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52. Australian Road Trip: Crossing the Nullarbor Plain and the Eyre Peninsula detour
41 secs of Nullarbor with a Celtic soundtrack
Nullarbor = No trees
Nullarbor is Latin for “no trees”, an apt description of the place. If we were doing this journey in the Winnebago we would be extremely nervous; shitting-ourselves-nervous. But now, in the Mitsubishi, we are reasonably confident of getting across the stretch comfortably in two days. From Esperance it is a mere 200kms to the crossroads town of Norseman where north leads to Kalgoorlie thence back to Perth, and east heads across the Nullabor, and eventually, to Sydney, and home. After refuelling at Norseman we power headlong into the Nulla, arriving at the Caiguna Roadhouse in the late afternoon. The main attraction en route being the famous “90 Mile Straight” - 146kms (90 miles) without a bend. At Caiguna Roadhouse we take a cabin for the night. It is more a “donga” than a cabin, a steel box with windows and a plastic ensuite. We have dinner in the wild west-style restaurant before bedding down in full pyjama ensemble as It is brass-monkey cold. We arise early to find the featureless landscape completely hidden by thick fog.
Anything but Nulla Boring
Next morning... early
We drive on intp the fog, blind to our surroundings, relying on the unbending road to lead us through the pea-souper. At this time in the morning there are no oncoming vehicles as most drivers coming from the east would have stayed the night at Eucla on the South Australian border, some 350kms away. We don’t see westward bound traffic until much later in the morning. I believe no one in their right mind would drive across the Nullabor at night, in fog – that would be madness.
As the day progresses, the fog clears to reveal a crisp blue sky and a warm gentle sun. Our awe is suitably inspired at the dramatic lookouts dotted along the highway offering views of the Great Australian Bight and the Great Southern Ocean pounding the base of the sheer cliffs hundreds of feet below. We stop, look, gasp, photograph, then move on.
Nullarbor Roadhouse is at the western edge of the treeless plain, according to the sign, so really we have only just reached the Nullarbor Plain proper and we’ve been driving for a day and a half. I am getting confused, but not enough to say no to a side trip down to the whale watching station about 10kms south of the highway. Here we are able to borrow some binoculars from the ranger and wander along a wonderful cliffside boardwalk to observe the Southern Right Whales mating and cavorting in the deep blue waters of the the Great Australian Bight.
Things you see on a treeless plain
A March of Windmills
The crossing: Day 2
Day two: depart in the pre-dawn fog
Border crossing: WA to SA
Turn right here for Cactus Beach
At last, we stop here after our two day crossing of the Nullarbor
The Eyre Peninsula makes a great South Australian "Mini-Roadtrip" in itself.
We did it - Nulla problemo
We push ourselves eastward. There is a point when we know we have crossed the great Nullarbor – the landscape becomes wooded and hilly, though it is still a wild under-populated place. At the town of Penong we pass the turn off to Cactus (Point Sinclair), another place that we may have visited under those “other” circumstances (if we still had a reliable campervan, time and money!) During the seventies Cactus was a secret surfing place, known by all but rarely visited by outsiders. I had some mates who went there and they said it was inhabited by violent, “feral surfers” who had lived for too long in caves at the rugged and remote location, oblivious the the dangers of the rough, cold ocean and the Great White Sharks.
It is dark when we reach Ceduna and check into a cabin in the caravan park. Next day we decide to extend our journey a little, by following the coast road down the Eyre Peninsula. It is a scenic land of rolling yellow hills, and old stone homesteads, some just ruins, others with smoke drifting out of chimneys, very much alive. There are dry stone walls that gives the region a distinct Celtic feel. We stop at Elliston for a light café lunch and while talking to the lady in the pie shop I discover that there is a city at the end of the peninsula. I never knew that.
Down at the waterfront we find a scenic drive - a gravel road that rumbles along the clifftops overlooking a wild and windy ocean of white caps and offshore peaks sporting cockscombs of spray, laced with rainbows in the winter sun.
A glimpse of the Eyre Peninsula
Further down the Eyre Peninsula we pass through spookily named Coffin Bay - and then, at the end of the peninsula, the road crosses to the east side and there is Port Lincoln. As the pie shop lady said – it is indeed a city, or at least a large town, with supermarkets, posh seaside suburbs, busy main drags, old colonial pubs done up into eateries or nightclubs and a grain port of some size, all set on a huge sheltered bay. We take a nice hotel room for the night and once again marvel at the dichotomy of Australia – one day you are driving past a wild beach inhabited by mentalist, feral surf bums who live in caves and the next you are nibbling pita bread and hummus washed down with a fine Barossa Valley Merlot in a smart hotel.
The drive up the east side of the Eyre Peninsula takes us back into near desert landscape again until we turn south at the head of the Spencer Gulf at Port Augusta. This part of the country is all Port this and Port that and Whyalla is the mother of all iron ore ports. The blue Flinders Ranges loom above the arid landscape as we head south down the west side of the Spencer Gulf toward Adelaide. Then the countryside becomes European - beautiful and benign. Rolling green hills, copses of trees, streams, fields, horses, and a magical light from the late afternoon sun casting a rich golden hue over the idyll. We head off into the rolling hills to find a cabin or a motel for the night. There are vineyards and wineries around every bend. Old stone buildings, character, history, a strong sense that the hand of Western Man has carved a little corner of Europe into this otherwise desolate and rugged land.
Clare is an Irish town with gum trees. We find a cosy cabin to spend the icy cold night – and as it is my birthday, we have steak. Tomorrow we make the final 100km sprint into Adelaide, a place I have never thought of visiting until now. I am excited, a bit.