Peggy (Prado 150) and Dora (Vista RV Camper) at Afghan Rocks

From the SA/WA border to Afghan Rocks near Balladonia then to Norseman

From the SA/WA border to Afghan Rocks

We didn’t even know Afghan Rocks existed or where it was when we left the SA/WA border at Border Village. But we’ll get to that shortly. We didn’t refuel in Border Village or Eucla as we planned on filling up at the Mundrabilla Roadhouse. We knew from past experience it’s usually cheaper there than the Nullarbor Roadhouse, Border Village or Eucla. Passing through Eucla only 12 Kms down the road, it’s only 78 kms to the Mundrabilla Roadhouse. So we refuelled there, where it was $1.76/L compared to 1.87/L at Nullarbor. Fuel consumption was 15.85 L/100 km.

It’s a long drive then through Madura, Cocklebiddy then the long Caiguna straight, Australia’s longest straight road of 146.6 km/90 miles. About half way along the straight we saw a wild black and brown dog and were lucky enough to photograph it. He looked healthy enough, but we wondered what it would be like for him in the middle of summer. For the middle of March the plain was surprisingly green.

We wanted to reach Newman Rock in the Fraser Range by nightfall, but it was getting dark. After checking Google and WikiCamps, we found reference to a place called Afghan Rocks, just before Balladonia. It can be a bit tricky to find. There’s a rest stop called Afghan Rocks in WikiCamps about 5Km east of the Balladonia Hotel Motel, but that’s not it. Just a few metres to the west of that rest stop there’s a dirt road heading north and about 50m (metres not kilometres) in there’s a gate.

It wasn’t locked but it was closed so we drove through and closed it behind us. The track could be quite slippery in the rain. We drove up the narrow track, which was only a little damp from recent rain and after about 2 km came to the most amazing rock formation. It was not very high, but made of undulating red and brown granite. Getting out of the car we were hit with a very distinctive sweet odour which turned out to be from the sandalwood trees around. Water had pooled in numerous places around the rocks and we stopped near a large dam with a few ducks. There was no one else around, apart from some cows mooing in the distance but they never came near. We went for a walk and had this most beautiful place all to ourselves.

We stayed overnight and headed back the way we came to the Eyre Highway, then headed to the Balladonia Hotel Motel.

Balladonia is best known for the final resting place of Skylab, a NASA space station that came crashing down to earth on 13 July, 1979 with bits of it scattering over a wide area from Esperance to Balladonia to Rawlinna. The Shire of Esperance fined NASA AUD$400 for littering. The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners on behalf of NASA.

Don’t just refuel and head off. Inside the roadhouse there’s a museum. Spend some time and have a good look through. It has all sorts of interesting information about the history of the area, Skylab, the Redex trials and sandalwood trees. There’s also a poem by Dame Mary Durack, Australian author and historian, born in Adelaide in 1913 written in response to the Skylab crash called Skylab Speaking:

Balladonia here I come,
far from where I started from
Travelling ever speedier
to avoid the media

Far from curious populations,
journalists and T.V. stations
Somewhere – nowhere to descend
at my epic journey’s end

I’ve picked out an empty space,
where I see no human face
Simple scientific me
I abhor publicity

We also learnt more about the rock camp we stayed at.

We now know why it’s called Afghan Rocks

Afghans and their camels played a vital role in early Australian outback life. The cameleers came originally from Karachi or outlying Baluchistan in north western India. Camels were the mainstay of heavy transport for Balladonia and surrounding stations until development of the Eyre Highway in 1942.

Known as “The incident at Afghan Rock”, it occurred at the very site we were camped. Taken from a poster at the museum is this account of it: “A European goods carter misinterpreted the actions of Afghan camel drivers engaged in a religious rite involving the washing of their feet in the rock pool. A hostile argument developed, during which one of the Afghans was shot and killed. The European went on trial in Albany, but was acquitted of murder on the grounds that extreme scarcity of water in the region meant that defilement of a water supply threatened life. The fact that the water in that instance was already sullied by the carcass of a dead camel did not seem to sway the jury’s decision”.

What people do for a good coffee!

Refuelling at Balladonia we met a couple from Falls Creek in Victoria. We had seen them also looking for a place to stop before we discovered Afghan Rocks. They ended up staying just off the Eyre Highway. It was a cold morning, around 18C, if that can be classified as cold! Despite being from Falls Creek where it snows in the winter, they said it was too cold and they’re heading north to the Goldfields. They had stayed at Eucla the night before but in the morning drove back over the border to Border Village in South Australia. They said the coffee was so good there it was worth crossing the border again and coming back through the quarantine station again much to the inspectors surprise.

We stopped at Newman Rock in the Fraser Range about 50 km north west of the Balladonia Hotel Motel. The landscape and vegetation was quite similar to Afghan Rocks, with a view over the surrounding area. But it’s not as hard to find or get to, and there was some mystique missing about it that we felt Afghan Rocks had. We stopped and took some photos, but felt glad we had stopped and took a chance at finding Afghan Rocks, especially after reading all about its history at the Balladonia Hotel Motel museum.

Finally at Norseman. Do we head to Perth or Esperance?

Continuing on to Norseman, we stopped to take some photos of one of the many salt lakes near the road. We filled up at the BP at Norseman for $1.51/L. It was 633 km from our last refuel at Mundrabilla and we averaged 15L/100km.

Norseman is like a crossroads when you get to it from the East. Do you head north west for Perth, or south towards Esperance and over to the mighty south west of Western Australia? We’ve been here several times before heading for Albany so we know that way the best. Our dilemma this time was we’d heard from a friend of ours that we might have some work in Perth on a project they were involved with. That would be nice we thought, we hadn’t worked much since leaving Bendigo back in November. But it’s still up in the air and was only for a week or two. We had planned to head off mid April anyhow for a 4 week trip to Exmouth and back with friends who were driving over from Adelaide. But it was only mid March. Leonie’s two sisters live in Albany and Kendenup so we decided to head there.

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Murrawijinie Cave 1

Cook to Murrawijinie Caves to the Great Australian Bight

From Trains to Caves

Vic’s idea of visiting Cook was excellent (credit paid where credit’s due) and we highly recommend it if you’re travelling along the Eyre Highway near the Nullarbor Roadhouse. We decided to head back to the roadhouse as we wanted to visit the Murrawijinie Caves nearby.

We’ve crossed the Nullarbor about five times before, making trips to WA from Adelaide and Melbourne to visit Leonie’s sisters in the South West. So we’ve known and read about caves along the Nullarbor but never visited. So this was our chance. This time we’re not racing across the Nullarbor overnight from Adelaide to Perth, we’re doing it slow and seeing what we want to.

It’s best to ask about the condition of the road at the Nullarbor Roadhouse first. There’s a signposted dirt track leading to the caves accessible just west of the roadhouse. Head about 10 km in on a very bumpy dirt road, best accessed with a 4WD. A 2WD would be ok in the dry only, though you’d need to be careful of some of the larger rocks. The going can be slow, and it took about 30 minutes to get there, stopping for more photos of course!

We stopped at an old windmill (minus the actual blades) where a bird had built their nest. Then at the site of an old rusted out Valiant car to add to our Carcasse collection.

Bloody Hands

Murrawijinie is aboriginal for “bloody hands”. According to the information displays, there are ochre hand stencils painted on walls in two of the three caves. We didn’t venture into them so didn’t get to witness these, but in hindsight wished we had. This is why you need to do your research beforehand. Further reading after leaving the site reveals that the third cave contains the hand stencils just inside the caves entrance, and to bring a torch.

We were warned of sightings of snakes in the caves at the roadhouse, but as we were the only ones there in the sweltering 40C heat didn’t think it a good idea. Tempting as it was to venture into the caves where the temperature was probably 10 degrees cooler, we hadn’t planned on extra cave activity.

All three caves are within close proximity to each other. The most scenic is the third, where you can see right in and up through holes in the limestone.

Caving is dangerous!

As a side note, there is a large cave system north of Cocklebiddy but it is closed to public entry. It was the site of the world’s longest cave diving expedition in 1983 where a world record of 6.25 kms was set. Not far away is the Pannikin cave in which an expedition in 1988 nearly turned to tragedy. Cavers became trapped as a freak storm arrived with wind gusts of around 100 km/h. Heavy rain and hail caused a deluge of water to enter the cave and create a landslide, trapping 13 cavers under the rocks.

This event inspired an Aussie movie in 2011 called Sanctum written by Andrew Wight and John Garvin, with executive/producer James Cameron (writer/director of Avatar and Titanic). Andrew was an Australian screenwriter and producer who was on that expedition in 1988. We have yet to watch it, but it’s on our must see movie list. Tragically, Andrew died on 4 February 2012. He was killed in a helicopter crash at Jaspers Brush near the town of Berry in New South Wales, Australia. The crash also claimed the life of American filmmaker Mike deGruy.

We headed back continuing along the same track which takes you a short distance further north then does a U turn and heads to the roadhouse. It completes a loop and a chance to see different scenery. Back at the roadhouse, we enjoyed an eager shower for only $1 for about 4 minutes. It felt great after a few days in 40C heat.

The freezer is struggling in this heat

Our ARB 47L Fridge/Freezer which we’re using as a freezer was at -11C and was struggling to stay at its -14C setting. So we bought some bottled waters to freeze as it was not completely full and having something occupy empty space would help to keep it cool. Plus, you can never have enough cold water! It’s probably not the fridge as it was on the second car battery the last few days and we suspect that the battery is not holding charge, despite installed the fancy Alternator-S Fuse in Adelaide. We’ve been chasing this issue of a red error light coming up on the ARB for a while when it’s been on batteries for several days. This also happened at Cockatoo Lake. We suspect it’s the battery and will keep monitoring it.

The spectacular Great Australian Bight never ceases to amaze

Leaving the roadhouse, we continued our journey west along the Eyre Highway. We were on the lookout for an overnight stop hopefully with a view over the Great Australian Bight from the top of the cliffs.

Every time we cross the bight, Vic insists on stopping and taking photos of the spectacular cliffs. Like he hasn’t got enough already from previous trips! A decade ago you could drive down any of the roads to the many viewing points where the Eyre Highway nears the cliffs, park your vehicle and take great photos. All the great viewing spots have now been blocked off from access. Graders have made large mounds at the entrances and dug deep scrapings in the roads making it difficult to access even if you got past the entry. The reason is for people’s safety as the cliff edges are very unstable and often hollow under where you stand so they have been blocked off. The other reason is to preserve the vegetation which also helps to keep them stable.

However, if you know where to go, there are a few spots that you can access from side roads, park in a safe spot and walk to. We’ve added a map of one viewing point which has a great view back east along the cliffs. It’s at these GPS co-ordinates. But be warned, go there at your own risk!

Latitude: 31° 35’ 4.638” S
Longitude: 130° 22’ 30.882” E

Camping on the Bunda Cliffs

We continued our journey west along the Eyre Highway, on the lookout for an overnight stop. We pulled into some roadside stops marked on WikiCamps but it was hot around 35C and thick with flies. Driving around looking for a campsite, our Redarc Electric Brake Controller flashed a yellow error condition with two reds indicating an error with the wiring. After turning the engine off, unplugging connections, spraying in some electronic cleaner it was fixed. Possibly some dust had got in.

Finally we pulled into a free site called In Between the Dunes (search in WikiCamps), 123 kms East of Border Village. We found a nice spot nestled amongst the dunes, not far away from the cliff of the bight, 61m/200ft above the sea (we know that because photos contain a GPS reading with the elevation!). It had great views of the Bunda cliffs from the escarpment looking east and west, and the sunset was spectacular. The wind picked up during the night so we were glad to be tucked away in this spot. There is Telstra mobile coverage and our mobile phones automatically turned back one hour. There were only two other vehicles parked when we arrived, then another pulled in later. It’s a big site with many places to park, even for large vans.

It was a warm and humid night, and we were glad to awaken to a fresh breeze in the morning, albeit a very cloudy day.

Don’t bring Honey into WA!

The next stop was at the quarantine station at Border Village, where you cross borders from South Australia into Western Australia. We surrendered cores of apples we’d been eating as well as some other fruit. We always joke about crossing quarantine stations that we won’t get scurvy for a while as we finish gorging down all our excess fruit. We didn’t have any honey as we knew you cannot bring it across. We noticed a big box full of all sorts of honey surrendered by people not knowing that. We wished we’d taken a photo. This would be a good place for Humphrey Bear to live!

From Border Village we passed through Eucla with our destination set for Newman Rocks, west of Balladonia. If you have time, visit the old Telegraph Station and Jetty not far from Eucla. We’ve been there before, and although it’s worth visiting again someday we kept driving.

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