Monday, 15 August 2016

Half-lap Day 104: The Nullarbor

Once again it was a very cold morning, and LiAM and Millie had both woken during the night and come up to our bed. Caitlin had moved on to Millie’s bed because it’s a bit further from the floor and a bit warmer than hers. Her sleeping bag is so cosy though that she’s usually not as cold as the others – sometimes her hot water bottle is still slightly warm in the morning when she gets up.

We had enough wood left over from the night before for me to start the fire again, and I had a cup of tea and read Harry Potter for a short while, before we started to get breakfast ready and to pack up. We’d slept till after sunrise, because sunrise is much earlier than we are used to, and so the morning seemed to be progessing faster than we expected it to.

We had a fairly efficient pack up, and all braved the toilet one more time, then were on the road by about 9.30am. This morning it was wedge-tailed eagles that we saw not long after we left – standing on the road eating roadkill, and then flying into the air as we approached – Tony slowed down and beeped his horn at them so they had plenty of time to get away, and it was amazing watching them take off and fly over our car.

As we got closer to the border, we could see the escarpment up ahead of us (it ws still running along to our left) coming to a sharp corner. As we got closer we realised that the road turned and went up the face of the escarpment, and what we could see was the escarpment meeting the coast, and then turning to the east and becoming the Bunda cliffs which run along the edge of the Great Australian Bight. We could see a bit of the ocean to our right as we drove up, and then stopped at a lookout soon after getting to the top. Looking back we could see the plains in the distance and then the cliff face beginning. Down below, with a plateau of green land between the cliff and the shore, we could see and hear waves breaking on the beach. To the left the cliffs became more sheer and headed off as far as we could see to the east. It was pretty cool – the kids at first didn’t want to get out of the car, then we told them it was worth checking out so they came and had a look and quite liked the view.

We kept on driving, listening to Harry Potter Book 7 (which was extremely exciting as we approached the end of the book), and looking at the Nullarbor – it was varied enough and fascinating enough to never be boring. Occasionally we’d get glimpses of the ocean beyond the cliffs to our right. For a lot of the drive today, there were no trees at all, just low grass and bushes. IT ws all much greener than we’d expected too – a muted, dull green, but definitely green and not brown.

We’d heard from a few sources that stopping at Head of Bight to see the whales was a highlight, so we pulled in there early in the afternoon. We paid our money at the Visitors Centre then started down the boardwalk towards the lookout. LiAM bought his binoculars with him in case we saw any, but he wasn’t confident that we’d get a whale sighting. As we walked I could see dark shapes in the bay to our left, which occasionally puffed water out – obviously whales and LiAM started to get excited. A family walking back up the path told us that there were LOTS. The kids ran ahead of me and as the path started to zigzag down the hill to the lookout I could see a large whale in the water beyond the kids – I called out and pointed it out to them, and all of us were astounded. These were Southern Right Whales and they were SO BIG! Bigger than my brain could comprehend. By the time I reached the kids they had counted 12 whales, and we kept seeing more, then realised that most of them had calves with them as well.

In the water below the lookout there were 3 whales with their calves. They were swimming along near the surface of the water, sometimes ducking under a little, sometimes changing direction, occasionally the calves would lift their flippers and flap them on the water. It was so incredible to watch. Once or twice we had one swim straight towards the shore, directly in front of where we were standing. We couldn’t get enough of looking at them, then were so magnificent and beautiful and awe inspiring. Some started to dive a little so we got a good view of their tails, and they always came back up again quickly and we could watch them some more. A little further out a pair were rolling over and flapping their flippers and looked like they were having a lot of fun. Every now and then we’d hear one of them make a big breathing sound – it sounded like a massive wave rushing through a blowhole, a deep, moaning, whoomping sound.

There were two people watching the whales near us and the guy had a massive zoom lens on his camera, on a tripod. As they walked away Tony pointed out their jackets, which said ‘Sea Shepherd Crew’. So these guys were hard core whale lovers, willing to risk a lot to help protect whales.

We walked around to the other lookout, reading the signs about whales on the way. There were more whales visible from here (not quite so close, but still close enough.) From here we could also see west along the Bunda Cliffs for quite a long way – sheer, very tall cliffs falling from a very flat plain, straight to the ocean. Very much of a case of ‘Australia ends here’ – it looked like the edge of the world. Breathtaking.

The guy with the camera was here as well, along with several more Sea Shepherd Crew members. I started talking to him about his camera, and then being on the Sea Shepherd, and he introduced me to the Captain. He and I talked for a while, about what they do when they come across a whaling ship, and what it looked like in Antarctica, and what they are doing at the moment (trying to document lots about the Bight, so that they can raise awareness and hopefully help stop BP from drilling for oil here). He was so interesting to talk to, he was very self-assured and calmly spoken and his passion came through powerfully but not in an overwhelming way.

While we were talking one of the whale calves started to breach, it jumped out 5 or 6 times and everyone was excited to watch it. It was cool to see even the Sea Shepherd guys get so excited, when they have obviously seen this happen so often. We also saw one whale spy-hopping (just popping it’s head up above the water) and then we reluctantly left the whales and headed back to the car.

We had a bit to eat and then kept driving east. We stopped for petrol at the Nundroo roadhouse, and asked if we could camp there but the girl said they were all booked out. We drove a bit further on to a free camp – without toilets, but there were no camps with toilets all through the South Australian section of the Nullarbor. We made sure everybody went while we were at the roadhouse, and figured we could go bush for one night. We sat in the car and listened to the end of the 7th Harry Potter book – very exciting and a little sad to be finished, we’ve been with Harry now since Alice Springs I think.

We arrived around 4 (West Australian time, which was now 5.30 South Australian time) and set up as the sun was setting again. We gathered wood, there was plenty available if we looked a bit beyond the main part of the camp. I made everyone a hot chocolate and we sat around the fire and felt cosy. We had left over potatoes and tuna and corn and mayo for dinner, very tasty. LiAM read a bit more Harry Potter and I read the first couple of scenes out loud to everyone. Tony and I also spent time looking at the map trying to figure out a bit of a plan for getting home over the next 6 nights. We had hoped to go down to Streaky Bay or somewhere (we’d wanted to be at least to Ceduna by tonight, but travelling east and not starting early enough in the day each day made that tricky) but decided it was going to leave too much distance to travel in the last couple of days, so we’d just go straight towards Port Augusta tomorrow and hopefully get as far as Kimba.

We decided to start Millie off in our bed, she had a bit of a sore throat and a sniffly nose, and it was easier than having her climb in half way through the night. This meant Caitlin could start the night on Millie’s bed too. We also offered LiAM the opportunity to start in our bed, and possibly one of us sleep in his bed, but he decided to just rug up earlier and go to bed with socks and jacket on, and stay warm that way. I also reorganized the blankets a bit so that he would be warmer. We got the hot water bottles ready and went to bed to read more of Inheritance.

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