May 21, 2017
It is a long drive from the east coast to the west coast of Australia, and to be honest its something I won’t do again. Not because it wasn’t good, it’s just a tiring amount of driving and quite dull at times. For a first timer though, those hours of sameness is part of the experience and in some way poetic. We had about two weeks and wished we had another to get more time for stops on the way. Here’s our experience and itinerary of the great southern drive:
GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Most people who go here do it to get to the famous Nine Apostles. The drive is scenic indeed, the road is winding and the ocean is roaring beneath steep cliffs as you drive between the tourist towns along the way. There is plenty of options to stop here, for fuel, food, a beach break or to get a hotel bed over night. Its’ popularity amongst tourist can be spotted in the frequent signs saying ”remember: drive on the left side in Australia”. Our plan was to stop in Torquay, about an hour from Melbourne, to enjoy the beach for a while and maybe do some surfing. However, the weather didn’t agree and as there’s not much else to do there we went straight for the drive west towards the Nine Apostles.
The weather got worse, and turned into a storm. Conditions were extreme and scary, we had to drive around big branches that fell on the road and ultimately we found ourselves in a line of cars, stuck behind fallen trees. There is no obvious detour to get to the Nine Apostles from where we were, and we spent some time driving back and forth trying to see if the road would get cleared or if any detour could be used. The one road that would take us around the blocked area efficiently with just a small detour was small and also blocked, and only to enter it was scary due to the tall trees swaying in the wind with branches already fallen on the road.
We decided to take a longer detour, estimated extra time was 1,5 hours but we didn’t want to just wait in line as the police officers who just arrived to the scene told us that this would take hours. Driving up north, the wind was still strong but the rain stopped and the sight was better. We came to a small road that would take us through the rainforest, the next option of detours to get to the apostles. We had a fun time driving through the forest, we felt like quite the adventurers avoiding branches, sometimes, getting out of the car to drag them out of our way, and zig zagging our way through. One third in on the road through the lush, dense rain forest we were once again stopped by a tree, too big for us to move. Perhaps this was a good thing, in hind sight it wasn’t very smart to drive there as the storm was still ongoing and we risked getting stuck between fallen trees (or worse). At this point we were seriously considering skipping the apostles, assuming that they were overrated and not worth the hustle. But we were so close, and the weather was getting better too so we decided to go there anyway. Turning back, heading even further north, we finally found a road that was already cleared and that would take us all the way. At this time, it was already dark and late in the night and we decided to stop and sleep in the car.
We woke up at our random home for the night, looking out over a paddock with some friendly cows, and went straight for the Nine Apostles. I must say, I found them a bit overrated. However, the cliffs in the area are spectacular, I just found other views than the apostles more interesting and dramatic. After an adventurous start of our roadtrip we where happy to have made it to the apostles at all, but even more happy that the weather was on our side again.
Maybe not for everyone, but me and my traveling companion are both huge lovers of outdoor climbing, and being only a few hours away from Australias greatest place for climbing we couldn’t resist the temptation. Heading inland it took us around three hours to get there. We arrived at a campsite where slack lines, bongo drums and happy hippies created a welcoming atmosphere. This was the kind of place where people settled for weeks to splurge in their love for climbing. Needless to say: we loved it and felt like settling as well and forget the rest of the world for a while… Everyone where super friendly, and I do nourish the hope to come back and develop my trad climbing skills some day… we will see.
Mt Arapiles is a lonely mountain surrounded by open fields, making the views spectacular. On our second day we hired a guide and equipment for trad climbing, and started out with a multi pitch to the top of a free standing pillar. Amazing! I don’t want to geek out over climbing too much, but the Arapiles certainly deserve their reputation. There are routes for everyone, and what I really loved is that you don’t have to climb super hard routes to get to spectacular, long and super fun climbs. Additionally, the bouldering is extensive and fun. And the camp ground is perfect for making friends, we were invited to climb with people we met. to have tea in our neighbours’ camps, and got recommendations on where to go and what do do for the rest of our trip. If you’re into climbing – go to the Arapiles and just stay for a few days, meet people, play music, talk and CLIMB!
SOUTH AUSTRALIA AND ADELAIDE
This is as far west as most people get when traveling this way from Melbourne, and Adelaide is a nice stopover for some city-vibes before the long drive west. You can borrow free bikes from the Bicycle SA and since Adelaide is flat like a pancake it’s a perfect way to get around. What we enjoyed most in Adelaide were the restaurants and bars, having been camping for a while some tasty handicraft beer was extremely satisfying. The museums are mediocre, and the botanical garden is nice but if you’ve been to the one in Melbourne this doesn’t really add on anything.
From Adelaide we went to Port Augusta and Ceduna. Both being small towns, but compared to the rest of the towns on the drive west they are quite big and makes for a good spot for loading whatever you might need for the drive. Note that you are not allowed to bring any fresh fruit of veggies over the state border from to Western Australia, so indulge in a huge fresh sallad and prepare yourself to survive on the canned type, as it is surprisingly hard to find any fresh veggies to buy on the road through SA.
The state that stretches between Victoria and West Australia is not really known for anything except for Adelaide, the oysters in Ceduna and the mining. And to be honest, there isn’t a lot happening here. In the western part of South Australia the Nullarbor plains start and the more outbackish part ((compared to the real outback this is just a practice on beginners’ level, though) of the drive. Don’t miss the great view point at Bunda Cliffs, though, before crossing the border to WA in Eucla.
THE NULLARBOR PLAINS AND EASTERN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Here comes the spectacular part of the drive, spectacular in its’ sameness and impression of endlessness. Nullarbor means ”no trees” in latin, a very literal name of the area. There isn’t much happening on the long drive that takes around tree to four days. However, the plains are beautiful. Just relax and enjoy the drive. Part of the road (190 km) is Australias longest stretch of completely straight road… Don’t fall asleep behind the wheel! Prepare before leaving an area with mobile reception by getting some podcasts an music ready, as there is no coverage here. As you get further away from civilasation, the prices on fuel are rising. Fill up the tank when you’re at a place with reasonable prices, as you might want to get a little less in the more expensive areas.
On the drive out of Eucla, we spotted some huge, white dunes from the car, and got so curious that we turned back. The dunes weren’t mentioned on any sign or information anywhere, but you’ll find them if driving down to the old telegraph station in Eucla. A couple of hundred meters from the parking and the ruin of the old telegraph starts an area with huge sand dunes, that makes for a perfect stop to play around, get some movement in your body and take some photographs before getting back on the road.
ESPERANCE AND CAPE LE GRAND
In Esperance you’ll feel like you’re finally back in civilisation. After realising that the pink lake isn’t pink anymore, but the beaches are amazing, we headed for Cape le grand. It is a national park just east of Esperance. First thing we did was the short climb to the top of Frenchmans peak. It is WAY MORE interesting than it looks! With a huge cave on the top that you don’t see from the ground. Bring picknick and enjoy the view over the beaches and rounded mountains.
There are many campsites here, but we went for Lucky bay after recommendations from locals. We went for an exploration trek around the campsite and found a whole system of shallow caves, just after the memorial of Matthew Flinders. We climbed around there with the ocean roaring under us, and if it wasn’t because the day light was fading we could have stayed for hours.
PEMBERTON, MARGARET RIVER AND AROUND
There was just one reason for us to stop in Pemberton: to climb a tree! This area has some of the tallest forests on earth, and in Warren national park near Pemberton you can climb to the top of a 69 meter tall Karri tree. At first we expected it to be a ”regular” tree climb, where you had to use just the tree but with some kind of security equipment like harnesses. Then we realised that is was a bit more organised, they actually put metal bars like steps around the tree. When we came there though, those steps were just really small and uneven metal sticks and with no other safety, if you would fall you would really fall… Except for a platform allowing a breather on the way up (and a sign for those who found the first part scary to climb down – this was the easy part) the climb goes all the way to a little crib at the top of the tree. And yes – we came here in time to watch the sunset over the surrounding forest. So worth it!
As the moon was rising, we headed to Margaret River and our couch surfing-host. She had a camper van in her yard that we stayed in – some may not consider it a real home but with a proper mattress it makes for a real bed! Something we didn’t have in my car or in the tent. Plus we had access to a proper shower and kitchen – campers delight! The Margaret River area was another highlight. The Boranup forest is a magical place, go for a walk or just do the forest drive. But if you drive, stop and step out in the forest because there is some true powers in those trees, their sounds and smells… Margaret River is also known for the huge caves found in the area. Although all of them are very neatly organised and comes with an entrance fee, it makes for a fun activity and the caves are indeed very interesting. We went to the more adventurous one where you get a helmet and a flash light and can then explore the cave system yourself.
Another amazing thing i Margaret River is in Hamelin bay just by the old jetty – a chance to make direct contact with H U G E stingrays. You are not supposed to feed them, but apparently people do anyway and the stingrays come up sniffing your feet if you stand out in the water. They are friendly – but huge!
PERTH AND FREMANTLE (+ ROTTNEST ISLAND)
After a long drive from Melbourne we were finally in Perth, one of the world’s most isolated cities. Here is where my travel companion from the last couple of weeks left Australia. Here is also where I sold my car, and went from road tripping to backpacking.
I really liked Perth, but my favourite area by far was Fremantle. It makes for its own little world and it is actually not a part of Perth but its’ own city, only half an hour from central Perth. Fremantle is a port city with beaches and sea views. It’s an eclectic, eccentric blend of quirky little shops, art galleries, handcrafted beers, great coffee and a very vibrant festival and music scene. Fremantle market is the place to go for food and souvenirs, but the best way to explore Fremantle is to just stroll around and enter the many art spaces and stop for coffee or food wherever you find it inviting.
I stayed most of my time in Fremantle, except for the area being way nicer with a soul and personality that suited me perfectly, the hostels made for a similar experience. All in all, if I would move to Perth at any time I would definitely settle for Fremantle.
This said, I had a great experience in Perth as well. After my friend left I was couch surfing with an amazing guy and our conversations went crazy! Touching on everything from string theory and programming to binge eating and breasts – and always with a lot of laughter. He showed me around the city, we went to his favourite waterfall, drank bubble tea, spent an hour in the arcade hall trying to beat each other in all kinds of weird games that we found, and went to a donation based indian restaurant. What’s really cool is that me and this guy were not alike at all if looking at the obvious aspects, He’s ten years younger than me, working in a completely different field and our lives are very different. What we both have though, is an endless curiosity and open minds. And this is more important than all things on the surface. I am very certain this guy will show up in my life again, hopefully I can host him sometimes. I am so grateful for couch surfing and everyone I met that way, it’s truly amazing!
Last detail on my journey from east to west: I need to mention Rottnest Island and the quokkas! Terribly overpriced every day except for Tuesdays, this little island still makes for a fun day tour. I rented a bike and went around the island. The nature is great but for me the experience was all about the quokkas! This little mammal only exist on Rottnest Island, and they are very friendly and curious so you’ll have no problem seeing them up close. Apparently the #quokkaselfie is a thing (click the link to see the feed, it’s hilarious!) and I had to join the club with this little posing fellow! It became a thing because of the quokkas always smiling, photo ready face. Looking at them up close you’ll see that they always look like a peculiar little cartoon animal.
During my time in Perth, I went inland for the meditation course Vipassana, but that’s something I covered in another post.
Eventually, I got bored with the weather in Perth and felt like something more adventurous, and since Perth is perfect for flying to Asia I bought a one way ticket to Singapore… I’ll keep you posted!
Some general recommendations:
– You won’t need an extra tank of fuel, the gas stations are close enough to each other.
– Bring extra water, just in case something happens with your car
– Download podcasts and music beforehand
– Free camping can be found at many places on the way, however most of them without any facilities.
Drive, drive into the sunset baby,