Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Crossing the Nullarbor (Part I)

Around 10 December 2012

We wanted to take our time crossing the Nullarbor and take in everything there is to see.  From Ceduna in South Australia to Norseman in WA it’s more than 1300km.  It’s a long stretch of road and we were really looking forward to it.

After stocking up with food (you can’t take fresh fruit, vegies, honey or plants over the SA border) and fuelling the car at Ceduna we headed off to Fowlers Bay.  But we went out to see Cactus Beach as one of the surfie dudes we met had said he’d travelled around the world and got one of the best waves here.  The beach itself was OK, not being a surfie dude I could take it or leave it. But the drive to get us there was worth it.  We passed pink salt lakes via a causeway, and it looks like they harvest the salt too, majestic giant sand dunes with the wind twirling around the top so you can see how they can move at 11 metres a year, and some lakes (not sure if they are fresh or salt water) with sand dunes dropping straight into them. There’s no road sign at Penong on the highway pointing to Cactus Beach and I wonder if this is the local’s ploy to keep the numbers down.  We could’ve easily spent more time here.

Because of this detour, and spending too long over lunch at the Ceduna beach, we didn’t reach Fowlers Bay until late and the wind was fierce and freezing. We wished we had more time here as the landscape is staggering.  Towering over the edge of the little town were more giant sand dunes. You could look over the fence of the caravan park and see a beautiful old home/cottage and beyond it more salty lakes.  It was easy to imagine the early pioneers living here as it looked like the landscape/buildings hadn’t changed since their time.

The early explorers John Edward Eyre, Baxter, Wylie, Billy and another man and I can't remember his name, left from Fowlers Bay to walk to Albany in WA. They travelled along the coastline and would’ve been met with some breathtaking sights but we just can’t imagine walking that distance, this terrain, and with exploration in mind.  Travelling on the Eyre Highway that skirted the coastline for much of SA was easy with water on board and places that collected water on the way. 

We were amazed that the Nullarbor Plain stretched for a mere 20 km (!!) and the landscape changed from mallee trees to saltbush to the odd tree.  The difference in the landscape could change dramatically in the space of 5 km.

The Head of Bight cost us $10 for each adult and gave us great views east over the sand dunes we’d seen here and there since we’d left Fowlers Bay. Looking west you could see were the Bunda Cliffs begin. To me, the view east looking over the sand dunes was much more impressive than the famed cliffs (although they did get very spectacular later in the day).

We were told there were tracks across the cliffs for at least 100 km from the Head of Bight. We saw where the first track headed off the highway at the start of the Nullarbor National Park but didn’t take it.  We skipped all the things there are to see around 20km beyond the Nullarbor Roadhouse deciding  we had a long day and the detours were going to make it longer.

I was driving, Simon was sleeping and I was worried that we were missing all the lookouts along the way as none had been signposted. I slowed down, followed the GPS map relentlessly and when I saw a track heading south (you’ve gotta be quick otherwise you quickly pass them) I pulled into the track. We followed the track to a great little lookout (no fences, no warning signs) and took a look at the breathtaking Bunda Cliffs. We couldn’t look straight down as the overhang on the cliffs are notoriously dangerous so we stood well back and looked at the long views on offer.

We followed the tracks for around 30km or so much to the kids chagrin (they just wanted to drive fast on the highway) and a few times we reversed back and turned back down some tracks as they just followed the cliffs FAR too closely for our liking. It was spectacular; and the clear sunny skies and the crazy blue of the seas and the striped cliffs of white and then earth colour all just added to it.
Closer to the border the SA Government have put in 3 lookouts that have sealed roads to them, fences and signs telling you of the danger; these were nice too but we’re glad to have seen more of the cliffs on our own. 

The border crossing again involved stopping, opening up all our fridges, and this time we didn’t have to chuck out anything. I had peeled and cut up 3 onions and 3 garlics and froze them and had cooked the potatoes to make a potato salad.

At Eucla we were stunned to follow the track to the old Telegraph Station (you’ve no doubt seen photos of it being slowly covered by sand dunes) and to come around a corner and be faced with a staggering drop down to the plain below. We weren’t expecting this view and it was beautiful. The old Telegraph Station was a bit of a disappointment; not sure if it’s because it was cold, getting late and it was a long day or if it was the beer bottles and rubbish lying around.

Back on the highway we dropped down on the plain again and began searching for a free camp for the night. We found a great place to stay the night at the back of rest area in some mallee trees looking up to the escarpment.

We followed the escarpment for another 80 or more kilometres the next morning and then climbed it to reach the Madura Roadhouse (the first one that had some trees in the campsite) and the view of the Roe Plains was breathtaking.  Really breathtaking.  When the station on the plains was first established they bred horses for the British army in India – what a history. And what a journey those horses would have faced. 

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