The Great Australian Road Trip
PEZ’s Tour Of Down Under to the Tour Down Under. Getting to Adelaide was no simple plan, as Steve chose to drive 2000km across the outback through 100+ degree heat, crossing bushfires, desert plains and native wildlife to make it to his cycling nirvana, the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under. Here’s his trip.
Words and pics contributed by Steve Prokop
How often have you heard “it is not the destination but the journey”? Well this trip is probably the exception!
My inaugural PEZ TDU Road Trip ran from Brisbane, QLD, Australia, through the infamous remoteness of the Australian Outback, to Adelaide, South Australia. 2,000 kilometers door to door. In 2 days. By car. Sure we could have flown down, tackled the airport with bike bags and associated luggage like everyone else and get there in 2 hours. But I know that PEZ likes to do things differently, and driving to the Santos Tour Down Under presented itself as an opportunity, so, Why not? That is the PEZ way after all.
The distance between Brisbane in the north east and Adelaide doesn’t look too bad on the map….until you take into account that Australia is a simply huge country – 14 times the size of France! Map courtesy of FreeWorldmaps.net
The car was loaded up with bikes, riding kit and of course an abundance of snack bars, chips and everything else that constitutes road trip food. A superb morning greeted us as the final bits were loaded into the car and we managed to hit the road at 5:45 AM to clear the city traffic chaos. Ha poor suckers having to go to work!
The great thing about my city of Brisbane is that within 30 minutes, you are into the country and farmland.
We had nothing but the thoughts of the new cycling calendar ahead of us. All the excitement a new year brings, new teams, new rider combo’s, new sponsors, new kit and colours. We have poured over all the news scuttlebug and almanacs and in 48 hours we will be in the centre of it all. This has to be the best time of the year, the excitement and expectation of the new season.
2 Hours out of Brisbane we struck our first road works, but we sneak through the “green light” joining the queue of traffic that had been waiting for 15 minutes or so. Winning! Climbing the Great Dividing Range – a mountain range that extends from Cairns in the North 4,000 kilometers south to Victoria in the south – at Cunningham’s gap see’s the landscape change from rural to proper agricultural regions, a patchwork of crop farms, with different colours and all very uniform shapes.
Our goal today is to cover 1200 kilometers – break the camels back so to speak, and at this rate we are well on the way.
Despite the solid average speeds that can be maintained, outback Australian driving poses it’s own challenges, not least of which is a majority of the main highway network remains single lane each way.
This is enough to make sure your concentration is maintained and with some very average road surfaces along the way this sort of driving really can be frontier stuff, particularly for foreigners. Reaching the next town, usually over 100 kilometers between each one, is cause for celebration.
Towns also present the opportunity to see what is the latest in marketing ideas…..from the 70’s that is, a lot of which are still in active duty today.
A particular favourite of mine was the 4 seater tandem, being offered in Moree, which is in the middle of nowhere. But even it was overshadowed by the massive sign advertising Uranus.
This educational sign being displayed in a rest area caused us to turn around just to make sure our eyes were not deceiving us. Apparently this is a great location to see Uranus at night…
Once midday had passed and the sun starts its arc to the west, another image so familiar to Aussies on their road trips starts to shine. While it is probably not unique to Australia but it is one that always reminds me of road trips, long hours behind the wheel and a desire to get to the stop for the night.
It is of course, the sunset through the bug splattered windscreen. The sun’s rays are long, the early evening sky is still clear and the colours have a blue hue to them. It is an image that seems to shout ‘road trip’!
Arriving in to a town called West Wyalong, we know we are over half way and on the downward slope to cycling nirvana. We have made our 1200 k’s, with some light to spare. This is important because once the sun goes down, wildlife Australia wakes up. Kangaroos in particular are a massive problem, hitting one of these doesn’t bear thinking about, with average weights 60-70 kilograms. There is a reason country people have massive bull bars or ‘roo bars’ on the front of their vehicles.
After settling into our room, and heeding the advice of the welcome notice we walk the 200 meters into town to the pub for dinner. The air is still 35 degrees at 7:30pm, and the sun is setting. Country Australian towns are all the same, a central main road, with the shops lining the sides, their awnings spread to the kerb providing shade along the footpaths.
There is a roundabout in the middle which has a town clock or ANZAC memorial as its centre piece, and is usually adorned with 2 pubs on opposing corners. Great pride is taken on the public gardens of the town providing a bright green or colourful floral change to the brown of the sunburnt land surrounding them.
Tomorrow the challenge is the Hay plains, heat, and the potential of being diverted due to bush fires. We find our pub and order the “special” rump steak and a beer, which became two beers very quickly. The ‘special’ was supposedly smaller than normal, at $10 with chips and veg, but when it came out, it was one of the biggest I’ve seen! These country people sure know how to feed a worker.
The next day the alarm went off before sunrise. We wanted to get 200 kilometers down the road before breakfast, because today was going to be the toughest. We were tackling the Hay Plains, and the temperature was being predicted to hit 46 degrees in Adelaide. So despite the potential of kangaroo activity we needed to get going.
Cycling in my native Queensland is best done in the morning before the heat of the day takes hold and we have the benefit of the day breaking as early as 4:30 am, so it is normal for us but the Outback is different. The sun throws an incredible golden light that illuminates the countryside. It is amazing to drive through, particularly driving away from it!
In this photo you can see on the sat nav that we have an impressive 119 kilometers before the next turn. This was the pretty section with the road undulating and trees all around. It changes the closer you get to Hay, and after Hay it is dramatically different.
Driving without incident we arrive at Hay for breakfast, and I feel like something completely rubbish. I dont know why but my mind turned to pancakes, I had a craving that had to be fixed and luckily the local shop could provide – with some nice fattening bacon thrown in for the mix. Calories I’m sure I’ll burn off fast when we actually get to Adelaide and start riding anyway…
The butcher next door to my cafe had done some pretty funky artwork for his shop to stand out and the temperature at 8:30 was already 35 degrees, it was time to keep moving.
Leaving Hay behind us, we had 200 kilometers of basically nothing ahead of us.
There is absolutely no indication that you are moving forward. It is you, and an invisible headwind that sees fuel use increase significantly – at least we’re not on our bikes! The game you play is recalculating how much fuel you will have by the time to get to the other side. People towing trailers regularly come unstuck along here. The speed limit is 110 km/h on this dead straight road and it’s incredible to drive into the horizon seeing the curvature of the earth, scouring for Emu. Everyone driving towards you waves, and you in return. But sometimes a surprise appears on the horizon, you can’t make it out properly, but very soon you see it.
A drover working what is called the long paddock. Mustering cattle from one area to the other. Cracking his stock whip to keep the herd moving, cattle dogs also keep the cattle heading in the same direction. This is a main outback highway to remember.
We push on, munching our way through the snack reserves we have on board and all the time our view is straight ahead, flat, and featureless.
Through all of this in the distance there are some trees, then rises in the landscape and soon we have cleared the Hay Plain – all 300 kilometres of it. There is a sense of achievement in the PEZ mobile, and thoughts turn back to the excitement of being in Adelaide for the season kick off. Very quickly we are over the New South Wales border and into Victoria, following the mighty Murray River.
We pull up for lunch, not because we needed to, but because if we didnt we’d be in no mans land, between towns at lunchtime. Missing lunch sees the dining options reduce to a bag of crisps at a servo (ed: gas station in ‘Aussie’), so we find a cafe and have a rest in the lovely temperature of 42 degrees. We spy the newspaper shouting the message that today the mercury is to hit 44. By coincidence we are given table marker 44 as well.
There is a major bush fire threat, and for the last 80 or so kilometers we have seen plumes of smoke rising up in the air. We learn that the road between Ouen where we were and Melbourne had been cut off, and fires further to the west were being monitored. That could be bad for us, as this would mean the road to Adelaide was susceptible – right on our way!
We passed the police road block for the Melbourne road. Looking forward the smoke coming from where we were going was increasing. With the radio on the local station we were getting the reports and madly looking up town names on the map to see if we were in trouble. Getting closer it was soon apparent that this was not great, but we got through.
We drove through smoke for a solid 8 kilometers, and while we were in no danger, it did give us a good idea of how frightening bush fires can be. Unfortunately lives would be taken and property lost with devastation to wildlife and stock. The following day, the road was cut to through traffic.
Clearing the smoke we were less than 200 kilometers to Adelaide! Woo Hoo. The final run in was fantastic, the excitement and anticipation was evident. Counting down the kilometers after all the driving was the best. What it did show was by driving down, our anticipation and enthusiasm had a chance to develop and mature. We worked hard to be here and we were going to bloody enjoy it! For us it was much more rewarding to come over the Lofty range, spy Adelaide in the distance and sigh as we finally made it. It seems a lot more real to be here. Flying would be great, like we did last year, but it was too easy…
There was just one more little thing – the newspaper lied!
Santos Tour Down Under….here we come!
Steve ‘VeloRoo’ Prokop is an Aussie cycling enthusiast who runs a bike hire and Tour company with his wife Julia in the south of France for most of the year before returning to Australia in the French winter to enjoy the sunshine and visit events such as the TDU. Check them out at veloroo.com for an unforgettable cycling holiday.