Bendigo used to be a gold rush boomtown in the 1850s and the legacy of this era still shows today. The city has lovely Victorian architecture and interesting history. Today, it’s a beautiful green city with the lush, green Rosalind Park right by the city centre, trams, stately buildings and a lot of large established trees.
The Golden Dragon Museum has some seriously impressive artifacts and is very interesting to visit to understand more about Chinese history in Australia. It is an absolute must see attraction in Bendigo!
The Bendigo Botanic Gardens is not too big but lovely. It has some more established areas and also some newer zones which are clearly very well planted and planned. In a few years when the trees grow up, this newer area will be a real treasure to the city!
To the north of the city is the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. This is an impressive structure and was designed to last 1000 years. It’s quite new and unfinished. There is still scaffolding and work being carried out inside. Nevertheless, there is plenty here to make it worth a visit. It clearly tries to be a multi denominational place as it contains shrines to a number of different religions.
The Murray River is not the prettiest with its greenish, dark, tannin stained water but it is the lifeblood of the towns that it runs through and is central to the Australians that live in the region for work and for recreation. Vast fields of grapes, almonds, oranges, olives are grown by the Murray. It is also used for jet skiing, water skiing, speed boating, kayaking, houseboating and loads of other water recreational activities. In earlier days, the Murray was used for transportation of goods. We passed by Mannum, Berri, Renmark, Mildura, Swan Hill, Lake Boga and Echuca.
The Murray river has to be carefully managed to ensure fair distribution of water and environmental management. Sadly it is also infested with carp which is an invasive species and hurts the native fish and ecology. There are a number of locks and lifting bridges along the Murray.
Driving across the Nullarbor is a bucket list item that every Australian should do at least once in their lives. We drove 1400km west from Esperance in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia over 3 days, stopping overnight at Baxter Rest Area (between Caiguna and Belladonia), Bunda Cliffs campgrounds and Ceduna.
Nullarbor is Latin for “no trees” but we did not find this to be true as there was plenty of vegetation and trees along the journey. The vegetation did change with the journey but some of land is potentially more fertile (albeit more remote) than other parts of Australia we have seen. It could be possibly used for livestock grazing. We were led to believe that the drive would be long and boring but in reality, the scenery was not as featureless as other parts of remote, regional Australia. A stark reminder of the remoteness were the occasional Royal Flying Doctor Service airstrips we saw on the drive.
We started our Nullarbor journey in Esperance. The most striking thing about Esperance is the startlingly blue colour of the water. It’s exquisite albeit icy cold! It’s worth spending some time here and preparing for the journey ahead because from here, it gets much less populated!
After heading off from Esperance, we stopped for a picnic lunch stop in Norseman. From there, we drove on and visited the free museum at Belladonia which has pieces of NASA’s Skylab space station which re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and fell near Belladonia in 1979. As there were still daylight hours, we pushed on and overnighted at the free Baxter Rest Stop. There was only a couple of other vehicles that overnighted here.
The next day, we drove on. The intention was to overnight at Eucla Motel and Caravan Park. The motel building looks very new and modern. It must have been recently built. When we tried to check-in for an unpowered campsite, the honest manager told us we should go 12kms down the road to Border Village where we could have an unpowered campsite for half the price! Fancy turning down business in such a remote location!
When we got to Border Village, we decided to freshen up with some hot showers at $3 for 5 minutes and then drive on to camp with a view of the Great Australian Bight. For the night, we free camped at the Bunda Cliffs Campground. On this occasion, it was extremely windy. It is possible to camp right on the cliff’s edge but we chose to shelter further back in amongst some dunes. The view at the cliffs is spectacular.
The next day, once we got into Nundroo, it felt like the remoteness of the Nullarbor was over. There were more signs of human impact and civilisation e.g. fence posts and fields. The landscape also was less flat.
We were happy to see Ceduna and to camp at a lovely waterfront caravan park with lush green grass. The remoteness of the Nullarbor was now behind us and we are thankful for being able to cross it without incident.
It is important to prepare properly for crossing the Nullarbor. Ensure you carry a generous amount of drinking water. Bring insect repellant and watch out for the horrible, large March Flies. They are horrid biting things!
There is a lot of road train traffic that cross the Nullarbor trucking goods back and forth. It can be quite nerve-wrecking passing these massive vehicles at speed and getting a stone chip in the windscreen is always a possibility. Carry a windscreen repair kit and hold your nerve as you pass these big trucks!
Understand the fuel prices and locations to obtain fuel on the journey. Write them down before you leave a larger stop like Esperance or Ceduna and understand the distances, your fuel tank capacity and decide where to fill up to minimise cost. This was our list of diesel prices and it is clear, there is a massive variation in price.
Norseman $AUD 177.2c/L
Belladonia $AUD 204.2c/L
Caiguna $AUD 210c/L
Cocklebiddy $AUD 212c/L
Madura $AUD 208c/L
Mundrabilla $AUD 199c/L
Eucla $AUD $AUD 199c/L
Border Village $AUD 221c/L
Nullarbor Roadhouse $AUD 222c/L
Nundroo $AUD 165.9c/L
Penong $AUD 165.9c/L
Ceduna $AUD 156.9c/L
There are stops along the Nullarbor where fuel and food and be purchased. They will have toilets which are very clean, motel and caravan park facilities. Shower facilities can be used for a nominal fee and the staff in these remote stops are professional and friendly. I had to wonder about these people who do these jobs in these unbelievably remote locations. What is their story and how did they end up living and working in such remote locations?
There are a lot of straight roads and great distances involved when crossing the Nullarbor. The upside is that it is possible to see a great distance ahead for overtaking. The downside is that it can get boring and it would be easy to fall asleep. Don’t drive at dusk as the animals venture out at this time. Take rest breaks. There are well signed rest stops along the way. Understand how you will stay alert during the drive. We downloaded a heap of podcasts for the long journey to keep us entertained.
Finally, for those on the Optus network, there is no mobile reception. There may be some Wifi at some roadhouses e.g. Border Village and Nullarbor Roadhouse but don’t rely on it.
Lovely Adelaide and in fact, South Australia as a whole, often flies under the radar when pitted against the other capital cities and states in Australia. It shouldn’t! This state has plenty going for it and is a real quiet achiever. When driving around South Australia, a vast area in the north is desert. The more southern areas are all about wheat growing and wind power. When compared to the other states, it is clear that South Australia is much more serious about renewable power.
When it comes to handling Covid, South Australia has managed the pandemic without the strong handed tactics of Western Australia or the more relaxed approach of New South Wales. I think a lot of credit goes to South Australians. As a people, they show strong community spirit as demonstrated in their small regional towns which are without fail, “neat as a pin” and the way they all comply with the wearing of masks and checking in for contract tracing. As someone who has been through every state except for Tasmania during 2021, the contact tracing QR code check in software is the best in South Australia. The QR code scanner is so sensitive that you barely have to break your stride to check in when entering a retail premise.
Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia is a stately city with lovely, well cared for, old buildings sitting side by side and in great contrast with their modern counterparts. The city centre is very flat and has good cycling infrastructure. The CBD is clearly a result of town planning with the grid like street configuration and the green space that surrounds the city on all sides. The food scene is also ever improving in this lovely city.
Bluff Knoll is the highest peak of the southern region of Western Australia. It’s about an hour from Albany and is worth making a day trip to climb to the summit. It takes about half a day to go up and down. It was an anticlimax to reach the top because there was no marker at the top to denote it as the summit. It’s always obligatory to take a picture with the summit marker to prove that you’ve done it but no marker could be found! Also, on the day and time we went, we were above the clouds when we reached the top and it was so misty that any view was non-existent. It makes for very average photos! On the upside, the cloudy weather meant that the climbing could be done at cooler temperatures. During our descent, the clouds started to clear so we could start to see the view.
The Granite Skywalk, Castle Rock is about half way between Albany and Bluff Knoll. Both attractions can be done on one day as we did but we were quite exhausted after two big climbs in one day. The Granite Skywalk climb is easier and shorter than the Bluff Knoll until the optional rock scramble part at the top. There is a lookout viewpoint which doesn’t involve doing the rock scramble but if you do the rock scramble part, you can access a higher more picturesque view point. It’s quite a difficult section with handholds fastened into the rock to assist people in climbing or scrambling up the rock. Clearly, the handholds were measured for average sized adult humans and quite tricky for smaller builds! To get to the top, there is a steel ladder which can be quite confronting for those with a fear of heights. The view from the lookout point at the top is very special and panoramic.