Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mario and Steph's EPIC AUSTRALIAN ROAD TRIP Part II: Nullarbor to Hutt River

Can you believe it?! It's time for part two!!! It's only been 15 months since the road trip ended!!!! While a lot has happened in those 15 months, one might argue (and I wouldn't blame them if they did) that not quite enough has happened to warrant such a dastardly, despicable, devastating and draining delay in the continuation of such a fantastic and colorful tale. But there it is and there it was.
No use crying over spilled months.

We last left our trusty protagonists at the cliffs were desert and ocean meet. Just beyond the Head of the Bight at Eucla, Mario and I found ourselves at one of the last rugged rest stops nearing the end of our long desert trek: Norseman. The town at the end of the desert on the Western side - we had made it!

We chose a campground and rolled in late enough that the proprietor told us to just come on in and pick a spot to pitch our tent. It was only in the morning that we realized what he meant was for us to stay for free! We had some supper, pitched our tent and settled in for the night. Three motorcyclists were camped next to us sleeping in their swags. (A swag is basically a rolled up personal campsite for one: there is a thin mattress; anything the traveler needs by way of personal effects; sometimes a thin sleeping bag, sheets or a blanket; and the whole thing is wrapped up in thick waterproof canvas, which can be zipped up completely for traveling or to keep the snakes out while sleeping.)

Around 3am we were awoken by some loud, drunk and rowdy people hollering into the night. Their voices sounded enraged and animalistic. It was scary. At one point it sounded like they were coming closer to our tent, but then we realized they were still a-ways off. Perhaps that's just a testament to how sound can travel at night in the desert sometimes?

The following day we had another 250km to drive. We stopped in Esperance, the first proper town (pop. 9,919) since Port Augusta (pop. ). There was a nice beach and boardwalk in Esperance where we went for a stroll, and we were able to buy some much-needed supplies.

Click to enlarge

Initially, we had thought we might like to camp in Esperance, but when we asked at the tourist information center, they recommended that we drive out of town to the west to check out a highly recommended campsite in Stokes National Park.

We rolled up to Stokes Inlet campground just before dusk and pitched our tent. We cooked in the dark and had a candle-lit pasta dinner at our campsite. We had some port wine as the sky began to bloom with stars:

The next morning, we had about an hour to wander around and check out the inlet (which was very close to our lovely campsite). Then came the flies. As thick as they were in Sheringa, or worse. It was like a buzzing fog fell on us and by 11 we could take it no longer. After having some fun with our electric fly swatter (we had learned to buy the right equipment after Sheringa), we hit the road again.

Next destination: Albany, WA. Albany is a proper city, with a population of 33,650. It did seem quite a change since most of the other townships and settlements we had been staying in for the past week were very sparsely populated indeed. (Elliston, pop. 377; Streaky Bay, pop. 1,059; Fowler's Bay, pop. 125; Eucla, pop. 86; Norseman, pop. 857)

We stayed at a YHA hostel in Albany (our first night not spent camping since Kyneton). After dinner we went out to the car to grab a few things and noticed a note on our windshield. It was from someone named Nils who wanted to know if we had any interest in going off-roading with him the next day. It was one of those "if yes, then meet me at x-y-z" kind of notes. Even though our Jeep did indeed have 4WD, we had never really made use of this feature in the sense that this mysterious Nils character intended. We also had to think of the 3 or 4 times we had had problems with the "White Kangaroo" overheating. ...Still we made up our mind to go.

We met Nils, who turned out to be 19 and traveling with a group of young fellow Germans, in the YHA common room. We all had a pretty fun night together and resolved to meet up for some 4x4ing the next day.

Driving out onto the beach with Nils and his crew in their 4x4 in the background.

Keeping up with the German crew

Aaaand that was far enough for the White Kangaroo. We made it about 200 meters down the beach before it started seriously overheating and boiling its coolant again. We had to give it a rest.

 Meanwhile, while we were waiting for our coolant to chill out, Nils continued down the beach and it was lucky that he did! An Aussie guy in the silver Toyota pictured, left above, was bogged in the sand and the tide was actually coming in! He had been there for 4 hours, had no cell phone coverage and he was all alone. He had done everything he could (let most of the air out of his tires and tried to dig himself out of the sand with a shovel) and had finally resolved that he would probably lose his brand new truck to the tide. It was really lucky that we had come by! (That is, lucky Nils was there in his real, large 4x4. Obviously our Jeep wouldn't have been much help to him at all).  So the Germans towed him out and we had the opportunity to get some nice promo shots of the Jeep:

Us with the German crew

Then we spent the rest of the day walking around Albany with the Germans. Later that night, we met an old hiker man who had just spent 30 days hiking the Bibbulmun Track. He had also hiked the entire Appalachian trail and said this kind of hiking is not very hard if you can get used to living off of modest rations!!

The weather turned pretty dramatic later in the day

The little girl in a pink jacket at the end of the rainbow!

The next day we headed out with the Germans to explore Torndirrup National Park. There we visited the Gap and the Natural Bridge. The walls of the Gap and many of the interesting rock formations at Torndirrup are made of granite, which was formed 1,160 million years ago.

On the edge of the Gap

The Natural Bridge
Running and dancing on the Natural Bridge

Next, we hit the road again, this time on our way to Margaret River. We had 378km ahead of us - a 5 hour drive. As we drove along, we soon started to notice the landscape, flora and fauna changing again. It became more lush and the trees were taller.

At some point along the way to Margaret River, we had more car troubles. This time it was a rusted/busted tie rod end bushing. Interesting to note: If you're ever driving down a smooth road, completely normal and then all of a sudden the car starts shaking, bucking and jumping like you've been caught in an earthquake or you are driving over hundreds of spiky boulders, it could be a faulty tie rod bushing. We pulled over, got out, checked under the car (fearing we might see the bloody remains of several invisible kangaroos that we just hit under there) and saw nothing. We got back in the Jeep, started it up and it ran perfectly fine!!! We drove on for another 25km or so until it happened again. At this point, we came upon a little township where we visited a local mechanic. In keeping with all of our experiences with Australian mechanics, he was really friendly, professional and fixed our problem for way less than we had expected to pay. Win!

We finally made it to Margaret River and got ourselves a nice little ensuite cabin pretty close to the downtown area. We got an amazing rate on this one. The previous night (arrived late in Margaret River and just crashed at the first place we could find) was a really crummy, overpriced hostel with bunk beds and faraway toilets. Then we got a great deal on this one-bedroom cottage with a bathroom, fridge, full bed, all the amenities and an adorable little deck where we sat out each afternoon and fed lorrikeets, ducks and other fowl.

A bottlebrush out front

We definitely had some spare crackers for this adorable and very trusting lorrikeet.

And the resident ducks ate for free

While we were in Margaret River, we got the tie rod end officially replaced on the Jeep and got schnockered on a fabulous wine tour (as you do in Margaret River). The next day, I explored 2 caves in a National Park while Mario took in the rays at the beach.

A two minute exposure all alone in the dripping pitch black at the end of the cave

On the road again.... Next stop: Busselton. There is a very famous jetty there. ("At 1,841 meters, the Busselton Jetty is said to be the longest wooden structure in the Southern Hemisphere"):

The pier had a cute little train that brought tourists out to the end. At 13.50, we thought it was a little steep price just to take a walk along a jetty. The jetty has an underwater observatory at the end, where you can see some of the wonderful fish and sea life that we went diving with the very next day. 

That night we slept in the car in Tuart Forest. The next morning, we got up early for the HMS Swan dive: It was very exciting but very cold. We saw soooo many humpback whales with their babies and we actually heard them underwater! We also saw a flying fish jumping in the wake of the dive boat. Our fellow divers (who were much more experienced than us with well over 100 dives each) had shark-repeller apparatuses. These consisted of a very long electrical wire that extended out behind them as they swam and gave off signals to sharks to beware (or could seriously injure an unlucky diver who swam too close behind them). The HMS Swan wreck itself was truly fascinating, with lots of dark caverns and creepy nooks and crannies where who-knows-what sea life could be lurking!

The next night, after diving, we spent one uneventful night camping in Bunbery. We were told we could see dolphins at the beach if we got up near sunrise. So, like fools, we did so and waited on the beach in the cold only to be disappointed - no dolphins. (Dolphin lovers - do not despair! There are pleeeeenty of dolphins to come in this epic story).

6.5 hours, or 589km of driving later, we arrived in Geraldton. There we stayed at the Foreshore Backpackers - very bohemian digs. We spent 3 days on the beach, relaxing, climbing up Mount Scott, playing drinking games with other residents at the hostel and eating delicious breakfasts at Dome Cafe (which used to just be a small coffee joint chain but expanded into a restaurant chain)

The garden at Foreshore Backpackers

A quiet area for reading under this beautiful flowering tree. Even the White Kangaroo thought he had died and gone to heaven - 3 days without driving!!

There were a lot of really interesting abandoned-looking buildings around Geraldton
And some cool interactive graffiti

Thought this was a pretty funny collection of films to be showing, although I suppose this was early November, only a week or so after Halloween....

Ahh, Mister Goat! A wandering vagrant comedian rolled up to Foreshore Backpackers on our last day there. He jumped out of his van and ran around the back, rolling open the door to let out... a goat! From that moment on, the goat was free to roam around Geraldton (although he seemed content to stay in the general vicinity of the hostel). Later on, we saw him tied to this fence across the street. With no comedian owner in sight, we decided to approach Mister Goat.

Oh, come now stop tut-tutting! I didn't really want to ride the goat! I just wanted to measure him to see if he would, theoretically, be a ride-able size.... He wasn't having any of it, anyway. And let me tell you, those horns are sharp!

A bronze statue at the HMAS Sydney Memorial atop Mount Scott. She is looking out over the ocean, waiting for her loved ones to return.

The HMAS Sydney memorial is to the light cruiser that was destroyed in combat with a German auxiliary cruiser, Kormoran off Shark bay in 1941. All 645 aboard perished, as did those aboard the German vessel. This dome is made up of 645 seagulls

The granite wall in the background lists the ship's company.

More photos of the photogenic Geraldton:

After 3 days we decided it was finally time for us to make our move. We had heard rumors about an intriguing destination, far out and secluded in the bush, where one man rules with absolute authority in a state unto himself. A place called... Hutt River. "We must go there," we said. And we did.

Fiery wildflower trees bloom feverishly in the arid chaparral.

The first sign of human activity for miles: feral pig baits have been set. We are getting closer....

We made it to the border of the Hutt River Province!


Approaching the heart of Prince Leonard's dominion

Here, we perused the domicile of the famous Prince Leonard I of Hutt, who declared independence from Australia on April 21, 1970 due to a late alteration to the quotas on his wheat crop. (For more detailed background on the Hutt River Province, click here.)
We got our passports stamped at the government office and bought some Hutt River postage stamps at the post office.

In the Arcade, we admired Prince Leonard's gifts from international leaders around the world, including the Pope.

Here is the royal motorcade, consisting of a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes Benz:

We even got to meet the man himself! Prince Leonard I of Hutt! Small in stature. Big in dreams.

Prince Leonard and his family are all pretty talented. His daughter painted the religious paintings in the non-denominational chapel.

These seemingly arbitrary lists of numbers and calculations do indeed, according to his majesty Prince Leonard, explain the meaning of life and the secret of the universe and… everything. (His majesty created this theory himself. At least it appears to be a more drawn-out stab at it than simply writing the correct answer, which would be 42). 

Prince Leonard is a great supporter of the arts. He has been given a great number of creative gifts over the years, all of which he has on display in the town center of his Sovereign State (the town site is called Nain).

And that's it for now. Check back soon for the next installment in this epic tale of Australian adventure!