17 September 2015
Some maps put a ‘the’ between of and Bight. Some don’t. Officially it does seem to be the Bight and so the Head of it should have a ‘the’ before Bight.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d delve quite so much into such semantics if wasn’t for the surplus of thinking time that accumulates riding the Eyre Highway. Afterall as a ride it’s hardly demanding. No hills, no zig-zaggy bendy bits, light traffic – even if some of that light traffic is pretty damned heavy – scenery which, whilst variable, isn’t an eye-capturing changeling demanding attention and distracting the hapless rider, and no cultural distractions such as towns cafes terraces beer food espresso (Oh How I Miss Espresso). Which means I’ve plenty of time to delve into semantics, solve the World’s problems, work out my future, work out my Partner’s future too (not sure she’d buy into it anyway) and generally contemplate Life, The Universe and Everything, the End of the Cold War and Universal Friendship.
Zoning out does come with its risks mind you. Modern trucks, as we’ve observed, can actually be quieter than some modern cars. They can sneak up and scare the bejeebers out of me. A residual bit of wakeful awareness remains essential.
An essential part of my trip is reptile rescue, mostly the Bobtail Skink. One of the first and arguably THE most important reptile in my life. One which got me fascinated in reptiles a L O T of years ago and which has never died nor declined. They also spawned a conservation approach to my/our relationship to nature due to the frightening ignorance these utterly harmless lizards suffered because people simply did not understand them and unfortunately never tried to. Aged 9 I was the neighbourhood reptile rescuer and the Bobby was one of the most frequent I had to rescue. Actually, I was rescuing the hapless human from Bobby since it was the human most disconcerted by this beautiful animal.
The Head of (The) Bight is accessed by turning off the Eyre Highway some 12 km from Nullarbor Roadhouse, and following a good asphalt road for 11 km. The Head is where the Southern Ocean has nibbled it furthest into the Bunda Cliffs and the Nullarbor Plain.
The pinnacle of its achievement as it slowly consumes Australia. It is also the favourite chillout zone for the Southern Right Whale.
Enormous cumbersome beauties who slowly meander their way from their winter (that’s right, they winter in Antarctic water) feeding grounds to the Head of the Bight, and other places along the Bight, where they socialise, swap lessons learned over the winter, catch up with mates, enjoy a bit or romance and love, give birth to last season’s romantic successes, play with and strengthen up the new-borns to be able to make the long, long swim back to the feeding grounds 2000 km to the south.
Nearly hunted to extinction last century they are making quite a comeback. Their name, the Right Whale is a legacy of such hunting. After harpooning they would float, making them the ‘right’ whale since it’s a lot easier to deal with up to 18 m and 80 tonnes of whale if it floats. That they are nicely round and slow also helped in defining their name and in nearly their extinction.
There is no trace of irony in Australia’s current relationship with cetaceans. Australia, and New Zealand, had a well-established whaling industry of which they were proud. A ‘traditional’ industry, no less. Today both countries are ardent global whale conservation leaders and enjoy a resurgent whaling industries based on (eco-)tourism, conservation, study and management. The Head of (The) Bight is one place where all of this comes together in a delightful and indeed spectacular setting. Just 11 km off the Eyre Highway, a research station provides excellent viewing platforms over an azure Southern Ocean with massive mammies playing, suckling and training their calves.
Norway is a country in transition regarding its relationship with whales. It is one of the few countries in the world where you can buy whale meat in a supermarket. They are proud of their whaling tradition. On the other hand they are proud too of their whale-watching and conservation efforts, and the tourism industry it has spawned in Loforton. Whilst on a Sperm Whale watching trip in 2012 out of Andenes I asked the guide what they thought about the paradox of Norway being ‘proud’ of two diametrically opposite ways of enjoying a whale. “I don’t know” came the answer, “I’m not Norwegian, I only work here. You’ll have to ask the Skipper” who was too busy, really, for me to disturb at the time.
We dumped our bags at a free campsite 2 km in from the Eyre Highway and wobbled our way to the research station on light bikes which made the headwind much easier to deal with. Several hours of watching whales and swells and cliffs later we road back, pushed by a glorious tailwind. Delightful day.
Whales were not the only thing to see at the Head of (The) Bight …
The building we slept in appears to be a rammed earth affair tapering from nearly a metre wide at its base to less than half that at its top. The door appears to have been cut into it using some kind of mechanized saw. There are no other orifices in the walls. We conclude it was formerly a water tank, now converted to a camp-shelter. I couldn’t help but wonder at the history of the building and lament that there’s no information to slake my thirst.