Author Archives: Dearne and Rod

Our Last night at Lake Benanee

The navigator made the decision on Saturday night that our destination on Sunday was to be Lake Bananee in New South Wales. It must be said that the borders of NSW, Victoria and South Australia in this area are very close together and flicking between one state and another is only a matter of a few kilometers. One has to be very vigilant with the quarantine regulations and the locations of quarantine outposts. “I did not know” is not an accepted excuse.

Wildlife on the shore of Lake Benanee

Wildlife on the shore of Lake Benanee

After topping up with diesel in Mildura on Sunday morning we made our way 90km southeast to the little village of Euston. Euston is a small town on the banks of the Murray River, southern New South Wales. The twin town of Robinvale is on the other side of the river in the state of Victoria. Both Euston and Robinvale are home to a large Italian population from the southern province of Calabria in Italy.

In 1876 the settlement at Euston was described as a crossing-place for sheep and cattle. Nowadays it is a gateway to the Murray River and Sunraysia district known for its fruit, vegetables, vineyards, fishing (including the Murray cod) and other native species. After a bit of a wander around the village we made our way 15km further east to Lake Benanee, our home for the next couple of nights.

Lake Benanee is part of the Euston Lakes wetland and floodplain system. When full, the Lake covers an area of around 750 hectares. The Lake has no outflow so water levels decrease through evaporation and increase in times of flood. There is an interesting phenomenon on the lakes edge. There are many very old River Gums with massive dead outer branches but a living centre growing even higher. In times of serious drought, the trees have shut down sap flow to the outer limbs to preserve the core. These trees are the ultimate ‘silent killers’. With 50cm to 70cm dead branches of various lengths just waiting to drop on an unsuspecting visitor, one has to be very careful not to walk or swim under the trees.

The 'pretending to be dead' old red Gums on the edge of Lake Benanee

The ‘pretending to be dead’ old red Gums on the edge of Lake Benanee

The Lake Benanee area has a significant aboriginal history that dates back some 40,000 years. There are a number of burial grounds scattered around the Lake with the dead being buried head to foot in the sand two deep. With both of us being keen walkers, we had to be very aware in our wanderings around the Lake where we stepped. The last thing we want to do is create an international incident!

Tomorrow morning (Tuesday) we will drive back into the village of Euston, cross the Murray River into Robinvale then follow River down to Tooleybuc. It is only about 120km but we are bound to find somewhere interesting to stop for a night or so. The Captain has a wee maintenance job to do on the A-frame when we get to Robinvale. The cable that provides power from the motorhome to the jeep brake lights and indicators has split and is shorting. We are currently leaving it unplugged which is causing confusion for those behind us. If he can get the new piece of cable he reckons it’s only a 30-minute job to rewire. We shall see.

 

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From Broken Hill to Merbein

The straight line of bitumen between Broken Hill and Merbein along the Silver City Highway, is not what you’d call a busy road. While it does travel through some classic outback countryside – think endless red-dust plains studded with saltbush and mulga, kangaroos, emus and ‘ever chattering’ galahs – it could be a monotonous 280km haul if you are not easily entertained. We made a couple of rest stops over the 280km and we would have to say that the Silver City Highway flies were the most friendly and affectionate we have come across!! They caress you all over as soon as you stepped outside of the motorhome.

The historic Royal Hotel in Wentworth

The historic Royal Hotel in Wentworth

260km south of Broken Hill we came into Wentworth, the first major town down the Highway. The town is perched on the banks of the merging Murray and Darling Rivers and on the edge of the Perry Sandhills, a vast expanse of continuously shifting dunes that appear mysteriously out of nowhere, in sharp contrast to surrounding farmlands. The sandhills were used as a bombing range during World War II. Now they are a popular film location and it’s easy to see why – climb to the top of the first dune and all you can see is red, rippling dunes that could be any desert, anywhere.

An icon in Wentworth is the local Royal Hotel. Built in 1866 it is believed that the hotel has a series of underground rooms and tunnels that go down to the river bank, about 50m from the hotel itself. These rooms and tunnels are thought to have been used for smuggling goods into Wentworth so that duty did not have to be paid at the Customs House. While the front of the hotel has a ‘relatively new 100 year old’ brick face, the rear of the hotel is still in its original form. Unfortunately the rooms and tunnels cannot be explored for safety reasons.

Parked up at Merbain Common on the Murray River

Parked up at Merbain Common on the Murray River

From Wentworth we drove a further 20km to the little village of Merbain. Merbain, on the Murray River, was established as an irrigation settlement in 1909 and is a major producer of dried vine fruits and citrus. The district has diversified into the growing of wine and table grapes, asparagus, almonds, mushrooms and vegetables. It has also developed as a regional transport hub for the export of district products.

Our destination was Merbain Common approximately 2km from Merbain village itself. The Common runs alongside the Murray River and is a river flat area of semi water logged land covered with river red gums and other scrubby plants. The local Borough have built dirt roadways through the Common to a number a free bush camps on the river’s edge. We have made our home for past five nights at the Common on the Merbein Sandbar. We had a great flat spot about 10 metres from the waters edge with a wonderful view of the bird life, water skiers, speedboats and fisher people doing their best to catch dinner. While we saw a few caught, there were none that were edible.

Herman and Rod watching  the fishers during 5 o'clockers on the Murray

Herman and Rod watching the fishers during 5 o’clockers on the Murray

We also caught up with our friends Herman and Di – last seen at Alice Springs in May of this year. They were camped about a kilometre from us up the River at Horseshoe Bend. While we are generally heading in the same direction, they are making their way toward the York Peninsula while we are making our way toward Adelaide. It was great to see them again and be able to swap travel notes at our evening 5 o’clockers.

For those following us, our advice is not come onto the Common if it is threatening rain. On Wednesday day, and some of the night, it bucketed down accompanied by high winds and hail. There was no way we could have got off the Common either with the 4WD or the motorhome if we wanted to. A number of people moved when it started to rain as they knew of the Common’s history i.e. turns to deep mud in the wet. We were blissfully unaware so stayed put. We were on hard gravel ground, away from trees and high enough from the waters edge not to have any real concern. We had no plans to move until Sunday anyway so we were quite happy with our position.

Another ‘Plan B’ this morning tho’. When we awoke the sky was looking really dark and the wind had come up again. We went online and looked at the 24 hour forecast for this area and rain was predicted for this afternoon and this evening. After a quick pack up we shifted off the Common and are now a few kilometres further down the River at a much drier area. Getting bogged in at the Common was never going to be a joyous occassion and we need to be on our way on Sunday.

The stunning Murray River from our motorhome at Merbein Common

The stunning Murray River from our motorhome at Merbein Common

We are heading into ‘town’ tonight to have a meal at the local RSL Club. They have a seafood special night on a Saturday night and for $28 you can feast on just about any seafood you can think of. Having learned from past experiences at RSL’s and Clubs, one main meal is quite large enough for both of us. Not a bad way to finish our Merbein visit.

Tomorrow (Sunday) we move on. We will drive into Mildura in the morning, top up with water and groceries and go south. The plan is to continue south along the Murray River for a few more days but as of today, we are not quite sure where on the River. It will be a surprise to us all tomorrow morning when the navigator comes up with the new course.

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Our Last Day in Broken Hill

Our first stop after leaving Port Augusta on Saturday morning was Wilmington. Wilmington is a town in the southern Flinders Ranges region of South Australia. Originally named “Beautiful Valley”, Wilmington is a farming community known for sheep, wheat and barley, but more recently the temperature conditions and rainfall have contributed to the increasing popularity of the planting of olive trees. The reason for our visit was to poke around in some of the many antique shops in the town. We are finding little treasures in the most unusual places.

Our next stop was at one of those ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ places. Earlier this year we stayed at the lovely Peterborough and had a great stopover so we thought we would spend another night there. Peterborough is a town in the mid north of South Australia in wheat country, just off the Barrier Highway. It is also an old railway town. The railway line runs through the centre of the town and on our earlier visit, the local Council allowed self contained travellers such as ourselves, to park for the night in the railway siding in the centre of town. This was brilliant as it was only a short walk to top up with food and water. However since our last stay the Council has had a change of heart and travellers must now stay at one of the allotted free stops 2km out of the town, one to the east and one to the west. I asked at the Information Centre if many travellers stopped at the town now and the response was ‘I can work a whole day and see no one’. We wonder why?? Without so much as spending a cent in the town, we moved on.

Rod relaxing at the bar in the Mannahil Hotel along the Barrier Highway

Rod relaxing at the bar in the Mannahil Hotel along the Barrier Highway

From Peterborough we made our way onto the Barrier Highway. The Highway runs from Adelaide in South Australia to Nyngan in New South Wales, a distance of 1007km. The Indian Pacific railway line runs beside the Highway so there are many small villages along the highway that services both the rail industry and the agricultural industry. Our first stop along the Highway was at the small village of Yunta. Yunta township was established in 1887 after the discovery of gold at the nearby diggings at Teetulpa and Waukaringa, when more than 5,000 miners made their way through there. In the early 1890s the village was a busy railway town on the Adelaide to Broken Hill line. Today Yunta is a small service centre for travellers and the surrounding properties. In total contrast to Peterborough, Yunta provides a free overnight stop with all amenities at the old railway siding in the centre of the village and directly across the road from the local hotel. In appreciation of villagers support, we made Yunta our overnight stop on Saturday night (as did a number of other travellers). The word soon gets around.

On Sunday morning we continued along the Highway and stopped for morning tea at another railway village, Mannahill, one of the easternmost settlements in South Australia. According to the landlady of the local hotel, the towns population currently stands at nine. The hotel was a historical treasure trove of the villages past and still serves as the local’s watering hole. In the shearing season the hotel is very popular with Kiwi shearers who come across from New Zealand to work in the area. We were made to feel very welcome.

At the Mad Max Museum at Silverton, NSW

At the Mad Max Museum at Silverton, NSW

After ‘coffee’ with the landlady we continued eastward toward Broken Hill. The plan was to stay overnight at another free spot about 36km out of Broken Hill but instead we decided to hook a left just before Broken Hill and visit the village of Silverton in New South Wales. The village is famous for it popularity as a television and movie location in movies such as A Town Like Alice, Mad Max 2 and countless TV commercials. After a very nice lunch at the local hotel we visited the Mad Max Museum before making our way 25km back to Broken Hill.

Broken Hill is an isolated mining city in the far west of outback New South Wales. It is Australia’s longest-lived mining city with the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, having roots in the town. The “broken hill” that gave its name to Broken Hill actually comprised a number of hills that appeared to have a break in them. The broken hill no longer exists as it has been mined away.

We spent a good part of of time in Broken Hill just cruising around and having a look at the area. It is definitely a town of two contrasts. It seemed to us that most of the residents still seemed to reside in original late 18th and early 19th century miners cottages. Some have been restored and are in superb condition while others are looking very sad and unloved. On the outer edges of the town there were an abundance of new residences. We were told that when miners retired they often decided to stay in the town and build new homes with all the modcons that can handle the area’s climatic conditions.

A typical Broken Hill cottage (in much better condition than some)

A typical Broken Hill cottage (in much better condition than some)

We made our home during our Broken Hill visit at the town’s Racecourse. The Racecourse was a jewel as it had areas of beautiful green grass which the caretaker insisted we parked up on (they have a brilliant underground watering system in place) and all amenities were provided if needed. Not too bad for $15 per night. Somebody emailed us a few days ago asking ‘where do we find all these strange places to stay’. A lot is word of mouth from other travellers but there is also a number of websites and travel blogs we follow to find where other travellers are staying and to get their feedback on their stays. It’s all part of the gypsy community.

One of the things we have been battling for the last three days is the unseasonal high temperatures. The daytime temperatures since leaving Port Augusta have been around 40C each day and then only losing about 1 degree per hour once the sun goes down. At midnight temperatures are still around 35C. It is making getting a good nights sleep a little challenging. In saying that it is 3pm in the afternoon as I am writing this and the temperature is 35C – a slightly cooler day today. We are not complaining – its all part of the journey and we have had to learn to deal with it.

Tomorrow we are making our way 270km south to the Murray River. The reason is twofold. The first is that we are catching up with friends who we have not seen since May when we were in Alice Springs. They are currently camping on the River at Horseshoe Bend at Merbein Common. The second is we are hoping that by being on the River temperatures may be lower. That was our experience when we camped by the River in February of this year anyway.

We are not sure if we will have cellphone or data coverage at Merbein Common. If you are trying to contact us please leave a message and we will respond as soon as we are able.

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On our way to Broken Hill

We delayed our arrival at Port Augusta by 24 hours on Wednesday to make an unplanned overnight stop at Kimba. Located 185km west of Port Augusta, the locals see Kimba to be half way between Australia’s east coast and west coast and the gateway to the Gawler Ranges. It is not a large town but it is RV friendly and offers a great overnight stop for the price of a donation. We were parked up at the Kimba Recreation Reserve (542 in the Camp 7 book for those following) on good firm ground, no dust, fresh water, showers, toilets and plenty of room for big rigs. There were also three or four wizz-bang vans at the Reserve but the backpackers were very quiet and we were able to get a great nights rest.

We arrived at Port Augusta on Thursday afternoon at around 1pm. After topping up with diesel we made our way to our home for the next two of nights at the local Big 4 motor camp. The camp is located at the junction of the Eyre Highway going west and the Stuart Highway going north. It very much a transit ground for people arriving off the Nullabor or from their journey down the middle and visa versa. It is comfortable but nothing flash, is close to town and all the local amenities. With temperatures around 30C to 33C over the past two days, the on site pool was an added bonus.

Rod at the 'kids' section of the Port Augusta Markets. Great cart!

Rod at the ‘kids’ section of the Port Augusta Markets. Great cart!

We used Friday to get ourselves ready for our next leg of our journey to Broken Hill. We spent the day cleaning both vehicles inside and out, stocking up on groceries, filling LPG and water tanks and ensuring we are well stored for 5 o’clockers for the next two weeks. We are not quite sure when we will get to Broken Hill as we have identified a couple of stops we would like to make on the way. Maybe either Monday or Tuesday.

Before departing Port Augusta this morning we spent a couple of hours at the the Augusta Markets. This is a biannual event which aims to increase vibrancy in the main shopping precinct of Port Augusta. There were over 100 stallholders taking part and at least 2000 people were expected. We thought it was one of the best markets we had attended in Australia. With a dedicated food court area, a dedicated kids’ zone and entertainment throughout the morning, the Market appeared to be a great success.

There is a wee bit of excitement onboard at the moment. ‘Apparently’ Broken Hill is famous for its black opals – not sure how we will get on digging our own!!

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Over the Nullabor Plain

Feedback from travellers crossing the Nullabor Plain has been varied. Some say it is totally boring and they sprint from one end to the other while others love the experience, take their time and enjoy the ride. We were of the latter. The Nullabor plain is an area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia located on the Great Australian Bight. It is the world’s largest single area of limestone bedrock, approximately 200,000 sq. km.

146.6km of dead straight road - the longest straight piece of road in Australia

146.6km of dead straight road – the longest straight piece of road in Australia

We shared the driving across the Nullabor as we knew it was going to be long days behind the wheel. The Navigator had the privilege of driving Australia’s longest straight piece of road – 146.6km in a direct line and no hills. There is no fencing across the Nullabor so we had to keep a keen lookout for wildlife. We are both proud of the fact that we traversed the Plain without running over a single animal. They can be quite unpredictable when on the road. We had some close calls mind you but were able to watch the animals wandering on their way as we passed. We encountered kangaroo, wallaby, emu and a variety of lizards and birds but no wombats. We did however see three wombats that had tried to wrestle a road train – not a pretty sight.

As said in our last update, our park up on Saturday night, our first night on the Nullabor Plain, was a free camp at Ten Mile Rocks, 87km east of Norseman. We made a slight miscalculation in selecting our spot in that we parked reasonably close to the main highway in the belief that trucks and road trains would rest over the weekend. Big error – we spent a very noisy night on Saturday. The Eyre Highway on the Nullabor Plain in the main route between the lower east and west coasts and it is busy 24/7. Lesson learned I guess (even at this late stage!).

There was plenty to look out for along the 1245km of Nullabor Plain

There was plenty to look out for along the 1245km of Nullabor Plain

Our second night was spent at another free camp, Moondini Bluff, a rest area 90km west of Mundrabilla or 26km east of Madura. We did not make the same mistake twice and selected a park up spot at the back of the camp and well away from the main road. We had a great nights sleep and in fact when we awoke there was only two vans out of twelve left at the site. We are always late risers anyway and most always last to leave anywhere. We see no point in sprinting into the next day’s travels – it is always better to work with time rather than against it.

Monday was quite a long drive (around 400km). We drove from Moondini Bluff in West Australia through Mundrabilla, Eucla, across the WA/SA boarder passing the Nullarbor Roadhouse to our next free overnight stop, the Yalata West Rest Area. The rest area is 70km east of the Nullabor Roadhouse and 21km west of Yalata. With having to put our clocks forward by 2.5 hours during the course of the day, we did not arrive at our stop until after 5pm in the afternoon. Again we parked at the rear of the site and up until 7pm we were the only van there. A caravan pulled up at about 7pm but they parked about 300m away from us so it was almost like we were there on our own. It was another very peaceful nights rest.

The Nullabor Plain as far as the eye can see - the scenery was amazing.

The Nullabor Plain as far as the eye can see – the scenery was amazing.

This morning it was back onto the Eyre Highway and cruising 250km through Yalata, Nundroo and Penong to Ceduna on Murat Bay and the end of our 1240km journey across the Nullabor Plain. Our arrival in Ceduna was a grand occasion for us – it signified our circumnavigation of Australia. We toasted ourselves with a few vino’s tonight. We were last in Ceduna in May of this year just prior to our journey through the centre of Australia. We had planned to stay a couple of days in Ceduna as it is known as the ideal stopover for travellers either ending or starting their journey across the Nullabor on the eastern side. However after fuelling up, taking on water and groceries and looking at where we were going to have to stay (a cramped up caravan park), we decided to carry on a further 100km east to the little village of Wirrulla, and a park up at the old school grounds. We are the only motorhome here – lovely.

So where to from here? Tomorrow we will make our way to Port Augusta and make that our home for a couple of days. Both the motorhome and the jeep need a good clean after our last 10 days  in fairly dusty conditions. Our plan from Port Augusta is to travel inland to the Broken Hill area with perhaps a day or two before that with some fellow travellers along the Murray River. Our goal of being in Adelaide by Xmas is still on track.

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On the Nullabor Plain

As we drove into Coolgardie this morning we knew it was not going to be our stop for the night. The town reminded us very much of Coober Pedy – dusty and with mounds of dirt all around the town where prospectors had dug in search of their fortune. After a quick wander around it was into the motorhome and driving the 190km back to Norseman – we made the decision to start the Nullabor journey.

Norseman is the gateway to the Nullabor Plain on the Eyre Highway and the distance between Norseman and Ceduna (the other end of the Plain) is approximately 1250km. We estimate that it is going to take us three or four days (with stops) to arrive at Ceduna. Our park up for tonight is a free camp, Ten Mile Rocks, 87km east of Norseman. There are quite a few other vans here at the site so there is no chance we will be lonely.

We have been advised that there is very little cell phone coverage between Norseman and Ceduna. If you are trying to contact us, please leave a message and we will call you back as soon as we get coverage. It may not be for a few days.

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Kalgoorlie-Boulder – The ‘Golden Mile’

On Wednesday morning we arose a bit earlier as we did not have a plan for the day and we were unsure how the next part of our journey was going to pan out. After filling up with fuel we made our way onto the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway and around 200km later we drove into Norseman, the western gateway to the Nullarbor. Although we did stop half way at Salmon Gums and made ourselves a coffee, there was really not to much else to see on the way. The landscape is very scrubby with no fencing along the roads so a careful watch had to be kept on the roadsides for stray horses, camels, kangaroos, sheep and goats. A herd of goats were the only thing we encountered and they were easily avoided.

A Camel train sculpture in recognition of camels and their input into the growth of the Norseman Region in the 1800's

A Camel train sculpture in recognition of camels and their input into the growth of the Norseman Region in the 1800’s

Norseman was founded in 1894 by a prospector who named it after his horse who pawed the ground and uncovered a gold nugget. That led to the discovery of one of the richest quartz reefs ever mined in Australia. In November 2002 the current mining company celebrated the extraction of the five millionth ounce of gold from the Norseman operation. The town is surrounded by beautiful dense eucalypt bushland, ancient rock outcrops and large salt lakes.

We decided to stop and have lunch in the town. Our first attempt did not go well. We had just parked up when a couple of young ‘natives’ approached the motorhome and began taking their shirts off as they got closer. Rather than hang around and question this ‘probable innocent tradition’, we turned the key and drove on. One of the advantages of the gypsy lifestyle, if you do not like your neighbours, you simply move. We stopped a kilometre down the road, had a very nice lunch then got back onto the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway and continued north through Kambalda and on to Kalgoorie. We decided not to overnite stop on that highway – safety first always.

Kalgoorlie, now known as Kalgoorlie-Bolder after Kalgoorlie and Boulder joined, is a city in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. The town was founded in 1893 during the Yilgarn-Goldfields gold rush and is located close to the so-called “Golden Mile”. In the last 115 years there have been more than 80 separate mining operations and 1200 different companies floated to exploit the ‘Golden Mile’. Since the 1890’s, over 54 million ounces of gold has been produced by this extraordinarily rich ‘patch of dirt’.

The 'Super Pit' open cast goldmine at Kalgoorlie Bolder

The ‘Super Pit’ open cast goldmine at Kalgoorlie Bolder

On Thursday morning we turned up at Kalgoorlie Mining HQ and decided to do a tour of the ‘Super Pit’. The Super Pit is Australia’s largest open pit gold mine at 3.6 kilometres long, 1.6 kilometres wide and 512 metres deep. It produces around 850,000 ounces of gold annually.  It has literally swallowed up all of the historic underground mines that once comprised the fabled ‘Golden Mile’. The Super Pit was the brainchild of entrepreneur Alan Bond and was eventually brought into being by Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM) in 1989. The enterprise today employs 800 permanents, 400 contractors and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a 12-hour shift pattern. Interestingly, the mine does not have ‘fly in, fly out’ workers. All employees and contractors live in the township of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Neither of us is really into this type of tour but to be fair we found the 2.5 hours very interesting. Dressed in long pants, long sleeves, fluro jacket, safety glasses and hardhat we made our way around the mine site with twenty others. The whole gold mining thing is quite technical nowadays the reason being  that the ‘big’ nuggets have already been found so wealth is being created from extracting the small stuff. The average value of the gold coming from the ‘Super Pit’ today is A$1400 per ounce and it is costing A$1000 per ounce to extract. They are extracting approximately A$3million of gold per day and even after costs that’s not a bad profit for the year. We wouldn’t mind a wee bit of it.

In the late 1890’s with all the gold and extra money moving around, criminals moved in. Theft, murder and armed robbery were common on the roads between diggings. This was the backdrop to Australia’s famous bushranger past. Prostitution was another result of the gold rush era as there were plenty of ‘men with money and with absent or no wives’. Prostitutes were enticed to the goldfields with the promise of easy pickings.

Rod looking a wee bit embarrassed outside of the Questa Casa brothel in Kalgoorlie

Rod looking a wee bit embarrassed outside of the Questa Casa brothel in Kalgoorlie

Today we did a tour of Questa Casa, the only original brothel remaining from Kalgoorlie’s ‘wild west’ past. Questa Casa is at least 114 years old and is famous for its ‘starting stalls’ where the girls still throw open these infamous doors nightly. The one-hour tour took us through the historical working areas of the house (not too much imagination needed) from the starting stalls at the front where the ladies ‘attract’ the clients to the entertaining rooms (the Navigator loved the ‘beating’ room). These same rooms have been in use since this house was established. The cramped rooms (freezing in winter, stifling hot in summer), gave a unique insight into the life of those who worked and those who frequented this world famous illegal house. The captain was unsuccessful in his bid to negotiate free samples, senior, aged pension and veterans discounts however he did comment that with the tour costing $20, there would not be many who have spent a pleasant hour in a brothel for a similar amount. A hilarious hour or so was spent at Questa Casa.

The stunning weather has continued during our Kalgoorlie-Bolder visit. Beautifully fine days with temperatures of around 30 – 32C and dropping to 15-17C at night. This is in a total contrast to the weather forecast that was predicting heavy rain, thunderstorms, lightening and temperatures around 39C. If we can get through to Christmas with these temperatures and this type of weather we will be very happy.

For travellers following our trail, do not miss Kalgoorlie-Bolder. It is an area with a great history and lots to see.

We leave here tomorrow (Saturday) and drive west along the Eastern Highway to Coolgardie. We are not too sure if this will be an overnight stop – it will depend on what there is to see and to do.

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Our Esperance Visit

An example of "Farmgate" art that is found in the front paddocks of many a farm between Hopetoun and Esperance

An example of “Farmgate” art that is found in the front paddocks of many a farm between Hopetoun and Esperance

Our departure from Hopetoun on Saturday morning was a slow affair. By the time we arose, had breakfast, prepared for our departure then drove into Hopetoun for an early morning coffee, it was 11am before we hit the road. It was 50km from Hopetoun back onto the South Coast Highway then a further 170km to Esperance. We had one stop on the way at Munglinup for a late on board lunch arriving in Esperance around 4pm on Saturday afternoon. Finding our camp at Esperance was a wee problem as the road layout had recently changed and the GPS threw a hissy fit. Reverting back to common sense and an old road map solved the problem.

Esperance is a town in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia on the Southern Ocean coastline. While explorers first visited the area in 1627, it was not until the early 1800s that whalers, sealers, pirates and gold miners arrived keen to exploit the free land and to cash in on the area’s gold boom. Esperance township itself was established in the 1870’s and gazetted in 1893. Agriculture, mining, fishing and tourism are now the area’s key industries. Esperance has the only port in the southeast of Western Australia and is the deepest in Southern Australia. The port area is a stunning sight. Beautiful white beaches, cafes, cycling and walking tracks and massive ships loading millions of tonnes of grain, canola and iron ore intermingle with paddle boarders, sailboarders and canoeists.

The huge wood and steel whaletail that frames a view of Esperance Harbour from midtown Esperance

The huge wood and steel whaletail that frames a view of Esperance Harbour from midtown Esperance

The weather has been super kind to us during our Esperance visit. The day temperatures have been around 28C to 30C and dropping to 15C at night. There has been a slight breeze each day, just enough to shift the air around. We do recognise however that it is getting hotter and the run up to Christmas is going to be a testing time in terms of temperatures and fire risks. Even now we are constantly monitoring our Fire Alert App.

We are not sure if any of you will remember the event but many an Esperance resident dines out on this bit of history. In 1979 pieces of the space station ‘Skylab’ crashed onto Esperance after the craft broke up over the Indian Ocean. The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab to be delivered to their offices. A local truck driver, then 17 years old, scooped a few pieces of Skylab off the roof of his home in Esperance and caught the first flight to San Francisco to collect the prize. Apparently he now lives in Perth awaiting his next ‘stroke of luck’. Bits of ‘Skylab’ can be seen at the town’s Museum on the waterfront.

It was great being a Kiwi in Australia on Sunday. The overnight sporting fixture results dealt a blow to Australian pride – the Kiwi’s defeated the Kangaroos in the Four Nations, the French beat the Wallabys and of course the All Blacks came up trumps against Scotland. We only took the high ground for the day of course – next weekend/next year could be a different result. We celebrated the victories with a lovely brunch at a café on the shores of Esperance Harbour.

Dearne at Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grande National Park at Esperance

Dearne at Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grande National Park at Esperance

On Sunday afternoon we unhitched the jeep and made our way into the Cape Le Grande National Park. Located 50km east of Esperance, the Park features attractive white sandy beaches set between rocky headlands and massive granite outcrops formed 600 million years ago. Inland, the Park has vast tracts of sandplains, swamps and freshwater pools. Some 40 million years ago sea levels were at least 300 metres above their present level. Many of the caves and tunnels in the granite outcrops were formed at that time by wave action and sea currents. We came across one rock that actually whistled when the wind blew through it. This is a result of the shape of the rock itself and a narrow tunnel that splits the rock. The rock was aptly named ‘Whistling Rock’.

One of the reasons for our visit to the Park was to ascertain whether or not we would be able to get our motorhome in to one of the Parks camping areas . There are some stunning camping spots but unfortunately most were designed for tents or small to medium caravans. It was a ‘no fit’ for us so we stayed put in Esperance. We were happy with our Cape Le Grand adventure – we visited Cape Le Grand Beach, Thistle Cove, Lucky Bay (voted as having the whitest beach sand in Australia), Frenchman Peak and all places in between.

The 'Whistling Rock' in Cape Le Grande National Park. It is hard to believe the sound that comes out of it.

The ‘Whistling Rock’ in Cape Le Grande National Park. It is hard to believe the sound that comes out of it.

We spent Monday and today cruising around the Esperance area and taking in as much as we could. When we didn’t feel like driving, and as our campsite was only about 1km out of the township itself, we were within easy walking to anywhere really. Our verdict on Esperance – it is a great little seaside town with plenty to see and do. Our four days here have been on the go the whole time.

Our plan is to leave here tomorrow morning (Wednesday) and make our way along the Coolgardie Esperance Highway toward Kalgoorlie. The journey is about 400km so we doubt whether we will do the trip in one day. We will try and find a nice little spot somewhere around Norseman to stop over for a night. Our intention is to stay around the Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie and Kambaida area for four or five days. The Goldfields Woodlands National Park is close by and we are keen to get into that. The fires and bad weather up that way at the moment may require us to change our plan, we shall see.

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Not Quite at Esperance

On Monday evening, and prior to our departure from Albany, we had a few quiet ones with our hosts Mike and Caryn, the managers of the Emu Bay Park. With Rod and Mike both originally from New Plymouth, they had a few tales to swap about life in the town in those earlier days. As it turned out they both did the same milk round as kids but under different owners. While the money was good for the day, neither of them liked the 3am starts. Mike’s mum still lives in the same street in New Plymouth as Rod and his family did when they resided there.

Dearne at the entrance to the Point Henry Peninsula at Bremer Bay

Dearne at the entrance to the Point Henry Peninsula at Bremer Bay

On Tuesday morning is was back on the road and heading toward Esperance. We really had no plan other than to stop when we found something interesting. About 100km later we arrived at the Boxwood Hill Roadhouse and the turnoff to Bremer Bay. The Roadhouse had a lovely little café attached, the Bush Chook Café, so we decided to make that our lunch stop. We had no details of Bremer Bay and none of our fellow travellers had mentioned they had been there so after lunch we thought we would take the risk and travel the 60km and make a visit.

We ended up by staying three nights at the Bay in a small camp at the entrance to Point Henry Peninsula. Bremer Bay is a town of about 240 people and is situated on the south coast of Western Australia between Albany and Esperance and at the mouth of the Bremer River. Interestingly, the area’s electricity is generated by a wind-diesel hybrid system. In 2012, the town was menaced by a bushfire that burnt for five days after being started by lightning. The fire burnt out 10,000 hectares of farmland and bushland and was bought under control just outside of the town. Bremer Bay is known for its beautiful beaches, fishing and diving opportunities. On Wednesday we took the jeep and visited as many bays as we were able to access. It seemed to us that all roads led to a stunning beach. While having the 4WD made life a little bit easier, some of the roads made for a very ‘rough’ journey.

The navigator resting on our walk to Native Dog Beach at Bremer Bay

The navigator resting on our walk to Native Dog Beach at Bremer Bay

On Wednesday night the weather turned nasty. We had thunder and lightening and it poured down most of the night. We tossed up on Thursday morning whether to get back on the road or stay put. At around 10am with the rain continuing to come down, we made the decision to stay put for another 24 hours. We were on higher ground and nowhere near trees so we felt quite comfortable about our position. As a result of the rain, the dirt track from the camp back onto the road had turned soft and we wanted to avoid a ‘bogged down’ situation. In the end we had a relaxing and pleasant day – we watched a few DVD’s, caught up on our reading and in the periods of ‘no rain’, we explored the local area on foot. Bremer Bay was a great little stopover and certainly worth the 60km diversion off the main South Coast Highway.

This morning the rain had cleared so we decided to move on. Our first stop for the day was the little village of Jerramungup back on the South Coast Highway. Like most of these rural villages they are born out of local agricultural industry needs but are still interesting to travellers. We spent an hour or so strolling around before making our way further east to the next highway village of Ravensthorpe. Again we had a quick wander around the village, picked up a few groceries from the local IGA then sat in the motorhome debating our next big decision. Do we carry on to Esperance or do we turn right and visit the coastal village of Hopetoun. Hopetoun won the day and 50km later we arrived.

Just another of example of what to expect in a quiet walk around the camp at Bremer Bay

Just another of example of what to expect in a quiet walk around the camp at Bremer Bay

Hopetoun is on the south coast of Western Australia and is approximately 160 kilometres west of Esperance. The town was established in 1900 as a coastal town servicing the Phillips River Mining District and while nickel mining is still a major industry in the area, the town has also become a very popular holiday spot. We did a quick walk around when we arrived and managed to spot the primary school, police station, the pub, a bakery, supermarket, two Cafes, a gift/souvenir shop, a hairdresser, two beauty salons and a Hardware store all within about 500 metres. By this time it was getting late in the day so we have managed to find a parking spot for the night about two km out of town.

We will definitely be in Esperance tomorrow as Rod wants to find somewhere to watch the Kiwi’s/Kangaroo’s game and hopefully the All Black test later in the night. Our plan is to base ourselves in Esperance for the next four or five days and explore the area from there. We may even shift after four days and base ourselves in the Cape Le Grand National Park for a few nights.

Have a great weekend all.

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Last day in Albany

The last whaling boat, Cheyne II, at the Albany Whaling Station

The last whaling boat, Cheyne II, at the Albany Whaling Station

Our Albany visit has been very relaxing. Having Nicky with us for the weekend and her being able to share a small bit of our journey with us was great. In fact we have enjoyed Albany so much we decided to stay on another day. We will now depart here Tuesday instead of today.

On Saturday morning we made our way to Discovery Bay on Flinders Peninsula and the home of Australia’s last operating whaling station. While we found some of the exhibits challenging, the facility itself was very interesting. Whaling commenced in the area around 1826 and reached its peak around 1845. While there were numerous whaling stations along the south coast, poor seasons affected the viability of most ventures. Due to declining numbers, the killing of humpback whales was banned in 1963 and all other whaling stations closed with the exception of Albany. With the decreasing market for whale oil and the increased pressure from conservation groups, the Albany station ceased operation in 1978. After looking at video. film and exhibits, we are both very glad the whaling business in Australia is no more – it was a gruesome industry to say the least.

The Captain and the Navigator on their cliff walk in the Torndirrup National Park

The Captain and the Navigator on their cliff walk in the Torndirrup National Park

After lunching at the whaling station café, we made our way into the Torndirrup National Park. There are a number of excellent walks in the National Park and we decided to do a walk that followed along the cliff top then wound its way down to the waters edge. There is supposedly a set of blowholes at the base of the cliff but unfortunately for us the sea was not big enough that day to push water through the holes so no blowhole display. It was getting on in the day so after returning to the top of the cliff and trekking back to the car, we made our way back to the motorhome. None of us felt like cooking dinner so after a couple of wines we drove around (with a sober driver) to Oyster Bay and had a ‘fish and chip’ dinner at the Squid Shack, the Bays local seafood café. Not a bad end to the day.

Sunday was a stunner of a day so before Nicky started on her return journey to Perth we visited a couple of the local markets on Albany’s waterfront. While no purchases were made (with the exception of a coffee), we spent a very relaxing couple of hours wandering around. To top the morning off for the Captain, the local hot rod club was having a ‘show day’ on the waterfront. With hot rods and Harley’s on display, he was in heaven. I know what you are thinking but there is no way he is getting back on two wheels – his luck has run its course!! After lunch on Sunday we did a coast walk along Emu Point’s Middleton Beach before returning to the motorhome to start preparing for our departure on Tuesday.

There has been a deterioration in the weather today. As luck would have it, we watched the news last night and the weather forecast predicted rain and thunderstorms for the Albany area today. Based on the information we bought our awning in last night and put our outside furniture away. The forecast was spot on. It has rained most of the morning, although not that heavy, and we have had thunderstorms. We are battened down and are confident we will handle whatever occurs today.

A rather large turtle crossing the road just down from our campsite

A rather large turtle crossing the road just down from our campsite

This being our last day in Albany we had a few domestics to catch up on. We drove in to town this morning to stock up on groceries and the last minute necessities. To drive to and from town we have cross about 700 metres of roadway that has been designated as a ‘turtle crossing’. How the turtles know it is their crossing we are not sure but with the road running between the coast and a tidal fed inlet, there is probably a centuries old ‘well worn turtle path’ both ways. For the first time since being here we actually saw a turtle crossing the road this morning. The navigator even had time to leap out of the jeep and get a shot. Much excitement!

The motorhome and jeep are now thoroughly cleaned and we are ready to go tomorrow. Go where you might say? Good question as we are not quite sure ourselves just yet. The plan is to head toward Esperance but we have no date when we will arrive. There is quite a bit to see on the way.

 

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