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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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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River outlet at Fitzroy River Reserve

Camping on the Fitzroy River at Tyrendarra

Leaving a week of glamping in Berwick behind us, we drove down the Monash and said goodbye to Melbourne probably for quite some time. Our plans at this stage are to head to Western Australia early next year, visiting friends and family in Adelaide along the way. However, todays destination is the Fitzroy River Coastal Reserve at Tyrendarra.

Heading through Geelong, we drove along the Princes Highway and encountered several roadworks between Winchelsea and Colac. The going was slow, with many reduced speed limits to 40Km/Hour and short sections of automatic stop/go lights. We discovered there’s a $363 million project underway to upgrade the Princes Highway, with completion in 2019, so try to avoid that stretch of road for a while.

From Warrnambool, we followed the coast road via Port Fairy. Just past Tyrendarra East, we head south down Thompsons Road toward the Fitzroy River Outlet into the sea (Bass Strait).

Easy access dirt road to the river outlet

Thompsons Road is an easy access dirt road all the way down to the river outlet. It has a large area suitable for about ten or so sites about 250m before you arrive at a smaller area suitable for about three sites near the water. The larger area where we stayed had longish green lush grass about 20cm long in most places. This could potentially be a haven for snakes but we didn’t see any.

We met one of the locals camped near us who comes here often who was quite annoyed at the local group who manage this campground.  He said they collect quite a bit of money in the busy holiday periods, but don’t provide bins nor remove any rubbish that, inexcusable as it is, people have left behind due to a lack of bins. There was a large amount of rubbish in the area near the river that was an eyesore that had been there for two months. Facilities include a toilet block but we didn’t use it so can’t comment on its condition.

There seem to be very few free camps located in this part of Victoria. We wanted to stay on the Glenelg River but all the camps need to be booked for $26.50 per night, for just a long drop, table and fire pit. Many comments on WikiCamps talk about people boycotting these camps due to the exorbitant price per night. If they were more reasonably priced, say $5 or $10 per night, more campers would stay and get to experience the area. This campsite is $5 per night, or $30 per week, but only in the busy period or when someone decides to visit and collect camp fees. No one came to collect the fees for our overnight stay.

History of Tyrendarra and the Fitzroy River

Digressing into some history of this area, the local guy told us Tyrendarra comes from an Aboriginal word from the indigenous Gunditjmara people meaning the meeting of two rivers, viz. the Darlot Creek with the Fitzroy River.

If you can get Internet on the road, it’s useful to research the area you’re heading into before you arrive. Otherwise you can miss uncovering interesting facts and learning about places worthy of a visit nearby. Reading about it afterwards is not fun when you realise you’ve missed out seeing an interesting place around the corner from where you were!

As was the case with this area. Although we only spent one night, there is much more to explore, like the Budj Bim National Park, Mt Eccles, Eel canals, and the story of Kitty Wallaby, one of the indigenous inhabitants in the 1800’s.

Quoting from that article about Kitty, “Some thousands of years ago, the Gunditjmara engineered an ingenious system of using stones from the lava field to form a system of weirs that trapped eels and other fish, providing them with a year-round supply of fresh food, even in drought. The eels were smoked in hollow trees. There was enough for trading with other indigenous peoples. The Gunditjmara became settlers, and defended their rocky citadel fiercely. The Commonwealth government is currently studying a proposal backed by the Victorian government to begin the process of recognising Kitty’s country – Budj Bim – for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site”. We’ll need to return one day to find these eel canals.

The locals love this place

For a Tuesday, there were surprisingly more campers than expected. We initially drove down to the area near the water outlet. There was already a camper van and a couple of tents setup. Later that evening, after setting up in the larger area further back where there were three other campers, we met a young couple, Joe and Gabby. They were one month into a lap around Australia in just four months. This would be a speedy trip, but was all the time they could get off.

Joe had custom fitted the van himself, and did a great job making cupboards and a slide out double bed. We learnt that the tents alongside them are not being used and had been there at least a few days. They were in one of the best spots of the campground. We think this was somebody “reserving” the spot for an upcoming weekend by propping up empty tents. This is a practice we think is selfish and unacceptable, especially in a free campsite. Even in a paid campsite, it’s depriving someone else the pleasure of that site.

We stopped and chatted to some locals visiting for the day in their four wheel drives, along with dune buggies in trailers. They confirmed this is the best campground in this area along the coast and come here often. Some other locals were jet skiing in the river and heading in and out of the outlet into the sea. The temperature of the outlet is warmer than the sea and provided a safe and shallow area for the children swimming there. There was one person fishing in the sea but we didn’t venture that far to see if they’d caught anything. Tempting as it was for Vic to go fishing, we decided to cook a BBQ and take in the surroundings and the spectacular sunset that evening.

Morning sounds…

The next morning we awoke to a still and vivid blue sky, with the sounds of spoggies in trees next to us and the cawing of crows. Outside there was an earthy, but not unpleasant smell of cows from the big dairy over the hill who had just had their morning milking.

The Fitzroy River weaves up from here North West up to Heywood about 30Km away. One of the locals who camped near us with his mate comes here often “to get away from the misses”. They were keen fishermen all setup with their tinny and outboard. Apparently you can travel a few kilometres up the river, then you need to get your boat over some shallow sections, and you can keep travelling up the river. They returned in a couple of hours with three nice sized brim and Vic was envious. If only we had a tinny on top of our 4WD! But where do you draw the line with what you can take with you? We’ll leave that discussion for a future blog post.

The people you meet on the road

The campers next to us, Amanda, Adrian and their young daughter Ella had just completed one year on the road. They were travelling in their Toyota Landcruiser 200 series towing a Franklin caravan. It’s great to share stories with other passionate travellers on the road. We just stood talking to each other in the sun for at least an hour. As well as interesting, it’s where you learn about the hidden campsites and road conditions. They were kind enough to share details of their last campsite, Lake Cockatoo, in South Australia’s South East. It’s a small, free campsite on a lake just south of Padthaway and one of their favourites. It sounded perfect, and we made it our next destination. Thanks guys, it was great to meet you and we hope to run into you again sometime. You can follow them on Instagram @getabout2015.

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The Pines Campground, Mt Camel, Victoria

One door closes, just and a new one opens

Our dream of living full-time out of our camper has arrived!

The day has finally arrived. Today is the last day we spend in our home in Bendigo.

Tonight home will be wherever we park our trusty 4WD Toyota 2010 Prado, whom we call Peggy. This is the beginning of a new lifestyle of full-time camping and working around Australia. We’re not grey nomads but more like e-nomads, as we’ll be working from the camper where possible.

Our home is a Vista RV Crossover Classic who we haven’t officially named yet, but it will come to us. We’ve only had her (him?) since the start of the year and done a few trips to test her out. (Note: Jan 2018 – We’ve named her Dora, as Leonie’s father pointed out she was nicknamed Dusty Dora when she was young). We’ve taken her over to Southend and Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, and various campsites along the Murray River around Cohuna and Torrumbarry. She’s only three years old so hopefully has a few years left in her yet. Vic was told by one of the guys at Vista RV that she’ll outlive him. He’s not exactly sure what he was implying, but let’s assume he was saying she’ll last another 30-40 years!

Selling everything, cleaning up, it’s exhausting!

A long final day of cleaning the house ready for the new tenants goes on longer than planned but we get there. It’s been an exhausting last few weeks selling everything we don’t want (or need) to put in storage. From selling items on Gumtree, EBay, Facebook Bendigo, Buy, Swap and Sell and a huge garage sale, we’ve culled a lot of possessions that accumulate over the years for no good reason other than hoarding. It feels good, some would say cathartic to go through this process, not only of letting go, but preparing for a new lifestyle.

We finish packing both car and camper about 4:30pm and do a last minute rush into Bendigo to collect the mail and setup the post office box re-direction (which was meant to be done three days ago as Australia Post impose that lead time, so Vic will cop that one on the chin!). But it seems the paperwork will take us past 5pm, and the girl at Australia Post says the re-direction can be done at any Post Office and we can leave the keys there as well, so we decide to leave that.

We rush back home to say goodbye. We’ve been saving a couple of packets of Pīrāgi frozen in our ARB fridge since we sold our house fridge as well. Pīrāgi are Latvian yeast bacon, onion and caraway seed buns. They are highly sought after by our friends and relatives which take hours to make and minutes to demolish. After removing a packet of them from the slide drop down fridge at the back of Peggy we start talking with one of our neighbours then decide to go into his house and say goodbye to his wife.

Oops…that wasn’t in our plan!

Fifteen minutes later we return to the car to head off, reverse out of the driveway and hear a huge groaning sound like steel being bent out of shape! But there’s nothing behind me, except of course for an unclosed rear tail gate! It’s jackknifed into the camper and has lodged itself into and bent the right front guard of the camper a bit but Peggy has come off worse with a bent and dented tail gate with a broken strut that now doesn’t close properly.

The car is driven forward and straightened up so the door can be swung back away from the camper. The guard on the camper has to be pried away from the main body with a bit of force. Nothing is broken but slightly bent. Fortunately with a bit of lifting and pushing shut the tail gate does actually close, but just! No one injured but pride damaged more than anything.

Finally we get on the road

We say a final goodbye and have a beer with our other neighbours and before long it’s 6:30pm! We decide to head off to a free camp site we had earmarked just under an hour away. We’ve never been there before, it would be dark in just under two hours so it was time to get a move on. We found the site on WikiCamps and it seemed like a good overnight spot to have a beer and collapse for the night.

We headed to the Pines campground near Mt Camel in the Heathcote-Greytown National Park. It’s a scenic, pine scented open area with a picnic table under some giant Lord of the Ring intertwined pine trees and has room for several sites. We were the only campers there and it was very serene, apart from a few nagging mozzies. We awoke the next morning to a still, beautiful blue sky and the sound of Kookaburras, Whip birds (a favourite) and Magpies.

After a call to AAMI, we had the car booked in at one of their premium repairers in Carrum Downs, Melbourne for next Wednesday. It was just like one of those AAMI commercials. The operator said, “Where are you, I can hear kookaburras?”. After telling her our story we could see the AAMI girl coming to our rescue…Lucky…you’re with AAMI. Who said advertising doesn’t work?

So we decide to continue with our plans to head to the Victorian High Country for a few days, then return to Melbourne and stay with friends until the repair is done.

Lake William Hovell is our next destination, near Cheshunt in the Victorian High Country. It’s officially Day 1. Let’s put Day 0 behind us and move on!

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