Aussie ABC: N is for Nullarbor
I was 4 – nearly 5! – the first time I crossed the Nullarbor. Xmas day, and we were on the Indian Pacific* heading for Adelaide. We’d spent Xmas eve in a pub somewhere in rough as guts Western Australian gold-mining town Kalgoorlie, but I don’t remember that – maybe I blanked it out …
In September 2012, I made my second Nullarbor crossing, this time by car along the Eyre Highway. And while it was hot, dry and dusty with a killer sand-laden wind fresh from the furnaces of hell, I couldn’t suppress the frisson of excitement that travelling this iconic landscape gave me.
Because the Eyre Highway’s 1660 km length**, crossing two monster states, three time zones and the world’s largest limestone karst shelf covering 200,000 km²makes a Nullarbor crossing the ultimate Australian rite-of-passage road trip!
The Nullarbor is WAY more than just a long, dusty drive from A to B.
With unique Australian AND World Exclusives jostling for position amidst magnificent coastal scenery, remote roadhouses and the opportunity to be truly alone, who WOULDN’T want to experience the wonders of the treeless (Null = none; arbor = tree) plain?
BUT … if you’re having trouble picturing how a Nullarbor crossing – perhaps the ultimate Australian travel adventure – is a good thing, here’s 6 trip-teaser things to see and do on the Nullarbor Plain so you can see what you’re missing!!
1 The Golf:
OK, you’re on the Nullarbor on (arguably) Australia’s greatest road trip and I’m talking GOLF??
Even if – like me – you’re NOT a golfer, you’ll surely want to add a World Exclusive like World’s LONGEST golf course to your repertoire, right??
Nullarbor Links stretches 1365 km (848 miles) over 18 holes from the ‘CY O’Connor’ and ‘Golden Mile’ holes in Kalgoorlie to ‘Denial Bay’ and ‘Oyster Beds’ at Ceduna with 14 other aptly named holes – think ‘Skylab’ at Balladonia, ‘Nullarbor Nymph’ at Eucla and ‘Dingo’s Den’ at the Nullarbor Roadhouse – along the way. And you don’t have to lug a whole lot of (to me) superfluous golfing gear around either! Hire clubs at each hole!!
MORE about Nullarbor Links!
2 The Bight:
Once across the border into South Australia, the highway skirts the Bunda cliffs with their white base of Wilson Bluff Limestone.
A dramatic edge to the Great Australian Bight – that 1160 km long mouthful shaped chunk that eats into Southern Australia – the impressive 200 km of unbroken cliffs is part of the longest sea-cliff line in the world.
From here, there’s NOTHING between you and Antarctica except what we Aussies call the Great Southern Ocean. To the rest of you, it’s just part of the Indian Ocean.
3 The Whales and other Wildlife:
Between May and October each year, up to 60 Southern Right Whales migrate to this area to breed and calve. One of the best places to sight them is the northernmost tip of the curve of southern coastline, imaginatively called Head of Bight!
Get below the cliff line on the Great Australian Bight Marine Park’s viewing platform that puts you as close to the whales as you can get without getting wet! But don’t just drop in like we did – break your journey at the nearby Nullarbor Roadhouse so you can spend all the time you want whale watching.
If whales aren’t your thing, birdwatch at the Eyre Bird Observatory – Nullarbor Quail-thrush is only found on the Nullarbor!
Failing that, foolishly driving from dusk onwards will virtually guarantee sightings of wildlife up REAL close …
4 The Exclusives:
A Nullarbor road-trip really is the best way to appreciate Australia’s size and scope as well as some experiences to be had nowhere else in Australia – or the World!
During the trip, experience the longest straight stretch of road in Australia!
Just how long IS 90-mile straight?? Of course … it’s 91.1 miles (or 146.6 km)!!
And if you miss the bight and longest line of sea-cliffs in the world because you’re travelling by train, make up for it by riding the longest straight stretch of railway line in the world – 478 km (297 miles).
Under the world record breaking limestone karst, worn by the weathering of millenia, lies the world’s longest cave system complete with rockholes and blowholes, including Koonalda Cave and Murrawijinie Caves near the Nullarbor Roadhouse.
At 2.5 million acres, Rawlinna station is the biggest sheep station in the world!
Yes, that makes it bigger than quite a number of countries … although the dry sheep equivalent out here is pretty low!
Taking a photo of the big nothing emptiness isn’t too difficult … on roads this long, there’s not a lot of other traffic to get in the way!
5 The History:
Perhaps because of its isolation, harsh climate and unique features, the Nullarbor’s fascinating history can be experienced along the way.
Several settlements and roadhouses are built around the Telegraph line, like Eucla, near the WA/SA border, once the busiest Telegraph Station outside the capital cities when it opened in 1877. Drowning in sand, the ruins can still be accessed by 4WD.
The Eyre Bird Observatory was once an historic Telegraph Station, itself on the site of a watering hole used by Edward John Eyre during his Nullarbor Crossing. Back on the highway, nearby Cocklebiddy was once an Aboriginal mission. Indigenous legend and history is further explored at the Head of Bight Interpretive Centre.
If you can remember back to 1979, spare a thought for Skylab when you reach Balladonia – debris was found at Woorlba Sheep Station 40 km east. A Cultural Heritage Museum in the hotel complex also recreates the area’s history including Aboriginal Dreaming legend and Afghan Cameleers.
To cement YOUR place in history, pick up a Nullarbor Crossing Certificate from the Norseman Tourist Centre OR from the Port Augusta Wadlata Visitor Information Centre – depending on from which end your trip started!!
6 The Nullarbor Nymph:
The story of a blonde white woman living among kangaroos on the Nullarbor Plain was first reported, perhaps unsurprisingly on the day after Xmas, 1971.
After some footage of a woman wearing kangaroo skins was released – did I mention she was half-naked?? – the small town of Eucla (then with a population of 8) on the Western Australian side of the border with South Australia, was swamped by journalists from around the world.
Sadly, the Nullarbor Nymph was outed as a hoax in 1972, although perhaps she remains a subliminal fantasy for in the ‘best’ Aussie tradition, the story of the nymph has been immortalised in a (you’ll not be surprised to hear low-budget) film.
Most – if not all – travellers won’t get to see the nymph, so will have to content themselves with this Aussie BIG Thing at the Half-way Across Australia mark instead …
Just between us, this is only the beginning … there are WAAAAY more than these 6 things to see and do on the Nullarbor! But I’ll leave finding the rest up to you!!
Interested? Intrigued?? Incited??? THEN … Read MORE:
The Nullarbor Plain, South Australia and Western Australia
ALL the Aussie ABCs:
* Famous Australian train running from Sydney to Perth ie between the Indian and Pacific oceans!!
** From Norseman, Western Australia to Port Augusta, South Australia – with the accepted limits of the Nullarbor Plain being the ~1200 km from Norseman to Ceduna. The actual distance from Perth to Adelaide is 2700 km.