Today was the first day we have had condensation on the car first thing in the morning. It warmed up nicely later and promises to be hotter tomorrow. Most of the interior of the Eyre Peninsula is farmland with some bush alongside the road and some nature reserves. Leaving Streaky Bay, the Flinders Highway crosses land before returning to the coast at Mount Camel Beach which sits on Anxious Bay. The Bay was named by Matthew Flinders, but I have not found the reason for this name. There are also views to Venus Bay further north and the rocky coast to the south. The beach was deserted when we arrived, but footprints told us that a couple of people and a dog had been there earlier.
There was a notice about the local seabird populations. Hooded plovers are declining and the number has dropped to around 500 in SA. Habitat loss, predation by foxes, cats and dogs and human impact such as vehicles and dogs on beaches plus disturbance of breeding areas is thought to be responsible. Pied Oystercatchers are also resident, and the Red-necked Stint migrate here from Siberia every year. Visitors are advised to stay below the high water mark, keep dogs under control, stay away from birds and chicks and watch where you walk as eggs and chicks can be hard to spot. I saw a few Oystercatchers and gulls from a distance. Further south Lake Newland conservation area lies between the road and the sand dunes. It is only accessible with 4WD. Elliston is a small town that sits on Waterloo Bay.
The café was closed and for sale, but the bakery also did coffee and we were not the only customers. While topping up my caffeine levels I read a leaflet in the bakery written by the Australian Wilderness Society about the proposals to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. The ocean here is much rougher than the Gulf of Mexico and an investigation into the capabilities of the government and the states to deal with a major oil spill concluded that they would not be able to. The report had been updated in August 2018 and said that while BP had pulled out, other companies were still persisting in trying to get permission. If we had more time, the 13.6K coastal trail and the sculpture trail might have been an option.
Today was Lizard avoidance day as several were crossing the road. I managed to get a shot of this Shingle-Back/Pinecone Lizard before he disappeared into the bush.
We managed to avoid them all and a couple of kangaroos but saw a snake that did not make it. South of Sheringa we saw a side road signpost: ‘Nowhere Else Road’ which has to be the best yet. The road then runs between Lake Hamilton and the shore.
Towards the southern end of the peninsula there are a number of lakes, the grass is greener and there are a few more larger trees around. The highway descends towards Port Lincoln after the turnoff for Coffin Bay. This is the largest town we have stayed in since we left the west coast. It has a population of around 15,000. The main industry is tuna fishing: it has the largest fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere. Also known as the seafood capital of Australia, the town sits on Boston Bay which is three times the size of Sydney Harbour. In addition to the swimming and fishing jetty on the esplanade, there is also a large Viterra mineral processing plant and commercial pier.
The town was named by Flinders who was from Lincolnshire. I feel quite at home as there is an Edinburgh Street and a Liverpool Street and South Shields is a little further up the coast. There are lots of things you can do around here: cage diving with great white sharks, water sports etc but I am quite happy to relax, digest the weekend paper and plan tomorrows drive. We have even spotted a bookshop in town which will hopefully be open tomorrow. Todays mileage was 191 making the total so far: 9,275
Ceduna faces west despite being on the south coast so we watched the sun go down after dinner as it is later here after the time change.
After two longer driving days we had a shorter one today. Before leaving Ceduna we drove out to Pinky Point from where you can see ships belching out smoke at the port across the water. Millions of tonnes of gypsum, salt, grain and mineral sands are loaded onto ships each year and dozens of trawlers unload fish. There is an automated light somewhere but all there is at the point is this.
There is a walking/cycling trail to the point from the town. We were briefly back on Highway One until the turnoff for the Flinders Highway which runs down the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. Had we stayed on Highway One we would have passed the midpoint between Perth and Sydney. The first stop was at Smoky Bay, a quiet town and former port. It was named by Matthew Flinders who saw smoke rising from the fires of the indigenous people as he sailed by.
There are numerous shells on the beach and some children were collecting them as we walked along it. Oysters are farmed here as well as at Ceduna and fishing is a popular hobby. Some people were fishing from the jetty and there were several seabirds hanging around.
Further down the coast is Haslam, a community which is smaller and has no shop. Here tyres are used as a breakwater and others are just left on the beach and in the sea. They will continue to shed fibres into the ocean.
Information boards outlined the history of the town and the push to build a jetty. Food supplies had to be ordered and delivered by boat from Adelaide and a jetty made unloading much easier. Perlube Beach is further south and has white sand and dunes and a caravan park. Our destination for the night was Streaky Bay which also got its name from Matthew Flinders who saw the streaks of colour left from seaweeds in the water. We stopped for lunch just past the town on the shore of Cape Bauer. It was still windy but there were lots of purple flowers just behind the beach.
There were several notices regarding restrictions on razor fishing: the number that can be taken and the need to dispose of shells below the tide line. As we left to find our hotel, two cars with fishermen arrived. We only drove 85 miles today so the total is now 9,084.
Our hotel in Norseman did not look very promising as we approached it. The signs were all down and it looked like it was ready for a re-paint. There was no answer to the phone number on the door but just as I was about to look elsewhere, James found a guy round the back and the reception door was opened. We discovered that it was built in 1939 and is under renovation. The interior has been done and now the exterior is underway. The guy who was doing some of the work was living in a caravan on the site. I think we were the only customers that night. We left fairly early the next morning as we had over 400 miles to drive. The town was so quiet James thought tumbleweed should be blowing down the streets and it had a hint of Hotel California about it.
The Eyre Highway was named after the first European, John Eyre, to cross the area in 1841. It begins in Norseman and runs along the southern edge of the Nullarbor Plain. The Trans Australia Railway which runs from Perth to Sydney, passes through Kalgoorlie and runs north of the road. It passes into the Nullarbor Plain more quickly. We travelled on the Indian Pacific on that route seven years ago. The road leaves Norseman in the Great Western Forest which is bigger than England. This eventually peters out into bush with trees near Caiguna which continue until just before Eucla.
Just outside Norseman we saw a couple of cyclists we had passed the day before and later saw a third as well as one guy running. I have no idea how far any of them were going. Our first stop was at Balladonia which promised bean coffee on a sign before the roadhouse. The hotel and community were originally 17 miles or so further east on the site of the old telegraph station at the end of the old telegraph road from Norseman. The modern road construction started in 1941 and the hotel moved to its current site in 1962. It is now part of the fairly standard set up of hotel/motel, camping & caravan site, filling station and shop/café/restaurant that most of the roadhouses comprise of. There is a small museum next to the café that covers many aspects of the community and area and one episode which brought it into the public domain. Skylab was a space research laboratory launched in 1973 from Florida. Various teams worked on over the years and in the late 1970s it was decided to return it to earth. It did so on 12 July 1979 and partially burned up on re-entry, spraying fragments into the ocean and on this part of Western Australia. Reporters descended on Balladonia and the roadhouse received a phone call from President Jimmy Carter apologising and offering assistance. NASA posted a $10,000 reward for the first piece of wreckage to be returned to the USA and this was claimed by a 17-year-old from Esperance.
There was also some information about camels. They had been used for outback transport from the 19th century until motor vehicles arrived. The people who worked with and led the camels were often referred to as Afghans although those who worked near Balladonia were either from Karachi or Baluchistan in India. Camels fitted the outback climate very well, but their drivers remained nomadic and isolated from the rest of the community. Some of the camels escaped and have become feral. I saw some from the train in 2011.
After Balladonia we drove round a bend and then came to the longest straight stretch of road in Australia: the 90 Mile Straight.
As we stopped at the sign, I noticed a guy with an old Ford ute had also stopped. I asked him if I could take a photo as my brother used to be secretary of the Ford pre-67 Owners Club in the UK. He was quite happy for me to do so and told me that he was on the way back from an old ute gathering. He also said that he had got married in the early 1980s and that he and his wife had spent 17 years just travelling around the country. Further on we saw more old vehicles also returning home. Our lunch was at Cocklelbiddy Roadhouse. Near there, down an unsealed road to the coast is the Eyre Bird Observatory which we did not have time to explore. We continue through blue bush with stretches of blue flowering plants by the roadside and still some trees. The road goes over the Madura Pass at 90m and then descends from the Hampton Tableland to the plain. After Mundrabilla we spotted the first motorcyclist of the day heading in the opposite direction. Our destination for that night was Eucla (population 53) which sits on a 100m pass and is about three miles from the coast.
There are sand dunes and the old telegraph station which dates from 1877 is slowly being covered by sand. There is also an old jetty down at the beach, but the winds were high and as we approached it looked like a sandstorm ahead, so we turned back. The surrounding landscape is much more like the Nullarbor with plants and after Eucla more like desert. The high winds overnight had brought cloud but at least we did not have to worry about fallen trees on the road.
At the South Australia Border the old Eyre Highway (unsealed) runs parallel until Nullabor. There are several viewpoints looking over the Great Australian Bight. Just after Nullabor we passed the exit to Cook (population 2 and 1 dog) which the Indian Pacific Train stops at. The Highway enters the Yalata Aboriginal Reserve and hills and trees reappear. We passed three cyclists in total. Later, the landscape reverts to sheep pasture and cereal crops. The road passes through Penong before reaching Ceduna. The town claims to have Australia’s biggest windmill and has a windmill museum. I was not tempted.There is also a turn off to Cactus Beach which is renowned for surfing. We reached Ceduna having driven 302 miles in addition to the 435 on Wednesday bringing our total to 8,999 miles.
Before leaving Esperance, we had a look at the old tanker jetty which is starting to fall apart.
Then we drove up to the Rotary Lookout which gives views over to the islands and the west beach.
Highway One runs north to Norseman with the railway alongside it for most of the way. Interestingly Google Maps only shows the main roads and no detail of the rest of the town e.g. streets, businesses etc (Eucla as well, although it is even smaller). They have obviously not got out here despite the fact that we are not in the Amazon rainforest or the remote Himalayas. Fortunately, maps.me is a good satellite app for smaller places, roads and footpaths. The surrounding landscape here is agricultural with huge cereal fields, occasional livestock and several large mills. Esperance port ships grain and minerals which are the two large industries in the area. Feeling my caffeine levels dropping, I was looking for somewhere to top them up. Nothing was open at Grass Patch.
At Salmon Gums the roadhouse was open but the hotel was closed and up for sale. There are many small and large salt lakes but closer to Norseman woodland appears and we entered the Great Western Woodlands, the largest intact tract of temperate woodlands on the earth. Bromus Dam is a rare fresh water lake. It was created to service the early steam trains and around dawn and dusk there is a good chance of seeing wildlife. We heard some birds and got some fleeting shots. There is parking and picnic tables around the dam.
A little further on is a side road to Dundas Rocks. These are rock formations and large boulders lying on the ground and there is a campsite beyond them. I found a painted rock on some of them. This craze had been going locally for a while before we left home, but this is the first one I have seen here. I am not participating so left it where it was.
The rocks are south of the site of the abandoned town of Dundas. It was founded in 1893, a year after gold was discovered nearby. However, in 1894 gold was discovered near what is now Norseman and after a while, Dundas withered and died. As most of the buildings were timber there is now hardly anything to see of the buildings but there are a few street names, some interpretation boards, and you can drive the Dundas Coach Road heritage trail.
Legend has it that a horse called Norseman pawed the ground and a piece of gold-bearing quartz lodged in his hoof. There is a statue of him in the town centre and one of the roundabouts has corrugated iron camels on it which are a tribute to the camel trains. As in other places, the main street had to be widened to allow them to turn around.
I was chatting to one of the locals and told him that Moffat in Scotland has a sheep statue. He pointed out that Norseman is not twinned with anywhere so maybe that is something for them to explore. Gold is still mined north of the town and there is a huge waste heap on the hillside called Phoenix Tailings Storage Facility which is 40m high and holds 4 million tonnes of waste and was built between 1935 and 1977.
Some eucalyptus trees are beginning to grow on it but there is too much salt and they will not really get established until that has all been washed out. Before we checked in we drove up to the viewpoint at Beacon Hill and walked the short 865m loop which gives views over the land surrounding the town.
It was then time to check into our motel and get ready for the big drive tomorrow. Town is pretty quiet and there are quite a few vacant buildings. As we had our evening meal in the local bar (served by a woman from Lincolnshire) a few workers did come in for a drink and meal. Today’s 134 miles brought the trip total to 8,262.
The first thing we did after leaving Walpole was to drive the few miles east to the Valley of Giants Treetop Walk in Nornalup National Park. The huge Red Tingle Trees (Eucalyptus jacksonii) grow up to 75m tall and 20m in girth. The karri trees seen elsewhere in WA (Eucalyptus diversicolor) can grow up to 90m. These tall trees have been used as lookout posts for forest fires.
The walkway gets up to 40m off the ground and gives great views of the canopy. We saw several birds (including this Australian Ringneck)
but no quokkas which also live on the trees and use the sword grass on the ground to give them cover from predators. When people walk fast on the walkway, it tends to sway a little making photography a bit of a challenge. I was thankful for the image stabilisers on my lenses. There is also a brief glimpse to the landscape outside the park.
We also walked along the ground level Ancient Empire boardwalk. This is free, but you have to pay to go on the Treetop walk. A section of the Bibbelmum Track passes through the valley. It is 1000km and runs from near Perth to Albany. We saw one hiker near the Visitors’ Centre. All too soon it was time to carry on as our destination for the night was Esperance, 374 miles from Walpole. Vineyards are called wineries here but near Denmark, the next town on the South Coast Highway; I saw signs to a meadery and a cidery. Albany was settled before Perth and is the oldest (dating from 1826) and the largest town on this section of the coast. Initially, the British settlers were welcomed by the indigenous people there because they stopped the rape and murder being carried out by whalers and sealers. Unfortunately the Brits then stopped indigenous people coming into their shops and began to remove their children from them. Coming into town, we passed the world’s largest sandalwood oil factory. It has some 19th century buildings in the town centre and I had no problem finding a café to top up my caffeine levels. Down by the shore is a replica ship of the Amity Brig that brought the first settlers here from Sydney.
We had by now left the big trees behind us and the landscape switched between farmland and bush. There were a few more forests but they were for commercial timber. We did not have a kangaroo cross the road in front of us today, but we did have to swerve around one lizard and had the first emu crossing of the trip. As we drove east the landscape got drier and the rivers had less water in them. Near Ravensthorpe we were in big cereal growing area with fields bigger than those in East Anglia. The town has artworks on the silos and a very large roundabout for a small community. It was established in 1900 and reminded me of something a university friend said to some Americans who were studying in the UK: ‘I suppose you have to come here as you don’t have any history over there’. He obviously has not been to Australia where European history is even more recent and indigenous history often not easily accessible by others. Our road began to traverse some hills and we were now back in mining and road train country. As we descended into Esperance there was more water around with lakes, ponds and nature reserves. All we had time for before dark was a short walk along the esplanade where the old pier was in the background near our motel was the sculpture by Cindy Poole and Jason Woolridge: Whale Tail. Our mileage was 381 making the trip total 8,128.
Getting out of Bunbury was not as easy as it should have been because Ocean Drive was closed for a local running event. The motel owner told us how to get off the street and through to the next, so we got back onto the highway after several diversions. Today, the first part of our drive was a diversion from Highway One to see the southwest corner of Western Australia. We left Bunbury on the Bussell Highway but just before we reached Busselton we took the alternative tourist route which passes through the Tuart forest and then along the coast. When we reached the town, a market was underway, and it began to rain. We had coffee in the old courthouse and lock up which is now a café. Busselton has the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere which was first built in 1853 and is now 1841 metres long. It dates from the town’s time as a timber port and was used for this purpose until 1972. It now has tourist attractions on it.
Further along the road is the town of Cowaramup which derived its name from a now disused railway junction. The town has 42 life-size fibreglass Friesian cows in various sites around town. It reminded me of the cows that appeared in northwest England a few years ago but which were far from life-like unlike these. In the green countryside around both dairy and beef cattle are raised and some sheep. There are also lots of wineries. As it was Sunday, very few were open for tasting and the Margaret River Regional Wine Centre where you can taste wine from several wineries was shut. The one in Pemberton only opens Monday to Friday. The rain continued, and we were in countryside with rivers, pools, lakes and the water channels at the side of the road actually had water in them for the first time on this trip. There were black swans, ibis and egrets in the pools. In our six weeks in Australia we have had more rain than we saw in the three months of summer before we left. At Karridale, the Bussell Highway becomes the Brockman Highway, but after a few miles we took at shortcut along the Stewart Road to pick up the Vasse Highway which runs through forests of old, tall eucalyptus trees (karri trees) to Pemberton. One kangaroo bounded across the road in front of us. It continued to rain, heavily at times. Had it been dry, we might have visited the Big Brook Arboretum north of Pemberton, but it involves several miles on unsealed roads and we preferred to stay dry. Back on Highway One, now called the South Western Highway, it still ran among trees and after being in much drier landscapes I was more than happy to be in the forest.
We crossed the Rooney Bridge and through part of Shannon National Park, so I assume some Irish people settled this part of the country. Later we passed by D’Entrecasteaux National Park which was named after a French Naval Officer. The road started to descend towards Walpole and the coast. At the John Rate lookout, we got our first glimpse of the Southern Ocean on this trip. He was the first forester in the district and in the 1950s discovered a third species of tingle tree. Ironically, he was killed by a falling branch of a karri tree.
We were soon in Walpole which has a population of 439 and found our motel for the night. Walpole has an old piece of machinery near the information office which was used for hauling logs: indicating how important timber was for this community at one point.
You could spend quite a lot of time in this part of the world: there are lots of walks in the National Parks and a whole coast to explore. Sadly, on this trip, we don’t have enough time. 227 miles today and the trip total is now 7.747 miles.
Cervantes was named after an American whaling ship ran aground in 1844 (several other ships have sunk or run aground here). Many of the streets are named after Spanish cities. Before we left we drove out to Thirsty Point. It is said to have acquired its name after fishermen sailing between Fremantle and Geraldton ran out of water at this point. There was a coastal surveillance look-out point here in the Second World War. Other than one fisherman, the beach was deserted. The islands offshore have sea lion populations, but we did not see any. Fishing is important along this coast evidenced by the large fish on the way in
and the fact that the only information board about local species at the point was on fish.
Further south is Namburg National Park which contains the Pinnacles Desert. You can drive around or there is a walking trail. We chose to walk and as well as the views from the lookout, also saw a flock of Galahs.
In the interpretive centre I learnt a little more about the quandong fruit photographed the previous day. It is related to sandalwood and takes nutrients from the roots of other plants as well as the soil. Emus love the fruit and the leaves were used by indigenous people to cure disease. The nut contains an oil that can be used as a moisturiser and early settlers used the skin to make jams and jellies. Nearer to Lancelin, we passed a sign warning drivers that ‘windblown sand may reduce visibility’ and shortly afterwards saw why: a mobile sand dune.
At Nambung National Park we had been told that our pass allowed access to other parks on the same day. As we passed Yanchep National Park, we decided to take a look and saw animals and birds. Many were having a snooze as it was the middle of the day.
Afterwards we continued to Perth where we were staying with friends and visiting relatives for a couple of days. We had some time in the city centre to explore Kings Park which has views over the city and the botanic garden. I discovered the names of some of the plants I had seen in Western Australia over the last few days and enjoyed some of the others. There is also a small indigenous art gallery which is also worth a visit.
We then walked back into town to visit the Art Gallery of Western Australia which has collections from the 19th century to the present day from Australian artists, artists from other countries who have worked in Australia, indigenous art and others. I particularly enjoyed an exhibition called Spaced 3: North by Southeast, which was the result of a three-year collaboration between Nordic and Australian visual artists. The only Nordic country not represented was Norway.
There is a secondhand bookshop in the city, Elizabeth’s. It has a blind date with books project underway at the moment. We found one book to buy.
After visiting relatives in Mandurah, we re-joined Highway One which is the Old Coast Road for a while before joining with Highway 2 to become the Forrest Highway to Bunbury. We had done 283 miles since leaving Cervantes and our trip total now 7,520. The forecast rain had begun as we arrived so evening walks along the beach did not happen.