Crossing the Nullarbor – An epic outback Australian Road Trip

Crossing the Nullarbor – some people look forward to this road trip with awe and excitement, others with dread.  “The Nullarbor” is a 1,200km (745 mile) stretch of road between Norseman in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia.  While some people see this as a boring trip with nothing to see or do, we absolutely loved driving across the Nullarbor.

It’s true there are no real towns along the route and its very flat and straight.  You will, however, see so much history in the many roadhouses that dot the road.  You might even be surprised at some of the things you’ll find on this epic road trip.

The word “Nullarbor” comes from Latin and means “no trees”.  The actual Treeless Plain is in the South Australian section of the road, but the entire section of the Eyre Highway is generally referred to as “the Nullarbor”.

We spent almost a week driving across the Nullarbor from Norseman to Ceduna, and in this post you’ll learn about all the best things to see and do, and the best places for camping on the Nullarbor.

We’ve organised this Nullarbor Road Trip itinerary from west to east, as that’s the way we crossed.  Of course, if you’re crossing east to west, simply start at the bottom of this post and read up!

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crossing the nullarbor, driving across the nullarbor,

Crossing the Nullarbor – before you go

Firstly, this is a remote road.  While you will see other traffic, if you break down, you may be 100km away from the nearest roadhouse, with no phone reception.  Make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound before you go, and don’t forget to check your spare tyre.

There are roadhouses every couple of hundred kilometres along the Nullarbor where you can fill your fuel tank and get a café meal or takeaway food.  However, there isn’t really anywhere to get fresh food.  

If you’re heading east, you can stock up at the supermarket in Esperance or Kalgoorlie.  We filled our water tank in Esperance at the Visitor Centre.  If you’re heading west, the last opportunity to stock up is at Ceduna.

Heading west is a bit trickier, as the Western Australia quarantine is located at the border, and you can’t bring any fresh fruit or vegetables across.  You will need to plan your trip so that you’ve eaten or cooked all your fruit and veg before crossing into WA. Here is an up-to-date list of the WA Quarantine restrictions

If you’re coming from WA into SA, the quarantine isn’t until right before Ceduna.  We found this ideal, as we spent almost a week driving across the Nullarbor. We didn’t have to spend days with no fresh fruit and vegetables.

nullarbor signs,

Getting to the Nullarbor

Most people cross the Nullarbor as part of their Lap of Australia, or a Perth to Adelaide Road Trip.  If that’s you, you have probably been to the beaches around Esperance right before.  From Esperance head north to Norseman and then turn east.  If, like us, you’ve been in Kalgoorlie, head south to Norseman and then turn east.

nullarbor roadhouse, crossing the nullarbor

Nullarbor Golf

The Nullarbor Golf Links is the longest golf course in the world.  The 18 hole course starts in Kalgoorlie (or Ceduna) and while the first and last holes are at actual golf courses, most of the holes are outback bush holes.  Playing a round on the Nullarbor Golf Course was so much fun.  It was a great way to break up the drive, not to mention lots of laughs.

For $70 you get your score-card and can play the course as you drive across the Nullarbor.  You can register and pay at the Visitor Centre in Kalgoorlie or Ceduna.  The visitor centres also hire clubs, I think they were $30 for 5 clubs and 3 balls.  

You may want to buy a few extra balls as you’re bound to lose a couple on the rough course.  There’s even a crow who steals balls at one of the holes. We’d heard about this crow, and true to form he took one of our balls (Nigel’s). He waited until we’d almost walked right up to the ball before flying off with it!

You can check out our full Nullarbor Golf adventure on YouTube.

nullarbor golf, nullarbor links, nullarbor golf course, worlds longest golf course,

Where to stay on the Nullarbor

Unless you are camping, accommodation options on the Nullarbor are limited to roadhouses.  Most have a motel attached, and while the accommodation can be basic, you’ll find a bed, shower and be able to get a meal every couple of hundred kilometres.

The roadhouses are the best places to overnight on the Nullarbor if you need to plug in to electricity or if you don’t have toilet/shower in your camping set up. Most roadhouses also offer showers to travellers for a small fee (usually around $4). Water is scarce here and most shower water comes from bores.  

Free Camping on the Nullarbor

If you’re crossing the Nullarbor by Caravan or Campervan, you’ll be pleased to know there are loads of opportunities for free camping.  This area is so remote, that it seems to be OK to just pull over and spend the night just about anywhere.

We stayed at 5 different free camps as we were driving across the Nullarbor. Some were just places to pull over, and some were full of rubbish. By far our favourite place to camp on the Nullarbor was the Bunda Cliffs.

bunda cliffs, crossing the nullarbor,

Crossing the Nullarbor – Things to see

Norseman

The last town before the Nullarbor is Norseman.  There’s a couple of fuel stations, small IGA and a free camp in the town.  You can fill your water tanks (and dump your toilet) at the paid water station.  You’ll need to get tokens from the Visitor Centre or IGA for the water station, which is $2 for 60 litres.

We chose not to stay at the free camp in town, but headed about 6km out of town to Jimberlana Hill Rest Area.  As with almost every free camp we found on the Nullarbor, this one had no facilities and lots of rubbish strewn around.  But it was free.

Skylab Museum at Balladonia Roadhouse

One of the first roadhouses you will come to is Balladonia.  This was a highlight of our Nullarbor crossing for me because there is a Skylab Museum here.

In 1979 the US space station Skylab broke apart and fell to earth.  I was in my first year of high school, and I remember the media frenzy about where the pieces of Skylab would end up.  It seemed like every night on the news there were new predictions.  

Most of the space station fell into the ocean just south of Esperance, but there was a trail of debris up through the desert and to Balladonia.  17yo Stan Thornton found several pieces of Skylab in his back yard and flew to San Francisco to claim a $10,000 prize that had been offered by the newspaper.

Apparently, US President Jimmy Carter phoned the proprietor of the Balladonia Roadhouse to apologise for Skylab falling nearby, and a parks official in Esperance issued NASA with a $400 fine for littering (which they didn’t pay!).

In the Skylab Museum at the Balladonia Roadhouse, you can see several pieces of sheet metal from the space station, a cluster of wiring, and lots of media memorabilia like newspaper clippings and photographs.

skylab, balladonia roadhouse, skylab museum,
skylab, NASA, balladonia roadhouse

90 Mile Straight Sign

There are some great photo opportunities at the signs along the Nullarbor.  You’ll see well worn places to pull over to take your photo with your vehicle in front of these signs. #doitforthegram

The 90 Mile Straight, is, as the name suggests, a section of road that has no bends for 90 miles (146 km). This is the longest straight road in Australia, and one of the longest in the world.  Tourism Western Australia’s website states this is the longest straight road in the world, but the Guiness Book of Records gives that honour to Highway 10 in Saudi Arabia.

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Central Western Time Zone

The “secret” time zone!  I always thought there were three time zones in Australia, but there is actually a fourth albeit unofficial time zone known as Central Western Time.  Australian Central Western time is observed east of Caiguna to the SA border.

This time zone is a compromise between Australian Central time (observed in SA) and Australian Western Time (observed in the rest of WA).  These time zones are 1.5 hours apart (2.5 during daylight saving that is observed in SA but not WA).  ACWT is UTC + 8:45.

There are signs along the road advising you to put your clocks forward 45 minutes.  We looked at each other and said “huh?” and then our phones jumped ahead by 45 minutes.  We then did some research and found out the about this time zone that we’d never heard of before.

Royal Flying Doctor Service Runways

Certain parts of the Eyre Highway double as runways for the RFDS.  You will see these signposted and the road and verge widened to allow for planes to land in the event of an emergency.

Royal Flying Doctors, crossing the nullarbor,
landing strip, Nullarbor road, eyre highway

West Australia/South Australia Border

Heading east, just after the small town of Eucla (really just a roadhouse) you will cross the border into South Australia.  You are not required to stop here if you are heading east as the SA Quarantine post is just before Ceduna.

If you are heading west into Western Australia, you will have to stop here for a Quarantine Inspection. You may not bring any fresh fruit or vegetables, honey, plants or soil into WA.  For an up to date list on the quarantine regulations, visit the WA Government website

You’ll see one of Australia’s “Big Things” at the Border Village, the Big Kangaroo, with her jar of Vegemite. Another great Nullarbor Photo Opportunity.

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Bunda Cliffs

Probably the most highly anticipated place on everyone’s Nullarbor Crossing is the Bunda Cliffs.  These limestone sea cliffs rise up to 120m from the Great Australian Bight from the Head of the Bight to Eucla, a distance of around 200km.

If you’re crossing the Nullarbor in winter, keep your eyes peeled for whales.  This area is a breeding ground for Southern Right Whales, and on a good day you might see 100 whales here!  The whale season is from June to October.  Sadly we were just a couple of weeks too early.

Being able to park our van and camp right on the very edge of Australia was one of our greatest experiences of our three-year lap of Australia.  This is free camping on the Nullarbor crossing at its finest.

There is an abundance places for free camping on the Bunda Cliffs, just look for the tracks heading off from the main road.  There are no facilities along here, so you’ll need to be self-contained and remember to leave no trace.

NOTE:  In September 2023 several of the unofficial campsites on the Bunda Cliffs were closed, with No Access signs and chains blocking off the access tracks.  The cliffs are very unstable, and we saw several cracks and places where the edges were tumbling into the ocean.

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Head of the Bight Whale Watching Centre

If you’re not comfortable standing on the edge of a crumbling cliff to look for whales, head to the Head of the Bight Whale Watching Centre.  Here you will find boardwalks and lookouts, along with educational information boards about the whales’ migratory patterns and behaviours. 

In the early part of the season (June and July) you’ll see mainly adult whales, and later in the season, you’ll see calves alongside their mothers.  In October the whales begin their migration back towards Antarctica.

The Head of the Bight Whale Centre is just a few kilometres off the Eyre Highway. The road in is sealed.  Adult entry costs $18 during whale season and $9 in the off season (seniors and children prices are also available).  There is a café and toilets here also.

You’ll see a signboard at the turn-off to the Head of the Bight Whale Watching Centre, notifying you how many whales were seen the previous day.

Nullarbor Roadhouse

The Nullarbor Roadhouse was established in 1956 to sell fuel to travellers.  The original roadhouse building has been kept as a museum.  This is now one of the most iconic stops along the Nullarbor.  This roadhouse marks the beginning or end of the journey, depending on which way you are travelling.

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Treeless Plain

When people talk of “Crossing the Nullarbor”, they are usually referring to the entire 1200km drive from Ceduna to Norseman.  However the actual Treeless Plain stretches for around 200km around the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

You’ll see signs marking the Eastern and Western End of the Treeless Plain.  Another photo opportunity!

treeless plain, nullarbor
Thanks to @homesweetharold for this image which we missed!

Lake MacDonnell

A popular detour from the Eyre Highway is down to Lake MacDonnell, which at times is brilliantly pink.  There is a gravel road with the lake on one side and the ocean on the other.  In perfect conditions if you fly your drone you’ll get bright blue on one side and pink on the other.  That’s not quite what we saw.

Penong

Penong is the first actual town you reach heading east.  You will have seen evidence of civilisation with farmhouses, ruins, crops, livestock and windmills.  Penong’s claim to fame is the windmill museum. This is an outdoor museum with the largest collection of windmills you’ll find anywhere.

penong, windmill, windmill museum,

SA Quarantine 

If you’re heading east you will pass through the SA Quarantine station just before Ceduna.  We had a quarantine officer come on board the van and check our fridge for any fruit and veg.  We saw a vehicle that was being subjected to the full inspection.  A couple of Asian backpackers were there pulling everything out of the boot!

For a full up-to-date list of what you can’t bring into SA, check this website.

Ceduna

The unofficial end (or start) of the Nullarbor Crossing is Ceduna, a seaside town most known for it’s incredible seafood.  Nigel was super excited for the Oysters. The waters here and around the Eyre Peninsula are very clear and provide great farming grounds for oysters.  He wasn’t disappointed!

Ceduna is also the end (or beginning) of the Nullarbor Golf Link. If you’re finishing your round here, be sure to go into the Visitor Centre to drop off your clubs. You’ll get your deposit back and also receive your certificate.

nullarbor golf, Ceduna visitor centre

Essential Information for Crossing the Nullarbor

Fuel

Fuel is available at various roadhouses along the Nullarbor. The longest stretch between roadhouses is only 191km, so you shouldn’t need to bring additional fuel. Fuel can be a lot more expensive in this remote area, but that is to be expected.

Food and water

While you certainly won’t starve driving across the Nullarbor, the availability of fresh, healthy food is limited. Especially fruit and vegetables. The roadhouses serve typical “roadhouse” food, burgers, hot chips, pies etc.

If you’re travelling in a self-contained caravan or campervan and can do your own cooking, ensure that you are following quarantine regulations when crossing the WA/SA border.

Water is scarce along the Nullarbor. Cocklebiddy Roadhouse has a coin-operated tap that dispenses 10 litres for $2. The are dump points along the Nullarbor at the Baxter Rest area between Balladonia and Caiguna, and also at the SA Border Village.

Phone and Internet

Phone and Internet service along the Nullarbor is very patchy. We have Telstra phones and found we only got service when parked up at the Roadhouses.

Watch our “Crossing the Nullarbor” travel film

We produced two travel films as we were crossing the Nullarbor, one about the crossing, where we stayed and what we saw, and the other about playing the Nullarbor Golf Links. We really enjoyed the crossing and didn’t find it boring at all.

FAQs

How long does it take to drive across the Nullarbor?

The distance from Ceduna to Norseman is 1200km, so you could cross the Nullarbor in two days if you were pushed for time.  If you want to enjoy the experience, stay on the Bunda cliffs and visit some of the historical spots, allow 3-5 days.

How many fuel stops are along the Nullarbor?

There are 10 roadhouses along the Nullarbor.  They are spaced out every couple of hundred kilometres.  In fact, the longest distance between fuel stops on the Nullarbor is only 191km.  It’s a misconception that you need to carry extra fuel when crossing the Nullarbor.  

When you arrive at each roadhouse, just make sure you have enough fuel to get to the next one.

When is the best time of year to cross the Nullarbor?

Summers in the outback can get very hot, and there is almost no shade along the Nullarbor.  Daytime temperatures in summer will regularly be over 30 degrees Celsius.  During winter, the day time temperatures are much more pleasant, although the nights can get very cold.  

We ran our diesel heater in the van every night during our crossing, but the days were really nice.  We were also lucky to cross when it wasn’t too windy (that really helped with our golf game).

Can you drive the Nullarbor at night?

You’re not recommended to drive along the Eyre Highway at night.  Like any outback road, there may be animals close to the road, posing a danger to drivers.  Time your drive to arrive at a roadhouse or campsite before the sun sets.

Is there a speed limit on the Nullarbor?

The maximum speed limit on the Nullarbor is 110km per hour.  The road is only one lane in each direction.  If you have a UHF radio, consider using it to communicate with slower drivers you wish to pass (and for faster drivers coming up behind you).

Where to next?

If you’re heading further east, check out our post on the Eyre Peninsula, or if you want more of the outback experience, why not head for Coober Pedy and the Oodnadatta Track?

If you have questions about crossing the Nullarbor, drop us a comment down below, or send us an email.

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