Australia How To's Runaway Travel Stories

How to survive the Nullarbor

So, you want to cross the Nullarbor? Read this first!

Stretching 1,160 kilometres across the Australian outback, from Norseman to Port Augusta, the Nullarbor crossing takes in two states, six roadhouses, three time zones and 18 golf holes. Needless to say, driving the Eyre Highway across the Nullarbor is a rite of passage for any roadtripper. But it’s not a trip to be taken lightly.

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If you’ve ever moaned about being bored 20 minutes into a journey, the Nullarbor will break you. If you survive long journeys by playing number plate games, the Nullarbor will chew you up and spit you out at the other end. You need to know how to survive. It’s not rocket science, but there are some survival tips every road tripper MUST know before you start you engines and farewell reasonably-priced petrol.

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Trust us on this; we crossed the Nullarbor in a VW Kombi never clicking over 80km/h. We had no choice but to take it slow and enjoy the ride. This is what you need to know:

  1. Embrace the nothingness

The first trick is to know what you’re up against. The clue is in the name: Nullarbor was derived from the latin “nulls arbor”, no tree. Though actually, this is only refers to the national park before the SA/WA border where there are seemingly limitless plains.

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In fact, the scenery can be spectacular. Just let yourself become hypnotised by the endless flatness and a road so straight it looks like it’s warping in the sun. Embrace this – there’s nowhere on earth like it.

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Just go with it…
  1. Get off track

Who said you have to follow the road from one end to the other as fast as possible? This isn’t a bandaid; it’s a journey, an adventure. Stop the car, get out and explore. On the South Australian side, there are lots of tracks leading down to Bunda Cliffs where you can witness the incredible Great Australian Bight. If you happen to be at the Head of Bight between May and October, watch the Southern Right whales playing in the surf. And don’t forget to check out the charming windmills in Penong.

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Penong’s famous Windmill Museum

On our return journey, we stayed at Eucla on the West Australian side of Border Village. After setting up camp, we followed the sign to an Old Telegraph Station. What did we find 4km down the track? Aqua green waves lapping at the whitest beach imaginable…and we had it all to ourselves.

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Where does it lead?
  1. Play golf

Some harvests ago, over a bottle of red wine at Balladonia Roadhouse, two old friends decided it would be a stellar idea to create a golf course along the Eyre Highway. The result is Nullarbor Links, an 18-hole par 73 golf course. Legend has it, this is the World’s Longest Golf Course.

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You can hire clubs at either end, or bring your own. Pick up a score card at either Ceduna or Norseman, and play a hole at every roadhouse and in-between. We don’t play golf, so we just pretended. At least it got us out of the car for a little walk every few hundred kilometres!

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  1. Take lots of breaks

Stretch. Take selfies with road signs. Play golf (see above). Challenge your co-driver to find the cheapest souvenir in the Nullarbor Roadhouse. Whatever it takes to break up the routine and keep yourself entertained.

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There’s always something to learn along the Nullarbor
  1. Prepare for the border crossing

There is no border in the whole country like the SA/WA border on the Nullarbor. If going from SA to WA, you will actually go through border security, just like from the US to Mexico. Except you won’t need a passport; you just need to prove that you haven’t got any fresh fruit and vegetables.

They’ll make you open your icebox, so throw away any rogue tomatoes. And before you consider hiding an avocado in your glovebox, think about it: is that avocado really worth a hefty fine?

Some people have a big cook up before the border – cooked veggies are allowed. We just planned carefully to make sure we’d eaten everything fresh before the border, then chowed down on tinned stuff for the rest of the road.

  1. Don’t drink the coffee

We’re all for supporting the roadhouses, but whatever you do and however desperate you think you might be: don’t drink the coffee. The reason is most people working in the roadhouses are backpackers who only stick around for a couple of months to get their second year visa (we presume). They aren’t around long enough to get barista training and nobody know that burnt milk + burnt coffee does not = a latte.

If you need caffeine, our tip is to indulge in an over-priced bottle of iced coffee out the fridge or bring your own.

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No complaints here…
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Nor here!
  1. Obey the road trains

There are times in your life when you have to realise you are not the most important thing on the road. This is that time. To truckers, you’re like an annoying bug that buzzes around and gets in the way when all they want to do is get from A to B. And unless you play by their rules, they will squish you.

Luckily, the rules are simple:

  • Let them pass you if they want to – don’t speed up
  • Only pass them when you can see at least 1km ahead (they’re bloody long!)
  • Give them a friendly wave
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That’s a big truck. Carrying more big trucks.
  1. Have a strong stomach

You will see a lot of roadkill. And I mean, a lot. One morning, we counted 34 dead roos and an emu. That’s not including the lizards, snakes and birds. Roadkill is particularly bad after rainy days, as animals come to road to drink.

There’s an easy way not to add to the roadkill: avoid driving at dawn, dusk and night. And even then, remember to avert your eyes and close the window. (Here are more rules about roadkill)

  1. Stock up on podcasts and audiobooks

With no raid,  even your favourite tunes will soon start to get under your skin. We asked a truck driver how they pass the time and they told us they listen to audiobooks. If it’s good enough for truck drivers, it’s good enough for us. We downloaded weeks worth of material before we set up.

  1. Take lots of water

It’s surprisingly expensive to buy drinking water along the way, and you’ll be surprised how much you get through. Especially if you’re camping. So take lots of drinking water with you and save yourself a few bucks.

  1. Don’t be an arsehole

Pay for showers if you have them at roadhouses (you’ll be surprised how many don’t). Don’t throw rubbish out the window or leave it at rest stops. Don’t moan about the roadhouse prices (everyone has to make a living out there). Wave back to other drivers.

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Wave like you mean it
  1. Don’t waste your waves

Pick and choose who you’re going to wave to. If they wave, always wave back. But only initiate a wave where you think the other driver is worthy. And when you do, do it with gusto!

THAT’S IT!

Follow these expert tips and you won’t just survive the Nullarbor – you’ll enjoy the ride.  And if you don’t, just be glad you’re not this guy:

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Your eyes don’t deceive you – that’s a man walking along the Nullarbor.

Got more time? Here’s a great itinerary for driving the Nullarbor from Perth to Ceduna.

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