Road and headed north, zig zagging through gravel roads bordering tree farms, other agriculture and conservation reserves to Parmango Road. A long, straight, rocky line towards our intended destination. A brief stop to chat with some volunteer firefighters who were working to control a fire in the part of the Cape Arid National Park we avoided (lucky!) and we travelled to the limit of Parmango Road, well north of the fire. A stop for lunch at ‘Deralinya,’ a homestead refurbished by volunteers in the early 90’s, where you can camp for free, was only a short stay as there were thousands and thousands of blowflies in and around all the buildings – it felt like a horror movie.
The landscape had changed again into the Great Western Woodlands, another different kind of beautiful. Western Australia is blessed with so many diverse and magical landscapes and environments – it will be interesting to see if the rest of the nation can match them.
Then we hit Balladonia “Road” the worst road we have driven to date. Alternating rocky outcroppings, corrugations, washed out silty sandy hummocks and frequent fallen trees across most of the road made for slow going, even with tyre pressures down. A definite reflection of the relative resources of the Shire of Esperance (Population 14236 - Parmango Road) and the Shire of Dundas (Population 772 - Balladonia Road). A few hours and around a hundred uncomfortable kilometres later we rejoined the blessedly smooth, even, consistent and well maintained bitumen at Balladonia Roadhouse.
Gary wasn’t even bothered by the poor quality of the road. The self levelling rear air suspension is a kind of magic for ride quality (Land Rovers Rule!). The rough road would have been slower and even more unbearable in a leaf or coil sprung vehicle carrying a decent load in the back.
Determined to make some more distance and wash away the corrugations with some blacktop, (also, much better wikicamps reviews further down the road) we drove the 90 mile straight (Australia’s longest section of straight road at 146.6 km) all the way to Caiguna for the night. A quick flip of the roof tent at dusk, a cold beer and a well earned sleep after a long day of driving that began with a swim in the Southern Ocean.
One Hundred and Ten Kilometres Per Hour.
It is quite amazing how the human mind adapts and becomes desensitised to speed. Adam smiles as he drives, thinking about the geometry of a road that makes these speeds safe – graceful sweeping corners with large radii, gentle cambers, broad shoulders, good sight lines, wide lanes. An ancestor of his was the surveyor who plotted the original route for this track across the Nullarbor.
…and plenty of dead kangaroos.
Just when the landscape tapers off from splendour into a repetitive numbing sameness something comes along to kick your attention back up. The Madura Pass is one of these spots (it also had geocache number 5). The difference between the plains below and the tableland above is right there, the sparsely treed coastal plain stretching to the distant blue haze that may be the Southern Ocean, or maybe just the horizon. But the ocean we swam in the morning before is out there somewhere.
Back to one hundred and ten.
Adam thinks a lot about his favourite part of Cloudstreet (really the only part that has stuck vividly in his mind), where some of the characters are driving at night, and the headlights make a cocoon of isolation around them, and the fuel gauge seems not to move, and they travel in a kind of bubble of reality, where maybe they aren’t moving anywhere.
A stop for lunch in Eucla (and geocache number 6), then we crossed the border. Goodbye Western Australia, home, friends, family, familiarity. Everything is really different now (but still mostly the same, because Australia). We notice little changes. The mile-markers are configured differently. The rubbish bins at the rest stops are a different size and shape. The road building materials are different. The road changes from black to maroon. Maroon!? Adam feels like he should know the difference in asphalt and bitumen formulation that creates this effect. But he doesn’t.
Camp tonight is in a roadside quarry out of Yalata that supplied some of the roadbase aggregates for the sometimes black sometimes maroon highway we have been travelling along. Free camping for our second time. Old fire rings and friendly magpies are signs that we are most certainly not the first people to camp here, but we are alone, undisturbed and a little sheltered from the wind that night. It rains. It has been sprinkling all day. Rain on the exceptionally arid Nullarbor in the mild Australian Summer. Climate is doing strange things. Adam siphons off the big puddle from the fly of the roof tent that has collected overnight. Twenty litres of delicious rain water.
Back to one hundred and ten.
A stop in Penong to use the information shelter to make AeroPress coffee leads us to the Penong Windmill Museum. A charming arrangement of graceful pinwheels, including the largest windmill in Australia. Adam spent some time hunting down our first geocache of South Australia (Number 7) and then it was back to one ten.
The road signs ticked down towards the quarantine checkpoint at Ceduna, so we took a sharp right within sight of the quarantine station to eat our fruit-and-veg-that-needs-to-be-eaten-before-the-quarantine-checkpoint salad lunch by the water at Denial Bay. We crossed the quarantine checkpoint, loaded back up on fresh produce at the local Ceduna Foodland (which had a surprisingly wide variety of vegan friendly choices) and put some more miles on the tyres.
A brief stop at Streaky Bay, which seemed beautiful, but wasn’t to be our resting place for New Years and we kept moving down the coast to Elliston.
And here we have been for the last two nights, and tonight. A nice break after three solid days of long distance driving. This town is very charming. There are more little different things. The lpg gas bottles here are a different shape. They only have Schooners (425 mL), not Pints (568 mL) at the pub. They have pokies. The signage says ‘West End’ instead of ‘Swan Draught’ or ‘Emu Export.’ We haven’t seen any roadkill this side of the border. Coopers tastes way better than it does in WA, even if the family has different political persuasions to us. Ruth is learning to drink beer. And enjoying it.
Daylight savings is strange, awesome and unsettling all at the same time, especially with the change in time zones. We have travelled a long way east, and are still acclimating. Seven am feels like five am. The sun is still up after nine pm. The heat of the day is later after lunch. We need to be careful with the activity planning and the sunscreen.
Saturday in Elliston is market day, so in the morning we went and foraged for some locally grown apricots, dried nectarines and nuts. Living out of our Land Rover for a year means we can’t accumulate unnecessary items, like souvenirs – but Ruth has been looking for a Rose Quartz necklace for a while and found the perfect one at the market. This town has interesting murals, art and sculpture everywhere. Before we leave we will do the cliff-top seaside sculpture drive north of town that is supposed to be awesome.
Yesterday afternoon we hiked along the coast up to a lookout on the cliffs south of town (Geocaches 8 and 9). This rocky, jagged limestone coast is different to home. The Southern Ocean roars and waves break on treacherous rocks, where many a ship has been wrecked. The plants are different, but some are the same. We met a cousin to Bob (the bobtail lizard that lives in Nana’s backyard) on our coastal walk. He (or she) was a bit shy but assented to a couple of happy snaps.