Crossing the Nullarbor

It’s one of the iconic road trips in Australia, but also one filled with isolation, long distances and the unknown. Here is everything you need to know before crossing the Nullarbor.

Whether you’re embarking on this adventure to witness the sheer vastness of the plain, explore its unique geological formations, or simply experience the thrill of crossing this untamed wilderness, the Nullarbor Plain promises an unforgettable journey that will test your endurance and ignite your sense of adventure.

What and Where is the Nullarbor Plain

The Nullarbor Plain is a huge, arid region located in southern Australia. Stretching across the states of South Australia and Western Australia, it is one of the world’s largest limestone karst landscapes.

The name “Nullarbor” is derived from Latin, meaning “no trees,” which aptly describes the predominantly treeless terrain of the plain.

Covering an area of about 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 square miles), the Nullarbor Plain is known for its vast, flat expanse, interrupted only by low shrubs, grasslands, and occasional rocky outcrops.

The Nullarbor Plain starts at the northwestern point of the Eyre Peninsula and extends eastward past the Great Australian Bight, a large open bay in the Southern Ocean. It is bordered by the Great Victoria Desert to the north and is usually considered to end at Norseman in the west.

The plain is intersected by the Eyre Highway, a major road that connects Western Australia with South Australia, and the Trans-Australian Railway, which runs from Perth to Sydney.

Despite its seemingly desolate appearance, the Nullarbor Plain supports a surprising diversity of wildlife, including kangaroos, emus, dingoes and various bird species, making it an important ecological region in Australia.

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Driving Across the Nullarbor

Map of the Nullarbor Plain

While not exactly geographically correct, the drive across the Nullarbor is considered to be the drive between Ceduna in South Australia and Norseman in Western Australia.

Once on this road, unless you are planning to take dirt tracks out in the desert, there really is no other way to go than straight ahead.

Most people planning this drive do not do it in isolation, but rather as part of a longer drive, perhaps when driving from Melbourne to Perth or, like me, Adelaide to Esperance.

While I will be discussing the trip from east to west because that’s the way I come from, there is no best direction for driving across Nullarbor Plain.

The drive between the two towns is 1200km in total and I recommend driving it over a minimum of two days, although three or four days would allow you to stop and look at some of the Nullarbor attractions along the way.

Yes, it’s numerically possible to do it in one very long driving day but there are some safety considerations and you will likely want to be able to spend some time taking a look at some of the attractions along the way.

The road that crosses the Nullarbor is the main highway that loops around Australia, usually referred to as Highway One. In this area, it is also called the Eyre Highway. The highway is paved and has a single lane of traffic in each direction, with almost no overtaking lanes.

Thankfully, there is not a huge amount of traffic on the highway, but you will find a high portion of caravans, trucks, and even road trains, some up to four trailers long.

On my last crossing, we also saw a number of wide loads, two of them large mining trucks that were so wide they took up both lanes and all oncoming traffic had to pull off the road for them to pass.

Parts of the highway are designated runways for the Flying Doctor planes if they need to land in the area in case of an emergency.

Note that there are no medical services between Ceduna and Norseman, so the Flying Doctor is the only option if you have an emergency.

A yellow road sign with an airplane saying "RFDS Emergency Airstrip"

The Nullarbor is home to the largest straight stretch of road in Australia, the “90 Mile Straight” – 146km of dead straight road with not even the slightest bend. It starts just to the west of Caiguna.

The distances mean you should ensure your car is mechanically sound before a trip like this, has a workable spare tyre and you have plenty of food and water.

I also recommend only driving during the daylight hours to cut down on the risks of encountering animals on the road, which can very quickly put an end to your road trip.

If your car does break down or you have an accident, there is a decent amount of traffic flowing so you would be able to flag someone down and arrange help.

Roadhouses on the Nullarbor Plain

A sculpture of a whale in front of the Nullarbor Roadhouse

As you drive the Nullarbor you will find the only sign of civilisation to be the roadhouses along the way. While they don’t even qualify as a small town, there is generally a good range of services that can be found.

Firstly, each roadhouse is a fuel stop. There are toilets available for public use, and food options too. Usually, there is some sort of basic sit-down restaurant as well as takeaway food available too. In the evenings, there is often a bar that opens too.

Accommodation is available at each roadhouse. You will not be finding anything five-star here, instead think standard motel rooms or perhaps even more budget “dongas”.

The price of fuel on the Nullarbor is some of the most expensive in Australia (it could be as much as $1/litre more expensive than in the cities) and accommodation may not seem like value for money, but remember how isolated these places are.

There will be a caravan park with both powered and unpowered sites. Some of them will take bookings, but many of them are first come, best dressed – another reason why I don’t recommend really long driving days.

Each of the roadhouses is self-sufficient. They have diesel generators for electricity and desalination plants for drinking water. Expect, therefore, prices to be expensive and things to be restricted.

For example, there will be hot showers available in the campgrounds and caravan parks, but you will probably have to pay for them and there will only be 3-5 minutes of hot water.

A distant photo of a truck stop at sunset

While you can buy food and drinks along the way, I recommend carrying plenty of water for your trip.

If you have special dietary requirements, I recommend bringing enough food for the trip because most of the food is standard fare.

As a plant-based eater, my options were almost non-existent – even my standard fall-back of hot chips was not readily available due to the current potato shortage.

After leaving Ceduna, there is one small town on the highway, Penong, and after that, it’s all roadhouses. In order as you drive to the west they are:

  • Nundroo Roadhouse
  • Yalata Roadhouse (was under construction when I passed on May 2023)
  • Nullarbor Roadhouse
  • Border Village
  • Eucla
  • Mundrabilla
  • Madura
  • Cocklebiddy
  • Caiguna
  • Balladonia

Best Overnight Stops on the Nullarbor

I have stopped overnight at three of the roadhouses mentioned above, Nullarbor Roadhouse, Cocklebiddy and Eucla. Each time we were camping in a tent and it was during winter. All three were adequate and I would stay at them again.

If I had to pick just one place to recommend for camping and caravans crossing the Nullarbor, it would be Eucla.

It’s towards the middle of the drive, just on the WA side of the state border and because it houses the quarantine staff and a police officer, it is a little bigger than some of the other stops.

A street sign with multiple pointers, with distances to popular locations in both directions

Eucla was the only one of the three that had a campground with trees – the other two were both very open – not a surprise on the treeless plain!

There was plenty of space in the campground, and it was not close to being full during our visit. There were a lot of powered sites as well as unpowered spots too.

The bathrooms are dated, but very clean and well-maintained. Showers were $1 (coin needed) for five minutes and the water was abundant and hot! It even seemed to go on longer than five minutes – I ended up turning it off before it stopped.

There are other facilities such as a laundry, BBQ area and a basic camp kitchen. At the service station, there is a restaurant and bar. There’s a swimming pool during the warmer months (it was empty during our visit) and there are even a few things to do around the area if you have some time.

Bookings are not required at Eucla, just check in at the service station. Pets are also welcome.

If you are not crossing the Nullarbor by caravan, RV or with your own tent, then there is a range of motel accommodation here too.

You can see the details on their website, but the best way to book a night is by phone. Read the Eucla TripAdvisor reviews here.

Another option nearby for motel accommodation is Border Village, literally just across the border on the SA side. Compare both to find the best prices.

If you are completely self-contained and considering free-camping your way across the Nullarbor then there are plenty of options for that along the way.

From bush camps with toilets to cliff-top camps with stunning views, there’s usually a place every few kilometres or so. Nullarbor camping really feels like you are remote.

Things to Do on the Nullarbor

Some people like to drive across the Nullabor with barely a look, but even though it may seem desolate, there are a few interesting things to do as you make your way across.

Play a round of golf

A small square of green fake grass used as a place to tee off on a bush golf course

No, I’m not joking. The Nullarbor Links golf course is the world’s longest golf course, stretching for 1365 km from Ceduna to Kalgoorlie.

Along the way, there is one hole in each town or roadhouse. The idea is to play each hole as you drive across the Nullarbor and keep track of your score until the end. It’s a unique golfing experience that lets you explore the vast landscapes of the Nullarbor while enjoying the sport.

Explore Penong attractions

A huge metal windmill with more smaller windmills in the background

There are a few things to do in and around the town of Penong

  • Take a look at the Windmill Museum
  • See the stunning, pink, Lake MacDonnell
  • Surf at the iconic Cactus Beach

Go whale watching

Between the months of June and October, the Great Australian Bight becomes home to hundreds of whales (mostly Southern Right Whales) and they come to warmer waters to give birth and feed before returning to Antarctica.

While you may be able to see the whales from any vantage point as you are travelling the Nullarbor, there are two particular spots to stop for an amazing experience

See some “Big Things”

A statue of a large red kangaroo holding a jar of Vegemite. It sits on a brick platform. Next to it is a signpost with many signs pointing in all different directions

You can find two of South Australia’s Big Things when travelling the Nullarbor – the Big Wombat at Scotdesco and Rooey II, the Big Kangaroo at Border Village. (There’s also a third in Ceduna, the Bog Oyster)

Admire the Bunda Cliffs

Tall cliffs stretching to the horizon and dropping into the sea

The Bunda Cliffs are the longest continuous cliffs in the world, stretching for about 100 km. The cliffs are around 60 to 120 metres high and start at the whale-watching boardwalks in Head of the Bight.

If you look left, you’ll see sand hills and beaches, and if you look right, you’ll see towering cliffs.

While the Head of the Bight is a good place to see the Bunda Cliffs, there are many other lookout points that offer views as you make your way towards the Western Australia border.

These lookout points let you see more of the cliffs from different angles and appreciate their natural beauty.

Stop and get photos with ALL the signs

A road sign found when crossing the Nullarbor that says "90 Mile Straight Australia's Longest Straight Road 146.6km"

If you are doing this drive, it may be the only time so make sure you record it by stopping at all the unique signs along the way, such as the ones declaring the start of the Nullarbor Plain, the ones warning about the various animals, the longest straight section of road and of course the ones at the state border.

Explore Eucla attractions

If you stay at Eucla, spend a little time looking around the area, where you will find history, nature and shifting sand dunes. Here are some of the things to see and do

  • Eucla Telegraph station
  • Eucla jetty and beach
  • Eucla Roadside Cross
  • Delisser Sandhills

Check out a Nullarbor cave or two

Underneath the Nullarbor are hundreds of caves. Some are easy to visit, some have Aboriginal artwork, and some have blowholes. Here are some of the best to explore

  • Murrawijinie Caves
  • Clay Dam Cave
  • Koonalda Cave
  • Madura Caves
  • Cocklebiddy Cave
  • Caiguna Blowhole

Just be aware that you may need a 4WD to access some of these, and be aware of your personal safety when exploring the caves.

Go bird-watching at the Eyre Bird Observatory

Not far from Cocklebiddy you will find the Eyre Bird Conservatory, the oldest of its kind in Australia. If you’re a bird enthusiast, more than 250 species have been spotted here making it a great place for some bird-watching.

There are some walking trails in the area if you need to get out and stretch your legs. There is also accommodation here, but you will need a 4WD to access it as the roads are particularly rough with a steep descent.

Fun fact: the lowest temperature to ever be recorded in WA (-7.2 celsius) was recorded here.

The Legend of the Nullarbor Nymph

The Nullarbor Nymph is a legendary figure said to be a half-naked woman living among kangaroos in the Nullarbor Plain.

The story started in 1971 with a sighting near Eucla, capturing worldwide attention. However, it was later revealed to be a hoax performed for publicity.

Whether true or not, the tale of the Nullarbor Nymph captured public attention and had a significant impact on art and film.

While the story originated in Nullarbor, where it all began, it is worth exploring the area to learn about the interesting history associated with the myth and legend of the Nullarbor Nymph.

Even today, people continue to share stories of her adventures in Nullarbor, keeping the legend alive.

The front of a shop with a sign declaring "Last shop for 1000km"

Driving the Nullarbor FAQs

What time of year is best for crossing the Nullarbor?

There are benefits to driving across the Nullabor at any time of the year. Winter is best for avoiding the hot, dry summer temperatures, but summer is better for longer days, which means more time for driving and exploring.

Is there phone coverage on the Nullarbor?

The short answer is mostly, no! But there are exceptions. On my recent trip (May 2023) we had both a Telstra phone and one that runs on the Optus network.

The Telstra phone had reception at all the roadhouses along the way – sometimes it was better than others, but it was good enough for a quick check-in and some social media browsing. Occasionally there would also be coverage between towns.

The Optus phone had absolutely no coverage on our Nullarbor crossing between Ceduna and Norseman – so if that is all you have and you need phone coverage during your Nullarbor road trip, then I would pick up a prepaid Telstra SIM.

While we didn’t have it ourselves, we did notice many travellers were using Starlink along the way for the internet.

This seems to be a great option if you are travelling for quite a while in remote areas and want access to the internet for work or entertainment. The set-up costs are still quite high, so this is not a short-term solution.

What is the speed limit on the Nullarbor?

As with most Australian highways, the speed limit across the Nullarbor is 110km/hr.

How many time zones does the Nullarbor have?

Time becomes tricky near the state border as there is an “unofficial” time zone. At Border Village, if you are travelling west, you will need to move your clock back by 45 minutes.

This time zone doesn’t last very long though, because just 350km further along the highway at Caiguna you will need to move your clock back another 45 minutes so that you are now on Perth time.

It’s different again in summer because South Australia has daylight savings but Western Australia doesn’t. That means that at Border Village you will need to move your clock back/forward 1hr45min, depending on which way you are travelling.

What is the distance between fuel stops on the Nullarbor?

There are plenty of stops along the Nullarbor road for fuel, usually every 100km or so. The longest stretch is at the Western end between Belladonia and Norseman.

Before starting the drive, fill up at either Ceduna or Norseman, because fuel will only get more expensive from then on. We found Belladonia to be the most expensive on our last trip, but that may vary.

Here are more great Australian posts you may like
20+ Great Things to Do in Esperance
17 Places to Stop on the Great Ocean Road
Free Things to Do in Sydney

TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Find flights – I always use Skyscanner as my starting point when searching for flights. One search will give many options including airlines I may not have thought of. This means I can find the best possible flights to suit my needs

Book accommodation – my go to is always Booking.com for the best places to stay. It’s not just hotels anymore, but hostels, apartments, B&Bs and more. I love that the bookings are usually cancellable, and that I can book now and pay later.

Hire a rental carRentalCars.com is my go to here. It allows me to do just one search and it finds cars from many of the different supplies, so no checking multiple websites to compare.

Get travel insurance – you would have heard by now that saying “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. If we’ve learnt anything from the last couple of years it should be how essential travel insurance is. I use CoverMore for my insurance.

Pick up an eSIM – I tried an eSIM on my last trip and it was fantastic. I set it up before I went so it was ready as soon as I landed, and I still had access to my home number for emergencies. Get your own eSIM at Airalo.

Book activities, tours & attractions – I use a few different websites for this. Viator and Get Your Guide tend to be the first places I look. In Asia, Klook often has more options, and in Australia it’s Experience Oz.

Manage your money – the best way to manage your different currencies is with an account from Wise. You can hold money in many different currencies, and use them with the ATM card or from your phone.

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