Not swimming with Whale Sharks

The need for the SpareWheel to be in Exmouth for work afforded an opportunistic trip up north.  So the chauffeur drove the 1250 kms to Exmouth over a day and a ½ to collect her ladyship who flew in Saturday midday.

The plan was to spend 5 nights with Pig Pen in the Cape Range national park (http://www.exmouthwa.com.au/pages/cape-range-national-park/) , then return to Exmouth and hotel comfort for a couple of days before heading home via Warroora Station.

For the first two nights we camped on the beachfront at Pilgramunna Camp which has only 9 sites nestled behind sand dunes.  As the campground is situated near the mouth of a creek system and open to the ocean via a small beach suitable for launching trailer boats, it can be subject to flooding.

Pilgramunna Beachside Camping

Flooding at Pilgramunna on high tide

We has the pleasure of experience this in the morning but not to the extent that its cause any inconvenience.   We were also pleasantly surprised at the excellent snorkelling off the beach, with corals and fish in abundance.

We visited Yardie Creek and did the gorge walks which offered spectacular views from the top.  We then drove across Yardie Creek – the gorge mouth was dry, and visited Boat Harbour for a snorkel and lunch.

We has booked to dive with the whale sharks on the Tuesday together with a group of friends so we were hoping to camp in the northern part of the park.  After backing up the camper and leaving it at Osprey Bay, we drove the 60 odd kms to the Tantabiddi boat harbour just north for the park – where we were told the dive was cancelled due to strong wind!  And boy! did it blow.  All Tuesday and Wednesday, with gust 30-40 knots which really put Pig Pen to the test camping in Osprey Bay right on the beach again.  Osprey Bay - before winds!The campground is situated above a rock-shelf shoreline which has small sandy enclaves exposed at low tide. The campground has arguably the best ocean views within Cape Range National Park. A sandy beach leads north to Sandy Bay.

Yardie Creek George

We did manage a long walk up though the range and a couple of snorkels, including one in beautify Turquoise Bay.  South Mandu was equally as good!

It can be notoriously difficult to find a camping spot in the national park.   There are about 100 camping sites in the National park.  One can now book most of these in advance via the DEC web site http://www.dec.wa.gov.au/campgrounds/  .  Some locations can’t be booked and operate on a first come first serve basis.  For the bookable camps, the camp hosts chat each he morning and then available sites are allocated to those in the park as first priority.  Every day there is a queue of people waiting at the entrance gate awaiting any available sites which are then allocated at 8am.  So book in advance for at least the first night!  Also, the camping sites over Yardie Creek (Boat Harbour and One K Camp) are generally uncrowded due to the need to a 4×4 to get there – crossing the sand bar of Yardie Creek can be hazardous but was no challenge this time.

Roos digging for water at Bloodwood Creek

Yardie Creek Sandbar

Whilst the camp sites were full during our visit, the park was definitely not busy at the various attractions. – Fortunately most camping locations don’t have many sites so over-nighting is now overcrowded either.

Yardie – Ploughing the sandbar

We had planned a stop at Warroora on way back – it looks good and worth a visit – http://www.warroora.com – with strong winds and rain forcast we instead tripped home Friday afternoon and Saturday to outrun forecast bad weather/     The call was a good one, with wind subsequent blowing 100kms plus all down the West coast.

So trip was a bit of a fizzer due to bad weather but at least Pig Pen proved itself again.   It also gave us the opportunity to test equipment and decide on what is totally necessary and what is superfluous.

Paying homage to the big prawn

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Easter bunny does Holland Track

The planned Easter trip to Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid was deferred due to inclement weather forecasts.  We wanted to give Pig Pen a bit of a shakeout with all the gear on board, so the SpareWheel and I set off from Perth on Friday to tackle the Holland Track instead.

This 300 kms piece of dirt runs from Hyden to Coolgardie and was originally established in 1883 to enable prospector to travel faster from Albany port to the goldfields.   The track today was re-established in 1992 as a fun thing for 4wd to take on.  This is granite country so expect lots of ‘interesting’ rocks and waterholes.

Either art in Hyden or failed 4wd attempt

We had a leisurely start, with stop off in Brookton to change a flat tyre, and in Hyden to load up on chocolate and the local art.

The 4wd track starts about 50km east of Hyden, which we hit late afternoon, so camped about 20 kms down the track, enjoying an Easter full moon over the dusty outback.  Boy was it cold!  Especially during the hot shower in the chilly morning breeze.

On Saturday we travelled further up the track, running into another Ultimate on the way.  Pig Pen handled the track well, and there was only one occasion when it was a hindrance – I misjudged the height of an overhead tree beam, and got Pig Pen stuck – after pushing him back, we unhitched,  drove around the tree, and hitched up on the other side.

Holland Track – somewhat wetter .. did I say right a bit???

Saturday night was again a solitary evening under clear skies.

On Sunday we headed further north east along the Holland track – we had done the trip before in November 2007 and found the track this time somewhat wetter and a bit more challenging, but nothing to break the vehicle.  Instead of heading to Victoria Rock, we left the track to head east to Caves Hill which has caves (surprise), nice walks and three dams for a refreshing plunge.  From there we went to Burrup Rock for lunch with flies and bogans, onto Coolgardie to refuel then overnighted in the camping area at Boorabbin National Park 86 kms out of Coolgardie – a delightful find.  Uncrowded, clean park, lots of camp fire pits and picnic tables, and a clean dam to swim in.

SpareWheel selects fine music – note fine footwear

Home again Monday – score – 1400 kms, 400 dirt kms, 3 nights free camping, 2 lost shackles, a couple of chips and scratches on Pig Pen and having proven that most of the ‘stuff’ (SpareWheel calls it something else) bought for Pig Pen is useful.

Pig Pen’s First Trip

“Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight” (The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám) – or so it seemed as the red-eye flight from Perth landed in Melbourne.   The long wait was over.  Pig Pen was sitting awaiting collection.

Swiss Driving Technique

As planned, the SpareWheel and I flew in on the overnight horror to collect the Prado, then planned to drive up the Australian east coast to the Ultimate factory in Moruya, NSW.  Suitable warned by hundreds of Vic Roads road signs regarding falling asleep driving, we had a pleasant overnight at Lakes Entrance, and travelled the next day though to Batemans Bay.  The main excitement on the way was a backpack’s van on its side, with a couple of somewhat cute Swiss tourists looking in astonishment and wondering how they had done that!  Me too!

On Monday we went to the Ultimate factory to collect Pig Pen.  The people at Ultimate were fantastic, showing us all the ins and outs, and ups and downs of the camper – as well as how to avoid those silly mistakes which we seem to make anyway on a trip homewards.  After a tour of the factory and a light lunch, they send us on our way.

We headed south 10 km then swung westwards and homewards some 4000 km away.  The plan was to spend the first night bush camping in the Deua National Park.  The Moruya-Araleun dirt road is narrow but not too challenging, and could be easily tackled by a 2wd.  We stopped at the Deua River camping area setting up a Pig Pen for the first time.  We wandered down to the river for a cool plunge, then back to the camping ground with champagne for the SpareWheel, red wine for me, and a bush fire for ambiance and BBQ.   “Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou”

First Night – Duea Rever

The Deua park is located on the south-east coast of New South Wales 320 kms south of Sydney and 100 kms of the south-east of Canberra covering 122,000 ha.   I could see it would be pleasant to spend several days bushwalking, swimming and caving.

Day two.  It started to rain.  Our holiday plans have been to visit Canberra for a couple of days, drive the Snowy Mountain Highway camping in Kosciuszko National Park, onto the Grampians National Park,  then Kangaroo Island before the long trek across the Nullabor.  That was to change and change somewhat dramatically.  After packing up we headed up the dirt road to Major’s Flat which included 6 kms of steep track through beautiful scenery – suitable only for 4wd and company cars.

As we headed to Canberra it starting to rain torrentially and now on bitumen I noticed that the trailer brakes locked up every time I slowed. A local trailer specialist was unable fix the problem, so we resolved to take Pig Pen back factory in Moruya.

As we were in Canberra, we decided on staying a few nights to see the highlights – National Capital Exhibition (a good starting point), the Australian War Memorial, Anzac Parade, the National Museum of Australia , Parliament and observe another pig pen – question time in the lower house.  One can have too much of Canberra!

The rains that became the March NSW floods were in now full torrent.    We headed down King Highway to the coast, passing delightful Braidwood – the entire town is classified by the National Trust and is the first complete town to be listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.  With many fine examples of 19th century architecture, we should have stopped to look but the mission was to get Pig Pen’s pains fixed – these proved to be a combination of brake wiring and a faulty brake controller.

Our original holiday plans were no longer possible – that other traveler’s delight, country ABC radio, carried news of multiple roads closing, increasing floods throughout New South Wales and parts of Victoria.  Kosciuszko National Park was certainly not an option.  A little voice in my head said “Go West, young man” so we drove to overnight in a Wagga Wagga in a hotel.  Wagga is another one of those country towns that has retained its 19th century building.  We should have stayed longer but determined to outrun the rain we headed for South Australia.  At one stage the SpareWheel did about 45 minutes driving while I slept – this managed to add about an hour to the trip – there was no left turn!

Port Elliott

We enjoyed the SA South Coast, staying at Port Elliott with Pig Pen overlooking the beach – and yes, it rained and with wind blew.  The drive to Victor Harbor through the Fleurieu Peninsula was somewhat disappointing, but both the SpareWheel and I had growing excitement for the ferry trip Kangaroo Island. Unable to get on an earlier ferry, we departed as scheduled at 6pm for the 45 minute crossing.  Also on the ferry was a Kimberly Kamper and we arrived at the Penneshaw camping ground together – we beat them in camper set-up!

We tootled down the island’s south coast of stay at the Western KI caravan park, which is large, clean, and a great camp kitchen and other facilities, five minutes from the Flinders Chase National Park.   The park features the spectacular Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch as well as large colonies of New Zealand fur-seals.   We ventured as far as West Bay, where I had my first SA swim – a deserted beach, nobody around, a swim in the buff, cold water, no embarrassment!   A network of walking trails and boardwalks enable you to enjoy the park and its diverse wildlife.

Western KI

We then moved up to the north coast, free camping alone overlook the white sands of Snelling beach, then onto visit the main settlement of Kingscote (best bakery definitely), then overnighted on the waterfront at American River, which is really the ocean but was so-named by some dumb Yankee sealers.

Snelling Beach

Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third biggest island (fact), about 200 kms east to west.  The tourist brochure makes some strong claims, such as “Number 1 Island in Asia Pacific” (really??), and Vivonne Bay “Best Beach in Australia” (really??).  It is a very pleasant place to visit, and could have justified more time, but REALLY doesn’t deserve these extreme accolades.

American River

 

We then stayed a couple of nights in the McLaren Vale wine district 35 kms south of Adelaide, visiting a couple of wineries, including the gob-smacking picturesque K1 winery  and a visit to the Glenelg beachfront which was on the SpareWheel’s must see list.

K1

Part Two – just Pig Pen and me

Tractor Beach

On Sunday morning, I dropped the SpareWheel at Adelaide airport for her flight home, and PigPen and I set off for the final leg.   Night one I camped south of Streaky Bay on the beachside at Tractor Beach – perfect.  No wind, no rain, great McLaren Vale red.

Next day to Ceduna, the starting point for the 1200 kms “Nullabor Crossing” which officially ends in Norseman.   The Nullarbor Plains are bounded on the seaward side by the limestone Bunda Cliffs which tower 60 to 80 metre vertically, facing the Southern Ocean. The highway runs less than two kilometres from the cliff and there are numerous signed lookouts, each with a short gravel access road from the Eyre Highway.  At the eastern end of Bunda Cliffs there is a lookout at the Head of the Bight where Southern Right Whales bask in the ocean below the cliffs.   It was the too early in the season for this so I drove onwards, westwards, overnighting free camping just inside the SA border, overlooking these cliffs.

No fruit and vegetables may be brought by tourists into WA so at the WA/SA border and Quarantine Inspection station I was strip searched, relieved of anything organic and sent on my way, in dire risk of suffering scurvy.  From here, the Eyre Highway heads down the Eucla pass onto the Roe plains below,  and fringed by the Hampton Tablelands to the north and coastal plain on to the south.  Vegetation on the coastal plain is open mallee woodland with ever-present bluebush – it was the greener than I recall from in previous crossings, and somewhat reminded me of African bushland.  It was also my first time seeing Camel road-kill, and dingoes roaming next to the road.  180 flat kilometres later, the road rises again up the Madura pass.

Fuel prices on the Nullabor range from expensive to robbery so I was pleased to make it across on my full tanks of fuel (180l) plus an extra 20l from the jerry can I had on board.  It was also the time to optimise fuel consumption.  Playing with different speeds on the longest straight section of sealed highway in the Australia (146.6 kilometres), my consumption towing PigPen was a mere about 2l/100 kms more than usual.

The Nullabor is also a time to get in touch with ones iPod collection.  I quickly learnt the double click button to skip SpareWheel’s “music”, and lived through decades of memories.  There is always something about music on long roadtrips.  Some music works.  For example ”Me and Bobby McGee” is perfect.  Somethings just don’t – anything by Harry Connick, Jr

From Norseman, I headed west to overnight along the Norseman-Hyden road, known as the Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail.  This 300 kilometers short-cut to Perth takes in 16 designated stopping places, with walk trails, historic information, and more rocks than the Asteroid Belt to visit, including the famous Wave Rock at Hyden.

I overnighted in solitude at the “Breakaways”, which is about half way along the track. By now, covered in red dust, Pig Pen had earned his name and proved that “Dirt Don’t Hurt”.  I tallied the score – 15 nights in Pig Pen with 6 night free camping, 4 nights in hotel, 6773 kms by the time we got home, and only one Nullabor “Burger with the Lot”.

With the nearest civilisation hundreds of kilometers away, and the night moonless, I had the camp to myself.  In the early evening, Venus and Jupiter glowed in the Western sky, and like a dyslexic Omar Khayyám, I rhymed “Look!  The evening in the bowl of gums has sunk the stone and made the stars awake”

Hello world!

“Don’t think of it as dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on “Pig-Pen”! It staggers the imagination! He may be carrying the soil that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan!”

Inspiration

Dirt don’t hurt