Oct 22-23 The Nullarbor
Pronounced Null-ah-bah by most, Nool-a-baa by others, it’s the ultimate Ozzie roadtrip, spoken of with equal parts dread and fascination, 1200 km across the "treeless plain."
We left Norsemen, the small town known as the western gateway to the Nullarbor at 7am on a lovely fresh morning. I decided right off that the best way to “describe” the Nullarbor was going to be to "show” it so every 100 km we stopped and took four photos – looking forward, looking back and looking to each side.
The first set of photos, at KM 0, was to be taken just outside of Norseman.
Here I botched up the plan right off the bat by forgetting to take photos
of each side. Oh well.
The second set of photos shows the scenery at the 100 km mark. In the past we’ve each driven until exhaustion then grumpily requested that the other one take over. We've decided a better method will be to each drive exactly 100 km then have a shift change.
During my stints as a passenger I am amusing myself with my laptop. Seems to work just fine, resting on my knees. And yes, that's Steve out there and if you look closely he's videotaping the journey. The really special people in our lives will have the opportunity, not just to view 45,000 photos of outback Australia, but to view (my estimate based on one tape every two weeks) thirteen hours of video!
We are trying to slow it down a bit as we are gobbling up so much gas and we’ve been told by the mechanic that if we keep it under 90 we’ll get much better mileage ...but it’s hard. The road is straight and the foot gets heavy. In fact, this is the straightest section of road in all of Australia - all 146.6 km of it.
We’ve just made an unscheduled stop. Steve has been spotting these mid-sized lizards crossing the road or at the side of the road. Ever curious, the next time he saw one he stopped and ran back for a closer look. The one he saw on the road was actually dead and dehydrated – he’s propped that one on the front of the bumper as our mascot. We call him George.
But he also saw another one in the middle of the road and grabbed it by the tail so he could bring it over to the window to show me. Of course I grabbed the camera and here you are. We set it back down on the side of the road – it didn’t move for the longest time – very fat little body with tiny little legs and feet – method of propulsion looks totally unequal to the task of moving the body – which may explain why we are seeing so many dead ones on the road. They move very slowly. We later discover they are actually called “stumpy tailed lizards.”
For about 100 km Steve stops every time he sees one crossing the road and moves them to the side so they won't be smushed. This lasts till I take over the wheel on my next turn. Then I make the mistake of focussing on the road ahead, as opposed to underneath, and flatten a pair of them.
"How could you do that?" he wails.
"I didn't see them."
"How could you not see them? They were right there in front of you. Don't you look at the road when you drive?"
"Yes, but if I focussed on ever little black smudge coming up I'd go blind. I'm a big picture kind of driver."
He mutters into his moustache for the rest of the day ...not sure I'm forgiven yet. But I was more careful from there-on-out and there were no more fatalities on my watch.
And despite the delay, we make it to the 300 km mark.
We make it to the 400 km mark and it is getting a lot hotter.
We are ploughing right along now ...and it's the 500 km mark. A little more vegetation showing up ...whippee!
This doing a shift change every 100 km is working great and despite what the pictures might be implying, it's not as boring as it looks. There are lizards to avoid and road trains to play chicken with. There is a sign warning us to watch for camels, wombats, and kangaroos. We see hundreds of dead kangaroos, one dead wombat, and no camels.
We make it to the 600 km mark and see a dingo in the parking lot of a road house. These road houses appear every 200-300 km and provide some welcome respite ...a real toilet instead of a very small bush, ice cream bars, cappuccinos, even internet if you are so inclined. I saw a man in a suit with a laptop hooked up to the kiosk in one road house, madly tapping away. I would like to think that the middle of the Nullarbor Plain is one of the places in the world one would be free of "the office" but I guess not. We notice that most road houses also have transmission towers nearby and the travel brochures proudly state that "mobile service" is available over most of the Nullarbor. Too bad, eh.
We are so glad to make it to the mid-way point on this track that we stop for the night and forget to take our 700 km photos. We have put in for the night at Eucla and go down to the sand dunes for a look at an old telegraph station there.
In the morning we take a photo of the road we’ve just come down – the 700 km mark is down there....
We’ve discovered that every place we go has its own charms and challenges. The charm in Eucla was without doubt the sand dunes which were spectacular as the sun went down. The challenges were the moths, the biggest I’ve ever seen – like huge butterflies. But unlike butterflies, these moths are so stupid. They are attracted to the light in the van, but then once they get in they bat around hitting us and when they do they try to crawl down the backs of our shirts or up our sleeves or whatever. They cannot harm you but they are unbelievably annoying. In the morning I kicked one out of the van and he didn’t want to go, attaching himself to our table.
We make it to the 900 km mark and I am glad that I’ve taken the picture of the happy group of boys together because somewhere in the past 100 km George jumped ship and resumed life in the outback. Steve thinks that all that air being pumped back into him while we tore down the road rejuvenated him. I think a bunch of flies flew down his gaping mouth and flew off with him.
Today we have also been traveling alongside the Great Australian Bight - an ocean-like body of water for those who don't know what a "bight" is, me included. There are quite a few diversions off the highway leading to lookouts where you can see the craggy Bunda Cliffs, towering limestone cliffs that drop off abruptly into the raging bight below. These are the landscapes that are so typical of the South Australian tourism brochures and we can see why.
At the Head of the Bight we see about eight huge Southern Right Whales and their nursing calves. Apparently this is where they come to calve and stay until the calves are strong enough to head back south with mom again. At the Head of Bight lookout they’ve built ramps and boardwalks out over the ocean so you can have a good look without disturbing the whales who lie in quite close to shore.
Carrying on, we make the 1000 km mark.
And the 1100 km mark. I read that the Nullarbor Plain only gets 20 cm of water a year ...and sure enough, some of that fell on the Ushers today.
We expected the Nullarbor to be flat and boring but it wasn’t. The terrain changed all the time. There were patches of “flat and featureless” but they only lasted for 20 or 30 minutes. Then we were back to trees, hills, valleys, and wildflowers. The landscape never stayed the same and when all else failed, there were stumpy-tailed lizards to amuse and entertain.
Traveling in late October, the temperatures were moderate – sometimes quite warm during the day, but always a lot of wind to make them comfortable.
Crossing the Nullarbor, we also crossed from Western Australia into Southern Australia so after spending the night in Ceduna we will continue down the Eyre Peninsula tomorrow, following the coast.