Prt 2 WA-Cocklebiddy-Exmouth Including Eclipse
In Part 1 we had called into the roadhouse at Cocklebiddy, before leaving I felt compelled to ask the shopkeeper if the population of eight shown on the sign was genuine, she assured me it was and quickly rattled off their names one by one. She added that occasionally there was more in busy times, The 8 residents all worked and resided at the roadhouse. Lovely friendly people who said it was difficult to survive sometimes. Covid nearly killed them, but they just kept on going. True-spirited Aussies doing it tough.
We were in the last stretch of the Nullabor. With another 219 km driven, we pulled up at yet another roadhouse. Quite a lively place with a caravan park, motel, and petrol station. Balladonia where we had been advised to check out the museum apparently centred around the Skylab crash in 1987.
The museum was neatly presented although only a tiny section of the somewhat small display was concentrated on the Skylab crash with a replica of a part of Skylab. Not exactly authentic but interesting. It’s a good rest stop and breaks the long drive, other than that we cannot be more generous about it. On the last stretch now to Norseman. This is probably the most tiring section being another 220kms and I have to say less interesting landscape than previously. So, the Nullarbor is done, and the anticipation is now gone. The sense of achievement is good and the realisation that it is not hard, not boring and in fact quite interesting. The rest of our trip will see us cover many more kilometres of long stretches which would easily challenge the degree of difficulty of the Nullarbor.
Leaving the Nullarbor, we are heading further into the outback to visit the mining areas on our way to Exmouth. The first stop is Kalgoorlie, nearly 200 km from Norseman WA. The road was good, but the landscape was very sparse all the way with very few signs of civilisation. Out of the blue, a sign for a café grabbed our attention. We turned left and drove a couple of kilometres to our amazement we came across a small town with every facility you could need, Motels, a caravan park, Woolworths, a gym, and sports ground, etc. I believe the town was Coolgardie, but we have no idea where the residents resided. Later in our trip, we realised there are a huge number of mines pretty much hidden all over the countryside and other than the odd fence sign you would not know they were there. Obviously, a lot of workers needed supplies, hence the town of Coolgardie.
Next, we arrive at Boulder/Kalgoorlie. My first thoughts are it is a grubby town with lots of old equipment, old buildings, and disjointed infrastructure. Pretty much what we expected. We immediately came across the road to the Super Pit. It was blowing a gale at the top of the hill but thankfully there is a large, covered area over the information boards and a fantastic viewing platform that looks over the mine. Taken from one of the boards:- “In June 1893, Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan, and Dan Shea found nearly 100 ounces of gold in the dry red soil of what is now Kalgoorlie-Boulder. This sparked a gold rush and the discovery of the area known as the Golden Mile, which is one of the richest gold deposits in the world. By 1903 there were 49 operating mines, 100 headframes and more than 3,000 km of underground workings on the Golden Mile.”
Looking through the window you are faced with a huge deep cavernous hole with walls layered in varying gold, red, grey, and brown layers of colour. Dotted with yellow trucks together with red and yellow hard hats, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Leggoland with model trucks using makeshift roads to move the endless piles of potential gold from one layer to the next. Surreal and yet an actual working masterpiece. After checking out some of the older buildings in the town we stocked up on fuel and groceries. I have to say there was a large contingency of Aboriginals congregating around the local community centre and shopping centre who were becoming quite boisterous we did hasten our steps a little.
As we were moving into more remote places, we decided a map of WA was a good idea. The mobile had been good to date, but when there is no reception and many km of road seemingly going nowhere a printed map is vital. Popping into the Information centre, I had a chat with the local expert and found out about a couple of interesting sights to visit as we continued along this Golden Mile. Approximately 8 km out of town we pulled onto a dirt road and drove a couple of km when we came across a very large circular tin structure. Two large openings and bench seating following the curve of the shed led our imagination to a very verbal and boisterous game of two-up. I believe considerable dollars had changed hands here on many occasions. To the right was a dilapidated tin lean too with a painted sign “Mens” and further over another sort of structure which we believed to be the ladies although not marked as such. The interesting part is knowing that this dusty piece of land was still being frequented every Sunday in the present day. I can only imagine the value of the cash passing hands today.
A little while later we turned off the highway at Broad Arrow to visit the local tavern. Nothing much there but a whole lot of evidence of who had been there. The beer was cold, and the locals came and went. Both the inside and the outside walls were totally covered in scribbled names and messages. Not a patch left bare that I could see. Such an intriguing establishment. The stories that must have been told on those bar stools would surely be worth hearing.
Menzies is another tiny town, and we were only passing through on our way to see the sculptures on Lake Ballard. It was late afternoon when we arrived but just enough time to check out a couple of the 51 iron sculptures placed all over the 7 square kilometres of this vast Salt Lake. Absolutely fascinating concept. If the rain had fallen it would have been a red muddy and unpleasant walk, but we were in luck it was dry and hard and therefore easy to navigate. Free camping is allowed, with drop toilets available. The night was pitch black with the stars shining brightly. There was absolute silence even though there were several caravans and campers scattered around. The next morning, we woke to a clear day, and an eagerness to explore. Antony Gormley was the British artist responsible for the stark black steel family of sculptures. Apparently, each one represents previous residents of the town of Menzies. They are all a little different, men, women, and children each now connected by the millions of footprints in the red salty ground. What also makes It interesting is the out-of-place conical-shaped hill that seems to rise out of the dry Salt Lake. Covered in scrub and rocks it was quite a scramble to the top which I did attempt but gave up very quickly. Ken managed to climb up about ¾ of the way but the continuance of little avalanches of rocks deterred him from reaching the summit.
Another pleasant sight was a young boy on a bicycle having a lot of fun riding on the Salt Lake and a large brown dog expelling a lot of energy running endlessly over the dry lake.
After returning to Menzies our next stop was Kookynie town. It has been labelled a ghost town but the fact that 20 people still lived there refutes that fact. It was quite a way off the highway and a little disappointing once we arrived. History depicts a flourishing and vibrant working town and certainly, you can see the remnants of that, but many of the buildings have fallen apart and replaced with information boards. There are some brilliant rusted-out vehicles together with plant and machinery. The brochures indicate the town is growing and I hope for their sake this is correct however I do doubt its prospects. A drive out to the Niagara Dam surprised us by actually having water in it, to date we had seen a lot of dry water holes. It was quite hot and dry but an easy walk across the dam wall. Apparently, as soon as work started on building the dam, the town discovered an underwater bore and therefore the dam was not actually needed. Such a waste but hopefully as Wikicamps has it listed it will be enjoyed by more travellers as a free camp down near the water’s edge under the shade of the trees.
Gwallia is a mere 152 km north and it is an actual Ghost Town. Right on its edge is another very large mining exploration happening today. Luckily, they have seen fit to preserve the buildings of Gwallia as they were. There is a grand hotel, some old shops, houses, and other establishments. We visited the reasonably thorough Museum of the Times, with a café in the old heritage home visited by Edgar Hoover before his USA presidency. It was beautifully preserved, and the tea and scones would have been thoroughly enjoyed had we not been sitting on the wide-open veranda which had a pleasant breeze to cool us down but unfortunately, the flies had the same idea. an Australian staple we were quickly tired of. Time for working and washing again so we booked a caravan park at Leonora,10 minutes from there.
The advertising for Leonora was such that I was expecting a well-looked-after town with some interesting things to see. I can honestly say this was not our experience. The people we encountered were lovely but there was little to see and the caravan park we were booked into had razor wire topping the entire perimeter. This is a little unnerving. The party started late afternoon/ early evening as some of the locals become extremely verbal. A lot of screaming, aggressive music and abusive language continued through the night. We were going to stop for 2 nights but chose to limit it to one and hopefully find a free camp further along. I did manage to get some work done, the washing finished, and we had showers so no complaints but obviously did not sleep well that night.
Our plan at this stage was to continue our way to Karijini national park despite the current cyclone off the coast of WA above the national park. We were following it closely but at this stage, the forecasters were indicating a move to the Northern Territory, so we stayed on our planned itinerary.
Our next main stop was Mount Magnet some 432 km to the west. About 280 km along we pulled off just before the town of Sandstone following an advertised tourist trail. Sandstone was formerly a gold rush town and later nearly a ghost town, however in 2021 its population was 109 people who apparently are very proud of their town as the homes are neatly kept and overall, the town is nicely laid out and well looked after. Its claim to fame today is the greatsights you see on The Heritage Trail. Just two of the things we liked were The London Bridge and the Cave Brewery. London Bridge is aptly named and worth the drive. The scenery is wonderful and needless to say a frequently photographed tourist attraction. The Brewery is intriguing. Developed by an Irishman who built the pub at the top of the mound of limestone rock and then ran the pipes down to the cave below to keep the barrels cool. This place is very remote and hard to imagine people going that far for a cold beer. Ken pointed out there would have been many gold seekers in need of a thirst-quenching beer after the tiresome effort of searching for their fortune all day in the summer heat. It was getting to mid-afternoon, and we hurried on to our free camp which was not far out of Mount Magnet. Once we arrived it was a little rockier than the reviews on Wikicamps and of course, while trying to decide on the spot we gashed a rather large hole in the front tyre. We were just over half an hour from town, but it was late in the afternoon. A quick call to the local mechanic led us to believe he may be able to get us a replacement tyre. Hurriedly changing the tyre to our space-saver spare tyre, we drove the distance to the town. Alas when we got to town, he had closed along with the rest of the town, so we had to stay at a caravan park. Luckily, we were able to find a spot. Again, another caravan park that was monitored by police. A couple of phone calls the next morning convinced us we needed to drive the 350k to Geraldton as nothing was available anywhere else. As it turns out our plan was to head for Karijini national park, but we were concerned as a cyclone had crossed into an area a couple of hundred k’s short of where we were headed. At least going to Geraldton, we would miss the bad weather from the cyclone but sadly we would miss the opportunity to see Karijini National Park. This was bitterly disappointing but unfortunately, we had no choice.
So off we went, bright and early and made it to Geraldton in time to get the new tyre. Thank you to Tyrepower who fit us in, changed our tyres around so they were evenly matched and did not overcharge us. A consolation was that the cyclone did in fact hit land nearer to our original destination than we would have liked so we were saved from some very treacherous weather by heading to the coast.
While in Geraldton we checked out the memorial for HMAS Sydney. This is quite large and beautifully designed. The gardens surrounding it are nice and the lookout is quite appealing. Leaving here we drove down to the Esplanade. The sun was hot, and we stretched our legs with a walk to the end. Here we found a huge Crystal ball on display. Depending on the angle you can see your reflection and the ocean through the glass. Really neat and different.
Now where to stay, it was getting late, so we headed just out of town to a camp referred to as an Eco camp. We drove in and there was a house unattended and a sign to say park and leave your donation. Showers, toilets, and a camp kitchen. We drove around an oval and found some old numbers on trees which we determined were campsites. Picked one which was near the camp kitchen and set up. There was quite a large group just near us who were using the facilities and turned out to be a rowdy bunch. As the facilities looked old and unkept we decided to just use the toilet. I am not sure of the meaning of Eco camp but looked more like ‘Look after yourself Camp’. We were up and out of there early the next morning.
Another long 480km north and we arrived at our destination, Carnarvon, we found an inexpensive caravan park that was run by a young woman who was super happy and a very hard-working lady. We stayed here 3 nights as I had work to do and we needed time to just catch up with washing, shopping and to relax a little. Once again, we expected a larger more commercial town. There was a nice esplanade, some small gift shops and coffee places and more industrial-style businesses but otherwise, an ordinary town. We must mention though that we did visit the Space and Technology Museum which proved very entertaining with hands-on activities and a wealth of information. This was a tracking station for early space missions such as Gemini, Skylab and Apollo. It was easy to spend a couple of hours going through all the exhibitions. A very worthwhile visit. It appears small but is jammed pack with interesting and interactive highlights.
Having sorted ourselves out and prepared supplies for our 5 days at Exmouth we left on the 18th to head for our eclipse headquarters. It is 364 km to Exmouth and other than a coffee break we drove straight through. Getting close to the Exmouth turnoff Ken saw a hawk in the sky and just happened to comment that he had not seen an eagle for some time. As if by magic we passed 5 eagles hovering over roadkill on our right. As it happened Ken checked the km at that point and realised it had changed dramatically as we were going the wrong way. We had to turn back and as we drove toward the point where the eagles were feeding, we stopped and Ken walked quietly down to try for a photo. He was rewarded generously as one very large eagle held back until the last minute and he was able to photograph the eagle in flight. It was a brilliant photo and very unexpected. We of course were quite happy that we had missed that turn-off.
It was amusing to see the many traffic warnings along the way. There were many warnings of traffic delays due to upcoming events, and frequent roads blocked off. We personally experienced no delays of any kind and drove easily to the entrance of the overflow camp where we had booked along with hundreds or possibly thousands of others. We were cordially welcomed and were instructed to follow the man in the high-vis yellow jacket madly peddling his bicycle to our allocated spot. They were very organised, with many helpers and all just as excited as we were. We had a great spot with few vans around us. We did have to be self-sufficient so up went the annex for the first time along with the Joolca shower and toilet tent. The weather was brilliant. Hot but with a nice breeze. It was afternoon so after unpacking we went for a drive to the centre of town to find a pub and a cold beer. We had no trouble and arrived at the Froth Hotel which quite a few others tried out as well. A short drive around town we were able to get our bearings as to where the beach was, our expected viewing site for the Eclipse. It was conveniently within walking distance from our camp. We settled down for the night in anticipation of a mass arrival of campers the next day. As it turned out there was a steady stream, but the area was huge and accommodated everyone very well. We did notice that our little corner was still not crowded out. We were close to an exit which made it very easy to come and go. That morning we had a visit from an acquaintance, Mandy, and her husband Brian. Ken had spoken to Mandy before in relation to a visit we made to Lightening Ridge.
Mandy writes for The Outback magazine for RM Williams. She wanted to ask us about what to expect regarding the eclipse as it was her first experience. They are a happy friendly couple whose company we enjoyed. She will be doing an article, whether we are in it we will have to wait to find out. We hope she enjoyed her first eclipse as we were unable to meet up with her after the event. I am sure she would have been very busy interviewing many people about their experiences.
The morning passed quickly, and we met up with some other friends that evening for a meagre feed of sausage sandwiches accompanied by beer and wine. Earlier in the day we took a drive up to the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, one of the few places where both sunset and sunrise can be observed over the ocean. We also visited a local beach and went for a brief dip at Town Beach. The water is warm and shallow, and you can walk knee-deep for quite a way out. The next morning was eclipse morning, and it was decided we only needed to move a few metres from our camp. Ken had decided he would not bother trying to photograph as he wanted to be able to watch the eclipse without interference and in the end was very happy with his decision. It is a spectacular experience that everyone should endeavour to see at least once in their lifetime. It is also one of the hardest things to describe and one of the most difficult to put into words. This was my 4th eclipse and Ken’s 6th, of course not all are successful, but all are meaningful. All I can tell you is that if the sky is clear, it is an exceptional occurrence. The sky changes, the moon covers the sun and at the final moment when the sun is nearly completely covered, the image of a diamond ring appears as the last rays push through peaks and valleys Once the sun is completely covered you will see eruptions or prominences sprout out from behind the shadow. As the sun was quite active at the time, we were lucky enough to see white baileys beads and red prominences which were a bonus. This eclipse was very short, only 57 seconds in our position. Within moments there were cheers from the field. The number of cameras clicking at the time would have been phenomenal and the number of photos showing up on Facebook pages later in the day proved the absolute joy of those who were privileged to view it. Certainly, an experience that is hard to forget. Absolutely worth the 5,500 km we had travelled so far. I look forward to 2028 when hopefully we can be a lot closer to home in the Blue Mountains of NSW when this event will occur once again with a 5-minute duration.
It was all over as quick as a wink and there was more to do and to see. We decided to try for a drive to the local national park. Some of the park had been closed off to travellers and much of the park is 4wd only. We drove out not sure of what we were going to be able to see. We passed the lighthouse from the previous day and drove on for many kilometres. Passing several side roads leading to beaches eventually, we pulled over to the Yardie Creek Gorge car park. The walk along the top of the gorge did not look too difficult and was about 3-4 km return. At the opening of the gorge and still, on a flat walking trail, there was a river barge taking people for a leisurely trip up to the centre and back. Together with some kayakers slowly meandering up the gorge, it was quite a serene picture. It was not too far up the track, and you could appreciate the beauty of the area. The high cliffs of red rock meeting the deep blue of the ocean water were worth the effort. The gorge turned around to the left and the track headed up to higher ground which looked quite manageable, until of course it wasn’t. We came across a deep ravine that would have to be navigated if one wanted to get to the top. A little boulder hopping and then a whole lot of rock scrambling got us down and up the other side. I must admit it took a massive amount of self-talk and some encouragement from other walkers to keep me going. I am used to coming up against obstacles in our walks and usually, the challenge means there will be a reward at the end. Part of the problem with this walk was that it was hot, and I had worn a light dress with bike shorts underneath, not the best outfit for climbing. Regardless I soldiered on thinking it would flatten, not long after we came across another canyon to master! Ken turns to me and says just watch where I put my feet and follow on. Well, if my legs were as long as his and I was 20 kilos lighter I would have so much less of a problem. The challenge was met and beaten not without several cries of “I can’t do this“ once again. The sense of satisfaction is tremendous. We find ourselves above the gorge looking down onto the cliffs once again. The wind is blowing, and the sun is beating down as we stand alone looking far and wide across the many ridges. It gives one a feeling of beauty and solitude. It makes you realise just how much of Australia is untouched by humanity. Unfortunately, we had to traverse the same route on the return trip. Of course, we made it back in one piece tired and hungry. A very tasty late lunch at a waterside café and an evening of wine and cheese with our friends saw the day come to an end. Another day exploring the town and our time at Exmouth and this leg of our trip had ended. An early night and early start the next day where we headed back.