The Uphill Gardener
Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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That last chunk of Nullarbor is a killer jaunt, an absolute mare of a jaunt. Even with half-decent weather and fresh with familiarity it's still painfully longer than you'd ever expect.
As soon as you leave the Caiguna roadhouse you're almost instantly on the 'big straight', Australia's longest stretch of straight road. It's a real back-breaker - no bends, no change in speed limit, no momentary relief and no change in scenery. In fact, there's not a smidgen of deviation for 146.6 tedious kilometres, absolutely nothing, until you finally see the long-awaited and overly inviting sign for Balladonia (which upon arrival turns out to be yet another petrol station with adjoining toilet. 'Are you sure this isn't just one big dream?'
By the time we'd lunched roadside at Balladonia (freshly hacked chorizo with baked beans, 'English Recipe' baked beans) we'd already eaten into the early afternoon - the constant battle and bicker with the crows contributing to much of the time consumption. Crows make the most ridiculous noise I've ever heard, especially when they rejoice in full chorus as they break into your car and prize out a pack of 2-minute noodles to rip apart in a frenzied assault. Shocking creatures.
Leaving Balladonia was probably where we saw the main bloom of change along this whole stretch: abundant red soil, the hallmark of crossing Australia's outback and everything I'd expected crossing the Nullarbor to be. It wasn't long before we took an excitable u-bolt and screamed right back to the scene of a shocking roadside spectacle. 'Roadkill over-kill' is the only way to describe it. Look at the pics. I shit you not, it was almost as big as the car!
Having battled through almost fifteen hundred kilometres of barren void without amenity or luxury, the little outback town of Norseman is everything you DON'T want to see, and really wouldn't expect to see - not if maps are anything to go by. On the map, Norseman is deceptively inaccurate. The letters are bright and bold, nothing like the tiny incidental stops along the Nullarbor stretch, and so you're easily enticed with all sorts of 'real world' treats like roads, buildings and human-beings. Looking forward to getting there makes all the neck-ache, back-ache and body-ache associated with that final jaunt worthwhile. And then you arrive in Norseman - a sleepy, featureless outback town with dodgy and suspicious radiating out of every vacant corner. The locals live tucked away among the dust and haggard trees in what look like thrown together structures of corrugated tin with half blocked out windows. Makes you wonder how they live or survive here, let alone why on earth they would want to. Besides the petrol station, skate park and tiny IGA dairy, it seems there's absolutely nothing else to see or do. Only occasionally will you see one of the locals poking around in a hurried and suspicious manner, as if they really don't want to be seen. Seriously. It's all very confusing.
They say Norseman's a bit of a has-been, in that it's been drained of its riches and left for dead, as it were. To ride through it now I couldn't for the life of me picture the booming little gold-mining community (one of the richest in Western Australia) it once was. Now it just sort of exists. Vaguely. And no sooner have you slowed down enough to enter it, you're speeding up again to leave it, which works out well if you're headed east as you wouldn't really want to be hanging around here for much other than a re-fuel. Unfortunately for us west-headers, this little village of gloom is positioned awkwardly and inconveniently between Kalgoorlie in the north and Esperance in the south. To take either of these roads after a grueller of a ride would mean adding a further two-hundred kilometres or so to the whole discomfort. We had to stay.
There's a 2k hill around here somewhere ('Beacon Hill' I think) which apparently gives fleeting panoramic views for miles around. Our arrival coincided perfectly with the setting sun, and so we pulled up at an old hotel to ask directions. The guy there was an uphill gardener and told us that they've closed the access road to the lookout for a few days, but added that his rooms were much better to look at anyway, and that we should look at them. He seemed more than keen for us to check them out. Too keen for my liking, though we humoured him anyway and took the tour with clenched buttocks. My god. The place was huge. They call it The Railway* and it's a bit of a proud resurrection/creation on the old fella's part. It's Art Deco by design and was built, so he says, around 1937. He told us fondly of how it was all falling apart when he found it. To look at it now - gleaming with character - you can tell he's put years of sweat and coin in to it. As well as the restaurant, bar and a roaring fire to welcome you in, it's got a gymnasium, heated spa, outdoor seating, and a couple of sizy comfotable chillout areas to soak up. All this butters you up superbly before you're dazzled with his prize possession: the spa-room - a spacious and exceedingly comfortable 'suite' containing two doubles, a TV/DVD player (with walls of DVD's to choose from) and a huge heated spa pool in the adjoining bathroom, all on offer for $80. It was mint, absolutely mint, and offered the kind of luxury I haven't lapped up in a very long time. I shook my head and started talking budgets and stuff and he interrupted abruptly. 'How about fifty?'
He wasn't messing about. He sorely needed our custom and that was exactly the way to get it.
So of the whole trip so far, tonight was our night of extravagance, the perfect round off to our crossing of the Nullarbor Plains.
*(If you're passing through and on a budget, 'The Railway' is by far the cheapest and best value accommodation we've encountered on this whole route. Double rooms are as low as $30 (breakfast and endless hot drinks included) with all the amenities mentioned above thrown in too. And the dog. You'll love the dog..)
Kilometres eaten: 3638
Where I stayed
The Railway Motel