Crossing the Nullarbor, Australia's longest highway

The longest stretch of straight road in Australia, lies somewhere between Western Australia and South Australia along one of the country's most famed highways, the Eyre Highway stretching across The Nullarbor Plain. From Norseman on the border of Western Australia to the Victoria Desert, driving the 'Nullarbor' as it's known to Aussies, is a cross-country road trip like no other.

The Nullarbor Plain is the literal definition of ‘open-road’, it’s some 1,700 kilometres joining the East and West Coasts of Australia together through desert, coastal cliffs and arid plains complete with huge eagles, stray cattle and of course, plenty of kangaroos.

The name Nullarbor is taken from the Latin words nullus meaning 'no' and arbor meaning 'tree', translating to an open road with no trees (which isn't entirely true.)

It’s a barren trip and one that shouldn’t be taken light in preparation; with petrol, fresh water and food at times hours away, understanding where pit stops are and packing correctly can literally be the difference between life and death if you run into trouble.

Although frequented by trucks and grey nomads mostly, it can be hours of driving before coming across another vehicle on the Nullarbor which makes being totally self sufficient for any situation totally imperative.

As sparse as it is though, it's natural beauty and nothingness have a magic all to their own. With hours on end of open desert, travelling the Nullarbor is a draining, raw, exciting, reflective and a challenging experience that once completed, gives anyone who dares to try it an amazing sense of accomplishment. 

From someone who's done the journey, here’s a few words of wisdom to help prepare for the trip and of what you can expect along the way:

Get your vehicle serviced before you begin

The Nullarbor is probably one of the longest journeys you'll ever make, and it's a taxing trip on your vehicle and it's tyres. Vehicles are travelling at very fast speeds, there's plenty of stray wildlife that you'll need to avoid and the highway itself can become scorching hot in warmer months.

Ensuring your car has been seen by a professional mechanic to ensure everything is in optimum working order before setting off is highly advisable.

Make sure you have a spare tyre, and know how to change it!

Being self sufficient on the Nullarbor Plain is imperative as it can be at times hours before you'll cross another vehicle.

Ensuring you're travelling with a spare tyre, and know how to change it properly will not only give you peace of mind, but ensure that should anything go wrong, you're able to solve the problem.

Take out a road-side assistance policy before you leave 

The Nullarbor is definitely not the place you want to have to call on your roadside assistance, however should you need help beyond what you can manage, it's the best way to ensure you're covered against the insane call out fees you'll incur for a tow truck on such a desolate stretch of road. 

Pack ample water and snacks

It may sound drastic, but packing ample water to see you through a few days should anything go wrong is totally crucial.

It's also a huge money saver as bottled water and service station snacks along this route will cost at least double the price from your usual grocery store.

Download and pack some in car entertainment

The long hours of driving are beyond tiresome, especially if you're less experienced with long haul road trips. 

Be sure to have plenty of music ready for the journey, download some audio books for the driver and pack some card games for those nights with no power or internet.

Get a map

Plan your trip, understand how long it is between petrol stations and food outlets and make sure you understand your individual vehicles' fuel capacity to ensure you’ve planned your stops accordingly.

Beware that headwind (the wind pushing against your vehicle) can dramatically decrease your vehicles' fuel efficiency meaning it’s possible you’ll need to stop earlier than you normally would.

As a general rule, it’s wise to stop at most the fuel stations along the way and top-up regardless of how far you’ll think you’ll make it just to avoid an error in judgment – running out of fuel along the Nullarbor is NOT a situation you want to be in… 

Carry a jerry can of petrol, in case

Even the best planning can’t always prevent unexpected problems but having extra petrol with your vehicle can mean the difference between becoming stuck and making it safely to the next petrol station along the highway.

Headwind, wreaks havoc along this highway and can dramatically decrease your fuel efficiency, better to be safe than sorry.

Phone signal for normal carriers is non-existent

Especially 3G and 4G needed for loading the web, social media, internet banking etc. If you’re usually relying on these methods of contact, it’s wise to let friends and family know you may be un-contactable for a period of time while crossing the Nullarbor to avoid unnecessary worry on their behalf. Be sure to give them your tentative plans so they can keep a log of when you should be contactable again should anything go wrong.

Also, internet banking is near impossible so ensure you have enough cash and money on your cards before setting off on your trip as it’s likely not possible to access your internet banking once you’ve left the larger towns at the beginning or end of the highway.

Everything is more expensive

As with any geographically isolated place, things become more expensive. This is particularly the case with petrol, quite often being more than $.50 a litre more expensive across the Nullarbor.

It’s dangerous to try and drive at night

Due to the the amount of stray animals and wildlife, driving the Nullarbor from sunset onwards is highly unadvisable.

Visibility from sunset onwards becomes very difficult and it’s almost guaranteed you’ll hit something along the way.

Accommodation is scarce

Aside from the occasional basic motel attached to the petrol station, accommodation on the Nullarbor is mostly very scarce.

Most travellers opt for camper vans, caravans or roof top sleeping options while crossing the Nullarbor. These options allow you to pull over anywhere, including some of the free camping spots along the way and rest at any point.

Being self-sufficient with your sleeping requirements when crossing the Nullarbor is practically essential if you don’t want to be confined to extremely over-priced and very dated petrol station motels.

Take ample breaks

For even the most experienced drivers, the Nullarbor is a challenge, it's long and straight and at times quite desolate with little to keep you occupied other than staring down the white line in the middle of the road. 

Making sure you rest and revive will ensure you're alert and staying safe while driving the Nullarbor.

Enjoy the journey

The Nullarbor is a road trip like no other, it's a true glimpse into the beauty of the vast country of Australia. It's the perfectly opportunity to get back to basics, enjoy the time with no technology, and sleeping under the starriest skies in all Australia. 

Alexis Zahner1 Comment