So now we are home again … in the end it was 98 days under canvas, but who’s counting? Extreme heat (high 30s C) then heavy rain prevented us lingering in the back of New South Wales, but that will be easy enough to revisit at another time.
Now to collate the photos, sort the memories and compile the data. The statistics are Neil’s job, but basically we travelled over 16,200 km, used just over 2000 litres of diesel, and camped in 61 different places. No major breakdowns, no flat tyres, a few small wear and tear breakages – switches, catches, that sort of thing. There were highs and lows, times when were ready to chuck it all in and go home, and times of astonishing, mind boggling beauty that made it all worthwhile. Roads that were kilometres of boredom, and others that we had to stop frequently because the flowers and bushes at the side of the road were so exquisite. So for a list of highs and lows, let’s start with the lows:
- The first two weeks were cold and wet – the moral to this is get out of the Eastern states as soon as possible when travelling in winter!
- Wind – way too much of it, but as someone said to us that is what you get in Western Australia at this time of year. We were driven mad by canvas flapping and tent poles creaking all night long, and the worry that the whole camper would blow inside out. We had sand blown into a vortex underneath, so that a deep hole formed beneath on one side and sand poured inside on the other.
- A few scary driving moments, my particular one was when I was stuck behind a three-trailer road train and had to overtake. The road was narrow, the road train was over the centre line and the sides were soft. I got it past but nearly lost control. NEVER again! It didn’t help, just a few minutes later seeing workmen gathering up the remains of a caravan that was smashed to pieces on the side of the road.
- Some of the places we very much looked forward to were disappointing – Cape Leveque, north of Broome was one. The beaches were still beautiful, but the camping area was dirty and crowded.
- We had one night that was very hot, still 29C at 10.30 pm. But surprisingly, that was the only one that made sleeping difficult.
- Someone stole one of our sheets from the washing line in Broome, and my favourite shorts were taken from the washing line in Albany. We have never experienced this travelling before.
And the highs:
- The big one has to be the flowers – we knew that we would be likely to miss the orchids, travelling in late spring, but we were astonished at how broad the variety of flowering plants was, and from much further north than we expected, right to the far south coast. Beekeepers Reserve, outside Mullewa was an incredibly rich area of plant diversity. As we walked, every step showed us new and different plants. Another treasure trove was near Ravensthorpe, along a route with designated points of interest. it was partly normal road, partly 4 wheel drive, great views of the area, and this was where we saw the strange but beautiful Tennis Ball Banksia.
- The Painted Desert – extraordinary landforms, with layers of colour. A feeling of being in a really ancient landscape.
- Station stays – camping on a working cattle or sheep station is almost always a great experience. Simple showers, often in corrugated iron sheds, but plenty of hot water, very often a communal camp fire and always good company, sitting around the fire in the evening. We got many tips of places to go and things to see from people we met.
- Fossicking. We had never done this before, but have now got the bug! First we searched for garnets – seeing the deep pink sparkle in the sieve as they appear is so exciting! Then we searched for zircons, and the same story.
- Middle Lagoon – we camped there after Cape Leveque, and it restored our faith in the Dampier Peninsula. The spot we got was on the edge of the cliff above the beach, the most perfect view. We watched humpback whales playing right in front of us.
- The landscape from Port Hedland to Exmouth, via Tom Price and Wittenoom (a sad, strange abandoned asbestos mining town, with signs warning of death from asbestos) and along the northern edge of Karijini National Park, where the scenery was as striking as it is inside the national park. At the beginning of this road is where we first saw the Sturt Desert Peas.
- The birds – we didn’t see a huge number of animals, but lots of birds. Flocks of green budgies, butcher birds singing their hearts out, the strange call of the blue-winged kookaburra, a bustard running down the road ahead of us, emus, carnaby black cockatoos, ring neck parrots and many more.
- Snorkelling at Coral Bay – just floating amongst masses of brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes, going about their normal business on the reef was a magical experience. The coral was mostly not very colourful, but had wonderful shapes and textures.
- Elle’s beach – this was a mixed experience as the wind was very strong and constant here, but the beach was one of the most beautiful we have been to. It was on a sheep station called Warroora, and we had the beach almost to ourselves. The sea was quite wild but a wonderful deep turquoise and the sand white, covered with more giant clam shells than I have ever seen. When the tide went out, we could walk on the reef and see fish, anemones and urchins in the deep, clear pools left behind.
- Bush camping in the Toolonga Nature Reserve by a series of small pools – dozens of flowering bushes, eremophilas in every colour, birds everywhere but otherwise so quiet! In the morning we waited quietly by one of the larger pools to see the birds coming down to drink, including three emus, grunting to one another.
- Hamersley Beach in the Fitzgerald national Park. We reached this beach after a bush walk of half and hour or so, on a day threatening rain, dark heavy clouds looming. Walking around a corner on to the beach was jaw dropping – all along the beach were sharp, angled rocks jutting up, the sea was turquoise in the shallower parts and purple in the deep, and there were masses of tiny pink scallop shells scattered all along the white sand beach. The colours and textures of the rocks were rich and intense. I think the dark skies enhanced the other-wordly nature of this place.
- Mt Ive station, in the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. The people provide mud maps of several 4 wheel drive tracks around the property, which we took advantage of. Amazing scenery including Organ Pipes, which are rock formations which look just like their name, tall pillars, some tipping over, others lining the path of waterfalls. They also gave us access to Lake Gairdner, a massive salt lake. Pure white, it was an impressive sight and a very strange sensation to walk on.
- There were towns we enjoyed too, in particular Albany and Broken Hill, both of which require more time spent there.
There are so many more things, but this has turned into a marathon! As I digest all the experiences more will come to mind, and different feelings emerge. Already the difficult parts are fading and the memories of the good bits getting stronger.
To finish for now, here is a gallery of the last of the sketches. Click to see them full size.