The Nullarbor Plain: the world’s largest limestone karst landscape

Preamble for this week’s blog: on a scale of one to ten I suggest that this blog sits at about 3.


So, this instalment is about a road trip across the Nullabor Plain. The Eyre Highway stretches along the coast from Ceduna in South Australia and inland to Norseman in Western Australia. This road is the Eyre Highway. We made the crossing in the early 1980s. Our road trip actually began in Hobart, Tasmania, not counting the ferry across to Melbourne on mainland Australia. From Melbourne to Perth is 4,320kms.

The little blue Ford Laser was loaded to the gunnels and Kath was squashed into the back seat with not much room to move. Not far from Melbourne I wanted to stop in beautiful Ballarat – to live there. Fortunately Roland talked me out of that idea. We found out afterwards that it gets extremely cold and I’m a child of the tropics.

not our Laser but ours was just like this

We navigated our way through Adelaide fairly easily, albeit with Roland cleverly reversing my directions. I get confused between left and right so when I said, “ turn left” he’d turn right and vice versa thereby finding the correct route. So, only another 2,790kms further to drive to Perth.

Crossing the Nullabor is an adventure any time. At this stage we did not know where we were and neither did anyone else. There are roadhouses but they are few and far between. Fuel was expensive and we were not really prepared for the distances. Yes, we had driven vast distances in Southern Africa but there was usually a dorp (village), town or even a city along the way. The vast and treeless plain of the Nullabor – the long, long stretches of straight road, and the huge road trains that rode up close behind us were something new and strange. Places marked on the map we were using (I’d found it in an old copy of The Australia Women’s Weekly) turned out to be water tanks.

There was a lot of road kill all along the highway. Wedge-tail eagles live on the carrion and often become carrion themselves as they gorge to the point of not being able to take off when a vehicle approaches and runs them down. Much later, friends told us of a car towing a caravan that ran over a rotting kangaroo corpse. The caravan had to be abandoned because someone had left a window open and the inside was covered with stinking, rotten gunk.

At the border between South Australia and Western Australia is the Quarantine Station where we had to throw out all the fruit and vegetables we were carrying.

One day I’d like to do the trip again, albeit more consciously. I’d like to visit some of the spectacular coastal cliffs and the deep caverns. I wouldn’t like to do it again carrying most of our worldly goods in a small blue hatchback.

The Nullarbor Plain: the world’s largest limestone karst landscape

Marooned and then a tropical cyclone

There is a good and kind blue witch. Her name is Agapanthus. Agapanthus is a good woman who keeps children amused and occupied with her magical stories. Agapanthus was my friend and ally on Bazaruto. I’m not sure where she came from but she was there when Kath and I needed her.

As the lazy, sun filled days passed. As the tide came in, and the tide went out we realised that it was possible that our ferry had forgotten to come and pick us up. I don’t know if I was the only one who had some moments of anxiety. In the mean time, Roland and Cliff had taken cousin Wally back to Paradise Island (Santa Carolina) to catch a flight back to Salisbury. More importantly, they had made the trip safely although I seem to remember they told of a close brush with a big shark.

To fill in some gaps: Cousin Wally had joined us in Inhambane or Vilanculos – probably Vilanculos. Roland says Vilanculos. Roland also says we left from Vilanculos and not Inhassoro – I do believe him as his memory for that sort of thing is a lot better than mine. Anyway, Wally was with us on the fishing boat going to Bazaruto from Vilanculos. So, now nobody knew where we were or how long we were going to be there – including us.

Kath and I spent a lot of time with Wendy but she needed to have time for herself without us hanging around. Then Agapanthus came along and Kath and I became very attached to Agapanthus and her magical adventures. Agapanthus could sing, too. Admittedly, she used my voice and that was OK. Kath was young enough to think I had a lovely voice (I don’t, I am totally tone deaf).

So, more-or-less, we were marooned on Bazaruto, not quite a desert island but near enough. In those days there was no telephone, not even a radio-phone, no electricity and there we were with a small child. How irresponsible were we? Roland and I, not Cliff and Wendy!

Finally, one day, we saw a fishing boat waiting on the tide to come in. I don’t think I was the only one hoping it was there to pick us up. I suppose it was predictable that high tide was quite late in the evening when we were supposed to leave. All day we had watched storm clouds gathering. We knew this was not going to be an easy trip back to the mainland.

The fishing boat was similar to the one with the cabin

Once the fishing boat was close enough, we clambered on board with all our stuff, including Cliff’s boat that was towed behind. The ferry had an almost illegible sign stating 5 crew and 12 passengers (something like that). Well, not on this trip! We were packed in with at least 30 people. Where they came from I have no idea. Our group chose to sit in the open stern of the boat because the overcrowded cabin was not pleasant. We are not talking comfort or luxury here. This was a working fishing boat and smelled like it; old fish and raw diesel fuel being the most noticeable odours. I sat on a coiled rope. I think the pattern of the rope is still imprinted on my bottom. Kath was curled up on my lap. Roland stood behind me, keeping Kath and I from flying off the boat, this was highly likely as the waves got higher and higher and the sea rougher and rougher. Cliff stood behind Roland. He was hanging on to the mast with one hand and steadying Roland with the other. Wendy was hanging on to Cliff. I can remember Alec’s hat blew off soon after we left the island and the Skipper wanted to turn back to retrieve it. “No!” we shouted in unison, “Keep going. Don’t turn back.” During the night the Skipper saw a light on the shore and, thinking it was Vilanculos harbour, turned toward it. It turned out to be a fisherman on the beach with a little fire to keep warm. I had heard of a ‘false dawn’ but had never experienced one until this frightening night.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were caught in the tail end of a tropical cyclone. In the event, Kath was violently seasick the all way back to the mainland and the trip took all night. Another thing we didn’t know was that Kath had a tiny splinter of coral in her foot and it was in the process of turning septic. There will be more about that in the next instalment.

Thanks for your encouragement to keep writing this blog. I don’t know if I am enjoying remembering these things or not!

Marooned and then a tropical cyclone

Memories of being irresponsible: Part One, Getting there

Bazaruto Island today is nothing like Bazaruto Island in the early 1970s. Today, according to the Internet, there are luxury hotels and resorts costing well over US$1,000 per night. Getting there now is as simple as chartering a light plane and flying from Maputo. Getting off the island can be achieved in much the same way. Not so when we planned our big adventure in 1970.


We left our home in Salisbury (Harare) in our short-wheel base Land Rover heading toward Inhassoro in Mozambique. Our ultimate destination was Bazaruto Island. We travelled in convoy with our friends, Cliff and Wendy – they in their Peugeot bakkie (ute) towing Cliff’s boat – a fibreglass runabout. Cliff’s father Alec, and Glifford, the African cook, were in their vehicle. Kath, who was about three years old, with us in the Land Rover.

Naturally, we took the road less travelled, bypassing the port of Beira and driving south, down the coast of Mozambique. In fact the road was only partially built, a work in progress, and the new bridge being built over the Save (Sah-veh) River had a magnificent span but no access. So, we travelled underneath the bridge, on a track in the dry riverbed. The first night we spent under a tree, in the bush, near an African village. Parts of the road were sealed and then, suddenly, there would be a deep ditch and the road became a dirt track. Nevertheless, we made it to Inhassoro. I used to have 8mm films of the trip but over time the reels have been lost.

Thirty years later in 2000, Inhassoro, and other coastal towns, were more-or-less wiped out in floods caused by Cyclone Eline. Many stories came out of that terrible time. Many lives were lost. The rebuilt Inhassoro is nothing like the fishing village we knew 30 years before. The bridge over the Save was also washed away when the river came down in flood.

How did we get to the island? We caught a fishing boat/ferry from Inhassoro over the Mozambique Channel to Bazaruto Island and the ferry towed Cliff’s runabout. It is only about 35kms but the trip took at least four hours. The trip to the island was fun, the sun shone and, apart from Glifford, no one else was seasick. We caught the right tide and were able to get off the ferry before the tide receded and left a huge expanse of mudflats. I can remember great big sea cucumbers holothurians all over the place. They really freaked me out.

Edible Sea Cucumber (Holothuria edulis)

We had to take all our water as in those days there was no potable water on Bazaruto. All our food, such as tea, sugar flour and powdered milk was carted from home to Bazaruto. I asked Wendy what she remembered about the trip and she told me we also took a lot of wine and a sack of lemons – for the fish we were going to catch? Perhaps to prevent scurvy? I don’t really remember!

Next time, the crazy accommodation and the cockroaches …

Memories of being irresponsible: Part One, Getting there