Equipped with a new (secondhand) Prado and a full tank of diesel, we wondered how long it would take us to perform that iconic trek across the Nullarbor. It took two days, but we could owe it all to three mulberry sandwiches and four chocolate/raspberry brownies – thanks Jude.
Where you measure this epic journey from is contested, but we used the RAA touring map and the west and east signal points were Norseman, WA and Ceduna, SA. The upper boundary is the Indian Pacific railway and the lower boundary is the coastline. Therefore, we decided to tour from Perth to Wave Rock, then on to Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, before completing the Nullarbor.
Norseman, our starting point, was neat and had adequate facilities for an overnight stop, but I’m not sure if anyone stays there very long.
The motel room we took was very comfortable, spacious and air-conditioned. Perhaps this is where I mention the 3 sleeping bags and tent, that remained snug in the back of the new car, as the drive had been long and the caravan park had shaded sites with plenty of red dirt, but no grass in sight. We’ll never know if it was level ground.
So what can you expect on the great journey? Lots of straight road, but plenty of well-equipped rest areas, signalled by the blue P signs or others showing trees, cars, maybe trucks and possibly two people, indicating toilets.
They are good places to get out and stretch, change driver, or break out another brownie for a spurt of energy to complete the drive. One had water but that was rare. You can park there for the night but, as the signs say, they are not equipped for overnight stays if there are no toilets. Contrary to popular belief, there is a variety of foliage along the way and a huge surprise when coming from WA is Madura Bluff, where the flat plain just drops away from under you.
Some people attempt to drive by night, but we’ve heard a few stories of the camels, cows, emus, kangaroos, horses and goats that step out of the shadows into your path, requiring intense concentration. So we do between 6 and 12 hours driving a day, alternating roughly every two hours. On this journey we stopped the first night on the Plain at Eucla, almost at the border of WA and SA, and about half way .
Eucla is very small although it has been settled since the late 1800s. Edward John Eyre and his exploration team are said to have camped in the area in 1841. For Australia, that is very early for white, or European people to have been in South Australia, the last state settled by non-Aboriginal people.
There is a monument to the people who made the town and an old telegraph station that had me wonder who had the job of fitting the lines and poles in the isolation of the Nullarbor Plain. The standard room took me back to the 1970s but it was clean and the window had a screen, so we could have it open at night. It was also reasonably priced.
The excuse for not camping this time was the gravelly caravan park with no grass and no blow up mattress. There is a restaurant here, a bar and a small shop.
There are also many fuel stops along the Nullarbor, or notices to tell you how far to the next one. They usually have food and drink and signboards to tell you where you are going and where you’ve been. Some service stations offer repairs. They all have water.
The road between Norseman and Eucla contains the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, but the scenery does alter, from thick and varied vegetation to ‘treeless plains’.
A breakfast of the last brownies, and no prospect of mulberry sandwiches for lunch, began the second day. Only a few km took us to Border Village, where the facilities looked somewhat newer and we stopped for fuel and a cup of coffee.
We left the border kangaroo holding the jar of Vegemite and headed off, stopping at only one of the many lookouts to see the Great Australian Bight. The paths are dirt but wide and we have previously taken our two wheel drive and caravan on these without mishap. The Bight’s rugged sea cliffs are the longest stretch in the world and the longest line of south facing cliffs in the world.
The Bight is home to more endemic marine diversity than the Great Barrier Reef ( https://www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/great-australian-bight) and is home to more than 36 types of whales an dolphins. However, there is oil deep beneath the ocean and the natural environment could be ruined forever if it is mined. There would be other side effects for the rest of Australia, too, both good and bad.
At some lookouts there are platforms over the cliffs (with warnings) which give you a much closer look, enjoyed every year by whale watchers in particular, and the following photos were taken three years ago at some of these.
In another blog I talk about the weird things you see on long stretches of road in Australia. Well, on your way to or from Ceduna you may come to Penong, where they restore and maintain windmills. It makes sense in a place where you’d need bore water, but we didn’t find the “Big Windmill”.
Home was on our minds and there were, after all, no mulberry sandwiches or brownies left, so we took our first big stop at Ceduna, just too late for the hotel restaurant meal we had been discussing, to celebrate our journey’s end.
Ceduna is a pretty place and large enough to find accommodation, food and every kind of facility. However, the disappointment at not scoring a schnitz was too much, and we pressed on toward home and Kimba. There is another way to go, toward Streaky Bay, which is by the sea, but we had gone that way last time and wanted to compare the road across the top of Eyre Peninsula.
Out came the tent, the beer garden and a great big Schnizzy. In case you’re wondering, that’s a schnitzel in South Australia, very popular from our German settlers. AS pub fare goes, it’s fairly unadventurous, and the waiter asked if my husband would like to have the gravy on the side, just to be on the safe side. I had a superb chicken breast marinated in lime and chili and cooked to juicy perfection. I’d like to think it was a magnificent meal and not the absence of food since breakfast that led to such a good response.
The beer garden afforded a view of the painted silos – wheat silos that had received a pleasant picture.
The grassy knoll upon which we placed our tent wasn’t quite as smooth as we had thought and we woke to birdsong and joint-ache, but a golden sunrise.
More long stretches of road, with Iron Knob rising ahead, the Gawler ranges to the left and the Flinders Ranges in the distance. Beautiful driving.
A few salt lakes outside of Port Wakefield
And before we knew it we were home. We live in the north, so this was a half-day’s trip.
So, why 2,3,4?
2 – days to drive the Nullarbor
– ice packs to keep the cooler bag ready
– drink bottles filled with water
– fuel stops (1.5 tanks used @150L/tank)
– nights in motels
– dinners from a cooked chicken
3 – mulberry sandwhiches
– sleeping bags (two for padding underneath)
4 – chocolate/raspberry brownies to restore energy
The weather was pretty mild (around mid 20s) for the most part, so long driving days were possible. I think I would advise someone to put aside 3 days to complete the Nullarbor Plains comfortably. We had anticipated that length. If we had been towing it would have taken longer. Many seasoned travellers say that it is faster to go from WA to SA as there is usually a tail wind, rather than the other way, where you have a head wind. I’ll have to research that extensively when I am retired.
There are really nice places to stop, like Streaky Bay and Elliston, beside the sea, in SA. There are interesting sights that we didn’t stop for – Pildappa Rock in Minnipa, before Kimba, for example, which is compared to Wave Rock.
I would have liked to include my Niece’s recipe for the chocolate/raspberry brownies but, incredibly, she won’t share the secret! So if any of you have a good, sticky, slightly tart around the raspberries recipe for brownies, please share it!
Take care over the holiday season.
Remember the hat and water bottles.