Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Smashing the Nullarbor Links

The Nullarbor Plains, it's a drive on a lot of Aussie hitlists, some people absolutely love it, others hate it. One thing is for certain though, if you plan on travelling between South Australia and Western Australia by land you don't have too many options! This was to be our first crossing of the Nullarbor and we weren't too sure of what to expect. We decided to try our hand at the Nullarbor Links, at 1365 k's long it is the worlds longest golf course! The golf course opened in October 2009 as a way to break up the trip across the Nullarbor and minimise crashes and fatalities while also enhancing tourism through the area.

The last time I played golf I believe it was in Kindergarten, so as you could imagine, my skills were not quite on par. Rocky, our troopy only has so much space for storage, so we ended up bringing along a single 2 wood and 4 balls, turns out this was enough for a bit of a laugh! The course begins in Ceduna and ends in Kalgoorlie (flip that if you are travelling east) and you can register at the Information Centre in either of these locations. Our first hole was a bit of a shocker involving a lot of swings with minimal dings. 15 and a 20 on a par 5 or something, great way to warm up! 

As we continued through the Nullarbor, I began to question the name of this stretch of road. It is the world's largest single exposure of limestone bedrock and because of that I had it in my head it would be all rock and dirt, I was wrong! Whilst there was no towering gums providing plentiful shade, little salt bushes were scattered all across the plain. The occaisonal small trees and little groves could be found from time to time but in essence the country was very flat, this gave us some spectacular lengthy sunsets!

 The Nullarbor follows the Great Australian Bight and often from the road you can see the land drop off and the ocean stretch out forever. There are a few places to pull over and appreciate the sheer cliffs that follow the bight. These amazing views also offer popular camping spots for people travelling through. Every hundred to two hundred k's you will also come across a roadhouse. The roadhouses offer all the ameneties and food you may require and also offer camping and rooms for accomodation. One other thing these roadhouses had out the back was another hole to complete along the links!

About half way across the Nullarbor you get the joy of crossing through another quarantine check point as you travel interstate. Not sure exactly what they are trying to protect, but we had to give up our potatoes, woe was I. It is a while before you will find good fresh produce for sale, however the lady at the checkpoint did inform me that cooked vegies are alowed through this checkpoint. The roadhouses along the way all offer decent enough food to get you through or you can continue the journey on canned/processed food.

While your actually playing these holes keep a lookout for lost balls. Buying new balls along the way will cost you around $5 each. We went in with 4 and, without looking too hard, came out with about 20! Adventuring across some of these holes can be quite interesting, trying to find your ball among saltbushes, climbing over wombat warrens, hitting through gums, hell at one point we were playing across a runway!

Once across the plains and you've completed the holes at Norsemen it will be time to head north to Kalgoorlie. At first I didn't like the fact the golf course sends you away from Esperence and the coast, shifting you further inland, but Kalgoorlie turned out to be an interesting town. A big mining place with lots of really old buildings on the edge of a large mine known as the Super Pit. The final 2 holes here are on a prestigious course that feels quite a bit fancy after playing through saltbush and dirt. Luckily we arrived late in the arvo and got to have the course almost to ourselves as we watched a storm dance it's way across the sunset. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Eyre Peninsula 03: West Side

The west coast of the Eyre Peninsula is filled with absolutely stunning scenery. We got our first view of overwhelming beauty when we decided to stop for a quick break by the main road about 65ks south of Elliston. A little camera sign was beside a dirt track up a hill, so we decided head on up. Looking back we had quite a nice view of the salt lakes just East of the highway, but as we rolled over the crest we received a grand view of the cliffs that line the southern side of our beautiful country. Fantastic place to take a break, however it can be quite a bit gusty!

Elliston itself is quite a nice little bay town with plenty of awesome locations to explore not too far away. There is a nice jetty for a bit of shore fishing or fish watching and in the distance you can see a rock formation that looks a bit like a giant turtle. There's also some nice little caves around the beach which are home to a lot of the local birds. Just north of town you will find a scenic loop which has some unusual sculptures sitting along the cliffs. If you are feeling adventurous there are some steep cliffs down to some pristine looking little inlet beaches as well as some renown surfing locations. 

As you head north out of Elliston and towards Streaky Bay you will find many amazing, beautiful and bizarre locations, but don't go too fast! Not far north you'll find Talia National Park. After a few kilometres of dirt road you will come across a little site known as The Woolshed. Climb on down, enjoy the view of the beautiful ocean and come hide in the cave. The water surges all the way up into the cave and it is a little bit of an uneven surface but it is really cool! Once you emerge from the cave and readjust your eyes to the sun, head out over the rocks and you'll notice they are riddled with little caves twisting and turning within. If the tide is low you can look down into these little caverns and check out the critters living down inside, just be sure to keep an eye on the waves!

Further down that same dirt road you'll find another pretty site known as The Tub. This would have been created by a thin top layer of limestone collapsing and creating a sinkhole. At the base is a small cave that allows water to travel in and out of The Tub. As if Talia still hasn't given you enough, drive a little bit further down the dirt track and just beside a monument you will be given a massive stretch of pristine white beach you can pretty much have all to yourself. Enjoy!

Continuing up toward Streaky Bay you will come across a few options on how you actually want to get there. Many people will use Streaky Bay as a base to check out all these different places but you can enjoy a lot of these locations if you plan your passing through well. We continued up the main drag and headed for a place known as Murphey's Haystacks. Allegedly named by an Irish fella on a coach who informed his fellow travellers that the farmer "must have harrowed his land to produce such a great abundance of hay!" The farmer at the time being a Mr Murphey and bam, legend made.

As we continued west we traversed down another dirt tack on the way to Point Labbatt, this point is surrounded by ocean on the west and an incredibly salty inlet to the East. As you get down the end of the road and make your way to the headland you will find yourself looking down over one of the largest Australian mainland breeding sites for Australian sea lions. A month beforehand we wouldn't have thought too much about it, but after learning about and swimming with these amazing creatures we couldn't resist scoping out this place. It is quite easy to lose track of time here as you gaze down over the colony, watching the mother's lead their pups into the water and following them with your eyes as they forage and play. If you have some binoculars this would be an A1 location to bring them!

Streaky Bay itself was not quite as exciting as we had thought, a lot of people had really talked it up to us, but what was around it was spectacular. It is a nice little fishing town with all the things you need to stock up before hitting the road again. The population is known to boom over summer and even more so over Easter and public holidays with families, travellers, grey nomads and keen fishermen flocking to the area. For us personally we would rather camp out of town, in the bush or find our own little beach, which is quite readily available not far from Streaky Bay. Plenty of little bush camp spots right near the beach asking for a mere $5 a day donation, you beauty! Streaky Bay is also great if you need to top up on any camping or fishing gear. Our most significant purchase here was a golf club and 4 golf balls from a second hand store, but more about that in the next blog!

The Yanerbie Sandhills was the next place that took our breath away. Surrounded by vegetation and ocean is a mini desert! I couldn't find too many facts on this place, but I assume the powerful southerly winds have blasted the sand from the beaches and brought them over old dried salt beds for many years to create these amazing collection of sandhills. We really enjoyed just wondering around enjoying the views, making sand angels and heading for the highest sandhill we could find. There was literally no one else here the entire morning we spent here, it was amazing. If exploring these sandhills be sure and bring plenty of water and keep a bearing on which way you are going and where you came in, don't want to go getting lost!

One last thing that I really loved about the Eyre Peninsula, particularly the west, was the Shinglebacks! I remember having the reptile guy show us these fellas in primary school, seen them in zoo's etcetera, but this was the first place I got to get up close and personal with the little bright tongued buggers in the wild! Although not under the best of circumstances, they seem to really like sunning themselves on the dirt roads! They are pretty easy to spot, you don't see many short stumpy sticks in this dry country. If you see a stick that doesn't quite look thin enough to be from the local shrub back off the speed a bit and get ready to pull over. I moved a few off the road and gave them a stern talking to about sitting in the middle of the road. They all responded by giving me a lovely view of their brilliant blue tongue, followed by a hiss, I assume this is Shinglebackian for "Cheers mate, I'll be more vigilant from now on." or something along the lines.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Eyre Peninsula 02: Swimming with sea lions

Have you ever had one of those experiences so magical and memorable that it is hard to describe to others what it was like because photos and words just can't capture it properly. Well, Cameron and I had one of these experiences recently when we swam with wild sea lions at Hopkins Island, South Australia. I'll do my best to capture it for you.

On our journey to Western Australia it was the first time the Trooprock Aussies had travelled South and West as opposed to North. Everything was new to us and we found ourselves visiting many information centres along the way. While visiting the Eyre Peninsular in South Australia, an experience that caught our eyes was to swim with the sea lions. The company we chose to go with was called Adventure Bay Charters. They are based in Port Lincoln and offer two main charters: swimming with sea lions, or cage diving with sharks! Perhaps we will venture into shark diving another time. Thankfully the two charters go to different locations. It was an early start to the morning but it was made easier when they offered to pick us up from the Caravan Park where we were staying at and took us to the marina from where the tour departed. The tour left at around 8am and there was about 15 on tour which is a good size group as it is not too large. Wetsuits and snorkel gear were provided, as well as snacks and hot drinks on the boat ride.

The boat ride took about 1½ hours to get to Hopkins Island which is to the South-East of the Eyre Peninsular. On the journey there was a documentary playing about the sea lions, their behaviours, how to tell the differences between males, females, young and mature. Also how they are different to seals. The sea lions are not fed or mistreated in any way, and the only people allowed on Hopkins Island are the scientists who research them, (we were in the water of the bay not on land so it is allowed). Sea lions are often called the puppies of the sea. Stacey, the Skipper, informed us that they are curious creatures but they are also protective. They were happy for us to be there but just to be on the wary side they would not be at the same location the next day. Also the mothers go hunting for food for three days straight, then rest for three days. Because of these reasons Adventure Bay Charters only visit the sea lions a couple of times a week. This keeps the animals curious, and assures the customer that they get the experience they pay for.
As we pulled into the bay Cameron and I were excited to see the sea lions on the beach. The males were big and macho, looking for action. There were also the mothers and pups who were the ones that were going to come and investigate us. Sometimes these wild animals looked aggressive towards each other, but we were told not to worry as it is just a bit of sexual tension. The males wouldn't really come in the water and if they did they would just swim by uninterested, and once the mothers and pups were in the water they would be peaceful as they know if anything goes wrong that they were much faster than us and could out swim us with ease.

To get the most out of the experience we were told how to play games with the sea lions. They are curious and playful just like puppies particularly the young ones, but if we didn't interact they would get bored and go back to shore. While everybody gathered their snorkelling gear together, the two deckhands got into the water and got the attention of the sea lions by splashing about. Meanwhile Stacey told us some games to play and some not to play. They like to play copy cat. We copy them and they copy us such as duck diving, spinning around, splashing about. They also like to play chase but they forget that we can't keep up and they will keep going, so for the benefit of the group we were asked not to go to chase them in case they don't come back, but let them come to us.
 By this stage everybody was ready and this is where the fun began, getting into the water with them. I was thankful that we had snorkelled a couple of times leading up to it at Jervis Bay, and the Yorke Peninsula as to get used to it again, enabling us to get the most out of this experience. For me snorkelling is like riding a bike, you don't forget how to do it, but when you do it for the first time after a long time you have to think about it. We were confident to play with the sea lions. You could see the curiosity in their big, puppy-like eyes as we ducked under, spun around, splashed through the water. It was exhilarating having these wild, untrained animals up so close to us. Stacey also said they like to look at themselves in the reflection from our snorkel masks. To encourage this we put our hands behind our backs while they did it. Towards the end of our swim the pups started jumping through the waves like dolphins. It was exciting to watch.

As curious and playful as they are, they swim on their sides for a very important reason. They keep one eye on us, or if they are hunting one eye on their prey, and the other eye out for sharks. If there are sharks about, they try to stay one step ahead of them by swimming above and behind as the shark won't turn around. It is an interesting feeling trying to swim sideways.

Having done many fun, amazing, beautiful things in my life including skydiving, going in a helicopter over Kings Canyon in Central Australia, kayaking Sydney Harbour at sunset, building and sleeping in a snow cave, swimming with the sea lions is certainly up there with the magical, unforgettable moments I have experienced. Thank you Adventure Bay Charters from Cameron and I.

- Jeni

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Eyre Peninsula 01: East Coast

It was time for us to head down the other side of the Spencer Gulf into the Eyre Peninsula. It came to us as quite a surprise to find this peninsula was a whole lot busier than Yorke. Whyalla is the first major town you'll find along the east coast. It has all the conveniences of any major port town along with a nice hill to view the picturesque coast line. There is also a really cool gun placement which you can use to pew pew bad guys out of the sky! The reason for this is that a heap of steel was mined out of the area and used to make weaponry during the wars. A very industrious port town indeed! 

As you continue along the coast you'll find various small bayside towns, all supporting some mighty impressive jettys! We quite enjoyed walking out to the end of the jettys to enjoy the scenery looking back into town. All the fisherman will also gladly boast about their catch or inform you that they aren't biting today! One impressive jetty we enjoyed was the one at Tumby. There is a story here that apparently the government decided it had become too unsafe and was going to dismantle it from the end. The townsfolk all gathered and made a big blockade in front of the jetty. After that the town formed a committee to gain funds to keep the jetty in good order. Another thing that attracted us to Tumby was to try find the rare leafy sea dragons that live around the jetty. We were informed it's best to see them with proper diving gear but thought we'd try with our snorkeling stuff anyway. Turns out our dive day was a downpour day so we piked and continued south to Port Lincoln.

One thing you'll find while venturing this area is the locals and the majority of visitors are quite keen fisherman. Now I'm no fisherman, but I had heard quite a few people boast about how easy it is to pull squid out of the Spencer Gulf! Well I ended up grabbing myself some cheap squid jig gear and managed to pull a couple of squid out over consecutive evenings! If you are travelling around the Spencer Gulf I would say it's definitely worth grabbing a squid jig. When it comes to fishing gear, you can spend as much, or as little as you want. A $12 Kmart combo rig with a $2 squid jig is the minimum you will need, grab a couple of different colours if you feel like really splashing out. When caught I gutted, chopped them up and then soaked them in milk until ready to cook. We covered them in flour with salt and pepper then pan fried them up, yummo!

Port Lincoln is a great port town, home to the legendary horse Makybe Diva and allegedly boasts the most millionaires per capita in Australia. Tuna is one of the places big fishing industries and it brings in a phenomenal amount of cash to the region along side other the other aquaculture.

Just south of Port Lincoln is Port Lincoln National Park. We heard Memory Cove was a fantastic place to check out, so ended up spending the night out there. The road to Memory Cove is 4WD but nothing too hard other than some rocky terrain, lots of potholes, a few washouts and some really narrow roads. Not recommended for caravans but fine for 4WD campers and camper trailers. As a good portion of the road is bumpy we took our time heading out enjoying the beautiful views along the way. Just like in the Yorke Peninsula we saw plenty of emus foraging around doing their thing.

Once at our site we went for a short walk along the pretty beach and found a tiny variety of ring neck
snake moving about the rocks. We then had a bit of lunch, then I jumped into the drink for a bit of a snorkel. The visibility here was ok and among the weed beds and rocks along the coast many pretty fish along with some good table fish could be seen. I did spot a really cool slender fish with bright blue tail but couldn't get close enough for a decent photo.

As the sun rose to shine in a new day I heard a skippy by camp. Thought I'd get closer to see what it was up to and the bugger was chowing down on a fish skeleton! So there's something for all your vegan friends, kangaroos most certainly are not vegans!
We decided to head back through the 4WD track and up to the more easily accessible parts of the park to check it all out. Plenty of great coastline, secret fishing spots and nice camping spots. I'd definitely love to spend more time in this beautiful national park down the track. If you are planning a longer trip into SA I would recommend grabbing a 2 month camping national park permit. South Australia really has some beautiful places to explore.