It sounds like the dream road trip of so many Australians – Perth to Sydney, the Nullarbor, the Great Australian Bight. The Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The West Coast to the East Coast. The great Australian road trip.
It felt like a dream. Or, more correctly, like a blur, because I just completed this famed cross-country jaunt in only four-and-a-half days. Yep, 4300 kilometres in four-and-a-half days.
And it wasn’t just a quick spin across this wide brown land of ours – it was a towing test, too.
The tray of the Amarok may be the biggest in the class, but isn’t big enough for a Bug – and that’s where the one-way hire of a dual-axle car carrier from U-Haul Australia came in.
With this set-up, me, my partner Gemma, and my good mates Vito and Deon (the Beetle buyer) would attempt to get across Australia in as short amount of time as possible. We’d budgeted to land in Perth on Friday, grab the ute and trailer that day, pick up the Bug on Saturday morning and hit the road as soon as that was done.
So, here’s how it all went down.
As we pulled up to get the Beetle, we started to think maybe it had all been a mistake. The disgruntled partner of the owner of the VW made us doubt the decision to come so far for a car… especially one that didn’t run.
No spark plugs, no battery… no way to drive the thing on to the trailer. And comments like “this thing has been the bane of my existence”, and “I’m so happy to see the back of it”, didn’t inspire confidence.
But the price was too good to pass up, and Deon loves a challenge, so we pushed it up the slippery driveway as a light drizzle fell. Once we lined it up, we unwound the winch and hooked it around the front beam of the Bug. Up the ramps on to the trailer platform it went – not before taking a chunk out of the bitumen with the exhaust tips due to its slammed stance – and we secured it with four ratchet straps. It was secure… we hope.
The Amarok pulled the 800-kilogram trailer easily, and with the added 850-odd kilograms of 1969 VW on the trailer it remained unruffled. You can tow up to 2000kg in this formation if the trailer has hydraulic brakes, but you need electronic trailer brakes for anything heavier.
The 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine pulled away from traffic lights effortlessly, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox often doesn’t bother with first gear, such is the torque on offer.
We had planned to roll out straight away, but Gemma had met up with her friend Leah for breakfast when we went to pick up the car. So we decided to have some food too before we rolled out, and it just happened that The Wild Fig café at Scarborough Beach had us sorted – beetroot hot chocolates and all!
So at about 11.30am on Saturday morning we drove away from Scarborough Beach. And at 11.32am we stopped, because Deon needed to buy a jacket, looking at the weather that had settled in – and a skateboard. Because, essentials.
Our aim for day one was to make it to Wave Rock firstly, then ideally as far east as we could. And the first few hundred kilometres passed quickly – we stopped at Brookton to fuel up, before continuing to Corrigin for a speedy lunch of tinned tuna on bread. Hey, no-one said this was going to be a luxury holiday.
Corrigin is known for holding the record of the most dogs in utes at one time, hence the ute on the servo roof, and the large dog statue in the park across the street.
The kilometres amassed, and we started to notice the differences in landscape – from red dirt just outside Perth to rolling canola fields further inland, to arid rocky paddocks near Hyden. The most amazing rock formation of all in this area is Wave Rock, a curved wall of granite spanning 15 metres tall and 110 metres long.
It was formed by weathering and water erosion, and as fun as it is to attempt to scale it, the steep arch of the rock makes it impossible. You can go around to head up to the top the rock, and the view from up above is definitely worth it.
The sun was starting to drop and we decided to make tracks. But instead of heading directly east to Norseman, we dipped south to the South Coast Highway and in to Ravensthorpe, dodging a few bouncing furry idiots along the way. It was pitch dark as we rolled into town, just in time to get some food and rooms at the Ravensthorpe Palace Motor Hotel.
The food was good, and the rooms were surprisingly decent, too.
Day one distance travelled: 552km
Up and gone by 7:00 am – that was the aim. And we did it, but not before double-checking all our straps, and fuelling up the Amarok once more. We were keeping an eye on its consumption, and it was hovering around the 14 litres per 100 kilometres mark.
Our first destination for the day was Esperance, on the coast. So we managed to tuck away a cheeky 200km before brekky.
One thing that we’d noticed the day before was there was quite a bit of rubbish on the sides of the roads we’d travelled. One item that stood out more than other was Dare milk bottles, and – because you play silly games when you drive big distances – we started playing a game of spotto for these items. On day one we saw 45 bottles, but day two would see that number skyrocket to a level that actually made us all feel bad about the amount of shit people throw out of their windows in Western Australia.
More on that soon, but other games played to pass the time included 'Eye Spy' and 'What Am I?', both of which are great ways to make the miles fade away. 'What Am I?', if you’re not across it, is a guessing game that can be anything at all. Examples from our nerdy gamesters included residue, one of Pluto’s moons, Barney from the Simpsons, and a billy can.
Anyway, it helped pass the time as we drove east, into the sunlight before stopping for breakfast and a quick toe-dip in the ocean at Esperance.
Next up was Norseman, a further 200km almost directly north. The going was easy, but the Dare count rose dramatically – we hit 200 before we got to Norseman. Out the windows, the green near the coast turned brown as we made our way inland, and the number of road trains – trucks with three or four trailers in tow – increased.
Once we hit Norseman it was time for another fill up, and as we drove out of town we touched the brakes a tad too hard, causing two of the ratchet straps to fail, almost simultaneously.
This spelled disaster, because we were in town on a Sunday – the hardware store was closed, and neither of the servos had ratchet straps in stock, nor even regular old rope. But old mate in his 1996 Ford Fairlane opened his boot – it felt a little bit Wolf Creek, for a second! – but he meant well, and passed over some rope for us to secure the Bug again.
It kind of worked, but we spent a good 45 minutes trying to get the best level of attachment to the trailer. Then old mate saw we’d still not left town, and gave us a further four lengths of rope. He literally kept us on track, because minutes later we’d tied the Bug down and were on our way once more.
By this point the sun was starting to dip behind us, as the red dirt and sparse countryside of Fraser Range and then Balladonia were swallowed by shadows. An amazing sunset – along with the 300 count on the Dare meter – kept us entertained, before we hit the longest piece of road in the country without a corner, 90 Mile Straight (which is 146.6km long without a single bend).
It was midway along this straight when we started to notice just how much wildlife was around. Of course, it’s Australia, so kangaroos are a real danger at dusk. But emus, wombats and even camels aren’t uncommon out here. In fact, as we scanned the edges of the blacktop for bouncing bumper bashers, we spotted a dead camel on the edge of the road.
The ’roos started to outnumber the plastic bottles, and at times we slowed to 50km/h before stopping at the Caiguna Roadhouse at 6:00 pm, where we asked about the wildlife situation further on. Should we keep going?
“Are you in a semi-trailer? Have you got a bullbar?” we were asked by the guy at the counter. The answer to both questions was no, of course. “Well, don’t go any further unless you’re okay with hitting a ’roo or two. This is the roadkill capital of the world – less than 12 months ago we had a bloke hit eight camels in one go.”
So, the decision was either to risk the Amarok that VW had so kindly agreed to loan us for this mad adventure and continue on to Eucla, as planned – which would take at least five hours based on a much lower average speed – or stay the night and make up some time in the morning.
We got the last two rooms at Caiguna and ordered dinner – which was an hour-long wait, because the roadhouse was buzzing (there were at least 20 people in there, which is a lot for where it’s located!). We mused over a few Emu Bitters about the truckie who ordered a Chicken Parmi with chips to take-away, and all of us hit the hay early, ready for an early start and a long day ahead.
Day two distance travelled: 727km
Zero degrees, 7:00 am. The sun was up, and without even thinking about getting breakfast, we packed our stuff, took some happy snaps out the front of the Caiguna Roadhouse – which is located just at the end of that long straight. First stop, Eucla.
But before we'd travelled even a few kilometres, we had to change our clocks to entering the Australian Central Western time zone (which we didn’t even know was a thing), so we wound forward, or more correctly button-pushed in, an additional 45 minutes, and realised we were already running behind schedule for the day.
The 330-odd kilometres to Eucla flew by, and we saw some beautiful sights on the way – including the stunning vista at Madura Pass that appeared to transport us to the African savannah. We didn’t stop to take pictures, but we should have. Here's as good as we got:
We kept counting Dare bottles, which were becoming fewer and further between, as were the towns, and played a few different games along the way. And it was on this stint that our first question mark over the Amarok arose: the AdBlue warning had come on.
It wasn’t out of AdBlue, the urea after-exhaust solution applied to help reduce NOx (nitrous oxides). But it was, however, telling us that we needed to refill at some point. We didn’t pay it much mind, because we knew we had plenty of miles to go before it was going to need AdBlue – but it is worth noting that you may wish to carry some with you on long road trips.
We saw the edge of the Great Australian Bight come in to view as we arrived near Eucla, our first glimpse of the ocean since we left Esperance the day before. The day was glorious, with clouds that seemed to streak the sky like feathery finger paint.
We stopped and fuelled up – both our stomachs and the ute – and thought we’d make the time to go have a look at the Telegraph Station. Anyone who has been to Eucla knows about this place, an old building that has been claimed by the sand dunes down on the beach.
We also encountered some wildlife – a pair of resident emus that were as curious about us as we were them, and a shingleback lizard taking in some sun on the dirt road down to the Station.
About 10km on from Eucla we hit our first state border crossing, where WA becomes SA, and again our clocks changed. Another 45 minutes. The day was getting away from us!
There were some happy snaps that had to be taken at the big kangaroo with a jar of Vegemite (true story!). The road quality remained mostly the same between the two states, but the litter almost disappeared. Well done, South Australia.
We knew we’d be stopping a lot on the next stretch, where the Bight literally bites away at the southern coastline of the country. There are a handful of lookouts along the way, and we stopped at several, enjoying a different view each time we did so. We were told by fellow road-trippers that there were whales in one of the bays “just down the road” – which, when we checked, was 145km away – and that our Amarok “looked the business”. The Beetle got a fair few thumbs up, too.
If we had more time, we probably would have camped at one of the cliff-face parking areas. The views were the type that you could look at for hours on end.
But we didn’t have hours. We stopped in at the Nullarbor Roadhouse for a take-away cuppa, and set our sights for Ceduna, a measly 300 kilometres away.
Dusk, and the vast open space on either side of the roadway gave way to dense scrub and scraggly gumtrees, not to mention signs every 10km or so warning of wildlife. We were again on high alert, and within minutes we saw Skippy threatening to cross the road by way of our front bumper, so our speed dropped off notably.
The number of other road users also fell away at this time – plenty of people with caravans had pulled in to the roadside parking areas, fires blazing, to avoid travelling at the most dangerous time of day. We kept pushing, but at times dropped our pace to less than 60km/h.
While kangaroos are notoriously unpredictable in their behaviour, wombats are the same colour as the road, and hitting one is akin to running into a short brick wall. Trust me... but not this time around, thankfully.
The next few hours were intense, as darkness settled in. Our worst nightmare would be to hit a wild animal on our trip. Thankfully, though, we didn’t do that, and we rolled in to Ceduna at 9.45pm. Or we think it was 9.45pm…?
Based on the suggestions of the quarantine officers as we came into Ceduna (you’ve got to get rid of your fruit and veggies to avoid spreading fruit fly), of course we had to go to Mozzies for dinner, a local truck stop that’s open 24 hours. It didn’t disappoint, with fresh local fish and friendly staff. The fuel was cheap, too.
Our accommodation for the night was very cheap, in both the not very expensive way, and the not very good way. It was a converted shipping container in a run-down caravan park. But hey, it was a bed for the night, and boy did we need one after such a long day.
Day three distance travelled: 830km
Sleepy. Not just us, after only six hours sleep, but the town of Ceduna, where the bakery doesn’t open until 7:30am and the supermarket until 8:00am. That ruined our plan for an earlier departure, so we went down to the Ceduna jetty, a 368-metre long pier where the breeze was icy enough to bring tears to our eyes. Or maybe it was just the view.
By the time we’d walked out the jetty and back, the bakery was open – but not for breakfast. So we ate what we could, headed to the supermarket when its doors opened, got some supplies for snacking along the way, and hit the road towards Port Augusta for lunch – some 470km away.
Because it was dark as we came into Ceduna the night before, we didn’t see how much the landscape changed. There were pastures, green fields, livestock – it was very different to the day before.
That farmland is speckled with silos, and there’s a testament to those who work the land for a living in Wundinna – the Australian Farmer Granite Sculpture – that just happens to be in Granite Country. We did our bit, and had a yoghurt snack stop there, of course with South Australian-made yoghurt. Straps checked, winch tightened. Onwards.
Next was the Big Galah in Kimba, and again the landscape changed. As we headed further inland some of the mountainous reaches of the Gawler Ranges loomed in the distance, and while we would have dearly loved to head down to Venus Bay, Coffin Bay or Port Lincoln to have a look around, we knew we had to keep moving.
The road ahead stretched onwards as the land turned browner and more arid around us. Tractors were replaced by trucks, as we entered mining land to the west of Port Augusta.
It was at this point I was driving, and all of my fellow travellers were asleep. It says something for the ride comfort of the Amarok, huh? Be that as it may, the rear-seat backrest is a bit upright, and the sides of the seat base lack support at the edges.
Another set of mountains sat on the horizon – the Flinders Ranges – just behind Port Augusta as we drove into town, which was the most populous place we’d been since Perth. It was lunchtime, and Gemma had looked up the best place for a feed – the Arid Lands Botanic Garden. If you go there, make sure you try the native ice cream flavours: quandong, lemon myrtle, desert lime and wattle-seed.
Fuel (for humans and vehicle) sorted once more, we continued towards the Victorian border, through some stunning countryside in South Australia. Even as we wend our way between paddocks of farmland, the road quality was excellent. There’s something to be said for the South Australian government’s focus on roads, and the fact that the speed limit is 110km/h is a very thoughtful measure, too.
The green of lucerne hay paddocks and the yellow of canola waved a sort of agricultural Aussie flag as we drove on, and yet another day turned to yet another night at around 6:00pm.
There were more kangaroos to be dodged as it did, and we still had three hours of driving to cover before we got to the border, and they passed without much to talk about – until we got to the next fruit quarantine bin. Earlier that day we'd bought plenty of apples and pears, and a hurried scoff of those kept the energy up as we continued into the dark.
Fruit of a different kind: Apple CarPlay on the media screen, we cruised along with some tunes, occasionally passing the odd truck or car every 20 minutes until we finally reached a main road.
Guard rails. Traffic. Hopefully, no wildlife. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, as I drove us into Renmark, and then onwards, over the mighty Murray River, into Victoria.
Instantly, the road quality dropped. It was bumpy, the cabin and chassis of the Amarok continuously jostling over bumps for the first time on the trip. We’d thought the ride was magic carpet-like to this point. But as the potholes left by B-double trucks and the occasional Road Train increased, the long, relatively straight road felt like harder work than anything that had come before. It could have been this that caused Vito’s back to cease up – or his silly run along that jetty at Ceduna – but he was feeling the bumps more than anyone else.
The Amarok was dealing with the weight just fine, and the power wasn’t an issue at all – it was just the shitty surface beneath that made it feel cumbersome. Luckily, the city of Mildura was just 150km or so away.
We got there, again, after most of the local cafes and restaurants had shut up shop for the night, but after checking in to our accommodation, we hit up a local institution, Pinno’s Pizza. Mildura, population about 40,0000, is known for its history of Italian farmers, and – apparently – about 40 per cent of its occupants are Italian (or, more correctly, of Italian heritage).
With more than a thousand kays covered, and just over a thousand to go, we knew our final night’s sleep needed to be good. It wouldn’t be for Vito and his bad back…
Day four distance travelled: 1006km
Before we set off for our final day of driving, we needed to fill up the diesel tank, and also replenish our supply of AdBlue. So at 6:45am we headed across the road to the servo, put almost 80 litres (that’s the entire capacity of the tank!) of diesel in the ute, and added five litres of the urea solution, at a cost of $18.
The filler neck is next to the diesel, and you’ll need a funnel to get it in cleanly. This meant the on-screen warning “no start after 1000km” disappeared, but we still had pre-emptive information displaying that we needed to add more AdBlue.
It could be an inconvenience for those who do a lot of loaded-up kilometres, but VW has recently announced that the AdBlue system will be removed from V6 Amarok models soon. It’ll still have a diesel particulate filter, which is good, but those who wish to go the extra mile for the environment had best buy an Amarok V6 while it still has AdBlue.
Within city limits we once again crossed the Murray, this time into New South Wales. It was at this point that we felt we were really on the home stretch, so we stopped for a couple of Dare flavoured milks to celebrate. We didn't toss the empties out the window, though.
If you’ve driven extensively in NSW, you’ll know the Hay Plains – wide-open landscape, farms with cotton and potatoes, cattle and sheep, plenty of trucks and a terrible quality stretch of tarmac. That pretty much sums it up.
We noticed in the rear-view mirror that the Beetle appeared to have moved a bit on the trailer, so once we made it to Hay, we had a look at the situation – only to find that another of our ratchet straps had paid the ultimate price, shaken to death by the rubbish road surfaces. Thankfully we had a couple of new straps, which we used to secure the front of the Bug once more, and by this time it had more rope tied to it than an abseiling window cleaner.
Onwards to Narrandera, but not before we stopped at Darling Point to fuel up alongside some other big rigs. A few slow points along the way, where there was cattle grazing on the edges of the road (and in the middle of it, apparently), but we crossed the Murrumbidgee and headed into town and hit up the bakery. Delish.
Once we made it to Wagga Wagga, we knew we were truly homeward bound. The Hume Highway beckoned, just about 80 kilometres on, as we merged onto the first actual motorway in more than 3500km. We had to stop at the Dog on the Tuckerbox – not just to see the iconic statue of the mutt that seemingly shat on his owner’s lunch, but to get a drink and stretch our legs.
The road smoothed out, the kilometres became notably easier – not just for the driver, but the passengers, too.
There was traffic to contend with, not to mention some changes in topography – the Hume is quite hilly in comparison to the flatlands we’d been driving across for days on end, but the Amarok’s torque-laden V6 didn’t struggle to maintain momentum up the hills, though its cruise control would allow the truck’s speed get away from it on descents.
The miles melted away. I think it was a mixture of the better surface underneath and sheer excitement about getting home to Sydney, but the final few hours of the drive flew by, and we almost missed the moment that the trip meter clicked over 4000km. We made one final fuel stop at Sutton Forest, and soon after hit the city limits.
And then, traffic. The lanes narrowed. The width of the trailer suddenly became more evident. The mass was more noticeable under braking as Sydney managed to chuck up a traffic jam into the M5 tunnel. This is seemingly a constant in life, even at 7:00pm on a Wednesday night.
Under some suburbs, alongside the airport, and then again in the cross-city tunnel, the Amarok V6 slowed to a halt and got back up to speed without hassle. We crossed the Harbour Bridge, and made our way down to McMahons Point. We had to commemorate the trip with some photos, no matter how bad the quality (we were using smartphones, you guys).
Day five distance travelled: 1034km
Here are some stats at the end of the trip
Total distance travelled: 4313.5km
Average fuel consumption (total trip): 13.9L/100km
Average speed (total trip): 90km/h
Animals hit: 0
Animals dodged: 30+
Issues with the VW: 0
Issues with the trailer: 0
Issues with the straps: 4
Thanks to Volkswagen Australia for allowing us to do this crazy adventure using a nearly brand-new Volkswagen Amarok V6. Also, a big thanks to the guys at U-Haul Australia for helping out with the loan of the trailer – they're one of the only companies in the country that allows long-distance one-way loans, so we couldn't have done this trip without them.
Click the Photos tab above for more candid and crazy images from the trip, all shot on iPhone.