-by Josh McKenzie
I guess I can only blame myself for having been in this position. You see, I would normally do 25,000km a year as stipulated in my novated lease.
However, for reasons that can only really be justified by a sense of adventure and youthful exuberance, I felt the need to spend parts of the last year or so in cars and countries other than my own.
OK, so I’m not going to get much sympathy, but I did get an excuse for another road trip …
So that’s why I drove to Uluru. It was an easy choice really, being just over 2000km away from Melbourne and somewhere I had never been before.
Now the drive was going to be a little different than if I’d chosen say … The Sunshine Coast, as I would be contending with long, straight roads, isolation and the threat of the unknown.
My main concerns with setting off to Uluru were attributed to my vehicle; the VW Golf R32.
Firstly, it requires premium unleaded. Would this be available, and how far would it be between premium pumps?
In an attempt to answer this, I called a service station along the Stuart Highway in South Australia and asked if they had premium unleaded available.
“Nah matey, we don’t sell that brand. We do have Mobil petrol though”.
Right – great to hear that expert response.
My second concern was my space saver spare wheel. A trip to the local auto store helped ease these concerns with a few bottles of octane boost and a couple of cans of tyre goo.
What do you do at the beginning of a four-day break at 6am? You drive from Melbourne to Port Augusta.
It’s always liberating to set off on a holiday during rush hour – driving in a direction opposite to the masses, knowing that within a few hours they’ll be in offices whilst you’re in the sunshine.
My trip across the Westgate Bridge, that great escape venue from Melbourne, was no different to that.
Leaving a grey, cloudy Melbourne, I was greeted by sunshine and warmth as I approached the Grampians along the Western Highway.
But lets face it, how excited can I get about driving to Adelaide?
As beautiful as the hills are as you approach Adelaide, there’s a reason why there’s a giant Koala along the Western Highway.
Much of the same can be said about driving to Port Augusta; the most interesting aspect being the 40-degree temperatures causing some trees in the area to smell like cannabis.
Lucky my motel in Port Augusta had air-conditioning and the stale stench of early ’90s decor.
Day two is where the adventure begins. I start out early, brimming the tank with 98RON at the local servo before setting off.
Within a few kilometres of leaving Port Augusta on the Stuart Highway I’m introduced to the by-product of this bitumen: road-trains.
For the most part a road-train is a B-Double needing an ego boost, consisting of two or three trailers at tops. Easily overtaken by most cars and drivers given the great lengths of straight road.
Be warned though; there are five or six trailer behemoths.
Continuing on through Woomera to Coober Pedy, the main form of entertainment comes from cattle grids and road signs.
The cattle grids and signs indicating the animals on the road (also in German and Chinese) go hand in hand – but people, please, if you feel the need to get out of your car and into the sun, do not walk backwards through a desert.
The opal mines surrounding Coober Pedy make for a positively alien landscape.
That would normally be enough to make a town stuck in the middle of nowhere interesting, however, since it’s unbearably hot in Coober Pedy, people have decided to head back to the caveman era and live underground.
The locals told me the tourists seem to enjoy seeing the many underground churches, which may be an idea if you want to escape the heat for a bit.
With the first half of the day gone, it’s time for me to hit the road again and head on to the great Northern Territory.
Hours of relatively boring road later, I’m at the border and feeling welcome – by a nice big one-three-zero!.
While a 130km/h speed sign is no where near as exciting as the now defunct “de-restricted” speed signs, it’s still slightly liberating as a Victorian to not feel like a criminal for wanting to cover distance in an efficient and timely manner.
My arrival into the resort town of Yulara (at the entrance to the Uluru National Park) is about an hour before sunset, with just enough time to shower, eat and get to Uluru for the sunset show.
Although we’ve all seen the giant rock in various media, it really is quite a bit more impressive in person.
Closer to the resort there are a few dunes you can hike to in order to watch the final moments of the twilight sky disappear from over Uluru and the Olgas. If you’re as lucky as me, you’ll be alone to witness this as the hordes of tourists bus it back to their hotels.
As you may have guessed, Uluru also puts on a sunrise show. Although it’s the lesser-seen side of the giant rock, the sunrise paints it the most brilliant shades of red. It really was unfortunate that I couldn’t continue to be a tourist though.
High winds had closed the controversial climb up the rock, and high temperatures had closed all but the shortest of hikes. That disappointment was my cue to leave, reversing my journey to get back home to cold and dreary Melbourne.
So what did I get out of this road trip? Apart from 4680km extra on my odometer, I’ve learnt that I really need to see more of my own country. I’ve learnt that, despite its reputation, the Stuart Highway is actually an excellent road to travel.
Its excellent condition would put Victoria’s “A” roads to shame, with adequate services and more then enough other drivers on it to help you out if, heaven forbid, you broke down.
Its greatest dangers involve fatigue and overtaking – both of which can only be left up to you, the driver, to manage and common sense should prevail.
As for the car? Well, it’d be just a little unfair for me to attempt to provide you with an unbiased review, which is why I won’t. All the positives mentioned in previous reviews of the VW R32 still apply.
I’ll just state that I’m now in love with my car – a phenomenon many car enthusiasts can attest to.