Welcome to The Travel Bug episode 3! We’re picking things up right where we left off in part 1 of Travelling around Australia. Last we checked, Dave just left Mildura and is on his way through the Nullarbor.
This post then finishes off in the Western Australia – talk about km coverage! Our Dave is sure quite a prolific traveller!
Here’s the ‘a picture is worth a thousand words‘ map for all you visual folk:
Do you remember the map in our 1st post? I’ll give you 10 points if you can guess what we are about to cover in the final post? ;)
One thing is for certain; this sure is a lot of driving and exploring!
Sit back, do read on and enjoy the ride with us.
Mildura to Western Australia
Feb to Apr 2005
I packed up my ute, headed down to pick up an English friend from a hostel in Adelaide and headed to the town of Port Augusta. The town had a reputation for being quite rough and violent, so we stopped there too load up on supplies only. This consisted of alcohol, baked beans and two-minute noodles the perfect backpacker diet. We then continued the drive to the town of Streaky Bay where we stayed in a hotel. Streaky Bay is a lovely town with a lovely pub and a lovely beach; however we had no time or money for this so we moved on the next day.
Our exact destination at the time was not known but what I did know was that there was a possibility of fruit picking work, somewhere around the bottom end of Western Australia. This would involve a drive of approximately 3500 km included crossing the Nullarbor Plain, distance 1200 km of which 147 km is straight in length (the world’s longest straightest length of road). From what I heard the road was seemingly endless running through the Simpson desert with a few service stations and very small towns dotted along the way, so driving across would involve preparation.
Do you want a Haka with that?
The next day travelled further west to the town of Ceduna, the last town of any significance before crossing the Nullarbor Plain. We cooked some of the beans, drank all the alcohol, went to buy more alcohol and then experienced something truly bizarre experience.
The service station attendant, where we resupplied our alcohol, decided to tear his shirt off in Hulk-like fashion and proceeded to do the Haka (traditional Kiwi dance and in his case, a possible mating ritual). After initially finding this funny, we hurriedly left and concluded that people in Ceduna are quite mad (I am sure generally they are not).
Zooming across the Nullarbor Plain
The following day we loaded up on Goon and petrol and took on extra cans of fuel which were thrown into the back of the ute. I figured that fuel was scarce across the Nullarbor and therefore to avoid any exorbitant prices for the fuel, we loaded up where the fuel was moderately cheap.
We tore across the Nullarbor as quickly as possible; according to my research there was only one police unit that covered this road to the Western Australian border so the chance of getting caught speeding was fairly minimal.
The speed limit was set at 110 km and fortunately we passed the Cop car quite early in the drive. This then involved driving at around 160 km per hour the rest of the way, as previously mentioned my Ute was quite powerful so handled the speed quite easily. Note that most backpacker cars are in far worse condition than mine, particularly in South Australia where there is no roadworthy certification on a yearly basis. Backpackers tend to be driving old Holden’s and Fords held together with scotch tape and rubber bands; my car in comparison was relatively modern.
Something I noticed on the drive – hard to miss actually – was all the carnage on the road that overnight trucks or road trains caused. Road Trains have up to four trailers attached to the rear and drive day and night. Australia is full of nocturnal wildlife and therefore when a Road Train meets with a friendly kangaroo, the poor kangaroo will always come off second best. Carcasses of dead kangaroos were littered on the side of the road every few metres. Only the foolish would drive a regular vehicle such as mine across the Nullarbor at night as nothing could cause a greater scare (and damage) than “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” coming through your windshield unexpectedly and ruining your trip. Road trains however do not have this concern and will pound any kangaroo, wombat, emu, camel or other cute and cuddly creature into the road.
Apart from that there wasn’t much to see, the Nullarbor is after all a desert, there are stop-offs to view the ocean but fuel and timing was an issue so did not take any of that in. Apart from the animal carnage, all we had was conversation and rather some rather loud dance music banging away on my car’s CD player. We managed to past the Nullarbor on the same day as we left and ended up in the town of Eucla near the Western Australian border.
The town essentially was a hotel and a petrol station, so we drank some Goon, had some beans and got some sleep at the only hotel.
Darryl Kerrigan says: This is going straight to your backpack
Here is a handy cooking tip:
“If you find yourself driving across 1200 km desert, leave a can of baked beans in the back of the car.
Upon arrival open up the beans and eat straight from the can, no need to heat up or cook as the dry desert heat as already heated them up for you. You can also fry some eggs on the hood of the car, if you wish to make a little more effort, essentially your car is now one large fry pan.“
Note: Darryl Kerrigan is the father from this classic Australian movie, “The Castle”.
‘Going straight to the pool room’ was one of his classic lines to signify storing an item away of great importance.
The following morning after crossing the border there was another long distance drive to the town of Norseman. Our destination was the coastal town of Esperance; however it was too far to drive in one day and as indicated, driving at night is rather dangerous. There wasn’t anything remarkable about Norseman though it was nice to be driving through forests instead of an unrelenting desert. We checked into a motel and then went to the local pub for a beer and dinner (there is a point to this, which I’ll get to shortly).
The reason I am mentioning the stop off in greater detail is the people that were met in the pub. This was the first time I’d met miners and I am not the smallest of guys, but these miners literally dwarfed me in SIZE. Their hand and handshakes made my arm shudder and arms made my legs look like twigs in comparison.
They were friendly enough and after several drinks they offered me a job after laughing that I had packed in Sydney to go fruit picking (they thought my travelling was complete madness). The job offer was a drilling assistant, which basically involves running into the tunnel and setting the explosive charge and then running back out, it’s commonly referred to as a Blast Monkey.
I declined as I suspected that they were more interested in my attractive female travel companion and wanted to get me out-of-the-way (this is not to be taken seriously). The only times the miners met women, apart from the bartender, were in brothels which they tended to frequent off shift. I politely declined the offer of being a monkey and we went back to the hotel.
Esperance and Cape Le Grande
The next day we headed to the town of Esperance, we decided accommodation was too much money and camped in the Cape Le Grande National park adjoining the town, I had a tent in the back of the ute along with sleeping bags (go backpacking prepared).
The wildlife and the beaches were beautiful and diverse, kangaroos moved freely moved between parked cars, white sandy beaches, a bright blue ocean and little islands in theses coved swimming areas, it was one of the nicest beaches I have ever seen.
We met a few other backpackers, downed some beans and Goon and went to sleep. The following day we went and looked at the town of Esperance itself, a very pretty and also seemed to be undergoing a lot of housing development. The town itself is quite isolated from the rest of Western Australia; it’s approximately around 1700 km from Perth.
The hunt for fruit picking work is on
The following day we went to the town of Albany, we had arranged to meet up with some backpacker friends that had also travelled over the Nullarbor from Mildura. Albany is a picturesque large port town on the coast; in fact all the towns around the bottom end of WA were beautiful. I was glad that we had driven this way instead of direct to Perth though Kalgoorlie as I was previously under the impression that Western Australia was just one big desert. I had no idea of the forests, beaches and wildlife down the bottom end of the state.
The next day we travelled in a convoy of two cars, looking for fruit picking work. First we travelled to Donnybrook with no luck, then north to Perth where there isn’t fruit picking work (as it’s a city) and then headed down to Bunbury (yet another typical lovely coastal town). There was no work in Bunbury which was rather disappointing as there was a work hostel there, so we then headed down to Margaret River, the famed wine region of Western Australia.
We managed to get work with a labour hire company, picking grapes, and as there were no work hostels in the area, we set up camp in a local caravan park and stayed there for few weeks, until we got sick of living in tents. After that experience and to this day, I still can’t stand camping due to that tent; close proximity to others in a sticky tent for a few weeks will try anyone’s patience. There were now five of us (met a crazy, funny Japanese guy at the campsite who joined us) and we found accommodation at a Chalet near the town of Albany.
Albany is a little town, mostly famed for where the two oceans meet, the Indian and Southern meet, and quests what, you guessed it, beautiful. The chalet was in dense bushland and surround by kangaroos, emus, birds, spiders, snakes etc. It was also nice to stay in somewhere more modern for a change, the Mildura hostel for all its fun, was run down and then month of travelling, looking for work and camping was very tiresome.
After five weeks of fruit picking I came to the realisation that I was sick of picking fruit (I don’t even like fruit) and that this life was no longer for me. I was an IT worker with office skills and wanted more cash for my effort, also my bank account was slowly draining despite all the hard work I’d been doing. Now my daily routine involved being up at 4:15 am to go to a meeting at 5:20 and then starting work at 6:00 for a lousy 5 hours’ work at 10 dollars approximately an hour, whilst slogging my guts out (Australian term for working hard).
After knocking some sense into myself, I quit my job, went to the pub to watch my beloved Carlton football club in the preseason, checked out some local caves, and drunk at some local wineries. I then said goodbye to my comrades from Mildura who were determined to keep working there and I headed off to the bright lights and big city of Perth.
The Party Hostel
The atmosphere in a party hostel is very different to that of a work hostel such as Mildura. The work hostel had people with little money-saving or at least trying too whilst drinking Goon and eating beans with noodles. The work hostel also involved early morning wake ups to get to the job; none of this is a concern at a party hostel. The people at a party hostel didn’t discriminate on types of booze, beer, spirits, cider (and Goon) is consumed and people go to bars on a regular basis, there is was takeaway food near the hostel, no need for beans. And no matter what time of day or night, there is always something going on, always a new friend to talk too. Some people worked, the majority were relaxing..
Upon arrival the hostel, they originally refused me entrance because I was an Australian; it’s not uncommon for Australians to be refused entry into an Australian hostel, quite often Aussies attempting to check into hostels to be are on the run from the police, crazy, drugged up or drawing illegal welfare cheques. I however came prepared with my passport, told them about my trip and they let me in. It was an excellent place to stay I was so happy that I found this place to stay, I made some great friends, had some good conversations, there was some “romancing” with some girls, and there was just so much socialising to do.
Setting camp in Perth
As I was sick of all things fruit, I decided on getting an office job. My ute had a tool box where I had planned that this may happen, because I had a ute had a with a lock up box in the back, I could carry where I could carry loads of clothes and be prepared for most occasions as well as being prepared, whether fruit picking, camping and, the occasional night clubbing. or office working. I managed to get an office administration job paying the grand some of $16.50 an hour doing data entry, not the lofty IT job I was hoping for but better than picking grapes. I wont bother you with the details of what this job involved. This now meant I could afford food that didn’t include noodles and beans and I could also buy drinks at the bar..
And better still, no need for Goon.
I can’t say I did much in the way of touristic activities whilst I was there; I of course looked around the city, toured a beer factory and spent a lot of time at the beaches. Perth and Fremantle are beautiful places, the city is quite sprawling but all I really needed was in Northbridge, the backpacking and slightly run down night time party area of Perth (think Kings Cross) with the occasional visit to Cottesloe with their famous Sunday sessions.
I mainly spent my time with the people I met there and there was a lot of people I befriended, some of whom I have caught up again and again with over the years. I tried to teach the wonders of Australian Rules Football and my passion for the Carlton Football Club who incidentally also finished last later that season, among other things I know about Australia. This is also when I first became aware of Facebook, one of the greatest tools invented for budding backpacker who wants to stay in touch with friends. The hostel itself had a bar, a pool, had and a couple of hundred beds which made it quite large. There was a hard-core group of around 40 people or so I got to know from many different nations of which I was one, other travellers came and go who stayed most of the time I was there. To this day, it’s one of the best hostel experiences I have had. It was just as enjoyable as my stay in Mildura but this was very different as I met a lot more people and there were many more stories to hear. The days generally involved getting up for my temp job, coming back mid-afternoon, hanging around the hostel or going to a bar and then off to bed. I stayed there for about six weeks with little change in the routine, consequentially losing track of time.
Perth was an endless summer.
..and the not so awesome part
Unfortunately I had my heart-broken by a German girl nearing the end of my stay there (I got over this quite quickly) which coincided with the loss of my job. This all happened in consecutive days which also occurred on my birthday, a terrible way to spend my birthday (not one of the better celebrations I have had).
I decided that it was time to leave, Word spread the word around the hostel, I talked up my travel plan and all of a sudden there was around a dozen people or so that others who also decided to leave, all guys a group of guys made up of Canadians, English and French. We hatched a plan to head to meet up in Broome and take over a hostel up there, transfer the good time to a new location..
The fun and newness of the hostel was peppering out and a new crowd was starting to move in, you can’t live in a hostel forever and more to the point, it’s not allowed. I had one more week of partying and then when it was time, a French mate and myself headed up north to do some touristic travel stuff and get to Broome.
Perth to Broome
The drive to Broome was a casual 2,500 km drive up the road. The first stop was the town of Geraldton; the second largest city in Western Australia and unlike the towns to the south of and including Perth, this place was not pretty. Ourselves and another car load of English lads checked into the local hostel, of which we were the only guests. We played a game of league on the beach which I acquitted myself well, and then attended the local night club, there were not too many patrons and those that were in there were looked like the aggressive types. Geraldton was known for having a violence problem
The next stop was the town of Kalbarri, a nice small coastal town on the beach, we caught up with a few more people from Perth, went to see a local (and terrible) band and again it was on the road till the next town of Denham. This was another small coastal town, population of around 600, had some drinks and went to sleep. It seemed the further north we went the smaller the towns were.
We spent Anzac Day in Denham, went to see the Dawn Service to which one of the flag bearers fainted and ended up drinking with Air force mechanics who disclosed secret NATO operations going on in the Northern Territory. I doubted any of this was true (including the fact that NATO being based in Europe, Australians have the tendency to exaggerate) but the stories were entertaining. The English guys driving with us stayed and we checked out Monkey Mia which is where the Dolphins come to greet people on the shore of the beach, I thought this might be a little cheesy and sure enough when we turned up there a bus load of Japanese on tour group with attached film crew. Next stop was Carnarvon to which decided to keep going (didn’t look particularly appealing) and we reached the tourist town of Coral Bay.
Coral Bay’s main attraction is snorkeling, though it also includes Quad Biking, whale watching and sun baking. My French mate and I stayed there a few days to chill out because the drive had taken its toll and it was such a nice place. I went out water for a day to snorkel the Ningaloo Reef; it’s likened to the Barrier Reef of the west and is teaming with wildlife and coral.
After a few days we headed to Exmouth, also famous for the reef, we checked into a local caravan park and cooked beans, unfortunately emus attacked as we were cooking as they were after our delicious beans. So we ended up cooking in the caravan and going to the local pub for a few beers.
Here’s a snap of one of the locals attempting to sneak something past my nose:
Attack of the Emus. “Away from my beans” I shouted.
Some challenges on the way to Karajini
There was traffic jam the following morning as the road had flooded. I personally didn’t think this was a problem so we drove though it anyway. The water came into the cabin of the car though, but fortunately the vehicle was high enough not to flood the engine. We headed to Tom Price mine for the night and wanted to see the Karajini National Park the following morning.
Unfortunately the first major hiccup on my trip occurred, though very luckily it didn’t end up being a massive problem. There was a sign outside of Tom Price at an intersection indicating the sealed road distance was half the distance of the dirt road. Logically I decided to take the shortcut.
Tom Price is an Iron Ore mine and unfortunately Iron likes to shred through car tires, around 5 kms in both my rear tires were punctured, we then attempted to change the tires but the tire iron snapped. Luckily a couple of miners came by around 20 minutes later and changed one of my tires, I was informed we could have been stuck there for days. The car hobbled the rest of the way to Tom Price.
My poor ute in need of new tires
We stayed at a local caravan park, laughed at our good fortune then ended up paying $500 bucks the following morning to replace the tyres; the shortest road is not always the best. Karajini is spectacular, we looked at Dales Gorge, water falls, watering holes and massive canyons.
Hardly any tourists either as it’s in the Pilbara which involves only the very dedicated traveller (it’s a difficult trek).
After spending half a day there, it was up to Port Headland, spent an unremarkable night in a shipping port and the following day it was off to Broome.
I’m quite sure Dave’s heart recovered after that little mishap in Perth. In fact in the next part of The Travel Bug, we join Dave in the final leg of his 10-month Australian trip. It includes
- some solid karaoke action
- checking the Bungle Bungles
- Reunions and parties
- Dave’s favourite Australian destination (can you guess which one?)
And much MUCH more!
Until the next Travel Bug, take care out there.
Read: The Travel Bug Episode 4
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world.
Dave is a Technology specialist by day and social butterfly by night. He is scheduled for yet another trip in May – July ’14.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.