Forgive me as it has been some weeks since my last blog post.
I have come to realise that providing regular posts relies on having some relaxing down time that allows me to bring out the laptop and set myself up in a comfortable environment. I’m fussy like that. Unfortunately circumnavigating Australia in the time period we are doing is kind of the antithesis of things like ‘relaxing down time’ and ‘comfortable environments’. And we’re doing quite of lot of fun things so it’s hard to make time to sit down at the laptop 😉
For anyone contemplating a trip like this, I definitely suggest you make sure you have lots and lots of time. It really is an exhausting endeavour to travel around the entirety of Australia in just under 4 months. We started the trip with naive optimism and allowed ourselves to spend extra nights here and there. While this flexibility made for a more relaxed first half to our trip, it has undoubtedly contributed to us feeling a little more rushed for the second half.
At the end of my last post we were about to head off across the Nullarbor. I was super excited about this prospect for a number of reasons. Probably the strongest of these was that crossing the Nullarbor meant heading closer to the things I was more familiar with – towns I’d been to before and even landscapes I was used to seeing. We wouldn’t seem so far away from it all, we’d be back into a similar time zone. Another reason for looking forward to crossing the Nullarbor was that I really wanted to see the Nullarbor! I’d heard so much about this epic stretch of Australia and it once seemed so formidable. I was excited to be able to see if for myself.
So when last I wrote we were staying the night in a hotel room in Esperance to escape the cold (oh boy – if only I knew then what awaited us when we arrived in Tasmania!)… Because we didn’t need to pack up the camp site in the morning, we made use of having a little extra time and visited a local wildflower show. We missed the ‘big’ one in Ravensthorpe on our way to Esperance so it was nice to read a flyer advertising a smaller display at the local church.
The local horticultural community had put a lot of effort into their show and they were very welcoming when we walked in the door. There were a few other stalls/displays that caught our eye, including a lovely lady who had ‘raw’ wool and was combing it and spinning it on her wheel. Charlotte thought that was pretty cool. Another element that caught Charlotte’s attention was the questionnaire we were given to fill out. One very enthusiastic club member had put together a series of questions that you could only answer if you went around to all of the exhibits and read the accompanying information. The exhibits that provided answers were all numbered so Charlotte took charge of the clipboard and saw it as her job to help us find answers to all the questions! I was hoping for a small reward or congratulations at the end after we diligently went around and wrote everything down but alas we just drifted outside the door and no-one was any the wiser to our newfound understanding of the local salt lake flora community 😦
I have a few photos from the display but Brandon’s wildflower post (hopefully coming soon!) will tell you more…
After this it was on towards the Nullarbor and the longest, straightest stretch of road in Australia (146km). I actually ended up driving a lot of that to give Brandon a break from driving. I figure what harm could I do driving in a straight line?!
The scenery of the Nullarbor was rather bland but we expected that. However, we pulled over at one of the many lookout spots along the way and were rewarded with a great view of the coastline – that was what I really wanted to see. The Great Australian Bight – it was awe-inspiring. Before long we had crossed the border into South Australia and immediately lost 1 and ½ hours!
I underestimated the impact that changing time zones was going to have on me. When we crossed into WA we lost a few hours and suddenly it was sunset at 5pm. The days seemed to end much quicker, although we were getting up earlier – I was waking at 5.30am because my body clock was telling me it was 7.30am. On mornings when we had to get up and get moving early, that habit worked quite well for us. Alas on days when we drove long distances, setting up at 6pm and then having to scramble to get Charlotte showered and fed in time for a decent bedtime was next to impossible. Charlotte has now had to get used to having a lot of flexibility with her bedtime which is fine while we’re on the road, but it will be a harsh return to reality when we get home and get back to our regular routine! (Although I suspect she will actually quite enjoy going back to a regular routine and will respond well to the boundaries we’ll have to re-enforce.)
Crossing into a new time zone can sometimes be difficult – one minute it is 4pm and the next it is 5.30pm. I know it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal but when you are driving from one destination to the next and you are making plans to stop at a certain place and set up camp for the night, you tend to watch the clock a bit in the late afternoon so as to avoid having to set up camp in the dark. Crossing the border into SA we suddenly lost some time. Thankfully we were staying at the Nullarbor Roadhouse that night which makes set up a little easier (dinners usually take place in the roadhouse restaurant on nights like this). Charlotte actually made a friend at the roadhouse – the 6 year old son of a fellow camper trailer travelling family, The Howards, who we had actually seen at the lookout earlier that day. We shared a dinner table and discovered some remarkable similarities between the Howards and ourselves. It was a lovely connection and when they said they were heading to Streaky Bay the next day we decided to modify our plans and head there too (we had originally planned to Venus Bay for a few nights but we had no reason to be there specifically, so stopping a short distance away from that in Streaky Bay was not difficult).
On the way along the second half of the Nullarbor the next day we stopped at the Head of the Bight, which is the best place to see whales during the spring season. We weren’t disappointed – there were at least 5 pairs of mothers and calves frolicking in the water beneath the cliffs and it was delightful to watch.
Our (my?) reason for selecting Streaky Bay wasn’t just to give Charlotte a play friend for a few days; Jo showed us photos of the bathrooms which were all set up like ensuites – each has a toilet, vanity and large shower. The Streaky Bay Islands Caravan Park has only been open since February of this year and it was such a luxurious treat to find such great amenities! The park has large (very large), tiered camp sites that are perfectly flat.
It was a great place to stay for a few days. It was also a bit cold and windy but we weren’t allowed to use our OzPig stove. This was a great opportunity to head into town and look for a Mr Heater Buddy portable heater. We had wanted an alternative heat source for times like this and had been researching camping heaters so we were pleased to find the local hardware store had what we wanted. We won’t use it in the camper itself (despite what you see in this photo – that was a test), it will be for the annex.
Streaky Bay has a few sights to see, one of which was a series of blowholes which we took a trip to see. Charlotte loved the long boardwalks that allowed her to run ahead of us. I just love the cliffs and coastline here – it’s breathtaking. And cold! The wind that comes up here pretty much comes straight from the South Pole, I’m sure!
After two nights in Streaky Bay, it was time to continue the trek east – we had a date with a big ship that was going to take us across the Bass Strait! So we headed further along the Eyre Highway towards Victoria, a route that took us through Kimba, South Australia. I had heard about the painted silos that seem to be dotted across the country, mostly in South Australia and Victoria. So I was really pleased to see that Kimba had some painted silos! They were every bit as impressive as I had hoped they would be.
Charlotte was pleased to see that Kimba also had a giant galah 😉
We weren’t exactly sure where we were going to end up when we left Streaky Bay because we didn’t know exactly how far we were going to be able to travel that day (recall what I said earlier about changing time zones!). We had thought we’d stop at Port Augusta but nothing there really took our fancy and we still had a little bit of daylight left so we kept moving. We headed a little further east towards Wilmington but we couldn’t find a 24 hour rest stop which was the first time we’d had that problem. It seems the southern states may not have as many of them as we’d encountered in WA. So we were starting to get a little nervous when it was getting to be dusk and we hadn’t yet spotted anywhere yet to stay. WikiCamps hadn’t provided any morsels of joy either.
If we were travelling in a caravan we’d probably be able to just pull over on the side of the road somewhere and set up camp. You have more security in a caravan and don’t feel quite as open to the elements. But in a camper trailer, where all your cooking and living still happen outside and when you only have canvas between you and what waits outside, it’s a little less secure. In order to stay warm (well, not freeze), we also have to make sure all our canvas was zipped up tight which means no windows to look out. You’re a little like a sitting duck if someone wanted to come along and cause trouble. So we try to avoid just pulling up on the side of the road, particularly in towns, unless we’re in a gazetted rest area.
We finally found a caravan park in Wilmington and given the time of day we had no choice but to make camp there. It was actually a very pleasant last resort. The Beautiful Valley Caravan Park is more like a bush camp. We didn’t need a powered site just for one night so we were able to choose where we wanted to set up. We were also allowed to have a fire which was great – we used one of the fire pits a previous guest had established. We were nestled in the trees in a very private spot but with the advantage of a toilet block a few metres away. There was even a children’s playground and a pony to keep Charlotte entertained. It was quite a lovely surprise. And Brandon wants to head back there to do some sight-seeing around Alligator Gorge (not suitable for towing). As usual as soon as we had set up camp, Brandon disappeared into the bush to see what treats he could find 😉
The next day we headed off with the excitement of knowing that we were going to reach Victoria today. At least, I was excited. As we have been getting further and further east I have noticed Brandon getting a little less excited about places, perhaps not quite as enthusiastic as I have been about our impending Victorian/Tasmanian travels. I suspect that’s more a sign of him missing all that is now behind us and feeling rushed more than not necessarily wanting to go east. The downside to doing a trip this quick is that a lot of places you really like or want to explore you can’t really spend a lot of time at. It’s more an opportunity to identify parts of the country you want to come back and visit again. I know Brandon has already started planning a southern WA trip to see the wildflowers in more detail, hopefully this time with his Dad.
I was excited to be heading towards a part of the country I felt more familiar with, scenery that made me feel ‘at home’ and seemed less foreign. I have gotten so much out of what we’ve seen so far and am thrilled we had the chance to spend so much time in WA, but I was also constantly aware of how different the countryside over there was and how far way we were from everything. We were now going to be visiting places I’d been to before but wanted to share with Brandon and Charlotte – it felt nice to be heading towards a part of the country that was closer to home, that looked and felt more predictable.
Unfortunately, the predictable hostility of the weather was something I had forgotten about, something that caused us some troubles as we headed east and then on to Tasmania. I’ll save that story for the next post…
Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 11 weeks, 1 day