Road trip across Australia – Day 20 heading to Esperance

Woke up in Eucla to a beautiful sunrise. I had been getting up early to catch the sunrise, and because there was some cloud in the sky it meant that dawn would be particularly beautiful.
I snapped a few photos, and then we headed off at about 8am, along with most of the others who had stayed at Eucla. We drove down the pass, heading towards Mundrabilla and the Eyre Highway seemed to be particularly busy with a number of road trains, cars and caravanners heading east.

We stopped at Madura Pass for some photos, but as it was slightly later than my last visit there were no wisps of fog about to make for better pics, so we continued our drive, making good time.

We had another stop at Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, which is an interesting place as there are a number of wedge tailed eagles in the area. There were a number of big road trains parked there, but as there was no sign of life near them I assumed that the drivers must have been asleep.

After a brief stop we headed off again, and just a couple of kilometres up the road, on our right, we saw a converted bus that had broken down.
I knew it was broken down, because I’d passed that same bus in that same position over two weeks previously; plus, I’d had a conversation with another traveller at Eucla who told me that he’d seen the owner walking back to his bus from Cocklebiddy carrying groceries. Apparently, the bus had a severe mechanical problem, which required it to be towed to Ceduna, and it wasn’t going anywhere until a proper towing vehicle could be arranged. The poor owner’s predicament made me pleased that I had been cautious and replaced the battery in Ceduna. The roadhouses on the Nullarbor don’t seem to have too many mechanical workshops or facilities; they are simply fuel, food and rest stops and some are mostly staffed by backpackers whose knowledge of motor mechanics is probably scant.

In case of breakdown of trouble there are emergency phones at many of the rest areas, but it would often require a long walk, or a ride with a friendly motorist to reach them, and even then, help would take a long time to reach you.

Breakdowns in winter would be fairly manageable as it can get rather cool, but if you broke down in summer and didn’t have enough water or food with you, the result could be disastrous. I was talking to one of the permanent roadhouse workers who told me that the temperature can get up to 48 degrees Celsius in summer; you do not want to be sitting by the side of the road for hour after hour after hour in those conditions.

We continued on, stopping at Balladonia where a triple trailer fuel tanker was dispatching its load. The tanker driver does the Esperance to Cocklebiddy route every fortnight, and has been doing so for 23 years.

There is a museum at the Balladonia Roadhouse that is quite interesting, particularly as it has a rather significantly-sized part of Skylab on display, plus an old Reddex Trials car which broke down near there, and information about the Afghan cameleers without whom much of the Australian Outback would not have been opened up.

Next stop was Norseman, and the official end of the Eyre Highway and the western end of the Nullarbor road. What a disappointment Norseman is. We went into the town centre to get a hot drink and the one and only cafe had closed its doors moments before we arrived just after 2pm. We ended up back at the fuel stop where we filled up and a small chocolate bar and a cup of tea that I made myself cost me $10 – a total rip-off!

When we got going again I discovered that fuel at the tiny town of Salmon Gums was actually cheaper than fuel in Norseman! My advice is that if you are planning a trip from west to east across the Nullarbor, fill up at Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Esperance or Salmon Gums (depending on the route you take) and wave goodbye to Norseman’s expensive fuel as you pass it.

The road to Esperance was quite interesting as you pass many huge properties; we had a good run and got into Esperance just before dusk, so we checked into a motel and went for a decent walk along the foreshore and township before having dinner at what must be WA’s largest Chinese restaurant (it was seriously big), before heading back to the motel.

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