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Bill Leithhead's WA Trip Diary
Segment 1 - Days 1 to 6 - Melbourne to Norseman
© William G. Leithhead 2006

Day 1    Tuesday, August 14, 2001
Melbourne to Mannum (near Adelaide)

Awakening at 4:39am, we shower, final-pack and depart at 6am from Glen Waverley (suburb 25km south-east of Melbourne) on a cool but clear morning. Caravan left blinker turns out to be not working! Traffic is pretty light through the city, and from the West Gate Bridge we drink in the glittering streets of the city and suburbs, as we enter the Western Highway with the beautiful sunrise over Melbourne behind us.

At Ballarat we both have orange juice and high-cholesterol sausages, bacon, eggs, tomato, toast and coffee at a road-house that Mum had recommended, as they used it on their WA trips. Delicious! Bill fixes van left blinker - bad earth connection. Van wobbling a bit after passing semis and under a cross-wind, find increased tyre inflation and putting spare tyre back into van from car fixes that. We're glad!

A superb day to travel. The road unrolls through Stawell, Horsham - where we buy bread rolls for lunch. The Wimmera countryside is dry and different, with mallees and low shrubs. Kaniva, Bordertown, Keith, Tintinara, etc, all have that more desert-like look of South Australia.

Possible overheating problem, with temp gauge on top of high normal, but no overflowing occurs, so it's a mystery, but apparently not serious. We have pork rolls - made up by us - delicious!

Car and caravan at Mannum
Our rig at Mannum.
Deciding to push beyond Murray Bridge to Nuriootpa (in the Barossa), we get a bit tired, and find our way to Mannum, a delightful spot on the Murray River, east of Adelaide. There are ducks, pelicans, swamp-hens, and a bird that looks like a mynah is infatuated by our car mirrors and the car and van windows.

This is a delightful van park, and we will be back. The town is charming and quaint. It has been about 22°C during the trip, and we are healthy and tired, so we ring our daughter Leanne,who is minding our house, to report on progress and to thank her for her card and a very kind gift of cash for any little extra cruises. Then we have tea of avocado, cup-o-soup, and buttered roll. After a walk and a talk we hit the hay. The evening is mild - no heater needed. We sleep well despite slight nearby traffic and the distant honking of water-birds on the Murray.

Day 2    Wednesday, August 15, 2001
Mannum to Port Augusta

Paddle steamer 'Marion'
The venerable old Murray River paddle steamer "Marion" is based at Mannum.
Awoke about 6:30am, watched sunrise over the Murray River lagoon. It is mild and not cold - which is very pleasant to find in the last month of winter. After our usual breakfast (muesli with chopped banana, and coffee), we shower, and go for a walk, take photos of the paddle steamer "Marion", and travel through the Eden Valley to Mt. Pleasant, Angaston (buying bienenstick and rolls), Nuriootpa, Kapunda.

Bill finds a 1.5cm hole punched into the lower right aluminium side of the van, presumably by a rock.

The Barossa Valley is pretty and quaint. From Kapunda to Clare up to Gladstone, the roads are wavier, and the strong cross-wind leads to swaying, and again there is some overheating, too. We adopted this route to avoid the traffic in the city of Adelaide, as we have seen that before.

Port Pirie, on the western shore of Spencer's Gulf is very industrial, open-planned, with huge multiple wheat silos and the largest chimney stack we have ever seen, on the Pasminco lead-zinc smelter. Pushing on through wide-open green plains mixed with saltbush and saltflats, we sway alarmingly yet again against a strong head wind to Port Augusta.

It's great to be in in a very different town with very different foliage and soil. the kerbs, gutters, poles and buildings are different, the roads are wide, and the sense of space is large. Neither of us can remember seeing the superb cirrus clouds in the ultra-blue sky in quite that way before.

Some kilometres away are the Flinders Ranges as great grey-green-blue ragged backbones in the flat-wide greeny-grey fields. At last we're getting the sense of discovery. It's all new territory west of Adelaide! We spent some very pleasant times caravanning in the Flinders Ranges many years later.

At the Port Augusta Big 4 caravan park, on the top edge of Spencer's Gulf, [downoadable PDF file available here], there is a high fence topped by triple strands of barbed wire all around the van park. We're in prison! We were intrigued to be given a written warning at the caravan park office about theft and security. In the town we buy fish for tea. At 5:30pm the caravan is 26°C, and by 8:30pm we're not wearing jumpers outside and the air is still 22°C in the van. How unlike Melbourne! We are asleep by 9pm.

As it happens, we are about 500m from the main goods-train shunting yards between Alice Springs, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne! All night the shunting continued, with thunderous cascades of clattering as huge, long goods trains were assembled for regions beyond!

Day 3    Thursday, August 16, 2001
Port Augusta to Ceduna

It's 17°C at 5am! Sunny, but with a change forecast for rain and wind. We bought medicine for a throat infection which Bill has, went up the Red Mountain lookout for a photo, and departed. The land is wide, wide, grey-green, with low plateaus of mountains on the horizon. The country is very wide and slightly undulating, with red-orange soil, rocks, and long, empty, good roads. We were overtaken by only about seven cars on the 450km (approx) to Ceduna.

We passed past Iron Knob, then Kimba, where it rained heavily, and we lunched, than on to Kyancutta, and finally to Ceduna, into increasingly strong winds which gave much trouble with van sway between 4" and 8". No overheating, and good cloudy travelling weather with not much rain.

The wind is driving us bats!

We thought we'd never get to Ceduna  [NB: slow loading], but checked in at 5pm on the foreshore, with a cool (not cold) gale force wind, recorded up to 107km/h and 85km/h in Adelaide. The weather will be cold, windy and rainy for another day or two, the radio said.

Glenyce was tired and wind-frazzled, and Bill's throat infection was just bearable, with back pain kept at bay by pills.

We toured Ceduna, and bought oysters at an oyster bar 2km out of town - we were kindly directed there by a couple of happy aboriginal guys in a fish shop. In the meantime we had toured 3km to the adjoining town of Thevenard, and viewed the bay and lot of very quaint, unusual holiday homes there. It's a very old area! We saw a gypsum plant and massive silos, and then went back to sherries and oysters, with fillet steak and vegetables, retiring early 8:30-9pm. Bill put the heater on because the van temperature was 16°C, which boosted it to 19°C, which helps in dealing with back and leg pain.

We've seen a wide variety of landscapes, but very little wildlife.

Day 4    Friday, August 17th, 2001
Ceduna to Nullarbor

Bill awoke with a sore throat and we breakfasted, left Ceduna van park to the local hospital, but were redirected to a nearby Aboriginal Health Service, and were soon seen by a young part-aboriginal nurse who checked me over, ready for the doctor. He turned out to be an Indian-born South African doctor who was on for a friendly chat. He prescribed Amoxicillin and Vitamin C. I have a throat infection and a fever! So we toddled off to the huge chemist's shop, Glenyce nervously edging past unruly-looking groups of aborigines of all ages.

Jetty at Fowler's Bay
Jetty at historic Fowler's Bay.
Also, we bought nuts and washers to replace a missing stone-shield hold-down. After coffee at a shop, we departed at about 11:30pm, driving through beautiful pasture country around Penong. We took a detour on a reasonable dirt road to Fowler's Bay, a quaint old fishing hamlet surrounded by saltbush and huge, encroaching, pure-white sandhills.

This area was originally seen by the Dutch mariners in 1726 (Cook found Australia in 1788), and was later used for staging by explorers Eyre, and Giles. It is a strange, almost lunar landscape (saltbush excepted!), and could be seen as spooky. Alfred Hitchcock would have liked it. The very long wooden jetty was bult in 1896, and we walked out a bit, but the gale was cold and fierce, as the sea pounded grubbily into thick cushions of seagrass piled on the shore, whipping up a lather of murky foam.

Bunda Cliffs, view east towards Eyre Peninsula
View east towards the Eyre Peninsula from the whale-watching point near the Head of Bight, close to Nullarbor roadhouse. The white sand-hills of the Eyre Peninsula are striking.
Next, to Nundroo (petrol 123.9 cents per litre), then Yalata, and through surprisingly thick and hilly, scrubby bush which eventually gave way to low, flat scrub, herbaceous plants and saltbush, with virtually no trees. This is the start of the "Treeless Plain" of the Nullarbor.

Before Nullarbor roadhouse, we took a detour to see the whales at the Head-of-Bight, which is the most northerly point of the Great Australian Bight. Some whales were floating and spouting. The wind was a cold gale, the coast consists of white sand dunes and saltbush to the east, looming cliffs to the west.

We stay at Nullarbor, near the true start of the Nullarbor Plain proper. The owner keeps his plane parked near the front door, ready to take tourists for flights to see the whales and cliffs! We feel good, apart from Bill's sore throat, and we have had a pleasantly rewarding day. At teatime, it rained on us in the Nullarbor roadhouse. The water is from 700m underground, and the showers are $1 per 5 minutes, as the water is scarce. A wide, broad, gravelled van park and a motel complex, rudimentary but satisfactory.

Day 5    Saturday, August 18th, 2001
Nullarbor to Cocklebiddy

Bunda Cliffs with man just visible
TThe 100m Bunda Cliffs of ancient limestone dwarf a man seen as a tiny dot near the far-off edge of the cliff.
Today has been a most striking day; it rained overnight and in the morning at Nullarbor, and we now both have moderate throat infections. It was cool to mild all day, with occasional showers as we traversed the top of the Great Australian Bight. We visited seven lookouts over the Bunda Cliffs, which extend from Nullarbor to just east of Eucla. These are sheer, very high limestone cliffs dropping straight to the Southern Ocean, which is vivid blue-green.

It is terrifying, awe-inspiring and quite wonderful to see - it's worth the trip.

Bunda Cliffs with man just visible
View westwards along the awe-inspiring Bunda Cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. The lighter colour of the water closer to shore is apparently due to a sandy bottom until the rocks start well off the shoreline.

On we forge then, to Border Village, where there is a quarantine inspection of our car and caravan to prevent plant-borne diseases entering the West. Then push on to Eucla and a diversion to the old Eucla telegraph station in which Bill slept in 1952, as he and his parents drove to Melbourne to start a new life. It is now almost buried in pure white sand dunes, and well worth the visit. Then to the Mundrabilla roadhouse (where we were to shelter from a storm on the return journey!)

Bill staring into the jaws of death
Bill takes his life into his hands staring into the jaws of death.
It is warming up a bit, but we have some heavy rain showers, too. We meet an Austrian ski instructor riding a bicycle from Darwin through Perth, to Port Augusta, and back up to Darwin. We meet him at a Red Bank Tanks. He's a brave man! We saw two other bicycle riders a little earlier, too.

This is the maelstrom that Bill saw!
What Bill saw! The deadly turbulence awaiting the foolish at the bottom of the Bunda Cliffs!
There are quite a few wide loads on the road - catamarans, machinery, and giant earthmoving trucks up on semis. Traffic is not a problem. We have been overtaken by perhaps six vehicles since Ceduna, and we have overtaken no one; everyone does about the same speed.

Nullarbor rainstorm
Nullarbor rainstorm - we struck rainstorms like this both going and coming across the "desert"!

On we pressed valiantly in good spirits to Madura Pass. (petrol is 119 cents per litre). Quite striking scenery - a change from the flat, Nullarbor landscape, but strangely we never tire of it since it is a constantly changing colour and texture. There is very little wildlife (or dead-life!) visible, but we did see a slinking dingo today. Tonight we're at Cocklebiddy roadhouse, which is rudimentary but OK - except for a a noisy electricity generator near our van - Glenyce draws her sleeping bag up over her ears! The car ran well, and we're both OK. We rang Peter and Gaby to report on progress. We're aiming for Norseman tomorrow, and Kalgoorlie on Monday.

Day 6    Sunday, August 19th, 2001
Cocklebiddy to Norseman

We had a good sleep, despite the generator noise, and awoke to a clear, cool, calm day. We chatted with Betty and Ray, a couple from Stawell, whom we had met yesterday at a cliff-top lookout.

Yesterday we saw a car on a trailer, with its front badly damaged. Apparently their dog had jumped from the back seat to the front seat, distracted the driver, and they hit a tree! Two adults and two children were OK, but one of the boys had been flown to Kalgoorlie for a cut head! Fancy running into a tree on the Nullarbor, the Treeless Plain!

The owner of the roadhouse said that he had seen a girl on a pair of rollerblades go through here, too!

Balladonia dollar
"Balladonia dollar" from Balladonia roadhouse, where Bill earned it by playing a few tunes on an ancient player piano.
The country consists of very flat, park-like bonsai and topiary Japanese-like "desert" in all directions. Lots of dead roos, some dead emus, and a couple of wedge-tailed eagles up in trees. At Caiguna there doesn't seem to be much, but Balladonia has an interesting, interactive display of history, fauna, meteorites, satellite debris, etc. Bill played an old player piano there, and scored a "Balladonia dollar", redeemable at the bar. We keep it. Nice spot!

Through Fraser Range, with a change to hills and escarpments and changes of foliage, seeing salmon gums and taller trees, salt lakes and mud-pans.

Damaged headlight from emu strike
Emu impact smashed glass, leaving blood, feathers, and gut contents seen inside the parking lamp. (Some red is from red headlamp sealant.)
Then ... Bang! ... an emu materializes in front. I brake, but we collide at the right-hand headlights and a flurry of feathers. I see the animal tumble over, all legs and feathers, then limp off, and am sickened! After several kilometres we realize that the right-hand side caravan mirror has gone, so we go back, where we find it on the road, OK but with the mirror glass smashed!

But .. the animal is nearby, crouching and struggling, and I realize that its entrails are trailing and tangling in its legs and the bushes!! Appalled and sickened as we are, it might attack me if I go near it to finish it off, so I pick up my mirror, turn around, and sadly proceed onwards. In the meantime, we have seen four other emus on the road edge. Three months later, on our return trip, we also see more emus just in this spot but nowhere else!

Emu feather
Feather from the unfortunate emu that we killed - collected from the damaged left headlight.
We stay at Norseman, with smashed right-hand headlights, very little body damage, but a most unpleasant memory. We are tired and frazzled, and looking forwards to Kalgoorlie tomorrow for a rest, repairs, washing and touring.

Norseman appears to have very little going for it. There is very little here for such an apparently important crossroads town, but a very nice caravan park. All the shops are shut because it's Sunday. We get a Nullarbor-crossing certificate and talk to a family from Tassie who have exactly the same caravan as us, but with yellow stripes; ours are orange. We compare our caravan interiors with great interest.

And so, off to bed we go, with the agonised emu on our minds!

NORSEMAN - A Different Viewpoint

After communications from an enthusiastic local resident I must admit that regardless of my jaundiced feelings at that time, the town of Norseman actually has a lot going for it, as can be seen in these links:-

Norseman - Nullarbornet travel website
Norseman - Dundas Shire website

© William G. Leithhead 2006