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Significant Sights: Crossing Australia’s Nullarbor

SAMANTHA ELLEY reflects on one of Australia’s great journeys…

Northern Rivers, New South Wales, Australia

The word nullarbor is Latin and means ‘without trees’. It is also the name for the great stretch of arid land that crosses between the Eyre Peninsula in  South Australia and the goldfields of Western Australia, above the Great Australian Bight.

The Nullarbor Plain is the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock and takes up an area of about 200,000 square kilometres, so no easy walk in the park.

The Nullarbor Plain. PICTURE: Samantha Elley

It is across this great stretch of land my husband and I decided to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Neither of us had ventured west before so decided this was the time to go.

Sam Elley in the ghost town of Cook on the Nullarbor Plain. PICTURE: Samantha Elley

Many people cross the Nullarbor Plain in their cars with caravans and campers attached. I even know a friend who walked it. For those who take this road, they can take pride in the fact they have traversed the longest straight road on planet earth. In its 146.6 kilometres and there is not one single bend in the road.

However, we decided to go in style and caught the Indian-Pacific train, which, as denoted by its name, travels from Sydney, from the Pacific Ocean end, to finish at Perth on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We were pleased to note we travelled the longest stretch of railroad instead.

It took us three nights and four days and as we left the suburbs of Adelaide in South Australia, we watched as the landscape changed to the arid desert the Nullarbor is well known for.

We were in for a treat, however, as days of rain had provided us with a view that not many people got to see. According to one staff member on the train, in his 10 years of crossing the Nullarbor he had never seen as much water as we did on our trip.

Great inland stretches of the wet stuff covered the usually dry, orange earth and at one point we were told, we may not make it across on the train as water had been detected on the tracks.

The views from our train windows reminded me of the verse in Isaiah 35:6 that says, “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert”

The Nullarbor Plain after a deluge. PICTURE: Samantha Elley

On our visit to Adelaide, we went to the South Australian museum where we were given a background of the Nullarbor Plain. It is not entirely treeless as there is the odd piece of flora that will stretch higher than the saltbush and blue bush that grows across this amazing vast piece of land.

There are also limestone caves within the region, including the Koonalda Cave, which is an important achaeological site. The museum holds many fossils that have been found on the Nullarbor Plain, indicating it was once a large inland sea.

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Another interesting fact about the Nullarbor Plain is that over 100,000 wild camels roam it. They are descendants of camels that were imported from British India and Afghanistan to use as transport while building the railroads during the 19th century. The railroad workers thought they would eventually die off, but they have flourished in Australia’s deserts.

If you are a golfer, you can play the world’s longest golf course. At 1,365 kilometres, there is a hole at each town or roadhouse along the way.

For both my husband and myself, it was an eye-opener at the vastness of this land we live on. Our own importance paled into insignificance when we realised the hugeness of what we crossed. It is always humbling to see the scale of creation.


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