Covid Lockdown and crossing the Nullabor desert

Covid Lockdown and crossing the Nullabor desert

Western Australia

March 2020

So it’s been a while since my last blog when I’d just finished cycling the Munda Biddi trail in Western Australia.  As I left off it was mid March and I was just about to head out to cycle across the mighty Nullabor desert. 

Well as you are probably aware there was a little something going on at the time although it didn’t seen to be effecting Australia all that much.  So off I cycled and after about 3 days I arrived in Ravensthorpe and slept the night in my tent on the verandah of the local IGA supermarket (with the owners permission).

Next morning I set off and after about 40km I came across a road traffic accident where the fire and police were already in attendance.  I spoke with he police as I was waiting to pass and they mentioned that the government had announced a State border closure between South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA).  Dilemma time, the border was still1100km away and I only had 2 days to cross.  I was never going to make it, so do I carry on cycling further towards Esperance and hope to find a workaday to hole up on or return to Perth and the offer of accommodation from Diana my previous workaday host?  Well , I decided that Dianas offer was much better than trying to find somewhere else so I turned back to Ravensthorpe.  Another 40km later and I was finished for the day.  I spoke with Diana and she was going to come pick me up the next day. This was very generous of her as it entailed a 900km round trip!!!  As luck would have it I got speaking to a guy in the cafe where I was getting some dinner and I mentioned my predicament.  He turned out to be the driver of a TransWA coach and was heading to Esperance then tomorrow would be going back to Perth via Ravensthorpe and offered me a free lift. Wow, that was amazing, so I let Diana know I was sorted and we agreed I would meet her in Wagin so that I could drive back her minibus she had left there.  

So that was it, I was back on the farm and within about 2 weeks Western Australia went into Covid lockdown.  Citizens were only allowed out to go for essential shopping, an hour of exercise and work or medical, but wherever possible work from home was encouraged.  They also banned all inter regional travel within the state.  Being on the farm in the middle of the forest I didn’t really see how much this effected the local populace, however during my weekly excursions to do a food shop it was noticeable how quiet it was, even for WA!!

So for the next 2 months I stayed on the farm, we did a few cycle rides and I did a few woodworking projects, but mainly it was cooking and eating!  Yes I put about 5kg on , even though I bought some running shoes and did a few runs! 

One of the highlights off the stay was doing the catering for Megan and Gareth’s wedding which went ahead at the farm.  Fortunately/unfortunately there were only 10 guests allowed so I didn’t have too many to cook for.  With the assistance of Diana and Olivia her daughter we put on a feast and decorated the farm wedding style.  I have to say it was a beautiful day and the bride and groom had an amazing day/evening.  

Finally after 2 months of lockdown the restrictions began to lift, first with the regional travel ban being changed from 12 areas to 4, this allowed for much more movement and as I was itching to cycle again I decided it was time to at least get on and possibly position myself closer to the border region for the impending full travel ban lift in WA.  I could then attempt to cross the Nullabor desert and enter SA, even if it meant 2 weeks quarantine in my tent at the border!

Diana came with me for the first day.  I’d decided to head towards the coast and south towards Margaret River a well known tourist area fully of vineyards, rolling hills, caves and beautiful scenery.  Just what I needed after 2 months in the forest!  We had a lovely ride out to Mandurah and found a camping spot in a birdwatching shelter within a Conservation Park! 

The next day I said farewell to Diana, having thanked her profusely for looking after me (even if I did all the cooking, haha!). It really was a godsend that she offered me accommodation.  Otherwise my options were pretty thin, either finding another workaday or flying back to the UK which was really something I didn’t want to do!

I cycled on down the coast and having checked the weather I knew there was a big tropical storm inbound in the next few days so I reached out to the Warmshowers community to see if I could get some proper shelter rather than being caught out in my tent.  

As luck would have it I managed to contact Neesha in Australind and she gladly invited me to her house where she live with her husband Dan.  Neesha is a school teacher and Dan has his own fencing business, they are also fat bikers… no, I’m not being rude, its just that they ride “Fat Bikes”. You know, those ones with the huge wide tyres the are great for cycling on beaches and snow (you don’t get much snow in WA ever, but they have plenty of beaches and sandy tracks!) 

The storm rolled in and it was massive.  Dan jokingly said he was going to be very busy after the storm with fences having been blown down and I jokingly said I could help if he needed it!!  Well, they looked at each other and Dan said, its funny, but the other day I bought a second set of scissor shovels. Coincidence?!  Well that was decided then, I would stay for a few days and help Dan with his fencing.  This mainly meant digging holes, and I can do that easily.  I also found I can dig straight through the water pipes going to the house!! OMG!!  I was soaked.  Dan was seriously taking the piss out of me until he also went through the same pipe after repairing it the first time!! Lesson learnt Dan, don’t laugh too soon!!  There was a second reason for staying a few days with Dan and Neesha, there were both Hash House Harriers, but rather than running they were members of the Perth Crankers a cycling hash and they were having a weekend meet up at their house the following weekend.  They had about 20 people coming down to go out on rides and party and drink.  Billy Bonus.  The first days ride I went out with everyone on my trike but found it a struggle keeping up cross country and through the sand with the fat trikes and mountain-bikes.  So on the Sunday I was lent a fat bike and got to ride with them again.  I had a blast riding along the beaches down the coast.  They really are especially good at this sort of riding.  The only downside is my arse was killing after the ride from the strange saddle!!  Give me back my trike seat!!  The next morning as everyone left with their campers and caravans I also bade farewell to Dan and Neesha, their generosity and welcome was another reminder of how nice people are in Australia.  

I cycled off and headed to Ironstone Gully where I camped for the night.  There was a lovely waterfall here, but unfortunately there hadn’t been anywhere near enough rain in the past few months and the falls were dry, but still al lovely place to camp. 

The next day was predominantly uphill, and I was feeling tired by the middle of the day.  I was actually struggling, so much so that I began to wonder what was going on.  I’d had a good feed the night before so I should have had the energy, and so I decided to give the trike a check.  Sure enough there was a problem.  My dynamo hub had crapped itself and was seized up, not enough to stop it rotating under pedal force, but I couldn’t turn it by hand, thats how bad it was!! Ahhh poop!!

I rang Dan and Neesha up, as my circuitous route via the falls meant that although I’d cycled 120km since leaving them I was only 60km from their house.  They readily agreed to let me come back (Love you guys!!) and with that I managed to hitch a lift off a young lady in a Ute (Aussie slang for a pickup truck!). She was off to her job at a dairy farm, milking cows, but agreed to drop me just outside Bunbury and I could cycle the last 8km to Australind.  Fortune has struck again.  

Back at the Casa I contacted Azub about getting a replacement hub under warranty and they talked with the manufacturer who agreed to send one out from Europe.  Not wanting to take anymore than necessary of Dan and Neesha’s kind hospitality I arranged to have the hub sent to Albany.  D&N were heading up to Perth for the weekend to a Hash Meet so I could travel up with them then catch the TransWA coach from Perth to Albany and stay with some friends down there until my hub arrived.  It also meant I would get to ride again with the Hash around Perth.  Thanks also to Concorde and his wife Rockabilly (not their real names, but Hash names) for putting me up for the night prior to me catching the coach.  As it would happen I was given a Hash name that weekend, ‘Boomerang” as I kept coming back!!  Lets hope 3rd times a charm!

So on the 9th June, 3 months after leaving Albany the first time, I arrived back. After the 6 hour coach ride I was greeted by Claude, who I’d previously met on my first visit to Albany.  A fellow trike rider he had kindly agreed to put me up until the hub arrived and then being an ex bike mechanic help me put it back together! Obviously he had permission from Chris his wife before inviting me!! I was also able to meet for more fish ’n chips with Kim and Kev again my old Army pals who had accommodated me last time.

So the story of the hub.  It was despatched via Fedex from Czech Republic, and within 4 days arrived in Sydney.  Strangely enough it had gone via Germany, France, Memphis Tennessee and Honolulu!  I had expected it to go via Asia but it made for fun wondering where it would turn up next on the tracker (at one point I was thinking it had been misrouted to Albany New York rather than Albany Australia!).  So it was in Sydney, only a short flight across Australia to Perth (3290km!) then a lorry trip to Albany.  Should be a couple of days. But wait, Fedex Australia, what’s this I see on the tracking website?  It’s going via road to Cairns and Darwin and around the Northern coast?!?!?!  A journey of 9000km and in the end a journey that took another 9 days!! Wow!! Great going Fedex!

Whilst this was all going on I also got to see Diana again as she had decided to join a group of ladies and cycle half the Munda Biddi Trail from Collie to Albany.  What was even more coincidental was that one of the ladies cycling with her was Julie who, along with Colin her husband, I’d met on the trail in one of the overnight huts way back in Feb.  I went to meet them with Claude at the southern terminus of the trail and having welcomed them in we all went for a well deserved beer.  Colin, Julie’s better half was also coming down as he was hiking up one of the nearby mountains with Marijke who had come down from Perth with him.  It was great to see all of them again and we agreed to meet up later for a meal in the local hotel.

Anyway, back to the hub.  I was delighted it had finally arrived and I am sure Claude and Chris were looking forward to getting rid of me.  Claude took me down to the local bike shop (Impulse Cycles) and with the kind permission of Phil, the owner, we used his wheel jig to re-lace the hub back into my wheel.  Claude did a fine job and my wheel was spinning once more.

So, that was it.  I was ready for the Nullabor again and this time by hook or by crook I was going to make it across… Hopefully!

July 2020

Another 3 days and I was at Ravensthorpe again, retracing my steps from March.  Then I was on to unseen territory.  Although the road each day was pretty much the same, bush, bush and more bush!  I arrived in Esperance, a coastal town famed for its squeaky white beaches and rugged coastline.  I was taking the weekend off here so I could sample some of the scenery.  Marijke had come down for the weekend in her 4×4 and we spent the weekend driving along beaches (it’s allowed in Australia!), watching dolphins cavorting in the waves at Thistle Cove and doing some geocaching. And drinking some lovely wines and enjoying a steak (well I got to feed myself up for the Nullabor thats my excuse!!)

So Esperance is about 200km south of Norseman, the start of the fabled Nullabor crossing.  It took me a few days to reach there, and I stopped in a couple of community caravan sites on the route up.  These are great little places in tiny hamlets throughout Australia that are looked after by the townsfolk.  But finally I reached Norseman the last town (or the first town if travelling West!) before heading east across the Nullabor.  

So what is the Nullabor you ask?

The Nullarbor Plain (Latin: nulla feminine of nullus, ‘no’, and arbor, ‘tree’) is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north. The Nullarbor Plain stretches between Norseman in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia – at its widest point its about 1,200 kilometres. This great treeless plain includes the amazing sea cliffs of the Great Australian Bight accessible by a short detour from the highway.

Fortunately there are a number of Roadhouses (Petrol stations with restaurant and accommodation) along the Nullabor.

These are listed below along with the distances.

Norseman to Balladonia (192km)

Balladonia to Caiguna (182km)

Caiguna to Cocklebiddy (65 km)

Cocklebiddy to Madura (92.1km)

Madura To Mundrabilla (115.km)

Mundrabilla to Ecula (66km)

Ecula to WA/SA Border Village (12km)

WA/SA Border Village to Nullarbor Roadhouse (208.9km)

Nullarbor Roadhouse to Nundroo (145km)

Nundroo to Ceduna (154km)

What’s between those Roadhouses you ask? Pretty much nothing, and especially no water.  Even at the roadhouses it may not be readily available and I’d read stories where cyclists had resorted to buying bottled water at $7 a litre!  So I was forewarned and I was carrying 4 one and a half litre plastic bottles for water carrying on top of my normal 1.5 litre water bottle and I also had a 4litre water sack if I needed more.  One of the many things I’d also been advised was that should I run out of water or need assistance I could flag down a passing Grey Nomad.  These are people that are crossing the Nullabor with a Campervan or Caravan and generally of the slightly older persuasion!!  I’d also been warned that the road trains, huge trucks with multiple trailers would sweep me off the road if not killing me first! Wow, ok, was I ready for this? Born ready! 

Well obviously I made it alive, otherwise who’s writing this load of crap? What was it like? Well the first couple of days were kind of fun.  In the sense that I was doing something novel and slightly dangerous.  But after a while it became a test of my mental strength to keep pushing on.  And sometimes I didn’t always win that contest and found myself standing in the middle of a long straight road wondering what I was doing.  In fact, talking of long straight roads, Australia’s longest straight bit of road is on the Nullabor, 146km without a single kink, turn or wiggle!  Yes that was boring too, but with the added spice of a photostop at the sign at each end! Dust storms and head winds, the fear of dingos running off with my shoes in the middle of the night. One particular night at 4am on top of the Madura Pass I had to decamp and make a run for it.   The wind was blowing a gale and I’d been awake all night holding on to the tent and hoping I wouldn’t get blown away. Rain. Baking sun.  The stench of dead kangaroos on the roadside, victims of the road trains. 

But it’s not all that bad.  I met some great people on the crossing, people like Jess, working at the Balladonia Roadhouse who offered me some floor space in her room to sleep on.  Numerous drivers who stopped to ask if I was ok/crazy/needed anything.  The road train drivers who moved to the other side of the road when passing me (I always got off the road if there was traffic coming from both directions, these 90 ton monsters would have found it difficult slowing suddenly for an inconsiderate cyclist, and there have been a few deaths in the past!).  I met David, another cyclist at the State Border, he was heading west and had been there 7 days as Covid restrictions within WA meant he couldn’t enter.  (Fortunately a few days later I heard he had pleaded his case and been allowed across. He told me he had been prepared to wait another 2 weeks in his tent at the border and then he was going to give up!! Luckily he made it). The amazingness of the Bight, characterised by 60 meter cliffs falling into the sea. Whale watching from the bight for southern right whales which migrate to the region from their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic. The whales come to calve and breed, and do not feed until they return to the Antarctic. The emergency runways on the road for Flying Doctor landing strips.  I saw my first Wombat.  And at the far end as I entered Ceduna, the best fish n chip shop on the Nullabor and some might say for thousands of kilometres, I even treated myself to 6 fresh oysters as a starter before the fish n chips!!

How long did it take?  14 days without any days off. 

Did I run out of water? No, the weather was kind and it wasn’t too hot.  The most I carried was 10 litres for the 2 day ride between the SA border and the Nullabor Roadhourse.  I was only refused water at one roadhouse, but fortunately had just enough to get to the next … just!! I even had 2 showers during the 2 weeks too, at the grand cost of $3 and $5. No need for grey nomad assistance either.

Did I run out of food? No, I carried about 10 days worth of pasta meals and porridge but supplemented this with cooked meals at the roadhouses, that although expensive, were filling and after a long days ride tasty as hell. 

Did I see any whales? No.

Any punctures? No, and I still haven’t changed the 2 front tyres that I’m carrying spares for, but the tyres are showing the inner puncture resistant lining now!!

Did I have any problems crossing the border? No, as I was heading out of WA there were no checks and I was able to ride straight through into SA.  Obviously I can’t re enter WA as they haven’t opened their border to anyone yet!

I take a day off in Ceduna then spent the next 6 days doing more of the same, crossing the Eyre peninsular.  Although now there were actual towns (in England we’d call them villages or hamlets, but every size of civilisation below city in Australia is called a ‘town’!). Still the distances were only about 80km between and at the end of July I finally arrived at Port Augusta. In the near distance I could see the Flinders Mountain range, my next destination.  I was so looking forward to some proper hills and a change of scenery after the last months riding!! 

August 2020

Clare Valley and Adelaide , South Australia.

I cycled through Port Augusta , only stopping for some food and water at the local Coles supermarket.  I’d been warned off starting in the area as it had quite a few delinquents living there!! Well I suppose every country has them!

I cycled out on the main road, heading towards the hills, but it was a super busy road and there was only about 20 inches of hard shoulder, so as each big truck blasted by I really didn’t feel safe.  Probably the least safe I’ve felt in the last 4 years. I pulled over onto the gravel and looked at my map.  Just ahead there was a dirt track that would lead back towards Port Augusta but after a couple of km it would join another road that would lead up into the hills and Horrocks Pass.  Time for some cross country riding again.  Luckily the dirt track wasn’t too bad and the road up to the hills although narrow (1 car width) it was very quiet.   I decided that night to camp just at the foot of Horrocks Pass that would take me up through the lower end of the Flinders Range and onto the Clare Valley.  It had some beautiful views back down to the coast.  Just a patch of grass in the scrub.

The next morning I road out on a chilly but clear sky and hit Horrocks Pass.  

It was discovered by and named after John Horrocks who travelled through the area with his party in August 1846 during his ill-fated exploration of land north of Spencer Gulf.[2] At the top of the pass is a lookout and monument to Horrocks and his party

It’s a beautiful ride up into the hills and I really enjoy the change of scenery after so much flat landing!!  On the other side of the pass I drop down into the small country town of Wilmington on the edge of Mount Remarkable National Park.  I knew there was a caravan camping site here and the plan was to stay for 2 nights, and take in the National Park and have a rest day.  By the time I had my tent set up it was still only 1pm so I decided to go visit Alligator Gorge.  This was about 12km away but up back into the Mt Remarkable range.  More climbing!  Well although the road was indeed steep and hard cycling the end result was just amazing. Over millions of years the Alligator Creek has cut the gorge though ancient rocks.  There’s a walking track through down into the gorge (via 200 steps!) And then you can walk through the terraces and narrow cuts in the gorge with the towering red cliffs either side of you. It was stunning.  

That evening, having cycled back up and out of the gorge, I decided to hit the town and feed myself proper.  I walked into town and enjoyed a lovely pint and meal in the local Tavern.  It was a Friday night, so all the locals were in, there was a meat tray raffle and other stuff going on.  It was nice to be in such a lively crowd once again.  The solitude of the Nullabor was long behind me now.  

After a rest day I carried on cycling along into the Clare Valley.one of Australia’s oldest wine regions. Heritage towns, trails, boutique wineries, museums, galleries and beautiful scenery are all to be found.  And it was very lovely.  The road meandered down the valley, passing through Melrose, a mountain biking mecca. Small towns pass by,  Laura, Gladstone and Bungaree.  I camp in fields and beside cycle tracks.  Vineyards flow by as I cycle along the Riesling Trail, and old rail line that has been converted to a cycling and walking track.  Unfortunately with it being winter the vines are bare and it makes for cold mornings before the sun warms me up.  Through Clare itself, and on to Auburn before getting to the foot of the valley just north of Adelaide in Gawler.  Gawler is the oldest town in SA about 40km north of Adelaide. Here I camp overnight in Deadmans Pass, now a town park.

Colonel William Light is known to have visited the area as early as December 1837 and he used the campsite at Para Pass while exploring the Barossa region, and in his quest to find a passage through the Mount Lofty Ranges to the River Murray. A large red gum is believed to be the tree in which the ‘dead man’ was found. There are four accounts of the finding of the dead man any one of which could be true. The place of the burial to this day retains the name of Dead Man’s Pass.

Fortunately I wasn’t haunted during the night and made my way out of the town after a lovely big fried breakfast in a local cafe.  Today I’m cycling into Adelaide and its only my second big city in Australia after Perth!

Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia, and the fifth-most populous city of Australia (1.3million) and is situated on the Adelaide Plains north of the Fleurieu Peninsula, between the Gulf St Vincent in the west and the Mount Lofty Ranges in the east.

There’s a huge park, or terraces that runs in a ring around the inner city, and it’s quite stunning to see so much greenery, horses, parks and paths in the city. 

I stop in Victoria Square and take some touristy pictures of the fountains and buildings.  I’m probably the only tourist in the city! 

I’m staying in Adelaide for a few weeks on a workaway .  This will give me time to work out my next direction of travel with the resurgence of cases in Melbourne, Victoria and Sydney, New South Wales.  I’ll also be meeting up with the local triking group, the Adelaide Recumbent Riders (ARR!! (said in a pirate voice!)). 

I head towards the Adelaide hills where my workaway is situated and climb steeply to the top of Mount Osmond. There are stunning views down to the city and some beautiful houses.  Looks like I’m in for a treat with my workaway. 

I’ll leave you all here for now.  Time for me to have a few days off from cycling and I’ll speak to you all next time.  Don’t forget you can keep current with my adventures on my Facebook and Youtube pages at www.facebook.com/everywhichwaybutlost and www.youtube.com/everywhichwaybutlost 

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2 thoughts on “Covid Lockdown and crossing the Nullabor desert

  1. GReat read 🙂 sounds like you’ve had plenty of adventure in Australia already and your not even halfway 🙂 many more to come……..
    I hope we get to cycle together again someday?…I had lots of fun times with you!! Thank you 🙂

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