Saturday, September 5, 2015

Western NSW to the Warrumbungles 29-31 August

Once we arrived back in NSW it felt like the trip was practically over, so we drove on, stopping at rest areas for a couple of nights, on a mission to reach the Warrumbungles. We hadn't been there since the 1980s, when our kids were still at school.

Apart from around Broken Hill, western NSW is greener than I've ever seen it. Obviously there has been significant rain which we have been oblivious to while we were in the west. There is short green pasture everywhere, except where the feral goats dominate. It's a bit of a dilemma for the farmers. The goats do such a lot of damage, but the farmers make good money from periodic musters, so there's no real incentive to get rid of them. Meanwhile they roam the verge of the road and wherever they please, munching as they go.

We also saw lots of emus, some with young chicks, many more than we have seen previously in the whole trip. Also an astonishing amount amount of road kill, mainly kangaroos. We didn't see as much anywhere else on the whole trip. I wonder if road trains use shoo-roos; they certainly should since they can't swerve to avoid animals on the road.

Plenty of emus
The goats eat anything and everything
No goats and lush pasture
After a couple of overnight stops in roadside rest areas we arrived at the Warrumbungle National Park. In January 2013 a severe bushfire raged through the Warrumbungles and we were curious to see how well everything was recovering. We spoke briefly to one of the scientists working in the Education Centre and he was optimistic about the recovery. The eucalypts are growing well but the pines sustained significant damage and don't appear to be re-shooting as much. There is plenty of wattle and a diversity of other flora, but the koalas are an unknown quantity. There are still plenty of kangaroos. Apostle birds, crows and cockatoos are also making their presence felt today.

First views of the Warrumbungles
As we didn't have sufficient time to do any of the walks we opted for a drive to Whitegum Lookout where everything is growing well and there was arrange of wildflowers in bloom as well. From there you could see how much damage the fire caused with skeletal black trees protruding from the new growth below.

Skeletal trees but some new growth
Lots of new growth, above and below, with David for perspective

We also took the short drive to the Siding Springs Observatory. We hadn't look at the large telescope which was unattended and watched a video which used jargon that exposed the black hole in our space knowledge, and unfortunately the Education Centre was closed for redevelopment. 
The Anglo Australian telescope at Siding Springs
We returned to camp to a clear sky, an almost full moon and burnt all the rest of our firewood on a cold clear night. The next morning we experienced our first and last frost of the trip, and it was a heavy one. Not bad for a whole winter.
Heavy frost

Even a white solar panel
The Warrumbungles marked the end of our 4 month camping trip, and now it was time to return to the family fold and all things domestic. We stopped in Gunnedah to visit my uncle and aunt, then stayed overnight at Dungowan with my sister. Our final day had a couple of diversions, one to Lake St Clair near Singleton, then finally to North Rothbury to check in with my son and daughter-in-law and their 3 children who were happy to see us.

It has been a wonderful trip with so many memorable experiences and places it is hard to choose an absolute highlight. However, for both of us, the day trip to the Horizontal Falls comes close. 

The Horizontal Falls from the air
About to roar through the gap
We both agree that Western Australia has some stunning scenery and is definitely worth a return visit. Overall we travelled 22 160 km in just over 4 months.Now to plan the next one…..

Our journey, starting and finishing in Sydney

Friday, August 28, 2015

Across the Nullarbor: Norseman to Port Augusta. 22-28 August

The Nullarbor Plain has always, in my mind, assumed mythical proportions, the enormous space linking east and west in Australia. Consequently I had many preconceptions about it that remained to be tested.  And they certainly were.

1. The Nullarbor covers much of the distance between Norseman and Ceduna.
Incorrect. The treeless part that is actually the Nullarbor is only about 100km or so.
It is flat and treeless at Nullabor Roadhouse

2. It is remote and a lot of planning required.
Incorrect. The maximum distance apart of any 2 places is about 150 km. There is is fuel and accommodation at each place, and basic necessities can be bought.
Lots of road trains service these communities

Cocklebiddy has a sense of humour

Some of the population

3. It is dry.
Incorrect for us. It rained part of every day we were there, and in some places it had rained heavily and everything's slushy and muddy. I know it isn't always like that.

4. It is a flat and treeless expanse.
Incorrect. Much of the distance has very good plant cover, often with large trees. Plants are not sparse. Neither is it flat.The Fraser Range is near Norseman, and the Hampton Tablelands follows the coast for about 200km near the SA border. Much of the rest is undulating. However the Nullarbor does have the longest stretch of road without a bend. Known as the 90 Mile Straight it is 146.6km long.
One of the many hilly and not so treeless places

5. The wind will be behind us, blowing from the west, so we will make good time and have better fuel consumption.
Incorrect. The wind blew a gale from the south, and judging from the wind shaped trees, it usually blows from the south. There is nothing between the Nullarbor and Antarctica,  and it was obvious from the temperature.

6. It might be boring.
Incorrect. There are things to see at most of the roadhouses, and at places along the Great Australian Bight. There is also the Nullarbor Links Course, the longest golf course in the world, which required 15 stops after Kalgoorlie. Two perhaps 4 of the holes were okay, but the rest were "goat tracks".
The Bunda Cliffs are stunning

The Nullabor Links Course

As most of my preconceptions were shown to be wrong it was an interesting trip. Some of the most memorable aspects were:
The campground at Fraser Range Station which had a fully equipped camp kitchen with all utensils, plates etc, slow combustion stove, TV and all the comforts of home. Fantastic on a cold wet night.

We stayed at Old Koonalda Station, an abandoned property in a National Park. The road in was in a fairly poor state with lots of mud and puddles, and no signage, so we were a bit surprised to actually find it. It was a bit of an adventure into the relative unknown. The shearers quarters had a fireplace and with 2 other couples we had a very convivial evening around the fire and out of the wind.
Home comforts and a place for the empties as well

Another high spot was the Old Telegraph Station at Eucla, slowly being covered with sand. We decided to take a short walk out to the beach. After 20 minutes trudging throughout sandy track we reached the water and the remains other old jetty. David put his hands in the water, declared it very cold, then we walked back through the sand.

Another beautiful spot was Fowlers Bay. It was settled by 1840, which is very early by WA standards, and Edward John Eyre set off from there when he walked across the continent to Esperance in 1841. Today it is a village in decline, but has great fishing, and usually a lot of whales. We did a whale watching cruise but there were none there. We did see NZ fur seals and Australian sea lions, and a few little penguins. It was a pity as there was a camera crew on board from a caravan magazine, so they missed out as well.
Approaching the town you first see these magnificent dunes
However they are steadily encroaching on the town
The Jetty
An Australian sea lion on display
After Fowlers Bay we stopped at Smoky Bay.  Nice sunset and cheap oysters, $8 a dozen.

Smoky Bay swimming pool and town
Bringing in the oysters
A final sunset over the water

Streaky Bay was next where the highlights were the whistling rocks, blowholes in the making, making a lot of noise. The town has numerous historic buildings but is unusual in that it has several seats on the footpath which honour significant women in the community. One of these was an early midwife with an excellent record of never losing a mother.

The boardwalk to the whistling rocks and blowholes
The coastline nearby. The holes weren't blowing, and whistles don't show up well

Our final night was spent at another disused farm, this time outside Wudinna with its beautiful monument to the Australian Farmer. We parked the camper in a farm shed with other machinery and an old caravan and had a very welcome fire as well. The farmhouse is left unlocked for travellers to explore and in 3 years hasn't been damaged. A beautiful sunset as well.
This stunning sculpture was paid for by public subscription
The end of a long trek across 2 states

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kalgoorlie-Boulder 19-21 August

 Kalgoorlie and Boulder, originally separate towns have merged into a single entity. Kalgoorlie has the major shopping centre and other commercial areas, while Boulder is the site of the major mine known as The Superpit. Both areas have very well preserved buildings reflecting the wealth brought by gold mining for over a century, and the audio tour gives a lot of extra information. For example the Old Federal Hotel in Boulder has at least 3 resident ghosts, and the owner will tell you all about their antics with very little prompting.  We spent about half a day checking out the sights of Kalgoorlieand Boulder as there is plenty to see. The Superpit viewing point gave us a good view of the mine. The Questa Casa brothel has daily tours, but unfortunately we didn't have time to check it out.

Kalgoorlie Town Hall
Plush seating in the upstairs gallery of the Town Hall
Ceiling detail in the Town Hall
Government Buildings. The dome is gilded bright gold
The York Hotel, lavish inside and out
Kalgoorlie Markets Building
Boulder Town Hall
Boulder Streetscape
Boulder Streetscape
The Old Federal Hotel, Boulder. Has 3 ghosts and an old mine shaft was discovered beneath the cellar

The Superpit is a major employer and attraction in town. All workers live locally and work a 7 on 7 off roster with 12 hour shifts. More than 50% of the truck drivers are women, who apparently keep their trucks cleaner and treat them better than the men do. We took a tour of the mine which filled us with heaps of facts which are difficult to recall. I was surprised to learn that before the rock is trucked to the surface it is sampled for gold content and then stockpiled according to quality. The lowest paid job in the mine is the stick picker whose job is to separate out from the rock any old pit props which are brought to the surface. These can't be burnt as they have previously been treated with arsenic - they're stockpiled and re-buried later. The tour took us part way into the pit to give us a better look. We also saw some of their collection of Komatsu trucks and some ore being crushed.
Safety message. Apparently the crushing of this truck is on YouTube
Old pit props excavated from the pit
Below, various views of the Superpit

Lots of ant like trucks at work

One of the larger trucks
David found the golf course which is fairly new and is a top class desert course. As I'm writing this he is out playing, so I don't know his opinion of it yet. Update: it’s a beautiful course but his skills don’t do it justice, although he did get one par in the 9 holes he played. Two of the holes are part of the Nullarbor Links Course which starts in Kalgoorlie and ends in Ceduna, SA. It is the longest course in the world, and possibly the roughest.

We have been camping at Lake Douglas, a free camp about 12 km out of town. It has a massive amount of space, and a generous pile of firewood was available for us to use. The pile will be significantly lower when we leave. We have found one easy way to keep warm at the campfire. Put a small pile of coals under your chair and the warmth goes right through you. Unfortunately you can't do it nowhere there is grass but that's not a problem at Lake Douglas, or many other places in WA either.