Blog 200 Esperance and the Nullarbor Plain 13th – 21st Jan 2012


We had a strong headwind and really buggy ride from Ongarup to Esperance as our oil cooler showed, fortunately the screen kept them off of us. Every now and again one would hit me on the leg which hurt so I tucked my legs in tighter, then I heard “Ow ! What was that? Ow !!!” through the intercom. It’s good to share. They were some sort of damselfly that was hatching out on mass that day.

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Esperance would be a fairly unremarkable country town were it not for the fact that it is surrounded by some of the most stunning beaches on earth. The sand was like flour, it was so so soft that it squeaked under your feet as you walked through it.

It was still holiday season and the camps in the national park were full so we found a campsite on the edge of town. We struck lucky as it was definitely motorcycle friendly and we were soon chatting to our new neighbours. Over the course of the next day we caught up with Heather and Ted the couple we met a long time back at Lake Argyle when we were just entering western Australia and Pierre and Ruth a kiwi motorcycling couple we met in Perth.

We also rode around the scenic coastal drive. This is Twilight cove one of the beaches on the circuit where we stopped for an ice cream to watch the wind surfers.

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On the route round the scenic drive we passed the pink lake, the water level was way down and it had left salt pans behind which made for a good picture. I could see tyre tracks on it so I knew it was hard enough to ride on. The lake itself was not very pink at that time, the pink colour comes from Dunaliella Salina a green algae and Halobacterium Cutirubrum a bacteria that is pink in colour and grows within the salt crust on the bottom of the lake. The Dunaliella accumulates the red pigment beta carotene (also found in carrots) to protect itself from high light and heat. The colour of the water depends on the balance between these two substances. We saw a similar lake at Hutt Lagoon where they farmed the beta carotene for use in food supplements and colouring.

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While we were in town we visited Mermaid leather, they made leather from fish skin which was previously discarded as a waste product. The finished leather was incredibly strong and feels and smells just like normal leather except of course it has scales. Karen is holding up some examples of treated fish skins including Barramundi and shark which had a really rough feel and was ideal for grips for sports equipment etc. The other pictures show some of the beautiful products that can be made from this amazing material.

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After a few days camping in town we chanced our luck on the Sunday and headed to the National park where we managed to squeeze in at Cape Le Grand campground. This was a stones throw from the beach and was just beautiful so we stayed for a few days. We were allowed to ride on the beach there so we did just because we could. The water was turquoise and the sand snow white. When we visited the other end of the park at Rossiter bay we were just in time to see a pod of about twelve dolphins swim around a while before they headed out to sea.

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One of our day trips took us to Thistle Bay named after John Thistle the master of HMS Investigator the British ship captained by Matthew Flinders tasked with mapping the notoriously dangerous Australian coast (and the first ship to circumnavigate the continent). Thistle himself was later killed along with six other men in a shore party at a spot in the Spencer gulf that was later named Cape Catastrophe.  

The bay had some interesting rock formations including the aptly named whispering rock which acted like a parabola and reflected the sound of the sea back at you.

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Our other expedition was to the top of Frenchmans peak so called because the top looks similar to a frenchmans beret. A lot of the places in this area were either named by Flinders and his crew or a french expedition of about the same time led by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux who named Esperance which is french for hope. Frenchmans peak is 262metres high and was a steep climb, it was cloudy and blustery that day which made climbing more comfortable but the view murkier. There was a large cave near the summit which was so big it was visible from the ground.The thing that made my head spin once we had puffed and panted our way to the top was that this cave was formed by the pounding of waves from when the sea level lapped up against it.

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On our way back into Esperence we stopped off at Stonehenge, yes you did read that right  Esperance has the worlds only full size complete granite replica of Stonehenge. We have both seen the original many times (it was on route to Karen’s mum and dad from our old home) but this was a unique experience to see what it would have looked like when it was new.

We were not sure how it would feel to step inside the circle, would it feel fake and gimmicky?. Well we are pleased to report it felt really special and definitely had some of the magic of the real thing. Also unlike the real thing we had it entirely to ourselves and could touch the stones and go where ever we liked. The builder a local farmer was not the original instigator of the project, someone else commissioned the nearby granite quarry to produce it but went bankrupt before it was finished. This left the quarry with a pile of useless stones which otherwise might have been cut up for other things. The manager of the quarry was keen to see the project through to completion and a nearby farmer took it on and made it happen. The stones are all fitted into reinforced concrete foundations so in theory it should last a very very long time. The structure is aligned with the southern hemisphere’s summer solstice and sunset on the winter solstice. (longest and shortest days of the year).

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Our time in Esperance had come to an end and it was time to cross the Nullarbor Plain on the Eyre highway. Heading through Grass Patch we traveled on to Norseman where we stopped to fill up with fuel. Then we came to 90 mile straight the longest dead straight piece of road in Australia and second longest straight in the world only topped by one other in Saudi Arabia. This one runs from the outskirts of Balladonia to Caiguna where we stopped for lunch and a break from all that straightness.

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Also at Caiguna only 10 metres from the road was a strange blowhole from a huge cave network. All caves breathe and there was a significant breeze coming from the hole that was enough to blow Karen’s hair around when she was stood six feet back from it. Caves breathe out as outside air pressure falls and in when it rises, it is more noticeable when the underground chamber is large and the openings to the atmosphere are small as in this case. What made it even more noticeable was that it was a fairly still warm day and the cool breeze from the cave was most refreshing.

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As we were not in a rush we took our time to cross the Nullarbor, we stopped for lunch at Eucla. After lunch we rode down to the remains of the old telegraph station now half buried by the encroaching sand dunes. Opened in 1877 it was a very important repeater and conversion station on the Albany to Adelaide line as South Australia and Victoria used American Morse code at that time while Western Australia used the international Morse that is still used today. This line was also Western Australia’s only means of communication with the rest of the world. The township itself was abandoned and moved in the 1890′s when a rabbit plague ate much of dune vegetation destabilizing it to such a degree that the sand started burying the town. The station remained until 1929 when the new railway was put through and the line was moved north alongside it. The invention of automatic repeaters a couple of years earlier also sealed its fate. The telegraph station was completely buried in sand by the 1950′s but changing winds have partially uncovered it again in recent years. The family of Emu’s in the last picture were very curious and came for a look at us as we got back on the bike.

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We crossed from Western Australia into South Australia passing through yet another timezone. The fruit and veg quarantine checkpoint wasn’t until Ceduna another 300kms away. The timezones were even stranger going back this way, one jump of 3/4 of an hour and another 1 and1/2 hour difference at the border partly because south Australia has daylight saving and western Australia doesn’t. Then we crossed the Nullarbor plain itself stopping a few times to go and look at the great Australian bight where the Bunda cliffs stretch in an unbroken natural rampart for over 200kms and drop 90metres down to the sea.

Karen was stumped why she couldn’t get any water out of the tap at the Nullarbor roadhouse (see pic). And the last picture shows some of the vegetation of the Nullarbor itself. It is the driest largest Karst (limestone) area in the world which is partly why there are not many trees as it doesn’t retain water. It was once a shallow seabed and the limestone is 1’100km across at its widest point and covers 200’000 square km. Nullabor comes from the latin Nullus Arbor meaning no trees, although this isn’t strictly true as there are some small trees in certain areas.

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Nundroo was a marked change, the start of the agricultural land and the end of the Nullabor. We passed through the quarantine checkpoint at Ceduna with no problems and headed south.


Next Up Streaky Bay, Haslam and Port Lincoln

 

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