We weren’t sure what to expect of the Nullarbor.
Days of driving one the world’s longest stretch of straight road with not much in the way of scenery. We decided we had to see it for ourselves.
Perth to Melbourne Driving
Planning and getting organised for the road trip began with trading in the camper trailer for a pop-top caravan. We gave the van a test run in south-west WA in October and finalised plans for the December/January trip.
We’ve been at this camping gig for quite a few years now so you would assume we already have everything we could possibly need for the trip. But no, there’s always more gear to buy.
The Prado needed an electronic brake controller, the van needed a pole carrier for the golf clubs and fishing rods, and the list goes on and on…
There is nothing worse than returning from a trip and someone asks if you visited their favourite location and you realise that you drove straight past.
You can either make multiple trips so you see everything (but it’s unlikely that the kids would sign up for another long drive anytime soon) or you can do your research.
I read camping guides to Victoria and South Australia and I had a laminated copy of South Australian and Victorian maps to get some perspective on how far we could reasonably travel in a day. I googled "Things to Do" more times than I’d like to think and read many caravan park reviews.
We wanted to spend Christmas in Melbourne to see the Boxing Day test match at the MCG with friends but other than that we were free to travel where we liked during the eight weeks we had available.
The Great Ocean Road appealed to us so after some research we decided to visit the 12 Apostles before the peak tourist season post Christmas. We set off early on 4 December 2017 and the weeks quickly flew by like this.
Day 1 Perth to Norseman
Day 2 Madura, Eyre Highway
Day 3 Head of Bight, Nullarbor
Day 4 Ceduna
Day 5 Port Augusta
Day 6-8 Hahndorf
Day 9 Robe
Day 10 - Nelson
Day 11-12 Portland
Day 13-14 Warrnambool
Day 15-16 Princetown, near The 12 Apostles
Day 17-18 Apollo Bay
Day 19-20 Anglesea
Day 21 Geelong
Day 22-29 Melbourne
Day 30-32 Healesville, Yarra Valley
Day 33-35 Ballarat
Day 36-37 Halls Gap, Grampians National Park
Day 38 Mount Gambier
Day 39 Murray Bridge
Day 40-41 Victor Harbour
Day 42-43 Tanunda, Barossa Valley
Day 44 – Mount Augusta
Day 45 Whyalla
Day 46-48 Port Lincoln
Day 49 Streaky Bay
Day 50 Head of Bight, Nullarbor
Day 51 Madura, Eyre Highway
Day 52 Southern Cross
Day 53 Perth
Free Camping Vs Paid Camping
Before we left home we hadn’t decide how many nights we would stay in caravan parks and how many we would free camp. The only accommodation we had booked in advance was the week in Melbourne over Christmas and New Year. With so many free campsites with stunning views and RV friendly towns dotted around the country it’s no wonder the popularity of free camping is increasing.
On the Nullarbor we free camped for one night each way at the Head of the Bight. We stayed another free night outside Port Augusta and two nights in Portland but for the majority of the trip we stayed on a powered site in a caravan park. Being summer the kids often had a swim in the park’s pool and enjoyed the games room, mini golf, pay TV or whatever the park had on offer.
Some nights we paid as little as $35 for two adults and two kids while our Melbourne accommodation was the most expensive at $82 per night. There was a running discussion on ranking the parks from favourite to least favourite.
So Many Locations so Close to Melbourne
One thing I discovered on this trip is how spoiled Melbournians are. The number of spectacular holiday spots right on their doorstep no doubt helps with their most livable city status.
Sure Western Australians have some pretty amazing spots too, but we need to travel considerably further.
Check out the comparison of two cities:
Want to check out a historic gold mining town? In Perth, you would need to drive 7 hours to Kalgoorlie while in Melbourne it’s just 1.5 hours to Ballarat.
Looking to do some bushwalking and scale some incredible peaks? From Perth, the Porongurups are 4.5 hours drive while Halls Gap is just under 3 hours from Melbourne.
Keen to spend time in a beautiful seaside town? In Perth, you would drive south almost 3 hours to Dunsborough while in Melbourne the Mornington Peninsular is less than 1.5 hours away.
Highlights from the Trip
The Great Ocean Road deserves the hype with its stunning views, interesting history and variety of things to do. There were so many great towns, landscapes and tourist activities but some of the favourites included:
- cherry picking in the Adelaide Hills
- the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village in Warrnambool
- helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles
- a zodiac seal tour at Cape Bridgewater
- the Puffing Billy train in the Dandenong Ranges
- zip-lining in the Yarra Valley
- the emu chicks on the beach at Lincoln National Park, and
- climbing the Pinnacle in the Grampians National Park
While the Nullarbor didn’t make the highlights reel, it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it might be! It helped that the kids were kept busy with movies, the weather was pleasantly mild and the road was in far better condition than I had expected.
It’s true there isn’t much to look at, not even a tree in parts. Kangaroo carcasses in varying degrees of decomposition were the extent of it for a long stretch. I had assumed the names on the map along the Nullarbor were small country towns but only if you count an all-in-one motel, petrol station and caravan stop as a town.
What I hadn’t counted on seeing was the incredible coastline and Bunda Cliffs so close to the road. For 100 km along the Great Australian Bight the stunning white limestone cliffs and turquoise blue ocean are welcome relief from staring at the road ahead.
It’s not a real trip unless you recount any problems with the car or van. The first half of the trip had been incident free but our luck ran out on the second half and we added to the kangaroo carcass count. We had crossed the border back into WA and were an hour from our overnight stop at Madura when the only (live) kangaroo we saw near a road was the one we hit. Lucky for us (not the poor roo) the only damage was a broken bumper that could be held in place with trusty gaffa tape.
The caravan also needed some running repairs. In Tanunda, we were winding up the pop-top roof when the cable snapped. The timing could have been better; Saturday afternoon two hours after the caravan repair workshop had closed for the weekend.
We did concede that there are worse places to be stuck than the Barossa Valley. We stayed in a cabin for the weekend and found a repairer in Mount Augusta on Monday morning. A new metal tube and cable were ordered from Adelaide overnight so we were on our way again early Tuesday afternoon.
All in all, it was an amazing trip (it’s definitely a trip not a holiday when you’re towing your accommodation).
During the 10,500 odd kilometres we saw some incredible sights and met some interesting people doing the Big Lap or part thereof. Time to start planning the next trip, but we’ll probably see more of our great state before we tackle the Nullarbor again.