Let me preface this article by saying that I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never camped, been 4x4ing, gone longer than a few days without a shower or been disconnected from the digital world (in the last 5-10 years at least) for more than a few hours.
So when the question was asked whether I’d like to be one half of the team to represent REDARC on a HEMA tag along tour that would tackle The Great Australian Bight, completely off-road, often unwashed, and out amongst the elements, this digital marketer didn’t hesitate for a second. But also had absolutely no idea what he was in for.
HEMA tag-along tour
The reason for the expedition was for HEMA Maps to cover the whole Bight, from point to point, and re-map and re-track the area so customers that are equipped with their products have the latest information to allow them to tackle the tracks for themselves. As we would soon find out, with so much history, so much beauty, and so much off-road action, it is definitely a part of the world more people need to discover first-hand.
Joining me on this trip, or rather me joining him on this trip, was Steve Moore, REDARC’s Area Sales Manager of South Australia, who probably had a lot more reservations about being shacked up in a REDARC Hilux for 2 weeks with me than he was letting on. After having to shoulder virtually all of the responsibilities when it came to vehicle preparation, food planning, camping equipment and anything else that I had little to no experience or knowledge on, we (Steve) decided we were ready to roll.
Meeting the team
We met the majority of our travelling party at our Lonsdale facility. Two kitted out HEMA Landcruisers, featuring HEMA’s own Chief Exploration Officer Rob and his trusty convoy of mapping, photo and video crew. Also onboard was overlanding expert and hardened explorer Scott Brady from US based Overland Journal. Greetings were shared and we soon took off toward Whyalla on the first leg of our journey.
Upon arriving at our first campsite, Fitzgerald Bay, at around 10:30pm my introduction to camping seemed to be a bit underwhelming. Surrounded by pure darkness and the sounds of the water was great, but it wasn’t the eye-opening experience I was led to believe I’d have. I probably shouldn’t have expected too much too early, it was the first night after all, but in my defence everyone that I spoke to in the leadup to the trip told me that I’d fall in love with it almost instantly.
Everyone else in our convoy unpacked and settled in for bed in what seemed like lightning speed. So Steve and I, beer in tow, set about constructing our swags for the first time and we went about getting a good night’s sleep.
An eye-opening experience
For those of you who have been exposed to the camping life a long time, you’ll know that this next bit is exactly what makes you love travelling this way. Waking up to a sunrise, with fresh air pouring through your swag, and the sounds of Australia’s nature, ready to greet you for your day.
Incredible campsite locations would soon become the norm on this trip, not that we ever took them for granted. Each would be bolder, richer, more picturesque and more remote than the one before it, one of the benefits of being led by a crew like HEMA, you could say. But this first morning of waking up to a completely new experience was the very first time that things clicked for me, and that I could start to understand why so many people have the passion to camp.
As we took stock of the surroundings, we both just started to laugh. “We could be at work right now,” Steve said. And laughed maniacally. Our attentions then turned to the big, black, 6WD Landcruiser towing a Polaris Razor that had arrived during the night. This was our introduction to MaxTrax’s very own, Brad.
After a mornings breakfast staring out over the water, the convoy set off on the 300km journey to Port Lincoln, through Coffin Bay and toward Whalers Way to take in the breathtaking view of the Cape, spot some seals and push on to our first cliff top campsite.
A sense of community
One thing that I soon learnt is that food becomes a big part of your day. Not only because you spend such long spells of time in the car, or to help get you out of the car and break up long stretches of driving, but also to forge a sense of community within your travel party. Every day we travelled would consist of a roadside lunch, and end with a cook-up at night, where a few drinks and a recap of the day that was had. The backdrop would always be a huge talking point as we took in the surrounds, the experience, the opportunity and the fortune that we had in being in such a position together.
But not only that, food stops offer you such a fantastic opportunity to learn more about new people, who have different views, come from different places, and have so much value to share. Community became a big part, and highlight, of our time together.
Day three, however, would be a highlight all of its own for everyone on board, as we headed to Baird Bay to swim with sea lions and dolphins. It’s an experience you definitely need to have, and one that you will not be disappointed by. It also offered a great opportunity to get some fresh water onto our skin after a few days of riding in the front seat of the Hilux.
Getting into the real stuff
After then spending the night in the Caravan Park at Streaky Bay, the convoy took off toward Fowler’s Bay for a couple of days of dune driving, high-speed Polaris action on the beach and amongst the cliff-tops, and an opportunity to sleep at some truly remarkable cliff-top locations.
Leaving Fowler’s Bay after an extended stay was not easy, but it meant we were about to sink our teeth into the real stuff. After off-roading the length of the iconic Dog Fence that separates South and Western Australia, it was on to the Nullarbor and time for the journey to truly begin.
We pulled up late to the Koonalda Homestead, located off the Eyre Highway and within the Nullarbor National Park. This campsite is certainly unique, as you weave within the graveyard of rusted old cars and trucks, between the homestead and abandoned sheering shed and find a spot to set-up camp.
A wake-up to remember
Having arrived in the late evening, it was only when the sun started to rise that we were truly able to appreciate the richness and strange beauty of the place. With rays of light passing through hollowed out windscreen cavities and rust holes in boots and in doors, it certainly has a strange calming effect on you.
Hopping back into the cars saw us cross the border into WA, where we stopped for some supplies and much needed showers in Madura before tackling an epic coastal drive, via the Eyre Bird Observatory in Cocklebiddy, before arriving at the stunning Twilight Cove to our campsite. Nestled between the dunes and the immersive cliff face, where we had the entire area to ourselves, the group was buoyant and totally in awe of the day that was had.
From Twilight Cove we headed for Baxter’s Point, where the pure off-road 4x4ing began, as we made our way along the old telegraph track, stopping in on the historic telegraph station.
The following morning we visited Baxter’s Memorial where Brad, an Australian history buff, gave us an eye-opening account of Edward Eyre and John Baxter’s journey. Before taking off a tiring and tense 100km battle of 4x4ing, following the telegraph track further.
Our next camp was the Bilbunya Dunes, another wonderful beach campsite, surrounded by dunes as big as most apartment blocks, we spent the morning being rejuvenated, filming and watching the Polaris do its thing.
We then took off across the beach, through the salt lakes before calling it a day a few short kilometres from our destination at the tip of the Bight, Point Malcolm.
A journey’s end
An early rise saw our convoy take-off onto the beach for a short journey to the tip of Point Malcom. As we disembarked our vehicles and made our way onto the rocks with the morning’s sun welcoming us, it was a fitting end to what had been an incredible adventure.
We basked in the enormity of what this trip entailed, the testing but very rewarding experiences it offered and a once in a lifetime insight into what feels like another world. But one that, in reality, is just some good planning and a few tanks of diesel away.
It was a fitting end to an incredible adventure, and as Steve and I bid our farewells to the rest of the team it wasn’t until later that day, sat in Esperance with a beer in hand, freshly washed and back amongst the land of the living, that we could truly take stock of the occasion.
“Did we really just do that?” Steve asked, as the memories already began to feel surreal.
A rewarding experience
It was over a 5,000km round trip and ten nights of travel. One that was testing, rewarding and inspiring. A hell of a way to be introduced to camping but one that truly offered a taste of everything the lifestyle has to offer.
And whether you’re new to 4WD camping or someone who has been there and done it all before, I implore you to get on out there and experience it at every opportunity you get.
Off-road, unwashed, out of my comfort zone... but loving it!