Crossing the Nullarbor Plain

The World’s Largest Limestone Karst Landscape

Australia’s extensive Nullarbor Plain, most often referred to as simply ‘the Nullarbor’, is the world’s largest limestone karst landscape and covers an area of 270,000 square kilometres (104,247.6 square miles) that stretches across a southern section of Australia between Ceduna in South Australia and Balladonia in Western Australia.

NASA Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons - Credit Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Nullarbor is the light tan semi-circular area adjacent to the coast. NASA Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Credit Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

The northern border of the plain is where the limestone meets the Great Victoria Desert, and the plain terminates to the south where the land falls into the Great Australian Bight.

Crossing the Nullarbor by car is done along the Eyre Highway, a section of Australia’s National Highway named after explorer Edward John Eyre who was the first to cross the Nullarbor by land in 1840 – 1841.  It is the only sealed road linking South Australia and Western Australia.

For Dean and I, crossing the Nullarbor took seven days but, to be fair, from Ceduna we only travelled 93.7 kilometres (58.3 miles) to the Point Sinclair Camping Grounds where Dean surfed the endless waves at Cactus Beach for four days before we moved on any further.

From Cactus Beach we wanted to take our time and enjoy the environment in which we found ourselves.  The balance of our crossing included several stops for photo opportunities, two overnight stays, one pause to collect a crossing certificate and an additional leg to reach Esperance on the south coast of Western Australia’s Goldfields-Esperance district.

. . .

Here’s How Our Crossing Went

Day One – Cactus Beach to the Nullarbor Roadhouse (243 km/150.1 mi)

Entering the Nullarbor was exciting.  The plain is covered in small, hardy bluebush and saltbush shrubs, both of which are drought and salt resistant, and although the name ‘Nullarbor’ comes from the Latin nullus for no, and arbor for tree, a few trees can be seen, though they are very few and very far between and so far away from the road it’s hard to gauge their actual size.

We stopped at the Head of the Bight, a bay in South Australia that is the most northern extent of the Great Australian Bight.  We walked down the viewing platform to gaze upon the wonder of the Southern Ocean and the truly breathtaking view.

By the time we finished enjoying the view we were only a short distance from the Nullarbor Roadhouse and decided we’d end our day there.  We needed to get some power back into the battery in our mini home, and to be honest, after once again taking 90 minutes to negotiating the corrugated dirt road from Cactus Beach back to the Eyre Highway at Penong, the distance we travelled may have been short, but the time taken to get there was not.

. . .

Day Two – Nullarbor Roadhouse to the Caiguna Roadhouse (534 km/331.1 mi)

Continuing west, there are three more lookouts for the Bunda Cliffs and we called into each to really savour this amazing area of our country.  The cliffs were formed when Australia separated from Antarctica approximately 65 million years ago and are made up of fossiliferous limestone called Wilson Limestone.

The Bunda Cliffs are part of the longest uninterrupted line of sea cliffs in the world.  With heights varying from 60 to 120 metres, they are a magnificent, hypnotic, and awe-inspiring sight and stretch in an unbroken line for approx. 200 kilometres (124.4 miles).  No other continent or country can match the cliffs for this length of coastline.

These cliffs are the remains of an ancient ocean bed that was subject to geological uplifting millions of years ago.  It’s incredible to consider that as you drive across the Nullarbor you are traversing the floor of an ancient sea bed.

As we were leaving the last lookout, I glanced at the time on my iPhone.  It was midday and we’d spent over 3½ hours marvelling at the Bunda Cliffs.  Before I could put the phone down, the time changed to back to 9:36 am, Australian Western Standard Time.  Our day just became so much longer and we considered becoming Hobbits and having second breakfast.

We crossed the border without incident, we knew we were not permitted to carry raw fruits or vegetables, and therefore had ensured we’d either eaten or cooked them.  We surrendered our last bit of honey* and moved on.

At Eucla the highway travels down through the Eucla Pass and onto the Roe Plains.  This plain is bounded on the north by the escarpment rising to the Nullarbor Plain and to the south by the Great Australian Bight.  The highway traverses the Roe Plains for 182 kilometres (113.1 miles) to where the highway once again rises to the Nullarbor.

The road from Madura to Caiguna was uneventful and today seems like a blur, with nothing of interest coming to mind even though this section took a little more than two hours.

. . .

Day Three – Caiguna Roadhouse to Norseman (372 km/231.2 mi)

As you pull out of the Caiguna Roadhouse, you are greeted by the 90 Mile Straight Road sign.

P1120989

That’s right, after already travelling 777 kilometres (482.1 miles), the next leg commences with 146.6 kilometres of straight road.  There are no twists or turns, only gentle undulation across this section of the plain.  At the other end, there are precious few turns before the road stretches again for another 86 kilometres (53.7 miles).

You soon appreciate that the shortest distance from A to B is via a straight line.

It becomes quite evident that you’ve left the Nullarbor behind when you enter The Great Western Woodlands, an area of great biological richness that extends over 16 million hectares.  That’s about the same size as England, and it is the largest unfragmented woodland left on earth.  After the sparseness of the Nullarbor, it was refreshing to spend a couple of hours travelling past the eucalyptus trees that line this section of the highway.

Day Three Cont. – Norseman to Esperance (203 km/126.2 mi)

We only stopped at Norseman to collect our crossing certificate, top up the fuel, and grab a bite to eat.  Norseman looked like a lovely little town, but with huge thunderstorms rolling in, we decided to take advantage of having the wind at our back.  We’d enjoyed really good fuel economy all day and the final stretch was easy going.

. . .

For all the warning signs about stray animals – cattle, sheep, camels, kangaroos, wombats, emus, and horses – throughout the three days we only spotted two emus and two kangaroos and didn’t see any other wildlife beyond birds and lizards.

“Boring, long, and tiring” is how I’ve heard some people describe crossing the Nullarbor.

Our trip across the Nullarbor Plain was tiring, but certainly far from boring.  We saw some truly spectacular sights, had an amazing time, shared the driving, past countless road trains, sang Garth Brooks songs at the top of our lungs, arrived at Esperance tired and still functioning on Australian Central Daylight time and could easily do it all over again – but next time, travel west to east.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from A. B. (Banjo) Paterson:

For those that love it and understand,

The saltbush plain is a wonderland.

In the Droving Days

. . .

Thoughts on Location No 59 – Nullarbor Roadhouse, Eyre Peninsular, South Australia

We were more than ready to call it quits by the time we arrived at the roadhouse and the very friendly staff made us feel so welcome.  This would have to be the best roadhouse on the Nullarbor and we thoroughly recommend it.

Paying $1 for a four-minute shower was ok when you consider the location of the roadhouse and the fact that all water has to be desalinated.  I was surprised a how quickly the powered section of the caravan park filled up, and even though the road house is adjacent to the highway (it is a roadhouse after all), our sleep was not disrupted by the sound of traffic.

Thoughts on Location No 60 – Caiguna Roadhouse, Goldfields-Esperance, Western Australia

Sometimes you have to stop because going further really isn’t an option.  This was certainly the case when we reached Caiguna.  We were tired and although it was only 3:30 pm, it may as well have been much later due to chasing the sun and the time difference between South Australia and Western Australia.  Our body clocks were really playing up.

The roadhouse is very old and tired, but the water was hot in the shower and I did get our washing cleaned and dried before the sun set.


* Bees can get bugs and diseases that are transmitted via honey, and even though the honey we were carrying was commercially purchased, and hence heat-treated, the package was opened and therefore we had to surrender it at the quarantine station.

6 Comments

  1. I agree with you, the drive across the Nullarbor isn’t just long and boring, the environment changes frequently. Last time we crossed we passed a Stormtrooper walking beside the road somewhere east of Norseman!

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  2. Clare, it looks fantastic! I can’t wait to do it! But thank you so much for your post – I now know I’ll have to persuade Stephen to account for a bit more time because I just KNOW I’m going to be mesmerised by the views.
    What a fantastic country we live in. 🙂

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