Family Adventure, Part 2: Great Australian Bight

Georgina Burden — 21 March 2019
The Burden family take on the Great Australian Bight, tackle the treeless plains and conquer the mountainous Bilbunya sand dunes.

When people think of the Nullarbor they think of the longest stretch of straight road in Australia. After having recently travelled with my family from the red mountains of the Gawler Ranges in South Australia, along the staggering Bight, through Israelite Bay and across to Albany in Western Australia, I’m here to tell you that this part of our country is so much more than unbending bitumen.



GAWLER RANGES

Our last adventure ended at the northern end of the Googs Track, so naturally that’s where our next quest should start. We had planned to go and explore the stunning Gawler Ranges, which is around a three and a half hour drive east of Ceduna and has some insane wildlife and rock formations. 

There is definitely something for every member of the family to enjoy here, from bushwalking to historical ruins. The short walks to most of the attractions here and the fact that there is hardly anyone out in this huge park make it one awesome place to set up the camper and spend a few nights. 

The Gawler ranges also has a bit of 4WDing available; however, most of the park you would be perfectly fine to tow an offroad camper trailer through. 

One thing that our family absolutely loved while in the Gawler Ranges was exploring the ‘organ pipes’ – spectacular eroded rocks that are now shaped such that they look like what the name suggests. These are but a short 500m walk to reach.

Once we were there, we had a ball discovering them and finding small lizards and wildlife in huge numbers and variety;  lizards, snakes, kangaroos, wallabies and birds of prey – it’s all here in the Gawler Ranges.


PILDAPPA ROCK AND CHADINGA BEACH

While our campsite under a million stars in the Gawler Ranges was hard to leave, we still had more of Australia to see. Pildappa Rock is only a short drive from the ranges and is worth the stopover. It also happens to be a great spot to have lunch, with picnic and toilet facilities available. You’re allowed to climb up on the rock at your own risk and we certainly did; us kids loved exploring the deep holes all filled with water. Some of the rock pools even had tadpoles and small fish inside, and had clearly been there for a while. Plus, the top of the Pildappa Rock provides a sensational 360 degree view of the surrounding area. 

Another fantastic place to explore is the Chadinga Conservation Reserve, which has plenty of scattered campsites, some close to the wild beach and some tucked away behind the dunes. Watch out though, because the beach itself is extremely soft, as we found out when we bogged both the troopy and camper trailer.

One thing that people who travel solo or with one vehicle fear is the possibility of getting bogged, with nothing to snatch or winch off. This is where the trusty spare tyre comes in handy, as we found out that day. Burying the tyre in the sand and winching off that is a very effective way of getting out of a potentially trip-ending situation.

Although we might’ve been in trouble if it wasn’t for our recovery gear and Dad’s skills, we didn’t hold it against the park, spending the night there too at one of the many bush campsites. These sites have no facilities; however, you are allowed to have a campfire when it’s not fire season. Chadinga is also just a stone’s throw away from the magnificent Fowlers Bay, which has some memorable campsites, insane fishing, and sand dune driving; overall it’s just an all-round fantastic spot to spend a few nights – or weeks. 


THE NULLARBOR AND BAXTER CLIFFS

Continue west and you’ll hit the Nullarbor. There are plenty of lookouts over the cliffs even before you reach the Western Australia border and it’s good to have a look at a few of them and be amazed at the rough seas and the alien-like landscapes. A great place to spend the night before crossing the border is just north of the Eyre Highway at a little spot called the Koonalda Homestead, where you’ll find plenty of spots to camp and some old relics to explore, such as the old homestead itself or the tonnes of old cars. This is leaving out mention of the tonnes of flies, but we managed to evade them by cooking dinner inside the tent of our camper trailer. Such versatile things, camper trailers!

Crossing the Western Australia border was a huge achievement for our family, our first step into a different state, and one that myself or my little sister had yet to explore. Of course, you must go through quarantine prior to entering Western Australia and it pays to research what you can and cannot take across before reaching this point. If you follow the rules and declare what you have then you’ll breeze through the quarantine point and over into the largest state in Australia. And of course you have to stop at the SA/WA border signpost. That’s a must.

The Nullarbor is full of sink holes and caves, some of which go right through to the edge of the cliffs. If you listen carefully, you can hear the waves crashing against the rocks through these caves. Big thumbs up from us to check this out! Another thing that our family loved doing was camping right on the edge of the cliffs, setting up the trailer and taking in the view from the very edge of Australia. You’ll look back on your trip and be mighty glad that you did that. 

While many people travel on the highway to bypass the Nullarbor that is exactly the opposite of what we did. Stopping over at Caiguna, we grabbed a mud map from the local pub and decided to head south down to the Baxter Cliffs. This area of Australia is so untouched it’s like being on a different planet, with strange animals such as processionary caterpillars, deadly snakes and even camels. 

The Baxter Cliffs track is very narrow and you’ll need a good offroad trailer and 4WD to be able to travel along it, as it can get a bit rocky further along. There are a few good campsites along the track too, in some of the more grassy clearings; but be wary of the native wildlife, as some of it may not be friendly. Doing a trip like this with mates, as we did, makes it all so much more worthwhile, and it gave us a break from each other, having been on the road for a good month. 

The Baxter Cliffs are part of the Great Australian Bight and they are quite an impressive sight to behold. Down below, you’ll see clear turquoise waters with schools of salmon swimming around and pristine white beaches – all of it inaccessible. It’s like those beaches are teasing you, to say the least, but the views are something that you won’t ever forget.  


BILBUNYA SAND DUNES

The further west you travel the cliffs start to drop down and eventually become beaches again, beaches that you can actually get onto. To say that we were excited to go for a swim in these warm waters is an understatement. Surfing, body boarding, swimming, fishing – it’s all on around here on these seemingly untouched beaches where so few come to explore. While the track to get down to the infamous Bilbunya sand dunes does deteriorate a bit, it just means that it’s slow going to get down onto the salt lake where you’ll be able to set up camp or head on over to the very base of the sand dunes, which stand like a mountain on the horizon. 

For us, we set up our camper in a sheltered spot behind the dunes, only a short walk to the beach and a short drive to get to the Bilbunya dunes. The foot climb up the dunes, however, was not short at all, but when it’s a race against your sister then it’s game on. Our family agrees that this is one of the best places that we’ve visited on our trip and it’s definitely one that we haven’t forgotten about – nor will we ever! One thing that we all love to do as soon as we see sand dunes is to drag out the old skateboards from the back of the trailer and have a blast going down the dunes; Bilbunya dunes are no exception and nothing can top sliding down them at rocket speeds. 

Taking in the view from the very top of the dunes is something that you could do for days on end: watching the beach and the tiny 4WDs below, the way the sand blows off the tops of the dunes like little sand waves, and how the hardened sand has formed into tiny pinnacles. If you’re brave enough you can have a go at tackling some of the smaller dunes in the 4WD, although it’s recommended to travel with someone else when going to locations such as this, due to the remoteness of it all and the fact that help is a long way away if you need it. Prior preparation prevents pitiful performance. 


ISRAELITE BAY

If somehow you can drag the family away from this majestic place, then head on down the track a bit further and you’ll reach Israelite Bay. Along the way, however, there is some amazing history to take in, including the old telegraph poles which are the only remains of Western Australia’s historical link to the rest of the world from back in the late 1870s. The poles and wires of that link can still be seen on the track today and it is vitally important that you leave it the way you found it to preserve Western Australia’s past.

Another cool piece of history is the telegraph station, which is in ruins now. If you like, you are allowed to walk through it all; just beware of the snakes, goannas and insects that call this place home. As for Israelite Bay itself, there are camping grounds available here; however, some are lumpy and not suited for camper trailers. There are plenty more campsites further west along the track if you’re willing to explore a bit more. We found a perfect little spot hidden behind the dunes, great for us kids to muck around. 

On the beach there is some wicked fishing, with catches including mulloway, salmon and whiting. Swimming and surfing are also great ideas here, as is 4WDing along some of the tracks in the dunes. You never know what you’ll find on the beaches here, with our range of seaside discoveries including  shipwrecks, which we found to be great to explore. As a family we walked down the beach to go and try our luck at fishing off the rocks; we found some little critters in the rock pools, caught a few fish, and lost a few lures...


NOT NULLARBORING AT ALL!

Exploring the Nullarbor and its surrounding destinations would have to be one of the most memorable parts of our trip to date. I found that it was great to be able to share this wonderful experience with the people closest to me. Looking back a few months later and remembering all the amazing things you did together is a wonderful feeling. The family photo album has never been bigger for our family! 

The Nullarbor is not something to be overlooked as a boring straight stretch of road, because this place has some hidden gems just around the corner. Take the family and head away to explore this untouched paradise of sensational views, pristine beaches, huge sand dunes and long-lasting memories.