Thursday, 28 August 2014

KKK No 11 - The Nullarbor

 “K K K”

No: 11

WA’s South-West Corner
and the Nullarbor

A fine sunny morning at Baldivis on 11 August, day128, marks the end of our wonderful 11day visit to the ‘greater Perth region’ as we take the divided freeway southwards heading for the Margaret River area.

We soon enter the Peel Region and pass through emerald-green open pastures attractively shaded with large trees, under which graze both beef cattle and merino sheep. Angus and other British beef breeds dominate, no Brahmans here.

It has recently occurred to me, following weeks of fleeting casual observations, the reason, perhaps, why Western Australians are affectionately nick-named “Sand Gropers” – virtually everywhere we’ve been here the soil is so very sandy, far more so than the heavier loams of the eastern states; yet it grows big trees, excellent crops, pastures and gardens which in ignorance, I find quite interesting.     

Bypassing Bunbury and Busselton we arrive at Margaret River with its tree-lined main street and touristy village atmosphere, as you’d expect, being the centre of WA’s famous wine-growing region. Since we’re coming here again on our return trip in 6 weeks’ time, we press on under dark skies to make camp asap before it rains. 

Pruned Vines - Margaret River
But equally interesting is the village of Cowaramup (ko-warra-mup) a little further south, affectionately known as “Cow Town”, a once major dairying centre since starting as 160 acre “settlers’ selections” in1920, supplying much of WA’s milk; however, during recent decades many of the dairy farms have now become vineyards. Fibreglass cows now dot the village in keeping with the “Cow Town” theme. 

One of many fibreglass Cowaramup Cows
Just past Cowaramup we drove 25km inland to Rapids Conservation Park where we made camp beside lovely Cane Brake Pool, clear freshwater approx 300mtrs long on the upper Margaret River, a splendid campsite with the unusual blessing of mountains of firewood provided, albeit green, sawmill offcuts.  

Canebrake Pool - Margaret River
Canebrake Pool Woodpile
We had it all to ourselves other than for some day visitors, environmental scientists doing research into the endangered Hairy Marron, a native freshwater crayfish being attacked by another introduced species. They encouraged my inquisitiveness, making me an ‘authority’ on these matters and I can now identify the gender of crayfish. Smart, eh?

After two pleasant days there, notwithstanding a few rain showers, we moved on through Witchcliffe to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park where we stopped overnight in the Conto campground, which was equally appealing to both us and our fearless wallaby visitors.

Conto Wallaby
The following morning we drove the short distance to Augusta, to visit school-days friend Gil Goodwin, who welcomed us into his hillside home with its great views over the Blackwood River, beside which Augusta was settled in 1830, being WA’s third oldest European town (after Albany and the Swan River Settlement) and today is a lovely small town loaded with history and charm.
We enjoyed this SW Cape area immensely with the three major highlights being:

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, mainland Australia’s tallest, built in 1895, of which we took a guided tour and a memorable climb to the top of the 250 steps to the light platform with its superb views over the rugged coastline and meeting point of the Southern and Indian Oceans. The light’s flash is visible from over 47km away. 

We've come "up" in the World
Augusta Museum offers a wonderful insight into local history and, it’s said, many visitors rate it the best small Museum they’ve seen, with which we totally concur, being packed with some significant displays and pieces covering Matthew Flinders circumnavigation, early coastal Shipwrecks, Whaling, the Timber industry and early pioneers to name a few. Much local pride attaches to the fact that Matthew Flinders 1802 circumnavigation of Australia commenced and finished at Augusta.

Jewel Cave was the best by far. This SW corner comprises vast areas of limestone and subsequently many underground caves. Jewel Cave is a stunning crystal wonderland of timeless beauty and is home to one of the longest straw stalactites found in any tourist cave in the world. Its glistening array of formations left Audrey and me in awe! 

Jewel Cave Stalactites
The flora of WA’s south-west is famed for its diversity and one of this region’s major assets is its unique and unusual wildflowers. As spring approaches additional wildflowers will come into full bloom with all their shapes and colours.

However, the trees of the south-west are the regions well-known plants, dominated by the beauty and grandeur of the tall Karri, Marri, Jarrah and Tingle hardwood forests. The handsome multi-coloured Karri is WA’s tallest tree and one of the tallest in the world, growing up to 90 metres high. 

Hardwood Forest
We left pretty Augusta on 17 August and drove the 320km directly back to Perth from where Audrey flew that night to Sydney on an unexpected family matter, so Bruce and the KK checked into the Discovery Caravan Park at Forrestfield near Perth Airport for a couple of totally miserable days of strong windy rain.

Day 137, August 20 we depart Perth via Roe Highway up through the Perth Hills and nearby Mundaring Weir, the beginning of the 528km (300 miles) Golden Pipeline, completed in 1903, that delivered 5 million gallons of water daily to the thriving, thirsty gold mining towns of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. The pipeline follows the highway for most of its length.

The Golden Pipeline
Nearby John Forrest Nat Park was very hilly and densely timbered but soon the countryside opened in to grassy grazing lands upon which both cattle and sheep grazed. Continued on to the lovely town of York, settled in 1831, with its many old stone 2 &3 story commercial buildings and verandahed hotels. 

York Town Hall
By now Perth’s rainy weather had gone and we continued on via a lovely country road through fields of wheat and canola, intermingled with shaded park-like open forest grasslands, passing the hamlets of Greenhills and Dangan, on through the village of Quairading and past Shackleton, home of Australia's smallest bank, and in to the regional town of Bruce Rock, all part of the WA wheatbelt.

Bankwest Shackleton opens 2 hours every Friday
WA’s famous wildflowers were all about and a small campground at Kwolyin, a newly constructed Shire Council free campground, was a perfect example of that.

Wildflowers at Kwolyin Reserve
We had it all to ourselves overnight but next morning finds us back on the road, passing through Bruce Rock and on up to rejoin the Great Eastern Highway at the major centre of Merredin. Fortuitously found a garage where we had the Land Cruiser serviced, and plenty of red dust came out of the air filter! Camped that night in a noisy roadside rest area at Burracoppin - you can’t win ‘em all.

By the time we reached the town of Southern Cross we were now out of the southern farmlands grain belt, and by Yellowdine Roadhouse, low scrubby heath was prevalent.

Another two hours’ drive found us in Coolgardie, the 1892 birthplace of WA’s famous gold mining boom when Arthur Bayley and William Ford collected 554 oz (16.8kg) of alluvial gold using nothing more than a tomahawk. Coolgardie saw the biggest movement of people in Australian history when gold was found - the rush was on!! 

Coolgardie Old Grandeur
We stopped for lunch in this town of barely 700 pop, a far cry from its mighty heydays as reflected in some magnificent old buildings that remain from its rich past.

A further 40km that afternoon and we’re in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, where in 1893, three down-on-their-luck Irishmen stumbled across 100 oz of alluvial nuggets when forced to stop to replace a shoe on their horse. Paddy Hannan is credited as being the discoverer, with the main street named for him.  

The twin town Kalgoorlie-Boulder is still one of the world’s biggest gold mining cities (pop 33,000), and both have beautiful examples of Goldrush architecture.

The gold mine’s open-cut “Super Pit” is a man made wonder that can be seen from space; a massive gouge carving into the red earth where trucks the size of houses move hundreds of tonnes of rock in the hope of extracting a few ounces of gold at a time.

Kalgoorlie Super Pit
Next stop was Norseman, a historical gold mining town, starting point of the Eyre Highway and gateway to the Nullarbor. A tired looking old gold mining town which has yielded over 5 million ounces making it the second richest goldfield in WA. We stopped that night

By late afternoon we reached Palms Lakes rest area just past Fraser Range Station where we camped 200mtrs back from the highway amid the trees and a few other vans. Country is still open forest and some scrublands, but we’re at the edge of the Nullarbor.

Next morning we topped petrol at Balladonia which made world headlines in 1979 when space debris from Skylab landed 40km east on Wooriba Sheep Station. The Roadhouse, on the western end of the Nullarbor Plain, has a small museum which included an exterior section of the Skylab.

Just east of here is “the 90 Mile Straight”, from Balladonia to Caiguna, the longest straight stretch of highway in Australia (146.6 km). 

The 90 Mile Straight
We stopped at the Caiguna Blowhole with its strong current of cold air from the underground limestone caverns; topped up fuel at Cocklebiddy then passed thru Madura, the midway point between Perth and Adelaide; and enjoyed the elevated view of the sprawling Roe Plains from Madura Pass Lookout, enroute to our next overnighter at Moodini Bluff, where we camped well back from the road noise under shading trees.

After an early start next day we soon pass through the locality of Mundrabilla where Australia’s biggest meteorite was found, weighing over 10 tonnes.

Continued on through low scrubby country then up through scenic Eucla Pass - where the Nullarbor Plain rises from 20 to 80 metres above sea level - into tiny Eucla village which, in the early 1900’s was the busiest (Morse code) Telegraph Station in Australia beyond the capital cities. The historic old station building now lies in ruins.

Just past Eucla lies the WA - SA Border and the highway now runs along the high cliffs coastline of the Great Australian Bight, for about 100 km, with many lookouts. We stopped and viewed them all, but the Sun’s northern trajectory over this shaded southern coast makes it difficult to take bright photos. The high cliffs are very attractive, but unfenced with sheer undercut drop-offs – and quite scary to photograph from close to the edge.

Great Australian Bight
Stopped that night at a rest area identified as the ‘81km peg’ about 100km west of Nullarbor hamlet. Like many others across the ‘Plain’, a complex series of dirt tracks wind back several hundred metres from the highway to minimise road noise and we always went in a few hundred metres. Some were like a maze and challenging to pick the main track back rather than driving around in lost circles!

Two days were spent here alone at the ‘81 Peg’ running on 240v generator power to prepare this KKK # 11, before heading off on 27/8, trip-day 144, towards the end of the Nullarbor.

81 Peg Campsite
100km eastwards Nullarbor Hotel/Motel and the Roadhouse pretty much comprised the total village and we passed on by, entering the Yalata Aboriginal Community Lands, about 100 km of heavily forested, high rolling ridges, not much driving fun pushing a two tonne rig constantly up hill and down dale.

But push we did and eventually drove out of the hilly bushlands and into open green grazing land and fields of wheat, just before arriving at Nundroo, marking the western edge of SA’s vast grain belt which extended the 150km into Ceduna.

Since the Nullarbor Plain is loosely regarded as running from Norseman to Ceduna, we’ll leave the rest ‘til the next instalment.

Bruce and Audrey
Kimba  SA – 28/8/14
Bunda Cliffs - Perched on the Edge of Australia!!

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