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We live in Adelaide, South Australia and enjoy travel in the Australian outback in our Oka 4WD motorhome, hence the blog title.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

WA trip 2015 - East on the Eyre Highway

Welcome to the final section of this year's trip, across the Nullarbor on the Eyre Highway.

Some would say that the Eyre Highway is one of the most boring trips you can take in Australia (there are others which are worse), and whilst it is very long being more than 2000km, there are enough daily events to make it interesting.

We don't stop in roadhouses, either overnight or for supplies, we ensure we have enough to get to the other end (quarantine restrictions not withstanding) and we've done it enough times that we are fairly familiar with its environment.

Our first trip across the Nullarbor was in 1975, in our old Land Rover we drove from England in, and at the time we though the Eyre Highway was so simple compared with the challenges of international travel in the middle east and Asia.

It was straight, clean, smooth (mostly, the exception being the Old Eyre Highway section is SA which back then was still limestone gravel) and pretty much free of traffic and people. Luxury travelling. Even today, most of those conditions still exist, with the additional safety net of occasional mobile coverage, more visitor information and frequent scenic stopping places.

We've done it quite a few time since 1975 but most of our recent annual trips have been on outback tracks which bypass this great strip of bitumen.

Read on for this years experiences.

21 Sept

On the road from Norseman east towards Balladonia.

An early encounter of a large kind:

A rather large load we had to get off the road for
 Just off the highway on an unmarked track we discovered Newman Rocks, a huge low hill of solid granite with a rather nice rock pool on its summit. We camped near here:

Or alternatively...

22 Sept

And so children, what have we learned from this morning’s experimental breakfast?

     You can successfully refry frozen cooked sausages.
     It’s very difficult to separate slices of frozen bacon.
     You can’t make potato cakes with Deb.
     Smoke alarms and burnt toast don’t mix.
     Creating baked beans by combining tomato sauce with left over salad beans does not work.
     Complex breakfasts create stress and loads of dirty dishes and the cooktop needs cleaning.

Back to Vita-Brits tomorrow.

Today we did around 250km from Newman Rocks to Caiguna and there was a bend in the road. But only one and here is it, at Balladonia:

50km straight before the bend and 146km after, the longest straight piece of road in Australia and one of the longest in the world.

The truck in the distance is merging into the mirage on Australia's longest section of road, 146km dead straight.
Proof that we had been there. Everyone stops for a photo here.
At Caiguna there is a rather large blowhole. Completely unguarded and big enough to fall into:

The wind rushes up the blowhole from the coast 30km away at 72kph, but not today or my hat would have been airborne.
Near the blowhole there were 2 men in a small camper. That was different enough, but these 2 were dressed in fly net hats and playing music on a guitar and banjo. How strange is that?

At the end of the longest straight was Caiguna, notable for its Telstra network. As a result I had a number of queries and problems to resolve with the Oka website, most of which I was able to sort out on the side of the road.

We camped about 20km past Caiguna in the Jilbunya rest area about 1km off the highway in a beautiful bushland setting with flowering shrubs everywhere.

23 Sept

On the way out of the campsite this morning we had a close encounter of the slithery kind:

Nothing much else happened until we stopped for lunch when a distinctively coloured Oka pulled up in front of us. It was Frank in Oka 410 who he says spoke to me for advice before buying an Oka. He painted it in those striking colours and seems to be happy with his purchase, and its cracked windscreen.

We had a chat for 1/2 hour or so with Frank and his mate Richard driving a ute of some kind. They were heading east but turning inland at Madura while we are also heading east but turning up the old Eyre Highway at Eucla.

Later we passed through Madura Pass, which is where the coast used to be before the sea receded 40km many thousands of years ago, leaving only the cliffs behind.

After passing down the pass we spotted an unmarked track leading to the Madura Cave, so on a spur of the moment decision we turned down it to investigate.

On the way we had an “Attenborough” of wildlife experiences. Several kangaroos bounced madly across the track in front of us, a bustard walked hoitily across the track in front of us, but this large stumpy tail lizard failed to crawl across the track in front of us at all and nearly met a sticky ending.   The grumpy tailed lizard just lay there growled at us until she was ready to move on.

Janet even tried negotiating with one of them:

The cave (actually part of a sink hole) was quite interesting, if you call the skeleton of a long dead kangaroo interesting, but more so was the track which continued another 40km towards the Nuytsland Nature Reserve and the south coast.

So on the spur of the moment (a completely different one) we went down that track which got progressively thinner, sandier and more difficult. It took us a couple of hours in 4WD to do the 50km (my navigator had adjusted her glasses) until we reached the dense bushland covering the sand dunes which border the sea.

We got tantalisingly close to reaching the elusive coast, we tried but ultimately failed, so after a 17 point turn on a narrow track we backtracked to camp in a clearing in the forest like Little Miss Red Riding Hood and will try another track tomorrow.

The rangers do keep what few tracks there are in good nick, using one of these towed behind a tractor:

Sadly, also like Little Miss Riding Hood, there is no phone service in this clearing in the forest either. But I did contact the Adelaide Base on our HF Radio and give them our whereabouts, even though the spelling of “Nuytsland” caused some difficulties. Apparently its going to be in the low to mid 20’s for the next 5 days where we are, with sunny days and no rain. Just what we need, I hate mud.

24 Sept

The drive back from the Nuytsland Nature Reserve was easier than going down, probably because we knew what to expect and could plan ahead.

From Madura to Eucla, the road across the former beach is long and straight, with the cliffs always present for 100km.

At Mundrabilla we filled up with water from the thoughtfully placed tanks alongside the highway in a raging wind strom. We had to position the bucket some way upwind from the receiving container so water actually went in it.

At the Border Village we veered off left onto the old Eyre Highway first travelled by us in 1975 and again in 2013 with Bill and Judy.

We camped around 20km up the track on a small side track which probably leads to some delightful caves or sink holes.

Janet did some washing which was left out to dry all night.

25 Sept

However, with the overnight condensation, the washing was even wetter this morning than last night.

While dropping my tyre pressures for the unsealed road, I noticed that the vicious march flies, which would normally take a chunk out of someone's leg if given the chance, preferred landing on the tyres of the Oka rather than my leg, which I found slightly insulting.

Today was a day of sinkholes, blowholes and Welcome Swallows.

The first event would have been the excellent sinkholes 3km off the track to the south but we stayed there 2 years ago with Bill and Judy (where we also hung washing out to dry in the moonlight) so we didn’t go there again.

The next event was the Burnabie Blowhole. Right by the side of the track, it has a powerful blow as our tea towel will attest.

10km further on we ventured north up The Olde Coach Road, an early inland track from the late 1800's or early 1900's, predating even the Old Eyre Highway, which itself was only developed in the wartime expedients of the early 1940's.

The Olde Coach Road heading inland across the Nullarbor
We were looking for Coompana Rockhole which we didn't find, being below ground level as they tend to be.

The Olde Coach Road is a very desolate narrow track across a flat "grassy" plain and seems to comprise mostly dry, dusty sand. On the map it leads west across towards Eucla, Mundrabilla and/or Madura, depending on which track you follow. But don’t try that route after rain, you might still be there.

However, it is a perfect environment for wombats, (although we didn’t see any since they are nocturnal), but their presence is very obvious from all the low volcanoes of sand that they dig out of their burrows, and their scats scattered all around.

Who are you calling a wombat??
Along the same section of Olde Coach Road, is the nearest we have ever been to a man-made meteorite crater. When and why it was dug remains a complete mystery, or there are some very large wombats roaming around.

But being within a km or so of the Old Eyre Highway, it's reasonable to assume it was something to do with the original road construction project.

Here it is on Google Earth at this location  -31.501764, 129.413430, about 80m long and 50m wide.

The Twin Caves/Rockhole on the map were elusive, and we failed to find them/it on this trip. Maybe the map has them wrongly located.

Koomooloobooka Caves we also visited with Bill and Judy and took quite a while to locate, but locate them we did in 2013, and it was worth the effort. As a reward, we had lunch there then but bypassed them this time.

We did discover a sinkhole at 31:28:20 S, 129:41:41 E after the correct track was found, which was not the one marked on the map. The actual start is 366m east of the marked track.

Next on the agenda was the Koonalda Homestead, home of the headquarters of the Nullarbor National Park housed in the old Koonalda homestead building.

There’s no one in residence there and the park signage is distinctly sparce. However a sign asking visitors to "Keep the doors closed to keep out the cats" must be considered a good start.

Removing my cynical hat for a moment, the Nullarbor National Park has a great deal to offer visitors when there are a few more signs and some literature on the sites to visit, and the tracks are a bit better maintained. Already there is a camping area near the homestead and a toilet block.

In the homestead, Janet waxed lyrical about the kitchen range which she knew about from her early (very early) childhood.

Nearby the homestead is an interesting graveyard of old vehicles and a petrol pump that we would have got fuel from in 1975 when we passed though this area in our old Land Rover, just after we arrived in Australia. 

1km up a small track through the rusty car park is a very powerful small blowhole, only about 30cm diameter, but when it’s blowing it’s more than enough to remove your hairpiece, if it’s not firmly attached.

The centrepiece of Koonalda is its cave which is a rocky 5km trip north from the homestead, but well worth the rough ride.

It looks quite intimidating at first glance, especially the danger sign forbidding entry to the cave to anyone without a permit. However, the nearby industrial strength stile over the stout boundary fence would seem to be contradictory.

However, the stile does make a handy step ladder for peering into the innards of the cave:

The cave is home to countless pairs of Welcome Swallows who are able to defy gravity in their quest for a safe nesting location, and they are so inquisitive that every time we stop, a flock of them do a fly past to check out our Oka as the location for a new housing estate.

They particularly liked the rear window overhang of our Oka and the spare wheel as the landing ground.

We camped just past Koonalda along the Old Eyre Highway behind some bushes.

Sept 26

This morning's ride was marred somewhat, when we killed a big black snake.

We didn't mean to, I thought it was a stick or a shadow across part of the track and it wasn't until I was right up close that we realised is was a snake basking in the morning sun, but by then it was too close to do anything about it on a narrow 2 lane track.

Is it a stick or a tree root?
Here are it's last moments:

Too late we realised it was a snake.
We stopped a bit later and checked that it hadn't flicked up and got wrapped around something under the Oka but there was no sign of it.

I don't like killing any animals (except maybe flies, mosquitoes and march flies) and it bothered me for some time. It's bad enough seeing all the roadkill along the highways without contributing to the toll.

After completing the Old Eyre Highway past some wrecked cars and rusting water tanks, we emerged on the new one at Nullarbor Roadhouse.

We chose to complete this year's journey on bitumen since the next section of the Old Eyre Highway does not have the same number of points of interest, and our tyres are not perfect.

The downside is the Nullarbor plain in all its visual glory:

We camped in a rest area well off the highway at Caroona Hut, just east of Nundroo.

Sept 27

Today we passed through Penong, which, apart from 100 windmills, has the first shop we had seen for over 1000km.

This truck passed us, leading to a completely new meaning of "Road Train":

At Ceduna we stopped for the necessary but tedious quarantine check.

       "Did you come from Western Australia sir?" "Yes".
       "Can I have a look in your fridge please?" "Yes".
       "Any fruit and vegetables with you?" No, we ate them all last night".
       "Do you have any other food cupboards?" "Yes, in here".
       "Thank you sir, honey is OK travelling in your direction. Have a nice day".

And we were through, as we knew we would be, we've done this many times before and learned to eat it, cook it (like a soup with left over veggies) or throw it out, before reaching the check point. Then there are no hassles. Some people get into endless and fruitless (pun intended) arguments over a few $$ worth of veggies (or fruities).

So next to the IGA to replenish our supplies. Not as cheap as in Adelaide, but who cares, we still have to eat. Just leaving the check out, who should we meet than Rick and Sue Whitworth, who we last saw at Ningaloo Reef a month ago, 2236km away by the Great Circle Route or 2238km by the Rhumb Line process.

They were heading back to Geelong and had parked next to us and we made plans to visit them next time we were in Melbourne.

After lunch on the seashore and a long but useful talk with Scott in Melbourne, we refuelled and set off for Port Augusta. This was the first fuel we'd put in since Norseman, more than 1300km ago (due to our side trips) and we still had 50 ltrs left (out of 250).

Ceduna is a really nice town and maybe one day we should spend a bit more than 1/2 hour there exploring.

Lunchspot view from the Oka cabin
The scenery gradually changed from bushland to pastoral sheep country to arable farming land with fences. We hadn't seen fences alongside the roads for weeks, how suburban is that?

Still 900km to go to Adelaide but already we are getting into local mode after 9 weeks away.

Finding secluded camping spots is becoming more difficult with encroaching farm activities but we did find a small track near the little known location of Cungena, between Wirrulla and Pochera to place it firmly on the map, which offered us some seclusion and a nice bushland setting and that's where we are tonight:

Nearby we found what we think are some orchids:

Sept 28

We thought today would be a fairly boring bitumen drive from our campsite to Lake Gilles, our normal stopping point in the eastern Eyre Peninsula about 25km east of Kimba. We often camp there for it's great bush scenery. It's a No Camping area, which makes it perfect for camping in since there's never anyone else there!

However, when we reached Kimba in early afternoon we found some changes had taken place since our last visit. The town has become an RV Friendly Town and a money spider had been spending up big there.

Looking for our usual water supply point we came across a brand new free RV park with water, toilets and showers. We filled up and sought out the Visitor Centre for more good news. Along the way we found  a free Lions Club rest area for campers and caravans with good facilities (which is where we are camped now).

The Visitor Centre is having a big makeover and the nice young lady there gave us maps and told us of other innovations, like two sculptures on the hill top, the museum, manicured gardens around the recreation areas with a new bowling green and golf course.

The sculptures were of Edward John Eyre and his aboriginal guide, cleverly composed from rusting local relics and overlooking the town:

Even down to the prismatic compass Eyre is using:

Next to the RV rest area is a new Mining Village. Aha, so it's mining $$ which is causing all the activity. But according to Bruce, a 92 year old former farmer in the area who came to visit us later in the afternoon, no mining had actually begun. It was/is going to be a new iron ore mine but the low iron ore price and difficulties with railways and funding a new deep water port has stymied development.

Nonetheless, Kimba is fast developing into an attractive place to visit, not just an overnight stop. It's another of the very few towns which actively encourage visitors to stay and in return all they ask is that visitors patronise local businesses, which we did, food and fuel.

One of the streets in Kimba has all its trees and power poles fitted with "tree socks", presumably knitted by ladies of the CWA.  Janet calls the colourful streetscape a new "street address":

On a gate next to the IGA supermarket, I spotted this ingenious use of an old universal joint from a car as a gate hinge:

Since we dallied a bit in Kimba and it's 450km from Adelaide, we'll spread the remaining journey over 2 days and arrive home on Wednesday.

Tomorrow we'll reach Port Augusta and camp at Mambray Creek.

29 Sept

And yes, we did reach Pt Augusta today after a few experiences.

We met Bruce again this morning on his rounds and he said he was "working" at the museum (at the age of 92), taking people around. So we said we'll see you there on our way out of town.

He was and he did and we did. The Kimba museum is a treasure trove of old farming and "living in the country" memorabilia.

Relocated buildings, complex farming implements, engineering tools, old tractors, stationary engines, an old school room, a sewing machine room, an old camera display and an olde shoppe.

It's described in the tourist brochure thusly:
Eight separate buildings: The historic pioneer house, the one teacher school, the blacksmith shop, the Government Shed are equipped. Sheds house the farm machinery, stationary engines and fire engine, while a separate museum centre contains a library, photographic and interpretive displays, taped histories and various documents relating to social history. All in bushland setting.
Kimba's local history museum includes pioneer domestic and farming items, stationary engines, harness vehicles and equipment, vintage trucks and tractors, a water conservation model, schooling and communication equipment together with supporting documents, maps, tapes, photographs and ephemera.
All of it was very interesting but ultimately we became overwhelmed and overloaded with history but you can read more about the museum here. It is well worth a visit.

An old fireplace. I shall build a mantlepiece like this when we get home.
A grader that Bruce built himself from an old truck and collections of scrap iron and used it for several years.
Note the steering wheel is miles away from the seat but he said you didn't need to steer it much anyway.
After the museum overload we moved on to Lake Gilles, not to camp this time, just for a lunch spot.

Pigface in bloom next to the lake

Emu footprints across the lake bed.

Later on the highway we had to move over for some monster moves.

Eventually after bypassing Pt Augusta and waiting for hours (it seemed) at some new bridge works, we arrived at Mambray Creek to camp. Our last camping place for this trip.

Home tomorrow and the search for the keys to the lawnmower shed will begin. Everything back to normal.


This has been quite a good trip, maybe not as spectacular as others, probably due to the fact that we had done much of the route before, and we had a few unexpected technical problems before and during the trip.

We've done 10,500km in 9 weeks and covered an area half the size of Europe. 1900 photos and a lot more memories than that, we've met some very nice people, a few other Okas and surmounted quite a few problems, not all our own either. A fairly typical trip.

There were some highlights of course, like camping and snorkelling in the reef lagoon on Ningaloo Station (while you still can, it's under threat from the WA Government), and visiting the northerly section of the huge Rudall River National Park neither of which we had done before. Plus the freedom and peacefulness of the outback wherever we are, and the warm coastal towns of Dampier/Karratha.

To re-read out blogs use the following links or the "2015 Trek across WA" drop down menu at the top of each page:

Home to Newman,
Newman to Ningaloo,
Ningaloo Northwards and then Southwards,
East across the Eyre Highway.