Roads of Australia series - Eyre Highway a long and not-so-winding road

There aren’t many roads anywhere in the world where you can legally land an aircraft, but Australia’s Eyre Highway is one of them.

A number of Royal Flying Doctor Service emergency landing strips are signposted along the Eyre Highway’s 1675 kilometres. You’ll see them marked out with “piano keys” painted on the road accompanied with turnaround areas for light aircraft.

It’s another curious feature of one of Australia’s most remote highways which stretches across the Nullarbor plain linking Perth with Adelaide.

Built in World War 2

Construction work on the Eyre Highway started in July 1941 in the middle of World War 2, a century after explorer Edward John Eyre became the first European to cross the coastline of the Nullarbor Plain and the Great Australian Bight. Originally little more than a sand and gravel dirt track, the mainly straight road was first laid down in just six months.

Sealing it took much longer – 10 years in fact, starting from the mid 60s, with the first 462km between Port Augusta and Ceduna completed in 1967. The long stretch from Norseman to the WA state border followed in 1969. It wasn’t until September 29 1976 that the final link between Penong, South Australia and the state border was finally sealed. Along the way the route changed and deviated slightly, with the original old Eyre Highway now an abandoned track suitable only for four wheel drives.

Despite its desolation the Eyre Highway is steeped in Australian history. The Eyre Bird Observatory near Cocklebiddy is in an old limestone telegraph station on the Intercolonial Telegraph Line running from SA to WA. It sits on Eyre’s Sand Patch, where Edward John Eyre and his party found fresh water under the dunes and camped for a month to recover from dehydration and exhaustion.

Cocklebiddy is also the location of the largest of the Nullarbor caves, which has been extensively explored by cave divers since the 1960s.

Madura’s unusual history

The Madura roadhouse also has an unusual history. Despite its remoteness 1253 km from Perth it was settled in 1876 as a breeding ground for cavalry horses for the British Indian Army. The horses were shipped from Eucla for service in the Northwest Frontier, which is now in Pakistan. Today Madura offers travellers spectacular views of the Madura Pass and the Roe Plains.

“90 mile straight”

The Eyre Highway has the longest straight section of road in Australia, and one of the longest in the world - the famous “90 mile straight” between Balladonia and Caiguna. But it must also rank as one of the loneliest stretches of road in Australia. The population on the West Australian stretch of the Nullarbor was estimated at just 86 at the 2006 census.

Eucla, just 11km west of the SA border, is the largest stop-off point between Norseman and Ceduna, boasting a hotel and restaurant, a museum celebrating the old telegraph station, a meteorological station and even a golf course.

Nullarbor Nymph

Part of Eucla’s colourful history is the legend of the “Nullarbor Nymph”, a hoax dreamed up by its eight local inhabitants about a half-naked woman living in the bush with kangaroos that attracted world-wide media coverage in 1971.

The “Nullarbor Nymph” may not be running wild beside the Eyre Highway but an average of 1700 vehicles per day were running its course in 2011-12. That makes it far from Australia’s busiest interstate link but a vital link, nevertheless, between WA and the Eastern States.

Runs from
Interesting fact
Eyre Highway
Perth to
1942 (finally
sealed in 1976)
Has landing strips
for the Royal
Flying Doctor
Eyre Highway
Runs from…
Perth to Adelaide
Year completed
1942 (finally sealed in 1976)
Interesting fact
Has landing strips for the Royal Flying Doctor

Check out our other blogs in the series, Roads of Australia series - Gibb River Road Is A Spectacular Northern AdventureRoads of Australia series - Stuart Highway a journey through Australia, Roads of Australia series - Hume Highway's History Reaches Back To Governor Macquarie.

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Categories: Australia
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