51. Australian Road Trip: Dogs & Utes, Wave Rocks and Esperance
On the Road Again...
For those who have just joined our epic road trip Hub, or even those who have been following our picaresque journey these past months (years actually!), here is a quick recap, as we leave Perth on what is definitely the last quarter of our Circumnavigation of Australia.
Our trip, so far
Join the dots... we began our journey in Sydney.
Followed the coast road south to Melbourne where we boarded the overnight car ferry to Tasmania.
We spent almost two weeks exploring this dark and fascinating island. Back on the mainland we drive the Great Ocean Road before returning to Sydney.
Byron Bay on the road north - one of the most popular destinations on the East Coast trail.
Rockhampton marks the point where we cross the Tropic of Capricorn.... from here on it gets hotter and hotter and wetter and wetter.
The capital of Far North Queensland, Cairns is a tropical Metropolis -the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforests of the Daintree.
Katherine is at the crossroads - north to Darwin, south to Alice Springs and west to Broome
Broome is the pearl of the west coast - an historic, luxury township where the outback meets the Indian Ocean.
Exmouth is where our beloved, much hated winnebago truck finally died, and where we reinvented our journey in a fast and efficient Mitsubishi Magna.
This is us at the beginning of Hub 51... the last quarter of our road trip starts here.
In the first part of our road trip we travelled in a small Toyota, pop-top campervan, around southern NSW and a good portion of Victoria, as well as spending a generous two week stint in Tasmania. We Spent Christmas with my family in Sydney and then, in early February, driving a big old Toyota truck with a Winnebago camper on the back, we headed north toward the warmer regions of the country. February, March and April saw us having a great time on the east coast, as well as burning out our brakes, getting stranded for a week in a tropical monsoon; diving on the Barrier Reef; and then fleeing from, and getting overtaken by, a devastating category 5 cyclone. Cut-off from the coast by the cyclone damage, we had no choice but to brave the flooded tropical savannah country of outback Queensland by heading west into the interior of the continent. As we crossed the empty desert, passing through frightening locust plagues we began to experience ominous and inconvenient mechanical problems.
We were trapped in a town in the Northern Territory as the mighty river systems flooded the region, and once through that, we drove at a snail’s pace across the vast wilderness of the north west known as the Kimberley. We enjoyed the pleasures of Broome and the wonderful, lonely serenity of the remote west coast before suffering what proved to be the first of two terminal breakdowns, forcing us to reassess our journey while stranded in a bizarre industrial township on shores of the Indian Ocean.
Once repaired, we managed to drive our tired vehicle a few hundred miles down the road before it finally and irrevocably stopped, though not before losing a wheel on the stark desert highway. Our surreal, adventure-plagued trip then changed personality again when we down-sized to a fast Mitsubishi station wagon which brought us quickly and efficiently to the west coast capital city of Perth and it’s historic port of Fremantle. Now, it’s June - winter, and we are about to head east toward Sydney and home at last, but with one final, major obstacle to confront – the vast Nullabor Plain. But first…
From Ocean to Ocean
Perth, on the Indian Ocean
Dogs & Utes
A cosy stopover on a cold outback night
Esperance on the Great Southern Ocean
On the long road to Esperance
Once out of the Perth metropolitan area we get lost in a rugged bushland of deep valleys, steep hills and tall trees. We have reluctantly decided to forego our journey along the coast, past Margaret River and Albany, (our preferred route under other circumstances). Instead, we elect to cut diagonally across the south western nub of Western Australia to the south coast town of Esperance, a shorter journey of no less than seven hundred kilometres. From there we will head north a few hundred clicks before turning east again and crossing the Nullabor.
The land of Dogs in Utes
Ha ha ha Dogs and Utes
We eventually find our way out of the Perth hills and are soon winging our way through an open, agricultural landscape of undulating countryside; the crests of hills offer views to infinity across golden wheatfields and meadows of spinifex grass. We stop for petrol at a small farming town called Corrigin.
There is a curious statue of a giant dog in the town park, across from the servo. Then I notice that there is a Holden ute mounted on a stand on the roof of the roadhouse. In the cab of the ute there is a model of a cartoon dog, like Scoobydoo or Pluto. There are more references to dogs and utes all over the forecourt – stickers and posters, and another ute with dog-models in the back is parked up beside the building.
All is revealed on the large sign outside the café. It appears that Corrigin currently holds the world record for the longest convoy of utes with dogs in the back – 699! There is an ongoing battle with a town in Victoria to lay claim to the ‘Longest Dogs & Utes Convoy’ title. Corrigan town’s motivation for entering this ludicrous contest is simple – “…to stick it up the Vics!” so says the sign. A dog standing, barking, in the back of a ute or on the tray of a tow truck is a classic Aussie cliché, like tight blue King-Gee shorts or hats with corks. At least they have a sense of humour out here on the southern edge of the outback.
In Corrigin, if you hang around the petrol station long enough, you are virtually guaranteed to see an actual ute with a dog in the back. We did, though it was a flatbed rather than a ute and there were two dogs in the back instead of one… but still.
Looking into a continent
Wave Rock is a natural phenomenon – a huge rocky outcrop with a cliff face eroded by wind and water into the shape of a twenty five foot wave. We clamber about on the monolith, photograph each other with a dented boogie board that someone has left behind for just such a purpose and then, in the late afternoon, we forge on as far as the settlement of Lake King, arriving in the somewhat deserted village just on dusk. The caravan park is closed for the season (it’s getting really cold after sundown too) but there is an attractive pub-motel complex set back off the main road. The pub is made of rough-hewn local stone and inside there is a roaring fire in a huge hearth, a long bar and the mouth watering smell of quality food being cooked. We book a room in the motel, then enjoy the cosy warmth and home-cooked tucker in the pub.
The sights of Esperance
Next stop Antarctica
The next day we forge on to Esperance, an attractive, modern-looking town on a spectacular section of coastland. The mountains of Cape Le Grand catch the sea mists in the distance while the waters of the Great Southern Ocean are intensely blue and crystal clear. There are groves of Norfolk Pines stretching along the seafront esplanade and islands dotted about on the horizon. There is a long pier that curves out into the bay, and a sizeable port with dockside silos that indicate that it caters for grain shipping. Considering the nearest towns of consequence are Kalgoorlie 300kms to the north or Albany, almost 500kms west, Esperance is a remarkably civilised and inviting place.
Using our Rough Guide, we find a room in the local hostel, which is very comfortable and homey; and we are the only guests. We have all afternoon at our disposal, so we first have lunch in an über trendy café which overlooks the marina and port. Then we take a scenic drive around the wonderful local coast. We find a lookout on a hilltop offering great views over the town and the sea, then we walk along a signed path and marvel at the clarity of the ocean and the massive sweeps of rock that make up the unusual geology of the area.
There is Only One Road
The scenic drive hugs the cliffs and follows the contours of the coast. Around every bend there are spectacular views, golden beaches, bizarre rock formations, and some amazing houses jutting from the hillsides. The only thing that would put me off is the thought of the Great White Sharks that inhabit the Southern Ocean. I know sharks are everywhere and I’m not that paranoid about them normally, but there are just too many reports of attacks and too much myth and legend about that particular fish for me to not take the fear seriously. This fear doesn’t affect the dozen or so local surfers who are riding near-perfect three footers on a superb break off one of the golden beaches .
That night it is almost freezing and we spend it huddled in front of the wood burner in the hostel, watching the telly and pondering our next major driving challenge – tomorrow we are heading for the Nullabor Plain. There is one road, 1200kms long, that will take us, eventually, back to the east side of the continent. The end is near.