|Travelling Australia - Journal 2008b|
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|25 June 2008 - nr Yalata - Whale watching - nr Yalata|
The night had not been as cold as some previous nights, the morning was bright and sunny. Trucks passing on the Eyre Highway had been obvious by their noise but we had not heard too many overnight.
From the overnight stop the road continued through mallee country with bluebush/saltbush/acacia understory. Soon after setting off we passed Yalata Mission and the closed and empty roadhouse. 40 km before the Nullarbor Roadhouse the mallee began thinning to low scrub less than half a metre high. Then, over a surprisingly short distance of about ten kilometres, the mallee was completely replaced by low scrub and the nearly continuous low hills on the road flattened out. By the time we reached the sign twelve kilometres further on proclaiming the beginning of the treeless plain of the Nullarbor the road was completely flat.
We turned off the Eyre Highway along the 12 km bitumen access road for the whale-watching lookout and parked outside the Information Centre. We paid $10 each (concession) for daily entry then walked out to the lookout where there were about ten adult whales and at least three calves (probably more but very young calves stay close to their mothers and are hard to see). The whales were swimming very slowly (barely moving) from east to west below the cliff. There were not as many as we saw on our previous visit and today they were mostly further out to sea. But the sea was calmer today and it was easier to see the white markings on each whale. In addition, I had a better camera with far more powerful zoom capability than on the previous visit.
Most whales were pretty dull to watch slowly moving past the lookout but during the morning and afternoon sessions I spent at the lookout there was one "performer" who came closer than other whales to the lookout and livened things up. The afternoon performer, without a calf and possibly waiting to give birth, acted in a way that in a human would be described as bored. She rolled upside down for a while, then blew air out of the blowhole while it was underwater; next trick was to float submerged with one fin out of the water, then she swam along on her side with half of the body above the surface for no apparent reason. At the end of the "show" she swam slowly towards the rock platform at the foot of the cliff looking as if she was about to run herself aground, but then slowly turned away into deeper water. The "performer" in the morning had a calf and contented herself with swimming on her back - which may have been more to stop the calf suckling than anything else. She also came very close to the foot of the cliff then turned away.
|Adult female Southern Right Whale with her calf. The white patches around the mother's head are callosities which form a pattern unique to each whale and allow repeat identification by whale-watchers.|
|Adult Southern Right Whale from ahead. The tail flukes can be seen under the water. Right Whales do not have dorsal fins characteristic of Humpback whales.|
|Swimming upside down; this may be done to stop calves feeding or to discourage unwanted males.|
|Flipper raised above the surface; sometimes the flipper is used as a sail.|
|We left the whale lookout at 3:15 and went to the Nullarbor Roadhouse for fuel at 200.9 cents a litre; the first occasion for petrol over $2 a litre. By now the wind had increased from barely noticeable this morning to very strong and gusty. We left Nullarbor Roadhouse heading west intending to stay the night at a rest area 20 kilometres away beyond the edge of the treeless plain which doesn't extend far on either side of the Nullarbor Roadhouse, but the trees did not provide worthwhile shelter so we turned around and headed east intending to find somewhere for the night among the mallee trees east of the exposed Nullarbor area.|
|East of the Head of the Bight the vertical cliffs are replaced by sand dunes.|
|Roadhouses are practically the only human habitation passed on the long drive between Ceduna and Norseman. This is Nullarbor Roadhouse.|
As expected, the strong wind had a significant effect on fuel consumption. While we were heading into wind the fuel computer reported 24 to 26 litres per 100 kilometres. If we had intended to continue west into this wind we would have had to consider whether we could reach the next roadhouse with the petrol we were carrying; maybe we would have had to stop for the night hoping the wind dropped tomorrow. But that was a "What If?". In fact we turned around and had the wind behind us with the fuel computer reporting 13 to 15 litres per 100 kilometres.
As we made our way across the Nullarbor to the mallee vegetation we noticed a substantial difference. On the Nullarbor Plain itself vegetation looked in poor condition. Arid land plants such as saltbush and bluebush living on the Nullarbor are not everybody's idea of attractive plants at the best of times but on previous visits here we had seen plants that were healthy and growing well. Now it looked as if drought had affected plants badly; they were discoloured and shabby and seemed much smaller. Once we reached the mallee area, plants looked much healthier. The mallee itself had bright green leaves while understory plants were a pale blue (healthy for them) or various shades of green. On closer examination one species of green shrub in the mallee area was dying in large numbers but most understory species looked healthy enough. The contrast was striking.
In the mallee area we found a suitable spot off the road before Yalata Mission and were soon settled among the trees sheltered from the strong wind moving the upper branches. We were a bit closer than we liked to the road but expected/hoped that truck noise would not be a problem.