The Nullarbor Plain attracts people from all over Australia for its incredibly unique landscape and remote location. Crossing the Nullarbor on the Eyre Highway from South Australia to Western Australia is considered one of Australia’s top bucket list experiences. The isolated road crosses the semi-arid plain, beginning in Port Augusta on The Eyre Peninsula and ending nearly 1700km later in Norseman.
One of the main things that people do on their Nullarbor Plain road trip is free camping off the highway and along the rugged coastline of the Great Australian Bight. For many people, camping out in this incredibly unique and remote landscape is one of the best ways to appreciate the expansiveness of the Nullarbor. However, the increased traffic and human activity in this spectacularly pristine part of Australia has some detrimental impacts.
It’s not uncommon for travellers to leave behind rubbish or disturb the wildlife that inhabit the area, which can cause long-term harm to the Nullarbor’s ecosystem. There are plenty of ways that travellers can be more conscious when free camping and visiting the Nullarbor Plain. This article will outline some of these ways that you can do your bit to help preserve the environment while on your Nullarbor trip.
Table of Contents
- 1 About the landscape and geography of the Nullarbor Plain
- 2 Infrastructure on the Nullarbor Plain
- 3 Staying at accommodation on the Nullarbor Plain
- 4 Roadside facilities across the Nullarbor Plain
- 5 Environmental impacts of free camping on the Nullarbor Plain
- 6 Leave no trace principles
- 7 Responsible travel tips for free camping on the Nullarbor Plain
- 8 While you’re crossing The Nullarbor Plain
About the landscape and geography of the Nullarbor Plain
The Nullarbor Plain is an incredibly unique place in Australia. The semi-arid plain is actually the largest exposure of limestone bedrock in the world, which was originally a shallow seabed millions of years ago. It covers an impressive area of about 200, 000 square kilometres across the border of South and Western Australia from Ceduna to Eucla.
It lies on the coastline of the country and its dramatic meeting with the Southern Ocean is known as the Great Australian Bight. The almost-treeless plain and the waters off the coast are home to a variety of flora and fauna. The vegetation is limited to small shrubs of saltbush and bluebush scrub, with very little annual rainfall. However, plenty of wildlife still thrive in these conditions with insects, spiders, birds and mammals all calling the plain home.
The waters off the coast of the Great Australian Bight are considered some of the most pristine and abundant in the country. It’s home to some incredible marine life such as great white sharks, Australian sea lions, bottlenose dolphins and a home away from home for seasonal visitors to the area southern right whales. The waters are also known as a huge seafood frontier, with plenty of fresh fish caught off the coast by both commercial boats and individual hobby fishermen.
The remote location of the Nullarbor and the coast of the Great Australian Bight means that much of the environment is incredibly unspoiled. It’s a sparsely populated area with very few settlements scattered along the Eyre Highway. This means that the sudden influx of visitors driving and free camping across the Nullarbor puts a significant strain on the limited infrastructure available and hampers the preservation of the natural landscape.
Infrastructure on the Nullarbor Plain
Free camping along the Eyre Highway and the Nullarbor Plain is one of the most popular ways for people to explore the area. The plain is characterised by very small settlements and roadhouses strung along the highway with very few inhabitants. This means that there is very limited infrastructure outside of these towns to cope with the influx of visitors. The Nullarbor is unique in that it’s not like free camping in other parts of Australia, so you won’t necessarily find toilets, shelters and rubbish bins like in many other places.
Much of these remote areas west of Ceduna lie outside of designated council areas. This means that there are no paid jobs to cover any sort of maintenance or clean-up of the environment. The major towns like Ceduna will have all the main facilities such as toilets, potable water, rubbish bins and shelters. However, anything further west (from and including Penong) is outside of this council area, meaning you won’t find much, if any of these facilities except at the roadhouses and small settlements along the Eyre Highway.
Some of the infrastructure that you do come across along the highway outside of town and at the beaches on the coast is often built and maintained by local volunteers. The people who live in this area are extremely dedicated to protecting the coast and the plain. They are, after all, the same people who have fought off major oil companies from drilling in the Great Australian Bight. Infrastructure outside of the townships is still minimal and is not built to withstand the influx of visitors that the Nullarbor often gets in holiday periods.
With this in mind, free camping is not necessarily an environmentally conscious choice for accommodation on the Nullarbor Plain. It’s also not ideal to simply stop anywhere along the highway to use the bush as a toilet, when much of this has such a detrimental impact on the natural environment and wildlife of the area, and also fellow travellers. However, with a little bit of extra planning you can make use of the caravan parks, paid campgrounds and proper toilet facilities in towns along the way.
Staying at accommodation on the Nullarbor Plain
When planning your trip across the Nullarbor Plain on the Eyre Highway you should make use of the designated camping areas, toilet and rubbish bin facilities and paid accommodation in the towns along the way. These official facilities and accommodation places are a much more responsible way of travelling, as they are designed specifically for handling travellers with a range of requirements. This then ensures that you have minimal impact on the more remote and secluded parts of the plain.
If you’re looking for accommodation, you can find caravan parks and roadhouses in the main settlements and towns along the Eyre Highway such as Ceduna. These official places are well-maintained with proper facilities, such as rubbish bins, shelter, BBQ areas, camping sites, toilets and water. The benefit of staying at these places is so you can have all the amenities that you need, but still get to enjoy the Nullarbor as you drive during the day.
Roadside facilities across the Nullarbor Plain
Similarly, if you need to stop along the way across the Nullarbor Plain during the day, there are limited facilities. Many people stop to use the toilet anywhere along the Eyre Highway, which results in a lot of toilet paper being left behind scattered across the area. In some places, on the side of the road and near secluded beaches, there is a disgusting amount of toilet paper and excrement left behind. It is no one’s job but your own to clean up after yourself and the easiest way to do this is to stop in the towns and at the roadhouses instead of any spot you find off the road.
There are relatively frequent roadhouses and small settlements west of Ceduna where you can stop for fuel, food, accommodation and to simply use the toilet. If you plan accordingly, you can make sure that you reach each stop as you need instead of opting to pull off the road anywhere to use the bush as your toilet.
Environmental impacts of free camping on the Nullarbor Plain
There are many environmental impacts that come with free camping on the Nullarbor and along the Great Australian Bight coastline. The more aware of these that you are, the more you can make better and informed choices as you travel in the area.
Destroying of limited nature
The almost-treeless Nullarbor Plain is characterised by small shrubs that are extremely old and fragile. They are generally small in size due to the limited amount of rainfall that the plain receives each year. However, they still play a main role in the region’s ecosystem. These shrubs are often destroyed by vehicles trying to park along the coast or off the highway, as well as people trying to clear a spot for free camping.
The removal or destruction of even a single shrub can actually have a long-term impact. When a single plant is removed from the sandy earth, the bare patch of sand left behind is ripped up by the coastal winds. This damages the roots of the surrounding shrubs and leaves much of the area vulnerable with some of them not growing back over time. It also impacts the wildlife that call the area home as these plants are basically the only nature across the arid landscape of the Nullarbor. You should rethink any of your potentially destructive movements off the main roads, as the effects on the environment can be more severe than you realise.
Toilet paper and defecation
One of the biggest eyesores in the pristine landscape of the Nullarbor Plain, is the remains of toilet paper on the side of the Eyre Highway. Many of the secluded beaches along the coast do not have proper facilities, and many travellers free camping along the road often go to the toilet anywhere that they consider fit. Toilet paper left behind by travellers is one of the biggest contributors to waste left behind on the coastline as it doesn’t quite breakdown as quickly as people often think.
Generally, toilet paper will decompose outdoors over a one-to-three-year period. However, the sandy soil and desert-like climate of the Nullarbor Plain means that this can take even longer than that. This means that it’s especially important for everyone to carry all of their rubbish, including toilet paper back with them. Otherwise, some of these litter eventually ends up in the pristine waters of the Southern Ocean and impacts the marine life off the coast.
The emergency toilet roll in your vehicle should always be biodegradable toilet paper incase you do happen to lose your used bits due to wind, litter bag breakage or any other reason, then at least it will breakdown quicker.
Rubbish and waste
It’s not only toilet paper that can be seen on the Eyre Highway, but also large amounts of rubbish left behind by people free camping along the way. Rubbish bins can be hard to come by outside of the major towns on the Eyre Highway, which results in many people simply leaving it behind to be blown into the ocean and harming the fish.
It’s not so difficult to simply carry a rubbish bag with you as you travel or if you have to go to the toilet in the bush, to collect your waste and used toilet paper until you come across a proper bin in one of the towns or settlements. If one of the bins are full due to the influx of visitors, it doesn’t make it acceptable to then leave it next to the bin. This is still considered littering, and animals can easily tear the bags open looking for scraps.
It should become a simple habit for all travellers crossing the Nullarbor to carry a rubbish bin with them so they can collect their own waste. Many mindful travellers are now creating outside bins by strapping a backpack type bag to the outside of their caravan or vehicle. If you end up staying in a caravan park or roadhouse, then you can easily dispose of it there. This is what makes proper campgrounds such a delight and convenient option to stay in on your trip.
The Nullarbor Plain has a variety of wildlife that calls the region home. One of the main factors impacting their habitat is the sudden increase in human activity that occurs in holiday periods. Those free camping on the Eyre Highway are often disturbing and encroaching on natural habitats without even realising it.
The coastline of the Great Australian Bight is home to many resident and migratory shorebirds such as oystercatchers, red-capped and hooded plovers who live on the pristine beaches. The red-necked stint travels up to 25, 000 km each year from the Arctic to spend the summer feeding and nesting on the beaches along the coast. The populations of these shorebirds are declining due to predators like dogs and foxes as well as loss of habitat from human encroachments.
Next time you’re planning a trip out on the Nullarbor, consider the impact that your vehicle and pet has on disturbing these birds and other animals. We should all be more aware of the wildlife that calls this special place home.
It is never a good idea to travel The Nullarbor at dusk, dawn or at night due to the likelihood of hitting wildlife with your vehicle and having an accident that puts both the wildlife, yourself and other road users at risk. Remember you’re a long way away from help and emergency services – it’s not the place to take risks. Just allow enough time to cross The Nullarbor driving by day only.
Leave no trace principles
The leave no trace principles are seven basic values that everyone should abide by when spending time in the outdoors. They were first developed in the US for backcountry hiking but have since been recognised around the world for anyone visiting natural environments. The underlying expectation is to leave no trace except footprints and to take everything back with you, including toilet paper. The seven principles can be applied to virtually any situation or location that you visit on the Nullarbor Plain.
The seven leave no trace principles include:
• Plan ahead and prepare
• Travel and camp on durable and designated surfaces
• Dispose of waste properly
• Leave what you find
• Minimise campfire impacts
• Respect wildlife
• Be considerate of other visitors
Responsible travel tips for free camping on the Nullarbor Plain
If you are planning to visit any of the beaches or roadside stops across the Nullarbor Plain, you need to be conscious of your impact on the environment. Whether you’re free camping for the night or visiting somewhere on a day trip, it’s everyone’s duty to look after the pristine environment along the coast.
Here are some responsible travel and environmentally conscious tips to consider before exploring the Nullarbor Plain:
Respect wildlife and nature
• Refrain from interacting with the wildlife and simply observe and appreciate from a distance.
• Wild animals should remain wild for the preservation of the natural ecosystem, so try not to disturb them and do not feed any wildlife.
• Do not take or remove any natural objects or plants, including shrubs from the land.
• Do not clear any natural area for parking or camping purposes.
• Keep to defined tracks and roads and do not explore off-track, as this can disturb wildlife and ruin shrubs.
• Keep your dogs or other pets under control and away from any wildlife, including nesting birds.
• Watch where you step and do not walk on eggs or nests.
• Limit noise and any other loud disturbances, so as not to disturb or disrupt the animals that call the area home.
• Find out about any limits or rules for fishing in the area.
• Carry all of your fishing litter and waste back with you.
• Always refuel your boat on land and never release waste, oil or sewage into the ocean waters.
• Fire restrictions are usually in place from November 1 until April 15 every year.
• Use liquid fuel and gas stoves for cooking instead of starting open fires.
• Do not uproot any shrubs or break any branches to use as firewood.
Rubbish and waste
• You should assume that wherever you go on the Eyre Highway and across the Nullarbor Plain that there won’t be any rubbish bins or toilet facilities so you can be prepared to carry everything back with you.
• Carry a rubbish bag or your own bin so you can collect any rubbish or waste during your visit.
• Any rubbish outside of the bin is still considered littering, so if the bin is full you should carry your rubbish home with you.
• If you are travelling to remote areas, carry a port-a-potty for the times when you need to go to the toilet instead of using the bush.
• If you must go to the toilet off the side of the highway, use biodegradable toilet paper which breaks down quicker than regular paper (although it still takes a bit of time to do so).
Respect local rules and regulations
• Drive carefully and keep an eye out for animals crossing.
• Camp only in designated areas or stay in caravan parks where there are appropriate facilities and amenities.
• Always be considerate of other travellers, local people and animals.
• Follow any local rules and regulations concerning camping, fishing, swimming and driving and pay attention to official signs that give instructions.
While you’re crossing The Nullarbor Plain
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