One of the cool things about owning a blog is that you can see the phrases people Google for prior to clicking through and getting to your blog. I’ve written this post to try and answer some of those questions. I am no expert on this; this is my first cycle tour (and last for a while!). This is not intended to be an FAQ; it will not be updated. Please use other resources too.
There are two excellent sources of information I used to prepare for this trip: Australia Bicycle Camping Resources (scroll down to the Nullarbor section) and Nullarbor Net
For crossing the Nullarbor, there is a ‘The Nullarbor’ fold-out factsheet available from tourist information offices in Western Australia. Using it as a reference, it’s an excellent reminder every evening of how far you still have to cycle into strong headwinds!
The rest of this are just my opinions based on what I found out. I did this trip on the assumption I would stay in Motels (or Roadhouses) every night. I had camping gear, only as an emergency, but I never needed to bushcamp so this is not a bushcamping resource! Only Mundrabilla was out of accommodation and that was the only place where I had to use my tent outside of the official Tourist Parks in Western Australia.
The route I took is as follows:
You can download the route file directly by clicking here.
From Perth to Norseman
Assuming you don’t want to go North via the Kimberly to get to Sydney, there’s a few ways East from Perth: via the South/South West (Busselton/Albany) or ‘straight across’ to Kalgoorlie and Norseman. The problem with the latter is that the daily distances get very long very quickly whereas going via the South West and Albany gives you a chance to get fit first. I took the latter approach. Going via Busselton and Pemberton took longer, but gave me a chance to break myself in, learn what I was missing and gather supplies along the way. Going East from Perth directly, there are no bicycle shops of any size until Adelaide whereas there is an excellent shop in Albany (see below).
By the time you get across the Nullarbor, trust me: you will be sick and tired of shrub, semi-desert and farmland! Touring via the South West of Australia gave me a chance to see some awesome forests, quaint old towns and some of the worlds best beaches in Esperance. The beaches around Woodmans Point (just South of Perth) were awesome too:
I more or less had a strong Easterly wind all the way from Ravensthorpe to Esperance and then from Norseman to Adelaide. Motivation wise, it was devastating, and I regularly found myself cycling into 100KM+ days at 12KPH because of the wind. It was cruel and hard work.
The disadvantage of going Perth-to-Sydney is that the Sun is in your face in the morning and I would tend to leave early and arrive at my destination around lunch time before it got too hot. With hindsight, it might have been better to go East-to-West (with friendly winds too!).
Weather wise, I left Perth mid-October and arrived Adelaide at the beginning of December. The weather was hot in Western Australia (28-36C), but not oppressively so, but much cooler further south in Albany and Esperance. I had about four 40C+ days on the Nullarbor but the rest of the time the heat wasn’t a problem. The wind was. Some guys coming the other way (from the East) were unfortunate enough to be caught in the ‘open’ during the November heatwave they had last year; the thermometer at the Madura Roadhouse simple stated “50C+” because it maxes out at 50C.
Daily Distances and Accommodation
I started the trip in October (Spring) and went the Perth – Denmark – Albany – Esperance – Norseman route. Although I’d been hiking for four months in Europe prior to the trip, I had done ZERO cycling for the previous four months so was essentially starting ‘cold’. With that in mind, I wanted to start out with shorter distances. Going via Nannup and Pemberton allowed me to build myself up.
I didn’t keep a detailed record of the prices so take them with a pinch of salt. They vary by season anyhow:
||Discovery Holiday Parks
186 Hale Rd
(08) 9453 6677
||Woodman Point Holiday Park (Aspen Parks)
132 Cockburn Road
(08) 9434 1433
Camping: $25. Astounding beaches nearby (Woodmans Point, Coogee)
||Palm Beach Caravan & Camping Holiday Village
(08) 9527 1515. Camping: $20. Excellent beaches. KD Cycles in town for spares.
||Belvedere Caravan Park
153 Mandurah Terrace
(08) 9535 1213
Caravan: $65. 20 minutes walk to town / marina.
||Australind Tourist Park
Lot 9 Old Coast Road
(08) 9725 1206
||Kookaburra Caravan Park
66 Marine Terrace
(08) 9752 1516
Cabin: $55. Longest jetty in Southern Hemisphere; nice beaches. Well stocked bike shop in town.
||Nannup Caravan Park
4 Brockman Street
(08) 9756 1211
Cabin: $55. This is an ‘open’ caravan park; no security at all unless you get the (single) cabin.
||Pemberton Caravan Park
1 Pump Hill Road
(08) 9776 1300
||Round Tu-It Caravan Eco Park
9892 Muirillup Road
(08) 9776 7276
Caravan: $50. Tame Alpacias and Kangaroos everywhere.
||Tingle All Over YHA
60 Nockolds Street
(08) 9840 1041
Youth Hostel Association Hostel. Great big lounge; good Internet; needed tarp for putting bike in room. Friendly, but like all YHAs tends to be closed in the afternoon; re-opened at 4:30pm-ish. Room: $40.
||Ocean Beach Caravan Park
770 Oceanbeach Road
(08) 9848 1105
Cabin: $75. Do not like you taking bikes into the cabins.
||Albany Gardens Holiday Resort
22 Wellington St
(08) 9841 4616
$55 for (the only) on-site caravan.
||Jerramungup Caravan Park
1 Mooreshead Road
Cabin: $60. There is no accommodation between Albany and Jerramungup.
||Ravensthorpe Palace Motor Hotel
28 Morgan Street
(08) 9838 1005
Room: $75. Decent meals available.
||Bush Camp: leave $2 in the Honour Box. Showers, toilets available but no drinking water. Quite a sandy, hilly stretch from the highway to the beach. Stokes Inlet is a better half-way house but it was closed due to crazy wildfires the year before. Munglinup (80KM from Ravensthorpe) has free camping outside of the roadhouse (6am-midnight) but no accommodation.
||Esplanade Caravan Park
162 Dempster Street
(08) 9071 2888
Cabin: $80. Outstanding beaches nearby.
||Gibson Soak Hotel
(08) 9075 4020
Room: $70. Good meals available. Small store attached to hotel.
||Salmon Gums Hotel Motel
Moore St (cnr Rogers St)
(08) 9078 5040
Room: $40. Awesome pizza!
||Norseman Railway Hotel / Motel
106 Roberts Street
(08) 9039 0003
Room: $50. At the edge of town. With hindsight, not 100% sure if this is the hotel I stayed in; could not locate it on Google Earth.
||Fraser Ranger Station
||Fraser Ranger Sheep Station
(08) 9039 3273
About 100KM East of Norseman
The ‘pin’ on the Google Map is not in the correct location.
Station has walks nearby. Not open all year; phone ahead to check.
Camping: $20. Has rooms available. Saw the most awesome thunderstorm when I was here with dozens of strikes per minute. Excellent staff.
(08) 9039 3453
Budget Cabin: $50. Internet. Decent museum (free).
(08) 9039 3459
Room: $60. Good accommodation. To get here from Balladonia, you have to cycle the longest straight road in Australia (90 miles)
(08) 9039 3462
Room: $100. Internet.
(08) 9039 3464
Room: $80. Internet.
(08) 9039 3465
||Eucla Motel / Caravan Park
(08) 9039 3468
Budget Room: $45.
||Border Village Hotel/Motel
(08) 9039 3474
Room: $120. Internet. Well supplied.
||Nullarbor Roadhouse Hotel Motel
(08) 8625 6271
Room: $120. Flights can be arranged (beforehand) at certain times of year to fly over the Bight and/or visit the Whales.
(08) 8625 6119
Cabin: $75. There is also a Hotel / Motel / Roadhouse here.
||Penong Hotel Motel
(08) 8625 1050
||Ceduna Foreshaw Caravan Park
25 Poynton Street
1300 666 290
Cabin: $80. Central.
75 Hay Terrace
(08) 8626 8019
Room: $40. This is a Hotel; rooms are all inside, but they let me take the bike into a room if I used my tarp.
||Cannot remember the hotel.
||Cannot remember the hotel.
||Iron Knob Hotel / Motel
(08) 8646 2058
||Shoreline Caravan Park
(08) 8642 2965
Cabin: $80. A bit too far to walk to town.
||Budget Motel Chain – Port Pirie
||Budget Motel Chain – Port Wakefield
||West Beach Caravan Park
1 Military Rd
I then had five months off in Adelaide and commenced in May:
145 Main Street
(08) 8388 7921
Room: $120. Way overpriced. And not a resort. 20 minutes walk from town.
||Rivers Edge Caravan Park
216 Princes Highway
(08) 8572 3307
Caravan: $55. Nice sunset. 24hr Roadhouse Nearby. About 3KM along the highway to Lameroo (the next town) is a Subway.
If cycling from the East, you will need to go left on the Old Princes Highway after White Hill and go through Murray Bridge on the Old Princes Highway. You join the Freeway on the East side of the Bridge. Although everyone in town had a different opinion on this, the Freeway Proper ends just on the East side of the bridge so it is legal to join it from the Old Princes Highway.
If coming from the West (Tailem Bend), you will need to turn Right on the Old Princes Highway and go through Murray Bridge. Stay on the Old Princes Highway: it is illegal to cycle on the Freeway.
||Lameroo Hotel Motel (Community Hotel)
Room: $75. Ask for ground floor units if cycling.
||Cant find the ground floor Motel I used.
||Budget Motel Chain – Ouyen
||Budget Motel Chain – Tooleybuc
||Budget Motel Chain – Balranald
25 minutes walk from town.
||I just turned up and chose the hotel. Room: $60. On approach to Hay, pass the garage and turn left at the huge roundabout. Its on your left. Local Accommodation.
||Goolgowi Motor Inn
(02) 6965 1138
Room: $55. This is the newest and best Motel in town.
||Rankins Springs Boomerang Hotel / Motel
(02) 6966 1240
||Charles Sturt Motor Inn
295 Neeld Street
(02) 6972 2422
Room: $75. 20-30 minute walk from town.
||Grenfell Motor Inn
84 Main Street
(02) 6343 1333
||Budget Motel Chain – Cowra
Ask for a Ground Floor Unit.
||Budget Motel Chain – Blayney
||Budget Motel Chain – Bathurst
Does not like bikes being taken into the room; relented when I showed the tarp and offered to find another motel . They do have a lockup garage you can use though. The Explorer Hotel is about a 30 minute walk from town.
||Lithgow Caravan Park
58 Cooerwull Road
(02) 6351 4350
Does not like bikes being taken into the cabins but they do have a garage where they will lock it for you. As it was low season, I volunteered to find other accommodation; they relented. Cabin: $80.
||Budget Motel Chain – Katoomba
About 30 minutes walk from the town centre.
Room: $80. Is a 30 minute walk from any shops (IGA, Pizzeria).
What to carry when crossing the Nullarbor: Water
Water is a big issue, is by far the heaviest thing you’ll have to carry and it’s free availability at the Roadhouses depends on the time of the year you go. In late spring / early summer on the Nullarbor, I was getting through at least six litres of water a day – certainly one litre per hour of cycling – so was typically carrying eight or nine litres with me and leaving fully hydrated every morning. On the longer days – Caiguna, Nullarbor Roadhouse and Nundroo – I was carrying almost 16 litres of water on the grounds I might have to camp out overnight.
In general, you should assume that water is not freely available at Roadhouses. That said, many cyclists do drink the water from the taps in the public toilets (its salty). And some of the Roadhouses will give you free bore water. Your call!
There are water tanks periodically spaced along the Nullarbor but I was advised to only use them in an emergency. For a start, they might be empty! Secondly, they might be vandalized. They were more useful in the old days – before the road was paved and cars were more prone to breakdown – and nowadays are only used in emergencies. I did not want to rely on them.
When I started cycling again from Adelaide in Winter – May – I was using about 3 litres of water for a 100KM stint and the regular towns along the way (and heavier traffic) meant I was only carrying 3-4 litres.
Obviously everyone’s needs varies but I carried enough such that I could camp out overnight if necessary and assumed (based on painful experience!) an average speed of 12KPH because of the wind. ie: 1 litre for every 12KM + 2 litres for overnight. As it happens, I never needed to camp out and never got close to running out of water.
Heat / Weather / Wind
The weather is fickle and its quite localized; often when crossing the Nullarbor the weather forecast is for the nearest town – which might be 500KM+ away! A weather forecast of 38C for Eucla saw temperates soar to over 48C and I encountered four days of over 40C but had several at 25C – it even rained on the Nullarbor Roadhouse day! Some guys coming in the other direction had three days of over 50C (the thermometer at Madura maxes out at 50C!). There is no shade, and no shelter from the wind: a strong headwind will see you crawling along at 10kph whereas a tailwind will be pushing you at 30-35kph: two guys coming the other direction to me who I met at Cocklebiddy had been doing 7kph for three hours to reach the roadhouse because the wind turned against them. Strong winds were common later in the day, but the nights were generally very still. I left early and tried to arrive by lunchtime before it got too hot and/or windy.
The Aussie sun is a law unto itself. I’ve been to some hot places – Chad, Nigera, Sudan, North Kenya – but nothing compares with the ferocity of the Aussie Sun in summer. As soon as it comes over the horizon on the Nullarbor, you start to cook.
What to carry when cycling across the Nullarbor: Drinks / Food
I left prepared for the trip – see below. The usual things are often available at roadhouses – nuts, crisps, biscuits and of course soft drinks, food and often beer. But its expensive. I would tend to eat two meals a day at the Roadhouses on top of everything else I was eating. I started from Norseman with the mindset that I had everything I needed but would top stuff up as I needed it.
Fruit is sometimes available but only if you get there a day or two after the ‘fruit truck’ passes through (which I think was Thursday). The roadhouses will not (as a general rule) give away free water: some cyclists manage to get it (depends on the time of year you go and whether they’ve had a good winter) so you might end up having to use their camping facilities just to get water. Or, you might be able to make do with the salty water from the taps in the public toilets (many cyclists do: your call). Or, they might give you bore water. As I stayed in the motels or campsites everynight, I never had to deal with this issue.
All of the roadhouses have a ‘campsite’ of sorts often containing powered / unpowered sites (most ‘sensible’ people cross the Nullarbor with a caravan!). The one at Mundrabilla was basic; the one at Eucla was very decent. All of the roadhouses have accommodation but its a closed market: anything from $90-$120 for a room is the norm. Book ahead in busy times. The rooms were immaculate and I didn’t mind paying the extra for them.
The food at the roadhouses is generally greasy, high calorie fair containing schnitzels, burgers and all kinds of artery clogging goodness. A cyclist can ask for nothing better! The bigger ones (Eucla, Border Village, Balladonia, Nullarbor Roadhouse) have a much wider menu containing pasta etc.
This is not an exhaustive packing list. These are the additional things I took with me from Norseman to last across the Nullarbor:
1. Nestle Milk Powder. Milk is not always available at the roadhouses.
2. Powerade Powder Mix (buy ASAP on the trip: I got the last one at Norseman). Add a few spoonfulls to water to get a Powerade drink (you can also buy Gatorade or Staminade mix). I think it was $12 for what turned out to be scores of drinks and it lasts for months; on the Nullarbor, you can pay $3-$5 for a single sports drink.
3. IGA Dried Fruit Mix (or any fruit mix): seeds, nuts, raisons, sultanas, apricots. I bought 4+ kilos of this stuff in Norseman and used this as part of my daily nutrition eating 50-100g every 90-120 minutes. I could not buy this on the Nullarbor.
4. Muesli: I took 3 kilos of muesli with me. I could not buy this on the Nullarbor.
5. Biscuits/snacks/chocolate bars: there’s only so much you can carry and the roadhouses sell this stuff. ANZAC biscuits kick ass.
6. Oat Slabs: I’m not sure who makes them, but its possible to buy 100g ‘slabs’ of Coconut or Oats and they make an excellent snack.
7. Lots of empty bottles: for the longer stages – which might require two days in a strong wind – I figured I might need 16+ litres of water so had collected all my empty bottles prior to this point. I calculated my water on 1 hour = 1 litre at 12KPH (based on headwinds I had faced) + 2 litres for an overnight (cooking pasta etc).
Mechanical wise, for my bike I obviously had a puncture repair kit, two spare tubes, a spare tyre and spare spokes [rear + front] + spoke wrench and all the stuff you acquire over the years when you own a bike. I also took a cassette changer, chain splitter and so forth. Thanks to having owned a bike from Halfords for several years in the UK, I knew how to fix a bike! I heard stories of a guy in Balladonia (the first roadhouse coming from the West) whose back wheel had collapsed; to mail in a replacement on a guaranteed delivery was going to cost him $1200 because of the location; he hitched back to Kalgoorlie to pick it up there. Based on the blogs I’ve read, spoke breakages are a common problem on the Nullarbor because of all the extra weight; its for this reason I paid $$$+ for hand built rear wheels and bullet proof rims. Well worth the money!
My bike was a Thorn eXp from Thorn Cycles in the UK equipped with all kinds of Shimano XTR Erotica. Seriously over engineered for this trip! The 2.0″ Schwalbe Marathon Tyres were a ‘bit too much tyre’ for the Australian Roads but I am prepared to put up with rolling resistance if I dont get many flats; I only got two, and both caused by small slithers of metal from (I think) the distintegrated truck tyres that line the road. The bike handled like a dream and the only adjustments I had to make over the entire 5,000+KM trip was one quarter turn of the adjuster to tighten the rear gear shifter. Outstanding engineering!
Cycle Touring is far, far harder than any hiking I’ve ever done and I found myself running out of energy regularly at the start. When trekking (my usual masochistic passtime), hunger comes on slowly. When cycling, hunger appears from nowhere! I had never cycle toured before and it took me about a month – until I got to Albany/Esperance – before I was comfortable with the routine. Once I had this nailed, I found it so much easier to cycle for 6+ hours a day, day in and day out. I can’t believe how much food I was putting by!
Breakfast: About 100-150g of Muesli in the morning + a banana + an oat slab (or something equivalent)
Cycling: After 50KM, and every 90-120 minutes thereafter, I would eat 75-100g of mixed nuts (seeds etc.), a banana, an oat slab and/or a chocolate bar. Everyone is different, but as this was my first tour, I’m glad I went via Albany/Esperance because it gave me a chance to work this out. Once I got into a good nutrition routine, it was easy to cycle 100KM per day, day in and day out.
Every lunch + evening: an enormous burger and/or schnitzel and/or pasta.
Generally: One or two chocolate bars every day (always available at roadhouses)
There’s lots of side trips along the way on the Nullarbor but they are anything from 5 to 30KM off the main highway. After a long days cycling, that was too much for me so I tended to go right through. Also, some of the roads for the side trips are 4WD only.
My biggest regret was arriving too late for the whales to be seen on the Great Australian Bight. Just East of the Nullarbor Roadhouse on a decent road, this is one side trip I would have made.
The only ‘trips’ I made were to see the huge cliffs on the Border Village – to – Nullarbor Roadhouse days. Although closed off ‘for safety reasons’, it’s worth horsing your bike over the dirt barriers and going there anyway. They were one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the trip:
Some of the roadhouses – phone them – will hold parcels (food/spares) for you if you want to ship them ahead of time.
I had spare spokes + a spoke wrench but am grateful I never had to use them. Heaven knows what kind of elliptoid masterpiece I’d have engineered! I had a new bike, but even then had it given a ‘once over’ at KD Cycles in Rockingham to make sure everything was set up correctly. Apart from two punctures (both in the front) I suffered *ZERO* mechanical faults.
The fact is, the Nullarbor is busy and regularly people would stop and ask if I wanted anything: water, food or a lift (so tempting!). It’s a daunting distance but you’re not on your own and you are not going to die out here – bar ending up as roadkill. The Nullarbor is to Kangaroos what the Magadan ‘Road of Bones’ was to Russians! At the roadhouses, I think I collected no fewer than four addresses and contact information for people who offered me a place to stay when I got to the other side (all Melbourne or Canberra! Are people friendlier there?!).
The truck drivers are generally courteous but its best to get out of the way if two are passing you at the same time or climbing a hill (or descending one!). Asshole drivers with big trailers who forget their backend is bigger than their car were my closest calls. Believe it or not, with a roaring headwind, I could not hear anything approach from behind – even trucks – except when on a hill.
On my trip across, drivers coming the same direction as me told me there were 3-to-4 cyclists behind me, about a day or two apart. If you stayed in Norseman for a few days, and asked around at the accommodation places, you could easily find someone to do this stretch with. But to be honest: it was very tiring and I wanted to do it at my own pace. I don’t think I’d like to tour with anyone!
Many of the Roadhouses now have Internet access. Certainly Balladonia, Cocklebiddy, Madura and Border Village had working Internet.
There’s a few things I bought I would not want to be without:
1. 2 Compression Straps.
2. Washing line (incase anything broke)
3. A tarp. Purchased for $2 in Perth, I used this (and the compression straps) to lash everything down on the back of the bike; I could use it with the washing line to create shade and/or keep off the rain; it was handy to cover the bike at the campsites when it rained and it acted as an ‘under’ when I took the bike into Motel rooms (pretty much all of the Motels were OK with me taking the bike into the room providing it didn’t leak oil).
I bought compression straps from general outdoor stores. The popularity of caravaning in Australia made it easy to find a tarp.
Perth is obviously well stocked with bicycle spares but Albany is the last stop with a fully stocked bicycle shop that I visited. Esperance has a bicycle shop too, but I never needed to visit it.
KD Cycles – 9 Kent Street – Rockingham – (08) 9529 1655
Rainbow Cycles – www.rainbowcycles.com.au - 154 Albany Hwy, Albany – (08) 9841 6844
Internet Access & Telephones
Internet access in the small towns in Western Australia is generally through the ‘Telecentres’ – these are local, council-run places and they often close at 4:00pm or earlier (and tend not to open at the weekend). Speed was generally good and WiFi was sometimes available for my laptop. Most of the caravan parks and some of the hotels had WiFi Internet access and many of them supply pre-paid cards; others require you to buy time with your credit card.
Once you get to NSW, practically all of the motels have WiFi and some of them – such as Explorers Motel in Bathurst – give you free, unlimited access.
Generally, Internet access was easy to find, at least every 2-3 days.
All Roadhouses on the Nullarbor have a public telephone and I was often surprised to find Telstra Public Payphones in the most remote of places! I had zero coverage with my old-style mobile phone between Norseman and Ceduna; but apparently 3G has better coverage.