Highway to Hell – The Nullarbor Plains

Saturday 1st February
I woke up feeling very sorry for myself. Throughout the night I had heard the mosquitoes and the next morning it was obvious what parts of my skin had not been sprayed. Even my legs which had been hidden hadn’t survived the onslaught and my hands in particular were a mess. I took one of my allergic reaction tablets because a combination of heat and mosquito bite means I find them particularly itchy.

We travelled along the road heading for Nundroo the official start of the Nullarbor Plains. There wasn’t much to see and as the sun was already in the 40s after taking a picture of the road leading to nothingness I hid in the shade as I’d failed to put suncream on.

As we left Nundroo I quickly started to apply suncream before after maybe 10 minutes Maggie mentioned she could smell diesel. At almost the same time Craig said he wanted to pull over to check the tyres. The diagnosis was not good, the inner right wheel had blown and we had a broken fuel injector. Part of the jack was also with one of the other buses and an attempt to use a spare piece in the back of the trailer.

Luckily we had only travelled about 15km and lots of road trains (lorries with big loads) were in the area and the first we saw pulled over. They had the bit of the jack we needed so a combination of Craig, Baz and Marco were able to remove 9 of the 10 nuts. The broken fuel injector meant we couldn’t drive anyway and as the final one was impossible for them to remove so after about an hour we received a tow back to Nundroo.

I brought an Ice cream and a sticker saying “I crossed the Nullarbor and broke down in Nundroo”. I was also tempted to buy the sign “where the hell is Nundroo?” which Maggie had seen. Whilst we waited in the air conditioned restaurant we played a game of Mafia which Steffi had introduced us to. I was first to be killed off in the first game and it was funny to see how quick people were to follow the majority, especially the assumption poor Lukas was always guilty because he smiled. Patricia was easily the best though Gaby and I also had success when it was our turn.

Basically there are two Mafia, one police and one doctor. Everyone else is a citizen. Each round the Mafia agree on someone to kill, the police accuse someone (the story teller says if they are right or wrong) and the doctor picks a person to save. Everyone then wakes up and with the exception of the person out of the game decides who to accuse. This carries on until all the Mafia have been caught or until they outnumber the villagers. We were in Nundroo for the long haul so had a few games before lunch and a few games after lunch. We must have been there for 4 hours but luckily the local mechanic Davis Motors/Nundroo Cabin Park had a spare part which wasn’t perfect but that was enough to get us back on the road.

We were running behind Craig’s schedule so we had to skip Eucla but were still able to get a picture of a famous sign of Kangaroos, Camels and Wombats at one of the toilet/refuel stops. I was surprised at how much vegetation there was and hadn’t really appreciated until i was told by Craig that the section of the Nullarbar (Latin for no trees) with no trees was actually only about 17km in length.

Our first stop on the Nullarbar was a lookout over the Great Bright of Australia. This was at the Bunda Cliffs which were nearly 100 meters high and our guide Craig told us they used to be on the ocean floor because there were shells on the cliff tops that were over 40 million years old.

We stopped to get petrol before proceeding to the border crossing where we had to ensure we had disposed of fresh fruit, vegetables and various other items that we were not allowed to carry in to Western Australia. The border officers were efficient but made us feel relaxed about the process with their humour and it was not like the crossing between Russia and Mongolia when the cabin had been torn apart.

After we officially crossed in to Western Australia we stopped to get a picture of the sign and the line marking the boundary. We then celebrated the fact we had made it this far before we performed the dance moves to “Home among the gumtrees” and sang “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)”.

We arrived at a campsite in Madura much later than had been planned however I think we were all grateful that Craig had at short notice been able to arrange a place with facilities for us. Originally we were meant to bush camp but it had been a long hot day and it was nice to have a place to stay with basic facilities including a much appreciated shower. We set up the tents and a small copperhead snake slithered under one of them which luckily Elizabeth saw. We were all pretty exhausted and possibly jet lagged as the clocks had gone back so went to sleep pretty much as soon as the washing up was done.

Sunday 2nd January
I hadn’t slept well. My mosquito bites had driven me insane and despite Patricia and Maggie giving me cream it felt like I had been scratching most of the night (including when I slept) even though I knew that would only make them more irritating.

The night before we had seen some layered rocks to the right of the main road and this morning we briefly stopped at the top to get a photo though unfortunately it was misty so it wasn’t really possible to appreciate the vastness of the landscape below. Our next stop was to a cave in the Nuytsland Nature Reserve. The entrance didn’t look that big from our position but apparently it took a team 36 hours to explore the inside and there are 100s of similar caves across the Plains.

We briefly stopped again at Caiguna Blowhole which wasn’t particularly active as it was a calm day before proceeding across the Nullarbor. Although we were following a route close to the coast it wasn’t possible to see the ocean. I had anticipated kilometres of nothingness and whilst there wasn’t much of a view the trees and shrubs were more than I had expected though I still found myself drifting off to sleep due to the lack of sleep.

It was still before midday that we hit Australias Longest straight road which was 90 miles (145km) in length. This was what I had expected much of the journey to be like and whilst it is perhaps hard to explain and understand the lack of any standout landmarks or twists in the road was partly what appealed when booking the trip. Craig had given us various puzzles to work out and Baz had started an irritating game called “Good Train / Bad train” all of which had amused and greatly frustrated me/us at the same. We also had Donkey from Shrek on board and as lorries and cars drove past we pretended it was driving the bus. Not a lot probably happens on the Nullarbor so we had hoped it would either be mentioned at a service station or over the “Road Train” radio system.

We stopped in a small settlement called Balladonia for a 2nd breakfast and toilet stop but there wasn’t really anything to see. Its claim to any type of fame was Skylab’s 1979 return to earth which America desperately sought to recover despite their claims it was “only a weather satellite”. The next main settlement we stopped at was Norseman, named after a horse that had discovered gold in the area. Once a main town it is now just the beginning and end of Nullarbor. It was here I thought I had worked out the good train bad train game, before it emerged that I hadn’t.

Throughout the day a strong headwind had prevented us from getting the speed we needed to make up time from the day before and on the approach to Esperance the engine light came on. Craig did his best to fix the issue but ultimately we had to limp in to town, though we did hit 100km per hour going down a hill at one point. We were meant to have been staying in a camp on the coast outside of the town however Craig was able to book us in to a YHA which was luxury after nights in swags and tents.

We had BBQ pizzas for dinner before settling down with some drinks. I introduced the drinking game one up, one down which particularly confused Patricia and Marco. Once the game was understood it was no longer possible to play so Craig introduced Moon in the Spoon. All were simple but until you understood them the over thinking made them appear overly complicated and frustrating. We were also joined throughout the night by various other random people straying at the hostel including a very drunk Estonian who wanted a dance off and who seemed particularly angry when his request was denied.

Monday 3rd February
Craig had to take the bus to be repaired but luckily another group was passing through (going from Perth to Adelaide) and their days itinerary was scheduled to be similar to ours. We were therefore picked up from the hostel by David and his small group which meant we could all fit on the bus before continuing on to Cape Le Grand.

Here we were to do a walk from Hellfire Bay to Lucky Bay via Thistle Cove. I’d started off at the back of the first group and was trying to catch up with Marco and Gaby who were the pace setters. I managed to achieve this just as everyone realised we’d gone wrong so those at the back became the front and this meant I was at the back again. I was mainly walking with Steffi with Marco and Gaby just in front and Baz and Patricia just behind. We brought up the Good Train/Bad train game again and all of a sudden with a hint from Baz we’d worked it out. It was so obvious and i was so relieved because that and Craig’s puzzles had caused me to waste countless hours of my life. When Steffi suddenly fell we all lept in to action to make sure she was ok though we had been told to get pictures with Donkey and I couldn’t resist getting one of him ‘attacking’ Steffi once we knew everything was ok.

The walk had been as strenuous as expected and quite steep in places so we all stuck together as a family (especially once Maggie and Elizabeth had caught up with us so we could provide any assistance) until we reached Thistle Cove. We arrived in Thistle Cove where some of us went for a quick swim and some decided to get on the mini bus to Lucky Bay. I went in and doing so I realised I have been in the sea in each state I have visited so far. After drying out, which as usual didn’t take long, Baz, Patricia, Quentin, Gaby, Marco and I started the final part of the walk to Lucky Bay.

This section of the walk was easier and on our way we saw a big Guanna slowly walking across the path. We arrived at Lucky Bay and rather than going straight to the camp made a very slight detour to see the Matthew Flinders Memorial. When we arrived most of the others had eaten but we weren’t in much hurry as we had a couple of hours to ourselves before we were due to do another walk to the top of Frenchman’s Peak.

I headed down to the beach as sometimes Kangaroos are seen on it but I didn’t expect to see any because they are  nocturnal and don’t normally go to open spaces in the day. I assumed as it was only just after lunch they’d be sheltering in the forest. As I approached I saw a mother and a joey on the path towards the beach however as there were a group camped nearby they disappeared into some trees and I assumed the chance to see them on the beach had gone. I walked down on to the sand and all of a sudden they hopped out.

It was amazing watching them, they seemed quite relaxed around humans but the joey in particular was keeping a watch and any unexpected movement caused them to quickly hop away along the beach. Every movement they made was worthy of a photograph and it was very special to see them in such a pretty location. I managed to get a few pictures of them with Donkey before some unexpected movement by a seagull caused them to move further along the beach.

I returned back to the camp and even though it was windy and slightly chilly I told a few of the others including Maggie and Elizabeth to venture back down and luckily they did before another group of tourists accidentally scared the ‘Roos away. We still had a bit of time before the scheduled walk up to the top of Frenchman’s Peak so just chilled out, mainly making statements about Good Train / Bad Train, seeing the Moon in the Spoon, 1 up 1 down and going “here is *insert object of choice”.

Eventually we set our for Frenchman’s Peak and arrived at the foot. The walk up was much steeper than I expected and as there was a very strong wind I decided the best thing to do was to keep my head down and to hope that I reached the top without being blown over. This was partly because when i was looking up towards the cliffs at the top they didnt seem to be getting any nearer. We got a group picture at the top and Baz’s bag started to blow away but he rescued it in time. Despite the wind, it was a lovely afternoon and the view back towards the sea and of the surrounding Cape Le Grand National Park were very nice. The walk down wasn’t much easier and Nicole in particular decided the easiest way was to sit down and slide in places. We reached the bottom in time for the sunset and headed back to the campsite.

Craig had returned with the bus but there was no chance of us leaving that evening as had once been proposed as the bus needed to go back in for further tests the following morning. Baz, Lukas, Marco, Maggie and I went to get some beer and realised to our horror that in all the confusion our crate had somehow been lost or stolen at the YHA. We spent the night playing Mafia with a couple of members from the other group before going to bed fairly early even though we had a lie in the following morning.

Tuesday 4th February
A few of us had spoken about seeing the sunrise, hoping we’d get a perfect picture of it and some Kangaroos but over in Western Australia the West the sun rises very early at around 5am. Even though all the birds woke me I couldn’t face going out so stayed in my nice cosy swag and tried to block out all the noise.

I emerged from my tent just in time to have breakfast before joining a group that planned to spend the morning doing another walk. We had been told it was 6km one way and had hoped to get a lift with one of the other groups to the far end but it emerged that wasn’t possible. The round trip would be 12km which we knew was to far for us to walk in the time available as the intention was to be back by 12.00pm so that we could leave for the Stirling Ranges after lunch.

We walked along beach and through overgrown bush until we reached a lookout of beach and Frenchman’s Peak. We weren’t really sure how far we planned to walk but the view here was pleasant and we decided to start heading back so that time could be spent on the beach. We arrived back in Lucky Bay and met up with Marco and Gaby before continuing on to the campsite. Gaby and Marco had left us hidden messages on the beach mainly relating to Good train / bad train and Moon in the Spoon and if they were seen by the uninitiated they’d probably think they’d found some kind of cryptic treasure map.

Craig wasn’t back and no one had any news so we all just made lunch and after packing up all the gear we waited patiently. After what seemed an age we saw a mini bus approaching and it was him. He confirmed we were off, and after hooking up the trailer we were on our way, in our 3rd bus.

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