Arrival on The Last Continent

Andy riding the Eyre Highway

The landing in Perth was rough, the plane bounced a few times before rumbling to a stop; an omen of the journey ahead, perhaps.

My feelings at having reached the final continent were mixed. I was looking forward to seeing my family, who were making the trip over to see me, my Dad arriving into Perth and my Mother meeting us later, near Adelaide. Nicola would be making it to Sydney to see us cross the finish line in 3 months time with my brother, Phil.

Beyond the finish line, things looked a little hazy. A future filled with uncertainty is scary, but also exciting.

During our time in Perth we stayed with Nicola’s Aunt Kim and Uncle Peter. Great hosts, cooking up comfort food, like lasagne, the foods we missed from home.

Another reminder of home was the sight of my Dad meeting us at the airport. I hadn’t seen him since he Skype-bombed a call between mum and me in Iran, 9 months ago! He looked better than he did then. While we’d been away my parents had sold their cows and my Dad had a hip operation.

Kim’s delicious meals were helping us to pile one the pounds so we decided to shed some weight. A trip to QC hairdressers in the city centre relieved me of my ‘rock star’ long locks. I hated the mullet cut and felt quite self-conscious about walking around Perth CBD, I wish we’d set the fund raising target for The Full Bogan at £2000.

Rocking the bogan look in Australia

Worth £2000 at least!

After a few days we moved to the north of Perth to stay with Matt’s friend, Louise and her family. From here it was easier to get out of Perth and onto the open road.

The first day back on the bikes was tough as we were battered by strong winds, then torrents of ice-cold rain that morphed into hail! We hadn’t expected the weather to be so ferocious or so cold and 8 weeks off the bikes meant we almost needed stabilisers to stay upright.

The Reid Highway led us away from one of the most isolated cities in the world, toward the sparse outback of Western Australia. As we progressed Perth’s suburbs petered out to rolling hills. The pastures, now green, would soon turn brown under a baking sun. The distance between towns also began to increase.

Norseman was the last town we’d pass through until we reached Ceduna at the end of the famous Eyre Highway. Named after explorer, John Edward Eyre, who was the first white man to cross from East to West along the southern coast.

Many people make a pilgrimage across the desert; retirees driving top-of-the-range 4x4s, towing luxurious caravans larger than a London flat. It was, we thought, overkill, as the roads were sealed with smooth tarmac.

Sometimes we were lucky to get a shoulder to ride along. When we didn’t we were always alert to the threat posed to the biggest killer on these roads: The Road Trains. Leviathans towing huge loads to and from the mines in the red centre and the ports of Freemantle in the west and Melbourne in the east.

A Road Train on the Highway

Constant reminders to be careful came in the form of road kill. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, wombats, sleepy lizards, snakes and even camel corpses lined the road. The sight of mashed intestines, spinal columns and half-opened skulls exposing brain matter to the hungry crows like an horrific paté. The stench, though, was what got to me. An almost constant whiff of sickly sweet decay filled the roadside, sometimes it was overwhelming; you could almost taste the rotting flesh.

We had taken care, when planning the crossing of the Nullarbor, to make sure we’d cross with the winds at our back. It was disappointing, then, that we had headwinds for most of the ride. The winds, and the temperatures grew in strength as we moved further east.

The heat forced us to drink 4 – 6 litres per day but the lack of water in Western Australia meant it was charged at a premium (1.25 litres cost around $7) and not given freely. Often we were refused potable water from roadhouse kitchens and had to use saline bore water from the restrooms. It was disgusting but it’s surprising what you can pallet when parched.

Lack of water warning sign

It was with some relief that we made Cedunda, the end of the Eyre Highway. I was happy to have made it across the Nullarbor and celebrated with a beer.

The journey wasn’t over yet – we still had to cross the Eyre Peninsula that was just as bloody windy as the desert. To add to our annoyance the increased pasture land in South Australia also meant an increase in flies.

Whenever stationary, to eat or to drink, our faces became surrounded by a cloud of the buzzing menace. They preferred our nostrils, mouths and eyes instead of the rich pickings of the wombat corpses and turds that they’d enjoyed until we rode past.

Lucky Bay was where we’d catch the ferry to Wallaroo. I wish I’d known this before reaching Cowell along the east coast of the peninsula. I’d worked hard to get there with 30 minutes to spare before the last ferry at 4pm. But the ferry port was a further 15km up the road. Determined not to let my hard work go to waste I began to ride at lightening pace to the bay. I made it in time to watch the ferry depart from behind a ubiquitous veil of flies. I had missed it by 2 minutes.

The next day I was sure to be there before 10am for the first ferry of the day. Having safely stowed Colin, with all the bungee cords I could muster, I went up to the passenger deck for my morning cup of coffee and to write.

I was surprised to see my mum stood waiting for me at the coffee bar, her face in a grimace; half smiling, half fighting back the tears. I didn’t hold back on my shock and dropped the f-bomb. Luckily we were in Australia where swearing is allowed and, quite possibly, compulsory.

Had I caught the previous day’s ferry I’d have missed them and Mum wouldn’t have been awarded a bottle of champagne for being the 25’000th passenger. Lucky bay indeed.

It was great to see the folks. Mum confessed to not being totally won over by Australia. She struggled to cope with hours spent travelling in a car through a monotonous landscape. I didn’t mention that 1 hour by car at 100 kph is a day’s ride for us.

The next day we by-passed central Adelaide and headed for the hills south of the city to spend time with Robyn and Lyn Austin. Parents of our good mate, Julian.

We enjoyed some fantastic scenery on the ride to our hosts environmentally friendly home in Stirling. The hills offered us glimpses over the city of Adelaide below.

The Old Mount Barker Road weaved through eucalyptus forest. It was some of the steepest road we’ve had to ride but allowed us to see some of the colourful wildlife; red, yellow and green rosellas squawked at us from the trees and we even saw a koala and her baby perched in the fork of a eucalyptus.

Koala perched in eucalyptus with her baby

Koala cradling her baby

Arrival in Adelaide marked the end of the most testing part of our travels through Australia. After 3 weeks of solid riding, it was time to relax.


PS. Here’s our final Saddle Saga article from the Telegraph Online

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