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Published: October 12th 2019
Great Australian Bight
Nullarbor Plain, South Australia
The last day of school before the holidays meant a school assembly hosted by my niece’s class. They were performing a classic Banjo Patterson poem called “A Bush Christening” and she was playing a bailiff, complete with a drawn-on moustache. Through luck more than planning, I was back in Denmark and could go along to watch. With nieces and a nephew on the other side of the country, I don’t get many opportunities to see these kinds of things, so I was glad to go.
But I had the rest of the day to myself so once I had finished my photos and blog from Margaret River, I had a relaxing afternoon reading and a nap before everyone came home from school and work.
It was then time for a long weekend, giving me three more days to spend with my brother and his family. Saturday was a lazy day though because there was just one thing to focus on – the footy! While in Sydney we tend to be more focussed on the rugby league, the rest of Australia watches “Aussie Rules” AFL football and it was the grand final between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Western
Descending to Knapp Head
Lowlands Beach, Western Australia
Sydney Giants. My brother supports the other Sydney team and hates the Giants so naturally I decided to barrack for them. Unfortunately, they were thrashed but it was an enjoyable day watching the game with my brother and the kids with plenty of pies, sausage rolls and snacks to eat.
On Sunday, the town of Denmark hosted the Great Southern Classic Car Show for the first time and my sister-in-law’s stepdad had entered two cars, so we headed down to the main street to check it out. There were about 120 cars on display and a pretty decent crowd. We had a look around and I tried to get some good photos but once the kids were bored, we headed back home.
In the afternoon, my brother and I went 4-wheel-driving to a place called Eagle’s Nest, where he used to go fishing when he owned a 4-wheel-drive. The sand on the beach can get quite soft, so we were wondering how the Hilux would go. Unfortunately, we never found out because when we got to the end of the track, access to the beach was closed. And you could see why, because with a high tide there
The Organ Pipes
Gawler Rangers National Park, South Australia
was not a lot of sand to drive on. So, we turned around and headed home. My brother spent the evening hunting for somewhere to go on Monday. He picked Lowlands beach, on the way to Albany, because there were a few tracks to different spots near the beach.
So, on Monday morning, joined by my nephew, we headed out there to check it out. It really made me jealous of how many great 4-wheel-driving tracks they have within a short distance because it took less than half an hour before we reached a sign indicating the track, with recommendations on tyre pressures, etc. In Sydney, we usually have to drive a couple of hours to find somewhere decent and you often don’t get the feeling that authorities are overly pleased with providing 4-wheel-drive tracks.
The first track we drove featured a steep descent down to Knapp Head. The view was spectacular, although as I was driving, I didn’t get to truly appreciate it until I watched the GoPro footage later! The track had rubber mats for much of it, but they had been ripped off the track for the top section of the track. This left soft
Driving up the sand track
Lowlands Beach, Western Australia
sand on a long, steep hill and I tried to get up it. However, I was unable, or rather unwilling, to get the momentum required because the rubber mats had been held in place by steel spikes which were still in place. Fortunately, there is another track with a solid footing that allows you to get back up the hill.
We drove on the tracks to other places on the headland between Knapp Head and Lowlands beach. Most of the tracks were pretty solid, but there were some sections of soft sand which had me worried as we headed down the steep slopes because we would have to come up the hills. Thankfully, they were nowhere near as long as the Knapp Head track and I was able to get back up without much trouble. But the views were amazing, and we even saw a whale breaching just offshore. My brother joked that now he has seen more whales when off-roading than he saw when he went whale-watching!
After a good, fun morning we headed back to town and joined my sister-in-law and nieces at the Denmark Tavern where I shouted them lunch in thanks for hosting me
yet again. And with that, my stay was essentially over.
On Tuesday morning, everyone headed off to work, except the kids who were on holidays and being minded by a friend, leaving me to pack up my tent and repack the car for the long drive home. I hit the road at about 10:30 and stopped in Albany for fuel and some food supplies. I then continued east towards Esperance.
Along the way I headed into Fitzgerald River National Park for a look around. It was a nice drive on a very good dirt road, but there wasn’t a huge amount to see. I continued to Hopetoun, but instead of heading back to the highway, I followed the Southern Ocean Road as far as I could. Although it turned out that the road is behind a dune the whole way, so I barely saw the ocean, it was a nice drive with essentially no traffic other than me. Once I reached Stokes National Park there was no choice but to return to the highway and I made it to Esperance just as it got dark.
On Wednesday, I hit the road early. I wanted to get as
many kilometres done as I could, so I could spend a bit more time checking out the sights on the Nullarbor the next day. My goal was to reach the same campsite I used on the way over and I did this just as the sun was setting. I was not sure if it would have more people there this time, and as I drove past the rest area at Moodini Bluff I was worried because it was packed with caravans camped there for the night. However, as I pulled in to Boolaboola rest area, there were only two caravans and none of them were down the back near my previous campsite. I’m not sure if it was because I arrived just on dark, but there were no flies or bugs to bother me this time and I had a peaceful night. Unfortunately, cloud cover and the moon prevented another attempt at photographing the milky way, but I was pretty tired so didn’t mind too much.
It was light very early in the morning, so I was on my way nice and early. After about an hour I passed Eucla and the South Australian border and stopped at the
first lookout of the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. I had an impression of bypassing quite a few on the way over, but now that I had time to stop at them all, there weren’t as many as I had thought. I stopped at them all, including one that I stopped at on the way over. At each, I was seeing the same people and I joked with one guy about it and he said see you at lunch at the roadhouse. Sure enough, when I stopped for lunch at the Nullarbor roadhouse I saw them again.
I was making better time than I expected and realised that I would reach Ceduna before nightfall so I decided to it would probably be easiest to grab a hotel room rather than camp. To have camped in a reasonably remote spot would have meant stopping mid-afternoon and I didn’t really want to do that. Instead, I figured if I stayed at Ceduna, I would have some time to check out some sights on the road to Port Augusta the next day.
But before I reached Ceduna, I had a problem. As I mentioned in my other Nullarbor blog, the
headwinds on the way over increased my fuel consumption so that I could not make the whole 1,200km on a single tank. I had been hoping to get a tailwind on the way back and thus make the crossing on one tank this time. However, this did not happen. Most of the way I had a headwind which was not as strong as on the way over (being partially a crosswind this time) but as I got further east, it was looking like I would not reach Ceduna on one tank. But where to fill up? I paid through the nose on the way over, filling up at Balladonia at $1.93 per litre, so I didn’t want to fill up at another roadhouse if I could avoid it. Instead, I aimed for Penong which, being a town, I figured would be a bit more reasonable.
Not long after driving past the last roadhouse at Nundroo however, my low fuel light came on and I had about 50km to go until Penong. Bravely, I pushed on. This was the first time I had seen the light on in the Hilux, so I wasn’t really sure how far I would get
before running out of fuel. I turned off the air-conditioning, slowed down to 90kph and hoped for the best. I’m pleased to say that I did make it, but it was a very nervous last few kilometres to Penong. In the end, I put 138 litres into my 140-litre tank so it was much closer than I would ever be comfortable with. But at least I had made it and paid a much more reasonable $1.56 per litre for the diesel.
On Friday morning, I had a look at what to check out on the drive to Port Augusta and decided to take a slight detour and visit the Gawler Ranges National Park. I purchased my day-pass online and hit the road. If anything, there was less traffic here than on the Nullarbor and after turning off at Minnipa I didn’t see any at all.
Before long, I was at the first sight in the park, the Organ Pipes. To see the pipes required a short bushwalk, but the path was pretty easy-going despite the heat. I had plenty of company on the walk – not human, just dozens of buzzing flies. Some of them actually bit me
if I didn’t wave them off, so I couldn’t even just ignore them. Besides the flies, with the wildflowers out and the occasional birdcall, the walk was very peaceful. Arriving at the Organ Pipes I spent some time climbing over rocks to try and get a good photo. As I walked back to my car, I passed an American couple with a guide, and later a lady by herself so unfortunately, I didn’t have the park completely to myself. However, I did not see anyone else for the rest of my time in the park, so it made no difference.
I then headed off for a drive around the park on the 4-wheel-drive only tracks to the north. Perhaps in bad weather they would require 4-wheel-drive, but they were easy to drive on that day. In fact, I got the impression that the park itself is fairly new because it really felt like I was driving around a sheep station for much of it. If so, I look forward to coming back in a few years when more of the pasture has been reclaimed by the native vegetation.
There were a couple more sights to see, such as
the Conical Hill lookout and the Kolay Mirica Falls (presumably they are actually waterfalls in the wet) and it was a pleasant drive. I should also mention that it was up around 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) so it was nice to be spending most of the day in the air-conditioned car. However, I soon had to head on out to Wudinna where I stopped and had a sandwich before re-joining the Eyre Highway for the drive to Port Augusta. It was still 36 degrees when I reached there just after 6pm.
On Saturday I had a shorter drive to Mildura, and after a successful visit to the Gawler Ranges National Park, I had a look for any similar visits on the way. The road passed through the top of the Murray-Sunset National Park but the only maps I had were for some tracks in the southern part of the park which would be too far away for a short detour. Instead, I decided to just drive straight to Mildura and spend some time looking around there.
For some reason, Mildura was like Broken Hill in that, for no particular reason, I just wanted to see the
town. I have to say, though, that I liked Mildura much more than Broken Hill. It sits along the Murray River and it was there that I decided to go for a walk after I had checked into my hotel. It was a good idea too, as it was 36 degrees outside but felt a bit cooler down by the river. I walked around and took a few photos but, to be honest, I spent most of the time reflecting over my trip and planning another one for next year. I decided that I would spend about the same amount of time but concentrate on South Australia – The Flinders Ranges, Lake Eyre, Coober Pedy, Goog’s Track and a bit more time on the Eyre Peninsula. I also decided I wanted to visit at about the same time of the year, so now the planning is starting.
That’s as good a place as any to finish up the blog, because I didn’t do much else except drive home from Mildura. I went the long way to Wagga Wagga, visiting Echuca on the Murray for lunch on Sunday. In Wagga Wagga I had a pleasant evening watching the rugby league
grand final at a local pub. And on Monday I drove straight home, encountering real traffic for the first time in weeks as I was coming home at the end of a long weekend in Sydney.
All in all, it was a great trip. It would have been better if I’d had a bit more time to see more, but that’s always the way. As it was my second holiday of the year, I couldn’t complain about not having more time and I was very satisfied with what I had done. For the first time, I had driven all the way across the massive country of Australia, but I can assure you it won’t be the last time!
As it is the final blog of the trip, it’s time to answer the questions I am always asked: What was the best thing about the trip?
This is always tough to answer, and this trip was no exception. I think the single thing I enjoyed the most was the Sleaford-Wanna Track down in the Lincoln National Park. It was the first real 4-wheel-driving I had done on the trip, and the first time I’ve gone sand driving
Denmark, Western Australia
on my own. So, I had some nerves when I started, but the sand was really good to drive on and a lot of fun. I will definitely be doing the track again when I visit next year, but maybe I will drive it in the other direction. The worst thing?
The insects. Whether it was the flies at my first camp on the Nallarbor, or the hundreds of dead insects coating the front of my car (particularly the windscreen!) they were definitely something I could have done without. Of course, they’re a key part of the ecosystem and there’s nothing you can do about them anyway, but to be honest, that was probably the only real negative I had about the trip. And they weren’t really that bad. The biggest surprise?
There were two places, for the same reason. Black’s Lookout on the Whaler’s Way at Port Lincoln and Surfer’s Cove at Black Point in Western Australia were unexpectedly stunning. Both of them were lookouts I visited amongst other lookouts that were pretty spectacular and I knew the coastlines of each were amazing when I went there. But on both occasions, I arrived and just
couldn’t help but go “Wow!” And at both places, I shook my head and thought why are these not absolutely overrun with tourists? Obviously, they are not quite as accessible as the Great Ocean Road, for example, but they were just gob-smackingly beautiful locations. The biggest disappointment?
I guess I would have to say the Nullarbor. Not because of the plain itself, nor the sights or the drive. Those I enjoyed immensely. But I just didn’t feel as remote as I was hoping for. Having mobile phone coverage at each of the roadhouses (and I guess about 20km either side) would be great, I’m sure, if you have some kind of problem or emergency. But I just didn’t quite get that feeling of isolation I was looking for. As usual, I’m sure the disappointment was more about my expectations than anything else.
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