One of the many unique features of Australia, the Nullarbor is a vast arid plain that covers much of the southern part of the country. The name comes from Null Arbor, which in Latin means without trees. Much of the plain, especially the parts through South Australia, live up to the name, for hundreds of kilometers along the highway, the flat landscape spreads out for as far as the eye can see to the north, with nary a tree to be seen.
When I first heard about it, I pictured something much different than what I saw. I pictured the flat, brown, ugly sort of desert scrub one sees through much of the American southwest. A plain that was largely dirt and plants that had much the same color, a lifeless looking expanse of wilderness that went on forever. It has been such a wonderful surprise to find that my mental picture of it could not be farther from the truth.
The landscape is flat and the dirt is tan, but there is where the similarity between my assumptions and the truth ends. The land is covered in a blanket of knee-high scrub. Saltbrush and bluebrush cover the flat landscape in a blanket of green and grey. Other plant life adds dots of contrasting greens and dots of red.
On the occasions we got out of the car to walk around, we frequently encountered small flowers and desert peas. Unlike the feeling I get from the deserts I am used to, which is not representative of the truth for they are just as full of life if not color, this one felt very alive. Though the landscape does roll on and on until it meets up with the bright blue sky on the distant horizon, the colors and textures of the land were always pleasing to the eye.
And of course, one of the most wonderful parts about the drive through this ancient land, is the fact that the highway runs right along the edge of the Bight. Frequently, when the road would crest a small rise, there to the south the ocean stretched out before us, its deep blue melding with that of the couldy sky in the distance, almost indistinguishable in color where they met. There are frequent lookout points along the road where one can stop, stretch their legs, and look out over the steep cliffs where the seemingly endless plain suddenly drops off into the sea. Like everywhere we have been here, the water is amazingly clear. The bright blue of the shallow water near the cliff face, the white streaks of the breaking waves drawing jagged patterns in the surf, contrasts beautifully with the dark, placid blue of the deeper water. The scene is majestic beyond words.
If one is lucky, they may even catch sight of a Southern Right Whale as it passes by, or a white bellied sea eagle diving into the water to retrieve its meal.
The further west we traveled, however, the more trees began to re-appear. The flat saltbrush plain was slowly replaced by malee scrub, which progressively grew denser. Travel further, and the eucalypts appear in earnest, and they grew taller and denser as we approached Norseman. As the trees grew taller, they grew closer together, until the open airy gums became a dense wall. Before long the highway was encased in a forest of salmon gums so thick we couldn’t see more then five feet through the thin trunks.
Though the drive probably could be done in two rather long days, there is no need to rush. What was once a long, boring stretch of road now has plenty of attractions worth a bit of a travelers time. Cactus beach in Penong is a wonderful place to camp. A bit further along Fowlers bay is a lovely little town on the coast that is worth a visit. Stay a night or two and charter a fishing boat or fish off the jetty, hike out to the point, or venture down the four-wheel track through the massive dunes. Stop at the numerous lookouts along the way and enjoy the view. Stop in at the head of the bight, and for a small fee, enjoy one of Australia’s premium whale spotting locations.
And if you are going to make the trip and really want to experience it in all its glory, buy some cheap second hand golf clubs and play the nullarbor links, the world’s longest golf course. Running from Kalgoorlie to Ceduna, the nullarbor links features a golf hole at every roadhouse along the way. The holes are challenging and it is a great way to enjoy the changing scenery, and get out of the car for a bit. The course is a unique outback experience unlike anything else in the world.
There are numerous roadhouses along the highway, and each has both a caravan park and self-contained motel rooms for those who wish to stay in style. The roadhouses all serve hot food, and generally have a nice little pub where travelers spend a night swapping stories and enjoying a cold beer. They can be a wonderful place to meet fellow adventures and swap stories, tips, and enjoy an evening in good company. For those who, like us, are doing things on the cheap, there are numerous rest stops and turnouts just off the highway were a weary traveler can pitch their tent and spend the night. We spent most of our nights at rest stops, only spending the night at the Mildura roadhouse so we could charge the computer and have a shower. The roadhouse was surprisingly nice, the staff was friendly, and the showers were warm and wonderful. They even let us stay at a powered site and only charged us for and unpowered site. My only complaint is the generator runs 24/7 and it is not quiet.
All in all the Nullarbor was a surprisingly picturesque and entertaining drive. There was much more to see and do then I expected, and the amount of roadhouses along the way meant there was never any worry of running out of supplies. We even saw some wild camels! It was a wonderful experience and well worth the trip.