“Concerned about climate change, don’t want my kids to cook,” says David McLeod’s Twitter bio.
McLeod is the latest in a string of electric vehicle owners to kick off a circumnavigation of Australia, otherwise known as the “Big Lap”: a trip that is still not for the faint of heart due to the sparse charging locations west of the Great Dividing Range, but one that is possible with just a little planning.
There are currently three electric vehicles that we are aware of undertaking the trip, all taking a different route. We spoke to two (below), and there is also “Phil’s Electric Future” (Twitter handle @filsmif) who was not contactable at the time of writing this article.
McLeod and a friend started their journey just two days ago from Warrnambool in Victoria and are heading north to Canberra, then to Tathra on the NSW/Victorian border before heading up the coast to Queensland.
After that they’ll head west towards Darwin, although the exact route is something they’ll work out on the way. By the time the trip is finished they estimate they will have covered 25,000 kilometres of asphalt and red dirt.
After two days, McLeod remains confident the trip will be a relaxing one, thanks to using his Tesla Model S’s Autopilot feature.
“I’ve had the car for three years or so now, every month or so [it gets a software update], it’s getting better and better,” he tells The Driven.
While the concerns about the changing climate are a big reason for the trip (“We want to do our bit to promote EVs,” he says), it’s also for the adventure.
“We want to see if we can do it,” he says.
“We’re missing the Victorian coast, which we’ve seen a lot of, so we’re going inland then to Tathra then all the way up the coast of NSW and Queensland. Then we might cut in at Rockhampton or Townsville, across to WA and then down the West Coast.
Having owned the car for three years, he says, “I’m over the range anxiety business. We’ve got the Plugshare app, we’ve got all the cables – 32amp and a type 2-type 2, and a normal power point cable.”
“If the car says you can get there, you can get there, if it says slow down, you slow down.”
Broome or bust
Jules Boag and partner Yvonne Boag are currently in Western Australia, having left from Albury on the NSW/Vuctoria border 32 days ago. They are driving an early model Model S D75 (the D means dual motor, the 75 refers to the size of the battery), which Boag says now has around 350km driving range on it.
While that’s about the same “driving range” of a small petrol-powered hatch, Boag says it is not “range anxiety”-provoking. “Most stops are around 200km apart,” Jules says.
They are documenting their trip under the tongue-in-cheek moniker on Instagram, @stealyourweekend – another jab at the now-infamous comments made by prime minister Scott Morrison in 2019 that electric vehicle owners will “end the weekend”.
Now about a month in and halfway through their trip they have stopped in Broome, having driven 10,000 kilometres for the trifling sum of around $220 in power costs.
The idea to do the Big Lap “started when we bought the car and we did a lap of Tasmania,” says Jules.
“That had no superchargers, just destination chargers and we really wanted to have a good look at Tassie and it proved to be easier than we thought it was going to be.”
At that time, they had no three-phase cable, only a standard 240V cable and destination chargers he says.
“That started us on the quest, we went out to South Australia, we borrowed a kit of chargers from the Tesla Owners club and we did a tour of South Australia, including the Barossa region and Kangaroo Island.
“That was interesting because we were kind of novices,” Jules says, explaining they hadn’t realised just how slow a J-1772 charge point is.
“The first one we got to was broken and it was the weekend, and the second one was ICEd (blocked by a parked internal combustion engine car) and the third one was in middle of nowhere and adding only 30km of range an hour, so we ended up going back to our accommodation and plugging it in through the laundry.”
The couple says it has given them an idea of how to look at chargers, including how convenient they are for what you want to do.
“This trip’s been interesting because we’ve been looking for places in the middle of the day,” Jules says. Because the Warrnambool charger was ICEd, they went on to Port Fairy where they found a charger in the middle of town.
“Port Fairy was great because the charger was in the middle of town, we went for lunch then on a boat ride, there was so much to do,” he says.
For three-phase charging, they have now worked out that the best set-up for them is using a high-powered wall unit with a three-phase plug. They usually have it plugged in at home but it’s also mobile and is perfect for truck stops, councils, and showgrounds.
“Showgrounds are great, because they have three-phase for carnival – you can charge your car really cheaply,” says Jules.
In Jurien Bay they decided not to use the BioFil DC charger because the AC charger on the waterfront was in such a perfect location.
At Coral Bay, the plugs didn’t work so they got a powered site and plugged it in there, sleeping in the back of the car.
“We get a fair few funny looks because we drive on to the beach or into the caravan park and everyone has got a 4WD,” he says.
“They’ve got all the accessories and we just pull up the car and plug it in.”
The couple says the Model S – which they got as a demo model because in 2019 there was a delay in Model 3 imports – has turned out better because if its hatch-back and extra size.
“We needed to have enough space in our car that we can get stuff out and sleep in it. We’ve got a bag, two eskies that we can use as seats, and a picnic set, and a small bag with overnight stuff.”
Their next stop will be somewhere between Broome and Fitzroy Crossing. Driving straight there would be the limit of their range if they drove at 80km/hr.
“It’s a long time to stop at a truck stop, there’s not a lot you can do, and the flies are horrendous. If you sit in the car and watch Netflix with air-con, you lose 10km for hour, so 75km instead of 85km. You’re better off driving slower than getting the buffer,” they say.
The couple also notes that even if you have a sizable buffer (that is, extra energy on the battery), “you can get caught out if you go into a headwind.”
“We got caught in the edge of a cyclone, we had a buffer of 50kms and pouring rain and we knew that would impact it. We got to the charger with 1% in Karratha – a lot of the times you could be cruising along at 100km and using 180wh/km, but we couldn’t get it below 230wh/km,” says Jules.
“We had the same problem getting to Coober Pedy, we hit a headwind, 35km/hr, there’s nothing you can do apart from go slow. We drove 60km/hr for 100km and arrived with 2%,” says Yvonne.
While they were told that four to five cars a week get picked up by the local tow truck because they run out of fuel, “the Tesla tells you you have to slow down to reach your destination,” they say.
But the best thing, they agree, about driving a Tesla in the outback is Autopilot.
“You really notice how much fatigue you get when you don’t have it. Autopilot on outback roads is fantastic – you can look around, enjoy the scenery as you drive along,” says Jules.
Ruining a couple of weeks
Another couple going the distance in their EV are the McGraths, who are not doing “The Big Lap” but who took on a fair chunk of it recently travelled from Sydney to Adelaide via Mildura, taking in the Flinders Ranges, Mt Gambier, Halls Gap, Warrnambool,
“Not content with ruining a weekend we decided to trash a couple of weeks with a road trip to SA and Vic from Sydney,” MrGrath quipped as he shared the photos in the Facebook group “I ruined the weekend”.
You can follow Jules and Yvonne Boag’s trip via their Instagram account, @stealyourweekend.
David McLeod says if anyone sees his blue Tesla (number plate 1NT-5WO) and want to go for a ride go, just say hello and he’ll take them for a spin.
This article is written in memory of and dedicated to Linda Röhrs, who sadly passed away in 2020 and is known for being the first woman to complete the Big Lap in 80 days in her Tesla Model S “Carpe Noctem” solo in 2019.
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 since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.