EV Road Trip: Sydney to Adelaide: Are EV chargers in Australia getting easier to find?

EV Chargers on the road in Australia (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Once again I’m on the road, testing out whether the EV charger situation in Australia is getting better over time.

About 15 months ago, I took a road trip in a Tesla Model 3 from Sydney to Adelaide and back, writing up my observations of available chargers and range anxiety and all of those commonly cited pain points that seem to revolve around any discussions of EVs down under.

You can read those thoughts here:

Driving Sydney to Adelaide (and back) in an EV: Part One
Driving Sydney to Adelaide (and back) in an EV: Part Two
Driving Sydney to Adelaide (and back) in an EV: Part Three: There and back again

Recently I had the opportunity to do the same trip again, and the thought struck me that I should see whether or not matters were improving in terms of wider EV charger rollout.

Plenty of folks over the years, including drivers who were far more EV pioneers than I have shown that it’s technically feasible (with a little planning) to get just about anywhere with an EV down under, because you don’t need a petrol pump, just a power socket if you’ve got enough patience.

That’s admirable and interesting, but the reality for most drivers, I suspect, is that they’re mostly travelling the same tracks but want more options, choices and competition in the EV charger space, so that the question shifts from “can I make it there” to “will there be a free charger/what will it cost me”?.

As such, while I was driving along a route that I was somewhat familiar with, so I knew where the basic chargers were, I wanted (where possible) to mix it up and see what else was out there, what kinds of costs I might incur, and how busy it might be.

But before I start, I wanted to lay down a few ground rules.

Firstly, while I did use Tesla chargers, I didn’t stick exclusively to them, as much as the in-car navigation might have wanted me to.

I know this is a somewhat contested matter, with drivers of other EV brands not exactly happy to see a Tesla plugged into a Chargefox, Evie, or other brand charger. I get it; nobody really wants to wait any longer than they need to, and if there’s a choice of chargers for one car it’s going to be an annoyance to have to wait.

However, conversely, I do feel it’s better to have a range of providers, and that’s going to work best if a multitude of charger providers are financially supported.

As a bit of a spoiler, I didn’t end up having to notably queue for any charger along the way – unexpected, as this was during both NSW and SA school holiday periods – but I’ve no problem with moving on as soon as I’ve got enough charge to get to my next destination if folks are waiting.

Simply waiting until you’re at 100% wastes a lot more overall charging time (that’s just physics), and I basically always charged until the car was happy to get to the next stop with at least 10-15% remaining, allowing for a little driving and traffic variance.

Also, I won’t lie. I think personally (a matter of opinion) that Elon Musk is a berk, and I’d rather not give him any more money than I have to. The cult of personality around Musk mystifies me, especially since his takeover of Twitter and many of his more… out there… proclamations.

Secondly, my route went from Sydney to Shepparton on one day, and then Shepparton through to Adelaide via Bendigo the next.

The more direct way would be through Hay and Mildura, and that is technically feasible with existing EV chargers, but it’s reliant on a few stops where’s there’s just a single charger, which I preferred to avoid. Also (as I’ll detail later) there were a few key stops along that version of the route that I wanted to hit.

Setting off early one Sunday morning from Sydney, my first stop was…

BP Pulse Marulan

BP Pulse EV Charger Marulan Soutbound

Charging cost: $13.85

Charge: 23.0790kWh

This wasn’t a charging stop we had to make for car reasons – it has more range than that – but one we made for human reasons, because we wanted to grab a road breakfast out of Sydney and a toilet break, and the BP Pulse chargers at Marulan were empty when we went through, so topping up made some sense to us.

Two observations here. Firstly, the last time we went through this track we used the same charger, but back then it was brand new and BP was offering charging for free. The days of free fast charging in Australia are basically over; while some local councils do seem to have mostly-untethered charging options to draw in tourists, they’re nearly all much slower charging options.

Secondly, there’s a lot more choice around this area than there was just over a year ago, back when the BP Pulse charger was brand new – and its northbound sibling wasn’t even active – and the only other option was the bank of always-busy Tesla chargers at Goulburn. There’s now two different Chargefox options in Goulburn, plus earlier Tesla chargers at Exeter/Sutton Forest.

Sated and energised, on to the next stop at…

Tesla Yass

Tesla Yass EV Charger (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $7

Charge: 10kWh

Again, another option that didn’t exist on the prior version of this trip; the alternative would be the chargers down a dusty road at Gundagai that were often quite busy.

Not the case at Yass, which is also a fully open Tesla charger bank, meaning that other brand EVs can also charge there. Not a huge charge as the price reflects, but I was keen to see other options and I was already quite familiar with the Gundagai options.

The Yass Tesla chargers are a little further off the main highway than expected – I did somewhat think on approach that they’d be part of the larger services that you can see from the road – but that does open up the possibility of exploring Australia’s smaller country towns. I don’t hate that.

Next stop was also a Tesla charger…

Tesla Holbrook

Tesla Holbrook EV Chargers (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $24.50

Charge: 35kWh

This was another choice to stop to see what the chargers were like, and while they’re functional, I’d probably choose to avoid them if I had the choice.

Not because they didn’t charge the car, but simply because the actual charging location is in a smaller carpark section at the back of the Holbrook RSL in a very tightly packed space.

It wasn’t terribly busy when we were there, but I can well imagine during peak periods that it could be trickier than usual to reverse into parks if others were full, especially if (as is the case across so many drivers, not just EV ones) people park in a sloppy or selfish fashion.

On to our final destination for the day; while I appreciate that Sydney to Adelaide is technically feasible in a single day, we wanted to rest – and catch up with a friend who lives locally too.

Tesla Shepparton

Tesla Shepparton (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $25.20

Charge: 36kWh

The last time we went through Shepparton we charged at an Evie charger, but in the meantime Tesla chargers – open ones, too – have opened up in a far more convenient location near shops and restaurants. This isn’t a feature I demand out of chargers, but it is always nice to have some facilities if you’re going to be charging for a while. It also feels to me to be quite sensibly placed at the back of the Coles parking lot in Shepparton, which minimises its desirability as general parks to get ICEd.

An overnight rest, and the next day saw us heading to…

Chargefox Bendigo Kangan Institute

Chargefox EV Charger Bendigo (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $12.06

Charge: 26.979 kWh

The level of charge we had meant that going through Bendigo wasn’t a needed step… but it was a wanted one, because my better half wanted to visit the Bendigo Woolen Mills.

That I’d managed the last time using the town’s Tesla chargers, but there’s a much better option considerably closer by at the Kangan Institute/Bendigo Tafe.

It’s literally a 5-10 minute walk from the chargers to the Mill, so while the car got some electrons, she could stock up on some very pretty wool. This kind of longer trip should not just be about staring down the road, and it is important to stop and smell the flowers as you go.

Plus, frankly, it was also a nicely affordable charging stop – and once again, I’d rather have a range of providers and competition to keep prices low, rather than a charging monopoly.

On to…

Tesla Horsham

Tesla Chargers Horsham (Image: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $25.20

Charge: 36kWh

This was in some ways a mistake. Not because we didn’t want to or need to charge, but because the last time I was in Horsham, the only other option outside the Tesla chargers was a single Chargefox option… which was broken. That single charger still exists, but I forgot to check Plugshare on approach, because I would have then noticed the newer bank of Chargefox chargers at the Education Centre in Horsham and at least tried to use them instead.

The Horsham Tesla chargers are not open to other brands, and with only three sites in a tight-ish group, I suspect that’s not going to change any time soon.

Before the next stop, it was time once again to stop and smell the roses… or in this case, silver balls…

Australian Pinball Museum, Nhill

No, it doesn’t have an onsite charger… yet… though the town of Nhill does now have some slower charging options that simply did not exist the last time I was here.

But this was a choice break, rather than a charging one. It is vital to pace longer drives like this and ideally share driving duties – and it does at least have some EV charging in town, albeit on the slower side. I didn’t need EV power to speak of – but I sure needed a pinball break.

Personal high scores achieved, so it was time to roll on to…

Chargefox Keith

Chargefox Keith (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $10.55

Charge: 16.23kWh

Keith has Tesla chargers – which is handy when the car thinks it’s heading there and starts pre-heating the battery to optimise charging, even if you’re actually going to use other chargers – and in this case that was handy as there’s also a bank of Chargefox chargers at the service station on the way into town.

The price was right, though it was notable that of the two charging sites, only one had a functional screen. Checking on Plugshare it appears that the unit with the dead screen still charges just fine if you have the Chargefox app or an RFID tag; you just don’t get to see what it’s doing as it goes.

Onwards and westwards for our final stop of the day…

Tesla Tailem Bend

Tesla Tailem Bend EV Charger (Photo: Alex Kidman)

Charging cost: $24.50

Charge: 35kWh

An open bank of Tesla chargers — the first for a while on this trip —  though nobody else was there during our charging time – and a stop we again technically could have avoided.

It’s feasible for sure to do this particular run a little faster than we did, but the need for a feed was hitting us, as was the desire to get to Adelaide with a reasonable charge level so that we wouldn’t have to go chasing chargers for a few days while leaving features like sentry mode active. As such, a top-up charge while we munched on some tasty takeaway was just the go.

Total trip cost: $142.86


So what’s changed since 15 months ago?

The cost of charging has gone up, but that shouldn’t be a surprise; the last time I did this particular trek there were a number of free chargers (including one Chargefox session we were never charged for due to some kind of billing glitch) and those just don’t exist.

Equally, EV charging costs have risen basically across the board, with pricing more commonly sitting around 60c/kWh where it was more typically in the 40-50c range a year ago.

The bigger and more notable change, especially having done the run on the way back now – few changes on the reverse itinerary aside from using the Tesla chargers in Wangaratta and staying in Wagga Wagga on the return loop – is that it absolutely is getting more viable to make this kind of trip with better certainty that there’ll at least be a charger in more small towns and regional centres.

Now, I’ll admit, I was surprised that I didn’t end up queuing or waiting for chargers – outside of one instance in Woodside SA, where an inconsiderate jerk in a Polestar 2 had ICEd the EV charger without actually charging – on the long trek parts of the trip, given that so much of the reporting around EVs tends to talk queues during holiday times.

Maybe I was just lucky with my timing, and there’s certainly no doubt that we could all use more actual chargers at each site.

Still, it’s getting a lot easier to get about with confidence, and even to take a few choices about brands you’d prefer to support or prices you’d prefer to pay relative to charging speed. This is great to see.

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