So it is back to Australia. We managed to find a flight with Scoot Air from Singapore to Perth. Scoot is the Singapore equivalent of Easy Jet but yellow instead of orange (just as difficult on the eye!), and we were pretty impressed with them. An intercontinental flight of over five hours, which left on time, arrived slightly early, and for just over £100 each (plus baggage), we thought it was a bargain. So for Steve’s eleventh time and Sarah’s ninth we touched down on Australian soil.
We spent the first night in Perth and the following morning made our way to the campervan hire location. The office was packed with people and luggage everywhere. It was an extended public holiday weekend for Labour Day and chaos reigned. It was also made worse by the fact there had been a power cut for three hours the previous afternoon which had affected the bookings for the weekend. We were told there would be a delay of about two hours in picking up the van!! But we were happy enough with free coffee, and a good internet signal, it gave us plenty of time to do some research for the upcoming six weeks. The car park was full of campervans of all shapes and sizes, from 4×4 versions with roof tents, to huge six berth ensuite luxury models. As ever, we were on a budget and had booked the cheapest and oldest two berth van. When we saw one being driven to the front, ready for collection, we made our way to the door. It looked pretty much what we had expected. It had more stone chips than paintwork on the front, a couple of hub caps were missing, the curtains were old and torn and the inside looked very much the worst for wear. We were, however, stopped in our tracks when someone else’s name was called out and another English couple stepped forward to collect the keys.
The next vehicle brought round was the same style but a much newer model which was less than three years old. Still a little tired looking, rough around the edges, and showing the signs of a tough life on the road (a bit like us these days), but certainly better than the previous one. Our names were called and we stepped forward to collect the keys to our new home. We were then told, “You’ve been upgraded, we have run out of the old crappy vans”. We loaded up and set off on our 8,000 kilometres or so trip to Cairns!
Our first stop was going to be the town of Albany, a four hour drive away on the South coast. The registration number of our van ended in ‘WBL’ so Sarah said we should call it “Wobble”. As we drove out of Perth the backend of a cyclone was passing through and it was pretty windy. The high sided design of the van was making steering interesting and Steve said calling it “Wobble” might be tempting fate!! So we decided to settle on “Womble”.
Not long after leaving Perth we noticed we were getting pretty rural, the towns marked on the map were little more than hamlets, and the accumulative population we encountered over the four hours would have to be less than a thousand. Albany, however, was a decent sized town of almost 30,000 (the fifth most populous in the State). Considering Western Australia is more than 10 times the size of the UK and has a population 25 times smaller, you start to get an appreciation of how sparsely populated this part of the world is.
We had a couple of nights on a campsite in Albany. The town was OK but nothing special however it has some fantastic white sand beaches dotted around the area. We spent some time on “Little Beach” which was in a National Park about 30 miles out of town, pretty local really. It is often voted as one of the best beaches in Australia.
After Albany our next drive was a five hour trip to Esperence. Between the two towns is pretty much nothing, another splattering of hamlets which all had fuel stations, a Post Office and a General Store. We had stocked up on supplies in Albany so we had pretty much everything we needed. It was good to be able to pull up where ever we wanted, flash up the kettle, make up some sandwiches and sit out with our table and chairs in the sun.
Esperance was in many ways very similar to Albany. In fact, when we talk about them now we still have problems differentiating between the two and remembering what we did where! The weather was slightly against us in Esperance and we did not see the fantastic coastline and beaches in all their full glory as it was fairly overcast, but we both agreed a return trip in years to come might be worth while.
We did take ”Womble” for a trip along the 30 mile tourist drive. Our first stop was Pink Lake…which isn’t actually pink anymore and hasn’t been for several years since all the salt was mined from it and it lost it’s colour. We stopped by for a look anyway and parked up. We walked through the car park towards the viewing area and were stopped in our tracks by a loud crunching sound! We turned around and saw another campervan, being driven by a French girl, had reversed into “Womble”…. Zut Alors!! Luckily the damage was only cosmetic and minor, and after a few photos, a call to the campervan company, and exchanging details we were back on the road.
We left Esperance a day earlier than we had planned, partly because of the weather and partly because we were both excited about what was coming up. The Nullabor Plain. The Plain itself is a relatively flat, almost treeless, arid piece of limestone bedrock which stretches about 1200 kilometers across Southern Australia, quite close to the coast. The road is single carriageway for it’s entire length and there are no towns, villages or hamlets, only a series of Roadhouses every 150 kilometres or so. The Roadhouses sell fuel (at hyper inflated prices) and hot pies, chips, burgers cakes and coffee. They also have incredibly basic motel style accommodation and provide an area for campervans and caravans with an electric hook up for about £10 a night.
For a few hundred kilometres either side of The Nullabor the road is also fairly desolate. Between Esperance and Port Augusta, a distance of 1800 kilometers, there are effectively two towns, Norseman with a population of 574 …. we drove through on a Public Holiday and it was shut! and Ceduna with a population of 2157, home to an agriculture quarantine station where they confiscated all of Sarah’s fruit!!
So we pulled out of the fuel station in Esperance with Steve driving and Sarah giving directions. “Which way do I go”, asked Steve. “Turn left, then at the next junction in 200 kilometres turn right, then keep going straight ahead for three days”, said Sarah as she threw the map in the back!
We absolutely loved The Nullabor from start to finish. Just the two of us in a campervan, talking rubbish to each other, giggling like school kids, listening repeatedly to our 2 CD’s by ABBA and Elton John and a few miscellaneous tracks Sarah had downloaded on her phone. (Steve can now sing “Waterloo” backwards in its entirety!…….OK maybe not!). We would wave at the occasional vehicle coming in the opposite direction and critique the quality of the return wave, of which some were non existent and some super enthusiastic.
We would swap drivers every hour and the passenger would be on kangaroo watch. There are apparently millions of them out here. One of the warnings when you pick up the campervan is not to drive after dusk or before dawn as that is when they come out to feed and wander onto the roads. Some of them are over six feet tall and would make more of a mess of our van than any French driver could!
We didn’t use the Roadhouses for camping, we just pulled up in the bush a couple of hours before dusk. There is a great App called ‘Wikicamps’ which lists areas which are used for free camping. There are no facilities, just a good place to pull up. We ‘free’ camped for three nights across The Nullabor, all in brilliant locations. On each occasion two or three other campervans pulled into the same area and although they were a hundred or so metres away it gave a bit of a sense of security in an otherwise desolate area.
Once we pulled up and had a coffee, Steve would go out for a run. Running down the middle of the road, sometimes 80 kilometres from the nearest building, was a strange experience with no-one around, just the sound of his footsteps as he ran along. Occasionally a vehicle would come along and Steve could see the faces of the occupants with a confused look of “Where the hell is he going?”.
Then its back for a bird bath, some food and then watching a movie on the tablet before bed and up again the next morning for another day on The Nullabor. Every hour or so not only did we change drivers but the scenery would also have a subtle change. Sometimes nothing but low level shrubs making the scene look extremely baron and harsh, then eucalyptus trees appear, scattered by the highway some with extraordinary copper coloured bark, then the road rises above tree level and a thick dense carpet of green leaves stretches as far as the eye can see.
At one point the road runs parallel to the coast and The Great Australian Bight, a large open bay which is part of The Southern Ocean. The coast at this point contains The Bunda Cliffs which is the longest uninterrupted line of sea cliffs in the world. A stop off here for a photo opportunity was a must.
Each morning on The Nullabor we were up and away early, both of us excited about the day ahead. We always gave the sun enough time to move on the nocturnal animals and avoid any possible incidents. The “Road Trains” continue all night. These are huge articulated lorries which ferry all manner of goods and supplies from South Australia to Western Australia. We are used to seeing the ever present trucks on the UK motorways, the kind with “Eddie Stobart” written on the side or a shipping container on the back, occasionally you may see a rig pulling two trailers. Along the Nullabor though, three trailers are common and occasionally you see a “Road Train” with four!! These are huge beasts hurtling along at 110kph. There fronts are protected by heavy metal ’roo bars’ with an extra metal bar stretching across the windscreen. In the morning we would drive through the ‘road kill’ carnage from the night before as fresh kangaroo corpses were scattered by the roadside. The ‘roos can be seen in various stages of decomposition, and as only the crows, dingo’s and other scavangers clean them up. Everything from last nights kill all the way to pure skeletons from months ago can be seen. We also saw three wedgetailled eagles feasting by the roadside on meals provided by the ‘Road Trains’.
On one particular stretch of The Nullabor the road kill was particularly heavy, over a couple of hundred kilometers we saw at least 200 dead kangaroos, from skeletons to ones only a few hours old. ‘Road Kill’ was not limited to kangaroos. Over the four day period we saw, in increasing size order, lizards, snakes, possums, wombats, small kangaroos, dingos, emus and large kangaroos. We thought we had seen pretty much everything when one day Sarah saw something by the side of the road in the distance. “Looks like a massive kangaroo”, said Steve, “No, I think it’s two or three all mangled together”, replied Sarah. Then as we swerved and drove past the wreckage it was clear to see a ‘Road Train’ had been in a serious encounter with a camel!!
The day would roll on and at some stage we would pull into a Roadhouse for fuel. As we were camping in the bush we obviously had no facilities, toilets etc, so on one occasion when we saw showers being advertised at $4 a go at a Roadhouse we jumped in and took the opportunity to freshen up. Although they were not the best showers ever, and Steve’s had only cold water, it was certainly $4 well spent.
Eventually we pulled into Port Augusta, a real town, with traffic lights, road junctions, dual carriageway and people. We had driven the equivalent of London to Rome since we drove out of the fuel station in Esperence, all on single carriageway road and had only made two turns. A truly amazing trip which we loved and will never forget!
“Can we turn around and go back the other way?”, said Steve. “Maybe one day, but not now, we have got other exciting places to see”, replied Sarah, “But I will let you listen to Dancing Queen one more time!”.