Australia: a world of extremes
Esperance - Cape Le Grand NP - Norseman - Nullabor Plane
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In Australia everything is extreme. When coming from Holland, where everything is cultivated, under control and extremes are shunned, Australia is simply to much. The space is endless, the colors are brilliant, the surf of the ocean is on many places extremely dangerous, a bushfire destroys a space equal to Holland and also the weather is extreme. More about that later.
Talking about extremes Cape Le Grand NP is a nice example. Impressive granite hills, endless plains covered with heather, rounded bays protected by granite rocks from the ocean, with incredible white sand, the water shifting from transparent white to a very light blue to azure to turquoise and towards the ocean to dark blue. We spend a lot of time in Lucky Bay, so beautiful and quiet a place I will never forget. Kangaroos are playing on the beach. Later on, when we drive further to Rossiter Bay, we see a lot of Kangaroos, grazing on the plains. They take little notice of us, when we come to close they jump a bit further on and start grazing again.
Back in Esperance we notice clouds packing in the sky again. Yesterday an impressive thunderstorm followed the yellow clouds and these strangely dark gray clouds with a touch of green promise trouble. We don’t mind about a thunderstorm, our tent stands solid and is waterproof, furthermore we are in a cafeteria right now. About once each two weeks our e-mail session takes 2 till 3 hours (the record is 3 hours 45 minutes, later on in New Zealand) when I give a full coverage of our travel experiences to our families and friends. This time luckily we just check our e-mail and send only a few replies. We pay and start discussing what we will do for dinner, when we notice that it has suddenly become quite dark. We walk towards the window and look at the threatening dark clouds through a strange haze of very dark green light. We hear a strange noise and suddenly the air is filled with hail. Enormous hailstones jump on the ground and crash on our car, which is standing totally unprotected some 30 meters away. A flash of lighting for a second illuminates the whole city followed by a vociferous thunderclap and total darkness. The woman who owns the cafeteria lights a candle. The tiny insecure light only seems to add to the darkness. Another visitor of the cafeteria decides to take the risk, opens the door and dives to his car parked right in front of the cafeteria. He keeps a bag above his head in a futile attempt to protect himself against the hailstones.
We are alone now with the woman of the cafeteria. The noise of the hail hitting the roof is deafening. I hear only the hail but the woman starts screaming that she hears water running. Not so strange I think, but the water is inside the cafeteria and rapidly covers the storage room. Some minutes later I hear water also. Now the water is streaming from the wall over the freezers on the ground. Jac helps to move the freezers away from the wall. Water is everywhere. There is nothing we can do but wait. After some 15 minutes the force of the hail decreases and a car stops in front of the cafeteria. It is the husband. He opens his window and screams that there is a big problem in a hotel and that he is going over there. His wife screams back that the cafeteria is flooded. This information doesn’t make any impression and a moment later he waves and turns his car, a 4-wheel drive Range Rover, no unnecessary luxury in these circumstances. The water splashes high against the windows of the cafeteria and he disappears. By now the traffic starts again and we watch the first cars negotiating the roundabout in front of the cafeteria. The water reaches the top of the wheels and a car is stuck in the deepest part, the engine screams till the exhaust fills with water and the motor dies. We worry about going back to our camping without getting stuck and the woman, ignoring the water gathering around our feet, explains us in detail how we can get back to our camping. Very surprising that she puts her own much bigger worries away and takes the time to help us with our problem.
Outside we inspect our car. It is difficult to see much in the ongoing rain, but the damage seems not to bad. We take the road to the higher point of Esperance. Here is no water but a thick white layer of hail, which looks like snow. Leafs, blossom, broken branches and bigger parts of trees are laying everywhere. The electricity is still down and the whole city is covered in darkness. We have to drive very careful but reach our camping without problems. Luckily our tent is intact. I left my walking shoes in the first part of the tent, only protected by the outside tent. They are wet and each shoe contains one big hailstone, as big as a golf ball! It reminds me of Santa Claus. When I was a child we put our shoes in front of the stove in the nights just before the 5th of December and in the morning we found them filled with a chocolate letter or with a mandarin (again!). Since it is today the 4th of December this gift of hail golf balls seems very appropriate!
Some of the trees on our camping are totally damaged and as on the roads, leafs and parts of trees are scattered around. The tent of our neighbors is destroyed. The camper kitchen is also destroyed. Our neighbors, still very excited, explain how they saw the sky darkening and thought it wise to fixate their big tent a bit better. In doing so they probably sealed its fate, the sharp hailstones hit through the canvas in stead of bouncing off. Together with many other campers they were hiding in the camper kitchen. When the thunder started and the lights went out the children started to be frightened. Suddenly the roof collapsed and the hail was everywhere. This caused some real panic and people fled to their cars. Everybody was standing around now and talking about what happened. The locals explained that hailstorms were fairly common in Esperance (another well kept secret), but that this one was exceptional ferocious. The owner of the camping came to inspect the remains of his camper kitchen. We had to help him entering the kitchen because he didn’t knew his own code (on many camping the kitchen and/or the toilet block is protected by a number lock) and couldn’t see the numbers in the light of his torch. After two hours the electricity was still down and it was totally dark. The only light came from the sky, totally filled with stars more beautiful than I have ever seen. Stories went around about another terrible storm heading our way. The advise was to strike the tents and sleep in the car. I looked at the sky, so many stars, not even a tiny cloud and no wind at all. It didn’t feel natural. Jac and I were very impressed by the force of nature we just saw (extreme indeed!) and decided to play save and sleep in the car. We had nothing to eat but consoled ourselves with a bottle of wine.
We slept very badly and woke exceptionally early. Of course there hadn’t been a second storm tonight, but we’ll never know what would have happened if we hadn’t decided to strike the tent and sleep in the car. Probably we saved the whole of Esperance. Thank you. Our temper certainly didn’t improve when we saw in the drizzling morning light that our car was clearly damaged, bumps everywhere on the roof and the bonnet. There goes our 1000 Australian dollar guarantee. It is raining a bit but not very cold. We breakfast in the kitchen. The tables and floor are covered with a mixture of tree parts and Plexiglas and we have to choose our seats carefully in order to sit on a dry place, protected by a remaining part of the roof. We put the electricity - unplugged by the owner of the camping as a safety measure - on again. A strange smell gradually fills the kitchen. I worry that the remains of the kitchen will be destroyed by fire but Jac and our neighbor, who also slept badly, explain that it is only the fly killing device working overtime.
Before leaving Esperance we drive the ‘Tourist Loop’ or ‘Great Ocean Drive’, a route with great views on the ocean and the islands. Because of the bad weather we miss the spectacular colors of the water, but even in this rainy weather the drive is beautiful. From Esperance we drive 200 kilometer to the North to Norseman, where the Eyre highway starts. This is a 1600 kilometer long west-east ‘highway’ (only 1 lane on each side of course, like most Australian highways) through the totally deserted Nullabor Plane – bad Latin for ‘plane without trees’. You have to take your own supply of water and don’t forget to refuel regularly, since the distance between petrol stations is 100 to 200 kilometer and in between is nothing – not counting the dead kangaroos which you find every 100 meter next to the road. Enormous signboards warn us for kangaroos, emus and even dromedary! Beware also of planes, since parts of the road are used as emergency landing-zone. When something happens here you have a bit of a problem, there are no emergency telephones and mobile phones function only in the towns and cities in West Australia. We meet a few cars per hour, every driver waves enthusiastic. Now and then a so called ‘road train’ comes thundering towards us. Road trains are trucks with up to four trailers driving half asleep on top speed, far above the maximum of 110 km/hr. Better stay well out of their way. They are equipped with big ‘kangaroo racks’ in front and, especially when driving at twilight and night, responsible for a large part of the dead kangaroos. But they are not the only villains, as we will see later on…
At first the views are terrific and I make some pictures, carefully (beware of snakes) walking into the bush. After only some 100 meter I feel totally alone, an incredible experience. At night we camp in the bush in a camping place close to a petrol station. At dusk and dawn the air is filled with pink and white cockatoos. After two nights we still drive on the Eyre highway and the world is totally deserted. The landscape is extremely empty, no trees, no mountains, only a couple of low growing brown bushes. I’m relieved when at last we drive through a tiny village and see some children playing. Space and solitude is all very nice but again: a bit extreme for us Dutch!
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