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10 April 2012 / leggypeggy

Bitten by the beauty of the Great Australian Bight

Bunda Cliffs

After leaving Streaky Bay, we headed west to the Great Australian Bight, a large open bay off parts of mainland Australia’s southern coastline.

The Eyre Highway passes close to the cliffs of the bight between the Head of Bight and Eucla, Western Australia.

We were keen to stop at the Head of Bight, if only to see the spectacular views of ancient sand dunes to the east and towering cliffs to the west.

From May to September, it is also THE place to see sharks and Southern Right Whales. There are 15,000 such whales in the world, and more than 900 have been recorded visiting the Head of Bight. They come to mate, give birth and raise their young. Dolphins and Australian sea lions are also frequent visitors.

All this area is part of the Great Australia Bight Marine Park that was declared over three years, starting in 1995. Today the park covers more than 2 million hectares and protects the Bight’s many species and habitats. The park is considered to be one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world

When we stopped at the tourist centre, we were shocked to be greeted by thousands of persistent flies. Australia is the fly capital of the world, but I’ve never before seen so many in one place.

Poor John and other tourists on a Bight ramp

The visitors’ centre provided a break from the flies and heat, and relieved us each of $5 admission. Poor John asked if there was a senior’s rate but was told no, and the fee during whale season is $15 a head.

We headed to the water’s edge, escorted by another thousand flies, and started down a series of switchback ramps to see the dunes.

These dunes have developed over thousands of years. Their shape and extent are determined by wind strength and direction, vegetation or lack of it, and conditions on the shore. Much of the Bight has powerful wave action, producing gently sloping beaches backed by extensive dunes. Where reefs provide protection, the dunes are steeper. Dunes in the Bight are advancing inland by 11 metres a year.

Then, swatting flies all the way, we headed back up to the top and the ramps to the Bunda Cliffs.

Farther west from the Head of Bight where the cliff layers are more obvious

The cliffs stretch west for 800 kilometres. Their height varies from 40 to 80 metres.

They are made of limestone and have three distinct layers. The light-coloured base, Wilson Bluff Limestone, formed when sea levels were higher and the Southern Ocean inundated Australia. Skeletons of billions of marine organisms were eventually deposited on the submerged plain to form the limestone. The next layer is the Nullarbor Limestone. This began forming 25 million years ago, again due to inundation and sedimentation. The cliffs are capped by the Bridgewater Foundation, formed between 1.6 million to 100,000 years ago. It consists of a hardened layer of windblown calcareous sand.

This is such spectacular scenery that I have included quite a few photos.

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