What I love about Australia is the surprise package.
We're on our way westbound to Perth, and are heading for that really empty bit between about Adelaide and Kalgoorlie. As usual along this track, we've opted to fly low along those incredible cliffs of the Great Australian bight, maybe get lucky and see some whales.
After a while, those cliffs give way to long fabulous stretches of endless beaches, where the surf pounds the white sand and takes no prisoners in the process. No fancy eco resorts along here, no 4WDs roaring up the beach, in fact, no sign of civilisation at all. And what a grand thing that is.
We pass the head of the bight and fly overhead the tiny settlements of Eucla and Border Village, saying farewell to South Oz and hello W.A. As much as this route is a photographer's dream, it's time to hang a right, and head away from the coastline towards an all-time favourite stopover of Forrest.
We've scored a robust headwind today and, away from those sea breezes, the temperature outside starts climbing to a tropical 40 in the shade. It’s when you’re about 50nm shy of Forrest Airport in the middle of the Nullarbor that the sheer expanse of this bare and featureless plain hits you square between the eyes. Horizon to horizon, not a blade of grass or a bush in sight. To the south, the Southern Ocean offers an express route straight to Antarctica. In every other direction, welcome to a landscape Australia is really good at: hot, dry, endless desert. Personally, I love it.
Welcome to Forrest
Forrest isn't just a bed for the night, it's a really memorable experience. I’d highly recommend an overnight stop here, no matter which direction you're travelling, and whether it's by road or air.
Not everyone would be cut out to take on the job of managing an airport and accommodation at such an isolated location but all the resident managers we've met out here over the years have turned outback hospitality into an art form.
As you might guess as you’re flying into it, the naming of Forrest was never about the trees. Forrest was named after the explorer and first Premier of WA, Sir John Forrest. In fact, the place is marinating in history if you’ve got the time to give it. Given its isolation, those two massive strips of bitumen that form the Forrest runways are a very welcome sight ... not to mention the bowser.
You can call in briefly for fuel if you like, but to be honest you’d have to be in a hell of a hurry not to take a load off here and spend the night. You’ll be joining a long list of travellers who’ve been calling in here since 1929, when Sir Norman Brearley’s West Australian Airways started hauling mail, passengers and freight from Perth to Adelaide and return.
Forrest is one of the last surviving railway townships on the ribbon of steel that is the Transcontinental Railway, stretching 1700km from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta. An average of 60 trains come through here each week, providing an essential service delivering vital supplies to keep the little community ticking over til the next drop. “If you hear a toot,” they say, “it may be the daily paper being thrown from the train or if it’s Monday it’s the Indian Pacific bringing our weekly shopping and mailbag from Kalgoorlie.”
The accommodation is unique. There are six really roomy and comfortable cottages which used to house the resident meteorological workers many years ago and they’re right at the airport. In fact, everything is near the airport at Forrest; blink and you’ll miss it.
The managers fed us beautifully on their verandah, shared loads of stories about their life here and took us out in the 4WDs to show us around their unique patch of WA. Some of us jumped on the funny old bicycles lying around for a DIY tour of the “township”. You won’t need a map. If you’re wanting to get hold of the history, the old Bureau of Met building and museum are really worth a visit.