#GLAadventure In Australia: Eyre Highway From Port Augusta To Perth

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Having conquered the legendary red centre and its famous Stuart Highway, we began our journey westwards through the legendary Nullarbor – on the other famous road – the Eyre Highway (named after Edward John Eyre – the first European to cross the Nullarbor).

Nullarbor literally means no trees in Latin, and again it’s a wide expanse of flat land with little or no vegetation that sits between the southern coast and the Great Victoria Desert.

The road has been around since 1941 and includes a stretch that’s Australia’s longest straight road (and second longest in the world). The 90 Mile Straight runs for 145.6kms and I actually set the GLA on cruise control and used no brakes at all – with limited steering inputs too.

As we blazed across the Nullarbor, we drove along the Great Australian Bight and made a stop at the Head of the Bight – its northernmost point. The spot is famous for whale watching – and we couldn’t believe our luck as we spotted not one, not two, but 3 huge Southern Right Whales. One of them had her calf with her, which was an added treat. The blue skies and the good fortune of spotting these magnificent creatures up close convinced me someone up there was watching over us.

The Nullarbor roadhouse was the lunch stop where I had yet another locally made burger. No fast-food chains anywhere on the highways by the way – all local, fresh food. And peculiar to Australia, all the burgers have a slice of beetroot, an egg, and generous strips of bacon along with the lettuce, tomato and a meat patty – unless you specify otherwise.

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Being the start of winter in Australia, the weather had been nippy (only in the south, and not in the red centre), and as we headed further west it got colder still. Our next halt was Smoky Bay (population: 577), where we met Colleen and Jeff Holmes. The South Australia couple have been farming oysters for 25 years, and we drove in to find out how it’s all done. After a briefing from Colleen on the rather tedious and long process that farming an oyster involves, we got to taste some of them.

Colleen had very kindly prepared some with an Indian twist – with a yoghurt and mint chutney topping. Now I have had oysters before (as it turned out I was the only one in the group), but have never loved them. But unlike those that had gone through cold chain supply, the oysters here were fresh and it makes all the difference – they were just terrific. And, yes, the taste comes from their environment as well of course.

We then headed out in the Holmes’ barge to open sea, to see where they actually grow them. The area has racks built into the sea bed that are accessible during low tide. In that window you have to put in trays of oysters that need to go back in the water, and pick up ones that need sorting (for size and variety). This exercise takes place twice a day for Colleen and Jeff – and each oyster heads in and out multiple times over a 2-3 year period before its ready to be shipped. Now you know why I said ‘tedious.’ I got to put on rather flattering ‘waders’ and jump into the sea to help them with the task, and it was certainly something that I could never have imagined myself doing. And despite multiple cuts on both hands, I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

Besides the gorgeous bay, the experience of it all, and the lovely weather – it was the Holmes who made it all so fantastic. A warm, welcoming and wonderful couple, they kept us entertained and we chatted like we’d known them for years. If you are ever in the area you simply must look them up – and they’re happy to show you how it’s all done. After witnessing a spectacular sunset over the bay, we got going. We were spending the night at Ceduna (population: 2,289), a short drive from Smoky Bay, so we invited the Holmes to join us for dinner – and no none of us had oysters! I think I had about a dozen of them through the afternoon anyway.

By now it was clear that the end was near. We had crossed 30,000 kilometres on our GLA Adventure at the start of the Aussie leg, and now we were closing in on 40k! The next day was another near-800km drive to Cocklebiddy (population: 8) – and halfway there we crossed into Western Australia. Stormy conditions, with rain and howling winds, meant a quick dinner at the Cocklebiddy roadhouse. This was also pretty much where we had to say goodbye t the Eyre highway!

In the morning, things were clear enough for us to depart for Esperance. On the way we continued to enjoy the stark countryside of the Nullarbor and then approached its Great Western Woodlands – the largest and healthiest temperate woodland left on Earth. Gorgeous dunda eucalyptus forests and beautiful roads led us to the Fraser Range Station. A station is a large landholding used to rear livestock. They are large to say the least, as the Western Australia average is 1 million acres!

Fraser range was therefore what its owner Ben Holman called ‘small’ at half-a-million acres. His neighbour is another station that’s 1.1 million. Stations were primarily used to rear sheep for wool or meat, but due to a rising number of wild dogs in the area a lot of them are now switching to cattle. Ben and his trusted dog (a beautiful, alert and affectionate kelpie named Zoe) drove us around in his ‘Ute’ (Toyota pickup in this case) as we kept pace with the GL thanks to its 4Matic capability. The GLA sat this one out. Now, all this while driving through the Outback and the Nullarbor, we had been warned to watch out for kangaroos, and in some areas emus.

We had seen plenty of dead ones lying by the roadside, had driven cautiously for miles on end – but had not seen ONE, not one kangaroo in the wild. I had begun to make jokes about them being on leave, and then finally at the Fraser Station we spotted hundreds.

The eastern greys and the reds were all over the place – and according to Ben they’re a pest – feeding off the grass that he’d like to save for his cattle. But it was a treat for us to finally get to see them hopping about – at quite a clip I might add. It was rather late in the day when we got to Esperance (population: 9,919). It was a pity since the plan had been to reach in daylight to go south of the town to the Cape Le Grand National Park – the only place in the world where you can see kangaroos on a beach. Oh well, something for next time I guess. We began the last day’s drive to Western Australia’s capital Perth at 4:30am to get a chance to see something of the city too.

A long drive of over 700kms and we were in Perth (population: 2.02 million) by the afternoon. We also had to hand over the cars to the logistics team to be shipped to the next continent. Bittersweet as always – but as I said goodbye to them I have to say that I felt genuinely blessed. The cars had been trouble free, the journey had been awesome – and even as I’ve said it so many times before – a special mention to this wondrous land. I simply have to come back here and discover more of it. So lookout for the GLA Adventure down under on the show, and look forward to more discovery as we explore south east Asia on the way home.

I actually set the GLA on cruise control and used no brakes at all – with limited steering inputs too. - Siddharth Vinayak Patankar
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