Adelaide to Perth Tour
A minibus with a big yellow trailer pulls up to the curb outside of our hostel in Adelaide. “I’m guessing this is it,” Dan remarks. Nullarbor Traveller – adventures to wild places is printed across the side, and Sandy jumps out of the driver’s seat to greet us. A 10 day Adelaide to Perth tour awaits – all packed into a 20 seater bus and a trailer.
As we collected the rest of the passengers the bus filled with a muddle of accents and languages in excited tones. These voices were later to become familiar; a conversation about a shared memory or a getting-to-know-you story. Those first few days across the Nullarbor unknowingly created the foundations for great friendships and memories.
Alligator Gorge in the Flinders Ranges
Day 1 we arrived at Alligator Gorge in the Flinders Ranges to do the first of many hikes. The descent into the gorge was stunning. We traipsed over rock beds and marvelled up at the reds and oranges in the rock formations above us. ‘Imagine a flash flood,’ Dan said as we all lingered around an enormous gum tree, obviously uprooted and swept in by a huge storm. I could see the outline of risen water and the traces of where it would have been on the natural rock walls. We paused for a moment to take it all in.
That night we set up camp at Warren Gorge. I thought I would freeze, thought the swags would be uncomfortable, thought the outdoors would be too much and I’d have to sleep in the bus. But after a moment of lying in my swag beholding the magnificent stars above me there was no way I’d be sleeping anywhere else. I’d never seen a night sky so full. It was like a dazzling chandelier, suspended from the heavens and we were all lucky enough to be falling asleep to the natural display of beauty. No air pollution, no noise, just the 14 of us in pure Australian countryside. I slept easily, this night and every other night of the tour.
Meet the Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby
Day 2 we trickled out of the gorge sleepy eyed and starting to warm up and were greeted by yellow-footed rock wallabies – 6 or 7 of them – scattered across the road and spotted out among the rocks. ‘There are so many today!’ Sandy cooed, and this was just the beginning of the animals we were to see. The amount wildlife between Adelaide and Perth is like nothing I’d ever experienced.
‘Wedgie!’ Sandy would exclaim from the driver’s seat as we cruised along the Nullarbor. We’d all lean forward and peer out of our windows to see a massive wedge-tailed eagle stretched out, gliding through the sky. There were emus scattered across yellow plains, kangaroos hopping across the highway, a wild camel we all got out of the bus to admire, lizards, dolphins, sea lions, stingrays, dingos, parrots… I have never seen so many animals in their natural habitats. Not in a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary, but the real-life versions of those ‘Visit Australia’ postcards.
One of our best nights was spent at Coodlie Park on the South West Coast of the stunning Eyre Peninsula. On arrival we were greeted by Hassie and Jo (the owners of Coodlie Park and Nullarbor Traveller), their gorgeous dog Maggie and a delicious home cooked barbecue. All of the facilities at Coodlie were impeccable. We sat at the long tables to eat and swap stories with other travellers who were also staying, and later around a gorgeous campfire to warm up and roast marshmallows. Everyone enjoyed a surprisingly warm and comfortable ‘bucket shower,’ and once clean and full-bellied we settled in for another easy rest in our swags in the homemade ‘swag huts’ Hassie and Jo so thoughtfully built.
The next day we drove to Baird Bay and pulled up to Baird Bay Eco Tours to swim with sea lions and dolphins. Allen and Jack had us out in the boat, explaining that these creatures are wild animals that are curious but not to be touched, not to be underestimated. More importantly, he advised to ‘have fun with them. Play.’
The water was cold on entrance, freezing me up to the point of having to take a few deep breaths to get steady, but as soon as we saw the sea lions beneath us with their pups darting, dancing, torpedoing in playful, quick movements through the water, all thoughts about the temperature were long gone. The largest sea lion took a liking to me which at first was a little unnerving (they are much bigger and quicker in the water than they look from the boat!), but as he came right up to me, swimming around and around in circles, making me dizzy trying to spin to face him, I realised that there was nothing to be afraid of. I dove down and played the game. We swam around each other, bobbing up and out of the water from time to time and he got so close to my face he even gave me a little wet and whiskery kiss! Sea lions are such beautiful, inquisitive creatures – swimming with them had to be one of the best life experiences I’ve ever had. For sure.
Discover gnome gardens, budgerigars at the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse
The 1660km drive across the infamous Eyre Highway and the Nullarbor Plain was long but not unwelcome. We stopped at the multitude of iconic road signs and took in the quirks at each roadhouse – gnome gardens and budgerigars at Cocklebiddy, the SkyLab museum at Balladonia, the windmill-appreciation rife in Penong – all these tiny in between places so far from the tourist trail or any major city it was hard to believe they existed at all.
We were also lucky enough to just miss a thunderstorm on the way to Cocklebiddy. Lightning cracked in bright bolts to our right and we endured a sprinkle of rain, while to the left of the highway smoke billowed out from an enormous bushfire. The Nullarbor Plain acted as a line drawn in the sand down the middle of nature’s fury. It was wild and powerful and we all stared in awe at the unbelievable, brooding landscape either side of us. Amazed and relieved to make it to Cocklebiddy Roadhouse and then on to camp safe and dry, we were all reminded that this is the Outback, we were at the very hands of nature’s will and it was exhilarating.
Cape Le Grand National Park
Finishing the Nullarbor Plain and Eyre Highway saw us a bit over halfway to Perth and down to the picturesque coastal town of Esperance. We stocked up on some food and drinks and then kept on to our next campsite at Cape Le Grand National Park.
“Everyone had a ‘woah’ moment at the expansive Lucky Bay”
The descent into the National Park was breathtaking. Everyone had a ‘woah’ moment at the expansive Lucky Bay with its pure white sand and clear blue water materialised in front of us, ‘…and this will be the view from our campsite for the next two nights,’ Sandy confirmed. A bird flew alongside the bus as we trailed in and I remember feeling as if this was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.
We had a sleep in the next morning and then headed off to hike a rock-face called ‘Frenchman Peak.’ It was Sven’s birthday so there were party hats aplenty and everyone was in great spirits. After the hike we drove down to Hellfire Bay for a swim and lunch.
I have lived in Australia my entire life, and I have to rate Hellfire Bay as the most stunning beach I have ever seen. The sand was soft and pure white, the water so clear you could see your feet with beautiful big waves rolling in. Four salmon swam through the water and we were the only ones on the beach… it was absolute paradise. Definitely takes out my number one for beaches in Australia, and I’ve seen a few.
Time to build an ‘Aussie Snowman’ at Thistle Cove
We all took the 2 – 3-hour hike from Hellfire to back to Lucky Bay. The entirety of the journey was a photo opportunity it was so scenic. We stopped and swam again and admired some massive sperm whale bones at Thistle Cove, and even built an ‘Aussie Snowman’ in the sand.
‘We’re going off itinerary a little bit today,’ Sandy called back from the driver seat as we left our campsite, ‘because Twilight Beach is one of my favourite beaches and the weather is just too perfect to miss out on it.’
She didn’t disappoint. Yet another perfect beach with crystal clear water and white sands. We swam out to the granite formations in the middle of the ocean and played beach cricket, teaching everyone the rules and having a run around really made it feel like an Australian summer.
Australia’s West Coast is spectacular and remarkably pristine. We almost always had the beach to ourselves and the water was perfection every time. It was surreal.
The coastline journey extended into the Margaret River region. After lunch at Prevelly Beach we dressed in op shop goodies for wine tasting in ‘bad taste.’ By this stage we were all great mates and the ridiculous outfits contrasted against the serious backdrop of a winery was absolutely hilarious. The servers poured the wine and we pretended to be connoisseurs for a few hours, visiting the lovely Cape Mentelle winery and Providore Winery. A particular favourite was the chocolate liqueur tasting, and later the Margaret River Chocolate Company. By the time we got Big Valley Campground we were giddy, warm from the wine and full of sweet chocolate, so set our swags up in a big nostalgic circle to make the most of the last night with good friends.