Sydney to Perth Xmas 08 (part 1 of 2)

Saturday, Jan 10, 2009 at 01:00

RodH, Perth

My wife and I live in Sydney but are both originally from Western Australia. Every couple of years we tend to go and visit family and friends. As holidays times are difficult to organise we usually go over Christmas and usually drive – we may as well see a bit of Australia even if it is often bloody hot at that time of the year.

Some people think the Nullarbor is boring – we don’t think so and have to limit the number of activities included in each trip as there is so much to experience. A map of our trip is attached as a PDF.

Friday 12th December, the day before leaving, was a wet Sydney summer’s day - not helpful when you’re trying to sort out what to put where for a 4 week trip. After a bit of frustration everything was crammed approximately where I’d envisaged it going.

Saturday morning we dropped off the cats to their expensive feline Motel and headed for Cobar. Our plan was to get some kilometres behind us and then spend a couple of nights at Mt Ive station in the Gawler Ranges SA.

The trip from Sydney to Cobar a pleasant day’s drive – good distance is covered and you can easily make it before sunset. Lunch was at the surprising well appointed Vittoria State Forrest between Bathurst and Orange. In the afternoon it is always a sense of excitement to see the red dirt appear as you get past Nyngan.

Day two was planned to be a big one, all the way to the Gawler Ranges. We were up and going early, having breakfast a couple of hours down the road, crossing the empty Darling River at Wilcannia and arriving in Broken Hill in time for fuel and coffee as the Woolworths shopping centre opened. You gain a bit of time-zone benefit at Broken Hill. The area past Broken Hill into South Australia is very scenic and has some photogenic creek crossings that make great rest stops.

We had to really push on this day and made it to Port Augusta mid-afternoon. The travel bureau confirmed our worst fears, that drought-affected South Australia’s recent burst of rain had closed the roads throughout the Gawler Ranges. We phoned Mt Ive to let them know of our problem and it seemed the only thing to do was see if any roads opened the next morning. Deflated, we checked into one of the Caravan Parks and bunkered down for the evening.

Next day at Iron Knob there was no change to the road conditions. We dawdled west for the remainder of the day, spending time in towns we usually zoom past, such as Wudinna and Minnipa.

Heading to Streaky Bay, we eventually bush camped at Speeds Point, an area we had planned to explore on the return trip.Speeds Point is very peaceful and apart from an out-of-site motorhome we had the place to ourselves. There are no facilities and a $2 honour system for camping.

Continuing on we stocked up at Ceduna before heading north to see the start of Googs Track, taking a few photos for friends that are taking the track in August 2009.

Rejoining the main road we detoured down to Fowlers Bay to see if we might want to stay on the way back. Given we don’t fish, maybe not.

The next detour was onto the Old Eyre Highway. I had travelled on this road twice as a little kid when it was the main road and my dad had been on it with a truck loaded with his worldly possessions in 1953. I remember buying artefacts on the side of the road at Yalata. Things have changed.

We spent some time at the old Ivy Tank service station site, looking at the old water tanks, car collection and other abandoned bits, before heading down to Nullarbor Roadhouse. The road from the highway to Ivy Tank has some rough areas but the road from Ivy Tank to Nullarbor is in good condition.

Nullarbor Roadhouse is a favourite of mine – the location is iconic being right on the edge of the treeless plain. The following morning we were treated to some thunderstorms and a little rain as the sun rose.

Keeping with the alternate road theme we kept on the Old Eyre Highway, stopping off at many of the tanks, rock holes and caves for a look.

A highlight of this section was a visit to Koonalda cave and Koonalda station, now part of the Nullarbor National Park. The station house, some fences and workers quarters are all built from old sleepers off the transcontinental railway, and the house window frames are reportedly from the Eucla telegraph station buildings. It’s a great piece of remote station history.Koonalda was also a service centre on the old Eyre Highway and has another good collection of old abandoned cars.

Near Coompana Tank we turned off onto the Old Coach Road. This is a relaxing, isolated track that keeps you interested with natural features such as blowholes as well as ruins from times past. At the Eucla-Forrest road we headed south to Eucla and the Eyre Highway to make up some time along the bitumen.

Madura is another iconic location, located at the rise from the Roe Plains to the Hampton Tablelands. We bought a little fuel and drove along the base of the cliff to the Eyre Bird Observatory.

It is easy to be a fan of the EBO. It is located in a restored telegraph station, runs as a guesthouse, is self sufficient, does a great job with bird observation, conservation and weather reporting, and is a breath of fresh air on any Nullarbor trip. If you can find any way to support this place, you should.

Two nights with volunteer hosts John & Beverley were great. We had time for a good walk around as well as a drive up the beach for bird observations. And we ate too much of Beverley’s good cooking. Anyone who spends a week at this place will leave a better person.

Family was calling so we headed along the Eyre highway to Norseman. The country was as green and lush as we have ever seen and we were fortunate to continue driving in cool overcast conditions. After fuelling up at Norseman it was cross-country to Hyden.

The Norseman-Hyden road is in good condition and suitable for 2WD when dry. Most of the time you can sit comfortably on 80-100km/hr but need to be wary of the trucks and the dust they create.

Something you don’t usually see in late December was the salt lakes around Hyden being full of water and the crops still to be harvested. There was even someone waterskiing! They had a lot of unseasonal rain through that area and down to Esperance.

We spent a few days at the Brother in Law’s farm near Quairading and were able to help for the last few days of harvest. It was then finally on to Perth to spend time with friends and family over Christmas.

(continued)

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Rod, Perth
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