Nullarbor and beyond…

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…

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The entrance to the wildflower exhibit
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Some of the exhibits
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Some of the exhibits
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Some of the exhibits

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Brandon and Charlotte consulting over the questionnaire

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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?!

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Nullarbor here we come!
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The biggest inhabitants of this neck off the woods are suicidal bugs!

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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!

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Yippee – another state line 🙂
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The Great Australian Bight – very impressive
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Bight selfie
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Charlotte just loves contributing to any rock pile she can find (and we’ve actually seen quite a few on our travels!)

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).

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Charlotte and Ashley – we haven’t seen a camel yet!
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The Nullarbor roadhouse’s own attraction 😉
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Fake whale selfie

 

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.

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Whales, whales and more whales
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Whales, whales and more whales
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We have seen so many of these fellows on the road! Shingleback lizards – literally hundreds on the roads

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.

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The attraction of a clean amenities block!

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.

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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!

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Lots of boardwalks to get to the blowholes

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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.

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Painted silos at Kimba

Charlotte was pleased to see that Kimba also had a giant galah 😉

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The Big 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 😉

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Pretend bush camp at Beautiful Valley
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Charlotte by the camp fire
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She found a pony 🙂
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Our view from the camper 🙂

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

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Half way ’round…!

Gosh time flies when you’re having fun. Here we are in Esperance, in south-west Western Australia and we have about 4 weeks left on our adventure, yet we’re over half way around Australia! We have a lot left to see, and thanks to some unplanned extra nights earlier in our trip, we will be flying through our last 4 weeks 😦

Leaving Port Hedland (past the giant salt mountain!), we travelled south towards Monkey Mia.

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This giant salt mound greets visitors to Port Hedland (or waves goodbye)

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Just north of Carnavon, we saw this satellite dish
We weren’t actually planning to stay at Monkey Mia as we had been told it was over-rated and too expensive, so we used WikiCamps to select another place on the road into Monkey Mia, a placed called Nanga Bay Resort. While quite comfortable, it’s fair to say that Nanga Bay did not meet my expectations of a place with ‘resort’ in the title. Perhaps it’s the Queenslander in me expecting something like the Marina Mirage Resort, or Twin Waters Resort, but seriously, there’s nothing much resort-ish about Nanga Bay by comparison. I didn’t expect to stay in a resort per se, but when you are travelling to a place that calls itself a resort, you get rather excited about what you might find there.

Anyway, what we did find as we came around the corner was some rather lovely blue water and clear blue skies. Our hosts at Nanga Bay were very welcoming and invited us to join their communal fire that evening so we chatted to the other guests and generally had a relaxing time. Brandon was invited to go fishing in the morning with another guest so we went to bed feeling rather pleased with our choice of accommodation. As we were staying for only 2 nights we didn’t put the annex up as we decided to use the car annex and avoid the extra hassle of the big camper annex. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.

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Communal fire at Nanga Bay
We awoke to a fairly drizzly, grey day. It was the first rain we had seen since the drizzle at Seisia on the tip of Cape York so it was a little strange for us to feel this sensation on our skin! Brandon passed on the fishing trip and we made our way in to Denham and Monkey Mia but we were too late to see the dolphins. We had been warned by our camp host that there probably wouldn’t be many there and that Monkey Mia was closing for 6 months at the end of this season to “retrain the dolphins”. When we got there we were told that they had 3 dolphins turn up; past visitors had told us they didn’t let you into the water or very near the dolphins when they were there so all in all, we were kind of pleased we didn’t spend any money on what would have been a rather lack-lustre experience. Charlotte enjoyed the gift shop as much as she would have done seeing the dolphins and we came away with a new dolphin toy to add to her growing souvenir collection!

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The jetty at Monkey Mia was quite nice

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Enjoying a moment of dry sky

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Charlotte loved how close the water was to the road

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Wind power at Monkey Mia/Denham

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The sky didn’t stay dry for long
By the time we got back to our camp, the place was saturated and the rain looked to have settled in. There was also a gale force wind knocking us around and it was really rather miserable, given we didn’t have our annex set up. The only dry spaces we had were in the car or in the camper but all of our food, cooking and fridge requirements were outside the camper. The toilet block was quite some distance away so we really couldn’t do anything without getting saturated. I had no way of cooking and the camp kitchen at the resort was lacking in facilities, so we had no choice but to dine at the on-site restaurant.

I should point out that it wasn’t really a restaurant as such, more like you select a meal from their small list and tell them when you’d like to eat and they have it ready for you to eat in their dining room. I told the host I was really craving vegetables as we’d had a series of fried meals lately (e.g. fish and chips, schnitzel and chips) and my body needed something real. She told me that they didn’t have any vegetables as the truck hadn’t come yet, so I selected chicken wings and rice from the menu and said it was the rice I really wanted more than anything. I made a joke about bringing some of our vegetables then the host says if you drop some vegetables to me, I’ll make you a nice fried rice. That certainly sounded great! By the time I left, she had offered to upgrade that to stir fry beef and rice – winner! Charlotte was having nuggets and chips with a taste of my fried rice, and Brandon order a parmy (his craving for vegetables is never as strong as mine!). I dropped a mixture of frozen and fresh vegetables around later on my way to the shower block (all of which involved getting well and truly saturated because I pretty much forgot that I have a rain jacket in the car!!). I was excited about getting something nice for dinner and really pleased at how generous our host was being.

We rock up for dinner, looking a little like drowned rats, and eagerly await what was to come. The host comes out and says “I think you’ll like what I’ve cooked for you. Do you like chick peas?” Ummm, yes?? I was a bit confused because I wasn’t sure where chick peas fitted in to stir fry beef and rice. Oh boy. Was I in for a gastronomic… nightmare!! I so wish I had taken a photo of what was dished up to me because it was truly horrific.

So when the host put the dish in front of me she told me she had made some bush tucker and that I was eating something that had lots of traditional food in it. She said it had “conkleberry nuts” and “something that’s like a yam” in it. Do you know what I saw? I saw a bowl of elbow macaroni, topped with a bean-filled sauce that looked and smelled a lot like baked beans (conkleberry nuts), mixed with giant slices of cucumber (yam), with slices of capsicum, a few slices of beef in a sort of sweet and sour sauce. Ahhhh, really?? What ship do you think I just sailed in on, lady? Brandon says he lost all respect for our host at this point because up until now she had been so welcoming and generous. Thank god she only charged me about $6 for that meal because it was truly horrendous and I cannot believe she thought she was going to convince me that this was something other than some crap she’d pulled together at the last minute. I mean – where was the rice? And my supplied vegetables? When they stepped out of the room, I actually snuck into their kitchen and raided their freezer and retrieved my completely untouched bag of vegetables that was sitting right next to their own giant bag of frozen vegetables!!! We retreated to our camper trailer in the wind and rain and proceeded to have the most uncomfortable (and for me, terrifying) night we have ever had in the camper. The wind was whipping us left and right, the rain was making everything miserable and damp and not much sleep was had that night.

We awoke the next morning to a dry, quiet morning. Our canvas had already started to dry and within an hour or so of waking, everything was dry enough for us to start packing up. It was like a totally different vista and our mood lifted as we started to prepare to leave for our next destination. What an odd visit! I was pleased to be moving on.

We were travelling to Cervantes next to see the famous Pinnacles National Park, and after the mixed experience we had at Nanga Bay, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Cervantes. But as we headed further south, I began to relax and by the time we hit Geraldton, I was really starting to enjoy the passing countryside. The rain had well and truly gone by now, and on either side of the road was… green, rolling fields! That’s right – we were now starting to see farmlands. Pastures, flowers, green hills – it was spectacular! For the first time in, well, months I was seeing a richness to the land and I didn’t realise how much I missed it until that point.

I was pleasantly surprised by Cervantes, or more accurately by the caravan park we stayed in. After our Nanga Bay disaster, we elected to set up the annex just in case (it wasn’t needed), our camp site came with a large annex mat already on the ground, we were close to the toilets and had a lovely green site. We spent 3 nights there drying out and cleaning up, and it was lovely. Brandon went off for a drive and saw some wildflowers which was excellent, and we went to see the Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles are marketed as ‘living fossils’. I’m not sure how fossil-like they are and there are some mixed stories about how they come into being, but essentially they look a lot like rock pillars growing in a desert. You can walk or drive right through the area (we were quite surprised that you are allowed to drive through) but they were certainly an odd and interesting site. The attached gallery/gift shop was also really good and we would definitely recommend you visit there if you’re in the area. It’s only a few kilometres off the main road and, if you choose to drive through, you really only need to spend 20 minutes there. Definitely worth the effort.

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The Pinnacles

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More Pinnacles (this time from the car)

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Walking around the Pinnacles

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Pinnacle selfie

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The Pinnacles NP was quite nicely done

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Looking out to the ocean from the Pinnacles NP
As I have discussed in another post, we were expecting some colder temperatures as we travelled south so we had arranged to buy some new sleeping bags that were rated to -10 degrees. We couldn’t collect these until Monday when the store opened again but we wanted to start heading south so we arranged to stay with a family friend in Fremantle on Sunday night then collected our sleeping bags on the way out of town on Monday morning. When our friend found out Brandon was interested in wildflowers and orchids in particular, she suggested that we stop in at Wireless Hill Reserve on our way out of town. What a lovely little gem that place is. Like a small botanical gardens in the middle of Fremantle, Wireless Hill has a huge number of orchids that saw Brandon quite chuffed with the opportunity to photograph them. (I have asked Brandon to write a special post all about the wildflowers he has seen on this part of the trip – stay tuned for that one, hopefully soon.)

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Spotting wildflowers at Wireless Hill

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I love this kangaroo paw

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I love this kangaroo paw

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Enjoying the paths at Wireless Hill
From the big smoke, we headed south east towards the Stirling Range National Park. We camped for 3 nights at a lovely place called Mt Trio Bush Camp. Situated right on the edge of the Stirling Range National Park, this bush camp is owned by the neighbouring farming family and is in excellent condition. Powered and unpowered sites are available with ample drinking water, and the amenities blocks are in a great condition. For a bush camp, it was an unexpected surprise. A member of the Mt Trio Bush Camp staff visits around 5.30pm each night and lights a communal fire near the camp kitchen. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use our OzPig here which was a disappointment because away from the communal fire it was BLOODY COLD! Apparently the temperatures went below zero during the night and I have to say, we felt that. Our new sleeping bags certainly helped a lot, but I fretted that if Charlotte accidentally stuck an arm out of her bag that she’d get hypothermia. It was freeze-your-nose-off-if-it’s-not-in-the-sleeping-bag kind of weather and despite putting our full annex up and being as protected as we could, without our OzPig, we were really feeling the cold. But the trade off was that Brandon got to see some amazing examples of wildflowers, notably orchids. We went for a drive/walk one day to Bluff Knoll, one of the local mountains in the area. We didn’t do the whole walk as it was a bit beyond what we had prepared for, but it was lovely all the same (just don’t go to the Bluff Knoll Café on a Wednesday expecting to have a nice lunch there because it turns out it’s closed on Wednesdays and an out of the way placed called the Amelup Roadhouse is the only place you’ll be able to find a bite to eat on a Wednesday).

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Rapeseed aka canola is EVERYWHERE down here

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More rapeseed

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Charlotte found some alpaca friends at our lunch stop
Speaking of Amelup, what’s with every town in that part of WA ending in ‘up’? Take a look at a fairly detailed map of the central southern and south western part of WA, near Stirling Range, and you’ll see all the local towns and localities around there end in ‘up’. Actually, there’s other towns in WA that end in ‘up’ as well – such as Joondalup, which I quite like saying now 😉

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Our full set up at Mt Trio – we added the big front wall on our second day

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Lovely bush camp at Mt Trio

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Walking to Bluff Knoll (in the background)

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Walking to Bluff Knoll

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The Amelup roadhouse has a field of kangaroos next door!

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I craved pizza but without being allowed to use our wood stove, I had to do a stove-top pan version. Turned out quite good!

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Brandon browned the top of the pizza with his flame thrower 😉 I’m sure I’ve seen these used on Masterchef?
Today we left the cold of the Stirling Range and headed further east. We actually decided to give the cold a break and lashed out for a spot of luxury, staying in the Esperance Best Western! You know you’ve been camping for a long time when a Best Western is considered luxury. But it’s nice to be in from the cold. Esperance seems like a nice place and we plan to use the extra time in the morning tomorrow to do some exploring before we head further east. Unfortunately because we were moving at a fair pace today we had to drive straight past a wildflower show that was on in Ravensthorpe, and I know that really bothered Brandon. So I think he has already started making plans to come back here next spring!

We start our trek across the Nullarbor tomorrow (well, we start moving in that direction). We have a few one-night only stops over the next few nights until we reach South Australia and hopefully some milder weather. That being said, I am keeping our -10 degree rated sleeping bags on the bed and I just need to work out a way to stop my nose from freezing!

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 10 weeks, 2 days