The Nullarbor Plain is one of the most unique landscapes in Australia. The flat, arid area sits along the coast of the Great Australian Bight across the borders of South Australia and Western Australia. The almost-treeless landscape is most famously explored by driving across the Eyre Highway that traverses the plain from Ceduna to Eucla.
Crossing the Nullarbor has become one of the most quintessential experiences in Australia and is high on many people’s travel bucket lists, for both Australians and foreign tourists alike.
Here’s everything that you need to know about the Nullarbor Plain, including all the sights, attractions, and experiences of this unique part of Australia.
What is the Nullarbor Plain?
The Nullarbor Plain is the largest exposure of limestone bedrock in the world with a total area of about 200, 000 square kilometres. It was originally a shallow seabed with various formations separated and layered over millions of years. It’s known for being a significant karst region with numerous caves and blowholes scattered throughout the limestone.
The plain straddles the border of both South and Western Australia with the Great Australian Bight to the south and the Great Victoria Desert stretching to the north. Although some people refer to the Nullarbor as being the total area between Perth and Adelaide, in actual fact the limits of the plain stretch from just near Eucla to the outskirts of Ceduna.
The arid plain is virtually treeless with a desert climate, characterised by extremely hot, dry summers and freezing overnight temperatures. Rainfall is common in the winter months closer to the coast but the whole region only averages around 200 mm per year.
The plain is home to unique flora and fauna. Although some presume that the Nullarbor is inhospitable, a number of wildlife species survive and thrive. The vegetation is limited to low saltbush and bluebush scrub. However, you can find a number of animals, from insects and spiders to mammals and birds living in the area.
History of the Nullarbor
Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Nullarbor was seasonally occupied by groups of Aboriginal people, especially the Spinifex and Wangai tribes. They referred to the plain as Oondiri, which means “the waterless” and largely used the plains as hunting grounds.
The coast was first mapped by Europeans in the 1620s when Dutch explorers charted parts of the southern coast of the country. However, the landscape of the Nullarbor and the interior of the coastline was unexplored by Europeans until Edward John Eyre and his Aboriginal companion, Wylie, became the first men to cross the Plain in 1841.
The name, Nullarbor, came about in 1865 and was coined by the surveyor, Edmund Delisser. It’s Latin for “No Trees”, which although is not entirely correct, is still pretty fitting for the extraordinarily flat terrain.
Part of the Nullarbor around Maralinga was chosen by the British to be used for nuclear testing in the 1950s. The Pitjantjatjara people who inhabited the area and used it for their hunting were forcibly removed and taken to the Yalata Mission which was 70 miles away. The first explosion took place on September 27th, 1956, with effects felt right across the Nullarbor Plain. It’s estimated that the strength of the bomb was the same as the one that had destroyed Hiroshima.
Construction on a proposed highway across the Nullarbor began in 1941. The track remained a rough road allowing east to west traffic until it was eventually sealed and finished in 1976. The 1675km long highway is known as Eyre Highway and joins the two towns of Eucla and Ceduna across the limestone plain and beyond.
Myths and legends
With such an otherworldly landscape, it would be impossible for there not to have been any myths or legends surrounding the Nullarbor.
The most famous myth is that of the Nullarbor Nymph. In the 1970s, photos emerged of a half-naked woman supposedly living amongst the wild kangaroos near Eucla. Many journalists and reporters flocked to the tiny town to catch a sighting of the woman, but it turned out to be a total publicity stunt by the locals.
Another sighting, although this time of the extra-terrestrial nature, was of a UFO that a family claim had stalked them as they drove the Eyre Highway in 1988. The Knowles family were driving on the highway in the early morning hours when they saw a floating light that hovered over their vehicle before landing on top of it.
The family reported the incident in Ceduna and the police recounted that the car was in fact dented. It caused a significant stir with skeptics and believers around the world.
How to explore the Nullarbor Plain
For most people, crossing the Nullarbor is a once in a lifetime experience but there are also many people who have done the trip many, many times and relish every opportunity to do it again. Either way, it has become one of the must-do’s in all of Australia.
When people refer to “crossing the Nullarbor” they usually mean driving the Eyre Highway between Ceduna to Eucla and beyond. This is one of the most incredible road trips in the world and by far the way most people explore the Nullarbor Plain. It’s possible to drive the highway in two long days with a conventional vehicle. However, many people prefer to take much longer to explore sights along the way. Some of the side trips require a 4×4 or off-road vehicle and experience in remote adventures but there are also other things to do that don’t have special requirements. There’s something for every traveller.
The other way to explore the plain is by taking the Trans-Australian Railway line that crosses the Nullarbor between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta. Construction on the line began in 1917 with a complete overhaul in 1969. The Indian Pacific luxury passenger train regularly crosses the Nullarbor on its journey from Perth to Sydney via Adelaide.
Both these journeys, either by road or rail, are incredible feats. The railway includes the longest straight section of railway in the world at 478km and the Eyre Highway has the longest straight road in Australia at 146km which is referred to as the 90 Mile Straight.
Things to see and do on the Nullarbor Plain
There so many things to see and do on the Nullarbor Plain. Whether you’re driving straight across the Eyre Highway or looking to take detours to capture some of the incredible unique places along the coast, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Here’s a rundown on all the best sights, attractions, and experiences that you can add to your Nullarbor trip.
The Nullarbor Plain is home to an abundance of unique and native wildlife. Despite being a very dry and arid place, many animals have adapted to the conditions of the landscape. You can come across kangaroos, wombats, emus, and dingoes.
There are also around 100, 000 wild camels roaming around the Nullarbor Plain. They were brought out to help build the railway in the 19th century and were left to survive off the land. They have flourished and you may spot them along the Eyre Highway.
The Old Telegraph Station near Eucla
On the edge of the Nullarbor Plain in Eucla, you can find the remnants of the old Telegraph Station. Sitting amongst towering white sand dunes, this ghostly structure is the remains of the original town that was established in 1877. The station was a vital link between Western Australia and South Australia at the time until it went into decline.
There’s a small museum in the roadhouse nearby that tells the story of the station.
Balladonia is the first stop travelling east on the Eyre Highway after Norseman. It’s also from where the 90 Mile Straight, the longest straight road in Australia, begins until it reaches Caiguna.
The township became known worldwide in July 1979 when the Skylab space station fell to earth leaving a trail of debris there. The museum at the roadhouse in Balladonia has fragments of the Skylab, as well as, exhibits on Aboriginal history of the area.
Eyre Highway roadhouses
Roadhouses are the small multipurpose service stations spread out along the Eyre Highway. They have become an essential part of crossing the Nullarbor Plain supplying fuel, food, water, and accommodation. In Western Australia, they are the only settlements along the highway, while in South Australia they often complement some of the towns.
Some of the roadhouses also have small museums or provide information on some history of the Nullarbor and sights to see nearby. Mozzies Truckstop and Diner is a popular roadhouse in Ceduna and a great place to grab a great coffee and other essentials like fuel, food (dine-in or takeaway), gas cylinder refill or Swap ‘n Go.
Where the Nullarbor Plain meets the Great Australian Bight, you can find the Bunda Cliffs. This dramatic coastline feature is the longest uninterrupted sea cliffs in the world stretching for over 100km. This is perhaps the best visual representation of the unique limestone slab that makes up the Nullarbor with multiple layers built up over millions of years clearly visible across the cliffs that reach up to 100 metres high.
It’s one of the most incredible views you can see in all of southern Australia. Standing atop of the Bunda Cliffs looking out to the ocean of the Great Australian Bight literally feels like you’re standing on the edge of the world, with nothing but ocean until you hit the ice of Antarctica.
Head of Bight
The Head of Bight is the bay that marks the northern extent of the Great Australian Bight. The spectacular lookout and boardwalk along the coast here offers one of the most incredible views. A detour out to the Head of Bight off the Eyre Highway is also a good spot for whale watching between May and October. It’s known as one of the best land-based whale watching spots in the country.
The Dingo Fence
The famous Dingo Fence or Dog Fence is the incredible 5600km long fence that was built as a pest-exclusion device during the 1880s. It was designed to keep the dingoes away from the fertile south-east part of the country.
It begins in Jimbour on the Darling Downs in Queensland and travels all the way through to the Great Australian Bight on the cliffs of the Nullarbor near Nundroo. It’s one of the longest man-made structures in the world and for many people seeing a section of the fence is a must-do outback experience.
The Nullarbor is home to many record-holders; however, this is perhaps one of the more unique ones. The Nullarbor Links is the longest golf course in the world, spanning 1365km across the plain. The 18-hole par 72 course has one hole in each roadhouse along the Eyre Highway and can take up to four days to complete the whole course. This is definitely one of the more unique ways to appreciate the Nullarbor Plain.
The famous Cactus Beach is a world-class surfing destination. The secluded beach at Point Sinclair near Penong has two perfect left-hand breaks and a right-hand break to make up one of the most sought-after surfing spots in the country.
It’s usually reserved for experienced surfers, but the pretty Point Sinclair coastal reserve is still a nice place to explore even if you’re not planning on surfing.
Fowlers Bay is a tiny settlement on the Eyre Peninsula at the eastern edge of the Great Australian Bight. It’s become a famous spot for anglers who come hoping to catch Mulloway, Whiting, Garfish, and Tommy Ruff.
Interestingly, the bay also has a link to the famous story of Gulliver’s Travels. The story that was published in 1726 describes Gulliver being washed up on the shores of fictitious Lilliput, whose latitude and longitude are identical to Fowlers Bay. On his final voyage, he lands on a land ruled by the Houyhnms, of which the latitude and longitude are in the ocean just south of Fowlers Bay. It’s clear that perhaps the author, Jonathon Swift, knew of the Dutch exploration of the southern coast of the country back in the 17th century.
Lake MacDonnell is a Salt Lake on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula near Penong. It was a former salt mine on the largest gypsum deposit in the southern hemisphere. The high salinity levels of the lake combined with algae and pink bacteria turn the colour of the water a bright pink colour.
It’s become a popular attraction for keen photographers who attempt to take a photo capturing the bright pink colour in contrast with the blue lake.
Australia is known for many giant roadside photo opportunities and the Nullarbor is no different. Just off the Eyre Highway at Scotdesco, 100km west of Ceduna, you’ll find a giant wombat that is popular for a quick selfie before you continue on your drive.
Penong Windmill Museum
The Penong Windmill Museum has fast become a popular tourist attraction near the eastern edge of the Nullarbor. The outdoor museum showcases 20 restored windmills in order to demonstrate the history of farming and agriculture in the arid plains of South Australia. A highlight of the museum is ‘Bruce’, the biggest windmill in Australia.
One of the area’s best adventures and another way to explore the Nullarbor Plain is to go on a 4×4 drive along Goog’s Track. The 360km track travels north from Ceduna to Kingoonya. It crosses over 363 sand dunes and is certainly limited to those with some off-road experience and well-equipped setups. Four-wheel driver’s come from all over the country to experience Goog’s Track and the outback near Ceduna.
… And the Nullarbor Plain!
Ceduna is considered the gateway to the Nullarbor in South Australia, located on the Eyre Highway. It is the westernmost large town in the state and is often used as a rest and resupply stop for road trippers coming or going across the Nullarbor Plain. The town has all the essential services and shops such as accommodation, supermarkets, a pharmacy, a hardware store, and dining to cater for all your needs. Grab the latest shopping specials in Ceduna here on Ceduna Shops.
The town also has a number of things to see and do and is particularly known for its delicious seafood. Often referred to as the Oyster Capital of Australia, and part of The Seafood Trail, and Seafood Frontier of Eyre Peninsula you can find some of the freshest seafood in the country here, as well as, the opportunity to explore a working oyster farm with SA Premium Oyster Farm Tours.
There’s plenty of outdoor activities on offer in Ceduna too. From walking along the Encounter Trail to fishing off the jetty, there’s plenty of reasons to get outdoors. See our online map of Ceduna for everything in the Ceduna region.
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