Crossing the Nullarbor: An “In-Tents” Ten Days
March 9th – March 12th, 2010
Day 7 – Cape Le Grand National Park to Stirling Ranges
I woke up after a kookaburra landed near my sleeping head and let out a maniacal laugh. Those birds are ridiculous!
During tour season Nullarbor Traveller always has one bus heading from Adelaide to Perth, and another one traveling from Perth to Adelaide. Whenever these buses cross paths, there is a chance for passengers to be exchanged, since some people don’t want to go on the full Nullarbor crossing — they’d rather start and end their trips in the same destination. We picked up three new passengers today who wanted to head back to Perth with us: two nondescript Taiwanese girls, and an incredibly antisocial older German man named Peter.
The first sign that something was up with Peter was that he always wore heavy duty ear protection whenever there was music being played on the bus, or people were talking during group activities. I’d understand if he didn’t like the music played, but I think the traditional solution is to have headphones so you can listen to something of your own choosing.
After awhile he’d start distancing himself from us completely — whenever we’d stop to look at something he’d either run ahead of the group so he could experience it alone, or linger back and take a look once everyone else had experienced it. He’d pitch his tent as far away as possible, and hide in it all night. Rather than pitch in and help with meal preparation and cleanup, and firewood gathering, Peter started buying his own ready-to-eat meals so he wouldn’t have to come anywhere near us during meal times. Attempts to include him were met with scowls, and questions were responded to with one-word answers. While all of us were decent pals, Peter was a grade-A jerk.
Despite gaining new passengers, we lost a dear friend — the tour company has a stuffed version of Donkey from Shrek that gets traded back and forth every time the tour buses cross paths. Donkey exists solely to cross the Nullarbor, staying up late, swapping manly stories, and making waffles in the morning.
We had a lot of ground to cover today, but since I was well-rested from a few days at Lucky Bay I wasn’t able to sleep on the bus like I’d normally do. Instead, I faked sleep and listened in on an awkward conversation.
Cecilie had the seat behind me for the entire trip, and I quickly learned that this was a girl with no filter on her mouth. She’s a nice girl, but with no concept of what might be interpreted as inappropriate/offensive, any conversation with her had the potential to get awkward very quickly (a highlight from a few days prior was when she told Simo “I’m not going to stop asking until you tell me something nice about your ex-wife.”).
Today’s conversation started off with Cecilie grilling Gary the older Canadian gentleman about his dead twin brother, well past the point of him being happy to answer her questions. Eventually she got ahold of someone’s bridal magazine (not sure why this was even on the bus in the first place), and she shared the plans for her dream wedding and wedding night hanky-panky — despite the fact that she has no idea who she’ll end up marrying, but she can describe the hypothetical groom’s physique in excruciating detail. Worry not, she has no plans to get pregnant — she made it very clear that she’s on the pill. The Canadian couple told her that they had no interest in hearing about her birth control, but Cecilie let them have it in detail. She followed up by asking them how they kept their bedroom life spicy after many kids and 40 years of marriage, something they weren’t too keen to discuss in public. Very glad I was feigning sleep during all of this.
For lunch we ate some excellent falafel wraps that Simo had prepared the day before, and I was amazed at the sheer number of people who had never tried falafel before and were actually grossed out by the concept. Gary was the funniest — he was eventually willing to try falafel wrap, but drew the line at hummus, saying that it was just too wild for him. Putting a creamy chickpea-based sauce on a dry chickpea-based nugget? Insanity! Instead, he loaded his wrap up with ketchup. Apparently they don’t get too much international fare in rural Canada.
We made camp at a nice campground with electricity just outside of the Stirling Ranges, and while almost everyone else went for a hike in the mountains, some of us stayed at camp, charged our gadgets, played ping-pong and prepared dinner.
The wind picked up something fierce at night, and we did some salsa dancing in the camp kitchen to stay warm. With the departure of Donkey fresh in our minds, I watched Shrek with Frenchie on her laptop, stopping frequently to explain such tricky English terms/phrases as “swamp”, “noble steed“, and “ogres have layers“.
Lunch: Falafel wraps
Dinner: Beef stroganoff
Memorable tunes: Ghostbusters Theme Song
Day 8 – Stirling Ranges to the Valley of the Giants
In the morning we stopped at a few cool rock formations along the coastline.
After lunch we went for a swim at a place called Elephant Rocks, which featured some cliff-jumping into the ocean. Good times.
Next we went for a walk through a tingle tree forest, featuring a sky walk up into the canopy. Apparently I’m not afraid of heights and semi-shaky metal scaffolding, because I breezed through the walk while others were terrified for their lives.
While walking in the forest we discovered some new friends we hadn’t anticipated: giant march flies with a taste for human flesh. Unlike most of the small, harmless flies we’d encountered previously, these suckers were downright evil. Our fly nets were useless since they weren’t going for our faces — it was a hot day, we were in shorts, and they were after our delicious leg meat. Operation Kill All Flies began in earnest. Luckily they’re extremely slow and easy to murder en masse.
Next we drove to see the largest known tingle tree, and that sucker was big. It had huge holes in its trunk caused by forest fires, but it was still going strong. Lots of plants in the Australian bush can withstand big fires, and some even need to be burned before they’ll drop their seeds to the ground. We were all able to fit in the big empty space where the center of the trunk had been burned away. I think there’s a group photo floating around in which half of us are in the process of killing a fly, or making some horrible face as we’re being bitten.
At night we camped in an area of the forest that was probably the primary breeding ground for the march flies. There was no escaping them at dusk. No matter what you wore, or how much bug spray you put on, there were going to be at least 20 flies somewhere on your body or clothes, probing for flesh to bite. This was the only night that I set up a tent, as the thought of waking up to flies biting my face was too upsetting to handle. Even though it was hot outside, I ended up putting on long pants and a hooded sweater to wear as I set up the tent, and they still bit the hell out of me.
As soon as it got dark they disappeared immediately, and we enjoyed our last campfire of the trip.
Dinner: Grilled chicken and veggies
Memorable tunes: Limp Bizkit’s cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” (I didn’t say “good”, I said “memorable”… weirdo foreigners and the weird shit on their iPods)
Day 9 – Valley of the Giants to Margaret River
At the first hint of dawn, I could hear the flies buzzing around. By the time I woke up in earnest, there were a few dozen swarmed on the outside of my tent, trying to get in. Good call on not sleeping in my swag.
The first stop of the day was at one of the tallest trees in the forest, which is used as a fire lookout. Giant spikes plunged into the tree act as a grand spiral staircase, and we were able to climb up and take in the view. No fires spotted. Plenty of flies, though.
Stephanie went absolutely nuts with the fly-killing whenever we’d board the bus. Every time someone would open the door, a new batch of them would fly in and she’d get to work. Her sandal helped smear fly guts over almost every flat surface of the vehicle. This is one invasion the French were able to resist on their own.
We drove a few kilometers away, and like magic the flies disappeared completely. We enjoyed a dip in a big freshwater lake, since it’d been awhile since anyone had seen a shower. After some intense swim races and chicken fighting, it was time to eat lunch and move on.
In the afternoon we donned hardhats and flashlights and toured some local caves. We all know how I feel about stalagmites and stalactites, but it was nice to get out of the sun.
We pulled into our final night’s accommodation in Margaret River, which was a rather packed campground with plenty of people and a few goats. Instead of infinite choices as to where to sleep for the night, we were confined to a small area. Mr. Antisocial Peter was nonplussed by this development. He was going to be in close proximity to the group whether he liked it or not.
Since it was the final night, things got a bit rowdy. We had to finish the entire contents of the alcohol cooler, and make the most of our last night as a group. Just like the last night of the semester in college, alcohol seemed to make people want to do one of two things: get frisky with each other, and/or stay up late and play juvenile pranks on each other. Apparently there’s something fun about pulling the supports out of tents while people are still in them, bonus points if you the tent is shaking and the occupants are making noises that deserve a rating somewhere between PG-13 and R. Double bonus points if the occupant is an antisocial German jerk.
Dinner: Spaghetti carbonara
Day 10 – Margaret River to Perth
The grand adventure finally came to an end, with an afternoon spent hauling ass down the highway to get everyone to their accommodation in Perth. However, the morning had quite a few highlights.
We had free reign to eat any leftover food on the bus, and what better use of a bag of oranges than to make fun of Peter behind his back? Credit to Sandy and Gary in the back of the bus for this brilliant idea. The entire group turned around and had a great laugh, which Mr. Grumpypuss couldn’t hear. Sure, he saw everyone turning around and smiling, but made no effort to check what was going on for himself. That’s how little he wanted to be involved with the group.
Later, Captain Happypants fell asleep and almost fell out of his chair.
The one stop of the day was at the Wardan Aboriginal Cultural Center. Our guide, Josh, walked us through the forest behind the center and taught us all about the medicinal value of the native plants, and talked about the sheer numbers of white men that have died or endured illnesses in the bush when there were plenty of plants nearby that would have helped them, had they only known which ones to use.
After the tour, it was time for a fire-building demonstration. Josh built a raging fire from supplies gathered in the bush in almost no time at all. We learned how to build spears and axes, and how to use the traditional tools to kill some dinner (note: no actual kangaroo femurs were broken with giant boomerangs during this lesson).
Finally, Josh showed off his didgeridoo skills by playing a few songs. An older Aboriginal guy came out of nowhere, and started dancing around the fire like an absolute maniac (if he were busting those moves in a hipster bar, he’d definitely be “That Guy“). He grabbed me to join him, and it was a lot of fun to stomp around the fire and act out the stalking and spearing of a giant emu. Worth noting is that as soon as Peter saw that people were being dragged up to dance, he stood up and walked away from the demonstration.
Eventually we arrived in Perth, split up into our various hostels, and most of us agreed to meet up for fancy dinner later. The night was a bit tame since we’d gone big the night before, but it was a good time, and a fitting ending to an exhausting, exciting 10 day trip through some of Australia’s most isolated attractions.
– You can cross the Nullarbor without going days between showers like we did. Most of the roadhouses you pass have public showers that cost a few bucks, but the tour doesn’t allow time to wait for over a dozen people to get squeaky clean.
– A few of the roadhouses had signs on their dairy fridges saying “Disregard Printed Expiration Dates – Products have been frozen”. I’ll just skip the dairy while I’m in the desert, thanks.
– NASA’s first space station, Skylab, re-entered Earth’s orbit in 1979 and rained debris all over southwestern Australia. Esperance sent NASA a fine for $400 for littering, which NASA ignored. In 2009 a local radio host raised the funds and paid the fine on NASA’s behalf.
– Australians like to base small, crappy museums around replicas of cool things. The giant great white shark replica was somewhat cool, but the imitation Skylab fragments we saw left a lot to be desired.
– I didn’t finish my Jim Beam.
– I could never be a tour guide. I do not suffer fools gladly.