Despite the distances, crossing the Nullarbor is just like being on any road, and it’s truly not as boring as you might think.
Planning what to take, do and look for is the same for a long straight road as a windy mountain climb.
This treeless plain is no different, you plot the day’s travel at the speed and time to suit the conditions offered. However, if you plan to go off-road, you will need a 4WD.
And so the journey begins.
Get your vehicle serviced before you leave
It’s a long trip, so book a pre-trip service and tell your mechanic your plans. Get advice on what spare parts, like belts and hoses, that you need to take along. Finding someone to fit them will be much easier than finding the part. Keep jumper leads and a torch handy, check the spare tyre and practice using the jack and wheel brace. If towing a van or camper get that checked too.
It’s important to get your vehicle checked out by your mechanic.
Access to fuel and food
If you’re worried about fuel, don’t be. While expensive, it’s available at distances even the smallest tank can handle.
If you’re worried about food, there’s no need. Every fuel stop has a café or takeaway counter with fast, and sometimes fresh, food to sustain for the road ahead.
Every fuel stop has a café or takeaway counter with fast, and sometimes fresh food.
Packing your vehicle for the trip
Pack your gear securely and ensure you can see out all the windows. Make sure your clothes are easily accessible to add or remove as the temperature dictates.
I’d recommend checking out the digital Nullarbor Map as it comes with tips, activities as well as local history. It’s very user-friendly and will definitely add to your enjoyment of the trip. Best of all it can be downloaded for free before you leave home.
Take care to pack your vehicle properly for this trip.
Drive to the conditions
We plan for two or three nights across and bring enough food. Once hail and thunderstorms made for a few anxious moments. Miles from any shop, we simply set up camp had lunch, then dinner, then breakfast till it finally stopped and we could see to move on safely.
Headwind is also a bugbear of the Nullarbor. Take a break to save the stress and your fuel consumption and move on once the wind has abated.
There are three time zones on this trip. This works well when travelling west but shortens the day heading east.
Headwind is an issue you will likely come across.
Road hazards, and what times to avoid driving
Driving at dawn, dusk and in the dark is to be avoided. Road trains abound and there’s lots of wildlife about from large feral cats to kangaroos, emus, wedgetail eagles and camels.
During the day keep an eye out for cattle and kangaroos crossing and eagles on roadkill. Wedgies can be very slow to take off and you’d be amazed at the damage one can do, and you’d be gutted if you hit one.
Look out for wildlife and take the time to stop, stretch the legs and grab an iconic Nullabor shot or two.
Cost effective crossing
For the budget conscious a Nullarbor crossing can be very cost-effective.
How to find the cheapest fuel
The major expense is fuel. Obviously, it is cheapest at either end of the route. Work out your vehicle’s fuel consumption before you start, to determine how often and where you need to fill up.
Get yourself a fuel app and check it as you go for current prices. At the time of writing a litre of unleaded 91 at Ceduna was $1.65, $2.15 at Border Village and $1.99 Eucla not much further up the road. If you do use an app, update it. Even if the price is the same, the most recent date is also valuable to other users.
If you can safely carry Jerry cans that may save you a bit of cash. However, don’t worry too much as you’re already saving on food. Just accept you’re in the middle of nowhere and pay up.
A fuel app is handy for finding the cheapest fuel on this journey.
Be aware of quarantine restrictions. There is nothing worse than having to toss out good food, so think about what needs to be eaten first. Some inspectors at the SA and WA borders require you unpack the car for a thorough inspection.
Did you know honey and some cardboard boxes are barred into WA? Check the interstate quarantine website here before you leave.
If you have everything bagged and ready to hand over the procedures are much easier, and they will appreciate it.
Daytime only driving means you have the time to enjoy spectacular campsite views.
Overnight accommodation options
Formal accommodation from dongers to motel rooms is available at most service hubs. You may need to book ahead, especially if the forecast says rain.
Station stays do exist on the Nullarbor like Koonalda in WA and Coorabie Station in SA. Check before you arrive what services are offered.
There are literally dozens of free camp spots set away from the road train roar, some have facilities.
For a minimal cost, you can buy a shower at a roadhouse. They all have toilets and you’ll see some at wayside stops, but not all. Carry loo paper with you just in case.
You’ll find plenty of free campsites off the road, some have facilities. Bring paper with you just in case.
Disposing of rubbish and personal waste
Roadside waste bins have covers to stop birds getting in who are looking for food. Use these for your rubbish bags.
Toilet paper or worse flying around is awful for everyone, wherever you are. Bring a folding shovel to bury personal waste and a lighter or match, to burn used paper to a crisp.
Phone and internet coverage are unreliable.
Phone and internet coverage is patchy, it’s likely that you won’t need a Satellite phone, but you can bring one just in case.
If you have got a built-in or hand-held UHF, that’s a bonus. Tune to Channel 40. Don’t be shy, invite the truckies to pass or ask if safe to overtake. These guys have strict delivery deadlines. Don’t hold them up just wave as they go by. CH40 is not for chatting with travel buddies, find a new channel for that, then go back to 40.
Invite truckies to pass, they have strict delivery deadlines.
Take rest breaks, but beware of snakes
Regular stops are important on a long drive. There are often snakes about so be careful where you tread. Don’t get complacent entering old buildings or looking at things on the side of the road where they could be hiding.
Be careful where you tread when stopping along the way, as snakes could be hiding.
Winter can be cold at night, and during summer it’s very hot 24-hours a day. It’s not called the treeless plain for effect. There is almost no shade, so wear a hat and keep hydrated. The terrain can be rough so walking shoes are recommended too.
It’s not called the treeless plain for effect, sometimes you need to make your own shade.
What to see
If you’re lucky to be travelling in spring there will be not only wildflowers but whales too.
The highway skirts the coast and the Head of the Bight whale centre is a good tourist stop. There is also a range of well signposted free official viewing platforms.
In fact, anywhere you pull in along the coast you may see whales. We’ve camped by cliff tops, enjoyed spectacular sunrise and sunsets as well as whale’s breaching below us.
Heed all warning signs and stay back from the cliffs and their soft edges.
You may see whales along the coast.
Nullarbor Links – the longest golf course in the world
The challenging 18-hole, 71 par Nullarbor Links is the longest golf course in the world and a perfect opportunity for stretching the legs so pack your clubs.
A final piece of advice
Finally, remember that even though the bitumen is straight for kilometres on end, that can be tiring. It’s easy to get distracted or start daydreaming, stay focused on the job at hand.
Enjoy your trip across the Nullarbor Plain and drive safely.
Is the Nullarbor Plain on your bucket list?
About the writer...
Based in Victoria’s High Country, Emma and her husband have been enjoying touring with an off-road camper for the past 15 years. An award-winning exhibiting photographer Emma is never far from her camera and is inspired by Australian landscape and fauna. Her images can be seen on Instagram @emcamproductions.