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
Click the "Map" tab below to see the route we've provided. Icons on the map are the POIs you'll need for navigation purposes. Be sure to check the list of Nearby Places
on each POI page.
If you'd like to save this information there are a couple of ways to go about it, depending on what you're actually after:-
- Ideal solution - download the ExplorOz Traveller App from Google Play or the App Store. The app enables you to carry the ExplorOz Places, Treks, & Maps data offline in your mobile device ready for your adventures. It is a complete mapping, navigation and tracking app. For more details, read our ExplorOz Traveller page.
- You can print a paper copy of the text using the print icon button shown above, near the social media buttons. For the best output it is advised to open each tab/section to load all images and artwork. You will still need to click open each Place page (listed in Where to Stay, What to See) to print off all available information.
- If you have a Hema Navigator or use Mapping Software such as OziExplorer, or TrackRanger AND you are an ExplorOz Member, then you can click the Download Trek button at the top of this page to obtain the raw data files (eg. GPX) for this Trek.
- If you're not a Member, or you'd like to batch download the entire Treks database you can obtain this by buying a product called EOTreks Route Files from our online shop.
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.
(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 -