Updated: Mar 11, 2020
“Is this what it’s like in Texas?”
Lucy must think I’m a walking version of Wikipedia because the questions I get asked on a daily basis are way, way out there. In some ways I think I’m being set up for regular failure. I have long ago exhausted the ways of saying “I don’t know”.
The three of us left Geelong early on a Wednesday in February to cover good ground over the first days of our trip. Heading clockwise around Australia is the basic idea. Planning too deeply seems like a futile exercise given the impact bushfires and extreme weather have had in our opening months. We are fortunate and relieved to have skirted around the dangers thus far and fingers crossed it stays that way.
*This is the trip we plan to cover over the first 5 days.
Having already spent a couple of months exploring Victoria (west of Melbourne) we scooted straight across to South Australia spending a night in the Barossa Valley, wine region. We continued past Adelaide and Port Augusta reaching Ceduna and the South Australian coast on day 3 where we stayed at Cactus Beach, a stunning beach campsite with loads of kite surfers.
“So, you’re heading this way...” a kite surfer I met on the beach points to a T junction he’s just drawn on the beach with his big toe.
“....and you want to take a left here, and just follow the road to Esperance and its beautiful around there. Do you like wine?”
He was a very nice bloke from Adelaide that had been around the block and had a bit of a limp going on but when he was out on the board with his mate, they were ripping it. Impressive too was their campsite setup, a mega Mercedes Van that you would easily live in plus a large army style tent for him and his buddy. I humoured him as he went on about wine and Australia, but two things occurred to me: giving directions in Australia is incredibly straight forward. That man directed me over 2,000kms using his big toe in the sand! Secondly, is it possible that he really thought I had come that far and didn’t already know where I was headed? It’s not as if we were out for a Sunday jaunt, we were halfway through a 3,000km drive on a road with no turns. That said, he was another example of Australian friendliness and generosity that we’ve seen so far. He even offered to take us out surfing at dawn as he knew the beaches well!
The following night we stayed on the side of the highway at a camp zone overlooking the Nullarbor plains. One more day of driving and that was 1,600km done of a supposedly 20,000km trip (8%, that’s grand). Ceduna is the last town for 1,200kms that includes the Nullarbor plains, a vast expanse of outback that may or may not look like parts of Texas.
Rural Australia is a bit weird at the best of times, I don’t think that’s unfair, but it is quirky and functional. The 1,200km road is dotted with “Roadhouses” which are petrol stations with a cafe, shower maybe a caravan park out the back. They are dependable .... dependably strange and expensive. Giant outdoor artworks are found outside some roadhouses, like a giant Kangaroo holding a tub of vegemite, or Australia’s so called “largest” windmill that was about 15ft tall. Let’s not forget the famous Nullarbor Links golf course. This is the self proclaimed largest golf course in the world, 18 holes spread over 1200kms, shoot 72 for par. You’ll have to bring your own clubs and travel with someone who doesn’t mind you getting out of the car 18 times to play each hole of a dirt golf course. I had neither with me.
That is all an intermittent freakish sideshow to the main attraction; experiencing hundreds of miles of mostly flat, mostly dry scrubland. We caught an occasional glimpse of the stunning coastline and the Great Australian Bight, a bright blue and at times turquoise ocean. That is a jaw dropping sight, particularly after looking at nothing but road for 5 hours. It’s like eating a packet of crisps after a day on the mountain with no food. Best bloody crisps I’ve ever had.
For now we sleep on the side of the road in a free campsite in our triangle caravan. Ahead of us is Esperance and Southwest Australia which comes with extra hype! I don’t know, but I imagine it’s like looking forward to California when you’re driving through Texas.
My personal favourite point of interest here is the disregard for time zone general global rules. Not only does Australia do the 30 minute clock change thing, there is a 350km section of road, within the 1200kms without towns, that has its very own time zone! There is a 1.5hrs difference between SA and WA in winter and a 2.5hrs difference in summer as WA don’t bother with Daylight savings. The people by the border on the WA side reckon that’s too big a difference so they cut the 90 minutes in half and operate 45 minutes ahead of the rest of WA but do adhere to daylight savings. They took it upon themselves to do this and over time it’s become accepted. I’m disproportionately fascinated by this.