That was the thought that embedded itself in Jay Gordon’s psyche and formed the basic outline of his pitch to potential drivers when he recruited friends and family to attempt something pretty absurd: Four guys trapped in a modified Land Cruiser for over 6 days, blazing around Australia on Highway 1, stopping only for fuel, food, and urgent toilet breaks.
The last mob that tried it finished in six days, eight hours, 52 minutes – surely we could beat that?
We’d all heard wild stories about the two famed USA records – around Manhattan in eight minutes, NY to LA in 28 hours – but those were a little rich for our blood. The ridiculous speeds, the need to seriously evade cops and the use of in-car bed pans to achieve those feats didn’t appeal to us or the wives and kids we’d all be leaving behind. But we thought we had a punter’s chance at Highway 1. Once we all got the green light from wives (who probably only agreed because they thought we’d never actually go through with it) and secured time off from work, we set the departure date for June 10.
The team, quickly billed as Highway 1 to Hell, was made up of two pairs of brothers – Jay and Dan Gordon, Will and Todd Atwood – and a fifth member, a 2017 Toyota Landcruiser Sahara.
We quickly got to work on modifications, fitting a TJM bull bar and Lightforce DL230 HTX HID/LED spotlights, a rear rack to house the spare tyres and make room for a huge 180L long range fuel tank (bringing the total fuel capacity up to 273L).
With CarAdvice’s interest in the attempt, it was easy to attract sponsors, with Bridgestone supplying a set of Dueler A/T 697s, including 2 spares, XPEL Protective Films providing a full protective wrap, SOYT tinting hooking us up with darker tint in the rear windows and Café de SOYT installing a custom in-car entertainment system consisting of numerous gaming consoles.
As the departure date approached, the attempt was almost indefinitely postponed due to a family emergency. But, thanks to some kind hearts, we managed to only push back the departure until the evening of Monday June 12. This threw out all our timed route planning, but like all good heists, we decided to roll with the punches and just wing it.
After our first bad decision of eating sushi as our final meal, we loaded the Sahara, said our goodbyes and jumped on the Gateway motorway. As we reached the summit of the Gateway Bridge, we started the trip meter and checked the clock: 6:52 p.m. We were on our way.
As gravity and the Sahara’s diesel V8 took us down the other side of the bridge, Jay reminded us that we had only a day to make it to Croydon. That’s the last petrol stop before you hit the remote, unsealed (and heretofore unattempted for record purposes) portion of Highway 1, and it allegedly closes at 7pm.
We had under 24 hours to conquer the 2250 km of Bruce Highway to Cairns and a good portion of the inland route to NT. Like men on a mission we quickly passed the Sunshine Coast and onto the wild North.
The two passengers in the back seat quickly discovered we’d overpacked. Between a backpack and a pillow each, three blankets, car fridge and lots of supplies, the cargo area started spilling into the back seat. And after attempts to watch Game of Thrones or play Mario Kart on the headrest monitors, the motion-induced nausea quickly indicated that albums, podcasts, audiobooks and old-fashioned conversation would be the entertainment of choice for the next six days.
As a few of us started drifting off to sleep, Will (currently a Bowen resident) put his hand up to tackle a familiar stretch between Rockhampton and Townsville, muttering something about this being his backyard.
We spotted a Maccas-and-BP combo on the way into Cairns, and took the opportunity to fill up. Little did we know, this would be our last decent meal for days. (We do see the irony in describing Maccas as a decent meal, but, trust us, it gets rough out there).
After Cairns, the relative ease of the Bruce gives way to lower quality roads, more wildlife, single lane stretches, and long bouts of getting stuck behind campervans and road trains. It’s here we regrettably marked the first casualty of the trip – a huge eagle, enjoying some roadkill lunch on the other side of the road, made the ill-informed decision to take off south as the LandCruiser rumbled through. Rest in peace buddy.
Thankfully, we arrived in Croydon with an hour or so to spare, ready for a warm dinner. The service didn’t look particularly speedy or appetising, so we agreed to dip into our sandwich supply and just stretch our legs while the high flow diesel pump did its thing.
The sun was setting as we headed out West, ready to take on what we all assumed would be the toughest stretch of Highway 1.
The 1100 kilometres of the intermittently sealed road (but mostly corrugated dirt and gravel) of Highway 1 posed a few challenges.
Firstly, Google Maps estimated it would take 30-plus hours to conquer, which would bring us down to a mind-numbingly slow clip, threatening our required 95 km/h average to keep pace with the old record.
Next, the corrugation could cause all sorts of issues with the truck, not to mention the discomfort to those who needed sleep before their next driving shift.
Third, tackling the stretch at night would mean lower visibility and greater vulnerability to the dense wildlife throughout the area. With all of that in the back of our minds, we left the comfort of the sealed roads with the irrational confidence of city boys, and hit the dirt.
We quickly discovered Google hadn’t figured the Sahara into its equation, as we were able to reasonably sit at 100 km/h through most sections, only really needing to slow down for river crossings, large dips and the occasional herd of cattle.
Despite the exaggerated rattling and Jay thinking the engine block might fall out, the boys in the back were able to manage a little rest, but a few unexpected dips reinforced to Todd the importance of seatbelts when sleeping. We managed to evade almost all of the wildlife, but two roos did make untimely forays across our path.
The nighttime attempt ended up working in our favour – we only passed two other cars through the total stretch, which gave us the entire road to ourselves and ample forewarning of approaching high beams. It was also the perfect opportunity to crack open the sunroof and enjoy the starry sky, unencumbered by any nearby civilisation.
Dawn approached as we finally made it to the NT Stuart Highway and the coveted 130 km/h speed limits. Our biggest problem now was that the unsealed stretch had really taken its toll on the fuel supply, and rural petrol stations hadn’t opened their doors yet.
After some serious nail biting, we rolled into Katherine mid-morning with 20 km remaining in the tank. We’d done it – conquered the red stuff with no casualties (no human casualties). On further inspection, though, we did have a fog light fall in, and the welded number plate mount had broken, but it was nothing a few well-placed zip-ties couldn’t handle.
A quick scrub of the windshield and some morning toasties were the most memorable events in Katherine, and we were off on the return trip to Darwin before heading out to WA. A little bit of mid-day traffic didn’t slow us down as we took full advantage of NT’s 130km/h speed limits, and Darwin afforded most of the team their first “extended” bathroom break and a brisk survey of the Indian Ocean.
The daytime run westward out of Katherine gave us our first real taste of the beauty of the outback, winding along the Victoria Highway and having to endure Will exclaiming “mate, I bet that’s full of crocs” whenever we passed any sizeable body of water.
Quarantine had a dig through our Pepsi Max-filled fridge at the NT/WA border, and before we knew it we’d made to our next refuel at Kununurra.
Kununurra offered us their finest selection of meat pies and sausage rolls, and a chance for most of the team to have a quick wet-wipe shower, and we were off again.
Not long down the road, a sharp left off the Victoria Highway brought us onto the Great Northern Highway, where there’s 1000 kilometres of nothing until you hit Broome on the west coast.
Besides marvelling at the quality of even these remote stretches of highway in WA, this was the most uneventful stretch of the trip.
There was a bit of a bonding moment as we collectively listened to the twists, turns and hillbilly lunacy of the seven-hour S-Town podcast, but mostly we refined our UHF radio and Road Train passing skills as we left Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing in our dust.
Winding along the coast, you don’t really come across modern civilisation until you reach Port Hedland, where we promptly followed Highway 1 off the Great Northern and onto the NW Coastal Highway.
After about another 800km, our next refuel at Carnarvon and yet another sampling of petrol station delicacies, Will started a lengthy petition to stop at the next Hungry Jack’s for a Whopper with Cheese. But, unfortunately, that wouldn’t be on the cards for another few days.
Blazing down the West coast of Australia, we were all holding out to rejoin civilisation in Perth, and Todd was especially anxious to finally get some phone reception since not getting a single bar since Darwin (protip: mobile phone carrier hierarchy in the outback is as follows: Telstra, Optus, literally anything else, and then Vodafone).
The bright lights of Perth came and went all too quickly, though the genuine path of Highway 1 gets a bit wonky through the CBD – we had to double back through a Coles carpark to avoid going the wrong way on a one-way street – cheers for that, Google.
Highway 1 jumps from the Kwinana Freeway to Rockingham Road to the Old Coast Road as you head south out of Perth, but by that time the excitement had died down and most of us had gone to sleep.
That night was broken up by the stunning foggy road that winds its way through the tall trees in the Valley of the Giants, and then on to Albany and beginning of the traverse around the Great Australian Bight.
The fog didn’t let up through Esperance and we only had some reprieve by the time we hit Norseman. Here was our most expensive fuel stop at $1.59/L, and also probably the most expensive Coke we’d ever seen as well. We were given a surprisingly in-depth lesson on the caffeine content of various beverages by the lovely attendant at the Norseman BP, and by the time the tank was full we were ready to tackle the most anticipated stretch of the trip: the Nullarbor.
Jay describes it as Disneyland. There’s the famed 90 mile straight, but really it’s 700km straight, occasionally broken up by a brief curve.
We’d expected to be slowed down by roos wanting to play games of high-stakes chicken, but hitting the stretch mid-day at at a time of year when food for the wildlife is easy to come by out on the plains, it meant the only thing we had to slow down for was the guy whose job it is to shovel old roadkill off the bitumen.
Struggling to resist the temptation to really open it up, we saved our high-speed impulses for overtaking road trains and camper vans, and got plenty of enthusiastic shout-outs over the UHF. Before we knew it, Quarantine was rummaging through our caffeine supply again and we were in South Australia, where the roadside dirt quickly turns from red to sandy brown, and we got our first southern view of the ocean.
As the fuel started getting low again, and someone suggested we get some extra air fresheners for the back seat, like the mirage of a Hungry Jacks-and-BP combo appeared in the distance. As we’d evidently hit Ceduna Hungry Jacks at peak hour, this would be the longest stop of the trip, but Will finally got his Whopper with Cheese and onion rings, and the boys in the back got a little reprieve from the worsening odour.
Rural South Australia is a lot like rural Western Australia, just greener, and it wasn’t long before we’d passed Port Augusta and made the southern turn down towards Adelaide.
We hit the state’s capital with a perfectly timed midnight run, and continued on unencumbered until Mount Gambier. The Victorian border met us with some absurdly thick fog, but the with a combination of spotlights, empty roads and mild recklessness, we made it to Warrnambool with the brake pads staying relatively cool.
From here, Highway 1 turns inland, cruelly robbing us of the Great Ocean Road views, and supplying more intermittent fog through Camperdown, Colac and Winchelsea before joining the M1 at Geelong.
The Saturday mid-morning jaunt through Melbourne was mostly traffic free except for some roadwork around Dandenong, but as the M1 spat us out eastwards towards Sale, we were not prepared for what the Princes Highway had in store.
After five days of open freeway, town bypasses and relatively straight roads, we were met with almost endless small town slow zones broken up by windy mountain roads.
This wasn’t exactly what the Sahara was built for, and the Bridgestone tyres started to get a little squirrely as Dan tried to keep pace with the allowed limit through the mountains. Things didn’t get better through much of the east coast, and by the time we passed Eden, Todd and Will in the back were nursing a combo of headaches and mild nausea.
As Dan and Jay continued the frenzied run up the coast, it was beginning to set in that we’d kept a pretty stunning pace and the familiar Sydney to Brisbane route would have us home by Sunday morning – putting us well under the six-day mark.
We took our last refuel in Wollongong and started studying the route via the maze of tunnels in Sydney. Our live stream through the city was unceremoniously cut off as we took the tunnel under the harbour, but we soon reemerged, and before long were greeted by waves and honking by some newfound fans who set up camp at an overpass somewhere north of Sydney’s CBD.
The long stretch between Newcastle and Grafton was predictably riddled with roadworks, but we were fortunate enough to hit it in the wee hours of the morning, and basically had the roads to ourselves.
As we rolled over the QLD border, we had to rub our eyes as a motorcycle policeman passed us – it was the first sign of the fuzz we’d seen since the NT.
As we passed the Gold Coast, we realised that besides circumnavigating Australia in under six days, we’d also miraculously avoided any run-ins with the men in blue, and as far as we can tell, no stationary camera flashes either.
As we veered off the Pacific Motorway onto the Gateway Motorway, we were joined by a convoy of a few eager friends and supporters, and most notably Jay and Dan’s parents…who immediately told us to slow down.
Sore, stinky, tired and homesick, we rolled over the crest of the Gateway Bridge to a symphony of honking at 8:32am which put our total time at five days, 13 hours and 40 minutes. We’d done it – with a few Pepsi Maxes in the fridge to spare.
We (easily) resisted the several taunts to “do one more lap” and headed home to relieved wives and kids, officially retiring the Highway 1 to Hell team.
As we drove towards home, windows down, radio blaring cheesy victory anthems and gargling mouthwash, we all thanked the trusty Sahara and Bridgestone tyres for nobly carrying us across this great country.
We all love that car… but in this moment we never want to ride in it, or one like it. ever again!
MORE: Read the rest of the Highway 1 to Hell story here.