Land of Sweeping Plains: Crossing the Nullarbor

To fly across the country in pursuit of a second-hand car is not generally considered a sane idea. Most people, when told of my adventure, will frown in confusion.

“You flew to Perth?” they say. “From Sydney? For a car?”

Then again, this is my Dad we’re talking about. Someone prone to bizarre, elaborate schemes to accomplish fairly simple tasks, but who always has a reasonable explanation. In this particular case, the car was a rare model and had incredibly low mileage for the price.

I was seventeen at the time. By all rights I should have been riding a wave of adolescent rebellion: sneaking out at night, experimenting with everything and anything, and definitely not deciding to accompany my father on a drive across the Nullarbor Plain.

But I wasn’t an entirely normal teenager and I needed to clock up a few more hours of driving practice to progress from a learner licence to my Ps. Before I knew what I was doing, I was grabbing the armrests of an economy seat in alarm as our plane took off, bound forPerth.

Driving across the Nullarbor Plain along the Eyre Highway is a very Australian experience. As you travel along the road, the accents become increasingly broad and the souvenirs increasingly tacky.

Overtaking enormous road trains at high speed on the wrong side of the road became a common occurrence, and since passing cars were few and far between, we became practiced in the art of the ‘Nullarbor Salute’: three fingers raised casually from the steering wheel and pointed in the direction of the oncoming vehicle, almost as if to say, “You’re out here too? That makes us comrades. Comrades crossing this vast and endless plain”.

The most obvious feature of the Nullarbor is its flatness.

While the road might come to a slight crest every now and again, the terrain does not change for days. Everywhere you look, your gaze is rewarded with a never-ending vista of sandy red soil, struggling scrubby plants, and dead kangaroos by the roadside.

Curiously, there was also the occasional ‘lookout’ rest stop by the roadside where one could observe the flatness from a slightly more elevated viewpoint.

At Eucla, a tiny township along the middle of the plain with a population of about 85 citizens, we ventured across an ocean of sand dunes towards the sea. After running for a kilometre over sand, I managed to capture some beautiful photographs of a crumbling wooden jetty that stretched into the sunset, complete with an army of birds that had made it their home.

We also stopped at the Head of the Bight in South Australia, where a whale-watching station had been built. It was the perfect vantage point to see majestic cliffs curving into the distance over the ocean – and a few whales too.

Eventually, we reached the end of the highway and drove down into the beautiful city of Adelaide. We felt we had come back to civilisation and to greener landscapes.

While our adventure wasn’t yet complete (we still had to reach Sydney), the longest part of it was over: we had crossed the Nullarbor. We arrived home unscathed a few days later.

It took seven days, 436 litres of petrol, two plane tickets, and more motels with mustard-coloured bedsheets than I care to remember. But we were left with very unique memories.

And a car.

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