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10 Top Tips for Crossing the Nullarbor Plain

Crossing the mighty Nullarbor Plain is a rite of passage for many Aussie road trippers, van-lifers and grey nomads. Here are ten tips for conquering the Nullarbor, safely and comfortably.
Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain. Image: Shutterstock

The 1,256-kilometre trip across Australia’s Nullarbor Plain is one of the longest, most remote drives in the world, and full of rewards for intrepid travellers.

Big skies, quintessential outback landscapes, spectacular crashing coastline, and a horizon that always remains just out of reach are some of what’s in store for those willing to take on this epic trip along southern Australia’s Eyre Highway.

Officially, the Nullarbor Plain stretches from Norseman in Western Australia (eight hours’ drive from Perth) to Ceduna in South Australia (8.5 hours’ drive from Adelaide). The journey is a thoroughly rewarding experience, but it can be highly challenging too. Preparation is key. Take enough food and water to last at least a couple of days in the event of a problem or delay. Always advise local authorities, friends and family of your plans (and check in with the latter regularly). The Eyre Highway is sealed, but heading off-road is only doable in a 4WD. If you plan to leave the main route, you should advise authorities and personal contacts well in advance.

Here are ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain. They’ll make the journey easier, safer, and more enjoyable.

Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Bunda Cliffs. Image: South Australian Tourism Commission

1. Get the car ready

When travelling through an extreme environment like the Nullarbor, your vehicle is your lifeline; so make sure it’s up to the job. Get a service and ensure everything is shipshape prior to the trip. Know the drill for changing a tyre and contact your roadside assistance provider to check what measures are available in the region — just in case.

2. Invest in a comfortable ride

The drive across the Nullarbor Plain will take at least two days at a reasonable pace. That’s a lot of time in the saddle, so comfortable car seat covers are an essential item of kit. They’ll cushion your ride and protect your car’s upholstery from wear and tear. Be sure to consider the materials used to make any covers you’re interested in buying. Neoprene car seat covers are generally recommended over canvas covers, as they’re waterproof, lightweight, and slide easily over your seats. However, canvas covers may be better suited to families, or those travelling with pets (as they’re somewhat sturdier than neoprene).

Decorative polyester covers (for example, those covered in faux ‘fur’) may not be suitable for desert driving. The fibres can irritate the skin or become uncomfortably warm in full sun. Neoprene and canvas both aid in natural temperature regulation.

3. Stay hydrated

It’s important to have plenty of water with you and stay well hydrated on the drive across the Nullarbor. When you become dehydrated, you’re more likely to feel fatigued — a significant safety hazard. Even with the air-conditioning on, your body will lose moisture over an extended period in a vehicle. So, drink plenty of water along the way.

Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain: Drink plenty of water.

How much water should you take on a trip like this? Experts suggest carrying seven to ten litres of water per person, per day.

4. Stop and stretch

Driver fatigue builds up over time and even short lapses in concentration can have devastating results. Therefore, it’s essential to stop and take a break from driving every two hours. Stretch your legs and swap drivers if possible. If you’re travelling with children, you may need to stop more often.

Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain: Take memorable breaks along the way.

Luckily, there are plenty of great reasons to pull over along the Eyre Highway, particularly if you like golf! The famous Nullarbor Links stretches for just under 1,400 kilometres and is made up of 18 holes at intervals along the route. Various towns and roadhouses host a hole, and each one offers its own unique challenges and outback personality!

5. Fuel up at every opportunity

Running out of fuel in the middle of the Nullarbor is no laughing matter. Passing vehicles may or may not be able to assist, and getting yourself back on the road will be costly, time consuming, and potentially hazardous depending on where you’re stranded. There are 12-or-so roadhouses along the Eyre Highway between Norseman and Ceduna. The longest distance between them is roughly two hundred kilometres, but don’t put that to the test! Fuel up at the earliest possible opportunity, even if it means stopping more frequently than you normally would.

Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Nullarbor Roadhouse. Image: Michael Waterhouse Photography

As a rule of thumb, don’t let your petrol gauge fall below half a tank. If it does, you need to stop and fill up.

6. Eat fresh

Most Nullarbor roadhouses offer standard takeaway fare, but it’s generally pricey and not ideal for those doing the driving. Foods that are heavy in grease and fat can make you fatigued, so opt for fresh food where you can. Wraps and sandwiches, muesli bars, fruit, nuts, hard boiled eggs, and even protein shakes are good options to keep you alert. Pre-plan your menu and pack generous servings. Just be mindful that both Western Australia and South Australia have restrictions on what fruit and vegetables can be taken across their borders.

7. Avoid driving at night

The Nullarbor may look dry and barren, but it’s actually teeming with life. And some of the larger residents, including kangaroos, emus, and even camels, are a serious road hazard — particularly at night. Many animals are drawn to the roadside by plentiful feed, and that puts them right in harm’s way. Avoid driving at night if you can, and be extra vigilant behind the wheel at dawn and dusk.

Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain. Image: South Australian Tourism Commission

8. Tune in

Many seasoned road travellers carry a hand-held UHF radio, tuned to Channel 40 — the primary road safety channel Australia-wide. It will come in handy if you want to overtake a road train safely, or invite them to do the same to you. There’s an etiquette to follow; remember that this is a public network, so anyone within range will be able to hear you. Don’t talk over the top of other users, and leave a beat or two between when you squeeze the button and start talking.

9. Be entertained

If you’re travelling across the Nullarbor with children, in-car entertainment is essential. Even if you plan to make frequent stops, there are long stretches where phones and tablets will come in handy as a salve for cabin fever. Ensure you have chargers and charging packs at the ready.

That said, don’t rely solely on screens to keep everyone busy. Too much screen time will make children restless and irritable. Come up with some family games and get everyone involved.

Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain
Ten top tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain: Make time to enjoy the sunrise in the outback.

10. Take your time

Yes, you could hightail it across the Nullarbor, but where’s the fun in that? This drive is probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience and definitely one to be savoured. Make regular stops to soak up the arid beauty of the outback, admire the sweeping stretches of coastline along the Great Australian Bight, marvel at the hardy flora and even hardier fauna, and take snapshots of the region’s incredible sunrises and sunsets. This is a road trip that you won’t soon forget!

Do you have any tips for crossing the Nullarbor Plain? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

This advice is general in nature. Make sure you seek the advice of the relevant local authorities when travelling through the outback.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

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