- Orroroo (A) to Iron Knob (B)
A scattering of clouds greeted us for the first time in several days as I left Orroroo in the early morning light. The road wound through the Flinders Range, which presented a stretch of rolling hills and also some pleasantly long downhills.
After fifty kilometres I passed through the little town of Wilmington, a quaint settlement of just 300-odd people that, somewhat surprisingly for such a small spot, supports a toy museum. The district is also home to Mount Remarkable. Reaching some 960 metres above sea level this mountain of quartzite is said to glow a brilliant red at sunset. We were not to see this, though, as we still had a way to go before we would stop for the night.
Leaving Wilmington the road climbs into the hills of the Flinders Ranges almost immediately and threads its way through some of the most magnificent scenery that we were to see on the entire trip. A steep climb known as Horrocks Pass in honour of the explorer John Horrocks who descended though this pass in 1846, presented a fair challenge as I wound my way to the crest. From the high point there were long, sweeping downhills as the road dropped down towards the coast. As pleasant as it was to freewheel, courtesy of gravity, I took the downhills at a rather sedate pace to as I soaked up the glorious scenery.
Spencer Gulf hoved into view, our first glimpse of the sea since leaving Ballina, and shortly thereafter the R56 joined the Eyre Highway for the last few kilometres into Port Augusta. I loaded the bike into the campervan at the outskirts of Port Augusta and we drove into town for breakfast and to do some sight-seeing. We also visited a grocery shop and stocked up for the week ahead, not knowing what facilities would be available once we entered the Nullabor Plains.
I would be on the Eyre Highway for a long time. It runs from Port Augusta to Norseman, a distance of close to 1700 kilometres, much of which is across the Nullabor Plains. It winds through an area rich in its history of explorers and pioneers, folk who displayed unbounded courage in opening up the region and making it possible for the likes of myself to cycle across it in relative safety.
By the time I climbed back onto the bike in Port Augusta for the balance of the day’s ride the wind had gathered in strength and met me head on. The speed of the earlier part of the day (I had averaged marginally over 30 kph for the first one hundred kilometres) was bled away as I was forced to use gears that hadn’t seen the chain for days. Luckily it wasn’t to last, though, and just twenty kilometres after leaving Port Augusta the Eyre Highway curved more to the west and in consequence the wind was changed to a cross wind and my speed picked up again.
It was very hot by this time, in spite of the wind, and it was something of a relief to reach Iron Knob, the agreed stopping place for the day.
Iron Knob, just 152 metres above sea level, is a very dry area, receiving an average of just 200mm of rain each year, but it is the minerals that are found here that have given birth to the town and over the past hundred years the height of Iron Knob Hill has been reduced by more than 150 metres, although it still looms over the settlement below.
Alas! We found no caravan park at Iron Knob, the closest being the one that we had passed earlier, some thirty-five kilometres back towards Port Augusta. We toyed with the idea of bussing the bike back, but this wasn’t really an appealing thought in the hot midday sun. The owner of the motel at the edge of Iron Knob suggested that we park adjacent to one of the motel cabins and link up the van’s power to the room, a very gracious offer indeed. In the end, though, we decided just to book into the motel and enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of a cool room, a proper bed, and even a TV set. Five-star luxury after two weeks in a campervan!
But the five star luxury lost its sheen quite rapidly as the shutters of fatigue lifted from my eyes. In fact the room was hell. The air conditioning brought the temperature down to a more comfortable level, which was a blessed relief from the van parked in the unrelenting sun, but for the rest the motel comforts fell well short of expectations. The TV had but a single channel, with a series of programmes drawn from the gold medallists in “The Worlds Most Boring Videos” competition. The bed linen hadn’t been changed since the last pubic-hair-shedding residents had left, and there were creepy-crawlies of outback origin living in the bedclothes. The plumbing was noisy and the thin panels of the walls were in the process of parting each other’s company.
But the motel was cheap and I must concede that it was a pleasant change to have enough room to move around without tripping over each other.