Today was our last driving day of this trip. Before we left Wollongong, we decided to take a look at the lighthouses. It is the only place in eastern Australia to have two lighthouses in such close proximity. The oldest is the Breakwater Lighthouse in the old harbour. Construction began in 1871 and the light first shone in 1872. It was deactivated in 1974 and later restored as an historic building. It now at least provides a good fishing spot.
The second lighthouse was built in 1936 on Flagstaff Hill and was the first fully automatic lighthouse in Australia.
We then began our slow route to Sydney. First we drove along the Lawrence Hargreave Drive (B65). It continues up the coast through several small communities. There were several surfers hoping for better waves at Stanley’s Beach.
A little further north is Seacliff Bridge. It was opened in 2005 and built to avoid the constant landslides and rockfalls which beset the old road which ran right against the escarpment. There are car parks at both ends of the bridge (although those at the south end are a little nearer) and there is a footpath along the entire span. Today was brighter than yesterday but there was a lot of haze.
Today was the first time we have seen this sign
and people seemed to be respecting it as we did not see any padlocks. Someone has been painting letters on the piers but I could not see all the piers and the whole word.
Below us, a man in a small boat was putting lobster pots out. We had coffee at Stanwell Park which is the largest village on this section of the coast and has two cafes. Afterwards we stopped at the very busy Bald Hill Lookout which has views out to sea and down the coast and is very popular as a launching place for hang gliders.
We then drove through Royal National Park and had our lunch by the Hacking River in Audley. Several Purple Swamphens were eating on the bank.
Afterwards, the minor road joins Highway One, the Princes Highway and we followed this into the city, continuing on another road to avoid the motorway. We had to drop the hire car off at an office at the bottom end of Pitt St near Circular Quay. My navigation system suggested a route for the last few miles but major road works and ‘no right turn’ notices kept foiling us. Fortunately, the traffic was not too busy. After being re-directed several times we saw a police station and James was given a route which avoided all the problems and via a very small lane, got us to our destination. We thought that we would soon be installed in our hotel. Not so. As the car hire office is next to a hotel and taxi rank, it should have been an easy task to hail a cab and jump in for the short journey. Many of the taxis in Sydney run on gas and have a tank in the boot, reducing the space for luggage. As we have a fair pile after such a long trip the first guy refused to take us and there was a prolonged discussion between the drivers. I spotted an estate car across the road and when the drive appeared, asked if he would take us. He was reluctant as he was the last taxi to arrive at the rank but eventually was persuaded to take us. Today we only drove 92 miles and the final total for the whole trip is 11, 584. We now have a couple of days in Sydney to relax, see friends and get ready for our homeward flight where we will be planning our next journey.
We awoke to black skies and wet roads. Unfortunately as we left the city, the rain returned. I had decided to take James to Healesville Sanctuary to see some of the wildlife we had only had brief glimpses of on our trip so far. We arrived just before opening time and tried to spot animals and birds who were trying to stay dry. It was quite a contrast to my visit 14 years ago on a sunny day when emus came to the fence and the dingoes were lying on the rocks soaking up the rays. The emus were hiding as were the dingoes and there was no sign of the platypus.
On the way back towards Highway One with the Yarra Range in the clouds, we passed an appropriately named sideroad: Rainy Hill Road. After being in the city it was a pleasure to be back in the hills surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees. We stopped for coffee at Pakenham where a thunderstorm cut the electricity off in the café briefly. There is a secondhand book exchange in the shopping centre and I found a couple of books by one of the Duracks which were recommended by our friend in New South Wales. Interestingly the hotel here has a big sign outside saying that there are definitely no pokies here. A little further along the highway we stopped for lunch at Trafalgar. The train stops here and the old station house now houses a pop-up arts and crafts shop. It has been part of a state programme to re-use redundant railway buildings. It needed a bit more TLC though as grass was growing in the gutter. The next part of our journey was almost like home: a traffic jam due to roadworks on the road on a holiday weekend Friday afternoon. It did not delay us too long and we settled into our motel at Lakes Entrance before the forecast gales arrived later in the evening. It was still windy in the morning and all the water birds were sitting on the edge of the water as it was too rough to feed in it. From the lookouts it did not too rough.
The next morning we got back on the highway and stopped for coffee in the Bushaware Café in the General Store near Cabbage Tree Creek. The cicadas were deafening and speaking to the owner, I learnt that they only come for two weeks every year. There are 200 hundred species in Australia and the noise can reach 120 dB, enough to damage the human ear.
The sign was being repaired. 100km or so further on, we crossed the last state border on this trip and were back in New South Wales. At Eden, the Whale Festival was on and it was very busy. This part of the coast is known as the Sapphire Coast: this is the colour of the sea, nothing to do with the gemstone.
We continued on Highway 9 to Merimbula, where we met up with a friend and walked along the boardwalk at the edge of the water.
There were a number of birds: a Barn Owl with an injured eye, Black Swans and a Yellow Thornbill. The café was shut – in Australia they often shut in the afternoon.
We then visited Bournda National Park which has a walk to a cove,
And lots of kangaroos hanging out.
On Sunday morning we left and continued on the coast road from Tathla to Moggreeka inlet and after a drive uphill, to Cuttagee Beach on Barragga Bay.
We stopped at Bermagui for coffee and then re-joined Highway One towards Narooma. The road winds upwards in the forest and then down to Camel Rock Beach.
with the mountains behind.
The Highway then passes between Dromedary Mountain 806m on the left and Little Dromedary Mountain which is too low to have its height measured on my app. There are a number of small interesting towns on this coast. Mago, a gold mining town dating from 1850 there are a number of craft shops and cafes on the street and it was very busy. At Milton, there was a long queue of people waiting to get into the theatre to see Calendar Girls. Narooma has a lovely situation on the inlet. I could spend longer in them all. Before we arrived in Wollongong, we diverted to Jervis Bay to look at Hyams Beach which claims to be the whitest beach in the world.
At Shellharbour we took the quieter and slower B62 to our hotel as the Highway was very busy with people returning to Sydney. Our mileage over the last few days was 658 and our total before our last driving day is 11,492.
Robe sits on the Limestone Coast before it ends at the state border – the coast decays into interesting shapes and structures. The obelisk was built in 1855 by a local man.
Initially painted white it proved difficult to distinguish from the white sands and the limestone cliffs so red stripes were added in 1862 to improve its visibility. The current lighthouse was built in 1973 and is similar to the one at Cape Jervis. Some Galahs were sitting on the rocks alongside the car park when we returned to the car.
We took City Wells Road back to Highway One; the Princes Highway. The surrounding land was mostly farmland with oilseed rape and pasture. After Millicent there are large pine forests and we could have been in Northern Europe or North America. We passed a paper mill and a sign to Glencoe Woolshed which was built as a shearing shed in 1863. There are still a lot of merino sheep around this area.
On Saturday we had cyclists on the road and today it was motorcyclists – three groups of 20, 12 and 8 passed us, going in the opposite direction. Mount Gambier was our first stop. It sits on an extinct volcano with most of the town on the southern slope. It is the largest town in the area and in one street we had the choice of three cafes for coffee but as it was Sunday, the Book Place was closed. The crater lake is 4km south of the town centre and turns cobalt blue in summer. Today in late spring there was a hint of it but I am sure it must get more vivid.
The padlock craze continues here at one of the lookouts.
There is a cactus garden at the lake edge established in memory of Mrs A. Dodd, a former cacti grower.
On the way out of town is the Umpherston Sinkhole. The sinkholes here are limestone. This one was turned into a garden by James Umpherston in the late 19th century and his home used to stand alongside it until it was demolished in 1964. The cavities in the rock provide shelter for insects and birds.
After crossing into Victoria, we ate lunch at a rest area by the Glenelg River which had water in but was brown. On the Highway near Tyrendarra is a property with 100m of fence with shoes hanging on it. The owners saw a similar fence near Marlborough in New Zealand and decided to replicate it with some worn-out family shoes a few years ago and have encouraged others to copy them.
We passed through Port Fairy which in 2012 was voted ‘the most liveable town’. It has more 19th century buildings down near the port than most others. Soon we had reached Warrnambool. Like many of the towns on the south coast, it started life as a whaling and sealing town. At the right time of year, whale watching is possible from here. We are staying for the night. As it is the off-season, we got yet another upgrade. Today’s mileage was 206 taking the total to 10,157.
Having woken before dawn, we decided to leave as soon as we had finished our breakfast in the hope of catching an earlier ferry. As we were loading up the car, our lorikeet friend was again feeding on the Callistemon flowers.
Unfortunately, the cyclists we had met yesterday going in the opposite direction to us, were now all leaving their campsite on the way to the ferry port. There were around 200 of them and although there was not too much oncoming traffic, the road goes over a few blind summits, so it took a while to get past them all. We arrived at the port just as the earlier ferry was leaving. The port was very quiet with only a few humans and cormorants fishing.
A lot of passengers were disembarking from the incoming boat and I noticed an older woman with crutches and only one leg. We have had various conversations here about what health insurance covers and what it does not. Perhaps it does not cover prosthetic limbs and if you cannot afford private care you will be left without. We eventually got on the boat and I spotted some dolphins as we left the harbour. We arrived on time and retraced our steps to Delamere, passing lots of Muscle Cars heading for Cape Jervis and an event on the island. We turned onto the B27 which took us over the hills and past a forest to the Encounter Coast and Victor Harbor. We stopped for lunch on the esplanade.
A woman and child on the beach were the focus of interest of the gulls who were hoping they were eating. They were not. Eventually they realised that we had food and some wandered over to have a look.
There is a walkway to Granite Island which sits in the bay and is home to some wild penguins, but we did not have time to visit. The road continues on past Port Eliot and Goolwa. In order to get around Lake Alexandrina, we had to continue to Strathalbyn and then cut across back to Highway One. The road passes through olive groves and vineyards around Langhorne Creek but then the land becomes drier. We past Mulgundawa Salt whose huge pile of salt was visible from the road. At Wellington, there is no bridge across the Murray River; there is a ferry. There are 11 in total on the river and have been winched across since the 19th century. This one was free and open 24 hours a day.
Like a Sunday at home there were a lot of old and interesting cars on the road. Back on Highway One (B1 in these parts) we stopped at the Pink Lake a few km north of Meningie. Like the one we saw a few weeks ago, the colour is due to algae.
The road then runs through Coorong National Park which is on the coast. At Kingston SE, we turned off onto the B101 Southern Port Highway to Robe, a coastal town which was our destination for the night. There was a beer festival on at one end of the esplanade but it was otherwise fairly quiet. I understand that in high season and school holidays it gets very busy. Mileage today was 286 and we have broken the 10,000 mark with our trip mileage now up to 10,157.
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.
A couple of nights in Geraldton provided a break from long drives and time to re-supply. James was waiting outside the barber with three other guys before he opened at 8.30am. There only seem to be two in the city that we could find. He had a chat with the barber while his hair was being cut and mentioned the observation that he thought beards were more common in Australia than the UK. The barber agreed and noted that the hipster vogue for beards was keeping him in business as many guys wanted them professionally trimmed. The next stop was the Western Australian Museum which is well worth a visit. It covers the areas archaeology, natural history, settlement, the experience of the indigenous people, later migration and shipwrecks that have occurred along the coast. Admission is by donation. Nearby was a café overlooking the marina which was an ideal coffee top-up and a little further on past the main shopping street, a pop-up secondhand bookshop in which I found a book about the River Road in Louisiana: the southern part of the Great River Road we would like to drive at some point. Continuing along Marine Terrace eventually takes you past the port where the grain is loaded onto ships to Point Moore Lighthouse and beach. The lighthouse is Australia’s oldest and has been operational since 1878.
We had a walk along the beach and near the vehicle access was an osprey nest with three youngsters in it.
The road carries on around the point and back into town where we looked in the impressive Cathedral of St Francis Xavier. It was built in stages from the first part in 1918. A shortage of funds and artistic conflict delayed work until 1926 and was eventually completed in 1936.
The Anglican Cathedral is a little further up the avenue but is an unattractive 1960s-style concrete building. In front of the Queens Park Theatre is what from the road I thought was a sculpture but is in fact a sundial. The Iris Sundial was a gift to the city by the artist Bill Newbold who named it after his wife. A plate in front explains how it works. We tested it and found it to be accurate with date and time. Newbold took to designing sundials after he retired from the fishing industry and there are others around the city.
The following morning, we were back on Highway One referred to as the Brand Highway in these parts. We reached the twin seaside towns of Dongara and Port Denison at coffee time and found the Seaspray café down by the beach. It was well-signposted from the highway. There was a comfortable sofa, good coffee and various, home-made jams, art works and succulent arrangements for sale. The tide was in so there was not much beach to walk on and the only information board on local species was for fish. Fishing is a very popular hobby around here. On the way out, we passed the turn-off for Port Denison where this red fellow symbolises how important crayfishing is for the local industry.
Highway 60, known as the Indian Ocean Drive diverts from Highway One and continues through several coastal communities. We had not gone far when I spotted the turn-off for the Grigson Lookout. It is named after a pioneer whose family have farmed here for several generations. There are 360 degree views over the salt lakes, the gypsum and sand mines and towards the coast. Having thought some of the landscapes we travelled through a while back resembled parts of Utah near the Great Salt Lake, I was intrigued to see Salt Lakes here. This is the Australian equivalent of a trig point at 30m altitude.
This part of the west coast is knwown as the Turquoise Coast and Jurien Bay is the largest town. We found parking near the pier and beach and ate our lunch spot observed by some noisy gulls. There were only four watching us but as we passed the picnic tables later and another couple were eating. Word had got out and there were around twenty gulls. It reminded me of this notice spotted in Fremantle seven years ago:
Robinson Island is known to have rare Australian sea lions and at this time of year migrating cetaceans can sometimes be seen offshore. So far, we have not seen any despite scanning the ocean whenever we have the opportunity. We reached Cervantes and settled into our motel. The next few days will be devoted to visiting the Desert of Pinnacles and then visiting relatives and friends in Perth for a few days.