Driving Paul Heinz: Braving “The Nullarbor”

Driving Aussie Style (Photo taken by Heather)

Those of you who have watched Adam & Heather’s YouTube videos of our Oz Road Trip know that Paul Heinz (a.k.a. Carlos) was our nickname for our beloved traveling companion (i.e., our campervan). This was the name given to the van by his previous owners (apparently one of them wanted to give it a German name & one wanted a Spanish name) & Adam & Heatherย decided to go with it.

Paul Heinz (Photo taken by Heather)

As you may know, our Nomad friend was not without his problems, but he got us across the Nullarbor & back & that’s saying something! . . . So, what exactly is the Nullarbor? Funny you should ask, because that’s exactly the same question I had when Adam informed me that that’s where my Aussie driving lessons would be taking place!! Um, ever heard of a parking lot, Adam? Oh, wait โ€“ I mean a car park? (still getting used to the Aussie lingo) ๐Ÿ˜‰

I knew nothing about the Nullarbor before coming to Australia & the strangeness of this new term conjured up images of a Bermuda triangle-like void, designed to ensnare unsuspecting American tourists. Riiight . . . sounds like the perfect place for me to practice driving in a mirror image of what I’m used to from the States!

Just a friendly reminder lest you forget!

That’s right, in Australia you drive on the left side of the road. Sounds simple enough, but to accommodate that the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle. The turn signals & windshield wipers are also reversed, which on several occasions caused me to appear as if I was performing some type of modern rain dance. But starting the wipers when I wanted to put on my turn signal was the least of my worries. I needed to use all my powers of concentration just to stay in my lane โ€“ it sounds silly, I know, but you have to line yourself up differently than you do back home & it just feels awkward at first. Besides that, I’ve never driven a 7-passenger van & with 2 out of 3 mirrors hanging on by a thread, well, the whole situation took some getting used to โ€“ OK, a LOT of getting used to. 0:-)

But, I digress; I never actually answered your question. The Nullarbor, it turns out, is not as scary as it sounds. The term actually comes from the Latin phrase โ€œnullus arbor,โ€ meaning โ€œno tree.โ€ Essentially it’s a treeless plain in the middle of Australia that we needed to drive across in order to get from the eastern part of the country to the west (& vice versa).

The beautiful scenery goes on for miles ๐Ÿ˜‰

See, not so bad after all โ€“ no trees means less obstacles for me to have to avoid! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And although it wasn’t a very scenic or interesting drive, Adam was correct that it wasn’t a bad place for a foreigner like me to hone her Aussie driving skills. With only one lane in each direction, all I had to do was stay in my lane & well, drive (which we already know is about all I could handle!) ย Of course, I did have to keep an eye out for the occasional ‘roo as well as a few other Aussie critters!

Camel, Wombat & 'Roo Crossing!

Since poor Paul Heinz could only manage about 80-90 kph (50-56 mph) for fear of overheating, it was extremely rare for us to have to pass (I mean “overtake”) any other vehicles (which, you guessed it, is done on the right).ย Although other vehicles didn’t come along too often (in either direction), one of the things I loved about the Nullarbor is that people coming from the opposite direction almost always waved to us as if we were old friends; we seemed to have been initiated into some sort of secret society of Nullarbor travelers! ย I also loved the trees we saw along the way filled with all sorts of goodies, each usually with its own theme – shoes, CDs, underwear, TVs, mattresses (no joke!) & the one below ornamented with various stuffed animals:

One of the many decorated trees along the Nullarbor

Thankfully I did very little driving save for the Nullarbor, but in the few small towns in which I did give it a go, Adam was always very forthcoming with advice. Like the time he cried out โ€œGive way, Give way, GIVE WAY!!!โ€ when I *almost* failed to yield at a Give Way sign. Geez, talk about your back seat driver. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I guess I hadn’t quite noticed the sign, perhaps because it was on the left-hand side of the road instead of the right or perhaps because I was still so busy concentrating on staying in my own lane. Oops. 0:-)

Well, at least I can say I achieved a goal by driving in Australia. And I didn’t just do it for me – I actually helped Heather & Adam accomplish goals, too! You see, Heather has this quote that she tries to live by: โ€œDo one thing a day that scares youโ€ (Eleanor Roosevelt). Well the day I first drove Paul Heinz (& let’s be honest, pretty much every day thereafter), I told them I was doing something that should rightfully scare all three of us!! So, you’re welcome guys, glad I could help. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thankfully, Adam & Heather did the bulk of the driving throughout our trip & I didn’t even think about getting behind the wheel anywhere other than the Outback. So now that we’re back from our road trip safe & sound, all of Australia can breathe a collective sigh of relief that one more crazy American is off of their roads . . . at least until my next adventure! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Where to next?!

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Camille
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 21:04:40

    So let me see if I have this RIGHT (or is it LEFT…) – Sit on the right, drive on the left, pass on the right, read signs on the left, signals and wipers on the right and GIVE WAY! How different that must have been and how great that you did something that scared you, Adam, Heather, Paul Heinz and me when I saw it on the video! Love from home……


    • nicoleinoz
      May 01, 2011 @ 11:26:34

      LOL – you have everything correct except that the turn signals & wipers aren’t both on the right (if that’s what you meant) – they’re just on opposite sides of where they are in the U.S. (the turn signals are on one side & the wipers are on the other, but don’t ask me which is which!) I figured it would freak you out to hear that I drove, but at least I’m too far away for you to yell at me – hahaha ๐Ÿ˜‰


  2. Patrick Schwab
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 22:27:38

    Hi Nik, nice to hear from you. This old computer has been giving me problems the past few weeks but I got it working today. I hear you missed another chance to skype with Mom and Kele, but she said you might get another chance before they leave florida. Sounds like you’re having fun and doing well. I also hear you are now considering Sidney instead of melbourne to settle down and what, perhaps look for a job. That sounds weird but I suppose at some point it would be wise. I know whereever you decide to stay, you’ll make a great choice. Miss and LOVE you………Dad


    • nicoleinoz
      May 01, 2011 @ 11:35:04

      Hi dad, nice to hear from you too! Yes, I’m starting to think I might want to settle in Sydney for a while instead of Melbourne. Originally I thought I’d try to split my time between both cities, but I’m not sure that’s practical with the amount of time I have (it would be tough to find a job & an apartment twice, each for just a few months). In theory Melbourne seems like the perfect city for me (it’s known for art, culture & cafes), but I just felt more at home in Sydney so I’m trying to trust my gut & not overthink it too much – you know how I have a tendency to do that! I’m still in Melbourne for at least another week, but I’ll keep you posted on my plans!


  3. Heather
    May 01, 2011 @ 00:06:10

    GIVE WAY!! I remember that ๐Ÿ™‚

    Today I turned on the windshield wipers several times instead of the turn signal. The past 2 days I’ve been freaked out as a passenger in Dan and then Mom’s cars when I thought they were pulling into the wrong lane of traffic.

    Oh, and thanks for all the linkage!! โค


    • nicoleinoz
      May 01, 2011 @ 11:40:49

      I’m still amazed that you were so calm & trusting of me on the road; Adam was definitely wiser in that regard – LOL!

      By this point I’ve gotten pretty used to cars being on the other side of the road, but I’ve still had my moments . . . When I left the airport last week I had to go through one of those revolving doors & I must have looked like a complete idiot when I tried to walk to the right & the door wouldn’t budge! Silly me – walk to the LEFT in Australia – LOL. 0:-)


  4. Jessica
    May 02, 2011 @ 16:33:43

    Hi Niki,

    So, I just realized that I could leave comments on your blog posts (technology is not my forte). I love reading about your adventures, and I am so proud of you! Just think if you can conquer driving, you can conquer anything:-) I am looking forward to future posts.



    • nicoleinoz
      May 03, 2011 @ 01:27:53

      Haha, no worries Jess! The comments are pretty well hidden on my blog & I can’t figure out how to change it, so I guess technology isn’t my forte either! I’m not sure I actually “conquered” driving in Oz, but at least I gave it a go! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for reading!


  5. Rebecca
    May 02, 2011 @ 23:03:36

    Both New Zealand and Australia are PERFECT for learning how to drive on the other side of the road. I made so many mistakes there that I hadn’t made since I was 16. But once you got it, so easy!

    Must be a desert thing. When driving up the Alice Springs, there are loads of roadside “attractions” too and everyone does the two finger salute. Love it!

    Can so relate to silly posts like this! Ahh, memories!


    • nicoleinoz
      May 03, 2011 @ 01:32:36

      We had lots of fun trying to see who would wave to us & who wouldn’t – another way to pass the long hours of driving across the Nullarbor, LOL!

      On another note, I took your suggestion & bought a flynet for my Outback tour & I am SO grateful! I’ll be writing a post about my tour eventually, complete with a pic of how ridiculous I looked wearing the net. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  6. Aunt Penny
    May 04, 2011 @ 21:22:51

    Wow, what a challenge. We are such creatures of habit. One thing I know for sure is that I would never get in a car in Australia with your MOTHER behind the wheel!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck with your apartment and job searches in Sydney. Looking forward to your next post. Love you…


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