Steeping the grains

Adding extra hops, bitterness and flavour to the Coopers Northwest Pale Ale

By more coincidence than good planning, the Pale Ale I brewed back on 9th July was bottled today, on appropriately enough, International Beer Day. I’ve left it more than long enough in the fermenter, but that hasn’t hurt, and may actually have improved it. It tastes great today, albeit flat as hell straight out of the fermenter on a cold winter’s day in Kendenup, WA where we’ve parked our camper at Leonie’s sisters farm.

I’ve made the Pale Ale before, using the Coopers/Mr Beer Northwest Pale Ale Hop Malt Extract recipe by the book, but this time I wanted to make it more bitter, more like an American India Pale Ale and getting some more flavour from the added Cascade hops. Taking the hydrometer reading today, it’s Specific Gravity is 1002. The Starting Gravity was 1042, so about 5.4% ABV. I have no way of measuring the International Bitterness Units (IBU) because of the malt extract used, but my guess is around 50 as it’s fairly bitter.

Here’s the recipe I crafted: (pun intended!)

You’ll need:

  • 500g Pale Ale Malt grains. I used Briess 2 row – 7 EBC – 3.5 Lovibond. I actually purchased 1Kg of this but only used half
  • 33g Cascade hop pellets. I purchased a 100g bag so only used a third
  • Kettle (e.g. Stainless Steel) that can boil at least 5L comfortably, so about 8L
  • Nylon Mesh Bag large enough to hold the grains
  • Thermometer that can be used to measure the temperature of the water (I used a meat thermometer)


  • Heat 5L of water to 70C/158F
  • Use a rolling pin to crack the grains open in a strong plastic sandwich bag (a handful or two at a time depending on the size of your bag) and put them in a nylon mesh bag
  • Put the mesh bag containing the cracked grains into the kettle (which is now at 70C/158F)
  • Leave the bag in the water for 30 minutes at 70C. This is called steeping the grains and makes Wort. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce beer. The extract is obviously a wort as well and we’ll be adding that into the boil shortly
  • Remove the grain bag and let the excess drip off into the kettle. Pour some boiling water over the bag to release maximum flavour for your wort. Discard the grains from the bag or you can munch on them or make porridge. They do taste good! Or feed them to the birds
  • Bring water to the boil
  • Add the Coopers hop malt extract that has been in hot water to make it runny and pour easily. Use a cooking spatula to scrape out all of the extract. Stir it around in the kettle
  • Stir in 13g pellets of cascade hops for bitterness
  • Boil for another 45 mins
  • Add 8g pellets of cascade hops
  • Boil for another 15 mins
  • Take off boil
  • Add 12g pellets of cascade hops
  • Wait 5 mins
  • Cool down to about 30C/86F by placing the kettle in icy water
  • Pour the contents into your 8.5L fermenting vessel. Do not pour all the hop sediment in that has accumulated at the bottom of your kettle
  • Fill the fermenter with water to top up to the 8.5L mark
  • When at around 22C/71F add yeast and let sit in a warm place to keep at around 22-24C (71F-75F) for at least 2 weeks. For this brew, I left it 3 days short of 4 weeks

I did not dry hop during fermentation, leaving that to try after this one for comparison. I’m thinking of using Galaxy hops for that.

Bottling Day – Brew #5

I would have bottled it a week or two ago, but I had a cracked lower molar which needed to be surgically removed in Hospital yesterday. So in honour of that, this brew is called Molar Pale Ale (MPA).

There was a fair degree of sediment in the brew so I filtered it out into another vessel first, using my grain mesh bag, then cleaned the fermenting vessel and poured it back before bottling.

I only bottled 11 x 740mL PET bottles. Let’s leave them for a month then give them a try, if I can wait that long!

Now let’s have a local brew to celebrate the day. It’s a drizzly cold 12C here today so that calls for a Lost Sailor Dark Ale from Wilson’s Brewing in Albany. A micro brewery that is growing quickly, and with good reason. Their beers taste great and they recently won People’s Choice Award for best brewery at the prestigious Perth Royal Beer Awards in July.

Cheers, Vic

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Vic opening his Coopers Craft Pale Ale on the Nullarbor

Brewing beer on the road

Using the Coopers Craft Beer Brew Kit

A friend of ours (thanks Mike!) kindly gave Vic a Coopers Craft Beer Brew Kit so he can brew beer on the road and keep costs down. If you haven’t picked up on the fact, Vic loves beer, especially craft beer.

The craft beer kit makes only 8.5L of beer as compared to 23L from the normal Coopers brew kit. But this amount and size of kit is perfect for our setup as this makes one dozen long neck PET bottles (740mL) or a carton (24) of 375mL stubbies from one brew. The PET bottles are also reusable, lightweight and shatterproof, so perfect for travelling.

Cost per carton is under AUD$20

The cost to make one brew is just under AUD$20, taking into account the cost of the malt extract, sugar carbonation drops and sanitiser used to clean the bottles. The kit is only AUD$62 from Coopers online DIY Beer store if you’re a Coopers Club member or $69 if not. Joining the club is free, and you get specials emailed to you and new recipes to try out. The Coopers Community Forum is also a great place to exchange ideas with other home brewers and get useful information and tips on brewing.

Vic made four brews while staying at Leonie’s mother’s house in Gumeracha. So strictly speaking while we are technically on the road, he didn’t make it at a campsite, but that’s our aim. Vic took over the pantry for fermenting the beer and storing the bottles during second fermentation. She wasn’t that impressed but seemed to turn a blind eye.

It’s easy to do

The process of brewing is very straightforward and illustrated well in the Cooper’s video below.

One tip is to immerse the hop malt extract in hot water to get it runny so it mixes well with the water. Also make sure you sanitise your bottles, fermenter and tap well to avoid infection. When buying your extract, if you can, check the Best Before date on the bottom of the tin when you buy it to make sure it’s not old and brew before that date.

The FAQ on the Mr. Beer website recommends to brew using fresh yeast to ensure that the brew ferments thoroughly if you want to brew a beer past its Best Before date (out of curiosity or otherwise).

The four brews Vic made were using the Coopers/Mr Beer (Coopers purchased Mr Beer in 2011) malt extracts Bewitched Amber Ale, Diablo IPA, Northwest Pale Ale and Churchill’s Nut Brown Ale. All were drinkable but the standouts were the IPA and Pale Ale.

We left Gumeracha with 18 long necks. Was this enough to cross the Nullarbor? Surprisingly, yes, but only because Vic had some stocks of canned beer left.

Brewing at a campsite is our next challenge. This would use valuable water for sanitising your equipment and bottles and 8.5L water added to the malt extract in the fermenter, so probably around 12L. It would also rely on ambient temperatures being in the low twenties as you need to keep the fermenting temperature in the high teens or low twenties for about a week, depending on the beer style. This could work if you have an RV with air conditioning but we don’t so we need to pick our places carefully to brew. If you had enough water to spare and these conditions it could be done. We’ll see how we go. If anyone is doing this on the road, please leave any comments or tips below and let us know how your brews taste.

In our next brew, we took it to the next level by adding extra hops and bitterness.

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Carcasse on way to Murrawijinie Caves, Nullarbor, South Australia



noun : any vehicle that has been left to die and rust under the elements

In our travels, we always shout out CARCASS whenever we see a dead vehicle lying by the road.

We’ll continue to add photos of carcasses here as we find them. If you have any, please email them to us along with your name, a brief description and the location and we’ll add them crediting you (or let us know if you want to stay anonymous) and we’ll build up a decent list.

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Peggy (Prado 150) and Dora (Vista RV Camper) at Afghan Rocks

From the SA/WA border to Afghan Rocks near Balladonia then to Norseman

From the SA/WA border to Afghan Rocks

We didn’t even know Afghan Rocks existed or where it was when we left the SA/WA border at Border Village. But we’ll get to that shortly. We didn’t refuel in Border Village or Eucla as we planned on filling up at the Mundrabilla Roadhouse. We knew from past experience it’s usually cheaper there than the Nullarbor Roadhouse, Border Village or Eucla. Passing through Eucla only 12 Kms down the road, it’s only 78 kms to the Mundrabilla Roadhouse. So we refuelled there, where it was $1.76/L compared to 1.87/L at Nullarbor. Fuel consumption was 15.85 L/100 km.

It’s a long drive then through Madura, Cocklebiddy then the long Caiguna straight, Australia’s longest straight road of 146.6 km/90 miles. About half way along the straight we saw a wild black and brown dog and were lucky enough to photograph it. He looked healthy enough, but we wondered what it would be like for him in the middle of summer. For the middle of March the plain was surprisingly green.

We wanted to reach Newman Rock in the Fraser Range by nightfall, but it was getting dark. After checking Google and WikiCamps, we found reference to a place called Afghan Rocks, just before Balladonia. It can be a bit tricky to find. There’s a rest stop called Afghan Rocks in WikiCamps about 5Km east of the Balladonia Hotel Motel, but that’s not it. Just a few metres to the west of that rest stop there’s a dirt road heading north and about 50m (metres not kilometres) in there’s a gate.

It wasn’t locked but it was closed so we drove through and closed it behind us. The track could be quite slippery in the rain. We drove up the narrow track, which was only a little damp from recent rain and after about 2 km came to the most amazing rock formation. It was not very high, but made of undulating red and brown granite. Getting out of the car we were hit with a very distinctive sweet odour which turned out to be from the sandalwood trees around. Water had pooled in numerous places around the rocks and we stopped near a large dam with a few ducks. There was no one else around, apart from some cows mooing in the distance but they never came near. We went for a walk and had this most beautiful place all to ourselves.

We stayed overnight and headed back the way we came to the Eyre Highway, then headed to the Balladonia Hotel Motel.

Balladonia is best known for the final resting place of Skylab, a NASA space station that came crashing down to earth on 13 July, 1979 with bits of it scattering over a wide area from Esperance to Balladonia to Rawlinna. The Shire of Esperance fined NASA AUD$400 for littering. The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners on behalf of NASA.

Don’t just refuel and head off. Inside the roadhouse there’s a museum. Spend some time and have a good look through. It has all sorts of interesting information about the history of the area, Skylab, the Redex trials and sandalwood trees. There’s also a poem by Dame Mary Durack, Australian author and historian, born in Adelaide in 1913 written in response to the Skylab crash called Skylab Speaking:

Balladonia here I come,
far from where I started from
Travelling ever speedier
to avoid the media

Far from curious populations,
journalists and T.V. stations
Somewhere – nowhere to descend
at my epic journey’s end

I’ve picked out an empty space,
where I see no human face
Simple scientific me
I abhor publicity

We also learnt more about the rock camp we stayed at.

We now know why it’s called Afghan Rocks

Afghans and their camels played a vital role in early Australian outback life. The cameleers came originally from Karachi or outlying Baluchistan in north western India. Camels were the mainstay of heavy transport for Balladonia and surrounding stations until development of the Eyre Highway in 1942.

Known as “The incident at Afghan Rock”, it occurred at the very site we were camped. Taken from a poster at the museum is this account of it: “A European goods carter misinterpreted the actions of Afghan camel drivers engaged in a religious rite involving the washing of their feet in the rock pool. A hostile argument developed, during which one of the Afghans was shot and killed. The European went on trial in Albany, but was acquitted of murder on the grounds that extreme scarcity of water in the region meant that defilement of a water supply threatened life. The fact that the water in that instance was already sullied by the carcass of a dead camel did not seem to sway the jury’s decision”.

What people do for a good coffee!

Refuelling at Balladonia we met a couple from Falls Creek in Victoria. We had seen them also looking for a place to stop before we discovered Afghan Rocks. They ended up staying just off the Eyre Highway. It was a cold morning, around 18C, if that can be classified as cold! Despite being from Falls Creek where it snows in the winter, they said it was too cold and they’re heading north to the Goldfields. They had stayed at Eucla the night before but in the morning drove back over the border to Border Village in South Australia. They said the coffee was so good there it was worth crossing the border again and coming back through the quarantine station again much to the inspectors surprise.

We stopped at Newman Rock in the Fraser Range about 50 km north west of the Balladonia Hotel Motel. The landscape and vegetation was quite similar to Afghan Rocks, with a view over the surrounding area. But it’s not as hard to find or get to, and there was some mystique missing about it that we felt Afghan Rocks had. We stopped and took some photos, but felt glad we had stopped and took a chance at finding Afghan Rocks, especially after reading all about its history at the Balladonia Hotel Motel museum.

Finally at Norseman. Do we head to Perth or Esperance?

Continuing on to Norseman, we stopped to take some photos of one of the many salt lakes near the road. We filled up at the BP at Norseman for $1.51/L. It was 633 km from our last refuel at Mundrabilla and we averaged 15L/100km.

Norseman is like a crossroads when you get to it from the East. Do you head north west for Perth, or south towards Esperance and over to the mighty south west of Western Australia? We’ve been here several times before heading for Albany so we know that way the best. Our dilemma this time was we’d heard from a friend of ours that we might have some work in Perth on a project they were involved with. That would be nice we thought, we hadn’t worked much since leaving Bendigo back in November. But it’s still up in the air and was only for a week or two. We had planned to head off mid April anyhow for a 4 week trip to Exmouth and back with friends who were driving over from Adelaide. But it was only mid March. Leonie’s two sisters live in Albany and Kendenup so we decided to head there.

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Murrawijinie Cave 1

Cook to Murrawijinie Caves to the Great Australian Bight

From Trains to Caves

Vic’s idea of visiting Cook was excellent (credit paid where credit’s due) and we highly recommend it if you’re travelling along the Eyre Highway near the Nullarbor Roadhouse. We decided to head back to the roadhouse as we wanted to visit the Murrawijinie Caves nearby.

We’ve crossed the Nullarbor about five times before, making trips to WA from Adelaide and Melbourne to visit Leonie’s sisters in the South West. So we’ve known and read about caves along the Nullarbor but never visited. So this was our chance. This time we’re not racing across the Nullarbor overnight from Adelaide to Perth, we’re doing it slow and seeing what we want to.

It’s best to ask about the condition of the road at the Nullarbor Roadhouse first. There’s a signposted dirt track leading to the caves accessible just west of the roadhouse. Head about 10 km in on a very bumpy dirt road, best accessed with a 4WD. A 2WD would be ok in the dry only, though you’d need to be careful of some of the larger rocks. The going can be slow, and it took about 30 minutes to get there, stopping for more photos of course!

We stopped at an old windmill (minus the actual blades) where a bird had built their nest. Then at the site of an old rusted out Valiant car to add to our Carcasse collection.

Bloody Hands

Murrawijinie is aboriginal for “bloody hands”. According to the information displays, there are ochre hand stencils painted on walls in two of the three caves. We didn’t venture into them so didn’t get to witness these, but in hindsight wished we had. This is why you need to do your research beforehand. Further reading after leaving the site reveals that the third cave contains the hand stencils just inside the caves entrance, and to bring a torch.

We were warned of sightings of snakes in the caves at the roadhouse, but as we were the only ones there in the sweltering 40C heat didn’t think it a good idea. Tempting as it was to venture into the caves where the temperature was probably 10 degrees cooler, we hadn’t planned on extra cave activity.

All three caves are within close proximity to each other. The most scenic is the third, where you can see right in and up through holes in the limestone.

Caving is dangerous!

As a side note, there is a large cave system north of Cocklebiddy but it is closed to public entry. It was the site of the world’s longest cave diving expedition in 1983 where a world record of 6.25 kms was set. Not far away is the Pannikin cave in which an expedition in 1988 nearly turned to tragedy. Cavers became trapped as a freak storm arrived with wind gusts of around 100 km/h. Heavy rain and hail caused a deluge of water to enter the cave and create a landslide, trapping 13 cavers under the rocks.

This event inspired an Aussie movie in 2011 called Sanctum written by Andrew Wight and John Garvin, with executive/producer James Cameron (writer/director of Avatar and Titanic). Andrew was an Australian screenwriter and producer who was on that expedition in 1988. We have yet to watch it, but it’s on our must see movie list. Tragically, Andrew died on 4 February 2012. He was killed in a helicopter crash at Jaspers Brush near the town of Berry in New South Wales, Australia. The crash also claimed the life of American filmmaker Mike deGruy.

We headed back continuing along the same track which takes you a short distance further north then does a U turn and heads to the roadhouse. It completes a loop and a chance to see different scenery. Back at the roadhouse, we enjoyed an eager shower for only $1 for about 4 minutes. It felt great after a few days in 40C heat.

The freezer is struggling in this heat

Our ARB 47L Fridge/Freezer which we’re using as a freezer was at -11C and was struggling to stay at its -14C setting. So we bought some bottled waters to freeze as it was not completely full and having something occupy empty space would help to keep it cool. Plus, you can never have enough cold water! It’s probably not the fridge as it was on the second car battery the last few days and we suspect that the battery is not holding charge, despite installed the fancy Alternator-S Fuse in Adelaide. We’ve been chasing this issue of a red error light coming up on the ARB for a while when it’s been on batteries for several days. This also happened at Cockatoo Lake. We suspect it’s the battery and will keep monitoring it.

The spectacular Great Australian Bight never ceases to amaze

Leaving the roadhouse, we continued our journey west along the Eyre Highway. We were on the lookout for an overnight stop hopefully with a view over the Great Australian Bight from the top of the cliffs.

Every time we cross the bight, Vic insists on stopping and taking photos of the spectacular cliffs. Like he hasn’t got enough already from previous trips! A decade ago you could drive down any of the roads to the many viewing points where the Eyre Highway nears the cliffs, park your vehicle and take great photos. All the great viewing spots have now been blocked off from access. Graders have made large mounds at the entrances and dug deep scrapings in the roads making it difficult to access even if you got past the entry. The reason is for people’s safety as the cliff edges are very unstable and often hollow under where you stand so they have been blocked off. The other reason is to preserve the vegetation which also helps to keep them stable.

However, if you know where to go, there are a few spots that you can access from side roads, park in a safe spot and walk to. We’ve added a map of one viewing point which has a great view back east along the cliffs. It’s at these GPS co-ordinates. But be warned, go there at your own risk!

Latitude: 31° 35’ 4.638” S
Longitude: 130° 22’ 30.882” E

Camping on the Bunda Cliffs

We continued our journey west along the Eyre Highway, on the lookout for an overnight stop. We pulled into some roadside stops marked on WikiCamps but it was hot around 35C and thick with flies. Driving around looking for a campsite, our Redarc Electric Brake Controller flashed a yellow error condition with two reds indicating an error with the wiring. After turning the engine off, unplugging connections, spraying in some electronic cleaner it was fixed. Possibly some dust had got in.

Finally we pulled into a free site called In Between the Dunes (search in WikiCamps), 123 kms East of Border Village. We found a nice spot nestled amongst the dunes, not far away from the cliff of the bight, 61m/200ft above the sea (we know that because photos contain a GPS reading with the elevation!). It had great views of the Bunda cliffs from the escarpment looking east and west, and the sunset was spectacular. The wind picked up during the night so we were glad to be tucked away in this spot. There is Telstra mobile coverage and our mobile phones automatically turned back one hour. There were only two other vehicles parked when we arrived, then another pulled in later. It’s a big site with many places to park, even for large vans.

It was a warm and humid night, and we were glad to awaken to a fresh breeze in the morning, albeit a very cloudy day.

Don’t bring Honey into WA!

The next stop was at the quarantine station at Border Village, where you cross borders from South Australia into Western Australia. We surrendered cores of apples we’d been eating as well as some other fruit. We always joke about crossing quarantine stations that we won’t get scurvy for a while as we finish gorging down all our excess fruit. We didn’t have any honey as we knew you cannot bring it across. We noticed a big box full of all sorts of honey surrendered by people not knowing that. We wished we’d taken a photo. This would be a good place for Humphrey Bear to live!

From Border Village we passed through Eucla with our destination set for Newman Rocks, west of Balladonia. If you have time, visit the old Telegraph Station and Jetty not far from Eucla. We’ve been there before, and although it’s worth visiting again someday we kept driving.

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Sunset looking east at Cook

Cook, the Middle of Nowhere

Leaving Poochera and the Dinosaur Ant behind, we continued our journey to Cook along the Eyre Highway and refuelled at Penong where from past experience we know fuel is usually comparable, if not cheaper to the larger towns. It was $1.42/L, similar to Port Augusta. Having travelled 434 Kms from Pildappa Rock, we decided to pull into a roadside stop west of Yalata, but still in the Yalata Conservation Reserve, only 37 Km before the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

It’s called Rest Area 222km Peg, has 4 stars on WikiCamps and there are many tracks leading into the bush to tuck in to so we drove out the back onto a relatively flat sandy patch. You can just see the large sand dunes on the Great Australian Bight in the distance about 20Km away. Only a caravan and another car pulled in later near the entrance.

The wind picked up to moderate keeping the flies off our dinner. It was a peaceful camp with only a gentle roar of semi trailers passing through the night. It started to drizzle around 4am and then gentle rain through to about 7am but then eased off allowing us to pack up and head off. The wet compacted sand was easy to drive out of. Large ants enjoyed the moisture congregating around damp spots on the sand.

The day has finally arrived, Cook here we come!

With Cook as our destination for the day, we left our roadside campsite and stopped at the Nullarbor Roadhouse to check on the road condition into Cook. The manager there didn’t know and hadn’t heard otherwise but said they’d been a lot of rain to the north. We decided to go as we could find no evidence of much rain around there, and like that was going to stop us! The price of fuel at the Roadhouse was $1.87/L. We didn’t need any as we had refuelled at Penong for $1.42/L and could do another 550Km.

The turn off onto Cook Road is 42 Km west of the Nullarbor Roadhouse. Turn right and head on a straight dirt road for 107Km. The road condition was quite good, with only some puddles and damp spots and could be done in a 2WD easily despite warning signs saying 4WD only. However if it had been wet it would have been quite different, evidenced by the many dry deep ruts we saw. A few kilometres up the road there’s a sign saying we’re driving along a vermin proof fence. Given the state of the fence, it didn’t look like it would stop much!

We didn’t meet any other vehicles along the way and it took about two hours because guess who kept stopping to take photos of the amazing saltbush landscape and distance markers, of which there were the old triangle post ones and the 10 Km marker on an old rusty steel cabinet. Eventually we saw signs of a building getting larger and larger in the road ahead of us with a large telecommunications tower on the left rising out of nowhere.

We’re in Cook!

Arriving in the town around mid afternoon, we stopped near the tower, not far from the train line at a site with a large blue sign marked number 9 which was the site of the Bishop Kirkby Memorial Hospital, built and operated by the Bush Church Aid Society of the Anglican Church of Australia.

On the sign it read: In 1932, Sydney’s Archbishop made a public appeal for a doctor to head up a brand new bush hospital to be built at Cook. “A munificent salary cannot be paid,” he warned. “But the man who accepts the post will be provided with an aeroplane.” The new hospital was to be named after the late Bishop Kirkby, who had laid the first plans to build a medical centre on the Nullarbor Plain to serve a district spanning more than 800 kilometres. The Bishop Kirkby Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1937 and served the community for six decades. In any given year, it treated more than 900 patients from Cook and its surrounds. For many years, the building doubled as Cook’s weather station, with nursing staff keeping the official meteorological records.

If you’re crook, come to Cook!

“If you’re crook, come to Cook. Our Hospital needs your help, get sick”, was a slogan hand painted on an old rusty steel box near the old school and on another old box near the train line. It was a catchy phrase to try and get people to use the town’s hospital, in order to prove its viability and existence. The phrase is also on one of the blue information signs. There are 10 such signs located around the small town all containing interesting snippets of information.

Sign #10 is titled “The Middle of Nowhere” and reads “Welcome to Cook, the Queen City of the Nullarbor, postcode 5710, population four. You are standing alongside the longest stretch of straight railway in the world, spanning 478 kilometres. According to Australian astronaut Andy Thomas, the rail line can even be spotted from space, looking like “a very fine pencil line across the desert”. You are on the western extreme of South Australia on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain, a barren desert plateau twice the size of England. The nearest major town, Ceduna, is approximately a five hour drive away and the closest major sealed road, the Eyre Highway, is an hour’s drive away. How remote are you? Adelaide – 1138km, Port Augusta – 826km, Kalgoorlie – 854km, Perth – 1523km, Sydney – 1984km, Darwin – 2017km.”

We’ve revealed the contents of three signs and will leave it up to you to go there and read them all. If you don’t think you’ll ever get there, and want to know what they say, email us and we’ll send you photos. They are fascinating!

Where are all the townsfolk…all four of them?

So the sign says we’re in a town of four. Ok, where are they? We saw and drove to some dongas a bit further east up the train line and spotted a man and woman. It turns out they were half of the town’s permanent population who maintain the town and clean the dongas used by train drivers who stay a night or two crossing over shifts between Perth and Port Augusta. At any time there could be up to 15 people in the town!

We asked the caretakers where the most appropriate place to park our camper would be and they said to go behind the old school, which was the building we saw in the distance when approaching the town. There is a toilet we could use next to the train line that is used by the passengers from the Indian Pacific when they stop. It was about 35C with a moderate to fresh wind which kept the flies at bay. We setup camp behind the school next to a couple of red ghost gum trees with a view towards the tower and train line to the west and the train line, town manager’s houses and dongas to the east.

The first thing you notice about the old area school is the amazing tribute painted on the side of the water tank next to the school to Cook’s longest serving railway worker of 28 years, Murray Sims who died at Cook. There’s also a mural of a train painted on the front of the school.

Driving trains across Australia

While we were gazing at a sunset, a train driver staying over for the night came over to see us as he was surprised by our presence. He said “We don’t usually see people here”. He also said Cook is used as a changeover point for drivers from Port Augusta in South Australia heading west, and for drivers from Perth heading east. Apparently, the South Australian drivers never get to drive the locomotive to Western Australia, nor vice versa which we found most absurd. Not only would the drivers be craving for different scenery, but it seems obvious of the advantage of having drivers get familiar with the terrain and conditions east to west in case they need to fill in for any reason. If anyone thinks we’ve got this wrong or knows more, please comment below.

Asking him what interesting sights he’s seen on his journeys, he mentioned that camels are often on the track and sometimes get hit. “We have to stop the train and check. The smell can be rancid!” he said.

The first freight train arrives!

For the record, we’re not trainspotters, but we did nerd out a bit over trains during our stay at Cook.

Not long after setting up, we heard the rumble of a freight train arriving from the west, so we rushed to the line to take a close look. After all, there’s not much else to do, and it’s what we came here for! It was the Pacific National NR2 arriving with a load of shipping containers. It stopped for about an hour then headed on its journey east. The different colours of the containers look great from a distance watching the train go through. Some storm clouds approached, and we witnessed a 180 degree rainbow over the saltbushes to the south.

Not only trains, but dingoes too!

According to OzTowers, a great website we use to find out what phone towers are nearby, the 123m tower hosts a Telstra 850MHz 3G Antenna with good 4 bar reception on our phones. During a FaceTime call with our friends Kim and Leo, a tan coloured dingo and a black wild dog ran past our camp not 100m away, had a good look at us and kept running south towards the saltbush.

Later that night, and even more so on the second night, we were entertained by many dingoes howling around us. On the morning after the second night, we found fresh dingo tracks all around our camper as we had heard them close by that night. The sound of dingoes at night in the middle of nowhere is both exciting and can also set the fear of death into you as they progressively howl from one direction to another, getting louder and louder. They’ve never been a threat though at any of our camps. One of the dingoes sounded like he had a cold as his voice crackled as he changed down in pitch while howling!

Awesome sunsets and sunrises and more trains

The sunsets and rises were amazing and the skies at night were amazingly clear. The first night it was very still with no wind so you could hear trains from a long, long way away.

We awoke early Friday morning to the sound of a freight train arriving from the east around 7am. The glimmer of the sun shining on it was incredible so Vic grabbed his camera and ran over to the track. It was another Pacific National, the NR67. This one was much longer than last nights train, and was loaded up with both single and double decked shipping containers. It was massive!

The Indian Pacific arrives

We expected the Indian Pacific that was heading west some time after lunch. But it caught us by surprise, not having the same big sound as the freight trains, so we had to scramble to get over to the track. It was the Pacific National NR35. It arrived about 13:45. We estimate a couple of hundred people disembarked and wandered around Cook for about 45 minutes, reading the information signs like we did on our arrival. We chatted to a few of them who were surprised to see us there.

Vic met the onboard singer/musician Tim McArtney who wanders up and down the train singing and playing guitar, and also performs during the stopover at the next town, Rawlinna for a few hours at sunset. An interesting way to get paid to see the country and meet people from all walks of life. We’ve added visiting Rawlinna to our next lap around.

As people boarded the train and sat in their comfortable seats, sipping on their wine and being served afternoon tea, we gained their curiosity out of their windows that we were staying and filming their departure. Teasingly, they held up their glasses and saluted to us as we sweltered outside in the 40C heat. In retrospect, we should have setup a table under the tree with wine and beers and cheered them on!

It’s busier than you think in the middle of nowhere!

It’s definitely not a boring small town if you don’t mind the odd train or three coming through daily. That night, another freight train came through from the east about 7pm, the Pacific National NR6 and on Saturday morning, the NR77, another massive freight train loaded with double decked containers. We didn’t see or talk to anyone else after the Indian Pacific left. The place is so peaceful, apart from the rumble of trains and the occasional dingo howl. We loved it. Cook was definitely a highlight of our travels and highly recommend it.

Our train spotting adventure over, we left Cook Saturday morning and headed south back to the Eyre Highway, and returned to the Nullarbor Roadhouse. Along the way we spotted an Australian bustard, or bush turkey in the saltbush and stopped to look at three birds nests in what looks like an old windmill or possibly an old trig point. There was a big black crow in one of them who wasn’t impressed by our visit who squawked and flew off. We also stopped at the Blow Hole marked with an old tyre, though there’s not that much to see apart from a hole in the ground.

Back at the Nullarbor Roadhouse we enjoyed a nice, but short shower courtesy of the $1 showers they provide. The Nullarbor is renowned for its caves, so we decided to go visit the Murrawijinie Caves not far away.

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Our camp at Pildappa Rock, Minnipa, South Australia

Carradoo Tanks to Pildappa Rock

Leaving Carradoo Tanks campsite Tuesday morning, we passed through Kimba, home of the Big Galah spotting a truck carrying a number of V8 Supercars including Peter Brock’s 05 Torana heading towards Adelaide. But we’re not sure why they were headed that way? The Adelaide Clipsal 500 was on that weekend in Adelaide. Were they there? If so, why are they heading back that way?

We continued along the Eyre Highway to Wudinna where we stopped to have a look at the amazing Australian Farmer sculpture. Also known as the Big Farmer, this statue has been recognised as one of Australia’s Big Things like the Big Galah in Kimba. We’ll have to keep an eye on that list as we travel around and tick them off.

The Australian Farmer

The information below was gleaned from a display in the Information Centre, the Wikipedia article and from the statue itself. Standing at 8 metres (26 ft) in height, the work was hand-carved from 70 tonnes of red Hiltaba Granite (Desert Rose), locally sourced from a quarry south of Mount Wudinna. This is an amazing sculpture that took 17 years to realise from the local community first conceiving that they wanted a work of art in 1992 to recognise their history, community spirit and belief in rural Australia to its unveiling on 17th April 2009.

After a tender in 1999, Croatian-born artist Marijan Bekic responded to the advertisement, producing a scale model of his concept, and this was shown to the local community. After years of trying to obtain funds and get committee approval, the project finally commenced in 2007, with a projected construction time of twelve months. It took two years for Marijan and his son David to complete.

The head represents the Sun, the symbol of life. The back is the male side and represents good years – wheat heads full of grain and healthy sheep, symbolising a successful year. The front is a tribute to female farmers. The seven missing grains symbolise drought years, hardship and battle for survival. The children represent generations, past and the future, a symbol of hope. The right side shows a sickle, wheat and lambs, representing good years, harvest, tall and thick grain crops, lambs growing and fertility. The left side shows wool hand shears and mature sheep ready for shearing, symbolising a good shearing season.

The four walk ways towards the sculpture represent North, South, East and West and symbolise community spirit, togetherness, helping and caring for each other – children, families and generations. There are plaques on three sides around the walk ways of people and local families who donated their time, money and who were involved in the project.

Don’t go past this sculpture in this small rural town without stopping and spending some time in the Information Centre and driving around the town. The Gawler Ranges National Park is not far from here either. We visited there last in April 2011 on the way back from Lake Gairdner and look forward to visiting it again someday, it’s beautiful!

At the Information Centre we obtained some information about the granite and amazing rock formations around the area so decided to head to Mount Wudinna.

Make sure you get a copy of Central Eyre Peninsula Geological trails from the Information Centre as it’s very informative. It’s also available in pdf from the Geological Society of Australia website.

On the hunt for Inselberg’s and Gnamma’s

About 12 Km North East from Wudinna on a gravel road, but suitable for large vans is Mount Wudinna, the largest granite rock monolith or inselberg in central Eyre Peninsula standing 261 metres high. An inselberg, translated from the meaning “Island Mountain” in German is an isolated hill, ridge, or small mountain that abruptly protrudes from a virtually level surrounding plain.

It is locally reputed to be Australia’s largest rock monolith after Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in the Northern Territory. But Uluru is composed of sandstone, whilst Mount Wudinna is granite. However, this is a local claim only and there are many inselbergs in Western Australia larger than Mount Wudinna like Mount Augustus and we’re looking forward to visiting them in our travels.

The walk from the park to the top doesn’t take long and is not too difficult. You are rewarded with 360 degree views around the area. On the top we spotted a small lizard near the Trig point, some type of bearded peninsula dragon. After much googling, we still can’t correctly identify it, so if you know what it is, please let us know. The bare rock faces on the way up and on the top illustrate many granite features including erosional drains (rillen), caves (tafoni), flared slopes, water holes (gnammas) and buckled slabs of rock (A-Tents).

A gnamma is a rock hole capable of containing water. The word originated from the Nyungar native language of South Western Australia and is being applied across the country to various types of weathering pits. These occur mainly in granite and this part of the North Western Eyre Peninsula has numerous and varied examples on the inselbergs and rock outcrops of this granite country.

Near the base we came across some sticky hop bush trees (Dodonea viscosa) which caught Vic’s attention. Apart from their fine wood turning qualities, apparently they were also used by early settlers to make beer!

Pildappa Rock, a mini Uluru

We also visited Pildappa Rock, about 15Km North East from Minnipa, on a good gravel road. Another amazing inselberg, sort of like a mini Uluru and Hyden’s Wave Rock together. No one else was there and there were lots of places to camp so we decided to stay for the night. It has good drop toilets, free gas BBQ’s, tables, bins and shelters. There’s also a donation box so please leave something as you don’t often come across sites this clean and beautiful.

Pildappa Rock was only 214Kms from last night’s camp at Carradoo Tanks. We hadn’t travelled far, but have seen a lot! We climbed and walked around the top, seeing good examples of gnammas that we now know so much about! It was warm with perfect blue skies but windy all afternoon which helped to keep the flies off.

Dinosaur Ants

The next day was overcast and the wind had dropped to gentle. We wanted to stay another night but it was Wednesday and we had to be in Cook the next day so we headed off towards the Nullarbor. Just up the road from Minnipa we stopped at the Poochera Roadhouse to change drivers and noticed a large Dinosaur Ant sculpture. It was there to recognise this rare ant which was found in the mallee scrub nearby in 1977.

Also known as the dawn ant, as they return to their nests at dawn and stay inside during the day, its venom causes a painful sting. It is a rare genus of ants consisting of a single species called Nothomyrmecia Macrops and designated as Critically Endangered. Who knew? The things you learn when you stop and read the signs!

We continued our journey to the Nullarbor and on to Cook

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On Nectar Brook Road heading towards Spear Creek

The Bamboos to Spear Creek to Carradoo Tanks Gravel Pit

We travelled 235 Kms from the Bamboos campsite to Spear Creek via Port Pirie, driving up the West Coast of the Yorke Peninsula via Moonta, Wallaroo, Port Broughton, Port Pirie then joined the Princes A1 Highway. Always looking for the road less travelled, we turned right onto Nectar Brook Road, and travelled, mainly slowly on a narrow dirt road for a while. Then right onto Horrocks Pass Road briefly, then left into Spear Creek Road and finally onto Boully Road before arriving at the park. It’s an off beat and slightly longer way to get there, but you pass through scenic country, mainly low saltbush, sheep crossing the road and the odd roo or two!

Spear Creek Caravan Park is in the middle of a 7000ha working sheep station in the District Council of Woolundunga on the foothills of the Flinders Ranges where you camp amongst beautiful old river red and white gum trees. The hosts Bill and Karen were most welcoming, but are leaving mid May after having managed the park for three years. Before that they had started their trip around Australia and only got as far as the park, loved it so much they stayed and ran it.

Spear Creek Caravan Park has everything you need

There’s a washing machine, showers, toilets, Hills Hoist clothes line and kitchen with all the usual amenities to cook in and an adjoining undercover, open area with tables to sit and eat at. Water is available with an artesian bore supplying the property. The quality has been tested and approved by SA Water for drinking and it is so clear and tastes great. We took the opportunity to top up our water tanks. All this for only $25 a night. But don’t come here when it’s school holidays or Easter. Apparently the park gets chockers with around 300 people! There were only about three others campers the night we were there, but it was a Sunday night.

Being located on a working sheep farm, they sell lamb at the office from their saltbush fed Dorper sheep. Not sure if that makes them taste better but it sounds good. We didn’t try any as we still had a full fridge and freezer and couldn’t pack anymore in. So don’t turn up with lots of meat so you can enjoy it straight from the farm.

But where are the stromatolites?

Apparently, 300 million year old stromatolites have been discovered only 1.5Km from the park office, on a walk that will take you through magnificent valleys and gorges with wildlife like wedge-tailed eagles, goats and kangaroos. We decided to do the walk the next morning, leaving early to try and find the stromatolites using the mud map supplied from the office that would have had Indiana Jones scratching his head. Despite coming across some potential stromatolite looking rocks we returned to camp slightly disappointed we didn’t find anything impressive. But we were very energised and awestruck by the beautiful walk and scenery amongst the river red and white gum trees, and spotting a few kangaroos.

We only spent one night there, but would have stayed longer, if not for wanting to be in Cook by Thursday so we headed west to the Nullarbor.

Life is too short not to do the things you want to do

At Port Augusta we stopped briefly, buying groceries and refuelled. Through Facebook, we found that one of our friends, Whippet was on his way back from working in Venus Bay so we met him just west of Port Augusta near the golf course. We hadn’t seen each other for a while so it was good to catch up. Our last big 4WD camping trip together was Lake Eyre in 2011. There’s an old blog of this trip with not much commentary, but a lot of photos here. Plus the 12 days of Christmas that Vic wrote for our best friend Kylie, who sadly lost her battle with cancer in April 2017. Kylie was a dear friend of ours and together with her husband Mark, we went 4wd’ing and camping as much as we could. Her passing was a big factor in us making the decision to start a new lifestyle of living on the road. Life is too short not to do the things you want to do. We don’t want to leave things too late and have regrets.

Gravel pits can make good campsites!

About 150 Kms from Spear Creek, about 30 Km east of Kimba we stopped at a roadside rest stop called Carradoo Tanks Gravel Pit in Lake Gilles Conservation Reserve, which rated 4 stars in WikiCamps. There are lots of sheltered parks amongst stringy bark gum trees on red dirt to tuck in away for the night and escape the wind. Plus there is ample room for large RV’s to park as well. Road noise was minimal as there are tracks leading way off the road. There were no flies and only some ants seen when you drop water. They were thirsty, but not a problem. No facilities, just great free camping, clean and fresh air! Only one other small Campervan parked overnight in the distance. There was a slight breeze, but it was a clear night and the stars were incredible!

Morning was a bit brisk with a slight breeze, but with brilliant blue skies. Using the portable gas cooker, the gas cylinder was freezing up so it must have been cold!

Where to next?

We were unsure of which direction to head from here, but wanted to be in Cook by Thursday night to watch the Indian Pacific train come through on Friday. Perhaps towards Venus Bay where we used to go camping in our 20’s? But looking at the weather, it was going to be windy there with 40 Km winds predicted on the coast. So we decided to continue along the Eyre Highway…continued on next blog.

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Spectacular sunset at Wauraltee Beach campsite

Port Arthur to Wauraltee to the Bamboos, Yorke Peninsula

We stopped at the IGA in Maitland for some supplies. Most importantly to buy Kangaroo mince and curry powder to make up some burley for catching fish and buying a sausage sizzle and Lions cake from the local Rotary club stall in front of the IGA. From there we headed down the Second Beach Road towards Wauraltee. Along Second Beach Road we stopped to take photos of a Carcasse. Not the type you’re probably thinking of. We use this term to denote any sort of vehicle that has been left to die and rust under the elements. We’ve started a blog here and we’ll keep adding Carcasses to it.

Wauraltee Beach Campsite

We arrived at Wauraltee Beach campsite and found no one else there. Brilliant! We headed down the track to the camp we found last year, but this time went one site further to the end. It’s slightly larger and there’s a turn around at the end. The sand is quite soft but not enough that you need to lower your tyre pressures.

The lure of this camp was the nice flathead Vic caught last year so off he went fishing using the made up burley and cockles we gathered in Middleton. The water was warm but tan stained yellow in colour, maybe due to the large amount of seaweed, but not really sure. Unfortunately no flathead but he caught four yellowtail whiting which tasted great filleted and cooked just in butter on the pan. This went down nicely with the Amber Ale home brew he made in Gumeracha.

We retired to bed early as the fire ban restriction is in place in South Australia until 30 April so unfortunately couldn’t have a fire, despite the temperature being in the mid teens so one would have been welcome. We didn’t expect a nice sunset as it was very overcast so were surprised that out of nowhere the sky turned a brilliant colour so we jumped out of the camper to take some great photos.

We woke to a beautiful still morning and cooked up a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and the last of the tasty Fritz we’ve been savouring from Gumeracha Gourmet butchers.

Vic went fishing, despite the tide being on low, but only got a few small bites. It was sad to leave this beautiful spot but we could only stay one night as we had organised to stay with friends in Port Victoria that night, so we packed up and headed off.

We stayed overnight in our camper at our friends Paul and Fiona and along with some of their friends that night, had a lovely meal of crabs, snook and whiting which Paul and his mates had caught that day from their boat. Oh, how Vic wishes he had a tinny with us!

The Bamboos Campsite

On recommendation from the locals we met that night, we decided to investigate three campsites up the coast. We drove back via Maitland then on to Balgowan. A large stumpy tail lizard greeted us on the road so Vic took a photo and let him cross. The first site up the road was Tiparra Rocks but it was too windy and exposed and what looked like the best site down the end was occupied by a group of campers.

We drove past the Bamboos to the Gap and again found it was windy with limited sites out of the wind and very busy with lots of groups of campers so we headed back to the Bamboos. We don’t know why, perhaps because Tiparra and the Bamboos don’t have toilets, but no one else was there and we found a perfect spot shielded from the wind just behind a huge dune which led up and over to the sea. Some people arrived later to have a walk and two more cars from Kadina with friends from Roxby went fishing but found it too windy. They said they didn’t care as they don’t see water too often so it was more about the experience. What a great attitude! None of them stayed the night so we had the place to ourselves.

This campsite was perfect as there was a westerly wind blowing and the dunes shielded us nicely. We camped with the dunes near our door step, and could hear the roar of the waves pounding the shore over them. We love the sound of the sea, it’s so calming. If it’s really crashing, you can be too close as it’s deafening. We’ve also camped near fast running streams in the Victorian High Country that are so loud you need to move! Walking over the high, trodden free dunes you arrive at the top where you can see the waves crashing on the shore and magnificent views up and down the coast. We watched an awesome sunset from the top of the dunes and Vic drank his last Dainton beer left over from when we stayed at Kim and Leo’s.

The wind died and it was an overcast morning, fresh but no rain though some was predicted by the Willy Weather app. Birds were enjoying sips of water from the condensation off the camper and 4WD. We went for a small walk along the soft white sandy beach. An exposed approximately 6m cliff face of reddish limestone made for an interesting explore and of course, more photos!

We decided to head to Spear Creek Caravan Park, located 25 kilometres south-east of Port Augusta in an area called Woolundunga. We’d heard it was a good park and the WikiCamp reviews backed that up so off we went.

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Peggy and Dora at the campsite

Gumeracha to Port Arthur, Yorke Peninsula

We finally left Gumeracha at the end of February and headed west which was our intended direction when we arrived in Gum at the end of November. In the last few days leading up to our departure we had to decide what to take and what to leave again, but no where near the scale when we left Bendigo. But knowing you’re going to be on the road for who knows how many years makes you want to pack everything to cater for all seasons, but you can’t, so you need to strike a balance. We still don’t think we’ve got the balance right yet. Time will tell.

We travelled a total of 2352 Kms since arriving in Gumeracha. So over 3 months = 784 / month = 196 per week. At least we kept the Kilometers down!

It wasn’t until very late in the afternoon on the last day in February, about 6pm that we had finished packing and saying last goodbyes to family. We probably should have stayed another night, but after all the packing and anticipation of heading off again, we were keen to get on the road and thought we’d stay at a roadside stop somewhere a couple of hours away.

On the road again

Vic had a random thought over lunch a few weeks before we left that he’d like to visit a small town called Cook when we cross the Nullarbor and see the Indian Pacific pass on its way from Sydney to Perth. It stops at Cook, a town of 4 people in the middle of nowhere, twice a week, on Fridays when coming from Sydney to Perth and on Mondays when heading from Perth to Sydney.

As it was Wednesday, we tentatively planned for being in Cook by next Thursday ready to meet the train on Friday.

We wanted to get to at least the top of Yorke Peninsula, so after Port Arthur and using WikiCamps as a guide, we stopped at the Port Arthur roadside rest area on the Clinton Conservation Park which has quite a few parking spots. There were only two other campers there and it was clean, quiet and convenient so as the sun was already setting we decided to stay.

What is great about the Vista RV camper is that you can stop at a site like this, just pop the back roof section up and get in. If there was a big storm, you wouldn’t even unhitch or put the roof up as you could get into bed, or sit at the table with the roof down. It’s one of the reasons we chose this camper. After a long day of final packing, it was good to hit the sack. Although it’s just off the Yorke Highway which many trucks use, we didn’t notice any road noise.

Walk the Yorke

In the morning we went for a walk around the wetlands. On the Yorke Peninsula you can “Walk the Yorke” where several walks have been made so you can explore the region and wander through mangroves, dunes and along cliffs and pristine beaches. If you’ve never been here before, put it on your to-do list.

As we’re originally from South Australia, we’ve visited and camped on Yorke Peninsula a few times and there are awesome camps to stay at along the coast and in Innes National Park, as well as great caravan parks like Marion Bay and private bush camps at Hillocks Drive, Butler’s Beach. However the Yorke Peninsula Council has now declared that you can only camp at 19 designated campsites and that “Camping is only permitted at these designated sites”. The cost is $10 per vehicle per night with discounts for longer stays.

Why pay for campsites?

There are arguments for and against mandatory pay for campsites. Does the added cost of the council/shire setting up computer systems (websites, hosting, vendor fees etc.) and maintaining them to collect payments, extra administration costs, marketing (signs, brochures, websites) and paying rangers to police campers outweigh the costs being paid by campers? There are going to be campers that don’t pay the daily fees anyhow. Is policing the best way? Building and maintaining toilets and access roads costs money, but should this be funded by the camper?

Most campers do the right thing, even taking out more rubbish than they came in with and don’t spoil the environment or leave toilet paper everywhere. Yes, some do the wrong thing, but are the good ones paying the price for them? Is this whole governance model sending the wrong message to interstate and international visitors, stopping them visiting and bringing economic benefit to the Peninsula?

What about directing funds to educating people about how to camp responsibly and in an environmentally friendly way? It would be good to hear your views in the comments below.

Anyhow, jumping off the soap box, last year we found a great campsite at Wauraltee Beach and wanted to visit it again so that’s where we headed. From there we’ll head up the west coast of the peninsula and make our way to Cook, North-West of the town of Nullarbor.

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