AUSmotive’s summer road trip

AUSmotive's summer road trip

I spent Christmas with family in Adelaide and figured it was a good opportunity to embark on long road trip from my home in Canberra with the goal of taking in some of the best driving roads Australia has to offer. Most I had driven before, some I hadn’t, regardless I was looking forward to some quality seat time while being immersed in hot hatch heaven!

AUSmotive's summer road trip

My journey began with the long and laborious drive to Adelaide. It was 1160km in all from Canberra to the Adelaide CBD and it was bloody hot. I passed through Wagga Wagga around midday and the outside temp according to my car had just hit 40°C.

Reaching a peak of 46°C somewhere around Balranald it didn’t matter what setting my climate control was on, with the hot sun beating down, it was still very warm inside the cabin. All I needed was a quick toilet stop to realise it was much, much worse outside!

AUSmotive's summer road trip

As you can tell there’s not a hell of a lot to see along the Hay Plains; except a guide post and someone’s front gate. Trees? There’s a few out there somewhere. I think.

When I’m on a long drive like this I just want to get to my destination as soon as possible. I’ll stop for the toilet, a quick stretch and petrol. Nothing more.

It’s hard country out here, too. Hot and unforgiving. Each town has a wheat silo, and not much else; usually a pub (of course) and a small church. It’s around about this time, after eight or so hours of driving, that things start to get really hard. It’s hot, boring and seemingly never ending.

Make it end, I just want to get there!

Thankfully, a couple of greasy dim sims and a can of Red Bull in Ouyen managed to perk me up and by the time the 900km mark passed by I knew the worst was behind me. I’d broken the back of this journey.

AUSmotive's summer road trip

A notable exception to the highlight-free zone on the drive to Adelaide is this sign acknowledging motor racing legend Larry Perkins. Never mind that the sign is the biggest thing in Cowangie. Come to think of it, it’s the only thing.

By the time I reached Lameroo the temperature began to ease to the high 30s, which made conditions more comfortable. On arrival in Adelaide it was a mild and very welcome 19°C.

Around 12 hours on the road and the longest and most boring leg of my summer road trip was done and dusted. Thank goodness for that. You didn’t miss much, not the least of which was my woeful singing.

Adelaide–Gumeracha via Greenhill Road (approx 45km)

For those of you who’ve never been to Adelaide don’t let the dull jokes put you off. If you love driving on twisty roads this is THE BEST CITY IN AUSTRALIA. Yes, truly.

A perfect example of this is Greenhill Road. It’s one of the main thoroughfares in the city and if you drive it an easterly direction you’ll need just a few minutes before you’ll find yourself in the Adelaide Hills; presented with an endless selection of great driving roads. It doesn’t matter which direction you take, you’ll have fun. And there’s not much traffic either.

Mostly the roads here are tight and narrow. Often a village seems to appear from nowhere and perhaps more than usual the roads demand your full attention.

Gorge Road (aka the Gorgeschleife) is probably the highlight, it has the best road surface and is wider than most winding roads in the Hills. But it’s also the busiest, with plenty of tourist and cycling traffic to be aware of. For example, steer clear during weekends if you’re hoping for light traffic.

I was on my way to the Barossa Valley for lunch at Seppelt’s Winery and enjoyed a nice mountain blast for my entree!

Great Ocean Road (approx 240km)

From Adelaide to the Great Ocean Road there’s not too much in the way of fun driving roads. A leisurely lap of the Blue Lake in Mount Gambier, wishing it was a closed tarmac rally stage, is about the best you’ll find.

However, it is very much recommended you make a special effort to drive the Great Ocean Road at least once in your life. I’ll let Wikipedia take care of the history and I’ll fill you in on the highlights.

Firstly, though, a word of warning, the Great Ocean Road is always full of tourists, so be prepared to count to ten or look at the (sometimes) calm blue ocean. Of course, Christmas holidays are the GOR’s peak season—if you can, plan your visit here outside of the holiday seasons to maximise the chances of a traffic-free run.

Predicting the actions of road users, of all kinds, around the Twelve Apostles area is hard going, with people frequently stopping to take in the genuinely spectacular sights. Never mind, the road is good here, but things get much better later on.

I was heading east towards Melbourne and this is probably the best approach if you do have to visit in the peak season (going against the flow from Melbourne).

Wattle Hill, Great Ocean Road (approx 5km)

For a road that’s officially 240km long picking out a 5km section may seem a little odd. Especially when you consider it’s no more special than Macquarie Pass or countless other mountain climbs around the country. However, in my mind it’s this small and very enjoyable climb to Wattle Hill that marks the real start of the fun which follows.

An added benefit of driving east is that you get to do this tight and twisty section uphill, which is always more fun, I think.

The road remains quite good through to Lavers Hill and really picks up again in the free flowing Aire Floodplain section before the Otway Ranges.

Apollo Bay–Lorne, Great Ocean Road (approx 45km)

While there are excellent parts of the Great Ocean Road either side of Apollo Bay and Lorne, it’s really this section which highlights what this road is all about. Numerous tight switchbacks are pierced with the brief respite of undulating esses. It’s a great test of a car’s handling and feeling your car’s suspension working hard to manage changes in both direction and elevation is a lot of fun.

You don’t need a lot of power on this road, although more power is always good, of course. Any hot hatch, or an MX-5 or Toybaru, would be a great choice. Although, a Porsche Boxster would be perfect!

AUSmotive's summer road trip

A quick note on the traffic at this time of year. The photo above was taken just as I was leaving Lorne and shows the traffic from Melbourne flocking to the popular holiday town. The tailback lasted 4km, which I thought was pretty bad, until not long after I saw 7km of bumper to bumper traffic heading from Melbourne into Anglesea. Luckily I didn’t have t suffer through anything like that!

Bairnsdale–Omeo, Great Alpine Road (approx 121km)

This route marked the start of the roads I’d never driven before. I have driven parts of the B500 around 10 years ago, from Bright to Mount Hotham, and recalling those fond memories made me want to take another look around.

For the most part this route is relatively open and free flowing. The scenery is lovely and when I drove it the traffic was pretty light, too. There are some welcome moments of twisties but nothing like I was about to discover.

As a general rule Victoria has good quality roads, that’s speaking purely about the road surface. There are some rough and ready sections of highway like any other state, but the Vics seem to spend more time than anyone else on road quality. It’s a theory I’ve pondered for a while and was backed up during my journey into Omeo, where the road was smooth, wide and a pleasure to drive.

Omeo–Mitta Mitta, Omeo Highway (approx 104km)

Tackling this route was something of an accident. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but when I put my end destination into my car’s sat nav it presented me with three options. I quickly picked the twistiest looking road and didn’t really pay too much attention, assuming I’d be taking the main B500 route before turning off towards my bed for the night just south of Wodonga. Well, I was wrong, and while I’m a little embarrassed at how I discovered this road, I’m very glad I did.

Simply, this is one of the most mentally and physically demanding roads I’ve encountered. Yet those demands were rewarded with a virtually traffic-free run, heaps of fun and plenty of smiles.

The road is narrow and tight with more second gear hairpins than any other road I sampled during this road trip. It’s called the Omeo Highway, yet almost all 104kms of the road is like this and you need to have your mind switched on all the way. During this section I only saw six cars, two going my way and four the other. That was some welcome relief given so much effort was required to get the best out of this road.

The only downside was an unexpected 10–15km of dirt road which was followed by another 10 or so kilometres of freshly resealed road, littered with light stones. In some ways it was a welcome relief and I still had fun, helped by the fact I did not see another car at all during these sections.

I rate this road very highly and reckon if you’re not worried by unsealed roads—which posed no problems for my car, a 2009 Audi S3 running Bilstein PSS10s set 15mm lower than standard—then you should have a crack!

Tawonga Gap Road (approx 21km)

I’d driven Tawonga Gap Road a couple of times before in my previous road trip visit to the Victorian Alps and it was to be the first road I drove in 2014. What a great way to start the year and commence the final leg of my road trip.

From Bright the road starts with a gentle climb and sweeping corners. It gradually becomes tighter, twistier and steeper. As a result it becomes more fun and more rewarding. The road surface is pretty good as well, which offers more confidence for the downhill run once you reach the top of Tawonga Gap.

Khancoban–Thredbo, Alpine Way (approx 74km)

This is one leg of my favourite driving route, which I call the Snowschleife. It starts just out of Cooma, taking the Snowy Mountains Highway to Kiandra before turning left to link up with Khancoban via Cabramurra. I’d not driven the road for almost six years, when I had my MINI, and was looking forward to reuniting with my treasured tarmac.

AUSmotive's summer road trip

To be truthful I was a little disappointed that I was joining my favoured loop at Khancoban, missing out on the Kiandra–Khancoban section, especially after the drive from Tawonga to Khancoban, via Wodonga for a fuel stop, was largely uninspiring (at least compared with the other highlights already sampled).

However, any such thoughts were soon forgotten immediately after Khancoban where the road carves its way uphill with rock faces to the right and deep valleys to the left. It’s narrow, demanding and is close to driving nirvana.

That said, the road surface isn’t that great and you can expect to encounter plenty of oncoming 4WDs using up all of the road, many with trailers in tow. So make sure you keep left and hold enough in reserve to allow for those oncoming hazards. It’s still an epic drive, though.

Things do settle down for a while midway with less demanding roads to be covered, although still fun in their own way. At least the road surface has improved by then. Yet, it’s all worthwhile, because the closer you get to Thredbo the better the road gets. The last 20–30km into Thredbo from Khancoban is one of the best roads I’ve ever driven and is usually rewarded with low traffic.

Driving through on new year’s day this was the busiest I had seen this road in any of my previous runs through Snowy Mountains. That said, I only came across four or five cars going in my direction, with around 10–12 the other way, which for a leg that’s some 74km is a small price given the excess of ribbon-like treats to be found.

AUSmotive's summer road trip

And so they were the highlights of my summer road trip. I covered around 3720km in all and enjoyed some of the most scenic and enjoyable roads in the country.

On a personal level last year was a pretty crap one for your AUSmotive editor. So closing out 2013 with a long driving holiday and starting afresh in 2014 with some quality roads was a much needed tonic. There was blaring music and crap singing for the boring parts and full attention for the twisties, allowing me to take my mind off everything else other than the road ahead.

Who knows what may lay ahead for AUSmotive in the future, with any luck it will be around for many years to come!

Festive wishes and happy new year to you all.

The Snowschleife (approx 344km)

If you are keen on trying the Snowschleife for yourself it’s worth noting that Khancoban still doesn’t have a 98RON fuel option. Experience suggests fuel consumption of around 12–15l/100km can be expected in a modern hot hatch. The most demanding part of the drive is the 159km run between Kiandra and Thredbo, you can take it pretty easy elsewhere and not miss out on too much. If you don’t think you can make it from Cooma to Jindabyne on a single tank you may need a bottle of octane booster for a splash’n’dash at Khancoban.