There is nothing better in the western world than loading up the car and travelling long distances in the name of family, holiday or adventure. Everyone has done a version of it and, usually, enjoyed the results. Whether it is with family, friends or by yourself- the simplest trips are often the most enjoyable.
Road trips are arguably the simplest form of travel. The requirements are minimal, limited to a bag of clothes, a map and a basic idea of where you want to head. The beauty is that you don’t have to limit yourself to doing it in your home country. I have hired cars, or borrowed in some cases, and driven from England to Scotland and across New Zealand. Back home in Australia I have travelled with my family for three months through central Australia and back down the West Coast. I have travelled interstate to attend birthday parties and driven to bush locations to simply camp in the quiet.
When you look at it, working on your own timeline is the greatest advantage. No buses with questionable safety records to worry about. No tour group itineraries to adhere to or tour group members to worry about- any person that tells you they loved every person it their group is either a terrible liar or up for sainthood.
A few years back, a friend of mine made the life altering decision to trade life in the south eastern Australian state of Victoria for the sunny weather of Perth in Western Australia. Our path was to take us to Adelaide, Streaky Bay, across the Nullarbor Plain and onto Perth. For anyone taking notes, the trip is a 3300 kilometre journey covering three different time zones that we planned to do in just four days. In reality, this was ample time, we could even afford to visit some places along the way. I have known people to do it in half that, but when you want to average over 800 kilometres a day, it appears quite daunting.
I was brought along as an extra driver. With such lengthy distances covered each day, having a fresh driver raring to go was mandatory. Either that or I was the only person who didn’t need to work. You need to approach these offers with a positive mindset. Considering we were driving a Mercedes, complete with sunroof, made the trip all that more enticing. When the scenery was too repetitive, a quick glance up opened up a world of cloud gazing.
Australia is a funny place. Such vast distances between towns means that each small centre attempts to create its own unique attraction for passing travellers. As appears to be an Australian tradition, this is usually something big. Queensland, in particular is synonymous with oversized sights such as the big banana and big pineapple to name just a couple. Not to be outdone, New South Wales is home to an inland submarine (global warming preparation) and a large sheep, known as the ‘Big Merino’, named after the breed. Throw into the mix a myriad of big prawns, koalas, guitars and every known species of fish to have ever inhabited an Australian waterway, it has been covered. In the space of three days, between Adelaide and Perth, I was witness to a big galah, kangaroo, propeller (not attached to anything, mind you. Just sitting there by itself), silo (not necessarily an attraction, but it was large enough for me to be fairly impressed) and whale (ironically much smaller than a real whale, but the thought was there). An old, normal sized tractor deserves a mention. It was chained off so it couldn’t be stolen- even though it was from the early 1900’s, rusted out and missing the fuel tank. They all lacked the exotic feel of a piece of tropical fruit, but provided a talking point, none the less.
I figured on a different reason for random roadside statues; most of the scenery becomes repetitive beyond comprehension. Any change is greeted with an excitement usually reserved for the birth of a first child or winning the lotto. Slight exaggerations aside, it’s amazing how the smallest difference can be a breath of fresh air. If that means stopping at strange roadhouses to stretch legs, buy fuel and eat, so be it.
Stopping for food on such trips is a necessary evil. The more remote you get the more expensive and exceedingly bland the food becomes. Pre-made sandwiches in plastic containers accompanied by pies that were at their freshest a few months before as some of the highlights. One evening, we were able to pull into a caravan park at a place called Streaky Bay. Although noticeably un-streaky, we decided to stay and made our way to the local bistro for a much needed feed. We were very clearly the only people who weren’t locals to the area. That is another strange habit of locals at out of the way destinations- they can spot an out-of-towner from a mile away and like to have a good gawk. I don’t think that it’s because they don’t like them, although it may have something to do with it, but probably more to do with the fact that new faces are just people in a pub blocking access to the gambling facilities. Not that we do it deliberately, we’re just not very good.
Driving the Nullarbor Plain is something I’d always wanted to do. It contains the longest straight road in Australia and is a vast, treeless landscape. The name ‘Nullarbor’ quite literally means ‘treeless’. So why be so excited about driving through a scrub flat? Because the views of the Great Australian Bight are incredible. Jagged cliff walls stop wild oceans as eerie sea mists shroud the view. I’ll admit, there are so many pull off points to look at the cliff line that you simply cannot stop at them all. I’ll also admit that the two times I have travelled across the Nullarbor, I have slept for at least fifty per cent of the journey. Regardless, looking out over a wild ocean, watching large pods of dolphins swimming along, is fairly special and makes driving large distances all worth it. Not to mention that and we got to cross the South Australian border into Western Australia. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be too exciting, but when you can walk two and a half metres and go back in time two and a half hours, your inner nerd gets a little excited. It’s the kind of thing that makes you giggle, then look around to check for witnesses.
Some people don’t understand the urge to organise your own trip and drive yourself. They think that planes have been built for these purposes and all you are doing by travelling by car is prolonging a trip that could have been done in just a few hours. But by doing it this way, you can see things that no photo does justice and no plane can spot. Doing it with friends makes it all the more worthwhile and is something you can look back on with a smile.
Wayward Tip: road trips are a different way to see a place. But don’t do it alone. Boredom is a by-product of a long drive so you want a good co-pilot to keep you going and changing the music.