The Long and Winding Road: Eyre Peninsula

Wednesday 29th January
Waiting for our mini bus and guide I met Sandrine, Steffie and Maggie outside the hostel and whilst we had all booked through different tour companies it appeared we were all on the same tour. The route we were about to take was the same distance as London to Moscow, included the Nullarbor plain (Latin for no trees) and was all camping under the stars. It really couldn’t be any more different from the East Coast which is so popular with most backpackers. Our guide Craig later confirmed to me that Nullarbor Traveller are the only company that does the whole route from Adelaide to Perth (or vice versa).

Bush fires were burning in the Southern Flinders Ranges and had apparently been doing so for 15 days so it was not possible for us to visit this area. I want to go to the Flinders before I leave and as I will be going to Adelaide again I should be able to see part of it. Craig explained the new plan was to drive straight to Port Lincoln. We started by running parallel to the routes of various railways including the Ghan and the Indian Pacific through sparse shrub land with the Flinders Ranges in the background until we reached Port Augusta. From here landscape changed to more dense looking shrubs and trees as we headed in land to stop for lunch in Cowell.

The tour was to be an interactive tour experience like on kangaroo island and some of the group helped to prepare salad to go in sandwiches and another group washed up. We also all helped to load the trailer back up with our various boxes of supplies. We made a brief toilet stop at Tumby Bay to fuel up and our guide Craig said it was where he had been brought up. I walked to end of the jetty to soak in the view and it was very windy

We finally arrived in Port Lincoln which is claimed to be the fishing capital of Australia most of which is sold to overseas markets. At one time Port Lincoln nearly became the South Australian state capital however despite many explorations the early settlers gradually accepted there was no fresh water. We stocked up on a few supplies, mainly beer, and headed for our first campsite.

We arrived at Mikkira station and had enough time to walk around the preserved old homestead which was the first sheep station in Eyre Peninsula. This was also later used as the central station receiving all the supplies and post for all the local farms. It must have been an isolating experience for the owner who lived to nearly 100 in the late 1800s as even now there is no settlement for 30km.

During the short walk we also saw more koalas in trees including one that was becoming quite active and climbing amongst the branches before settling on one to chew on for I assume the rest of the evening. We had seen two kangaroos hop away as soon as we had arrived but hadn’t seen any in the open spaces though as it was only late afternoon it was not surprising they were seeking cover. I saw two more hop away quickly in a wooded area but I hadn’t initially realised they were there so must have startled them. The other wildlife that was in abundance were some pink and white parrots

Craig prepared a pasta meal whilst we were out exploring and as we sat eating some Kangaroos sat near by. We were a group of 13 so by the end of the first day we had already remembered most though we did a round of introductions again. People gradually started going to bed, perhaps a bit earlier than I had expected but it had been a long day.

That evening I had my first swag camping experience. For those that don’t know what a swag is, it is a cross between a sleeping bag and a tent with a mattress. Despite the mattress the ground was a bit uncomfortable but it wasn’t to hot or to cold and the view of the night sky was nothing short of spectacular. The main cause of sleep disruption was a very noisy koala in the vicinity. Koalas look adorable but at night they turn in to monsters, making horrendous grunting and screaming noises. I therefore believe they are almost certainly the animal that inspired the film gremlins.

Thursday 30th January
After packing up we made a short drive to an area on the coast called Whalers Way. We went on a short drive around the area and stopped at various lookouts the first of which was Wilkes bay to see some New Zealand fur seals. Whilst here Craig also spotted a school of salmon surfing though the waves though i have to admit I struggled to seem clearly.

Our next lookout was Cape Carnot which Craig told was the oldest rock in South Australia and also the most southerly point of the state. There were some huge waves crashing against the rocks some of which were quite unpredictable so we stayed a safe distance. As we started walking from the mini bus to Theakstones Cravass we saw some snake tracks in the sand. The walls of Theakstones Cravass were 9ft high and the water was 13ft deep and as the waves approached the narrow passage the pressure forced the water in. We were told that on stormy days the cliff vibrates due to the power of the waves but on more peaceful days like the one we had it wasn’t really possible to envisage how it looked, felt and sounded.

Our final stop was Pioneer lookout. This was a memorial to the early pioneers in the area. Amongst the seaman, sherers, pastrolists and general practioners was a poet. But then what is society without culture??? (Check brave new world quote) Besides someone had to keep a written record of their early experiences in a new land and region.

We were running slightly short of time but still made our way to a beach where we were able to sand boarding. It took about 5km but unfortunately when we got there the sand boards had been taken by another bus party so instead we headed straight to Venus Bay. I didn’t have my swimming stuff easily accessible and didn’t really fancy just sitting on the beach so did a short walk around the South Heads coast.

I had hoped to see some wildlife, perhaps some Dolphins but the path wasn’t obvious in places as there were no signs and I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I walked quickly and whilst I stopped, I didn’t spend to much time scanning the horizon because it was windy and the waves were quite rough so I didn’t expect to see any dolphins below. The walk was a lot quicker than I expected so I joined the others at the beach. The rest were also almost done so after seeing some locals feeding fish to a pelican we made our way to our camp site at Coodlie Park.

Whilst we waited for the other bus group to arrive (they had had a flat tire so were 3 hours behind schedule) Baz, Marco, Quentin and I played some cricket with a tennis ball. Some of the girls set up some chairs in what I dubbed the pavilion and Maggie explained the basic rules to them. As expected of an Englishman playing cricket at the current time I went for some big shots and was promptly caught by Quentin, the only fielder.

We had our dinner but made sure we saved some for the other group. Kylie who worked at the local farm also worked as a local tour guide and was due to take us wombat and other nocturnal animal spotting. Before we left she showed us a Red back she’d caught and then showed us a Huntsman that had crept up behind us to set up base for the night. We began to wonder what else there might be in the immediate area. Kylie had a great Aussie sense of humour and this is meant as a compliment she reminded me of a female Steve Irwin in the way she told stories and described the wildlife we should watch out for.

The other group had finally arrived and eaten so despite it being gone 23.00 we were finally able to start the Wombat drive. This may have been a slight blessing because the wombats are nocturnal so the later it was, the more active they were likely to be. Those in the front of the mini bus, led by Nichol saw up to four wombats though personally as it was dark I only saw one clearly because it was running towards a bush. We got out of the bus to see a second up close but even though I was near the front I couldn’t make it out before it disappeared down its warren. It was quite an exciting evening despite it being so late though I hope I get to see a wombat in day light because it wasn’t possible to get any pictures of the evening.

Friday 31st January
I slept with swag zipped right up though i left the bit behind me open as I still hadn’t worked out what to do with the flap. I slept a lot better as it felt the perfect temperature throughout though it was nearly impossible to move and at one point I woke on my back which probably had resulted in me sounding like a koala.

We made the short drive to Baird Bay for our Dolphin and Australian Sea Lion swim. Unlike in Kaikoura It was a lovely sunny morning and the sea looked calm. We started off by heading to the dolphins and soon found them but the water was murky so the guide tried to lead them to clearer water and told us to get in to the water in preparation for them swimming towards us. They soon approached but they didn’t stop and carried on swimming though they had come fairly close to Quentin and I.

We got back on the boat and made another attempted drop off. They still weren’t interested in playing with us and this time they were to far off for me to see them clearly without my glasses. I wasn’t ever really sure which direction they were heading in but it seemed to be away from us. We got back on the boat and made our way to the Sea Lions.

The sea lions were amazing and appeared to be all around both at the surface and under the water. I saw a playful fight between two of them under the water which was absolutely amazing because no one else was around and I looked one right in the eye as it swam towards me. The biggest appeared to be one called Louis which had taken a liking to Quentin trying to bite him before the guide came over to give him some attention.

I had brought another underwater disposable camera and wanted to save some pictures for the dolphins so with only a few remaining I eventually got out of the water to get back on the boat. The sea lion experience had far exceeded my expectations and made up for the dolphins ignoring us. They are also an endangered species so swimming with them was a particularly special experience.

We returned back to the Dolphins and made a third attempt. I was one of the first in the water and used all my energy before realising the direction of the dolphins had changed so I was at the back of group and didn’t see anything. As I got back on the boat i was starting to become a bit despondent that the opening experience was going to be as good as it would be, though the sea lions had been fantastic and I wasn’t exactly feeling disappointed.

The captain decided to make one final 4th attempt though I was at the back of the group and in the wrong place. All of a sudden I realised the dolphin had changed direction and all of a sudden I had 3 heading straight towards me. I have no idea how the picture will look until it’s developed but it doesn’t matter. That moment will hopefully stay with me and whilst it hadn’t been the playful experience I had expected I can finally lay to rest my hope of swimming amongst Dolphins in the wild.

Next we went surfing at Scales Bay. My first surfing experience had been 3 years ago at Surfers Paradise where I had after a couple of hours been able to stand albeit for a few seconds. The waves weren’t particularly strong and those in charge wanted us to stay close to the beach where they were breaking. As was the case 3 years we spent a bit of time on the beach being shown how to get in to the standing position before heading in to the water. Quite early on I realised although I remembered how to do everything my body was in rebellion and wouldn’t let me do it. I’m clearly weaker and heavier than I was.

Bashed by the waves, even bashed by the surfboard at one point I was comfortable with the position before standing, I just couldn’t get myself up quickly enough. It couldn’t be taught, it was technique and needed practice and I didn’t have the time or patience. I had to accept that surfing just isn’t really for me and whilst I wasn’t the only one having no success I did drop out after an hour was up to relax on the beach.

After leaving the surfing we headed for Streaky Bay where i was unfortunately unable to meet up with the Streaky Bay girls from my New Zealand tour because I hadn’t been able to contact any of them when I realised we were going through. Really we had just a stop to buy some beers though we also stopped off at the service station because there was the body of a Great White Shark on display. I also saw the events sign outside the hotel which was promoting a chook (chicken) raffle. It didn’t specify if they were dead or not.

We eventually arrived in Shelly Beach camp site just outside Ceduna. It had only been one night without a shower but unlike when I’d been on the Trans Mongolian when I hadn’t done much I’d done a quick short walk, been in sea and stayed in the dusty outback. It therefore felt at the time like one of the best showers ever. We headed to the beach to see the sunset as Craig prepared dinner and then after we’d eaten a number of us played a few games of Ring of Fire. It was particularly funny because Elizabeth struggled with one of the more silly short games where you had to make a chicken sound and poor Lucas struggled with the rhyming game. We were sleeping under the stars again and as the mosquitoes were out we made sure to spray ourselves with repellent. I also tried to sleep with my swag zipped right around me and with as little of my skin on display as possible…

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