A Gold Coast woman has completed a solo trip around Australia in an electric car, driving 17,000km in 80 days in her Tesla Model S.
The trip, which is believed to be the first for a woman travelling solo, is an inspiring tale which also highlights the challenges electric vehicles have to overcome in the remote Australian outback.
Australia, which is notable not only for its vast distances, its harsh and at times deadly climate, but also distinct lack of EV charging infrastructure away from the more densely populated east coast, is a favourite choice for electric vehicle pioneers.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these immense challenges, the route – which invariably traverses the Nullarbor and the huge distances in the north – attracts the unlikeliest of drivers keen to tackle the ultimate EV challenge.
Similar trips have already attracted considerable media attention, including the quietly spoken Dutchman Wiebe Wakker, who took on a 3-year mission to travel from the Netherlands to Australia without using a drop of fuel in a converted VW Golf, or 70-year-old Sylvia Wilson who completed the trip, with various passengers, for a miserly charging cost of around $150.
Gold Coast woman Linda Röhrs, who completed her 80-day journey on Friday at Australia’s largest solar-powered EV charging site – Macadamia Castle on the north coast of NSW – fits the bill of unlikely pioneers down to a tee.
“I am not an expert in cars, let alone electric cars,” she openly admits.
But buy an electric car she did, and a Tesla Model S at that, which she funded by selling her home on Chevron Island after a test drive in a 100D had her hooked.
An initial 4,000km round trip in 7 days, which was “sheer driving pleasure” according to Röhrs’ blog, got her thinking and within months the full trip to circumnavigate the country was planned.
Dubbing her black Model S with the seductive name “Carpe Noctem” (seize the night), the avid musician packed – “in order of importance” she laughs – her big brass band instruments, and various essential accoutrements for the potentially hazardous trip: toilet rolls, maps and information, electronics, sleeping gear, satellite phone, and by no means the least important, a tyre plug kit (the Model S carries no spare tyre).
Stopovers on the route were planned to accommodate the Model S’ 450km range, with an average of 400km between stops, allowing for extra energy being used by air conditioning, for example.
With Tesla Superchargers (which would allow the Model S to recharge from empty to full in about two hours) clustered on the east coast from Brisbane to Adelaide), for some locations stays of two nights were planned – because charging a 100kWh battery on a trickle charger is a slow-going business.
Roadhouses are a common stop to recharge for such trips, and thanks to work by AEVA and Tesla Owners Club of Australia to ensure access to three-phase power, Australian EV drivers owners travelling the Australian outback commonly note how welcoming owners are of EVs.
Röhrs reports the same: “Every roadhouse I went to were extremely generous and extremely accommodating,” she says.
Connecting to points at some locations can be a challenge however, such as in Darwin where Röhrs chose a hotel based on the fact that it had a Tesla destination charger.
It turned out that not only was the parking space for the charger “ICE’d” (parked in by an internal combustion vehicle), but more importantly, it didn’t work.
At Katherine’s Beagle Motor Inn where Röhrs was required to leave the Model S outside the inn’s compound if she were to have a full charge again by morning.
Some legs required careful navigation, such as the road from Katherine to Kununurra on which Röhrs had to slow down to conserve power usage, arriving at her destination with 61km range to spare.
Range is not the only challenge in an electric vehicle – in some places the main challenge is sadly, local attitude.
In Broome, Röhrs was first met with some considerable backlash from workers asked to allow access to a charger (“Our town is dependent on oil and trucks”), and then access refused also by a Cable Beach Club duty manager.
Thankfully she subsequently found a more hospitable welcome at the Broome Mens Shed and Broome Auto, who allowed her to park and charge.
The South Australian leg was also challenging, such as the drive from Fowlers Bay to Ceduna which left only 16km range left upon arrival.
Travelling to and from Australia’s other extreme – Tasmania – had other challenges, from multiple “security events” on the Spirit of Tasmania (presumably because of the rocking of the boat), to rapid dropping of charge while waiting to board the ferry in near freezing temperatures.
Despite the various difficulties overcome throughout the journey (more of which you can explore through Röhrs’ 80 Day Challenge page on Facebook, the trip is without doubt an inspiration.
It is also another example that while there is still considerable work to be done in establishing a truly national electric vehicle charging network, the long distance electric road trip is now well and truly embedded as one of the great challenges to be undertaken by those with a pioneering spirit.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.