Difference #5: On the Road

Travelling long distances on the road in Australia is different. It’s not just the driving on the other side of the road.

There is no separate speed limit for trucks, pretty much regardless of their size. That means that if you’re obeying the speed limit or even stay a bit below it you will sooner or later have a truck in your rearview mirror. And if that truck happens to be a road train you basically have 100t of steel and cargo just meters behind your bumper. The bright side of that is that trucks are not moving obstacles like they are on German highways. Still feels weird to get overtaken by trucks.

Inevitably linked to Australia are dirt roads AKA unsealed roads. They differ greatly in terms of quality. Some of them are so bad that even at low speed every screw is rattled out of its bearing and the suspension cries for mercy. Others are as plain as tarmac and driving 80-100 km/h is still comfortable. And amazing. It’s probably the child in me that enjoys it but driving like that with nothing but an enormous dust cloud in the mirrors is just heaps fun. Most of the dirt roads I’ve travelled on are somewhere in between those extremes. Not comfortable but no immediate threat to the vehicle either.

Now Australia is a country the size of Europe but with just a quarter of Germany’s population. Much of the country is vast nothingness and even along the coast there are stretches that literally go for hundreds of kilometres without passing by any town. Driving there is a challenge as it is incredibly boring and easy to get distracted. To keep drivers focused the QLD government even put signs with trivia besides the road. “What is the highest mountain in Australia?” and a couple of kms later the answer on another sign. Those streets put a meaning to words like ‘infinite’ and ‘endless’.

The Aussie highways sometimes look like an autobahn, two lanes in each direction separated by some green in the middle. Yet still the speed limit never exceeds 120 km/h and even that is rather rare. Sometimes those roads lead into a city and suddenly the speed limit is 60 km/h with bus stops on the shoulder. Speaking of shoulder, on most highways riding a bicycle is legal but I can’t imagine it to be very pleasant.

Fighting Kangaroos

This one’s a bit older. The place where I stayed for the night in the Snowy Mountains weeks ago did not only feature an amazing 270° panorama view but also wildlife at its best. After the sunset I heard a lot of noise in the bushes and when I went to have a look I saw two mountain kangaroos fighting. Those guys had an impressive stamina, for half an hour they were beating the crap out of each other.

There is a lookout near the Monaro Hwy just south of Cooma that has amazing views and a toilet: All you need to overnight in a car.

Great Ocean Road

People say when you come to visit Australia you have to see three things: The rock, the reef and the road. The rock being Uluru and the road being the Great Ocean Road (GOR). The road was built between the two world wars by returned soldiers to commemorate their casualties. It is as such a big war memorial but fortunately few parts of the 250km drive show any link to military and war.

Heading west out of Melbourne on Sunday we reached the GOR in the early afternoon. It is said to be one of the world’s most impressive coastal drives and it sure wasn’t a disappointment. The way leads along surf beaches, rolling hills and through rainforest.

Even though it looks tempting, taking a swim there is a bit of a dare as the water is quite chilly. You can see the occasional penguin.

We drove the first half of the road on the first day and stayed at a small hostel in Apollo Bay for the night. The second day brought one of the trips biggest tourist attractions, a limestone formation called “The Twelve Apostles”.

The name is misleading as there were never more than nine stacks. Right now eight are remaining after the ninth collapsed in 2005 under the eyes of a surprised tourist group.

By the end of the day we reached Warrnambool which is the western end of the GOR. It really gets boring from there on. The last 650km to Adelaide feature mostly dry rocks and salt lakes. We took turns in driving hundreds of kilometres on roads as straight as the pope and reached Adelaide in the early evening.