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52. Australian Road Trip: Crossing the Nullarbor Plain and the Eyre Peninsula detour

Updated on May 12, 2013
A
Norseman WA:
Norseman WA 6443, Australia

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Norseman sits at a three way crossroads in the middle of nowhere

B
Caiguna WA:
Caiguna WA 6443, Australia

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First half of the Nullarbor crossing

You've seen this sign a thousand times... nevertheless, this is my photo of it.
You've seen this sign a thousand times... nevertheless, this is my photo of it.

41 secs of Nullarbor with a Celtic soundtrack

Looking back... sunset behind Caiguna Roadhouse
Looking back... sunset behind Caiguna Roadhouse

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

Sun burning through the morning fog lifting
Sun burning through the morning fog lifting
Looking west across a rugged and remote coast
Looking west across a rugged and remote coast
Rules and regulations - for your own bloody good
Rules and regulations - for your own bloody good
Absolute edge of Australia (looking east toward South Australia)
Absolute edge of Australia (looking east toward South Australia)
I took lots but this is my best shot of a Southern Right Whale.
I took lots but this is my best shot of a Southern Right Whale.

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

Look, a bend in the road!
Look, a bend in the road!
Hint of habitation at the edge of the treeless plain
Hint of habitation at the edge of the treeless plain
They still have a sense of humour outback.
They still have a sense of humour outback.
Ghost of a machine
Ghost of a machine
Huge wedgetail eagle swooping on roadkill
Huge wedgetail eagle swooping on roadkill
Some folks prefer to walk
Some folks prefer to walk
Pet Cemetary
Pet Cemetary

A March of Windmills

Almost back in the land of man
Almost back in the land of man

The crossing: Day 2

A
caiguna:
Caiguna WA 6443, Australia

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Day two: depart in the pre-dawn fog

B
eucla:
Eucla WA 6443, Australia

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Border crossing: WA to SA

C
Penong:
Penong SA 5690, Australia

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Turn right here for Cactus Beach

D
Ceduna:
Ceduna SA 5690, Australia

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At last, we stop here after our two day crossing of the Nullarbor

Cactus Beach: Surfers Only
Cactus Beach: Surfers Only

Eyre Peninsula

A
Eyre Peninsula:
Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, Australia

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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

Curious rock formation known as Murphy's Haystacks
Curious rock formation known as Murphy's Haystacks
The rocky foreshores at Elliston.... pounded by the Great Southern Ocean
The rocky foreshores at Elliston.... pounded by the Great Southern Ocean
Norfolk pines and a mackeral sky at Port Lincoln
Norfolk pines and a mackeral sky at Port Lincoln
On the road, the Flinders Range
On the road, the Flinders Range

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.

My favourite song about South Australia (The best version!)

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    • saltymick profile imageAUTHOR

      saltymick 

      2 years ago

      Thanks Vesko, did you read it all? What a marathon hey? Anyway, glad you enjoyed the journey, in retrospect, so did we.

      Cheers SM

    • profile image

      Vesko Petrov 

      2 years ago

      Hi saltymick, I just finished reading your Australian road trip. I enjoyed your cinematic description of the places you visited, the people you met and the various disasters you experienced along the way. I enjoyed your photos, videos and fine sense of humour.

      Thank you and good luck!

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