Great Nullarbor Plain: Esperance to Adelaide
-- Story by Erin --
On Friday, the 12th of January 2001 we left the
little haven of Esperance and its cool weather. Not far out of Esperance we found out what
everyone in Australia warned us about----- the EXTREME heat of the Nullarbor. The heat
reached 47 degrees C (117 degrees F) that first day. I was unprepared and had not consumed
much in the way of liquids. After about an hour of driving in this heat, we had to pull
over, rest and get some fluids. Chris reckons I was near heat exhaustion. My face was
beet-red; I was out of breath, nearly panting and felt faint. Luckily there are many
roadhouses along this long stretch of what looks like could be Mars, and we took advantage
of each and every one of them to rest and replenish fluids.
The only paved road that runs from the Southwest
region to Adelaide is across the famous, treeless, semiarid Nullarbor Plain. It has only
been paved since the late 70s or early 80s and is one of the hottest,
straightest, loneliest stretches of road in the world. The ride from Esperance to Adelaide
was 2,250 kms (1,410 miles). The first day we only drove 650 kms due to the heat. We had
originally planned to free camp along the cliffs, but the heat was too much to bear. We
stopped for the night at the Caiguna Roadhouse where the Czech chef was lounging outside
the place. Chris went in to see about air-conditioned accommodation while I chatted with
the chef. Turns out the young Czech (must have only been 21 or 22 years old) is into Rave
parties, illicit drugs, and was there trying to earn money to go to Sydney to party some
more. He reckoned it would take him 18 months to earn the money he needed, as there was
nothing, and I mean NOTHING, for him to spend his money on at Caiguna.
Road Signs on the
Imagine riding TOTALLY straight for 1.5 hours
Having paid AUS $90 (US$53) for a low-budget
type room, and gotten a good nights sleep thanks to air-conditioning we got on the road
the next day at 5:30 a.m. to try to beat as much of the heat as we could. That second day
proved a little easier although the heat was still nearing 50 degrees C. Our fluid intake
was higher and we made sure to swallow a few teaspoons of salt at every stop. We managed
over 800 kms before pulling into the coastal town of Ceduna. The night was not as hot but
the air-conditioner in our cabin stubbornly put out luke-warm air all night.
The third day
we left around 8:00am, feeling like we could conquer another 800-kilometer day. Boy, were
we wrong! The temperature quickly jumped up the scale and around 1:00 p.m. that day the
temperature read 53 degrees C (thats 127 degrees F) at the Iron Knob roadhouse.
Again close to heat exhaustion we decided to cut our losses and stop after about 450
kilometers at Port Augusta. We phoned ahead to the caravan park and told them we were
coming. They promised to have the air-con in the cabin running before we arrived. Well, no
surprise when we arrived and found they turned on the a/c in the wrong room. Thank
goodness they had a pool because there was no other way to get cool. We immediately
changed into our bathers (swimsuits) and squeezed into the pool. Yes, squeeze it the
correct word. Everyone at the caravan park had the same idea. Every man, woman and child
was in that small pool. The water was warm and murky but it was wet and felt better than
doing anything else.
All in all, crossing the Nullarbor was a real adventure and
one that we hope to never experience again. Its too bad really, because the
Nullarbor Plain would be a very fascinating place in the winter as it runs right along the
cliffs and ocean, has a diverse animal population (like camels, emus, wombats, kangaroos,
and southern right whales) and interesting flora to explore. It contains one of the
longest stretches of straight road in the world (about 150 kilometers), is indeed treeless
for a short bit of it, and has amazing thunderstorms. My advice to everyone is that if you
have to cross it, do it in winter. And, if you have to cross it in summer, take the train!
To our absolute delight on the fourth day out
of Esperance, the weather turned much cooler (like 24 degrees C) and I actually needed to
wear my fleece jacket over my body armor. We arrived in the outskirts of Adelaide about
11:00 a.m. and were greeted very warmly by a half dozen Ulysses Club members whom we had
been in contact with over the Internet. Bill Hamilton and Ron Johnson of the club had
contacted us months earlier and generously offered to show us around.
L to R: Pete, Chris, Bill, Ron, Ken
Chris, and Pippa (sitting)
We stayed with Bill and his family; partner
Susan, Susans 15-year-old daughter Amanda and Bills 4-year-old son Adam. While
Susan made us gourmet quality meals, Bill took us on a tour of the countryside south of
Adelaide together with Ron and his daughter Pippa. We would highly recommend this ride to
anyone travelling through the area. It is a diverse ride with rolling hills, forests,
horse and cattle farms, and a generous dose of ocean views and driving. Bill also
generously donated a sheepskin seat cover to the Ultimate Journey team. We promptly cut it
in two (one for each seat!) and Susan helped to sew elastic bands on each to fit snuggly
on our bikes. Since then weve been driving in the lap of luxury. Thanks Bill and
Susan! After about 2 and a half days, we bid goodbye to Adelaide with an escort out of
town by Bill, Ron and Pippa. We made some great friends in a short amount of time!
Adelaide on Thursday, January 18th, with Bill, Ron, and Pippa as our escorts. About
an hour south east of Adelaide, we stopped for a break in the historic town of
Strathalbyn, where we met the wonderfully friendly "Town Crier".
Later in the morning, our escorts headed for home (sure that
we'd left for good). We rode east along a stretch of coast called the Coorong, a
long strip of salt marsh land harboring interesting wildlife and flora. The algae that
live in the salt water create "pink lakes". Further east and just over the South
Australia/Victoria border are vast areas of pine forest farms. The logging industry is
alive and well here. Its a weird landscape as the huge pine trees are set in perfect
rows. Finally, the road turns towards the ocean and we arrived at the seaport town of
Warnambool, also the start of the famous Great Ocean Road.
Warnambool was established in the early 1800s as a
whale and seal hunting port. Of course today these activities no longer exist but there
remains remnants of its past, with old hunting ships and restored cannons and the like.
Its a pleasant little town, outside school holidays that is. When we were there we
were cheek and jowl with our neighbors in the caravan park. Children ran amuck between the
hours of 7 am and 10 pm, but fortunately the evenings were quiet and we were able to get
Crossing the Nullarbor was a once in a lifetime experience
-- we hope.