No place in Australia can capture the imagination like The Nullarbor. An epic adventure across two states, renowned for desert solitude and the wild Southern Ocean Bunda Cliffs.
In a country where we just don't do small, The Nullarbor Plain—also known as the Nullarbor Desert—manages to take it a step further. It breaks a number of world records.
The Nullarbor Plain is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victoria Desert to its north.
It is the world's largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 sq mi). At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.
Affectionately known by Australians as the Nullar-boring, it is believed to be a dried up sea bed. For all its lack of visual stimulation this is easy to imagine.
But scratch the dry surface and be prepared to unearth many legends, a rich history and stunning scenery along the 1200 km that makes the Nullarbor.
Crossing the Nullarbor
Few Australians have traversed this road, but those who have, will never forget the experience...
"Crossing the Nullarbor", for many Australians, is a quintessential experience of the "Australian Outback". Stickers bought from roadhouses on the highway show "I have crossed the Nullarbor", and can be seen on vehicles of varying quality or capacity for long distance travel. The process of "beating the crowds" on overbooked and overpriced air services at the time of special sporting events can also see significant numbers of vehicles on the road.
Feel the wide open space of Australia's vast Outback beneath your wheels on one of the world's greatest adventure drives, across the vast, semi-arid Nullarbor Plain. It stretches across the southern edge of Australia between the goldfields of Western Australia and the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.
You can connect to this journey from Adelaide or Perth and drive west to east or east to west along the Eyre Highway. While this is a sealed road, it goes through remote areas and the trip requires thorough preparation.
You should carry extra petrol and plenty of water and food. You'll need a 4WD vehicle to venture off the highway. The name comes from the Latin for nothing (nullus) and tree (arbor) but in reality the Nullarbor is covered with bluebush and mulga scrub, and even wildflowers after rain.
You'll see plenty of wildlife, including wild camels, kangaroos and emus (be careful at dusk), meet eccentric Outback characters and even discover space junk that fell to earth.
Go whale watching on a clifftop lookout, visit vast cattle stations, and play the world's longest golf course – an unbelievable 1365 kilometres (848 miles) long, with a hole at each town or roadhouse along the way.
The Bunda Cliffs
Along the Great Australian Bight the Bunda Cliffs extend 200kms, between the Head of the Bight and the border with Western Australia. They are the southern edge of the limestone slab which forms the Nullarbor Plain and extends far inland.
Along the base of the cliffs is lighter in colour as this white, almost chalk like material is Wilson Bluff Limestone. This material formed as part of an ancient seabed some 65 million years ago, when Australia began to separate from Antarctica.
Over an 85km stretch of the Eyre Highway, there are signed, gravel access roads leading to each of the five main lookouts. The Bunda Cliffs are 20 kilometres to the east of Nullarbor Roadhouse.
Interesting Facts about the Nullarbor
- The road which people drive across the Plain is called the Eyre Highway. This stretch of road originally got its name from a man named John Eyre who crossed the Nullarbor in 1841.
- The Eyre Highway is approximately 1675km long and takes approximately two days to cross.
- The name Nullarbor originated from the Latin terminology nullus arbor meaning ‘no trees’ because quite literally you are lucky to see any surviving tress along this desert plain.
- The Nullarbor Plain is home to the earth’s largest piece of limestone.
- The first motorcar crossed the Nullarbor Plain in 1912.
- Another form of transport to cross the Nullarbor is by the Indian Pacific Train. This train runs twice weekly from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide and takes 3 nights to cover the 4352km journey.
- The Cocklebiddy Cave on the Nullarbor Plain held the world record for the longest cave diving distance in 1983. The Cocklebiddy Cave entrance was formed when the cave roof collapsed to reveal a system of massive underground caverns and more than 6kms of underwater passages.
- Even though the Plain has very harsh weather conditions it is home to a surprising amount of animals. Kangaroos, emu’s, wombats and even camels.
- The Nullarbor has up to 100,000 wild camels which were abandoned there after their use in building rail roads.
- The Nullarbor is home to the World's Longest Golf Course
The Nullarbor Links Golf Course
The Nullarbor Links is an 18-hole par 73 golf course, said to be "the World's Longest Golf course", situated along 1,365 kilometres of the Eyre Highway along the southern coast of Australia in two states (South Australia and Western Australia), notably crossing the Nullarbor Plain at the head of the Great Australian Bight.
The idea for the course came from Alf Caputo and Bob Bongiorno, both active in the Eyre Highway Operators Association, over a bottle of red wine at the Balladonia Roadhouse. The course officially opened on 22 October 2009, although public play began on 15 August 2009.
The course begins and ends (depending on the direction of crossing) in the goldmining town of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia and the coastal town of Ceduna, South Australia. Professional golfer Robert Stock, from Manchester, England, consulted on the design that incorporates 7 holes from existing courses and 11 holes created at roadhouses and roadside stops.
- The shortest hole (Brumby's Run) is 125 metres, par 3.
- The longest hole (Dingo's Den) is 538 metres, par 5.
- The average distance between holes is 66 kilometres.
- Two of the holes are almost 200 kilometres apart.
- The 520m, par 5 Wombat Hole commemorates the nearby, largest colony of southern hairy-nosed wombats.
- The Skylab Hole at Balladonia commemorates that pieces of the spacecraft fell in the area in 1979 when Skylab entered Earth's atmosphere.
- The Don Harrington Tee at Border Village, South Australia is named after the late Don Harrington who was a major shareholder of five roadhouses along the highway before passing away in March 2010
A History of Crossing the Nullabor
The first motorcar crossed the Nullarbor Plain in 1912.
The first non-Indigenous person to walk across Australia from the west to the east coast, Henri Gilbert, crossed the Plain on foot, with no support team or stock, in the middle of summer. His walk across Australia, from Fremantle to Brisbane, was achieved between August 1897 and December 1898.
In 1998, runner Robert Garside ran across the Nullarbor without a formal support crew, as part of an authenticated run around the world. Unconventionally, Garside obtained water and other support from "passing traffic" who would leave water cached ahead for him at agreed drop-offs, to achieve the feat.
In 2010, columnist Dan Koeppel ran the 200-mile (320 km) heart of the Nullarbor with a friend the same way, to vindicate Garside.
Garside commented in his diary, that...
"the key to running the Nullarbor turned out to be Australian hospitality",
and Koeppel concurred that...
"From an armchair it is completely impossible to run the Nullarbor. Once you're out there, however, there is a way. Robert Garside discovered it. So would I"..
On 25 December 1896, after an arduous journey of thirty-one days, Arthur Charles Jeston Richardson became the first cyclist to cross the Nullarbor Plain, pedaling his bicycle from Coolgardie to Adelaide. Carrying only a small kit and a water-bag, he followed the telegraph line as he crossed the Nullarbor. He later described the heat as...
"1,000 degrees in the shade".
During their three-year cycling trip around Australia between 1946 and 1949, Wendy Law Suart and Shirley Duncan became the first women to cycle across the Plain.
Between 29 June and 3 July 2015, brothers Tyron and Aaron Bicknell recorded the fastest known crossing of the Plain on single speed bicycles. Their ride took advantage of the cold temperatures in the Australian winter months and was completed over 4 days, 5 hours and 21 minutes, making it one of the fastest bicycle crossings and the fastest done with a single geared bike.