We were kicking around some ideas for several days whilst keeping a watchful eye on the high pressure system(s) movements. And on our last night in Kalgoorlie, Celia and I drafted up a rudimentary plan for what we wanted to do, see, and where to stay along the ~1,400km crossing of the Nullarbor, breaking it down to 3 separate legs, across 6 days and 5 nights. As it turned out, very little of our plan materialised.
Our initial Nullarbor plan looked like this;
Leg 1. (3 x Days 3 x Nights)
Leg 2. (2 x Days & 2 x Nights)
Leg 3. (1 x Day)
Sounds feasible, yes …however, this is how it really turned out.
Leg 1. Kalgoorlie
to Fraser Range to Cocklebiddy (603Kms)
On a lovely cool morning, we departed Kalgoorlie reasonably early and headed directly south to Norseman in good time despite an unscheduled stop south of Coolgardie to affix our D4 A-pillar trims which were nearly torn off by the first road trains we passed of the day – see Kalgoorlie blog if you’d like to know what this was about and thank goodness for gaffer tape.
We refuelled at $1.23 in Norseman (and surprisingly had a very good espresso coffee) at the very large BP service station on the edge of town and pulled out heading east onto the Eyre Hwy and the start of the Nullarbor proper by 10:30am. The temperature was nudging 37Deg at this time and soon afterwards hit 40Deg.
We saw from the previous days temp-actuals it was likely to be hot again, but we didn’t expect the heat so early on in the day and would likely be higher at Fraser Range Station. We were a little over the heat once again by this time having persevered with 6 consecutive days of 36+Deg …last 2 of which were in the early 40’s in Kalgoorlie. We decide whilst on the Nullarbor before hitting the Fraser Range Station turn off to drive on straight past and make head straight to Cocklebiddy where the forecast was a delightful 10 Deg cooler than Fraser Range.
In the initial plan, we hoped to drive from from Fraser Range to Cocklebiddy whereby we would spend 2 nights at the Cocklebiddy roadhouse. On the 2nd day, make the 4WD trip into the Eyre Bird Observatory on the great Australian Bight and meet some of the volunteers and scientists. On the 3rd day, make the short hop across to the Western/South Australian Border at Eucla for the 3rd night’s stay. Reasonably straight forward we thought. However, the closer we got to Cocklebiddy the stiffer the wind was becoming and when we arrived the wind was just above 40Kms p/h and was trending upwards according to our weather App. We also thinking that the wind would be stronger physically down on the Bight and would most likely be difficult to spot/photo birds and generally scout around in those sorts of winds. So we reluctantly abandon this too…
Cocklebiddy is one of those typical outback roadhouses that is as important to truckies as to travellers. The’re often a special breed of people and we are grateful they exist in such remote and far-away places that travellers like ourselves can leverage as a brief stop over on the way to somewhere more exotic. The Cocklebiddy Roadhouse people provide; various fuels, home cooked meals, are the Hwy accident/rescue/paramedic response team when in need, bush mechanics, provide hotel and caravan/camping facilities with clean amenities ..and do so with a good dose of humour. I guess you need the latter more than any other qualification? 🙂
On the 1st night at the Cocklebiddy, due to the increasing wind, we decide to head over to the roadhouse for dinner as it was far too windy to cook outside. Inside their very homely dining room, were a couple of backpackers and a truckie in for dinner at the same time. The wind was a stiff southeasterly, not quite a direct headwind if heading east as we were, but close enough, and when we rose early the following day was as windy, if not more. Our fuel consumption the day before had risen significantly from our trip average of 15.3 litres per 100kms, to crossing from Norseman of 22.1 litres per 100kms.
later on, we take yet another look at the weather forecast and see that the wind has increased and will continue at near-gale level – so we reluctantly abandon the trip into Eyre observatory, too…
Since we now had a little more time up our sleeves, day 2 we head off a little later than we would normally after deciding the boys should use the extra time we now had to catch up on some school work and we pulled out of the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse just after 11:30am.
The wind were still blowing hard and we knew we were in for another ‘longish’ day even though it was about 3.5-4 hours to Eucla. We fancied staying in Eucla however the wind by mid afternoon when we arrived had not abated. Today’s drive along the Bight had been the only time I did not particularly enjoy driving on the trip as the strong 45deg angled headwind was playing havoc with the van. We refuelled ($1.36) and whilst filling, a willie willie (dust devil) inside the fuel station compound area emerged out of the blue. It was not a large one however it was still strong enough for me to cop a face full of grit. I still missed a photo of it and as we looked out to sea from the diesel bowser (the fuel station is up high on an escarpment), there was nothing but white caps as far as the eye could see.
Our Eucla stop was was meant to be to shoot the large sand dunes this area is well known for. The wind we thought was just going to make this a difficult task at sunset actually made it a total waste of time. 3rd strike! Once again, we abandoned this planned stop and decided to push on beyond Eucla, through Border Village, and onwards into South Australia after spending the last 141 consecutive days in Western Australia.
Soon after, we turned our attention to our Hema maps and Wikicamps looking for a decent free-camp spot out of the wind as the next roadhouse was a few hours further down the road and given the amount of roadkill we’d seen, we did not want to drive too much before and after dusk if we didn’t have to. The Eyre Hwy at this part of the Nullarbor skirts the very top of the tall cliff edges of the Bight so anything right side of the Eyre Hwy when heading east will be very windy – so we look for somewhere on the left side with lots of tree coverage. Around the 80km mark past Border Village, we find a gravel track / bush camp vaguely mentioned in wikicamps named survey peg 081 on the left – “As stated: good if windy“. We could not see peg 81 but found a track on peg 83. No coordinates were provided but we eventually spot the ground survey peg # and recorded the coordinates of -31.58687, 129.83406. We pull in just after 5:30pm and scout around in the large and narrow maze of dense and stunted Mulga trees and salt bush looking for a level spot out of the wind and find one nestled behind some a nice thicket of salt bush about the length the T3. We leave the D4 hitched up to the van, and 5-10 mins later were set. It was still too windy for the awning but sheltered enough to cook outside and we proceed to prepare dinner and think about tomorrow and re-plan where we want to be and do.
The boys didn’t particularly like our new camp much and it had been another long day with school for a few hours in the morning, so we fire up the satellite and put on Penn & Teller for them and Celia and I enjoy cooking dinner whilst listening to them laughing their heads off as comedic/would-be-illusionists trying to fool them to win a performance trip to Vegas. It was quite funny and visuals were not necessary.
This bring me to a question we often get asked: “What do we listen too when driving – particularly the long driving days”? Well, collectively , we have a very large collection of music on our iPhone(s) which all pair seamlessly to the D4’s sound system and we have listened to a lot of music over the many months and do most days. However, we have enjoyed most listening to podcasts – specifically, several years worth of JJJ’s science hour podcasts with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. I think we have downloaded every show that has been made (let’s say, several years worth) and many of them listened several times over – check’em out if not familiar and best of all, they’re free to download too. There’s a plug for you Dr Karl!
No sooner we were into cooking dinner, a scruffy and rather earthy looking guy appears out of know where brandishing a big grin and holding up a very well used water container looking for some drinking water. After the initial shock, we oblige and he proceeds to tell us his life story in 30 sec whilst filling his container. As quickly as he turned up, he disappears. About an hour later, after finishing our dinner, we had some leftovers (Spaghetti Bog) so we decide to put it in a container and go and find the scruffy guy and offer him some of our dinner. The boys and I look around the thick bush and after smelling some smoke (…and there was total fire-ban on) from a wood fire, this lead us to him and we offer the nice man our left overs. He was VERY pleased to see us and graciously accepted. He had a very basic camp – living half in / out of an old car and I don’t think he had anything to eat for dinner that we could see. We also gave him some more water as well and bid him good night.
Later that night we did a usual night time bug hunt with the boys and the prize spot were a couple of large ground-dwelling beetles – the place was quite barren to say the least. However, just before dawn the next morning we did spot the largest Centipede I have ever seen hanging around the step of our van – presumably attracted to the insects because of the light we have on at night under the step which can attract insects and other un-wanted creatures. Silly of me, for some reason, I plainly forgot to take a shot of our campsite at peg 083 – barren, dry and rocky, and a good one.
The Eyre Hwy on the Nullarbor is quite lumpy with beautiful salmon-gum forests on the Western Australian end and progressively flattens through the middle sections with isolated parts looking more like the Serengeti in Africa – such as the basin shot above just outside of Madura in Western Australia. Further east, the plains give way to no tree’s before rolling pastoral plains border the hwy (Mainly Wheat and Sheep) up to Eucla and down as far as Port Lincoln.
We had heard from a reliable and well travelled source that Ceduna was “not much chop” and was advised us to keep going and call into either or all; Streaky Bay, Smokey Bay, Elliston, Coffin Bay and Port Lincoln when doing the Eyre Peninsula. After a little qualification, and armed with this new information we set off from Peg 83 with the key aim of reaching Streaky Bay by 6pm.
It was a menacingly overcast and windy day once again and we pulled into a couple of the many lookouts along the Bight which are popular vantage points during Whale migration season (July-Oct) and you see most flora about the place is small, low to the ground and often very stunted. They say Geraldton in Western Australia is regarded as the windiest place in Australia however I think the Nullarbor exceeds it – at least at this time of the year on our journey. Our first refuel of the day was a roadhouse at Yalata 183kms onwards. Diesel at the roadhouse was an incredible $1.10 (cheapest refuel of the entire trip) and we decide to press on for a further 180Kms and think about lunch and the next stop.
The wind by this time had abated and the temps slowly rose all day and we decide on the little roadhouse of Nundroo as the next stop to grab a quick bite. We don’t often buy lunch at roadhouses but did today – a locally made sausage roll.
It was mid 3o’s and we were all standing out front of the roadhouse under the awning after lunch stretching our legs when I see a small snake slither past in front of me. I carefully follow it for a short distance and it seeks refuge around the roadhouses planter box and I was trying to figure out which species of snake to was because it’s markings did unusual. There were also a few country men at the roadhouse and one fella was watching me and came up to see what we were looking at. He saw it and straight away with confidence says; “It’s a baby King Brown mate- very common this time of year around here and very dangerous, dangerous, dangerous,” he said. I never knew King Browns to look like this and it was aggressive a few times and when it settled down I took an image of it up next to the footings of the planter box.
After the reptile encounter at Nundroo, we continue on towards Ceduna, which is also a fruit-fly check point. We were well prepared and over the last couple of days made sure we had no fruit or veggies left over that would likley be confiscated. The last couple of hours before making Ceduna is mostly gentle undulating roads bordering large wheat fields and the occasional sheep or cattle farm and not much else. It was also very dry clearly burdening a long hot and dry summer and this years el Nino. We make Ceduna about 4pm – pass through the quarantine check reasonably quick (we had a nice quarantine officer close to knock off time) and decide at the last moment we would not drive any further for the day, which concludes our uneventful Nullarbor crossing.
There you have it …very little of our initial plan materialised. The wind was the big factor for us which resulted in a strong headwind most of the way as we expected, perhaps not quite as fierce though?
Two days later we were speaking with a few fellow travellers (in Streaky Bay) who recently did the crossing from west-east and both mentioned the winds were the worst that have seen them for this time of year. Most of them burn across in two big days with an overnight stop in Eucla/Border Village or somewhere near. If you are working to a tight schedule there is nothing wrong with this strategy. However for us, we had wanted to take our time and see a lot more of the Nullarbor than we did in the 3 days and 2 nights we actually took to cross. We ended up averaging 86.6kms per hour and a big blowout in our fuel average of 22.1 litres per 100kms from Norseman to Ceduna. From a photography standpoint, the incessant near-gale winds put paid to most of what we had in mind and the majority of images we took were very much random snaps at best. It was hard to get inspired when so windy and often overcast.
On the whole though, the Nullarbor is an interesting drive and we did not find it boring at all – perhaps the boys did once or twice and thank goodness for traveling with Dr Karl. One day, we’ll try doing it clockwise (East to West) and hopefully with a big tail-wind and with more time to explore – especially, in whale season, inland from the Border Village area as well as visit the Eyre Bird Observatory we sadly missed on this crossing.
Next post will be a BIG one on the Eyre Peninsula …and any comments or questions on this post, please do let us know.
Geoff & Celia