The name “Nullarbor” literally means “no trees”. And it’s pretty accurate. This giant stretch of arid land stretches 1100km wide across South Australia and Western Australia and is more or less the only way to reach Perth from the East without detouring 3000km or taking some pretty serious 4WD tracks.
I’ve heard it called the Nulla-boring, but to be honest, I was a little excited for this adventure. Travelling from east to west, we opted to take our time making our way across the Nullarbor Plain so that we could stop and see things along the way – and yes, there is actually things to see along the way.
In hindsight, this decision led us to be caught up in the closure of the Eyre Highway due to bushfires, and ultimately resulted in us never making it all the way across, putting an end to my Western Australia summer dreams. Instead, after 3 days trapped at Cocklebiddy roadhouse, we were forced to turn around and drive 800km back to Ceduna. Partly because emergency services had advised that the road would remained closed for at least a week and by that stage we would have missed all our accommodation bookings, but mostly because we had run out of nappies and NOWHERE on the Nullarbor sells them!
For the purpose of this blog, I’ll write about our own Nullarbor experience as far west as Caiguna. From Caiguna to Norseman will be based on the research I did prior to our trip.
Ceduna is the last major town to the east of the Nullarbor Plain. We stopped here on our way out to stock up on supplies, fuel and water, do washing and most importantly, take one last hot shower! We stopped again for a couple of nights on our return to recover from the road block ordeal, to re-plan our travel and most importantly, to buy nappies!
We stayed at both the Ceduna Shelley Beach Caravan Park and the Ceduna Foreshore Caravan Park. Shelley beach had bigger sites, a playground and was more spacious, but it was a bit further out of town. The foreshore park was smaller and sites were very close together, but the facilities were very clean and modern and the location was great, with views over the water and walking distance to all the shops.
If you like fishing, you could probably spend longer here, but our 3 nights was more than enough for us.
Penong, Cactus Beach and Lake McDonnell .
Not long after leaving Ceduna, you hit the tiny town of Penong, whose claim to fame is Australia’s largest windmill. Penong is also home to the first hole of the world’s longest golf course – the Nullarbor Links (more on that later).
I’d wanted to detour to Cactus Beach and the watermelon like Lake McDonnell, but we only realised we’d missed the turn once we were almost 100km passed it. Oops! And there was no way we were detouring for anything on our way back out when Archie Pie was down to his last nappy!! Cactus Beach would be a great detour if you’re keen on surfing, and I think the picture of the stunning lake speaks for itself. Wow!!
We detoured for lunch at the teeny tiny fishing village of Fowlers Bay. The town has a jetty, very basic caravan park, kiosk which was closed the cutest little laundromat you’ve ever seen! The beach had a lot of sea grass, but it was certainly more pleasant than eating on the side of the Eyre Highway. And we got to see a huge stingray up pretty close too!
The Nullarbor Plain.
From here, there really is a whole lot of nothing along the main road. But if you’ve got the time to detour, you can experience the full wonder of this vast empty land – whales in winter, the spectacular Bunda Cliffs and Head of Bight, the milky way in all its glory and the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen. And of course the Nullarbor Links Golf Course. If you like solitude and have a sense of adventure, then the sheer size and emptiness of the Nullarbor is actually quite appealing. And it will certainly make you realise just how small you are in this beautiful, giant universe.
If you plan to venture off the main roads like we did, be sure to check your car and make sure you have all your recovery gear first – we learned this lesson the hard way! Try not to drive at dawn and dusk to avoid injuring wildlife and hold on tight when you go past the huge 30m long road trains that seem to create their own weather system as they go by!
Sticking to the highway, you’re pretty safe on the Nullarbor. Roadhouses with fuel, water and food are dotted every 100-200kms and it’s never too long before another car – or a giant road train – passes by to lend you a hand if you need it (although this was not the case as we were heading back out when the road had been closed for a week – we didn’t see another car for hundreds of kms!). Despite the relative safety of the Eyre Highway, it does pay to be prepared – literally! Everything is expensive on the Nullarbor – from overpriced motels to fuel pushing $2/litre.
Plenty of water, spare tyre, non perishable foods and camping gear are essentials if you want to make this journey. Why camping gear if you’re planning to stay in the roadhouses? Keep reading to find out!
Most of the roadhouses have some form of cafe/restaurant and accommodation. Some aren’t too bad. Others are a bit like stepping into an Alfred Hitchcock horror film. These are your fuel stops in order from east to west.
- Nullarbor. The Nullarbor roadhouse is the most iconic and one of the better options for a stopover. We stopped in here for dinner and a photo opportunity at the original roadhouse .
- Border Village. As the name suggests, this is the last stop on the South Australian side of the Nullarbor. You need to dispose of all your fruit, vegetables and honey before crossing the border, so don’t stock up at this roadhouse! It’s also 700km until the next grocery store, so be prepared to eat canned food or roadhouse meals for a while! If you’re heading west, you won’t need to throw out your produce until you reach Ceduna.
- Eucla. Do yourself a favour and fill up here instead of Border Village. It’s much cheaper. It’s also one of the better roadhouses to stop for a meal or overnight stay. The pool was looking VERY green but there’s a cute little garden with pond and tadpoles to entertain the kids while you have your coffee.
- Cocklebiddy. We arrived into the Cocklebiddy roadhouse for our morning coffee, blissfully unaware that we’d be seeing in the new year and spending the next 3 days here camped out in a gravel pit waiting to find out if the road to Norseman would be reopened. I would’ve preferred to bush camp somewhere, but we didn’t have enough supplies (as we didn’t expect to be this long on the Nullarbor), it was over 45 degrees and the fire danger was extremely high, plus the roadhouse staff were our best source of information when it came to updates on the road. So I just had to deal with the fact that I was seriously concerned I was either going to fall through the rotting floor or catch tetanus in the shower!
- Caiguna. This is as far as we made it. Much like the previous stop, this isn’t somewhere you’d stick around unless you absolutely had to. But it was the last stop before the road block, so once the road closed, the motel beds quickly filled and there were hundreds of people camped out here in tents, caravans and swags. Some poor souls had to sleep in there cars (remember earlier when I suggested you should pack a tent??). There were dozens of road trains stranded too. And it wasn’t long before the roadhouse began to run out of food (and toilet paper!). Once we knew the road wouldn’t be opening that day, we drove the 65kms back to Cocklebiddy, which wasn’t much better but at least it wasn’t as busy and the staff weren’t quite as stressed out!
- Balladonia. The final roadhouse, which was heavily under threat from bush fire at the time of writing this. `
Things to see & places to camp.
Bunda Cliffs. If there were such a thing as the end of the earth, this would be it. We tossed up whether or not it was safe to camp on the Bunda cliffs with the kids, but in the end we decided it was too good to miss and just tethered them to the camper with a rope (not really…). There were plenty of well sign posted spots to view the cliffs, but we found this one on wiki camps and had the whole place to ourselves. The sunset and night sky were epic! As were the winds which picked up at 2am and resulted in us having to pack away the annex in the middle of the night. We call this Nullarbor Fail #1.
Whale Watching. For winter travellers (which we were not) the Head of Bight Whale Watching Centre offers incredible opportunities to view the Southern Right Whales as they migrate to warmer waters to give birth.
Our epic camping spot about 50km past the Nullarbor roadhouse, 4WD required – https://au.wikicamps.co/site/116129/31585348
Eucla beach. It was hot, and as I mentioned we planned to take our time crossing the Nullarbor, so we decided to detour to Eucla beach for lunch. The walk across the dunes looked too tough with 2 young kids, so we decided to try the 4WD track. We call this Nullarbor Fail #2. The track quickly turned to deep, soft sand and we were stuck. Remember earlier when I mentioned having a 4WD well equipped with recovery gear? We didn’t have recovery tracks, and there was no way we were getting out of this without them. We had no phone service and we were a LONG way from anywhere.
I’d seen another few cars a little way back, so I quickly ran back and managed to wave one down. Thankfully they had tracks, time to spare and good sense of humour. It took us nearly 2 hours to get out of this! We never saw Eucla beach…
Our second camping spot wasn’t far from the Madura roadhouse, but it was certainly more appealing. Camped right up on top of the ridge, with views right across the Nullarbor Plain. We had this whole spot to ourselves, with the exception of some kangaroos. It was the perfect place to wake up on the last day of the decade.
Location for this camp site – https://au.wikicamps.co/site/189148/31895522
If you like caves and sinkholes, there’s plenty of these too, with Cocklebiddy Caves being relatively easy to find. Caves aren’t the easiest thing to navigate with small children so we gave this a miss.
We had planned to camp at Fraser Range Station for our third night on the Nullarbor, but unfortunately we didn’t make it that far. The station offers a range of accommodation and camping options and provides a set menu cooked meal every meaning.
The Nullarbor Links Golf Course.
No its not a joke. The Nullarbor is home to the world’s longest golf course – stretching 1365kms from Penong to Kalgoorlie, the Nullarbor links is made up of 18 holes at various roadhouses and businesses along the drive. You can even pick up an official score card! Of course, Michael wanted to play, but the only clubs we had were the kids toy set they got for Christmas!!
Norseman is the end of your Nullarbor crossing. But you’ve still got a way to go before you reach anything notable – Kalgoorlie in the north or Esperance in the south. Esperance was our planned route, but the universe had other plans for us. We may not have made it to the pristine south-west coast this time, but we still had a pretty epic adventure. And it’s hard to be disappointed at the inconvenience of changing holiday plans, when there are so many across our burning country who have lost everything. We are grateful to be safe.
The Western Australia fires haven’t been as well publicised as those in other states, so if you’d like to support those communities with a donation you can do so here.
Click on the links below to continue reading our journey.