Denis Kertz, ©2002
I got up at 6:00 and was off at 7:00. Today starts the Nullarbor crossing on the Eyre (“Air”) Highway, named after John Eyre who first made the crossing in 1841 with Wylie, an aboriginal friend. This is 1200k of desert-like land. It may seem like a big undertaking on a bicycle but I’m over 100 years too late to be the first to cross by bike, which first happened in 1893.
There is no water along the way except at the roadhouses that are 45K to 190K apart. So you have to carry enough water to get through to the next water source and add some for emergency. I had two 3-litre water bags that I filled in addition to my 4 water bottles, 3 large and 1 regular size. The problem was how to carry them, which turned out to have a neat solution. I had a large duffel bag for holding my sleeping bag, tent, and other equipment for flying. Other than that function it was just extra weight on the bike. But I discovered I could lay the duffel bag across the top of my rear panniers and put a water bag in each end and effectively make a saddlebag.
I left the caravan park and made a right to get started on
After 10K there was a sign warning about camels, Emus, and
kangaroos for 150K. Camels are not
native but were imported for desert travel.
Some camels liked
Nullarbor is abbreviated Latin for “no trees” but there
are trees along most of the Eyre Highway since the highway only crosses a short
part of the true Nullarbor. The
Today’s ride was through trees and bush all along the way. It was easy riding, almost all flat. The first 50K had a 3 feet wide shoulder that was unnecessary as there was little traffic. As other days, it was not uncommon to get friendly waves from other traffic but today I got my first toot and wave from a trucker. To balance that out, I got run off the road by a trucker too. As oncoming traffic came over a small rise another trucker chose to start passing, oblivious to my presence. Instead of challenging him for my lane I chose to leave the road to ride another day.
At noon I stopped for a 45 minute break as I was well on
my way to my destination. At 104K I saw
a camping sign and was surprised since
Relieved, I rode another 1-2K to the station. It was obviously under construction but Paul, who I assume was the owner and was working, told me to just pick a bunk room and settle in. The room was basic but functional and all I needed. The bathroom/shower was a little different story. It was in a small building made of corrugated metal. Nevertheless, it was functional and I had a shower although the hot water didn’t work. Still I was happy with a shower and a bunk.
At 5:30 I caught up with Paul as he was leaving for the day. He refused to take any money for my stay. He also invited me to use their Internet PC.
I got up at my usual time but was in no hurry to leave since it would be a short 90K to Balladonia. One of the workers showed up at 7:00 and I talked to him a bit before I left. He said the place would really open in about 2 months. They were new owners and redoing the place. The previous owner had died in an airplane crash in the hills and his wife gave up on running the place, although that was about 4 years ago.
I headed the 1.5K back to the gate and saw two kangaroos, actual live ones, and they were bounding away from this guy on a funny looking contraption. When I got on the road I saw three kangaroos in the field on the right and they watched as I took their picture. Then I saw 5 or 6 kangaroos down the road on the left. So in about 10 minutes I saw almost a dozen live kangaroos. I also saw an Emu yesterday as I approached the gate.
The sky was clear and the wind blowing. It shifted around between a tail and a cross wind but it seemed to be mostly helping. For the first 40K I seemed to be half pedaling and half coasting as the road had a slight downhill gradient.
At 40K I took a 1K detour to see the Newman Rocks, which were not rocking. It was just a large flat rock of little interest. Back on the road I had a bad truck incident. A road train roared right by me without moving an inch when no one else was in sight. Almost everybody gives a wide berth whenever possible and this was the first flagrant violation. Later I met another cyclist who had the same experience so this was no accident.
After the unrocking rocks the road changed to long rolling hills that were a little more work but the wind was still helping. At some point a jeep passed by and then pulled over shortly. As I approached an old guy flagged me down. He was looking for another cyclist he had met previously but we chatted a few minutes.
road to Balladonia was just like the day before, trees and bush. After about 20K that changed to some trees
but mostly open saltbush. I pulled into
Balladonia shortly after noon and immediately met two other cyclists, Dale and
Dave. Dale came up from Esperance on a
mountain bike pulling a two-wheel trailer that he had built and was riding from
I had some fish & chips and checked out the nice
little museum in the roadhouse. The
Balladonia area was where part of the
After killing a couple hours I had a decision to make. I was not tired and there was still a good tailwind that I hated to waste. The next roadhouse was 183K that I planned to reach in 2 days and the first day would necessarily be a camp out. So I decided to ride a couple more hours and camp and then I figured on making the next roadhouse tomorrow. So at almost 2:30 I took off again with a sandwich from the roadhouse.
Not too far from Balladonia there was a sign warning about the use of the road by the RFDS – Royal Flying Doctor Service. For medical emergencies in these out-of-the-way places, the RFDS was established to fly medical personnel in and use the road as a landing strip.
At about 40K from Balladonia, I reached the sign
announcing a 90-mile straight stretch, the longest straight stretch in
An easy day with the tail wind. The 50K from Balladonia seemed almost effortless.
I got up at my usual time, ate, and packed up. Dale/Dave were already gone. Shortly, I saw a kangaroo on the left then I saw four others bounding away and then I saw another four bounding away. Unfortunately, I would see many more roadkill. The road was littered with kangaroo carcasses varying from less than 24 hours to weeks old. I must have seen at least 50 along the way. Out here, someone presumably drags then off the road and nature handles the recycling.
At first it didn’t seem like there was much wind but it picked up to become another strong tail wind for the day. I cruised at 20-25 kph until later when I remembered I had a big chainring. When I used it I increased my speed and at times was doing 30 kph. All this seemed almost effortless.
The land started out as bush and a few trees but eventually thinned out to grassland sprinkled with some bushes. I was still on the 90 mile straight so it was just a straight 130K shot down the road to Caiguna, the next roadhouse. At one point a truck pulling a camper passed and pulled over. It was a couple I had met earlier who had volunteered to transport my equipment to my next stop, although I could not remember the specific day anymore. The guy said the weather forecast was calling for gale force wind by mid-morning but that, fortunately, never materialized. Later, another guy on a break along the road flagged me down. He said the weather pattern looked good for the rest of the week.
I eventually caught Dale/Dave because Dale had broken a spoke on a trailer wheel and had stopped to replace the spoke. I stopped long enough to make sure everything was under control and continued on.
At a rest stop, I found 8 Emus at the stop. This stop had a water tank and they were drinking from some water dripping from the faucet. They were pretty tame and allowed another guy to creep very close for some photos. Later I saw another Emu near the road. Right at Caiguna I saw a couple of Emus but they were roadkill.
With the tail wind, I flew into Caiguna at 12:30, having done 130K almost effortlessly. I grabbed something to eat and Dale/Dave arrived shortly. The next roadhouse was 64K away but that didn’t seem far with the strong tail wind. So after a little over an hour break I took off for Cocklebiddy. With a shock, I found the road veered left as the 90 mile straight ended. I also entered a different time zone and had to adjust my watch by 45 minutes. At first the wind didn’t seem to be helping as much, perhaps because the road veered more northeast, but the wind came around and I continued my fast pace.
10K after leaving Caiguna I met a Japanese cyclist coming the other way. He had already spent 5 hours fighting the wind from Cocklebiddy and still had 10K to go. By contrast I was about to knock off his distance in less than half the time it was going to take him. He was obviously fatigued and I felt sorry for him. Not only was the day a struggle but he was also likely to see similar days.
I pulled into Cocklebiddy at 4:30 (actually 45 minutes later with the time change), having done an easy 200K. Dale/Dave arrived shortly after I did. Unfortunately, the camping area was nothing more than a gravel area. So I opted for budget accommodations for $48 that was a regular motel room. Pretty good accommodation at the price for the remote location.
About as easy a 200K day as I will ever do and I could have easily done more.
I managed a different breakfast for a change. A bacon & egg sandwich and cinnamon roll from the roadhouse and a cup of cereal. I was off by 7:00 and saw that Dale/Dave were just about packed up as I left on a cool morning that was 45 minutes earlier than normal due to the time zone change.
Immediately I saw a kangaroo roadkill that was obviously recent as the blood was still not dry. I also saw about a dozen live kangaroos in the early morning. Typically, I would see them looking when they saw me and then they would bound away when I stopped for a photo. For the day I estimated I saw about as many live ones as dead ones. Interestingly, I saw a truck from the other direction that had kangaroo carcasses hanging from the side. I thought maybe they were picking up recent roadhill but Dale later explained that was a professional hunter who hunted kangaroos and sold the meat.
Then life got interesting.
I heard some grinding noise and looked down to see my left pedal
slipping off the spindle. I stopped and
noticed the nut at the end of the pedal was loose and tightening it didn’t do
any good. I though I was dead but
discovered I could cycle if I used my foot to keep inward pressure on the pedal
to hold it on the spindle. By doing so I
hoped I could limp to the next roadhouse and get help. Shortly, Dale/Dave came along and I sought
their advice. The nearest bike shops
So I followed Dale/Dave although they were both faster and I was pedaling a little gingerly with my pedal. But the pedal actually worked pretty well as long as I was careful not to let it slip out. I was optimistic I could make Eucla, some 230K away. In the worst case I figured I could get a ride to Eucla.
Disaster avoided for the moment, I tried to enjoy the
scenery that had more trees and bushes than the previous day. Just before Madura, there was a lookout just
before the road descended
Finally we descended the pass the short distance to the
roadhouse. I immediately called the
After some food at the roadhouse we took off again. The next roadhouse was 115K and we were not going to make that today. The wind was mostly a cross wind, helping some as we were still doing 20+ kph, but nothing like the tail wind of the previous two days. So we planned to ride 47K to a rest area and camp.
It was an enjoyable ride with a nice view of the elevated Hampton Tablelands to the left, not too far from the road. With the low traffic we were riding 3 abreast at times. Then disaster struck again. Dale’s rear wheel on his home built trailer developed a problem. When we checked, the hub had a cartridge bearing with the bearing holder mangled beyond repair. Dale was forced to try to ride back to the roadhouse and see what he could do.
So Dale turned around and Dave and I continued. It wasn’t much fun at that point and the wind also shifted to a fair head wind. It was like the Nullarbor decided we’d had it too easy the first three days and was putting us in our place.
After another 27K Dave and I arrived at a rest area. This one was well away from the road with a
camper already there. We met Peter and
Judy, who were doing the loop of
So while we set up
It was an amazing end to an up and down day. We spent the rest of the evening in conversation with some more wine, some bread toasted over the fire, and then coffee. Eventually we ran out of wood for the fire and that ended an unexpected but highly enjoyable evening for everyone.
In the morning Peter offered us porridge and coffee, which was impossible to refuse. Our group of five sat around the table outside and enjoyed our breakfast. Dale decided to try to ride his trailer to Eucla and offload as much weight as possible into his backpack that he would wear when riding. He started off early figuring his arrangement would slow him down.
Dave and I packed up more leisurely and left around 8:00. As we headed down the road, Peter and Judy waved goodbye as they passed us in their camper. Their hospitality certainly made our night and morning and I think they enjoyed our company.
Even though it was a bit late the kangaroos were everywhere. Kangaroos are nocturnal, meaning they feed at night, and they rest during the day so it was a bit surprising to see them still out. We continued to spot them on both side of the road and probably saw 20 or so. On the other hand, the wind was out of the northeast and was a head wind so we were moving along at about 15 kph through the saltbush with increasing trees. As the morning progressed the wind slowly switched around until it was a tail wind and we were moving at 20+ kph as we pulled into the Mundrabilla roadhouse around noon after 70K.
There we met Dale who had met good fortune. Several times on the way the bad wheel had seized up but Dale was able to get it going again. He even tried to get the trailer carried to Eucla by a motorist but it wouldn’t fit in the vehicle. Then it turns out the roadhouse just happened to have an old rusty bicycle in a junk pile with a wheel of the right size to replace the bad wheel. The “new” wheel was very rusty but the bearings were fine and Dale upgraded his trailer.
After a bite to eat, we pushed off again as a happy group to Eucla, another 68K. However, shortly after we left the wind switched around to the southeast and we had another head wind.
We fought the head wind the rest of the way on the Roe
Plains as the Hampton Tableland paralleled the road. As we neared Eucla we could see the start of
the cliffs along the
In Mendrabilla, I had called the
I checked with Phil at the Eucla roadhouse about having my pedals forwarded to the Nullarbor roadhouse. He was not optimistic but was also very busy at the bar so I said I would check back later. So after eating I adjourned to the bar and had Phil serve me a beer while I wrote my notes. It was a while but Phil eventually got back to me. He said he would try to catch the bus driver delivering the mail and have him forward the pedals. If that failed he knew a truck driver coming through whom he would have carry on sometime early Sunday morning.
I got up at 6:00 but in no hurry because Dale & Dave decided to see the sunrise at the old Eucla Telegraph Station, 4K down the hill on a rough road that needed a mountain bike. Later I had coffee and bacon & egg sandwich at the café. When we were close to leaving we got into a conversation with a couple traveling by motorcycle. By the time we left it was after 9:00.
We rode 12K to the South Australia border and stopped at the roadhouse for a bite to eat and added another 45 minutes to our watches for another time zone change. Finally we were off.
The landscape was now covered with mallee scrub that
gradually thinned out to low-lying scrub.
The road entered the
We had a good tail wind for the day and the wind got
stronger along the way. At the last
turnout we decided to camp even though it was very windy and the low scrub
provided little wind protection. It was
so windy it was a challenge just getting the tents erected.
It was a very windy, gusting night. It was a real test of my tent poles but everything held together. The other worry was what the wind would be like in the morning for cycling. But despite the howling wind I slept fine. At one point in the early morning the wind actually stopped for a bit but started up again later.
When I got up the wind was blowing pretty hard and it was a challenge now to get the tent down and packed. There was also red dust sprinkled everywhere, including the inside of my tent. For the first time I used some water from my water bags. When we left camp around 8:00 the wind had subsided some and as we headed back to the highway and a little further inland it lessened more. Still it was a southeast wind and both a head and cross wind for the rest of the day.
When we rode the 600 metres back to the main road there
were a couple of rest areas with reasonable foliage cover that would have been
better campsites. After 40K we took a
turnout to the coast and had the best view of the cliffs along the Bight. Looking east the cliffs were very dramatic as
they continued as far as you could see.
At this turnout we met another cyclist, Grant, who was riding from
We rode another 20K to one final turnout to the cliffs. This one was OK but not as dramatic as the last one.
Back on the road it was another 50K to the Nullarbor roadhouse and a real grind in the wind, doing 15-17 kph. We had lost Grant after the first turnout but found him stopped along the road and eating. I struggled against the wind as Dale/Dave took off up the road. With about 20K to go I found them at a rest area and stopped but I really wanted to continue and get the riding over. So we continued almost right away and met Grant as he pulled into the rest area.
When we took off I chatted a little with Grant and learned
he had worked in a ski shop in Vail,
At the roadhouse a woman approached and asked if I was the cyclist looking for pedals. So Eucla managed to find a motorist to deliver the pedals to this roadhouse and I was happy to have that resolved. I had visions of the pedals never quite catching up with me for the rest of the trip.
I got a single backpacker room for $19 that was a little
cramped for my bike and I had to remove my front panniers to fit in. First order of business was to install the
new pedals. Then I cleaned up and ate at
the roadhouse where we all eventually congregated. Grant offered to send email when he got back
home suggesting a possible route through the
A pretty hard day due to the head wind even though it was only 115K but I got my pedals and met another touring cyclist. Also realized I hadn’t seen any kangaroos, dead or alive, and didn’t remember seeing any yesterday either.
I got up, ate some cereal, and had a bacon & egg sandwich at the roadhouse with coffee. We left about 8:00 into a head wind that was getting old. For this time of the year the winds are westerlies and we expected tail winds as we had at the start. Now we had been having head winds for a couple of days and it was getting old.
First 18K were through the real Nullarbor, the treeless plain. Then the trees started making a comeback in ones and twos. By mid-day trees were everywhere.
At about 30K I got lucky again. My cycling guide books said I would be lucky to see one of Australia’s fearsome snakes. This time I saw a wiggly stick on the other side of the road. I tested my brakes as we were on a collision path and watched this black snake, which I assumed was dangerous, slither across the road as I took a photo.
At 60K we stopped at a nice rest area in the gum trees where Dave explained cricket to me, no easy feat since cricket is so different from baseball. We continued on for another 50K to the Yalata roadhouse as the road changed to long rolling hills.
The day’s travel was through the Yalta Aboriginal Land but white folks staffed the roadhouse. We arrived about 3:00 but had to wait about 15 minutes to order food because the kitchen was preparing food for a banquet. After eating we continued on another 25K to a bush camp along side of the road. The head wind had gradually decreased during the day but picked up again on this segment.
This bush camp was our best campsite and we had it to
ourselves with a campfire.
As we were eating breakfast around the campfire in the morning, I commented that I had not tried vegemite yet but I intended to at some point. Vegemite is famous for its popularity in Australia and its thorough dislike by Americans (“Vegemite is possibly the most disgusting semi-edible bread spread in the world, and in spite of this - or perhaps because of it - it remains an Australian icon.” – search http://www.bbc.co.uk/h2g2/guide/ for vegemite). My comment prompted Dave to toast a piece of bread and spread vegemite on it and shame me into trying it on the spot. I survived this survival test and discovered that it wasn’t all that bad although I didn’t expect to be seeking out vegemite at the next grocery store. Apparently one problem Americans have with vegemite is they spread it on thick like peanut butter rather than just a few molecules thick.
We left our camp at about 7:45. It was about 180K to Ceduna, which would have been possible with a tail wind but we had no wind on a beautiful morning. The land changed to farm fields with an occasional farmhouse and even a couple of green fields. It was only 27K to the Nundro roadhouse where I had a bacon & egg sandwich, the best of the Nullarbor.
When we left about 10:00 we had a cross wind from the north which was much better than the head winds we had been having. We had 79K to Penong as we continued along mostly farm fields on long rolling hills. When we pulled into Penong it was not quite 2:30 and we discovered it was really a small town, not just a roadhouse, with both a takeaway and an actual grocery store to serve the local farming community.
There was still plenty of time to continue on but camping
options were limited the rest of the way due to the farm fields lining the
road. So we stayed at the caravan park
for $7.50 that included showers and a free washing machine that we all took
advantage of. There was an overhang on
the side of a building where we just rolled our sleeping bags out and didn’t
bother with tents.
We left Penong at 8:00. It was 72K to Ceduna, which could be a short ride if the wind cooperated but it was a strong cross wind. It didn’t help that the first half of the route was a gentle climb as well. Speed was about 15kph. The road was lined with farm fields and the green wheat fields were a nice contrast to the rest of the Nullarbor.
At about the half way point two good things happened. First, we started descending to Ceduna. Then the road turned southeast to Ceduna, causing the cross wind to become a partial tail wind. As a result we zipped along at 20+ kph and quickly ate up the kilometres. 8K from Ceduna we could see the ocean. With 4K left the road bent south, giving us the full force of the wind and we roared into town at noon and the Nullarbor was history.
The rest of the day was spent getting settled. I got a cabin for $45 and the others camped at the same caravan park. I spent an hour on the Internet, deleting 40 or so SPAMs to get the half dozen real emails. I also cleaned out my front right pannier where some honey had leaked and made a mess.
In the evening we had an Aussie BBQ with the real stuff – snags (sausages) and stubbies (beer in short neck bottles).
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2002. All rights reserved.