A long road trip, even by Australian standards, with thoughts on charging availability, range anxiety, flooded roads and driver etiquette, amongst other matters.
Earlier this month, I went on a little road trip. You’ve already read the headline, you know where I went, and you’re probably well aware that “little” in this case involves crisscrossing roughly half of one of the world’s largest continents.
It’s a journey that clocked up a little over 3,000km of road distance all up, and it is one that I’ve done before, albeit not for many years now. There was that whole pandemic thing, you know?
This has largely been me for the past couple of years in terms of going out. For good reason.
I’d made plans to do a brief Adelaide holiday a couple of times in 2020… and then 2021… and then 2022… but pandemics and work and border closures and the whole messy enterprise made it fall into the “too hard” basket.
But with some very necessary surgery (that I’m only now recovering from) on the horizon, I wanted an early 2023 break, dammit.
The twist here (and again, you read the headline, you know this) is that I was doing the drive in an EV. In this case, a 2022 Telsla Model 3 that I personally own. Yes, I know, I did write before that I had no love for Tesla or Mr Musk.
I still don’t like Musk at all, but a shift in financial circumstances and a very good opportunity in terms of trade-in deals made the acquisition of a Model 3 a reasonable matter in early 2022, so it’s been one of two EVs in the house, alongside the already owned 2016 Nissan Leaf, AKA “Catweazle”, because it runs on the electrickety, you see.
For those that care, the Tesla is called “Carhausen”.
One for the pro wrestling fans there, because it’s a very nice car… but its association with Musk means that while it’s very nice, it’s also very evil. Let’s just say that I won’t be investing in any “self driving” mode any time soon.
Step One: Planning
I’d do this for any long road trip, because that’s the reality for Australia, but in the EV context there was a little more thinking to be done, because while matters are improving, there’s still work to be done in terms of charging infrastructure.
Classically when I’ve done this trip before, it’s been a very obvious drive line to Wagga Wagga (I have inlaws there) one day, then a long road trip day from there through Hay, Balranald, Mildura, Renmark and then across the top of the Barossa and down into Adelaide that way.
However, there are two challenges in my way this time around.
Firstly, there are chargers en route… or should I say, charger. Hay, for example, has a single NRMA charger listed on Plugshare (tip: get Plugshare, by the way, and ABRP, and use both to plan your trips and compare), with varying availability and working status.
Hay is an important regional centre out that way for sure, but I didn’t fancy being stuck there per se if it’s offline.
Second problem: There was significant flooding through Renmark and associated areas. You may have heard about all of that.
The whole prospect of actually getting into South Australia was, at one point, looking a little dicey.
You should never drive through flood waters (EV or not) but I didn’t want to go all that way only to be turned around, either!
This is not how I wanted to spend my brief holiday time.
The other option – and it’s the one that the car itself suggests – is the slightly longer route out of Wagga, down to Wodonga, across to Bendigo, through Horsham, Keith and up past Murray Bridge into Adelaide through the Hills. Not the drive I’d done before, and a little longer too.
There’s no secret as to why Carhausen’s GPS recommends this, by the way.
It’s because it can then try to route me only to Tesla Superchargers, with their slightly higher per electron charging rates. I see you there, Mr Musk…
So in the planning stages, the decision is made to take that longer route, but to try to use a variety of charging stations as available and suitable.
This was still the longest route I’d tried in this car (having previously done Sydney to Melbourne for the production of the 2022 PAX episode of Vertical Hold, plus some long-ish trips Sydney to Armidale and Sydney to Dubbo) by a fair margin.
I wasn’t driving alone either, with my wife as co-driver. That’s important on long drives like this, as regular rest and driving breaks are a must. More on this observation later.
I’m going to break this up essentially by charging stop, and my thoughts on them in order. We switched drivers pretty much every 1.5 hours or so, well within guidelines and (as it turned out) both a comfortable way to drive and a fair gap in terms of where chargers actually are.
Day one, Stop One: BP Pulse Charger, Marulan
The Tesla of course wants me to stop at Goulburn and Gundagai on the way to Wagga, but having done my Plugshare checking I’m aware there’s another option, with a charger at the BP Service centre southbound at Marulan.
It’s a much better setup too, because it’s just off the highway where the Tesla chargers are in the centre of Goulburn, adding 5-10 minutes in and out depending on traffic just to get to them.
So we figured we may as well duck in, and if it was busy or broken or whatever we could drive on. It was working, the app was OK and the electrons flowed while we went and secured some coffee.
It was also free, because BP is still trialling the concept. Free is always nice, but I don’t expect it. Still, I do hope they expand this one out, because it’s very handy.
This charger’s oddity: While we were charging and sipping at the caffeine, I checked in on Plugshare.
No, it’s not mandatory, but it’s polite.
And then, I got an alert from Plugshare that somebody was waiting in a Model 3 nearby for this exact charger. We were on 85% or so, basically just sitting there because we were still supping, so I figured I’d move the car to be polite, because I do like trying to obey Wheaton’s Law.
Except that… well, there was no Model 3 to be seen anywhere.
It was still pretty early, and there were maybe 3-6 cars total in the carpark at BP Marulan, all of them petrol or diesel vehicles.
I checked a few times, but nobody was there.
Maybe this bugs me more than it should. Comment below on what you think the correct charger booking pre-etiquette should be…
Best guess is that it was someone on the highway “checking in” to a place that they weren’t at in order to try to claim a position they weren’t entitled to.
Grr. That’s just rude in my opinion.
So we sat there and supped our drinks, waiting for this car to turn up. It never did before we were ready to go, so the whole “waiting’ gambit was a nonsense in the end. Don’t be this person, whoever they were. Just don’t.
Day One, Stop Two: Tesla Supercharger, Gundagai
Not one of my favourite chargers, to be sure, mostly because the road leading into it is on the rougher side.
I was also aware that while there’s a bank of Tesla chargers here, the Chargefox ones next to them were out of order, which was annoying. I would have liked to start using Chargefox in a paid capacity here, but it was not to be. I’m not the first to point out that there’s an issue with charger availability for sure, or that there’s a concurrent issue with keeping them up and running.
Here we were being cautious, largely because we knew we had a longer drive the following day.
Realistically a single charge at Marulan would have got us to our stop in Wagga Wagga with few issues, but we felt like it was smarter to stay “topped up” with power to make matters easier on the secondary longer driving day.
This charger’s oddity: It would only let us charge to a maximum of 80%, had we wanted to even go that high. I’m guessing this was a holiday peak period system in play (though we were the only ones there while charging); I’ve not seen it before with Tesla’s chargers.
As always, the charging curve does slow down a lot when you hit 80%, and it is important not to be selfish if chargers are at peak demand. Forcing the issue is an interesting ploy I’d not heard of before, let alone encountered.
Day One, Stop Three: NRMA Charger, Wagga Wagga
Wagga is apparently on track for a bank of Tesla Superchargers before long, but for now there’s a sole NRMA charger to be had.
NRMA direct chargers are still free for all prospects; again, I don’t mind paying and would do so, but we topped up there while going and grabbing a few road provisions for the day ahead, because this was an unknown drive during public holiday periods where we had little knowledge of what might be open for food or drinks on the way.
By the time we were back to the car, it was fully charged, and there was no sign of any phantom “waiting” cars or similar. As a backup, we could have charged at my in-laws, albeit quite a bit more slowly.
This charger’s oddity: It was working. The Wagga one seems to suffer less than most, but the NRMA’s own chargers don’t have the best track record on reliability, looking at Plugshare feedback at least.
Day Two: Stop One: Tesla Supercharger Wodonga
A very early start for a long day’s driving saw the first stop at the Tesla Superchargers in Wodonga. I knew where these ones were, having used them a few months prior on the way to Melbourne, but I was nervous this time. Largely because reports indicated that these very chargers were in extremely heavy demand, with long wait times.
Fun fact: If you read an AAP-sourced report on that, it was by written by a friend of mine. Small world, and all that. And she’s on this week’s episode of the podcast I co-host, Vertical Hold!
However, it was seriously early, because we had a long driving day ahead of us, and the number of cars being charged when we got there… was zero.
So we charged, went for a little walk (too early to do much else) and returned to the car to head on our way.
This charger’s oddity: Wasn’t really to do with the charger, but the car.
While I did want to use a variety of chargers, I was aware that we were largely going to be driving to a Telsla supercharger route, and that we were trusting mostly in the car’s estimates on range.
So it was a bit of a surprise when we headed off from Wodonga (next purported stop: Bendigo) to have the car’s GPS decide not one block away from the supercharger that we should turn around and go charge for a couple more minutes.
This was stressful and weird in equal measure. We decided to plough on, figuring we could drop speed if things got desperate, but the GPS was quite adamant for some considerable distance down the road, all through Wodonga and out onto the highway again.
So while my wife drove this segment I did a little more research, working out where other charger options existed. The car decided it then wanted to suggest the Superchargers at Euroa, and not seeing too many other options we decided that might be the smart play after all.
Or was it…?
Day Two: Stop Two: Chargefox Charger, Euroa
Like the content here, the earworms are free.
Literally on the way into Euroa (where the Supercharger stop is, I will say, quite picturesque) I suddenly thought to check Plugshare again.
I’m glad I did, because it indicated that the servo we were driving past that instant had a Chargefox rapid charger on it. So we headed there, again observing that it was a little easier to hit than the in-town supercharger.
I’d set up the apps and accounts across the major players before setting off (better to have and not need, I say, though it would be nice to have unified infrastructure too), but hadn’t used paid Chargefox chargers before. The ones at Rhodes shopping centre are technically Chargefox branded, but they’re free.
Charging was speedy, and we did actually top up to 100%, but not for reasons of range anxiety.
That was because we decided to grab a quick greasy Maccas breakfast (you may now judge me and my road food habits), and the poor staff there were absolutely overloaded.
You see a lot about the worst of human nature when people have to wait for coffee. It was not pretty, and I felt bad for the poor staff having to put up with what people will scream when they have to show a little patience.
That hurdle jumped, I returned with vittles to a fully charged car.
There would have been no difference with a petrol car in this case – or technically slower, as you can’t pump petrol and wait in a fast food joint at the same time, I guess.
This charger’s oddity: It was paid… but Chargefox don’t seem to want my money.
No, really. The charging session said it was initiating, the car started taking power, it definitely filled up, and we hit stop on the app and put the plug back into the charging stand.
It said it was ready for the next customer.
So naturally, I was interested to see the pricing difference, because the Tesla chargers have a spiky price premium to them.
Only I couldn’t, because the app had no record of my charging session. I figured it was early, maybe they had to verify bank details or something, so I waited.
Three weeks later, Chargefox still doesn’t reckon I’ve used that charger. Hey Chargefox, I probably owe you $10 or something. I’m perfectly happy to pay, and it seems like a weird business model to not charge willing customers!
OK, this is running seriously long, so I’m going to split this into parts. Spoiler: I do make it to Adelaide and back, but you probably guessed that already.