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!
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!
Day 1 we made it to Burra in South Australia, 820kms.
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.
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.
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-bor; Latin: nullus, “no”, and arbor, “tree”) 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). 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.)
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.
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.
We didn’t see any of these animals…..
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.
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?
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.