Almost exactly a month ago I set off on a road trip. Accompanied by my sidekick Harriet the Hippie Sheep and Blanca our trusted hire car, we followed an itinerary around the south-western tip of Western Australia.
I don’t normally drive. In part that is because I usually travel alone and hiring a car for one person is expensive. This trip is not a budget-friendly option, or certainly not for lone travellers.
Also, though, I am a very nervous driver. I used to drive a lot and not even think about it and then I went to live in Asia for ten years, didn’t drive at all there, and somehow lost my nerve. On the few occasions I have driven since then I have found it very stressful, and I have tended to hit stuff (mainly gateposts, walls and that type of thing).
Here’s the thing though; in Western Australia there is very little traffic. Only 2.5 million people live in the whole state (a state the size of Eastern Europe), and two million of those people live in Perth. This means that once you leave Perth there is next to no traffic, giving you time to slow right down, read the directions board, make a decision on which road you need, switch lanes if necessary and get on the road you need.
The first leg: Perth to Kalgoorlie
I spent two days getting to Kalgoorlie. It is around 600 kilometres from Perth; you can do it all in one day but it would be a hard day with little rest, and you would miss out on all the little stops along the way.
The Great Eastern Highway
To get to Kalgoorlie you follow the Great Eastern Highway. After you get past Northam services the road empties out considerably, and continues for kilometre after kilometre of wheat fields where you sometimes barely see another car. The road is mostly single lane, but there are little two-lane sections every few kilometres so that you can overtake the slow-moving road train vehicles that you get stuck behind.
The wheat fields gradually give way to the red dusty outback and Kalgoorlie stands at the end. There are plenty of changes of scenery to keep you interested along the way, but also many long, boring stretches with nothing much to focus on.
Where to stop between Perth and Kalgoorlie
Not even out of Perth really but right on the Great Eastern Highway. You can see the start of the great water pipe, which changed the lives of the people living in Kalgoorlie. Get used to it; you will be following it along and then you can see where it ends in Kalgoorlie.
Mundaring Weir is a nice place to spend some time; there are a a couple of great National Parks nearby (John Forest and Kalamunda) and some nice restaurants and small hotels.
If you fancy a detour from here there are some rocks in the middle of a park, including a mini version of wave rock, but it is quite a drive. Whether you find it worthwhile or not depends on how interested you are in rock formations.
I spent the night in Southern Cross. There is nothing in the town particularly; it was late Saturday afternoon when I got here and the few shops in town were all closed. However there are some amazingly photogenic salt lakes just 6 kms out of town.
My first stop the next day was Coolgardie. I had been intending to stop at Yellowdine National Park, however it was drizzling all day and I really couldn’t be bothered to do it in the rain. In the end I pushed on to Coolgardie and made the town my first (actually only) stop.
The tourist office has a small museum giving a lot of insight into the town’s gold prospecting heydays. It is yet another settlement that sprang up after gold was discovered and then went into steep decline once the gold was depleted. More recently there has been a mini-boom in tourism to keep the town alive and stop it becoming yet another ghost town. Around 800-900 people live in Coolgardie now.
Since I hadn’t stopped at the National Park, I arrived in Kalgoorlie early afternoon. It was raining hard by then and, being a Sunday, things were mostly closed.
This part of Australia still closes up on a Sunday. Whilst I was there a decision was made to endorse Sunday opening, although many people in the town weren’t keen. Meanwhile, all the supermarkets remain shut (with the exception of IGA), and many of the restaurants don’t open either.
I spent three days/four nights in Kalgoorlie, which felt about right. You can read my ideas of things to do in Kalgoorlie here.