So You're Thinking About Driving to Perth for the 2021 Nationals?

May 10, 2020

Driving the Nullarbor? Never done it?  Bucket list? Take the challenge.

“Nullarbor” means “No trees”. It is the world's largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres. At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.

The Eyre Highway crosses the country, but only crosses the actual Nullarbor Plain for about 30km on the eastern side of Nullarbor Roadhouse.

If you’re planning on driving across the Nullarbor, you’ll most likely have been told that you’re crackers, had a few dozen people wondering why you don’t just hop on a plane and have lost count of how many times you’ve heard ‘you know it’s a load of nothing, don’t you’…

Don’t listen to ‘em. If you’re craving space, freedom and an authentic Australian experience, take the Nullarbor. I mean, it is a load of nothing. Apart from a few roadhouses, all placed 200kms or so apart, the Nullarbor is one empty place. But at the same time, driving across the Nullarbor is an experience like no other. It makes you realise how big Australia – and the world – is. It is a very different place!

I hope this article might make your decision and the trip a bit easier.

Where does it start?
I’ve always thought the “Nullarbor” starts at Port Augusta and finishes at Norseman.  Others say that the real crossing starts at Ceduna. That’s where the outback begins. Is it back of beyond? Not quite, but you can see it from there. Certainly not passed the black stump though.

How far is it?
Port Augusta (known as Portagutta) to Norseman is 1670km.

\images\20200510_nulla2What is out there?
Not much. 

How to tackle it.
Make a decision about whether you are going to do the gunbarrel and go for it, or whether you want to take a bit of time and enjoy the run. Both ways have their advantages. There are things to see and do on the trip if you want to take time to see them. And if you haven’t done the run before, it might be a once in a lifetime drive, so my advice would be to enjoy the trip.

OK, so lets look at doing the quick run:
The trick to making a fast run across the country is to have at least 2 drivers, and preferably 3. When you are not driving, you have to simply take the view that there is nothing you could do even if the car got into difficulty, so have trust in the driver, and make sure you switch off and get to sleep.

Each driver should drive for about 3 hours at a stretch. We have found that 2 hours switching means that you are stopping too often. The passengers have to remind themselves that when it comes to their turn to drive, they have to be ready. So sleeping is important.

If you have 3 drivers, one can sleep and the other keeps the driver alert by talking or playing music or a podcast – whatever.

Get an early start each morning. Typically, we try to get on the road by 5.00am at the latest. Occasionally we take off about 3.30am.  Those early morning hours are a good time to travel, especially if it is a hot day.

Do you drive at night? The decision whether to drive at night depends largely on the amount of wildlife near the road. Typically, when there has been a lot of rain in the previous week or two, wildlife won’t generally be close to the road. There will be water sources for them away from the road. However, if there has not been much rain, it is more likely that wildlife will be close to the roads, as that is where water will lay for longer periods of time. 

You can usually tell whether there are animals around at night by the amount of roadkill along the side of the road during the day. Trucks will travel all the time. They will leave a trail of dead animals if there are plenty along the road at night. When there are kangaroos along the road, there are hundreds of them. You will see groups of four or five every hundred meters or so. They appear typically around dusk and are active until three or four in the morning.

If there are Roos around – stop for the night!

Where are good places to stay?
There are a few pretty reasonable places to stop along the way. Mind you, keep in mind that this is the Nullarbor…..and stars are things you sleep under, not things you rate hotels by!

We have stayed at a number of places – here’s a list of the places we have stayed and how we rate them:

·         Port Wakefield: A few km short of Portagutta, but a much nicer place to stay. A bit noisy, but at least your car will have 4 wheels in the morning. I know it’s not much, but it could be worse!

·         Penong Caravan Park: Pretty good. Clean and tidy. Friendly people at the caravan park.

·         Streaky Bay (a little off the highway): Certainly worth the deviation, especially if you have dinner at the pub! We stayed in the chalets at the caravan park. Great little place.

·         Ceduna: The pub in town is a beaut! Stayed at the caravan park in a chalet, and it was fine.

·         Eucla Bordertown: Fairly busy, a bit noisy, but clean and tidy. Kitchen closes at 8.00pm and the camaraderie in the bar is fun.

·         Mundrabilla: Overheard one of our group exclaiming that there were “cooties” coming out of the walls. Doesn’t rate a star, but the steak sandwiches are pretty good if you are passing through. Coldest beer for miles around, but still doesn’t rate even half a star as a hotel.

·         Balladonia: Motel rooms are clean but in need of a little TLC. Convenient place to stay. Kitchen closes at 8.00pm.

Most of these places will take a booking which is fairly loose. Typically, we phone ahead and pay for the night. If we think we will arrive after the office closes, they will generally leave the key in the room and you just turn up and let yourself in. The best thing to so is to talk to the people there, and let them know where you are coming from, and what time you think you might arrive. Often, we will stop about 6.00 – 6.30pm for a meal, and then drive for another couple of hours to get to the destination – providing there are not too many animals on the side of the road.

Plan your trip
We try to get as far as possible on the first two days. After that, you are fairly weary, so it becomes more of a chore. The drive from Perth to Melbourne can be done in three days without too much difficulty, and heading back west is just that little bit easier, as you pick up time heading that way.

There is this really unusual “Nullarbor Border Time” which is half way between SA time and WA time. It operates between Eucla and Balladonia. It’s complicated, so ask if you are planning to stay or stop for a feed in the evening. I have never really worked it out, because it seems to operate differently during daylight saving time and winter. 

If you are lucky, you will get a few days in a row which are cool and overcast. Temperatures on the Nullarbor can be extreme. A great day for travelling in February would be overcast in the mid 20s. However, if you are unlucky, the mercury can reach mid forties!

What makes the comfort factor better or worse, is the wind. I recall walking into the Nullarbor Roadhouse on a 45 degree day when the wind was howling across the desert from the north, acting a bit like a fan forced oven. When I commented to the lady behind the counter about how bloody hot it was, she told me it was lucky there was a little breeze to keep the air moving!

\images\20200510_nulla3But, if there is a sea breeze, things can be far more palatable! Surprisingly, the Eyre Highway is not that far from the coast, and a wind from the south is a godsend on these hot days.

The number of vehicles can vary greatly. On our last trip, we drove for a day, and got passed by one car, and passed two trucks. Coming the other way were about 5 or 6 trucks in total. There were periods of one to two hours when we did not see another vehicle. On other trips, there have been numerous cars and trucks on the road.

There are times when the grey nomads are out and about too. They like to take their time, so be patient!

There are a few places where the Flying Doctor have built aircraft landing strips on the road. I’m fairly certain the aircraft understand that drivers are not looking out for planes, so I reckon they would do a flyaround if you were in the way.

One thing to be a little cautious about. We came across a tourist from Spain, who turned out of the Balladonia roadhouse, heading east (thinking he was heading for Perth) driving on the wrong side of the road. Some 30 km later, he came across the first vehicle travelling the other way, and was somewhat surprised to note that the truck was heading straight at him! He ended up in the ditch on his roof. So be a little cautious before arriving at a roadhouse, in case there is a European tourist who is a little disoriented! We stopped to offer assistance, which turned out to be advising the people back at Balladonia, who offered to go out and pick him up. There is a truck which comes along once a week picking up overturned cars!

Trucks can be really long out here! There are trucks with 3 trailers on the back, reaching almost 45 meters in length! Passing one of those is interesting! Fortunately, most of the truckies are really helpful, and will indicate when it is safe for you to pass. So if you have been following a truck for a while, and you see him indicate, it is usually safe to poke your nose out and have a good look. When you pass, make sure you do not hesitate!

If you have a CB radio onboard, the truckie will probably enjoy having a chat! Language can be colourful though!

Fuel Prices
The one thing which pushes fuel prices down, is competition! Try telling that to a roadhouse whose nearest competitor is 200km away! You can’t worry about the cost of fuel! Try putting yourself in the shoes of the folks who attempt to make a living out in this god forsaken place. Typically, fuel can be anything from 60c per litre to 80c per litre more than city prices. Do you have a choice?

Well – there are a few places where you do.

Between Portagutta and Ceduna, there are a few little roadside places with a couple of servos which keeps prices reasonable.

In Ceduna, the roadhouses on the highway are priced fairly high. There is a 24 hour place called Perrys Fuel on McKenzie St, which normally has far cheaper fuel than on the highway. It is unmanned, and you need to work out the prepaid machine.

At Eucla, the servo at the border usually has higher prices than going another 18km to Eucla Village. Careful though – the Village closes at 8.00pm whereas the border servo is 24 hours.

In Norseman, there are 2 servos only 100m apart – check both prices as there can be a fair difference. The one off the highway can often be a fair bit cheaper. Apart from those places, there isn’t much choice.

What about if I want to take my time? – places to see

The world’s longest golf course! The Nullarbor Links. Those of you into golf could not possibly turn up the opportunity to play the worlds longest course! It is 1,365 kilometres in length with one hole in each participating town or roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia. Each hole includes a green and tee and somewhat rugged outback-style natural terrain fairway. The course provides a quintessential Australian experience and a much-needed activity/attraction for travellers along the renowned desolate highway. One of the holes does not have a penalty for lost balls, as a local crow has become rather adept at stealing them. The website for the course is here:

Streaky Bay. A lovely little town situated on the west coast of Eyre Peninsula, breathtaking Streaky Bay welcomes visitors as one of South Australia’s emerging ‘must visit’ regions. Streaky Bay is an enticing mosaic of pristine natural wonders, endless sandy beaches, countless fishing spots, spectacular coastline, fine cafes, pop-up food vans, great markets, warm and friendly locals and a charming persona all its own. Dinner in the pub in town alone is worth the visit.

Explore the caves! The Murrawijinie Caves north of the Nullarbor Roadhouse have been approved for public access, while Koonalda Cave and Bunabie Blowhole can be viewed from the top. Most of the caves, however, can only be entered with an accredited caving group or in the company of National Parks and Wildlife officers. Strict regulations apply to visiting these caves – you’ll need to contact the Department of Environment and Energy, and we recommend you contact the Nullarbor Roadhouse for more information.

Wedgetail Eagles. The bloke who operated the roadhouse at Cocklebiddy had a rather unusual hobby! Rescuing Wedgetail Eagles that had been injured on the road. He built a massive aviary behind the roadhouse and with the assistance of the Department of Wildlife, attempted to rehabilitate injured Wedgies. There are a few that he was unable to release into the wild as they would not have survived. If you want an idea of how big these incredible creatures are, stop and have a look! They can eat up to 1kg of meat from roadkill in one sitting, and therefore do not take off as fast as they think they could normally. That’s why you slow down when you see a group of them having a feed.

Nullarbor Roadhouse. One of the most desolate places you can imagine! But they have a wonderful sense of humour.


The Head of the Bight -

One of the most quintessential Australian landscapes on offer. There are a number of turnoffs along the way at which you can drive down to see the Bight. Even if you are on the fast track, take a moment to turn off and see this rugged coastline. If you are lucky, you will see dolphins playing in the waves surfing towards the shore, then swimming out to do it again! It’s only a hundred meters off the road in places.


Balladonia and the 90 mile straight. To the east of Balladonia is Australia's longest straight road - all 146.6 kilometres of it. For those of us who are metrically challenged its more common name is the "90 Mile Straight."

\images\20200510_nulla7Within the Balladonia complex is an interesting and well designed museum. Displays within the museum cover everything from Balladonia's early pioneering days to the dramatic crash landing of the Skylab space station in 1979.

Within the museum a number of remnants from Skylab can be seen. Amusingly at the time, the local Dundas Shire Council presented NASA with a littering fine, and President Jimmy Carter even rang the Roadhouse to make his apologies.


The Nullarbor Wave. At the start of the journey, most travellers are pretty keen to wave at the oncoming drivers. Pretty quickly you work out that the truckies are not in the least bit interested. After a while, the wave gets a bit tiresome. However, towards the end of the journey, you are buoyed by the enthusiasm of the drivers about to attempt the crossing. So it gets to be a rather half hearted wave by the end: 

Shortcut. You wouldn’t believe it, but there is a shortcut. It isn’t for the faint-hearted though. About ten kilometres north of Norseman, there is a road called the “Norseman-Hyden Road” which turns left towards Hyden. It is a mining road that travels for about 300km and is dirt. However, they grade the road reasonably frequently for the mining trucks. You can call the Hyden Tourist Bureau to get an update on the state of the road. There is also a sign at the start of the road which lets you know if there are any problems on the road. Taking that route will save you almost two hours in time, provided the condition of the road is good. Take care with that though – there are no services at all along the road.

So if you want an experience quite unlike any other, give the Nullarbor a go! It’s unique.


Author: Glenn Dawson



Category: General
Posted by: ARYA Publicity