Monday, 15 August 2016

Half-lap Day 103: The Nullarbor

I got up just after sunrise and it was cold and beautiful outside the tent, the early morning sun shining on the few trees and over the low bushes surrounding the campsite. I went for a bit of a walk to find more firewood, there were a couple of dead trees not far from us and I was able to find plenty of branches around them that would get the fire going again for the morning.

I sat near the fire for a while and then as people woke up, got breakfast ready and we started to pack up. Everyone was cold and wanted to sit near the fire, which helped us feel warmer and may have slowed down our packing a bit. We were ready to go around 10.30, the last (by a few minutes) people to leave the campground.

We continued eastward along the longest straight stretch of road in Australia. There was a slight slope to parts of it, so we could only see 5 or 10km ahead, and when it was flat, the road shimmered out of sight in the distance, so we didn’t ever feel like we got a strong visual sense of how long it was – but it did take a long time to drive, without a bend. It wasn’t boring though, the scenery was fascinating, sometimes low, sparsely scattered trees, sometimes plains of low bushes, all very dry and inhospitable looking, but always quite pretty. It was exciting to get to the end and have the road bend a little. There weren’t a lot of bends over the course of the day – mainly the road was straight with the occasional meander to one side or the other. Therre wasn’t a lot of traffic either,  some road trains and caravans coming the other way, and occasionally another truck or van going our way, often we were the only vehicle we could see.

Part of the longest straight stretch of road
Not long after we started driving we saw a dead camel by the side of the road – our first wild camel sighting and we all felt it was a sad way to start. About 2 hours later we saw live camels, four of them to the right of the road,  in an area with no trees. We pulled over and watched them for a while, very excited to tick another desired animal off our list. Later on I saw a pair of emus – the kids didn’t see them though so we hoped that we would see more as we kept driving.

Around 2pm we were approaching Madura, and saw a sign to a lookout. I think this is the place someone told me about, way back in Hahndorf, so I suggested we pull over. It was a fairly bumpy road in to the lookout, and then the view was incredible. The road sloped down quite steeply just after the turn off to the lookout, and below us was the Nullarbor Plain – flat land for as far as we could see, with low, silvery green bushes and grass, and the occasional tree scattered all the way across. From where we stood the trees looked like emus – rounded green tops with thin trunks. To the north of the plain, looking straight ahead in the direction of the road, was a large escarpment – I had no idea that it even existed. From the lookout we could hear, and then see as they came past, the road trains and the caravans laboring up the hill as they headed west.
View from Madura lookout

We had lunch while we were stopped, then drove down the hill ourselves, onto the plain. The road followed the escarpment for the rest of the day. The terrain was similar all the way, with the occasional stand of taller gum trees (not tall, but not the tiny trees that were over most of the plain. Many of the rest stops had these taller trees. 

Once again the sun was setting fast as we drove away from it. We had hoped to get to the border, or at least close to it, today – however there was a strong vote for stopping at a rest stop with a toilet, and the last toilet was at Jilah Rockhole, about 70km before the border. We arrived there about 4pm and found a nice clearing between trees and set up the tent – the sun was close to setting by the time the tent was up so it was good timing. We wandered through the trees to find wood for a fire, finding a pile left by someone at one of the spots near the back (again, it was a very large camping area, with lots of relatively private spots because of the trees) and Tony found some wood he could cut with his axe. Caitlin had a bit of a scare as we loaded wood onto her bike – 2 wolf spiders were nestled together in a hollow in one piece of wood, and it took a while before we found them on the ground (after we flung the wood away) to make sure that neither of them were still on her bike.

We got the fire going and I made a cup of tea, while Tony cooked dinner. I hung some washing so it could start to dry in the morning, and Caitlin went for a ride to see if she could find anyone heading west so that she could give them our leftover onions – we can’t take fruit and veg into South Australia and we’d used all the onions we could manage. We also had carrots and apples left and felt confident we could eat them in the morning.

Caitlin had finished reading the 8th Harry Potter book in the morning, and I got it out to start reading. While I did the washing LiAM started to read it and made his way through most of the first scene – that’s all 3 kids who have started to read by reading a Harry Potter book.

Caitlin hadn’t come back when our sausage and egg burgers were ready, so LiAM and I went to find her. She was talking to couple from the Central Coast, who were travelling west and had taken our onions gratefully, and as usual we shared tips on places we’d been and things to do. We walked back over and had our dinner and enjoyed sitting around the fire.

The toilet was interesting – a drop toilet, not surprisingly, but with a very narrow hole leading from the bowl down into the pit underneath. Normally with the narrow hole, the toilet has a water pump that lets a small amount of water be run down the bowl after use, or a bucket of water with disinfectant in it and a toilet brush that can be used to clean the bowl. This one had neither – just a stick (an old broom handle) that could be used to poke down anything that hadn’t made it through the narrow hole. It was pretty gross, and seemed to get worse every time we went in there. I’ve recommended to my friends who are following us across the Nullarbor in the next week or so that they don’t bother stopping here just because it has a toilet…

We heated up our hot water bottles on the fire and snuggled into bed, with beanies and socks and neck warmers, to read Inheritance, which is getting extremely exciting.

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