Thursday, 12 November 2015


Sat 31 Oct - Kambalda
We left Kalgoorlie after a visit to the post office.  I had hoped that the SPOT device wasn't waiting for me. It wasn't.  We decided to depart anyway.  After the Perth bike parts experience we were reluctant to sit in a city waiting for the mail to arrive.  We'll call the post office in a couple of days, if it arrives we'll arrange for it to be forwarded to the next major town (most probably Ceduna) for collection.

The road out of Kalgoorlie was busy, was used by lots of trucks and has a really lumpy shoulder.  Each time a truck thunders by we dive into the shoulder and the lumps shake everything on the bike.  On two occasions my panniers were shaken off the bike.  On one occasion my front left pannier was shaken apart.  Bolts holding the mounting bracket fell off.  I was able to fix it, but only by cannibalising parts from other panniers. With luck the bodgy road side fix will hold till I can organise something more permanent.

Our lunch stop was Kambalda West,  nickel mining town 55km south of Kalgoorlie.  The main shopping precinct had rows of empty shops.  The only shop that appeared to be still open was a supermarket.  The move by mining companies to fly in fly out employment has really gutted these communities.
As we depart we deliberately slow our pace.  Norseman is a day's ride away and the last town before the Nullarbor.  Sunday trading isn't a thing in regional Western Australia so we slow down so we can arrive Norseman on Monday morning and get one last shop in before our big ride east.

Saltbush on gibber

Sun 1 Nov - Widgiemoltha
Since Kambalda we have been following the shore of an ephemeral lake, Lake Cowan.  Its more salt pan than water body but as we ride we catch glimpses of it through the vegetation throughout the day.
Our morning tea rest stop is the locality of Widgiemoltha a former gold mining town and now an isolated roadhouse.

We break for lunch in the bush near the Kalgoorlie to Esperance railway.  As we beat off the flies a train passes.  It is a four locomotive ore train that takes several minutes to pass.  This is rail working at its best, hauling bulk goods from point to port.  I'd love to see more freight on rail - mostly because trucks don't make great companions on the road - but to make it work we need to get better at transferring goods of trains and into vehicles that can travel the last mile from rail head to final destination.  Till we get serious about solving that problem big trucks will still be with us.
We camp 30km out from Norseman in a bush reserve.  As we pitch the ten the sky is grey and rumbling.  It's threatening to storm.  Bring it on. 



Mon 2 Nov - Norseman
I awake from a dream about recovering from a heavy party.  I feel sort of wrung out - like I've spent a night on the sauce.  I haven't.  It's just my body telling me I'm a little dehydrated.  I make sure to drink lots of water with my breakfast.

We cross Lake Cowan via a long causeway over the salt plain.  The road is a thin strip of bitumen across a field of white.  As I cross the lake I'm reminded of the old ghost story 'The Lady in Black'. In that story a storm strikes as a young family are crossing a causeway over a salt marsh and their ghosts haunt the isolated manor house.  It's Victorian era creepy done really well.
We arrive in Norseman before nine and wander around waiting for the supermarket to open.  We find a park with a statue of a horse in it.  It commemorates Norseman, the horse who kicked the ground and found a gold nugget.  Like most of the towns in this region, Norseman had its Edwardian era gold rush.  This town has faired better than others in the region because its become an administrative hub for the WA side of the Nullarbor.  However, it to seems to be struggling because of FIFO employment decisions made in mining company board rooms far away.

After Norseman turned onto the Eyre Highway and the Nullarbor.  We weren't however on the flat treeless plain people traditionally associate with the Nullarbor.  First we had to cross the Dundas range, a lovely woodland of salmon gums and mallee that covers several hundred kilometres.
Crossing the Nullarbor is less about the distance and more about managing water.  Many of the roadhouses rely on water they create using desiel powered desalination plants.  It costs them money to create the water and they don't give it away.   Balladonia roadhouse may be only 180 km from Norseman but it doesn't have water to share.  Neither does Caigana 178km further down the road.  The water they have available comes in bottles and costs around $4 per litre.
Our main water sources for this trips are rainwater tanks,  one near Caigana the other near Mundrabilla.  To make this work we need to carry three days worth of water.  For me that's 18 litres, a 6 L waterbag on my rack, a 3 L bladder slung under my top tube, three 1 L water bottles on bike frame and a 1.5 L former fizzy drink container strapped to each pannier.

The flies are maddening.

Causeway over Lake Cowan

The Nullarbor has its own scale. Once you give up the idea of reaching a destination every day its quite beautiful.

The Nullarbor is not all flat - Mount Fraser. 

Rain clouds overwhelm the sunset.

Tue 3 Nov (Melbourne Cup Day) Balladonia
It rained last night.  It rained all night and into the morning.  Fortunately the tent held and we remained mostly dry.  The ground around our tent is sodden. As we haul our bikes from our camping spot onto the road our wheels clog up with a thick orange clay.  It rains on and of throughout the morning all the way to Balladonia roadhouse.
It rained on and off all morning and into  the early afternoon. Patchy rain is frustrating because when it's not raining its really humid.  However, if you take off the rain jacket to get comfortable in the humidity you can be sure it will start raining again. 

We arrive at the Balladonia roadhouse feeling tired and a bit cranky.  As expected they had no drinkable tap water. They did, however, have excellent burgers and proper coffee.  We ate well and watched as a motorists stopped to watch the running of the Melbourne Cup.  We snuck out early so we could enjoy the roads to ourselves for a while.  Thank you silly people and your obsession with a silly horse race.

The rain stopped as we departed Balladonia.  By the time we reached the start of the 90 mile straight, Australia's longest straight stretch of road, the sky was clear.  We had a good run till the late afternoon when we realised the folly of building a dead straight bit of road that runs east-west.  As the sun begins to set motorists get glare in their eyes.  We pull off the road make camp feeling pretty good about the 150km we rode today.

Balladonia has no water, don't ask.

Wed 4 Nov - Ciagana
We rode in a straight line, pretty much all day today.  The ninety mile straight plays tricks with your sense of perspective.  Trucks appear on the horizon and seem to forever to get anywhere near you, then suddenly they are upon you.  We like to get off the road to let trucks pass where we can, but there's a balancing act on when to get off the road.  Too early and you spend too long waiting on the side of the road, too late and there's not much point.  We spent a lot of time on the side of the road waiting for trucks to pass after misjudging the distance. 

As we rode the vegetation changes from open woodland mallee through low heathland and into grasslands.  The changes are subtle and reflect changes in the soil types and rain as we move from the red clays of ancient terrestrial Australia to the yellow white limestones of former seas.   Pairs of galahs (galahs mate for life and are always found in pairs) graze on the ground and happily allow me to ride past without taking flight.  In roadside puddles frogs croak making the most of the rains. The road might be dull but the country is always full of surprises.

About 20km before Ciagana roadhouse we find the roadside water tank we've been looking for.  The tap is fitted with a flow restrictor that limits output to a slow dribble.  Filling a 1L bottle takes about 5 minutes.  Its frustrating but it deters people who might otherwise empty the tank so they can shower in their motorhome.

At the end of the straight is the Ciagana roadhouse where again we had great burgers.  Perhaps they are genuinely delicious, perhaps its just our body craving fresh food. 
We enter the Central Western Timezone as we leave the Ciagana Roadhouse.  It is a strange timezone,  45min ahead of Perth and covers a few roadhouses and cattle stations south of the tropic of Capricorn.  It is possibly the most rubbish timezone in the world. We did not bother to adjust our watches.

We rode another 50km after lunch for a 147km total.  That puts us about 20km west of Cocklebiddy and ideally placed for a roadhouse breakfast.

Weird timezone next 500km

Thu 5 Nov - Madura
Its a little over 100km between Cocklebiddy and Madura Pass roadhouses. Today we got a roadhouse breakfast and a roadhouse dinner and are feeling pretty good about it.
At Madura the road passes from the old Australia down a cliff face to land that was seabed during the last ice age.  The road takes this amazing if sightly freaky two kilometre down hill run to descend the cliff face.  The turn off to the roadhouse is at the bottom of the run.  Its mad fun going down the Madura Pass, but well worth waiting till its clear of trucks.  I would not like to meet anything going in either direction on that descent.

We camp a few kilometres east of Madura roadhouse in a beautiful patch of low heath. The skies are clear and we get a full horizon view of the stars.  There's a majesty the Nullarbor that is well worth experiencing.

The moon by the first light of day 

The mad downhill run at Madura Pass.

Fri 6 Nov - Mundrabilla
Alarms waken us before dawn.  The moon is and the planets are in conjunction.  The Moon, Jupiter and Venus form a line in the sky as the first fragments of dawn peak over the horizon.  Its really cool and like most astronomical features, photography doesn't do it justice.  Its a great start to what will turn out to be a pretty crappy day.

A storm front has been battering South Australia and parts of Victoria.  We deal with the edge of the system in the form of Strong easterly winds.  These head winds fight all our attempts at progress and we average around 11km/h.  Despite these conditions we still manage 110km.  We end the day physically spend but within sight of the water tanks near Mundrabilla Roadhouse.

Sat 7 Nov - Nullarbor Nature Reserve, South Australia
Mercifully the winds of Friday did not continue today. It was good day's ride with a water stop, several roadhouses and some good country.

We woke around dawn with the aim of sneaking into the rest area with the water tanks and filling up before any campers wake up.  We were lucky.  No one was camped at the tank. As an extra bonus the flow restrictors weren't quite as restrictive as the Caigana tank. We filled all our water containers and headed to Mundrabilla to enjoy a greasy breakfast.

It is 70km between Mundrabilla and Eucla and without wind to hold us back we made good progress.  The biggest biggest challenge was the last couple of kilometres through Eucla Pass.   Eucla Pass is Madura Pass in reverse, a ride from the old ice age seabed up the cliff face to the older land.
Eucla provided us with another opportunity for a burger and a rest.  A mere 20km down the road we passed another roadhouse, at the quarantine checkpoint on the WA/SA border.  The border roadhouse was much busier than Eucla because westbound trucks must wait to be inspected before they can enter WA.  The truckies use this delay to grab some food, stand around and chat.  We used this rest to stock up on chocolate bars.  Its 180km to the next roadhouse at Nullarbor.

Two things become apparent as soon as you arrive in South Australia.  First the country is amazing looking.  The second that South Australian roads are rubbish.  The roads are narrow, have no shoulder and drifts of gravel on their edges.  Riding on these roads requires one eye in the mirror at all times because you'll be regularly diving off the tar to let trucks and caravans pass one another. On the plus side the land is all National Park and Nullarbor Nature reserve is full of has lush bushy vegetation and amazing views of the ocean over rugged cliffs.  You take the good with the bad.

Sun 8 Nov - Not quiet anywhere.
We rode 130km started in The Nullarbor National Park and ended in the Nullarbor National Park.  The highlight of the day were the views of the Bunda Cliffs - which were amazing.

Mon 9 Nov - Yalata
Today we rode across the Nullarbor plain, the actual 30km of flat treeless plain that gives the Eyre Highway route its name.  We also stopped at the Nullarbor roadhouse and gladly paid $1 for a four minute hot shower.

The Nullarbor plain forms the end of the open heather and grasslands we've been enjoying since Ciagana. We are now in mallee country.  The land has become rows of undulating sandy hills similar to the country we saw on the Norseman to Balladonia stretch.  I wonder if this is because we've returned the older Australian continent to the ancient dune country that once formed the coast.

We pass Yalata, an aboriginal community with its boarded up, rusted out, asbestos ridden and derelict former roadhouse.  I passed through Yalata around 13 years ago on my last bike ride.  At that time it was a working roadhouse selling local aboriginal art in a small gallery.  Allowing the building to fall apart, and then refusing to make repairs is a really crappy outcome.

An internet search later I've discovered that the Yalata roadhouse has been closed since 2006 after people working in the building raised safety concerns about the roof.  The building was inspected, found to be unsafe and closed by government order.  It's been in administrative limbo ever since.
The building is owned by the Yalata Aboriginal Corporation, technically a branch of South Australian government and thus covered by South Australian insurance.  However attempts by the corporation to get the South Australian government to provide the funds to safely demolish the building have fallen on deaf ears. Needless to say the federal government isn't keen to get involved.  So want of a government who is prepared to pay for a replacement building (or at the very least pay for the asbestos clean up) the residents of Yalata have both has lost a local employer and remain exposed to a nasty health hazard. 

This isn't the first time the people of Yalata have been on the receiving end of poor treatment from the government.  The residents of Yalata are the Maralinga Tjarutja, a southern Pitjantjatjara people.  They hold the dubious distinction of being a people who have been nuked by their own government during peace time.

Tue 10 Nov - Not quite Penong
We awoke with 180km to ride to Ceduna and high hopes of being able to ride most of it today.  Then the wind started.  Today was a day of strong south easterly winds (a combination head and side wind).  These winds the day into a constant struggle.

Our rest spot for the day was Nundroo, a rundown, half closed roadhouse that looked like it too was about to succumb to the wind.  The main bar, kitchen and accommodation areas were all boarded over and the business ran out of two rooms.  There was an enticing menu but the only food on offer was grilled cheesies and a selection of pies. The place felt one step away from dereliction but we rested there for half an hour or so savouring the relief from the relentless headwinds.

To cope with the winds we broke the day into 5km stretches, riding as hard as we could then stopping to recover.  We rode 103km this way, stopping 10km short of Penong despite our "When we get to Penong we'll have a pub meal ... " fantasies.  We had reached a point where we could go no further.

Old Nardoo telephone exchange.
Cue jokes about what country people can expect from the NBN rollout.

This loose gravel is hellish to ride on - and a far too common sight in our travels.

Wed 11 Nov - Ceduna
Fortunately the wind died down overnight.  We still had a headwind, but this time it was possible to ride more than 12km/h (a kilometre every 5 minutes) without feeling like your legs were in a rack.    The 10km ride to Penong was manageable and I started paying attention to the surroundings again. 
The country has transformed from mallee to wheat farming country.  Instead of scrubby looking trees we were surrounded by the stubble of recently harvested wheat.  At Penong a glance at the local paper told me it was a good year.  It rained at just the right time give the crop a boost before harvest.  Maree jokingly took the credit. 

Maree's last bike tour coincided with a La Nina event. Everywhere she rode it rained. She got to thinking she has some rain summoning powers.  Now she calls herself the rainbringer.   This tour has been an El Nino year and its been drought conditions for most of the trip.  If she has rain powers they are wearing off.

The road into Ceduna was busy.  In addition to the across the Nullarbor traffic there were local trucks bringing in the harvest and freighting ore between mine and port.  We got quite good at watching our mirrors and hitting the gravel as they approached.  Fortunately as we got closer to Ceduna the road shoulder got better and we were able to ride some of the way on the compacted road bed rather than diving between tar and gravel.

We are taking a rest day in Ceduna and have organised a motel room.  At dinner we ordered the biggest and most expensive thing on the menu - a deluxe seafood platter and washed it down with sparkling wine.  A little excessive but a great way to commemorate the completion of an epic crossing.   

404 - Cares not found.

Penong, an actual town.

Ceduna, we crossed the Nullarbor

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