Getting to Koonalda Homestead was an adventure in itself for me as I tried to find the place 14km into the Nullarbor from the Eyre Highway around 10:30pm at night with no signposts to guide me and little more than an idea where it should be and knew that I had to cross the old Eyre Highway, nothing more than a dirt track nowadays, at some stage. The plan was to arrive at the Homestead in daylight with everyone but the softies who were booked in at the Motel further along at the border, but a broken head stud on Woody's little beast during the afternoon meant that I left the Trailer Queens back at the Nullabor Roadhouse on dark and I went in search of the people prepared to poo in a hole if they had too, the bush campers.
I limped along from the roadhouse for about 100km with some weird electrical issue that intermittently plagued me for the whole trip where the car would barely be running and then clear up and then not, getting worse the further I went. So as I approach where I thought the turn off should be, 97km east of the WA/SA border, I slowed down looking for a sign as in a structure with the words Koonalda and an arrow or pointer of some descript.
What I got instead was red and blue flashing lights approaching out of the dark on the right as an ambulance came down a side track I had just pulled up at wondering if there was something up that dirt track. A few minutes later a 4wd towing a caravan came down the same track giving me a more positive feeling that there was some sort of camping happening down this track, albeit with at least two less campers.
Figuring the worst I could do is get lost in the Nullarbor plains at night and never find my way out again I set off, taking note of where the Moon was so I could check that I was tracking due North and according to the speedo I should rolling up to the homestead at 14km. Not long into the journey the road had a intersection with a road heading off north west and from then on there were plenty of choices for roads to take from then on and really it was just instinct to keep heading North as best I could. Coming out the next day it was obvious to see all the tracks heading in various directions and how there didn't seem to be one more defined track to the Homestead.
Using the UHF radio along the way and getting no response after crossing what I thought was the Old Eyre Highway I traveled about 500m and thinking I was not where I should be so I started to turn around and in the edge of the moving headlights I saw a piece of a National Parks sign off in the bush and at that moment those waiting for me called up on the radio and started flashing their torches. I was within about 100m of the abandoned Koonalda Homestead and I nearly turned back because I couldn't see it.! taht and no-one would talk to me.
With a few handshakes and hugs and kisses, well I thought Samm was going to kiss me he was that happy to see me, I checked out the accommodation the guys had taken over, a decent size out building with what was a bedroom and an open plan kitchen and lounge room that I slept in while Mazy, Shorty, Sabrina and Samm chose the luxury of his Moke. I found out when writing this story that Dave was rippling the halls of the Homestead with his zzz's when I thought he was a sleep in his Moke. Before bed though it was a bit of standing around the fire pit recounting the days activities and scoffing down some of Mazy's marshmallows after setting them alight.
Next morning I was up before the others so I grabbed the camera and went for a bit of an explore around the Homestead and the vehicle graveyard taking photos of the place I had been wanting to see for a year or more since hearing about it from my father and reading about an MOA trip here in the 1980's from The BMC Experience just weeks before I left.
The Homestead was part of a large station running sheep through the mid 1900's and provided fuel and services to people traveling along the then Eyre Highway until the highway was rerouted and sealed closer to the coast in the early 1970's. Although the Gurney family were still there in the mid 80's they did eventually leave, and it looks like they just walked away and now part of the Nullarbor National Park an effort has been made to make the Homestead clean and safe and you can even plug your generator into a lead at the front of the homestead and the lights in the Homestead will function. Curiously there are no signs leading you in there, even in daylight, so the NP people are keeping things pretty low key and word of mouth.
A few versions of why all the car wrecks are there, but they swing between Peter Gurney being a bit bored and collected and restored the cars and the other is that they are just cars that never made it across the iconic trip and this is their final resting place.
Parked with us at Koonalda were two Caravans and no one was staying in the Homestead so I got to wander about inside taking photos and was impressed with just how tidy and un-trashed it was and even out the back the old vegie garden didn't look that much different to my own attempt at gardening.
A sunrise look amongst the graveyard was interesting and makes you wonder just how many of these cars would have been restored had they been a bit closer to anywhere 20 years ago. As you can see from the images there was quite a variety and even a poor little Mini with nothing even worth considering to remove to souvenir.
After breakfast we packed up and headed off looking for Koonalda Caves a further 15km north of the Homestead but just a few hundred metres into the bush we came across the Shearing shed and so we spent 20 odd minutes looking around and again it was fairly much intact and clean. Out the back was strange concrete 'pond' shape that we couldn't really work out what it was or why it was the shape it was, it resembled a number 6.
Further along we trekked across the open expanses of the Nullabor looking for the Koonalda Caves which we eventually found in a depression on the otherwise flat landscape and started my education and fascination with the caves and Sinkholes that litter the landscape for over 200,00km/sq. In true bureaucracy gone wrong there were signs around the fenced off cave saying "Do Not Enter" and "Danger" etc. however they have installed a fence ladder to make sure people don't hurt themselves in an effort to put themselves at risk.
The Nullarbor is a 200,000 square kilometer single slab of limestone that extends north past the east west railway and stretches for hundreds of k's each side of the border and is around 300m thick and much of it has large hollow areas underneath it that are waterfilled caves. From time to time over the last million or two years conditions are just right where a piece of the slab roof will fall down to the floor creating a depression or in some cases falling far enough to expose the water or cavernous areas below. The depressions or sinkholes can be the size of a Basketball to the size of the MCG and the Koonalda Cave opening is at the bottom of something getting on the size of a small footy field.
So a bit of look around here and a diversion to find the base of the tower used to pump water from the cave below to provide the much required water to service the stations stock. On the way back to the homestead the maps I had were showing several other sinkholes and we managed to detour enough to find all but one of them, including one that had a fire smouldering away amongst the junk that had been pushed into at some time. We also found time for a round of Golf, or at least a swing a few swings at a ball out on the plains thank to Mazy being the only one who bought a long her sticks to play the longest Golf Course.
We drove back past the Homestead and when we reached the old Eyre Highway, I led the others on to the road a little bit and then after explaining where we were I gave Mazy to the opportunity to back into Shorty's Moke as she excitedly got in her Moke to have a photo shoot of herself driving down the old Eyre Highway. From here it was fairly simple task of following tracks to lead us out onto the highway proper and take in a few more sinkholes and caves just off the track.
Back at the highway at the end of the crushed limestone track we put a bit of air back into the tyres and headed of for the WA/SA border and our next little adventure.
Koonalda Homestead was a highlight of the trip for me and will be a must stop whenever I get the chance to go past, it was just a nice relaxing place to be, even in the short time I was there.
Dave in Thomas
Ian(Shorty) and Sabrina in the Boss
Vicki and Mazy