"I only saw two other cyclists in the whole journey, one guy cycling in the opposite direction and a French chap who had cycled from France."
Patsy Quealy, Solo Bike Ride Across the Nullarbor, 5 August – 2 September 2023.
Patsy Quealy with her trusted rig taking a break at Kalgoorlie on her 2,500km solo journey across the Nullarbor (Photo courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
There aren’t too many places on our planet that can rightfully be described as ‘epic, but the Nullarbor Plain is definitely one. At 270,000 square kilometres, and 1,100 kilometres across at its widest point, the semi-arid landscape poses a challenge for any traveller. Those who have crossed will say that is, its greatest feature.
Bike Leichhardt Touring Group member Patsy Quealy agrees. Recently back from the month long 2500km ride on her Vivente touring rig Patsy said, “I’ve just crossed the Nullarbor on a solo tour, I initially had some concerns about being on my own, but far out it was fantastic, so simple … I really recommend this as a solo tour.”
Originally planned for 2020 Quealy and her husband got as far as Adelaide when borders were closed saying, “This time my husband decided to do something else, so I thought well why not, I’ll just do it myself!” saying her only concern was “a truck taking me out.”
On the Nullabour looking over the beautiful Fraser range. (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
“Failing To Prepare Is Preparing To Fail” — Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s quote has it perfect! If you haven’t made the right preparations for your journey, you are unlikely to succeed. Patsy did just that, but luck wasn’t always on her side.
Approximately 4 weeks before departure while on a training ride to Windsor, her bike fell on top of her at an escalator. No serious injuries thankfully, but her bike seat ended up with 3 slashes in it, and this presented additional health challenges during the Perth to Kalgoorlie track.
Quealy preferred to stay in pre-booked motels wherever possible saying, “I also camped sometimes at ‘truckstops’, including once where I pitched my tent in the covered little community information ‘hut’ to try to avoid a wet tent from dew in the morning.”
The Nullarbor is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia. Patsy describes it as, “a long ride” with “ flat, sealed surfaces all the time.”
So, not somewhere you would expect to see a lot of vegetation or animals. Although, “two types of lizards, the Shingle Back Lizard and the Thorny Devil,” were spotted said Patsy. “I only saw one kangaroo on the Nullarbor. There were some magnificent trees to start with and then mainly shrubby vegetation,” she continued while adding “I was surprised that I didn’t see any sandy deserts.”
"Besides whales and one Kangaroo, lizards were the only wildlife I saw." (Photo: Courtesy Patsy Quealy)
“The road trains were about 50m long with up to 4 ‘carriages’ connected”
A prime mover and road train parked (Photo courtesy Patsy Quealy)
Bike riders need their space when larger vehicles are passing closely as it can create wind turbulence that can make them lose their balance. It also allows bicycle riders some room to swerve if they come across some debris or a hazard on the road. Patsy was not always afforded this space.
According to Quealy there were a few potential danger zones to be aware of between the Western Australian and South Australian borders, “there was no shoulder on the road, so about six times a day I would need to edge off the road and stop for a brief moment to let trucks pass safely."
The loads on some trucks are so wide you need to get off the road. (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy).
“There was no shoulder on the road!”
"The road trains were about 50m long with up to 4 ‘carriages’ connected. A few trucks whizzed by closely and rattled my balance at times. Most people gave a wide berth when passing me. I had one vehicle pass and the driver gave me the finger sign (for no apparent reason that I could work out), and one person stopped and clapped me on, whilst some people stopped and asked if I needed water. Most people were so pleasant.”
Small Shoulder (Photo courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
Routine to average 100 km a day
It’s essential to know the sunrise and sunset times. It’s dangerous to be riding at dusk or in the dark because that’s when the animals come out and are harder to see.
Patsy had a consistent regime ensuring her safety while enabling her to reach an average of around 100 km a day.
“I used to stir around 5.30 a.m., have breakfast, pack up and, get on the road by about 7 a.m.
On the road I would also often listen to Radio 702, and audiobooks from Borrow Box, but would sometimes turn off everything and just ride.
Generally, the night before I’d look at the planned route for the next day in Komoot and save this for the next day's navigation.”
Komoot is a superior route planning and navigation tech that lets you decide what you want to discover, komoot makes it easy to explore more of the great outdoors. (Source: https://www.komoot.com/)
The Bight. (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
“I saw lots of whales..the colour of the water is stunning and ideal”
The breathtaking vertical drop of the Bunda Cliffs taking in the views of the Southern Ocean was a highlight of the adventure.
“The Bunda Cliffs, just east of Eucla, where you can see the water, and I saw lots of whales (it’s where they breed) – the colour of the water is stunning and ideal,“ said Patsy.
The great Australian Bight, whales and their calves frolicking away was a highlight of the journey.
(Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
Perth to Kalgoorlie (4 days/nights)
Flight to Perth. The first night was an opportunity to pitch the tent near the airport
Then on the road, along the pipeline, for 88kms to her first stop, Yorke, where she stayed in a pub hotel.
"Off the plane in Perth and setting up camp at a park near the airport to be sure I have everything I'll need."
(Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
The Nullarbor from Norseman to Ceduna 1,266km
Newman Rocks rest area camping ground provided a comfortable setting for an overnight stop. Next destination, Balladonia. Patsy met a runner with his support crew, running 100km/day.
"A wee bit concerned how I'd go with 146.6km of straight road, but with ABC sydney radio in my ears and some borrow box audio books, and the wind up my tail, it was a fantastic day." (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
Balladonia to Caiguna 146.6 km
The stretch from Balladonia to Caiguna (146.6 km) is one of the longest stretches of straight road anywhere in the world. It is known as the "90 Miles Straight".
By riding through such an isolated place at a moderate speed, exposed to all of the elements in wind and temperature and geology, it is not hard to appreciate how vast and varied the continent of Australia really is and was just the inspiration that took Patsy all the way to Caiguna.
“As I had a favourable westerly tailwind, rather than camp halfway, I decided to ride all the way to Caiguna. I then continued further east to the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse. Totalling 180kms in only 8.5 hours and averaging 21.7km/hour," said Patsy.
Border Village Cocklebiddy – Eucla 271.9km
“Eucla is where you see the white beaches, beautiful water and a sand-filled old telegraph station (they had to move the whole town further up at one point!),” Queally said.
Following the golden pipeline to Kalgoorlie, makes a great table to luncheon on. (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
Kalgoorlie mining pits (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
Kalgoorlie to Norseman 187.3km
Patsy stayed at Widgiemooltha at the Roadhouse Tavern. There she met a cyclist who had biked from France and was en route to Sydney. Widgiemooltha to Norseman was 91kms.
Kalgoorlie was a needed rest break and not for the typical reasons as Patsy explained, “The slashes in my bike seat (from the escalator incident at Central Station one month prior) had ‘rubbed a hole in my butt in those first 4 days of riding. I’d taped kitchen sponges to my seat but in the end, a large band aid was the solution to stop the rubbing.”
The official start of the Nullarbor!
The Old Telegraph Station being buried within sand dunes slowly in 2023 (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
The Old Telegraph Station being buried slowly by the large sand dunes. Pic: 1988 ( Source: Aussie Towns)
Border Village to Nullarbor Roadhouse 186km
Despite high winds from Border Village onwards, Patsy continued another 186km to the Nullarbor Roadhouse, averaging 17km/hr over 11 hours. Exhausted and looking forward to a comfortable stay she was disappointed to find, “Once arrived I found that there were no rooms left at the Roadhouse, uhg! So, I had to camp there.”
Nullarbor Roadhouse – Yalata – Nundroo 144km
Yalata was under re-construction. Despite planning to stay overnight Patsy continued for another 144km to Nundroo.
Located at the Head of the Great Australian Bight, Yalata Community is about 1,000km from Adelaide
Nundroo – Penong 82km
Another 82km and in luck, Patsy discovered a little treasure in the ‘town of windmills,’ “great Indian restaurant at Penong! Yum!”
" The small South Australian town of Penong created a museum on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain by rescuing and restoring broken-down windmills." (Source:The Drone Way: Ben Stamatovich)
Penong – Ceduna 73km
Official end of the Nullarbor
73km – and Patsy made another tasty discovery, “the big thing at Ceduna is the oysters! They are just soooo good! Just bought them straight at the supermarket for $15/dozen.”
Ceduna – Streaky Bay 123.1 km
Patsy ran into a little trouble with her bike saying, “At Streaky Bay my bike started to feel like a slug and I realized the rack was starting to come out, so it was pushing down on the tyre. As luck would have it, a fellow camper fixed it for me! It seems that a screw had already fallen out and this chap had to drill out something in order to resolve the situation. This generous camper suggested I go out for a walk to the beach while he worked on it for about 1.5 hours! "
"Ceduna the end of the Nullabor and oysters galore, whoohoo!!" (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
"This wonderful man with an incredible selection of tools fixed my rack which had detached itself in several places." (Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
(Photo Courtesy: Patsy Quealy)
Patsy Quealy’s gear. (Photo: Courtesy Patsy Quealy)
Patsy completed her 2,500km solo ride on 31st August 2023. “Whoo hoo, I’ve finished my Nullarbor ride. Finished a day or two early, the ferry from the Eyre Peninsular to Yorke Peninsular is out so I’m on the bus instead,” she said.
“cycling is my happy place, like most of us who cycle,” and so despite all the ups and downs she had to face it is easy to see why she finished with more passion than ever.
The Nullarbor is an amazing place perfect for all kinds of adventures. If you’re up to it, cycling is one you could try!
We recommend always doing your prep work first. Patsy has provided her tips below.
Preparation and Tips
- A Vivente touring bike
- Wide touring handlebars
- Rearview mirror
- Back mud guard
- Front disc brakes
- Handlebar bag
- Back paniers
- Large round duffle bag sitting across the back rack, with elastic straps.
Carrying approx. 25kg of weight, including the following, plus 4-6 litres of water at any time:
- New bike tent (Big Agnes), blow-up mattress and blow-up pillow
- Camping gas canister and cooker
- Food (breakfast muesli, dehydrated food items, crispbread biscuits, powdered milk), plus and ‘all-in-one’ coffee plunger/cup and plunger coffee
- Tools/Spares (3 tubes, spare spokes and tool, chain break tool and chain link, spare cable)
- Small first aid kit
- “layers” of clothes (it could be cool/cold at night)
Prep and Planning
- Read other people’s blogs of their trips
- Cycling enough beforehand to be fit for Day 1
Why not join your local BUG and learn new tips and skills for your own rides and adventures?