Outback Australia on four wheels - crossing the Nullarbor Plain
It sounds like an indigenous word, but ‘Nullarbor’ is actually Latin for “no trees”; the equivalent indigenous name for the area is ‘Oondiri’ which translates as “waterless”. Aptly, it describes the desert area straddling Norseman in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia, though many people start in Perth and drive to Adelaide or vice versa, crossing the plain in the trip between capital cities.
The first recorded crossing of the Nullarbor took place in 1841 when Edward John Eyre and his Aboriginal guide, Wylie, successfully traversed the plain from east to west. Eyre’s European companion, John Baxter, did not survive the journey.
While Eyre’s journey took four months, a train ride today takes as little as two days. If you choose to drive, however, it can take three or four but you can take as long as you like, which is half the adventure. For most Australians, crossing the Nullarbor Plain is a badge of honour akin to surviving the outback. And let me tell you, the Nullarbor Plain is outback.
The plain is about 1200km wide at its broadest point and due to its popularity, the road is paved so you won’t need an off road vehicle to complete the journey. But the way is not without its dangers - the straight road and repetitive landscape can cause drivers to nod off. Thankfully, help is not far away as there’s a good flow of traffic passing by. Being in a desert doesn’t mean you’re deserted.
So if it’s so boring, why would you want to cross the Nullarbor? Other than the prestige factor, what looks like arid scrubland is actually an interesting geological area. As all plains go, the Nullarbor is extremely flat but there are more than a few interesting diversions, including the three Murrawijinie Caves in South Australia, off the Eyre Highway, and a number of blowholes and other cave systems along the way, some of which can only be explored by cave divers.
The Bunda Cliffs perched over the western side of the Great Australian Bight illustrate the raw beauty of the Australian landscape. Cliff top lookouts give plenty of opportunity to spot marine wildlife such as whales and seals if you’re there at the right time of year. There are even whale-watching tours that leave from the Nullarbor Airstrip, flying over the Great Australian Bight if you’ve come in-season. On the land you’re more likely to see kangaroos, dingoes, emus and wild camels roam the plain. Wombats are not uncommon, either.
The light in the desert elucidates stark, harsh colours that city folk have long forgotten. The remote nature of the journey is meditative - if you want to ‘get away from it all’ there’s no better place than an outback yard. And when you have a schooner of beer at the end of the trip you can lift your glass to the great Aussie journey: you have crossed the Nullarbor.
Nullarbor Net: www.nullarbornet.com.au
Australian Explorer: www.australianexplorer.com
Tourism Western Australia: www.westernaustralia.com
South Australia Tourism Commission: www.southaustralia.com