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Across the Nullarbor and back – October 2015 – Part 1

Bruce and I drove to Fremantle to visit Peter and Kerrie and the family. The trip Sydney-Tumut-Fremantle-Tumut-Sydney was 10,500 km in all. I enjoyed it immensely, but I will probably fly next time – unless we have two months (or two years) instead of just two weeks to do it!

Nullarbor Net was a great source of maps and basic information before we left.

Click on the link for each day to see the photos.

Part 1 – Getting there:

Getting there

Saturday, 17 Oct 2015: Sydney to Tumut (~415 km)

Nothing much to report. After much fiddling around with backing up my computer, I left home around 2.30pm. In an incredible coincidence, Matt (who lives in Perth but did not know I was going there) phoned just as I got on the motorway south. After stopping at the Dog on the Tuckerbox (some heavy rain), I arrived in Tumut around 7.30. The rain had stopped, but there were kangaroos on Gocup Road.

Sunday, 18 Oct 2015: Tumut to Port Germein (~1,150 km)

2015-10-18 Sunday - Tumut to Port Germein

A great early morning view from Bruce’s house over a very misty Tumut. We left around 6.15am, with intermittent fog all the way to Wagga. It cleared to a fine, sunny day with a top around 29 deg.

Hit a galah near Narranderra. Stopped for morning tea of bread, cheese and vegemite in a rest area just past Hay. We also ate oranges, as we were headed towards quarantine inspections. The country around Hay was very flat and treeless, with emus as we neared Balranald.

Along the Murray was often rather grim looking, with dead trees and dark undergrowth. But the many-trunked gums had very lush, healthy top growth.

Bruce had booked us in to Bosuns at Port Germein and we arrived around 6.15. We were met by Margaret and shown around the spacious, two-bedroom cottage.

After settling in, we drove the short distance to the one pub to check out meal times. We then walked around the foreshore and halfway along the 1.5km pier before returning to the pub for dinner. Food was good pub food – pork schnitzel for Bruce, fish and chips for me. The chips and salad bar were excellent.

Monday, 19 Oct 2015: Port Germein to Port Lincoln (~450 km)

2015-10-19 Monday - Port Germein to Port Lincoln

A lazy start today – including watching Hayne play NFL for the SF49ers. We set off around 9.30 and headed up to Port Augusta. The terrain seemed very strange; I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. To the east, the Flinders Ranges were rather graceful looking, and to the west was Spencer Gulf. In between it was absolutely flat, salt-bushy sort of land. As we approached Port Augusta it was very arid looking … and flat.

Although it wasn’t in the original plan, after Port Augusta we headed south, down the east coast of the Eyre Peninsula to Whyalla. Despite the red dust, Whyalla was very attractive. We had lunch at Hummock Hill lookout, with great views of OneSteel on one side, and the very pretty beach on the other. We ate more cheese and vegemite sandwiches, made with bread left for us at the Port Germein cottage. Whyalla high school is a very imposing building built by BHP in the 1940s. It looks across parkland to the foreshore and the gulf beyond.

It rained lightly all the way from south of Whyalla to just before Port Lincoln. We continued south to Cowell along more very flat, scrubby land with low, multi-trunked gums and salt bushy type vegetation.

Cowell is a pretty village with some nice stone houses. We stopped to buy jade bracelets for Isabella and Kathryn at the Cowell Jade Motel – Cowell has the largest deposits of nephrite jade in the world.

Further south, we drove off the main road to see Arno Bay, Port Neill, and Tumby Bay. All are fish villages with piers jutting out into the gulf. As we got further south, wheat became very prominent in the landscape, though a lot of the farms seemed to be for sale.

We arrived in Port Lincoln around 4 pm. On the Lincoln Highway from the north, there is a long, scenic drive in which hugs the coastline of Boston Bay. After a walk to the visitor information centre, we ended up with a ‘suite’ at the Pier Hotel. It had a verandah overlooking the bay, a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a laundry. Excellent value! We could see the long jetty in the distance with lots of big silos on the landward side; presumably Viterra bulk loads wheat onto ships there.

We had dinner at the hotel – oysters, mussells and prawns. After dinner, we walked over to the park across the road. We too a leisurely walk along the town jetty to watch the fishermen, and then went to look at the sculpture of Makybe Diva (Port Lincoln is the home town of her owner).

Tuesday, 20 Oct 2015: Port Lincoln to Ceduna (~500 km or so)

2015-10-20 Tuesday - Port Lincoln to Ceduna

At around 8.45 we left the hotel and drove around Port Lincoln, heading south west to the marina, before taking the Flinders Highway to the north of the city so we could go to Winter Hill Lookout. It has great views over Port Lincoln, but it was blowing an absolute gale – it almost ripped the car door off,  much to the amusement of another guy at the lookout.

We then continued north west, up the western side of the Eyre Peninsula. We took a side road to Coffin Bay; tractors were towing what where probably oyster frames. There was some sunshine as we drove north through hilly terrain with lots of wheat fields to Locks Well Beach. There was a viewing platform with stairs down to the beach – the staircase is 120m long, so we just viewed from the top. It was still blowing a gale.

At Elliston we took the very scenic cliff top drive. Bruce walked down to Little Bay (lots of cuttlefish bones on the beach). The cliff tops were very rocky … and windy! We had lunch of cornish pasties and pies at Elliston bakery before continuing north through flatter country; it was wheat all the way to Ceduna. Still windy! And around 20 degrees.

North of Elliston we drove to Talia caves and beach, where there is a memorial to a nun who drowned there in 1928, “The Tub”crater, and, down a set of stairs, “The Woolshed” cave carved by the waves. Well worth the side trip.

From there we continued north, driving into Venus Bay briefly and then further on to Murphys Haystacks – inselberg rock formations. Then it was west on dirt roads (and roadworks) to the head of Baird Bay. The water was remarkably green. Next we headed south on more dirt roads to find the sea lion colony at Point Labatt Conservation Park. We nearly hit three kangaroos, including a joey. There was an excellent viewing platform to view the sea lions, but it was still blowing an absolute gale. But at least there were sea lions, including a pup being fed by its mum, and some seals further out.

Returning on the dirt roads, we headed north again via Seale Bay to Streaky Bay. This is a very pleasant little town, but we only stayed long enough to look around the jetty and have tea/coffee at the bakery. It was late in the day, so we also bought cheap bread for the trip across the Nullarbor the next day. It was cloudy with some light drizzle … and still very windy.

We arrived in Ceduna around 6pm and discovered there is only one pub – the very new Ceduna Foreshore Hotel. So we had to drive around, searching for accommodation. It was looking like the choices were motels or caravan parks, when Bruce suggested we drive along the beach towards Thevenard. We had to wait at a railway crossing for a very long train carrying what looked like gypsum. We ended up outside ‘Seaview Cottage‘, which had a board with a phone number. We called the number, gave CC details, and were given the combination to the key safe at the house. The cottage was very good with three bedrooms, lounge, kitchen, bathroom, laundry etc. We didn’t go out that night, but heated frozen meals in the microwave.

Wednesday, 21 Oct 2015: Ceduna to Cocklebiddy (~850 km or so with sidetrips)

2015-10-21 Wednesday - Ceduna to Cocklebiddy

 The wind had dropped considerably and it was an excellent, sunny day. We left Ceduna around 8 and, after Penong, detoured south to Fowlers Bay. We were checking it out as a possible stop on the return trip. A two bedroom cabin with kitchen and loungeroom for $120 looked excellent. There’s sand dunes, a caravan park, a pier, more sand dunes, and not much else. Looks good for a stop over!

Back on the main road, we passed a very relaxed guy heading east on a recumbent bicycle. He was very low to the ground and was very hard to pick out on the road. When we stopped at Nundroo Roadhouse for petrol, someone in a ute stopped and asked if we’d take an alternator to Nullarbor Roadhouse, where a guy who had broken down the day before was waiting for it.

Past Yalata and the eastern edge of the true Nullarbor Plain, we detoured to Head of Bight. The whales were long gone, but there were excellent views west along the Bunda cliffs. Bruce refused to pay to see the views – this is Yalata land, and there was some discussion about whether the money actually went to the indigenous people. I paid $5 pensioner rate (he didn’t even ask if I was a pensioner!), and I thought it was well worth it. Back to the main road and on to Nullarbor Roadhouse to drop off the alternator to some very pleased people. We had hamburgers for lunch there before setting off again.

We stopped at a couple of the Bunda Cliff lookouts on the way to Border Village and Eucla. Excellent views. At Eucla, we detoured down a dirt road to find the ruins of the old telegraph station, now partially buried in sand dunes. We then returned and continued on past Mundrabilla Roadhouse to Madura Roadhouse and the lookout at Madura Pass. Here, the Bunda Cliffs turn inland and the road crosses over them and down to the lower level.

Then on to the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse where we got an average twin share motel room for $125. Clean and presentable. For dinner there was an enormous plate of lamb chops, chips and salad, but I didn’t find it very appetising. I ordered a G&T at the bar; they poured half a nip and then discovered they had no more gin. They still charged me $10.50!

We saw no large animals at all – no kangaroos, no emus, no camels, and no roadkill. There were eagles and other birds, and stumpy-tailed lizards at the far ends of this section, and some snakes, but no mammals visible at all. There were half a dozen cyclists, either singly or in pairs, at various places. Some looked to be doing it tough.

 Thursday, 22 Oct 2015: Cocklebiddy to Kalgoorlie (~650 km)

2015-10-22 Thursday - Cocklebiddy to Kalgoorlie

After an early start in Cocklebiddy, we drove past Caiguna to the 90 mile straight and then the Balladonia Roadhouse. Skylab fell near Balladonia in 1979; they have a small museum with cultural artifacts and space debris. Then it was on to Norseman for morning tea. An attractive town, but the presence of CTV cameras indicates they may have some issues. Wheat farming was now becoming visible again.

From Norseman we turned north towards Kalgoorlie. We had met a motorcyclist (on a Harley) at Cocklebiddy. We had occasional sightings of him on the road as far as Widgiemooltha, where he stopped at the roadhouse. We continued on to Kambalda, with mining activity now obvious. We drove around east and west Kambalda, and found a lookout to view Lake Lefroy – an extensive salt lake.

Then it was on to Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Boulder was pristine and looked rather artificially pretty. Later, we stopped to talk to a gentleman in Kalgoorlie who explained that Boulder had suffered earthquake damage in 2010 and had received government grants for repairs.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder is one continuous city. At around 1pm we parked in Hannan Street Kalgoorlie and went for a walk around the centre of town, looking for accommodation – preferably in an old hotel with a verandah. It wasn’t as easy as you’d think. The Kalgoorlie Hotel opposite the town hall didn’t have accommodation; the York didn’t have a verandah. On the corner of Hannan and Maritana Streets are the Exchange, Palace and Australia hotels, all with balconies. We asked at the Exchange, but it’s a skimpy bar and they don’t do accommodation … at least not for us! The Australia is accommodation-only, but is not staffed; we had to walk back to the Palace Hotel diagonally opposite to enquire. The Palace is huge, extending for a full block along Maritana Street, but its verandah is used for their restaurant. We were offered two single rooms very cheaply at the Palace, but they were small and in an adjoining building east along Maritana Street, with no balcony or verandah. We went to look at the available rooms in the Australia Hotel, and opted for a room on the first floor with access to the extensive verandah. The room had been refurbished, but the bathroom floor was subsiding and doors didn’t close. The hotel appeared to be used as accommodation for students, with communal kitchen and lounge/dining rooms and a basement eating area. It was 40 degrees, but we didn’t find out until later that the air conditioner appeared to work, but didn’t actually cool. It was still in the 30’s at 10pm and Bruce ended up sleeping on the verandah. On the way back to confirm the accommodation with the people at the Palace, we ran into the gentleman who chatted about some of the local gossip and history.

We looked for souvenirs, but the aboriginal gallery was closed and we didn’t see any other inspiring places. It was too hot for more walking, so we decided to drive to the Super Pit. We arrived there after 4 and discovered they were blasting at 5.30, so we stayed to watch. The blasting was actually about 10 minutes early, and people who were arriving to watch it just missed out.

From the Super Pit we went to the Mount Charlotte Reservoir and Lookout to watch the sunset. In the late 19th century, C.Y. O’Connor built a water pipeline 560 km from Perth to the reservoir. Today the pipeline is still used; the reservoir is a backup now, but still in use. Water being piped hundreds of kilometres all over Australia was one of the features of this entire trip, both in WA and SA.

Back at the hotel it was still hot and we decided to settle for Subways eaten on the verandah, watching (and hearing) Kalgoorlie’s night life get underway.

Friday 23 Oct to Sunday 25 October 2015: Kalgoorlie to Fremantle, and in Fremantle (~620 km)

2015-10-23 Friday - Kalgoorlie to Fremantle

Unlike Bruce, I slept like a log and woke very early and went to sit on the verandah with a coffee. There were street sweepers, footpath sweepers, and footpath pressure sprayers going for hours from 5 am onwards! They were noisier than the night life.

From Kalgoorlie we went through Coolgardie (the start of the goldrush – Kalgoorlie was once called East Coolgardie!), Southern Cross, Merredin and Meckering – and our first creek crossing in days! I regret not stopping in Meckering to see the fault line etc from the 1968 earthquake.

We detoured off the highway to go into Northam on the Avon River. We stopped for a lovely coffee at a cafe on the main street before driving around Northam and the river, and then back on the highway to Fremantle. We arrived a Kerrie and Peter’s around 4pm. Kerrie had a delicious stew on the go, ready for a variable arrival time. She is a fabulous hostess!

On the Saturday, Bruce and I walked into Fremantle markets. We had a very successful shopping expedition, with Bruce buying a half didgeridoo, a goatskin leather bag and iPad case (made in northern India) and other odds and ends for Nicholas and Ariane. I bought a painting by aboriginal artist Swag Taylor for myself, and a rattan bag for Peta.

We then met Peter and Kerrie for coffee and cake at Gino’s. They took our purchases in the car while Bruce and I walked down to the Esplanade and Round House, then back up High Street to the town hall. Fremantle was preparing for the blessing of the fleet the next day. We caught a CAT bus part way up High Street and walked the rest of the way home.

Around 4, I went over to Garry’s for a very pleasant couple of hours – white wine and talk, with James Hagan also calling in on Garry. Went home around 6 for chicken pilaf for dinner. A most excellent day!

On Sunday we met Justin/Emma and Joanne/Brad and the children for brunch at Zephyr’s on the river in East Fremantle. It was partly cloudy and a little blustery, but we got a table easily and had a very pleasant meal. Everyone came back to Kerrie and Peter’s for a while. Around 1.30 or so we drove up to Cottesloe on an unsuccessful search for an old OTC submarine cable. Then we went down to Port Coogee to Jo and Brad’s.

I had meant to catch up with Matt today, but time just got away.

For dinner it was steak and salad, followed by Kerrie’s mandarin and pistacchio flourless cake. All delicious, of course. We took leftover cake with us the next day … still lovely and moist.

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