Up in the Eyre: A Trip Across the Nullarbor and Back

The fiery sun begins to lower over distant mountains, bathing the ancient valley in an amber glow. I’m standing on top of an outcrop 50 metres above ground, but I still feel tiny compared to the ancient rocks towering in the distance.

 A photo will never do this vista justice. In Fraser Range of Central Western Australia, the history of Australia comes to life. Famous explorers such as Edward John Eyre crossed this land once – and I can’t help but imagine whether he may have stood in this very spot.

His famous words echo in my mind, “If there is any road not previously travelled, then that is the one I must take.” In the 100 years since Eyre’s first disastrous trip across the Nullarbor, from coastal Ceduna in South Australia to deserted Norseman in Western Australia, many have embraced nomadic escapes from everyday life.

Thankfully, the great Australian road trip has come a long way since Eyre’s first trip here in 1841, which ended with the famed death of three of his fellow journeymen. This year, nearly half a million caravans explored Australia roads.

But what prompted the Australian road trip love affair? I decided to follow in Eyre’s footsteps from Ceduna to Norseman to discover what is that has made the wide open road one of Australia’s favourite holidays.

My journey began in the red dirt of Fraser Range three days ago, although I can’t be sure exactly what time it began. That’s because soon as you reach the coastal town of Ceduna, you will discover the joy of Central Western Time. The locals decided that they were too far from Perth or Adelaide to adopt these official time zones, so they created Central Western time. I was forty-five minutes behind Western Standard Time, although it didn’t seem to matter, because on this road trip the further you drive the more you head back in time – through tiny towns being eaten by the ever-pervasive red dirt that Australia is famous for, to the deserted beaches of South Australia, my trip across the Nullarbor was like stepping back in time.

This was my first time towing a caravan and I can reliably report it will not be my last. I towed the caravan nearly 500 kilometres to the beautiful seaside town of Esperance. Having spent the past several days clambering over rocks and small mountains to get to South Australia’s isolated beaches, the popular seaside resort town of Esperance was a welcome change, with readily accessible tourist beaches and the ultimate in holiday destinations – a McDonalds in the centre of town. To give you an idea of how remote I was, Esperance was the first town with Internet access since I departed from Sydney seven days ago – a fact which was not lost on the six children travelling in convoy with me.

The Internet access in Esperance is a blessing for many a weary traveller, however for many families, a road trip such as the Nullarbor is a chance to ‘switch off’ the electronic dependency of their children. In Esperance I bump into Kristy Tiberi a fellow road tripper. As a mother of three, Kristy concedes that a technological time out was her original motivation for undertaking the challenging road trip across the Nullarbor.

“We travelled in convoy with family, so it was a great opportunity for the boys to hang out with their cousins. However, it’s more than that. Watching our kids play in the surf without an Xbox controller, laptop, iPod or iPad in sight makes me very happy,” she said.

“Every time we embark on another trip, I begin with the same thought – maybe they [the children] will hate every minute of it, but I have high hopes that they will take some great memories away from it too.”

For most road trippers such as Kristy, the memories formed with family and friends are the most important result of a holiday on the road. She’s not alone, in Albany I met Bernadette, an 18 year old student from Sydney who said for her, the highlight of her Nullarbor trip was a quirky little museum called Whale World.

Whale World is a deceptive name. Perhaps Whaling World would be more accurate. I was expecting an aquarium type setup – and the fluffy plush whales for sale at the ticket desk certainly did nothing to dispel my expectations. A history of whaling in Australia, complete with a working flensing deck (believe me, you do not want to know what happened on a flensing deck), featuring sound effects and gory photographs – Whale World certainly surprised!

Whal(ing) World is a typical road trip experience – one of many unexpected twists, often with hilarious results and lifelong memories. After surviving Whale World, I headed out to see the Albany harbour where Eyre accessed fresh water for the first time in seventeen days, which enabled him to complete the first Nullarbor Crossing in 1841.

Leaving Albany, I head to Margaret River where I meet Greg from Melbourne. An experience road tripper, Greg has covered more than 20,000km of Australian scenery in his lifetime. For him, the best part of a road trip is not the destination, but the journey.

“I like the fact that there’s no set schedule – if you decide to drive an extra two hours one day, or stop early on another, it’s not a big deal. There’s no-one waiting at the other end, the only deadline is the date you have to be back home,” he said.

Perhaps this is why so many Australians have embraced the good old-fashioned road trip. From the red dust of Western Australia to the gleaming white coastlines of South Australia, a Nullarbor road trip embodies all that is great about holidaying – no schedule, no deadline and the freedom to explore. What more could you ask?

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