Monday, 25 February 2013

25-30 February 2013 - All aboard the Nullarbor!

We crossed the Nullarbor from west to east with Norseman, another old gold mining town, being the last proper town on the WA side.  We'd  heard all the 'Nullar boring' jokes, but were strangely excited about the prospect of the crossing.  We'd been to the tip of mainland Australia at Cape York and here we were almost 2 years later crossing the Nullarbor!

The Nullarbor is technically only a 94km stretch of treeless plain or 'nullus arbor" and located just inside the SA border.    However the term 'crossing the Nullarbor' seems to refer to all points between Norseman WA and Ceduna SA and consists of a series of roadhouses spaced between 100-200km apart.  You are never really alone during this crossing, even in February there were plenty of caravans and road trains.  It would be a real highway during the main grey nomad tourist season.

First stop, Balladonia, which made worldwide headlines in 1979 when space debris from Skylab landed about 40km away.  The roadhouse includes old newspaper articles, photos of the debris and even some actual wreckage.  Apparently hundreds of reports flocked to the area at the time, together with plenty of souvenir hunters.  I do vaguely remember seeing it on the news, I would have been about 15 at the time and not overly interested in what was going on outside my own adolescent world!

Actual Skylab debris. Much was collected by NASA but later returned.

The other memorable think about Balladonia, specific to our family, is the cold pizza Larry, Kate and Elizabeth had for lunch.  The wood-fired pizza was left over from dinner the night before when we decided to eat out for our final night in WA.  Remember we stayed in a small town called Salmon Gums to catch up on washing (with the twin tub).  I'd read some reviews about the delicious pizzas made at the pub, and they were delicious.  The leftovers went into our fridge for lunch the next day. 

So here we are, parked at Balladonia, with Larry and the girls tucking into their cold pizza (there were only 3 pieces so I opted out).  Kate asked what the white stuff was on the pizza.  Larry responded it was probably parmesan cheese.  Kate then asked why it was moving!  Larry gagged and spat out what was in his mouth.  Baby maggots!  How gross.  All three pieces went into the bin before we could even think about taking photos.  Needless to say it was some weeks before we could face another pizza!

Next roadhouse was Caiguna which was closest to the Baxter Cliffs. This was also the beginning of the longest straight stretch of highway in Australia.


Nearby was the Caiguna blowhole, where you could hear wind whistling up through a series of underground caves.  It felt like standing in front of a strong air-conditioner.

Caiguna Blowhole

Cocklebiddy (love these names!) roadhouse was next along the highway.  It was initially an Aboriginal mission and now has the Eyre Bird Observatory located in an old telegraph station.  As birds aren't really our thing, we didn't visit the observatory.

Inside the Cocklebiddy roadhouse - it was a dump! 
Just outside the front door was an old washing machine!

The Madura Roadhouse, the mid point between Adelaide and Perth was once a station that bred horses for the British Army in India.  There were fantastic views over the plains out towards the Southern Ocean from the top of the pass.

Yet another roadhouse, Mundrabilla, provided fuel.  Its claim to fame is also the location of Australia's biggest meteorite weighing in at over 10 tonnes.  Unfortunately the track to it was definitely 4WD and we had the van attached so that detour wasn't practical.  Next time!

Our favourite stop was Eucla.  The roadhouse had a funky sign, playground and small museum but was only a few km from the Eucla telegraph station ruins. 

A long way to anywhere!

Kate after spraining her ankle at the Eucla playground. Good
opportunity to catch up on her maths! Fortunately this occurred after
we had been to the old telegraph station.

In the early 1900's, Eucla was once the busiest telegraph station in the country outside the capital cities.  It first opened in 1877 and helped link WA with the rest of the country and the world, sending over 11,000 Morse code telegraphs per year.  As you can see by the photos, we all had lots of fun playing around the ruins, which are slowly disappearing beneath the sand.

Ruins of Eucla telegraph station

On the actual WA/SA border is a, you guessed it, a roadhouse called 'Border Village.  170km east is the Nullarbor roadhouse, and the official beginning of the true Nullarbor Plain.  Once part of the ocean floor, the Nullarbor is the world's biggest, flattest piece of limestone, covering an area of approx. 200,000 square km and up to 300 metres thick.  And it is flat!  And treeless! 

12km off the highway is the technical location of the 'Head of Bight' and a popular whale watching point. This area also has the Bunda cliffs where the plain drops 90 metres into the pounding ocean.  There are a series of look outs and overnight camp spots and on one night we had the area entirely to ourselves.

Very dramatic coastline stretching 200km to the WA/SA border.

Bunda Cliffs on an overcast day

This taken about 2.00pm.

Next stop is Yalata, which has the famous 'look out for camels, wombats, kangaroo' signs.  The same sign first appears on the road and must be the scene of many near misses as they are not easy to stop at, however a replica has been installed at the roadhouse for safety reasons.


A Rio Tinto iron ore train being transported across the Nullarbor by roadtrain!

Next roadhouse is Nundroo and 70km down the road is Penong is known for its dozens of windmills and wheat silos.
Penong has over 100 windmills, most operational

There are a few detours into beach locations which we also decided to save for the next trip.  We finally reached Ceduna, which despite being 481km from the WA/SA border, was the location of border control and a very strict quarantine station so all our fruit & veg had to be either eaten or discarded prior to reaching Ceduna.  This was also the first major commercial centre we'd seen since leaving Esperance in WA, so we made a beeline for a supermarket to stock up, a decent coffee shop and a caravan park to catch up on washing.
The entire journey from Norseman WA to Ceduna SA was 1194km and took us a leisurely 4 days.  You could easily stretch it out just by staying longer in the free camps along the way and just staring at the gorgeous cliffs and the Southern Ocean, however we had overcast weather the whole time and it certainly wasn't 'sitting in camp chairs looking at the ocean' weather!  This crossing is certainly not the uncomfortable rigorous overland trek it used to be, but we still felt a sense of achievement in seeing this beautifully rugged part of southern Australia.

Travellers Tips:  The entire road is good quality bitumen with plenty of fuel stops.  The tourist office in Norseman will give you a small slip of paper with distances between each fuel stop and their opening hours. A few have full mechanical workshops. The price of fuel during our trip ranged between $2.05 per litre diesel to $1.62 per litre at Nundroo. There are plenty of free camp spots along the route.  Mobile reception was available for much of the journey. Quarantine is strict in both directions and fruit and veg are not able to be taken into either state.

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