This is all about our third road trip as a family of four driving from Adelaide to Bellingen and back in July 2020.
I’m going to give you some insight into the realities of long distance road trips anywhere in Australia. Plus, there’s a bonus photo gallery at the end.
PRE – TRIP
Do some planning, at least look at your route on Google maps. I’ll describe them further below but you do your own planning. It’s advised to book accomodation ahead of time to save stress after a long day driving.
This is going to sound mundane but one thing that used to catch us by surprise when we headed away for weeks at a time is the need to empty the fridge of perishables. Now we plan the shopping a week or so in advance so we don’t end up having to throw good food out.
We use vacuum seal bags for our holiday clothes before we pack the car to save boot space. That way the girls can fit in more shoes and hairdryers. We just keep a change of clothes on hand for the second day of driving.
Think of all the things you need for the trip and work out ways to make them smaller. Toiletries and laundry stuff can be repackaged.
It might seem like you have too much space when you leave but you’ll need every bit of it when you come home with the extra things you’ve bought. Family car packing discipline can also get pretty loose toward the end of a trip. The closer you get to home – the more things tend to just get thrown in wherever there is space.
THREE DIFFERENT WAYS TO GET THERE AND THEY ALL MEET IN TAMWORTH
To get to Northern NSW, there are three ways into/out of South Australia and they all join up in Tamworth.
The quickest way is to travel via the Mallee Highway and enter Victoria near Pinnaroo. From there, you head to Piangil and cross the Murray River into NSW at Tooleybuc. It’s a short stretch to Balranald where you join the Sturt Highway and head for Hay. This way you’re likely to spend the night in West Wyalong or Parkes.
For a change of scenery we sometimes travel via the Sturt Highway through the South Australian Riverland and Victorian Sunraysia region. The Sturt Highway is a better grade of highway and there’s more to see along the way. This route takes longer and you’re likely to stay the night in West Wyalong.
The third route is the longest and most adventurous one. It takes the Barrier Highway between Tarlee in SA and Nyngan in NSW to cross the outback via Broken Hill. The distances are huge and there’s not much to see. The driving seems easy but such long monotonous stretches can be harder than you think. On this route, you’ll want to stay the night in Nyngan.
Don’t attempt the Barrier Highway route at night unless you really want to drive at 25 – 40 km/h across endless pitch-black desert highway while dodging monster road-trains. You’ll probably hit a kangaroo anyway – so don’t do it.
Heading north from Tamworth the road trip follows the New England Highway to Armidale before heading for the coast along the winding Waterfall Way. The Waterfall Way is a beautiful stretch of road but not so much when you’re tired. Make sure you’re ready for it. It doesn’t seem very far on the map but the Waterfall Way requires concentration. The Waterfall Way finally meets the Pacific Highway near Raleigh.
I can tell you how long it will take but the truth is that you need to leave super-early each day, it will give you plenty of flexibilty in case of delays. With time for rest breaks, it takes around 24 hours over two days. Driving through the night is not recommended, particularly if you choose the Barrier Highway route.
Plan your fuel. Fill the fuel tank before you go. Petrol is not always cheaper in the city – but it helps. It’s a long way between fuel pumps sometimes – up to 255 kilometres in one case. Be aware of the distances and stay ahead of the curve by filling up when you get to half a tank.
It’s good advice to take a break at least every two hours. Fortunately, there are plenty of rest stops and towns along the routes to pull off the road and take a break. Most highway service stations also have the space nearby to stop and rest for a while.
We don’t bother with a big esky or an expensive fridge anymore. Just a small soft esky with ice bricks is all. A few snacks, some milk, and soft drinks are all we need to keep cool. We carry our own re-usable water bottles and a cask of spring water to top them up. Proper planning and packing means there’s no need to waste space. There are plenty of opportunities to buy hot and cold food and drink along the way. It is a holiday after all.
The dry food box is another thing. We pack as much snack food like chips, nuts, and sweets as we can. It stays more organised in one of those cheap plastic organiser tubs. These snacks are more expensive on the road. Plus, we usually stay in self-contained accommodation at our destination – where we use some of our own kitchen supplies.
TRAVELLING WITH KIDS
Thank goodness for nearly universal mobile internet and tablet computers. Pack the headphones and chargers. Download as much as you can from your content services at home and you’re all set.
Take lots of breaks. There’s plenty of toilets. Promise them McDonalds if they behave. Easy.
A quick google search is usually good enough to find accommodation. From experience, I’d say spend over $150 if you can for a motel room. Most motels out that way are a bit dated – to say the least. ‘Family’ motel rooms can sometimes be far too small. Families would be better off finding cabins at caravan parks or resorts. You’ve spent all day in the car with your family (of course you love them) – but some space is nice.
There is so much to see by driving across Australia! This road trip is a bit off the beaten track I know. I’d argue that the changing countryside and all the small towns along the road imbue you with an authentic sense of travel as you whisk through them. It’s part of the experience.
There are two notable side trips in easy reach of the route worth taking. ‘The Dish’ in Parkes, and Wollomombi Falls on the Waterfall Way. ‘The Dish’ is a giant radio telescope that was once part of the Apollo missions while Wollomombi Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Australia.
You’ll find so many interesting things. We’re all different.
Enjoy the comforts of home. Returning home is a part of any journey.
Do yourself a favour and make sense of all the photos and videos – before you forget and they no longer seem relevant.
Write something down. Share it here if you like!