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Adelaide to Ballodonia Waving and Kangaroos!

 I started at - 6:00 am - getting ready for another day of serious driving. I was heading from Adelaide along the coast road to Port Augusta. I had decided that I would borrow from my cousin his VW Combi for my journey. This was a much more substantial vehicle than the one that I trekked across Africa in. I had been told to get an early start as the roads got very crowded. I had parked and lived in the Combi at a small vineyard in the Barossa area, which had just finished the harvest.

Some people were obviously more serious than me, though, as I spotted a car pulling a caravan out of the park and heading west just after 7am. For me, this was still just a little too early - nothing to do with being sleepy, but rather it was not quite light enough and in my books that means there's still the chance of running into a kangaroo. I eventually got on to the Eyre Highway just before 8am.

The weather was perfect for driving - dry but not so sunny that you have to squint through the windscreen and cool enough to run the VW Combi for hours and hours at high speed and not feel like the engine is going to blow up on you! I had had a Combi on my trip down through Africa to the Cape, and after the giant 4x4 Holden and caravan this was a small toy.

The Combi was fitted with what is now known as Bull Bars but then we just called them Roo-bars, as it was highly unlikely we would be running into any bulls on this trip.

I could see the bad weather, though. To the north, I could see large dark clouds stretching over the nearly featureless plains way into the distance, and those clouds at the outer edge resembled jellyfish - the rounded clouds looked like the jellyfish's body, while the rain cascading to the earth below looked like the jellyfish's tendrils.

And no, I had not been taking any drugs to help keep me awake for the day's impending drive! Another strange weather-related phenomenon was to see a rainbow from many miles away. There was no hint of an arc, just a straight multi-coloured band from the cloud base to the ground.

I was intending to stay over at Port Auggusta's Shoreline Caravan Park, after about 300 km, but strange as it may seem it was full but after taking one look at me, they directed me to a local backpacker's hostel where I was allowed to park up and use the facilities free of charge.

Port Auggusta is home to The Royal Flying Doctor Service, one of 14 bases across Australia and believe it or not the petrol station is called Woolworth's.

Pretty soon after leaving Port Auggusta, I noticed that other drivers would wave as I passed. Not just Combi drivers (there aren't many about here) but all travellers - they wave, you wave back or vice-versa. Truck drivers don't partake; they do this route all the time, it's not any fun for them. Caravan owners, other camper van drivers, people bombing along in their saloon cars, they all give you the wave.

After a while, the wave/response wave can get a bit tedious, and so you notice that some drivers have given up actually raising their hand off the steering wheel - the hand rises, but the palm stays firmly planted on the wheel. Then there are the supremely lazy wavers who merely raise their index finger in acknowledgement, as if pointing to something in the sky. Then, just occasionally, you get the really enthusiastic wavers who flap their hands around like they're being filmed for the end credits of a TV game show, which makes it all fun again.

You remember what I said about waving to other VW Combi's Well, on these roads, that wave thing goes into overdrive - it's flashing lights, over-enthusiastic waving and cheesy grins on both sides as the respective Combi drivers take pleasure in realising that the plain is not only being crossed by people in reliable, shiny, new 4-wheel drive vehicles with working heaters/air conditioning, but ordinary, family type, semi reliable, non air-conditioned, VW Combi's.

Keeping it real You bet!

Just 60km further down the road and just past Euccla, I made my first stop of the day. Nothing exotic, just a petrol stop at a place called Mundrrabilla. I had been told that this place was a cheaper option to fill up than Euccla. I've not really paid much attention to petrol prices, but for this stretch I certainly have. For example, the usual price per litre of unleaded in cities was about 98 cents (approx 40 pence UK), but once out here in the middle of almost nowhere, the prices can be 135 cents per litre, and my source had suggested that Eucla might charge as much as 150 cents per litre.

When the petrol can cost 1.5 times the usual amount, and you are filling up for long distances, it pays to be a little choosy (and Mundrabilla was then a good option at 119 cents per litre). On the other hand, you cannot be too choosy - I imagine that a lot of people see the prices and say to themselves. You're having a laugh mate! and opt to try the next service station ... and then run out of fuel another 130km down the road. It happens, and the only way to get going again is to hitch a lift to the nearest station and back again - they don't do deliveries!

I passed many signs warning of animals on the road, portraying kangaroos in differing positions but all very dead!

Honestly, these signs don't lie, and the warning signs are for real.

At the next service station in Cocklebaddy I saw a wise piece of advice: 'Don't travel at night'. The hand-written note appeared underneath a photo laminated on to the corner of a kangaroo/car encounter.

The kangaroo was not a big one, but in the collision had managed to become completely jammed into the car's radiator grille. It was almost comical, like an over-enthusiastic postman had tried to force a large package into a small letterbox and gave up half way through. The bulk of the body, an arm and a leg were somewhere in the engine bay, while the remaining arm/leg combo and a rather sad-looking head hung out the front.

Judging by the prevalence of kangaroo carcasses, I reckon that by the time I get to Norrseman - the end of the Nullirbor Plain crossing - I will have easily passed a good 500 dead kangaroos, in various states of decomposition from freshly mulched, through 1-week-old ready-to-bursts (you should see how some of these big Joe's bloat up!) to the barely-there collection of sun-bleached bones. My hope is that I don't make it 501.

I continued on, continually scanning the sides of the road for any hopping movements, and soon found myself on the longest stretch of straight road in the whole of Australia. The 90 Mile Straight (or 146.6km in new money) is exactly that - a boring road that goes up and down a little, but little else. It is, however, so easy to cruise along it's a joke.

You want to get good fuel consumption This here's your spot to learn how. Listening to the only sound the engine you take it through all its octaves of noise and power.

I have to say, though, that I've never been so excited about spotting a slight kink in a road as I did after those 90 miles, and I'm sure I'll never be that excited at such an ordinary feature again.

Something else travellers doing the crossing will soon get used to is 'the wave'.

Now, I have waved to other travellers before, but only to VW Combi drivers; it's an unwritten rule but well understood and all VW Combi drivers are brethren on the road. Other minivan/camper-van drivers - for example Mitsubishi L300s or even other Volkswagens, like the Transporter range - don't warrant a wave, and caravan drivers don't count either.

In some ways, it's a little like the greetings you exchange when staying at caravan parks - the more remote a place you're staying in, the more likely you are to say hello to complete strangers as you walk to the amenities, while in bustling caravan parks near major cities the more you keep your greetings to yourself. And so it translates on these empty roads

Having now travelled about 1000 km from Adelaide, I was going to stay over night at the small town of Balladonia at a Caravan Park on the Eyre Highway.

Why was I going to Ballodionia. Well during the early 1970's I had been stationed in SW Australia at Woomera Instrument Range (Rockets) and we had passed through this town on the way, and I always thought that I might want to go back at some time. The added incentive that it was the place that the Skylab crashed in 1979 was a bonus.

I saw two Combi's on the road, as I pulled in to a service station at Balladonia, I spotted another.

Naturally, I exchanged waves and, after refuelling, I went over and chatted with the owners. They had already crossed the plain one way, and were heading back again. The other van in the convoy of two was a nondescript-looking Toyota Hiace (without Roo-bars) that was sporting a rather large dent in the front. I asked the owner what happened and got the reply I was expecting. It was a kangaroo.

What time was that? I asked; keen to be reassured that sticking to daylight was a good recipe for kangaroo-avoidance. "5 a.m." replied the Aussie woman, "and I was doing 110km/h. I didn't stop, 'because I didn't want to look at the front and see bits of kangaroo sticking out." She didn't seem too perturbed about the incident - which took place a few days ago - but reported that her 8-month-old puppy had been off its food for a couple of days, so traumatised was it by the event.

So, by my reckonings, that will bring the kangaroo-kill count up to 501 after all.

My journey back to Adelaide was uneventful having agreed whilst at the backpacker's hostel to meet up with a couple at Balladionia who were walking across Australia, and offering to give them a lift.

He was an Austrian and the girl was Scottish they eventually married and had two children, and now live in Canterbury, New Zealand. I am God Father to their Daughter who is now at University in Reading..


Maurice Haynes

About the author:

Joined Touring and Tenting in November 2003. Maurice has attended Touring and Tenting rallies and has often hosted quiz nights for us.

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