Driving across the Nullarbor Plain: The 10 best places to stop and things to do

The road trip from Adelaide to Perth is an Aussie institution, but few people tackle it with relish. There are, however, some reasons to break away from the Nullarbor's endless nothing …

Watch steel being made

For the purposes of this list, we're treating the Nullarbor drive as the 1660-kilometre Eyre Highway and its offshoots. And the first of those is to deeply unglamorous Whyalla, where the big treat is a bus tour around the steelworks. Wait! Come back! It's actually rather compelling, largely because the scale and size of the machinery is awe-inspiring. And the big wow moment comes when red-hot coke is pushed out from a giant oven into a train. See whyalla.com/tours

Coo at silo art

Kimba likes to bill itself as the centre of Australia, and there's a cheesy sign that provides a photo stop to this end. But far more impressive than that are the six giant grain silos, which have a gargantuan mural of a girl running through wheat fields painted across them. It's the handiwork of Melbourne artist Cam Scale. There's also a rust-coloured sculpture of explorer John Eyre at the White's Knob Lookout.

Swim with sea lions

From a small hamlet on the Eyre Peninsula's western coast, Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience takes guests out to a protected part of the bay to swim with Australian sea lions. Two-and-a-half decades of encounters have ensured trust has built up to the point where the puppies of the ocean copy human movements in the water and flit around right in front of the snorkel mask. See bairdbay.com

Play golf

The Nullarbor Links prides itself on being the world's longest golf course, with 18 holes stretching from Ceduna in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in WA. Most are fairly basic affairs next to Nullarbor Plain roadhouses, but they're worth stopping at even if you've not got your clubs with you. All come with signs telling a little bit about the history of the area which, as can be reasonably expected in the middle of nowhere, involves some rough and ready characters. See nullarborlinks.com

Go surfing

Cactus Beach, 21 kilometres south of Penong, is revered as being one of the world's great surf spots. Two near-perfect lefthand breaks, and one right-hand break combine to make the schlep worth it for avid surfers. The isolated location adds to the mystique, and the combo of pink salt lakes and bright white dunes on the way down make the detour photogenic, even if you've no intention of getting in the water.

Watch whales

With gorgeous dunes at the back, a seaside setting and a couple of cafés, Fowlers Bay is probably the single loveliest settlement on the Nullarbor run. It – gasp – feels like somewhere you might go on holiday to get away from it all rather than treat as a necessary overnight pitstop. It's also a southern right whale hotspot in winter. In July, August and September, EP Cruises runs its whale-watching from here. See epcruises.com.au

See where Australia splits

Head of Bight is the apex of the Great Australian Bight, and the views from the boardwalk along the coast are staggering. To the left, it's all bright white sand dunes. To the right, the mercilessly steep Bunda Cliffs, stretching for 100 kilometres. It's a clear start of the Nullarbor proper. Head Of Bight is also a great spot for land-based whale watching in summer – southern right mamas like to raise their calves in the protected waters – while the visitor centre is great on the Nullarbor's geology and plant life.

Nod to the past

A diversion towards the coast from Eucla, the old Telegraph station here is now a set of atmospheric ruins. First thing in the morning, after tramping over the dunes to see them, they have an evocative feel. But back in the days of the telegraph, dozens worked here. It was the vital link in the chain that connected the Australian continent. A small museum at the roadhouse tells the story.

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Seek out Skylab

In 1979, the Skylab space station crashing to earth was big news – what if it hit a major city? In the end, it broke up into pieces and dropped into the Indian Ocean, while leaving a sprinkling of debris across remote parts of south-western Australia. The roadhouse at Balladonia – which has a small museum exploring the whole circus – became the focal point for the world's media and space station segment-seeking treasure hunters. See balladoniahotelmotel.com.au

Hit the bar

One thing holds common across pretty much all of the roadhouses – the bar is a good place to get chatting to people in the evening. There's a strange sense of camaraderie among people crossing the Nullarbor, and after a day ploughing down dead straight roads through parched scrub, there's a shared eagerness for human company and a joke over a beer. And this plays an integral part in the legend of the trip being created.

The writer was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission. See southaustralia.com

See also: Oversold Australia: Ten major attractions that don't live up to the hype

See also: Twenty things that shock first-time visitors to Australia

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