WARNING: ANOTHER LONG POST!
I had one last afternoon free in the city of Perth, after arriving from my Southwest Coast roadtrip, but I was just so absolutely exhausted and knew that I better rest up for the tour I was set to begin the next day. This upcoming adventure was my Nullarbor Traveller tour, a 9-day adventure taking me from Perth to Adelaide along the Nullarbor Plain – the treeless ‘desert.’ The plan was to be bush camping and driving a grueling 3800km in a mere 9 days, all the while doing crazy things like swim with dolphins, sea lions and Bluefin tuna. It was an early night for me, as it was set to be an equally early morning.
I woke up at 6:00am and was downstairs and out front of the Perth YHA at 7am being picked up by none other than Simo, my awesome tourguide for the next 9 days. There were only a handful of girls already on the bus, and one older guy and everyone seemed to be spread out along the rows of seats, so I made myself comfortable in the seat behind the driver. He came on board, gave a bit of a spiel and said that anyone who was awake was welcome to sit up in the front seat to keep him company and help him not feel like just a bus driver. Being the wonderful social butterfly I am, I quickly jumped up to the front seat and made myself comfortable. We ended up having a bit of a late start as one of the passengers seemed to be a no-show. After waiting around for him for almost 45minutes, and after countless attempts at trying to reach him on his cell, there was no response… it was time to leave without him. We made it about 15m up the street and Simo had to stop the bus because he heard something rattling. So we were stopped again, but within minutes Simo reassured us it was nothing and we were off driving again… only to stop another 10m from there, when Simo realized he had forgotten his sunglasses… he ran back to get them… or at least the pieces of them, since we had just run them over. GREAT START!
Our first stop of the day was a little town called York, and it was really cute – literally looked like something out of a country western movie. After a coffee and a quick walk around, it was back on the bus… we made a couple more “informational” stops – one at a rabbit fence (or was it a dog fence?), and a stop at the Corrigin Dog Cemetery – a world famous working dog cemetery. Lunch was enjoyed at lovely Wave Rock in Hyden… and by lovely I mean fly-infested. Remember a couple posts back when I mentioned that there is nothing more annoying than the Australian fly… well, my sentiments remain the same. After a typical tourbus lunch consisting of sandwiches and a half hour photo op with the giant granite rock in the formation of a wave, it was back on the bus for another couple hundred kilometers.
We arrived at our night’s destination prior to sunset, a farm in the remote town of Hopetoun. WE set up our swags in the pasture, next to the sheep paddock, and then it was time to make our way up to the house, where the lovely old lady who owns the farm, Mary, had dinner waiting for us. After some good eats and fun conversations, it was off to bed in the field. I slept like a baby. It’s actually quite nice to sleep out in the open underneath the stars – at least when its nice weather. We woke up with the sunrise the next morning and after a quick breakfast of toast, cereal and coffee… it was on the bus for an hour or so, before we hit Esperance – the last big town we were going to see in more than a week. Once my cellphone got reception again, I had a message from the French guys from my South West Coast Roadtrip (see the last entry) saying that they were in Esperance. Since we were being given a few free hours to run loose in the town, I called them up and upon our arrival into the town, they picked me up and showed me some really nice beaches in the area. After saying our goodbyes, I hopped back on the bus, and 60km down the road we hopped off at Cape Le Grande National Park.
Seriously, every previous statement of me saying that I saw the most beautiful beach in the world… I totally retract. The most beautiful beaches in the world are at Cape Le Grande National Park. Made up of over 99% silica, these are Australia’s whitest beaches. When walking on the beach, the silica squeaks under your feet like running shoes on a basketball court and it crunches like snow. It was absolutely spectacular. Beyond amazing. After setting up our swags, the three Swiss girls and myself got a ride over to Thistle Cove – a beautiful beach, and hiked back to our camp at Lucky Bay (a 45minute hike that we stretched into nearly 2hours due to the obscene number of photos we all took). Upon arrival back to camp, Simo and I decided to go for a snorkel – he had actually seen a great white shark in the very same area we were going snorkeling in, the previous week – alas, after about 10minutes of swimming as hard as we physically could, we turned back cause the water was just much too rough. On our walk back to the campsite, we saw two kangaroos grazing on the dried up seaweed on the beach! It was unreal! I definitely took a few pictures – c’mon! it’s totally stereotypical Australia to see kangaroos on the beach, how could I NOT take pictures?! We feasted on a delicious meal, prepared by Simo (did I mention he was a chef prior to becoming a tour guide… we ate very well on this tour!), as we were washing up I noticed the French guys coming over to use the kitchen. As luck would have it, they were camping at the same site we were! CRAZYNESS! So after dessert and everything was washed up, I went and hung out with Lionel and chatted with him until I realized it was 11:00 and everyone had been in bed for hours. Since it was an early start the next day, I parted ways and made my way into my nice warm swag and was out like a light until the sun came up!
Our first activity of the day was to drive over to a mountain within the park and climb to the top. It was a pretty easy climb, and it had spectacular views of the surrounding area. An hour and 45min after we started our ascent, we were all sitting on the bus, ready for a long day of driving. I believe we had something like 700km to cover that particular day. And let me tell you… the Nullarbor, while it does change in appearance, its only about once every 100-200km! While everyone else on my bus decided to waste their $1200+ sleeping for the entire 9 days of driving, I kept my spot up front with Simo and we literally talked about everything under the sun. It was awesome, we really got on quite well – we even have the same messed up sense of humor! The third evening, we pulled off the side of the highway, somewhere along the Nullarbor – close to a place called Cocklebiddy*, and set up camp underneath corrugated aluminum roof. Once we were all set up, that’s when the torrential downpour came and we discovered that there were holes in the roof… so it was a mission to strategically place all 8 swags so they didn’t get rained on. As we sat around the campfire that we built under the shelter (which was next to the bus and our swags) I made a mental note that it felt like we were hoboes! It sure looked that way. After some drinks, roasted marshmallows, smores and laughs around the campfire, it was time for bed – on the side of the highway … with giant 50m+ roadtrains (think of the biggest transport truck you’ve ever seen and multiply it by 3) speeding by at 110km/h.
We woke up and were shortly back on the road for day 4. It was an intended 600km+ day with not a whole lot to see except the different country roadhouses. When I say these were small towns… there are like less than 100 people per town! Luck was not on our side that day. We had rain pissing down on and off all day. As we were coming closer to the Western Australia/ South Australia state border it was soon becoming clear that we weren’t going to be able to make it to the intended accommodations (remember I say accommodation very loosely, generally just a stop on the side of the road) as the place we were supposed to stay at was 19km down a dirt road… and due to the rain driving down said now-mud road quite dangerous, especially in a bus with a trailer attached to it. We would have likely gotten stuck in the mud about halfway down the road – that would have been our luck. Simo attempted to call the head office to see what we should do, but there was no answer and after an hour of trying to call during our lunch stop and the rain picking up, Simo was not a happy tourguide. We pulled into a roadhouse to fill up in a town called Eucla – the sign said welcome to SUNNY Eucla.. I was not impressed with the false advertising – I digress, as we tried to get some petrol for the bus… they told us that they were dry and that we’d have to go to the next town over to fill up. Poor Simo was at his wits end at this point and we all felt really bad for him because he was trying his hardest to stay positive, but with all the crappy things happening to us, it was quite difficult. Once we arrived in Bordertown (at the border), I made sure to get Simo a pack of Peanut M&M’s to make him feel better. We then got the call from head office that we were now going to have to push on an extra 200km past the usual night’s stop to a town called Penong, as they had a covered shed that we could sleep in.
We made one amazing stop at the Bunda Cliffs – spectacular cliffs along the Great Australian Bight 110m high with crystal blue water below. To say it was spectacular is to put it very lightly.
With daylight fading fast and the same danger of driving at night (except across the Nullarbor, kangaroos aren’t the only thing to be afraid of running out in front of your vehicle… wild camels and wombats will absolutely obliterate anything vehicle that comes in contact with them) we made only a few “touristy” type stops… one at the famous Camel, Kangaroo, Wombat sign and one at a cattle grate on the road… which Chloe and Bettina and I climbed under and waited for roadtrains to drive on top of us. To give you some semblance of what we were doing… imagine laying on your back with a metal road grate about a foot and a half above your head and a 50m+ roadtrain traveling at 110km+ overhead. SCARY! But so much fun!We arrived in Penong well past dark, and Simo made us a delicious veggie curry for dinner… we were all impressed that the place had a television that we actually had 3 different channels on and amazing HOT showers that we all enjoyed.
The next morning we woke up with the sun, got ready and were on the road a bit later than usual – being a good 200km past where we had to be put us a good 2hours ahead of schedule, thus allowing us to take our time before trekking onward to Coodlie Park – AKA Nullarbor Traveller Headquarters. We made a lunch stop in Streaky Bay and then made our way to some more granite rock formations called Murphy’s Haystacks. Before we knew it we were pulling into Coodlie Park with two crazy dogs running in front of the bus like banshees. We got off the bus and were warmly welcomed by Jo and Hassie – the owners of both Nullarbor Traveller and Coodlie Park – a huge piece of farmland that is also home to a YHA hostel. They were extremely hospitable and very accommodating. Jo, even took pity on us (getting stuck in the rain and such) and even offered to wash some of our clothes for us! We settled into our hostel rooms – a nice change to sleep in a comfortable bunk, rather than a swag. We were treated to a lovely dinner, and pretty much everyone took the opportunity after dinner to surf the net, and get caught up with facebook and such.
Day six was probably one of my most favorite days on tour. We started the day bright and early and hopped in the bus and were off to Baird Bay to have a 2 1/2 hr surfing lesson with Spike. After about an hour, I started to get the hang of it and even managed to stand up a good number of times! We had a lunch break down the road from where we surfed, then it was off to swim with wild dolphins and sea lions. I’ve swum with dolphins before – when I was 15 in Mexico, granted they were in captivity and trained and actually interacted with people—so I was a touch disappointed with the dolphins, as they really aren’t interested in the 15-20 people that get dropped into the bay off the boat, and just whiz by you at extraordinary speeds. The sea lions on the other hand, were absolutely incredible. I dare say that sea lions are my new favorite sea animal. We were swimming with two thirteen month old pups who just loved to play. They would imitate everything you did, and the sillier and more childlike you got, the more they’d play with you. So for nearly an hour and a half I somersaulted, twisted, turned and played catch with the sea lion pups. At one point I swam over to the life ring that we had put in the water for people who wanted to have a breather from swimming, but didn’t want to get out of the water and back onto the boat completely. So I stuck my head through the middle of the life ring, and the pup – on the outside of the ring – put his flippers up so he too was resting on the ring and we were nose to nose. Having been told that we weren’t supposed to touch the wild animals, I just treaded water there, very still, until the little guy leaned in and planted a big fat kiss right on my lips! It was the cutest thing ever. He then jumped away and swam off as if he scared himself by doing what he did. It was beyond adorable. That evening we returned to Coodlie Park and had another delicious meal courtesy of Hassie and Jo. Then once it got dark, Hassie took us into his 4X4 and we went off to see the nocturnal animals that live on the farm. We saw a few wombats and kangaroos and even some feral cats.
The next morning Simo took us on some hikes around Port Kenny and we even got to go sand boarding… lots of fun, but super tiring walking all the way back up the giant sand dune. It was back on the road and onto Port Lincoln a few hundred km away. We pulled into town midafternoon and were allowed an hour or so to explore while Simo bought groceries for our remaining two days. We were back in cellphone reception so it was nice to make a couple calls here and there – I managed to get a hold of my friend Scott’s aunt who was going to be hosting me for a few nights once I arrived in Adelaide. We even got to have REAL coffee! It was glorious! Flat white with one raw sugar please! Once the groceries were bought, the coffee was drunk and we were all back on the bus, it was time to make it to a koala conservation area where we were going to be sleeping for the night. Upon arrival, we all decided to go for a little walk through the forest in search of some koalas. We managed to spot a fair number of them and I managed to get some stellar pictures of one koala in particular. Can I just make a quick note that koalas make the WEIRDEST noise I’ve ever heard come out of an animal. Oh and fun factoid – the leading cause of death in koalas is chlamydia – who would have guessed! That night we were treated to Simo’s spaghetti carbonara and my goodness was it ever delicious… I even went up for seconds! That night was also the evening that the full moon was the closest it had been to earth in more than 18 years and since we were out in the country with no lights or air pollution… we got to see it light up the sky in all its glory. Heck, when I had to go for my pee in the bushes that evening, I didn’t even need to bring my torch! Hahaha
The morning of day eight we were supposed to do some hiking at a national park, but it was pissing rain so badly that we didn’t even want to get off the bus. We also kyboshed the “Animal Detention Centre—I mean Animal Rehabilitation Centre” (as Simo would tell us) due to the crappy weather. Instead we enjoyed a few more hours in Port Lincoln, enjoying real coffee and more cellphone reception. That afternoon’s activity was the hand feeding and swimming with blue fin tuna. OKAY. SO! This is the girl who went scuba diving with no less than 12 sharks, has jumped off bridges, been caving and abseiling down 30m waterfalls, have stood out on pieces of cliff 110m up that look like they’re gonna break off – solely to get a good picture, and it was the Blue Fin Tuna that scared the crap out of me. They are BIG monsters! At least an arm length. We were told that they weigh upwards of 25kilos – that’s a 50lb fish! And their zero to sixty is faster than a Porsche 911 – at least according to the guy running the boat. We took a boat ride out to the tuna farm just outside of Port Lincoln and hopped off onto the floating deck. The man running the activity showed us how to properly handfeed the tuna – how to avoid getting your fingers nibbled (which would result in papercut-like cuts on your hands) and then brought over a huge bucket of pilchards (sardines) and let us go nuts. At first I was feeding them from the deck, but then Chloe and the new guy Eivind and I decided we wanted to hop in the water with them and try feeding them under the water. SCARIEST THING EVER. They are so fast. I was basically floating on my stomach with my fingers all balled up into fists and my knees bent so my feet were out of the water. I heard a splash nearby and turned my head and sure enough one of the asshole children who worked on the boat threw in a pilchard that landed literally 6inches from my face. And of course, a giant blue fin tuna came towards me, mouth open, ready to enjoy a fishy snack! NOT COOL! I definitely pulled a girly thing and screamed and rushed out of the water. It was so frightening.
After the tuna activity, we had to drop Eivind off at a local Port Lincoln hostel, because he was going cage diving with the great white sharks the following day (for an extra $500!) and would be leaving the tour there. Once back on the road we were ready to make the easy 250km trek up to Cowell… until we blew 2 of our 6 tires. Of course, as our luck would have it, Simo then went to look for the tire changing tools… and it had been taken off our bus at some point. We drove another 50 or so kilometres to the next town where Hassie had planned for the RAA (think CAA or AAA) guy was supposed to lend us his tool… except the stupid mechanic didn’t have the right size tool for our bus! So we drove a little bit further down the road and stopped at a local country town bar while we waited for another mechanic to bring in the proper tool. 2 hours later, the tires were changed, and we were back on the road to our last night of the tour. We had an awesome chicken and mashed potato dinner and even some cake for dessert, were lucky enough to have access to working showers, and had a fairly decent night’s sleep.
The last day of the tour basically consisted of us driving from Cowell up to Port Augusta and a 2hour stop at the museum that taught all about the history of Australia… it was actually quite nice and informative. We had lunch at a park. Port Augusta is a rather sketchy town that Simo said nobody could PAY him to live in… so that must be saying a lot! We even witnessed a guy who had jacked a car and was cruising around town just waiting to start a car chase with the police. It was pretty much 400km (I’m assuming, as it was about 4 hours on the bus) till we got into Adelaide and parted ways. Simo was nice enough to drop me off at the bus station, where Karen, Scott’s aunt was there waiting for me with open arms.
Needless to say, the Nullarbor Traveller tour was an incredible experience. I managed to see a big chunk of Australia – a big chunk that not a whole lot of people ever get to see – and covered over 3800km in 9 days! I even managed to possibly secure myself a place to “work” when I come back to Australia, as Hassie and Jo take WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms – people who work for accommodation and food). It was an interesting week, and even though the weather wasn’t on our side for the majority of the trip, we still made the most of it and did some pretty amazing things.
Now Playing: The Long Way Around by Dixie Chicks