Days 2 + 3: Esperance > Eucla > Iron Knob
The Nullarbor (nullus, “no” and arbor, “tree”).
It wasn’t completely treeless, but the Latin translation gives you a sense of the vast emptiness that we experienced on our journey. In a weird way, we felt kind of excited to enter into this unknown stretch of land that sounded as if it would go on for miles and miles and miles… it didn’t disappoint! From the the iconic outback towns to coping with the long drive, read on to find out about our journey across the Nullarbor.
Day 2: Esperance – Eucla
Another early start as we have a 9 hour drive ahead of us (which turns out to be well over 10 hours with stops). Since there’s very little to note in terms of sights and points of interest on this somewhat epic journey, you learn to appreciate and (at a push) enjoy the sense of infinite emptiness that surrounds you, while the roadhouses that are dotted along the way (miles apart from each other) feel like total paradise. One thing I’ve learned since crossing the Nullarbor, is that there’s no greater joy than a bacon and egg roll from an outback roadhouse – that’s a promise.
Norseman was the first town we drove through, which in hindsight – with a population of 1600 people – seems like a metropolis compared to the towns that are further inland. However, at the time, we felt like we were driving through a ghost town. You can accredit this sense of abandonment to the fact that a lot of these outback stops are old mining towns, which used to be alive with people on the streets, shops, pubs, hotels, etc. etc. As I said, Norseman still stands as a town in its own right, but it gives a good introduction for what lies ahead.
Tip: Our car is not very fuel efficient, but it has two fuel tanks, which is really good for long journeys when you don’t pass service stations very often. Always fill up when you can, even when you think you might get by without. Norseman is one of the cheaper places to fill up as the prices spike as you get into the more rural areas. I would highly recommend downloading Fuel Map as you can check prices in advance, and see where you will next be able to fill up.
Next, we arrived in the tiny town of Balladonia (population estimated between 10- 20 people), which had one of the most equipped roadhouses/motels on the journey (it’s the little things!) and some funny history. You might recognise the name Balladonia, because in July 1979 it made world headlines, when Skylab (NASA space station) crashed into the middle of the road near the Balladonia Hotel Motel, where there’s now a small museum that tells you all about it. Once you pass Balladonia, you enter “Australia’s longest straight road” – so I would recommend you to take the time to check out the museum!
Our final stop for the day was Eucla, where we got to test the Troopy’s 4WD capability for the first time as we drove along the sand-dunes to the old jetty. I’ll do a separate post on 4-wheel-driving as we have learnt a few things about driving on different terrain that can be helpful to know. You definitely need a 4WD to get down to the jetty, but it’s good fun and the dunes would be a great spot for camping. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side as a huge storm was setting in (see second picture below!) so we decided to stay in a caravan park again in case we got into any trouble (Eucla Motel & Caravan Park). You can also get to the jetty by foot as there is a walking path from the caravan site.
I was pleasantly surprised by Eucla, and found it to be something of a haven in the middle of nowhere. It also has an interesting part to play in Australian history, as the remnants of an old town survive in the form of the old Telegraph Station north of the jetty. John Eyre was the first explorer to find the area in 1841, and the station was built in 1897, just off what is now known as Eyre Highway ( the long road on the Nullarbor). Half buried in the sand (and rather unfortunately covered in graffiti), it won’t be long until this landmark is engulfed by the dunes completely, so it’s well worth a visit.
One last thing about Eucla: they have their own time-zone, which is completely bizarre and brilliant, as they are only 45 minutes ahead of WA and then it changes again after a few hundred kilometres. Below, one of the many incredible Western Australian sunsets.
Day 3: Eucla – Iron Knob
It’s Phil’s birthday! And what better way to celebrate than driving in the car for 11 hours!? Well, it may have been our longest day of driving, but we got to stop off at the beautiful Great Australian Bight to stretch out legs, and we had a party for 3 when we finally arrived at our campsite in the evening.
The Head of the Bight is famous for its stunning cliff-top views and for being a prime whale-watching spot from March-October (it was still very impressive without the whales in December!) The Bunda Cliffs will set you back $7 (off-peak) but I think the pictures speak for themselves in saying that it’s well worth the money.
I think it’s safe to say, that the Bight is absolutely the last point of interest for at least the next 100km – so take the time to enjoy it, and breathe in the ocean air before you return to the sticky heat inside your car.
Tip: You have to get rid of all your fresh fruit and veg before reaching the border at Ceduna, so make sure you eat it, cook it, or bin it before you get to quarantine.
Kimba, an old wheat-farming town, marks the halfway point between East and West of Australia. It is also home to a gigantic model of a pink galah (a well-known Australian bird), which is in keeping with the somewhat outlandish tradition of provincial towns to construct oversized monuments of things that are iconic to Aussie life. At least it’s something to stop and look at!
Iron Knob – let’s take a moment to appreciate the name – is truly a ghost-town. But, it has a really unique, free, community-run campsite, which I think was quite possibly the only spot that wasn’t struck by the summer storm that we witnessed around us that night. It’s pretty exciting to watch the sky illuminate with lightning and listen to the roar of thunder while you sit under your awning drinking wine/beer and wearing party hats. The stars were also spectacular; you’ll never see anything like it unless you pitch up in a place like this.
Tip: I cannot stress enough how much we would recommend anyone travelling Australia to download the app WikiCamps ($8). It will save you heaps of money, time, and hassle, as it shows you everywhere that you can camp along your journey, from major caravan parks to hidden gems. It is always being updated by fellow travellers who find new camping spots and you can read reviews before you turn up anywhere.
Iron Knob officially marks the end of our crossing the Nullarbor. Although I’ve managed to condense the journey down to make it readable, I hope you can get a sense of the vast emptiness that we experienced at times. Even though we were technically rushing to get to Sydney, I don’t think you’d need any more than 5 days to do this stretch of the journey (unless you’re really into roughing it!) Although the Nullarbor has ended, we are still pressing on through the outback as we enter NSW territory, next time.