Time to pull over?

It is easy to drive too long without a proper rest. Both Leonie and myself find that two hours is a comfortable time. Especially when the road is straight and the scenery a little featureless, it is very easy to lose concentration. This is why highway authorities put ‘rest areas’ along the highway. It is here that a few things need to be said about the road side stops in New South Wales along the Newell Highway. In a word, the greater majority of these are pathetic. If you want to pull over and rest, sure, you don’t need much. Everything changes, however, if you want to get out of the car…

For a start, the rest stops on the Newell Highway often a basic shelter constructed in a clearing with little creativity or beautification. There is rarely a toilet. I am a tax payer, and I know all this costs money. The reality is, however, that there are lots of taxpayers driving this highway every day. They all need to rest every two hours or so. But on the Newell, most of them are greeted with a 44 gallon drum for rubbish, a dusty parking area, and on closer inspection, toilet paper and other bits of ‘refuse’ left by previous travellers. They get to enjoy all this under the shade of the aforementioned shelter. It’s all a bit ugly, and who would want to do it?

My thought is this: if we are really concerned about driver fatigue the authorities would do something about it. And if there was any sense of aesthetics they would make rest areas the kind of places that people would want to use. They would install composting toilets, put in a few plants, and an information board about the local area or the original inhabitants (or what happened to them).

Places like that would be way more relaxing than some of the highway service centres we have seen. These are typically a few service providers in collaboration with a fuel stop. These places have toilets. They have fast food. Some have good coffee. But they are soulless and sterile. Sitting in one at Wallan on Sunday I found myself wondering what the occupants did for any sense of community. The clientele of itinerants changes constantly, and with the centre located along a section of Hume Freeway there was no town centre or village to give it a sense of place.

For me, the best places to meet people are in the towns along the highway. Here you can talk to the locals, and at least get some sense of what the town is like. Outside the towns, a thoughtfully constructed rest area is much more relaxing break than buying fast food somewhere. You can smell the bush, hear the birds, and feel the breeze.

If government would consider this, and act on it, the end result might be something that encourages drivers to rest more effectively. Travellers would have a more pleasurable driving experience. Roads would be a safer, and people would be happier.

Take me home, Country Road

After having such a full Christmas Day celebration, I was surprised to find it a little hard to switch off when we finally rolled into bed at 2300. Even though I was looking forward to sleep an hour or two before I actually got to bed, I found that when I finally lay down my brain was still asking, ‘did I pack that jacket?’, ‘should I set an alarm?’, ‘should I get up to close the window in case the rain blows in?’, and the worst of all ‘what if can’t get to sleep easily tonight?’ I am not sure why, but for some reason the prospect of spending two days in a car still appears to be exciting enough to interrupt sleep…

Even so, the next morning we managed to leave just 15 mins after our scheduled departure time. 0545 and we were on our way. The rains we had expected intensified as we crossed Cunningham’s Gap and made our way to Warwick. There are probably better places (!), but we always gravitate towards MacDonald’s in Warwick. McCafe coffee is at least Rainforest Alliance (which is close to Fair Trade) and the breakfasts are reasonable. While waiting for the coffee, I noticed the man next to me was reading two copies of The Weekend Australian, Naturally, I assumed that they were both provided by the management for clients like me…

“Hey mate, can I have a look at the copy underneath the one you’re reading?” I ask.

“Nope. Coz their both mine…” replied the man with the weathered face, who just had to be a farmer.

“Oh, sorry mate, I thought they were restaurant papers.”

“Nah mate, bought ’em both. We’ve got a mob up from Melbourne, and what do yer reckon would happen with just one paper? So I bought two… but I’d have to be a bit of an arsehole if I wouldn’t let you have a look at one while yer waitin’ for yer coffee…”

There is something about the Australian humour: dry, straight-faced, and specifically designed to make you think you’ve met a closed door. Then surprisingly, the door swings wide open. The subtle smirk at the corner of the mouth, the almost imperceptible wink- or is it a twinkle – tell you you’re speaking to a friend and not a foe. A few minutes later I walked away with a roughly hewn latte, and realised I did not even ask the man’s name. I was blessed by his friendship, and yet did not pay him the courtesy of asking his name of offering mine. I have to do this differently next time, and see if I can out-bless the other.

A big country

As you make your way through Warwick, Goodiwindi, Moree, Narrabri, Coonabarabran and on to Dubbo, you very quickly realise how huge Australia is. There are hundreds of kilometres to cover, and you’re not even halfway to where you want to go. On the Newell Highway this means long stretches of highway driving, punctuated by what seems like equal periods of time stuck behind someone’s Winnebago or caravan. It used to be that the exception to this was Akubra wearing famer, accompanied by his dog, driving a ute. Things are less certain these days. The Toyota or Mitsubishi has replaced the Holden or Ford. But farmer, hat, and the dog, however, appear to have outlasted any innovation the auto industry can throw at them. And they still slow you down…

Road Trip – Boxing Day

It’s 0500, the birds are waking up, the rain is falling heavily in Wellington Point, and we’re about to leave on our trip to Melbourne, with an overnight stay in Dubbo, NSW, about 12 hours driving away.

One complication right now is that the remains of a tropical cyclone in the Kimberleys in dumping a lot of rain over parts of Queensland and NSW. There is a possibility that this could cause flash flooding that may disrupt our trip. The radar images indicate that it’s not too serious at present, so at this point we plan to follow our original route. Our track will take us west of Wellington Point, over Cunninghams Gap, and then to Warwick, where we will have some breakfast.

The bags are near packed, we’re doing last minute preparations, and we hope to leave within 30 mins.

Can’t wait! Here we go!

Chat later,

Dave