Wednesday 21 September 2011

The missing weeks...

Where have we been??? some of you may be asking...well, I am writing this from home in Rockhampton, Queensland.  We received word nearly two weeks ago that Tony's mum had experienced a mild stroke.  It was an emotional time and it was a good thing we were in Burra, South Australia, having already crossed the Nullarbor, as we decided it was best to go home to Queensland to see her.  This meant covering 2000 km in four days - the boys coped quite well and Tony was magnificent in making the distance.  When we arrived home on the 16th September, we worked out that we had covered 5 067 km in the fortnight since we had left Kalgoorlie, WA on the 2nd of September. 

The boys hanging with Grandma at the hospital - precious moments.

Grandma is stable now and making small improvements every day.  It has been wonderful to see family and to catch up with a few people...and then there is the access to a dishwasher, tools to do some maintenance on the van and the boys are over the moon to see all their toys again! It is also quite nice to be warm again - Rockhampton has a wonderful climate at this time of year.  We are hopeful that all will continue to be well and we will head off on our Odyssey Part Two at the beginning of October.   

The best of both worlds in Rocky: city living against a rural backdrop.

We have checked out the Zoo, which will be magnificent
once the renovations are complete.

Matt hanging out with friends at the fantastic Botanic Gardens Playground.

So, I will fill you in on what we got up to between crossing the Nullarbor and heading home, although it seems a long time ago now :)

As well as doing lots of washing and cleaning in Ceduna, we checked out the local Bureau of Meteorology, where you could go along and see a weather balloon being launched.  The whole process was quite fascinating, particularly as we rely quite heavily on the data these balloons collect to know what weather we are going to be facing on our travels...unfortunately it was all bad news:  cold, rain and wind approaching all down the western Eyre Peninsula coastline.  Oh well. 

Filling the balloon with Hydrogen..

Launching the balloon...

Reading the data.
The next day we bid farewell to Sue, Peter and little dog Jake and headed for Streaky Bay.  It was a cold and windy day but we stopped briefly at Murphy's Haystacks on the way...these are featured in the picture book by Alison Lester 'Are we there yet?'.  That family had been able to make shadows on the rocks as the sun set.  We were there mid-morning so were unable to do that, but it was still good to see these ancient, wind-worn boulders for ourselves.

Murphys Haystacks

 We timed perfectly our arrival in Streaky Bay to be at the same time as cold, windy rain.  There was quite a lot to see in the area...but we had to satisfy ourselves with seeing the beautiful Back Beach only.  We had worked out that if we were to see much of South Australia, we really needed to get moving and get across to the other side of Eyre Peninsula as soon as possible.  As it turns out, we now will return to South Australia and see it properly some other time. 

Back Beach, near Streaky Bay

Streaky Bay

It is a lovely caravan park in Streaky Bay, right on the beach.  And although the weather was much improved the next day we sadly needed to push on to Coffin Bay.  This is a fabulous little town, again with plenty to see and do, especially if you are keen on bush walking with a view.  It has a beautifully presented foreshore...we have really appreciated those towns that have made an effort to make their waterways easy to access with walking paths, and even parks with playgrounds.  It is great for travellers and families alike.
Coffin Bay

 The next day, on we went to Tumby Bay, with a stopover in busy Port Lincoln for supplies. We drove around the central town blocks a few times before finally finding a spot to park the car and caravan, then proceeded to stock up from Woolworths.  This was another town with a well presented foreshore.  The boys enjoyed the playground and we enjoyed the view as we ate our lunch.   Then it was on to Tumby Bay where we were just about blown away by surely the coldest wind we had experienced so far...but worth it for the magnificent views from the waterfront, and very nice fish and chips!  

Port Lincoln.  The owner of Makybe Diva is from Port Lincoln soooo...
there is a statue!  It took almost a year to create!

Tumby Bay in the very late afternoon.
From Tumby Bay it was on to Whyalla and a free camp at Point Lowly.  More excruciatingly cold wind...but a great lighthouse to photograph and hey, it was free! 

From there we drove around, through Port Augusta this time rather than staying there...and on towards Burra.  On the way we stopped in the quiet town of Melrose for lunch in the pub.  Melrose was recommended as a great place to stay but we were looking forward to getting back to Burra.  We had stopped in Burra overnight on our way up to Port Augusta back in May, and promised we would be back. 
Burra has a National Trust Heritage Trail, that exhibits beautifully the history of the area.  There was once a very profitable copper mine there.  There is so much to see and the caravan park is great.  We really love Burra :)

This is what was mined.

What was once the Monster the scene for a regular Jazz festival.

There are many historic buildings such as these to explore.

Fun times in the Town Hall - beautifully preserved and presented, complete
with costumes so you can get a feel for life in the 1880's.

Matt was straight into a costume and dancing on the stage...
a star in the making?  He is certainly LOUD enough :)

Full moon rising.

One of the BEST things about Burra is it's close vicinity to wineries!
It was from Burra that we headed home, back through Broken Hill, Bourke and Goondiwindi.  As I said, it has been lovely to be home.  We have until January though, before we have to face real life i.e. work committments, so we are looking forward to heading off again soon.  Until then, safe travels for those of you still travelling. 

Tuesday 6 September 2011

The Nullarbor

Everyone approaches crossing the Nullarbor in their own unique way:  we have met some who prefer to do it quickly, some who take it really slowly, some who free camp the whole way, some who prefer roadhouses/van parks; many who LOVE it and a few who hate it and can't wait for it to end.  However you feel about it, there is no escaping that it is a bloody long way:  Norseman (in the west) to Ceduna is 1194 km!  At Nullarbor Roadhouse they are charging $2.03/L for diesel (we didn't buy any there of course!) and at Madura we saw a teatowel for $9.90 then saw the same teatowel in Ceduna for $8.00 (we bought it in Ceduna).  I guess if I had to travel 673km to decent shops I would whack an extra $1.90 on too.

We began our journey on Friday, heading out of Kalgoorlie and on to Norseman, where we fueled up at the BP for $1.55/L.  Our destination was Fraser Range Sheep Station, a mere 303 km away.  Our initial plan had been to head for Balladonia the first day, but as we had hooked up with our friends Sue and Pete, and as the word on the street was that Fraser Range was pretty great, we headed for there.  We were not disappointed.  This would be like heaven for those people coming the other way as westwards from Eucla is pretty dismal...and in fact, we met a couple at Mundrabilla (the fellow was complaining that it had taken him 4 days to get from Brisbane to Ceduna and I'm pretty sure they had left Ceduna that morning, 558 km away!!)...I told them about Fraser Range and he said, "Oh, we won't need that".  I looked at the woman, she looked at me... and I said, "I HIGHLY recommend it!" The poor woman had been woken at 3:30am in order to head off...I do hope they stopped there for her sake at least!   For a small fee of $28 you get power, water, great ameneties, a wonderful communal fire at night (unless there is a storm which we were unfortunate enough to get), access to a phone, a shop, a beautiful outlook on the Fraser Range, sheep and horses to look at and a wonderful clean, scenic environment.  This is way, way more than you get for much of the rest of the Nullarbor Crossing, so it is pretty popular.  The boys even had a sandpit and small playgym to burn energy on. 

Fraser Range Station was the first station settled on the Nullarbor,
so it is steeped in history. 

Saturday morning and we were off again.  We stopped in at Balladonia 91km down the road to fuel up ($1.86/L).  This would not have been a bad spot to have spent the night, and they have a really great museum in the Roadhouse showcasing the history of the area - well worth a look.  This was the day that we had the best wind direction - coming from the west and pushing us along so we made really great progress.

From just after Balladonia, to Caiguna:  a pretty famous stretch of highway. 
Things were going so well, I felt confident enough (and had permission from the master driver) to drive the car.  A special day indeed!

 We settled on Madura for the night (having accomplished 424km).  This was $25 for the night and the only appeal was being able to have power for the heater and a shower in the ameneties blocks.  Otherwise it was a pretty dismal stopping point....but then so are the free camp spots in that area.  $1.94 for diesel here so we fueled up elsewhere.

Signs warning of snakes, uneven ground, no water to your van...worth $25?? 
Sunday was Father's Day, but poor Tony opted to wake early so we could get a good start.  He did receive his Father's Day gifts complete with a mobilo trophy from Charlie- for being the best cook.  Hmph, said Mum :) We got off nice and early and had good wind until mid-morning after which it changed to a cross wind.  This slowed us down a bit, but Eucla was like a breath of fresh air...why can't all the roadhouses along the Nullarbor be like this?  The boys played for ages on the playground here (Mummy having vetoed the few previous playgounds as they had looked to be tetanus zones).  We had mobile coverage here for the first time in two days, so we were able to make a Father's day phone call home to Tony's dad.  How I missed my dad so much this Father's Day - he really would have loved this trip that we are doing.  After lunch we headed for the free camp spot we had chosen for the night, stopping at lookouts along the way.  Oh, what a relief to see the ocean again.  And the cliffs that form part of the Great Australian Bight are truly magnificent. 

Our free camp spot for the night was just west of the Head of Bight, where you can see the we were set to stop at that the next morning on our way to Ceduna.  After settling in to our chosen spots, we all headed off for some firewood gathering and the boys proceeded to enjoy the natural environment.  We were well away from the highway and the grass around wasn't too high, so they were able to enjoy themselves in safety.  Tony got out his saw (ha ha wait till you see it!!!), and all the male folk enjoyed getting the fire set up while the women prepared dinner. 

No surprises that part of the saw is broken off and
in the branch!  Check out how dirty Matt is.  Good times!

This is one of the best parts of free camping: sitting around a campfire.

Although we all had a great time at this spot, we all froze in our caravans overnight!  Now we realised why we paid $25 at a scungy roadhouse so we had power for a heater!  Never mind, we survived, and can laugh about it now :)  It took us a little while to defrost so we didn't arrive at Head of the Bight until about 9:30 am.  We were all so excited to be seeing the whales; we had heard so much about them from other travellers.  For $12 per adult (they didn't charge for the boys, thank goodness) we were able to walk down to the excellent viewing platforms and watch the mother Southern Right whales and their calves.  The mothers are fattening their calves up in preparation for going out to sea, and they are right there for us to see.  There were probably about 20 pairs that we could see on the day.  In fact, a sign we later saw in Ceduna says there are 142 whales currently in the Head of Bight area.  On the other viewing platform you get an excellent view of the Bunda cliffs - magnificent. 

The main attraction.

The boys were interested for about 10 minutes,
then proceeded to wrestle and run around.
In their defence, Southern Right Whales are not as fun to
watch as Humpbacks. 

The Nullarbor Gang :)

Get a look at those gorgeous cliffs!

Whales aren't the only animals to see at Head of the Bight:
there were HEAPS of native budgerigars!

We still had 297km to go, so it was back in the cars and on to Nundroo to fuel up ($1.54/L).  Then we decided we might as well have lunch in Fowlers Bay, as it was really only 30km out of our way.  What's 30 km when you've already done so many!!??!!  After nearly 30 km of dusty corrugated road and kamikaze stumpy tailed lizards (there were about 10 of them all up, with a death wish!) we arrived at Fowlers Bay.  Lunch beside the jetty and the beautiful blue sea, a play on the playground for the boys, a quick photo foray into the sand dunes for Tony (he is obsessed with them) and we were off again. 

Worth the detour, and even a couple of nights if we had more time in S.A.
Finally, at around 3 pm we went through the fruit and vegetable checkpoint and made our way to our van park in Ceduna...where within a very short period of time I had done two loads of washing, swept and mopped the floors.  Ah, return to civilisation!  We had crossed the Nullarbor. 

No other reason to put this photo in...
We just really like Matt wearing Daddy's hat - so cute!

Thursday 1 September 2011

Week seventeen:  Esperance and Kalgoorlie

Since up near Kalbarri, Tony has had his eye on the gorgeous yellow fields of Canola flowers.  On the drive from Bremer Bay he spotted the perfect opportunity:  a little road leading to a section of field combined with a magnificent cloudy was Charlie's 5th birthday the next day, and his favourite colour is yellow, so we convinced him to allow us to take a 'birthday portrait' or two.  He wasn't exactly that cooperative, but the result (both on iPhone and Nikon) were worth the hassle.  It pays to have your eyes peeled for photo opportunities, even when driving, it seems!

Our almost five year old :)
We arrived in Esperance in good weather...this was not to last so we made a beeline for the groceries and got some washing done.  I had asked at check-in:  what is the weather going to be like here in the next few days?  The answer: well, in Esperance in Winter you can look out the window and see blue skies, then look out again five minutes later and see pouring rain.  This proved to be exactly the case for the next two days. 

 We had allowed for it to be raining on Charlie's birthday, and hadn't made any big plans for the day.  This proved to be a good strategy as the boys were content to play with all of the new toys and take birthday phone calls, which was a very lovely way to spend a birthday morning.  We did manage to head out for a little while and visit Sammy the resident sea-lion at Tanker St jetty and to explore the AMAZING (probably the best we have seen on the trip) Museum.  Such a broad range of items collected there from all areas of past life, domestic and rural, and not to forget the amazing amount of pieces from the NASA Skylab space station that fell to Earth and crashed near Esperance and Belladonia.  Seeing the impact on the equipment of coming through the Earth's atmosphere was quite interesting.   

The cute and clever Sammy the Sea-lion...waits around
 for the fisherman to clean their fish, and scores!

Parts of the Skylab on display at the Esperance Museum.
 So Charlie had a fairly quiet birthday, but that was fine by him...he declared it to be the 'best birthday ever' so we must have done something right!

The next day started out okay and we set out on the Great Ocean Drive, which takes you west past some of the beautiful, beautiful beaches Esperance has to offer.  About 10 minutes into our drive though, it began absolutely pouring down rain.  Never mind, we knew the weather was expected to get better so we perservered.  We headed east to Cape le Grande National Park, where the clouds weren't so heavy.  At last, to be standing on the beautiful beach at Lucky Bay: what a happy moment!  Actually, we found this beach to be not as white and pristine as other beaches in the National Park, like Hellfire Bay, for instance.  But that was more likely a reflection of the recent weather. 

Lucky Bay, Cape le Grande National Park.

Hellfire Bay, Cape le Grande National Park.
 We enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch followed by a gorgeous walk along a path making it's way up the hill towards Thistle Cove.  This was a very beautiful walk and had magnificent views...but you know what?  A crazy thing happened before we left on the walk:  neither Tony nor I thought to grab a camera!!  Unbelievable I know, but true!  We enjoyed Cape le Grande National Park immensely and look forward to returning in finer weather, and will camp in some of the great spots available right near the beach. 

On the way back into Esperance, we turned off in order to find Wylie's Sand Dunes...we found them and the boys had a wonderful time rolling down them while Tony went beserk taking lots of beautiful'll just have to wonder what they look like as he is saving them for another day.  We had a powerful combination of moody grey clouds and the late afternoon sun breaking through and bathing all in golden light.  Gorgeous! 

An approved for publishing photo of the dunes...

Last little rays of light, quick, get a portrait or two!!

Charlie still not happy about having yet another photo taken of him!
(I'm gripping his hand pretty tightly here)
A funny moment captured forever!

Friday dawned and it was a cracker of a beautiful day.  This was the day we had booked a boat cruise with Esperance Island Cruises.  And what a day it was!  Great commentary on the boat from the Skipper Peter, ably assisted by his very lovely colleague Tanya.  Peter had noticed a pod of dolphins playing on his way to work that morning, so he took us around to that beach to see if they were still there...and they were, oh yes they were.  Truly an absolute highlight of our trip was witnessing the spectacle of these magnificent animals in all their glory, set in the beautiful crystal blue waters of Esperance. The photos just cannot do them justice, but hopefully give you an idea of the delightful scene every single one of us on that boat was able to marvel at.  They jumped, swam upside down racing the boat, dived, was wonderful!

But this was not the end of the wildlife to be seen on this trip.  Peter and Tanya took us around some of the islands in the Archipelago and showed us seals and plenty of birdlife.  We finally arrived at Woody Island for a lovely walk and commentary on the flora, fauna and history of the island. It was a really great trip and we are really glad we went on another boat cruise.  They have all been worthwhile; a great way to see an area.
Below are photos of a Sea Eagle who comes in to grab a fish thrown by Tanya.  They are such a clever and magnificent bird.  

Saturday was haircuts for the boys and a last look at the gorgeous white sand and blue sea that can be seen all along the Esperance coastline.  We found a really great lookout with a walk, and as the great weather was continuing we enjoyed another walk along the coastline for on Sunday we were to head to Kalgoorlie and away from the beautiful sea that we had been spending so much time beside in recent weeks.  The water has had a powerful effect on Matt particularly - we have been having lots of role play: he 'swims' on the caravan floor, his bed is a boat and he is often running around being a dolphin or a shark.  Oh, to be a 3 year old! 

Bye bye beautiful ocean...see you in a week or so!!
So, it was up early on Sunday and off to Kalgoorlie.  Tony and Charlie did the Super Pit Tour on Monday morning.  Matt and I had some quality time in the local Library.  You are required to sit still for 2 and a half hours to do the Super Pit Tour: Mission Impossible for our Matthew! 

Safety gear...sooo attractive!!
In the afternoon we checked out the Museum, which was quite interesting, especially The Vault with it's real gold nuggets!  Then we checked out the Lookout atop the Super Pit.  The newly knowledgeable Tony was able to inform me that the Pit is approximately 520 metres deep!  The constantly working trucks look so tiny as they climb their way back up to the top.

We spent a day taking a day trip out to Menzies and on to Lake Ballard.  This is an eerie salt lake with one of the prettiest hills I've ever seen in the middle of it...and 51 sculptures representing the townsfolk of Menzies.  It was impossible to see all the sculptures as they are quite scattered and the boys and I found the mud quite challenging and slippery.  But what we saw allowed us to have some important conversations about human anatomy, so there was a bonus!

He's facing away as we are left in no doubt that this is a male!
 We have had great neighbours here at Kalgoorlie.  Jan and Ken are into fossicking, mostly with metal detectors, and showed us some of their finds from this year.  Their stories were quite fascinating and of course, there is the gold!!

There's gold in them thar rocks!!

Some of their finds from this year.
And of course, we have caught up with our friends Sue and Peter and their gorgeous dog, Jake.  We will make our way across the Nullarbor together.  Sue and Pete offered to look after the boys so we could go on the Brothel Tour...well, we couldn't pass up that opportunity!  So, off we went...

The Pink House...with the 'Starting Stalls' (the darker pink doors).
 This was a great way to hear more about the coloured history of Kalgoorlie, as this brothel has been around for about 100 years.  The collagen-lipped, plum in the mouth Madam told us tales of the brothel's history then took us on a tour of the this is a G Rated Blog I will be careful not to expose too many details...

The Starting Stall:  where the lady awaits her customers
and where the deal is struck in relative privacy...
then it's onto the rooms...

The only room left with the original ceiling: pressed tin brought from overseas.
Any of you wishing to see more photos will have to ask me later!

Tomorrow we embark on the trip across the will be very interesting to see what this most talked about of journeys is all about!  See you on the other side.