Crossing the Nullarbor

The road stretched into the distance as far as the eye could see. It was arrow straight with only low scrub on either side. It was empty and desolate and we were miles from anywhere. We were on 90 mile straight in the Nullarbor desert, the longest straight road in Australia.        The Nullarbor desert stretches across the bottom of Western and South Australia. It is over 1200kms between towns and even then the towns at either end are not that big. Norseman, where we started is less than 1000 people but it made for a handy place to stock up. Even thought the road is straight and pretty featureless you need to still pay attention. Massive road trains ply this route, up 36 metres in length. They are a lot bigger than us and they also go quite a bit faster so you need to give them plenty of room.        On the long drive it takes some ingenuity to fill the time. One is to enjoy the colourful road signs along the way. Whilst we did not see much live wildlife we did see a lot of roadkill along the side of the road. A good reason not to drive at night.        Every so often there is a roadhouse that provide weary travellers with food, accommodation and expensive fuel. Fortunately we did not need any of these but the kids enjoyed a welcome ice cream break whilst we looked at the slightly strange museums each of them seemed to have. One of them had a piece of Skylab from when it fell to earth nearby and another was at the site of a now ruined former telegraph station. Not exactly major sightseeing sights but there was not much around.       All along the way were rest points where you could camp for the night. If you followed the tracks back from the road you could get well away from it. On our first night, the girls enjoyed some scooter exercise wearing the now essential fly hats we had purchased back in Norseman.    By the end of the second day the road was travelling along the Great Australian Bight and close to the cliffs overlooking the Southern Ocean. So we followed a track away from the road and camped near to the cliff edge from where we got a great view of the ocean crashing below. We had also just crossed the border from Western Australia to South Australia. There is a ban on bringing fruit between the two states but showing how remote we were the nearest quarantine station was still another 500kms away.       As we came to the end of our third day the desert started to give way to wheat fields and we navigated our way away from the main road down a dirt track to camp in the sand dunes by the sea. The drive down was spectacular with lagoons coloured pink from bacteria with towering sand dunes behind them. The beach we were heading to, Cactus beach, is a famed surfers beach and whilst it is miles from anywhere there were still a dedicated group of surfers camping out. Mind you it was pretty cold when we were there so none of them were in the water. We were still able though to enjoy a lovely sunset.          Finally we arrived in the town at the end of the Nullarbor, Ceduna. This was a real metropolis of more than 3,000 people. More importantly it is famous for its oyster beds just near town so we treated ourselves to some wonderful fish and chips and the most gorgeous fresh oysters.    From Ceduna we headed south down the Eyre Peninsula. We found a beach where we were allowed to park right on the beach for the night. Again it was still quite cold from the wind but when the tide went out the girls could not resist going into the shallow pools to play.    We continued south to the bottom of the peninsular to camp and rest for a few days in Coffin Bay National Park. Here we met a lovely Australian family who had been travelling for a few months. The girls enjoyed having some friends to play with and it was nice not to drive for a change. Instead we enjoyed a lovely walk and a chance to relax. One of the highlights of the park was the local kangaroos. They were not afraid of us and would come really close to us in the evening. If you sat still they would come within a couple of metres of you.            

White Sands and Turquoise Beaches

Apologies to all our readers in the Northern Hemisphere, who are having a grey start to winter, but this week we've been relishing the start of summer here.  We've seen lots of beaches on this trip but the ones we've been on this last week in Southern Western Australia, surely must be contenders for the most beautiful. The sand has been pure white, like sugar crystals and the sea, azure blue. Being the Southern Ocean, it hasn't been the warmest of waters but just splashing in the wave froth in the sunshine has been enough.    We picked up my sister Clare in Albany, she is has been in Perth visiting her boyfriend and had flown down to travel with us for a few days. The wind was still blowing as we pulled up to the caravan park on Middleton Beach, we haven't stayed anywhere like that since we arrived in Oz but it suited us to be in town. We decided it was a useful place to get things done but we much preferred the remote bush camps we've been in so far. However the undercover spa (jacuzzi) was a great place to stay out of the wind and catch up. Steve left us to chat while he checked out the new Anzac museum. Albany was the mustering point for many of the soldiers before they went off to Europe during the First World War, where so many of them lost their lives. Steve said the museum was excellent, very interactive as you were given the name and details of a real soldier to follow their progress throughout the conflict.    The beach had flocks of my favourite Australian birds: the Galah, a pink and grey cockatoo, making a racket on the beach. Fish and chips in a pub on the beach, finished off a lovely day.       As we were leaving Albany, a heavily tattooed man swung into the petrol station in front of the truck and asked if he could take a photo. "Sure," I replied. We are used to people taking photos of the truck (after all, he is so handsome). He then explained it was the compass detail on the side he really wanted, so he could get a tattoo of it on each shoulder. Hmmm...a new one of us. We love Trucky but not quite that much! I hope the tattoo artist notices the typo on the compass (Can you spot it below?) before he permanently inks it on his body.     Fitzgerald National Park is a unique biosphere, with many specialised plants but what entranced us was the perfectly white sandy beach with turquoise water. During the winter months whales calve in the bay and can be easily be seen from land. The attractive but basic campsite was tucked behind the dunes in the bush. We hiked along the coast in the bush before returning to camp by the beach. It was stunning but in the bush we had to do something to protect ourselves from the thousands of flies, we ended up looking like a bunch of bandits. I had laughed at my mum when she offered me her fly net from her previous trip to Australia, saying I'd never wear something so ridiculous. How wrong was I? I'm definitely buying some in the next town. It isn't that these flies were biting, just truly irritating because there are so many of them and they get up your nose and in your eyes. The walk along the amazing beach back was far better. We just meandered along, the girls getting more fantastic stories from Clare at the back, while Steve and I strode ahead enjoying walking at an adult pace for a change.                            We had planned to continue making our way east towards Esperance but had been warned that there were bush fires in the area. They had been so serious that 4 people had lost their lives and several parks and roads were closed. So instead we headed north to the little town of Hyden, which has a rock formation known as Wave Rock. When we arrived in the early afternoon, it was hot so we decided to check out the 4 other quirky little attractions at the rock. It turned out to be a huge, huge hit for the girls. While Clare took Alisha to spend ages poring over the lace and past-times museums - she was in historical heaven. Lucy and I spent most of our time in the wildlife park checking out all the species we are hoping to see properly out in the bush. Everyone was happy. The temperature was perfect at dusk to pretend to surf on the "wave" and to climb up above it.         The following day we said a sad goodbye to Clare as Noel, her boyfriend, picked her up. They were heading slowly back to Perth, checking out some of the amazing parks on the way back. While we headed East towards the Nullarbor. We took the direct route along the unsealed highway to the town at Norseman, the start of the Nullarbor. We saw only a handful of cars and trucks all day. Our lunch spot was at a beautiful rock formation called the Breakaway. We pulled up early for the day at another rock formation, this time McDermid's Rock, where there was a lovely free camp spot at the foot of the rock.           

Wine in the Woods

Just over three years ago, I failed my HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) test for the last time. "Sod it" I told Steve "You're just going to have to do all the driving. You love driving anyway and you hate being driven by me." I was sad but philosophical: it just wasn't meant to be..... Ha, ha, ha! Now I know the karmic reason why, two words: Designated Driver or as the Aussie's affectionately call them the "Skipper" (as in lots of signs outside vineyards saying "Who's the Skipper?") - Steve must have done something absolutely terrible in a previous life.  We were in Margaret River, 4 hours south of Perth, famous for its excellent Chardonnays, Shiraz, and so on. It was our first stop back on the road and we were keen to experience the best that Australia has to offer, in this case in it's liquid form. The vineyards are scattered throughout the area, so it was up to Steve to convey us around for a day of quaffing. I'm not that terrible a wife, I did let him have the tiny dregs in the glass. Just to check he was happy with what we were going to buy. The wineries were well set up with beautiful grounds, playgrounds, cafes and free tastings. A happy day was had by all, especially me. When we'd fully stocked our wine cellar (actually, it's a cardboard box), we headed to an artisan brewery to check out their offerings. All delicious apart from the ale that tasted of bacon, it did promise in its very flowery tasting notes "hints of cured meat".             We finished the day at the local golf course after a tip off, not to play golf but to see kangaroos. Lucy had spotted a glimpse of a kangaroo in the bushes but was dying to see them closer up, so we asked around. She was transfixed watching them lolling on the immaculate grass. It bought up lots of questions " Do they ever get hit by golf balls?"; "Who has right of way on the course?"; and Alisha's classic: "What happens if a ball lands in the kangaroo's pouch?"     We camped in the very pretty Leewin National Park, just a 20 minute steep hike down to an absolutely gorgeous white sand, surf beach. According to the girl's book, Australia has 7000 beaches. If the other 6999 are anything like Conto beach, we are in for an absolute treat! Although Steve would prefer it if there were less horse flies. While trying to post the last blog up on the hill trying to get better reception he got bitten alive. Poor thing his legs are now covered with over a hundred red welts, Lucy tried to count them but got bored when she reached a hundred.      Our way south meandered through national park after national park, full of huge Karri trees. These giant eucalyptus trees get up to 90m tall and are stunning with silvery bark. That night we camped at another bush camp in a national park, another stunning location for just a few dollars. They are very basic, with just a long drop toilet, but so quiet and in a beautiful forest. The next day we came across two Karri trees that had been used as bushfire lookouts and had metal pins winding round the trunk up to their dizzyingly high tops. As tempting as the views might be at the top, we decided to opt out of the scary climb up although Lucy was keen to go up.             We did take the views in the following day during a tree top walk in a red tingle tree forest (what a great tree name). The metal walkway was suspended high up in the tree's canopies. It swayed gently in the breeze, while we admired the views over the forest. Back on the forest floor we marvelled at their thick buttressed trunks, many with splits and hollows big enough to walk through. A famous old red tingle used to have a hole wide enough to park a car in.       At Parry Beach, we were dismayed to find the pretty little basic campsite had a height restriction. "Don't worry," said the friendly caretaker "you can sleep in the overflow". Perfect and just metres from a white sandy beach with perfectly blue water. We waded out to an exposed rock where the girls imagined themselves rulers of all they surveyed, while Steve and I lounged in the sun.    We are slowly getting back into the swing of things back in the truck too, after nearly a month of being out of it. The girls are getting into their usual 8-10 morning school routine and we are trying to get them to sleep at a reasonable time, so we get some down time in the evening.  We'd been told that the beaches of Green Pools and Elephant Rocks were stunning. We were not disappointed with perfectly turquoise water with a shallow sandy bottoms, protected from the waves by big rocks. After a morning hike we returned to the truck for lunch, and went down to the beach for a swim. Although the water was perfect the wind had got up,so it was now blowing a gale on the beach, even though the sun was still blazing. We tucked ourselves away behind some rocks,on the almost by now deserted beach, for a swim and a play.          That night we parked up in another gorgeous free beach campsite, made by the local council. As Steve enjoyed his well deserved glass of Shiraz, we decided that, we think we are going to enjoy Australia.