Is the Great Aussie Road Trip Dead?

Growing up in the 70's and 80's I was part of a generation that valued the great Aussie Road trip tradition. My parents had a caravan and we would often go exploring as far afield as possible. I remember pulling up alongside the road for my dad to take a shot at some rabbits with the shotgun (no gun laws back then) and another occasion fishing on a beach where the only thing we caught was seaweed.

Towing the van required a Falcon V8 that later became an F100 and then eventually a string of Landcruisers. When I was around 12, the caravan was replaced by a car trailer and 2 speedway cars on the back. My brothers raced in places like Maryborough in QLD, Gunnedah in rural NSW, and practically every weekend at Liverpool Speedway.

These sporting ventures required significant distances to be traveled and of course a road trip. The early 90s didn't change this for me either, gaining my own license, Landcruiser and car trailer saw me towing my own rally car across our great land in search of new adventures.

When you put all the reasons for travel aside the core aspect that intersects it all is the road trip, long distance driving was never something we considered as a burden, but indeed part of the adventure. With a rest break at a Maccas somewhere or places like the burger joint at Bulahdelah where beetroot was placed on everything, that also sold chiko rolls fried to perfection. This was what it was all about!

The Road trip wasn't just about getting to your destination quickly, it was the trip itself that was most valuable to us, almost cathartic or relaxing in itself.

Fast forward to 2024, I have just completed several road trips up the coast as far as Byron Bay for work. I have clients who require that I go to their staff for workplace health and safety driver training. I even went to places like Alstonville, and Lismore places I haven't been previously, and while that was interesting, traveling for work leaves little time for exploration.

What struck me on my last trip in May, was just how boring the road trip had become; indeed, the M1 Motorway is fantastic, with duel lanes all the way, catch fencing to minimise animal strikes, and even the road itself is grooved so heavy rain (something I encountered), doesn't affect the journey.

But all of the little towns along the way, have been bypassed, Taree, Bulahdelah, Karuah, Nabiac, Kempsey, Macksville, Nambucca Heads, Urunga, and many smaller towns too. Why this has meant less time slowing down through towns and allows you uninterrupted travel, the experience is nothing short of boring, it's mile after mile of freeway-style driving at 100 or 110km/h and the incentive is to keep pushing on. Where you may have once stopped for a coffee at a little café or milk bar now you think I'm not hungry keep going.

From a road safety perspective, this is concerning, driver reviver stations don't put lids on your coffee for a reason, they want you out of the vehicle so you can get a break from driving. While we all probably felt going through a town was an inconvenience it was part of the road trip experience, and part of the safe driving strategy to interrupt the mind, that passing traffic also helped keep these towns alive.

The last place yet to be bypassed is Coffs Harbour, and you can tell, the place is thriving, it's no longer the sleepy country town it once was, it is a full-blown city with traffic and peak hour, trust me when I say that having been stuck in it recently.

But you guessed it, right now, they are building a Coffs Bypass and when it's finished will mean a total avoidance of any town from Sydney to Tweed Heads (when the Hexham bypass is finished too).

So, what to do? My advice is to plan your road trips and stop into the places you normally wouldn't, they are so appreciative of the business. I was just at Grafton and the hotel owner was so helpful and friendly, with a capacity of 25 rooms, that night I counted just 6 cars in the car park.

My conclusion is, that the road trip isn't dead, it's just different now, and for those of us who love driving, it just requires a little more planning and time to make it interesting. Remember to take regular breaks, check your vehicle, and make sure you are well-rested before you hit the road.

Steer Safely, everyone!

Stewart Nicholls

Managing Director

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