Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Nullarbor Roadhouse

Border Village – Nullarbor Roadhouse 184(14495) kms

We woke fresh and in no hurry as we had all day to cover 200 km, so spent the first hour listening to everyone else hurry away.

Now in South Australia and with clocks adjusted, we realized we were closing the gap on all of you (except our agent in Broome and the Gibbens of the West). We have about ten days to close up the remaining 30 minutes. This was a day from my A-list of things to do ... travelling the Nullarbor, seeing the vertical limestone Bunda cliffs dropping into the Southern Ocean and watching whales at Head of the Bight. We were covering a short distance and would have lots of stops.

So it started, only 20 km on the road and were turning into our first cliff top stop, but instead of joy, it started with a tragedy. Opening the back of the Forester to fetch a camera lenses, I immediately noticed to my horror that an old friend was missing. Little Tarp, the first tarp I bought way back at the start of my uni days and one of the few things I have had a relationship with which pre-dates Sue, was not sitting where he should have been on top of the camping fridge. I remembered placing him on the draw bar before we left and realised I must have left him there. What was left of him would be spread somewhere on the Eyre Highway and in the low scrub. I suppose, after all the miles and kilometres we had travelled as companions, that if he had to go, this was not such a bad resting place.

The Bunda Cliffs
I was devastated.

I recovered quickly once the view of the Bunda Cliffs sunk in. Like many of the views we have seen on this tour that are truly "spectacular", the sight of successive cliff faces lined up in profile like a bunch of ancient limestone ABBAs, water licking away parts of them at their feet and blue skies with threatening grey eyelids closing, it was more than I could manage and grieve over losing Little Tarp too. I haven't seen the world so those of you who have will have to forgive the naivety of my list but the effect of walking up to a cliff top edge and seeing this vision was like the viewing platform at Oxer Lookout in Karijini or the 2nd gorge at Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) or whales breaching in King George Sound - staggering, just staggering. Lookout after lookout was the same and we just picked up our jaws and shot photos to prove our sobriety.

I was rewarded for not losing it over Little Tarp at the third lookout. Sue needed some additional clothing - it was cold and blowy on the cliff top - so I was ferreting for some jeans. I lifted a blanket ... and there he was, hiding beneath the Southern Cross flag I display with pride whenever I could. I allowed myself a few moments of rejoicing.

Despite dawdling, we were at the Nullarbor Roadhouse 11:30 - our supposed destination for the evening. It seemed a re-plan was in order, so we booked a site down the track and drove a further 12kms to Head of the Bight Whale Centre. It is as it is titled, located at the head of the Great Australian Bight and provides for the viewing of Southern Right Whales who migrate to the safe waters here at the apex of the Bight to breed one year, birth the next and then bring their year-olds back the third year to show them the way. In between, they make the long journey from and to Antarctica. For the four or five months they are here, they don't feed but consume their own fat(blubber) instead - a feat most women would aspire to, although, should Sue get the idea, I bags not doing the cooking.

Bight Whale Centre
Hopeful we might see a beastie or two, we walked to the end of the path and soon had eight in our gaze ... calves and their mothers. These were not off in the distance and identified by their splashing through binoculars, these were within 100 metres of the shore and in no hurry to depart. It was just so engaging! We disappeared for lunch after 90 minutes and then came back later for another hour or so.

This was an experience to sooth the soul and change hard hearts. It’s frightening that 100 years ago there were 80000 Southern Right Whales in the world and now there are perhaps 6000, after they were hunted very close to extinction. You could raise an excuse before we understood the importance of maintaining a marine ecosystem and accepting that all creatures have rights - but now? As I stood there, I puzzled on the Japanese insistence to keep killing whales instead of changing what their people want, not need.

We left enthused and lifted and I was not at all keen to turn right and find our booked digs. After a brief discussion, Sue took little convincing to return to Nullarbor Roadhouse and spend a night on the flattest, largest piece of limestone in the word - 200 sq km and 300 m  thick - which underpins this amazing Nullarbor Plain.

Sitting here now, in the back of Forester typing my blog, the horizon is a single, unbroken line which rotates around me for 360 degrees. There are no trees - NO trees - in fact, no vegetation reaches above my knees and it goes on and on and on like that for thirty kilometres in any direction (except of course to the south, where it has been worn away by the ocean). There are no clouds so the night will be cool but a blaze of stars and when I fall asleep - eventually, after I have counted and imagined on every one - I will thank a God who made this place and then kept me alive to see it. Beside me will be my best friend - someone who has played her part well and often and for whom no words are sufficient thanks. Loved ones will read this and think of me, thrilled I can still adventure. Friends will shake their heads and offer me a smile.

I will fall asleep tonight, the happiest man in the world.

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