The big road trip – Across the Nullarbor

The second half of the Stuart Highway

From Tuesday morning to Thursday afternoon we knocked over a lot of kilometres through central Australia and into South Australia. There is very little along this stretch so we didn’t miss anything by winding over the k’s. Tuesday evening we stopped at the roadhouse in Marla and stayed the night. It was a lovely warm evening and we spent most of it outside. But not til after sunset when the flies buggered off! The kids had a ball with the flicky, light up thingys a The Piper bought in Darwin. They were shooting them into the sky and allowing them to flutter down for about 5 minutes, then the wings came off, the flippers were sup’ed up and they we’re taking aim at each other! Of course. And much to the delight of our fellow camper!

Wednesday we rolled into Coober Pedy around lunch time. Now I always said I would never return to this place. And with good reason. If you haven’t been, don’t bother. It was even worse this time than last and we spent the afternoon hiding from the flies and the heat. The Pocket Rocket did find a small amount of potch on the noodling heap but the flies and heat drove us underground fast. First to Faye’s Place to see an underground home, then to the underground hotel for a beer and then to the underground Catholic Church (I don’t know why, but we did). The heat almost took its toll with Super Gran but she resuscitates well with a rest and a cold drink.

I suppose I should try to be nice about Coober Pedy so here goes. It’s hot during the day, windy all the time. There is dust and dirt everywhere but not the beautiful central Australian red stuff. The people are eccentric with 80% of them living underground to avoid the heat, wind and flies. There’s limited water so you buy it through a bowser in town at 20c for 30L as you melt in the heat and swat the flies away. There are severe alcohol restrictions, one bottle of wine or spirits but all the beer and pre-mixers you want (how does that work?). As for opals, the caravan park owner is making more money conducting tours through his old mine (where we divined for a slide with brass rods), providing underground camping and offering the only free showers in town! Have I been nice? Do you want to go there? I’ll wait for you down the road.

All that aside we did the mine tour at Riba’s caravan park and got our free camping. The children stayed underground and loved it, while Super Gran and I had the camper to ourselves. I was supposed to sleep with The Twins (“they’re too young to be down there alone”) but I’ve experienced that before. You can here snoring, farting and gravel crunching all night. No thanks. Funnily enough Super Gran wasn’t that keen either. But The Pocket Rocket loved it! She was heard to say it was the best thing about Coober Pedy.

Thursday we hit the road fast to avoid the flies and get through the 500+ kilometres to Port Augusta. In total, we will clock up 1717+ kilometres with Super Gran and The Pocket Rocket. That’s just highway k’s, not side trips and other bits and pieces. The Twins have been very good in the car. They’ve played games, listened to music, watched movies, built cubby houses and slept. The strip from Coober Pedy to Port Augusta is a lot of nothing. We stopped twice for coffee and food, fighting the flies the whole time. Our lunch stop was particularly uncomfortable and my last bit of patience was tried and lost! I hate flies! If you are swinging this way any time other than winter, GET A FLY NET! Don’t leave home without one. I’ve been telling everyone headed north. Sales will skyrocket. But people will be comfortable and we should have bought them too!

The road was littered with carcasses of kangaroo and emu. We also saw live emu, including chicks (that are as tall as human children), lizards galore and I ran over a banded snake. I’m hoping I literally went straight over the top of it, without hitting it, but it may not have been that lucky. Having gone over the dog fence there is clearly more wildlife than in the north but that means more road kill. Driving requires even more concentration than before. Finally we made it to Port Augusta and we made it and headed out for fish and chips. I don’t think there’s much in Port Augusta and I’m not going to find out. But if you are here, do yourself a favour and have fish and chips at Gotta Be Fish. Great meal, great value, great service! And great not to have to cook after driving all day.

And that’s it! The Piper and I have traversed the full length of the Stuart Highway and we have the sticker on our trailer to prove it. Darwin to Port Augusta. This leg of our trip, without our side trips to Litchfield, Kakadu, back up to Douglas Daly Springs and into Uluru, is 2728kms. Not bad! They have a little certificate in the information centre that you can fill in. I’ll get one for The Piper!

So, now it’s Friday and I’m having a rest day before the final leg home. Super Gran has the washing under control and is supervising The Twins in the pool. I’m getting a sore bum sitting on my seat doing nothing. I’ll get moving later and do some shopping, fuel up the car and repack it ready to head over the Nullarbor tomorrow. Another great Australian road to conquer and I can’t wait. Unfortunately Super Gran and The Pocket Rocket leave us here for Adelaide on a bus before flying home to Sydney. We’ve all had a great time and got amazing memories that The Twins will share for the rest of their lives.

Crossing the Nullabor
We left Port Augusta yesterday morning (Saturday) after dropping off Super Gran and The Pocket Rocket. Their bus was on time and they made it safely to Adelaide. We headed for Ceduna. I recalled that we had been told that the Oyster Festival was on, so I rang ahead for a site. We got the last one along the foreshore, that happened to be the hardest site we’ve had all trip in terms of parking! Of course everyone wants to watch or direct and that makes it worse. Imagine driving into a very short dead end street and needing to park at the very end, but facing back out of the street. And both sides of the street already have vans and vehicles parked in them. So needless to say I was stuffed before I started and should have reversed in. Did I mention it was 38°! Anyway we got there in the end and set up with a minimum of fuss.

After cooling down and having a beer, we headed out for a look see at the Oyster Festival. The program looked promising but the damned flies killed it again. We decided to wait for dark and walk the pier instead but the rowdy post-festival, post-AFL grand final revellers killed that. Needless to say we didn’t see much of Ceduna. Just to top it all off, daylight savings commenced while we slept so we lost an hour and had to get cracking quickly to make it off site by 10am. Have I mentioned that The Piper has turned into a regular teen during the trip and is struggling to wake up in the mornings? Finally the days I have been looking forward to the most. Days where I’m up before my kids. Both of them have been shocking sleepers until their teens, with my motto being “you wake ’em, you take ’em”. Me time now!

Despite a slow waking tween we hit the road and despite a minor issue with the trailer, got underway at 10.40. I have to say I was excited about traversing the Nullarbor and looking forward to the long stretch of straight road. I was also really excited to see the Great Australian Bight. The Piper on the other hand was head down in his computer watching games. After so many 1000s of k’s I can’t say I blame him. Before we got to the exciting bit we discovered that sadly wombats can be roadkill too, coming across at least 2 dead animals on the side of the road. Obviously we are desensitised to dead kangaroos, which is a shame. Australia’s wildlife is dying in a sad way.

Onwards to the sign that declares the eastern end of the plain, that was already quite obvious thanks to an absolute dearth of trees. The plain stretches everywhere, with a low growing cover of plant life, but not a tree in sight. And then a turnoff to the Head of the Bight. We headed down and were rewarded with southern right whale sightings. A mother and her calf. And another whale 100m south of them. All three were just 25-50m offshore. And the scenery there is spectacular too. One of those moments. Oh my goodness this is the the Great Australian Bight! We did it. North west to Ningaloo for Hump Back Whales and south to the Great Australian Bight for Southern Right Whales. Not to mention everything else we’ve seen and done. And now, it’s official, we can add crossing The Nullarbor. Something I’ve always wanted to do is done. Another really great day for us and our trip.

It’s Sunday evening and we’re sitting in the camping area of the Border Village roadhouse. Now depending on where you look, determines on the time. Daylight savings started last night in SA so if I look at a non-synchronised device it’s 6pm. However I have telstra coverage and that says it’s 3.30pm. So perhaps I’m already in WA. Only things are that
1. I started the day on SA time so as far as my brain is concerned it’s 6pm and
2. We haven’t passed the decorative sign saying Welcome to Western Australia or the quarantine station (however we’ve taken our photo with sign!).
For arguments sake, let’s just say we at are the border. And that I have a cold (ginger) beer. And The Piper is going for a swim. All good stuff.

NB: After writing the above we wandered into the roadhouse for a sticker. The notice board declares that the roadhouse operates on central western time. I’ve never heard of this time zone before. So I enquired, only to be told by an indignant attendant that the time has existed for 50 years. See if you can follow this … It’s half an hour ahead of Perth and half an hour behind Adelaide (when Adelaide isn’t on daylight savings time, which happened last night). The zone exists for 50km either side of the border and after the border, headed west, some properties become just 20 minutes ahead of Perth! Goodness knows what that time zone is called. I actually think this is a good idea except that it doesn’t run longitudinally. What I mean is at the northern end of WA they just operate on Perth time, no matter how close they are to the NT border. So Kununnurra which is 30 west of the NT border operates on Perth time. Oh, and someone needs to tell Telstra!

Deciding to operate on holiday time we took our pic at the border and had a go at the Kangaroo hole of the Nullarbor links golf course. Par 3, 160m, easily holed in one using our imaginary golf club, tee and ball. Good fun and the afternoon and evening passed easily, complete with a brilliant sunset over Western Australia. Welcome home. It’s good to be back and now we’ve got a few k’s to go to finish our trip the way we started, together, happy, cruising, excited and ready for whatever happens. Onwards to Esperance and home to Perth later in the week.

As we come to end of our trip we’ve been talking about what we’ve loved, what we’ll miss and what we’re looking forward to. To set the scene, we’ve been living in our camper trailer that is 6’x7′ folded, so that gives us floor space of 6’x14′. This includes our beds, the kitchen with the fridge and floor space that we use very efficiently. We haven’t used the awning except for Darwin where we needed the shade. We’ve got very good at putting it up and taking it down having done it 29 times already, with a few to go (and one before we left to pack and another when we get home to clean).
1. Murchison river
2. Carnarvon
3. Coral bay
4. Exmouth
5. House creek
6. Karijini
7. Eighty mile beach
8. Broome
9. Derby
10. Bungle bungle
11. Kununurra
12. Katherine
13. Darwin
14. Litchfield
15. Jabiru
16. Maguk
17. Douglas daly
18. Nitmiluk
19. Mataranka
20. Elliot
21. Karlu Karlu
22. Alice springs
23. Curtin springs
24. Yulara
25. Marla
26. Coober pedy
27. Port Augusta
28. Ceduna
29. Border village
30. ???

We’ve basically lived in a space the size of my bedroom at home and used toilets and showers provided on sites. We only used our own shower once, at Karijini. We also have our car which has our pantry, our bags, tools and the first aid kit, bagpipes and The Pipers bike, as well as all our toys like fishing rods, balls, etc.

So, what is The Piper looking forward to? In this order:
1. A bath
2. Seeing The Drummer
3. School and his mates
4. His bed and it’s quilt
5. His trampoline
6. The lounge and TV
When I look at that list I’m reminded just how lucky we are to have a generous roof over our heads, with running water and warm, comfortable beds. We also have family and friends we love, who love us. We even have a few luxuries that enrich our lives and provide fabulous recreation and relaxation opportunities. We are the lucky ones. With that in mind we would be ungrateful to complain but there are some things we won’t miss …

1. The FLIES!
2. The Piper won’t miss sharing the men’s bathroom with snorting, snuffling, farting “old men”

So, not a lot really. We’ve had a great time and seen so much. Our top ten are:

10. Fishing charter in Darwin
9. Yulara and Uluru (we’ve done this before so for this trip it’s lower down the list)
8. Snorkelling in coral bay and turquoise bay
7. Douglas daly springs
6. Wangi falls
5. Windjana and tunnel creek
4. Emma gorge
3. Whale watching and boat driving in Exmouth
2. Helicopter in Nitmilik
1. Quad bikes in Alice

And that’s it. It’s all over. The Piper and The Drummer have asked if we can just go home tomorrow instead of heading south. How can I resist? The Drummer works Wednesday to Saturday evening and has uni during the day so if we don’t go home tomorrow we won’t see her until the weekend. She offered to help after our long drive and shout Chinese for dinner so we’re going home. But not before another 700km trip. We did that distance today and there wasn’t really a choice. There’s nothing along the way anyway and the flies and heat would have made stopping in the afternoon pointless. Nothing to see but lots to drive us crazy. So we drove.

We’re in Norseman (set up 30) and it’s cold. We left the border in heat, headed for 38° and we find ourselves hoping to stay warm tonight. Reminiscent of Kurlu Kurlu to Alice. Our road kill today was camels! We saw three dead on the road edge. That made me concentrate! Imagine hitting a camel! The Piper was distressed by them … dead feral animals. It’s amazing the emotive response a cute face can elicit despite its devastating effect on our environment. Hoofed animals were not meant to be on Australian soil. Our other road kill would have been lizards except for my precision driving to avoid them. They really do have a life limiting attitude to crossing the roads! Let’s hope the last 700k tomorrow is event free …

Check out the wrap up here.

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