DC Down Under: Why Crossing Australia’s Nullarbor Plain in an EV Is No Easy Task

Rogue kangaroos and the rarity of chargers are only the beginning of what makes crossing this desolate place risky in an EV.

byJames Gilboy| PUBLISHED Aug 9, 2022 1:04 PM
DC Down Under: Why Crossing Australia’s Nullarbor Plain in an EV Is No Easy Task
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This week, myself and our Aussie nighttime editor Lewin Day are driving a Kia EV6 across the Australian Outback to push rural EV public charging to the limit. One of our biggest obstacles will be crossing one of the most desolate places on Earth: the Nullarbor Plain. Its name, pronounced null-er-boar, is Latin for no tree, which only scratches at the surface of why life there is tricky—and traveling in an EV, even more so.

Once a seabed, the Nullarbor was heaved from the ocean 14 million years ago by seismic activity, exposing the largest area of limestone bedrock on the planet. At 76,000 square miles, it's almost the size of Nebraska, stretching almost 700 miles across at its widest point. Scientists believe it was once home to a sprawling forest, but the region has since dried out, and the trees have disappeared, leaving a landscape that's strikingly plain. Hence, the name.

[Welcome to project DC Down Under, where The Drive is sending the indomitable Lewin Day and James Gilboy across 1,700 miles of the Australian Outback over the span of five days in a Kia EV6. Electric cars in 2022 thrive in places where there's a healthy number of public chargers; doing so across the Nullarbor Plain is another matter altogether. Follow along with Lewin and James' journey on our Twitter and Instagram accounts with the hashtag #DCDownUnder and watch this space for updates. This is the second story in the series. You can read the first one here.]

Nullarbor National Park, South Australia. Richard l'Anson via Getty Images

The Nullarbor is quintessential, capital-O Outback, and it's populated exactly as you expect: with kangaroos, dingoes, emus, wombats, and—stop reading here, Mom—the second most venomous snake in the world, the eastern brown snake. Also, feral camels. (The British imported them from India, expecting they'd die off, but they thrived instead.)

There are humans, too, but not a lot of them. There are scattered indigenous peoples, and the occasional roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, which was named for the first European to cross the Nullarbor in 1841. It wasn't paved until 1976, and now that it is, it features the one of the longest straight stretches of tarmac in the world, at 91 miles. We'll drive it on our journey—but not with much ease, as a road trip across the Nullarbor is still something you have to prepare for.

According to Australian Traveller and travel blog Claire's Footsteps, drivers are strongly advised to not travel at night—the risks of hitting wildlife are too high—and to yield to Australia's giant, fast-moving road trains that make big rigs from the United States look like Geo Metros. Roadside kit recommendations include at least 2.5 gallons of water per person, a spare tire, a jack, camping gear, and provisions. They also tell you to carry extra vehicle fluids and a jerry can of fuel, but neither apply to us in an EV.

Instead, we'll deal with our own set of problems, as it's not exactly like this route is inundated with EV chargers. Rather the opposite: Plugshare indicates no networked chargers along the Nullarbor leg, only the occasional high-current three-phase outlet. We'll have to rely on the kindness of locals if we're to reach subsequent stops, as range will run perilously short on a couple stretches. It’s also winter in Australia, so there’s some risk of the cold sapping range—though Nullarbor winters are temperate, with typical lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s.

As such, running out of charge worries me less than colliding with a kangaroo, as we’ll drive without a bull bar to avoid a range penalty. I’m also hoping not to meet any of those venomous creatures, as getting bitten would require being airlifted out.

But the journey will be worth it to find out how feasible travel by EV in the boonies is, not to mention see some sights along the way. There'll be the world's longest golf course, its 18 holes scattered across 848 miles of road, and the world's largest sheep farm. I hear it accounts for 62 percent of the global Metaverse user base.

Beyond that, there's no telling what we'll encounter, or even if we'll complete our journey. Even if the drop bears don't get us, we may end up losing our minds along that 91-mile straight. I'll tell you what, I've resorted to cannibalism in less time than it'll take to make that crossing. And if Lewin doesn't follow through on his promise of a neenish tart, I just might again.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com