Esperance - Port August, 13th - 17th December
Good morning, Esperance! The recommendations to come here were endless. Everyone says the beaches here are the most beautiful on the continent. Well, let’s check that. You can’t just take a stranger’s word on a thing like this.
Like many other Australian villages, Esperance started off as a telegraph centre. It connected Albany to the west and the border town Eucla to the east. Today it is a large tourist centre among countless natural sights. It is surrounded by five national parks, while the beaches under its ward can’t be easily counted. Also, “esperance” means “hope” in French. We too set off to our chosen beach with much hope.
The main street is a panoramic one. It passes all the bays and sandy beaches that we have come here for. Our expectations are quickly confirmed. Truly the queen here is Beauty herself. Do I need to describe again the blue of the ocean and the clarity of the sand? How about the rocks in the water or the natural views?
I am a sea child. My entire childhood happened on the beaches of the northern Black Sea. But for us in Bulgaria, all of them, even the wilder ones, are fairly set up, always full and going to the beach is some sort of organised activity. Parasols, loungers, towels, sandwiches, watermelons. Every beach is quickly filled by the colourful day-camps that come to the sea for a few hours.
There is no such thing in Australia. Or at least there is almost no such thing. The beaches are still beaches but almost nothing can tame their wilderness. Firstly, there are so many of them and they are all so big that they can hardly be overpopulated by anyone. And secondly, Australians come with only a towel. They don’t overwhelm the view in any way. The beaches stay naked and untouched. This is why I am so impressed by the views here. When I hear about a beach, all that comes to my mind are the vivid colours that I have grown up with. Here I see nothing more and nothing less than Nature in its purest form.
We have chosen Twilight beach. I guess that the view here is more unforgettable at that time of the Esperance day, but we come in the early morning. We have chosen it for one reason only - it has freshwater showers. If you have ever been to the beach with Nic, even the not so salty Black sea, you know he can’t stand himself covered in the saltwater. He quickly becomes impossible for sea activities if there isn’t freshwater salvation nearby.
The beachfront is long and white. The water is aquamarine here, turquoise there … Inside, there are rock islands that can easily be reached and climbed. We’re staying! The towels are down, the sun cream is put on, the camera hidden in the shade. The water is quite cold so we will first warm up nicely in the morning sun. Anyway, if we go in now, Nic will want to leave immediately and that is not the point of today’s exercise.
We laze in the sun until the new arrivals ruin the peace and quiet. An entire school group of excited teenagers and their balls, rackets, rugby and cricket equipment. Our half of the beach quickly gets filled up by tumult and emotion. But the balls are flying closer to us than wanted. That’s our sign to quit the sunbathing process. We go into the water bravely, get a few pictures to prove we too have been to the beach in Australia. And that’s it.
At the parking, we bump into countless people like us that are looking for the salvation of the free showers. Surfers, swimmers, children - we all queue patiently. One by one, once ready we strip the wet bathing suits, put on a dry layer and get back into cars, vans or caravans. Next stop - Cape Le Grand National Park. Considered the beach with the whitest sands in Australia. One of the theories for the light sand at the Whitsundays on the east coast is that the currents drag it from here.
Our first stop is the Whistling Rock. But before we start exploring the area, we make lunch. Nic and I have a new patented option that replaces the chickpea salad. It is not as quick to prepare but it is as delicious. We open up a tin of red kidney beans, quickly mash it with a fork until we get fed up, mix it with any produce that jumps out of the cool box and fill it in between two slices of bread. Different, filling and fresh.
Once fed, we go to hear the rock. Today it has decided not to whistle for us so we are only left with the view of the nearby beach. The water is once again a vivid blue and the whiteness of the sand can be seen from here. We aren’t going to it, however, as we will visit Lucky Bay instead - the most famous beach in this park. The name comes from the first sailors that touched it. After a summer storm, surrounded by shallow waters and rocks, the ship of Captain Flinder was stuck in this bay. It took them until the morning when the crew successfully guided the ship back into the open ocean. And during their stay, the botanists on board went out to the shore to explore it. From all collected samples, about 80 per cent were unknown for western science. Well, that was truly quite lucky.
And so we are on the purest and whitest sand of Australia. I will tell you one thing … If this is sand in its “true“ form, then I have no clue what is that thing we use the same word for. They are absolutely nothing alike. The feeling under us is indescribable.
The first sense that feels this new thing is our “touch”. Under our feet, we step on a dense, hard surface. Almost like a cement floor. After that our “vision” notices that we leave no footprints on the white earth. The “hearing” listens to the creaking of our steps like on fresh snow.
And if you somehow stop on this unseen wonder, a sand pool starts to liquidise slowly under your feet - as if it is floating sand. The longer you stay in one place, the more your weight pushes out this seemingly hard surface and the sand begins to cover your feet bit by bit. You are obviously sinking in, although the terrain stays just as even as if nothing is disturbing it.
If you pick up some sand in your hands, it feels like the kinetic sand children play with. Dry but sticky. Just like fresh snow but it isn’t cold. We are considering building a snowman, there are only two weeks left till Christmas after all. But about five centimetres under the surface, the sand releases a sharp smell - quite unpleasant. Enough to make you quit any creative project. Well, then the test of “taste” we will leave unfinished.
Before we get into the crystal clear water we walk on the long shore. I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of a beach in the Bahamas where some wild pigs live happily among people. Here, there are no piglets but there are nicer animals - kangaroos. They are walking like us and courageously approach the people for some fallen slice of bread. A couple, for example, arrives in a van and parks it on the sand. They take out a carpet (yes, a carpet) to place on the sand and arrange their picnic for the day. But their setup is quickly occupied by a kangaroo that thinks the carpet was put here for him. Our dog used to do that too if you dare to prepare your yoga mat or god-forbid a cushion falls on the floor. Further down, another kangaroo is stood by a tent and doesn’t leave a family alone trying to get under their shade. They are cute but are just as annoying as any other animal.
Because the waters are very shallow, the water is relatively warm here and I drop off all barriers. I am not even worried about sharks here - how could they swim in it? I take off my sarong and run into the waves. Like a child. Isn’t that fair? … I am sick of having to be careful just because we made the decision to come for a summer break in Australia and not somewhere safer like the Black Sea, for example.
Nic goes through the showers but I decide to omit it this time. We change from our bathing suits and set off for the campsite. Where did the day go by? But while we drive, I realise that in the next few weeks we will be entirely at free camps and I won’t get to see showers anytime soon. The mistake is quickly fixed. On the app, Nic finds free showers by the road. Just like that, like finding a toilet, but it's a bathroom. With hot water, hangers, and can even be locked. No one is waiting to be paid outside, but it is clean inside. There is nothing missing! How is it possible here, but in Bulgaria, you have to pay for the dingiest toilets?
For a few days now, a hot wave has been following us from Perth. 40 degrees in the shade won’t be avoided and we can already feel the beginning of it. Sleeping tonight will be difficult. Therefore, we decide to get ahead of it. Instead of driving slowly through the Nullarbor desert, we will do everything possible to pass it in the next two days in one go. There is nothing else to be seen here anyway.
Let’s go! We have 7 hours of endless driving in front of us. Nic will be driving while I catch up with the diaries. What else is there to be done? The wilderness is mirthless like the one in Northern Territory. The lunch stop is empty and fly-full. There are, however, a few birds that we give water which successfully distract us from the sameness of today.
We switch for a bit and I sit behind the wheel. Usually, I don’t insist on gaining driving experience in Australia, but today we have only one interesting thing to experience and it is exciting me from the inside. We are travelling on the longest straight road on the continent; 146,6 kilometres without a single turn; Fourth longest worldwide - the other three are in the US or Saudi Arabia. Not that you can tell there is any uniqueness about this one. In these endless plains of Australia, all the roads are fairly straight anyway. But count me as having driven on this road-sight, one point for me. We stop to take a picture at the sign on the east end. We were here too.
Tomorrow we will finally cross the state border and this time we have remembered that all produce could be taken off us. Therefore, we haven’t shopped for food recently and tonight I cook a weird tomato stew with sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts so we only have two onions left to cross the border with. We will sacrifice them if we have to. Dinner takes an age to cook and meanwhile we are attacked by the Australian equivalent of the Bulgarian harvest insects. Only these are about four times smaller, that much more annoying and can squeeze into anything. We take our dinner into the tent to find salvation from the pest though they still find a way to come in through the nets of the windows. Should I explain once more that all insects we think of as a curse in Bulgaria are actually welcomed quests compared to their Australian cousins?
I didn’t sleep last night. We were parked for the evening at one of those free rest areas by the side of the road, but there was no one else around us. All the scary tales were in my head the entire night. We have heard many stories of suffering (or worse) travellers and have always thought how stupid and naive they were to put themselves in such situations. And yet, here we were last night in the middle of nowhere, alone, in a tent. If somebody wants to harm us there is absolutely nothing that can stop them. Up here, I am not scared of animals, we are out of their reach. But any ill-thinking human can puncture tyres and climb a ladder. Every sound of a leaf in the wind is like human steps. Until two o’clock I made myself stay awake - out of fear. After that, I managed to fall asleep but I still woke up a few times to picture somebody planning to harm us.
This morning, I am completely exhausted and feel like after a night of heavy drinking. And there is still a long day ahead of us. In Eucla (the border city in Western Australia) we stop to have coffee. It might not be good for my nerves, but right now I need the energy that it gives. Also, a few days ago one of our camp neighbours warned us to fuel up on this side of the border as only 15 kilometres further the prices will be obscene. Oh, how right she was! Here we fill up petrol at 153 cents. On the other side, we specifically drive through the station to see the difference - 229 cents!!! Thank you, unknown camp neighbour!
In the first few kilometres of South Australia, we stop to take a picture of a giant kangaroo statue, holding Vegemite next to a tall pole of signs indicating the main cities on the continent. I will tell you a little about this new state, but first, let's not leave this new word as an enigma. For non-British and non-Australians - Vegemite is something completely unknown, although in the United Kingdom they call it Marmite. This is one of those food products that there is a complete division for. You either can’t live without it, or just the smell of it makes you sick.
Marmite (or Vegemite) is usually spread on a toast with a bit of butter. It is a sub-product of the beer industry, made entirely by the leftover yeast. It is a brown colour with a thick consistency. The flavour is very strong and very salty. If you have ever tried a stock cube, beef, for example, that is the exact taste it has. But on a toast. Nic and I are from the few people that can live in a middle point. I can take it in limited quantities, mixed into something else and Nic likes it on toast but is far from dependent on it.
Territorially, South Australia is the fourth-biggest state Down Under, but population-wise it is only fifth place … out of six. Similarly to Western Australia, the population here is heavily centralised in the state capital Adelaide. In comparison - the population of the next biggest city in the state Mount Gambier is 45 times smaller than that of the capital. Every state in Australia is famous for something specific. They call Queensland “the sunshine state”, while Victoria is the “education” state. This one is chosen to be a “festival” or a “wine” centre and is also the only state to border all other continental states.
I also can’t miss the opportunity to address the name. South Australia … But the one before was WestERN Australia. Not to mention there is also a Northern Territory. And how exactly do New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland fit into any of this? I don’t know who did the naming, but I am not sure they did their job properly. Or is this just a proof of the laziness of Australians that can never pronounce a word in its full form (e.g. mozzies for mosquitoes, Aussies for Australians, robe for wardrobe or bathers for swimwear)?
With this valuable information of the state, as well as Vegemite, we can boldly enter into the essence of this territory.
On the way, we stop at Penong which is already colourfully decorated for the upcoming holidays. Christmas trees made from pallets, wooden white-bearded Santas, reindeer and sleighs. There are even hay bales arranged in pyramids with the faces of snow-men drawn on them or even more festive trees. They know how to lift the spirits in this small, empty and dusty village. Our drive to the lunch spot is halted by Bertie’s new pretences. For a while now, he has been refusing to keep any of the cooling liquid which means that we have to stop every two hours, wait for the engine to cool down and top up the coolant with water. What nice experiences from life on the Australian roads … Yes, this was literature sarcasm.
Although we have been in this new state for quite a while, we are only now reaching the border point to check for biohazards. With confidence, we show our two onions and the officer doesn’t believe there is nothing else in the car. We explain how we suffered almost two months ago and he quickly understands our preparedness. Anyway, onions aren’t considered dangerous so it doesn’t need to end up in the bin and we take them back.
As we are driving calmly, I start to panic. Tonight we are sleeping at a paid campsite and its reception desk will have working hours. Having crossed the border, however, our clocks have jumped ahead two and a half hours. Our arrival will be long after those working hours. We call them, explain the situation and ask for them to wait. Okay, there is no problem, we will be accepted.
We drive through the gates at half eight when they are open till six. But the manager lives in one of the caravans here, so he only has to put down his beer for a bit. He doesn’t want to open up the office again today, so he sends us straight to our plot and we’ll pay tomorrow. The campsite is at the top of the cliffs. The view of the sea is wonderful from up here. The entire complex is organised and clean and it has everything. We share a small kitchen with an Italian family. They had taken it over for themselves. The fridges are full and the food has been cooking since the morning. Tomorrow we will see the grandma is literally stirring sauces from early morning while the young ones are exploring the area. Ha, to see how an Italian family travels.
The last travel story for 2019 is officially uploaded on the website. There are two more Saturdays before the end of the year, but with the guests soon to arrive I will not find time for anything. Time for bed. These extra two and a half hours are very useful.
With the time difference, today we wake up ready for adventures. We pass the Italians in the kitchen, put away the frozen water bottles with the produce and leave. We enter the town of Streaky Bay to look for a shop (I don’t remember why). We circle around for a bit but can’t find it. There is, however, a pier that looks perfect for a little walk.
The bay here doesn’t look like it is very closed off or protected but the ocean before us is, nevertheless, absolutely still. Just a small wave passes through just so the water isn’t a perfect mirror. But we can’t see any foam. I think this is a first for an ocean landscape. We need to thank the Universe for bringing us here. Or more exact to the toilets coming back from the pier, and we didn’t even consider stopping in the town. On the back of the door in the toilet, there is a poster with the tourists' sights in the area. We are going to Point Labatt.
A colony of Australian sea lions live at this cape - completely unimaginably wonderful. We are observing them from the edge of the cliff while they sleep down on the sands and the rocks. From this distance, we need to look very closely to ensure they aren’t simply dead as their laziness is overpowering. We stay for so long to just observe them through the binoculars and to laugh at them. On land, they are so clumsy and clumsy while in the water an incomparable graciousness is uncovered. Within this area, we can see at least a hundred seals, each of them doing a different thing. We become cross-eyed trying to follow the activities of each one. And their home is so incredibly beautiful - how can we leave when they are for you to be visiting them. Well, see how the Universe brought us here.
Afterwards, we return to Nic’s original plan for the day and head towards the other ocean cliff formation to the east. Unfortunately, other than the wonderful diversion in the morning, we don’t have much luck for the rest of the day. The cliff cave is closed because of an obstructed path, the ‘Tub’ offers nothing interesting to see and reaching Ucontichi Hill is sabotaged by Bertie’s silly needs. The cooling liquid is so hot in the radiator that we can hear the bubbling from inside the car.
We stop in the first village to let Bertie relax as best he can. We even find a hairdresser to deal with Nic’s out-of-control hair. His mother-in-law is coming, after all, he can’t be this improper. The hairdresser, willingly or simply just patiently, listens to our travelling story. Once again we collect unbelieving reactions for the craziness we have undertaken but now it is the standard.
Bertie manages to get us to the campsite where we take a lot of pictures and carefully list all his extras to upload an online advert to sell him. We will be back in Sydney in exactly two weeks and we have to get used to the thought that we will separate from him. That we will pass him to his next tenants and co-travellers. And tonight we stick to an obligatory Christmas tradition - we watch “Love Actually”. Christmas can’t come without Hugh Grant at 10 Downing Street, Emma Thompson hurt by Alan Rickman or Bill Nighy naked playing the guitar.
Did anything even happen today? That happens too sometimes - from endless moping and not making decisions, the day passes as if it never happened.
In the morning we enter Port Augusta, in which we think there is plenty to be seen; Well… there isn’t. And there is no escape from the heat. The endless driving through the Nullarbor gave us exactly a day of headway. Now we have lost it. Nic wants to reach the camping as early as possible but I am so glad we changed the plans. What would we have done in an empty field all this time - just dry up like raisins.
With an orange card in hand we head to the local café and after that to the library. We make a sign to welcome mum and dad at the airport. You never know … maybe Australia has changed us so much that they wouldn’t recognise us at the terminal tomorrow. After an unsuccessful attempt to draw koalas, kangaroos and other Australian animals, we switch to a simple but sure design. In the end, we manage the sign and I even caught up with the entire diary as I will fall a lot behind again when they arrive.
On the way to the campsite, we stop twice for about fifteen minutes to let Bertie cool down. We fill up water. Tomorrow the car is booked in for full service so fingers crossed all issues will be fixed and we will successfully reach Sydney, this time in a larger group.
Arriving at the campsite coincides with the time mum and dad arrived at Sofia airport. We do a quick call. Mum confirmed that all went well and they are waiting at the gate. She was so worried there might be some mistake that she is almost crying with relief and excitement. After all, things are happening as planned. After dinner, we pack all our luggage so we can leave early in the morning. The car needs to be in the garage as early as possible. Good night, Bertie, sleep well. Safe flight, mum and dad! Only 24 hours!
The extremes of Australia are known to everyone. From the Nothing to the Everything. Gradually getting to know them is well established for us. But even we haven’t yet had the opportunity to pass from one to the other so abruptly. One day we are within the wonderful abundance of the national parks and the next one we are imperceptibly driving through hundreds of kilometres of desert. Within 48 hours. Within some ridiculous 100 kilometres.
Vassya (and Nic)