So, you’ve packed up the camper trailer and set off on Australia’s ‘big lap’, travelling Highway 1 around the edge of our country.
It’s a rite of passage for older Australians and those looking for a classic adventure without going overseas, but at more than 14,000 kilometres, some of it through the world’s most inhospitable landscapes, there are a few things you should do to prepare before you head off.
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Baby, you can drive my car
The first decision is what car to drive. Strictly speaking, you don’t need a flash, bulky 4WD to do the big lap, but it certainly helps, especially if you want to go off-road at any point. Digging out your car up to its axels in red dust soon loses its appeal.
But people do it in sedans, campervans, motorhomes or towing a caravan, so don’t get too tied up in investing in a swish new vehicle with all the bells and whistles.
Highway 1 is now fully sealed so that sense of trepidation, wondering if you are even going to make it, is thankfully well into the rear-vision mirror.
While we wouldn’t suggest cruising the Nullarbor Plain in a vintage Mini, any decent sedan or wagon should comfortably get around the country with minimum fuss.
It may even pay to try before you buy by hiring a campervan or caravan for a trial trip before you go. At the very least, you might find out what you don’t want to do. With many new caravans clocking in at well over $70,000, it may save you a bit of money too.
If you are like our family and the 4WD is a funny little button on your car you never use, it may also pay to do a 4WD driving course. At the very least you may learn a few tricks that could be handy in everyday life such as defensive driving, and it could impart some sound advice about towing if that is going to be your option.
Call of nature
You are going to need at least one good, reliable communication device, whether it’s your phone, tablet or laptop. If you have negotiated your way into a good data package for your home, well sorry about that because really the only plausible – I won’t say reliable – carrier outside the main metropolitan centres is Telstra.
It’s a plan
Like any road trip it’s tempting tojust jump in the car and drive, but as the big lap can take a couple of months at a fast clip and over two years at a leisurely pace, it pays to be prepared.
Start with the basics, clockwise or counter-clockwise? Unless you like driving in a pool of sweat and dodging closed roads due to floods, you do not want to be in Australia’s tropical north during the wet season. So try to avoid these areas from September to May, although the shoulder months could be doable.
There is a school of thought that recommends always driving anti-clockwise to gain the best of the tailwinds to improve fuel efficiency but that sounds something like your pedantic old uncle would recommend, so go your own way.
In reality, you’ll probably spend thousands doing the big lap, so a few cents in fuel efficiency won’t make much difference.
Technology is your friend. Plan your route using an online route planner, probably the best and easiest is Google maps, but take some time to explore other options to see which one suits. Some offer ‘off the beaten track’ suggestions the standard planners don’t. If you want something a bit more in-depth, try roadtrippers.com or inRoute (in the app store) to see if they are a good fit.
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While much of Australia is never far away from civilisation, the big lap offers some complications you are never going to face in the big cities. Pack extra petrol, dried food, plenty of water and a well-equipped first-aid kit. It may even pay to update your first-aid skills before you go.
Check your spare tyre is inflated and if your last stop recommends calling ahead to let them know you are coming, be sure to do exactly that.
Pack a lightweight down jacket as well as your favourite shorts. Desert country can get down to well below zero, so don’t be taken by surprise. A pair of tough, covered shoes are essential.
Other handy add-ons may include a car fridge and even satellite communication if you are planning some off-road adventures.
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