Crossing the Nullarbor – beware of tourist traps

Nullarbor signAfter a few memorable days at Esperance, it was time to head East, which meant a detour north to meet the Eyre Highway at Norseman. The locals call this trip across the bottom of Australia “crossing the Nullarbor”. The Nullarbor plain takes its name from the latin – no trees. Which is true, but if you’ve been following the trip, you’ll know that happens in a lot of parts of Australia. In fact, the road doesn’t go through much of the Nullarbor at all, because it follows (more or less) the coastline with its towering limestone cliffs. The late, sadly lamented Douglas Adams wrote a wonderful essay about Australia, giving his notion of how the Bight was formed. Do go and read it. I’ll wait over here, shall I?

That was fun, wasn’t it? He’s wrong about the spiders, though. We don’t hold the record there. The snakes are alive and well, by some counts ten of the ten most deadly snakes in the world are Australian. (It depends on what you mean by ‘most deadly’.)

Moving right along. The railroad does go through the Nullarbor Plain and one of the great rail journeys of the world is the trip from Perth, at the Indian Ocean, to Sydney, on the Pacific shores. If you really think about it, you might be able to work out why the train is called the Indian-Pacific. We’ve done that trip and after the train leaves Kalgoorlie, you’d better have a good book with you. A piece of trivia for you – it includes the longest dead straight stretch of track in the world – 478 kilometre (297 mi). We encountered the train further along our journey. Here’s the loco.

The Indian Pacific rolls through a crossing

The Indian Pacific rolls through a crossing

Mind you, the road trip isn’t much more interesting than the train trip. It boasts a 146km dead straight section. Although I have to say the food is more regular on the train and you don’t have to stop. A few hardy souls run road houses along the highway’s length, knowing they’ll have a steady clientele. We booked overnight accommodation ahead at Border Village, right on the WA/SA border, a good day’s drive. We don’t drive at night – there’s camels, roos and emus out there, not to mention the min-min lights.

Camels wombats roos

The plain is flat and featureless. For me, what makes it stand out from other places is it’s on limestone and there are no rivers or creeks. I don’t mean ones with water in them – just dry gullies. I’d guess that’s because of the limestone. The rain – what there is – just soaks through and joins the caves and aquifers. Some of you might have heard of the famous caves at Cocklebiddie. If not, there’s your chance.

An ancient limestone reefNot far from Eucla we encountered about the only dip in the whole road, driving down an escarpment. It soon became evident that we were now driving along what used to be a beach, with the limestone coastal cliffs on our left. The real coastal cliffs were a few kilometres over to our right. Eucla itself is one of the few actual towns on the Eyre Highway. The original signal station at Eucla is a short drive away, being swallowed up by a sand dune you can see for miles. It might have been worth a detour if we’d had time.

We crossed the checkpoint from WA into SA and rolled into Border Village at (you guessed it) close on sunset. All I could see was a road house and I suggested we’d better drive on a bit further. But no. WYSIWYG. Please read the sign. Border village sign

The accommodation at Border Village is small, simple, clean and entirely adequate. It’s a shower, a bed for the night and a roadhouse for dinner and breakfast. Outback places like this are full of characters and Border Village is no exception. We spent a pleasant evening in the pub, downing a beverage or three, bantering with the locals about the football and talking with some fellow travellers. The conversations are always the same.

“Hi. Just got in?”

“Yep. Heading East.”

“Oh, yeah. Where’ve you been?”

And then it’s their turn.

Next day we were planning to stop at Port Augusta. We had a bit of time up our sleeves so we detoured a couple of times to admire the mighty cliffs along the Bight. The second time a road led down to the Head of the Bight, where a sign proclaimed one could also indulge in a spot of whale watching from a platform. Off to the right (west) waves dashed against the cliff. To the east the more civilized beaches began their march around the coast. However, if you wanted to use the platform, you had to pay $15 per adult. This was to walk along a dirt path to the edge of the cliff where a viewing platform had been constructed. Thirty bucks to stand on a deck and maybe see a whale if you’re lucky? No way Jose. I think that sort of thing’s a rip-off. There are two other places you can admire the cliffs for free – and as for whale watching, I can get a much better view at home. So we drove off in a flurry of dust, snorting in affronted disbelief.

GA bight

We reached Port Augusta at – can I hear you – sunset. Just a little after, actually, which was unfortunate. The town lies at the base of the Flinders Ranges which are spectacular in the last light of afternoon. Oh well. I saw that when we took a train trip to Alice Springs. But that’s another story.

Last sunlight on the hills as we approach Port Augusta

Last sunlight on the hills as we approach Port Augusta

4 thoughts on “Crossing the Nullarbor – beware of tourist traps

  1. Richard Leonard

    You didn’t play golf on the Plain? Apparently the longest golf course in the world in terms of distance from hole 1 to 18 and the distance between holes. One at each town/stop/petrol station. Great way to break a trip if you’ve got the time.
    Nevetheless, sounds like a fantastic trip!

  2. Marj

    We haven’t been that way, but it’s one thing I noticed about Outback Queensland. Wonderful people, sure. Occasionally, spectacular scenery. But do they learn it at school? How to make the tourist pay as much as possible without discouraging them entirely?

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