The desert, it’s a big place. That’s what I found out over the last week. To bring you up to speed with what has been happening, last Wednesday I left Adelaide, heading westward. I’d lined up a lift with 2 Germans, Thomas and Louis, and a Finn named Heidi. Piling into an old 4WD, we hit the road, and racked up some serious km’s. This was the first time I’d been west, and while it looks a long way on the map (pretty much 2/3 of Australia) the magnitude of it didn’t sink in until we got out onto the Nullarbor. We drove, and drove, and drove, and seemed to barely dent the journey. Heading out from Adelaide, the landscape quickly morphed into what we would drive through for the next 4 days. The sky opened up, a vivid blue. The ground sunk away to a mostly flat, brown line. The occasional patch of shrubs, or even a tree, struggled to break through the blue, which seemed to push further down as we drove in deeper.
The four of us were strangers at the beginning of the trip, but ended friends.
The first day we were aiming for Ceduna, but made it as far as Wudinna. Somewhere before hitting Wudinna, we came across
one of the relics of country Australia. The big thing. This time it was the Big Galah, and that’s what it was. No one was about, we took a few snaps and then kept on rolling. We set up camp at a caravan park in Wudinna, and got things happening for dinner. On the menu was vegie noodle stir fry, cooked bbq style. I hadn’t seen the stars so bright for quite sometime.
The next day we woke early, but hit the road around 10am. The border was the aim for today. Where as yesterday there was a bit of undulation in the landscape, today it flat lined properly. Out this way, there was little sign of anything really, and a lot of nothing. The numbers that slowly rolled down on signs as we wandered on, didn’t seem to carry any meaning. Most of the townships out along this way are nothing more then a roadhouse, a mechanics, maybe a pub and few houses. Every now and then flashing lights would appear on the horizon, foreshadowing the on coming oversized load, which would give a few seconds of excitement. In an instant, we’d be amazed to see half a house wiz by, or somebody’s yacht. Not much use for that out here.
There was a definite mix of road trains, grey nomads and backpackers. Just outside of Penong, I think it was, we came across a bunch of French backpackers stranded. They’d blown the engine of the van, and needed a tow. The Frenchies told us of how they’d picked it up in Adelaide for $750. By the looks of it, I was surprised it’d made it this far. Thomas rigged up a towrope, and we made a slow procession into town. Louis was hanging out the window, getting a record of the experience. After towing them to the mechanics, we kicked about for a few minutes, then wished them well and continued on towards the border. Had the feeling they’d be there for awhile.
As the deeper we got, and the landscape flattened further, the petrol price was pushed up and up. Approaching Bordertown, we watched the fuel gauge as it got lower and lower, with 100km to go. Once it hit empty with still some km’s to go, we ignored it, and hoped it’d be cool. We had our first sighting of the coast as dusk fell, to distract us. We wound our way along the coast, watching the green signs slow cycle downwards.
We made it to Bordertown just on dark, spluttering into the petrol station, for a bit of a rude price shock. We filled a quarter tank, in the hope of cheaper prices that we’d heard were across the border. We’d stocked up on vegies back at the Adelaide Central Market, with the idea they’d last for most of the trip. We soon found out though that, once we crossed the border, we’d need to surrender them to quarantine. So we decided to head back out of town, retracing our steps slightly, and cook up as much as we could. We found a lookout over the ocean, and pulled in for the night. Alongside us were a few other travellers. It was dark, cold, windy, and we were hungry. Setting up the cooker, we found out that it didn’t want to work. We found this out after creating mountains of diced sweet potato and onion (our vegetable range wasn’t too extensive) Thomas went and did the rounds of the other campers to see if someone could lend a hand. While he was away chatting, Val came over and offered to cook up our potatoes for us. She was a lovely lady, travelling about. Thomas returned with a gas cooker on loan, so we fried up the onions with a bit of garlic and chilli, and then mixed the whole lot together with the sweet potato. Val even boiled a kettle for us for tea, and brought an easter egg for us each. These simple gestures of help, turned the whole mood of the night around. It’s amazing what a warm meal can do.
The next morning I rose early with a plan to take pictures. Louis was keen to do so also, the night before, but the enthusiasm had faded once morning came. Because of the distance we’d covered, we weren’t quite sure what the actual time was, more being guided by the sun. When it was up, we drove. When it sank, we cooked and rested. We packed up, and headed back to Bordertown. With the light of day, we managed to get the cooker going, and had tea and muesli for breakfast. With a bit of scouting about we found the showers of the caravan park behind the servo, and after an hour or so we were ready to head off. Val turned up at the servo as well, so we went over, thanked her again, and had a chat. She’d travelled quite a bit, ex husband being a diplomat at some point, but now retired, had decided to move to Queensland. She’d bought a patch of land somewhere, and was slowly making her way there, with the intention to build a house. She drove a big F250 ute (running on gas), decked out with a pink interior, towing a caravan. She was taking the trip at a much slower pace to us, 25km in one day was a big day for her, I think it’d be a good pace. We wished her well, and she headed off across the border.
Once we found out the correct local time, we discovered that we actually gained another 2 hours, we thought we’d already lost. Time out there, was a strange concept. The left over food we had, we’d diced and packaged up, and this turned out to be good enough for customs to let through. Lost a stick of lemongrass though, no big loss. After about 30 minutes we overtook Val with a wave, and off we rolled for another day. Even though your travelling at 100km, it doesn’t really feel like you’re moving far, if at all.
By today, I’d managed to hijack the radio, with the others happy to listen to some new music. The soundtrack today for the desert was Clutch, Primus, Black Keys, with a good measure of Jackson Jackson, Cat Empire, The Herd and Matisyahu. Out on the flat, I took a turn at driving. There wasn’t much to it, but it was something, with Black Keys and Clutch roaring through the speakers, the wind whistling through the car, I quite liked it. Maybe I should finally get around to getting my licence. A new amusement for today was the sighting of cyclists riding across the desert. It just seemed mad, and the others could not comprehend why people would subject themselves to it. It got me thinking about how the first explorers must have felt. They must have been mad, to head out into this sort of environment with no idea of what was ahead and a few camels. Well I suppose someone has to do it. I was actually keeping an eye out for cyclists, as I’d heard a friends friend was planning on riding from Sydney to Perth, but I wasn’t sure when. Now that’s mad. I think I’ll have to try and meet this guy if he makes it to Perth.
On this leg of the drive, we hit a stretch of road, which was dead flat, for 150km. That’s a long way, and Heidi was struggling to keep it going. It’s harder then you think to drive dead straight for that long a distance. We stopped half way, to break it up, and take a few snaps. At the end of the straight, we stopped as well to take a photo of the sign. Opposite though was a tree, which for reasons unknown to me, had been decorated with various debris from someone or a number of passby’s vehicles. There were shoes, clothing, an alarm clock, bottles and even a set of earmuffs. It seemed so odd to see out in the middle of no where, this shrine of sorts.
That night we made it into Salmon Gums, camping at a community run campsite. It was basic, but good set up. With the cooker deciding to work, we made up some tuna-tomato pasta. Thomas still being hungry made up some cous cous, mixing in milk powder and jam. It turned out well, though the milk powder to me looks grotty as. We had a few drinks and then crashed out for the night.