After making the resolution to make twelve trips in twelve months, I figured I should get around to actually going somewhere. So we hit the road. With a couple of dogs in the back. For a nine hour drive. Yep, clearly we’re crazy.
Our destination was my home town of Esperance , on the south coast of Western Australia. It really is a rather gorgeous corner of the world, but the problem is, it’s a long drive to get to it. And before we even left, there was much debate as to which route we should take. I hadn’t driven to Esperance for many years (there’s a perfectly good air option that gets you there in an hour and a half), and it turns out there’s about four different options (all of them long!). I was tempted to go with the one that I knew, from many previous trips. But oh no, that’s not the way to go, according to my Dad. There was a much quicker, and quieter way through the wheatbelt. We caved in. He’s very persuasive.
So, we set out on a sunny Tuesday morning, after taking the dogs for a run at the park to wear them out a bit. This would be the longest they had ever been in a car by a long shot. Their previous record was about an hour and a half. We honestly didn’t know how they would go.
We headed out of the city through peak hour traffic and sighed a deep breath of relief when we finally hit the Brookton Highway, heading for Brookton and Wickepin. These are both tiny towns, but the sausage rolls in Brookton were quite delicious. At Wickepin, we marvelled at a massive yard of rusting old tractors. Why, Wickepin. Why?
The next “town” on our journey was Harrismith, where there is little more than a pub and a store and a few small houses, but their municipal sign promised great things:
We pushed on, through Lake Grace and Newdegate (where they have a lovely little park that is just the right size for travelling dogs to find great relief) and along a ridiculously long stretch of road that is perfectly straight, but undulating slightly. It stretches out in front of you rather relentlessly, with salt pans either side. Thankfully though, this is “waving country” so you had something to do. And signs to explain it to you.
At Ravensthorpe, we stopped at the road house on the eastern side of town where they had a fenced off yard with a stretch of lawn that meant we could let the dogs off to have a good run around, while we enjoyed impressive burgers (we have simple tastes). Our next stop was Esperance, almost 200km away. We shared this stretch of road with many road trains and grain trucks (this is farming country and harvest was well under way), which can be a challenge. Patience is the key. And a car with great acceleration.
In Esperance, we savoured what the district is famous for: stunning beaches. My parents live next to a national park that lays claim to Australia’s whitest beach, but dogs aren’t allowed, so we headed further east to the Duke of Orleans Bay and Wharton Beach. They didn’t disappoint. The sand was white and fine and squeaked under foot. The dogs loved it, racing after their tennis ball and splashing in the shallows. And the best bit? There was hardly any one there. It’s a vast expanse of beach and the nearest people were about four hundred metres away. That’s about as private as you could ever hope for.
In town, we soaked up some history at the museum, particularly the Skylab exhibit that remembers the NASA space station that crashed back to earth over this area in 1979. Large chunks of it are displayed and I’m forever grateful that none of them landed on our house. I was a young child when it happened, and I remember being somewhat horrified to discover that I was apparently the only kid in my school class who had slept through the whole extravaganza. I’m still quite a heavy sleeper.
No visit to Esperance is complete without a drive along the scenic coastal drive on the west side of town. It takes you along some of the most spectacular coastline you could ever hope to see. You gasp in awe at sapphire blue waters and rocky headlands and snow white sand. And then you drive a little further along and gasp all over again. Bay after mind blowing bay. I may be biased because this is my home town, but it truly is beautiful.
We dabbled in the farm life too, because that’s what my family do. We checked out the crops (mostly harvested) and bounced through paddocks to the bemusement of black angus cattle. At the cattle yards, our curious bearded collie puppy found the pit full of manure and promptly jumped in it. It was even worse than it sounds. After several baths and trips to the beach he still stank. Mucky little bugger.
The only downside was that we couldn’t stay very long. All too soon, we had to bundle the pooches into the car and head off back to the city. We stopped in Esperance long enough to pick up coffee from the excellent Coffee Cat (it’s a mobile coffee cart, down on the waterfront. And it’s awesome), before hitting Highway 1 with all the road trains. We were significantly slowed down by the fact that our border collie Max was a bit poorly and we had to stop all too frequently. At least he let us know when he needed to stop (he politely scratched at the window), but the fact that it was around 40C outside made the whole exercise a little unpleasant. The puppy (who is in fact quite a large, hairy thing) figured out that the coolest spot was on Gav’s knee in front of the air conditioning vent. Clearly he’s a genius.
Would we do it again? Definitely. The dogs travelled better than we expected, but next time, we’d like to spend a bit more time at our destination. Three nights was nowhere near enough. We covered nearly 2200km on our trip, but it was thoroughly worth it for scenery like this: