Coachlines - November 2023

27.11.23 Assistant Eric Wallbank

The road less travelled – completing The Big Lap

The Australians call it The Big Lap. Highway 1, the road that runs all the way around the country. 9,000 miles, give or take a few. The longest highway within a single country, and some call it the longest continuous highway in the world. Australia is the size of Western Europe but only has a population of 26 million – and most of those live in the cities – so anything inbetween is very much ‘the road less travelled’.


We never planned to do the whole route, writes Court Assistant Eric Wallbank. Anne and I were already hooked on Aussie road trips, having driven from Alice Springs to Melbourne in 1982, with three young children. We love the wide-open spaces interspersed with spectacular natural scenery, fascinating history, and many a glass of chilled white wine.

In 2004 we drove the road west from Darwin to Broome and back, along a legendary dirt road known as the Gibb River Road: 2,500 miles over three weeks. In 2016, we drove coast to coast, Brisbane to Perth, crossing the Nullabor Plain en route (Nullabor – derived from an Aboriginal word? No. Latin for ‘no trees’). Six weeks, 5,136 miles. Our next trip was in 2019, in Western Australia, from Perth up to Broome on the north coast and back, 4,069 miles over five weeks.

That left one remaining quadrant to complete the Big Lap: Darwin (roughly top dead centre) to Brisbane (halfway down the righthand side). That’s what we spent September doing, leaving the day after the Election Court.

The trip fell into two halves: Darwin across to the East coast, an area empty even by Australian standards; and down the Queensland coast, which is less off the beaten track. Given the remote area we were travelling through for the first half, we rented a motorhome to give us flexibility and be more self-sufficient.

The road south from Darwin to Tennant Creek (600 miles) passed lots of WW2 history – the top end of Australia was heavily defended against a Japanese attack, and Darwin was repeatedly bombed.


Then, as with all good road trips, things didn’t go quite as planned. The road East – the only main road – was shut due to a huge bush fire, covering some 9,000km2 (almost half the size of Wales). With the fire heading our way there was a risk we would be trapped, so we retraced our steps north and took a single-track road East to Cape Crawford, then south to the Barkly Homestead to re-join our planned route. A detour that added 500 miles and a long couple of days – but also included an overnight at a roadside stop with a beautiful desert sunrise, and a nice road station with a lovely campsite and decent food. By this time, we were two days behind schedule, which we made up by collapsing our stay in Mount Isa (a remote mining town) from two days to an afternoon.

Our route then headed north to meet the sea at Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. This used to be a stopover on the flying boat service operated by BOAC before WW2, taking 18 days from London to Sydney. The old pier remains, quietly rotting away in the heat, in a town now the centre of the prawn industry and with a lovely pub, the aptly named Sunset Tavern.

From there it was a couple of days east to meet the coast at Cairns, transitioning from dry scrub to lush tropical greenery. We swapped the van for a car and enjoyed 10 days of easier travelling down the Queensland coast. Great beaches, sugar cane plantations, and wildlife: we stayed on the edge of the rainforest where cassowaries (large, brightly-coloured flightless birds) came out into the grounds of our lodge; saw platypuses (platypi?) in the wild up in the hills; went whale-watching off Fraser Island); and celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary on Palm Island in the Whitsundays.

And so, to Brisbane and a flight home. A trip of four weeks and 3,794 miles. For more photos see here:!Air5BCda50cYgjgeB6OyEz6x6GMJ?e=qSyMT4

Next – how about someone else’s road trip?