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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way
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.
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.
Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.
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.
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.
The Houtman Abrolhos Islands are a chain of 122 islands in the Indian Ocean about 60km west of Geraldton, Western Australia. A combination of beautiful reefs, rich fauna, intriguing history and interesting recent fishing and pearling culture make the Abrolhos Islands a fascinating destination. The best way to experience them is to take a 5 day cruise aboard the Eco Abrolhos – a small family owned vessel that takes you to the various points of interest while the owner (previously an Abrolhos Island cray fisherman) provides intimate insights into both the history and life on the island.
The Abrolhos Islands are an important seabird breeding site and after a rather rough 4 hour crossing from Geraldton we were pleased to pull into the sheltered lagoon of the southern most island group and go ashore on Pelsaert Island to view some of the birds that had recently started to turn up in their thousands to breed.
One of the crew is also a professional photographer and provides guests with a record of the trip. Here Paul is seen in action leaving Geraldton and one of his fantastic bird photos – a crested tern taking a bath at Pelsaert Island
Birds on Pelsaert Island: sooty tern; common noddy and roseate terns – photos by Paul Hogger
The Abrolhos Islands are the centre of Western Australia’s biggest Western Rock Lobster Fishery. It was Australia’s first fishery to be certified as sustainable and is closely managed through a quota system for commercial fishers and bag limits for recreational fishers. Today rock lobster fishing is a $400m industry making it Australia’s most valuable single species fishery. Since its establishment, rock lobster (or cray) fishers have set up camps on some of the islands where they base themselves during the fishing season. The fisher’s camps certainly stick out on these low lying islands, however their bright colours lend a certain appeal.
Scenes from the fishing camps on Big Rat Island
The islands are the site of many shipwrecks including Dutch ships the Batavia (1629) and Zeewijk (1727). The Batavia’s story is one of the most interesting shipwreck/mutiny stories ever. A Titanic and Bounty story all rolled into one that Maddy has described in a separate post. So day 4, had us visit the island where the shipwreck survivors came ashore and where the horrific subsequent reign of terror followed while the Batavia’s captain and commander were away on the Batavia’s longboat to seek help.
Back on board we steamed north and anchored off East Wallabi Island – one of the largest islands in Houtman’s Abrolhos to visit a picturesque beach for some walking, snorkeling and final sunset drinks.
On the final day we awoke to calm conditions and a nearly flat sea – yes we were off to snorkel the Batavia wreck. It was truly amazing how much there was to see – one of the best snorkels we have done. While the West Australia Museum salvaged most of the wreck site and relics are now on display in museums in Geraldton and Fremantle, there are still many cannons and anchors scattered on the site as well as a deep sandy depression where the ship originally gouged out the coral on impact and subsequent settling as it pounded on the reef in the months after it ran aground.
Various cannons and anchors on the 390 year old wreck site. The large fish in the last photo is a bald chinned grouper.
Long Island lies about 200m west of Beacon Island. Some of the Batavia survivors were sent here by the psychopathic mutiny leader Cornelisz – initially on the pretense of reducing the demand on the limited food resources on Beacon Island – but in fact this was simply a divide and conquer strategy and he eventually had all of them murdered, except for one or two who managed to swim away to another island about 2km away where Cornelisz had cunningly sent all the soldiers who had been on board – without their weapons – on a pretense to search for water. While he had hoped that the soldiers would not find water and would soon die, they did find water and plentiful food too. When the swimmers alerted the soldiers of the massacres going on, they were able to prepare and defend themselves from subsequent attacks from Cornelisz’s henchmen and ultimately foil the mutiny.
After the Drakensberg trip it was off to the Kruger National Park where another friend and I had booked on a 3 night stay at a wilderness camp. The camp has only 8 guests and it is located in a wilderness area of the park far from the normal visitor areas and each day one is taken out on walks in the bush with ranger guides, so it is a very special experience.
After the wilderness walk we joined our parents for a couple of days staying at traditional rest camps and doing regular drives to look for birds and animals. As with most parts of the temperate Southern hemisphere, it was very dry. However we still saw plenty of game and many birds. During my stay in South Africa I managed to spot 115 new species of birds, bringing my total for the year close to 440. However to avoid upsetting one of the more competitive bird watchers that is following our travels, I will continue to count only birds seen in Australia on my main list.
Some animals seen on our drives. Clockwise from top left: vervet monkey, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, greater kudu, steenbuck, waterbuck
Sightings of lions tends to cause traffic jams in the Kruger park.
Above: rhinoceros, giraffe, common duiker, scrub hare. Below: A kudu sculpture at Skukuza; a night photo from Talamati bush camp; A Baobab, Elephants at Talamati waterhole; elephant calf bath time.
Below is a small sample of bird photos. Clockwise from top left: Helmeted guineafowl, scarlet chested sunbird, greater blue eared starling, white bellied sunbird, ground hornbill, red crested korhaan, white crowned shrike, brown snake eagle, black headed oriole, lilac breasted roller, golden tailed woodpecker, white browed robin, pearl spotted owl.
and some more birds: blue waxbill, secretary bird, purple roller, black helmetshrike, rosy faced lovebird, hadeda ibis, tawny eagle, coqui francolin
On the way back from the Kruger National Park we stopped off at the historic gold mining village called Pilgrims Rest. Initially established in the late 19th century, it contains several historic buildings and mine diggings which continued to operate until the early 1970s after which the town was converted into a living museum. One building has particular significance as being the hotel where my parents spent the first night of their honeymoon.
Main street in Pilgrim’s Rest, outside the Royal Hotel; inside the Royal Hotel bar which was originally a church in the Mozambique capital of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) before being relocated and converted to a pub.
About 9000km west of Exmouth – and a bit south – lie the majestic Drakensberg mountains (or Ukhahlamba in Zulu – which means barrier of spears). While this might be a bit of a detour off our current path, a 30 year high school reunion provided a good excuse for me to hop on a plane over the Indian Ocean for a couple of weeks to South Africa to visit my parents and also take in a few sights while there. S
While visiting South Africa, my friend Mike and I took a quick trip down to the northern part of the Drakensberg for an overnight hike. This mountain range is the highest in southern Africa reaching over 3400m and offers some really dramatic scenery of craggy spires and plunging cliffs. It is one of my favourite parts of the country. S