Experience : The Nullarbor

Post Number: 134
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Watch out for kangaroos, camels and wombats - we didn't see any!

DAY ONE

We spent the night at BIG4 Ceduna Tourist Park to prepare for the massive 1400km journey over the Nullarbor.  Squeaky clean from a hot shower, draws filled with fresh laundry and fully stocked with brown rice, meat biscuits and curried onion fritters, we did a quick fuel stop on our way out of town.

 

While the Nullarbor seems to start at Ceduna and finish at Norseman, the actual Nullarbor Plain is a 1,100km wide piece of limestone that stretches into South Australia and Western Australia.  The area was named by Edmund Delisser, a guy who surveyed the arid, treeless plain in 1865, and the name is Latin (nullus arbor) for no trees.  The plain was created 25 million years ago when the land lifted out of the sea and it is one of the world’s largest Krast land forms   The plain receives an average rainfall annually of about 200ml and is riddled with a breathing cave system.

 

 

Penong

This was the first town we drove through, about 71km west of Ceduna.  We knew we were approaching because on both sides of the road are paddocks full of windmills… 26 to be exact!   Each windmill is privately owned and pumps water out of the group to supply the town.

 

 

We also visited the Woolshed Museum, which is located on the other side town.  It was the first stone building in the district built in 1860s and it has been refurbished and turned into a museum that showcases crafts by local artists, as well as mementos of the past like old tools, photos, barbed wire that was patented in the 1800s and other old things.  Dave was stoked to find a teeny tiny pair of work boots.  Entry is by gold coin donation.

 

 

Head of the Bight

We arrived to the turn off for the Head of the Bight at about 4:10pm, just as a guy was shutting the gates.  Located 290km west of Ceduna, the Head of the Bight is an area along the coast that offers spectacular views of the cliffs that separate the land from the ocean.

 

Behind the gates is an interpretive centre and viewing platform that is open between 8:30am and 4pm. It’s $5 per person to enter, which would be okay to pay if it was whale watching season, but we felt that if we could get views of the Bunda Cliffs down the road for free, why pay $5 to see them here.  Any ideas of return in the morning were promptly squashed and we drove away.

 

Nullarbor Roadhouse

This place is an essential stop for anyone travelling the Nullarbor.  The Roadhouse is open daily from 7am to 11pm and used to be a sheep station, but these days it is a motel, caravan park, pub and restaurant.  The guy behind the bar was super friendly and chatty, and we were able to use the fast wifi internet for free with any purchase, so we enjoyed a cool drink while we chilled out and caught whiffs of delicious food being cooked in the kitchen.

 

If you need to fill up on petrol, you’re looking at $1.80 per litre or more.  Sometimes the price was close to $2 a litre, so make sure you stock up before you leave for the stretch.

 

 

Murrawijinie Caves

The guy behind the bar said that we ought to check out the caves about 10km behind the Roadhouse, and with a wink wink nudge nudge suggested that we could also stay there for the night.

 

A dirt road from the Roadhouse led us to a series of three limestone caves that have been approved for public access.  It was so strange as we drove along because the horizon was completely flat – how could there be caves here? There aren’t any mountains!  By the time we arrived at the first cave, we were still scratching our heads until we saw a little sign depicting a stick figure falling due to unstable cliffs.  We got closer and found that the caves were great big holes in the ground caused by collapsed limestone.  JOY!

 

 

The first cave was shaped like a doughnut – running along the edges of the hole with a mound of collapsed limestone in the middle. As we walked around, there were some places where we had to duck down and nearly crawl through, and once we made a full circle, we climbed out and moved on to the next one.

 

The second cave was incredible – it went deep underground and seemed to just keep going into the creepy darkness.  There were patches of green and black on the cave walls, and the dirt was light and fluffy, puffing up into a little cloud with each step.  As we got deeper, the hot dry air was replaced with cool, damp air, and I could see how these caves would be a great refuge from the midday sun.

 

 

The third cave was just as beautiful, but it went long instead of deep, like a grand ballroom.  The collapsed lid provided the staircase down into a space that was big enough to house a fully stocked bar on one side, a DJ at the back with the dance floor in the middle, and a few couches and booths on the other side for people who wanted to chill or make out in the dark.

 

Up on the surface, the light was starting to dim so we prepared to stay the night.  We were only 10km from the highway but we felt really isolated. There was nothing on the horizon except a thin strip of cloud and the sun.  As we watched the sun disappear over the horizon, we had some fun with Dave’s beard.

 

 

The night was cold and sprinkled with stars and Juz woke at about 4am to spot a dark dog-shaped figure sitting at the rear of the truck.  In the morning, we concluded that it must have been a dingo, because we spotted one in the scrub on the way back to the roadhouse – a golden coat amongst the pink and grey plain.

 

DAY TWO

Bunda Cliffs

WOW… awe-inspiring cliff faces that form part of the longest line of cliffs in the world!  The 90m drop to the water gives the surreal feeling of being on the edge of the world.

 

 

The white rock at the base of the cliffs is Wilson Bluff limestone and it was formed on the seabed 38-42 million years ago.  Southern right whales can be spotted between May and October when they migrate here to breed and take care of their new babies, and while we were outside of whale watching season, we did spot two dolphins frolicking in the surf.

 

WA/SA Border Village

Village?  Pffft!  More like a place where you can fill up on petrol and get your car rummaged through by some guy with a clipboard looking for nuts and honey!

 

Then again, it’s probably just as much a village or town as the other stops along the Nullarbor.  There was a restaurant, motel and caravan park, as well as a big red kangaroo called Rooey II.  He stands next to a sign that points at all the significant parts of the world, like Rome, London, Paris, Moscow and home – Melbourne.

 

 

The Quarantine Checkpoint wasn’t as bad as I described earlier.  A guy does look through all your stuff but he’s nice enough to crack a few jokes while he has his rummage but watch out for the mild interrogation – “seeds? Where from?  Where did you buy them?  Did they come in a packet? In that case they’re fine… What’s this?”

 

The only thing confiscated was the adzuki beans that Juz planned to make chocolate fudge with.  We thought he’d take the sesame seeds too but they were bought at the supermarket.  For your reference, do not take any fresh fruit or vegetables, raw seeds, beans, walnuts in their shells, or honey.  Dried fruit is only acceptable if it was commercially dried, and if you have vegetables, cook them and it’ll be alright (hence the curried onion fritters).

 

Eucla

This was the first town we pulled up at when we crossed the border.  There’s an expensive petrol station and motel with beautiful lush garden featuring a frog pond full of tadpoles and water lilies.

 

 

Tom and Bella appeared again – they were doing the Nullarbor Links Golf Course after purchasing some golf clubs from an op shop.  They suggested we drive down to the beach and check out the old telegraph station that was slowly being buried in sand. Every wall of the ruins was covered in etchings of names and dates – the oldest one we found was from 1969!!

 

 

Cocklebiddy

It had been a long day and we were gagging for a drink.  The Cocklebiddy pub and snack bar was a sight for sore eyes so we stopped for a glass of goon and Dave’s first Western Australian beer – Swan Draught.

 

 

Tom and Bella met us there so we could continue to our campsite together.  There was a rest area just outside of the entrance to the Cocklebiddy Caves, which was now closed to public access. The Cocklebiddy Caves are one of the longest underwater caves in the world at 6km in length and 90% of it is underwater. We spent the night drinking and chatting, sharing stories about our travels and our lives.

 

DAY THREE

The morning was tough and we ended up sleeping in far later than usual.  Once we had injected caffeine and were close to feeling human, we packed up and carried on.  Caiguna was the first stop and marks the start of Australia’s longest straight road, which continues for 146km.  We also checked out the Caiguna Blowhole and learnt a little more about the breathing caves of the Nullarbor.

 

All caves breathe a bit, but the ones on the Nullarbor breathe more than others.  The air movement at the entrance of one cave has been measured at about 72km/h.  Inhalation happens when air pressure rises and exhalation happens as the air pressure drops.  There are about 20 caves on the Nullarbor; some are undergrounds lakes.

 

 

It was a hot day and we were glad to see the end of the stretch at Balladonia, a pit stop that boasts about being a site hit by Skylab rubbish in 1979.  Inside the roadhouse is a cultural heritage museum where you can learn about Skylab, the early days on the Nullarbor, camels and wildlife.  After some food and refreshment, we sat back down on our soggy seats and kept going, desperate for the end.

 

Norseman

It’s over! We made it across the Nullarbor and as a reward, the first thing on the agenda was a dip in the Norseman Swimming Pool!

 

Once we were refreshed, we explored the town.  There was a reception area with an information centre, toilets, electric BBQs, a bubbler and grassed lawn.  For a travellers’ hub, the town was a lot smaller than expected, with lots of closed, boarded up shop fronts.  Still, we appreciated that it was bigger than a petrol station and caravan park and relished the return to civilisation.

 

 

The way the town was established is a pretty cool story.  In the late 1800s, it was well known that there was gold in the area and many people came to search for their fortune, including Laurie Sinclair, a man from Esperance.  He started searching around Coolgardie but was unsuccessful so started the journey back home.  On the way, he stopped along a ridge of hills to rest and it was during this pit stop that his horse, Norseman, began to paw the ground.  Laurie initially thought that the horse was lame, but upon closer inspection, there was a piece of gold-bearing quartz lodged in Norseman’s hoof.  Laurie settled and worked the area for a while, and as the settlement grew with more diggers, it became a town in 1894.  Laurie later sold his mine to a mining operation and it turned out to be one of the richest reefs of gold ever mined in Australia.  Way to go, Norseman!

 

PLACES OF INTEREST

Statue of Norseman

A monument to commemorate the horse that led to the establishment of the town.  A bronze statue of Norseman stands on the corner of Roberts and Ramsay Streets.

 

The Tin Camels

There are a few corrugated iron camels in town, but a herd of them stands on the Prinsep Street roundabout.  We did some silly poses with Tom and Bella before heading towards Kalgoorlie-Boulder.  The Tin Camels are a tribute to the camels that carried mail and freight in the early days.

 

Norseman Visitor Centre – Roberts Street, 08 9039 1071

 

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