Sunday, June 21, 2009

Days 29-30 - Esperance to Albany

The weather's fined up a bit, which has given us the chance to visit a couple of the beautiful National Parks in the area- Cape Le Grande and Fitzgerald River. Between the two we camped at the not very invitingly named Starvation Boat Harbour, which actually proved to to be a beautiful spot, rewarding us with both sunrise and sunset over the water.

In both National Parks we took a short hike to the top of one of the peaks (Frenchman's Peak and Mt Barren East) for the view, as well as checked out the stunning coastline.

Days 27-28: Esperance

Spent the last couple of days in Esperance, which has sadly been a bit of a let-down. Was really hoping to get some diving in here but the local dive operator seems pretty disinterested in helping to line anything up as business is quiet and he won't get the numbers on his boat to make things profitable. It's really frustrating as the water looks amazing.

The weather has packed it in a bit too- squally rain on and off and pretty chilly, although a drive round the coast is still spectacular, and the rain does provide a couple of nice rainbows!

Head out to the pub for some entertainment and it turns out to be karaoke night which is unintentionally hilarious, gotta love the old aboriginal guy who can't speak coherently but can somehow still hold a tune better than most of the other punters!

Took a boat trip out to Woody Island, which was great for the first half, checking out the seals, sea lions and sea eagles from close up to the boat. But the rain closes in when we reach the island, and the trip back is pretty bumpy, and I'm feeling pretty green by the time we get back.

days 26-27: The Nullabor (long road is LONG, straight road is STRAIGHT, dead camel is DEAD)

1200km of f**k-all. Well almost. two days of basically driving in a straight line could get pretty boring, but thankfully the haul across the Nullabor has been pretty spectacular, although the second day got a bit dull, especially the 146 km of dead straight road from Caiguna to Balladonia (that's basically like driving from Auckland to Hamilton without a single bend!!).

On the first day we stopped at Head of Bight to check out the whales, and could see approaching rainstorms on the horizon.

We start running into the rain near the Bunda cliffs- proving some memorable rainbows and a spectacular sunset through the desert rainstorms.

Stopped for the night in Eucla and checked out the ruins of the old telegraph station before pressing on to Norseman.

It's incredible to think that in all that region, Eucla (population 50) is the largest town, apart from a couple of small Aboriginal communities off the highway. There's certainly wildlife around though- roos (mostly dead) wedge-tailed eagles (feasting on aforementioned dead roos) and a very large dead camel- I hope it was a road train that hit it, because any other vehicle would have been seriously mangled by that thing....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Day 24 Ceduna

Back to civilisation after an awesome couple of days at Coffin Bay. Well actually we're in Ceduna, so civilisation is probably stretching it. A beautiful drive up the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula to get here, with some interesting sculptures on the clifftops at Streaky Bay (and an afternoon snack of a dozen of the freshest, cheapest oysters ever) but Ceduna is basically a dusty frontier town with some pretty dodgy looking inhabitants. It doesn't help that we also seem to have picked the dodgiest caravan park in town (should have realised when the manager boasted about all the security cameras they've installed for safety!).

Still a nice surprise this morning when we visit a wombat rescue centre run by a local woman, and get to meet some of her charges- the hairy-nosed wombat has to be one of the cutest animals ever.

The Thorny Devils are pretty cool too, even if they do look like something from a bad acid trip...

And now the Nullabor awaits.....

This will be the last daily blog I'll post- they've been getting more and more behind as we travel, so I'll now probably do any entry for every few days instead in an attempt to keep things more up to date.
However I've now also started a photo gallery with lots of pics from the trip, and I've also tagged each pic with a location in google maps. Check them out here , hope you enjoy 'em.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 23 Port Lincoln and Coffin Bay

Another beautiful day this morning, and we go for a nit of a walk to check out the beach in daylight properly. This was once a bustling little wharf, but not much left of it now except for a the stumps of a few pylons.

Heading down to Port Lincoln, the countryside keeps getting greener and more settled looking- it's more like NZ or the NSW South Coast than the arid landscape 200km north of here. Port Lincoln looks like a nice enough town but apart from shark cage diving (out of my budget at $450) there's not too much here that we want to do, so we head across to Coffin Bay to check out the national park and find a camp spot. The national park is spectacular, all bush clad dunes and limestone cliffs dropping into turquoise ocean.

We head into the park on a 4WD trail and just as we doubt that we'll find a campsite we arrive at Black Springs, easily the most beautiful spot we've camped at yet. The harbour is glassy flat and roos and emus wander about the campsite. We decide it's such a nice spot that we'll hang around for a couple of days and relax.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 22 Cuttlefish at Whyalla

From May to August every year, hundreds of thousands of cuttlefish spawn along the coastline near Whyalla. The spawning area is readily accesible to divers, and it's a unique experience cruising through the hordes of cuttlefish who seem unconcerned by your prescence as they get on with displaying and mating all around you. The gear hire here is dirt cheap too- the local dive shop is primarily a commercial diving operation and Tony the owner isn't worried about making much money off recreational divers. My two dives end up costing me $20(!) so I decide to buy a new set of fins, and pay $110 for a pair that would have cost me $185 in a Sydney retailer.

In the afternoon we speed down more deserted highways, and heading south, the desert landscape gives way to scrub, then wheat fields. We turn off at Lipson Cove, where we camp for the night at the nearly deserted beach.

Day 21 Port Augusta region (Wide Land is WIIIIDDDEEE)

Today I realise that when I named this blog I really had no idea how appropriate the name was. out here the sheer size of the landscape hits you- you can see for maybe 50km in every direction, and the ranges looming over the arid saltbrush plains are starkly beautiful.


Even the heavy industry which provides the reason for these towns existence (power stations in Port Augusta, steel mills and petrochemical plants at Whyalla) somehow seems to fit the landscape. The roads are flat, long and straight- I just dial in 115km/h on the cruise control and watch the kms roll past. We stop at Whyalla, where I'll finally get to do some diving tomorrow, and luckily enough it's cuttlefish season. There';s also a big speedway meet on tonight in town and I consider reliving my bogan teenage years and heading out to the track, but in the end we take the lazy option of sitting around the campsite with a drink.

Day 20 The Clare Valley to Baroota

Bloody freezing again this morning- luckily at least most of the wineries around here have fireplaces. We visit a couple more that are probably more memorable for their general ambience that the wine, including the Jesuit-run Sevenhills winery with it's underground cellars.

 We hit the vino jackpod with Tim Adams wines- the winemaker himself is there to chat about his operation, and the wines (particularly the whites) are superb- we promptly blow the rest of our booze budget on the spot, and would have bought several more had space permitted. I check out the Enterprise Lager at Knapstein too, and while it's pretty good, I decide I'm really more into ales than lagers these days. 

We check out the view from a nearby lookout, but it's still bloody cold- (the temperature at 2 o'clock is till only about 11 degrees) and not fancying another freezing night we decide to hit the road and head for the coast. Just before Port Pirie the landscape changes, with the rolling farmland giving way to flat coastal plains and saltbrush. We camp for the night at the Baroota Rodeo ground.

The recent rain seems to have awoken a horde of mosquitos- but it's a nice spot none the less, and most importantly it isn't freezing cold.

Day 19 The Barossa

We head North to the Barossa Valley in the morning, to sample more ofthe local wine. To be honest I'm probably more impressed with the grand old estates than I am with the wine itself- I'm not really a big shiraz drinker, and the cellar doors are rather commercialised, although the fortifieds at Seppelsfield are great. However the butchers are a different story- the german influence is apparent here too- mettwurst, biersticks, kassler chops, smoked chickens, and the prices are unbeatable! Lyndoch Butchers in Lyndoch and Linke's in Nuriotpa are both unmissable. 

We camp for the night at Kapunda, where the caravan park is great value, if freezing cold, and an old bloke travelling solo attempts to talk our ears off.

Day 17 Beeeeeeeeer!

This has to be one of the best days in the history of ever. However on thing stops it from being perfect. I've decided I want a pie floater for lunch. But can I find one? Unfortunately then seem to be about as common as the northern hairy nosed wombat these days, which is a disgrace considering that they're supposed to be Adelaide's fast food icon, and are mentioned in all the tourist literature. Adelaide, you're losing your  soul!

Happily though Adelaide's other icon is thriving. I take a tour of the Coopers Brewery which I reckon is up there with Mecca and Lourdes in the pilgrimage stakes. I'm surprised to find out that the entire brewery is self sufficient in power and water- they generate all their own electricity on site in a steam co-generation plant, and actually put up to 75% of it back into the national grid! Plus all of the water is pulled from an aquifer 150m below the brewery, rather than using the town water supply of Murray River water. Drink Coopers, delicious AND environmentally responsible!

The Gates of Heaven open....

I then head down to Port Adelaide to the Port Dock Brewery to sample their range, where the stout is particularly impressive.

The day gets even better wen we meet up with Shandos' sister who's in town on business. The only hotel room she's been able to book turns out to be a two bedroom apartment, so she had a spare room for the night- so we promptly head back and pack up the tent and take advantage of some unexpected luxury. To cap the evening off we get a phone call from home telling us that my drivers license arrived in the mail from Hahndorf, where I'd obviously dropped in in a smallgoods shop- not only are their sausages great but their service is awesome too. As I said, best day ever... or damn close to it.

Day 16 Adelaide

We head into Adelaide today and meet up with a friend of Shandos' for lunch, before heading out to Glenelg in the Afternoon. It brings back a few memories as I haven't been to Adelaide for 16 years- pretty much half a lifetime ago. Not that it seems to have changed too much... We hit the jackpot at a local pub where we find it's happy hour on oysters... a dozen oysters plus a bottle of stout and a glass of bubbly sets us back less than $20. I could get used to this....

On the downside I realise that the stitching has come undone from part of my wallet and consequently my drivers license seems to have disappeared...

Day 15 The Adelaide Hills

Spend the morning cruising around the wineries here, as well as visiting a chocolate factory- all this wine, meat and chocolates making me even fatter. In the arvo I check out the National motor museum, which is a petrolhead's paradise- but as well as the obligatory GTHO Phase III Falcons and A9X Toranas, there's plenty of other quirkier motoring oddities such as:

The Sinclair C5 (which makes it fairly obvious why Sir Clive Sinclair should have stuck to computers), and;

The mighty Datsun 120Y (our first family car, and completely indestructible (until rust got to it)!)

We head back through the Torrens gorge, a spectacular if windy road, and finish off with a drive up to the summit of Mt Lofty, where the clouds part and give us a nice view of the city at dusk.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 14 The Coorong to the Adelaide Hills

Ok so now I know why the wind dropped off- it started raining in the middle of the night and it's pretty soggy outside. luckily it's not constant so we get the car packed up quickly and head north. 

The Coorong wetland stretches over 100km along the coast and the highway follows it's practically deserted edge so we make quick time. We reach lakes Albert and Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray, which due to the weather don't look as dried out as usual, although the water level is still clearly lower than it should be. We pause in Murray Bridge for gas and to bludge the Maccas wi-fi again, then head up the Freeway to Hahndorf.

This region of Australia was settled by Germans. Despite this, the trains do not run on time (or at all, as they're closed for major trackwork). More importantly though the Germans did manage to bring one of their best cultural exports- sausages. All kinds of smoked meaty goodness is available in this region, and I stock up on mettwurst, biersticks, land jaeger and jerky. Walking down the street it gets even better when we find  a whole pig on a spit roasting outside a restaurant, and it becomes perfect when I manage to blag a free trotter to nibble on! I'm in fleisch heaven...

We stop for the night at Belair, where it's still raining, so we get the tent up quickly and turn in.

Day 13 Naracoorte to the Coorong

The wind's got up something fierce in the night, top the point where Shandos decides to sleep in the car- I can't be arsed moving so stay in the tent, which proves to withstand the wind without any drama. We're woken by a gorgeous sunrise and the wind provides one benefit in that it thoroughly dries the tent out.

We take a tour of the caves, which are interesting if you're the sort who like natural history, fossils etc (we are).

Then we hit the road toward the coast. This part of SA is wide, flat and mostly empty, and the reason for the 110km/h speed limit in these parts quickly becomes clear- it would take too long to get anywhere otherwise. The wind is still pretty fierce and bounces the car around a little, and is still blowing a gale in Robe where we stop for lunch. Like most coastal towns around these parts the place seems pretty much closed for winter- which makes me wonder what the hell the two Red Bull promo girls who pull up next to us in their Mini are doing here!

We duck into a nice old pub for a beer where the owners kid has the run of the place much to our amusement. We then head north to Kingston, which seems a pretty underwhelming place apart from the big lobster (which is up for sale, any takers?) Real lobsters are unfortunately out of season, and at $50 each we pass on cray for lunch and opt for fish and chips instead.

We head on North, debating whether to brave the wind and camp or wus out and get a room or cabin, finally deciding to pitch the tent when we find a reasonably sheltered spot at the south end of the Coorong, where we pitch camp then drive to the top on the dunes just in time to catch the sunset over the ocean. The wind appears to be dropping off, and life's good....

Day 12: Southeast SA

Bloody cold again this morning! 3 degrees at 8am according to the car thermometer. We head off before we freeze. The area near the border is mostly pine plantations- reminds me of home a bit! We head down to Port MacDonald to check out the sinkhole dive sites at Pickaninny and Ewen's Ponds. They look fantastic- but unfortunately the local dive shop operator is out of town, so no diving AGAIN. Am definitely going to have to come back this way in summer I think.

We take a quick detour to climb up to the rim of the crater at Mt Schank, a recent (around 5000 year old) volcanic cone. Pine forests and volcanoes... is this Australia or NZ? The crater itself is reminiscent of a bigger version of the cones dotted around Auckland and provides a fantastic view of the otherwise flat landscape. 

Mt Gambier with its gorgeous crater lake is the next stop, we stop in town to buy a new inverter to run the laptop (the old one decided to fry a couple of days back), then head up to the Coonawarra to sample the local vino. The Cabernet Sauvignon does not disappoint. One of the people at a cellar door describes us as the "funniest couple she's me in ages"... not sure if I should be insulted or flattered! 

We pitch the tent for the night at Narracorte, so we can check out the caves first thing tomorrow.