Esperance to Caiguna

Traveling East from Esperance,it is first necessary to leave the coast behind and head North toward Norseman, “The Gateway to the East”. Here we turned right, and into the desert proper. Just prior to the longest stretch of straight road in Australia (all 146.6 kms of it) we refueled in Balladonia.

Balladonia, like many “towns” in the desert is really just a roadhouse with attached accomodation. Balladonia’s particular claim to qurky fame is that a large piece of Skylab crashed to Earth in 1979, after streaking spectacularly across the Western Australian sky above Esperance. The recovered junk (and yes, it os fairly large) is on display in the lovely little museum that is part of the Balladonia roadhouse complex (free to enter).

My favourite part is that apparently then President Jimmy Carter rang the manager of the roadhouse to apologise for the near miss and the inconvenience. Balladonia it should be stressed is in the middle of nowhere. Here in 2009 there is no mobile phone signal, no internet connectivity (the internet booth, which kind of looked like a computer built into a Space Invaders game console, was broken), and runs on diesel powered generators. What it would have been like in 1979 boggles the mind.

The image of President Carter sitting in the Oval Office talking to the manager of the roadhouse kept me amused for quite a while as I headed down the straight stretch of road heading toward our destination for the evening; Caiguna. I could only begin to imagine how All the President’s Men even managed to obtain the number for the roadhouse, let alone get patched through – 1979 obviously being before the days of the globally accessible information sources we now rely upon ubiquitously.

Ah….and then we have Caiguna.


Caiguna is a shithole.

Caiguna, like Balladonia, consist of no more than a petrol station with attached few rooms and a take-away style eatery. However, whilst Balladonia has capitalised on its 1979 brush with disaster and fame by building a quaint museum, Caiguna roadhouse looks like it hasn’t even been dusted off let alone painted since 1979.

Gee, I wish we had stayed back in Balladonia for the night (did I mention they have a swimming pool at the Balladonia roadhouse?). It was so bad it was sorely tempting to drive the 146 kms back along the road to Balladonia again on the off chance they’d have a room for the night. Caiguna roadhouse has to be the worst place I have ever paid large amounts of money to stay at and eat crappy food at. Just to cap off what was a thoroughly ordinary and dreary place, greeting us at the doorway of our (tiny, horrible, grubby, old, worn out, mean, ugly, single) room was a snake.

But it turns out that this was no less than an Acanthophis pyrrhus, or more commonly known as the Desert death adder.



Also known as the LIFE SUBTRACTOR. has this to say:

“As with other venomous snakes causing snakebite in humans, death adders have complex venoms with many components. Overall death adder venom is highly potent. About 60% of death adder snake bites result in significant envenoming, requiring antivenom therapy, and envenoming is often severe and potentially lethal.”

Our friend slithered away after having its photo taken. Fortunately we did not cross paths again.

My advice is – do not go to Caiguna if you can help it.

PS. Apparently the town of Esperance fined the US government $400 for littering after Skylab scattered its myriad bits and pieces across Western Australia. Wahahahaha….

Posted in WA


Whilst in the coast town of Esperance the need to decompress and clear the mind after a day at the wheel compelled me to flick on the TV that was in the room. One particular news story caught my attention – the results of a recently completed survey of bird population in the country’s South East state of Victoria. The survey was led by the Deakin University, and the for our feathered friends news isn’t good. More than 80 species of native birds are seriously threatened. Many, including the kookaburra are facing extinction. At this point in the newscast I was becoming twitteringly interested.

I just couldn’t wrap my laughing gear around the idea of putting those words in the same sentence.

Since landing in Australia the sound of the Kookaburra had soon sounded out from the branches of a tree in Perth’s King Park. It is an iconic and bone chillingly familiar sound. It is one of the natural tunes that instantly grounds me as being in this wide, brown, sea girt land.


After the Deakin professor has said his bit, the interview then turned for reaction to a bald bloke who looked a lot like Peter Garrett – ex lead singer of Midnight Oil. However I realised as soon as he opened his mouth and started spouting off nonsensical drivel to the effect that the Federal Government was of course concerned and that it was already thinking of setting up an investigatory group to look at establishing a working committee to review the findings and that was anyway all a fault of the previous Howard Government due to their Eggs Overbird policy and blah, blah, blah, that he was in fact not Peter Garrett at all. At this stage I had to run into the kitchen to retrieve the fire extinguisher as my bed was burning, so I missed the rest of what the Peter Garrett clone had to say.

A newspaper report from The Age on the report’s findings is here.

Kookaburras extinct, along with 79 other species. No-one’s laughing Pete.

Daddy emu

Emu eggs are nested by the male emu, with the female heading off for an extended shopping expedition with the Besties once the eggs are laid. The father hatches the eggs, and then rears the chicks through to adolescence.

This fella was giving his chicks a lesson in how to browse for emu tucker in a field near Albany.

Dads – you gotta love us.


Also in Torndirrup national Park is a spectacularly blowy hole. Basically it is a fairly nondescript hole in the rock platform, 15 metres or so above the water line of the surf below, and about the same distance in from the cliff face. As the swells roll in from the Southern Ocean waves compress air into a cave hidden below, forcing air out at high velocity. The day we visited it was fairly calm – the signs warn that on stormy days rocks can be projected out the hole. Nevertheless the rushing of air is like standing in the draft of a body sized, high velocity hand drier.


Posted in WA

Torndirrup National Park – Albany

Torndirrup National Park lies just outside the coastal WA town of Albany. It covers nearly 4000 hectares, and looks to be a wonderful place for long and short walks along a spectacularly rugged coastline.

The waters of South West WA are an amazing azure, crystal clear and to me – as a snorkler – very tempting. Unfortunately at this time of year they’re are also colder than a beer slushy, and with my wetsuit locked up in a shipping container journeying its way to Sydney there was zero chance of getting wet.

Two of the attractions of the Torndirrup Park are the Gap, and The Bridge. Along the road out to see these natural highlights lies Cable Beach. As well as being a beautiful stretch of clean sand wonderfully empty of humanity the beach is a salutary lesson in the power of the ocean.

Halfway along the beach lies a large, round boulder lying up on a rock platform. It is apparently 100 tonnes in weight, approximately the same as a diesel locomotive.

One day it wasn’t there.

The next day it was.

It was lifted up onto the beach by the wild waves of a storm that swept the beach.

Now that is a hell of a break to body surf!

The bridge is an amazing suspension of granite and gneiss, carved by the relentless pounding power of the same waves that can lift 100 tonnes of rock faster than Superman.

Eventually the same waves will erode The Bridge so much that it will fall into the sea. Though I hope to revisit it again some day, I do hope I am not crossing it when a loud crack sounds.


West Australians love to get high up in trees it seems, all without ever actually doing much climbing. The Walpole-Nornalup National Park is about an hour’s drive West of the town of Albany, and is home to the Valley of the Giants. Only a moment of disappointment as we realised that this was not in fact the home of Jolly Green Herculeans sniffing the air for the scent of an Englishman’s blood. Rather it is home to the Red Tingle tree.

Red Tingles have fat arses. Or to be more botanically correct, they have an exceptionally wide buttressed base, a result of them being shallow rooted, and having a heart timber particularly prone to termite and fungal attack. Once the ants and the fungus have done their bit the next passing fire guts the centre of the base of the tree. Amazingly however the outer layers thicken until the base of the tree is some 12 to 16 metres in circumference. This buttress then continues to support and feed the upper tree structure, and Red Tingles live to over 500 years in age often with massive cave-like holes tall enough to stand in at their base.
Weaving through these giants is the Walpole Skywalk. It is a walkway that rises to 40 metres above the valley floor and taking the visitor to the height of the canopy. The steel spans bounce and sway unnervingly and signs warn that no more 10 people can be on any given span at the same time. Lucky we’re all pretty thin!