Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Null and Eyrie

Perhaps to the benefit of advancing this trip westward, options become limited from Port Augusta. There is one final detour slightly south before coming back again and joining the very long, very straight, very dull but very incredible road to Western Australia. The Eyre Peninsula is a refresher of coastal Australia, part east coast seaside, part rugged windswept extremity, part barren plain. A transitory zone where ‘the outback meets the sea and thus a corridor of uncertainty for mutual driver pinky finger waving. There really should be road signs informing you whether you are in a wave zone or not, if only to eliminate the feeling of rejection from being spurned by the oncoming driver or the shame at not reciprocating because the pinky is seen too late. Another important observation from life on the road.
The first stop of note on the Eyre Peninsula is Whyalla. Despite claims that it would be wiped off the map post-carbon tax, it still stands. Which is possibly a shame, given there was nothing of appeal among the unfathomable spread of roads, disjointed shopping centres and shanty town caravan parks. We were going to stay here for the night, but carried on an hour down the road and thankfully ended up at the infinitely more appealing small coastal town of Cowell. Here, a few buildings with character, a peaceful jetty and breezy air, and a good value cabin in which to rest and recuperate post-Flinders.
Towards the south of the peninsula, Port Lincoln offers a tiny dose of something approaching sophistication. Finally there is a Coles and Woollies to choose from and a decent flat white. On its edge is Lincoln National Park, a snippet of bays and headlands negotiated by everyone’s favourite perennial explorer, Matty Flinders. A loop walk here struggles to compete with Flinders Range wondrousness, but satisfies for an evening beside the sea.
On the other side of the tapering tip of the Eyre Peninsula, the small town of Coffin Bay has, somewhat unfortunately, a sense of the retirement village about it. Famed for oysters, its nearby national park is another pristine array of windswept dunes and powdery white sands, sheltered bays and sandy heath. Draped in stubborn cloud on a hot and windy day, it wasn’t until the final minutes before sunset that the sun said hello briefly before its goodbye, and gave an uplifting walk along the sands.
The unseasonal blast of northerly winds continued the next day as the car ploughed mostly into it, burning fuel to great effect via Elliston and on towards Venus Bay. The landscape here certainly becomes more rugged and seemingly more arid, with flakily striated cliffs appearing to crumble into the big sea. Towns are infrequent, and each tries it hand at an attraction or two. In Elliston a number of cliff top sculptures add diversion, while Venus Bay proclaims dolphins, fishing, headland walks and peace and tranquillity on its brown tourist sign. Apart from the fishing, I can testify in support of this claim, with a surprisingly lovely walk round the southern headland among bays and cliffs and alongside a happy pod of dolphins.
Distractions faded a little the next day as rain came in, and a stop at pleasant Streaky Bay involved pleasant cake in between the rain, before heading on to Ceduna. This marked the start of something very, very big. No, not the Big Oyster, which was more disappointingly medium sized, but the Eyre Highway, crossing the Nullarbor to Norseman some 1,200 kilometres distant. The only road now west, with just a few sidetracks for interest.
The first stint of travel on this highway was suitably uneventful, though the diversion to stay overnight at Fowlers Bay was a worthwhile one. Small, sleepy and sat snugly on a glassy bay ringed with masses of seaweed, the place had an inevitable rough charm. There wasn’t much there or a lot to do, but a walk over the Tatooine-like dunes was satisfying, perked up by the company of a couple of local dogs that tagged along. And with the day extinguished aflame, and the treat of an apartment for the night, there was little hardship to bear. Well, actually, I lie. There was no oven or microwave, and the chocolate pudding mix couldn’t be put off, so I attempted it in the hooded barbecue. I think we can safely agree it was not the best dessert ever.
Now Fowlers Bay proclaims itself as having the last coastal accommodation before Esperance, Western Australia. That was to be our destination, but there was the small matter of a long, mostly straight road to cross first. We did the trip over a few days, splitting it up at Eucla, just across the Western Australian border. I can’t fill pages and pages commensurate to its length because it really isn’t very interesting. However, it does get to the point where it is so uninteresting that it becomes interesting, if that makes sense. I don’t know if I make sense. Sitting in a car for long periods numbs the brain.
Highlights of the crossing? The South Australian stretch at least provides some scenic viewpoints over the Great Australian Bight and the incredible cliff line that imposes itself endlessly upon the sea. I had a cheese and beetroot and tomato sandwich at one viewpoint, my own great Australian bite, my jokes clearly getting seriously jaded as the kilometres build. At Border Village, much excitement comes at once: a roadhouse, fruit and vegetable quarantine, Western Australia and the pillar of eye-opening amazement that is Rooey II. Nonchalantly brandishing a faded can of lemon squash, Rooey II towers above the landscape in a fury of brick and plaster, white and brown, offering a welcoming pouch for all and sundry.
I spent the next straight 700 kilometres wondering what happened to Rooey I. I also listened to lots of Hamish and Andy’s Business Brunch, stopped at every possible roadhouse, negotiated the straightest length of road in the world or some such (90 miles), and persisted in a confused flurry of wave zone uncertainty. Nearing the end, an oasis called Fraser Range Station popped up, where trees and grass existed, and camping was illuminated by a roast beef dinner and friendly company. Civilisation was returning. The end was in sight. Just a mere 300 kilometres left back to the coast. I felt hope. Esperance.

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