Driving across the Nullarbor – Eucla to Coorabie

Eucla sign post with distances to major Australian centres

We were driving across the Nullarbor from WA to SA between Xmas and New Year. Between Eucla and Coorabie, we learnt that sometimes it’s better to stay longer than rush on to the next dog friendly spot. Serial heatwaves were scorching the country.  The folks had been studying the weather charts and were trying to cross in between successive heatwaves.

We arrived in Eucla mid-morning after a dodgy night’s sleep at a free campsite near the Madura Roadhouse. It was a very pleasant 28 degrees. Eucla is a tiny town with a population of less than a hundred. Its six or so roads had just been freshly sealed, there was a hotel-motel with a pool and a restaurant that reportedly served a good surf and turf, a petrol station, a big whale statue, a caravan park and a funny road sign with distances to most places in Australia.

Camping spot overlooking the plains on the Eyre Highway
Basic but free camp ground for the night, with great breezes and a good view at ‘Top of the Ridge’, near the Madura Roadhouse

whale sculpture at Eucla, WA

Having spent most of the previous day in the van we took off down to the beach. It was quite a hike, maybe 20 minutes across the dunes, but just what we needed. We found both the old abandoned telegraph station and derelict pier. The beach sand was very fine making the edge of the sea quite milky. I decided to paddle but not swim.

We got back to the roadhouse about 11.30. The original plan had been to spend the day, and stay behind the heatwave, but it seemed so early. The Bunda Cliffs were just ahead, and they had several free campsites. We decided to move on, just a little way [mistake 1].

We stopped at a few lookouts along the Bunda Cliffs to view where the limestone escarpment hits the sea. In places the cliffs are 300m high and quite spectacular. A scenic flight would be the best way to view them. The campsites weren’t very appealing. We pressed on [mistake 2].

Bunda Cliffs at Best of the Bight
Spectacular scenery of Bunda Cliffs

It was 33 degrees at Nullarbor Roadhouse. Like so many desert roadhouses, it had a service station, a hotel-motel and a dirt paddock style caravan park.  On the way, the folks had been tossing up between it and Coorabie Farmstay. The farm stay sounded more fun but was another two hours away. It was only mid afternoon and we decided to drive on [mistake 3].

Old Nullarbor Roadhouse
The Nullarbor Roadhouse has improved a bit over the years, but the petrol has gone up too! At over $2, a bit pricey for us.

The Eyre Highway headed away from the coast for a while. The temperature started climbing. When it reached 39 the folks stopped and considered turning back. We were at risk of catching up with the heatwave. ‘It couldn’t get much hotter’ they decided and pressed on [yawn- mistake 4]. I decided to lie prostate on the van floor- a standard canine hot weather ploy. Bob’s aircon was still purring.

long straight road - Eyre Highway
Much of the Eyre Highway is a long straight road

We caught up with the heatwave at Yalata where the outside temperature was 47 degrees. Initially the folks though the car’s outside thermometer must have broken! I felt sorry for Bob, his windows were too hot to touch but inside in the aircon we were still at 24 degrees. The Silverback wondered what would happen if we got a flat tyre or Bob overheated. The anxiety level was palpable. Thankfully over next hour all of Bob’s gauges remained stable and by the time we reached Coorabie we were again near the coast and it was ‘only 33’. Well done Bob!

The farmer and his wife [Poggy and Debbie] at Coorabie Farm were nice people. A couple of other families with caravans pulled in and everyone shared stories [over cold beers] about how scary the heat was and thinking their car thermometers had broken. We had wondered why we hadn’t seen any termite mounds coming across the desert, there had been millions of them in the deserts up north. Poggy explained: it’s just too hot and too dry for termites in the south west corner of South Australia!

It was 27 overnight and 37 at 9am the next day. The Silverback lamented his missed swim and surf-n-turf over iced coffee at breakfast. The cool weather from Eucla eventually caught up with us at mid-day.

Sunrise over Coorabie Farm
Sunrise over Coorabie Farm Stay

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