Kalgoorlie to Wiluna
What a contrast! Just a few days after leaving the heat and humidity of Malaysia I’ve met up with Paul and we’re camped fifteen minutes out of Kalgoorlie in the Australian bush surrounded by gum trees. The trunks are shedding grey bark to reveal a deep russet layer beneath and under foot is the red dirt so typical of central Australia. We’re near Lake Douglas with other campers but we are tucked away down a side track and nobody else within sight of us. The colours and solitude provide an enormous contrast to the busy cities, expanses of palm plantations, lush green jungles and deep blue seas of my recent travels. I feel like I’m home.
I reached Perth on Friday afternoon after three flights and twenty four hours of travel. The trip was smooth with no delays or difficulties but it certainly was lovely to be met at the airport by my cousin Wendy and to have time to recuperate over a relaxing weekend from the last busy section of my Malaysia trip and the long journey. My car has been parked at their place for the past three months but Wendy’s husband Colin has started it regularly and it is running smoothly when I take it in for a service on Monday morning. The long and rough roads I’ve travelled over the past four years and the heavy load of the camper are taking their toll on the Hilux and some extra work to strengthen the truck is completed and more recommended before tackling the very rough Canning Stock Route. I’m impatient to get out into the bush and to meet Paul so rather than have the work done in Perth I set off early Tuesday morning for the 600 km drive inland to Kalgoorlie.
It is the following Monday before the car has the heavier springs installed but we have plenty to do in the meantime. Paul has a huge backlog of photos from his time in the south west and after three months of travelling with just a backpack I’m keen to go through my clothing and other personal items and get rid of unnecessary bits and pieces to free up more room in the camper. We also need to plan and shop for seven weeks on the road and work out how to fit everything in. I haven’t had to shop or prepare food for three months so it takes a bit of thinking to get back in gear. We are heading north from Kalgoorlie to Wiluna and only passing through a couple of small towns on the way and we could take a week to get there. From Wiluna we will be travelling almost 2,000km up the Canning Stock Route with very limited opportunity to get food, fuel or any services until we reach Halls Creek in the north east of the state. Many people spend two weeks on the Canning but we want to take our time and expect to spend four weeks at a minimum. We are also allowing an extra week for delays and I figure we always take longer than we expect so we need to allow another week, hence six to seven weeks of food and water.
Finally the car is pronounced good to go, the fridges are stocked, water and fuel tanks and extra jerry cans and water containers filled up and we are on our way.
The Goldfields Highway is our initial route north. It’s a bitumen road and we could make it to Wiluna in a day or, if we wanted to take it easy, spread it over two days. That’s not our style however and we make a couple of detours, along dirt roads of course, stretching the distance from a direct 540 km to nearly 800 km and spending seven nights on the road after we leave Kalgoorlie.
Our first stop is not far north of Kalgoorlie at a roadside rest stop and next morning we continue on the highway to the small town of Menzies. A couple of hours are easily spent here as we first enjoy a long hot shower in the caravan park then wander around the town. Interpretive panels outside the few remaining old buildings provide information about the town’s history and quotes from former residents. In addition rusty steel figures provide a glimpse of what life was like when the town had a population of 10,000 people, 3 hotels, 3 banks, 4 churches and 3 breweries. Now there is one pub which doubles as the general store, for sale if anyone is interested, a cafe, a very grand looking shire office, and a council run information centre and caravan park.
After lunch we start our first detour heading off the highway 50 km to Lake Ballard. It is a salt lake and the site for an art exhibit of 51 metal sculptures derived from laser scans of Menzies inhabitants. I’ve visited here twice before and still find it a fascinating place to visit and explore and Paul has been looking forward to spending time here to capture some of it in his photographs. If you would like to know more about Lake Ballard and the fascinating sculptures by Anthony Gormley click here and here. We end up staying three nights, partly because the place changes in different lights and walking far out onto the lake or up the hill in the middle of the lake provides different views and partly because the weather turns so cold I spend a day hiding from it, not game to venture far from the camper. My blood has definitely thinned and I’m not handling the cold at all well, especially after returning from hot and humid Malaysia. The sun finally makes a welcome return so I manage my walk onto the lake. On my previous visits the salt reached the near edge of the lake and was firm to walk on. The lake edges are now firm dry mud for a good distance and when the salt is reached it is sloppy underfoot but OK to walk on provided we take it slowly and carefully.
When we leave we continue our dirt road detour loop until we return, briefly, to the highway at Leonora. After a very short stop we take another dirt road loop to the other side of the highway and our next overnight stop at a place called the Terraces. Here sandstone cliffs form a ‘jump up’ running north-south and several camping spots are nestled along the base. It’s just on sunset so Paul climbs to the top to try to capture the last light while I check out the camping options. It has turned cold again and the only sighting we have of the sun the next day is for about ten minutes after sunrise. I’d love to explore this place some more but it doesn’t show off its best colours in these lights and after two nights we give up and continue up the dirt road.
Eventually we return to the highway and head into the town of Leinster for the night. A caravan park with showers and free washing machines is too good to pass up, it will be good to at least start on the Canning Stock Route with everything clean. We stick to the bitumen for our final leg of the journey to Wiluna and by mid-afternoon we are ready to start our next big adventure.