Driving the Nullabor

DAY ONE

We left Esperance a little later than expected as we had to get one of our headlight bulbs replaced. Thanks to the BMW call centre, we were able to locate a local place that would have the right part.

The first part of our trip to Norseman followed the railway line and passed through a number of small locations. At Grass Patch, we stopped to look at the memorial to the pioneers and the local hero who won a VC in WW2 at Borneo. We stopped at the little war memorial park in another town (Salmon Gums) for coffee and then we continued north to Norseman for a late lunch. This town is looking very ‘tired’ with lots of shops in the main street now closed but the roadhouses and travelers facilities are thriving. There is a cute display of camels made from corrugated iron in the roundabout in the middle of town.

After turning right at Norseman, we were clearly on the way home. The GPS on my car showed that Adelaide was over 1150 kilometers away. The Eyre Highway is a good road with two lanes with broad shoulders that are well graded to allow for water run-off. It travels virtually east-west and on top of the sand hills running north-south, you can see the straight road continuing for many kilometres ahead. Our destination for the first night was Balladonia, approximately 200 kilometres west of Norseman. Most of the environment was Mallee type scrub with multi-trunked trees, low scrub and saltbush in parts. There were very few roads running off the highway and this gave us the impression that there was very little human habitation in the area.

Just before we reached Balladonia, we turned left along a short dirt road to Newmann’s Rocks. This is a broad rocky area on the side of a hill and the run-off creates a small water hole. I walked about 100 metres down to the water hole to take a photo of se quite spectacular ducks, but was called back by Jill who was concerned about a low moaning sound that she could hear. It turned out that this noise was coming from a mob of six wild camels that were walking through the scrub.

We travelled our final fifty kilometres with the sun low the horizon behind us. I am glad that we have decided to travel towards the east as although it was a lovely warm light in the late afternoon, it would be almost impossible to see when travelling the other way.

It has been quite cool during these late June days. The overnight temperature in this area has been as low as zero degrees and the maximum today was thirteen degrees. The sun set just after 5.00 pm and I’m glad that we had reached our motel by then. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk of driving at sunset when the animals such as kangaroos would be a traffic hazard on the roads.

Balladonia consists of a road house with a small motel and a caravan park. Our motel room was simple, but more comfortable than we had expected. There is only one place to shop and eat and that’s exactly where we went for dinner. Tomorrow, we’ll have a look at the little museum here. This was the place where a chunk of the Skylab space craft crashed to earth in 1979. The local council then issued NASA with a fine for littering, causing President Carter to call the road house with an apology.

DAY TWO

It was very cold when we left Balladonia. The overnight temperature had dropped to minus five degrees (c) and when we walked over to the restaurant it was still one degree below zero. The water pipes had frozen and there was no water for a morning shower.

Our continuing trip across the Nullabor today was fairly straight forward – directly along the Eyre Highway to Eucla. There weren’t many opportunities for side trips as all the roads to places such as the Eyre Bird Observatory require a 4WD.

For the first two hours we drove through scrubland. While the road was very flat, we had a constant optical illusion that we were always traveling up hill on a slight incline. This was caused by the long straight road being bordered by trees and the continual mirage that there was water on the road on the horizon. Not long after leaving Balladonia, we began to cross the longest straight stretch of road in Australia. This extends for 147 kms although it is still known as the ’90 mile straight’. It seemed to go on forever and the straight stretch eventually concluded in a shallow 30 degree bend to the left.

We stopped for a coffee at the Caiguna roadhouse and our lunch stop was at Cocklebiddy. We ordered a pie and a hamburger and sat at a table outside under the veranda and listened to a couple of truckies talking about the ‘mongrel’ of a boss that they worked for. In the afternoon it was on to the settlement of Madura where we could look out over a pass to the plain below and get a view of the enormous flat plain that we would across for the rest the day.

We finally arrrived in Eucla at 4.30 in the afternoon and had time to travel down to the old telegraph station for a photo.

We were surprised during the day as to how little wildlife we saw. It had obviously been raining recently as the whole country was tinged with a strong touch of green. Our wildlife sightings during the day consisted of one measly kangaroo, a wedge tail eagle, four emus, two parrots and countless crows.

DAY THREE

We weren’t really sure where the Nullabor Plain ended, but now we know.

We left Ceduna Eucla at 8.30 am after a quick breakfast and a brief look at the memorial to John Eyre who first discovered this area in his epic trip from Adelaide to Albany. We travelled only 13 kilometres before we crossed the border into South Australia at Border Village. From there we travelled through low scrubland and along the coast to the road house at Nullabor. Along the way, there are a number of places where we could turn off for a few hundred metres to see the high coastline cliffs along the Great Australian Bight. These were very spectacular and well worth the short detour.

Just past the Nullabor roadhouse, we found the turn off to the ‘Head of the Bight’. If there is one place to stop along the way, this must be it. There is a really nice visitor centre and a boardwalk with coastal views. It is worth every cent of the $12 admission fee. We spent quite a while here and found about 8 Southern Right Whales swimming in the bay area. They come here in the winter months to calve. Some were only a few hundred metres off the shore. The scenery here is quite stunning. Not only for the whales, but to the east are an enormous set of sand dunes and to the west is the start of the 75 metre high cliffs that extend for over 200 kilometres to the West Australian border.

We chatted to the two ladies who ran the visitor’s centre for a while and stopped for lunch. This was just as well, as the next roadhouse at Yalata has been closed for some time for renovations. This area is right in the middle of the small section of the true section of the Nullabor Plain that exists this far south. Most of this tree-less plain is further north and you need to travel by train to see it. Further on towards the east, the country changes to undulating sand hills with Mallee type scrub.

We realised that we had completed our crossing of the Nullabor when we reached the tiny town of Nundroo. Here, the country opens out to broad pastoral country with wheat and sheep farming. This is the very western, and marginal area, of the South Australian wheat belt. Along the way, we passed a number of abandoned and ruined homesteads from the days when properties were of a much different size than they are today.

As we traveled further east, the newly planted wheat fields became larger and larger. Some stretched further than the eye could see and were easily more than a few square kilometers in size. By this stage were feeling a real sense of accomplishment. We had come out of nowhere to somewhere! At last we were in an area where people lived and had houses. We hadn’t seen this type of civilisation for over two days.

By the end of the day, we reached Ceduna, where we passed through the quarantine station with a check for any fruit and plants in our possession. We checked into our hotel by the foreshore. It seemed to be the centre of community life with a large crowd present for the Sunday night roast dinner. The food was good and plentiful. I don’t know whether there is a crime problem in this city, but these was an emphasis on security with parking behind a large heavy gate.

2 comments

  1. 'Trina Bruce · ·

    HI there, so glad you saw the Old telegraph station at EUCLA. Lookig for ward to seeing your photo as we didn’t see it. Life is ticking along OK. Rob now able to drive again:) As always “Safe driving” ‘Trina

  2. Bruce Merrett · ·

    I think you meant Eucla… not Ceduna ????

    DAY THREE

    We weren’t really sure where the Nullabor Plain ended, but now we know.

    We left Ceduna at 8.30 am after a quick breakfast