Around Australia: crossing the Nullarbor


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.

Around Australia: Esperance to Norseman


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.

Around Australia: Walpole to Esperance


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.

Around Australia: Bunbury to Walpole


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.

Around Australia: Cervantes to Bunbury


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.

Around Australia: Geraldton to the Turquoise Coast


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.

Around Australia: to Kalbarri and the Coral Coast


On the way back to Highway One from Denham there were a lot of wildflowers, but it was far too windy for flower photography. The overnight wind had brought a lot of cloud in. We did spot this raptor with a roadkill wallaby who was not too bothered by us passing by.

After coffee at the Overlander Roadhouse we saw the turn-off for the Butchers’ Track which was the track the camels used to bring the wool into Hamelin. We were soon back in farmland but with cereal crops rather than cattle. Our lunch stop was at a rest area by the Murchison River near the Galena Bridge. The older, lower bridge is still used by the local road to the rest area and campsite and the highway passes over the newer one. The old bridge was submerged in the flood of 2007. On the river were ducks, coots and a darter with a lot of flies in the air.

At the Kalbarri junction the scenic drive to Northampton begins. At first the road is on the plateau at around 200m altitude and after a few miles, enters the Kalbarri National Park. It then descends to the shore at Kalbarri where we spent the night in a quiet motel.

Kalbarri sits about halfway on the Coral Coast where the Murchison River Gorge reaches the sea. Our day began with a walk along the beach and then the pelican feeding which takes place from 8.45 to 9.15am every day. It has been going on since 1974 and is now undertaken by volunteers. They ask for a donation to cover the cost of the fish and the surplus is given to local good causes. Before the volunteer arrived, pelicans had started to gather in anticipation. They are Australia’s largest water bird.

Gulls were also hanging around hoping to catch something, but they were going to be out of luck.

Nine pelicans in all were there as the breeding season is now over.

Afterwards, we drove up to the National Park. There are several trails and lookouts over the gorge. We chose to do the short walk to Window Rock, one of the most popular.

There is a skywalk under construction at another outlook with a café and wheelchair access. This should be complete in early 2019. On the way back to town the wind had settled so flower and plant photography was in order.


Back in town we had coffee and a browse in the Book Nook, the bookshop near the shopping arcade. They stock secondhand books, accept donations and will give you some credit to spend in the shop if your donation will sell. They also have internet access. We donated two books and bought one. The coastal road continues south past several outlooks. Eagle Gorge also has a 1km walk to a secluded beach and the start of an 8km coastal trail. Further on we come back into farmland and then towards Port Gregory, the road runs alongside Hutt Lagoon. This was named Pink Lake by explorer George Grey in 1839. The pink colour is due to carotenoid-producing algae and is best seen in the middle of the day when the sun is high. It was even reflected on the clouds when we sawit. There is a large commercial plant on the lagoon shore and a mine nearby so there is only one parking place unless you take the side road to Port Gregory.

Past the lake we saw our first sheep since starting out.

The coastal road ended in Northampton, a town established in 1864 which is proud of its heritage. We then continued on to Geraldton. Yesterday we covered 230 miles and today 237 so out trip total is now 7,079.