Six of us left Perth in four vehicles on Thursday evening 28 March 2013 intending to drive to Hyden to see Round 1 of the Australian Off Road Championships. We would then head east to Norseman, drive out along the Eyre Highway to nearly Caiguna where we head south towards Toolinna Cove on the coast. From there we intended to follow the Baxter Cliffs west to the Wylie Scarp and descend to the beach and the Bilbunya Dunes. If the tides were right we would drive 50 kilometres along the the beach to Wattle Camp and then follow a series of claypans into Israelite Bay before heading to Esperance and home.
We got away on time and camped the night at Smithy’s Place, North Hyden. After watching a couple of hours of Off Road Racing action the next morning we visited Wave Rock and Hippos Yawn and then took the Hyden Norseman Road east.
We stopped at the State Barrier Fence, the line that delineates farming land to the west and bushland to the east.
Previously known as the Rabbit Proof Fence, the State Vermin Fence and the Emu Fence, it has undergone many transformations in its lifetime, keeping rabbits, wild dogs, emus, kangaroos and other feral animals away from agricultural and pastoral areas. It coincides with the line of rainfall required for successful farming. The land to the west, except for reserves, has been taken up by farmers. The land to the east is known as the Great Western Woodland, the largest temperate woodlands on the planet. It is dominated by eucalypts rather than acacias.
The next stop was at the remarkable McDermid Rock, one of the numerous granite rock outcrops (inselbergs or monadnocks) that act as island sanctuaries for a whole range of wildlife in this remote, low rainfall area. These granite outcrops catch and direct precious rain water that, in earlier times, was so precious for explorers and prospectors. The outcrops were also a vital beacon that provided a means of navigation through the dense thickets of tamma.
A few kilometres further on we stopped at the Lake Johnston viewpoint.
We stopped for photographs at the 90 Mile Straight. The section of Eyre Highway between Balladonia and Caiguna is the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, and possibly the world. The road stretches for 145.6 kilometres (90.5 miles) without a deviation and is signposted as the ’90 Mile Straight’.
We turned off Eyre Highway late in the afternoon 200 metres past a parking bay at 32°23’36.71″S 124°28’28.97″E and headed south on the Toolina Cove track. There had been rain in the area and there was water over the track in numerous places. In this country it takes only light rain to make tracks impassable.
At our latitude, 100 kilometres of eastward travel equates to four minutes of solar time, meaning that at our location 800 kilometres east of Perth (straight line) the sun sets 32 minutes earlier than in Perth. Aah, that’s why it’s dark at 5.30 p.m.!
As the light was fading I was frantically searching for a campsite. Each likely stand of trees disappointed as the track wound away from it. Finally, just on dark I found a track leading off the main track to a promising stand of trees. We had found our campsite for the night.
The crew wasted no time in setting up camp and getting dinner underway. It had been a 700+ km day. The rain that had fallen in the late afternoon had cleared by the time we made camp.
Some hours later we saw headlights searching through the darkness of the Nullarbor night. Soon the sound of a labouring engine could be heard. The noise eventually diminished and the lights disappeared. A solitary mystery vehicle passing in the night.
The next morning dawned clear and the threat of rain had disappeared.
It was about 30 kilometres to Toolinna Cove. The previous day’s rain had left water on the track and it was pretty slippery.
We met up with Rick, a truck driver from Kalgoorlie, who was heading to the Bilbunya Dunes to do some quad riding with his son. His was the vehicle we heard and saw in the distance last night. He joined our convoy.
The mud continued. So did the fun.
We followed the cliff track for a few kilometres, making slow progress because of the roughness. Ricko decided he’d had enough and found his way to the main dirt track that led to the dunes. A few kilometres later we decided to do the same thing.
Not a lot further west we hit the first of a series of mudholes.
I spotted an Australian Bustard just off to the south of the track.
The track was quite open, unlike the bonnet scraping experience when I was through here in the 90s. We eventually arrived at the top of Wylie Scarp (named after aboriginal Wylie, companion of Edward John Eyre on his epic transcontinental journey through here in 1841) to be greeted by some magnificent ocean views.
The distance of the drive from the scarp to the beach appears deceptively short but in actuality it is close to three kilometres. The spectacular Bilbunya Dunes are dazzling ‘live’ sand dunes, up to 100 metres in height, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Nullarbor pioneer J. Carlisle applied the name “Bilabalanya” to them in 1949 but over the years it has been corrupted to its present form.
The dunes are the backdrop for much of the journey along the beach. They are continually moving and have encroached inland for about a kilometre. The constant wind whips sand from the tops of the dunes to create everchanging shapes and patterns.
We turned off the beach to camp at Wattle Camp. Explorer Alexander Forrest camped here in 1870 and named it because of the presence of wattles (Acacias). The site was too exposed so we continued to the edge of nearby claypans and made camp among the myriad of tracks.
Next morning we headed off through a series of unnamed claypans that stretch all the way to Israelite Bay.
Along the way we came across a few deeper mudholes.
After skirting the margin of Lake Daringdella we took Fisheries Road out of Israelite Bay to Condingup and then Esperance.
Soon after leaving Cape Arid National Park we stopped for lunch and Dan decided to check his left front wheel bearing.
It was too early to stay in Esperance so we continued west, looking for a suitable place to camp.
After retrieving my vehicle from its predicament we camped on the side of the track into Shelley Beach. Next morning it was a straight run back to Perth.
Kim in Nissan Patrol 3.0L Diesel Wagon
Dan and Dee in Nissan Patrol 4.8 L Petrol Wagon
Greg in Suzuki Jimny 1.3L Petrol Jimny
Paul and Lauren in Nissan Navara 2.5L Diesel Ute with canopy.
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Dee Cater (marked with an asterisk *).
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