Our plan once we got back to Australia was to go to Melbourne and buy a car to head off on a road trip west towards Perth, up the West Coast to Broome , back east towards Darwin and back down the centre through Alice Springs to Melbourne. A mere 15000kms or so over the next three months. So step number one was to find a car that we could afford, that we could sell again in a few months and most importantly wouldn’t break down in the middle of nowhere. We trawled all the free papers and all the car yards and we were surprised how expensive they all were for what you get. Eventually after a tip off from another car yard we found ourselves in the back streets in yard with a few rusting cars and nothing else to indicate that it was a legit car yard. There was an old Nissan station wagon for sale but things didn’t go well when it wouldn’t start. With a new battery it started and we took it for a test drive. It wasn’t pretty to look at, an old car made in 1988, it was very boxy and the burgundy
colour had faded and peeled from sitting in the sun too long. The car seemed to drive ok, and although it wasn’t the smartest or smoothest car in the world it was pretty comfy and very roomy so we settled on it, as long as a few small issues were fixed by the time we had our money together. The car had been converted to gas as well so we would save a few pennies on our trip. So a week passed and we went to pick it up, all the work had been done and we paid our money and drove off to pack the car, now christened Barry. Next morning was cold and wet in the Melbourne winter and of course when we went to start it the battery was dead. When we opened the bonnet of course the seller had put the old battery back in it so the first stop of the day was to buy a new one, but at least we were on the road at last.
The first day we planned to get close to Adelaide but a late start and the battery problem we soon realized that that was unlikely. We stopped
at a free rest stop not far from the South Australia border. Around Australia there is a network of free camp stops along the side of the road which usually just contain a patch of grass or gravel and a basic toilet. There are designed for resting when driving long distances and are a great way to save some money along the way. As this was our first stop we weren’t sure what to expect however we surprised how established they were. So, after setting up our tent which was to be our home for the next three months we relaxed in the Aussie way and had a beer.
The next day we managed to safely navigate our way round Adelaide to our next stop just north of the city. The rest stop was in a place called Dublin and backed onto a seaweed covered beach. Not the nicest beach in the world but we experienced the first of many spectacular sunsets on our trip. From Adelaide we made our way west towards Western Australia. Along the way we met a lot of ‘Grey Nomads.’ ‘Grey Nomads’ are on the road everywhere in Australia and are basically retired couples who
have left everything at home and taken a road trip in their caravans usually pulled by a Toyota 4x4. Sometimes they travel for a few months at a time and others have sold everything and are permanently on the road.
A few days after leaving Melbourne we were about to embark on a part of our trip that we had both been wanting to do for many years- drive across the Nullarbor. Hearing stories of people crossing this treeless plain sounds very romantic and adventurous. There is nothing to see for hundreds of kilometers, water is scarce and if you break down it may be a while before you are rescued. In actual fact it is not like this at all. There is very little to see and there are no trees but the road is relatively well travelled these days and you will pass a car every ten minutes. Never the less we enjoyed the experience because it was awe inspiring in its desolateness and vastness. We spent the night at the Nullarbor roadhouse which, apart from being ridiculously over priced and charging for the use of the water, was something we thought we should do. After leaving the
roadhouse we continued West through the Great Australian Bight, a stretch where the plain meets the ocean with towering cliffs down to the sea. Between the months of June and September there is the possibility of seeing whales that are migrating north for the winter. Unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to see any as it was still early in the season. The last section of the Nullarbor is known as the ’90 Mile Straight’ and for obvious reasons. It is the second longest straight road in the world so for an hour there is not a single corner in sight.
Having reached the end of the Nullarbor we headed north to a mining town called Kalgoorlie. Kalgoorlie Boulder to give it it’s full name solely exists because of the gold rush of the late 19th century and is now home to the largest open cut gold mine in the world. The ‘Super Pit’ is just immense, over 1.5kms long by 500m deep and 500m wide and when you peer in from the top the massive mining trucks look like toys. We spent some time in the town and met up with a relation of Tom’s who lived there with his
family. Greg and Clare have lived in Kalgoorlie for years, Greg working in the mining industry in one way or another. Kalgoorlie has a rather end of the world feel because it is so remote but a city in its own right. The staff at the mines who don’t live there are flown in for two weeks at a time, so this and the fact that it is mostly men in the industry means that the town has a distinctly masculine and slightly seedy feel with the local pubs famous for their ‘Skimpies’ (girls wearing lingerie serving behind the bar) and a legalized (well tolerated) system of brothels that have been there since the start of the town. The brothels, rather uniquely, offer day time tours of their premises, conducted by the madams who run them. Obviously not the shy and retiring type, the madam on the tour we took of the oldest running brothel in town (well over 100 years in the same building) gave a rather an eye opening experience and several of the grey nomads on the small tour seemed rather shocked at times!
We left Kalgoorlie and headed south again towards the coast. About 100kms away
from the coast and the nearest town of any size, Esperance the car began to behave rather oddly. The engine would cut out as we were driving along, and all the electrics stop working. Our fears of buying an old cheap car came out. The car just about started again each time, but only with complaint and we limped into a tiny one horse village half way to Esperance. A mechanic had a quick look at it and agreed that it might be a loose connection to the battery that was doing it, so very kindly bodged together a solution and didn’t even charge us. We went on our way and the same problem happened again, especially worrying with large road trains behind us (huge trucks you see on the major road in Australia with up to four trailers and weighing perhaps 140 tonnes or more) and no mobile signal to call for help and we still had quite a long way to Esperance. So finally with worries that our car was knackered and was either dead or would cost a fortune to fix we got to Esperance and got to a garage. The mechanic we found was again very
helpful and diagnosed it to a very simple problem to fix. So very relieved we handed over only $50 and drove off into the lovely seaside town of Esperance.
We spent the night in Esperance then headed out to Cape Le Grand National Park. In the park we stayed at a campsite at Lucky Bay which was really nice. The sea was turquoise blue and the sand was white. From the campsite we walked along the beach and over the ridge to the next bay. On top of the ridge we got amazing views back over Lucky Bay. During our stay at Lucky Bay we had our first experience of Australian wildlife when 3 kangaroos visited our tent. They were extremely tame and very cute although pretty stupid - we watched one of them being out smarted by a crow. The crow was pecking its tail to distract it before stealing the piece of food the kangaroo had found. It was fascinating to watch.
From Cape Le Grand we headed to Denmark which was to be the first of many wine regions that we visited. We visited several wineries and enjoyed lots of wine tasting. The most memorable one we
went to was a trufflerie. It was a horrible wet day and when we arrived we saw a group of backpackers coming in for morning tea after digging up these very expensive fungi with the help of the truffle dogs. Inside we learnt how they use the dogs to sniff out the truffles before they are dug up and that this trufflerie produced 80% of the Southern Hemisphere’s truffles. As well as tasting the wine that they also produce we tasted a few of the many truffle products they made. All very nice but our budget didn’t quite stretch to $3000 a kilo. On our way out of Denmark we passed through Walpole and The Valley of the Giants, a huge walkway suspended in the canopy of huge eucalypts over 40m in the air.
We headed into the Margaret River region famous for its wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc. The area is a mecca in this region and people flock to its wineries, food shops and scenery. Whilst there we stayed in another national park which was near to some of the regions many huge underground caves. Between the obvious wine tasting (a theme is developing here) and chocolate and cheese
factories we had to visit we spent time exploring these vast caves, some of which are open to the public and have very good tours with clever lighting showing the amazing and diverse structures underground.
Next stop was our first big city on the trip, Perth.
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