Driving a BMW 3 Series across the Australian continent in 3 days
What better way to get familiar with your new car than driving it across the country?
Boarding a flight to Perth, Western Australia from Melbourne, Victoria late on a Thursday evening with a mate in tow is an exciting prospect no matter the circumstances. However, when it's to embark on a cross-continent drive with a tight timeframe, things are even more exhilarating.
Having seen the car listed online just a few days earlier, made a call to the owner, negotiated a price and secured a promise that it wouldn't be sold to anyone but myself, it was time to head out West. Most self respecting individuals faced with the prospect of purchasing a car on the opposite side of the Australian continent would simply arrange for it to be delivered to their front door via one of the countless car transport companies that exist. Me though? Well, I like to do things a little differently. After being informed by my mate (whom which I'd previously traveled with to Sydney to collect his E46 3 Series) that he would need to be back by Monday morning so as not to miss an important component of his medical degree, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be more akin to a West - East Australian cannonball than a relaxing sightseeing trip! Due to a delayed flight out of Melbourne, we arrived at our hotel in Perth in the early hours of the morning, marking the beginning of a series of very late nights, long days and early mornings that would follow.
Perth Airport (Photo: Luke Bombardieri)
Day One - Perth to Caiguna
We rose bright and early at 6am to ensure we would make our agreed 8 o'clock rendezvous with the seller. After a quick trip into the CBD for breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we climbed aboard an Uber to Como, a short 12 minute drive from the city. As is typical for Perth and Western Australia in general, the weather was stunning and the city clean and spangly; so much so that my mate who had never visited before remarked numerous times on how magnificent it was in comparison to its East coast counterparts.
Upon arrival at the sellers house, we knocked on the door and were greeted by him before he darted away inside to open the garage door. As it opened, we were amazed to see a brand new Portimao Blue G20 330i sitting beside the Le Mans Blue E90 330i which I had come to collect. Surely there's no better testament to how good a car is than replacing it with the exact same model from a newer generation? After inspecting it and going for a test drive I was ready to proceed, so it was time to finalise the deal and fill out the paperwork. Being extremely friendly, the seller offered to take us for a drive in the G20, so we climbed in and went for a quick spin. He conceded that he preferred the sound of the older straight-six to the new turbo-four, however there was no doubt in our minds that the G20 was a fabulous and objectively superior vehicle. Before we left, the seller, who was visibly sad to see his old car go, asked if he could take one last photo with us beside it.
After departing, we pulled over in a nearby carpark to confirm insurance coverage and inform our families that we were about to begin the drive. Our excitement for the trip ahead was palpable. Given how far away Perth is from the rest of Australia and how rare visits tend to be, we were determined to explore a little before embarking on the massive drive ahead of us. We headed straight up to the stunning Kings Park and Botanical Gardens, a must visit for anyone travelling to Perth, and marvelled at the breathtaking views of the city in all its glory, all the while feeling slightly glum that we were about to leave it behind. Next stop was Crown Perth, a short but impressive drive among the skyscrapers of the CBD and over the Swan River. Nearly rear-ending someone who decided to stop for a red light at the last second on the way into Crown wasn't a great way to start the trip, but at least we knew the BMW's ABS worked extremely well. We were thankfull for the 330i's large brakes, without which the trip would have ended before leaving Perth. Fearing a post-midnight arrival at our accomodation for the night, our final stop before getting underway was to fill up and check tyre pressures; the last time we'd see a capital city for the next 2,700km!
We made a swift exit from Perth, with urban land quickly becoming suburban, which soon became rural. Due to our tight timeframe that required us to be back in Hobart, Tasmania in 3 days time, we'd booked our accomodation for the night at Caiguna, a 1090km, eleven and a half hour drive from Perth. Had we been leaving at 8am or earlier this would have been a long, but easily achievable target, however, we ended up leaving around 10am, and knew this would mean a considerable amount of night time driving. Now, if you've read anything about crossing the Nullarbor online, you'll know that the advice ranges from "It's pretty risky to drive at night" to "Are you insane??? If you drive at night you're going to hit a kangaroo and die". Watching Seen Through Glass' recent trip where he completed the same drive (albeit in the opposite direction) had calmed our nerves slightly, however driving in the dark was still something we were dreading. Our first stop of the trip was at Northam (100km out of Perth) to buy some essential road trip supplies such as water and snacks. We also grabbed a speedy lunch at the last McDonald's we were likely to see for a very long way. Following a quick fuel stop another 60km or so down the road at Cunderdin we were eager to get a move on and drove for a solid 4hrs and 400km to reach Coolgardie just as the sun began to retreat behind the seemingly never-ending expanse of the outback.
At this point I realised that in all the excitement of beginning the drive and picking up my new car I had neglected to let my mate take the wheel yet. After a quick refuel and toilet stop at Coolgardie we proceeded anxiously into the inky blackness brought on by nightfall. Our plan at this point was to continue to Norseman, about 1 hour 45 minutes away, where we would have dinner and then make a dash for Caiguna, our rest point for the night. While the stint to Norseman was largely uneventful, our sightings of numerous roo's in the undergrowth had not done our nerves any favours. Having left Perth over 7 hours earlier, we pulled into the BP Truckstop, situated at the beginning of the long and empty Eyre Highway, to enjoy a much needed meal. Being the only two people in the dining area that weren't truck drivers or servo employees felt slightly odd and made it very apparent that we were in the middle of nowhere.
Karramindie, Western Australia
Having regained our energy and prepared ourselves for the final 372km, nearly 4 hour stint to Caiguna, we filled up the car and set off on what would be the most dangerous part of our trip. Afraid of putting my mate in the position of hitting any wildlife in a car that wasn't his, I climbed back into the driver's seat and we set off into the night again. Two hours later, we thankfully emerged unscathed, yet on high alert from many animal sightings, at the Western end of 90 Mile Straight, Australia's longest piece of arrow straight tarmac at 146.6 kilometres long. You're probably thinking that had we not been driving at night this would have been the perfect opportunity to put the pedal to the metal and shave some time off the trip. However having heard that Police in the area use light aircraft to enforce speed limits, we weren't going to take any chances.
From this point it was a straight shot to Caiguna which lies at the Eastern end of the 90 miles. It was getting quite late, and as we pushed on into the darkness the number of Kangaroo's began to multiply. Never before had I driven with my eyes fixed on the side of the road rather than in front of me, but that's exactly what driving on the most notorious section of road in the Australian outback at night does to you. Cautiously proceeding along the straight, I spotted two tall, dark figures standing smack bang in the middle of the road. A couple taking a photo perhaps? As they came into view, it suddenly became apparent that these were not people, but two giant Kangaroos. Pulling up no more than a meter from them, their sheer size was incredible. Easily 6ft tall, their muscular bodies towered over the BMW, with their long, sharp claws glinting in the light from the xenon headlamps. Two honks on the horn to shoo them out of the way elicited no response, as they just stood there staring us down as if to say "we're the boss here, mate".
Australia's Longest Straight Road (Balladonia, Western Australia)
Once we'd carefully driven around them and set off again we quickly began to see huge numbers of them to either side of the road. Growing increasingly tired and with our nerves shot to pieces, we realised we'd need to drastically slow our pace and push back our arrival time to get to Caiguna in something that resembled a car rather than a butcher shop. Just as we were discussing how late we might arrive, a bright light emerged rapidly from behind us, eventually showing itself to be a Land Rover with a giant bumper-bar attached, which proceeded to fly past at speed. Viewing its seeming appearance out of nowhere as a gift from above, we sped up to match its speed, and started making some serious headway. After what seemed like an eternity of being on edge with our eyes glued to either side of the road like hawks, we pulled into Caiguna at around 11pm with a massive sigh of relief.
Day Two - Caiguna to Adelaide
Caiguna, Western Australia (Photo: Wikipedia
While what was likely to be the most dangerous section of the drive was behind us, the next day would be by far the longest of the entire trip. Although we'd not yet booked any accomodation for the next night, we had set our sights on Adelaide, a massive 1600km, sixteen and a half hour drive away. If this proved to be too much, our backup plan was to stay at Port Augusta, 300km North of Adelaide, but neither of us were at all keen to let this happen. With this in mind, we awoke at 5am after a solid sleep in the hope we could acheive our goal. It's worth noting that if you plan to stay anywhere between Norseman and Ceduna, the only real accomodation options (like Caiguna) are simply large service stations with attached motels named roadhouses. There are many such places of varying quality dotted along the Eyre Highway, however Caiguna Roadhouse is the only one we stayed at. Having been designed for truckers, the rooms are very basic, however they include some ammenities, most importantly a shower with hot water. After a very quick nibble for breakfast, we gave the Beemer a 1L drink of oil and some fuel, then hit the road with a steely sense of determination that we would go to sleep that night in the South Australian capital.
Leaving Caiguna (Photo: Luke Bombardieri)
Daylight revealed just how barren and empty the land had become as we drew closer to the Nullarbor. Overcast skies and mostly empty roads with the odd truck or two made for easy driving conditions, which is how things would stay for most of the day. The BMW's silky smooth 3.0L straight six proved to be devine for cruising along the highway, and made the little overtaking we had to do a breeze. After about an hour and a half of driving through relatively dull surroundings, we arrived at one of the most impressive scenery changes of the trip at Madura Pass; an overlook of a flat and seemingly never-ending plain dotted with trees. Unfortunately in our haste we missed the turnoff to the lookout which offers even better vistas, so if you're driving through keep an eye out for it.
Madura Pass (Photo: Wikipedia)
After descending onto the plain we made our way to Eucla, situated another two hours or so East from Madura and only 12km from the South Australian border. Between these two locations we noticed a particularly large number of Kangaroo carcases scattered along the road, and needless to say were pleased that we were passing through in the daylight. Positioned only a few kilometres inland from the ocean, Eucla is a little larger than most towns you'll find along the Eyre Highway and contains a police station, mini hospital/ambulence depot and a more luxurious roadhouse with a pool and restaurant. Being so isolated, fuel prices are extremely expensive here, and I paid nearly $2 per litre (!!!) for 98 octane, however these high prices are to be expected on the most remote section of the drive between Norseman and Ceduna.
A quick jaunt over to Border Village marked our departure from Western Australia and entry into South Australia, an incredibly exciting milestone. The total distance we had covered at this point was 1439km, yet we still had over 1200km between us and Adelaide. There was a small customs checkpoint here however only westbound vehicles seemed to be being inspected so we passed through without an issue. After grabbing a few quick photos of the car at the border and of 'The Big Kangaroo' (which thankfully isn't real), we were back on the road within minutes.
Another exciting aspect to crossing the WA/SA border is that it marks the official beginning of the famous Nullarbor Plain. Translated from Latin, Nullarbor means "no tree", and the name certainly fits. This vast, empty and desolate expanse of nothingness stretches on for what seems like forever. As far as the eye can see, nothing but emptiness in every direction. The Nullarbor is also the section of the Eyre Highway which lies closest to the ocean. Towering cliffs overlooking the aqua blue waters of the Great Australian Bight make it one of the most picturesque locations along the way. There are numerous roads and tracks along this stretch which lead out to lookouts and viewing points atop the spectacular cliffs. It's important to note that most of these are dirt roads and aren't well sign posted. We made the unfortunate mistake of driving past all of these and turning down a sealed road to the Head Of The Bight Lookout, not realising it was a tourist attraction which requires paid entry to even get close to the cliffs (how ridiculous). Whilst the prospect of paying to see the view was frustrating we were prepared to do so, however having already wasted precious time by diverting off the highway and realising this might be the difference between making it to Adelaide or not, we made the difficult decision to push on without stopping.
Lunch at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, the most remote of all the roadhouses, and a chat with a friendly truck driver was a nice way to build up our energy and take a break before tackling our most gruelling stint of the whole trip, the 764km's to Port Augusta. Back on the road again, we made a quick toilet stop at Penong and another at Ceduna to refuel as the sun began to set once more. At this point our lack of sleep and the tediousness of looking at the road stretch on into the horizon all day began to take its toll, and we became irritable with the growing number of trucks we encountered. Determined to reach Adelaide, we pushed on intently into the night, our eyes constantly flicking between the road and the distance to destination and estimated arrival time on the BMW's sat nav. Thankfully, due to the increased presence of fences and wide clearings on the sides of the road we were less concerned about wildlife than the previous night, which allowed us to put the hammer down and watch the BMW's predicted ETA fall away at a smile-inducing rate.
Arriving at Port Augusta just before 10pm, we felt amazing. Against the odds, we'd pushed hard to significantly reduce our arrival time and could now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Pulling into the first McDonald's we'd seen in over 2000km (and probably the only restaurant open late at night in a rural industrial hub) we exhaustedly walked in to get some dinner. While eating, I booked a room for the night in Adelaide, but in my drained state failed to realise its check-in time was far too early for our arrival. Rectifying this took at least half an hour of jabbering on the phone, costing us more precious time and pushing our ETA into Adelaide out towards 1am. After a quick splash and dash refuel we set off for the final 309km stint. Whilst we'd already been doing it for a large portion of the journey, sharing the driving became imperative at this point to ensure neither of us became overly fatigued. With our eyes fixed to the distance and ETA on the sat nav like never before, we continued tirelessly into the night with only one thought in our minds; reaching the hotel and getting some sleep. As the lights of Adelaide hoved into view our sense of anticipation and excitement grew, reaching a fever pitch as we began to enter the city's outskirts. We soon began to encounter traffic lights for the first time since departing Perth. Slowly meandering our way through the city and into the CBD, we arrived at the hotel just after 1 o'clock. Nearly 20 hours after setting off from Caiguna, we'd finally made it, and in doing so managed to pull off something we were quite apprehensive about just hours earlier. From the entire trip, this was by far the greatest feeling of accomplishment.
Pullman Hotel, Adelaide CBD
Day Three - Adelaide to Melbourne
Ideally I had hoped for another early start the next morning so we could get to Melbourne in daylight, but after our nearly 24 hour long day (by the time we got to sleep) there was little to no chance of that happening. Dreary eyed and dazed from so many hours on the road, we slept until around 8am then went to enjoy a hearty breakfast in the Adelaide CBD at 9. Compared to our last two days, the 726km, eight hour drive to Melbourne felt like a mere trip to the corner store for some milk and bread. Having already conquered two mammoth days of driving, it was nice to be able to slow down and take things easy on our final leg of the trip. It was a drizzly morning, but as we headed out of Adelaide and into the countryside the weather began to clear up. Around an hour after leaving the city we pulled into The Bend, Australia's newest (and very impressive) motorsport park for a quick look. While we were unfortunately unable to enter due to an event in progress, we could hear the thunderous sound of cars doing laps.
Continuing to cruise along with a sole fuel stop, we soon arrived at the Victorian border. After a quick toilet stop and driver change just down the road in Kaniva, we pressed on to the rural centre of Horsham for some lunch and fuel in what would be our last stop before Melbourne. Here we spotted one of Victoria Police's new BMW 530d highway patrol cars driving through the town centre, luckily the only time we would see one! As we got back on the road once more and headed towards Ballarat with the sky beginning to grow dark, we were elated to see the distance on the sat nav drop below 300km and the time to destination reduce to under three hours. A stunning geological feature in this locality is the Grampians National Park, gigantic mountains which protrude from the otherwise flat swathes of farmland and bush that dominate rural Victoria.
With Melbourne now within what felt like spitting distance, we skirted around Ballarat and ploughed ahead with our sights set firmly on the Victorian capital. It was another 45 minutes down the road when we crested a hill at Bacchus Marsh that the sky began to glow ominously as we neared the metropolis. The gravity of the journey we'd just undertaken began to slowly sink in at this point. We had quite literally traversed the entire Australian continent, from West to East in just three days. We'd passed through four different time zones, driven for a combined total of over 36 hours and covered a distance of just under 3,500km. As we began to slowly creep into the outskirts of Melbourne, the feeling of being in Perth two days earlier and now being on the opposite side of the country without sitting on a plane in between was surreal. Driving across the Felmington Bridge through the spectacular 'rib cage' felt like something out of a video game, an enchanting tunnel of light that invoked connotations of crossing a finish line. We'd done it!
Melbourne 'Rib Cage' (Photo: Luke Bombardieri)
Although we arrived with plenty of time to board the Spirit of Tasmania, the ferry that links the Australian mainland with our home state of Tasmania, we were delighted to receive a text message informing us that the boarding time had been pushed back by a few hours, allowing us time to get some food and do some exploring in Melbourne. Following a quick drive to Crown Casino, the Docklands and through the CBD, we headed out to Hawthorn to grab a HSP. After a short detour past some of Melbourne's finest car dealerships so we could peer through the windows and drool over some exotica, we made our way down to Port Melbourne and onto the Spirit, leaving behind the Australian mainland, and thus concluding our journey from one side of the country to the other.
Challenging ourselves to complete the trip within our 3 day timeframe was both thrilling and rewarding, however I'd very much like to do it again over a week or so to enjoy some of the wonderful sights that we unfortuantley missed on this rushed crossing. That said, the trip was a great success, and left us both with some unforgettable memories and a new found sense of appreciation and wonder for our home country. The BMW had performed flawlessly and asked no more of us than to add fuel and a small amount of oil. Its dated yet capable sat nav proved itself invaluable, allowing us to see the distance to our destinations slowly but surely grow smaller. While you might argue its the wrong type of car for such a trip, at no time did we wish we were in any other vehicle.
So should you drive across Australia to collect a car rather than having it transported?
Yes, absolutely! We are blessed to live in a country with breathtaking natural beauty and wide open expanses to explore, and what better way to see it than by car? Australia is overflowing with stunning locations that the masses will miss because they're situated in remote areas where most are not willing to travel. So, next time you have the opportunity to hit the road and drive somewhere far away, take it, and I promise you'll be glad you did.