The small matter of crossing Australia

Woooooooah, it’s been a while. A three-month-while. Part of that is because we’ve been on the road for quite some time with limited signal, and part has been because we’ve just been so darn busy enjoying life! (Sorry, not sorry). ❤

After almost being eaten by two sharks at two different beaches (a Bronze Whaler and a Tiger Shark), picking all the grapes imaginable, stroking two-metre wide wild stingrays, being crawled on by a golden orb spider (luckily not deadly, but man are they freaky looking), drinking way too many overpriced pints, eating my bodyweight in curry at the Soup Kitchen, seeing some incredible live bands I’ll forever fangirl over, and just generally having a fantastic time with lots of new friends, it was finally time to leave Margaret River and make our way east. Due to the wages being so low picking grapes, it was pretty tough to save for the journey, but somehow we had about $800 between us so we thought we’d just wing it and see how it went. Kitting Speedy out with a $100 roof rack sourced from Old Knocker’s scrap yard, jerry cans for spare fuel and lots of tinned food, we were ready for whatever life on the open road had to throw at us.

Checking that Speedy’s tyres were all good in Margs before our big trip!

Our first stop was Esperance. We had always planned to go to this sweet little seaside town on the south coast of Western Australia, and we were glad we did! It made a lovely stop along the way. Sadly just before we got there, a 17 year old girl was killed by a shark whilst surfing, so the sea was definitely off limits, but to be honest I’m a bit wary of the sea here anyway so don’t tend to go in past the shallows… I like my limbs too much (and our own experiences with sharks show that the shallows aren’t even safe!). Free camping is pretty frowned upon, especially in towns and cities, but we decided that local church car parks were definitely our best bet. I mean, people of God can’t turn us away, can they? Well, fortunately they didn’t… or maybe they just didn’t realise we were there… (we like to think we’re pretty stealthy operators, despite the Mexican man emblazoned on the side of the van). We stayed here for two nights getting ourselves sorted for the next leg of the trip, as the next part was the most nerve-wracking bit.

Salmon Bay, Esperance – no filter necessary.

We headed a few hours north to a backwards little town called Norseman (seriously, I can’t believe people actually live there – it looks like the wild west except not at all fun), which is the start of the long drive from Western to South Australia and involves crossing the Nullarbor Plain – a huge expanse of limestone karst landscape, two thirds of which are in Western Australia and the other third in South Australia. We were nervous because this road is so remote. There are small petrol stations and downtrodden motels every 200-300km or so, but apart from that you’re pretty much alone. If you break down (and don’t have much car knowledge like us), you’re basically screwed, and although Speedy had been running well for us since the nightmare issues we had with her at first, we were convinced it would all go to pot as soon as we were out of civilisation. It’s pretty much the only way to get from WA to SA by land, so you do see other campers – mainly retirees in very posh looking set ups – and ‘road trains’ transporting goods from one part of Oz to another here and there, but there can be expanses where it’s just you and the open road, which is in equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. Road trains are an anomaly to us Brits – because nothing takes so long to get from A to B back home that they’d be required. They’re basically huge two-container-long lorries connected by chains, and it’s so scary when one of them is gaining on you in the middle of the outback at night, headlights looking like huge demon eyes staring into your soul through the rear-view mirror.

The Eyre Highway is the name of the road along the Nullarbor Plain, stretching for 1,675 kilometres, and there are small pitstop towns along the way where you can refuel and pay to sleep. When we saw the price of fuel along the way (186c per litre at its highest), we were bloody glad we’d filled our jerry cans up at a very reasonable 127c per litre before getting onto the Nullarbor. We didn’t feel that paying to sleep in a motel car park was very economical or adventurous so we camped in road train pull-ins along the way which were free and suited us perfectly! Some (Australian slang incoming) servos* would let you pay a few dollars for a shower, so we indulged if the option was there. Part of this trip also included 90 Mile Straight, which is the longest straight road in Australia (I’m not sure why it’s named in miles when Australians use kilometres) and goes on… and on… and on… for 146.6km without so much as a slight bend. We thought it might be a really boring drive, but we actually found this arid, desert-like landscape exciting and interesting, and saw some incredible wildlife, like gigantic eagles with two-metre wingspans feasting upon kangaroo carcasses that had been hit by road trains. Because of the lack of artificial light and pollution, the skies at night were absolutely breathtaking too – unreal red-pink-yellow-purple-orange sunsets followed by the entire Milky Way illuminated above, like a light show just for us.

Home is where the camp chairs are.

Part way along the Eyre Highway, shortly after crossing over into South Australia, the road snakes close to the coast, in an area called the Great Australian Bight. There are free camp spots right along the cliffy coast which you cannot believe you’re paying nothing for because the views are worth a million dollars. After a long day’s driving, we’d enjoy the simple things in life: an easy meal on our small camping stove, a glorious view, the day’s sunset, and a cold beer to wash it down.

The cliffs of the Great Australian Bight

On the fifth day since leaving Norseman, we made it to Ceduna, the last or first stop along the Nullarbor depending on if you’re travelling WA to SA or vice versa. We could have done it in less days but we took our time – we’re likely to only do it once so wanted to really soak up the whole experience. We’d made it 2,115 km so far, but our journey was anything but over.

Our destination, which I probably should have mentioned before, was to eventually be Melbourne, but with stops to visit family of mine in two places in South Australia along the way. The first was my great uncle and auntie, who hadn’t seen me since I was 3 years old, and which I can barely remember. We drove from the Nullarbor right down the Eyre Peninsula, stopping at tiny coves along the way to sleep under the stars, until finally we made it back up the coast to the industrial town of Whyalla, where they live.

My Welsh gramma’s brother moved to Australia in the 60s as part of the merchant navy, taking his wife and four children (Andrew, Jane, Martyn and Tracey) to start a new life. The tickets for the two adults cost £10 and the kids travelled free. They came over by ship and had a family passport which was one piece of paper with a sepia photo of the six of them and their names, hair colours, eye colours and heights scrawled in pen. When he showed me the document, I couldn’t believe it, and the bottom right-hand corner was totally charred away. “That was Tracey,” he told me. “She was playing with matches on the boat ride over here and set the passport on fire…” – I know, there are so many things wrong with this statement, but it was the 60s! And to think, in those days you could still get into a country with a half-cremated piece of paper as your travel document!? We had a marvellous time catching up on all the respective family news, exchanging stories and were very well fed indeed! Considering my great uncle’s 81 and great auntie’s in her late 70s, they were excellent and attentive hosts and I will forever treasure the memories we made with them. We also spent some time meeting my dad’s cousin Andrew’s new partner and her two little ones (well, not so little… 11 and 6!) who were so full of life and laughter, it brought a nice dimension to the trip.

…I also met cousins (and dogs) I’d never seen before in Nairne (near Adelaide) 😀…

The next place we found ourselves in was Adelaide. I didn’t really know what to expect as some people had told us it was boring, but we found it so nice! It’s super pretty and clean, with plenty of greenery, lots of parking around the city, a huge central area with lots of eateries, coffee shops (my shocking new addiction) and pubs (my usual and completely not shocking addiction). I think coming from Cardiff, a small and easy-to-manage, walkable city, Adelaide felt like home in a way. We stayed here for two nights just conspicuously parked in residential streets and drank a whole lot of Captain Morgan’s spiced rum.

After a fabulous week staying with more generous family – my dad’s cousin Andrew this time – the itch to get back on the road was in full swing. We packed up Speedy once again and set off, this time following my dad’s footsteps and ticking off one of the things I’d wanted to do for years before coming to Oz: the Great Ocean Road. I’m a firm believer that it’s impossible to get a true sense of a country by flight. Convenient and quick, yes, but nothing shows you the heart of a place like traversing its landscape, especially camping along the way. As you can imagine, it didn’t disappoint. (Even in winter).

A week passed, the nights got colder, and we arrived in the buzzing metropolis of Melbourne feeling slightly nervous at our lack of funds and very limited knowledge of the city. We were acutely aware that we needed to find jobs and a place to live fast. We holed up in a caravan park north of the city for a few weeks sending out CVs and enjoying the city (cheaply). One day, about a week after we’d arrived in Melbourne, I got a call from a guy who needed a receptionist for his massage studio which is based in a nice part of the city. I’ve worked there for about 3 weeks now, and I love it! It’s varied, enjoyable, equal parts busy and quiet, and I like talking to different people each day. This Saturday, I have a trial shift for a weekend bar job where I’ll be taught how to make cocktails – a very essential skill! Rob works in two branches of the same pub and is on good money, so things are going well for us at the moment. We put Speedy in temporary retirement and moved into a studio flat last week which feels like complete luxury after the van! Melbourne is an incredible city, mixing old and new in every area, with a lot of things going for it (loads of amazing Asian cuisine, live music, awesome street art and a billion coffee shops, to name a few!) and the area we live in reminds me of a mini Bristol. We’re definitely hibernating here for the winter so don’t plan to leave any time soon 🙂

Until next time…

Ana x

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