Maralinga via Nullarbor Roadhouse

StartClick to Reverse the Dynamic Map and Driving NotesNullarbor Roadhouse
FinishMaralinga
DifficultyDifficulty 3/5
Suitable ForAWD Motorbike 
Distance172.39 km
Minimum Days1
Average Speed54.87 km/hr
Travel Time3 hrs 8 mins
Page Updated: 11 May 2022

Description

This Trek provides details of an alternative route to the main way that people are advised to drive to Maralinga Village camp ground, which is the starting point for Maralinga tours. For those that are coming in from the west or for people that are after a far more remote drive this is a more interesting route option than the main route that is more commonly documented.

No access is permissible without a booking which includes your permit to travel this route. The area has a chained gate and hundreds of kilometres of secure perimeter fencing.

Maralinga was once the most highly secretive location for the testing of British Nuclear weapons and devices on the Australian mainland, Maralinga now offers the opportunity to witness first-hand an area of modern day nuclear history that for decades has made this isolated location restricted to Government Officials and Scientists. With the final clean-up and the official handing back of this land to its Traditional Owners in 2009, Maralinga remains a restricted site but is accessible by booking a guided tour.

The Tour will begin from the Maralinga Village so this Trek provides you with the details for an optional drive to the Maralinga Village (instead of going via Colona & Ooldea). You can drive this route in your own vehicle however this is a rough and remote area which will require 4WD and GPS navigation units as it is unsigned. NOTE: You need to arrive at the village the day BEFORE your booked tour date. For more info about the tour, see the Maralinga Tours website. https://maralingatours.com.au/

From the Nullarbor Roadhouse, proceed out on the Old Eyre Highway, which will run almost parallel to the main highway for some distance, before starting to head in a northeast direction. At the required waypoint to leave the Old Eyre Highway, the track will now be a two wheel track all the way to Watson and there are no signposts anywhere along this track. Up until Disappointment Cave, the track is quite enjoyable to drive, but care must be taken not to leave the track, as there are many large wombat warrens on the edge of the track that will stop immediately and do great damage to any vehicle that falls into these very large holes.

From Disappointment Cave, the drive will be at a slower pace and care must now be focused on the many large limestone rocks that will be part of the road track. When you have the main Telstra tower in sight at Watson, which will still be more than 5 kilometres away, you will now have Telstra coverage all the way to Watson Railway Siding.

Once you are over the main Trans Continental Railway Line, you will now have the luxury of a bitumen road all the way to Maralinga Village and beyond.

Your tour will commence at the village which must be pre-booked with Maralinga Tours. See https://maralingatours.com.au/

How to Use this Trek Note

If you'd like to download this Trek there are two options:
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  • Alternatively, if you already have another raster mapping software program you can Download this route in GPX format using the button shown below the map on this page .

TIP

To purchase our maps for offline use, you will need to purchase the EOTopo 2021 map licence. To install the maps you will need the ExplorOz Traveller app.

Environment

Nullarbor Regional Reserve, located in the far west of the State, covers an area of 2,873,000 hectares and extends from the Eyre Highway north to the Transcontinental Railway line and west into Western Australia and was proclaimed in 1989 and is one of South Australia’s largest protected areas. The reserve is a key component of the biological corridor connecting extensive intact areas from the Western Australia border to central Eyre Peninsula. The area is of great significance to the traditional owners of the land and continues to be an important connection of their living culture today.
Both the Nullarbor Regional Reserve and National Park protect many Aboriginal cultural sites associated with the world’s largest semi-arid cave landscape. There are 24 sites listed under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 within the reserve, including sites still used for cultural purposes by initiated members of local Aboriginal communities.
The harsh environment, isolation and lack of available water resulted in very brief attempts to settle land in the reserve and throughout the broader Nullarbor Plain. Consequently, the reserve contains few relics of pastoral life and to date no features have been entered in the State Heritage Register.
Once you head further north and cross the Trans Continental Railway Line, the landscape take on another appearance, as the Bluebush gives way to red sand dunes that are covered in Mallee and you now enter the southern section of Australia’s largest dune desert, the Great Victoria Desert, which was named by explorer Ernest Giles in 1875 after Queen Victoria after he had undertaken a 17 day, 500 kilometre journey without finding any fresh water sources, and stumbled across a small Claypan that was full of fresh water, and ultimately saved the life of him and his party.

History

The first and original inhabitants of this area were various Aboriginal groups that formed part of the ‘Western Desert Culture Bloc’, with all groups sharing a common language with minor dialect variations and similar social and religious structures. Life revolved around small family groups living as hunter gatherers and at times of drought, would retreat to sites where a reliable source of water would be guaranteed, sometimes many hundreds of kilometres from their traditional hunting areas.

There were a number of well-known explorers that visited the far western part of the new Colony of South Australia, but only a few that ever visited the depths of the Nullarbor Plain and the area that we now know as Maralinga.

Ernest Giles made 2 visits to the area in 1873 and 1875 in an attempt to find a way across the deserts to Western Australia, while in 1879 William Tietkens was asked by a British Businessman, Mr Louis Leisler to sink some wells north of Ooldea in the hope of finding good water and opening up the land for pastoral development. The project was a disaster and the project called off, with Tietkens returning to New South Wales in 1882. One of these wells can be visited as part of the Tour.

Over the coming years, the area was again visited by a number of explorers, but one person that put fame to the area and Ooldea was not a man, but an Irish woman by the name of Daisy Bates. Between 1919 and 1934 she lived in a tent around 2 kilometres north from the Ooldea Railway siding and she was a self-appointed with the aim to provide the Aboriginal people with food, clothing, simple medicines, to discourage contact of the Aboriginal women with the railway workers and to generally look after the wellbeing of the Aboriginal people in the area.

Even with all the European contact, there were still many small Aboriginal family units that continued to live a nomadic lifestyle which would all come to a very sudden and abrupt end in the mid 1950’s and an event that would for ever change the landscape and the lifestyle they were accustomed to. It all started in 1947 after the end of World War 11 and the push for Britain to be a major nuclear power when Eastern Europe became gripped in the events that were known as the Cold War.

England needed large uninhabited tracks of land well away from the preying eyes of Russia and where else but Australia could for fill all of these requirements. With the development of the Woomera Rocket Range, Emu was to become the first location for the first 2 Nuclear Bombs to be exploded on the Australian Mainland. As ideal as this location was, its sheer remoteness made the logistics of transporting material into Emu or as it was first know, Project X200 made Britain search for a location that would still be remote, but being able to have equipment brought into that new place far easier and quicker and from a reliable Transport source.

Such a location was observed from aerial reconnaissance photographs and only a short distance north of the Transcendental Railway Line. The new location for Project X300 was found and recommended and on the 17th October 1953, the site was inspected from the air by Sir William Penney, Britain’s chief nuclear scientist and the site was given the green light. By late 1954 a new township had spring up and the town was given the name of Maralinga, a world taken from the local Aboriginal people that roughly translated to “Thunder”. This new town was not going to be a short term affair, with plans set in place for the long term testing of nuclear bombs and devices for a planned life of 30 years.

By 1956 the first Nuclear Bomb was detonated as part of the Buffalo Series of testing, but by 1958 the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was well under way with over 5000 people attending the first public meeting in February 1958 and the CND became the biggest peace and anti-nuclear movement in the United Kingdom. Had these historic events not taken place, the total number of 7 nuclear tests that took place at Maralinga could have ended up in the hundreds.

TrekID: 230

Preparation

MUST READ: You are strongly encouraged to read the following articles prepared by the knowledge experts at ExplorOz for your safety and preparation before undertaking any published ExplorOz Trek - Outback Safety, Outback Driving Tips, Outback Communications, and Vehicle Setup for the Outback.

TIP

Please refer to Road Reports published by the local shire and/or main roads for the area you intend to visit. Road/Track conditions can change significantly after weather events. Travellers must be responsible for their own research on current conditions and track suitability.
As with all major outback trips, careful detail must be given to your pre trip preparation. Your vehicle must be in first class mechanical condition, with special emphases on tyres and suspension. The only time that you will have Telstra Phone coverage, will be when you are close to the main Trans Continental Railway Line, at Watson.

Permits

Entry to the Maralinga Atomic Test site is restricted and the area has a chained gate and hundreds of kilometres of secure perimeter fencing.

Tourist Permits are now available for a limited number of visitors at any one time - from late March to mid-October. The one day tour includes permit for Maralinga entry, a full day tour of the Forward Area – where the atom bombs were exploded and 2 nights camping at the Village campground.

The two day tour includes permit for Maralinga entry, two days touring of the Forward Area – where the atom bombs were exploded and 3 nights camping at the Village campground.

Fuel Usage

DieselULPLPG
4cyl 24 litres4cyl 28 litres4cyl 34 litres
6cyl 26 litres6cyl 31 litres6cyl 30 litres
8cyl 26 litres8cyl 29 litres
Usage is averaged from recorded data (* specific to this trek) and calculated based on trek distance.

Best Time To Visit

As with any remote outback travel in Australia, the ideal time to visit Maralinga is during the cooler months of the year, between April and October. Outside of these times, very high temperatures will be experienced and summer temperature can exceed 50°.
During the cooler months, you can expect cool to cold nights, while daytime temperatures can vary between mid-teens to high twenties, depending on what month you visit Maralinga.

Closest Climatic Station

Nullarbor
Distance from Trek Mid Point 78.67km SW
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Mean Max. °C27.927.826.524.821.418.818.219.622.424.326.026.7
Mean Min. °C15.716.114.111.68.96.35.15.87.910.212.414.2
Mean Rain mm11.113.221.822.429.730.227.324.517.818.216.815.3
    Best time to travel      Ok time to travel      Travel NOT recommended

Map

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Directions

Nullarbor Roadhouse to Watson Turn Off - Old Eyre Highway
Driving: 14.56 km
Heading: 63°
Avg Speed: 54.24 km/hr
EST Time: 16:06
Watson Turn Off - Old Eyre Highway to Old Fence Line
Driving: 8.72 km
Heading: 19°
Avg Speed: 50.37 km/hr
EST Time: 10:23
Old Fence Line to Old Vermin Proof Fence
Driving: 4.51 km
Heading:
Avg Speed: 62.88 km/hr
EST Time: 04:18
Old Vermin Proof Fence to No 6 Bore (abandoned)
Driving: 19.44 km
Heading: 40°
Avg Speed: 58.2 km/hr
EST Time: 20:02
No 6 Bore (abandoned) to Disappointment Cave
Driving: 5.01 km
Heading: 67°
Avg Speed: 62.65 km/hr
EST Time: 04:47
Disappointment Cave to Cavern
Driving: 25.81 km
Heading: 29°
Avg Speed: 62.85 km/hr
EST Time: 24:38
Cavern to Watson Railway Siding
Driving: 51.63 km
Heading: 15°
Avg Speed: 55.6 km/hr
EST Time: 55:42
Watson Railway Siding to Warning Sign
Driving: 0.9 km
Heading: 35°
Avg Speed: 38.65 km/hr
EST Time: 01:23
Warning Sign to Caravan Track Junction
Driving: 11.9 km
Heading: 29°
Avg Speed: 58.5 km/hr
EST Time: 12:12
Caravan Track Junction to Yalata Turn Off
Driving: 3.27 km
Heading: 29°
Avg Speed: 59.34 km/hr
EST Time: 03:18
Yalata Turn Off to Maralinga Warning Sign
Driving: 1.06 km
Heading: 34°
Avg Speed: 48.88 km/hr
EST Time: 01:18
Maralinga Warning Sign to Blow hole
Driving: 0.94 km
Heading:
Avg Speed: 43.1 km/hr
EST Time: 01:18
Blow hole to Oak Valley Turn Off
Driving: 11.27 km
Heading: 357°
Avg Speed: 55.59 km/hr
EST Time: 12:09
Oak Valley Turn Off to Maralinga Security Gates
Driving: 6.49 km
Heading: 14°
Avg Speed: 60.17 km/hr
EST Time: 06:28
Maralinga Security Gates to Maralinga
Driving: 6.88 km
Heading: 324°
Avg Speed: 52 km/hr
EST Time: 07:56
Distance is based on the travel mode shown (Driving, Straight, Cycling, Walking etc), Direction is straight line from start to end, Avg Speed & EST Time is calculated from GPS data.

What to See

From Bluebush covered plains that will stretch as far as the eye can see, to gentle red sand dunes covered in dense Mallee trees, the Maralinga area borders the Nullarbor Regional Reserve and then enters the Great Victoria Desert. As you head out past the Ooldea Range, the country will again change and as you enter the area where the forces unleashed by the testing of Nuclear weapons, Bluebush and native grass will dominate the landscape. See where early explorers tried in vain to find water in the hope of opening up this vast outback area into rich pastoral lands.

Facilities

Where to Stay

No Places To Stay available for this trek

Services & Supplies

The nearest major centre for all services and supplies is around 5 hours’ drive south east of Maralinga at Ceduna, on the West Coast of South Australia, which offers all major services from Medical, Mechanical as well as all types of food services. If you are coming in from Western Australia, all of your supplies would be nearly exhausted, as your last major service centre to the west is at Kalgoorlie.

Wildflowers

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