Across the Nullarbor

The Fella and I decided that we would drive to Western Australia to visit family for Christmas. So, as well as organising an early family Christmas this side of the continent, we packed the van and got ourselves ready for the adventure.

There are very few ways to get across the Australian continent. You can go north, through Darwin, or you can go south, across the Nullarbor. The only navigational decision we had to make was how to get to Port Augusta in South Australia because once you get there the road just goes straight west. We decided to go through Mildura.

It is a trip of about 3,500km!

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A lot of you are probably thinking “What is this Nullarbor stuff?” and I promise that I will explain it soon. For the moment, understand that the trip across the Nullarbor is an iconic Australian road trip. It is either something you have done or long to do, or could never contemplate. The Fella and I did it about 15 years ago, so we had a reasonable idea of what we were up for. I travelled a lot when I was a child. Mum and Dad would hitch up the van and off we would go. I loved those long, mesmerising journeys where I was able to go into my own world. And I still love being in the car and just going. The distance was never going to be a problem for me.

There’s not a lot to say about the trip from Melbourne to Port Augusta. It is agricultural and mainly wheat. It was harvest time, so there was a lot of activity in the fields, large harvesters and other tractors with movable silos. The grain then goes to the silos but not those big concrete things, although they still stand tall in many towns. Instead the wheat   is poured horizontally and covered by huge plastic tarps. Some farmers seem to be using smaller versions of these to store grain in their fields. I feel that I saw every grain of wheat between here and the west coast! But pondering about the process of storing and selling wheat helped quite a few hours go by.

The only other thing of note was that we crossed the Murray River on a ferry. That was cool!

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Day 1 we made it to Burra in South Australia, 820kms.

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The next stage was up to Port Augusta and then on the Eyre Highway, west, heading to Ceduna. We went through Ceduna and camped on the side of the road, about 14 kms west of Penong. Day 2 was 737 km.

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We pulled up in a spot amongst some trees. We watched the sun go down, and then we were asleep, only occasionally woken by trucks thundering down the highway through the night.

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Day 3 and we were off to cross the Nullarbor. So time to tell you about it.

Wiki gives the dry facts:

The Nullarbor Plain (/ˈnʌlərbɔːr/ nul-ər-borLatinnullus, “no”, and arbor, “tree”[1]) is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north. It is the world’s largest single exposure of limestonebedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 sq mi).[2] At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.

(Note the Latin definition of the name…..It wasn’t until I went across last time that I realised that Nullarbor wasn’t an Aboriginal name. I was flabbergasted that I had lived so long without knowing that it meant No Trees!)

That description doesn’t give you a feel for the amazing landscape. It is flat. It is unrelentingly flat. No mountains, only some hills. There are no permanent watercourses across it. Over the whole distance you don’t cross creek beds, dry or otherwise. That’s because it is limestone, and the water eventually trickles down and to form large underground caves and aquifers. An information sign described it:

When limestone interacts with underground water it dissolves to form a ‘karst’ landscape ~ an amalgamation of caves, underground channels and a rough, bumpy ground surface.

The karst landscape, including some shells imbedded in the ground.

As you drive along, clinging to the southern edge of Australia, you know that this ancient landscape stretches way northward, and south over the Southern Ocean to Antarctica. You are a speck in the vastness.

Not only is it flat, but is is a desert. Even now, in cars with air conditioning and excellent fuel economy and modern technology, it is not a journey to undertake lightly. It is the Outback and unpredictable, and you don’t want to be caught without enough fuel and water. There are no towns, no farms. Roadhouses are scattered along the highway, but there are many miles between each one. We were lucky that the weather was cool as we crossed both ways, but temperatures can average 35 degrees in December and January.

So why do it? Of course there is the fact that it is the only way to drive from east to west, hence the enormous number of large trucks that do the journey. But aside from that, it is an amazing journey, through a surprising number of habitats. So, let me take you on our journey across the Nullarbor.

We left our camp site early (no showers, of course!) and after about 100 km of wheat farms we entered the land of the Yalata Aboriginal Community. All the farming land was left well behind, and we were in mulga country. Despite the name, Nullarbor, there are trees on it. And they fascinated me. They have rounded canopies of leaves, with spindly branches. The leaves shimmered in the sun and the wind. I was smitten. (Much more to come about these trees and my art work that is inspired by them.)

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The last town on this sign is Norseman, 1001 km away!

Quite suddenly the trees disappeared and we were going through the Treeless Plain. It begins at the roadhouse of Nullarbor, on the edge of the Nullarbor National Park. It is a bleak, flat plain, so flat you can see tomorrow.

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This next photo was taken at Nullarbor Roadhouse, where we stopped for coffee. Despite the emptiness of the environment, it was a welcoming break, with a large, clean amenities block, including showers (which we didn’t use, because all our washing gear was tucked away in the van 😦 ). The woman who made the coffee was very cheery.

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We didn’t see any of these animals…..

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The next section of the road runs close to the coast, and it was a buzz to see the ocean. There are some opportunities to pull of the road to view the cliffs. Although I am describing the east/west journey, we stopped on the way back, so I am going to show you the views as they come west to east. I am glad we did it that way, because I think the views just got better.

The first viewing area is just east of the border.

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Further along are these stunning cliffs, look how they just sheer down into the Great Australian Bight. Apparently sometimes you can see whales glide past. Wouldn’t that be something?

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The Treeless Plain continues on to the South Australian/Western Australian border.

And that’s where I am going to leave you until tomorrow, because I feel that I have made you read so much today! Look out for the Western Australian journey.

 

 

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About anne54

Botanic artist
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31 Responses to Across the Nullarbor

  1. tialys says:

    Thank you for taking us along with you Anne. Is that a camel on the road sign? I’ve learnt something new today as I never realised there were camels in Australia.

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    • anne54 says:

      I am glad you are enjoying the journey!
      Camels are one of the many species of feral animals we have. They were originally brought to Australia to be used in the desert areas and then let run wild. There is a small industry selling them back to the Saudis!
      The animal that surprised me was the wombat. I didn’t realise that they lived in these conditions. It’s the Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat and unfortunately is in declining numbers.

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  2. You are bringing back all sorts of memories! We have crossed the Nullarbor twice, most recently in 2015, at the end of an (almost) round Australia trip. We went west via the Tanami Track, from Alice and came home to Sydney across the Nullarbor. We have a camper trailer so were able to stop comfortably twice on our crossing, once by Cocklebiddy Cave, an 11 km side journey via dirt track, extraordinary place. I kept a travel sketchbook and did several blog posts about the trip (100 Days Under Canvas if you fancy having a look!). We certainly have an amazing country, so many weird and wonderful things to see!

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    • anne54 says:

      What a wonderful trip! I will investigate your posts. Did you find that it influenced your art? (I have just finished reading a book about the Tanami area ~ “Position doubtful” by Kim Mahood. Highly recommend it.)
      I didn’t know about the Cocklebiddy Cave, but next time I will do the side trip.

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      • I’m not sure it influenced my art, but it definitely consolidated my commitment to keeping a sketchbook/diary. I find I use the drawings I have done as starting points for larger works. There must be so much that is absorbed in a peripheral way that I think a trip like has has to change me in intangible ways. The Tanami book sounds great, I will look out for it!

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        • anne54 says:

          The question of influences is one that is intriguing me at the moment. I am finding that the trees that I saw all the way on the trip consolidated other work I had been doing. And then along came some oil pastels as a Christmas present……..!

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  3. katechiconi says:

    Deep envy here… We had intended to make the journey from Mackay to Perth last year, taking 3 weeks for a round trip with the motorbike and trailer. I think we could have added a couple of thousand kms more, given where we were starting. But it wasn’t to be; John got an injury which necessitated 4 weeks of sick leave, and all our holiday leave was gobbled up. Never mind, we’ll do it one day 🙂 Looking forward to the next instalment!

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    • anne54 says:

      I am sure you will be on the bike and riding off into the sunset again! That’s a long journey from McKay, and a lot of travelling in 3 weeks. We found we probably travelled for about an hour too much each day, but we wanted to get to Bunbury for Christmas. Thank goodness the van is a breeze to set up and take down.

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      • katechiconi says:

        We were looking at about 600-700km a day, using only our small 2 man tent for daily camping, and the large one once we were there for a few days. I suspect by the time we have enough spare leave saved again, we’ll be too old and creaky to contemplate sleeping on the ground… Maybe when we win the Casket and have a Winnebago!

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        • anne54 says:

          Can we do a deal ~ we will win Tattslotto in Victoria and you can win the Casket!! The idea of sleeping on the ground holds no appeal for me, and I am always so relived that the Avan is simple to put up each night.

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          • katechiconi says:

            We have a policy; if we’re camping for more than 1 night, we put up the big tent, and use the very comfy stretcher and huge double inflatable mattress. If it’s one night or less, we stay in a cabin!

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  4. It doesn’t look like this from a plane 🙂 Good post

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  5. What an amazing limestone landscape. Most of my experience of limestone is on the Burren in Ireland, where it’s so wet that it remains quite lush despite there being almost no surface water, so a limestone desert is new for me.
    I’m really looking forward to seeing the artwork that those trees inspired.

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  6. acflory says:

    For me, the Nullabor has always had a kind of scary but mystical quality. I might peek at it from a distance, but I wouldn’t trust my life to it. I’m enjoying the vicarious travel though. 🙂

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    • anne54 says:

      It does have that mystical feel about it. I was very excited when we turned at Port Augusta ~ the adventure begins! And I felt like that when we did the return journey. Port Augusta is also the gateway to Central Australia. So, not only are there signs pointing to Perth over 1000kms away to the west, but other signs indicate Alice Springs and Darwin off to the north. Very romantic to a traveller!
      I am glad that I can give you a taste for the experience without you having to do it yourself!

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  7. KerryCan says:

    This is fascinating! I doubt I’ll ever see it with my own eyes, since I can’t imagine surviving the flight to Australia, so its nice of you to be our tour guide! I was trying to think of an iconic drive across the US and could only come up with Route 66, which is much more of a pop culture route.

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    • anne54 says:

      This trip made me realise that if you can do the journey across the Nullarbor, the long haul flights to Europe and the US are a breeze! If you can’t do it in person, I am glad you can come along with me!
      What about the trips in the US where you travel through Arizona (?!) and see those incredible rock formations?

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  8. meadowmice says:

    What an amazing landscape! Thanks for taking us along on the adventure!

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  9. anne54 says:

    Quite happy to take you along too! I have been following your adventures with the jennies in the snow, thinking how it is such a different landscape.

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  10. Pingback: Continuing across the Nullarbor | Anne Lawson

  11. cedar51 says:

    what memories…it was probably 1973 & me and my then fella – boarded the greyhound bus in Perth – our next real bed was a long way away – we sat through 3 nights and 3 days on our journey to Melbourne. If you think back that far, you might not know but the ROAD was NOT sealed, it was bone crunching trip…there were occasional stops but only really for refuelling and a quick ladies room break (mainly a long drop).

    reason to use this trip style, lack of funds seeing as we were destined to fly Melbourne to Auckland in a couple of weeks…

    I always think I would like to take the train across – somehow it might not be as exciting but our respective rear-ends may not suffer as much, plus we might have a kind of foldout bed!

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  12. rrita says:

    I loved the expression: “..so flat you can see tomorrow…” I’ve never heard that before! Very poetic.

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  13. And crossing the Nullarbor once, for me now, isn’t enough. I’m up for it next trip, and hopefully more after that. There are so many aspects, when it’s a new experience, you can’t take it all in.

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