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Travel Australia with Kids

Friday 1st April 2011

Parmiss Keyhani - Monday, April 04, 2011

Leaving Streaky Bay was quite exciting as it signalled the start of our trip across the Nullarbor (we were taking a bit of liberty at the extent of the actual Nullarbor!) and heading into a new state!  The day we had decided to leave was the first warm and calm sea day we've at Perlubie Beach so Mike HAD to take the boat out!  All well and good but it did mean that we left quite late and arrived at our destination in the dark.
 
We passed through Ceduna, which although nearly 500km from the WA border, is the location of the quarantine checkpoint for those crossing from WA to SA.  We reached the tiny town of Penong around 6pm and decided to have dinner at the Penong Hotel - the Penong Races were on that weekend so it was quite a social affair at the pub that night. By the time we reached our intended camp area at Cactus Beach (20km of dirt road, but at least tempered in some spots by smooth salt lake roads) it was completely dark (nearly 8pm).  The camp area is located on private property and as we opened the gate and drove in, we were extremely lucky to meet the owner who was doing his evening rounds of the camp area.  We would never have found our way around in the dark, but he led us to a lovely large camp spot.  It was so still and quiet, with only the distant sound of the ocean over the dunes.

It was one of the cleanest and well looked after camp spots I have ever seen!  The owner does 2 runs a day to clean out the rudimentary toilets (just rubbish bags and lime provided), stock up the firewood for the fire cooker and empty the rubbish bins.  Cactus Beach is a surfer's haven and not at all suitable for swimming and even less so for fishing due to all the seaweed around.  We had a little look around the area (so very secluded - I always wonder how those that live there deal with it) - lovely pink lake (due to the algae) and a bit of 4WDing on the sand to another beach which was just as bad. It has been such a cool summer (for us anyway) that we are all having a bit of trouble accepting that it's over and it's nearly autumn.  But we had beautiful clear nights with spectacular views of the stars sitting around the campfire - magical indeed.

We continued our westward journey towards Western Australia - and as the imminent border crossing loomed, so did again our increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.  Lots of small towns now:  Nundroo, Yalata (which is all prohibited aboriginal land) and Nullarbor (basically consisting of a motel, "caravan park" which was basically a stretch of concrete with caravan power stations, service station (fuel over $2/Litre) and roadhouse).  The landscape changed slowly - the distances here are so great that the changes are gradual.  From flat grassy pastoral lands all the way to the horizon, to scrub-lands with small trees and as we came ever closer to Nullarbor, low scrublands.

There are quite a few rest stops along the road from Nullarbor westwards, but only a few are away from the highway and close to the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. On recommendation from earlier travellers (a lot of note taking occurs at the Happy Hour and campfire gatherings, with the Camps 5 books being studied and recommended camp spots marked), we travelled to the rest area called "133k Peg" (which means 133km from the SA/WA border).  It provided lovely views of the cliffs, which we negotiated very gingerly!  The cliffs are so undercut by the action of the Southern Ocean that they can give way without warning - or so said the numerous signs around the rest area!  The evening's entertainment was watching the hundreds of mice running around outside - the kids had a good hour's worth of giggles!  Michael had not put the legs of the caravan down and even put the stairs up to make sure we had no uninvited visitors!

And therein ended our westward journey - after speaking with family members, we had learned that my dear grandmother's health was deteriorating.  We then made the emotionally easy, but logistically cringe-worthy, decision to travel back to Sydney the quickest possible way: back across the section of the Nullarbor we had just crossed and inland through outback NSW.  It would be a 2500km journey, done in as little time as we could manage.  Weird to get so close to the WA border and turn back!  The drive back to Ceduna was uninspiring to say the least - the barren landscape is interesting when you see it for the first time, but not 3 days in a row!  There's not a lot to keep you interested or even awake!

At the quarantine checkpoint at Ceduna we explained our detour to the inspector, who believed us and let us keep our last 4 pieces of fruit.  Once past Ceduna however the journey became somewhat more interesting as it was previously uncovered territory.  We stopped at the towns along the way to break up the journey - first Wirrulla, the "town with a secret" which unamusingly is just a way to get you there, as no one would share the secret!  We then headed for the town of Minnipa and to a camp spot at Pildappa Rock, about 15km north of it along dirt roads.  It was a gorgeous spot - the kids thought we had reached Ayres Rock!  We climbed to the top of the Rock for magnificent views of the valleys and farmlands below.  There were quite a few rock pools formed in the craters on top of the rock, one of which was ringed with algae and full of black tadpoles - very exciting for the boys.

Next day was an enormous day of driving - over 700km!  We stopped off at Wudinna for breakfast and fuel (which had become a twice daily requirement). As we were driving such long distances, we were sharing the driving (I had done a negligible amount until now) - with me driving in the mornings and Michael in the afternoon.  Another quick stop at Kimba, where we kept missing the badly sign-posted road to the Big Galah!  Finally found it and the Halfway Across Australia Sign - a bit of a cheat since we hadn't driven all the way across to WA yet. There was a very talkative cockatoo in a cage near the Big Galah who kept saying "hello" and then screeching really loudly - kids thought he was the bee's knees!  Lunch was at Port Augusta, along with some food shopping and yet more fuel, then through Wilmington and a quick stop at Orroroo, mostly for a leg stretch but we may as well see the Giant Red Gum Tree while we're here.

Then through the lovely town of Peterborough (just straight through unfortunately) and the tiny townships of Yunta, Mannahill and Olary.  Drive, drive, drive.  As it got dark, we pulled over to a couple of rest stops, but Mike's gut kept pulling us away and forward, until finally around 8:30pm, totally exhausted we pulled into Thackaringa rest stop 10km past the NSW border!  Not the nicest place we've stayed (and I would highly recommend not staying there!) but desperation leads to necessary decisions (our main reason for finally stopping, besides exhaustion, was the presence of lots of other caravans).

The next day we drove the 30km to Broken Hill and I declared that we needed a day of rest - I was getting motion sickness, not to mention the poor kids travelling for 6-8 hours a day in the car.  A quick stop at the well stocked information centre provided me with lots of options of what to see and visit. We pulled over and unhitched in a park across from the information centre and headed out to see the Living Desert Sculptures - a collection of 12 sandstone sculptures on Sundown Hill overlooking Broken Hill.  Such a different vista of endless open space with only the surprisingly large town of Broken Hill visible for endless kilometres.  We also visited the Miners' Memorial and had the yummiest milkshake ever in the 1950s inspired Belle's Milk Bar. 

There are so many other areas in Outback NSW to visit, but we have earmarked them for another time.  Drive, drive, drive. Quite a few of the dirt roads leading to even smaller towns and private properties had "Road Closed" signs displayed due to recent flood damage. Stopping for lunch and fuel at tiny little Emmdale (just a roadhouse really) until we reached the next sizable town of Cobar.  I forced another stop here and sent the boys to a lovely reservoir in town called "Newey" (as it was the new town reservoir) to try their hand at a bit of fishing while I had a look through the Great Cobar Heritage Centre which is located within the information building. It had quite a few different displays capturing the essence and history of the town's aboriginal, pastoral and mining history. As always I get lost in the stories of the everyday people living their lives in such harsh conditions - amazing and inspiring. We then all drove a few km out of town to see the open cut mine of Peak Gold Mine - enormous!  There were even loaders going up from the tunnel at the bottom of the open cut, along the narrow roads, all the way to the top - gave a great size reference as to how deep the open cut was!

We drove all the way to Trangie before we finally stopped for the night - as it was just a sleep stop, we pulled into what we thought was a quiet side street off the main road.  However the morning revealed high school kids being dropped off at the adjacent bus stop for a school excursion.  Deciding we had better get a move on, Mike went outside to start the truck and drive us the 300m down the road to the fuel station (another reason we had to pull over as we were nearly empty). And......the truck wouldn't start!  Thinking we maybe had less fuel than we thought, Mike put the jerry can fuel into the tank, and after pumping the fuel pump, the truck finally started - got our fuel, pulled over behind the fuel station to get the kids dressed and headed towards Dubbo for breakfast.  We had not realised that there had been flooding in that region back in December - it had been severe enough to cover the information centre (itself on a bit of a hill) halfway up to its window sills!  The towns were much closer now and we drove through Orange and then Bathurst where we stopped for lunch.

We had kept our reunion trip a secret from everyone back home - as we were planning on spending that first night at Michael's mother's farm near Penrith, Michael had given her the heads up the day before to expect us.  I still had not let my family know - and we decided maybe a surprise would be more impactful.  So I called Mom from Bathurst to get a run-down of their schedule over the weekend, and once reassured that they would be home most of the time, promised to contact her again tomorrow to set up a Skype catch up session.  The last leg of the journey from Katoomba into Penrith was worse than the previous 2400km!  The traffic was unbelievable, with roadworks every 10km or so!  We finally reached the Pulo Farm around 5pm, eager for long hot showers and a great dinner.

 

The multi-direction sign at Ceduna (nearly make it to the WA border) - Ceduna, SA (25Mar11)Shelley Beach jetty - Cactus Beach, SA (26Mar11)Pink Lake - Cactus Beach, SA (26Mar11)Pink Lake - Cactus Beach, SA (26Mar11)
Our open camp spot at Cactus Beach (27Mar11)On the road to the Nullarbor Plain - Yalata, SA (27Mar11)Massive cliffs of the Great Australian Bight (as far as we made it on the western leg!) - 133k Peg, SA (27Mar11)
The sunset colours of the Nullarbor - 133k Peg, SA (27Mar11)Pildappa Rock - Minnipa, SA (28Mar11)Tadpole waterhole atop Pildappa Rock - Minnipa, SA (28Mar11)View of the surrounding farmlands from Pildappa Rock - Minnipa, SA (28Mar11)
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