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Once around "The Block" please – Great Drives of Australia  

December 28, 2005
Once around "The Block" please – Great Drives of Australia

Aileen H. asked GoSeeAustralia to help with the ultimate road journey in Australia: the infamous, caravanning nomads rite of passage, the Lap of Honour Around "The Block".

Aileen and her husband plan at least 12 to 24 months to see Australia and asked what the approx distance/cost might be.

"We have a 93 Nissan Patrol 4.2 diesel towing an 18ft pop-top". We hope to leave Wagga Wagga approx March-April all going to plan. We thought of going anti-clockwise but welcome any suggestions.

"We are doing small trips away, ironing out any bugs. So far things work well. Fuel has been our biggest expense.

"We had a caravan 30 years ago, and have been back into the vans for 2 years now. We really love the freedom to go anywhere, anytime".

"We realise the main cost will be fuel. We will be on a limited budget. This has been our dream for the last 30 years: any feedback would be more than welcome."

Here are GoSee's thoughts and suggestions for an unforgettable trip around "The Block"

We think Aileen and her husband have made a good choice of tow-vehicle. They have a reliable tow "truck" which is well maintained.

The NRMA says the inter-cooled 4.2-litre six-cylinder engine in Nissan's Patrol line-up is quite a basic design. The engine uses an overhead valve (OHV) arrangement and just two valves per cylinder. In comparison, the same capacity turbo diesel engine found in Nissan's main rival, Toyotas Land Cruiser is a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) design that uses four valves per cylinder to produce 151 kW of power and 430 Nm of torque.

While the performance of the Patrol engine is obviously inferior to the Land Cruiser, some rural pundits prefer the simplicity of the older engine. The vehicle uses about 12.9litres a 100km with nothing behind according to NRMA testers. The Patrols tow rating is 3500kg with trailer brakes, 750kg without.

Diesels do well as tug boats. The GSA "truck" is a big Toyota Sahara. In a recent run in mostly flat country in windless going fuel consumption went up, but not significantly towing a Jayco Heritage of about 2500kg at 80 to 100kmh.

The Patrol is well equipped and reasonably comfortable, but the engine falls short on offering the sort of performance available from other manufacturers. The mass of the Patrol is nearly 2.5 tonnes and acceleration is a little slow off the mark. But once the Patrol gains some momentum, the engine is quite responsive and performs reasonably well.

When Nissan upgraded its GU Patrol range in February 2003 it impressed in testing. The changes were mostly specification and cosmetic, the turbocharger added to the diesel six was the most significant mechanical change. The 4.2-litre six-cylinder engines peak power didn't increase from 114kW, Nissan engineers concentrating on boosting torque, which jumped nine per cent from 330Nm to 360Nm at 2000rpm.

The turbo diesel is available on DX and ST wagon and Ute models hooked to a five-speed manual transmission. The ST wagon also got cruise control as part of the upgrade.

On major roads, the Patrol lopes happily along at 80km/h in fifth gear, and has torque in reserve for acceleration and overtaking without dropping down a cog. In the tighter stop-and-go world of urban driving the Patrol accelerates willingly up to speed without a need to rev the gears overly hard. The diesels rev ceiling is just the other side of 4000rpm, the big "truck" does its best work between 1500 and 3000 rpm.

Anti-clockwise around Australia starting in March is fine. They will drive into the Dry season in the North and over 12 to 24 months work their way into WA, We guess via Katherine and Kununurra.

Once around the block   the savannah way NT

Also see: The Savannah Way – Great Drives of Australia

GSA suggests timing the run home over the Nullarbor to take advantage of the months with the lightest wind ranges. Read the features "Sail your caravan through the Nullarbor winds" and "To Perth by Statesman RV".

NSW – NT via QLD: Coast or Inland?

It is a matter of following personal interests. From their home in Wagga Wagga Aileen and her husband have a decision.

Inland or the Coast? Inland means the Newell Hwy. They have the option of the Mitchell Hwy at Dubbo which leads to the Landsborough Hwy via Charleville, Pick up the Barkly Hwy at Mt Isa and then the Stuart to Darwin at Tennant Creek.

The Coast route is the Pacific Hwy via Nambucca Heads and Coffs Harbour to Brisbane and then on the Bruce Hwy all the way to Cairns. At Katherine, NT, the Victoria Hwy leads into WA and Kununurra.

They need to decide about going to Darwin, but as they have the time GSA recommends seeing part of the Top End. The War Cemetery at Adelaide River is heart-rending and Litchfield National Park is marvellous – Wet or Dry season.

Northern Territory Top End Litchfield National Park is a place to plunge in sparkling rock pools in Dry season. In the Wet torrents crash but it is generally accessible all year. No matter when it is visited the park is an Australian spectacular.

Magnetic termite mounds, Rum Jungle legends, a Lost City (4WD only), quiet creek walks, hundreds of birds, caves and Orange Bats make Litchfield different.

Near Batchelor, about two hours south-west of Darwin, and 268km from Katherine the 1500 square kilometre Litchfield National Park is generally accessible all year (sealed roads) via Batchelor. Originally it was the home of the Aboriginal Wagait people.

dry river in NT australia

About 40 minutes from Darwin, Tumbling Waters Holiday Park owned by Jenny and Darren Campbell is in the area too at Berry Springs.

It is an ideal base from which to explore sights in the region like:

  • Territory Wildlife Park - 5 minutes

  • Litchfield National Park - 1 hr

  • Berry Springs Thermal Pools - 5 minutes

  • Exotic Fruit Tours - 7 km

  • Majestic Orchid Tours - 5 minutes

  • Darwin River Dam Spillway - 7 km

  • Mandorah Beach 45 minutes

  • Dundee Beach 1.5 hrs

  • Darwin Crocodile Farm - 20 minutes.

Lonely Planet Travel describes it as "One of the nicest Parks in the Top End". We like it too, but add "quirky" to our appreciation for its freshwater crocodile enclosure, 'imported' magnetic termite mounds, novel bar, barbeque areas and cabins and the true warm NT nature of the welcome when we blew into its 100 acres of palms and tropic gardens.


From Kununurra head down the tarmac on the Great Northern Hwy to Broome. See the Bungles. GoSeeAustralia's last advice was caravans are not great on going into the beehive hills.

The other alternative from Kununurra is the Gibb River Road. Again "pop-top" vans could be a problem. Is it an outback build? Can it and you handle the conditions?

After Port Hedland, there is another decision. Inland on the Northern Hwy or via Roebourne on the North West Coastal Hwy. Exmouth (359km) and Denham (129km) are big diversions off the main drag. Don't forget Monkey Mia, the dolphins are worth seeing and there is good camping.

Great drives of Australia   once around The Block 2

On to Geraldton and Perth on the Brand Hwy. Then more decisions. Coast, Middle or Outback this time. GSA recommends the coast via Bunbury.

The other alternatives are the Albany Hwy. It is a good run to Albany and then on to Esperance. Both centres are worth a stop, but there are giant trees, fine wines and pounding surf on the coast so maybe tour to Margaret River and pick up the South Coast Hwy that way to Esperance.

The Outback option is the Great Eastern Hwy to Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

This can be done from Esperance too, via Norseman. Kalgoorlie-Boulder is unique in its attitudes and atmosphere. If you go please take the Langtrees brothel tour and ask to see the sporting memorabilia and the Alan Bond paintings.

See the mining at BIG Superpit. Spend time at the Visitor Info Centre to get a feel for the achievements of working people in a harsh environment. The pipeline beside the road which brings the life-giving water is a world engineering wonder.

At Norseman, it is the Eyre Hwy to Eucla. Remember to read the GSA features mentioned. Drop in at the Eucla Weather Station it has the best view from the top of the escarpment.

Great drives of Australia   once around The Block 1

Plan the Nullarbor run using the wind rose info supplied to GSA by the WA Met. Bureau boys and aim for settled periods to try and miss the winds.

In the analyses provided the seasons are:

  • Autumn - March, April and May

  • Winter - June, July and August

  • Spring - September, October and November

  • Summer - December, January and February.

From the Wind Roses, which give an easily digested impression of wind regimes, the months in order most likely to have winds kind to caravanning are May. Followed by June; and April.

The Wind Frequency Analysis indicates the percentage of all observations that fall within a specified range of wind speeds and directions.

We totalled the percentage values for winds of 21km/h or more and found that August to March is the windiest period. The figures are based on '9am and 3pm' readings, but checking the Met. Bureau notes show that the '9am' readings are actually taken between 7.30am and 10am.


At Ceduna, decisions, Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula is a different experience from Hwy 1 to Port Augusta. At Port Augusta, there are choices again. The Sturt Hwy via Mildura home to Wagga Wagga or Coastal Princes Hwy or inland Western Hwy to Melbourne.

lizard on a tree in Australia   one around the block

GSA's editor loves the SA/Victoria Coastal route, particularly the crays at Robe. They go so well with fresh bread, butter and lemon juice. God Bless SA!

At Warrnambool be brave and opt for the Great Ocean Road. There is no real problem if normal care is taken. Read - To Cape Otway by Dove in the Information features. There is stuff in the Forums too in the Places to See. The road is windy and with some spectacular cliffs but is wide enough and there are plenty of places to pull over to let the faster traffic pass and take a few quick snapshots of the magnificent scenery.

The scenic spots such as the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge all have parking available for cars towing vans, so don't miss out on these.

Tourism Victora has linked many touring options to the Great Ocean Road.

  • The Great Southern Touring Route: This includes Melbourne to Geelong, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Portland, Hamilton, Dunkeld, Halls Gap, Ararat, Ballarat and back to Melbourne through the Spa Country.

  • The Two States Touring Route: starts at Hamilton and includes Casterton, Penola, Coonawarra, Naracoorte, Kingston, Robe and Mount Gambier in South Australia and then Nelson in Victoria, Portland, Port Fairy, Macarthur and returns to Hamilton.

  • The Shipwreck Trail: follows the coast and includes Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland. There is signage in the section between Moonlight Head and Nelson, which leads to plaques on the cliffs overlooking the shipwreck sites.

  • The Otways Waterfalls and Forest Drive: Runs from Geelong to Apollo Bay, via Lavers Hill to Birregurra, and back to Geelong. Lavers Hill is the highest point on the Great Ocean Road.

  • The Volcanic Discovery Trail: looks at the violent formation of the Western District landscape. From Geelong, the route is via Colac to Warrnambool via Macarthur to Portland. It can be extended to Mount Gambier with its famous Blue Lake, or treated as a circuit by travelling via Hamilton and Mortlake back to Geelong.

  • The Coast to Country Connect and the Otways Food and Wine Journey: Involves travelling on the inland route via the Princes Highway to Winchelsea, Colac and Cobden and then driving from country to coast through towns like Birregurra and Forest.

  • Drive the Country Way: The Country Way is a direct approach to travel between Geelong and Warrnambool using the Princes Highway (A1) at average speeds, which cannot be maintained safely on sections of the winding Great Ocean Road. It is an ideal return route to Melbourne with the benefit of the contrast of touring through some of the state's most beautiful rural scenery.

Sydney to melbourne coastal drive

Hinterland centres like Colac and Camperdown have a charm of their own.

Colac is a crossroad for touring across the Otway Ranges to Lorne and Lavers Hill. Lake Colac is popular for water sports, which include fishing, yachting, windsurfing, water-skiing and swimming.

The area has many lakes and vantage lookouts like Red Rock, near Colac, and Mount Sugarloaf, near Camperdown, which open up vistas of the fertile western plains of Victoria. Camperdown is in a dairy region with magnificent elm trees adding their grace to the main street of this major town, which is on the edge of one of the biggest lava plains in the world.

On the Warrnambool side of the town are lakes Bullen Merri, complete with boat ramp and salty Lake Gnotuk with its moonscape shores. Cobden is growing as a rural centre and Timboon is famous for its cheeses. Mount Emu Creek Sheep Milk Dairies produce cheese and yoghurt.

Noorat, near Terang, celebrates as the birthplace of Alan Marshall, author of "I Can Jump Puddles", a compelling Australian story of courage and determination.

The volcanic country has produced a skill in dry stonewall building which is a signature in the area.

The winding nature of the Great Ocean Road, plus traffic on weekends and holidays will extend travel times. Please allow plenty of time for the journey and drive carefully.

It is 270km from Geelong to Warrnambool via the Great Ocean Road. Geelong to Warrnambool via the Princes Highway is 187km

Visit Cape Otway. Park the van and go and walk through the treetops near Lavers Hill. Go over Melbourne's Westgate Bridge. Remember to prepay your tolls to CityLink, or call up and do it later and take the South Eastern Freeway to the Cranbourne turn-off, it is past Dandenong.

That leads to Phillip Island and Cowes, Wonthaggi and Inverloch. Come across from seaside Inverloch to Morwell on good country roads, stop at the Main Ridge Brewery and then on to Sale, Cann River and up to Canberra to head home to Wagga Wagga.

How far is it?

Using the GSA Trip Planner and forcing "Tin Head" to follow GSA's preferred routes by using the shortest and fastest buttons, plus personal knowledge of via towns, it is 14,386km Inland and about 16,000km Coastal.

Trip planners are only as good as the people who drive them so never take what they say for granted. The same goes for GPS navigation systems.

The 14,386 is via the Inland Route starting with the Newell Hwy. Driving time at the wheel is estimated at 178 hours (non-stop).

The 16,000 is via the Coastal Route via Nambucca Heads and Coffs Harbor to Brisbane and then on all the way to Cairns and then across to the Track at Three Ways and up to Darwin.

Choose which roads you prefer, but always plan to cover your weakest link. In the case of Aileen and her husband that is the pop-top.

How much fuel?

There are too many variables to be accurate, winds, weight, grades, driver, road conditions, gears used. We guess Aileen's pop-top will weigh about 2500kg loaded.

So working on the NRMA fuel figure for the Nissan, add a lot for towing issues and decide about 15 to 16 litres a 100km. So maybe 900 litres to cover 14,386 in easy going at the current prices. Prices will go up in the more remote areas. For example $1.50 a litre at Tennant Creek. About $1.35 is common in the NT and WA.

So how about $2,000 to $2800 as a budget starter for the short lap of the block?

A useful yardstick is a basic manual hire Toyota non-turbo diesel used in the NT cost GSA $163 to cover just over 800km, we were not towing, but pushed the vehicle along with five on board at Territory speeds up to 120kmh when it was safe, so the revs rarely got under 2000rpm when touring.

GoSeeAustralia hears a lot of variations in tow vehicle fuel figures from users of the website.

For example 15 litres a 100km, towing 1800kg with spares for a turbo diesel.

16.5 litres per 100 km for a similar turbo diesel towing 2400kg with four people on board.

Estimates on fuel costs for the GoSeeAustralia Toyota 4WD turbo diesel pulling a Jayco Heritage caravan of about 2500kg.

Based on 30,000 km for all travelling on a tour of Australia:

  • If fuel economy is 20lt/100klm and average fuel cost say $1.30 the total expenditure would be $7800.

  • If fuel economy is 20lt/100klm and average fuel cost say $1.20 the total expenditure would be $7200.

  • If fuel economy is 16lt/100klm and average fuel cost say $1.30 the total expenditure would be $6240.

  • If fuel economy is 16lt/100klm and average fuel cost say $1.20 the total expenditure would be $5760

Photos courtesy - Tourism Western Australia

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