Welcome to the adventures of my family’s great Australian road trip. Taking the family across the Nullarbor is a rite of passage for any self respecting Australian. Crossing this great nation of ours across the desert to experience its total vastness and awesomeness should be on every Aussie’s bucket list. The adventure is here…
Desert Ship Territory Log Day 1 – Nullarbor Nomads
We travel Terra Australis in the trusty Territory and 3 hours later we arrive in Merredin in time for sun rise where the drive improved immensely once we could actually see the landscape. I miss my cat already. In Coolgardie we fuelled up for the first time and encountered our very first ‘old timer’. The toothless wonder with a complete lack of any fashion sense was fuelling up her beat up old Mazda and struck up conversation with me by stating the bleeding obvious “it’s a bit chilly aye?” in an accent broader than a Queensland stockman. I smiled politely and quickly shielded the kids from her weather beaten, witchy appearance, and shepherded them back into the car. Her car didn’t look like it would make it much past Kalgoorlie and it was obvious that she didn’t get out much. The sooner we leave the goldfields the better.
Whilst the drive to Coolgardie along the Great Eastern Highway is quite featureless, I am rewarded with majestic gums with their branches splayed gracefully and casting long shadows in the low winter sun on the drive to Norseman. We heard on the news how there was a bad roll over causing the road to close from Coolgardie to Norseman. Lucky for us, by the time we get there the road was open again. The wreckage and suitcases flung on the side of the road is a timely reminder for our driver to keep his hands on the wheel and not wondering about behind his seat, grappling around for the lolly bag. Norseman itself is pleasantly surprising. Set in subtle woodlands, the township is pleasing to the eye and set up well for interstate travellers. We found a park to eat lunch early at 11am.
By noon we are back on the road. I offered to drive since I hadn’t had a turn yet but Husband was still happy to. After 9 hours of driving I offered again but Husband was hell bent on breaking his ‘driving 1000km without a break’ record. He thinks it’s funny to scare me half to death when I’ve just nodded off by driving on the rumble strip making me think he was careering off the road. It’s an obvious sign he is getting bored and, quite frankly so am I. I head for another packet of Mentos and complain viciously that the person who invented green Mentos needs to be shot. I have now also self diagnosed the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. After being held captive in the Territory for 10 hours of listening to nothing but Husbands’s hideous country music (another reason he didn’t want me to drive, because then he’d have to listen to my music) I found myself singing along to “Barefoot and Crazy”. I looked furtively to my right to see if my captor noticed. The minute I started to drive, I plugged in my ipod and on went some nostalgic 80s tunes with Stray Cats self titled song “Stray Cat” when the legend of my friend Mandy’s pussy lived on. Mandy moved interstate and drove across the Nullarbor with her husband and beloved pet cat. Upon a rest stop, the cat had gone insane with all the travel and took off into the never never and never ever came back. As we approach the WA / SA border I now remind the family that under the mountain of lollies and chips, there is actually oranges and kiwi fruit. Everyone knows how I hate food wastage, so I mandated the whole family partake in a fruit eating frenzy before it is confiscated at the border.
There was a method to Husband’s madness as I draw the short straw by scoring the last two hours of driving which turned out to be three hours in the dark. This is never usually an issue, but on this occasion, it seemed the entire kangaroo population of the outback were out on the lonely Interstate number 1. This is also never usually an issue as I’ve lived most of my life in rural Western Australia. I mean I do vaguely remember something in my research about never driving across the Nullarbor at night because of this very reason, but my brain had disregarded that piece of valuable information as the domain for ignorant city slickers and overseas tourists. No one else was on the road. Not even the truckies, for this very dangerous reason. 150km before Border Village where my bed beckoned me. I am cursing Husband for wanting to make Border Village in one day, good job he didn’t hear me, because in his slumber, he is completely oblivious to the roo rave on the road. At least I had my music. At the top of my lungs I sing my anthem song “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. At 1950 I saw lights in the distance and because I am now cross-eyed, I can’t tell if it is headlights, a roadhouse, a blindingly reflective road sign or a UFO. 143 Robert Timms coffee bags later at 2000 hours I safely delivered my family to a haven in the dark. We now resembled the dishevelled zombie decal family on the back of our Territory.
Since there are no cooking facilities in the room we indulge in a truckie sized meal at the roadhouse where I couldn’t help but noticed the disproportionate quantities of Penthouses and No Dozes on offer at the shop. Everything a self respecting trucker needs for the cab and the road respectively. I collapsed into bed.
Desert Ship Territory Log Day 2 – Whale Wonder
We started the day with everyone totally confused as to what the correct time was. We changed some clocks and not others. No phone reception so we can’t rely on Telstra for the right time either. Anyway it was light outsiđe so that was a good enough excuse for me to get up and let my sleepy slobs slumber. I took in the ambiance of the truck stop with absolute awe. A line of semi trailers all parked up with some drivers sleeping in their cabs (or otherwise-see previous blog) and others quickly running in and emerging with steaming bacon and egg burgers. The diligent Department of Agriculture officials checking each vehicle and truck some 100m away. When it is our turn to go through we tell her we are just back tracking to Eucla to see the old Telegraph Station since we missed out yesterday due to getting in late. The woman then tells us not to worry about it and the garlic is saved for now. But I do wonder what if we lied and we were really fruit smugglers and kept going, I mean what come back has she got? My thoughts are short lived as I’m now shocked to learn that she has been in this job for 18 years. Even more shocked to discover her boss has been in the job for over 20 years. I mean you would really really need to love your job and your boss to live in a town that has 4 houses and 600km from the nearest small shop wouldn’t you?
The kids are pretty excited when we get to the Telegraph Station which is almost totally submerged in a sand dune. After they nearly demolish what is left of it they go running in the direction of some more huge sand dunes. I, on the other hand, make a bee line for the beach where there should be the remains of an old jetty. After a 15 minute walk in totally inappropriate shoes for beach sand am rewarded with a stupendous sight complete with bonus sea birds all over it. After filling up another memory card I walk back to the car and hope I can find my way back as every dune and bush looks the same. I don’t know how these early explorers managed. I run into my explorer husband who has struck up a conversation with some Queenslanders. One of them says “did you see the awesome old boat further up the beach?”. Nooooooo! I am not going back to fill up my slip on shoes again. It is too cold to go without shoes and beside it is getting late. Back at Eucla, at the motel there is a small museum which was quite interesting, especially the picture of the Telegraph Station which was fully in tact some 60 years ago. There are only a few limestone foundations and part walls left.
After a 2 hour drive and one short side trip to see the Great Australian Bight, we arrive at The Head of the Bight Marine Park where watched heaps of Southern Right Whales with their babies. It was such an amazing experience and difficult to tear myself away as I was waiting for one of the whales to breach, but none did. The bay was literally filled with whales and their calves. One was special as the calf was albino. I think I used an 8 GB memory card just on whales! This is one of the best places in the world to go whale watching and we didn’t even have to get in a boat which pleased Brendan no end.
The next hour or so is where the actual Nullarbor National Park is and it really did live up to it’s reputation as a treeless plain. It didn’t seem to take long before we got excited to finally encounter some farmland. It reminded us of the Prairies with wide sweeping plains and windmills twice the size of the ones in W.A. By the time we arrived in Ceduna at 6pm, we missed the shop to stock up on fresh provisions for our outback trip tomorrow. We are taking the short cut to Coober Pedy which I am hoping will cut about 4 hours off if we don’t take the bitumised way. I also missed a great photo opportunity with the fading remnant of a spectacular sunset over the large Ceduna Jetty which is right on our door step. In the morning the sun will be facing the wrong way. I don’t so much mind as we spent the extra time watching the whales.
Desert Ship Territory Log Day 3 – Off the Beaten Track
We are on the road by 0900 hours after a quick stop at Foodland for a few supplies. After about an hour on the Eyre Highway we turn off to hit the gravel for some hard core 4WD time. Well not as hard core as Googs Track which is even more of a short cut (the sand dunes put me off going that way). By taking the 270km gravel route via Kingoonia we are going to save 400km off our time. Do you think alarm bells should have rung when I booked our accommodation in Coober Pedy over the phone, and the lady asks where we are travelling from and when? I answered “Ceduna”, there is an awkward silence and she responds with “I’ve never heard of that before”? There is a big sign saying carry an extra two spare tyres, a tow rope, adequate fuel, adequate water, two jacks, a shovel, maps and keep friends and relatives informed of your outback travel itinerary. Well we just had to run the gauntlet with one spare tyre, a tonne of lollies and a litre of cordial. Does posting to my blog when there is no internet access count as letting everyone know where you are? Needless to say I am nothing but a hard core worrier. Worried sick especially with the amount of beer bottles lying on the track but we made it without incident thank goodness. We only see a few vehicles. To begin with the scenery is quite pleasant with gentle undulating hills and dry lake beds. We have lunch by a watering station on Kolkatha Station with a lake with a little water and sand dunes in the distance. I am also pretty excited to see a Sturt Desert Pea nearby. I didn’t think I’d see any this early in the season so I madly photographed it despite my very annoyed husband telling me I’ll see thousands of them. We only stopped for 20 minutes becausearewere definitely in the outback with the landscape looking like the Nullarbor again. We see emus, sheep, cows and a dead wombat. We have yet to see a live one.
Finally we get to Koongania which looks like a hole, but we make sure we stop so the kids can play on the railway. The Indian-Pacific Railway. After another 35km of gravel we hit the Stuart Highway where we travelled another 230 km to Coober Pedy arriving just before 6pm, making a 9 hour travel day. Even though we saved 400km off the trip, we only managed to save an hour off the travel time than if we had gone the 1000km via Port Augusta due to the rough condition of the road. After travelling through absolute nothingness for hours on end, I wondered what kind of town we were headed for. So I was surprised to find a thriving metropolis. We are staying at the Underground Motel which worried the claustrophobic aspect of me. However, our room is the first from the entry way and we can see directly outside from our room so that was good. It is a very nice motel with a lovely few of the Breakaways where apparently Mad Max 3 was filmed.
The Indian Pacific RailwayDesert Ship Territory Log Day 4 – “When Dave and I…”
This morning affords us a bit of a sleep in without the routine of having to pack up and leave. We enjoy our new digs and the novelty of living underground for a few days. There are a heap of grey nomads with a difference staying here. They are all on their motor bikes zooming around the desert. If you ask me they should be tucked up at home watching ABC documentaries. Our first stop is the town lookout called The Big Winch, but it is closed and some how we end up in the neighbour’s place. In this quirky place nothing is very well sign posted and when it is, it’s just hand painted signs. Now this neighbour is a real ‘old timer’ Chinese character. With his deeply lined face, beanie and dusty unkept appearance he beckons us to have a look at his opal mine. So we look down a shaft about 30m deep, then he wants to show us his opals and then, of course, he tries to flog us some. He manages to fleece $5 out of First Born.
He is from Hong Kong and sounded like he just got off the plane yesterday, but in fact has been here since 1979 and he tells me how lucky I am to have two boys as he has 5 girls! We go to the tourist bureau and book a tour for the morning. We then check out a few opal shops and Brendan bought me a lovely opal ring which I chose as it is our 14th anniversary tomorrow.
The lady in the tourist bureau told us where the public noodling place is, so we parked up and started noodling. There are some punters noodling in the loose semblance of a car park and I think this is an odd place to noodle. I’m sure I wouldn’t know an opal is if I tripped over one, but I see a lot of interesting rocks. Husband shows me a tiny opal, so now I have opal fever and spend the next hour noodling with no results, but I have fun anyway and so do the boys. Ironically, back at the motel I find an opal in the car park, so the other couple were onto it when I saw them noodle in the public noodle car park.
We then buy some supplies from the local IGA which is impressive and a hundred times better than Coles in Narrogin. But that’s not hard to achieve. By this stage it is time for lunch so we go back to the motel to knock up some sandwiches. Then Husband falls asleep so I spent my time talking to the lady who works here and she told me her life’s story. She was Phillipino and has been here for 27 years!
“When Dave and I….”. If I hear this statement one more time I am going to stab Husband. About a hundred times a day I hear about the fable of Husband and his mate, Dave, and their adventures of travelling around Australia in 1991. Constant reminiscing about how wonderful it was. This leads me to the fact that we had to relive the “Crocodile Harry” story whilst in Coober Pedy. Crocodile Harry happened to be in the pub “when Dave and I” were in there for a drink. Harry, who is a classic old timer, says to them, if you buy me a drink I’ll tell you some stories. So they did. Before too long Harry is plastered and regaling them with stories of his croc wrestling days in the North and is asking for a lift home. “When Dave and I” are looking at each other and wondering just how far up the road he lived, it could be 250km up the road. Luckily for them it is only about 5km out of town and it turns out he lives in an underground house he dug out with his very own hands. Anyway, we had to go and see it now. Sadly Harry is no where to be seen and I am at a loss for words to describe his place. It ias like a rabbit warren and decorated with a plethora of paraphenalia and a lot of junk. There is writing all over the walls and no one is in sight except for a pink and grey galah which keeps saying “chook, chook” everytime I walk past. It is actually open to the public and we could’ve walked off with anything as no one is there.
Once we are done there we drive about 30kms out of town, to see the Breakaways which are striking hills (striking because they are the only small hills within cooee of a lot of flat, barren landscape) that are deeply eroded and the colours look great at sunset. There are a few look outs and we have to race around a bit to catch all the photos I want before the sun sets at a rediculous 5.30pm. There ias also the Moon Plain which I thought would be better than it was. This area was used as a backdrop for a Mad Max movie. Then we encounter the longest fence in the world, the Dog Fence. It is 5300km long and passes through 3 states. It is the only thing stopping the Dingoes from taking my teenagers and the sheep from pastoral areas south of the fence. Last Born decides it would be good to shoot a David Attenborough style video of the Idiot Proof Fence, where Idiot First Born is on the other side of the fence displaying aggressive behaviour by throwing rocks. We near the end of day 4 and it seems like we have been gone for weeks already. I am the last person who wanted to come here, but now I’m glad I did.