Friday 3rd January 2014 – Leaving Dowerin
Today we commence our long dreamed of exploration of the South Eastern and Eastern coasts with our beloved Yacht Sandpiper. Most people assume we are sailing our way around and think we’re mad, but the fact is we are taking the easy was out and trailering Sandpiper from location to location. First major stop is the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. The boat is fully equipped and provisioned to be our caravan on land and our cruising home on water. This trip is the culmination of years of discussion, planning and reading.
With most packing already complete, we managed a reasonable get away from Dowerin shortly after 10am and had an uneventful drive through Wyalkatchem, Trayning and Nungarin to Merredin. After a quick bite to eat, we drove East along Great Eastern Highway with the plan of sleeping half way between Coolgardie and Norseman. The traffic was very light and the temperature around 30C so the driving was pleasant enough, more so because we just maintained an easy 85 km/hr. The Fifth Ashes Test was our main amusement.
Unfortunately, somewhere between Southern Cross and Coolgardie, we suffered a blow-out on the trailer. Fortunately, the road shoulder was flat and hard so we managed to change the wheel without major issues. However, with the Nullarbor ahead of us, we weren’t keen to go much further with only one more spare so we decided to overnight in Coolgardie and take the car into Kalgoorlie the next morning to replace the blown tyre. This suited us anyway because a first day drive of 446km is good enough, even with the thousands ahead of us. We have no intention of pushing things too hard.
The Haven Tourist Park boasted an RAC sign claiming three star rating but I suspect this was some time ago. Things were quiet and looked a little like a scene from a Clint Eastwood classic but the ablutions were clean and everything worked.
We are off on the Great Adventure!
Saturday 4th January
We left the boat at the Haven Tourist park in Coolgardie and headed of 40kms to Kalgoorlie to source a replacement tyre. It was a pleasure to be able to open the Land Cruiser up a bit without the burden of towing something, a rare treat for us.
Ian Diffen’s supplied the required size in short order time and we were soon back in Coolgardie and hitched up. I was very annoyed to find that an attachment for my brand new and rather expensive towing mirrors was somewhere on the Kalgoorlie road. I should be able to make another along the way but it didn’t lessen the angst. To add to the annoyance, the Anderson Plug connecting the boat electrics to the car for charging detached along the way to Norseman and the lead dragged along the ground, cleaning up the contacts beautifully but destroying the plastic surround in the process.
The road to Norseman seems badly in need of maintenance, but then most WA roads do. Despite this, we arrived unscathed in Norseman and made a brief stop in town to pick up a couple of items we lacked, including a little clip that I figured I could use to repair the towing mirror.
From Norseman, there is no avoiding the long and arduous Nullarbor crossing, kilometre after kilometre of mostly straight road, including the 146km straight stretch between Balladonia and Caiguna, the longest in Australia. The Aussie successes against the Poms in the Fifth Test kept us amused, although the scoreboard is really starting to reach embarrassing proportions. I think the Brits have given up completely.
As we travelled east, the size of the trees diminished and the horizon widened. Where once I saw only boring scrub, our many miles of outback travel have attuned me to the true beauty of our dry woodland country. The area of woodland between Norseman and Balladonia stretches south to the coast and north all the way past Wiluna. Once considered valueless, it is now recognised as one of the last great natural woodlands in the World and certainly does a great deal to lock up trillions of tonnes of carbon.
By Cocklebiddy, woodland areas were few and far between, but one small area provided a lovely quiet overnight stop, around 45kms East of Cocklebiddy itself. We covered around 650km today, and need to cover at least 750 tomorrow if we are to remain on schedule. By changing drivers every 150km and maintaining a steady 85-90km, we will be OK. We should even be able to fit in some sight-seeing on the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight.
Sunday 5th January
Because we would enter SA, we set our clocks forward 2.5 hours before going to bed and decided to travel the whole day on SA time. This meant that when we got up at 6am (4 am WA time), it was barely light and at the other end of the day, we had to endure daylight until after 9pm. Hopefully, the whole daylight saving nonsense will never rear its head again in WA.
The day was cool, overcast with the occasional sessions of drizzle. The wind increased as we headed eastwards to the point where a camp shower didn’t appeal and we opted for a night in the Penong Caravan Park to access a decent hot shower.
There was very little to do on the 750km drive other than sleep, complain about the price of fuel, stare at the straight flat road ahead and listen to the Aussies smash the Poms in the cricket. On one occasion, we accessed one of the tracks down to the coastal cliffs to take in the sights along the Great Australian Bight. Back in 1989 on our round OZ trip, we all got on hands and knees to cautiously look over the edge of the cliff. These days, a three strand fence and a whole forest of pine poles prevents you getting even close to the edge. Even so, it’s a pretty awesome sight.
We were also surprised to find the SA authorities are now getting serious about quarantine. It used to be that they were only worried about fruit fly and grape vines. Now, all vegetable matter needs to be jettisoned at Ceduna, so we munched on grapes and cherries along the way. Our last night before Coffin Bay was spent at the little town of Penong, 70kms shy of Ceduna and the vegetable inspection station so we made sure we ate up big on the fruit and veg.
Somehow, now we are in another state, it really feels like the adventure has begun.
Monday 6th January
With only 400kms to Coffin Bay, we could afford to sleep in and the late sunrise supported that idea. We got away around 8:30, surrendered our meagre vegie scraps at the Ceduna checkpoint and left Highway One to journey SE on the Flinders Highway. The farms around here show the signs of years of hard times, although this year’s season has been good. Some are even still harvesting, with recent good rains promising to damage the grain that does remain in the fields. Machinery is old and small, the fences are mostly in disrepair and stock numbers are low. There are many photo opportunities with the many abandoned stone farm houses dotting the fields. The small towns we passed through along the way lacked the sparkle and polish that seems to come with good harvests and steady profits.
We stopped in Streaky Bay to replenish the fruit and veg. Streaky Bay did look quite prosperous with holiday crowds in evidence and the bakery well stocked. I have found that bakeries are a good indicator of economic health, and I made the decision to throw my weight behind the Streaky Bay economy by having a sausage roll.
The scenery down through Elliston and finally to Coffin Bay was picturesque, but days of driving had taken its toll and we were both stuffed by the time we arrived. The caravan park at Coffin Bay lived up to the good reports my research had given and the location was nothing short of spectacular. The bay itself is beautiful and surprisingly calm, given the 25-30 knot SW wind. Oyster farms dot the bay and spectacular beach houses are in abundance. We strolled along the shoreline “Oyster Walk” checked out the launching facilities and treated ourselves to a dozen of the finest oysters we’ve ever tasted. At $9 a dozen, they are well worth it.
Tuesday 7th January
We had a lazy day in the Coffin Bay Caravan Park sorting out a few bits and pieces. It is fortunate that we don’t intend getting on the water yet because the weather is very blowy, overcast and only around 21 degrees.
Tomorrow, we leave the boat here in the park and head off to Melbourne for a week of cricket and tennis. It is around 700kms to Melbourne from here but we’ll take out time and see some sight along the way. There is a car ferry from Cowell across Spencers Gulf but we have the time to go up through Port Augusta so we may give that a miss, or use it on the way back. We should be back here before Australia Day and, hopefully, be out on the water when the crowds arrive.