Photos: Rob Dean
Photos: Rob Dean

Over the past 7 weeks Robin, our youngest son and I have travelled around Australia’s coastal roads in an electric vehicle, driving the route many like to call “the big lap” -just over 19,000kms in total, all 6 states, 2 territories and 8 capital cities.

This is now the tenth EV to circumnavigate Australia (see full list below).

By preparing correctly and respecting the freely available advice given from other well-traveled EV owners on all sides of the country, our trip was smooth and trouble free. We set out for an enjoyable holiday and we got exactly that.

Keep in mind an EV holiday doesn’t require DC fast charging at every stop – fast chargers will one day be widespread and convenient, but the lack of them now across the north of the country should not spoil your plans.

For those who say such a trip requires an expensive Tesla Model X or S, this same journey is not beyond a lower cost standard range Model 3 or Hyundai Kona.

With the inevitable arrival of a larger selection of electric vehicles to Australia in 2020 and beyond, the number of EVs making this journey will increase rapidly.

On previous EV trips around Australia it has been highlighted how little drivers have spent on electricity and how much that relates to refueling costs compared to a conventional fossil fuel car.

I like to look at this a different way: To what extent will lower refueling costs encourage more Australians to take EV road trips rather than spend up on overseas holidays, and how much of the money saved from not buying fuel gets spent in local economies?

The bottom line is that we didn’t purchase $3000+ of imported fuel that would be needed to cover more than 19,000kms in a similar size vehicle.

But we certainly did spend close to $6,000 in local economies around the country including tours to wildlife parks, museums and theme parks, boat trips we may have otherwise passed up on and lunches in country cafes that rarely see tourists.

Some future travelers may still be tight with the budget, but many will happily spend up when no longer leashed to a fuel bowser.

Multiply this by the tens of thousands of vehicles that travel around the country every year that will soon have electric versions, add in the incentive for Australians to holiday locally rather than spend money overseas and it provides another positive side to electric vehicle uptake in Australia.

If you’re up for an adventure and are considering driving the big lap in 2020 plan ahead, follow the advice of Sylvia Wilson (QLD), Richard (NSW), Outback Tesla (NT) or one of the WA drivers who have done this trip, and most of all never forget you are an ambassador to the electric vehicle cause.

(Editor’s note: you can keep an eye on our Road Trips section).

Perth to Darwin leg

The 4200km drive via the coastal road is all AC charging with the exception of a DC charger 200kms north of Perth.

Thankfully, it’s mostly 32amp three phase (22kw) apart from Warnum roadhouse that has a 32amp outlet on a 20amp breaker. This is not really an issue as only a short top up is required at Warnum to cover the 360km gap between Halls Creek and Kununurra.

Another possible hurdle is the 362km gap between Carnarvon and Nanutarra roadhouse.

Close to halfway is the Minilya Bridge roadhouse, they do have a three phase generator but are nervous about EVs plugging in to anything other than 15amp, so the best option is to go via Coral Bay and spend some time enjoying a secluded part of WA that hasn’t been over run with tourists yet.

Highway One in Western Australia is well marked and maintained, the one downside is the road surface is built from a long lasting but course local material, this can effect energy consumption significantly, combined with the unexpected head winds the battery level could fall faster than planned.

Accommodation: All the gazetted towns with destination chargers have modern overnight facilities, the Billabong homestead has clean rooms with a fridge and airconditioning (transportables), note that it is the Homestead that has supported EV’s without hesitation, the roadhouse next door is not currently on board.

The Halls Creek motel/hotel looks pretty rugged from the outside but is vastly different behind its walls, a good choice for an overnight stay plus dinner and drinks at Russian Jacks, ring ahead to secure the charging spot.

model s outback road tripDarwin to Cairns leg

There are a number of slight variations to this route, and in all cases the charging options are AC at this time, mostly three phase.

Sadly, however, and despite 3 years of dedicated public relations work from a number of electric vehicle drivers, some 15 amp single phase charging may be required.

To make this leg as easy as possible it is best to plan overnight stops where 15amp is the only option.

Dunmarra roadhouse is also a challenge due to its onsite generator in need of a rebuild/replacement, during the busy lunch and dinner periods charging a car is problematic. We charged here overnight and found that after 6.30pm the power supply stayed reliable.

On the plus side there is no shortage of power supply along the main route that links Darwin to the Queensland border, so when local and state authorities finally encourage locations to get on board the charging infrastructure will improve rapidly.

Accommodation: In the Northern Territory, this varies greatly, Mataranka Springs is around 8km from the main town and appeared to be a good option for an overnight stay.

Barkly roadhouse has a strong three phase power supply but at the time of writing was reluctant to allow anything but 15amp charging.

On the plus side Barkly is one of the cleanest and best laid out roadhouses in the country, plenty of accommodation choices, dining and by the looks of the healthy trees and plants on display a good water supply in a generally dry environment.

The Northern Territory highway from Darwin all the way to the Queensland border is in generally excellent condition, the speed limit is mostly 130kmh, although driving at this speed will destroy your range, best to stay on 95 to 100kmh, this also helps with avoiding stray animals.

The moment you cross from the Northern Territory to Queensland the road quality deteriorates, it’s still two lanes but there is less margin for error, you are also subjected to a far higher frequency of traffic traveling out to the western Queensland towns of Mt Isa and Cloncurry.

Your choice now is to stick with the busier traditional route between Camooweal on the Queensland border and Townsville, or take the longer but far less traffic intensive road to the north which passes through Normanton, Croydon, Georgetown and Mount Surprise all the way through to Cairns.

The northern route also gives you the opportunity to visit the coastal town of Karumba which faces west into the Gulf of Carpentaria.

This is a challenging drive but is still Highway One after all, after making the effort to drive across the Kimberley and Northern Territory it’s worth adding a few extra days into the schedule to explore this rarely traveled area.

All charging options from the Queensland border to Cairns are currently AC only, mostly 32amp three phase but still a few locations where 15amp single phase may be needed. So just play accordingly, daytime charging on three phase, overnight on 15amp.

Accommodation: We stopped overnight in Karumba on the Gulf coast and also Mount Surprise, approximately 295km west of Cairns.

Mount Surprise has a micro brewery that has a supplementary business over the winter tourist season known as Planet Earth Adventures. Let’s just call it rustic, grass campsites, old rail cars for accommodation, shower blocks with sky views and a high use of recycled materials.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but we loved the place.  Planet Earth Adventures has a 32amp three phase outlet for EV charging if you don’t have the time for an overnight stop.

Cairns to Brisbane leg

The Queensland electric highway is an excellent concept that makes traveling down the eastern coastline free of any challenges, all the locations we used are well placed with amenities nearby. Despite having this useful infrastructure on occasion you may find charging at overnight accommodation is more convenient.

For anyone who is a first time visitor to this part of the country there is so much to see and do that all travel distances are fairly short and manageable on AC charging.

Accommodation: plenty of choice with competitive prices, the downside is during busy times booking at short notice can be difficult.

At the time of writing, large sections of major highway between Cairns and Brisbane were undergoing upgrades, this is much needed in areas with heavy transport and tourists sharing limited space on roads that haven’t kept up with the increase of vehicle numbers.

model 2 on electric car road trip

Brisbane to Adelaide leg

Not much to discuss as most people are familiar with this part of the country. As far as charging goes, if you are driving a Tesla it’s a breeze, in any other EV with a range of 200kms or more it soon will be, as the DC chargers are rapidly rolled out by the NRMA, RACV and others.

And, just like the Queensland coast leg, if you’re a tourist it’s not like your in a hurry, charging shouldn’t take priority over your holiday.

Accommodation: Is hit and miss throughout the southeast corner of Australia, there’s no shortage of choice but it really pays to do some research in advance.

The major highways between capital cities are generally good, the less major roads not so good.  The road between Bathurst and Goulburn via Crookwell is a prime example, great scenery but full concentration required.

A footnote to the above, the Melbourne to Adelaide trip is generally driven on the Western Highway, try and make every effort to travel via Torquay, Warnambool and Mount Gambier so you can drive the Great Ocean Drive road, this adds an extra day or two to the schedule but provides some great photo opportunities.

Tasmania leg

At the time of writing Tasmania only had 2 operating DC fast chargers and to be honest that should be no deterrent to anyone touring the Apple Isle in an EV.

Distances between towns and tourist attractions are short and easy to achieve on AC charging during overnight stops, anyone who averages more than 200kms per day sightseeing Tasmania is missing out on a lot of attractions.

The bonus is Tasmania has at least 9 more DC chargers scheduled for installation within the next 12 months, only the most disorganised person could fail to find a charge on this island prime for an EV revolution.

Accommodation:  Even in the smallest towns there is somewhere to stay, with the exception of peak tourist season, not always high quality but always good value with friendly service.

The roads in Tasmania are generally well maintained, but in the majority of cases a 100km speed sign is pure fantasy, and on top of that the advisory speed signs on tight winding roads are often wishful thinking.

For locals who drive these roads daily it’s no problem, for visitors unfamiliar with the bends, crests and narrow cuttings nestled between creeks and hills, it is an adventure to say the least.  Luckily, an EV with instant torque and regenerative braking is suited to these conditions far more than the average ICE vehicle.

nullarbor electric car road trip

Adelaide to Perth leg

The Adelaide side of this leg is fairly comfortable for a Tesla owner but requires far more forward planning for other brands of EV.

The shortest route between Port Augusta and Ceduna is via the small settlement of Poochera, a reliable 32amp three phase is available at the local pub, but requires prearrangement if charging before 3.00pm.

An alternative but longer route is via Whyalla, Port Lincoln and Streaky Bay. It’s worth adding some extra time into your schedule so as to enjoy some coastal scenery before the barren Nullarbor drive.

The roads west of Port Augusta are generally in good condition, accommodation is fairly respectable in an area that doesn’t get a consistent flow of tourists.

The Nullarbor drive refers to the 1200km section from the towns of Ceduna and Norseman.

The journey has carried a historic reputation of being difficult, this was certainly the case up until the late 1960s when drivers faced dirt roads in a harsh environment, nowadays it may still be a harsh environment but modern air conditioned cars on quality sealed roads make the trip easy for those prepared correctly.

The section between Ceduna and Norseman has 10 locations with charging points, although it appears a trend is developing where EV drivers are following a similar pattern of charging at the Nullarbor, Mundrabilla, Cocklebiddy and Balladonia roadhouses, this is due to the handy spacing between each location rather than anything else.

The roads across the Nullarbor are in good condition for the most part, although a few sections on the South Australian side of the border are a touch narrow when passing a road train on a windy day.

Accommodation: Accommodation across the Nullarbor is best described as nostalgic, and if you miss the 1970s here’s your chance to reminisce. Don’t expect 1970s prices though, fuel, water, electricity and staff wages in remote areas inflate costs rapidly.

Once at Norseman the choice is to head north towards Kalgoorlie and take the shorter route towards Perth or head south and take the longer coastal routes via Esperance, Ravensthorpe and Albany.

Once you get to the southwest corner of the state there are 10 of the original RAC DC chargers still in operation.

Both routes have sufficient three phase charging to make the trip comfortably, most Tesla destination chargers in these areas are connected to three phase outlets providing non Tesla vehicles the option to charge also, thank you to WA AEVA for this handy initiative.

The roads in the southwest can be deceptively dangerous, road edges lined with pea gravel and very large trees have caused many major accidents, after the long flat roads of the Nullarbor it’s a very different driving experience.

Accommodation in the southwest can be pricey, lack of competition doesn’t help in some areas, but if you’re looking for a quiet, secluded location it’s not hard to find.

* Previous long distance electric trips road trips in Australia were completed by Glen George in his converted MG, Richard McNeal of NSW, Jeff Johnson of QLD, in a Nissan Leaf, Sylvia Wilson of QLD, Steve Burrell who crossed the Nullarbor, Harald Murphy of Perth, Outback Tesla of Darwin, Linda Rohrs and of course, Dutchman Wiebe Wakker.

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