Baxter Cliffs, Hampton Tableland and some Western Nullarbor Tracks

Saturday, Dec 24, 2011 at 12:00


The turnoff from the Eyre Highway was about 85 kilometres out of Balladonia Roadhouse, on the right as you head east and I arrived there just before 11am. Turning south east down this track I wondered what would be in store over the next few days. This immediate track should take me to the Overland Telegraph Line near Toolinna Cove, the line in that vicinity running parallel and fairly close to the Baxter Cliffs.

Now though I came across a tank and stone trough at the junction of five different tracks. A sign pointed to the track that went to the Cove and on this track I went. My plans were in fact not altogether firm. My wish was see, and if possible travel on, some of the coast of the Roe Plains which lie between Twilight Cove and Wilson Bluff in South Australia. Rather than approach Twilight Cove from Cocklebiddy I thought I would come along from the west, close to the cliffs if I could. Amazing geographical change occurs at Twilight Cove with the Baxter Cliffs turning inward to become the Hampton Tablelands. These tablelands overlook the Roe Plains from the north and go inland more than forty kilometres.

The track was fairly smooth and sandy however became rougher and rockier the more south one went. An indication of porous nature of the base limestone was made apparent by a sinkhole at the side of the track. This was a hole in the ground with the opening no larger than the size of a basketball. From what I could see, it opened out underground to become a large cavern – not a place one would want to get stuck in, nor a place I would want the dog to fall into, as I would have great trouble getting her out.

The scrub was getting a bit thick and at one stage a low branch knocked my snorkel head off and it landed on the side of the track – pity I didn’t noticed this until I was almost into the Nuytsland Nature Reserve and I had to backtrack at a crawling pace eight kilometres until I found it. Into the Nature Reserve I soon came to some ruins, and then Toolinna Rockhole, which somebody had covered with corrugated iron with a hatch for access to the water. No doubt this will prevent much water loss due to evaporation in the hotter months.

Now I had reached the Telegraph line and soon arrived at Toolinna Cove. There were good views of the Baxter Cliffs here and the track followed the edge of them. I did not try and climb down into the cove. I followed the track eastward and saw constant reminders of the telegraph line, from remains of poles, to the single strand a wire that lays in spots across the track near to where it fell. The wooden poles were in various states of degradation. In many spots the poles were held up by piles of rocks due to the inability to bury them, and these are visible very frequently.

Camp the first night was just off the track about 40 kilometres east of Toolinna Cove. I got a fire going and unrolled the swag, had a feed of Kebabs. During the night I was awakened to the sound of mice running all over my swag. The zipper wasn’t done all the way up so I quickly zipped it up to prevent any mice from joining me in my bed. I was a bit worried there was some already inside, however it was not to be. I watched them run over the flywire section of the swag, and would flick them away; they would always come back. I wondered whether I had left the box with my supplies open on top of the ute, however soon managed to get back to sleep – In the morning they were all gone, or so I thought. They didn’t manage to get in or on the ute thankfully, however when I went to roll up my swag there was about 10 of them all huddled together under one corner. They all soon dissipated in the light – still, never seen anything like it!!!

Continued on along the track and soon passed the junction where the northern track leads to Caiguna Roadhouse. This is the way I came down in 1997, the last time I was in the area however now will continue to the John Baxter memorial. Last time I was here it was supposed to be the most isolated memorial in the world – not sure if that is true. Here poor Baxter was murdered on his way over with John Eyre in 1841. The ground was so hard they could not bury him, so they wrapped him up in a blanket and covered him with rocks. There is mystery about where his bones have actually ended up. There was a plastic jar with some notes in it – there is also a metal tube with a hatch embedded lower down on the memorial, which also contains notes.

This track continues on to the cliffs themselves a few kilometres away. A cairn marks the cliffs and it was interesting to read some of the old names engraved into the edge. There are quite a few very modern engravings too, including two done by angle grinders.

Sure I would love to follow the cliffs to Twilight Cove so I continued to follow the track easterly along the cliffs, however the track soon petered out to a very rarely used track – which I still followed directly adjacent to the cliffs. It was slow going though and I was extremely worried when the track ended all together. I drove for only a short distance more – I didn’t like this one bit, I couldn’t tell whether the ground may give way or exactly how close to the cliffs I was. I didn’t even consider cutting across the country to the Telegraph Track only a few kilometres north – I backtracked and reach the cairn, learning something about myself – I don’t like cliff driving, by myself anyway.

Then I backtracked past the memorial and to a couple of water tanks near a rockhole. There was supposed to be a short cut track here to the Telegraph Line, it was there however I didn’t find it so I continued until I reach the line and turned east. This corner is marked, though blink and you will miss it. This part of the line was quite rough on the vehicle, though the quality of the remains of the Telegraph Line made up for that. There were many intact poles in this section.

For more than 30 kilometres I followed the Telegraph Line when I came to a track to the south. This went to the cliffs, and I could see to the east where the cliffs move inward from the ocean at Twilight Cove. Back on the line the track gradually became sandier, white coastal sand. I passed another track to the south. This should go down the escarpment to the cove, I thought. After a couple of kilometres the edge of the escapement was reached. The track was a bit washed away in sections and I had to drive at a bit of an angle for a while however managed to get all the way down without drama.

The escarpment was now the Hampton Tablelands and I was in the western extremity of the Roe Plains. A track more or less followed the Tablelands, parallel to them all the way to the ocean. It was an interesting place, where the ocean meets the plain. There was acres of white sand, with the vegetation starting a fair way back from the shore. I walked around with the dog for a while, the 4wd, myself and the dog all made the sand make a high pitched noise when it was displaced. I now drove along the coast until the track to a designated camping area was reached, and I drove in, then past and back up the escarpment. I went up the right track and this was only marginally better than the left one.Eyre was only about 20 kilometres away down the beach; however I thought I may approach it from the escarpment track from Madura.

At this stage I headed north along a reasonable track which should end up in Cocklebiddy Roadhouse according to my map. Passing a rockhole I camped about 10 kilometres short of Cocklebiddy. The mice were not as bad during the night here, though the dog caught two before bedtime. I thought I was making good steady time so far and all in all thought it was a pretty good day.

Got a bit of fuel in the morning before east on the Eyre Highway, going only a few hundred metres to the old tank just by the side of the road. This natural rockhole was the reason Cocklebiddy was here in the first place and it was entirely filled in. Last time I saw it all the mechanical fixtures were in place, to allow the main tank to be filled up by a secondary larger tank. I saw no traces of this equipment at all.

Five minutes later I arrived at the turnoff to Pannikin Plain Cave and went in to see the cave. It was another typical cave of the region, this one was fenced off. I later stopped at the main entry road to Eyre and had a read of the signs there before continuing toward the Madura, and the pass that brings with it the access required to Madura. I stopped at the Madura Pass lookout, and then drove along an old track that continues from the lookout along the side of the escarpment. This eventually comes to the old Madura Pass, which is bitumised though crumbling, before reaching Madura Roadhouse where I got some fuel.

The gentleman at the roadhouse gave me directions to the track south west, “out the back”. So I heeded his directions. Soon, on the track out the back I came to the ruins of the original Madura Homestead. Here was a car graveyard, all the old cars were very interesting. This was going to be a great track. This track runs parallel to the escarpment, the Hampton Tableland, from Madura Roadhouse all the almost to Twilight Cove. It ends when it crosses the main track to Eyre from Eyre Highway at “Green Bottle Corner”. (Colloquial name)

Soon I passed by the current Madura Homestead perched right on the edge of the top of the escarpment. WOW – They would have one of the best views from their house that Australia could offer, overlooking the Roe Plains and the escarpment. There was an old tank at Toondi Rockhole. The track itself was good quality, though I imagine in the wet in may be a different story. After Burnabbie Ruins we rejoined the Telegraph Line and followed it towards “Green Bottle Corner”. Turning south from here the track gradually got sandier and there were dunes to cross however they were no problems. I went to the monument near the coast, to Eyre and crew who passed by in 1841, and then had a look at the beach. The old boat that was there in 1997 was still there. The beach at this point was good enough to drive on. Just before the Eyre Bird Observatory sign heading back from the coast, to the right of the sign – follow a few survey pegs into the bush – there is an old well. This may be the original Eyre Sandpatch, obviously reinforced up now. Alas it was only a metre deep and dry. When I was here in 1997 it was three metres deep and had water at the bottom.

Soon, I went back to the Telegraph Station and said hello. The gentleman here thinks that the track, which is marked East Track from here, only goes as far as the big sand dunes nearby. I wasn’t too sure however gave him the benefit of the doubt. Anyway I was on my own and I was thinking that it wouldn’t be too comfortable if anything went wrong, so I went back out again – to the Telegraph Line turnoff near Burnabbie!!!

The track from there was good, though not too well used. It went in straight lines roughly following the escarpment. I camped along here for the night – the track kept going until the Vermin Proof Fence, which I travelled in the morning. The track to Madura beach was reached, I went on the other side of the fence for a quick trip to Madura Cave before venturing back down to the coast – the road was good, as there was a quarry nearby – after the quarry the track deteriorated, and was overgrown in some parts. Near the shore was a junction. There was a faint track heading west towards Eyre and one heading to the beach and one heading east; I took the one to the beach so I could see what it was like there. Letting the dog run around for a while I then went back to the junction and took the eastern track.

This was a well defined sandy track perhaps a few hundred metres from the coast. I kept going as far east as I could with the track. There were a couple of places where tracks veered off to the beach. Just after six kilometres from the junction I could not find the track anymore. I did have quite a walk around to no avail. I was a bit annoyed I guess, however I then backtracked all the way to the vermin proof fence, and then to the Eyre Highway east of Madura.

There was a track going south on the map from Moodini Bluff to the coast at Middini Beach, so I kept my eye out for it, and found it.Moodini Pass looked like a hard track to get up, however it was fenced off. South I went, stopping to open the gate at the Vermin Proof Fence. The plain was fairly clear around here though it deteriorated into sandy woodlands. Near the coast there were a couple of tracks going east, a westerly track and beach track. I’m guessing the western track will eventually reach the track that I was on just a while ago however I headed for another look at the beach. It was more than a kilometre to the beach access after running parallel to the coast for a bit. The beach was quite pleasant and the dog had a run around for a while.

Then I went back to check out the more northern of the eastern tracks. The track went east for only several hundred metres unfortunately. There was an old bus passed. It looked like it had been there for a while. On to the other eastern track now and it was easy to follow the first section. Some very white and soft sandunes were in the way now. I’d never quite seen anything like this before. They were quite large and had no vegetation on them. The edge, or change in direction of the sand created an optical illusion and the sand was actually further than it looked – weird!!! However I took it very carefully, as some of those edges or drops were very large and I didn’t want to get stuck anywhere. I lost and found the track again, and followed it for another couple of kilometres until almost at Red Rocks Point, where I knew people were, as I heard them on the two-way radio. I had a look at the beach here and there were huge clumps of seaweed right on the beach.

Time was spent, considerable time trying to get over the dunes yet not caught up in a nearly impenetrable belt of thick, prickly vegetation. What a mess, I couldn’t get through. I even called up on the two-way – no answer – they probably thought I was just another tourist and ignored me haha...

Really I didn’t mind the drive back to the Eyre Highway, I had given it a go, that’s all that mattered.The gap was narrowing now to about 20 kilometres between the coast and the Hampton Tablelands. Soon I will hopefully see where the two meet just as I did on the western side. On reaching Mundrabilla I stopped for a feed, then took off down the track to the beach, which starts a hundred metres west of the Roadhouse. This was a great track and would be well used. It didn’t take too long to get to the beach. Near to the beach there were shacks, caravans, camper trailers – people – it was packed!!! I camped soon after, lots of kangaroos here, about 10 kilometres east along another section of the Telegraph.

The Telegraph track was now a properly formed track and was smooth as though could be treacherous in the wet. I went down a couple of tracks from the main. The areas were not as busy as the one from last night, nowhere near. Now the gap is only about ten kilometres, I went to the beach – there was a motor bike, car and caravan near the beach – abandoned and left to the elements. From here I managed at last to follow a made track just back from the coast that would take me east – even this close to Eucla I still managed to lose the track a couple of times – this route, although used more often than the ones further west, still has that remote rarely used feel about it.

No visit to Eucla would be complete without a visit to the Telegraph Station, and perhaps the old jetty, which had birds resting on it when I went there. I then went east again, hoping to avoid this massive dune system the “Delisser Sandhills”, by going between them and the escarpment. A track follows the Eucla National Park border so this I followed, then turned along the escarpment – as hoped. A bit rocky on this track it was. There was a pass, up the escarpment – there was one section which looked a bit dangerous so I didn’t attempt the climb even though it would pretty much take me to where I wanted to go!!! Another track went up a bit, however stopped short of climbing too high. Then where the sandhills cross the escarpment is where the track ends. The coast was only about two kilometres away now however I will be going no further east either this way, or on the beach on the other side of the Delisser Sandhills.

I’ll leave the Roe Plains now, and have a look up top!! A couple of times on the way back to the main track I went into the sandhills for a look. Anyway, up the back road to Eucla. There is another memorial to John Eyre here, amongst some others, overlooking Eucla Pass. Onto the Eyre Highway again and I kept a look out for any tracks leading off to the right and the ocean.

Luck would have it a track appeared 2 and a half kilometres out of Eucla. I followed this and it was the track I was seeking. It led me to the edge of the escarpment, and around the sandhills and back to the escarpment near the border. Well this was it, I obtained great views of the most eastern section of the Roe Plains and stood atop the eastern bluff of the tablelands. The ocean was washing up against the escarpment and there were no more beaches this side of Wilson Bluff.Wilson Bluff was the culmination of all these previous days’ journeys and as I headed up the track running east of the border to the village I thought, “I’m happy with that!!!”

Now I had nowhere else to go except north. After topping the 4WD with fuel at Eucla my thoughts turned as to where I should go. I only had a couple of days to kill so a trip to the east was out of the question. My eyes were looking at the map, looking to the north of where I was and I thought that is where I will go. I’ll go to Deakin on the railway line and have a look at the Deakin Obelisk which was used to mark the official border between South Australia and Western Australia.

A very happy man I was. I was a little unprepared to go where I was going, especially if something were to go wrong – ahhh it’s only 100 kilometres from a major highway, and I could always flag a train down if I needed help near the railway line. However I was not altogether helpless with a sat phone and personal location beacon in the back. Gently, I almost rolled down the first bit of Eucla pass before turning onto the main drag to Deakin.

It wasn’t long before I was already swallowed up by the vastness of the surrounding plains after getting out of the initial coastal vegetation. 3rd Gear, 1900 revs, about 40kms an hour. The 4.2 diesel just sat nicely there – not too fast and not too slow. I stopped to look at some ruins, there was not a lot about to look at however I didn’t mind as I been in similar circumstances before and these scenes seem to attract me. I guess I was in the Nullarbor, the western part of it. This track at some points ran directly north south - right on the border. I noticed the vegetation was pretty much the same in both states. There were a pair of rockholes, or possibly small dolines near the track.

You could spot the mast at Deakin from a long way off; I wondered how many people were there. To my surprise there was no one. There was just a communication tower, a few sheds and associated solar panels. Not even a siding. I headed the three kilometres to the Obelisk. This Obelisk, and the Austral Pillar near Lake Argyle formed the axis of an imaginary border line at Longitude 129. At the border Western Australia has two massive welcome signs, South Australia has one little one.

The sun must have been at 20 degrees still so I had a fair bit of light left. I notice a cave on the map, Decoration Cave which was about 60 kilometres slightly west of north. My map showed two tracks leading out of Deakin to the north however I couldn’t find the western one. Along the eastern track the view was excellent. There were very few trees, just very low salt bush – I felt right out there, even though in reality I was very close to the longest straight section of railway in Australia. Another 15 kilometres past Deakin and I had almost run out of daylight. I had no fire wood and so I kept my eye open for clumps of vegetation. I found one about 500 metres off the track so headed there, I could see a bit of dead wood around.

After a feed I relaxed next to the fire when the dog, Massie, started to growl quite aggressively. She wasn’t going far from camp however something was clearly worrying her. It was a rogue bull camel. My shouting and arm waving along with Massie’s barking did nothing to scare it away so we just waited until it got bored and went away which it did after about ten minutes.

In the morning I headed north again. I still couldn’t quite believe how flat and featureless this place was. I entered the Great Victoria Desert Nature Reserve. I reached a junction of tracks. The northern one went to Forrest Lakes and the eastern eventually south to Cook. I would head westerly. This was the most north I was prepared to go, I was too inadequately provisioned to go any further. Anyway Decoration Cave was only a short distance away, 25 kilometres or so.

Although I was not intending to do much caving I was very surprised when I came across the cave. There was an opening less than a metre across and then straight down. There was nothing natural on the surface to indicate there would be a cave there so I imagine its original discoverer would have been rather surprised. Well I wasn’t going down the cylindrical chamber – not me. I was quite amazed at the quantity of Eagles in the area too with the low number of trees or features making their nests easy to spot.

West of Decoration Cave the track slowly swung round the south, out of the Nature Reserve. Wild dogs are so graceful as they run through the bush with vigorous endless energy and I saw a few. What a shame that some of them will be destined to pick up baits laid in the unoccupied areas, through no fault of their own. There was an old car graveyard along the way too. Now Forrest was in sight, and there was bound to be someone here – the airport was dark bitumen and quite large. There were a few houses there one being the Manager couple who I had a chat with. I also took a self guided tour of the old Bureau of Meteorology Station before heading south along the road to Mundrabilla. The Gentleman at Forrest said lookout for a small shack down the track next to a cave; I could see it from some distance. It was near Old Homestead Cave and had an outhouse as well.

Driving the short distance to the cave there were two possible entries of which both were quite a steep climb down. Lunchtime and still 6 hours of daylight. I was so lucky that there was unseasonal cooler weather in this region, it made for a much more enjoyable journey. About 25 kilometres further south was a small rockhole. I travelled along the Old Coach Road for a while to bring me into line with Mundrabilla Roadhouse, and then drove down the easy Kuthala Pass into the Roadhouse and a hamburger with the lot.

A reprieve!!! Bitumen road of 115 kilometres being the Eyre Highway until Madura. Not far however a lot smoother for a while. I topped up the fuel tanks and headed north, firstly up the old Madura pass and then north along the Madura Loongana Road. A bit tricky to get out, I eventually drove alongside the airstrip to get north. A few fences along this road however not enough to get annoyed about. There was a doline at maybe 20 kilometres along the track which I had a look at, and I camped not long after that.

Morning had broken and I broke camp at 5:45am. The country was fairly thin on trees and scrubs though there are increasing numbers of patches and bands. Another Rockhole was passed – a series really – with a bit of manmade assistance to collect at better efficiency. At the junction of Anketell Road there was something that looked like an old boiler, and some ruins. North of there and before Loongana Siding another rockhole was passed, and it was a fine specimen as well - many small birds flying away when I arrived there.

Loongana – Paradise lol....Nothing more than an old airstrip, a mine and no one here. More importantly for me there were no signs indicating that travel alongside the rail line was not permitted. I had heard that this section was a no go zone however had never heard anything official so the lack of signs made the decision pretty easy for me. If there were signs I may have been forced to either go back or take or more risky route to the north and back through Haig or Rawlinna.

Anyway this track along the Rail line is still just that, a track. It remained a track until it joined the main access track to Kybo Station when it became a gravel road. At Haig I had a quick look around however it was not much better than Loongana so decided to head south. There were no “No Entry” signs at Haig either. I would have preferred to go along the rail line until Balladonia was to the south west and head there, however I could not be sure that I would not come out on the Eyre Highway at a locked gate so decided not to take the risk.

This would be the final traverse of the Nullarbor this time. This day was a hot day, the cooler weather on its way to Adelaide perhaps – however there were isolated thunderstorms around the area. There were much more gates to open and close on this section of the journey and there were no major features seen or sighted. The track eventually joined the Eyre Highway about 10 kilometres east of Cocklebiddy. I turned onto the Eyre Highway, my ambition to get a fix of the southern coast and outback and desert fulfilled, and made my way west back to my homeland.

Thank you for reading my blog however I would like the reader to note that although I have come through this last part of the journey unscathed and have made it out to be an easy trip it by no means is a journey to be undertaken ill-prepared or lightly. Please take plenty of water, it is a long way between waterholes out there.


Here are the relevant plot files downloadable to your PC:

Looking for adventure.
In whatever comes our way.

<<- CSR

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