Friends expressed concern for Anita Ryan’s safety across the Nullarbor Plain from Perth to Sydney (Australia). A single female travelling solo may be a magnet to the rugged men of the desert, they said. Anita recorded her journey for posterity, or a first-hand obituary should the worst happen.
Heading south from Perth, I stopped at Bunbury to swim with wild dolphins in Koombana Bay. The Dolphin Discovery Centre supplied the wetsuit, but swimming with these magnificent creatures made me forget the cold. I even forgot my own name, which was tragic seeing as I was the only company I had hereon in – apart from infinitely annoying commercial radio.
My senses still buzzing, I drove inland through the salt-bed of Lake Grace, turning south again at Lake King. Here I passed a sign welcoming me to the outback, and began to notice other drivers waving at me. It took a while to realise they weren’t waving off the abundance of flies, they were simply being courteous country drivers.
After eight hours of driving since Perth, I arrived in Esperance – a town so pretty I quickly forgave it for placing its entrance through the industrial area. Fortunately I arrived in time to drive the 45-minute Pink Lake circuit to see (you guessed it) the pink lake.
The circuit runs past Australia’s first wind farm at Salmon Beach, then meanders onwards past the stunning Bluehaven and Twilight Beaches. Luckily the speed limit is 60 km/h – the view is so amazing who wants to watch the road?
I took my time following it past 9 Mile Beach, 10 Mile Lagoon and 11 Mile Resort (no, I’m not joking, those really are the names of the beaches). Relaxing at Pink Lake I hung around for the sunset to see if the lake gets any pinker. It didn’t.
I found accommodation easily, choosing a Bed and Breakfast a block from the jetty. For dinner I headed off to Esperance’s 30-year institution: Beryl’s Eats – a mobile burger van on the Jetty foreshore. Then I did what every local does… I sat between the fishermen on the jetty, ate half the burger and threw the rest to the sea-lions playing under the jetty pylons.
On Day Two I awoke to breakfast served on Wedgewood china and advice to wear my hair down – “The police are young dear,” my host smiled.
I set off with bouncing hair and high spirits despite having to give up my plan to travel further east along the Cape le Grande. Arguably it is Australia’s most stunning coastline, but with 4WD-only access it was an invitation for disaster for my two-door coupe.
Instead I headed north to Norseman – the last town before setting forth across the Nullarbor.
Norseman is named after an old horse who crossed the Nullarbor and founded the town. The story got me to wondering if the town is therefore made up of stallions and nags.
Barely ten minutes onto the Eyre Highway that would take me approximately 1200 kilometres without having to turn a corner, I passed my first casualty. A pop-top caravan that had popped its top. It was a timely reminder that I was embarking on a serious journey and my job was to stay alive to enjoy it.
Barely two hours later I whizzed past the Belladonia roadhouse. That’s when I realised the dots on the map aren’t towns, but roadhouses. Thankfully for the recalcitrant traveller like me (sans jerry can and camping gear), the roadhouses are usually no more than two hours apart and have fuel and accommodation facilities. However, unfortunately for the recalcitrant traveller like me (sans drinking water) showers can cost a dollar a minute and attendants laugh at requests for fresh water.
Outnumbering roadhouses by, oh, a million to one, was road kill. This was proof positive of the road signs warning the presence of kangaroos, emus and camels. Camels? Yes, apparently so, although I didn’t see any. I only saw dozens of kangaroos and emus, and needless to say treated them with enormous respect.
One emu particularly impressed me when he crossed the highway at what looked like a pedestrian crossing. I learned later that the white stripes are markers for an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. So now I was watching out for kangaroos, emus, camels and aeroplanes.
At around the halfway point of my day’s driving, I hit the start of Australia’s longest straight road. On the map it’s called the 90 Mile Highway, but I think that’s because it was built in the time of imperial measurement. Besides, “144 Kilometre Road” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Another hour on and the countryside started resembling a Leunig cartoon. A barren landscape with only a scraggy tree to break the horizon.
The road kill was now competing for space amongst an amazing array of inanimate objects such as blown tyres, half a ute, a boat rudder, and a yellow Hi-Ace converted to a message board: “Hi Pam and kids, I saw a yowie.” And I thought they were only found near cash registers.
Despite the barrenness of the terrain, it is exquisitely beautiful, especially when viewed from the Madura Pass lookout another two hours on. I almost got out of the car to take a photo, but the heat outside melted my lip-gloss.
The Madura Pass marked the start of a rounded hill so long and unvarying I imagine that from the air it must look like a giant carpet snake. It stretches all the way to Eucla, 200 kilometres on.
A huge white Christians’ cross overlooks the highway on approach to Eucla. After ten hours in the car, I was so delighted to see it I almost converted. I didn’t, but it was a narrow escape.
Upon arriving at the biggest roadhouse on the Eyre Highway, I did some stretches to activate my leg muscles again and headed straight to the bistro for some hot food and cold beer.
A very cheerful waitress told me about the menu: “oh we have both kinds – chicken AND beef!”
“How about wine-by-the-glass?” I ask.
“Oh, the best cask wine money can buy!”