The Open Road
One thing Australia offers its travellers is the chance to take to the open road and explore… A few months ago my boyfriend and I did just that. We had decided to head west from Melbourne, where we had based ourselves for a few months, making our way across the country to Perth. There is only one road that heads west from Adelaide to Perth, passing through the Nullarbor Plains, a vast expanse that many Australians are quick to tell you horror stories about. Situated on the southern coast of Australia, the Nullarbor spans 1,200 kilometres, linking Southern and Western Australia and provides a hostile yet intriguing environment to explore. Deriving its name from Latin origins the name Nullarbor means “no trees” and so it is no surprise that the road is surrounded by a stark landscape. The Eyre Highway follows the coastline through small settlements, which offer a welcome break and a chance to refuel. We began our road trip in the middle of October, just as spring was heating up and planned to stop off at several places on route to punctuate the journey.
Head of the Great Australian Bight
Our first stop after passing the road sign that marked the eastern end of the Plains, was at the Head of the Great Australia Bight (Head of Bight), approximately 20 kilometres east of the Nullarbor Roadhouse. Head of Bight is one of the best vantage points to view the Southern Right Whale, between June and October when they frequent the coast to breed. Unfortunately despite arriving during October, we were told by the visitor centre staff that the last whale had left the day before but we were welcome to pay the entry to walk down to the viewing platform. Optimistic we paid our entry and headed down the board walk to the edge of the Bunda Cliffs. When we reached the viewing platform we didn’t spot any whales but the views of the cliffs stretching out along the western coast provided a glimpse of the spectacular scenery that we had ahead of us, eager to reach Western Australia (WA) we continued on our way.
Australia has a rich agricultural industry and in order to protect it there are restrictions on what produce you can have with you when travelling between states. Any produce you are carrying must be declared when passing through the inter-state quarantine stations set up at border crossings. As we crossed into WA, we were met by friendly officers who proceeded to ask questions about any food we were carrying, before conducting a search on the car. Fortunately we had taken into account the border crossing in our plans and so had only packed tinned goods, knowing that anything fresh would have to be surrendered for destruction. Each state has different restrictions depending on where you are travelling from, before heading out on a trip you can check what you can and can’t carry across borders at the government website, here. Once the search of our car had been completed we were free to continue into the western side of the Nullarbor but not before taking some photographs at the border to show our progress.
Having entered WA in the late afternoon we didn’t want to drive far before setting up camp and so after pulling into the roadhouse of Eucla to refuel, we decided we would camp there for the night. That evening with our tent set up we thought we would head to the beach, which according to locals was a short distance away. Australians have a different sense of distance compared to many people. To reach this “nearby” beach we had a five minute drive down a dirt track before walking a few kilometres through sand dunes. We’d been told by other travellers that WA was home to some stunning beaches and Eucla was no exception, with nothing but a run-down pier we were alone in our white sand paradise. That night after returning from the beach was one of discovery; we found that we had accidentally smuggled some fresh fruit across the border into WA (we had honestly forgotten about that lime) and when we returned to our tent, an eight-legged friend had crawled in to join us! With so many Australian insects out to get you we weren’t taking any chances, so fished him out quick only to learn that no one in the campsite could identify him as either safe or deadly. We would have happily spent several days at Eucla, lounging on the beach but unfortunately our journey west was on a bit of a tight schedule and the next morning we re-packed the car to continue on our way.
The 90 Mile Straight
After leaving Eucla we soon found ourselves on the longest straight stretch of road in Australia. Cutting through the western side of the Nullarbor, the 90 mile straight (146.6 kilometres) presents over an hour of driving without so much as a kink in the road. This stretch of road really put into perceptive just how big and empty Australia is; we found ourselves surrounded by nothing but openness, alone on the road. This was one of the things we enjoyed most about driving in Australia; that you can head out and not pass another soul for hours. You can let yourself become completely lost in just driving and enjoying the passing scenery. Three days after passing the road sign marking the eastern side of the Nullarbor Plains, we reached the town of Norseman and the end of the Nullarbor. Despite the horror stories we had been told by countless people before setting off (Wolf Creek was mentioned more than once), we had made it across without a hiccup. Although a lot of our success was down to careful planning beforehand, such as stocking the car with plenty of spare fuel, water, engine oil and food, deciding not to drive at dawn or dusk to avoid kangaroos and taking regular breaks. One of the most useful websites we found was this one, which documents each roadhouse along the way allowing you to plan each break before setting off.
Our drive across the Nullarbor has been one of our favourite trips, although only short it gave us a sense of just how big this world is and how little we have seen of it, sparking our sense of adventure it would become just one of the long road trips we would complete in Australia. The distance we covered crossing the Nullarbor (1,200 kilometres from Ceduna to Norseman) is comparable to driving from London to the Germany/Poland border, something we would never have considered doing back in England, yet three days after joining the Eyre Highway we had and still hadn’t reached the far side of Australia. It is no wonder that Australians view distance so differently to the rest of us. Don’t let the distance and the horror stories of locals put you off driving the Nullarbor for yourself; the Eyre Highway is after all just another road to travel.