Great Australian Bight, South Australia
We’re bound for Western Australia!
One of the advantages of belonging to the ‘Grey Nomads’ set is being able to take off when you want, for as long as you want, to wherever you want (almost). So Len and I decided to take advantage of our privileged status and set off on a road trip that would take us from Adelaide, South Australia to Exmouth, Western Australia- a round-trip of almost 10,000 km (6,200 miles) that would take us through some stunning Outback scenery.
A lot of Australians huddle close to the large capital cities and rarely venture out into the Outback. I thought it was important for us to experience the vast open spaces of Australia with its miles of flat scrubland, the kind of experience that turns your thoughts inward at times.
Our daughter had lived in Western Australia for 5 years and spoke of places like Monkey Mia and the Ningaloo Reef- located far up the coast from the capital of Perth. Were there really monkeys living on the coast of Western Australia? I just had to see for myself! (ha ha)
In order to travel by car from South Australia to Western Australia, you have to first cross the Nullarbor Plain, a desolate expanse of some 1,100 kms (685 miles). The word Nullabor means “no tree” in Latin, so you can get the drift of what it’s like crossing this vast, treeless, almost mesmerising plain.
Edward Ayers, the first European to cross the Nullarbor Plain in 1841, described the area as “a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams.” But he didn’t have the benefit of a paved road or air-conditioned car to travel in, so here are some of the gems that he may have missed:
Head of the Bight, South Australia Distance: 1,055 kms from Adelaide (655 miles)
Starting from Adelaide, it took us two days of driving to get to the Head of the Bight, SA. Stunning Bunda Cliffs overlook the area where Southern Right Whales breed between June and October each year. These cliffs are made of limestone and form the longest uninterrupted line of sea cliffs in the world.
The whale-watching platform is 20 kms off the main road, where you can view the whales doing their tail slapping, blow-holing and belly rolling. We saw one whale with her calf- it’s amazing how these mammals can exist in the ocean. Whales can hold their breath for 15 minutes and even longer for sperm whales.
Nullabor Roadhouse 1,130 kms from Adelaide
Our first night on the Nullarbor Plain was spent at the Nullarbor Roadhouse- very basic but comfortable accommodation. We were blessed with lovely storm clouds and a double rainbow at sunset time.
Cocklebiddy, Western Australia 1,537 kms from Adelaide
After crossing the border into Western Australia, we stayed at a tiny roadhouse in Cocklebiddy- only 8 humans live here and 1.234 million kangaroos. That’s what I call being outnumbered. I was so excited to finally arrive in W.A. that I said to Len, “Are we getting close to the coast yet?” “Heck no, we’ve got another two days of driving yet to go,” said Len. Driving distances between towns and roadhouses can be huge in Australia- I guess that’s why we call this the Outback!
The ‘Longest Straight Road in Australia’ 1,602 kms from Adelaide
Arriving at Caiguna, Western Australia, we encountered the beginning of the longest straight road in Australia (ranking number two in the world)- stretching 147 kms or 90 miles of “straight, unaldulterated boringness.” It wasn’t so boring for us, though- we listened to our old CD’s of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and the Kingston Trio. You can definitely tell we’re old throwbacks from the 1960’s!
We passed briefly through Gingin, a small agricultural town 92 kms north of Perth. You never know what you’re going to run into when you’re travelling- Gingin was full of purple bras strung out on lines all over town and many women were wearing their purple bras on the outside of their clothing. It turns out that the town was sponsoring a cancer awareness campaign.
Purple bra campaign in Gingin, WA
After 7 days of travelling, we finally arrived in a small coastal town called Cervantes, Western Australia situated close to The Pinnacles in Namburg National Park. There are hundreds of limestone structures looming up from the sandy floor, created from the breakdown of seashells millions of years ago. We got drenched with rain there but fortunately the storm didn’t last very long.
Monkey Mia, Western Australia 3,475 kms from Adelaide
On our way to Monkey Mia (pronounced MY-AH), we stopped briefly in Geralton to buy two Western Australian Lobsters so I could make Spaghtetti with Lobster Sauce for our next night’s dinner. Then on to Monkey Mia which confirmed my belief that there are no monkeys living there! The word ‘Mia’ means ‘home’ or ‘shelter’ in Aboriginal language and it’s thought that the town derived its name from a pet monkey that early Malay pearlers owned in the area.
Monkey Mia is known for its Bottlenose Dolphins that come to feed on the shoreline. The dolphin feeding is restricted to three times in the morning so that the dolphins will still be encouraged to hunt for their own food.
Monkey Mia is located on Shark Bay and one of my favourite experiences was taking a 4 km walk through the bush, overlooking the beautiful bay.
This dolphin came close to our boat as we toured Shark Bay to view various marine life.
We took a 4WD tour of Cape Peron National Park near Monkey Mia and learned a fascinating detail about this area. In 1818 the French explorer, Louis Freycinet, spent two weeks surveying the area around Cape Peron. One day he encountered the Malgana Aboriginal people living in the area and in order to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, the ship’s artist, Jacques Arago, played the castanets and danced to the rhythms. The Aboriginal elders joined in and danced wildly and the two parties then exchanged gifts. It’s amazing to learn that someone had played the castanets on such an isolated place so long ago!
Cape Peron National Park (near Monkey Mia) where castanets were played 200 years ago by a Frenchman
After full day of 4WD touring, a delicious meal of seafood awaited us at the Monkey Mia Resort restaurant.
Ningaloo Reef at Exmouth, Western Australia 4,800 kms from Adelaide
Coral Reef located close to the shoreline
After 2.5 weeks on the road, we finally reached Exmouth, Western Australia- which is our turn-around point before heading back to Adelaide. Ningaloo Reef is located on the East Indian Ocean and is 260 km long and is World Heritage listed. It is a ‘fringing reef’ which means the coral reef is located very close to shore – I was able to put on my flippers and snorkel mask and wade right out into the coral area, close to the shoreline.
We also took a glass-bottom boat ride that took us further out into the coral reef. Here’s a picture of me donning my snorkling gear before plunging into the pristine water. I was greeted with valleys of exquisitely shaped corals and wondrous flows of different fish- including a sea turtle that floated past.
I snorkeled in about 15 feet of water, but I still wanted to hang onto my yellow ‘noodle’ for safety!
Tomorrow we start home to Adelaide. There’s nothing like home, but I won’t look forward to having to change from wearing my shorts here in the tropics to donning my tracksuit in ‘wintery’ Adelaide. I hope you can visit the west coast of Western Australia sometime!