In a country that doesn’t know the meaning of small, the Desert of the Nullarbor Plains is a prime example of how vast this land is. Nullarbor means no trees; affectionately dubbed the Nullar-boring. Stretching 1, 200 km at its widest and spanning 200, 000 square kilometres, it is the world’s largest expanse of limestone.
It also has 146.6 km of tarred road surface that holds the world record for a straight length of road. Thank goodness for audiobooks and playlists, it is a long 146 km and nothing to ease the stark horizon that seems to have no end.
As you would expect from a desert the Nullarbor has arid to semi-arid conditions and extreme temperatures. Rainfall averages around 200mm per year. The days can see temperatures nearing 50°C (even though the average daily max in summer is only 25°C!) and nights can be freezing. When we passed through the West Australian Quarantine Checkpoint the officer confirmed that Summer temperatures have reached 54C. You have to feel for the staff working under corrugated iron with a public that can be tetchy.
The first motorcar crossed the Nullarbor Desert in 1912. I couldn’t find how long it took that madman to get from point A to B or how he managed to get fuel along the route. Today’s road is tarred but the baulking boredom is a battle. I have a newfound admiration for truckies who make the crossing regularly. It is a long time to spend in your own head.
However, the Bunda Cliffs provide a short reprieve from the startling sameness mile and hundreds of more miles. The winds were strong and unpleasant standing near enough to the edge to get the full impact of the cliffs racing along the sea edge. It is a harsh coastline. And the flies! The flies! Did I mentioned the flies …
The crossing took us four days, three nights, from Ceduna to Norseman. We free-camped at nights making sure to leave only footprints, take only photos. The crossing was reasonably quiet as travellers had chosen to either postpone or cancel travel plans. As it was we were caught part way across and needed to push on and find somewhere to regroup while we learned of restrictions due to COVID-19.
Once we left Ceduna on the eastern side of the Nullarbor, there was no opportunity to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. We needed to carry everything with us and that took research and planning to ensure we had sufficient of fresh foodstuffs but not too much before arriving at Border Village, the West Australian Quarantine station. The effort beforehand saved us a lot of heartache at the checkpoint and we only had to surrender the honey. Honey needs to be certified heat treated and our bottle did not specify this. We asked the officer about this and he said they don’t know how to ascertain this fact so they confiscate all honey …
It was a great road adventure and travelling the expanse of the Nullarbor Plain we got to experience how remote the Great Victoria Desert is. The waters Southern Ocean of the Great Australian Bight pound the Bunda Cliffs and there is a thrill as you stand at one point of the cliff “range” and look back across rock and ocean.
The Nullarbor Desert is a harsh yet stunning part of Australia and while we don’t anticipate travelling it again we are pleased to have tackled one of the world’s great road trips. We kept our eyes peeled for the wildlife but alas we saw not a single one.
- Our fresh water lasted the journey
- The free camps at which we stayed were safe
- Glimpses of stunning scenery along the way