A bit of road down under - Lud
Visiting my youngest daughter in New South Wales over Christmas and the New Year, and my sister and assorted nephews and nieces in New Zealand for another week, supplied a fairly good taste, but no more than that, of some not very extreme Antipodean road. Quite a lot of it actually with many hours spent in cars and a bit of driving.

All motoring in Australia was in my son-in-law?s white 2-litre 325,000kms Daewoo Espero, a surprisingly sober and European-looking vehicle rendered slightly embarrassing by the previous lady owner?s hippyish bien-pensant slogans at both ends and the word ?anxiety? elegantly stencilled on the driver?s door. Its a/c didn?t work having lost all its gas, its clutch was almost worn out although not slipping, all the tyres ? one of which was the wrong size ? were inflated above 45 psi and the entire front passenger door trim, pull handle, window switches etc. had been ripped off apparently by a gorilla and stuck back on with gaffer tape by an educationally subnormal baboon, rendering the window operative only with fiddling and the odd spark. However the oil and air filter were clean, the steering, suspension, brakes and exhaust were all sound and it had the Aussie MoT equivalent. It was doing 28 mpg at first and seemed a bit reluctant in high gears uphill, having been used only for pootling very gently round town for some time past, but after some running using more than 2,000rpm, a couple of new tyres inflated to more moderate pressures and some long-distance cruising it was doing more like 33mpg and felt and ran far better. I now learn that the driveline is Vauxhall, Cavalier I suppose being mid-nineties. We must have done around 3,000 miles in it, the length and breadth of Britain but covering, sketchily at that, only the north-east quarter or sixth of NSW and a tiny slice of southern Queensland. Just to put what seemed quite a lot of driving in proportion.

On the road, a majority of Australians in that part of Oz, the most populous part, are very relaxed US-style drivers sometimes verging on mimsers. NSW is parsimonious with 110k limits so a lot of the time you are stuck behind people dead on a speedo 100 or below, frustrating to a press-on driver in a car that needs more Italian tune-up treatment to wake it up. A lot of the main roads are three-lane with lengths of two-lane, with well-signalled overtaking lanes distributed for traffic going both ways. As here, some drivers go faster than me but many seem to be going unnecessarily slowly. I was fairly careful not wanting to leave people with a subsequent shower of speeding fines?

Despite all the stylish multi-cylinder pick-ups ? many I suspect fwd V6s ? and some very snazzy customised older vehicles (I saw a particularly fine blue metallic flake 1932 Ford 2-door for example? along with all the properly customised or decorated old and new cars there are lots of Barryboy-style carp ones (but you have to start somewhere)?), the car culture in Newcastle where I stayed most seemed more about wheelspin than speed. Hardly anyone goes fast, or not where you can see them, but you quite often hear what sounds like a dragster melting its tyres just round the corner. Fishtailing double squiggles of rubber abound on the roads in town and country alike. The same is true in New Zealand where deliberate wheelspin ? ?unnecessarily prolonged deliberate loss of traction? or words to that effect ? has now become an offence attracting a fixed penalty.

In New Zealand there was a bit of weather and I drove my brother-in-law?s 2.5 Subaru Outback through a flooded small town, 9 inches of water along half a mile of main road, saw a Nissan Skyline coughing and choking in the middle of it? the Subaru was nice and quite rapid, felt hewn from solid, needed to rev a bit though.

Lots and lots of Subarus of all descriptions in both countries, with drainpipe exhausts in Australia where fruity exhausts are popular, and Mitsubishis, and Toyotas, and Korean things. Model names, trim and body pressings of Ford and GM products (as well as Nissan and Toyota) are subtly different from European versions creating a dream-like hallucinatory feeling. My sister?s diesel Fiat in NZ, even newer than the Outback, called itself a Punto but looked like a Grande Punto. I didn?t drive it far enough to know whether it really needed six speeds, but it certainly picked up speed nicely in second and third.

I greatly enjoyed the meat pies, fruit bats, wallabies, kangaroos, emus, a decent-sized carpet python and the greater and lesser Magellanic Clouds, nebulae far bigger and more visible than any in the northern sky. Wasn?t so keen on the mosquitoes, cockroaches and ticks (my toe is better thanks). People on the whole were genial, civic-minded, friendly, hospitable and kind. Petrol was half price and as here fluctuating rapidly up and down. My favourite Aussie road sign, which could save lives if adopted here, is a big red and white job facing the wrong way up motorway slip roads: WRONG WAY GO BACK . The best NZ could manage was SLOW PENGUINS CROSSING.

It?s horrid to be back. My car has acquired a squiggle of gold spray paint on the nearside which I quite like, but it needs a cat and an MoT. Will it pass? How much will the cat cost? Watch this space.
A bit of road down under - Alby Back
Very interesting Lud. Thanks for that.

Re your cat. It may be OK to just remove it. If having done that, the car still passes its emissions test it would technically, if not strictly legally, be OK. If this works, it will be more powerful and economical too, which rather drives a coach and horses through the theory of mandatorily fitting one in the first place.......

Glad about your toe, sorry we have rather been messing things up as a nation since you have been away. I'd have stayed there in the warm given the choice. Adversity always seems more bearable if the sun is out.

Edited by Humph Backbridge on 29/01/2009 at 17:45

A bit of road down under - Lud
My garage man thinks it needs a cat to pass the MoT.

Of course all the stuff had started to hit the fan long before we left. Anyway it's a worldwide phenomenon affecting everyone. It's true though that a sunny climate and good food, a good quality of life, make people genial and laid-back.

I'm not sure I fully understand the miserablist line being adopted here by the media and everyone else though. Are we breast-beating on behalf of the City whose central role in the world financial midden is not to be forgotten?

Perhaps people will cheer up in spring.
A bit of road down under - FocusDriver
Very interesting Lud. I'm stuck with a mental image of a blisteringly hot deserted road with a 100kph obstruction in front of me. I'd guess from a position of Antipodean ignorance, that the roads in the UK are more likely to cause stress, but that's only a stab in the dark.

Can you remember any other signs? The Aussies seem very able to place to-the-point and sometimes amusing signs where, here, we get ones which have been chewed over for weeks in a HA meeting (I know because the guy who lives opposite works for the HA).
A bit of road down under - Lud
Roads are pretty empty by south east England standards but coastal NSW is populous and there is sometimes a fair amount of traffic. As I said though people mimse along at 60 or 70, or more like 50 to 65 really, with only a few trying to hustle past in the overtaking lanes. Quite a lot of drivers infuriatingly try to overtake while still staying well within the limit, something I class as outrageous mimsing. It's often frustrating if you are impatient but if you aren't it's relaxed, it covers the ground and it's very good for cars which can run to high mileages.
A bit of road down under - Jim M
Lud, glad you enjoyed OZ. We moved here (Perth WA) from Bangkok a year ago. Roads are good on this side of the country but our fellow road users here are not the best or maybe we are used to the Thai style. We have picked up numerous parking tickets and one speeding fine......didn't dare try to bribe the cop as per normal practice.
Our 20 yrs daughter and pal drove from Perth to Sydney in 7 days in a rented van / camper, she enjoyed it very much and her Oz friends are well impressed when she tells them. She crossed the Nullabore (?) Plain (200 mls) which has the longest straight road approx 90mls the main worry was driving at dawn and dusk when it is not uncommon for "roos" to jump out...hence roo bars! The main thing that impresses us are the distances they are enormous carrying extra fuel and water is essential. We have not driven far...only around the Margaret river and Swan river wine regions excellent wine even better food.
Did you know that the Northern Territiries have only recently introduced a maximum speed limit these boys really had it good with there V8 utes. Black marks on roads generally caused by utes with 400bhp and no weight over the rear wheels....drive by "stars", don't you just luv em.

A bit of road down under - Spospe

It is indeed 'Nullarbor' and it is Latin in origin: Null = No and Arbor = Trees
A bit of road down under - Stargazer {P}

Did you go into 'outback' NSW, we spent 5 years 500km inland of Sydney/Newcastle and loved every minute.

Best roadsign (on a remote north Queensland strip road) was "Warning, Narrow road next 800km"

Did you see the 100kmh road trains?

Yes, Subaru very common especially in country areas, probable third behind Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores. We drove a Subaru on holidays covering from Tasmania upto Cape York (not all the same trip!)
A bit of road down under - Lud
Some remote country, yes, but not far west enough for anything you could call 'outback'... and didn't see a single road train although one or two artics with an extra trailer. We were only there a month... five years might be long enough to cover the whole continent in sketchy fashion though.
A bit of road down under - Lud
not uncommon for "roos" to jump out...hence roo bars! The main
thing that impresses us are the distances they are enormous

I would have fancied a drive to WA and back (in a suitable vehicle though) but time and means made it impossible. We only did a bit of home-counties style motoring really.

I am given to understand that kangaroos are startlingly bad at traffic, and just as likely to bound into the road as away from it, therefore to be treated with huge caution like horses in Surrey. I became quite a roo-bar anorak when eyeing the smart utes though, and concluded that not many of them are really up to the job although there was one style that looked quite strong. Although made of aluminium it looked like a train cowcatcher and probably weighs a fair amount.
A bit of road down under - Old Navy
Roo bars may protect the front of the vehicle but an adult kangaoo in mid bounce is at windscreen height. Thats the lethal bit! I agree that roos have no road sense whatsoever. Fantastic country.

Edited by Old Navy on 30/01/2009 at 16:06

A bit of road down under - oilrag
Any snakes in the dunny then, Lud ;-)

(really enjoyed your write up)

Edited by oilrag on 30/01/2009 at 16:05

A bit of road down under - Lud
snakes in the dunny

thanks oilrag... only snake I saw was a carpet python, two to three metres I guess, at night in a camp full of peaceful folk musicians who merely admired the creature and let it go on its way. Put my hand into the car at night after it had been parked with the windows open up a mountain somewhere outside the house of a friend of my daughter, reaching for something left on the rear shelf, and placed my palm in the surprised face of a possum, too surprised to bite me anyway... That house like other country places we stayed in collected its water from the roof, heated it with a solar heater and made electricity from a photovoltaic array on the roof (backed however by a Honda generator for the washing machine), careful low energy/water consumption lifestyle, satellite dish for TV and internet, science-fiction independent living or nearly... but roof water, although deemed drinkable, inevitably tainted with possum excrement... In my daughter's elegant but dilapidated old (twenties probably) wooden house in Hamilton though the damn roaches were big and numerous enough to rattle light objects on the kitchen surfaces during their times of greatest activity, although at other times they were not to be seen. Ms Lud didn't like them much either (at least I remember those mouse-size jobs from Africa but they are unfamiliar to her) and even my Buddhist-leaning, animal-loving daughter admitted to not being all that keen on them.
A bit of road down under - Nickdm
Hi Lud,

I'm going to be making a similar expedition in May-July: NSW, Queensland, then on to the North Island of NZ. Do you have any specific tourist tips - i.e. must-see places, big do's and don't's? Having read your posts I can't wait to go..! I have been assured by kiwis that there are no killer beasties of any description in NZ... unlike Oz!
A bit of road down under - Old Navy
I you are staying in the Cairns area of Queensland I would reccomend Port Douglas just to the north of Cairns. Easy reach of Cairns, less touristy and the Great Barrier Reef High speed catamarans run from there.

Edited by Old Navy on 31/01/2009 at 09:22