Guide to Surviving the Nullarbor

The Nullarbor has a pretty infamous reputation for being boring. Spanning a distance of over 1000 kilometres and boasting the honour of containing Australia’s longest, straightest portion of road, it’s no surprise that it’s dreaded by many travelers, particularly when most of them never leave the bitumen. Despite all of this, we had an awesome and unforgettable time driving down the infamous Eyre highway. Here’s our tips for making your drive the ultimate road trip experience.

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I was much too excited when we reached this sign

10. Stop at the roadhouses (even when you don’t need anything)
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The old telegraph station at Eucla- covered in sand dunes

There are ten roadhouses across the Nullarbor and we stopped at all except one of them(sorry Cocklebiddy, we’ll visit you next time!). This was mostly due to my weak bladder, but also because these roadhouses are full of history! From the museum in Baladonia to the telegraph station in Eucla, it’s well worth pulling off the highway to soak up some of the history of this seventy year old road.

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The oldest roadhouse on the highway

9. Geocache

When you’ve had as much as you can handle of road trains and treeless plains, why not stop for a treasure hunt? Geocaching is like an international orienteering system using GPS devices. It’s a good way to break up long drives, experience some nature, and get your mind working.

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Taking a break from the car

8. Watch out for wildlife

If you keep your eyes peeled while crossing the Nullarbor you’ll see some awesome wildlife. We saw eagles, dolpins, kangaroos, and several types of lizards. We drove through a plague of locusts and saw our first wombat (it still counts if it’s dead, right?). In the winter months the Nullarbor is a hot spot for whale watching, as whales enter the head of the bight to give birth.

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We even found a giant kangaroo!

7. Get your golf on

Did you know the world’s biggest golf course is located on the Nullarbor? Beginning in Ceduna there is a hole located in every roadhouse as far as Kalgoorlie. The Nullarbor Links is a genuine golf course aimed at golf enthusiasts, but even if you’re not interested in partaking it’s worth stopping and taking a look at the information plaques. They often contain interesting information, like the story of the Nullarbor nymph.

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The biggest windmill in the world at Penong

6. Play “I Spy”

For some reason the Nullarbor is filled with wacky sights. You don’t expect to see art in the middle of nowhere, but it’s there if you look for it. There are multiple interesting trees to look out for along the highway. We tried to spot as many as we could but failed miserably. Maybe you can do a better job!

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A whale of a time

Things to spot

-Teddy Bear tree

-Teacup tree

-Underwear Tree

-Christmas Tree

-Bottle Tree

-Flag Tree

5. Go spelunking
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An award winning sign

Did you know the Nullarbor is a huge area of limestone known as a karst region? Because of this there are numerous caves, sink holes and even blow holes. Some of these caves are closed to the public but some of them are open to exploration. If spelunking isn’t your thing you can still go and peer into these amazing cave systems. We really enjoyed the Koonalda caves. There is an inland blow hole there that blows cold air out at you. I found myself wishing I had a Marilyn Monroe style dress!

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Koonalda Cave

4. Look up
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A beautiful Nullarbor sunset

One of the things we were really excited for as we began our Nullarbor journey was the night skies. I’m glad to say we weren’t disappointed. The stars across the Nullarbor were pretty amazing. I saw the milky way for the very first time and we had an awesome time laying on the car bonnet and spotting constellations. The days might be hot, fly filled, and consist of endless driving, but the night skies are truly magical.

3. Stop at the Lookouts.
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A view worth stopping for

Sometimes when you’ve settled your butt in the seat for a little while and you’re just focused on getting to wherever you’re planning on setting up camp that night you can be inclined to skip lookouts. I can honestly say that every lookout we stopped at was awesome. Views of the Bunda cliffs, the dessert plain, and even just the highway from a distance as it stretches for miles and miles before you were all real highlights of our time across this infamous stretch of land.

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Our first view of the sea!

2. Visit the old homesteads
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Nanambinia’s front gate

The absolute best and most interesting bits of the Nullarbor for us were our visits to two old homesteads. The first was to Nanambinia, a homestead dating back to 1896 which is unoccupied but is open to the public. You can actually sleep inside the house and use the fire place; there’s even a toilet. However, it’s incredibly creepy! There is still clothes in the laundry baskets and food in the pantry, and the previous visitors had stacked and dressed chairs to look like they were people. It’s a pretty bumpy four wheel drive road to the homestead but it was definitely worth the trip.

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Pranksters at work!

While Nanambinia was awesome it had absolutely nothing on the Koonalda homestead. This old roadhouse and sheep station is a wonderfully preserved part of history. It’s situated on the old Eyre highway. For those that don’t know, when they Eyre highway was sealed in the 1970s they realigned the road, leaving a section of highway North of the current road to deteriorate into dirt track. The Koonalda roadhouse became defunct when the road bypassed it, and now remains open to the public, complete with petrol pump and dozens of old cars that once broke down on the highway.

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The homestead and shearers quarters remain intact and lack the creepy vibe of Nanambinia. In fact, we found the shearer’s quarters to be an awesome place to chill out away from the heat and flies. The sink hole and blow hole which I mentioned above are a short walk from the homestead, and there is a cave about ten kilometres away. We also saw wombat mounds so if you’re lucky you might get to see some of them out and about. Koonalda station felt like going back in time and immersing ourselves in a piece of history for the day.

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The shearer’s quarters-home for a day

And, our number one tip for enjoying your time on the Nullarbor? Drum roll please…

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A walk around Koonalda

Take your time!

It sounds obvious, but everyone we met who hated the Nullarbor had rushed across it and a couple of days. We took a whole week to get from Norseman to Ceduna and I’m so glad we did. We saw a beautiful section of coast, enjoyed the history of the road, observed wildlife, and made awesome memories. In some ways the Nullarbor felt similar to route 66 in its roadtrip worthy-ness. Give yourself time to explore the hidden gems of the area and you’ll have an amazing time.

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A successful border crossing!

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Guide to Australia’s Great Southern Region

Experience the great southern on a budget

Our first week of travel has been filled with adventure, hiking, and, unfortunately, a lot of rain. It’s currently the height of summer in Australia but as I write this I’m hiding in the car from the rain and wind. We’ve been trying to make the best of our time in the Great Southern region because, despite the weather, this really is a beautiful part of Western Australia. With a stunning coastline, hikes of all assortment and dozens of four wheel drive tracks, this region truly caters towards the adventurous spirit. We’ve kept this article as a list of free attractions in the Great Southern-perfect for the budget backpacker- but some of the national parks do have entry fees. I thought I’d include them anyway because so many travelers buy national park passes.

 

Walpole

Our first stop on our big adventure was D’entrecastreux national park near the town of Walpole. The majority of this park is accessible by four wheel drive only, and the few two wheel drive roads are unsealed, which may be something to consider when driving a rental car! However, when you do get into the park you’ll be greeted by a seriously beautiful and almost untouched coastline. The park is actually quite big and has several entrances. We saw a small portion of it, but we loved it all.

Mandalay beach was a highlight of our time here. From the soft white sand to the visible remains of a shipwreck it definitely scores highly on our list of favourite beaches. There are some cool rock formations here and an island off the shore. We even found a small animal skull! The beach is two wheel drive accessible but it is a gravel road, and quite a corrugated one. We were surprised to find that our beer hadn’t shattered.

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Beautiful Mandalay Beach

We also took a four wheel track drive to long point. This was actually a much longer track than we had anticipated, but it did offer great views of the surrounding beaches. There also seemed to be some hiking trails, and there were some other driving tracks branching off from the main “road.”

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Enjoying the view

I think our favourite spot in the walpole area was the Conspicuous Cliffs. They might sound like something from a Lemony Snickett novel, but these cliffs are a spectacular coastal feature. There are multiple look out points as well as beach access. It was incredibly windy at the look out points! You can also hike part of the bibbulmun track here, so it’s a really good spot for a day trip.

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A blustery day at the cliffs!

Denmark

 

Denmark is only about an hour South of Walpole and it’s a really awesome town. There are tonnes of great attractions around here, including a meadery, “chocolate lounge”, and wineries. I have to admit, one of the highlights of Denmark for us was the bakery. It has a whole host of awards to its name and some very interesting options. Alex had a curried kangaroo pie- dubbed the “vindaroo”. It’s a great spot for a budget lunch!

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Fishing in Parry beach

The other great thing about Denmark is Parry’s beach campground. For $15 per site per night this place offers showers, flush toilets, huge sites, and you can have camp fires even in Summer! Best of all it’s right by the beach and it’s part of the bibulmun track. We spent a few days here and we really enjoyed it. One day we walked all the way to Elephant rocks from here. It was about an 18 kilometre round trip and took us a little under three hours each way, but it was such a cool hike. We had miles of beach entirely to ourselves, saw some wildlife, and we felt pretty accomplished when we reached the pristine beach of Green’s pool and Elephant rocks. We also accidentally fell asleep on the beach on the way home, but that’s not important 😉

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Elephant rocks-worth the walk!

Denmark itself is larger than I expected and is situated very prettily on the Denmark river. It seems to be quite geared towards tourists and has lots of interesting shops worth wandering around. My favourites were the Australian Alpaca Centre- a alpaca wool clothing store- and Third Stone Traders, a fair trade and local craft store. The town is definitely worth exploring even if you’re just window shopping.

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Street Art in Denmark

Albany

 

If you’re like me you probably had no idea that Albany was once destined to become the capital of Western Australia. It’s the oldest city is the state and has the rich history to prove it. There’s quite a few museums here but I’ll just focus on the free things for now.

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Albany was beautiful once the sun came out!

First of all there’s cosy corner campground- a totally free campground with drop toilets and beach access. It’s about fifteen minutes outside of Albany and, while basic, it’s pretty awesome for a free spot! We stayed there for a few nights and while the weather wasn’t good enough to really enjoy its proximity to the beach, it was still great to have somewhere free to spend some time.

 

Albany itself has a free museum which offers a pretty comprehensive overview of Albany’s history. I have to admit I had no idea there was so much learn about the city’s past. We really only visited the museum because we both wanted to use the public toilets there, but it has great colourful exhibits and the friendly staff gave us great ideas for how to spend the rest of our time.

 

One of the coolest attractions in Albany is The Gap. This is area of rugged coastline where a viewing platform has been built over a gap in the cliffs. From here you can watch the waves wooshing beneath you. It’s pretty wild and might be one to avoid if you’re afraid of heights! The view is great though and the water is a gorgeous colour as it splashes against the rocks. It’s also right by the natural bridge and the blowholes- we brought a picnic and made an afternoon of seeing the sights!

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The Wild Waters of The Gap

About an hour outside Albany you’ll find the Stirling Ranges which contain the biggest mountain in the Southern half of WA- Bluff Knoll. We climbed the mountain one blustery day and it was a great experience. It was definitely tough, especially with the wild weather near the summit, but we got some great views, got some good fresh air and exercise, and enjoyed our first real physical challenge of the trip!

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Bluff Knoll-doesn’t it look like something from a fantasy film?

As a result of the crazy rain we’ve had over the past week some sections of the trail were pretty water logged. It was cool to be able to fill our water bottles at the waterfalls though!

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The freshest water imaginable!

So that’s our guide to the free attractions of the Great Southern! Our plan was to move on to Esperance after a few days in Albany, but due to some crazy flooding and road closures we’re not sure when we’ll make it there. For now we’re hanging out at Shelley’s beach campground, just down the road from Cosy Corner. This site isn’t free-it’s 7.50 per person per night- but we love the crystal clear water here and it’s quite sheltered from the wind. We’re not quite sure what we’ll do next, so be sure to follow us on facebook, instagram and twitter to keep up to date. You can also sign up to our newsletter in the sidebar. Happy travelling!

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Free camping on the Pacific Coast Highway 

The Pacific Coast Highway(also known as highway one, the Cabrillo highway, or Coast highway)is famous for its ocean views, its surfing opportunities, and its array of wildlife. It’s a road that attracts thousands of visitors, and we loved exploring it’s nooks and crannies. The hotels along this route can charge a premium for their location. But what if I told you you could stay along this road entirely for free? Yup, free camping is possible all over this beautiful stretch of road.

Imagine waking up to this view for free!

We loved our time along highway one. We got to watch elephant seals basking, hike beautiful coastal trails, and watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. But while this road stole our hearts, we didn’t let it steal our wallets! In fact, after leaving San Francisco, we didn’t spend anymore money on accommodation until we arrived in Los Angeles! And we even did it legally.

How did we camp for free?

The wonderful thing about the pacific coast highway is that a huge portion of it is within the bounds of Los Padres national forest. And if you want to camp cheaply in the US, the most important thing to know is that in most national forests you can camp anywhere for free! Nation Forests are free camping central. There are a few exceptions to this rule (look our for signs that say “no overnight parking”) but generally once you hit national forest you’re in free territory!

Just some of the many Elephant Seals relaxing on the beach

There are definitely some down sides to free camping. I can’t promise you even basic facilities like running water. But what you will get are amazing views, and some extra money in your bank account to enjoy your travels. Any roadside rest stop along forest roads is fair game to free camp in. You can park in the Big Sur visitor centre and hike into the forest to really camp in the wilderness (you need permits for some activities like lighting camp fires, and as always you should check in at the visitor centre and let them know when you’ll be returning). There are no bears around Big Sur so you won’t have that to worry about! The forest begins just south of Carmel and continues almost as far as San Simeon. And once you get passed San Luis Obispo it begins again, stretching passed Santa Barbara and almost as far as Los Angeles!

Point Lobos, one of our favourite spots along the road

If you like the idea of camping along the PCH but hate the idea of peeing behind a bush, there are still options for you! There are a few paid but still cheap campsites along the way. These include:

Andrew Molera State Park-$25 per night

Kirk Creek Campground-$25 per night

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park-$30 per night

For more information and to reserve a spot at these campsites visit reserveamerica.com


Then all that’s left to do is enjoy the view!