2007 - Australia

 

Monday 5th February

We left “Timbers” shortly after 7.00 a.m., squashed and crammed into Keren’s long-suffering little car.  She was very kindly driving us to LHR for our 11.00 a.m. flight and was also taking many of her belongings from our house to her new room in Twickenham.  We had checked in on-line, which reduced the amount of time we had to arrive before take off to 75 minutes.  Even so, there was mild and silent panic as we became snarled up in a traffic jam on the motorway near Basingstoke.  Would we arrive in time?  Would we have to wait for another flight?

All was well and we were at the airport before 9.30 a.m. and finally took off approximately on time.  We were flying Singapore Airlines as B.A. had threatened to strike and staff tickets for a while looked as though they would be embargoed.  We were also loath to trust ourselves to the vagaries of “Standby” because of the need to be certain to arrive in L.A. for Nath and Amalia’s wedding.  We had therefore opted for a round the world ticket from a rival airline.

 

Tuesday 6th February

With just a brief 2 hour stop at Singapore, we arrived at Perth at 3.45 p.m. their time.  We had never come all the way without stopping before, but we didn’t find ourselves too shattered.  We caught our free shuttle bus to the Grand Chancellor hotel and the bus driver gave us loads of useful information when he heard we intended to cross the Nullarbor.  He also showed us where the Hertz Rental Offices were – just round the corner from our hotel; as we had hoped!

We settled our things into our room and rang the Yins, arranging to meet up with them after we had had our dinner (also included in our internet deal).  Penny and Pete duly arrived at around 8.45 p.m. and we spent just over an hour chatting with them and catching up on the year that had passed since we stayed at their home last year.  Then, at around 10.00 p.m., we collapsed gratefully into bed and enjoyed a fairly good sleep.

 

Wednesday 7th February

After our hotel breakfast (also included in the sum of around £40.00 for the two of us!) we walked around to Hertz to collect our pre-booked car.  It had not yet arrived from the airport where it was being specially prepared for its mammoth journey.  However, after a wait of around half an hour, it was ready for us to drive away.

We first of all collected our belongings from the Grand Chancellor and left them in their left luggage office, with the car also being cared for by them.  We then walked into Perth centre and Adie went to look for books whilst Jill downloaded emails and answered them via the Teltra hotspot at Macdonalds there.  After this we bought various bits of pieces, including some shoes for Jill, and returned to collect our luggage and the car.

We had an abortive drive northwards on the freeway, having mistaken our instructions, but after we corrected this, were on our way to Bunbury where we intended to stay for the night.

We stopped briefly at Busselton and took photos of the particularly long pier.  As it was rather grey and dull with rain in the air, we were not however tempted to walk along it.

We had no accommodation pre-booked so we wanted to organise this before the day was too far spent.  We therefore went to the Bunbury Tourist Information Office and were given details of what was locally available.  We opted for the Lighthouse “Resort” where our motel-type unit enjoyed unbroken views of the sea.  We took things fairly leisurely and during our stay Adrian swam in the pool whilst Jill enjoyed the free 24 hour wireless internet facility.

During the evening, we had a meal at a Chinese restaurant in town.  The single storey buildings with their facades and canopied side walks reminded us of many another small Australian town.  There were innumerable cafes and eating places but little in the way of other shops.

 

Thursday 8th February

We started with a “first” for us – breakfast on the beach!  There were a few other people walking dogs or enjoying some morning exercise.  By 10.00 we were on the road heading for Margaret River.

This settlement was considerably smaller than we had anticipated comprising little holiday accommodation units in wooded surroundings, giving a very attractive feel.  Our own accommodation was in the All Seasons version of this.

After catching up on a little sleep as jet lag had grabbed us, we read for a while before visiting our old favourite, Coles, to provide some basic food for our evening meal and breakfast.

We heard from the children that there was thick snow in England – Zoë’s school was even closed for the day!

 

Friday 9th February

We walked around the attractive grounds of our hotel, hoping to spot some interesting wild life but in reality saw little.  The previous afternoon, Jill had spotted some parakeets.

We drove a few miles to the coast at Prevelly where we had a beach to ourselves most of the time and spent a while just watching the waves and looking along the low bush covered slopes of the surrounding area.

We travelled south through Karri forest, noted for its very tall trees, before arriving at Augusta, the third oldest settlement in Western Australia.  It is noted for Cape Leeuwin where the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean meet.  The land was still low, but had a more rugged appearance and was windswept.  We took photos of the lighthouse there and also the old waterwheel from the 1890s which had become calcified over many years.  We then enjoyed a salad in a local café.

After lunch we went to view the very unassuming memorial to the first landing on local shores.  Then, fittingly, we visited the historical museum with all its memorabilia including photos of the families of the first settlers.  It was well done and very interesting.

We returned to Margaret River just as school was turning out.  There were dozens of buses lined up to take children home to outlying areas.  It was interesting to note that the girls could go to school in shorts – in fact it didn’t seem to matter what length trousers pupils wore as long as they had school regulation t-shirts. 

We made a brief internet stop at the local cyber café and then, after purchasing more food at Coles, we returned to the All Seasons hotel to read, edit photos and generally have some down time.

 

Saturday 10th February

We got up early and left the hotel at around 8.15 a.m. to start our journey to Albany.  This was to take us five hours (450 k) and we shared the driving with Jill taking the wheel for about two hours.  We thought of the children who, although fast asleep for most of our time on the road, were to travel to Calais for the day.  We hoped that the snow had now abated and that they would not have a danger on the roads.

We called in at Margaret River for petrol and the chance to take some photographs, and then travelled onwards almost without stopping.  At Denmark (where the Yins had holidayed last Easter) we paused for another brief photo opportunity and then continued on to the Albany Tourist Office where we gleaned directions to the Best Western Ace Inn and also a map of the Nullarbor.

Jill signed up for 4 hours use of the hotel wireless internet but had considerable difficulty logging on.  We then had a brief snack in our room and left to explore some of the town – which is the oldest in Western Australia.  We saw a replica of the brig Amity and explored its upper deck; the rest being closed.  Then, after a welcome cup of coffee at the Book Shop Café, we sat and read fairly near the sea front.  Jill also made up the diary. 

Later we ate at a café overlooking the seafront.  Adrian had Chicken Snitzel & Jill lentil pate and salad.


Sunday 11th February

We left our hotel room quite early and headed straight for the Tourist Information Office as we were concerned about news of a road destroyed by flooding at Esperance and wanted to check out the implications for our long drive there and our itinerary generally.  Fortunately the road had been re-opened on Australia Day.

Following advice from the Tourist Information lady, we went first to the Princess Royal Fortress which had provided some defence in both Wars and was an American submarine base.  We moved on to Emu Point, which looked out over beautiful bays and islands.  After a leisurely read and then a lunch at the Chinese Restaurant in town, we headed in the opposite direction out to Frenchman’s Bay.  A wind farm has been established on the cliffs nearby and we spent most of the afternoon walking in that area and then reading some more.

Jill found a Telstra hotspot at MacDonalds and dispatched emails to the children, Roger and Lesli and JD – who had sent three photos of her great niece.

 

Monday 12th February

We were up early and on the road before 7.00 a.m. for our five hour journey to Esperance.  With just a brief stop at Ravensthorpe, and sharing the driving, we did indeed reach our destination at around mid-day.

The first settlement after 185 km was simply a roadhouse.  A further 65 km brought us to Ravensthorpe which offered a General Stores and a Post Office.  The Store was in fact quite busy – presumably with local people.

The drive had been mainly through scrubby bush country but also through huge areas of wheat growing where the harvest had been taken some time prior to our journey. 

Following a visit to the Tourist Information Office in Esperance, we selected a site a little out of town where a few cabins were scattered in woodland near Bandy Creek.  A rather attractive lake beside the site had been filled with sand by the floodwaters from the same storm that had destroyed part of the road on our way to Esperance.

The cliffs to the west of Esperance gave wonderful views over turquoise water capped by white waves breaking on brilliantly white sand.  We spent the afternoon reading and admiring the view.  Jill discovered that there was an unprotected wireless network in the vicinity and managed to download and send emails and to access other websites that we needed.

 

Tuesday 13th February

Jill drove us 60 km eastwards to Cape Le Grande National Park, a large area of heathland with granite outcrops.  It borders the sea with low cliffs giving bays filled with beautiful turquoise water and white sand.  The sky was entirely free of cloud.  To avoid the risk of getting burnt, we visited each of the four bays accessible by sealed road but did not stay long. 

We headed back to town for a very enjoyable lunch at the local health/organic café and then Jill purchased a pedometer.  We followed this by a visit to the Museum which was of moderate interest.  We noted a rocking chair very similar to the one we had purchased a few months before. 

Next to the Tourist Information Office a number of old buildings have been re-sited and used as craft shops etc.  Jill bought some iron ore earrings in one.  They generally were not as interesting as others we have seen elsewhere.

We visited Dick Smith’s where Adrian purchased an electronic “Brain Trainer” and we had a useful conversation with the guy who sold it when he gave us tips about crossing the Nullarbor. 

Towards the end of the day, we again visited Twilight Bay where Adrian enjoyed the views and Jill enjoyed the free internet access.

 

Wednesday 14th February

We left the Chalet Village in Esperance at around 7.00 a.m. and drove to Norseman – stopping briefly at a place enroute called Grass Patch which was remarkable for having even less than most outback small towns.

At Norseman, we visited the Tourist Information Office and learned enough about the township of 1000 people to convince us that there was little reason to stay there tomorrow.  Instead we would go straight from Kalgoorlie to the Nullarbor and see how far we reached.  This would save us a day which would be very useful when we get towards Adelaide.

We drove on, sharing the driving, from Norseman to Kalgoorlie – arriving there at lunchtime.  The heat was searing – around 41 degrees according to the weather report on the television.  We fixed accommodation in another chalet village in Boulder, on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie and then went into the main town where we had lunch, with many others, in a large eating establishment called Domes.

We walked up and down the Kalgoorlie streets admiring the impressive buildings that emanated from gold rush times in the late 19th century.  We then drove out to the Super Pit and again braved the intense heat to look from a vantage point provided and to take photographs. The pit is an immense open cast gold mine which is up to 500 metres deep.  The dumper trucks are huge and cost over AUD $4m each. 

After this, we went into Boulder itself, the nearby and almost joined “overspill” town before going to Macdonalds and downloading our emails via the Telstra hotspot there.  As it was so unbearably hot, we returned to our chalet where Adrian had a rest and Jill replied to all the emails – Adie dictating one in response to Nath’s query regarding his car.

We then returned to Kalgoorlie to look for an open supermarket – eventually finding one, surprisingly, at Boulder.  Jill sent the seven emails she had typed at Macdonalds and checked our bank account on line.  An fairly early night ensured that we would be up as soon as possible the next day to start our crossing of the Nullarbor.

 

Thursday 15th February

We got off to a very early start (6.15) but our attempt to find the road to Coolgardie failed and we had to retrace our steps for about five miles. 

A short stop in Norseman enabled us to have a drink before setting off across the Nullarbor.  Within a short distance, we encountered an eagle in the middle of the road – feeding on the carcass of a kangaroo.  We came to a complete halt and watched it but it quickly flew away.

The early miles were through substantially wooded land and included a number of modest hills and bends.  We stopped at Balladonia, a small road station, after 185 km.  Jill drove from Balladonia to Caiguna which included Australia’s longest straight road – “the 90 mile Straight”.  Two hours after Balladonia, we stopped at Caiguna for lunch.  The man behind the counter was extremely friendly and even took our photo as we left.  Food has become a little bit of a problem with a very limited range of meals available and most of that being burgers or fish and chips etc.  We did have a very good salad in Esperance but since then it has really been fast food.

We were thinking of stopping for the night at one of the road houses but in the end stopped once more for petrol and headed for Eucla which we believed to be a small town.  It was in fact really just another road house with a small motel and campsite.  We had covered 570 miles in a single day.  The traffic had initially been fairly constant with a vehicle or two every minute, but towards the end we calculated that there were probably eight vehicles an hour coming in the other direction.

We had a short walk in the evening to the edge of the limestone plateau and looked down over the coastal plain to the sea, perhaps a mile away.  We also visited the small museum at Eucla.   It had been a somewhat hard slog but extremely interesting.

 

Friday 16th February

Before starting on the road again, we went down to the coast at Eucla to see the old Telegraph Station (1890s) which had now been almost totally engulfed by a sand dune.

Within 18 km we reached the border with South Australia and continued through to ????

The journey as a whole to Ceduna was 290 km.  Again, the road was very straight and largely flat although there were sections of hills and bends.  The vegetation changed periodically to scrub and to modest trees.  It was only at Nullarbor that we realised we had not seen the typical “no tree” scenery until that point.  It was certainly bleak, particularly at the road station where the sand was blowing and the sun beating down.

At last we made it to Ceduna at about 3.00 p.m.  After a short stay at the Visitor Centre (where we collected our certificate and used the internet) we decided to move on to Streaky Bay – Ceduna being very small and seeming not to offer a lot.

The road to Streaky Bay was a B road but still very straight and fast with virtually no other traffic.  Streaky Bay turned out to be pretty small but we found an adequate tourist accommodation site where we booked a cabin.  We also found an excellent restaurant which provided one of the best meals so far as well as a view out over the ocean.

We concluded our day with a short walk on the beach and were able to see the night sky unpolluted by city lights.                                                                                                                                       

 

Saturday 17th February

The 300 km drive to Port Lincoln was largely along the very straight roads to which we have become accustomed.  There were some occasions when we could glimpse the sea .  We even stopped at Elliston which looked from the map as though it were a significant settlement.  It turned out to have a shop and some petrol but little else.  The coast was fairly flat and with outlying islands and wide bays.

We also passed a number of very large salt lakes with amazing light green and turquoise colouring and large puffs of salt looking like surf.

We noticed that there was a fair amount of dead fallen timber but very little in the way of trees.  There were a few bushes.  We later found out that there had been a massive bush fire in 2005 and we can only imagine that a large part of the Eyre Peninsula was affected.

For many miles there was no sign of agriculture or of habitation.  It seemed as remote as much of the country that we have travelled through recently.

We stopped briefly at Coffin Bay named after Isaac Coffin – a naval officer friend of Matthew Flinders.

Port Lincoln is an attractive small town (described as a city) with a population of around 15,000.  Most of the shops are on the sea front as is a massive white structure whose function is indeterminable.  We found a very nice apartment from the Tourist Information Office.  It had been well equipped and looked out over the bay.  However, the noisy local youth kept us awake through much of the night.  We found out the next day that this was probably due to a nearby nightclub.

 

Sunday 18th February

We had a very leisurely start to the day and spent the latter part of the morning visiting an old mill nearby our apartment.  This had been started in the 1840s by the Bishop family but never completed.  It was like the base of a windmill, made of the local pink stone and having no top.  In recent years an external iron staircase had been constructed so that we were able to climb to the top and look out over the bay.  We also went to Pioneer Park – land donated by the same family.

In the afternoon, we visited two settlers’ cottages which had been established as museums.  In each of these we enjoyed lengthy conversations with the volunteer staff.  It seems that they do not get many visitors from England.

We later went out along the coast to the Marina and also to Billy Light’s Point where we saw several pelicans.  We then went to phone Zoë and left a message for Nathan.

The day was much cooler – being around 25, compared with the previous day’s 44 degrees.

Port Lincoln is a remote, pleasant little town which is growing apace – particularly in the light of the construction of an enormous new hotel on the seafront.  It must be strange to be so far from other settlements.

 

Monday 19th February

Another very hot day as we travelled 300 km north to Port Augusta.  Like the west coast, the east proved sparsely populated, with only a very few settlements plus the iron exporting port of Whyalla.

We arrived at Port Augusta at around 1.30 p.m. and easily located a museum that we wanted to visit: the Wadlata Outback Interpretive Centre.  This attempted a narrative of a geological background to the area and the social side of its settlement.  It was reasonably interesting and again made us realise the courage and determination of the early settlers.

The town of Port Augusta itself is small and has a number of the single storey veranda type stores that date from the early part of the twentieth century and are such a feature of small town rural Australia.  We rang Keri at work at the beginning of her day – she had gone in early especially.

The intensely hot day ended with a severe thunderstorm and torrential rain.

 

Tuesday 20th February

We had a leisurely start and called into Macdonalds in Port Augusta to use the wireless hot spot for emails.  We left at about 10.00 and took a road up into the Flinders ranges.  Almost immediately this was different.  The road was twisting and there were many trees as we climbed up into the hills.  However, once up to a certain level, we were on a plain with a ring of low hill tops around us.  The plain seemed very arid and supported very little growth.  There was the odd derelict stone building.  We felt that we were experiencing what we had learned about the previous day at the Outback Centre.  Here was an area where we believe agriculture had failed and people had vacated the land.

We visited a trio of settlements that bore this out.  Quorn had a number of quite elaborate (for the Outback) buildings and had clearly seen more prosperous times.  There were a couple of the traditional Australian hotels with verandas and a pretty street of shops – it had been used in about 8 films over the years.   An ornate railway building confirmed that once upon a time this settlement was thriving and benefited from the railway.  Apparently the line to the north was then moved further westward and Quorn and Hawker declined. In Hawker there were a few shops but many more seemed to have closed.  Cradock is now just a hotel and two churches plus the old Police House.  All of these at around 400 metres above sea level on barren hills where a few sheep and cows graze extremely sparse vegetation. 

We moved on to the old copper mining settlement of Burra.  This is true picture book stuff with a number of shops and houses dating from the late 19th and early 20th century and with little later building intruding.  The mining was underground originally but became opencast as was worked intensively in the 1980s before being exhausted.  As twilight came, we visited the mining areas (and saw a kangaroo out enjoying the cooler evening temperatures) before returning to our miner’s cottage in the centre of the town.  It is one of a square of perhaps 40 stone-built, four roomed houses – ours being number 18.

As we write this, we are again experiencing thunder and lightning as we did last night.  When we travelled from Hawker to-day we saw many evidences of how storms like these produce flash flooding through the normally dry water courses, many of which cross the road.  There was considerable sand and debris across some of the flood ways.  In one case, substantial road works were being carried out as the road had been totally washed away.

 

Wednesday 21st February

First thing, we enjoyed a very informative “Living Museum” of a miner’s cottage – similar to that in which we had stayed.  The lady showed us items of household use, clothing etc. and generally explained life in the 1840s.  The previous night we had seen from a slight distance some dugouts in the river bank where some less fortunate miners had lived.

We headed out from Burra on a tour of a number of local towns, starting with Clare.  This was the centre of the wine growing area and whilst attractive had no particular historic interest for us.

We continued to Mintaro which, by contrast was virtually all old buildings dating back to when the town had prospered as a copper mining area.  The buildings were almost all of blue stone.  We then went to Auburn where we purchased a postcard for Lynn and then had lunch in the hotel.  On leaving Auburn, we passed through a wine growing area before moving on to Eudunda – a German Lutheran settlement.  This also had a number of historic buildings but many of the shops were empty and the area seemed to lack much charm.

We therefore headed on to Kapunda but did not stop there as it seemed quite busy and to have no particular attraction, although we did pass an eight metre high statue of a miner which is apparently a land mark.

Gawler was listed as one of the towns to visit but being at the intersection of probably seven or eight roads, it was extremely busy so once more we carried on.  By this time we decided we would head for the coast and work down until we found somewhere nice to stay.  In practice, there was no holiday accommodation until the Port Adelaide area and we ended up in a Big Four site near Glenelg where we had a very attractive two bedroomed bungalow.  We walked along the beach path for a while but sand was blowing into our faces so instead we went into Glenelg in the car and spent time in town.

Thursday 22nd  February

We spent the day in Glenelg preparing for our South Pacific trip both from a book and the internet.  We also made calls to the U.K. – to Nath, to Lynn and to Joan.  We moved accommodation to the Buffalo Motel near a replica ship of that name dating from the 1840s.

 

 

Friday 23rd February

We travelled to the airport early in the day and spent the time before the flight to Auckland working on the Internet courtesy of Adelaide Airport’s free hotspot.