A year ago, I packed up my newly purchased electric car having done a few quality hours of due diligence and set off on a lap around Australia. I was a newly minted citizen of Australia after 10 years of 457 visas and permanent residency status. The time was right to dig deep, see the unseen corners and have an adventure of sorts.
The trip was much harder than I expected and better than I could have dreamed. Spent many a night sleeping in the back of the car in the middle of nowhere and plenty of days wishing I could stay where I was for much longer. The added challenge of doing the trip with an EV well before the charging infrastructure was in place was pretty full on.
Three months later, I was back home on the Central Coast, NSW grateful for the insight gained by “going and seeing for myself.” I want to reflect on some of those lessons learned over the next few months as I sort through photos and notes taken along the way. I hope some of you will come along on the memory lap.
I am going to share a story and photos from the trip every Tuesday and Thursday for the next three months. Will roughly redo the lap as it was done a year ago. Let the wild rumpus start! Well, first I have to get Mercedes-Benz to sell me a car which isn’t as easy as you think… and learn how to use chargers- before you judge… have you done this before?? Probably not. 🙃
The first weeks were supposed to be easy enough. Find a Chargefox DC option and charge in a few hours time every 400 ks. I had three years of free Chargefox services as a part of the car purchase and intended to use the benefit fully. Headed to Shellharbour for my first such charge and realized the app didn’t connect so well in the underground lot with sketchy WiFi. First time going through the motions included awkwardly running out of the underground park to get a signal and running back to the charger multiple times. A physical card to use vs the app exclusively was an option and would have been a good idea if you are planning a similar excursion- strongly suggest - but I didn’t get that sorted before I left. Who needs redundancy in a system? Not me! Sigh.
Annoyingly the fun didn’t stop there as the instructions/pictographs on the DC charging unit were not that intuitive either. There is a sequence of steps that must be done in the right order and they haven’t quite clearly listed them all - user error could be in play here too. App, plug, start or start plug app…. Nuisances that mattered. Unkind - another run out of the lot and try again. Everything about EVs requires new systems, none of us have been on the EV path since we got our P plates. Getting to function in that new system was a big part of the attraction for me but didn’t expect the first charge to include Forrest Gump roundup and down the vehicle only ramp. Eventually charging became second nature but that day it wasn’t. Thirty minutes later and lots of “Run Forest, Runs” to grab a signal and try a new pattern of steps to complete the initiation cycle, finally I was “fueling” the battery. Clearly I had a lot to learn and this was my warning shot across the bow- this trip is not gonna be easy. Luckily, resiliency is my middle name. That will continue to be required over the coming months ;)
So back to the EV adventure (EVA), fully charged and bon voyaged by two of my fellow Solid Systems consultants, I make it to Batemans Bay that evening where I start the evening practice of finding an overnight charge so that I can repeat the cycle. Charge, drive, find a charge, charge, drive, find a charge, charge, drive…
I packed one soft bag with clothes to cover four seasons that also served as a big pillow in the back of the car. The bag was one of several “apology gifts” from the Mercedes dealership. I was unlucky to be one of the first customers going through their new purchase flow. A not so snazzy online system promised to seamlessly reflect current and incoming stock and enable purchase directly from the car maker. It was full of bugs- painfully slow and sketchy as they hadn’t quite built for many Australian edge cases. Just sign here even though it is all wrong so we can correct the fail later and move on- never a comfortable experience with an expensive purchase. It took so long for the dealership and global office to manually work through the missing functionality in the system, the dealership gave me the test model to drive as they resolved enterprise system issues for over a month and gifted me a Mercedes Benz bag and umbrella to say sorry on the day I drove off with my car. I suggested Mercedes-Benz tent tickets to the next Melbourne F1 but clearly they weren’t that sorry.
The online system was touted as being a customer centric success in the industry but my experience as an Australian customer was pretty shit. It also looked to be shit for the local dealership. The overall system wasn’t beneficial to them either. One of the things that brought me to “Lean thinking” is that I saw its principles enabled win-win-win. Customer- employee- enterprise, all were better served with the application of this philosophy. Felt like there weren't any winners in my purchase experience. I remember saying something polite like “guys, this is my first and likely last fancy car splurge of my life, I really wanted it to be a good experience and it has been awful.” Sigh. When systems fail, it can be extraordinarily sucky for everyone.
In my lovely new EV, I folded flat the seats, placed a camp pad and sleeping bag and favorite pillow on one side, rolled in my electric scooter for fun along with a snorkel/mask/fin/wetsuit combo, and a few bags of food that required no prep. Didn’t bring a stove and fuel as I didn’t want the fuss and sadly couldn’t find a 12v hot water heater that seemed to fit the bill- too many bad reviews, either very slow to heat or likely to fry the car’s electrical system. Just wasn’t worth the risk. Had a thermos to fill up before I left motels and that was going to be it.
Between the Central Coast NSW and Melbourne there were lots of charge options, if you don’t want to hug the coast and see the wee little towns along the way. That is much harder with fewer charging options and most of them are single points of failure. You have to make lots of decisions along the way regarding how far you can go and which charger to point towards. This meant toggling between the internal Mercedes control panel, the Chargefox app, Google maps- searching EV chargers and later I learned about PlugShare- a EV driver community-supported app that was usually the best way to find a charge when the commercially driven options became scarce… and they did.
I was also learning what my true range was on a road trip. Whilst 415 km could happen in the city with lots of regenerative braking, cold weather and higher speed driving cut that range down to 315 kilometers. Big difference! Also, when you are pushing the range envelope to see wee little towns with a single destination charger and no fast charging options, that single point of potential and regular failure requires one doesn’t land at a charger with nothing left. Gotta hold on to enough battery power to drive away from a broken unit and find a plan b. Destination chargers at motels became the reason I selected them, wineries or pubs with a charger got my business, towns’ visitor centers that offered up charging became destinations by default. It was a double edged sword, the need to power up took me to many places I wouldn’t have explored otherwise but excluded places that seemed would be too hard to arrange a charge. The reality of the real range constraints meant I was totally replanning my stops as I had 300k to burn not 415ks. Before I set off, I had a route based on faulty range data/expectations. Until you are truly into a process, you can’t plan for what you don’t know or will understand better with context and clarity.
Another limitation I hadn’t understood until I got into the project was the sheer weight of the vehicle. Consider adding a ton of batteries to your current car… then make a call about how far you want to bump down a pothole filled unsealed track. Lean teaches planning can only reveal so much- then you have to get into the work and see what you uncover once you are in it. Expect to discover lots of the unexpected and be nimble enough to come up with counter measures versus sticking to a plan based on faulty data and missing the unknowns you now know… so that was me, trying to be nimble in my super heavy, shorter ranged EV.
I loved the NSW coast, those forests are spectacular but seeing the fire damage was pretty intense. Then explored Victoria's Fish Creek, Wilsons Promontory, Mornington Peninsula, Phillip Island…beautiful, epic and fairly easy from an EV perspective. Charge overnight, meetings in the morning, charge again mid-day, more calls, check-in somewhere after 3, recharge and finish up the work day.Next I sprinted from Melbourne to Adelaide to spend a few days in the wine country. Used the last DC/fast charge option available in Adelaide CBD, picked up my husband at the airport and pointed to the vineyards. The limitations of my car were starting to become obvious to me now. I needed 10 hours to get a full charge on those destination chargers. That gave me about three hours to drive and then I needed to get the car on a charge again. A “two charge driving day" was pretty impractical without a DC charge option in the mix so the tempo of the trip was shifting to slower than I had imagined. I was beginning to understand that my car was a bit of a huge disappointment. It was beautiful, drove like it looked, was everything I thought I wanted. What I didn’t clearly understand until the DC/fast chargers were gone - was how limited I would be by the constraints of the system's functionality. The car maker cheaped out on the charging experience and I didn't know what I didn't know. Apparently, batteries get hot when they charge. One can engineer for this by adding a pump to cool down the batteries as the power flows in OR you can limit how much power you can send to the batteries. I was just not deep enough into the details to ask when I went car shopping- HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO CHARGE UNDER VARIOUS CHARGING CIRCUMSTANCES? DC chargers required 2.5 hours for a full charge and the destination chargers took close to 10 hours. WHY? Because my fancy Mercedes was limiting how much energy could flow into the non-cooled batteries. I am not an engineer … but I now know my EQC's 80 KW battery will take in 7.2 kilowatts per hour on the same AC destination charger that another vehicle will take 22 kilowatts. The DC chargers are limited by my vehicle battery system suckiness too - 33-35 KW per hour was the norm no matter how much more was on offer from the fast chargers. Electric vehicles are new technology, new ways of working. - sometimes we don’t know what we don't know and miss key requirements. The crummy “time to charge” factor made my lap around Australia much much slower. The constraint had I understood it would have absolutely meant choosing a different car. Replanning again, yes I am. I have a few months to go on this road trip around Australia with an EV that is less than ideal road tripper, sigh.
The good news is that this slow charging car isn’t all bad. My EQC 400 is lovely with dual motors delivering incredible torque - passing road trains and caravans is a breeze. Driving is effortless, silent, powerful and far too easy to pass the speed limits while listening to the gorgeous sound system. There were challenges, of course. Once I push off from the wine country outside Adelaide, my Vodafone coverage gets spotty making my Spotify spotty too. I need to download hours of favorites when I have coverage as there will be tons of time with none. Port Lincoln is where one must move to Telstra- earlier would have been better but I am trying to test what I have…so I must set up Telstra on my iPad to hotspot between devices when available. Telstra is the only viable choice from Port Lincoln but it is far from full coverage.Before Port Lincoln was fun in Whyalla- Giant Cuttlefish Mating Season! Hundreds of thousands of cuttlefish as big as my leg congregating in shallow, accessible, albeit freezing cold water. They are busy, unafraid and fascinating. All my Jacques Cousteau dreams come true when we dive here with them. Then off to Port Lincoln where inclement weather makes the shark dive trip a disappointing but firm no thanks. We explore Coffin Bay National Park- pure magic and back to Port Lincoln where I put my husband on a flight home. I settled in for a charging afternoon at the lovely Beer Garden Brewing in PL, as destination chargers are getting harder to find. I am on Day 15 of the adventure on the 23rd of June 2022. Setting off late afternoon for Elliston, I drive through a blazing orange sunset sky. It is late, I am exhausted and everything is closed when I arrive. I end up charging at and sleeping alongside the public bathrooms at the city beach with a Telstra regional hotspot providing a free hour of streaming before I fall asleep. The next day I find the police station two blocks away and the local bakery around the corner. I purchase food for the day, a morning coffee, really anything I could to offset the power drawn from the toilets that night having no other options. Venus bay and Streaky bay are the next destinations- both amazing with lovely humans, dolphins, birds, flowers, nature walks- remote, peaceful and beautiful. Also divine, Bay Funktion coffee! I would spend lots of time around here if I could. Booked a cheap yet swanky cabin at Streaky Bay Islands Caravan Park, hooked up to a regular outlet for the afternoon, night and morning's charge only to find out it is time for another lesson with electricity….Rain showers during the night can fill up one’s extension cord with water which shorts out the fuse that turns off the power that you expected to have collected in your battery while you slept. Sigh. Protect the plug. Lots of learnings.
I am super excited to be closing in on the Nullabor. No destination chargers to help me here but I will have access to 32amp, 3phase outlets- cool. What my research didn’t indicate was that you must provide the charging cable-Not cool. Remember, I have invested very little time in pre-learning. I am going to do that in real time because I am ridiculous.I roll into the Penong Caravan Park where the kind owners answer yes, I can use their 32amp/welder’s plug for a reasonable fee. They also suggest I can use the caravan outlets that are 15 amps vs a normal house outlet at 10 amps. Just pull out your cables. Ummm, Mercedes didn’t give me those. The commercial chargers and destination chargers I have used until today have a plug/cord/cable combo attached to them. I presumed, quite wrongly, that Penong would have the charging cord for the 32amp outlet. Nope, that is all on me, the dummy with the EV. It dawns on me that the Nullarbor crossing could become a complete fail. A Teams call to the engineers of our consultancy, Solid Systems, asking them to get on the interwebs and figure out what was what as fearless leader me is an idiot. Soon they are reporting back. Could have easily bought these cables and assorted plugs in Sydney… other EV’s might have included these with the purchase… I am screwed. When the world looks bleak, I say clear your head and go to the beach. I have enough power left from my Ceduna destination charge to go to Cactus beach and back. Solve for lack of charging cables tomorrow. I spend a beautiful few days exploring Cactus beach and the Port Le Hunty Jetty. Mesmerizingly stunningly stark raw beauty also filled with sharks so no swimming. Mind and soul rejuvenated, I return to the Penong caravan park and leave the car on the wall outlet for hours gaining very little- but I have a cable/plug for that, thanks Mercedes. It will be enough to get me to Yalata, 133Ks away, where they have a new roadhouse, caravan park, art center…if I am lucky they will have charging cables, if not I will camp for a few days while I charge slowly. Arriving at Yalata at 4:30pm, so I can get everything sorted before dark, I am stunned. There is nobody there. Concrete barriers block the entrance and exit to the facility and an ENORMOUS sign states they are closed due to Covid. NO ENTRY. It is not possible for me to get to the next place, with the charge I have left. There is absolutely nobody here. This is the worst part of the trip so far. What in the world do I do now? I am completely ill with the bleakness of my current state. Not feeling so resilient now.
Leaving the car beside the Eyre Highway, I creep into the ‘Covid-Closed” abandoned Yalata Roadhouse property with my mobile and charger to test for working outlets. If I find a powered one, I can run two super long extension cords back to the car. If someone sees me, I can explain my plight fully masked and offer appropriate funds for the power. Unfortunately, the caravan park outlets are off. The bathroom outlets are off too. Noone comes to yell at me or help me or take my money. I am well and truly stuffed.On the way back to the car, I see a shipping container that serves as the Art Centre. It has an outlet but again no power. I see another outlet on the other side and almost don’t try it since clearly everything is off… but the charger makes the familiar charging noise and the green lightning bolt illuminates. POWER! Fast as I can, I get in my car, drive around the barricades and alongside the shipping container. With sunset’s light rapidly disappearing, I begin trickle charging the battery. If I can do this for a few(5?) hours, I should have enough power to limp to the Nullarbor Roadhouse. I settle deep into my sleeping bag in the back of the car and watch downloads on my iPad. It is really cold. Sporadically monitoring the car’s display screens, it doesn’t seem that much power is collecting in the batteries. Am I gaining more from the outlet than I am losing from the cold? It is 4c out there. By the 5th hour, I am convinced that I could be going in the wrong direction. The cortisol levels in my body must be at an all time high. Couldn’t be more stressed and exhausted. If I drive super slowly, theoretically I spend less battery power to move the EV- later I learn it is a thing- hypermiling. At this point, I am just making a guess based on a bit of logic and instinct. If I am right, I make it to the Nullarbor Roadhouse with what I have. If I am wrong, I don’t have a plan. Also of concern, roadtrains running at proper speed potentially colliding with me going half as fast as I should. They do light up the sky spectacularly for miles, and I haven’t seen more than one an hour, so the plan will be to find a spot to pull over as they appear to avoid getting flattened. Getting stuck in the soft roadside shoulder is also a risk, remember EV batteries are heavy, but I don’t have many options. Yep, 10pm, time to move armed with lots of bad plans. After 2+ hours of driving under 50 kph and avoiding a handful of roadtrains, I get to the Nullarbor Roadhouse with 7 Ks range left in the battery. Much to my dismay, the place is closed tight. Somehow I thought they would be a 24/7 operation. There I go assuming again. I find the bathrooms, locate an outlet, plug it in and sleep in the car bed until morning. Everything here can be sorted at dawn. Safe for now.
Typically, I didn’t do much driving beyond sunset. The risk wasn’t worth it. While I was hypermiling in the darkness to the Nullarbor Roadhouse (NR), I saw what happens when a kangaroo and roadtrain meet. Isn’t pretty. Suddenly everything is different, wrong, red. Carnage, and then it was gone in the rear view mirror. Was it a patch of exploded kangaroo? It must have imploded on the massive bars of an earlier roadtrain as there was no crumpled car to be seen. Never saw that scenario again. Fine by me.I needed about 2 days to fully charge at NR. Eucla is 200 ks away so ⅔ charged works. It becomes a giant maths problem- not my favorite pastime. Overnight sleeping in the car-13.6kw. 24 hrs in a room-40 kw. Late check out-8.5kw. 13.6+40+8.5, yep enough to get to Eucla. About that time, a nice guy rolls up with a set of cables and gets permission to hook up to the NR 32amp 3phase. I have loads of questions and he kindly has answers. Why those, what other options exist, how much power can he draw? He offers to hook my car up to the 32amp outlet with his cables. I draw in 2hrs what had taken 8hrs with my house outlet/cables. He heads East after he charges his EV with a few treasures from my “no prep food bag” and I head West with a plan to order cables online while charging at Eucla. I can pick up the much needed cables at a friend’s home in Perth. I start looking at the maps and apps again to figure out how long this will take given the slow charge is my only charge for now. Gonna be a grind. With all that time to hang at the NR, I did a bit of electric scootering around the area, worked, and watched lots time stand still. Not particularly good at patience and this slow to charge situation is making me crazy. There is a another possible distraction- scenic flights are on offer here. It was whale season at the nearby Head of the Bight, and I had driven there and walked around already but why not fly? Talked to the pilot who confirmed we could be in the air and seeing whales within the hour. Yes please! And we were off. Gotta stay nimble, pivot, replan or go mad. Too often plans are made without enough context in business and technology delivery. Those plans become fixed and drive to outcomes not informed by the newly understood constraints and nuanced complexity uncovered whilst moving deeper into the work. Lean allows for the presumption that you will learn more as you go and must allow time and resources to experiment and pivot to improve outcomes continuously. I have been pivoting and real time learning my butt off these past few days. It was definitely time to step away from the problem, gain some perspective and reflect on both the losses and the wins of Tiff’s EVAAA. Viewing whales and the Head of the Bight cliffs from a wee little plane is just the distraction I needed
As you get further away from the cities, systems must become more self-reliant. Lots of roadhouses are generating their own power with trucked-in fuel or solar panels. When something goes wrong, it is their problem to solve. It seems those Teslas drawing twice the energy as my Mercedes can stress those “bush” electrical systems. Someone had been to Eucla earlier, blown a fuse, which left the owners unwilling to let people charge on the 32amp. With all my time to spare in Eucla, I have a go at off-road electric scootering along the coast, meet lovely people, eat lovely food. All good. I am on the slow down and enjoy where you are cause you can’t go anyway plan.The next charge is 181ks away at Madura pass, I need ⅔ charge. Madura promises a fast charger at the service station. If that really happens, I can drive 2hrs, charge 2 ½ hrs and then have 3 hours to drive again same day. Madura to Caiguna requires ½ a charge… a bio-fuel fast charger is there- french fry oil to power. That goes well just as Madura does. Caiguna to Balladonia again spends ½ the batteries. They have the same kind of fast charging unit as Madura pass. I stupidly charge that evening and then spend the night in below freezing temperatures sleeping in the car bed- no room available. I can’t assume when or how a charge will go so I can’t have a firm itinerary/pre-bookings. Rooms in the regions are limited. Many times, I get a charge but not a room. Leaving early morning from Balladonia for Norseman, I realize I have lost battery range from the cold the night before. The chilly morning drive seems to be expending tons more power than normal. Do I park until everything warms up or drive 50kph for the first hour? No Telstra coverage to help with informed decisioning. Getting to Norseman is stressful- re-planning, maths and maps with no inter webs. Of note, the fast chargers on the Nullarbor are not self-service. The guy with the key that knows how to start the generator or the system in the shop has to be available. Can’t be trusted to just anyone. You become a bit of a disruption to their day. They have other things to do and in fact, their services are a bit of kindness versus a real revenue generator. None of these spots could support many more EVs as they functioned a year ago- one machine, one man to run it, one car at a time. Scaling will require a different set up and investment. I know to appreciate every charge I get and understand without their assistance, I go nowhere. The challenges here are edge case experiences. The commercial and government supported networks can manage major city demands. The Nullarbor is a different beast. The distance between roadhouses is relatively short as you go further west. It wouldn’t take much to scale for increased demand here but for now, it is a slow go for me.
Norseman to Salmon Gums is a beautiful drive and I again camp in the car and charge. Next spot is Esperance, a motel and a destination charger await. It has been several days of car bed. I hadn’t expected to spend quite so much time sleeping in the back of the car but it can’t be avoided. I plan to have a few explore and recover days here. They have been well earned.Twilight Beach Road loops west out of Esperance and back. It is just gorgeous. So good. There are some impressive shark warning sirens too so it clearly isn’t perfect here. Just very, very close. Cape Le Grand National Park, to the east, is equally outstanding, nestled beneath the Nullarbor on the coast. Within the park are many beautiful spots but none compare to the best beach in the world winner, Lucky Bay. At some point, I will be back for an extended stay in this corner of Australia. Back to EVs and system learnings…The hotel in Esperance has a broken and a functioning destination charger- a typical scenario. The one that works has no other EVs needing it so I can go on lots of explores, return and charge during downtimes and go again. More EVs competing for this charge would be problematic. I map out the next plan to head towards the West coast of Australia. Esperance to Ravensthorpe’s DC/fast charger then to Kojonup for another fast charge. From there I need to decide which direction to head… Albany? Margaret River? Lots of options as commercial chargers will back on offer. Ravensthorpe presents the first frustration. The charger automatically shuts down at 80% charge. Tried to restart it but no, it won’t go to 100%. I did my planning based on 100. What can you do? Nothing, as there are no other options. These single points of failure are a killer. When I get to Kojonup, the experience is worse. The Chargefox app says the CCS side is busy. I presume people are using it when I check the app and plan for a potential queue. When I get there, no waiting, huzzah! But the charger is actually malfunctioning. No charge for me. Vandalism of units, normal use fails, are all too common. Oddly, lots of the remote chargers are stand alone. Surely costs must drive this configuration but it leaves you dead in the water when one breaks. Back to maps and apps to figure out what to do next. This level of constant pivoting to respond to current condition is exhausting. The trip feels closer to a full-on expedition than an easy breezy adventure. I am parked in the Kojonup Visitor Center/Cultural center toward the end of the work day, they are closed, and I have to plan b again. On the bright side, the town is quite charming. Another suck it up buttercup moment, you asked for this. Tiff’s EV Adventure Around Australia (EVAAA) grinds to halt again.
Plugshare app tells me not to worry, there is a destination charger at a bed and breakfast in Kojonup. Turns out, they are full and not charging if you are not staying. The hardware store also has a destination charger. I find that one but my car doesn’t commence charging. Instead, I get an error message with an angry red arrow on the Mercedes display. Just about the time I am thinking this charger is broken too, a lovely lady walks over having finished her shift at the store. She is soon calling the owner who lives around the corner who problem solves the charger for me. The charger is on. The fail is on my end, now what?If you are in Kojonup, no worries. The hardware store owner’s brother lives nearby and has a destination charger at his home. A call to his wife is all we need to go there and see if my car responds to his charger. These are complete strangers helping me sort out my non-charging car conundrum. When the charger fails at the brother’s house, they suggest trying the wall outlet in the garage. It works! But remember, 1.7 kWh means a very long time to get a significant charge. An invitation for dinner, and a night’s rest in the guest room are offered next. After a really fun evening, the morning comes with a tour of the town, a nice brekkie at the local cafe and a visit to the cultural center. When I have enough power to move on, I thank these lovely people and reflect on how good my stressful, awful, no good day turned out. I point to Bridgetown’s charging unit and connect to that DC system with no fail to charge and no angry red exclamation point on my dashboard. Whew! I get a full charge and an emergency appointment scheduled at Mercedes Perth- only one handles EVs. I can’t go further if I can’t be confident in destination charges. I miss out on Bremer Bay, Albany, Denmark and Margaret river to run directly to Perth to get some answers. Bummer. The engineers of Solid Systems have been trouble shooting since I was first stranded in Kojonup. Esperance to Ravensthorpe to Kojonup was continuous driving or charging. Systems overheating could be the issue. The dealership suggests software updates could help. Thankful for an emergency appointment, they run diagnostics and updates. This may increase my car’s charge rate too, they think. They are wrong. I am still the slowest charging vehicle on the road. She is pretty, powerful, luxurious and a terribly slow to charge experience. No improvements there but no more error messages. Also no real test days with 3 charges again. Who knows? Moving on and ready to retreat via train to NSW if needed. While my car is in the shop, I visit an old ThoughtWorks consulting pal living in Perth. She has the charging cables sent from Sydney waiting for me in her garage. Game changer? Certainly hope so.
I am a little angry about my inability to charge at the same rate as other EVs. I did this to myself. Went into the Gosford dealership to buy a 2022 model due in the port within the month per the website. There on the showroom floor was another EQC 400, year 2020. It was matte grey, James Bond kind of beautiful. Much more dramatic than the white one available for purchase on the ship. I asked if there would be a downside to buying the showroom floor model. Nope, all the same he said. So I went for it. I am sure the salesman didn’t know the 2022 models had upgraded that cooling unit to allow for a faster charge. I want to believe it. And, I have to own the decision to purchase the older grey one was all my doing. I could have researched more. But the honest truth is there wasn’t lots to read and research. It was all so new. We all don’t know what we don’t know. I knew to look for battery range…not time to charge. Had I known, I wouldn’t have the stupid, beautiful car I have. I would have selected the white one that charges at a speed you need to do a lap around a continent.
Leaving Perth, I press forward ready to retreat if I have additional “won’t charge” experiences. I can always put the car on a train back to NSW.
There is an Ampol station offering a DC charge generated by used frying oil in Jurien Bay. The car is downwind and smells like chips when I am done.
I sleep in the car at the Port of Geraldton and charge in the shipyards.
Kalbarri delivers amazing coastline and canyons and generous visitor center with charging points. I use my new charging cables and heads. Using 32amp and caravan outlets will definitely be game changers.
Before I turn off the main road to Shark Bay, I charge at the Billabong Homestead, properly known for their gracious hospitality. There I meet a friendly Tesla lapper and give him the single charger unit for the afternoon so he can continue on his way. Then I charge through the night. First time there was competition for a destination charger. I suspect next year will be harder as more EVs start exploring and competing for limited resources.
Horizon power is catching up to demand. By early 2024, they promise a significant network functioning in WA. Will be super impressed if they do and truly tempted to do that side of the world again on the new network. Really will be an amazing experience with the infrastructure linked together as needed.
In Shark Bay, the aquarium has a destination charger but have recently taken it down to remodel but didn’t update Plugshare or google maps. UGH.
At Coral Bay RAC, charging easy in their mechanics garage with my new cables. The reef there is hugely disappointing. In its prime, this section of the Ningaloo would have been epic. Unfortunately, a recent reef spawn corresponded with a huge storm that kept all the spawn from dispersing as it should. Brown slime covered the impressive structures that could have been technicolor. Gross! Outside the bay, the coral was less impacted. Did a “swim with the Manta Rays” boat excursion that included beautiful outer reef snorkeling.
I have a perfect night camping on a wilderness site outside of Denham/Shark Bay. Watched a dolphin hunting in the shallows during sunset and the moonrise over the ridge. There were two other vehicles on that huge undeveloped bay. One couple was particularly nice and when they learned I had no stove or refrigeration, they couldn’t leave me to eat solely from my “no prep food bag”. Before they sat down for their dinner, they walked over a gorgeous, freshly made salad. It was as tasty as a hatted restaurant experience and complemented my hermetically sealed tuna and quinoa bowl beautifully. Those nights made all the hard earned miles worth it.
Shell beach is epic too. White and blue stunningness describes both sea and sky that day. Wildflowers are everywhere too in WA and in outrageous full bloom. I didn’t expect they would be so plentiful. Being here is worth every EV charging struggle.
Tiff’s EVAAA is harder than I expected and yet I am having the time of my life. It is also validating to be a close to retirement age woman sorting this out on my own. I have a lovely husband to come home to and a lovely home on the NSW Central Coast. I enjoy my consulting work with Solid Systems… but this solo lap is a strong reminder that alone I can make what needs to happen happen. I also get to go where I want, listen to the music I want at the volume I want and have the car temp exactly where I want it. It is the “I do want I want tour” constrained by the next charge. And, I have to keep moving or this trip will take 12 not 3 months.
Destination chargers are few and far between as are DC fast chargers. Mostly on 32amp 3ps and caravan outlets now.
The 32s are in a mechanics shed or garage intended for heavy machinery, at the back of a roadhouse, beside the homestead generator and/or in work camps.
Caravan parks/hook-ups are surprisingly numerous and situated nicer than the 32ps but a much slower charge. We have already established that Mercedes let me down with the slow to charge situation.
When I can get a room at the caravan park or roadhouse, I do. When all that is on offer is a charge, car bed is it - usually beside the bins, or behind the kitchen or alongside the roaring generator. The electric EQC 400 Mercedes-Benz couldn’t be fancier but my nightly stops are mostly not.
Carnavon has a hotel with two destination chargers. I like the town just fine. I set off next to the Quobba blowholes and snorkel at the aquarium. Getting my fins in the water makes me happy!
Exmouth is next. It is high season and the place is packed. The only vacancy is the uber fancy Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort. I spend ridiculous money to stay in a two bed swish condo far beyond what I need traveling alone. They allow me to connect to a normal house outlet but show no interest in sharing a 32 3p. Pretty annoyed actually that I am asking or even suggesting that for this kind of a resort one should be able to count on a destination charger. Followed that frustration by a two night stay at the RAC in a cabin without a toilet but a proper 32 outlet at reception and lots of kindness. As I am not able to gauge my charging cadence, pre-booking rooms is impossible. I have to take what’s left or sleep in the car.
I am here to swim with the whale sharks and snorkel this part of the Ningaloo from shore. Honestly, getting here was a major driver of the trip for me. Childhood dreams kind of thing. If I could have been Jacques Cousteau, I would have. Totally my happy place. The snorkeling time alone on the reef was amazing. The whale shark boat trip was beyond my expectations- humpbacks everywhere including swimming between us and the whale shark we had found. Snorkel time on the backside of the fringing reef was a unplanned extra. The no toilet room and snotty EV not friendly resort already distant memories.
Sadly, I can’t stay longer as I can’t get another room booking. The beautiful campsites near the reef require booking a year ahead so that isn’t happening either. The town is packed to the gills. Feels like a return trip with campsites booked in advance should be a future trip.
For now, I head off with Broome as the next highlight. An unexpected magical stop was the Nanutarra roadhouse with a lovely lemongrass curry pie, impressive old bridge to sit on and lots of birds of prey to watch while the EV charges on their 32 beside the generator. Every roadhouse seems to serve similar food and frankly I am over it. They all have very different vibes though. Nanturra had these magical pies and they were unbelievably welcoming. It was a refreshing find in the middle of nowhere. By the way, I don’t think I can ever manage to eat a shinitty again…
Port Hedland was pretty rough. Iron ore is the town and the town exists to move it… moving on.
Broome and Cable Beach are calling….
Broome is a bit of a disappointment and booked to the brim. The only place to stay is a hostel- shared bunk room with 5 other women. I book the room to have a place to stay… the lounge area and pool are nice enough but I have gone feral enough at this point to prefer to sleep in the car than share a room with a handful of strangers, so I do. I leave the car on a slow charger at the main shopping area for the day and scooter across town to Cable Beach. Highlight of Broome for sure was deciding that if the trucks could manage driving down the beach, so could I. And I did!! I scooted down the beach on my electric scooter for a few kilometers, parked between two Utes and had a swim. It was awesome.
Next spot was Derby. Wonderful, remote, wild really. Found a 32amp charger by the wharf, and had a normal wall outlet to charge from overnight at my hotel. From here I jump on an amphibious plane to see the Horizontal Falls. Spectacular day trip. Boat rides, shark feeding, wonderful meal.
I get back to Derby around 3pm and decide to drive to the 32amp on offer at the roadhouse at Fitzroy Crossing that same afternoon. Gotta keep moving. Very bad idea. It means landing close to sunset so all needs to go well and it doesn’t. The sole charging outlet had been vandalized and I didn’t have a plan b ready to go. I was fooled by Plugshare photos of manicured grass and smiling people at the spot- probably taken on the day it was ceremoniously opened. What I found was red dirt, broken plug, two women at the roadhouse taking money whilst being locked in a security cage for their safety?… and no glass on the front of the establishment but corrugated steel. It felt like a scene from a Mad Max movie and it was getting dark. Just as I was feeling like I had things figured out, no.
Walking into the roadhouse to find a toilet and ask for ideas about Caravan Parks nearby I had a local pass by me and say, “You gotta get out of here. It isn’t safe for you.” Not in a hey stranger, we are an insular spot and don’t like people crashing in… more like I don’t want to be seen talking to you but I am truly concerned about you. On the way back to the car, I had another guy say essentially the same thing. I get in my way too flashy electronic car and drive off as I am attracting attention I don’t need and I truly feel out of place. I only have about 20ks left in the batteries so I need to find a safe, overnight charging spot. Network coverage is pretty minimal so it is hard to do research. This is worse than being stuck on the Nullarbor. This will become the worst event on Tiff’s EVAAA.
The roadhouse employees suggest a spot nearby. It is not a caravan park but a workman’s camp and I find they are not prepared for drop ins. This is a camp for permanent residents working nearby. I strongly suggest that I will be very happy to park here for the night, pay whatever and not be a problem. They make me move on.
I find the old Crossing Inn that they suggest. It is pitch black and I end up on a road that ends behind the kitchen. The reception is closed- looks like it never opens. Stress levels are still pretty damn high as I ask the guy smoking alone in the dark by the kitchen back door… “Have found the Crossing Inn. Yep. Can I camp here? Yep, you need to talk to the chef.” Chef seems a bit lofty a title but heck yes, please. He is busy getting ready for dinner service so I have to wait but eventually he comes over, tells me how to back out and around to the camp area, collects my fee and my heart rate starts to slow down for the first time in several hours.
After connecting to a caravan site, I walk back to the restaurant and see a fair number of locals here for Friday night dinner and drinks. I have a drink and order food. When it comes I learn, yes, chef was the proper descriptor. He is putting out amazing food in the absolute middle of nowhere.
This day started with an amphibious flight and posh day trip to Horizontal Falls. The afternoon brought me to a broken charger as it was getting dark and serious “you have got trouble vibes”. The day ends with a fabulous meal, a nice cocktail and another sleep in the car bed attached to a caravan outlet. Best and worst and best day ever. Riding the cortisol/adrenaline waves as best I can.
The next morning, I share my plight with Chef. I will need most of the day to charge from the caravan outlet. He tells me only a few kilometers away, Fitzroy River Lodge, has a faster option/a destination charger. He calls and tells them I am on my way to top off my battery. First, he cooks me an amazing breakfast and I have a wander around the well worn resort. It has lots of very mature gardens and laid back style despite being a bit past its prime. Back on the happy trail…Halls Creek, I am on my way!
Halls Creek Motel is a fortress- high fencing, and dozens of monitors in the lobby with a multitude of cameras covering every inch of the place. They are friendly, have a 32amp beside the room they give me, a great laundry-so needed, and a good restaurant. While it is a super place to stop, all the amped up security validates my vibes that crime happens in this part of the world.
Wyndham is next and Perry Creek Farm nearby has a charging outlet, a tent to rent and is beautiful! I have a tour of the nearby wetlands, another chef-made meal and they suggest the Grotto hike- a pristine swimming hole with only a few people and amazing paintings on the cliff walls nearby. SO GOOD.
Kununurra is alright but the next spot is better. Timber Creek Travelers Rest has a 32p, a nice pool, a freshwater croc sitting beside the river and as good a room as one can get on this side of the world. But what makes it epic….is the Bush Police museum nearby. No kidding! Filled with amazing artifacts of the time, a film to watch and a friendly local who lives there and runs the place, it feels like a bit of a national treasure. My scooter adventure along the walking trail beside the creek took me there. Can’t say I thought it was a must see but it was. Great day.
Next spot worth mentioning was Adelaide River. Charged and camped in a beautiful, shaded spot at the showgrounds. Swam in the pool, watched lots of black cockatoos fly overhead, saw the pub where scenes from Crocodile Dundee were filmed and my car wasn’t stolen. Someone’s truck had been stolen the week prior so was warned to not be sloppy with keys, locking the vehicle, etc. That made for a very hot night sleeping in the car bed locked up too tightly against potential crime. 32c, sleeping on hot batteries getting charged, no breeze - ugh. Killer. I felt like I could be cooking my brain but no way could I open windows for a breeze. The trip is wearing on me a bit at this point. The Adelaide River Wartime Civilian Cemetery and Museum were moving. I had no idea how involved Australia was in WW2.
On the way to Darwin is Litchfield National Park. It is pretty but pretty filled with people. I have grown to appreciate the places with no people most of all. My focus now is on Darwin despite it being populated. Fancy hotel with robe and slipper Darwin. Room service and movie channel Darwin. The trip has been epic but hot weather, rough spots to sleep have taken their toll. I need a few nights off in Darwin. And Darwin delivers.
Well rested I head towards Kakadu, a river tour with jumping crocs., a day tour with more crocs and time on Arnhem Land. On the drive out, I see wild donkeys and water buffalo. Beautiful area but super hot.
Bitter Creek is the next magical spot. Imagine a creek filled with turquoise blue water flowing as warm as a bathtub and no sulphur smell as it isn’t a hot springs but spring-fed thermals. Nearby is Mataranka resort with a similar spring but Bitter Creek is the most beautiful. I would drive a long way out of my way to be here again.
Daly Waters is a required stop. It has history and a character all its own. I enjoyed the museum filled with antique cars, trucks, motorbikes… was an astounding collection. The bar itself isn’t for me as clearly there are lots of people involved, bras on rafters, not really my fun. I have an easy charge, a very nice room, a swim in the pool and a pizza for dinner before the parting really kicked off and I retreated to the room/AC. Good enough.
Rolling towards Alice Springs now and it is hard to enjoy where I am because I just want to be home. Almost went to the east coast from Darwin as it would have been faster and full of DC chargers but I know seeing the red center is worth the effort. Who knows if I will have another opportunity.
The Pebbles and Devil’s Marbles are super stops along the way. They both are other-worldly boulder fields that are serene, mesmerizing and worth the drive.
Alice, she is a rough town. Lots of crime. Charging at a local’s home who has a personal DC charger and he worries when I put my iPad on the ground in his fenced front yard. Nobody around as far as I can see but he says it could disappear. Everything in this town is gated, fenced, locked. The main touristy area has a great visitor center and they help me plan the next few weeks but just outside its doors feels tense. Not super chill or safe. Back in my younger years, I spent 14 months driving from Seattle to Torres del Paine on the tip of South America and back to Paraguay. I am not hyper nervous, don’t need everything just so, am not threatened by much. Alice is super tense. Despite the stress, the fortnightly market delivered to me an Ethiopian food truck and I shared an ice cream cone with a toddler I met in the park. Amazing!
Glen Helen gorge was great. So many wonderful places to explore…
Kings Canyon was terrible. Only time on the trip that I felt having an EV in a remote location was huge liability. Discovery Resorts-Kings Canyon looked at my EV as if it were a giant piggy bank knowing there were absolutely no other charging options- and they know it. I missed the best hikes instead sitting on the caravan outlet to charge despite there being a 32 that would have done the job faster. Same amount of power drawn… one allowed for a pre-dawn canyon hike but would have cost more than $200 bucks. No amount of conversation about rate of power consumption would land a better outcome. The fees for the 32amp were set for Teslas that consume power faster. It was an expensive charge for them too but for the slow to charge Merq - it was ludicrous. I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of, so I drove a long way to experience very little. Just down the road, as I left the stupid Discovery Resorts was the wonderful Kings Creek Station…I stopped for a coffee, brekkie and quickly learned this is where I should have gone. It would have been a much better choice. They were lovely. The bitterness of the other place faded away almost immediately but it was too late to make it work there. I have friends meeting me in Uluru for a girls weekend soon and I have to go.
On the glide path home… first, an amazing long weekend with my mates- Nevrie and Cate. Uluru and the Olgas don’t disappoint. We circled Uluru on bikes and scooters, watched the sunrise and sunset over both formations and had a great time. I needed it. The adventure was wearing on me. I was ready to be with my people. But when I take the girls to the airport I am still facing a few weeks journey to get home.
I think I have learned all the lessons I could learn about EVs- ways to charge, time to charge, how wind and weather impact range. I am an old hand now at sleeping in caravan parks, roadhouses and such. I have figured it out and ready for the next challenge but still need to make it home. That requires getting back to Port Augusta via Coober Pedy.
Approaching Coober P is cool. All the opal mines leave the landscape littered with tall, white pyramids of tailings. The scene is otherworldly. I explore all of the town and make sure to spend the night in an underground hotel room since you can. It was soooo quiet and dark. What a great night’s sleep that was!
I head off to Port Augusta- the turn towards the finish line. To my surprise, I find a magical mountain road heading toward Jamestown. And Jamestown itself was green and cozy and friendly. Had a few drinks at the ladies table at the local watering hole, the Railway Hotel. Enjoying these days of driving as they are lush, beautiful and risk free. Anything can go wrong now as help is always around the corner.
My next destination is Broken Hill. It is here where things actually get stressful for a minute. I leave Jamestown super early in the morning with a full charge so that I can drive very slowly for the first few hours. The distance to Broken Hill is almost too long. Hyper miling and crossed fingers and toes are required. The approach into BH involves a significant elevation gain/mountain pass. I am thinking I might be calling a tow truck to get me there… I have to slow down again and am seriously sweating the last kilometers when the sirens turn on behind me.
Trouble with the police. This is the first time I am pulled over. I get it… I have this super fast Mercedes but am driving at a snail's pace. Very suss. The policeman asks for paperwork and starts to question me. I explain that I am limping into Broken Hill and am hoping to make it on my own power to the NRMA charger in town. I tell him about my trip around the country and that I am almost home and yet still working hard to make it work. He wishes me well and sends me on my way. The trouble with the police wasn’t so bad.
Broken Hill is wonderful. Love the town, the art sculpture park, the town campsite with amazing stargazing. I drive to WIlcannia via the Menindee Lakes road. The place is filled with wildflowers, emu, and beautiful landscapes. Loved it. Absolutely loved the area.
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