Hailing from diminutive England, the thought of driving 3800 Km across the breadth of an arid and sparsely populated continent can be a daunting one. Combine this fear with the fact that you’re driving a car with an indeterminate lifespan and an intermittent air conditioning system and suddenly the idea of crossing can seem like a risky one. Thoughts of abandoning the car, scavenging our meagre belongings from the back and sticking our thumbs up for a lift to the nearest town can consume you a little.
In reality it is rarely this dramatic, the road is well worn and many Australians make the crossing every year to visit friends and family on the other side. It may not be the highlight of your trip in Australia but there is a lot to be said for treating it less like an inconvenience and more like a road trip.
Having crossed the Nullarbor previously in the cold windy grip of Australian winter (yes Australia gets cold!), we were determined to make a better go of it the second time around. The first time we drove over from Melbourne to Perth we treated it like an obstacle, we needed to get across the country for work and had little time to stop and appreciate the isolated beauty of the tree-less plain. We were running out of money and had little to no experience bush camping.
The second time around we were determined to make the crossing an enjoyable experience. Now we were 4 months more experienced as Australians. We had just finished working for 4 months on an isolated regional dairy farm and had a new found appreciation for the isolation and sparseness of the Australian wilderness.
So with two successful crossings under our belts we felt it might be a good idea to write up a short guide for crossing the Nullarbor and how to enjoy it. Here are our top tips and some recommendations for crossing the Nullabor Plain.
– Talk to people. There are some Australians who cross this road every year to visit family on the opposite coast. These people know the road better than anyone and are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to good camping sites, swimming spots and viewpoints.
– Check the weather and prepare accordingly. We made the sprint across the Nullabor during the summer when we saw that the weather was forecast to be at its coolest. If you’re flexible with dates, check when the weather will be mildest and make a break for it. If you don’t have this luxury make sure you rug up in winter and invest in window shades and a ton of water in summer.
– Make sure you’re well equipped. Bring enough food and water to last you, invest in comfortable camping gear and get your car serviced. The price of everything jumps as you cross the Nullabor. Avoid buying food at roadhouses, it’s crazy expensive and leaves a lot to be desired…
– However, don’t stock up on your fresh fruit and veg! As you cross the border between Western Australia and South Australia quarantine restrictions mean that all fresh produce must be chucked.
– Try not to rush. Driving more than 10 hours on any given day can be hellish and result in snoozing behind the wheel. Not recommended!
– Buy a jerry can. Although it is easily possible to cross without one the cost of petrol can jump up to nearly $2 a litre once you get to the roadhouses in the middle. Filling up a jerry will save you some money on the way.
– Music and podcasts are a must! Radio signal is limited and whilst there are moments of beauty in the landscape, there are stretches where nothing changes for several hours. You need some form of alternative entertainment. Our go-to podcasts are Serial, This American Life and Stuff You Should Know.
– Appreciate just how empty and isolated a place you are in. It may not look beautiful at times but there is some beauty in the vast emptiness. At times there is nothing but desert stretching thousands of miles to the north, east and west to the South there is nothing but a vast, brutal ocean all the way to Antartica.
Our personal favourite spots: Camping at Fraser Range Sheep Station with its beautiful outback scenery and restored farm buildings. The quirky Ballarat Museum displaying odd exhibits from the hamlet’s past and serving the last cup of halfway decent coffee. Free camping on the Nullabor Cliffs and witnessing its dramatic wild splendour. Whale watching Australian Bight for incredible encounters with migrating whales.
Almost there? When you reach Port Augusta you have two options.
Option 1) You can cut through the desert for a quicker trip to Adelaide or Melbourne. This gives you a real taste of Australia bush, red dust and all. Drive through eerie towns, spot wild emus in the bush and free camp in Kimba which has some great facilities.
Option 2) If time is on your side dip down into the beautiful and undervalued Eyre Peninsula. The Eyre Peninsula is home to some stunning national parks, incredible wildlife and beaches to rival those of the West.