I got the idea to see Bilbunya Dunes from YouTube video recommended by my good mate Mike. I was planning a long drive west anyway vaguely wishing to visit the amazing Nullarbor and the video highlighting the wanders of the Great Australian Bight gave my vague idea of a trip the needed purpose and objective.
I never knew that my trip will coincide with one of the biggest storms to hit Australia, but that was tomorrow. My first night after a day’s drive saw me just past Mildura, some 1000 km out of Sydney and WikiCamps recommended to spend the night around a lake named Lake Cullulleraine.
This is a happy place. Chilly wind blowing from south/west prompted me to zip the side wall (designed and made by Vesko) to the car awning and create a cosy homey space, where I could enjoy a couple of pork rashers on the BBQ with a plentiful green salad – the charcoal BBQ providing warmth against the chilly night.
There is an amazing sunset, hinting at the volatile weather that would come the next day, but the morning is calm and sunny, perfect for a short stroll around the lake.
On the road again I don’t feel the kilometres fly away. Another thousand of them get me to Ceduna, on the west coast of South Australia, past Renmark, past Port Augusta and past numerous villages with names like Kimba, Wudinna, Yaninee, Poochera, Wirrulla, which seem to have identical grain storage facilities (silos) proudly erected right next to the highway…
The kilometers fly away. I think the small bushes with the strange grayish color are called salty bush – they survive in a salty soil (problem for rural Australia), but are eatable by a particular type of sheep. I could be wrong.
The sun is very low and the light reflections in the water around the long jetty bring the feeling of holiday and idleness. But it is getting late and I have to find my camping spot for the night. Before I do, I find a bottle shop to buy a carton of local beer called West End. A few intoxicated locals lurk around the bottle shop and scare the shit out of me, so I give them a very wide berth.Ceduna is nice – it has relatively cheap diesel and I find a well-stocked supermarket to replenish the fruit and vegies in my fridge, because when you cross into South Australia you must get rid of all organic (fresh, green) mater to protect the fruit growing industry there.
WikiCamps says that this place out of Ceduna is perfect to stay overnight, but has a lot of mosquitos. And that’s exactly right; the moment I stop the car, billions of mozzies start buzzing their desire to feast on my fresh blood if I let them. I choose not to, zipping my mosquito net onto the car awning – a life saver.
Tonight I cook spaghetti Bolognese and enjoy a couple of West End Beers (I find it a bit rough, but still drinkable). Outside the net, the hungry mozzies are relentless, but the net holds well. This gives me real satisfaction.
The next day I am still unaware of the huge storm bashing South Australia. Only the strong winds hitting the bushes seem very strange so early in the morning. You would think that with the strong wind the mosquitos will be gone. Wrong! The moment I start packing up, they descend on me with vengeance and I run like a lunatic forward and back to escape their attacks. This strategy doesn’t work well; the mozzies manage to take their due.
I start driving again and everything is good, especially when I enter the flat country that is called Nullarbor and it is truly amazing – there is virtually nothing there, wherever you look, except huge spaces all around and above. It is something you don’t look at like a tourist, it is something you experience. Enormous dramatic clouds in the skies give the space dimension and depth, emphasising the smallness of everything else. Later I will learn that the clouds are the periphery of the massive cyclone descending on South Australia, while I drive away from it.
A few shots driving along Nullabor:
Soon I notice something else very strange – at 112 km/h the car computer shows average fuel consumption of 16-18 litres (should be 8 – 9). I drop to 100 km/h and the numbers don’t change much. When I stop to investigate, the wind outside hits me so hard, I nearly lose my balance. Ha, I’ve been driving against very strong wind (the tail of the cyclone) without even realizing. No wander I burn so much fuel, despite the Landie not complaining or struggling.
Now the fuel consumption becomes a concern, so I decide to stop at the next available diesel, which happens to be Nullarbor Station. The fuel here is very expensive – probably the most expensive along the way.
Something interesting happens at the diesel pump – I line up behind VW Golf and contemplate the strong wind blowing into the red hair of a beautiful girl that comes out of the Golf. She has very white arms and wears a long elegant dress, which doesn’t suit the surrounding reality at all. The wind also makes a mess of her dress. This is Siobhan from Ireland, currently a student of literature and creative writing in Sydney (details which I will learn several days later, when I meet her again in Broken Hill).
Soon it becomes clear that something’s wrong. The red hair girl cannot fill the tank, the diesel just spills out. She smiles apologetically at me and I come out to investigate. It appears the mis-fuel valve has locked the tank. I fiddle with it a bit, but I can do nothing to open it. The line of weary travellers behind us is growing and we have to pull away from the pump to solve the problem.
We park under a shelter and Siobhan searches the glove box for the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual is not there – she has forgotten to put it in! She is now frantic, but lucky with my Telstra dongle I have Internet connection and Google tells me quickly how to release the valve.
All this time the wind is blasting so strong that we can hardly stand on our feet. I’m just about to release the valve, when suddenly the roof of the shelter above is violently ripped away by the wind. That is scary. We quickly move the cars and drive back to the pump, only to discover that the mis-fuel valve locks up again. This time I see that the trouble is the pump nozzle – it pumps diesel all right, but it is thin like a petrol nozzle and triggers the mis-fuel valve. So with adjusted diesel filing technique I manage to top up the Golf’s tank. The red hair Irish girl is very grateful…
After this little incident I enjoy driving along the Nullarbor, with the dramatic clouds above me. The wind never stops; there is also rain, sometimes so strong; the windscreen wipers hardly manage to push it away. Sometimes it becomes very dark, so dark, that with the strong rain I can’t see anything, but then there are moments when clouds brake and the sun shines through to light up fantastic rainbows. And so I’m driving another thousand kilometres.
A couple of shots at the same spot a few days later (much calmer weather):
Now, this few shots show how was my driving into the Nullarbor abyss:
Late in the afternoon I get to a place called Caiguna and stop to refuel, despite the expensive diesel. Actually after Ceduna, there is no longer reasonably prized fuel anywhere. The lady attending the station looks exactly like my primary school teacher. She is very negative when I try to ask her about the condition of the dirt road to Bilbunya Dunes. In this weather, she warns me, stay on the highway! Perhaps she is right but for some reason, or maybe because she looks like my primary school teacher, I become defiant like the naughty boy I used to be.
Now I decide not to stay the night here, as I originally planned, but to press on until I find the turn into the bush that will eventually take me to Bilbunya Dunes. I enter the longest straight stretch of road in Australia (145.6 km). That’s what the road sign says, but to me it doesn’t look any straighter than so many other roads I’ve driven in Australia. Nevertheless, it is very straight.
I am a bit apprehensive after the stern warning of my primary school teacher at the roadhouse, but the weather calms down somewhat and after a hundred or so kilometres it becomes nice and encouraging. It also helps that I don’t encounter any jumping “nuts” kangaroos.
Takes me a while to find the dirt road leading to Bilbunya Dunes; there is a false turn into a gravel pit just a few hundred meters before the real track and there are no signs to guide you, but once I find it, I feel good and confident. Problem is the track goes on straight forever without any places suitable for camping.
WikiCamps says there is a bush camp midway through and I aim to get there. But getting there seems to take hours. The going is slow; track is narrow – tree branches constantly scratch the sides of the car and hit the mirrors. I quickly learn to keep the mirrors folded.
I am surprised to find the track dry and firm, considering the huge rain that fell today, but obviously the rain was not here. I drive over a few long sections of dry mud with very deep tyre marks where vehicles much higher than mine have been in wet weather. I gingerly dance the Landie around and over the holes, thinking this would be the end of my trip, if I slide into the one of them holes. Or if it rains for that matter! I try to push the rainy thoughts away from my mind.
It is already dark when I finally get to the bush camp, which is very inviting after the long day’s drive. Dinner tonight is roasted chilly chicken, baked potatoes and garden salad finished with desert of fruit yogurt. The West End beer seems more agreeable tonight. Who knows – by the end of my trip I might start to like it.
The morning is fresh and cheerful especially after two strong coffees, but the going is even slower than last night. During the storm lots of trees and debris have fallen down, blocking the narrow track and I stop constantly to clear a path. A couple of times the trees are so big and heavy that it is impossible to pull them away and I don’t have a chain saw to cut them down. Instead I look for a new path into the bush, which takes time and makes it true off-roading. The Landie doesn’t complain yet.
It takes the better part of the morning to finally drive out of the bush, but there is still long way to go. The track becomes rocky, sandy and rocky again, so bad rocky that I have to crawl the car 1 to 2 km/h often involving three wheels action. It is even harder than the climbing of Mount Pinnibar with Mike. This is where I realise how far and isolated this place is and my brave heart sinks very low somewhere down into my feet. There is a very scratchy narrow section, where the Landie literary opens the bushes on both sides (resulting in numerous, nice side panel scratches), then some more impossible rocky bits, more sand (I like the sand) and finally I get on the steep cliff before the beach. That is where I see Bilbunya Dunes for the first time. The dunes lay white and wide some ten or so kilometres away. I can’t believe how vast they are – it is a sight to behold…
A few more photos getting to the dunes:
Then it is easy – down the rubber cover on the steep cliff, soft sand, tyres down to 12 psi (because from the Simpson Desert crossing I know that to drive on such soft sand you have to get the pressure really low) and I finally get to the dunes without much more drama (the drama will be the next day). Today I’m happy and content!
A few photos around the dunes:
For now I think this is the end of the story of how I got to Bilbunya Dunes.
A few more random photos:
The End (the real end).