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Monday, April 21, 2008

Albany is a small town and did not particularly appeal to us so this was going to be a short stop. I must admit we didn’t do much research into the town itself and anyway I had this nudging calling to move on to Esperance, the final town before the great Nullabor desert crossing. No idea why Esperance was calling me so much. Perhaps it was the beautiful pictures of its beaches that I kept running into on postcards and framed photographs or perhaps it was the name Espérance which in French roughly means Hope. Hope we would find something truly beautiful.

Esperance, written the “English” way and said the Ozzie way which is far removed from the romantic French way, is the town named after the French ship, the L’Espérance, commanded by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux. French explorers are credited with making the first landfall near the present day town, naming it and other local landmarks whilst sheltering from a storm in this area in 1792. An interesting fact from the wiki wide web – Wikipedia, states that in 1979, pieces of the space station Skylab landed in Esperance after the craft broke up over the Indian Ocean on re-entry. The municipality fined the United States $400 for littering. The fine was never paid. That’s quite a story.

It was decided and we only stayed one night in Albany to rest up and the next morning we headed off to Esperance. Part of this drive was once again thru the forest with the Karri trees and we couldn’t get enough of this. It was still magical and a special drive. Eventually the forests disappeared and we were once again in open land with far views. The road had its fair share of turns and ups and downs. Not the normal straight road with few turns. The drive to Esperance was fairly short and soon the town appeared. Lynda who is the best navigator and researcher in the world was paging thru the hundreds of pamphlets to find out about the camping in town but, as always, every town we have come across so far in Ozzie has a detailed information board at the entrance to the town about the town and all it has to offer. I’m guessing these boards are only for the small towns. I don’t recall seeing one in Perth. We stop and Lynda makes a list of the three camping grounds in town and we decide to check out the one closest to the beach and a bit out of the town centre. We pop in there and ask to have a look around. It’s quite a pleasure to deal with the camping grounds in Ozzie. They give you a map of their facility and they highlight for you on the map all the available sites for the period that you want to stay. You then go wondering around and pick out the site you like best. I find this so nice because you get to choose if you want to stay close to the toilet or you see a site that has great shade. We found our ideal spot but one must always check out the opposition because we have learnt now that not all camp grounds are equal :-). We dashed off to see the others but we were disappointed and our first choice was tops. We rushed back and booked in.

So far the little we had seen of Esperance was not looking great. The camp ground was right on the sea front but to the right was the port. The beach right in front was quite long but nothing to write home about. With this we decided that one day would be more than enough of a stay so we booked in for that night and the next day we would look around a little, sleep the following night and hit the road early the next morning. Pity, as I had “hope” that it was going to be a great explore. We set up camp and decided to go for a drive to see if there was anything else to have a look at. The town is tiny but it still has some of the big name shops like Bunnings and Dick Smith so it’s obviously a vibrant community and I guess that’s no surprise since the population is 10000 or so. Taking the road that has been sign posted “Tourist Drive” is always the thing to do we have found and so off we went. The road winds round the back of the town and up over a fairly big hill. As we top the hill the sight before us takes our breath away and I wonder to myself if this is what the people on the Esperance saw when they first set eyes on this stretch of coast. I guess the difference in those days was the fact that they were running away from the storm but would this beauty have eased their souls once the storm had subsided? I often look at old black and white, or more so, reddish photographs of explorers that have either been ship wrecked or have just made land and the beach on the photograph looks terrible in the picture not because it is but because of the primitive photographic technology of the time and the none existent colour, and I wonder if the beauty I see now before me would have looked the same to them. Silly question but it often pops into my mind. Anyway, what was before us was so beautiful that I had a feeling we were not in Ozzie anymore but on the film set of “The Beach”. This looked more like a tropical island than a beach in Ozzie. The waters are still but we have found that almost everywhere. The colour was that tropical island turquoise blue and it seems like one can see the bottom forever. Needless to say the one day turned into two and then three and then four and eventually we had to tear ourselves away from Esperance.

The next couple of days we simply spent exploring the beaches of Esperance and once again making good use of our snorkelling gear. I’m really glad that we decided to get these toys, they are coming in handy. There is no coral to explore but there are huge rock formations in the ocean and they are teaming with life. We ran into small jellyfish the size of your palm which are barely visible. They are completely see thru bar some small veins running along the body. All the horror stories about the sea life and Grant’s posting on our site made us weary at first but the curiosity got the better of us and we followed these creatures along observing them closely. They would sometimes simply disappear or our eyes simply could not focus that hard anymore and then suddenly we would see them again. We plucked up the courage and gently brought one to the surface and took it out the water resting on our palms. It’s just a jelly blob! Completely see thru almost invisible outside the water. In the water they look paper thin but they are actually quite a blob. These little guys fascinated us for quite some time and over the next few days we had to find one and hold him/her/it for a little while at least once a day. This whole sea thing is still fascinating me a whole bunch, what can I say. Too much of a Vaalie! The one beach we went to had tiny rock islands not too far out and they call out to you to come and swim over for a visit. We just had to do this. We put on our gear and swam out and as the water got deeper and deeper, Lynda frantically scanned around for the sharks. At least someone was keeping us safe. Of course if she saw one she would tell me and we would proceed to out swim the shark and get to safety….. not! The swim was long but well worth it. The rock provided some entertainment as we looked for the highest spot to dive off.

On the second day after spending the day soaking up the sun and swimming with our jelly fish we returned to camp to find new neighbours, two Ozzies, who were talking to each other when we drove in and looking at Moondust and pointing. Lynda, feeling cocky, opened her door when we parked and shouted out to the Ozzies – She is sexy, hey! The dude looked puzzled and asked her to repeat it and so Lynda did and this went on for the next three times all the time while the Ozzie was approaching and seemingly not understanding a word Lynda was saying. Sometimes I wonder if we speak Ingleesh or English. Anyway, the punch line was losing its effect with the constant requests for a repeat but finally the Ozzie got what she was saying and a friendship was born. Esperance was not the same after that. Nathan and Simon were a scream or shall I say Simon was a quiet but awesome bloke and Nathan an absolute nutter but a legend. Fresh from crossing the Nullabor I guess one could excuse them for a slight case of desert fever. Is this what we were going to look like when emerging out the other end of the Nullabor? They brought with them the usual friendliness of the Ozzie and come over to have a few beers and just get to know each other. It was a great night and we were happy to be chatting to some locals who could give us advice for the crossing and company for the evening. Nathan is an outgoing personality and would run in and out our kitchen tent in between visiting with half the camp ground. Almost everyone knew Nathan before the night was up. He invited another couple who also came over for some beers and who had also just arrived from crossing the Nullabor. We got the low down and the horror stories and all these guys basically said was that the Nullabor crossing SUCKED! We were excited about the crossing but then again we had taken a few days to simply chill in the sun and do pretty much nothing which I think was charging our batteries.

The next few nights were an absolute scream and some Canadians who had met up with Simon and Nathan along the Nullabor joined them for drinks on the last night we were there and the party got festive. The Canadian girl, Lindsay, got the fancy for Nathan and they hit it off doing some crazy shit around the camp site. Their favourite pastime was the commando roll and at one point they were going to do this in the nude. Naturally I got my camera out because I was certainly not going to miss this but someone came to their senses somewhere along the line and they realised that there are kids around and so they kept their underwear on for the commando roll. I got some pics but because I’ve still not figured out how to use this fancy camera of ours at night with fast sequential shots I didn’t quite get the action. If you have a look at the latest gallery you will see photos of them though just before they get into the commando roll. We hit the sack after a while but the party continued late into the night keeping some folks awake. Luckily we were leaving the next day :-).

The one thing that has fascinated me in OZ is the rubbish pickup. This is done mechanically by one man driving a rubbish truck. Everyone puts their rubbish bin, like the pik-it-up bins in South Africa, outside on the verge of the street with the lid opening side to the street. The rubbish truck is a left hand drive so that the driver can be right next to the pavement side when driving. He drives up to the dustbin and stops. A mechanical arm comes out from the side of the truck and it grabs the dustbin and carries it up onto the top of the truck and tips the rubbish out into the truck. It then deposits the bin back on the ground and he moves onto the next bin. Sounds like a long process but it takes him seconds to do a dustbin. It’s a fascinating sight or it just fascinates me so I took a sequence of photos of this at the camp site simply because the truck was coming thru the camping ground and I really wanted you guys to see it too. Check it out on our latest gallery upload.

It was time to move on and tackle the much talked about Nullabor desert crossing. We were armed with info from our new Ozzie friends and an enthusiasm to check this out. One thing I guess we forget is that you are, in every aspect of the words, a first world country and what people consider a big time adventure is not really that hard core if you come from Africa and you have travelled far distances. We have run out of petrol crossing Botswana once because the petrol stations are that far apart. In OZ even in the remotest of areas there is a petrol station almost every 200km. There are satellite phones along the highway every once in a while in case you break down. We have travelled 6200km and we are yet to find a pot hole. I’ve tried very hard to find one! The biggest danger you have is colliding with a kangaroo, emu or camel, kangaroo being the worst and the most likely to kill you unless you have strapped a nasty roo bar to your car. If these guys come flying thru the windscreen and hit you they will kill you or if you survive that they will kick around like mad in the car and gouge you to death. Scary stuff seeing that these little fellows look so cute. But that is as dangerous as it gets I guess.

Our new Ozzie mates told us to try and find a little road heading out towards the sea cliffs just before the head of the Great Australian Bight so our mission was to try and find this off-the-beaten-track place to sleep for our first night. This meant that we would have to do 1200km on our first day. Not too much of an impossible task if one is in South Africa because you can simply drive “as fast as you like” but in OZ speeding is not something you want to be caught doing. Being here over a month one soon settles into the groove of keeping to the speed limit. I thought we were going to struggle with this a bit but in fact it becomes easy after a while. Ok, 110km/h on the highway is a little sack breaking when doing long distances. We left quite late that morning and if you want to avoid the roo’s then the best thing to do is only drive during daylight. Driving 1200km at 110km/h provided you never stopped would take you just under 11 hours. There was no way we could really do this but hey we love a challenge.

One can notice the terrain change as you get into the desert which is semi arid. You don’t see sand dunes as one first thinks of when speaking of deserts. There is simply a lack of anything growing too high. No trees. The one stretch of the road is the longest straight piece of highway in the whole of OZ and it’s 146km dead straight. I swore that I would try and surf the roof of the car on this stretch but there are just too many cars on this road. You can’t drive without a seatbelt regardless of which seat you are in a car. Driving in the back of a bakkie is NOT AN OPTION in OZ. Everyone must be in a seat with a seatbelt. Even when we have travelled on busses we have had to wear seatbelt. So getting out the seat and trying to get onto the roof of the car was perhaps going to draw some attention so I got as far as standing on the seat and almost getting blown out the car as I didn’t quite counterweight for the wind rush. I think I’ve just become so chilled over this period that I don’t seem to be able to do anything crazy anymore. Along the way we saw our fair share of dead roo’s but we also saw a dead camel. Every once in a while we would see emergency landing strips right on the highway! This took us by surprise. You see a warning sign, then you see the big stripes which one normally sees on the edge of an airport runway and that is it, you are driving along a “runway”. Either side is completely cleared for quite a stretch for the aircraft wings. Then after a while you drive over the other big stripes which indicate the other end of the runway. Luckily there were no emergencies that day otherwise they would have delayed us.

When we were in Perth we went down to the Freemantle market and ran across a herbal shop which sold a bunch of weird and wonderful stuff. Amongst the remedies for everything and anything we found some high energy potion and we thought this might be some good stuff to try while driving the long stretch of the Nullabor in case our energy levels dropped and we fell asleep at the wheel. Because this drive was going to be the biggest stretch we would do in one day we decided this would be the day to try our magic potion. Boy, does it work. High spirits and too much energy to sit still in a car seat but never a dull moment. Once again the choons were loud and we sang along. The singing was scary enough to enter Idols. I auditioned and Lynda auditioned and in our opinion we would get into the semi finals at least. The first town we stopped at to fill up gave us some very useful tips on getting cheap fuel while crossing the Nullabor. Fuel in OZ is not controlled and the various garages can charge what they like. In the Nullabor they take advantage of this and the fuel goes up substantially. If you have inside knowledge on the hidden places to go then you can make it across without paying an arm and a leg for fuel.

The light was starting to fade and we were far from the Head of the Bight. We really wanted to overnight at this secluded spot that we were told about so enthusiastically so it was time to go a little fast or risk driving in total darkness and dancing with a roo. We sped up to 160km/h and I hear you laughing now but this felt like we were doing warp speed. We have become so used to driving slowly and keeping more or less to the speed limit that it was quite scary. The fastest we really dare go is about 140km/h. We needed to move and find camp fast so we have to move fast. The sun had long set and we could see very little out to the side but our trusty GPS was telling us that we were right there at the beginning of the Head of the Bight. We looked and looked but it was hopeless. We pulled off at the next marked road stop and thought maybe it would be best to set up camp here for the night. We got out the car to find holes all over the sand. Holes the size of a R5 coin more or less. With all the scary stories we have heard, Lynda was uneasy about pitching a tent on these holes. You never know, we might just slip down them during the night and wake up next to Alice. I started to think this might not be a good idea either so we thought we might as well travel along a little more looking for something alternative. Once again back on the road driving like the little old ladies in Houghton with our noses plastered against the windscreen scanning wildly for roo’s, we sped along looking for the ideal spot. I don’t know why but I looked right while driving and saw two tracks leading off into the bush. I hit the brakes and did a u-turn to have a look whether this was not perhaps our “magic spot”. The tracks lead down the side of a dog fence. Dog fences are erected all over OZ to control the movement of dingos and foxes which are decimating the natural wildlife in OZ and also creating havoc with livestock. These fences have proven to be a great success and in fact without us knowing this very fence was the first one ever erected in OZ and because of the popularity other states started to use the same method. The tracks are simply a maintenance road that runs along the fence. I was guessing this fence would lead out to the cliffs beyond that form the Great Australian Bight and our mission was to spend the night on the edge of these very cliffs that run for miles and miles along the southern section. Very impressive to see on the photos.

The GPS was telling us that we were headed directly towards the ocean so we were happy. We drove along cautiously in case we drove right off the cliff into the big blue ocean far below and eventually we could see that the edge was coming up. The heart races a bit because you have no idea what is out there. Lynda was already telling me to stop a 100 miles from the edge 🙂 and we compromised on 10 or so meters. We got out and we were met with an eyrie and mystical view. The cliffs are about 100m high and they drop straight into the ocean. You can almost not hear the sea because it’s so far below and the edge is a straight edge down. The moon was out and it all seemed like a set for a horror movie of sorts. I knew this place was going to look stunning in the day and I think we had found the place our new Ozzie friends had talked about. With a quick look around we saw that there were no R5 coin holes in the ground and so we were happy to pitch tent. It was bitter cold and not too pleasant to be outside so we made some soup, had supper and hopped into bed.

The following morning we were greeted with the beautiful sight that I thought would have been the case. The sunrise come up to the left of the cliff face from the east and the sky was a mixture of reds and oranges. We ran around and took some photos and admired the place. It was certainly worth the hunt the night before. Not a soul in sight. Today we were in a book store in Adelaide and I opened a book on the Nullabor and right there was the picture of the very place. How do I know? Because the dog fence has dropped with the cliff off the edge quite a bit and the picture was taken with that bit of the fence in it and I recognised it straight away. Coincidence? The place is called Wigunda Cliffs. I don’t think I could end up explaining to anyone how to get there but that’s ok, we made it and that’s all that counts.

The next day we decided to do a small stretch instead of the entire leg to Adelaide because it was simply going to be too much and we wanted a relaxed drive. In our “free camping guide” we found a place called Pildappa rock which was the only place out of many that had an authors tick meaning it was well recommended so Pildappa rock it was. It sat at the end of a 15km stretch of dirt road off the highway tucked away and very poorly sign posted. There in the middle of nowhere was a granite dome sticking out the ground looking rather odd but quite a sight. Nothing big, no bigger than a few houses in size and about the height of one too. The one side looks like a wave frozen in time. Quite a wicked sight. I just had to try and drive Moondust up the bottom of the wave in order to take a picture. Check it out in the gallery. What a sweet spot we found. No-one around and the place had all the facilities. Gas barbeque, toilet, benches and chairs, shade and running water. All of this for mahala! There is a donation box and we decided it was well worth leaving a donation. It was still early in the day so we took a make shift bush shower and gathered some goodies to eat and some good red wine and headed up the rock to soak that afternoon rays and toast to natures beauty surrounding us. We stripped down naked and let the sun warm us to the core while we ate crackers dipped in olive oil and stirred around in dukkah and gently sipped on some merlot red. Dukkah is a mixture of seeds and spices, a product of Australia and what a wonderful thing it is. It’s a must have with red wine and we found out about this stuff on our wine tour. We bought 8 packets of this stuff it was so nice. I can’t quite describe the taste but it is something else. What an exquisite end to such an awesome day. The silence sits in the air and if you close your eyes it feels like you melt into the rock and time freezes. I’m sure I see visions of Aboriginals dancing around to the sound of the digi but then again the merlot might have had something to do with that.

There were some weird and wonderful things we saw along the Nullabor trip. We saw guys travelling along on bicycles alone with a bunch of kit. These must be brave people. That is quite a stretch of road to be cycling along. We came across two oversized loads which meant we had to pull off the road and wait on the side while these trucks took up the whole two lanes of road to come past. They are not going slowly either. There is quite a bit of mining going on in the west and all this equipment is on its way there.

The last and final day was fairly uneventful and by this stage we were getting quite tired of sitting in a car. It was time to reach Adelaide. We had driven 2400km in three days and we needed a few days to recharge. Moondust is due for a service and we called ahead and booked one for the next available time. This means we are going to have to stay in Adelaide for 4 days at least. Everyone we speak to tells us not to spend more than 5 minutes in Adelaide. Well, I guess we need to check this place out for ourselves. Catch up with you on the next blog and we will tell you all about Adelaide.

Hugs all round,
Eddy & Lynda