Sixteen years ago we rode our tandem, Zippy, pulling a B.O.B. trailer, right-the-way-’round Australia, around 19,000 kilometers. By the time we reached Perth and beyond in Western Australia, we had perfected our outback riding and bush camping technique and were a little sorry to be leaving the wide open spaces of northern Queensland, Northern Territory, and far north and west Western Australia. But we had one more long stretch waiting, the Nullarbor.
One of the big goals of many bicycle tourists is to conquer the Nullarbor plain, from Norseman in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia, 1194 kilometers, much of it scrub brush, flat(ish) and straight, and often two push bike days between roadhouses.
By that time in our journey these conditions were a piece of cake, just a matter of time. We loved it 16 years ago, and found it not much of a challenge, but unique at least in the high regard Australians hold the road.
But twice on a push bike? No. this time we traversed the Nullarbor in a small van, still camping bush, but with a stove, eskie and soft mattress inside, and visiting the roadhouses and some sites we’d found fascinating the first time.
Unfortunately the road houses had either been torn down and rebuilt modern, or remodeled fully. The only one vaguely recognizable to us was the Nullarbor roadhouse. The funky pubs had all been sterilized and renamed bars. Even the Skylab (the first space station broke up over WA) remains had been removed from the roof of the Balladonia roadhouse and put in an attached museum as part of the remodel. They most all look alike now. Sad to us. You can’t go home again. I guess we couldn’t expect things to be unchanged after 16 years, but we did.
The one feature of the Nullarbor that hasn’t changed is the landscape, and the connection to the Great Australian Bight. The most amazing and wonderful part is the Bunda Cliffs, running 200 kilometers across SA and dropping 90 meters into the Southern Ocean.
Sixteen years ago we pitched our tent a few meters from the edge, with no neighbors or visitors through tea and a long night. Listened to the pounding surf below, and even felt it as I remember, with the Southern Cross pointing to Antarctica. We awoke to the cliffs cloaked in salt mist, back lit by sunrise.
But, you can’t go home again. Safety fences and signs tame the site, vehicles queue up for a chance for a quick photo op, and check one off their bucket list.
Visiting the cliffs was emotional for both of us, for a variety of reasons. For me the taming saddened me, and I was reminded that in another 16 years I will be 88 years old, if I’m that fortunate, and won’t be visiting the Bunda Cliffs, nor would I want to see our near-sacred site further tamed. You really can’t go home again. Memory is sometimes all you will ever have of some places, some experiences. Cherish them.