Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 – Wudinna, SA to Nullarbor Roadhouse, SA
Distance travelled 531 km (this passed the 5,000 km mark)
The first impressions of the morning were again of fields and fields punctuated by the occasional huge silo for drying and storing grain.
We had our breakfast, delicious, home-made muffins, in a small shop in Wirulla. It was a quaint place that seemed almost as if it belonged in another age. The whole house, including the shop, which was also the local Post Office, was for sale for 300,000 AUD.
It was a bright and sunny morning, but none too warm to begin with. The temperature was only about 12 ° C at first, but warmed very slowly to about twenty later in the day. Our biggest problem, if that is the word, was a relatively high wind (17->25 kph, according to the now accessible Australian weather app on Lucie’s iPhone) which continued unabated all day long. The road was of the customary Australian quality, but obviously first constructed at a time when taking the path of least resistance was the norm. This meant that it was, in places, unusually sinuous compared with most of what we had seen up to that point. That, from time to time, made the Harley a bit susceptible to big gusts. A few times it pushed the bike well into the other half of the road. This was not actually as bad as it sounds. To increase my room for manoeuvre, should some animal suddenly appear, I did tend to drive right in the middle of the carriageway. The few other bikers that we encountered were all doing the same. There was no real danger in this. On straighter stretches, oncoming vehicles could sometimes be seen from as much as 5 kilometres away, so there was always plenty of time to move back over. It was a little disconcerting though as the gusts had no pattern. It was like passing a huge road-train that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The farther west we went, the sparser the vegetation became which meant that, in some places, the visibility was truly astonishing. This was not bare desert, but you could often see to the far horizon and, many times, the curvature of the earth was clearly discernible.
Between Wirulla and Ceduna, the next planned stop, the landscape slowly began to change. The large fields first diminished and then dwindled away. Many more trees and shrubs were in evidence and we agreed that this was probably the start of the real “bush“.
In Ceduna we reached the sea again, something we had not seen since we were on the coast of New South Wales. After the dull earthy shades of the outback, it seemed almost impossibly blue. Much to Lucie’s embarrassment, I had to have my customary paddle in it !
Ceduna appeared to be a holiday destination of some note, there were row after row of chalet style holiday homes. Out of season, it had a windswept and slightly depressing air about it and, after our recent experiences, it seemed like a big city although it is not one. Lucie needed to replenish her cigarette stock so she closed her eyes, gritted her teeth and bought two boxes for AUD 48 a box. The girl at the kiosk was visibly surprised to sell two cartons at once ! This price was the equivalent of around CZK 775 a box, over seven times dearer than in Prague. At least the boxes, for some reason, each contained 25 cigarettes. Strangely, if that terrifying price was intended to discourage smoking, it had failed. People were lighting up wherever we looked.
We bought a few other “necessaries”, believe me, chocolate biscuits ARE necessary, but passed up the opportunity of a coffee. I had noted a security guard in the supermarket car-park, which had surprised me. Everywhere seemed so safe and peaceful. However, many aborigines were hanging around in the streets, in the same, sad, listless groups we had seen elsewhere. The second we pulled up outside a café and got off of the Harley, they began to show what I can only fairly call an unnatural interest in it. I do try to treat people as good people, at least until I know differently, but this was danger. The saddlebags did not lock and one bag, as already described, was only fixed to the backrest by elasticated straps. We decided not to risk it and left town. This should not be taken as an indictment of First Nations people in general, but only as a sensible precaution. When you only pack what you need, you cannot afford to lose anything.
Ceduna, where the Eyre Highway makes a ninety degree turn before turning again to head slightly inland, sits on the fringe of Denial Bay. The area is famed for its oysters but our slightly hurried departure meant I never got to try any. I was also to miss them again on the return trip. Ah well !
We stopped next in Penong, about 75 kilometres down the road. It is the nature of travelling in Australia that this was the next place of any size whatsoever – and it was still more or less a small village. We filled up the tank and spent a restful break out of the wind in the gas station café. Across the road was a small hotel and it did not occur to us then that this was the place we had already reserved to stay in on the way back.
We also had a couple of quite interesting conversations. One was with a guy who was driving what I at first thought was a newer version of the Mitsubishi SUV I have in Prague. He was taking his aged parents on a trip to the Nullarbor. The second was with a fairly serious biker, also on a Harley. He was a native of Queensland and he was going in the opposite direction to us. He had been on the road for over half a year, which does not seem to be unusual at all in Australia and was circling the entire continent in an anti-clockwise direction. Starting in Brisbane, he had ridden up to Cairns, across to Darwin, all the way down the west coast to Perth (our destination) and was now heading for Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney before returning home. He was in no hurry whatsoever and viewed the total journey of something approaching 15.000 kilometres to be nothing more than “what he was doing, right at that very moment”. He was probably a few years older than me and I could not help but admire him. The only thing I did find a bit annoying was that, according to my information, the route between Darwin and Perth was not suitable for a Harley as it was largely unsealed road. That, I was reliably informed, was no longer the case. Had I known it was rideable on a Harley, all our plans might have been different as I would probably have flown to Darwin ! For the second time that day, ah well ! Perhaps the greatest thing about my lovely wife is that, if I had known and had made that plan, she would have gone with it. She is certainly worth her weight in gold, but, maybe not in cigarettes !
There had been a certain unvarying quality to the bush that morning because it seemed to exhibit none of the endlessly changing possibilities we had seen in the north. We had both commented on this in Ceduna. Almost as soon as we left Penong, however, the bush seemed to move up a notch and became noticeably harsher (bushier has softness connotations that would definitely not apply). We also saw a new type of warning sign which cautioned us to “Watch out for camels, kangaroos and wombats“. I only had, at the time, the vaguest notion of what a wombat was. As a driver, it was primarily its size and impact resistance I was concerned about. Kangaroos I knew about and could easily imagine, but the “new” possibility of hitting a camel was a little daunting. Of course, in my imagination, the camel I was seeking to avoid hitting was the “classic” Arabian type. When we finally saw one, that was not the case at all. But that comes later.
My new, heightened vigilance soon bore an unexpected result. I have previously mentioned the extreme forward visibility offered by Australian highways and a short while later, I half felt I saw something low and dark run across the road about a kilometre ahead. What it was, I could not tell, my eyesight was not that good. I did drop my speed. Twenty seconds later, we approached where I thought I had seen movement and, just as we passed the spot, something started to come out, almost under our wheels. With no intercom, I had not been able to alert Lucie, so she was initially a bit confused when I stopped, turned round and began to head slowly back. My vigilance had been rewarded. In front of us, some scaly reptile completed its crossing of the blacktop and halted in the shade on the hard shoulder. It was about half a metre in length, dark grey to black. Far from being daunted by our presence, it advanced menacingly. It was not an attack, as such, more of a warning gesture but it was enough to discomfort my photographer ! The force of her recoil almost had us on the floor. It did have a huge pink tongue and a red-fringed mouth but we had boots and a 300+ kilogram motorcycle, what harm could it possibly do ? However, it seemed satisfied that it had but us in our place and ambled slowly into the brush before we got a really good picture. Lucie thought it might be a Gecko, I thought it might be a Goanna. We vowed to research it later.
After Penong, our next, stretching, stop was planned for Yalata. The roadhouse was no longer there. There was an airport but otherwise there seemed to be nothing. We needed a break and we found a big parking lay-by, just after Yalata and took our little break there. Lucie has often told all and sundry that I am a small boy in a man’s body. She is a perceptive woman. The encounter with the unidentified reptile had boosted my natural curiosity and, while Lucie enjoyed her cigarette, I seized the chance to poke about in the bush. Armed with a stick, I diligently searched for lizards and snakes – and I continued to do that at every opportunity for the rest of our trip. I did find numerous skeletons, of everything possible, including cattle, sheep, kangaroos, reptiles, emus and other various birds. However, in hours of searching, my prodding only ever uncovered one live lizard.
A short distance beyond Yalata, the bush slowly petered out and the landscape suddenly turned into a bare and dead grass-covered plain that seemed to stretch to infinity. A sign beside the road said we were on the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain.
Almost at once, by Australian distance standards, we arrived at our evening’s accommodation, the Nullarbor Roadhouse.
So there we were, on the fabled Nullarbor Plain, outback level 3, where, according to the information, there is nothing, whatsoever. Although we were only on the eastern fringe of the plain, as we sat in front of our motel room in the last rays of the setting sun, the sheer emptiness was a palpable thing. It was an unbelievable sight, low bushes of something that looked a bit like a heather, stretching endlessly and without interruption into the distance. Lucie was a bit frustrated because she could not get on the internet to make her botanical identifications, but there was, yet again, no Optus signal. For information, the low scrub is comprised of bluebush and mulga plants.
We had been greeted at the reception by a boy who had rejoiced that we were from the Czech Republic, because he was a German, from Dresden. That might seem strange, but although Dresden is 150 kilometres from Prague, on an Australian scale that meant that we were practically neighbours.
We went for a short walk behind the motel, where I failed to discover any snakes despite there being signs all over the roadhouse warning of their possible presence. l suppose that was actually a good thing, because just about the only thing that Lucie is afraid of is snakes. The reptile by the road had been the very edge for her.
Also behind the roadhouse was, of all things, a golf flag fluttering in the centre of a small “green”. In the twilight, a couple, possibly a few years older than us were just sinking their putts. Weird ! However, it turned out that they were just completing the 5th hole (Known as the “Dingo’s Den”) of what is the world’s longest golf course, the “Nullarbor Links”. I had noticed the signs for the named holes a few times since leaving Denial Bay, but had not really taken note. A little more information on the Links appears below. We did not know it then, but the golfers, who we later discovered were called Richard and Heather, were to become quite a part of our Nullarbor story.
At dinner, we learned something about the ecological “benefits“, or otherwise, of the roadhouse. According to the information displayed at the bar, the generators at the roadhouse consume as much diesel every week as an ocean liner would consume on a voyage from Los Angeles to Sydney, with stops on Bora Bora and in New Zealand. That would get Greta Thunberg a bit worked up, I am sure ! The sign also states that, to deliver that diesel, the tanker has to make a 1400 kilometre round trip …….
At least the roadhouse has its own, artesian water which, unusually, is drinkable. They pump out 24,000 litres a day.
Outside, the sky was beautifully dotted with stars. The lack of both pollution and ambient light made them look huge and very clear. Sights like that are why we travel. The bed was surprisingly comfortable and, as soon as my head hit the pillow, that was it for another day.
The Nullarbor Links
Billed as the world’s longest golf course, the Nullarbor Links stretch between Ceduna, in South Australia and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
The two “end” holes are 1,365 kilometres apart.
It can be played in either direction and is a Par 72.
It is a fascinating concept, particularly if golf is “your thing” and must help break up what can be a tedious journey.
More information about the location and characteristics of each hole can be found at: