In which our heroes valiantly try to find a working EV charger in the Barossa, discover the joys of hard-to-access chargers and make their way home, noting the total costs incurred along the way.
This is the (somewhat delayed) third part of my writeup of a recent long road trip I took from Sydney to Adelaide and back, clocking in more than 3,000km along the way. To give my European friends some context for that, imagine driving from London to Berlin.
And then back to London.
And THEN back to Berlin again.
Such is the reality of driving in Australia. You get used to it, but the length of the trip has meant I split the writeup of this drive over two prior parts.
All of this will probably make more sense if you read those first. But hey… you do you, take it as you like.
Day Three, Stop One: Tonsley Solar Garage
I was in Adelaide for a holiday, so we spent much of the following day recovering and wandering around the Adelaide CBD – there’s an excellent free bus service that passed right by where we were staying in North Adelaide – before heading to Glenelg for dinner, and family reminiscence reasons.
However, we also knew that for family reasons, we wanted to make a trip up to Kapunda and the Barossa the following day. A little research had shown that the Barossa’s EV infrastructure was… spotty. More on this later.
Other research had shown that on the site of what was (I’m told) an old car factory sits a multi-car solar garage at Tonsley.
We weren’t that far from Tonsley (I mean, really, nowhere is that far from Adelaide, which is just a ridiculously easy city to drive around in any case) so we figured we may as well go and have a look.
If it wasn’t working, there are other EV charging options in Adelaide, including a Tesla fast charger in the Adelaide CBD.
So we made our way over there, only to discover that it was working, and would charge the car without real issue… or cost.
Free is always nice, but what really appealed to me about Tonsley Solar Garage was that it was a multi-bay essentially EV-agnostic charging setup. There just aren’t that many of those around outside the Tesla network, because most have at best two chargers – and often they’re split between Type 2 and CHAdeMO chargers. My Leaf, Catweazle could use those CHAdeMO options, but there’s not too many others that can.
The Tonsley chargers aren’t fast, with a mix of BYO cables – which I’m pretty sure are slower – and a pair of more direct 50kW chargers. But that was fine; we sat and chatted and relaxed in the gentle early Adelaide evening while the car picked up power.
This charger’s oddity: Apart from the free nature of the charger, it is worth noting that it can be a little tricky to locate on a GPS. Plugshare knows it’s there, but Google Maps wouldn’t find it, and Apple Maps sent us to slightly the wrong destination. We had time and patience and found it, but it could be a little easier. For free, I shouldn’t complain.
Day Four, Stop… or “Barossa Blunders”
One of the things I wanted to do while in South Australia was take a slightly deeper dive into my own family history. Before you ask, sigh, yes, I’m related to Nicole, but it’s one of those complex “go back a few generations, across a few cousins, back down a different branch of the family tree” kind of deals. There’s not that many Kidmans around, all told.
But before Nicole was famous, Sir Sidney Kidman was even more famous… and at one time, the single largest landholder in all of Australia. Somewhere in the region of 280,000 square kilometres by some reports. That’s a lot of land.
If you went through the Australian education system at a certain time, you may well have learned about “The Cattle King”, and of course I knew that stuff.
I also knew that in the tiny town of Kapunda, he made his family home, which he later donated to the SA government on the condition that it be used for educational purposes.
I’d never been to Kapunda, and I wanted to at least go and have a peer. So I did, and in fact I can highly recommend it even if you don’t have a family connection. Not just for the high school but actually for the museum that sits above the combination library, tourist information centre and council billing office (it’s that kind of tiny town). The staff were excellent and helpful, and I seriously enjoyed my time in Kapunda, even though I was there about eight months too late.
Why eight months? Because back in March 2022, a fire broke out and burnt down most of the historic Kidman house.
Sir Sidney didn’t have good luck with his homes which tended to burn down, but this one took longer than most, given he passed away in 1935!
History aside, Kapunda doesn’t have an EV charger at all. But the nearby Barossa has, in theory, quite a few. That does sort of make sense. It’s a wine area, lots of people with plenty of money and appreciation for fermented grapes travel there, those folks often can afford EVs even now. So there’s more than a few associated with wineries.
We didn’t have to recharge, because all these places aren’t that far from Adelaide. Still, sensible practice is to stay charged if you can.
If you can…
This charger’s oddity: That most of them were broken, at least according to Plugshare, and the evidence of my own eyes in one instance.
We stopped in Tanunda (again, I have family history there and went and took a photo of a place my grandparents used to own), had some lunch and went to check the NRMA charger that’s behind the tourist information centre. Plugshare said it was DOA, but it can be worth checking because the open nature of Plugshare means it can be wrong.
Sadly, it wasn’t. I have no idea why the NRMA has gone that far west – I didn’t think that the NRMA had much presence in SA, feel free to correct me in the comments below – but it’d be nice if they could at least keep the infrastructure working!
Still, Tanunda did have some nice food and an excellent bookstore, so the trip wasn’t wasted, and we could return to Adelaide without a tickle of range anxiety. But it does feel odd to me that a major tourist area where folks are likely to drive around a lot has a number of EV chargers… and so few of them viable for anybody.
Day Five, Stop One, Marion: Jolted out of position
We ended up out at the Marion Shopping Centre – one of those huge shopping centres that some people adore, not quite my style but for obscure reasons we had some gift cards that were due to expire that we could spend there.
A quick plugshare check showed that there was a Jolt charger nearby, so we formed a plan. Park at the Jolt charger, put some electrons into Carhausen, go spend the vouchers, come back to a charged car and win.
This charger’s oddity: Its placement (and to an extent, Jolt’s slightly odd business model).
Specifically, its sits to the side of a gym, but also at the apex of a small road that edges onto a much busier one. The Jolt EV charger is the very last park on the road, but to get into it we’d have to reverse from near or into the busy road section.
Which would be fine, but there was a huge van parked in the next spot… and the EV park there is tiny. We tried a couple of times to get the angle right without bumping into the van… but it couldn’t be done.
To be fair to the van driver, they weren’t in fact ICE-ing the EV park; it’s the way the parks have been laid out that made it a difficult proposition, especially with other traffic zooming around us wanting to be able to move. To one side a van we didn’t want to hit, to the other a concrete verge we also didn’t want to hit. Around us and on the road, other cars trying to make their way around Adelaide. A difficult proposition under the circumstances.
The other oddity I should note is Jolt’s charging system. Not the power – it’s a 25kW charger – but the fact that the first 7kWh each day is free, with further power charged at 44c/kWh. I would like to say that we tested that out… but on the day with traffic firing down Diagonal Road and Sturt Road, we couldn’t.
Day Five, Stop Two: Back to Tonsley
In this case, we knew we did want and need to recharge Carhausen, because the long trek home was beckoning. So once again I fired up Plugshare to work out our other options.
As it turned out, one of our better choices was to head back to Tonsley Solar Garage and top up there. So we picked up some lunch-worthy items, popped over there and chowed down while Carhausen drank in some lovely solar electrons.
SA has a good current track record with renewables – it seems to me from my reading that you’d be hard pressed not to recharge with substantially renewable power no matter what – but I do still like the fact that there’s at least one multi-car site here. Australia badly – really badly – needs to get more of this kind of infrastructure up and running.
This charger’s oddity: There is, it must be said, not much to do in Tonsley Park if you don’t work in the immediate environs. Bring a book, bring some lunch, maybe do some doomscrolling on your social media app of choice.
Day Seven, Stop Five: Evie Charger, Shepparton
No, don’t panic, you haven’t gone mad and missed a bit.
We drove nowhere on day six, because there were things we wanted to do in or around the Adelaide CBD, including the mandatory Haigh’s Chocolate tour.
And then, very, very early on day seven we hit the road to start the long journey back towards Sydney.
It’s just that for the most part it was the reverse of the trip out, most of which you can read in part two of the trek already.
Very early stop in Tailem Bend with dodgy breakfast, stop in Keith – using the sideways charging park, because nobody else that early was, driver swap in Nhill – no stop for pinball because they don’t open until 11, but I’ve got my memories… and this video…
Horsham was thankfully less busy than on the way there, although this was the first instance where we ended up pacing another car, a bright red Model 3 with a distinctive looking couple in the front seats.
They arrived after we did, we left first but then in Bendigo, I dropped my better half off at the Bendigo Woollen Mills because she wanted to buy some craft supplies, and the charging time would give her browsing time.
A bit of a win-win, but by the time I got to the Bendigo chargers, the same Red Tesla was already there. Enough chargers to go around, though, so my lucky streak of not having to wait for chargers continued.
The bigger variance this time around was that I’d arranged to drop into see a good mate of mine in Shepparton.
Shepparton now – as I’m writing this – apparently has Tesla chargers active, but at the time it didn’t. I got enough power in Bendigo to make it through to Wodonga (or at a pinch, down to Euroa again), but I wanted to try out Shepparton’s existing charger, because it’s on the Evie network, and I hadn’t tested that out on this trip or before.
As it happened, we ended up with enough power, so charging in Shepparton was more because we could, not because we had to. As a result, we decided we’d only charge if it was available, and move on the second anyone else turned up needing it. It’s only polite, after all.
This feels obligatory right now.
Evie doesn’t always have the best reputation for working chargers, or chargers that would easily activate. I figured that at the absolute worst I’d throw myself on my friend’s mercy and borrow a few slow-moving electrons if it didn’t work and I didn’t feel I could make it to either Euroa or Wodonga.
But it did – and not only that, it worked pretty well, with the app telling me when I was charging and almost immediately what it had cost me when I finished. The timing around that was pretty neat too, as I unplugged literally as an MG EV pulled in, with the owner looking nervously at me and no doubt wondering how long he’d have to wait. The answer was… mere seconds.
This charger’s oddity: It was tough to get in to, but not really for reasons that are the charger’s fault.
Shepparton has been hit by floods in recent months, and it’s done a real number on nearby roads. That played havoc with the way the GPS wanted us to drive, because we couldn’t go down closed roads, turning a simpler drive into a multi-block spin-around effort.
It’s also down a small one-way street with pretty narrow turning spaces, so backing into the charger was a bit of an effort. Not impossible… but tight for a single car. If you were towing, it’d be basically impossible.
From there, a quick stop in Wodonga – with a fairly tasty kebab dinner – and we could stop down in Wagga Wagga for the night.
Day Eight, Stop Two: Goulburn
Again, you haven’t gone mad. The trek back to Sydney is a pretty easy one, mostly shadowing what we’d done on the way out, with one exception.
After doing an excellent and very pretty park run in Wagga, we topped up at the NRMA charger we’d used on the way in, which meant we could give Gundagai a miss.
However, we couldn’t as easily stop in Marulan to use the BP Charge there, because while it appears they’re working on a northbound charger, it certainly wasn’t operational when we were heading back there.
Which meant we had to use what I suspect might be Tesla’s single busiest charger in Australia, at the Goulburn Tourist Information Centre. It’s one I’ve used a few times before, and it’s always busy. Not the only choice in Goulburn, but at this point to be honest we just wanted to get home, so going to the charger we knew (and that we knew would be working) had plenty of appeal.
While it wasn’t a public holiday, it was still within the time scale where we could expect a lot of school holiday traffic. Would this be the stop that broke our queue-dodging luck?
No.. but only just.
This charger’s oddity: I’ve been through a few times, and never seen fewer than four cars charging there. Which means everyone charges more slowly, because Tesla’s paired charger system means you split power between two chargers side by side if they’re both in use.
If there’s an argument for the need for more EV chargers, I reckon Goulburn is it. Equally, while Tesla has now opened a small selection of its chargers as open for other EV types (at extra charging cost), Goulburn ain’t one of them. I don’t think that’s accidental.
That was enough power and charging time to get us back home, even though the car itself did want us to stop in at the Macquarie Centre on the way back for a few extra electrons.
What did it cost?
I’ve had more than a few people comment as to the cost of all this charging as I went. I very much wanted to save that to last, to see what the entire trip cost. So here we go:
BP Charge cost (Marulan): $0 – it was free at the time, apparently now 55c/kWh according to Plugshare.
ChargeFox (Euroa): $0 – this one shouldn’t have been free, but apparently I’m a glitch in their Matrix.
Jolt (Marion): $0 – because we couldn’t actually use it, despite trying.
NRMA (Wagga Wagga/Tanunda): $0. Because they’re still free, or in Tanunda’s case, free and broken.
Evie (Shepparton): $4.77
Tesla (across all other paid charges): $194.04
Total cost, Sydney to Adelaide and back again: $198.81
Now, obviously it could have cost a lot more – we didn’t pay for any power in Adelaide thanks to Tonsley, although you could perhaps do that kind of thing by choosing accommodation with a provided EV charger – there are a few around Adelaide, although not the place we stayed at. I suspect that kind of thing will become a little more common as time goes by.
Just as a super-rough, not valid-for-every-petrol-out-there, that’s half or less of the cost of the same trip in an petrol driven car at current fuel prices. Can’t complain too much about that.
So… final thoughts.
Yes, there are still challenges to long distance EV driving in Australia.
But many of them are easily overcome with planning and patience, and they honestly are getting better. Even some of the research and place name checking I’ve done for this article has shown me new charging alternatives that appear to have opened up since I travelled — which was only a bit over a month ago now, including the newer Tesla chargers at Shepparton, for example.
So matters are improving for EV charging along this route, and hopefully many more besides. It’s definitely what EVs in Australia need.