As a high school teen I couldn’t wait for every issue of Two Wheels motorbike magazine to come out. One story – The Interstate Express – about an overnight high-speed ride from Sydney to Melbourne, so captivated my imagination that four decades on it was my first thought for this story. Even though I was going from Sydney to Adelaide.
The original plan called for four or five relaxing days sauntering across in Horizon’s new Back-in-Black Banksia to deliver it in time for February’s Adelaide show. Work pressures, however, reduced that to just two days and so, by motorhome standards, it certainly became an express run: albeit a rather enjoyable one!
As the Crow Drives
If crows gave up flying they would do this journey by traveling Sydney - Yass - Gundagai - Wagga - Narrandera - Hay - Balranald - Ouyen - Tailem Bend - Murray Bridge - Adelaide and clocking up 1376 kilometres.
Not being a crow I went Sydney - Yass - Harden - Temora - Griffith - Hay - Balranald - Mildura - Renmark - Waikerie - Adelaide and covered 1381 kilometres. It should have been 1377 but TomTom had a ‘turn’ leaving Griffith and we were both surprised to enter Hay from the north west. Crows might be efficient but TomTom is a bird of a different feather.
The Struth is Out There
No matter which way you do this drive you eventually start to think, “Struth, there’s a lot of nothing out here,” which is patently not true. You can’t have a lot of nothing; what you can have is very little of anything. Semantics aside, there’s a vast open space between Sydney and Adelaide – and just as much if you travel the other way.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than ramble on here are some highlights from my cross country adventure. If you’re planning retracing my steps I’d suggest you take a bit more time – oh and don’t do it in the peak of summer...
Just past Binalong in NSW, on the Burley Griffin Way, is the well signposted grave of bushranger John Gilbert. Aged just 25 when shot by police on May 13th 1865, Gilbert had led a life of crime for 12 years and had earned the nickname ‘Flash’ Johnny, while a member of the notorious Frank Gardiner – Ben Hall Gang. The grave is peacefully situated, well tended and only about 50 metres from the road.
The 13.8 m Big Tennis Racquet takes pride of place in the tiny township of Barellan (pop 328). It’s an exact replica of a wooden Dunlop racquet used by the famous Indigenous tennis great Evonne Goolagong (now Cawley), who unveiled it in October 2009 as part of the Town’s centenary celebrations. Goolagong was born in nearby Griffith but in July 1951 attended Barellan Primary School; being encouraged to try her hand at tennis by local Bill Kurtzman, who saw her peering through the fence at local courts. The rest, as they say, is history: 14 Grand Slam titles between 1971 and 1980.
Past the Big Tennis Racquet the next Big Thing On A Pole is this former Royal Australian Navy Fairey Firefly in Griffith, which sits outside the RSL Club and right beside the tourist information office. The second Firefly to sit on this pole and painted as WB518, it is actually WB828 (or mostly, anyway) but painted with the former’s naval identification markings. Why? Because WB518 was the original Firefly in Griffith but has since been restored and is living and flying in the USA. Griffith, famous for its food and wine, was designed by American architect Walter Burley Griffin, best known for designing Canberra. A useless side fact here is that the Firefly had a Griffon engine, made by Rolls Royce, and nothing to do with Mr Walter B.
It’s about 155 km from Griffith to Hay and although you can’t have a lot of nothing, you certainly seem to pass though plenty of it out this way. Because the road is so flat and there is almost no vegetation more than about a foot or two tall, judging distance becomes difficult. When a semi appears ahead it looks like its floating in the sky, especially if its around an unseen bend. I paused here and the silence was deafening. It certainly had an effect.
It was hovering around 40C on a blistering February Sunday afternoon when I spotted this motorbike heading towards me. Waving as he passed, the young rider turned out to be helping look after sheep grazing by the road in this unfenced country. A kilometre or so up the road I passed their camp just off the highway: a battered caravan, an old horse float and two well travelled 4WDs. A bit further on his father (I’m presuming) was riding a quad bike flat out in the opposite direction. It might have been hot but these guys didn’t look too bothered. And I haven’t even mentioned the flies...
What is it with country people and things on poles? Not far from Hay, on the Mid Western Highway, this poor old Mini sits on high – but even its precarious perch hasn’t protected it from the morons who’ve thrown rocks through its windows. Its task is to promote the Hay Mini Nationals, which has been running each year since 1970 and is a love-in for all things Mini. Pencil the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June (7-10) into your diary if you want to feel the love. Pole dancing optional.
Not everyone makes it across the Hay Plains. This burnt-out Falcon and tandem trailer lie by the side of the Sturt Highway as stark testament to the fortunes of travel. Perhaps a tyre blowout caused by heat build up from under-inflation? The dented door suggests accident damage, but whatever the cause here’s hoping everyone got out safely.
As a keen cyclist who understands the mind games miles of straight, open roads play on you, I’d literally just been making a mental note to NEVER try and ride the Hay Plains when this fellow hove into view! Unbelievable. Still early in the morning, it was already in the 30s and Norwegian tourist Remi was soaked in sweat. “I’ve got one week to ride from Sydney to Adelaide and I’m right on schedule,” he said, “But there hasn’t been much to see for a few days and it’s been pretty hot.” To make matters worse, he was riding with a HUGE backpack that looked like it was filled with horned helmets and swords and weighed about half a longboat. And he was still smiling. But he was texting someone as I left (there’s good mobile coverage on the Sturt Highway, even with Vodafone) and probably calling International Rescue...
When you see a sign like this you know you’re in the Bush. The sign says it all, really, except that if you’re driving from Sydney to Adelaide via Hay and end up in Broken Hill you’re a crap navigator. Or your TomTom had one of its ‘turns’. They do that.
They take quarantine pretty seriously in South Australia and when you reach the border there’s an inspection station where they’ll search your smalls and leave no stone fruit unturned to prevent the spread of the dreaded Phylloxera (and fruit fly). A bug native to North America that decimates grapevines, SA is Australia’s only State that has avoided any Phylloxera outbreaks and is the only State without a permanent fruit fly population. Please help them keep it that way. As for the big Dunlop tyre over the road as you leave, who knows? It just probably seemed like a good idea at the time. At least it’s not on a pole.
Leaving Renmark I carved through swarms of little red fly-like bugs. I gave up stopping to clean the windscreen after the second time and motored sedately into Adelaide late on day two of my excellent adventure. The next morning it was off to the carwash and then the Adelaide Show. Horizon’s Banksia cleaned up nicely and I wasn’t even saddle sore (unlike Remi). Sydney to Adelaide in two days? No buggen worries!
Route: Sydney - Yass - Harden - Temora - Griffith - Hay - Balranald - Mildura - Renmark - Waikerie - Adelaide
Distance Travelled: 1381 km
Vehicle: Horizon Motorhomes’ Banksia / Fiat Ducato 3.0-litre
Fuel Consumption: 11 L/100 km (25.7 mpg)
Fuel Used: 152 litres
Fuel Cost: $229.52 (Av $1.51 cpl)
For the full article, including photos, download Issue 22 of iMotorhome eMagazine by clicking on the link below.