Thursday, March 22, 2018

17 March 2018 - Day 14 - Frazer Range Station to Albany

Sleep had been adequate and I woke up by 5 am feeling fully refreshed. The medicine had also played its part in making sure that my sleep was undisturbed. By 6.15 am I dropped the key in the designated box at the reception and I made haste on the rest of the Eyre Highway and Nullarbor Plains. It was just a 100 km to Norseman. When I reached there and saw the facilities at the Norseman Eyre Motel I was more than convinced that I should have done this stretch last evening itself. The motel had free Wi-Fi which kept me rooted in the restaurant for nearly an hour making a few posts and catching up on what was happening in the social media. I was hungry as hell and first thing had to be coffee and breakfast. I went through the options and opted for the Brekitt wrap, which was hash browns, eggs, cheese and bacon in a pita bread wrap. The wrap was fresh and truly delicious. I took my time over it, both because the portion was large and I wanted the taste to linger. 

As I was working on the Fb posts I found a lady in Indian clothes with a young kid at the counter. I opened up a conversation with her. She and her family, originally from Mumbai, are now based out of Koolgarlie, where her husband works with a company that does mechanical repairs and maintenance.
Once the work was done to the extant I could I set course for Esperance. I took the NR1 and avoided all the shortcuts thrown up by Google Maps. With Norseman I had reached the end of the Eyre Highway and I had traversed the entire length of the ‘dangerous road’; 1660 km. The Nullabor Plains was also over, technically at least, with Norseman. Similar landscape continued till almost the entrance to Esperance. The drive was monotonous with unvarying landscape and predictable road conditions. I stopped en route to fuel at Ravensthorpe. A Sardar from Hoshiarpur was in charge of the fuel station. The Indian curries on display was not yummy enough to the eye and hence, left without tasting any of them.

I had booked to stay in the Youth Hostel in Albany. Little did I realise that the setting of the hostel would be so heavenly. It was just a stone’s throw away from the Ocean front. I had every intention of exploring the waterfront later. There was enough and more car park available in the YHA. When I went up to the reception I read that this is a self check in and check out hostel. I was completely lost. I rang up the toll free number and Sandy answered. She said that she had been expecting me, but that the credit card details I had given at the time of online booking would not deposit the charges into the hostel account. I gave her the requisite details and she took me through a set of instructions to extract the key from a locked box. It is a 6 share accommodation. When I went to the room I found that I was alone in there, or so it seemed. I put my bags in the room locker and kept my towel in one of the lower bunks, to mark my territory, and decided to explore the waterfront by foot.

In a short while I returned to the hostel to reclaim the car as the distance was deceptive and I did not want the blisters to get a fresh lease of life. Since I had the car I decided to go a bit further and visit The Gap, which is highly recommended for anyone visiting Albany. The Gap is part of the Thorndirrup National Park. This part of Western Australia was once connected to Antarctica when it was part of the larger continent of Gondwanaland. There are two lookouts to view the Natural Bridge and The Gap. One can feel the might of the surge of the Southern Ocean from these points. The viewpoint at the Natural Bridge can be a bit unnerving as it shakes when massive waves hit the rocks below and send thick sprays of sea water upward. The formations have been carved out through centuries of wave action and weathering. The Green Islands, just to the south west of the massive rock formations, forms a great foreground against the setting sun. Warnings about people coming to grief from straying from the pathways are all over. The tragedy that almost befell a youngster who got swept away by the waves is a grim warning for those who even think of such misadventures.

The hostel had a busload of students from Perth, on a weekend tour. Despite all the beers and, I suspect, a few marijuana joints discreetly rolled, their behavior was very proper. I had a chance to interact with a couple of them; Canadian students on an exchange program. They gave me valuable information about life and climes in Canada that would be useful while finalizing the Trans Canadian car expedition next year. Later, a few beers and chips were all that was required to close out the day.

16 March 2018 - Day 13 - Border Village to Frazer Range Station

Sleep was disturbed by the conflict arising out of a biological requirement. Beer and water accumulated in a lower extremity and yelled to be expelled. However, the photos of the snakes on the door of the toilet made that demand on me seem somewhat unnecessary at that time. But, that urge would neither permit me to sleep or keep awake without fear. I wished I had kept an empty water bottle with me to face this eventuality. Finally, I decided to brave it. I had to do it. I quietly opened the door of my cabin and was struck by the bright lights all around. I could see the entire distance from the cabin to the toilet complex. Nothing that could even be mistaken for a snake lay in the path. I made a quick dash to the loo and back. That was so brave of me, I said to myself!

With such relief and patting on my own back, sleep decided to kick me off its cozy bosom. Instead of lying in the bed and staring at the ceiling I started going through the rest of the Australian itinerary. Once I get through the Nullarbor the next challenge would be north of Perth and Northern Territory, where the daily average km per day would be substantially higher. Between Perth and Cairns I would just have one extra day in Darwin; 7100 km in 9 driving days. After a while of going back and forth I slept a few more hours and felt quite rested.

I was not about to go and put coins for a shower; I was worried that the water would dry up before I am through with the whole process.  I decided, instead, to use wet tissues to get ready for the 600 plus km of today’s drive. I had to also open up the dressing of the blisters to check if they were healing well. I was happy to see the progress; the antibiotic was doing its job. However, getting fresh dressing done was quite a task. Once all that was through it was time to put the bags into the car. The sky was getting lighter. I drove to the restaurant and helped myself to a cup of coffee. I took leave of Philipe, the young man who had checked me in, after handing over the key to him.

Strict quarantine checks are exercised between the borders of Southern and Western Australia. I had not seen such checks between New South Wales and Victoria or between Victoria and Southern Australia. Clear indications are given about halting the vehicles for inspection. Warnings are also displayed about the consequences of quarantine violations. A young lady, Amy, was on duty. Politely she asked if I was carrying any of the prohibited items and I confidently said I wasn’t. Even more politely she asked if she could inspect the car. I asked her to go ahead and requested permission to take pictures of the complex. When I returned Amy had unearthed the bottle of honey Ranjana had given me in Melbourne to prepare the native turmeric and honey solution for the bad throat. I apologized to Amy and she was even more apologetic, saying that even though my throat needed it she would be unable to permit it through. She even told me that I could get a bottle in the next town of Eucla!

Just out of the quarantine shed and on to the main road I got the most amazing views of the Nullarbor Plains. The Border Village is at an elevation as compared to the plains. The steep decent went on to become some of the straightest roads I have ever driven in my life. I had only to make sure that the steering was held properly; cruise control took care of the rest. Speed limit, right until the turn off for the Frazer Range Station, was 110 kph, with a few locations having 90 kph. Since there were no residential settlements along the way, or even road works, the average was a steady 100 kph. Surfacing of the road was exceptional. I wished to roll this and take it back with me for use in India! The landscape on either side was the same except that at some places the Ocean was closer to the road than at other time; otherwise, it was just the shrubs and not so tall trees.

On the way I passed roadhouses at Mundrabila, Madura, Cocklebiddy, Caiguna and Balladonia. From Caiguna starts the 90 Mile Road, which is the longest stretch of straight road in Australia. The topography certainly did permit the making of such a road, sure, but the way it has been maintained is surely the application of the right technology in a proper manner. I stopped at Balladonia for fueling – costlier than most other places at 189.1 cents a liter of petrol - and I came across notices of water shortage at the roadhouse.

The Frazer Range Station was just another 90 km down the road in the direction of Norseman. There was still plenty of daylight available and I wondered if I should have gone through to Norseman, just over a 100 km away. Once I reached the Station all such thoughts vanished. An erstwhile sheep centre, established in the 1870s by the Dempster brothers, the vast camping grounds has also ‘dongas’ which are 40 feet containers converted into four cubicles with a bed, fridge, cupboard, writing desk and AC. The room was not big but was adequate for a night’s stay. All these places are pricey for private accommodation. Powered and unpowered caravan points are available for AUD 30 and 22 respectively. I paid AUD 95 for my accommodation. What I found most disappointing, however, is the lack of connectivity. The Station did not provide Wi-Fi and Telstra connection could be had in just a couple of locations in the vast Station. My work remained undone, yet again, for the second day in succession.

There was limited menu for dinner and one had to order early. I decided on the chicken dish among the options. When I had checked in there were just a couple of campers at the Station. By evening the place got busy, with a tent pitched, many elaborate campers spreading out the awnings and some other bicycling off for a bit of fun. Two big trees near the main area of the Station played host to a large number of parrots – their colors so stunning that I stood beside the trees and stared. And they kept up a lively chatter till they settled in for the night. A couple of Emus walked by regally observing, yet not overly worried. Then I saw a pair of kangaroos, more appropriately Wallabies, which were feeding nearby. As I got too close for their comfort they sprinted away.

Dinner, I had been told would be at 6.30 pm. Fearing that the kitchen may be shut if I am not there in time I reached a quarter of an hour before that. I barely saw any activity at the time. The lady who had checked me in was in the kitchen. Within a short while the entire dining area almost filled up, mostly with elders. Friendships were formed quickly and the sound levels started going up with each beer and glass of wine downed. I sat quietly at one of the tables watching the formation of new networks. Soon, an elderly couple took seats at my table. The lady got herself a glass of white wine and her husband a can of Coke. She started a conversation with me and was happy to know that I am from Kerala in India, which is on her bucket list for travel. She and her husband lived in a suburb of Perth and were now on a campervan ride to Tasmania for 9 weeks! With the children settled and being pensioners they indulged in their passion for travel. I learnt a lot this evening on how to lead a life one desires to. The husband had a cirrhotic liver, but that did not deter them from what they wanted to do. She is a multi-faceted personality with interests in face reading, reflexology, body-mind analysis, psychosomatic healing therapy, clairvoyance and book writing. Her first publication will hit the stands soon and, going by the sneak peek she permitted me, it is going to be a best seller, without a doubt. She loved the Bollywood movie ‘Lunch Box’ and her husband was intrigued by most Indians sporting moustaches! When I took leave of her we exchanged visiting cards. That’s when I came to know her name, Marylin Forbes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

15 March 2018 - Day 12 - Ceduna to Border Village

I was eager to get on to the Eyre Highway to experience the Nullarbor Plains. Ghastly stories of this area I have come to know from the Internet and people who had more hearsay information than firsthand knowledge. The Nullarbor, so known because of the vast expanse of drab terrain that has no trees – Nullus and Bor, is supposed to be foreboding. Along with the Eyre Highway, many sites on the Internet cite this as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The Eyre Highway runs from Port Augusta to Norseman, a distance of over 1660 km and named after the intrepid explorer who crossed these vast plains to chart them. The Nullarbor Plains has varying geographical reaches. Some define it as concurrent to the Eyre Highway, some others from Ceduna to Norseman and still some others from Ceduna to Balladonia. The landscape from Port Augusta to Ceduna was also pretty much the same as that to the Border Village today – drab with uninteresting shrubs, though green. Satellite images, if to be relied upon, give more credence to the last of the three geographical boundaries for the Nullarbor Plains, which is a large, desert-like limestone patch of unfertile flat, and in some parts, undulating land.

I was warned about non-availability of fuel, water, ration and communication. A friend mentioned how he had equipped his parents with a Satellite phone prior to a drive on some parts of the Eyre Highway and the Outbacks. Ranjana told me in Melbourne how they had a fabulous offer of a Campervan from Perth to Melbourne at AUD 1 a day and that they finally didn’t take the offer wondering what would happen if they ran out of fuel, as they also had a small child with them. Worries were expressed about the possibility of a vehicle breakdown and how dangerous that could be on lonely roads. The possibility of Kangaroos, Emus and such other animals causing damage to the car and self were other causes of concern. Last, but not the least, is the problem with Road Trains that bully smaller vehicles on the two way road.

I waited with intense anticipation, as I recapped all the above, for the day to break. As soon as I saw the bushfire like lighting up of the sky I thought it was time to set off. The combination of colors in the sky was stunning. All through the drive up to the Border Roadhouse the landscape was indeed very drab, but was green for the most part with shrubs and small trees. The road was as straight as a ruler in many places, except for the undulations. And the surfacing was superb almost all along the way. There were a few ‘rough patches’, but not a single pothole or dangerous shoulder. As has been the feature of roads in Australia thus far, there are parking places at frequent intervals for drivers to relax and there are small ‘roadhouses’ for fuel, provisions and toilet. En route to the Border Village there were such facilities at Penong, Coorabie and Yalata. Therefore, there are really no worries about being out of fuel on this stretch or being without food and ration. Moreover, save a very short stretch, I was connected on the Telstra network right through. I did encounter road trains, long vehicles and oversize vehicles during the day, but almost all of them were in the opposite direction! One feature of all these vehicles is that they are in extremely good condition and more or less match the section speed, which invariably was 110 kph.

Almost halfway to the Border Village is a 12 km detour to The Head of Bight lookout. This is the place where the Southern right whales come every season between May and September to breed and calve. They seek out the warmer climates suitable for calving and hence, the migration from Antarctica. During off-season a reduced entrance fee is charged – AUD 7 for an adult. At the ticket complex there is a lot of information about the whales and their peculiar migratory behavior. One is also strictly warned to enjoy the environs from within the confines of the two walkways. One is a boardwalk and the other is a lookout. The cliffs, for the most part, are dunes that have been pushed up over thousands of years due to wave action. The sheer magnificence of the Head of Bight is worth many hours of stay and contemplation, just to enjoy the magic of Nature that she provides free of cost. Since I had a destination to the day I had to, after a short stay, get back on to the Eyre Highway for the rest of the journey to Border Village.

About 130 km short of the Border Village the mobile phone clock went back 150 minutes! I thought that the time change would happen in Western Australia, but here I was quite some distance away from the divide. The puzzle was solved at the Border Village when I heard, for the first time, about the ‘compromise’ central western time.

The Border Village Roadhouse is a facility, fairly large, bang on the Southern Australian border. Besides a large section allotted for ration and supplies the roadhouse has a large bar and restaurant, both of which are awfully busy. Truckers come in for their fill and the portions served in the restaurant suit their requirement. Toilets and showers have been made available just for the truckers. The complex has a large area with Camping facilities, cottages and accommodation of various other types. I had asked for backpacker accommodation with shared toilet and shower. After paying the charges for accommodation I was given the key to cabin 48. This small sized cabin had a double bed and two single beds besides a TV, heater and AC. Since I was not sharing the room with anyone I was okay with the space. What got my goat was the toilet complex, which was 50 feet away from my cabin. At the entrance to the toilet was a warning; that door must be kept closed at all times as snakes have been sighted! I almost booted from the place. The door also had photos and description of a couple of them for more effect, I presumed. The toilets were neat and clean, though. Then came another shocker – I could avail of a shower after activating it with AUD 2 coin, which would luxuriate me for 10 minutes! I was indeed very cheesed off.

Most of the evening I spent in the roadhouse restaurant, making myself many cups of coffee and catching up on documentation and information that may be useful for the next day’s drive. However, the non-availability of Wi-Fi stopped me from completing all I wanted to. By late evening the complex was almost fully covered by campers. I had the last can of Canadian Club and went back to the restaurant for dinner. I opted for one of the Chef’s options from the dinner menu – the roast pork. I was indeed very hungry having survived on a sandwich, biscuits and dry fruits the whole day. The huge portion of roast pork was embellished with boiled vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and sweet potato. The sauce was delectable. I took my time but got through the whole meal.

It was only 8 pm locally but the yawns were too wide to suppress. I also decided to leave early the next day in case day breaks early, as I had over 600 km to cover up to the Frazer Range Station, described as “Oasis In The Outback”.

14 March 2018 - Day 11 - In Ceduna

Had a lazy start to the day with a few cups of strong black coffee. I was definitely feeling better with the cough having substantially abated and foot feeling unquestionably better. I spent the better part of the morning catching up on FB posts and writing the blog. I have set myself a target of leaving Ceduna tomorrow morning without any backlog of writing the blog. Half way through one of the day’s descriptions I felt way too hungry. Emi in Adelaide had packed excellent sandwiches with spicy tuna filling. I had a couple of them and was instantly sated. By 10 am I thought it was time to go and explore one of the Bays recommended by Brad. He had suggested the Smoky Bay and the Streaky Bay, if I had the time. The latter was way out and I decided to give that a miss. So, I was headed to Smoky Bay.

Smoky Bay is just 40 km from the Ceduna Motor Inn and I could not believe what I was seeing when I reached there. Are there such places on earth, I wondered? This place must surely be a part description of Paradise. At least three colors of the water could be seen – closer to the beach shore it was clear, slightly further away it was greenish and further up it was deep blue. Astonishing, to say the least, the colors looked as if separated by a straight line.

The beach, though sandy, was full of broken shells and seaweed. The Bay stretched on for kilometres and it seemed a very popular place for camping. Most of the camping sites were occupied. Beach fronted houses were advertised for long time rental. It would be a wonderful place to retire to and spend time fishing and beachcombing. The Bay has a boat ramp and I saw many people returning from their fishing trips to the outer parts of the Bay. A lady told me that she had a full catch of crabs, which she was taking home to her kids. Besides, there is long and sturdy jetty meant for tourists and anglers. When one from the latter group found me walking around with a selfie stick he nonchalantly remarked, “You ain’t gonna catch ‘em with that”! Facilities such as the jetty and the boat ramp make life so much more enjoyable and monetarily rewarding for the residents of the area. A small area nearer to the shore has even been fenced in the water for safe swimming. The Bay is known to have unwanted visitors like sharks.

The Ceduna Oyster Barn was highly recommended by Brad to try fresh oysters. I drove from the Bay to the Barn. The caravan kind of eatery is run by a couple and a helper. I told Peter, the owner of the Barn, that I have never tried oysters before and that I want him to take me through what he thought was the right way. He opened up a fresh shell, cleaned it expertly, squeezed a portion of lime on it and asked me to try it. I quickly slid the uncooked meat down my throat and rather liked the taste of it. Peter told me that the oyster connoisseurs always had them naked with a dash of lime. I decided to go that way too and asked for half a dozen naked oysters. He presented them in a while and said that in three of them he had put a special ‘sinister’ sauce, which he would replace, if I didn’t like it. Didn’t like it? Heavenly they were. Peter further told me that the oysters were fresh off the water and seldom does one get them so fresh. I promised to come back later in the evening for dinner. He suggested that I try out the Whiting fish, which is found only in Australia.

After some rest and a couple hours on the blog it was time to get back to Ceduna Oyster Barn for dinner. Peter introduced me to his Vietnamese partner. I ordered a two piece Whiting fish plate that came with loads of fries and fresh salad. The homemade tartar sauce and sour salad dressing made the fish and the rest taste so yummy. Peter suggested a drive to Denial Bay, which was just 10 km from the Barn. The Bay bathed in a glorious sunset was a wonderful parting sight for me. The Denial Bay is renowned for its oyster farms and Peter said that the best oysters in the region come out of that Bay. Denial Bay was named thus by the 19th century explorer, Capt Matthew Flinders, for he was denied hopes of finding an inland fresh water river at this place. Anyway, it was a befitting end to the excellent familiarization of the town. 

13 March 2018 - Day 10 - Adelaide to Ceduna

It was a 7 am start and the boys were up early – they had to go to school too. It was difficult to take leave of them and Emi and Honey. They had been wonderful hosts and I had felt completely at home.

Planning research had thrown up challenges of travelling from Adelaide to Perth and from Darwin to Cairns. Prime among the challenges is the availability of fuel. Suggestions had come that I should get extra tanks fitted in the car, or, at the very least, carry gasoline containers to cater to any eventuality. Some even said that I had, maybe, chosen the wrong vehicle – a diesel one would have been more appropriate. Last night I was doing last minute research on the Adelaide-Ceduna leg and came up with interesting information about fuel stations all along the way. On this leg, I was satisfied, I would not face any problem. Moreover, much to my astonishment, I was getting nearly 800 km on a full tank of petrol, which should see me through even the long sections, if I fuel up whenever I find a fueling station.

Armed with this piece of vital information I decided to make the first stop at Kimba. It had been 5 hours and 460 km after starting off from Adelaide, travelling via Port Wakefield, Port Pirie and Port Augusta. The drive was smooth and without any disruptions. I had been warned many times over about road trains. I did come across a few, nearly 120 feet, road monsters. The surprising thing is that they were swift, gleaming machines that moved at over 100 kph. I made sure that I use the overtaking lanes alone to get ahead of them. The landscape was bare and dry without anything remarkable. But, it wasn’t bone dry. The shrubs and the few trees were green.

I fueled at the roadhouse in Kimba. When I went in to pay for the fuel the smell of Indian curries hung heavy in the air and many were eating in the restaurant attached to the roadhouse. Then I learnt that the roadhouse is run by a Rajasthani family and hence, the curries. I feasted on a large portion of rice and mutton rogan josh before hitting the rest of the route to Ceduna. At the roadhouse I gathered further information about the availability of fuel till Perth. In fact, a board was hung up there for the information of long distance travelers where they could find fuel next in the direction of their travel. The 300 odd km to Ceduna was another unremarkable drive.

I reached the Ceduna Motor Inn, bang on the highway, a little after 3.30 pm in bright sunshine. Brad, co-owner of the Motel, suggested a drive to Thevanard and dinner at the Oyster Barn. After resting a while in the budget accommodation that cost AUD 100 per night, if one can call it budget, I made my way to Thevanard. I was merely told that it is a working port. But what I saw there was another world. Yes, it is a working jetty with gypsum, grain, salt, mineral sand and fish (in bound) as its main cargo. Massive silos are used for storage. Two large islands off Thevanard were charted, presumably, in the early 1600s by a Dutch explorer. They, St Francis and St Peter, are also said to have inspired the 18th century classic, Gulliver’s Travels. There is, many say, substance to believe that Jonathan Swift had placed his story in the context of the two islands and the account of one of the sailors who was a team member of the charting of the two islands. The Pinky Point walkway at the edge of the Thevanard is a fascinating one. Some distance away from the port is a stone jetty with a ramp to launch and haul in boats.

Back in the motel room I opened a can of Canadian Club and started updating the expense account and the actual itinerary. When I was close to finishing the can I gravitated to the restaurant for a meal. I chose a fillet meal with salad and fries. When the meal arrived I sat in quiet contemplation for some time strategizing on how to finish the meal without wasting any bit of it. Food portion in Australia is too large for even a disproportionate Indian like me. I must have taken at least two ‘intervals’ before I got through the meal! I felt happy for the task done!

17 March 2018 - Day 14 - Frazer Range Station to Albany

Sleep had been adequate and I woke up by 5 am feeling fully refreshed. The medicine had also played its part in making sure that my sl...