The flat, semi-arid area known as the Nullarbor Plain stretches along the coast of the Great Australian Bight. The large limestone bedrock is one of the most unique landscapes that you can find in all of Australia.
For most people, exploring the Nullarbor plain by crossing the almost treeless plain on the Eyre Highway is a once in a lifetime experience. The road traverses across South Australia and Western Australia from Ceduna to Eucla and is considered the best way to explore this unique landscape.
Table of Contents
- 1 About the Nullarbor Plain
- 2 How to see the Nullarbor Plain
- 3 Best time to explore the Nullarbor Plain
- 4 Roadhouses of the Nullarbor Plain
- 5 Sights and experiences of the Nullarbor Plain
- 5.1 Balladonia
- 5.2 90 Mile Straight
- 5.3 Eyre Bird Observatory
- 5.4 Cocklebiddy Cave
- 5.5 The Old Telegraph Station near Eucla
- 5.6 Bunda Cliffs
- 5.7 Head of Bight
- 5.8 The Dingo Fence
- 5.9 Fowlers Bay
- 5.10 Surfing at Cactus Beach
- 5.11 Lake MacDonnell
- 5.12 Penong Windmill Museum
- 5.13 Nullarbor Link Golf Course
- 5.14 Goog’s Track
- 6 Eyre Peninsula
- 7 While you’re crossing The Nullarbor Plain
About the Nullarbor Plain
The Nullarbor Plain covers an area of about 200, 000 square kilometres across the border of South and Western Australia. It lies on the coastline of the Great Australian Bight and the Great Victoria Desert stretches inland to the north. Some travellers consider a crossing of the Nullarbor plain as being a trip from Adelaide all the way to Perth, however, the actual limits of the plain itself are from near Eucla in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia.
The Nullarbor plain is the largest exposure of limestone in the world. This semi-arid and almost treeless landscape was originally a shallow seabed millions of years ago. The Great Australian Bight which is where the semi-arid plain meets the Southern Ocean was created around 50 million years ago when Australia and Antarctica separated. The dramatic coastal cliffs that can be seen today along the Bight is the best visual representation of the incredible layers of limestone that have formed over time. The Nullarbor plain is also particularly known for being an important karst region with caves and blowholes throughout the bedrock, even some being found inland from the coast.
It comes as no surprise that the plain has a mostly desert climate. It’s characterised by hot summers with freezing overnight temperatures with more moderate winters. The area sees limited rainfall with an average of around 200mm per year.
Flora and fauna
Despite the desert climate and almost treeless landscape, the plain still hosts some unique flora and fauna. The vegetation is limited to saltbush and bluebush scrub. However, some wildlife thrives in the conditions and you can find insects, spiders, birds and mammals who call the plain home.
You can expect to come across native animals like kangaroos, wombats, emus and dingoes if you’re travelling across the Eyre Highway. You can also easily spot wild camels which roam around the Nullarbor Plain. There are an estimated 100, 000 wild camels out thereafter they were abandoned once the construction of the railway was finished in the 19th century.
Early history of human exploration
The Nullarbor Plain has been explored by nomadic Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years. It was seasonally occupied by Spinifex and Wangai tribes who used it as hunting grounds. They referred to the Nullarbor Plain as ‘Oondiri’ which translates to ‘the waterless’.
The first exploration of the area by Europeans was at the beginning of the 17th century when Dutch explorers chartered a part of the southern coast of Australia. The full coastline was later explored by Matthew Flinders in 1802 during his circumnavigation of the whole continent.
The physical land of the Nullarbor Plain was left unexplored by Europeans until Edward John Eyre and his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, became the first men to cross the plain in an expedition in 1841.
The plain was later named the Nullarbor Plain in 1865 by Edmund Delisser. It has a Latin origin and means “No Trees”.
Recent history of the plain
Construction first began on the proposed highway across the Nullarbor Plain in 1941. The road was initially a rough track that simply allowed for limited traffic across the southern part of the continent. It was eventually sealed and completed in 1976. The highway was named Eyre Highway after the explorer, Edward John Eyre, and stretches for 1675km from Port Augusta in South Australia to Norseman in Western Australia.
Due to its vast empty landscape, the Nullarbor Plain was chosen by the British for nuclear testing in the 1950s. The Aboriginal people who lived in the area at the time were forcibly removed and taken to the Yalata Mission, 70 miles away from where they had been living. The first explosion took place on September 27th, 1956, with the strength of the bomb estimated to be the same as the one that had been dropped on Hiroshima.
Myths about the plain
The otherworldly landscape of the Nullarbor Plain has inspired a few myths and legends over time. The most famous myth has been that of the Nullarbor Nymph. In the 1970s, people believed that a half-naked woman was living with the wild kangaroos near Eucla when some grainy photos emerged. Although many people descended on the town to try and catch a glimpse of the woman, it turned out to be a publicity stunt by the locals.
There have also been a few extra-terrestrial sightings over the years. The most well-known was in 1988 when a family claim to have been followed and driven off the road by a flying UFO. It caused a significant stir around the world when the incident was reported to the police in Ceduna at the time.
How to see the Nullarbor Plain
The best way to explore the Nullarbor Plain is on a road trip across the Eyre Highway. This is considered one of the most quintessential experiences in Australia. A so-called “crossing of the Nullarbor” usually means driving from Ceduna to Eucla and beyond.
The drive across the Nullarbor Plain on the highway generally takes around two long days. It can be undertaken in a conventional vehicle with the road being well maintained and sealed the entire way. However, with more time you can explore all the sights off the highway, as well as, the towns at either end of the plain. Many of these side trips require a four-wheel drive with some being quite remote adventures.
If driving is not your idea of a relaxing holiday, then you can also opt to take the Trans-Australian Railway that goes from Port Augusta in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia crossing the Nullarbor. There is also the Indian Pacific luxury passenger train that crosses the plain on its journey from Perth to Sydney.
Whether you take the road or the rail line, you will be able to admire the incredible construction feats. The railway across the Nullarbor is the longest straight section of rail in the world at a length of 478km. The Eyre Highway also has the longest straight road in the country with 146km of dead straight bitumen that is called the 90 Mile Straight.
Best time to explore the Nullarbor Plain
You can explore the Nullarbor Plain at any time of the year, however, the extreme heat in summer is best to be avoided unless you can tolerate the relentless sun. Temperatures also tend to drop to freezing overnight, especially in the cooler winter months. Spring and Autumn are popular times to cross the Nullarbor on the Eyre Highway due to the more moderate temperatures and climate. However, winter is a nice alternative if you want to have the chance to spot the Southern Right Whales off the coast. These migratory whales can only be seen from May until September each year.
No matter what time of the year you decide to visit the Nullarbor, it’s best to avoid driving at night. The risk of hitting wildlife is high and roadhouses are separated by distances with nothing else in between, meaning it’s not an ideal place to have an accident at night. It’s ideal to stop for the night at one of the roadhouses along the way before continuing your journey the following day.
Roadhouses of the Nullarbor Plain
The roadhouses along the Eyre Highway are one of the most iconic features of a road trip across the plain. These multipurpose complexes are spread along the road to ensure that travellers are able to pick up essentials along the way.
They provide fuel, food, water and accommodation at well-timed intervals so that you don’t need to carry extra fuel if you’re travelling in daylight hours. On the less populated Western Australian side, they are the only settlements that you’ll find along the highway. In South Australia, they tend to be additions to some of the small towns.
A few of the major roadhouses also have small museums on the history of the area and can provide information for things to see along the way.
Sights and experiences of the Nullarbor Plain
When it comes to exploring the Nullarbor Plain, there is so much more to do than just simply driving across the Eyre Highway. If you have time to take detours and visit places along the way, you can easily extend your trip by days or weeks. Starting from Norseman and driving across to Ceduna and beyond, here are the best sights and experiences to include on your Nullarbor trip.
If travelling from west to east, this is the first stop after leaving Norseman on the Eyre Highway. This small town became known around the world when the Skylab space station fell to earth here littering debris over the area. You can visit the museum at the roadhouse in Balladonia if you want to learn more about this event, as well as, see parts of the debris.
90 Mile Straight
The famous long stretch of road, which is the straightest road in Australia, begins in Balladonia and goes until Caiguna. A photo op at the road sign marking the beginning of the stretch is a must on any road trip.
Eyre Bird Observatory
The Eyre Bird Observatory was Australia’s first of its kind when it was established in 1977. It’s not the easiest place to reach, located 34-kilometre off the Eyre Highway along a 4WD-only road. It’s a remote bird research station amongst sand dunes and woodlands that is popular with serious bird watchers and animal lovers.
There are hundreds of caves scattered across the Nullarbor Plain. The most well-known is Cocklebiddy Cave, which is considered one of the longest caves in the world with a passage that stretches 6km long.
The Old Telegraph Station near Eucla
On the very western edge of the Nullarbor at Eucla you can find the old Telegraph Station that was once a vital communication link between Western and South Australia. It was built in 1877 but is now sitting amongst sand dunes which are almost swallowing the old structure completely. If you want to learn more about it, there is a small museum at the roadhouse in Eucla that provides more information.
The Bunda Cliffs are one of the most impressive features of the Nullarbor. These towering sea cliffs reach up to 100m high and make for a dramatic coastline where the limestone plain meets the Great Australian Bight. The cliffs stretch for around 100km, making them the longest uninterrupted sea cliffs in the world.
You can view the cliffs as you drive immediately east of Eucla, with the best viewpoint being at Head of Bight. It’s undeniably the best representation of the unique layers of the limestone that makes up the Nullarbor Plain.
Head of Bight
This marks the northernmost extent of the Great Australian Bight. There is a spectacular lookout and boardwalk here which offers one of the best views of the Bunda Cliffs. It requires a bit of a detour off the Eyre Highway, but the feeling of reaching the edge of the continent is worth the trip.
If you’re travelling during the winter months, you might be lucky to spot some Southern Right Whales off the coast from the viewpoint.
The Dingo Fence
This is a famous long fence that is often referred to as the Dog Fence. It runs for an incredible 5600km that was built as a pest management device during the 1880s to keep the dingoes away from the fertile southeast of the country.
It begins on the Darling Downs in Queensland and finishes on the edge of the Great Australian Bight near Nundroo. It’s one of the longest manmade structures in the world, so a glimpse of the fence is often a popular addition to any Nullarbor trip.
Fowlers Bay is a small town on the eastern side of the Great Australian Bight. It’s become a popular spot for anglers who are drawn to the abundant fisheries found in the waters off the coast. From King George whiting to garfish and tommy ruff, there’s a high chance of a good catch here if you want to make a stop.
Surfing at Cactus Beach
As you get closer to the eastern end of the Nullarbor Plain, the coastline harbours some incredible surfing spots. The most famous is Cactus Beach at Port Sinclair near Penong. This world-class spot has two left-hand breaks and a right-hand break. It attracts experienced surfers from across the country who come to tackle some of the waves here.
For a more Instagram-worthy sight, Lake MacDonnell has become a popular spot for keen photographers. The salt lake and former salt mine sits near the coast, south of Penong. It’s one of the largest gypsum deposits in the southern hemisphere and the high salinity levels of the water combined with unique algae and bacteria turns the colour of the lake to bright pink. The contrast of the pink water with the blue lake next to it makes for a striking photo.
Penong Windmill Museum
This has become of the most unlikely tourist attractions on the Eyre Highway. The open-air museum at Penong has 20 restored windmills on show with the highlight being the largest windmill in the country. The place is an interesting insight into the history of agriculture and farming in this part of South Australia.
If you’re a keen golfer, then this is not to be missed. The Nullarbor Link Golf Course if the longest golf course in the world. It spans around 1365km across the Nullarbor Plain with one hole at reach roadhouse along the way.
The 18-hole par 72 course takes at least four days to complete but it’s a unique way of experiencing the plain. The course begins in Ceduna and heads west.
For a real remote adventure on the Nullarbor Plain, well prepared and experienced four-wheel drivers can tackle the famous Goog’s Track. This 360km long track takes you north from Ceduna to the Transcontinental Railway Line before going east to Kingoonya. Many avid 4×4 drivers consider it a pilgrimage to cross the 300 sand dunes that the track entails. It truly is one of the real adventures of the Nullarbor.
The beautiful Eyre Peninsula is the triangular-shaped coastal area in the middle of South Australia’s coastline. It marks the eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain and is the first place that travellers arrive to when coming across the highway from Western Australia.
The stunning peninsula is known for its beautiful beaches, delicious seafood and unique wildlife encounters. On the western edge of the peninsula, you can find Ceduna, the Oyster Capital of Australia and the major town of the eastern side of the Nullarbor Plain. Towards the southern tip, Port Lincoln is the main town, and Whyalla marks the eastern edge of the peninsula near Port Augusta.
While you’re crossing The Nullarbor Plain
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