Crossing the Nullarbor From South Australia into Western Australia
3 Jan 2007
|Jeff's account, from Wednesday 20th to Friday 22nd, Streaky Bay to Norseman.
1303 k; 813 miles.
The camp site proved to be of some vintage and well used, especially by those who liked to fish. Signs made it clear, no cleansing of the fish should be conducted in the amenities areas; special areas were in place on the beach for this purpose. There was no problem in disposing of the spare bits of fish.
After saying our goodbyes we set off to cross the 'Nullarbor'. The Nullarbor National Park adjoins the Great Australian Bight which stretches along the southern coast of Australia from Tasmania to Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia. This is the longest stretch of south-facing coastline in the southern hemisphere and is a unique stretch of coastline, supporting many marine species specific to this area. We have travelled along much of The Great Australian Bight during our Australian journey.
Ceduna, a major commercial centre is the last place to buy reasonably priced fuel and so we stopped for lunch, parking with views over the sea. There were several groups of aborigine who seemed to have nothing to do but sit under trees and drink alcohol; evidence of empty cans and bottles suggested our spot was sometimes used by such groups. We filled up with fuel and moved on.
The journey passes several Roadhouses where more fuel, at an increased cost, may be bought. The Nullarbor Oasis is located 59 miles to the west of Yalata Roadhouse. You have now reached the treeless plain or "nullus arbour". Once a part of the ocean floor, the Nullarbor is the world's biggest, flattest piece of limestone, covering an area of approximately 200,000 square kilometres and up to 300 metres thick. We are travelling the Eyre Highway, the main East/West road link which passes through the coastal areas of the park and only traverses a short section of the true Nullarbor Plain. It consists of coastal scrub along the Highway and the vast treeless tracts of saltbush and bluebush of the true plain are further inland. Beneath the plain is a vast hidden world of caves, caverns, underground lakes and dolines.
Those with four wheel drive vehicles could leave the highway at certain points and visit caves and other areas of interest. The whole journey is regarded as 'Crossing the Nullarbor' and described by some as boring and others as fascinating; I am sure the journey never seems the same twice. The vegetation keeps changing for no apparent reason. After miles of low scrub with views of nothing you can suddenly be travelling through low, medium or large bush country. How the plants on the crumbling cliff edges survive is one of nature's miracles.
We set off in severe heat and again experienced the desert smell. This is a unique smell which I can best describe as one of burnt dust which has been re-fried many times. It is not offensive but unlikely to be bottled by Channel. Our expectation of needing a powered site for the night so as to be able to use our air conditioning, changed as clouds began to move in and the air became cooler. We decided to bush camp for the night, (more like scrub heather camp), at one of the many stopping spots. This one was at one of the scenic views and we shared it with three other groups of travellers. One couple were travelling from Sydney to Perth to attend the mans daughter's wedding on the 29th; a family with young children were travelling the other way to Mildura to spend Christmas with relatives.
As we sat out watching the night fall I drew Sylvia's attention to a small area of sky in the vast distance, of a red light which kept flashing on and off. I guessed it was sheet lightning but I had never seen its like before. During the night it rained heavily before settling to a steady rain. The Nullarbor can go a whole year without rain. On waking the next day we found that all of the plants had had a good wash and the air was warm and fresh. We turned off the road at all of the special viewing spots, taking care not to go too close to the crumbling cliff edges and took lots of photographs. I took one of a 'very rare Nullarbor puddle'. After much debate Sylvia finally convinced me a photograph of a puddle would not create too much interest back home and so the picture has not been included in this blog entry.
At the border the clocks went back ¾ of an hour and further along the journey the clocks went back a further ¾ of an hour. We are now 9 hours ahead of UK time. The van was searched by a quarantine inspector and she even checked the boxes under the bed to ensure I was not using any which had first been used to carry fruit and veg. With a clean bill of health we travelled on to Mundrabilla for food and fuel. I kept my eyes open around here; well, you can't see with them shut. Australia's biggest meteorite was discovered nearby, weighing over 10 tonnes.
Further along we stopped for tea at Madura. Here we found very large puddles and learned that the winds last night had driven the water into the Roadhouse and flooded it. We also learned that the rain had stretched all the way to Perth, a distance of 750 miles from where we spent the night. Later I learned from a lady that her farm, over 300 miles above Perth, had had more rain this night than in the whole of the last 12 months. Whilst at the border Western Australia border village we noticed there was a simpler way to transport a motorhome across the Nullarbor. We tried to hitch a lift but there was no room.
After a rest stop at Caiguna we began the longest stretch of straight road in Australia. This is regarded as a severe test of concentration; we broke the journey up and during the evening drive of the first leg spotted over 40 kangaroos. After about 60 k of the road, (37 ½ miles), we stopped for the night at the second rest stop, not having been impressed with the first. The day's travel had been very interesting. The temperature had been warm, (not hot), and there had been many showers of short duration. All of the flora and fauna had a fresh look about it.
Our last day of this memorable journey began with the remaining 86.6 kilometres of very straight road, (54 miles). It sounds as though it would be boring but it is not flat, you travel over a lot of ridges and the scenery around you does change. Despite the road signs suggesting we had to dodge kangaroos, camels and Emus', we only saw 3 Emus', no camels and less than 50 kangaroos. It seemed strange to come across extra wide stretches of road with pull off parts along the edge so the Royal Flying Doctor Service aeroplanes could land. However, in an emergency, these areas of road would be vital.
I believe the Eyre Highway became a sealed road in the eighties. Prior to this it was a dirt road which in some places had deep potholes that would fill with dust. I was told by a long seasoned traveller the lorry drivers would place worn out tires in the dust holes and place sticks into these holes to warn other travellers to drive round them. Despite the fact that there has never been a better time to travel the Eyre Highway', it was still a bit hairy. We travelled along a road which had the normal width each way, with the markings down the middle, but no edging. The tarmac stopped, (sometimes crumbling), and the dust verge began. When the Road Trains drove past they seemed to be very close, this was probably because they were very close.
At the end of the longest straight road we travelled through a series of long bends and then an eight mile stretch of road works which made the road narrower. I was glad to get past this bit. We are now at Balladonia, the nearest town to where lumps of Sky Lab came down to earth in 1971. You need eyes in more places than the back of your head around this place.
The next stretch had clearly been upgraded recently and it seemed this work would eventually continue all the way to Norseman. What a difference it makes to have a clear white line on your left with an extra two foot of tarmac to the line's left. I'm sure the few cyclists we past on our journey also appreciate this extra bit of road. It is my presumption the road upgrading will eventually stretch for the whole journey and future travel will be better. Some do the journey in two days; I found that splitting our three day journey into three lots of 500 plus kilometres, (over 310 miles) worked best for us.
Still morning, it felt good to arrive at Norseman.