Sad/glad to be home

We are now back home in Sydney enjoying the delights of long showers (although not too long due to water restrictions), a flushing toilet and a king size bed.  On the other hand the concept that the adventure is over brings pangs of nostalgic sadness each time I think about it and the upcoming novelty of returning to work and the buzz of city life is tempered by knowledge that this novelty will probably soon wear off and the daily feelings of anticipation and excitement for the attractions of the road are now a thing of the past.

Anyway, while all good things come to an end, this does not mean it’s the end of good things – there will always be more, especially if you have the right frame of mind.  Sydney is a beautiful city and a great place to live and we are very fortunate to be able to live here and still have enough left over to afford regular holidays in the future.

The final 500km down to Sydney from Coffs Harbour, was punctuated by a stop in Cooranbong which is about 100km short of Sydney then a final night in a caravan park on the northern beaches about 20km from the CBD.  We planned the first stop to allow time to give Keddie a final good clean at a nearby car wash facility as it had proved impossible to find a car wash in Sydney that was high enough to fit our caravan.   The last night’s stop was to give the caravan a good clean on the inside in a pleasant environment and where we could have the air-conditioner running (rather than trying to do it on the side of the road while it bakes in the sun).

These last two days weren’t exactly a holiday and it seems we didn’t take any photos of us cleaning the van – although in hind-sight we should have done so.  However, I did have the excitement of seeing a new species of bird in Cooranbong – a musk lorikeet, bringing the total for the trip to 384. Here is the full list with photos: Bird List.

musk lorikeet
Musk lorikeet

To wrap up: after 408 days, driving over 46,000km (towing 36000) we have seen some amazing sights and visited some beautiful spots – but the amazing thing is that there are still vast tracts of the country that we did not get to visit.   I would say that you need 2 to 3 years to see the whole country at the pace that we were travelling.  Some of these areas we had visited on previous trips (like the east coast of Queensland, Cape York and Tasmania) however there are still a few blank areas on the map, so while our next holiday might be overseas (just for the change) it’s good to know that there are still places in this wonderful country left for us to see and we also visited many areas on this trip that we already plan to see again – in a different season to see the change.  S

Finally, if anyone else is considering doing a trip like this, we can offer two simple, but valuable words of advice:

“Do it”. S

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of social media, but I wanted to do this blog while we were away, for my Mum. I wanted her to be able to see us wherever we were as I knew I would not have a phone much of the trip, due to our love of remote places. What I didn’t know is how many people would be interested in what we were doing and where we were going and though it has been a lot of work, writing about places we have found interesting has also made the trip more rewarding. I learned a lot about many things out there on the road.

I want to thank the people who we have met along the way and the ones who let us know how much they enjoyed our travels. The people were as interesting often as the places. I also want to thank in particular Glenda, Helen P and Warwick who we felt were on the back seat with us! You made us laugh. I will cry when we sell the caravan as it has been such a lovely home but look forward to our next adventure-whenever that is! But for now it’s back to reality! M




The Byron Wetlands

The Byron Wetlands are part of the so called Byron Bay integrated water management reserve.  While it could be more coarsely referred to as the Byron Bay sewerage works, in truth, when you are there it is easy see why they are an award winning example good resource management as they have created a wonderful natural habitat for local fauna and flora – birds in particular.   Apart from an unobtrusive industrial processing centre in one corner, the place is more like a park with a number of lakes and swamps interspersed with walking tracks.   Access is by prior arrangement with the council, but it is free and restricted access ensures that the birds do not suffer the continual harassment from dogs and children that they would otherwise endure in an open reserve.

I spotted 5 new species of bird at this site maybe 6 – not bad for two hours of bird-watching with 377 species already on the list.

wetland reserve map
The map shows how water from the sewage treatment plant is then directed to a series of ponds.  In contrast to other sewerage treatment works, which tend to have a series of uniform ponds, in Byron each pond has been set up with a subtly different habitat and as a result each attracts a different set of birds.
sewage treatment
Here the treatment plant can be seen behind one of the lakes that has been constructed as an open marshy area with deep channels attracting ducks, swans, crakes etc. Also it was amazing all this did not smell like a sewage treatment plant!?

In this area we spotted Baillon’s crake (top left), and a swamp harrier – both new birds for the trip.  Also black swans and Australasian grebes.  We saw some spotless crake here too – unfortunately the views were all too fleeting to get a photograph.

sewage ponds
This more shallow lake had a gradual incline resulting in a transition from grasses to lilies, where birds like the golden-headed cisticola and comb-crested jacana below liked to hang out respectively.
fairy martins and mud
The previous night’s rain created some mud that these fairy martins felt was perfect for mud nest construction.   So even the service roads have created an attractive habitat for some birds!
lillies at the sewage works
Some ponds were fringed with melaleuca (paperbark trees) which attracted another variety of birds…
olive backed oriole 3
… such as this olive-backed oriole
white cheeked honeyeater
White-cheeked honey-eater.  Also a new bird.
leaden flycatcher male 2
A male leaden flycatcher briefly emerged from the melaleuca thickets to pose for this photo.
owl box
An owl box in the swampy melaleuca zone.
tawny grassbird
We heard tawny grassbirds on a few occasions.  They normally like to stay concealed, but I managed to get a sly photo of this one.
Other ponds were constructed with muddy shallows that attracted waders like this black winged stilt and Lathams snipe below.

lathams snipe 2

red knot 2
There were also plenty of red-kneed dotterel, black-fronted dotterel and sharp-tailed sandpiper.  The bird on the left might be a red knot.  It was noticeably lighter than the sharp-tails around it and it also remained behind when all the sharpies suddenly flew off together.  While this would make it a new bird for the trip, I can’t be sure, so unfortunately I won’t be counting it.

Lamington National Park

After picking up Keddie in Brisbane with it getting a clean bill of health from Kedron ready for the next trip, we continued south for about an hour and set up camp for 3 nights in a little town called Canungra.  From here we did a couple of day trips up into Lamington National Park, which protects an area of upland rainforests.  Although some forestry had commenced in the area in the 1860’s, it has been protected since the 1890’s before all of its old giant trees had succumbed to the logger’s axe.  It is truly beautiful to walk among these giants and the rich birdlife that lives in them.

cows and feet
While we enjoyed our nights in the Noosa apartment, it was good to be back in Keddie and wake up to views across a little stream with dairy cows roaming about.   Here in Canungra they had actually run out of water a few weeks ago due to the drought and they were having to bring water in by truck.  Fortunately about 2 weeks before our visit they had had some good rains so the river was flowing again and the place was already nice and green.
oreillys king parrot
Camping is currently not available in the park (and the road up was a bit steep and narrow to take a caravan anyway) however there is accommodation at o’Reilly’s, a guesthouse established in 1926 on the edge of the park.
lamingtons at lamington
While visiting Lamington National Park, it would be wrong not to sample the cake with the same name.  Apparently both the cake and the national park are named after Lord Lamington, the governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1902.    Although it looks misty, the views are actually obscured by smoke from the bush fires burning on the east coast of Australia.  Even though the nearest fire to us was over 50km away, we could hardly see more than about 300m.
eastern whipbird 2
The birds near o’Reilly’s are quite tame.  Even the eastern whip bird, which is normally very shy, was quite happy to stand in the open and pose for a photo before continuing to scratch through the undergrowth.
lamington walkway
A canopy walkway was built in the 1988 – the first in Australia.  Unfortunately, being there at noon was probably not the best time for birds, however it was great to be up in the trees.

At one point a ladder takes you further up one of the giant trees to a point over 30m from the ground.  From the top we could see out across to the villas at o’Reilly’s, but little further.

male regent bower bird
We also managed to spot this regent bower bird from up in the canopy.  Not a great view, but for a twitcher – good enough to be a confirmed sighting.
up strangler fig
Here we are looking up the inside of a strangler fig where its host tree has died leaving a hollow network of roots behind.

LHS:  Looking up another hollow tree – this time just a hollowed out trunk with a hole in the crown.  RHS: I was struck by this beautiful sight while looking back out of the entrance to the hollow tree – I simply had to take a photo.  S

More magnificent old trees in Lamington National Park.

Golden whistler and satin bowerbird

lamington lbj
As cute as they are, I find these little brown hopping jobs so hard to identify – maybe it’s a red-legged pademelon.  Suggestions/corrections are welcome. S
view from lunch spot
After a couple of hours walk in the steamy/smoky rainforest, it was great to have a refreshing dip and lunch. 
elabana falls
Elebana falls drops into this beautiful infinity pool.  At about 20 degrees the water was cooler than that to which we had recently become accustomed.  But being so beautiful I just had to go for a swim… twice… then go back the next day for another swim.  S
border track panorama
A panorama taken on a bend of the Border Trail – named because it goes up to the border of Queensland and New South Wales.  The walking trails in Lamington were built during the Great Depression. Their solid construction with banked up dry-stone work designed to follow the contours on the steep slopes with no more than a 1 in 10 gradient is quite remarkable.    At times the slopes exceed 45 degrees and they feel quite precarious, but they were obviously built to last.

Two new birds for the area: white headed pigeon and crested shrike-tit

Some other birds (seen before elsewhere): large-billed scrubwren; green cat-bird; eastern spinebill; logrunner.

antarctic beech
A magnificent antarctic beech tree – a remnant of the gondwana rainforests that now grows only in the high forests above 1000m at these latitudes.  The conditions in this area today are no longer suitable to allow these trees to reproduce through pollination, but they continue to survive through coppicing, where new trees grow from the stumps of dead trees as can be seen in this specimen.   The rootstock of some of these trees is said to be up to 5000 years old.
smoky view
Looking south into New South Wales.  On day two the smoke had cleared a bit, but visibility was still limited to about 10km.  Normally one would be able to see out to Mt Warning, and on a clear day even out to the ocean.

Some more beautiful waterfalls.  Chalahn falls on the left and those on the right did not even feature on the walking trail map.







Brisbane and Noosa

We left Keddie with its makers for a few days to get a service and a bit of a spruce-up to sell 😦   Yes in a couple of weeks our trip will be over and we will be adjusting to “normal” life again.    While there we took some time to look around Brisbane and head up to Noosa for a couple of nights in the space and comfort of a serviced apartment.

The Brisbane CBD with its eponymous river.  Each time I visit there seems to be a new 60+ storey skyscraper.  S
christmas fig
Christmas decorations in the Brisbane CBD Botanic Gardens.

Some lovely old Queenslander style houses in Hawthorne, an inner eastern suburb of Brisbane.

botanic garden bats
Bat statues in a fig tree in the Mt Coot-tha botanic gardens about 5km west of Brisbane CBD.  In Sydney they sometimes play loud music to discourage bats from roosting in particular trees.  In Brisbane, it seems just having statues of bats playing music is enough.
giant water dragon
It was interesting to see this water dragon looking quite comfortable at the feet of this giant statue.  Or maybe it felt protected from bird attacks.  

We also did some city bird watching.  No new species, but got some nice photos of this channel-billed cuckoo and an Australasian grebe.

noosa cruise
On a cruise on the Noosa River.  We were still just north of all the fires, so we still had a nice blue sky.  This was about to change.

Some birds in Noosa: bar-tailed godwit and scaly breasted lorikeet.

bored husband
Noosa Marina offers several eating options as well as shops selling collectibles – things you buy on holiday then wonder why.   They seem to have a bit of a sense of humour about the shopping appeal too.   Ironically it was me that walked away with a purchase in the end: a new hat.  S

Dayboro (sorry more bird stuff)

Inching our way closer to civilisation we stopped for two nights near Dayboro – a quaint country town about 20 minutes drive from the outer suburbs of Brisbane.

We camped at a ”youcamp” about 6km out of town and did an early morning bird walk at the nearby Juff’s crossing on the North Pine River followed by a day trip into d’Aguilar National Park in the hills behind Brisbane.

top knot pigeon

Top-knot pigeon – first seen in Conondale, but got a closer view in Dayboro

rose crowned fruit dove
The first excitement for the day was seeing 4 new species of bird bringing the total for the trip to 370.  The first: a rose crowned fruit dove, which conveniently sidled into a gap in the canopy.
barred cuckooshrike
Then some barred cuckoo-shrike flew past and stopped in the riverside casuarina
scarlet honeyeater
Scarlet honeyeater were darting about high up in the trees.  It was hard to get a good photo with the harsh back-light.
varied triller
Lastly I picked up a varied triller.

After breakfast we headed up the d’Aguilar range to do some walks in the mountain rain forests.  It was very hot and dry and we saw no new birds, but it was pleasant in the shade of the trees and vines

Strangler figs and vines starting to envelop their host trees.

ol got tree
Evidence of old growth logging from yester-year.  The holes in the trunk are from where the lumberjacks would insert planks on which to stand while making the main cut 2m above the ground. 

More birds at dAguilar: black faced monarch, rufous fantail and green catbird.

Late that afternoon we drove up alongside Lacey’s Creek, which is supposed to be a good spot for birds.  However, it was bone dry with very little bird activity.  However we did come across this disgusting scene of a dead cow being eaten by goannas.

    On a more pleasant note, we got a nice view of a king parrot and a huddle of stubble quails heading back to our camp site.

That night we retired early to prepare for the shock of returning to the big smoke.  For the next couple of days we would be battling Brisbane traffic and staying in an inner city hotel while we have the car and caravan serviced.

Conondale National Park

After an unremarkable overnight stopover in the little town of Cooyar, we replaced dry sparse outback with lush rainforest. Well not exactly lush, because like the rest of the country, even the east coast rainforests are looking desperately dry.  The normally lush ginger and lomandra plants have curled up their leaves in self defense and so called perennial streams and waterfalls have been reduced to a few scattered pools.

However, the lack of water brought two benefits: no mozzies and no leeches.  The forests were still magnificent and the birds – wow, the birds!   We based ourselves at Conondale National Park and after setting up camp I went for a brief walk in the last remaining light and already saw a new species for the list: spectacled monarch in the riverside scrub.

spectacled monarch 2
Spectacled monarch

However the real treat was in store for the next day when I saw two new birds within the first few minutes of my 4:30am bird walk including number 350 for the list: the beautiful wompoo fruit dove. I picked up another 4 in the next 90 minutes and another 6 during other walks that day bringing the total for the day to 12

Wompoo fruit dove.  I guess the name “wompoo” reflects the sound it makes.

Russet tailed thrush, yellow-throated scrubwren and logrunner (if you can spot them).

Emerald dove and little shrike-thrush, also seen on my early morning walk in the forest near our camp.

dry booloumba river
Looking down the sad dry river bed near our camp.  However the water still runs beneath the rocks and emerges in a crystal clear swimming hole just around the corner …
nipper swimming hole
… however there was something that gave your feet a sharp nip if you swam into that deep blue area and it kept biting until you left.  So best to stay in the waist deep areas.   We never figured out what it was and although we saw catfish, eels and a turtle on other occasions, they all scattered when we approached them rather than aggressively biting like the mysterious creature of the deep.

Despite the dry weather, access to Conondale did require getting Keddie’s feet wet – nothing too impressive however.

Later that morning we did a 3km walk to Booloumba falls, or rather the Booloumba trickle.

White-browed scrubwren and brown gerygone near the Booloumba falls walk car park

Lewin’s honeyeater, Variegated fairy-wren and golden whistler, seen on the falls walk.

More birds seen later that afternoon near the camp.  Wonga pigeon, azure kingfisher, red-backed fairy-wren, eastern whip bird and eastern yellow robin.

 I failed to find any owls on my night walk, but did bump into this great barred frog and what I suspect was a large group of male yellow-greenish stony creek frogs (yes they were all on a stony creek).  As for the little mouse like animal, I am not sure where to start to identify Australian mammal LBJ*s so I have no idea what it is.

*LBJ, or little brown job is a term birdwatchers use to describe small plain birds that are difficult to identify.  In Australia I think that this term is better applied to the mammals. Firstly because the birds here are mostly quite colourful and there are comparatively few actual LBJs.  Secondly, apart from the big 5** (Big red kangaroo, common wombat, platypus, koala and echidna) I think it’s the other mammals that are rather hard to identify as there seems to be a continuum of hundreds of species from grey kangaroos down to marsupial mice that each look rather similar to their immediate neighbour.

**Although more commonly used to promote the big African mammals in game parks and tourist brochures, I don’t see why Australia can’t have a big 5 too.

The next day we left the caravan at Conondale and drove out to Kondolilla Falls near Maleny on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, but before going I encountered a noisy pitta, another mammalian LBJ and got some good pictures of a male and female riflebird on an early morning bird walk.  By early I mean really early – so early that I needed to use my torch to photograph the pitta and wallaby.

Being only about 1 hour from Brisbane, we got our first taste of city crowds. After passing half a dozen eco-lodges on the 3km drive in to the falls we encountered a nearly full car park – despite the fact it was a weekday.  Ah, remember the days of the deserted outback…  After resigning ourselves to not having the rock pool to ourselves, we set off, but were soon rewarded with some close up views of a cute pale yellow robin.

The falls themselves reflected the dire state of the drought and were not living up to their aboriginal name, but a photograph at the start of the walk showed what one can normally expect.

There was still a trickle of water and some lovely rain forest vegetation and in addition to the pale yellow robin, I also spotted some large-billed scrubwren.

scaly breasted lorikeet
Passing through the little town of Kenilworth on the drive back to Conondale, I heard a slightly unusual sounding lorikeet screech.  After turning back, I initially saw a tree full of the common, garishly coloured rainbow lorikeets and almost drove on again.  However after a more thorough search, I eventually found this rather camouflaged scaly-breasted lorikeet among them, bringing the total number of new birds for the day to four.  Moral of the story: sometimes hearing is believing and seeing is (initially) deceiving.

Our final day at Conondale, was relaxing with no driving, but yielded only one new bird: a top-knot pigeon, perhaps it was time to move on.   However, I was treated to an awesome sighting of a carpet python as well as some nice photo opportunities of previously seen birds including a spectacular mature male satin bowerbird

top knot pigeon
Top-knot pigeon

The male satin bowerbird makes this brown cuckoo-dove look rather, well – brown.

rainforest tree
It is always impressive to look up in a rainforest, even if there are no birds to see.
strangler cairn
For our last walk in Conondale we set out to this intriguing art installation – the Strangler Cairn©.   The idea is that over time the strangler fig sapling on top of the sculpture will grow over it and create a gradually evolving piece of art.  With a cost of $700,000, being so remote and requiring a 3km walk to access, it is rather controversial.   However (in addition to the birds) I guess it will give us an incremental urge to revisit this area in 10 or 20 years time to see how it has evolved.  Whether or not the recurrent future spending of people like us will make the investment made on behalf of Queensland taxpayers worthwhile is debatable – I suspect it won’t.  However, having paid many thousands in stamp duties on Queensland investment properties ourselves, it felt good to head out and enjoy something for which we had helped pay.

Link to a video about this artwork by the artist

The 1 year milestone

So here we are in Quorn after crossing the Nullarbor and about to head north to the famous Birdsville Track.   However today marks exactly 1 year after starting our big trip.  We have another 6 weeks or so to go before returning to Sydney to resume “normal” life, but worth a quick reflection on what we have done so far.

40,000 km driven; 32,000 km towing Keddie and about 10,000 on unsealed roads (6000 towing).  Below is a map of our route and camp spots, but a more readable picture can be seen by clicking the following link Travelmap 2.

travel map small

We have stayed in 168 different locations: three times in a tent, once under the stars, 6 nights on a boat, once with friends, 23 nights at home in Avalon Beach, 9 nights in a cabin/motel, 15 on a plane/back in South Africa (for Steve) and the rest (nearly 300 nights) in our now very familiar caravan, often with $500 per night resort views like this.

Cape northumberland view from keddie

We have had temperatures up to 44 degrees C and down to 0.5 degrees.  Two or three rainy days, a few too cold or too windy days, but mostly warmth and sunshine.

We have also spotted 333 different species of bird (I hope to get to 350 before the end of the trip), accumulated about 850 hours of driving time, put about 20 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (plus whatever the boat and plane trips contributed) while the tax man lost out on many tens of thousands of dollars in income tax 🙂

Steve did not want me to mention this just in case, but I think it is worth a mention that we have now done 11,000 kms on dirt roads. We have never punctured or burst a tyre on these roads despite passing literally thousands of “dead” tyres people have left as litter in our beautiful wild places. Our only 2 tyre problems on the trip were in towns running over (rubbish yet again!) roofing screws/nails left on the road. We were able to have so few problems with tyres as we go low with our tyre pressures (always!) on dirt and drive slowly. What you also get from this is a more comfortable ride and you spot more interesting things to see which after all, is the reason for being out here! M





The rush across the Nullarbor

As mentioned in the last post our plan was to rush across the Nullarbor pausing only at the Eyre Bird Observatory.   As can be seen on the map below, it is quite a long way so most of the time was spent driving, but we did have a couple of stops along the way and there were some interesting things to look at.

across the nullarbor

The first stop was at the Balladonia road house near where NASA dropped some space junk back in 1979 when the skylab satellite crashed to the ground.  The road house had a little museum, but there was not much original stuff to see apart from this bit of wiring loom.

20km from Balladonia we made the left hand turn onto the longest straight stretch of road in Australia finishing at the Caiguna blowhole – a small entrance to a large cave system that breathes in response to changes in atmospheric pressure.

weird time zone
Just east of Caiguna is a little known special timezone that applies to the tiny town of Eucla and 2 or 3 roadhouses along the last 400km of the Eyre highway before the border with South Australia.  Being on the extreme east of the state, I can understand why they would want to avoid the 3:30 AM sunrises in summer, but why they chose to be 45 minutes ahead of Perth and not a more sensible 1 hour is rather odd.
baxter plain view
At Madura, there is a bit of excitement as the road drops about 50m onto the Roe Plains.  Then about 250km further on it climbs back up again.

As if the vast open expanses, a 50m drop and climb and the occasional bend in the road is not exciting enough, The Eyre Highway also features a unique 18 hole golf course – the longest in the world.  Sporting astroturf tees and greens, the idea is that you play the hole, have a drink or even stay at the nearby roadhouse, then drive 80 to 150km to the next hole.  The photo on the left captures the moment where Maddy lost grip on her 7-iron during the downswing and the club went spiraling off to the right narrowly missing a parked car.

border town big kangaroo and joey
At the border crossing to South Australia, this giant kangaroo holds out a tub of Vegemite.  One then advances the clocks another 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I am not sure which is more weird.
nullabor sign
On entering South Australia, one passes this warning sign.  After 88km there is another identical set of signs warning of camels, wombats and kangaroos for the next 96km, then another and another.  I suspect this approach was either chosen to provide regular photo opportunities for tourists, or perhaps the sign design software did not allow for 3 digit distances to be signposted.  After 400km, the camel sign disappeared, but similar warnings for just roos and wombats persisted for another 300 or 400km.
koonalda sign
Roughly in the middle of our journey, we spent the night bush camping at this interesting old homestead which also served as a roadhouse before the highway was moved 12km further south.   Today it stands deserted as if the inhabitants just packed their bags and left.  National Parks is undertaking some basic ongoing preservation work to the homestead, but the surrounding buildings, shearing shed and yard of old cars is slowly deteriorating.  It is an amazing insight into remote life in the mid 20th century.   One is free to explore the area, so hopefully it never gets vandalised.   While looking around I could imagine how this would still be a bustling hive of activity if the highway had not been realigned.

  The exterior and kitchen of the old homestead.  The outer walls built from sleepers from the trans-Australian railway.

The old scrap heap out the back featured cars from the 1940’s to 1970’s that had obviously not managed to complete the journey across the continent;  An old petrol bowser.


Koonalda also has a blow-hole, about 1km from the homestead.  The opening is much smaller than the one at Caiguna, but when we visited, the rush of cold air coming out of the hole was far more impressive. It was like natures air conditioner it was so cool!

blue bonnet
A blue-bonnet, a type of parrot, spotted near Koonalda.
bunda cliffs selfie
Apart from the 250km or so of the Roe plains (where the land drops to sea level) most of the Nullarbor coast ends in these strikingly abrupt 50 cliffs. Here we are at the Bunda Cliffs.
nullarbor straight road
Yes there is another straight road picture a bit earlier in this post, but we did see quite a few of them.  Also this one is in a different state, so subtly different to the earlier Western Australian straight road.
outback wave
The outback wave, a cheerful excuse to exercise the finger muscles on passing another vehicle.   At this point we had re-entered the wheat growing area and had only about 500km left to go. S  As part of the big caravan family we belong to now, one must wave to another caravan coming the other direction. I always give at least a 4, sometimes 5 finger wave. It seems to be mainly men drivers coming the other direction though and they rarely give more than 1 finger. Is this case since I gave 5 fingers, I got 2 in return. M



The big Galah at Kimba the second time around 7 months on. Doesn’t Steve look much more relaxed now? They did some renovations while we were away and I think even the Galah is looking better! Poor pathetic looking thing! M




Eyre Bird Observatory

From Norseman we turned East.  We had done a trip along the south coast of Australia a few years back and we wanted to spend the last few weeks of our trip on the Birdsville Track and back on the east coast, so we decided to not spend too much time stopping  across the Nullarbor with the exception of visiting the Eyre Bird Observatory as we had missed this on our last trip.

The Observatory is operated by Birdlife Australia and conducts regular surveys of the surrounding birdlife.  It is housed in a 120 year old restored telegraph repeater station which has also has 3 rooms for guests.  It is staffed by volunteer hosts who also provide 3 meals a day, making for an enjoyable relaxing stay.

road to ebo
The last 12km to the observatory is along a narrow sandy track, so we had to leave the caravan at an old microwave tower.  While it felt a little wrong to abandon Keddie, the microwave tower was already 18km off the highway in what is already one of the more remote parts of the country, so the chances of an encounter with miscreants was extremely small.

The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way

ebo sign

ebo veranda
In addition to being a good birding spot, the Eyre Bird Observatory is housed in an old telegraph station building so there is an interesting historical aspect to the place.  The history goes back even further as the telegraph station was built at the location where Edward Eyre camped on his exploratory trip across the Nullarbor in 1841.
telegraph station museum
The current building dates back to 1897 and served as a repeater station on the line from Adelaide to Albany then on to Perth, linking the west coast settlements to the east coast and up to the rest of the world via Darwin and Singapore.   Some old telegraph equipment is on display in one of the rooms.

Several interesting bones and skeletons have been washed up over the years including a turtle which must have been washed thousands of km beyond its normal range by a particularly strong Leeuwin current.

old old telegraph station
The current 1897 building was in fact predated by an older telegraph station nearby from 1877.  Today only the fireplace remains.

Out on one of the walks: a monument to Edward Eyre and his four companions: Baxter, an Irishman and 3 young aboriginals Wylie, Joey and Yarry.   In the end only Eyre and Wylie completed the journey.  Baxter was killed – allegedly by Joey and Yarry, who fled the camp taking two shotguns.

A distant view of the Eyre Bird Observatory nestled behind the dunes where Eyre found water on his 1841 expedition;  one of the many old telegraph poles with rusty wire still hanging.  Today the Eyre Bird Observatory is served by the NBN.  Unfortunately the 150 year old telegraph line was found to be in poor condition and not suitable for even a fibre-to-the-node service, so they have had to fall back to a satellite service.   However this is still better than the cutting edge wheatstone duplex morse system that was enjoyed by the original staff at this building.

And of course what would a bird observatory be without birds.  There were heaps including 4 new species for my list: Chestnut backed quail thrush (too fast for a photo unfortunately); brown headed honeyeater; western yellow robin and blue breasted fairy-wren.

Other birds included (from top to bottom) hundreds of singing honeyeater and new holland honeyeater; brush bronzewing; fantailed cuckoo; inland thornbill; white-browed scrubwren; dusky woodswallow; and unidentified fledgling; white-eared honeyeater; and the spectacular Major Mitchell’s cockatoo.

major mitchells cockatoo 2

Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.

Heading outback again

Our last night near the coast was a lovely free camp on the golf course at the historic town of Northampton, we then headed inland through the wheat belt. We stopped at a nature reserve for lunch and found the sign below at the lookout. It tells a story of what goes on quietly out here in these lands of drought.

wheat belt lookout sign

roadside beauty
Very tiny but very sweet side of the road wildflower
roadside fluffy
More leftovers from Spring on the side of the road.
the multicoloured bungle bungle termite mound
While we were about 1500km south of the bungle bungles, this termite mound reminded me of their beehive formations.  S
varigated fairy wren
Variegated fairy wren singing
wheat belt loading
A big pile of Wheat ready to load into a road train.
outback sign
Suddenly the wheat stopped and this sign appeared on the side of the road just in case we didn’t notice. The temp went from 23 on the coast to 34 before we knew it!

roadside beauty

yalgoo sign
We are on the Miner’s Pathway now and Yalgoo was hive of mining activity long ago.
grasstree sculpture
Yalgoo grass tree never needs water!
jokers tunnel free camp view
The view from our free camp at Jokers Tunnel.

jokers tunnel sign

jokers tunnel and maddy
Maddy making her way into the tunnel.  At this point she had not yet noticed what was on the roof just above her head…
tunnel crickets
…thousands of crickets.  It was rather gross.
tunnel redback spider
We also spotted this fine red backed spider specimen.
tunnel bat
Continuing on the gross theme, we then started to encounter hundreds of these little guys – microbats.  Their bodies are about 5cm long.  Individually they are actually quite cute.
But seeing them in these seething huddles turned up the gross factor again.  If you shone the torch on them too long they started to drop off and fly around.
big tunnel bat
We also encountered a few of these slightly larger but more handsome fellows
dr spock bat
Once they were flying around, the microbats would swerve just an inch or so before hitting you.  However this one seemed to have hit its head a couple of times too many and was sporting a few bald patches.  Maybe its sonar was not quite up to scratch.
bat swarm
Here a couple of the bats can be seen flying about.
exiting the joker
While it was an interesting experience it was good to emerge again as the sun was setting.  Despite the sign at the entrance, we never saw any snakes.
miners pathway
From Jokers Tunnel we drove back into Yalgoo for a quick look at St Hyacinth’s Chapel before continuing east.

St Hyacinth’s Chapel is a quaint little building – originally part of a larger convent designed by an interesting character called Monsignor John Hawes – an architect who became a priest, but used his prior skills to great effect in designing several interesting buildings in the area.

The next two days were spent covering kilometers in dry, mostly flat mulga country as we headed towards then into Australia’s gold mining region.  Of course we had cause to stop on several occasions to see the odd attraction, more wildflowers and to avoid a few grossly oversized vehicles.

Just south of a small town called sandstone are some basalt capped outcrops that were worthy of a small detour.  One such outcrop was used as a brewery with a hollowed out cave serving as the cellar.  A bit further along – a nice arch called london bridge.

peter denny free camp
Being in the middle of nowhere allowed for some amazing isolated free camps.   This site perched on the edge of another basalt capped outcrop gave great views over the endless mulga plains and at night some lovely dark skies.
magelanic clouds
A one minute exposure towards the south celestial pole with large and small Magellanic Clouds
jokers tunnel milky way
The milky way with the tail of scorpius and Jupiter setting behind the trees
jokers tunnel andromeda galaxy
The vertically oriented fuzzy patch just left of centre is the Andomeda Galaxy.   Lying about 24,000,000,000,000,000,000 km away it is normally regarded as the furthest thing one can see with the unaided eye.   It feels amazing to gaze on something so unbelievably far away and to consider that the photons hitting my retina and exciting the sensor in my camera left its stars at around the time that my Homo habilis ancestors were roaming around east Africa.
agnew panarama
Along the way we saw bits and pieces of old mining relics – like these at the abandoned town of Agnew.  However these were just a foretaste of those to come at the beautifully restored ghost town of Gwalia, which will be the subject of the next post.