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Tips for Driving Across the Nullarbor

This guest post is brought to you by Rachael Taft from Girl, Unmapped, a girl who has been living in Australia for the past year. She’s put together this amazing piece on how to drive across the Nullarbor, one of the most unique experiences you can have in Australia. Also, be sure to read her previous post on the top 10 things to do and see along the journey. Enjoy!

nullarborIf you tell an Australian you’re going to drive across the Nullarbor you’ll likely get one of two responses. They’ll either say, “Wow, that’s awesome! That’s something everyone should do once in their lifetime!” or, “Are you crazy? It’s so long…and empty…and boring…and scary. Haven’t you seen Wolf Creek?”

(Just to get it out of the way now, the movie Wolf Creek is a campy horror movie about backpackers getting tortured and killed in the outback. However, it is set in northern Australia, at a crater site actually called Wolfe Creek, not on the Nullarbor. So no worries!)

The Nullarbor is not as desolate and intense as some people make it seem. There are “towns” every hour or two along the road (though they are usually a population of eight people and one roadhouse), and you don’t tend to go too long without passing another car, motorcycle or crazy bicyclist. However, it is an adjustment if you have otherwise only been in the major cities in Australia. It is RURAL, empty, and far away from everything else. They like to remind you of this with regular signs warning what a long way you are from the nearest mechanic or hospital. (This is the land of the Royal Flying Doctors after all — you’ll notice that occasionally the road widens, marking an emergency airstrip.)

However, if you’re smart and approach your journey with an open mind, you are sure to have a great time. So without further ado, here are a few tips for driving across the Nullarbor.

Come Prepared

last shop
Even though you’re unlikely to be stranded in the middle of nowhere for a long period of time, passersby aren’t guaranteed and it can get HOT and dry out on the Nullarbor. Make sure you have plenty of food and water with you (this will also save you money). Note, though, that you will need to get rid of all fruit, vegetables and cheese before you cross the border (you will see warning signs for the quarantine check).

If you want to be prepared for anything, many people also consider it useful to take extra rations of petrol (if you can’t make it 200km between fuel stops then you shouldn’t be crossing the Nullarbor!) and other spare parts and necessities for the car. You can buy these things along the way but they are pricey. A small handheld fan could be a life saver if you find yourself stuck without functioning A/C. I also highly recommend bringing along an arsenal of music and games that you can play while driving to stay sane!

Be Friendly

nullarbor people
If you’re nice and chat up other travelers, as well as the people that actually live and work on the Nullarbor, you may discover some valuable benefits beyond a pleasant passing of time. From our very first stop on the Eyre Highway we found how helpful these people could be, offering up-to-date tips on where the cheapest places were to stop for fuel (it’s expensive!) or best places to stop for a sleep.

Don’t Drive at Night

outback dusk
Some people (and, I’m guessing, many of the road trains) just keep pushing on through the night in order to blast across the Nullarbor as quick as possible. DON’T. For one, you should be enjoying the experience and not blazing through it. But more importantly, night (and dawn and dusk) is when all the wild animals are out. It’s ridiculous how many carcasses you see on the side of the road. Not only will hitting an animal probably kill it, but a kangaroo (or even more so, an emu or camel) can also cause serious damage to your vehicle. Even in the day time, stay aware and keep an eye on the sides of road. Right in the middle of the day a car in front of us hit a ‘roo, so it can happen anytime.

Keep Your Eye on the Time

Time zones are pretty much insane while driving across the Nullarbor. South Australia is on Central Standard Time (GMT +9.5). Western Australia is on Western Standard Time (GMT +8). And a handful of towns scattered around the WA/SA border are on what I like to call “Nowhere Standard Time” (GMT +8.75), which means 45 minutes behind the rest of SA and 45 minutes ahead of the rest of WA. Unless it’s Daylight Saving Time, which South Australia practices, but Western Australia doesn’t. (Nor does “Nowhere.”) It can get pretty confusing, but out on the Nullarbor time doesn’t matter too much anyways. If you are unsure just ask, and most places around the “Nowhere Standard Time” zone have a bunch of clocks displaying the various times.

Manage Your Expectations

gaol cook
As I said, some people see the Nullarbor as the experience of a lifetime, others see it as a nightmare. The truth is, it’s a cool experience but it is a long and sometimes monotonous drive. It’s not totally empty — there are some interesting things to see — but there are long stretches of nothing (including the longest straight road in Australia). Take your time, open your mind, and soak it all in. Try to enjoy the nothingness as much as everything else, and appreciate how far off the track you are. You’re doing something very few visitors to Australia do, make the effort worth it! And of course, take advantage of every turn off and attraction — you’ll be glad for the distraction and it’s a great way to explore this oft-forgotten part of the world.

Driving across the Nullarbor is a great experience, which I personally felt was less scary/difficult than most people made it out to be. It truly gives you a chance to get away from it all and appreciate how enormous and empty Australia is, while at the same time being safe enough that if you did break down, it wouldn’t be too long before somebody drove by and offered help. If you’re looking for a unique, epic Australian adventure, the Nullarbor is it. Good luck on your drive across the bottom!

Be sure to read more about Western Australia by visiting Rachael’s blog, Girl, Unmapped.

Photo credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.