Thankfully yesterday’s mother-of-all-heatwaves has subsided and Port Augusta is a cool 19 degrees C this morning. After reloading the car (it was HRH’s bright idea to “reorganise”), we set off down the road for the famed “Nullabor Plains.”
Now, why is a 1400km stretch of arid, definitely inhospitable, land famous? I suppose if you can survive the boredom of seeing absolutely no one and nothing for hours on end, then you can lay claim to having very good mental concentration and perhaps sign up to be a pilot or a long-distance truck driver. For everyone else there’s the rugged beauty that is outback Australia.
“It’s my birthday today,” says Amanda from the back, for the umpteenth time.
“Yes, I know,” says HRH. “I’m taking you to see the desert, like I promised you.”
“Lily (Amanda’s best friend) had a disco-party. How is this better than a disco-party?”
Trust a newly turned 8 years old to ask all the right questions. There’s no hoodwinking them with promises we adults lap up every time a general election comes around.
“I’m taking you from one end of Australia to another, Amanda,” says HRH, in a tone that implies the magnitude of such an undertaking.
“How is that better?”
HRH shakes his head in disbelief. From Amanda’s viewpoint, it can hardly be better since she was made to give away many of her prized possessions – clothes, ribbons, knick knacks that little girls like collecting – leave her school and say goodbye to all her friends.
“She’s too young to appreciate this never-ending road-trip,” I say to HRH. To Amanda I say, “We’ve gone from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, to Moree, a small country town in Queensland, to Dubbo, a small country town in the state of New South Wales, to Broken Hill, another small country town in New South Wales, to Port Augusta, where we stopped the day before yesterday, a small country town in the state of South Australia. Today, we’re off to Ceduna, a border town, still in South Australia. How many classmates of yours can say they’ve seen so many places?”
“And how many states does Australia have?”
“6 states and 2 territories. 1 Queensland can make 5 of Peninsula Malaysia. That’s how humongous a country Australia is.”
“People have died trying to find their way out of the desert,” says HRH.
While we were in Port Augusta, we heard on the news of a South Australian man who’d gotten lost in the bush. Rescue police were still out looking for him when we left.
“I once saw this programme about surviving in the wilderness and it says that a) you must build a shelter to keep yourself warm during the night b) search for a source of drinking water…You can get water from leaves by tying a plastic bag around a bunch of them in such a way as to collect the condensation, presuming you had the good sense of bringing along a clean plastic bag and a piece of string before getting lost…c) search for a way of signalling to rescuers. Apparently my lipstick is very handy. If our car should get lost out in the middle of nowhere, we stand a better chance of being spotted by rescue choppers if we use the lipstick to mark a huge X on the roof of the car.”
“I once went for this Aboriginal wilderness survival tour,” says HRH. “You can get water from these plants you see around us.”
“I’ve forgotten. It was some 10 years ago.”
“That’s very helpful,” I say, changing the discs yet again. We can’t possibly be listening to Jay Chou another 20 times.
Soon enough we come across one of those towns that seem to exist only to extort petrol-thirsty travellers like ourselves. The price at the pump is a $1.90 a litre. Across the Nullabor, petrol prices go as high as $1.97 a litre. You can either fill up your tank or be prepared to walk until your legs fall off.
After another hour and a half on the road, we reach our accommodation for the night, the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel and Motel. Known as the “Oyster Capital of Australia”, Ceduna boasts some good fishing and correspondingly, seriously tasty seafood; HRH and Amanda have a couple of battered banana prawns and fresh scallops and I, on my new cholesterol-lowering diet have marinated octopus for tea. Allowing our stomachs an hour of rest before the onslaught of more food, we return to our hotel room to watch Spongebob Squarepants on Nicklodeon.
At dinnertime, I get a bone lodged in my throat from eating locally caught pink snapper and thus spend the next forty minutes trying to dislodge said bone by chowing down on 2 crusty bread rolls. That doesn’t work so at HRH’s advice, I have only my second coke for the last 2 years, while watching a gorgeous Ceduna sunset. Oh, and I’m still producing nose wontons.
It’s official: my nose has eloped with my make-up bag. We set off for yet another of HRH’s beloved “short drives”, this time to Eucla in Western Australia. It’s a teeny tiny dot on HRH’s travelling map, so I’m not expecting much other than a clean bed to sleep on at night.
Almost every road-train we meet on the road West is considerate of other motorists, especially smaller vehicles like ours transporting an entire family. But along comes this guy, who you can’t see because I belatedly decided to take his picture from my side-view mirror, who tries to PUSH US OFF THE ROAD when we attempt to overtake him. Before that he’d been careering from left to right. Lucky him, I hadn’t taken down his vehicle registration number if not I’d be placing a call to the relevant road transport authority.
Since we are still celebrating Amanda’s birthday (like the Queen, her birthday goes on for a whole week), HRH detours for us to see the Great Australian Bight. Just what is a Bight? Beats me, but you are supposed to be able to spot seals, whales, sharks and other marine life when they are in season. Whale-watching season folks, is in October and November. We are many months too early and instead, only have rugged coast to admire for the bargain price of $5 per adult. Children visit for free with one paying adult.
Yet more driving follows. We pass through the border of South Australia and Western Australia where we are stopped for a routine fruit-check. Just so you know: you are NOT allowed to bring fruit into South Australia or Western Australia, if travelling from other parts of Australia. This is to prevent fruit fly from damaging the citrus-growing industries of either state.
Once again, we arrive at our destination in time for tea. But instead of stuffing our faces with hot chips from the one and only café in Eucla, we check out the pool for houseguests and picturesque gardens, which the hotel’s restaurant looks out onto.
From our hotel room you can catch a glimpse of the sea.