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Epic Aussie Road Trip Part 7: The Eyre Peninsula and the Nullarbor

November 12, 2010

Famous sign on the Nullarbor

Driving away from Adelaide, we slowly faded from suburban civilization to nothingness. The road was soon surrounded by nothing but plains and trees, with the exception of a few areas where the inhabitants obviously had a big sense of humor. In one stretch of road we there were tons of statues alongside of things like a giant mouse, giant cockroach, huge fly holding a flyswatter, and some other random funny things. At another stretch there was a bit salt lake and someone had put tires in it to look like the Loch Ness Monster.

Eventually we could glimpse a bit of the ocean to our left and a bit of the southern Flinders Ranges to our right which slightly improved the drive. But overall it was a pretty long, dull (and very hot!) drive to Port Augusta, also known as “The Crossroads of Australia” because it has roads leading off to Perth, to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and north through the center all the way to Darwin.

Strong wind at the Great Australian Bight

There isn’t much else to say about Port Augusta, except that we were glad it was at least still enough of a city to have a McDonald’s, which meant one more chance to hop on some free wifi. Some caravan parks we stay in have wifi and internet, but they charge $6/hour which is a bit too much for our budget. The park we were staying in was a bit sketchy anyways. (For example, we were excited to find they had a TV room because we hadn’t watched TV in ages, but we couldn’t find the remote and when we asked at reception they said someone had cut the cord to the TV that day…uh huh.)

The next morning we headed off on another long drive to Ceduna. This day was even hotter than the one before, and we were both feeling pretty terrible, baking to death in the van and hating our crappy air conditioning. We made regular pit stops at every small town to buy popsicles and revel in their A/C. Then about halfway through the drive we came to the realization that the air con wasn’t actually turned ON, and we were just circulating “cold” air. Once this was fixed we both felt a LOT better and the drive wasn’t nearly so painful. (The exception being the ridiculous amount of flies that attack you the minute you stop anywhere to stretch your legs or grab a snack from the trunk).

Oscar at the Bunda Cliffs

We pulled into a caravan park in Ceduna (which wasn’t nearly as sketchy as everyone had warned us; we had been cautioned, “Don’t look anybody in the eye in Ceduna,” but it seemed fine and the park was full of nice and normal people, unlike in Port Augusta). This time the park even had a TV that worked in the outdoor kitchen, but unfortunately the only thing on after the news was Two and a Half Men, which is quite possibly my least favorite show in the world. I’m not going to lie, I am probably too excited about getting back to some kind of home with a TV and internet so I can catch up on all the shows that started just as we were leaving on our trip!

That night was so unbelievably hot, I didn’t know if we were going to make it! We have one window we can open in the back where we sleep, but it didn’t help that much with the heat and only let in a ton of mosquitos and bugs. Luckily for us, later that night it started to rain which really cooled everything down. In fact, the rain didn’t stop until morning and there was a huge difference in the weather.

Distances from Border Village

The next day we were expecting to be burning up as we began our drive on the actual Nullarbor, but instead it was actually a bit cold. I found myself changing into pants and a sweatshirt, as the wind was strong and cold and we experienced occasional short showers of rain throughout the day. We couldn’t believe the huge change in the weather. The Nullarbor (which is derived from the Latin for “no trees”) wasn’t quite as we expected either. I was imagining bare desert (and perhaps it is like this usually), but instead all around us was covered in bushes and grasses. I’m not sure if this is an unusual case, as it was when were in Alice Springs because of the unusually high amount of rain, but it seems plausible.

We stopped at a few lookouts along the way, looking out at the Great Australian Bight, with huge waves in the water (the wind was unbelievably strong!) and the Bunda Cliffs. It was really beautiful. After a long drive we finally arrived at the South Australia-Western Australia border. We took photos with the big “Rooey II” kangaroo statue, caught a glimpse of one of the holes of “The World’s Longest Golf Course” (18 holes scattered across various towns along the Nullarbor), and then went through the mandatory quarantine (no fruits, seeds or vegetables can pass the state lines).

Rooey II statue at the SA/WA border

Then we were finally in WA! Signs were now showing the amount of kilometers to Perth! (Though of course we would be driving much more than that since we were going along the southwest coast.) We drove just a few minutes on to Eucla, where we would stay for the night.

Before settling in, we drove down to the old telegraph station, which was once the only thing connecting WA to the rest of Australia (and the world!), but is now being taken over by sand dunes. It’s pretty cool to see, and we had fun running around in the ruins which are now filled with sand.

That night was cold and a bit scary, as it was incredibly windy, stormy, rainy, and even hailing for a while. Thankfully our van is strong and protective and we just snuggled further into our sleeping bags. We had a long sleep since we had moved into a different time zone (I’ll get to that later). Then we were back on the road. While most of the Eyre Highway is called the Nullarbor, really only part of it is along the actual Nullarbor Plains, and we found that most of the drive had plenty of trees.

Eucla telegraph station buried in sand

Not too long into the drive, the car in front of us hit a kangaroo. I had been looking off to the side so I didn’t see it actually happen, but I saw the car in front of us screech to a halt and pull over to the side, and unfortunately I saw the poor kangaroo laying on the side of the road (still very much alive but looking like it was probably severely injured in one or both of its legs, which I fear might mean it won’t survive much longer). After that we seemed to just see tons and tons of dead kangaroos on the side of the road, which was a bit strange because we hardly noticed any on the previous days’ drives.

After a couple hours of driving we arrived at Caiguna where we finally entered the official WA time zone. Just to give a breakdown of the time zones we’ve been through on this trip (which became even more complicated with daylight savings): NSW, VIC and QLD are on Eastern Standard Time (GMT +10). NSW and VIC do daylight savings, but QLD doesn’t. NT and SA are on Central Standard time (GMT +9.5), which is a bit weird being a half hour difference from pretty much everywhere, plus SA does daylight savings but NT doesn’t. And then WA is on Western Standard Time (GMT +8) and also doesn’t participate in daylight savings. And just to make the drive a little more interesting, the handful of towns between the WA/SA border and Caiguna are on another time zone, which is 45 minutes later than WA (and usually 45 minutes earlier than SA, except now because of daylight savings).

So pretty much all our travel has been jumping through crazy time zones, from our trips between Melbourne and Cairns and Melbourne and Alice Springs (Melbourne being on daylight savings and the other two not), to driving back a half hour into SA, then back an hour and 45 minutes through the first part of WA, to finally arriving on standard WA time, 3 hours behind Sydney. Confused? Me too the past few days!

Australia's longest straight road

But back to the point. After Caiguna we also found ourselves on Australia’s longest straight road (146.6km) also known as the 90 Mile Straight. Like most of the Nullarbor, I felt it went back faster and easier than expected (though I admit I napped a bit on this section). Everyone who heard we were crossing the Nullarbor thought we were crazy, but it was a lot less desolate feeling than I’d anticipated. There are “towns” every hour or two along the road (though these generally are the kind that are a population of 8 or so and consist of one spot with a combination of: petrol station, restaurant/take away, small shop, and/or hotel/motel/camping, and of course a hole on the golf course) and you don’t tend to go too long without passing another car. Or the occasional biker (motorcycle or bicycle); in fact, there was a fundraising Perth-Adelaide bicycle ride going on during the same days we were driving the Nullarbor so we saw a number of bicyclists.

Cruising the Nullarbor

Overall I didn’t feel nearly as isolated as I thought I would (maybe because so much of Australia that we’ve experienced over the past month is a bit like that already), though of course you do see signs warning that it is still quite a long way from the nearest mechanic or hospital (various parts of the road are wider and marked as emergency airstrips for the Royal Flying Doctors). It was a good experience though, the only negative being the high prices of fuel –– and long days of driving mean lots of filling up!

After days of doing little more than drive, we were looking forward to a little relaxation, civilization, and nice (different!) scenery…We were more than ready to explore WA’s southwest!

This is part 7 of a 12 part series. Read the rest of the Epic Aussie Road Trip series or watch the video to drive across Australia in 2 minutes.

Also read my guest posts on Tips for Driving Across the Nullarbor and Top 10 Things to See and Do Along the Nullarbor on WhyGo Australia.

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