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Travels in Australia

You know that feeling when you plan a trip just looking at marks on a map, and when you get there and actually see it, it is exceptional?

We stay at the Stirling Range Retreat, another low key bush campsite with good environmental credentials. The ranges would not look out of place on a Hebridean island. Apparently Australia does have some real mountains; who knew!

Mount Hassel, like most of the peaks, is short and sharp. D1 and I make the top. It's a little too steep and exposed for D2 at the end, but she makes a valiant effort.

View from Mount Hassel

This is Australia, not Scotland, so of course there are vineyards. A nice winery lunch is followed by the Granite skywalk. I dislike hanging off these man made walkways; the summit cliffs feel much safer to me.

Granite Skywalk

The highlight of the stay is a sunrise hike up Bluff Knoll. There are a dozen or so people at the top, and the sunrise is spectacular.

Bluff Knoll Sunrise

Back through Kalgoorlie, and south to the coast.

At Norseman, T fails to find gold dust, but the dendritic agates at the free fossicking site out of town are more than good for her. Another market stall pays for some stones to be shipped back east for future polishing.

Esperance has the first grassy campsite for what feels like a long while. The beaches along the WA south coast are renowned for their beauty. At Lucky Bay we play beach cricket. While T & D2 swim in the surf, D1 and I walk up the sands, and are flagged down by some stuck 4WD drivers. They have pretty much done everything wrong for beach driving: tires still fully inflated, front diff not functional (so only 2WD working), no recovery gear, no shovel, their towbar is rusted on and digging into the sand, and no idea of the tides. Very luckily, they are stranded above the tideline. Some locals pull them out. We climb a peak on the way home.

Frenchmans

Now we head west along the coast. An overnighter in the Fitzgerald NP is illuminating. The flora here is really like nothing I've seen before, and is internationally significant.

Hakea

Then to Bremer Bay, staying at another bush camp (Tozer's). This was farming land, which has reverted to bush. Another scuba diving day, this time with D1 in tow, to do a “try dive”. This went well, including an encounter with a pair of curious sea-lions. Bremer Bay is lovely, but the nearest decent shop is 200km away.

Next big stop is Kalgoorlie, the 4th biggest town in WA and the biggest goldmining town in Australia. Mostly friendly, good for supplies, but a little dusty. Our booked site at the caravan park is way too dusty, and we move to one with some shade an a little grass.

Two hours north, the Great Western Woodlands start to turn to desert country. Our goal is Lake Ballard, a salt lake and sculpture park.

A simple campsite is on the sands by the edge of the lake. Scattered across the lakebed are dozens of 80% life size bronze humans. Watching? Guarding? Waiting for something?

Sculpture

They definitely need to be seen at sunrise & sunset, to get the full effect of their shadows. We survive a day in what shade we can create in our camp. In the evening we walk 5km across the salt to the very outskirts of the bronze crowd. A full walk to visit them all would be much longer, but unwise as the evening temperatures are still high.

Sculpture

This was totally worth the journey. Exceptional artwork, in a wild and remote location. Now back south towards the coast.

The west coast of SA is a series of increasingly smaller and less comfortable townships.

The first stop after Ceduna is Penong. We always play a car game of shouting “windmill!!” whenever we see one, so arriving at the windmill museum is hilarious.

First overnighter is at the Nullarbor road house. Americans would call this a “truck stop”. This one is windier, with aussie beer and more pies. The sunrise is fantastic.

Sunrise

Stocking up on fresh food at Ceduna was a mistake, as biosecurity rules mean we have to ditch it before the WA border. D1 complains that there are actually some trees in the Nullarbor (but not many).

The cliffs of the Great Australian Bight live up to expectations. This is true wilderness.

Cliffs

The WA border crossing requires silly amounts of COVID paperwork, which thankfully we have done in advance. We set our clocks back 45 minutes for the semi-official Eucla timezone.

We alternate between driving west in a straight line for hours, fueling up, and staying at bush camps. Madura Pass has great views over the plain. The Fraser Ranges has rockholes and a lightning storm.

Out the other side of the plain. Now we are in mulga forest and mining country.

We track the west coast of South Australia, waiting for the WA border to open.

First the Yorke peninsula. The inland towns are small, sleepy and agricultural. We head down to the toe of the “boot”, to Marion Bay and the Pondalowie national park. There is lots of wildlife to encounter. Eleven emus walking down the road. A Peninsula Black Snake walks through our camp a couple of times, but doesn't seem too stressed. Another snorkel session with D2 brings us more rays to see.

Emus

Netx, up the west coast via Wallaroo, which is a Cornish tin mining town. Lots of history, but no mining now. Onwards through Port Augusta, which seems to be thriving, and hit the road to the Eyre peninsula. We are into some desert country now. The first leg takes us to Kimba, which has the best free, council run, overnighter camp site we have seen yet.

We decide to take back roads to the coast. Many are closed due to recent floods. After several diversions we get lunch at Darke Peak, which has a pub seemingly unchanged since the 1930s. The veal schnitty with mushroom sauce is great.

Tumby Bay is another small cute coastal town. More snorkeling on the jetty with D2. The local historical museum seems to collect entire deceased estates and business closure sales. The staff let us play music from a waxed cylinder, and operate the original town phone switchboard.

Tumby Bay

Another national parks campsite at Coffin Bay. I get the first scuba session of the trip. The shore dives are shallow, but with lots to see: nudibranchs, blue swimmer crabs, octopi. Once out of the water, I go to buy some local oysters. Outside the cafe is a 24 hour oyster vending machine! It talks to me in German for some reason. The oysters are delicious.

Oyster vending machine

Good news everyone! The WA border is now open! Ceduna is our last stop before crossing the Nullarbor. It definitely feels like a frontier town. We are recommended to take our time across the plain, so we stock up for a week.

Our plans to head for the West Australia border for 5th February are thrown into disarray, as their state government gets the mother of all COVID anxiety attacks, and postpones the grand reopening. What to do?

Heading north to the red centre is not wise this early in the year, due to recent floods and ever present risk of extreme heat. We don't want to backtrack to Victoria. D1 suggests we kill more time in SA, and that we should check out Kangaroo Island.

The ferry is a tight fit for our ute and camper trailer, but the crew are experts at guiding us on.

Lyra ferry

The road out to Flinders Chase National Park feels like real wilderness for the first time in this trip. We are here to see the sea lion colony. A parks guide takes us right down to the beach, where adult sea lions rest after days spent fish hunting, and juveniles await their parents' return.

Sea Lions

Other highlights are snorkeling on the north coast, lighthouse tours, elephant rocks, and watching the sunset from the pub verrandah.

The week flies by, and all too soon we are rushing to get back on the ferry at 6am. Luckily our campsite is right near the ferry terminal. Now onwards to Adelaide, and hope that WA reopens.

When I moved to Australia in 2005, we travelled the east coast, from the Daintree to Adelaide. A favourite location was the Coorong National Park. We stay at the very same campsite, a short walk or a sandy drive across the dunes, leading to a log wild empty beach. Dolphins join us for a swim.

beach

D2 had never seem Storm Boy so this seems like an appropriate time to watch it. There are tears when Mr Percival dies.

Onwards to Goolwa, Port Eliot and Victor Harbor. We go for a sail in my uncle's boat, up to the mouth of the mighty Murray river. The caravan centre in Goolwa does some work on our trailer brakes, with no notice. Regional mechanics seem much easier to deal with than metro ones. For entertainment, we check out our friend's blues band. Sadly no dancing in SA, so sit-down jiving only.

We make it into SA! Four states and territories down, three more to do. (No Tasmania on this trip. We went there a few years ago, and it's great. But we can't do everywhere, and the ferry with a trailer is expensive).

SA seems to be noticeably more scared of COVID than other states. Maybe a NSW number plate is making people jumpy? I guess NSW and VIC have just learned to live with it better.

Just outside Mount Gambier, we have a whole paddock to camp in all to ourselves. This is our first booking through HipCamp. We've found most sites they list to be too hip for us. We like it cheap and cheerful, and this is certainly cheap! A longdrop toilet would be nice, but it will do.

Mount Gambier is dominated by the Blue Lake, which is looking fabulous. The highlight of the trip so far is snorkeling in the freshwater limestone sinkholes at Ewans Ponds.

As we leave town, the side of the Blue Lake hill is on fire. So far on this trip we have narrowly missed several crazy environmental events (hail, storms, floods, fires).

Victoria is a bit of a blur. Deliberately so. We want to focus on heading west to SA and WA, and avoid getting COVID in the meantime.

After a pleasant overnighter by the Avon river in Gippsland, we head to Warburton, to catch up with an old colleague of T's from her NT years. Warburton has the same feel of hill station towns the world over. Steep windy streets following the valley, with a central strip of shops and facilities, and fabulous views from surrounding walks. Apparently the Adventists used to run everything, but have now upped stumps. Their old hospital is for sale if you happen to need one.

We blast through Melbourne, only stopping for roadworks. Like Sydney, it will be a nice town once it's finished.

Ballarat is known as the birthplace of Australian democracy. We visit the Eureka exhibition, to see the Flag. The display is excellent, but the supporting interpretation glosses over three tricky issues: The rebels at the stockade specifically excluded Chinese diggers from their concept of “rights”, foreshadowing the White Australia policy. Democracy didn't apply to aboriginal people until 1967; like the Chinese they barely get a mention in the exhibition. Finally, the flag has been coopted by extreme right wing groups; this should be reminder that when left wing politics fails to address the needs and fears of working people, how easy things can swing to the hard right via the use of attractive symbols.

T and the girls visit Sovereign Hill which they loved. I find it a bit cheesy, so do some shopping instead. Then we catch up with a couple of friends whom we have been aching to see for a long time. Lemons!!!!!!!