When I was travelling around Australia in 2011, I went on a lot of road trips. The Australian roads are empty, in good condition and seem to have been made for road trips. The only two ways to fully experience the emptiness and size of Australia is by driving a car or a motorhome rental. One of my favourite journeys by car was the one across the Nullarbor Plain, from South Australia to Western Australia. Australia has only one major highway. Highway 1 circumnavigates the country/continent and is in fact the longest highway in the world.
I love spontaneous road trips. I like not knowing where I’m going to sleep at night and cooking basic foods on gas-fuelled stoves. But what I like most is the freedom to stop whenever and wherever I want and to spend as much time in a place as I want.
Crossing the Nullarbor Plain
After having spent a few days hiking in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, I decided it was time to continue my journey around the country. I wanted to go to Perth. There is only one way leading to Perth from South Australia: Highway 1. It runs through the vast emptiness that is the Nullarbor Plain. Nullarbor is Latin and means ‘no trees’. Another quick fact: the Nullarbor Plain is the largest single piece of limestone on earth and extends over 200,000 square kilometres.
The distance from the eastern end to the western end is roughly 1,200 kilometres. Before attempting to cross this empty vastness you need be know what you’re doing and what you might get into. Preparation and information are the keys to success here. First of all, it is important to know that it can get extremely hot during the day and surprisingly cold at night. There are no trees and therefore no shelter whatsoever. I always made sure to have plenty of water in my car, as well as extra fuel. There are no towns in the Nullarbor Plain. The sole places where travellers can refuel, sleep in a bed and buy food, water and ice are the roadhouses. These can be considered as human oases in the – almost literal – middle of nowhere. Between roadhouses there are also basic campsites along the highway. Distances between those roadhouses are between 140 and 200 kilometres. Don’t be fooled; it is a long trip and it took me three full days to cross. One piece of advice: fill up on fuel whenever you have the chance.
During my trip, however, the weather was relatively cool thanks to cloud cover. I was definitely pleased with that. This made my crossing a lot more comfortable than I had anticipated. Those long stretches of nothingness can make your drowsy and sleepy though and it is of vital importance to take a break at least every two hours.
Luckily there are in fact several things to see on the Nullarbor Plain. The road signs are great places for a short stop and a quick picture. You can enjoy amazing view of the treeless plains from Madura Pass. The greatest highlight, however, are the Bunda Cliffs. From the towering cliffs at the Head of Bight the views of the Southern Ocean are truly spectacular. In season you can spot southern right whales that come here to mate and give birth.
Crossing the Nullarbor Plain was an epic experience. There is no place like it in Australia and it truly allowed me to get a feeling of the enormous size of the country.