The Big Van Trip – Albany to South Australia!

So we just left WA. Honestly, its nuts how much actually happens in a few days.

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So after the last blog post, we left that sweet sweet spot just outta Albany, and headed towards Esperance, on our way to tackle the Nullarbor. You have to go through Raventhorpe, and as we pulled in I got this feeling… All this Hi Viz workwear everywhere, people checking their brake lights etc are working before driving off from the service station, working types everywhere and signs galore… MINING TOWN!

So i knew I should be careful and play by the rules because mining towns love rules. And guess what? On the downhill stretch outta town I sped up from 50 to 65 kilometers per hour and BANG! Cops with speed guns. Anyway, i dont mind, fair cop if you get caught. And whats more, I had been worried that if we got caught speeding the coppers might want to go over the van with a fine tooth comb, maybe give us a yellow sticker for the non-regulation synthetic turf floor mat in the front. But all was good, and now we have a post office visit on our itinerary so I can pay my 150 buck fine! What an adventure.

So in the end, the moral of the story? Listen to your Instincts. I knew something was up as soon as we arrived in that town.

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So we made it to Esperance without any further infringements though I probably drove the fastest we had yet out of a rebellious urge to get my pride back. So we had our list of stuff to get before the Nullarbor, drove around getting the stuff, were unsuccessful with everything but the booze list, managed to have a quick dip in the ocean, and hit the road north to Norseman!

It was getting late and we had made good distance during the day, but we planned to push on a little further and make camp just south of Norseman where we could camp for free again (Im TOTALLY not into caravan parks, I believe it is everyones right to sleep somewhere on this earth without paying for it as long as you clean up after yourself and dont disturb the environment or other people unfairly, what do you reckon?). Anyway, we passed our last town called ‘Grass Patch’ and had about 80km to go when we started to see smoke. I mean, not from Nightshift our van, but from the direction where we were heading to camp! Then we started to see lightning. So what was happening? Was there a fire, or just a little storm? Not sure what the situation was, we decided to push on a bit further until we could see what was happening.

Getting a bit further down the track the wind started to pick up, and before long the skies were dark, we had crazy gusty winds almost blowing us off the road, the smoke was still raging in the distance, and now all these little bushes were being ripped out of the ground and blowing across the road! Like giant motherfucking tumble weeds. It seemed as though the area was disintegrating. We decided to turn around.

Good thing we did, coz as we were heading back visibility dropped to almost zero and we were both a bit on edge in our top heavy vehicle. It seemed as though all this dirt was being across the road, depositing all the vegetation as it did. We had a few bushes stuck under the van, and worried about them catching fire from the engine heat, I tried to get out and remove them but no way! It was buckwild out there and I got back in pretty quick. Unfortunately we didnt get photos at the real height of it, as we were kind of in survival mode by then!

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So we made it back to Grass Patch and pulled into the local pub, pretty much the only building in town bar a few houses and a school, where people were pulling in to shelter from the storm/fire combination. We went in and stuck up a bit of a conversation with a local dude, really nice guy, very calm and respectful and ready for a yarn. He was harvesting wheat at the time, and had been working super yard for like 20 days straight, and was really loving the chance for a beer that the storm had brought. Turns out that this kind of thing happens every once in a while, usually around this time of year. Turns out that it was a proper dust storm, with rare super strong winds blowing away the topsoil from the surrounding wheat country, and on the other hand a couple of fires raging away on the Nullarbor and blowing smoke in this direction.

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So in contrast to the hell nice harvesting guy who’s name I forget (quite unfairly), there was Phil the Publican. What a grumpy son of a bitch! Clearly suspicious of us clearly city folk. He was this fat old bastard, sat there sucking on beers like a trooper. Should of seen his act when we tried to buy some dinner off him! He just said, “Spose you could”, and sat there for ages until he had finished his beer. Only then would he talk about it haha. Priorities. Poor Phil must have been quite sick of being a publican, as his joint was up for sale.

Different personalities aside (let em be), both of these guys got in on the same story: basically Grass Patch was a very small town (this was the highest number on any number plate in sight):

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Turns out about 7 people lived in town, and that even if you wanted to you couldnt really move there. Land could no longer be bought except for the few privately owned blocks in town. The fellas told me that the shire had bought back all of the others in the name of conservation, but in reality that Grass Patch had been designated a Non-Growth Town. Now I never knew there was such a thing, but as the fellas explained, the principle is that once a town gets bigger then the government must put in this and that facilities. As it stood, Grass Patch was on some threshold, and the Shire had decided that she was not worth spending the money that even a few more residents would require them to do! As they paid the same rates and taxes as people in Esperance town, they were pretty angry about this.

I didnt know that that could happen! Imagine if you had lived in a place all your life, your grandparents had literally built it maybe, and then some people from somewhere else completely decide to condemn you home to slow it is just bullshit. We need the opposite!

So we got our feed of Fish and Chips, had quite a few beers, and came out to see that heavy rain had washed away all the shit from the storm right off Nightshift the Van. Driving up the road to camp for free, even all the debris had been cleared off the road by the wind, and despite the odd fallen tree, it was like nothing had happened. After a day off I reckon alot of the farmers would have some serious problems though. Having waited for rain for so long, only to have the topsoil stripped away at the same time, sounds like it could be a heartbreaking thing.

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We found a nice place to camp, off the road down a dirt track. In the morning I plugged in my keyboard and had a bit of a jam. In the photo I look like a total weirdo, totally vibing out in the back of a white van with my eyes closed, but it was great to have the keys ringing out through the open air, looking out to the bushland for inspiration. Getting better at playing is one of my aims for this trip, so gotta put in the work.

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Despite being almost out of fuel from our fire storm detour, we pushed on the Norseman and made it just in tie to fuel up and for me to leave my card behind at the pharmacy, where it still is…

Next thing, we hit the famous Nullarbor! and our first real straight road.

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There are heaps of animals along the Nullarbor. A camel, heaps of kangaroos, birds, lizards, rabbits and a fox, dingoes and emus. And unfortunately we saw a roadkill specimen of most. Its really extreme I reckon; hopefully most died on impact, but alot of pain has been felt along that stretch. There were also a few busted up cars (omens?), and plenty of mirages for dusty drivers hoping for a bit of swimming action!

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Another weird thing that most of you will be familiar with is the Road Train Suck. I was trying to figure out how this happens, but when you go past one of these huge trucks, just after you’re past it you get sucked over into the other lane of the road. I think whats happening is you are getting sucked into the air gap left behind the truck, like how there is a dip in the water left behind a speedboat. Anyway, top loaded and high Nightshift the van was getting sucked in pretty strongly, and even more so when the roadtrains were passing US like this crazy son of a bitch:

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We stopped for our first night just shy of a town called Caiguna. We had intended to push on further to where I had the coordinates of a good Free Camp, but were just too knackered. Caiguna had a caravan park apparently, but often there is nothing worse than being in some bulldozed numbered lot crowded in with a whole bunch of Grey Nomads (like my Dad haha)! So we pulled off on this track to the Caiguna Blowhole, picked a spot with some shelter from the wind, and did our usual routine of eating well, having a few beers, and hanging out.

Next morning we got up and while Erin got her coffee fix I did my practise (and had a coffee). I had been itching to use the bike Id been dragging around so I set off down the track hoping to find the Great Caiguna Blowhole. I reckon I rode for half an hour down this rough dirt track before abandoning the search and heading back to camp. Was hell fun actually, and we discovered the great blowhole in the end, on our way out right next to the highway, about 2 meters deep with a lonely can of empty bourbon resting on its bottom. What a tourist attraction Caiguna!

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So after you do 90 miles of dead straight road (literally on both counts), you make a little dogs leg where this scarp feature comes in, at the town of Madura. Now I got confused here, thinking Madura was the town where the grew shitloads of those famous Oranges. We ended up deciding that we guessed it was possible and moved on, but man, it was pretty dry! We had a bit of a realisation later in the day when we saw Mildura on a map haha, no fucking orange is going to grow in Madura I assure you.

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Just shy of Eucla, the last town in WA before the border, we saw a sign saying drinking water available. This sounded pretty good, as everything is expensive on the Nullarbor and we were keen to replenish our supplies just in case. So we drove off the highway to these tanks, and it was just another mirage! Not only did you have to boil the water which would be a pain in the ass, but there was actually no water in the tanks, and someone had written ‘What Water?’ on the sign. Actually, it looked like there hadnt been any water there for years.

The detour was not without excitement though; when we were walking around the tanks checking out the backpacker graffiti, I almost stepped on a big snake which was coiled up half under the tank. Stupid I know! But I had been snoozing in the passenger seat and kinda just plonked out half asleep, and shuffled around in my thongs. Dont help ya to have excuses when you get snake bit though. I was lucky that time.

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Wasnt far after that when newly awakened and fully alert Staf and Erin reached Eucla, and the old Eucla Telegraph Station thats down a track from there in the dunes. This thing, I suppose once upon a time the end of the overland telegraph line, is like a middle eastern ruin in the shifting sands. We had a bit of an explore, and then set out for a trek over the dunes to the beach which turned out to be a few kilometers. Pretty cool though, just great how every day we are getting such drastic changes in scenery. One minute you are in the desert, then the dunes, its just great. There was also a fair bit of wildlife left in this remote place, and we spied some emus, mallee fowl (I think), and a stray kitten. Getting down to the beach, I went for a final swim before we moved East to the Great Australian Bight, where big cliffs would stop all notion of combining a swim with staying alive. Even still, I didnt go very far out at Eucla Bay: being the only one in the water for miles, and big waves, I got just a little bit of shark fear, and didnt go out past my knees haha!

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Crossing the border was totally uneventful in this direction. We could see the masses of cops searching cars entering the WA side looking for concealed apples etc, but for us, no company. But as soon as we were across the excitement hit; we finally felt like we were in uncharted territory!

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So here’s tonights camp. We were trying to push on to a different one, but as usual, plans change at the last minute. But hey, we CAN change our plans at the last minute, as many times as we want! THIS place is down an unmarked track off the highway, in between two massive carparks full of Grey Nomads.

It is absolutely incredible, and we have it all to ourselves.

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We’re parked closer to the edge than the edge is to the bottom… And this is the Great Australian Bight. Should be a good view in the morning 🙂

Man, this is still the Nullarbor? Not that boring if you ask me.

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3 thoughts on “The Big Van Trip – Albany to South Australia!

  1. The last time I crossed the Nullabor we stopped at a place like your Eucla place to have a look at the cliff views. A voice from on high said :”HELLO” and we thought we were in heaven. Turned out to be the cops being friendly from God’s preserve. You are having a wonderful trip – way to go –
    Joan Davis (Ron’s mum).

  2. Great blog. Loving it. When I first went through Madura (no oranges) there was only salt water showers and that was after 300 km of dirt road. Hell you have probably even got “air conditioning”. I don’t wish I was with you but live it up you two; fantastic. GREY NOMAD

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