The “Nullarbor Plain”, it rolls off the tongue with a certain amount of romanticism about it. The expanse of country that joins the south to the west. Connecting the two states is the Eyre Highway which is a 1675km stretch that has allowed a right of passage through the treeless plain since 1912. All this was an unknown to Imogen and me as we coined the idea of loading up the ute and heading across the untouched landscape, but the incredible beaches that the south coast of WA had to offer sounded unreal. So with no further thought we set the wheels in motion.
Fortunate to pick up a fully customised canopy from Facebook market place at an extremely reasonable price. Featuring a built in fridge, lined inner with shelves (for cooking utensils, butane gas cooker, etc) 100L water tank and pump, battery system and lockable doors; this was a godsend as we could secure all our valuables. Finally we purchased a second hand ARB rooftop tent from a mate and chucked that on top of the canopy. This was excellent and provided plenty of room and good airflow on some of the warmer nights over west. All this sat proud on the faithful Hilux and we pretty much had the freedom to go anywhere with the ability to set up camp.
A mates wedding for me and a few too many at the pub for Imo the night before departure meant we hit the road slightly behind schedule and slightly parched. All the same we left Robe that Sunday morning with roughly three weeks up our sleeves and no set plan….so we weren’t too phased. The world was our oyster and holiday mode was activated. As we got further into the trip, we quickly found that having a fairly loose timeline gave us the freedom to get off the beaten track and spend more time exploring the areas we really liked.
Heading directly up the Coorong we jumped on the ferry across the Murray at Wellington and cruised down to the scenic Fleurieu Peninsula. This truly breath taking area is dotted with towns that are nestled between the rugged hills and sandy beaches. Following the coast up through the popular tourist town of Port Elliott (which offers a huge array of local shops and gourmet food options) we headed for our first day destination of Normanville. Pulling into Tunkalilla beach and the highly touted Second Valley on our way. Second Valley is beautifully secluded and the steep rock walls offering a stunning backdrop.
Until you drive across to the Eyre Peninsula, you don’t fully appreciate just how bloody far away it is! Port Lincoln was our first stop and we pretty much sent it to there, stopping only for fuel; determined to get off the main highway and back onto the coastal route. Spending the night at the Port Lincoln Tourist Park in an unpowered site that looked out towards Boston Island. We found whilst free camping is a good option for the budget, the cheaper price tag for an unpowered site was far outweighed by a warm shower (appreciated greatly after a day cooped up in the ‘lux), washing facilities and laundry.
A fair few good mates of mine often spruce Coffin Bay, this small bayside town which is famous for its oysters did not disappoint. Coffin Bay National park which peaks out to the west off the mainland offers a terrific drive with white sand beaches such as Almonta and Sensation. Coffin Bay was a destination we had booked in to visit on the way home but unfortunately due to Covid border closures we were unable to do so, having only touched the surface of what this area has to offer, it’s on the list for the not so distant future. Imo and I spent the night in Streaky Bay which is only a few hours up the road from Coffin Bay. The local pub was packed and rightly so; food was sensational and the beers (guava cruisers) cold.
Ceduna is the final port of call before embarking into the wilderness of which is the Nullarbor. Definitely stock up on supplies here and as much fuel you can carry to avoid paying the high prices across the treeless plain between Penong SA and Norseman WA. The pink salt Lake MacDonnell while far less stunning than the photos described, is worth a look as the same track takes you down to the world renowned surf breaks off Cactus Beach. Just short distance further up this track is the secluded Point Sinclair, which offers basic camping facilities. Point Sinclair or Cactus are a fabulous spot to camp prior to heading on the road across the Nullarbor. Once you venture into the heart of the Nullarbor you begin to gain a new appreciation of the vastness of the Australian Outback, an area 4 times the size of Belgium and stretching 1,256kms. First impressions are flat, emptiness and well frankly NularBORING! Looking past this, the area offers a surprising amount of notable attractions. The Great Australian Bights enormous cliffs that lean out over the Southern Ocean are worth the drive alone, some of these cliffs are close to 100m in height. Numerous caves are speckled along the entire track with perhaps the most famous being at Cocklebiddy. We saw minimal wildlife across the Nullarbor and this included a large proportion of night driving with only two kangaroos and a mouse the extent of life on the way over.
Western Australian South Coast
Once officially off the Nullarbor at Norseman it is only a couple hours to the wonderful Esperance. For those who are really keen there is a 4X4 track just out of Balladonia that cuts through Cape Arid conservation park and down to Condingup, then onto Esperance. We actually took this track on our way home South as we were camping down on the Cape Arid Coast and it saved a lot back tracking; in hindsight this track was rough as guts and rattled the Hilux to bits. In saying that it meant we stayed off the highway as long as possible and we got to explore deeper into this magnificent area.
As we were meeting mates for the Triple J Hottest 100 weekend, after a welcomed night in an air- conditioned motel to refresh we continued West to Bremer Bay. Bremer has an array of beaches throughout the bay and a lake that is very popular with local water sport enthusiasts. The general store has plenty of supplies and the resort offers a good meal, we spent the Friday night in the caravan park which was packed so highly recommend booking ahead. After a solid reunion we rose early Saturday and packed up the Utes for a night out bush. Lowering your tyre pressure is a must in this area as tracks are narrow and its easy to become stuck in the snow white sand that lines the beaches. Convoying through a maze of goat tracks we headed east into the outskirts of Fitzgerald River national park. It’s quite easy to lose your bearings on these roads so its a good idea to follow your gps signal on a preloaded google maps. After a bit over an hour of driving we pulled up in a secluded corner of one of many possible beaches and set up camp. We’d never see the ocean so clear, making it possible to see schools of bait fish camped up in the bay. As the countdown begun and we settled in for the day, the sun glistened off the glacier like sand; you could be excused for thinking it was snow melting into the sea.
Next stop for Imo and I as we headed further east was Albany. This historic town is rich in convict settler history as it was the first spot European settlers set foot in Western Australia, much of their legacy remains today. Accomodation throughout Albany was packed out and we were very lucky to get a site in one of the parks not too far from the main strip. We bar hopped around town and tried pretty much every cocktail on offer, ending up at Due South for a highly recommended dinner of fresh seafood. After a hot start the nightlife seemed to fall away very quickly, the reason being we were assured by our taxi driver is that the cool weather in Albany is just too good for sleeping. She’s not wrong!
Only a short distance up the road is the glorious Denmark. Surrounded by wineries and restaurants, Denmark was one of our favourite spots and one we could have spent a lot more time exploring. There are heaps of beaches along this densely forested area with first in best dressed camp areas that all have basic facilities and amenities. Perhaps the most famous beach is the spectacular Green Pool, the natural rock boulders provide protection from the ocean swell creating a giant salt water swimming pool. We went there Australia Day and it was full to the brim but still an amazing setting!
After 3,500km of driving we made the decision to turn the ship back around and head east back to Esperance. We would have loved to head up the west coast further but our bums were sore from sitting in the ute and 4 days chilling out in Esperance sounded pretty damn good! My good mates who are farmers out of Esperance were kind enough to let us stay in their beach house for the time we were there. This was a fantastic base and allowed us a few nights stay in a bed and catch up on some washing before we headed back south. The coastline surrounding Esperance is truly unreal, white squeaky sand and seas that reflect the sky. Imo and I spent a full day exploring Cape Le Grand which is renowned for Lucky Bay where kangaroos lounge on the sands of the beach. When conditions are right you can drive 25 km along the Wiley Bay beach to Cape Le Grand, keep an eye out for dolphins cruising in the shallows as you scan out over the countless islands dotting the coastline. Feeling like we’d probably settled into holiday mode a bit too much we decided to get some exercise and tackle Frenchman Peak which is a 262m granite outcrop at Cape Le Grand. The steep accent was well worth it and the spectacular 360 degree views over the park were extraordinary. Definitely getting the desired effect from the climb we cooled off at Hellfire Bay and then set up for the afternoon on Wiley Bay. Only a 10 minute drive out of the township is the unique Eleven Mile beach, the sculpture of reef and rock creates an aquarium of rock pools. Ideal for snorkelling, swimming and baking on the sun soaked granite rocks, also clothing is optional. Bonus!
As our time in the West begun to conclude we continued to make our way back South, spending a full day exploring the beaches of Cape Arid National Park. Heading onto the beach at Thomas River campground this area was magnificent, unlike Cape Le Grand there was hardly any other tourists. We pretty much had the beaches to ourselves apart from the odd seal baking in the sun, like the majority of the south coast, fish are plentiful and we had some fun on some school herring. Camping back at Thomas River that night we were completely out of range and once we were able to receive service again the next morning it became apparent that SA border had closed to WA. Unfortunately this meant we ended up driving the 2500km or so home in just a couple of days, cutting our trip short by around a week.
After 7000km and exploring some of the most remote and untouched areas Australia has to offer, Imo and I would both whole heartedly recommend that if you have the opportunity to head west across the Nullarbor, grab the steering wheel with both hands and just fucking send it!