Time to bid a fond farewell to Adelaide, family and old friends to begin the next leg of my journey around Australia. Excepting people, I’ll miss my mother’s garden the most. We spent quality time spent drinking tea out on the deck, completely surrounded by senescing trees and singing birds. Its peaceful, being wrapped in foliage and you can easily forget that you have neighbours nearby. I must find a way of recreating that at home.
An old friend from high school was eager for a roadtrip and joined me in the journey across to Perth. It was even more exciting to have someone to share the first challenging leg of my adventure and we talked so much on the first afternoon that I lost my voice (!). We headed out late aiming to make it to Port Augusta by night, where we found a cheap but comfortable motel for a good night’s sleep before attempting the Nullarbor Plain crossing the following day.
After a breakfast of champions – egg and bacon roll with a good dollop of BBQ sauce – we hit the road as early as possible aiming to reach the WA border by nightfall. What could have been a rather sedate drive was a lot of fun with company as we chatted, sang to old music and listened to Radiolab podcasts. For anyone not familiar with Radiolab, go to www.radiolab.org – its a great national public radio show for curious people, involving science, philosophy and sharing people’s stories and experiences. Best radio show EVER.
Outback South Australia is fascinating in its starkness. Gnarled mallees, yellow sand and unidentifiable scrubby bushes as far as the eye can see. We stopped in Streaky Bay for fish and chips, looked out over the water and rested tired eyes, before cracking on across the Nullarbor Plain. Here we learned the true meaning of being in the middle of nowhere. It is a huge expanse of flat, brown nothing in all directions, as far as the eye can see. It is punctuated only by a run down motor inn with exorbitant prices in the centre and the occasional heavily laden cyclist who bizarrely thinks riding across the plain is a good use of holidays.
It was dark by the time we approached the campsite, only 10km short of the WA border. This was to be our first night of free camping and we’d chosen a site that was on the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, but thankfully was treed so we wouldn’t be blown off the edge into the water during the night. After driving what was probably around in circles, we picked a spot and pitched camp, doing remarkably well in the dark, and decided that a bottle of wine and some night sky appreciation was in order before bed.
Sunrise was equally spectacular over the Bight and after taking some time to enjoying the views (photos will have to wait I’m afraid), we began our push on through towards Esperance – another 8 1/2 hours of driving. En route, we passed through Norseman on the far side of the Plain, an old gold mining town with a rather unusual sight. From the town we could see a large, heavily channeled cliff face and when we got up to the lookout at Beacon Hill, we realised that it was actually one side of a square of land thrust up out of the flat surrounding land that had been gouged down all sides where gold seams must have run. There were still trees and an old shanty on top. It looked like a massive computer chip mounted on a motherboard, pins exposed on all sides, but eternally shrinking as the machines eat away at it from the outside. I imagine that in not too many years, there will only remain a thin finger of stone with that cottage perched precariously on top.
We got in to Esperance with enough time to settle into our cabin and shower – an experience so glorious that its hard to believe it had only been one night on the land – before wandering into the town for dinner at the local pub. One drink and we were done for – we staggered back and collapsed into bed. The morning showed us that Esperance had been well worth the trip. We found a french bakery open early and again enjoyed the sunrise. I could get used to this early rising business if I’m to be rewarded with views like that.
On our way out of town, accidentally ended up on the Great Ocean Scenic Drive and figured that we might as well have a bit of a look. What we found was long, staggeringly beautiful stretches of beach with white sand and crystal blue water. It was all we could do not to stop, run down the sand and throw ourselves into it, parched as we were for the sight of the ocean after so much dry desert.
Refreshed by coastal air and beautiful views, we continued on to Albany for lunch which was almost completely closed on a Sunday and lacking any of the beauty that its neighbour commanded. Our experience getting lost in Albany only resulted in annoyance, much wasted time and giving up on our quest for fish and chips on the beach – one we hadn’t thought would be a stretch, though as it turned out there were neither nice beaches nor open fish and chip shops!!! – having to resort to a woeful lunch at KFC. We finally managed to extricate ourselves, shaking our fists and determining to blame the town for our late arrival into Margaret River and indeed everything else that was wrong with the world.
In the afternoon, we passed through some of south Western Australia’s national parks and I found my favourite region of the trip so far – the Great Eucalypt Forests. The trees were enormous and majestic – it was magnificent to see them in a native forest untouched by humanity except the tiny ribbon of road that passed far below their canopy, barely worthy of their notice. I wish I could bottle the forest-smell. Its surprising that we revere European style forests so much in Australia when we have such incredible native beauty – its a pity we don’t appreciate and protect it more.
It was dark when we arrived into Margaret River (damn you Albany!), but the main street was lit up like an adorable mountain village somewhere in the snow Swiss Alps. Of course, its quite warm and is a renowned wine region which possibly makes it my ideal place to live. We stayed in a very comfortable motel and had a spectacular breakfast at the coolest bakery ever in the main street, with mismatched couches, crockery and eclectic style only beaten by fabulous inexpensive food and homemade meringues the size of a small child’s head. (I actually verified this with a friend’s 15 month old.) Unfortunately we were on a tight deadline to deliver my travel buddy to the capital for her return flight to Adelaide so we tried visiting one winery, found that most of the world does have opinions about what time in the morning is suitable to drink alcohol and with a sigh left the lovely little town vowing to return for a decent visit. Perth is only three hours north so a day trip (or rather a weekend trip) is definitely possible for me during my stay and my friend swore she intends to repeat our roadtrip over a longer time frame with her partner and kids sometime in the near future.
A short drive later, relative to the distance we’d already covered at least, and we arrived in Perth with plenty of time to say our goodbyes at the airport and for her to catch up with a local friend before her flight home. It was a delight traveling with you, my friend! Come visit me any other time you wish on my trip and we can do it again.
So here I am now in the big smoke, with friends, wine and a replaced air mattress for more adventures.
Best: Camping – stargazing. Nothing can compare to the view of the night sky when there aren’t city lights nearby to blot them out. The Milky Way was radiant. Its no wonder that the ancients worshiped the stars. Being slightly more modern in our approach, we discovered that all residual knowledge from first year Astronomy was gone and resorted to launching the Google Sky app on our phones to tell us where the constellations were. I do so love technology.
Worst: Camping – the air mattress. Within an hour of going to bed, a slow leak had reduced our mattress to a thin covering over the cold hard ground. Grateful for thin foam mats, we got through the night and decided maybe cabins and motels might be more comfortable until it could be replaced in Perth.
Most Random Sight: On a stretch of open road at least 20kms outside of a one-horse town, a young man with a backpack and no shirt skateboarded past and away from us back down the road. No idea where he came from or was going to – we saw nothing for at least another 50kms.