Crossing the Nullarbor Day One

Round Australia Road Trip #21

When the explorer Edward John Eyre completed his crossing of the Nullarbor Plain in 1841, he described it as “a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams”. Perhaps his opinion was coloured by his experiences. Three of his horses died of dehydration, his expedition partner John Baxter was murdered by two Aborigines and the rest of the party took seven months to complete the crossing from east to west.

Travelling by car when crossing the Nullarbor makes the journey faster and easier; it’s an iconic adventure and, despite Eyre’s lack of enthusiasm, there is plenty to see along the way.


The west to east crossing of the Nullarbor Plain, the world’s largest area of limestone bedrock, begins at Norseman in Western Australia and ends at Ceduna in South Australia. The word Nullarbor is derived from the Latin words nullus meaning no and arbor meaning tree and, although the first section is covered by eucalypt forest, saltbush and bluebush scrub dominate the land for much of the journey. The plain extends over an area of 200 000 square kilometres and the actual treeless part is more than a day’s drive from Norseman.


Crossing the Nullarbor by car means travelling 1200 km on the Eyre Highway, named for Edward John Eyre who was the first European to cross the plain.  There  are no real towns between Norseman and Ceduna; isolated roadhouses separated by hundreds of kilometres supply fuel, basic supplies, and camping. Water availability is limited and travellers need to ensure they are carrying plenty.

100 km east of Norseman is Fraser Range Station, once a working sheep station and now a campground. The granite hills of Fraser Range rise up out of the Great Western Woodlands, the world’s largest hardwood eucalypt forest.



A further 90 km east at the Cultural Heritage Museum at Balladonia Hotel/Motel and Roadhouse, there are interactive displays about the history of the area, from the indigenous peoples to the pioneers and cameleers who first settled in the area. One fascinating exhibit details the crash landing of Skylab. Debris from the NASA spacecraft fell to Earth near Balladonia in July 1979.


A little further east is the beginning of the longest straight stretch of road in Australia – 146 km of black bitumen lined by mallee scrub and not a bend in sight.



The limestone karst of the Nullarbor Plain is littered with underground caves. Because of their fragility and concerns about visitor safety, most of the caves aren’t open to the public. Just before the next roadhouse at Caiguna is a blowhole, the entrance to a subterranean cave system which extends more than 20 km to the coast. Air chilled by the ocean is drawn through the caves until it makes its escape through these holes in the limestone. The breeze coming out of the blowhole is cool and refreshing. In the heat of the desert, Mother Nature’s air conditioning system is much appreciated.


According to the sign at Caiguna Roadhouse, this remote outpost on the highway is the hub of the universe!



Occasionally the highway doubles as an emergency airstrip when the Royal Flying Doctor needs to land. The landing zone is clearly marked and if there is going to be an emergency landing the road is temporarily closed beforehand. The cleared spaces on either side of the highway are turning bays for the aircraft.



Just before Madura, there’s a sudden change in the landscape. A lookout at Madura Pass reveals the flat expanse of the Roe Plains which lie between the escarpment of the Hampton Tablelands and the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. After descending through the pass, the highway tracks the ancient cliffs of the tablelands for 180 km between Madura and Eucla.




There are free camps on the side of the highway for truckies and for travellers. At the end of day one we stop at Moodini Bluff Rest Area for the night.

Turning East

Round Australia Road Trip #20

One of the iconic Australian road trips is the crossing of the Nullarbor Plain and it’s a journey I was looking forward to. But to get to the start of the Eyre Highway at Norseman, first we had to travel 723 km; leaving Perth and heading east for two days through just six towns and some tiny hamlets on long straight roads over vast flat plainlands.

We stopped for morning tea at Meckering. In the Memorial Rose Garden local families have planted dozens of fragrant rose bushes to commemorate their pioneering ancestors.


On October 14 1968 Meckering was struck by a 6.9 magnitude earthquake. The quake lasted for just 40 seconds, but it was long enough to damage almost every structure in the district. Some have never been repaired and the section of railway track displayed in the park shows the force exerted along the fault line.




We drove for hours along the Great Eastern Highway; first through the Western Australian Wheatbelt, where golden fields of wheat ready for harvesting stretched away on either side of the road. Then, as we entered the Great Western Woodlands, the landscape changed and the highway was lined by scrubby eucalypts and mallee forest. The woodlands, covering 16 million hectares, are the largest Mediterranean habitat in the world and are home to 20% of Australia’s plant species.


There are remnants of the original Rabbit Proof Fence along the highway. Rabbits were brought to Australia in 1859 for hunting, but they quickly multiplied and became pests. The fence was constructed to keep the ever increasing plague of rabbits out of the agricultural lands of Western Australia.



That night we camped at Boorabbin National Park in the heart of the Woodlands.



The next morning we continued along the highway to Coolgardie where gold was discovered in 1892. The subsequent gold rush saw hopeful miners come to Coolgardie in the greatest movement of people in Australia’s history. The main street is extra wide to accommodate the camel trains which traversed the outback carrying vital supplies of food and water. Coolgardie was once the third largest town in Western Australia but now only 1000 people live in the area.


By contrast Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a further 39 km east, is the largest city in the goldfields. Gold was found here one year after Coolgardie and the town of Kalgoorlie quickly grew as men came to find their fortunes. In 1989 Kalgoorlie joined with the neighbouring town of Boulder to create one of the largest gold mining cities in the world. The elegant buildings in the main streets are testament to the wealth that gold brought to the area.




Gold is still mined at Kalgoorlie-Boulder. From a lookout just outside town, we looked down into the Super Pit, an open cut mine so large it can be seen from space. About 20 000 kg of gold come out of the mine each year.


The Great Eastern Highway ends at Kalgoorlie. After leaving the Super Pit we turned south on the road to Norseman, another town with a golden history. Legend says that Laurie Sinclair, a prospector searching for gold in 1893, tethered his horse for the night on a ridge. He discovered in the morning that the horse, named Norseman, had pawed the ground overnight, exposing a reef of gold and starting another gold rush. Norseman the horse is remembered in the main street.


Also commemorated along the street are the camels who trekked in trains of up to 70 across the arid inland in the second half of the 19th century, bringing vital supplies to settlers.


Near Norseman is Lake Cowan, a vast salt lake. When good rain fills the lake it covers an area of 160 000 hectares, but at the end of the dry season it’s covered with a crust of glittering salt crystals. The road south to Esperance goes across the lake on a natural rise in the lake bed.




After a night’s rest in Norseman, we were ready to begin the next stage of the adventure – one of the great road trips of the world – crossing the Nullarbor.

Sunrise, Sunset

Round Australia Road Trip #19

On the coast of Western Australia, the sun sets over the Indian Ocean, often in a fiery blaze of glory. For east coasters like us, the sunsets were thrilling and there were several days when we waited patiently to watch the sun dip below the edge of the sea.

Sunset at Carnarvon


Sunset at Denham


Sunset at Geraldton


Sunset at Cervantes


We were often up with the birds when camping in the bush, so we also saw some beautiful sunrises.

Sunrise at Boorabbbin National Park

Boorabbin National Park

And while the sun was setting, the moon rose in the east.

Kelly's Knob Lookout, Kununurra

Kelly’s Knob Lookout, Kununurra



Finding Peace

Round Australia Road Trip #18

The small town of New Norcia, 130 km north of Perth, is Australia’s only monastic town. It was founded in 1847 as an Aboriginal mission by  Bishop Rosendo Salvado, a Benedictine monk from Spain.


At its peak, the monastery was home to 70 monks. Today there are 11 Benedictine monks living within the walls of the Spanish style monastery.


There are 27 heritage buildings listed with the National Trust; most are only open to visitors on daily guided walking tours. The colleges of St Ildephonsus and St Gertrude were once boarding schools. While they are imposing on the outside, their interiors are beautifully decorated with murals and pressed metal ceilings created by two monk artists in the early 1900s.





The Abbey Church is the resting place of Rosendo Salvado.


Originally built in 1927 as a hostel for the visiting parents of boarders, the New Norcia Hotel welcomes guests who can stay overnight or simply enjoy a meal or a glass of Abbey Ale in the restaurant.


The Latin word Pax , meaning peace, is the motto of the Benedictine monks of New Norcia, and in the chapels, the gardens and the bushland around the town the atmosphere is serene and reflective. It’s easy to feel peaceful here.


Town Tours depart at 11.00 and 13.30 daily and cost $15 for adults, $13 for concession and $10 for primary school students. No charge for children under 5.

A Walk in the Park

Round Australia Road Trip #17


From its vantage point on Mt Eliza, Kings Park has unrivalled views of the city of Perth and the beautiful Swan River. The park is home to the Western Australian Botanic Garden, which covers 17 hectares and displays more than 3000 species of Western Australian flora. There are guided walks with park volunteers every day and self guided walking maps are available at the Visitor Information Centre.  Let’s go for a wander together.

The State War Memorial sits in an imposing position near the Visitor Information Centre. The memorial includes the Cenotaph, Court of Contemplation, Pool of Reflection and Flame of Remembrance, honouring all Western Australians who have served their country in battle.


Near the War Memorial is this regally attired River Red Gum. Fondly known as The Queen’s Tree, it was planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.



The entrance to the Botanic Garden is just a little further down the hill. The garden represents the regions of Western Australia, with beds featuring the flora of each area. There are also beds displaying particular endemic species and other beds designed simply to showcase beautiful floral displays. In spring the Everlastings are spectacular; thousands of papery daisies in pink, yellow and white nod gently in the breeze.



Other beds feature Waxes, Grevilleas, Eucalypts and Banksias. There are several varieties of Kangaroo Paw including the new Anniversary Gold, specially bred to celebrate the Botanic Garden’s 50th anniversary in 2015.

Three Honour Avenues of magnificent eucalypts are accompanied by  small plaques. They remember service personnel who have died while serving Australia and are either buried in overseas war cemeteries or have no known grave. The Sugar Gums on Lovekin Drive were dedicated in 1948.



Two thirds of Kings Park is protected bushland and a walk down Lovekin Drive onto Forrest Drive leads to the Bushland Nature Trail. The entrance to the trail is marked by a sculptured mia mia copied from the temporary structures built by the local Nyoongar people. Traditionally constructed from grass tree branches, a mia mia provided shelter while on hunting trips.


The Nature Trail is a one km loop track through native bushland. Even though more than 70 bird species and 20 reptile species have been identified in the bush, none are about in the heat of the day.


On the other side of Forrest Drive, opposite the mia mia, is the Pioneer Women’s Memorial. Set in an ornamental lake, the bronze sculpture of a woman cradling her baby is surrounded by fountains representing the bush where pioneer women made their homes.


Further along Forrest Drive, the DNA Tower stands on the highest point of the park. There are 101 steps in each of the double helix staircases but it’s worth the climb to see 360 degree views of the park and the city of Perth.


For yet another glorious view of Perth City and the Swan River, cross over Forrest Drive  to the entrance of the Lotterywest Federation Walkway, an elevated boardwalk through the treetops on the edge of the escarpment. In the middle of the walkway a glass bridge rises up over the forest floor.




Covering 4000 hectares, Kings Park is one of the largest public parks in the world and a single day isn’t enough to explore it all. Let’s head back to the gallery at Aspects of Kings Park. I need to buy a flower identification book!



Standing Stones

Round Australia Road Trip #16

In the Nambung National Park are thousands of standing stones – sculpted limestone pillars up to 5 metres tall. Unlike other standing stones, they weren’t strategically placed by ancient civilizations. Instead, they were created by nature.

The dunes along this part of the Western Australian coast are composed of white lime sand. But behind the coastal dunes in the Pinnacles Desert, the vegetation has been blasted away by desert winds, exposing older dunes of golden quartz sand.



Over the last 500 000 years the limestone pinnacles have been eroded, first while still underground by acidic ground water and in the last 6000 years when the shifting sands exposed them to the elements.


The Pinnacles Desert comes alive in spring when wildflowers bloom amid the stones after winter rains.

Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to see the wildlife


and capture the dramatic colours of the Pinnacles.


Gone, But Not Forgotten

Round Australia Round Trip #15

On 19th November 1941, the Australian Navy cruiser HMAS Sydney II engaged in a sea battle with the German raider HSK Kormoran off the coast of Western Australia. Both vessels sank and while most of the crew of the Kormoran were rescued, the 645 personnel on board Sydney all perished.  The loss of HMAS Sydney II and her crew is still Australia’s worst naval disaster.

A memorial commemorating HMAS Sydney II and her crew stands on a hill overlooking the city of Geraldton, on the mid-north coast of Western Australia.



From a ship’s propeller to the flock of silver gulls and the dramatic sculpture of the Waiting Woman,  the symbolism incorporated in the memorial is full of emotion, and is best explained by the plaques on the granite wall surrounding the site.






Despite many intensive searches, the location of both shipwrecks was unknown for more than 60 years. They were finally discovered on 16 March 2008, lying of the floor of the Indian Ocean at a depth of more than 2 km.




Even though she was placed here long before they were found, the Waiting Woman looks towards the exact site where the ship and her crew lie. Was it an eerie coincidence or the hand of fate guiding the sculptors?