Friday, 31 October 2008

Google Maps - Our Actual Route

I was messing around in Google Maps today on Jan's PC and have managed to create a map which shows roughly the route we took around the country. You should be able to click the Google Maps logo on the right under the Maps section and when the map opens see a blue line showing where we drove, near as damn it anyway. Apparently you can do funky stuff like open it in Google Earth as well, but I havent checked that out yet. Let me know if it works/doesnt work!

Thursday, 30 October 2008


Well, that's it.  Finito.  The End.  We are now back in Melbourne.  Adopted home city.  Pizza delivery and a bottle of red for dinner.  Celebrating Em's birthday as well.

We left the Great Ocean Road campsite - Aire River East - after 3 good days in small and friendly campsite close to the river and the beach on Cape Otway's western side.  We love the country down here, really love it - after seeing everywhere else in Australia, this is undoubtedly and jointly our favourite place, favourite scenery, favourite climate, pace of life, etc etc!


We met a nice couple from Western Victoria, a GP and his wife who were thinking about embarking on some road trips in their camper trailer, and we were happy to share our experiences and just chat about stuff; including finding out that Tess's father and grandfather both went to King Edward's in Bath!  She herself was from Oxford so there was the West Country link.  I promised to publish a list of useful stuff for Nick, so if he is reading this, it is coming!  And a guy camped next to us who used to be a chef in the Army showed us some wild watercress and some small edible fern fronds - all good bush tucker tricks that might come in handy one day, but for the moment the watercress was just very tasty!  I tried a last bit of fishing but only got a few bites, nothing caught - although to make up for it some old fishermen who were a bit rowdy and definitely drunk, gave us two fresh fillets of Bream that they had caught, as they had too much!  We shall be having it for dinner tomorrow night.  And we were spoilt on our last night with a mother koala clambering into a tree above our pitch with her baby clinging on tight and them both having a good feed on the eucalyptus leaves above us whilst we were having a carbonara.  Very special moments.

And on the morning of Em's birthday we left the campsite with a quick pack up, unfortunately after a bit of light rain so the tent was a tad wet, and without coffee or breakfast headed straight to the small seaside town of Apollo Bay for a lovely breakfast (Eggs Benedict for Em and Florentine for me, both with a side of bacon), not only was it delicious, but we didnt have to bother with the washing up either, which makes a welcome change as we havent been eating out that much recently!  Then we headed back to Melbourne (about a 2 hr drive along the Great Ocean Road) to meet Sam and pick up the key to Jan & Ren's after unpacking the car and spinning out a bit at a) the traffic and b) finding our way around their apartment, we are sat down watching a movie and contemplating ordering a pizza - our favourite Port Melbourne pizza "Crust" and popping open a bottle of red for Em's birthday celebrations.

We can't quite believe it is all over, but on the other hand we are so so thankful to Jan & Ren for letting us live in their place whilst they are away, as it is a top place to crash in after 6 months in a tent.  And we have seen and done so much in those few months off work I am sure it will be like a dream even in a few days let alone when we get back to work.  Its funny sat inside now watching TV, with the rush hour along the Beach Road going on outside, and I am quite happy being inside now, but we both reckon we'll miss the space, the sounds, smells and sights of the big outdoors for sure.

Em has asked if I will keep the blog going or close it off (it will still be accessible of course), and I am as yet undecided.  I actually had an email from a French person who I dont know, they were reading the blog recently and had a question about somewhere we had been, which has made me feel quite famous!  I will be responding to their comment as soon as possible and am quite chuffed that people I don't even know are reading about our travels around Australia!

And something scary for us to finish on...Jan & Ren have some bathroom scales, which of course are irresistible and when we jumped on them today I have lost 10kgs and Em has lost 2kgs!  After going to the gym in Melbourne for 2 years and "trying" to stay reasonably fit I obviously outweighed all that work with pizzas and curries, and only when not sat at a desk every day and not eating junk food every week can I lose some excess kgs!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Murray River Camping

Writing this on our second night at a camp spot called Police Bend on the Murray River just outside Mildura.  Splendid spot with a southerly view down a bend in the Murray River.  We have an unbeatable view of the Southern Cross constellation at night.  The only down side is the wind is quite blustery, upto 31 knots today, but it's still hitting the high twenties in temperature so we cannot complain.  I also have some worms (I still struggle putting them on the hooks) and Em has a trash magazine.  Funnily enough there is a shop within about 20 minutes walk from our campsite and we have full 3G phone signal meaning we can check emails from our campsite!  However it is still a really nice spot and very private/quiet.  I took a shower in the river water today with no issues(!).  No fish caught as yet.


Yesterday I "caught" some freshwater mussels and we cooked them up, but they looked disgusting and didn't taste much better.  I reckon they were rated "bush tucker".  They were huge, but never again.  We had fried egg sandwiches for dinner instead.

Night sky photos; Southern Cross and Scorpius constellations:


By the end of of the fifth night I had had 4 bites on the fishing rods; once I saw a 2-3kg fish (one has a tendency to exageratte these things) come to the bank snagged on my hook only to get loose just as I was about to grab him from the water, then the same fish bite a couple more times, once to break the line and once to take my hook, then the fourth bite I caught and retrieved a Murray Cod - only to realise this is closed season and he was undersize anyway, so I had to put him back - for next time.

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Well, we are back in Victoria.  Mildura and Hattah-Kulkyne NP are actually in Victoria, but it just didnt feel like it to us as it is still "mallee country".  Today we really feel like we are close to Melbourne.  We are in the Grampians NP where we have been before (with Emily and Paul) and it feels familiar. 

We had a good drive today after leaving Hattah-Kulkyne.  Through some sad looking, desperate, drought-ridden towns in the mallee country of Victoria: Yatpool, Rainbow, Dimboola, etc.  And ended up finding a pleasant camp spot in the Grampians NP.  These are named after the Grampians in Scotland for their similar appearance I believe.  We were glad to get there a it is 1) cooler and 2) not as many flies!  The NP was burnt badly in a bush fire in 2006, but is slowly recovering.  Almost every tree you see in the park has a black trunk which reminds you of how big this bush fire was (I remember seeing it on the news when we were living in Melbourne).

Em cooked some delicious Greek burgers, or beef koftes, which we had with mint and tzatziki, I dont have many good pictures of the Grampians as the light was really odd due to it being overcast, so here is a pic of the Greek burgers instead!


Mine and Em's mental state is interesting at the moment....we are sad to be finishing up a truly awesome adventure around Australia; camping, fishing, 4wding, learning and appreciating history (Aboriginal and European), reading, exploring, chilling, bush walking, etc etc. but also looking forward to firstly spending 3 weeks in Melbourne at friends Jan & Renata's apartment in Port Melbourne (the same suburb we used to live in) catching up with mates and adjusting to city life again, then leaving Melbourne on 24th November to fly back to the UK and start a whole new adventure of life & work somewhere in England, or Europe, or elsewhere, for the next 12 months or however long...we will see what life brings us I guess, but we are most definitely sad to be finishing up our travels around this continent and hope it does not all fade into a dream to be easily forgotten in a few months from now like all post-holiday blues I suppose, just on a bigger scale!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

After 5 nights on the Murray at Police Bend we decided to move 50kms down river to a National Park called Hattah Kulkyne.  Jan & Renata had been here before with Daniella.  It was quite similar to the bush camping at Police Bend, except the heat was up to 36 degrees that day and worse then that the bush flies were absolutely demonic.  We managed to drive around the park getting lost in the sand tracks a few times, visited the small servo/town of Hattah and the plush visitor centre of the NP (nice wooden furniture) for lunch to get out of the flies, but when we camped up we basically ran as fast as we could to get inside the gazebo and then stayed there to sweat it out for the afternoon.  Not much of an enjoyable experience, but a good NP for Victoria all the same!  No luck fishing in the river there either.  Hattah-Kulkyne the name comes from a presumed Scottish "hattah" (but the NP's didnt tell us what it meant) and Kulkyne from a local Aboriginal language meaning forest.  And there was certainly a lot of wood around.  River Red Gum branches (not big ones luckily) were falling all around us in the park.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Broken Hill, Menindee, Kinchega NP and Mungo NP/Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area

Drove from Mount Remarkable along the boring Barrier Highway to Broken Hill past many derelict towns that once thrived along the railway.  Broken Hill stopped for fuel and tourist info centre for maps of the next two NPs we were heading into.  Broken Hill is a mining town, but looks like a reasonably "nice" one.  It is the town that the founder of Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd (BHP - at one time the largest Australian company in Australia) - a Charles Rasp - found silver in during the 1860s and went on to build a powerful multinational company from. 

Menindee Lakes is where Burke & Wills established a supply depot/campsite and then left their main party there before heading North in a smaller party, never to return.  One of the trees in a free campsite near the Darling River has one of their marks cut into it, but we couldnt see it.  Camped at Kinchega NP next to the river.  The author of the Dig Tree described the Darling River colour as "coffee with plenty of milk" which was spot on.  Very hot (35 degrees) and lots of flies.  God knows how the explorers coped without gazebos, air con'd 4wds and insect repellant!  As you will empathise with we made a quick pack up in the morning and a quick exit.


Next stop was Mungo NP.  This is a World Heritage area also known as Willandra Lakes.  This is where Mungo Man and Mungo Woman were unearthed from the sand dunes of a dried up lake.  These two characters are 1) the oldest recorded human cremation in the world and 2) more importantly, especially to Aboriginals who were originally thought to have "only" been in Australia for 20000 years, found to be 30,000 and 26,000 years old respectively.  And were recognised as Homo Sapiens, making them alongside the oldest evidence of modern humans outside of Africa.  Pretty impressive for a hot, dusty, dried up old lake in Outback NSW I reckon!   We spent a good day there exploring and driving around.  A great visitor centre with superb displays and a local Aboriginal ranger who played (sang?) an awesome didgeridoo, when he screamed down it I jumped along with a crowd of tourists watching!).

After a hard drive out of the dried up lakes area down some crappy corrugated roads (I will be glad to see the back of these roads)...we could see the water tower of Mildura (a town in the NW of Victoria that I always thought was a dust bowl, but in fact it is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in all of Australia, red soil = grapes, avocados, oranges - the smell is everywhere and delicious, it reminded us of Greece or Turkey - asparagus, other citrus, etc etc.) in the distance.  We had to drive over a bridge over the Murray River to get into town and it was a welcome sight to see all that beautiful fresh looking water.  And when we saw the signs for Victoria we were quite elated as it felt like we were home, everyone even has the same style number plates as us again!  Hooray!  Sad isn't it, but we felt really chuffed to be back in our adopted state again.  We celebrated with a pizza sat down by the river watching the houseboats and paddle steamers cruise by on a hot (it hit 38 today at Mungo NP!) Saturday evening.


Camping that night we strangely decided to cross back into NSW and set up on that side of the Murray River, albeit a really nice picnic site with a fantastic view - a few houseboats were also moored there for the evening along with some hoons playing techno, but they disappeared around 9pm luckily.  It was Saturday night I guess, and we cant always have everywhere to ourselves (although we have been quite lucky for most places!).


I've been practising my night sky photos too, so might publish some of pics of the stars we get to see at night - if they are any good.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Flinders Ranges

Before leaving Arkaroola we took a 3 hour scenic 4wd drive to Paralena Hot Springs.  These are the last remnant of volcanic activity on the whole of the Australian continent apparently.  The thermal springs bubble out of the rock at near boiling point in the middle of these ancient, dry mountain ranges in the northern part of the Flinders Ranges in SA.  Another thermal spring to tick off the list!

There were a lot of dust storms around during the time we were around the ranges, not only could we feel it as we were so dry and dusty ourselves, but you could also see them in the distance and it made some photos quite hazy.

Mount Chambers - we took a short walk to see some Aboriginal rock engravings, but the flies were the worse we have experienced since Umbrawarra Gorge in NT.  You could barely open your mouth without swallowing one. 

We then continued south through arid, dusty and windy country into the heart of the Flinders Ranges to Parachilna Gorge where we had a great big fire on a free bush camp site in the creek after getting one or two fresh fruit and bread supplies from the small town of Blinman (their claim to fame was they are the highest town in SA).

Flinders Ranges NP (Arkaroola is still Flinders Ranges, just the Northern end), is the middle and Southern section of the mountains which extend South-North basically from the coast (including Kangaroo Island) right up past Port Augusta and on past Arkaroola.  They are dry, dramatic and dusty!  But awesome and we had a great time camping there.  Unfortunately - maybe it's the time of year - the flies were bad so bush walking is not much fun and I didnt bother getting the bikes off the back as that would have been equally as painful.  Shame, as it is great country and we will definitely be back.  Lots of emus too:


We entered the park from the West via the town of Parachilna (nice pub/restaurante serving gourmet bush tucker) and embarked on the Brachina Gorge drive.  This is a self guided drive taking back through time as you drive across the ranges seeing the different ages of rocks.  Basically it is trying to make geology interesting, it kinda works, but we lost interest after about an hour (it took 3-4 hours to drive it mind you!).


We camped up for two nights in Cambrian Campground which was a top spot in the bed of a creek, surrounded by a mixture of river red gums and native pines with a good view of a 600 million year old range in front of us (dont ask me what the rocks were, as I dont know or care much).  We got the camp oven out and did lots of cooking - pizza, scones and a delicious fry up with English sausages!P1130436

When we left Cambrian we headed to Wilpena Pound which is a shameful resort (you can catch a bus to the start of the walk) and what is basically a big geological depression, we managed to avoid all fees and all the tourist crap and just did the walk to the lookout which was excellent.


Then on heading South out of the NP we camped at Hancocks Lookout, camping at the top of an awesome lookout over the Gulf (?), the towns of Whyalla and Port Augusta towns in the distance.  In the morning we made a quick visit to Mount Remarkable NP & Alligator Gorge for a short walk.  Refuelled at Quorn and continued our journey East towards NSW and ultimately Victoria.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Night Sky at Arkaroola

Upon leaving Marree we headed South via Lyndhurst which didn't have much to offer, even the air pump at the servo didnt work, and Leigh Creek which is a small town but with a massive coal mining operation just North of it.  We took a gander at the massive scars left in the surrounds by the coal mining, which is due to end in 2025 I think, when they run out of coal.  Very interesting stuff, but the town was sleepy, we filled up with fuel, water and checked emails then left en route to Arkaroola via the Flinders Ranges...

Camped at Wetootla Gorge in Gammon Ranges NP which was a huge campsite that we had all to ourselves and very nice it was too.  We had a herd of feral goats pass by the campsite in the afternoon, whilst we were sitting out the heat and the flies, apart from that it was lovely and quiet.


Arkaroola, further North East into the ranges, was a hidden gem.  It is a wilderness sanctuary, family owned business and the dreamchild of a late Dr Reg Sprigg, geologist, astronomist, etc etc.  We spent one night bush camping there, but splashed out on an Astronomy tour of one of the three observatories they have on site.  Apparently NASA have called on Arkaroola to assist in observing deep space objects because they have no light or atmospheric pollution.  If you look at one of those Earth light maps showing all the light pollution that cities give off, then find Australia, then find the pitch black 90% of Australian outback, we were in about the lower left hand corner and high up in the Flinders Ranges.  Also interested Mars exploration societies have sounded out a number of Australian locations to find the most similar to our red cousin and picked Arkaroola as the most similar!  As you can imagine you can see a lot of stars from here.  I know this is geeky stuff, but I am quite excited to tell you this is what me and Em learnt and or saw from our trip to Arkaroola:

Southern Cross; The constellation containing the stars Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Crux.  The Greek's named stars in alphabetical order going by brightest first.

Southern Cross's Pointers; "Alpha" the brightest pointer, pointing towards the tip of the Southern Cross is Earth's closest Binary Star - there are actually two suns rotating around each other with a distance of 12 trillion kms between them - at 4.5 light years away, but to the naked eye it looks like one star, and "Beta" Centaurii.

By working out the above two constellations you can then x4.5 the length of the Southern Cross along the longest axis, draw a straight line to the Earth's horizon and you have a navigational bearing of directly South (or the South Celestial Pole anyway).

Scorpion; very obvious when you know what you are looking for!  The 2nd brightest and red star up the body of Scorpion is Antares which is a red giant the same as our Sun, but in a later stage of it's life.  When our Sun is in the same stage in several billion years it will have expanded past Jupiter.

Saggitarius (sp?)/Teapot; I personally cannot see the hunter or Saggittarius, but I can see the Teapot!

Between Scorpion's tail and Teapot's base is thought to be the centre, and therefore oldest, part of our Milky Way (shaped like a discus with a bulge in the middle like a basketball).

Harp Constellation

Swan or cygnus Constellation (aka Northern Cross)

We also saw Jupiter (second brightest object in the Southern hemishere) with the naked eye, and through the telescope it's dust rings (I am not getting confused with Saturn here) and 4 main moons (Io, Europa, Gannimede and Calista).  There may be ice on Io.  And the moons of Jupiter all move in a peculiar orbit unlike our moon.  This is also the planet that caused - after spotting it and it's moon's orbits - Galileo to be imprisoned in the 1600's for suggesting that the Earth orbited the sun rather than vice versa.

Venus (third brightest object in the Southern hemisphere) with the naked eye, on the horizon.

NG407 (or 417 I cant remember) which is a nebula (or something!) about 15,000 light years away, but still in our Milky Way (our galaxy).  It would take man 7500 years at 300,000kms per second to travel here.  Maybe my maths is flawed (likely), but its a long way away!

The Moon at very close up; some awesome meteorite craters and the Moon's mare's or "seas".

Shooting stars (which we see a lot of in the Australian, esp outback, skies) are actually meteors about the size of a grain of sand.  Meteorites are the ones that make it through the astmosphere and hit the ground.  The glare we see when a meteor hits the atmosphere is actually the atmospheric gases glowing as they heat up, not the meteor itself.

Overall an excellent tour of something we have wanted to do during our trip around Australia and I reckon we chose the best place to do it.  Well recommend it to anyone and hope you have enjoyed reading about our experience!  And Arkaroola itself is well worth visiting anyway for the scenery, I dont have any shots of the night sky, but here is one of me and the car for good measure:


During our time at Arkaroola we had an almost very embarrassing incident.  We were due to turn up at 6pm to a briefing for the astrological tour.  We had spent the day driving around the 4wd tracks and looking around.  However when we arrived at the visitor centre at what we thought was 5:45pm there was nobody to be found.  We asked a guy at the bar and he apologised and said he had been out chasing his camels and had not made it back in time to conduct the briefing (he runs camel tours and night sky tours!) and had not turned up til 6:30pm.  Now this confused us immensely as we thought it was only 6pm.  The clock behind the bar said 7pm at this stage, so we asked him what the time was and he said the clock behind the bar was correct.  We walked away feeling mighty confused.  And on working out what was going on we realised we have been living 1 hour out of sync for the last week - since crossing the border across the Nullabor from WA into SA.  This is highly embarrassing and obviously not something you can do if a) you live in the city and b) have any sort of appointment to keep!  We started re-tracing all our steps over the last week and realised we had got shop opening times wrong (seeing shops close at 11am on a Saturday in small towns was, we thought, a strange time to close), also more importantly we were told Happy Hour in Marla Bar was 6-7pm and when we got there at what we thought was really 6pm expecting double drinks, the bell was rung and the double drinks ended, we cursed the barman, but in fact he was right and we had completely the wrong time...Anyway we managed to set our clocks correctly and got onto the astrology tour on time.  We are still amazed that we lived for one week in the wrong time zone though....we are sure this can only happen when you live for 6 months not knowing (or caring) what day it is or what time it is! 

Friday, 10 October 2008

Marla to Maree via the Oodnadatta Track

We left Marla on a crisp outback morning, blue skies and about 22 degrees and started the trip down the Oodnadatta Track.  The "Old Ghan Railway" follows this ancient Aboriginal trade route, and later cattle droving stock route, and so it abounds with history and outback life to the present day.  It's an interesting dirt track about 650kms in length with plenty of ruins, history and desert scenery to stop and look at on the way and plenty of top spots to camp at as well.  The "Ghan" is named after the Afghan cameleers that ran the line with camel trains before trains took over.  They were not just Afghans, but Indians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, etc. etc.  They planted date palms all over Outback Australia wherever they went, they opened up the interior of the country whilst assisting the European explorers (including Burke and Wills who were in this country as well as Stuart) and their camels still roam the arid country now.

Pink Roadhouse - this is an Oodnadatta icon.  It's a pink roadhouse, an interesting historical stop, a museum, a shop, a service station with loads of advice on travelling the track (they even make and maintain all the info signs down the 600kms track!) and somewhere to people watch.  We both had a Banana smoothie in the roadhouse, lots of interesting local history to read including about Tom Kruse (Birdsville Mailman star of 1960's film "Back of Beyond" who I am reading about, thanks Paul - I will get the book back to you, I promise!) and other local history.


There is a fun little 4wd track outside of town called the "6x4 loop" it's meant to emulate the conditions of the Simpson desert with red sand dunes and claypans.  Of course the Landy did it no problem!! (had to take a second run up at the biggest dune though!).

Road conditions of the Oodna are better than what we remember, but it's still a track with lots of gravel and rough patches.  We photographed where we broke down in the Subaru and where we think we hit the rock that caused the breakdown for sentimental reasons.  It was a relief to pass these places with nothing going wrong too.

The Oodna was a really special experience for us both for many reasons, but especially the tranquil camping (not a single car passed us after 6pm and we only saw 3 other cars all day anyway) both nights at 1) Old Woman Creek and 2) Pole Creek on Anna Creek Station property.  Anna Creek Stn is owned by S Kidman & Co (historical & famous Australian cattle station owning family) and is the largest cattle station in the world, at about the size of Wales!  It takes a week to ride across it on horseback if that means anything to anyone these days....We saw awesome outback skies both nights with clear views of the moon and the Milky Way and I saw a massive and very clear shooting star.  Also at Old Woman Creek we were outside the Dingo Fence, and in true 'outside the dingo fence' fashion, after we had gone to bed I was reading and I heard a muffled/muted bark right outside the tent, which scared the living sh*t out of me!  I hastily got out and grabbed the nearest branch by the fire, shone my torch around, and my heart took a jump when I caught the eyes of a feral dog/dingo about 10 metres away in the creek bed staring at me!  It looked like a hyena in the dim light, and only moved away when I shouted at it.  Em only woke up as I accidentally bashed her as I ran out of of the tent! 


We decided against doing the Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks due to time, fuel, climate and car conditions, plus a general feeling of too much dirt road.

The flies were getting a bit worse along the Oodna, but worse was to come.  At least the days were up in the late twenties and the nights cooling off at about 10-15 degrees, beautiful temperatures once the flies have left us alone!  By now me and Em have both eaten one each I think, so we are level.

Other points of note on the Oodna:  William Creek - Australia's smallest town at under 10 for a population!

Coward Springs - privately owned hot springs in the middle of the desert, pretty nice and a welcome dip into their "spa".

Mound Springs - Bubbler and Blanche Cup; natural springs like Coward Springs, but in all their natural glory and no $1 entry fee.

Marree - Home of Tom Kruse's Leyland Badger truck (now rusting away in front of the hotel).

Meteor - I saw one of the largest shooting stars I have ever seen in the night sky when camping at Old Woman Creek.  I will never forget it.  It was huge and clear, with a long tail, albeit very quick.  It's only the glow of the atmosphere that we are seeing by the way, not the actual meteor!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Streaky Bay (Eyre Peninsula) and up into South Australia's Desert Country

Em and I had already decided to travel the Oodnadatta Track and this is how we got to the start of it.  The "Oodna" is a personal journey for us both as we have been all the way to the start of it before, when we came up into Central Australia on holiday over two years ago in our Subaru.  This was basically the wrong car to be doing the track in, but the track at the time was a gravel surface and quite rough in places - the fact that 4 other cars had been recovered from the same stretch where we broke down in two weeks previous to our last attempt was testament to this.  I even got to see one of the wrecks of a car and caravan that had rolled over when I was at the mechanics in June 2006 and it was not a pretty sight - they had to cut the front windscreen out to get the woman driver out.  And I don't mean to scare anyone here, but people have also died in this type of terrain, not specifically on the Oodnadatta Track (the locals say because there is water at strategic intervals), but certainly on the Birdsville Track (where we would like to go after finishing the Oodnadatta - Marree leg - but will play it by ear as we may have had enough by then).  A family of 5 ran out of petrol, then all perished as they didnt have enough water.  Its probably a bit busier now as this was over 10 years ago, but all the same....and we are prepared - dont worry!  And also a Swiss tourist died near Lake Eyre, but I don't know the details.  So anyway...

We spent two nights in Streaky Bay.  Travelled via Ceduna where there was an oyster fest, and a power cut right when we were trying to dry our laundry!  Streaky was a sleepy little fishing town.  Pretty coastline.  Quiet beachside camping in a caravan park as we had been bush for a few days.  Nice pub, cheap porterhouse ($12.50) for me and good (Nannagui) fish & chips for Em.  Interesting 1950's pictures of Great White's being caught and winched up onto the jetty.  I tried a little fishing off the jetty, got a few little bites then a big one that took my bait and hook!  (Probably not a Great White, but you never know).  And sorry Damo if you are reading this, but we didn't go to Port Lincoln (a tuna fishing town on the Southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula) because of the weather forecast, and you weren't there being the main reason of course!

Travelled North through Lake Gairdner NP (rather than Googs Track which is apparently 80% sand dunes) which was pretty, salt lake country and a dirt track all the way until it joined the Stuart Highway north of Glendambo roadhouse.  It was an uneventful drive but cut out about 600kms of going to Port Augusta (where we had already been on our road trip up here 2 years ago), it is an ugly port town at the start of the Stuart Highway a few hundred kms above Adelaide.

We camped out one night by the side of the road on the Stuart Highway, the flies were terrible in the morning so a quick packup was called for and we then made the drive to Coober Pedy - a town we had been to before and we love for its quirkiness.  People live underground here as it gets so hot.  There is an underground church, hotels, etc.  Also Mad Max and Pitch Black were filmed here amongst other post-apocolyptic films.  It felt a little bit more commercial and touristy this time around, maybe because it wasn't such a culture shock to us as we have seen so many other quirky Australian towns (especially with Aboriginal people "loitering" as they appear to be doing and which isn't common in the major capitals). 


We took a drive out to the Moon Plain and the Breakaways (a small range of sand hills with pretty colourings) for sentimental value, as we went there before and had a glass of wine whilst watching sunset.  It is very desolate, but pretty all the same.  This is the Moon Plain with the dog/vermin proof fence running alongside it.  The dog proof fence is the longest fence in the world apparently and runs right through SA:


Then from Coober it was 250kms North to Marla, which is where we spent 4 marooned days waiting to see if the Subaru could be fixed last time we were here!  We relived the Marla experience by camping at the back of the roadhouse and going to the pub for a parmi and chips (Em had a giant burger 'with the lot' which she finished!).  A good night with some real characters in the roadhouse bar, giant Ecubra's and all.

And now its Thursday 9th October on a cold, clear outback morning and we are ready to hit the Oodnadatta Track - first stop Pink Roadhouse.

Saturday, 4 October 2008


This is incorrect Latin for "no trees".  And it is not only grammatically incorrect, but factually as well as there are some trees - enough for us to have had some really good fires actually.  I got to use my new bow saw for the first time and cutting off some dead wood as thick as my arm makes for great hot coals; we dont want to get in the tent at night as it is too nice sat around the fire.  I am writing this at the end of our Nullabor road trip, about 100kms outside of Ceduna (an Aboriginal word for "place of rest") after driving roughly 1200kms in 3 days/2 nights.  It was fun and something I was looking forward to, although I knew it would not be as adventurous as the Gibb River Road or Cape York because it is a) the main road East-West and has been sealed for some decades now, but it was fun nonetheless.

After joining the Nullabor road (Eyre Highway) at Balladonia we drove about 50kms and made camp at the first stop in our "Camps 4" book (our invaluable camp ground atlas) on this Western end of the Nullabor, an camp area called "42k Pegs" for some reason.  We had no fire here as there wasn't much wood around, we also had to push past some annoying grey nomads who had parked their massive caravan and then their camp chairs across a pathway to the back of the camp area where we were aiming for and that had much more privacy (something that doesnt matter when you are in a caravan, but when you live in a tent you appreciate not having to worry about who is looking for certain activities!).  The weather was a bit iffy, slightly cold too, so we watched "Indiana Jones - The Last Crusade" on the laptop.  Most enjoyable.


The next day we hammered it for around 500kms on tarmac all the way.  It was...well...boring, but enjoyable as it is the Nullabor!  At some stages we had cruise control on and you could put your feet up on the dash - driver and passenger that is.  This is the straightest stretch of road in Australia and possibly the world at 90 miles (or 146.6kms) so there isnt much to worry about in terms of cornering. 


And Em reckoned if you can't overtake someone here then you are in trouble.  Camp that night was at a top spot way back from the road (we could barely hear the road trains), lots of wood for an roaring fire, and we could hear the sound of the Great Australian Bight crashing in at the beach and dunes 80 metres below us.  Em cracked open a bottle of wine (we've been drinking cask wine, so this was a bit of a treat!) and we drank a bit much.  It was a bit cold overnight and in the morning, but we hung around and made another top fire for a few cups of tea in the morning before starting off again...


The next leg of the journey we decided to head inland a bit away from the coast and I am glad we did as it broke up the boredom of the tarmac; we drove 16kms North and went in search of some caves.  The Nullabor supposedly has the "longest" cave system in the world beneath it and we we intent on finding an entrance to at least one of these caves, which after Em mistakenly spotted some wombat holes, we eventually found.  Pretty impressive they were too, but not being "speliologists" we just took some photos and threw some stones down to listen to how deep they were.  Deep.  We then carried on East along the Old Eyre Highway which is gravel road and a bit of a change from the new highway where we saw one mangy old fox in the morning - we saw two dingoes, a feral rottweiler (short tailed and black) type dog, four camels, a brown snake, numerous lizards, lots of ruin and abandoned buildings/water tanks and a grave!  None of the historic stuff was marked on the map or had plaques to tell you what it was which was a shame as it is National Park, it's just nobody cares about it as everybody is driving on the other road and looking at the sea I guess.  Anyway we made it another 500kms today, after the dirt road, to a camp area called Cohens, which is a bit closer to the road than we'd like, but we have had a top fire and a few beers and are now keeping warm in the tent under the clear outback sky.  I am pretty sure there is a planet visible above the moon tonight, it's reddish/orange and might be Mars, Jupiter or Saturn but I cant be sure!  Also the Milky Way is clearly visible.  I love these outback skies where you can clearly see everything you are supposed to be able to see at night...




Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Forests of South West WA and onto the Nullabor Plain

The weather has been really crap the whole time since we have been in South WA, which is a shame as it is a stunning area - rugged coastline, huge trees in ancient Karri forests, quaint towns - but when it's raining me and Em are not that good at staying put somewhere, setting up or packing up camp or getting out of the car even!

This being the case, we've made it to the Nullabor Plain (in fact its the Southern edge of the great Nullabor Plain in Central South West Australia ) aka the Eyre Highway.  This is the road that runs West to East across the bottom of Australia between Perth and Adelaide.  It's 2700kms in length (we are joining it 100kms East of Norseman at Balladonia though) which is the equivalent of London to Moscow according to our Lonely Planet book.  It's been a good day of driving and we've just watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on the laptop.  It's pretty cold outside so we have thermals and hats on.  And we are on our way to South Australia and looking forward to that part of our trip (conquering the Oodnadatta Track - which is where I killed my Subaru) and then onwards back to Melbourne through North Victoria - hopefully through Ned Kelly country as I am just about to finish the book "Ned Kelly - A Short Life" by Ian Jones (borrowed from Daz - thanks mate, it was a great read, but he was still a criminal!) so it would be good to put it all in place in towns like Glenrowan, Benalla, Wangaratta and Beechworth (some of which we'd been to before, but just didn't know that much about Ned).

And back in time slightly to the drive after we left Leeuwin Naturaliste NP; we have seen plenty of Karri tree forests and in particular one 60 metre giant which used to be used as a spotting tower for bush fires.  Named the Gloucester Tree (not sure why) we didn't climb it, our excuse was it was pissing down with rain and so 1) there was no risk of fires and 2) it was downright slippery and dangerous.  Apparently only 1 in 4 visitor climbs it (but 3 in 4 backpackers do it, they are young and cool though).  The forests were great, but very wet and dank, so we didn't spend much time camping there.  Just a few lookouts and quick stops, Beedlup Falls, a nice homemade pie and custard & apple slice in Pemberton, etc. etc.


One of the best NP camp areas we have been recommended so far - due to two facts that I will tell you about in a minute - was by the friendly ranger at Conto Campground in Leeuwin Naturaliste NP.  He told us to head to Banksia Camp in D'Entrecasteaux (or Walpole as they seemed to overlap) National Park on the coast.  It was 4wd access only as it was a bit sandy, and we got there about 4pm to find we were the only people there, which was a bonus - especially when you know the access track is rough, so you have to be determined to get there, and no caravans or Wicked vans can get in even if they wanted to.  Our first pleasant surprise was that the campground has a hut.  Not just an old crappy, wet, dark, graffitied hut, but a brand spanking new large (sleeps 12) hut with a sink, bunks, hessian sack curtains for doors (for airflow!?) with no graffiti, even some old photos around the place.  We did a quick insect and anything gross check and setup camp in the hut all to ourselves.  This was a special treat sleeping in 3 walls as it was so windy and pissed down all night!  So breakfast would not have been fun in the tent, instead we had a huge kitchen area to prepare it in out of the rain and the tent stayed in its bag.  We both slept surprisingly well.


And the second pleasant surprise was the evening before, when we arrived we decided to take a walk down to the beach, when I spotted what I thought was a lone surfer - quite a way out in some pretty rough surf and near rocks.  When I did a double take and Em arrived down the hill he had gone.  So we both looked and saw the shapes of surfboards coming out of the water at strange angles, and slowly realised we were watching two whales quite close in to the shore!  This is the first time we have ever seen a whale and what a treat it was.  We watched them on a deserted beach for about an hour until sunset.  There was a large one and a medium sized one, they stayed close in (just behind the breaking waves) just slowly moving around.  We think they were Southern Right whales sheltering in the bay on their way North from the Antarctic (or so we read about this is what they are doing at this time of year!).  So yeah, dead chuffed! 


And today we woke up at a beach camp area called Munglinup (Em had a cold shower last night out of desperation, very brave of her I must say) about 100kms West of Esperance (a lot of names on this coast are from the French explorers, including D'Entrecasteaux, Esperance, Cap Aride, etc.), popped into Esperance for some road advice as we wanted to drive through Cape Arid National Park to get to the Nullabor, and also some bread & milk and diesel.  Then in the driving rain, again, set off East of Esperance and drove North up the dirt road from Condligup(?) to Balladonia on the Nullabor.  This was a much more interesting way to go than the normal sealed route via Norseman...only because I get bored driving on 2000kms of tarmac so to drive through the occasional puddle or see a ruined homestead is a lot more fun than waving at truckers all day!  And here we are camped up on our way to the outback and the heat and the dust and the flies...again!  Can't wait (seriously!).