I’m going to be completely honest with you. It was 2018 and I was planning the longest adventure I’d ever attempted, an east to west crossing of Australia. Most people cross from Byron Bay to Steep Point, but I wanted to do it differently, by following the Tropic of Capricorn from Rockhampton on the east coast and eight weeks later, finishing on the west coast at Ningaloo Reef. As the Tropic of Capricorn sweeps across the continent, it can be reached in some truly magical spots — Diamantina National Park, Hay River Track, Sandy Blight Junction Track, Gary Highway, Talawana Track and Warroora Station, just to name a few.
The trip took months of planning, organising permits, booking campsites, farm stays and caravan parks. A lot of work went into preparing my Prado to be the ultimate tourer that would take me to these remote places and get me home again. Excel spreadsheets, budgets and pitches to editors. So much planning went into this trip, but the one thing I didn’t take into account was how taxing it was going to be mentally. You see, I was about to spend four months on the road, travelling solo. No worries I thought, but by the end of the third month, I was burnt out.
I missed my wife. We talked every day, on the mobile when I was in range and on my satellite phone when I wasn’t. It was the physical contact that I missed and having her with me. As difficult as this is to write, it sent me mad.
Thankfully, on the final leg of the journey, crossing the Simpson Desert via the Madigan Line, an old mate of mine joined me. I suspect that I wasn’t great company, but at the end of each day we had a good laugh and he reminded me why I was out there. The long-distance adventure. It’s what I love.
Long-distance touring can do that to you, especially when you have a time limit and you’re feeling rushed. Sometimes we have to cover huge distances just to get from one end of the state to the other — just look at the Cape. It’s just as far from Brisbane to Cairns as it is from Melbourne to Brisbane. Insane! How many of you have tackled the Cape from Melbourne, during the school holidays, with only two weeks of annual leave in hand?
THE GOOD OUTWEIGHS THE BAD
That’s the ugly side of long-distance touring, but now it’s time for the good, because there is a lot of good to get stuck into.
There’s so much to see, especially if you have time to explore. I sometimes reminisce about the long drives we experienced as kids, when highways went through towns and you had to slow to 60km/h, often stopping for an ice-cream or to kick the footy in the park. The old towns used to have great roadhouses too, where a burger with the lot was the meal of choice, juices running down your arms, a mix of tomato sauce, egg yolk and grease.
Our diverse countryside changes often too. Forests filled with amazing aromas, wheat fields moving with the breeze, rugged mountain ranges reaching high into the sky, rolling hills flowing across the horizon, burnt orange sand covered in golden spinifex. Along the coast, the colours of the ocean change constantly; deep blue in some places, turquoise in others, just like the sand on the beach, yellow or white — we are so lucky. The waterfalls are stunning, some falling from great heights, others trickling onto smoothed rocks, all picturesque and often photographed. Our national anthem says it so well when it says ‘Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare’.
We are very lucky.
It’s important to break up your drive when long-distance touring, and just taking a look at the landscape can be a good excuse. Stopping every two hours is about right. Get the blood flowing again, take a walk, or if the eyes are weary, a 15-minute power nap is a lifesaver. If you see a sign for a ‘Driver Reviver’ stop, take advantage of the free cuppa. Reaching a town can also give you a good reason to stop and rest, check out the local information centre, and see how good the bakery is. It’s also good to spend a little cash in towns you come across — helping the local economy brings good karma.
ESSENTIALS BEFORE YOU SET OFF
Allow plenty of time. Plan your trip but remember it doesn’t have to be a tight plan. Have an idea of how each day might pan out and it will make the trip easier. You might have a distance in mind each day but take into account the time difference between driving on a bitumen highway like the Stuart Highway or a dirt track like the Anne Beadell Highway. Knowing where you can get fuel, potable water, supplies, and medical help is important, as well as some idea of where you can camp each day.
Include some lay days, when you can stop, refresh and relax. Setting up and packing down can become tiresome if you’re doing it every day, so pick a few spots on your journey where you’ll experience a few days of downtime with added benefits.
Knowing what the weather is expected to do is important in your planning, especially if your long-distance adventure is taking in different zones. There are eight climate zones within Australia, but to simplify things, most people tackle the big trips during the temperate winter zone and then head to the warmer tropical zone. One thing about the weather though, it is unpredictable. The wet season may end later, so trips to the Cape may be affected early in the season. On your long trip south to the Victorian High Country in January, you may experience snow. Knowing these things can happen makes it easier to prepare for when they do.
Take care when driving roads that are foreign to you. You never know what is going to be around the next corner, and Australia is full of animals that enjoy crossing the road. I’ve lost count of the number of kangaroos and emus I’ve kissed with my bullbar, but I’ll never forget the time I hit a cow. It was dusk and thankfully I was aware there were cattle about so my speed was reduced just in case. When the cow stepped in front of me, I was only travelling at 40km/h. The extent of the damage wasn’t evident, but at least I was able to drive the 350km to Karratha to get my Prado repaired.
If permits are required to access sections of your trip, it’s better to apply for them well in advance as some can take weeks to be processed and if your application fails, you’ll have plenty of time to activate Plan B. Some are painless and can be sourced online with immediate success, others you may need to phone someone, email a request, or supply a lot of specific information that takes time.
Making sure your vehicle and camper are ready for a long trip is important too. A pre-trip inspection is a good idea, and when was the last time the bearings on your camper where checked? Arranging servicing at least a couple of months out means you have time enough to fix any problems and also save more cash for your trip.
This brings us to budgets. Your single biggest expense will be fuel. In some places expect to pay $3 per litre— yep that’s right. On the Canning Stock Route, that’s the average price. Food will be the next big spend. It may pay to prepare meals before you go and add a freezer to the mix so you can save some money. Then you have camp fees, tours and activities, souvenirs, permits and miscellaneous items to consider. Having some sort of budget will help in your trip planning, as well as when you’re on the road. If you want to swim with Whale Sharks, having the money to pay for it when you get there should be in the budget.
Long-haul journeys don’t have to be exhausting, physically or mentally. With the right preparation and realistic planning, they can be the most rewarding and memorable trips you ever go on.
SOME OF AUSTRALIA'S GREATEST LONG-DISTANCE ROUTES
- Canning Stock Route, WA
- Anne Beadell Highway, SA & WA
- The Gibb River Road, WA
- Cairns to the Cape, Qld
- The Savannah Way, Qld & NT
- Coral Coast, WA
- Stuart Highway, SA & NT
- The Nullarbor, WA & SA
- The Pacific Coast, NSW & QLD
- Gary Junction Highway, NT
- Binns Track, NT
- Tassie East Coast, Tas
- The Adventure Way, Qld
- The Outback Way, Qld, NT & WA
- Tanami Road, NT & WA
How many have you conquered?