Old Eyre Highway

StartClick to Reverse the Dynamic Map and Driving NotesNullarbor Roadhouse
FinishBorder Village Roadhouse
DifficultyDifficulty 2/5
Suitable for4WD AWD Camper Bike 
Distance203.46 km
Minimum Days1
Average Speed48.07 km/hr
Driving Time4 hrs 13 mins
Page Updated: 23 Aug 2013

Description

The Old Eyre Highway is the original route used by the first vehicles crossing the vast Nullarbor plains in the days before the current tar highway was put in. When the new road was built (circa 1976) it was not an upgrade to the existing dirt track. In fact, the highway was re-routed with tourists in mind, to bring them closer to the magnificent cliff edges and through the spectacular Madura pass. However, the sudden decline in visitors travelling the old route caused station operators and infrastructure to fall into decline.

To travel the Old Eyre Highway, is no shortcut. Our trek covers the SA section from Nullarbor to the WA border. The track varies in condition throughout and is not maintained. In fact, it is largely ignored by travellers. To make the most of your journey, take the time to read up the history and stop to explore the ruins of tanks, and investigate the sinkholes and caves - the most notable features in this desolate landscape.

The Old Eyre Highway is an alternative to taking the new Eyre Highway and will take at least 5 hours with stops to look around. It is not a track on which to take your caravan and very little information, or signage is around to help guide you on your journey.

The ExplorOz Team drove this track in August 2013 and bring you this detailed trek note with the hope that more 4WD explorers will enjoy this diversion off the main road, away from the trucks.

Be aware that the track is an abandoned road and is therefore in rough condition. It is rarely travelled so you are unlikely to meet other travellers.

Koonalda Homestead is definitely worth exploring. Operated by the National Parks at Ceduna, you are welcome to bush camp in the homestead area or take shelter within the station buildings. There are limited spots elsewhere along the track that would make for a pleasant camp so unless you're going to push on through to a roadside camp back on the main highway, this is a good option.

Take note of the mounded earth that lines the track to the north. Here lies the Optus fibre optic cable that carries your internet and phone communication across the continent. You'll also come across some fancy solar generated, repeater stations - fenced and complete with security cameras of course.

How to Use this Trek Note

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Environment

The Eyre Highway traverses the Nullarbor Plain (Nullarbor is latin for ‘no tree’) and is the main east-west link between Australia’s east and west coasts. The Nullarbor National Park & Reserves contains the world's largest semi-arid karst (cave) landscapes. Most of the park's landscape is flat except where the surface has collapsed into sinkholes revealing large underground caverns.

This unique geological scenery is home to many significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites and diverse wildlife species, including the southern hairy-nosed wombat. Beware of their massive burrows that can be a hazard for unsuspecting vehicles when they encroach onto the track.

History

(the following is an rough & abridged transcript taken from the historical television documentary "No more Bulldust" filmed in 1976).

Named after Edward John Eyre (1815-1901), the original Eyre Highway was constructed during World War II. Following a route north of Edward John Eyre's 1841 expedition, the original highway ran inland for most of its 2700km between Perth & Adelaide. It was dusty, remote, and drove deep into the almost waterless Nullarbor with the only relief for motorists at only a handful of remote station homesteads. The tourists yearn for sight-seeing was almost disregarded. The endless plain was their monotonous misfortune....
...With its commitment completed, the West Australian government called for an equivalent contribution on the other side of the border Sir David Graham pointed across the border at WA's opening ceremony at a 500km section he called No Man's Land & the mud of action. 3 years later the South Australian highways department reluctantly started a seal from Ceduna. After all there was no value in helping tourists through to its state to Western Australia and the Federal Goverment retained its tight-fisted attitude to the highway...

...100 camels came into Balladonia one day in 1894 and signalled the start of a transcontinental service to the east which was to last over 50 years. The camel trains were slow but reliable. Hundreds of cars weren't and old Madura station 196km to the west of the border and the start of the picturesque Roe Plain doubled as a casualty clearing station. The hazardous, spectacular Madura descent was forgotten by the motorized pioneers as they drank and dined in Eyre's oldest tavern. In it's 98th year the man-made oasis which saved and nursed thousands of self-styled pioneers is in its death throes, was falling to nature, vandals and trophy collectors. Desalinated water, supposedly modern man's invention flowed from units at Madura to quench the thirst of brumby horses trained for the British army in India...

...Hardly noticed by today's rush-trip tourists, the old gravel highway forks away from the new black top at the border. It's destiny and the handful of people tied to the red ribbon of dust are doubtful. Koonalda, carved out on a 3/4 million acre leasehold 38 years ago was one of the casualties of the re-routed highway. The road which once passed it's door bringing up to 40 cars a day, has been moved 14km away to cater for the sight-seers. Koonalda has been pushed out of the mainstream of the motorised age into a dark and dusty future which it will be battling to survive. The new road those 14km & a world away has cut off the bread and butter income which station owner Cyril and Audrey Gurney earn from a service station they've run on a 24 hour a day basis for the past 35 years. Their license has been taken away & Cyril can't afford to setup new premises down the track....

The old road's landmarks are quickly disappearing. They're just not needed. Ivy Tanks, once the world's loneliest petrol station is victim number 1. The Yalata mission's aboriginies had a notorious reputation as super artifacts salesmen along the old road. Travellers reduced to moderate speeds along the uncertain service found themselves under attack when they refused to purchase. 130 years after Explorer Eyre's partner was killed by their predecessors, the Nullarbor's inhabitants were little changed. The super highway has given the 1970's motorist the edge in this battle of tactics...end transcript

"No More Bulldust" gives a glimpse of how travel had improved from the time when the route was nothing but a potholed gravel road, often filled with a fine red dust known as "Bulldust". No more Bulldust includes historic footage of many pioneering families, includes the Koondalda homestead owners, their pets, and operations, aboriginal conflict with the tourists, and building of the highway. A wonderful bit of historical television that will enthrall anyone who wants to know the history of the Eyre Highway from its dusty original track to the re-routed tar version we use today. See it here -

Preparation

This is a long stretch of road that is not maintained. Conditions vary significantly from single wheel tracks to wide gravel roads but it is not suitable for caravans. 4WDs & offroad CT would be fine. There are no dunes, but the track is corrugated and scattered with rocky chunks of limestone. If there has been rain, this track could become messy so check conditions before you travel.

No fuel or supplies along the route so take the usual spares, food, water and tyre repair tools. All historic tanks are unusable however the newly renovated huts at Koonalda homestead contain water for tourists to use.

Koonalda is within the Nullarbor National Park so whilst you can camp there, fees apply. There is no ranger station or honesty box on site but your SA Parks Pass will cover your visit, otherwise contact the National Parks office in Ceduna by phone to organise an overnight camp fee payment. $10 per vehicle/night. Call (+61 8) 8625 3144.

This trek ends (or starts) at the Border Village, where if you are heading into Western Australia, you will be subjected to quarantine restrictions and need to give up all fruit, vegetables, honey, nuts, seeds, plants and fruit boxes. East bound travellers do not go through quarantine at this stop (checkpoint is at Ceduna).

Permits

SA Parks Pass will enable you to camp in the Nullarbor National Park (including Koonalda Homestead). Take heed of quarantine restrictions at the Border Village checkpoint if heading into Western Australia.

Fuel Supplies & Usage

Fuel SymbolNullarbor Roadhouse, Border Village Roadhouse.Fuel is available to the start and end points. There is no other fuel along the route
DieselULPLPG
4cyl 29 litres4cyl 33 litres4cyl 41 litres
6cyl 31 litres6cyl 37 litres6cyl 36 litres
8cyl 31 litres8cyl 34 litres
Usage is averaged from recorded data (* specific to this trek) and calculated based on trek distance.

Best Time To Visit

Summer conditions can be oppressively hot and travel is not recommend between Dec - Feb.

Closest Climatic Station

Nullarbor
Distance from Trek Mid Point 90.36km E
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Mean Max. °C27.927.826.524.821.418.818.219.622.424.326.026.7
Mean Min. °C15.716.114.111.68.96.35.15.87.910.212.414.2
Mean Rain mm11.113.221.822.429.730.227.324.517.818.216.815.3
    Best time to travel      Ok time to travel      Travel NOT recommended

Services & Supplies

Map

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What to See

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Today, the Old Eyre Highway remains accessible to those with 4WD. It is not a shortcut, so if you take this route, you'll want to stop and explore the bits and pieces of ruins, sinkholes and caves. Beware that the Nullarbor is full of sinkholes and caves - most are not marked, or fenced so safety is your risk and your responsibility.

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Where to Stay

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Directions

LocationsDistanceDirection Time
Nullarbor Roadhouse to Old Eyre Highway turnoff2.16 kmW258° 5 min
Old Eyre Highway turnoff to Wombat Tank (ruins)17.56 kmW264° 15 min
Wombat Tank (ruins) to Optus Repeater Station2.31 kmW271° 2 min
Optus Repeater Station to Mallabie Tank (ruins)1.96 kmW270° 2 min
Mallabie Tank (ruins) to No 2 Tank (ruin)6.61 kmW270° 8 min
No 2 Tank (ruin) to Vermin Proof Fence10.1 kmW270° 9 min
Vermin Proof Fence to Wigunda Tank (ruins)0.28 kmW274° 2 min
Wigunda Tank (ruins) to Car Wreck6.45 kmW270° 6 min
Car Wreck to Sinkhole4 kmW271° 4 min
Sinkhole to Cundalabbie Tank (ruins)8.7 kmW270° 8 min
Cundalabbie Tank (ruins) to Sinkholes/Quary18.2 kmW270° 15 min
Sinkholes/Quary to Yangoonable Tank (ruins)3.21 kmW271° 5 min
Yangoonable Tank (ruins) to Car wreck3.12 kmW270° 3 min
Car wreck to Guinewarra Tank (ruins)9.28 kmW271° 7 min
Guinewarra Tank (ruins) to Grid1.02 kmW270° 1 min
Grid to Possible Bush Camp1.81 kmW271° 2 min
Possible Bush Camp to Track junction to Koonalda4.23 kmW271° 4 min
Track junction to Koonalda to Koonalda Cave6.98 kmN342° 12 min
Koonalda Cave to Koonalda Shearing Shed & Yards5.93 kmS163° 9 min
Koonalda Shearing Shed & Yards to Koonalda0.56 kmSE138° 1 min
Koonalda to Grid0.86 kmSW205° 1 min
Grid to Grid & Tank4.85 kmW271° 4 min
Grid & Tank to 4-way junction21.11 kmW268° 18 min
4-way junction to Albala-Karoo Bore (ruins)0.64 kmNW316° 1 min
Albala-Karoo Bore (ruins) to Herman Johnson's Grave (1889)0.7 kmE111° 1 min
Herman Johnson's Grave (1889) to Coompana Tank (ruins)15.27 kmW255° 13 min
Coompana Tank (ruins) to Cave2.01 kmSW217° 3 min
Cave to Border Village Roadhouse43.57 kmW250° 39 min
Nullarbor Roadhouse to Border Village Roadhouse203.46 km  4 hr 13 min
Distance is GPS recorded driving distance (not straight line), Direction is straight line from start to end, Time is calculated from actual GPS driving data.

Related

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Travel Journals

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