It’s vast, it’s daunting, it demands respect, but is the Nullarbor – all 1200km from Ceduna to Kalgoorlie – still a beast?
We crossed the Nullarbor in 1985 and all I remember are the warning signs for camels, roos, emus and wombats. And that the red wine was kept in the fridge at the roadhouse where we stayed overnight. We were on a mission then, relocating from Perth to Melbourne, and there was very little sightseeing involved.
This time, we were going east to west and the mission was to go down every track and take in the sights. This is what we discovered, which may help you plan your crossing and ease any anxieties. Just be sure that – in May at least – there’s an army of grey nomads on the road, spending the kids’ inheritances and having a marvellous time. Good on us!
1. Ceduna is a great town to stock the pantry – the IGA is exceptional. The staff at the information centre were very helpful and provided a map of the Nullarbor with key points, quarantine details and information about the time zones. Who knew there was a Central Western Standard Time? Plus, you pay here (or in Kalgoorlie) for a scorecard for the all-important Nullarbor Links. More on that later. I can also recommend the coffee and food (especially the muffins) at the Blue Dolphin café.
2. The Eyre Highway is in great shape – wide and with broad shoulders. You hardly feel the gusts from the road trains – as we did in 1985. And every so often there are what appear to be pedestrian crossings – signalling emergency aircraft landing strips. The road signage is brilliant with countdowns to most towns every five to 10km.
3. There are 10 towns and roadhouses. We filled up with diesel whenever the gauge was on half – just to be sure – but there are signs telling you how many kilometres to the next fuel stop. The most we paid for diesel was $2.44 at Caiguna and the least was $1.92.
4. There’s no need to worry about where you can stay the night. If you are self-contained there are camps everywhere. Pull into a rest area and at most there will be a track that goes further into the bush. Go in until the roar of the road trains becomes a whisper and you’ll sleep well. And at most, you’ll have the company of fellow travellers. It seems many pull in from 2pm onwards, get out the chairs and contemplate life.
Alternatively, there are powered sites at roadhouses and towns. Can highly recommend WikiCamps to assess the options and check the reviews. I read many complaints about the wind, but there’s no need to camp on the edge of the cliffs! It might seem to be the ‘fun’ thing to do but it may not be fun if the wind gets up.
5. You don’t need to be a golfer to enjoy the Nullarbor Links. The concept is brilliant. The 18-hole par-73 course spans 1365km and, unsurprisingly, is the longest in the world.
Importantly, it forces you to break up the day’s travel, which is brilliant from a road safety point of view. The signs at each hole reveal the fascinating history of the area and why that hole is so named. You get your card stamped at the nearby roadhouse (in most cases), and you’ll probably boost their business by buying a snack. If you’re not a golfer, borrow a driver, a putter and a five-iron, pack sensible shoes and head out anyway. Pars may be a dream though! The cost was $70 per person. For the committed, there is an annual Chasing the Sun tournament in September.
6. Internet coverage comes and goes and the same goes for radio when you get to the Caiguna stretch. Download music to your phone so you can bop away via bluetooth.
7. Coffee is generally good, though Caiguna had only instant.
8. Time zones were confusing. Australian Central Western Standard Time officially takes effect around Border Village (a 45-minute adjustment) but my phone automatically changed near Nundroo. Then it seemed to jump again and I had no idea what the time really was. Hence we were at the bar at the Caiguna roadhouse (which did an impressive Kung Pao Chicken) at 4pm instead of five. That’s my excuse anyway. The other change occurs near Caiguna, when you are officially on WA time if travelling west.
9. There’s a long list of quarantine rules detailing what you can and can’t take into WA – and South Australia for those going west to east. Just read up ahead of time. We only had to hand over our honey.
10. Straight roads? Yep, there are plenty of them but the longest stretch of straight road in Australia – 146.6km between Caiguna and Balladonia called the 90 Mile Straight – may have you begging for a bend. There are signposts at both ends. Take a photo.
Be sure to stop at: Head of the Bight near Border Village – especially if it’s whale season – but also go into the viewing area closer to Border Village. Take in the museum at Balladonia – read up on the early settlers, the camels, the travelling circuses and Skylab. Marvel at the Bunda Cliffs.
Our trip: we were towing an off-road self-contained camper trailer. After leaving Ceduna, we spent three nights in Wahgunyah Conservation Park, which was 44km down a dirt road just before Nundroo – magic; two nights at Seaweeds camp just past Eucla; one night in Caiguna (in the motel because it was raining and we hadn’t showered for five days), then we opted to go straight through Norseman to Dundas Rocks for the night. Great spot.
Accommodation costs: $150 for Caiguna; the rest were free. We’re yet to play the final golf holes at Kalgoorlie as we headed to Esperance. On the way back!
Have you driven the Nullarbor? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments section below.
Also read: Five essential road trip gadgets