The Nullarbor Plain

Driving the Nullarbor Plain is like driving through Kansas. It's more remote than driving to Alaska through the Yukon in Canada. I went hours between roadhouses. There no towns in sight.

Days 350-351

I left the small museum in Ceduna, South Australia, and drove to a lookout point. I was the only person there, a sign of winter, I suppose. The sign read, “Gulliver’s Travels – the popular 1718 novel by Jonathan Swift, may well have been set on the islands before you. It’s likely that the two largest islands, St. Peter and St. Francis, were seen in 1627 by Francios Thyssen and Pieter Nuyts in the ship the Gulden Zeepaert. An employee of the Dutch East India Company noted their account and considered the possibilities that this land would offer riches in wine, cheese, olives, tobacco, and silkworms. Equally exciting, he thought, was the possibility of discovering giants, in both stature and intelligence, in the Land of Nuyts.” 

It was a beautiful clear day with a bright blue sky. Before venturing into the Nullarbor plain, I stopped at an aboriginal art studio. It was similar to one I had seen in Alice Springs, with dot-designs. I drove back to the oyster bar where I ate the day before, but this time I tried the fish and chips before heading into the desert. 

The drive was beautiful, showcasing my favorite eucalyptus trees. Sometimes there were just branches, and other times they had big billowing leaves at the top. I was feeling tired as the sun warmed my right side. The long hills slowly climbed up and down. Sometimes I would stop at the top where I could see a forest in the distance. I listened to music because it helps me feel at peace and to recalibrate.  

When I arrived at Penong, I stopped at a windmill park. There was a selection of small and large windmills of all styles. One sign boasted, “Proudly The Home of Australia’s Biggest Windmill.” Comet Windmill was 35 feet. 

I continued on the road that turned into a straight, flat, two-lane highway. The Nullarbor Plain extends approximately 724 kilometers (450 miles) from east to west. From the coast, it extends 200 miles to the Great Victoria Desert in the north. It covers an area of 77,000 square miles, which is almost as large as the state of Victoria. I drove west across the plains, as signs warned of camels, kangaroos, and wombats crossing the road. 

I stopped at one of the golf course holes in the Nullarbor Links – the world’s longest golf course. The hole in the middle of nowhere. A small patch of grass and a flag marked the hole. The rest was a vast desert. Two abandoned cars were destroyed, sitting there collecting dust. 

After driving for 140 kilometers (87 miles) with absolutely nothing around, I arrived at a roadhouse and gas station. I would discover that the Nullarbor plain is more remote than driving to Alaska through Canada.

When I drove to Alaska, it would be a couple of hours between gas stations, but when I arrived, there would be a small town with a couple of gas stations, a few motels, and a couple of restaurants. On the Nullarbor Plain, it was just a roadhouse with a few motel rooms, a gas station, a restaurant, and an R.V. park. There was no town – it was just a roadhouse. It went on like this for a couple of days. 

At one roadhouse (at the South Australia and Western Australia border), the sign in the restroom read, “You may think, in some instances, that our prices are a bit excessive, but before you make that call here are a couple of things you should know: Border Village Roadhouse generates our own power through Diesel Generators that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This power is also provided to feed nearby essential services. We also source our water from underground and desalinate it ourselves. Both these two processes, along with many others not listed add significant costs to the running of our business. Our operational costs are unique to us here at the Border Village Roadhouse.” 

I walked inside the Nullarbor Roadhouse and booked a room for the night. It cost $139 AUD because it was so remote. It was mostly people in their R.V.s. There was a happy hour at the bar from 5:00 – 6:00 pm, so I took advantage of it. I sat at the restaurant bar and ordered some wine and a salad. 

I went back to my room, and my iPad mini got service from the SIM card I had purchased, but my phone had no service (even though they were both Telstra). I watched two episodes of Black Mirror and went to sleep.  

The next morning, I talked with my family in Missouri about a house they had looked at for me. Based on their input, I decided to make an offer. Thankfully, my iPad had service because the Wifi was nonexistent. 

I drove to the Head of Bight, which was about 20 minutes in the opposite direction. It’s a considerable cliff area where whales are often seen during a specific season when migrating. The whales typically come to the region starting late May to early June (it was almost mid-June), but after waiting 30 minutes, I didn’t see any whales. 

There was a family with grade-school-aged kids who laid on the bench exhausted as one exclaimed, “We’ve been here for 20 minutes!” It was cold outside with a windchill of 50 °F (10 °C). The ocean views were beautiful, so I thought it was still worth it to pay the entrance fee, even though I didn’t see any whales. 

I drove back to the roadhouse, where I stayed and decided to fill up my gas tank. The only options were “unleaded” and “unleaded premium.” I was used to seeing a number on the pumps, like 87 or 91. Confused, I asked a guy on a motorcycle next to me for some help. He appeared to be in his late 40s, was wearing all black leather, and was wearing glasses. 

The man told me that using the premium would be fine, and it was cheaper than the next gas station. He said, “That’s a strange accent for around these woods.” The man was driving from Perth to Adelaide, which was home. He was driving a Harley motorcycle, but he used to drive fast bikes, he said. The man warned me about the upcoming weather as he had driven through a rainstorm heading our way. He also informed me about kangaroos jumping out into the middle of the road, as he almost hit a few. 

I continued my drive west, and the landscape was flat. Occasionally, I could see the ocean and small hills in the distance. There were lookout points along the way, which looked a lot like the Great Ocean Road. I ate a granola bar and drank some coffee, but I was feeling fatigued. I should have eaten breakfast or lunch. At the Western Australia border, I stopped at a gas station and grabbed three chicken bites and some candy. 

I made sure to empty my cooler and bags of fruit because Australia doesn’t allow any fresh goods across the border. Western Australia takes up one-third of the country, and their state doesn’t have the same farming, plants, or insects as other states. Spreading them could be disastrous to their ecosystem. I saw a couple of jars of honey sitting on the fence post because people couldn’t bring it across. 

When I pulled up to the border, a woman asked me to get out of the car while she checked it. I opened the trunk for her, and she searched around. Then she looked through my grocery bags in the backseat. Before finishing up, she looked into my glovebox. The woman asked me if I was just driving around, and I confirmed. There were small black flies around, but it wasn’t anywhere close to the amount at Uluru. 

I continued driving, and the feeling of exhaustion was powerful. I felt my heart stop and skip as it occasionally does. When that happens, I usually need a nap. I ate candy to stay awake, but around 3:30 pm, I pulled over at the Madura Roundhouse. I walked inside the motel section, and a young guy from the U.K. was behind the counter. He told me that it would cost $130 AUD for the night. I got the key and took a nap. 

I woke up with my digital watch, phone, and iPad, all showing different times. I forgot that I moved into a new time zone and went an hour and a half backward. There wasn’t Wifi or cell service, so my devices updated at different times. I walked to the restaurant for dinner, and nobody was there. There was a section with a more upscale restaurant that had cloth tablecloths. The other part had the bar with crappier tables, but it had a T.V., so I ordered my food at the bar. 

I talked with the guy from the U.K. who was now the bartender. He was there on a work visa. He liked working at the roadhouse because he gets a free room and free food. He had a six or eight-week contract and saved up all of the money he earned to travel around the country. The guy was surprised to see an American there because they don’t see many often. There was money from around the world pinned all over the walls behind the bar. I added some leftover Vietnamese money that I had. 

The young guy said that Perth is the most isolated city in the world. The shortest flight to another city is four hours. I found out later that people often misinterpret this about Perth. It’s the world’s most isolated capital city. I ordered a chicken parma and a beer and sat at a table. A few other people started to make their way inside – a few construction workers, and an older husband/wife. It was a Saturday night, and everyone was intently watching the footy game. I could only use my iPad in the bar area, so I took advantage of it while waiting for my food. 

On my way back to my room, the guy from the U.K. wished me luck in my travels and gave me tips for things to see and do in Western Australia. I couldn’t help but notice an older husband and wife in a nice restaurant. They were the only ones there. The husband played on his phone while his wife stared off into the distance. It’s always so sad to see one person on their phone while their companion is left abandoned. 

The next morning, I checked out of the motel and drove to a lookout point. The views showed a vast desert. Unfortunately, it was a free campsite, and toilet paper was thrown around the area. 

As I drove west, dark clouds rolled in. It became super windy, forcing my car side to side. A light rain started hitting my windshield until, suddenly, huge drops came pouring down. The storm brought the kangaroos out. I’m not sure why, but it seemed like they were trying to get to the small water puddles that the rain just created. A giant kangaroo was standing in the middle of my lane, so I slowed down and honked, instructing him to leave. I didn’t want to hit a kangaroo, and I found this strategy worked pretty well. 

I stopped at a roadhouse, got a coffee, and ordered my favorite – a toastie. A toastie is basically like a grilled cheese with different things added. I ordered one with bacon, cheese, and egg. While I waited for it to be cooked, a young guy with a European accent asked the girl behind the counter if there was Wifi. When she said there wasn’t, the guy got very upset. He kept saying, “Seriously? No Wifi?! At all?!” 

Just then, a young girl and guy walked inside, and he told them about the Wifi situation. They were also upset and said they drove an hour and 15 minutes from a farm because they were told there was Wifi there. I tried to connect my phone to my iPad using a hotspot, and it worked. I told the young group that they could use my hotspot if they’d like. The first guy said they need the internet for a while, so that wouldn’t work.

They were curious about how I had service, so I told them that I had Telstra. Frustrated, even more, they said they also had Telstra. I explained that my phone wasn’t working either, but for some reason, my iPad was. I offered my hotspot, and they again declined because they needed something for over an hour. I explained that they would not get any cell service for hundreds of kilometers if they went east. 

I walked back to the counter to get my food, and a message popped up – my offer on the house was accepted! I was thrilled but also terrified. I hadn’t even seen the house except through pictures. I ate my food in the car and continued driving. 

The drive continued to be flat. A sign read, “90 Mile Straight; Australia’s Longest Straight Road 146.6 km.” The road was a lot like driving through Kansas, which I’ve done many times in my life. I actually think Kansas is worse because it’s completely straight and flat for about eight hours nonstop. The Nullarbor has some neat trees to look at and an occasional hill. Plus, the ocean isn’t too far away. 

All of a sudden, a small bird came flying towards my car out of nowhere. It was relatively common, and the birds usually figured out that I was there and swerved to miss my car. Unfortunately, this small bird flew right under my car, and I felt a bump. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw feathers struggling. I immediately started to cry. I couldn’t believe I hit a bird, and I felt awful. I knew I better not catch a kangaroo, or I’d be a sobbing mess. 

I arrived at Norseman, the largest city that I had seen in days. It was also the first place where I got cell service. I decided to stop there because people had said it was a great place to check some things out. I had no idea what was in store for me there. 

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2 Responses

  1. Fascinating stuff Christy. As soon as I saw Death Adder in the snake identification flyer, I knew I’d never go there…lol. Looks spectacular though. What was your favorite part on this section of the trip?

    1. That’s a good question! I just loved that it was so remote. It truly has been one of the most isolated places I’ve ever been. It was a crazy feeling to drive for so long and never come across a town – only roadhouses. It was peaceful too. But not sure I’d want to drive it again.

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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