September 23, 2021

Land's End: Eyre Highway to Head of Bight

Head of Bight

The Eyre Highway from Ceduna to Head of Bight is so flat you can see the curvature of the Earth.

Words: Kris Madden

A fiery ball of yellow at the end of the road transforms the flat, A treeless, bluebush-studded landscape into an upside-down replica of the Aboriginal flag. We're driving from Ceduna to the Head of Bight along a section of the Eyre Highway, and I'm feeling hypnotised by the long, straight road, which is the only thing ahead of us as far as the eye can see.

We started our journey in Ceduna, the last major town on the drive west to Perth across the Nullarbor Plain. Walking along the foreshore to Pinky Point at Thevenard, the islands of St. Peter and St Francis- which, according to a reference in Gulliver's Travels, were where Gulliver met with the tiny people of Lilliput - can be seen in the distance.

Our guide, Noel, knows these parts like the back of his hand, having lived here for all his 40-plus years. He regales our group of three with these tales and other legends, such the one about the half-naked Nullarbor Nymph. But more on that later.
Penong Windmills (R Eime)

After a plate of the juicy, drip from-your-lips giant oysters for which the Eyre Peninsula is famous at the community-owned Ceduna Foreshore Hotel, we hit the highway in our hire car. Straw-coloured, windmill-peppered farmlands slide by and in about an hour, we roll into Penong.

Truth be known, there's not much to see in Penong-unless you're into windmills, that is.

But who wouldn't be? These little energy converters are the predecessors of today's wind-farm technology, and are one of Australia's oldest continuing pieces of machinery. Once, the reliable old windmill was all that stood between success and catastrophic failure for many settlers and farmers.

Increasingly, the farms' windmills are being replaced by solar-powered pumps but, to ensure their spirit lives on, a noble group of local windmill warriors recently opened a curious but captivating open-air museum displaying old and broken-down windmills they've rescued and restored. The centrepiece is a massive wind pump they've dubbed "Big Bruce, which was originally used by the railways to pump water to steam trains.

"Don't pass up your chance for a discount beer," Noel jokes, pointing to the sign at the Penong Hotel.

From Nundroo, we're travelling through Yalata Aboriginal land. We're not venturing off the highway this time - and if you want to do so, you'll need a permit which can be booked online.

Approaching the Nullarbor Plain, we start to see the curvature of the Earth. The long silences between Noel's stories, road trains and the occasional motorbike are beautiful in their simplicity. The edge of the treeless plain, where the Nullarbor gets its name - from the Latin nulla meaning 'no') and arbor (tree) - looks bone-dry and unforgiving, should you be caught out there alone.

The first person to cross it, English explorer Edward John Eyre, described it as 'a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face "Don't pass up your last chance for of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams. But there's an ethereal quality to the landscape I find dazzling

There are more stories from Noel about UFOs and the Nullarbor, and it's easy to see why aliens would choose this vast expanse as a landing site. In 1988, a permit, which can be booked online. family reportedly attempted to outrun a UFO and had their car lifted from the road. And there were other witnesses to the inexplicable lights. Scientists poo-pooed their story, saying the event was probably a rare disintegrating meteorite-though that in itself is a pretty trippy thought.

Our digs for the night is the delightfully daggy Nullarbor Roadhouse It's like a 1950s time capsule, and the friendly bar, with its pool tables, jukebox and murals of Aussie music icons including Jimmy Barnes, Kylie Minogue and Michael Hutchence. all the ingredients for a big outback evening

As we're quenching our thirsts with cold South Australian beer, I ask Noel about the Nullarbor Nymph. The nymph' allegedly, was a woman who lived on the plain and would run around half-naked among the kangaroos. It turned out to be a hoax but it makes a good story, and that's what this part of the world is all about.

Walking back to our rooms. I gaze at the night sky as what seem like a billion stars dance from horizon to horizon with the Earth's rotation. I'm humbled by its scale, and reminded of how small we are in the universe, and how stories like the plot of Close Encounters of the Third Kind could so easily be true. The Nullarbor is a place that does that to you.

There's a small airstrip next to the roadhouse, and after the obligatory selfie at the camel-wombat-kangaroo road sign, we're soaring over the Head of Bight in a light aircraft with Chinta Air.

The Bunda Cliffs are the kind of vista that makes you want to stand up and applaud. Stretching for more than 100 kilometres, the coastline's crumbling orange cliffs drop dramatically into a foaming, turquoise-coloured Southern Ocean, looking as though someone has sliced the Australian continent off from Antarctica with a knife. Golden plains stretch seemingly forever in all directions, cut only by the black ribbon of the highway.

Whales look like tadpoles from the air (Chinta Air)
The beating heart of Antarctica continues to shape the cliffs by sending swells thousands of kilometres across the ocean - and, in winter, hundreds of Southern Right Whales. From the air. they look like giant tadpoles, until you realise that each of the 70-odd-tonne animals below you is about the size of a bus.

Later, we head to the viewing platform along the boardwalks at the Head of Bight Visitors Centre and watch the majestic creatures and their calves lollygagging in the swell below.

On the way back to Ceduna, we join a whale-watching cruise from Fowlers Bay. We've seen them from the air, from the cliffs and now, up close in the sea. Whale watching doesn't get any better than this.

My adventure across the Nullarbor, from Ceduna to Head of Bight and back, has spanned nearly 600 kilometres - and far from being 'Nulla-boring', it has taken me to (and through) some of the most magnificent and wildest landscapes on the planet.

I pick up an 'I've Crossed the Nullarbor' certificate from Ceduna Visitor Information Centre, just to prove it was real.

Top 6 Ceduna Tips
  • See authentic Aboriginal art, talk with the artists and pick up a unique piece at the Ceduna Arts & Culture Centre.
  • Enjoy views of Murat Bay and the Port of Thevenard along the 3.6km Encounter Walking Trail between Ceduna Sailing Club and Pinky Point.
  • Tour a working oyster lease and have th chance to taste oysters fresh from the ocean at Smoky Bay.
  • Fish for Blue Swimmer crabs or King George whiting from Denial Bay Jetty. Between January and Easter, you can enter your biggest crab catch in the annual Ceduna Crab Competition.
  • Oysterfest over the October long weekend offers the best of the Far West Coast, with competitions, food and wine, live music, family fun, markets and more.
  • Take to the sky on Chinta Tours two day 'Whales and Wheels' tour, between June and September. Tours include Rex flights betwen Adelaide and Ceduna, car hire, a night at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, a scenic whale watching flight over the Bunda Cliffs, and a boat cruise on Fowlers Bay.

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