It’s on the top of every grey nomad’s bucket list: the Big Lap.
Indeed, the thought of kitting out a van, redirecting the mail and taking to the road is an intoxicating prospect to many Australians, from families determined to educate their children as no suburban classroom can to young urbanites literally working their way (remotely) around the country to the aforementioned empty nesters setting a more leisurely pace.
Here, we explore the ins and outs of this most Aussie of adventures, from when to go and where to visit along the way to what to pack…
First things first: what is the Big Lap?
At its most literal, the Big Lap describes the journey to circumnavigate the country at its edge, travelling mainly on Highway 1, which clocks in at about 14,500 kilometres and links almost every mainland state and territory capital. In fact it is considered the longest national highway on the planet, taking in the likes of the Princes Highway, Eyre Highway, Great Northern Highway, Stuart Highway, Bruce Highway and Pacific Highway, among others.
Of course, there’s no show without Tasmania, so add a circular trip around our southernmost state, starting in Launceston (put the car/van/caravan on the ferry in Melbourne and alight in Devonport; it’s just over an hour’s drive from there to Launceston) and driving the A10 from Strahan to Hobart and then taking the Great Eastern Drive up to Freycinet, before looping back in to where you started (this will add roughly 1150 kilometres to your total).
How long will the Big Lap take?
How long is a piece of string? You can do the Big Lap journey any way you like: in one go, in stages over years, pieced together on tours, and via road, foot, plane or bike. There is no right or wrong way to do the journey; each Big Lap journey is dictated by the passion points of the individual traveller.
But, if you want to get micro about it, some brave souls have determined it could be done in a month at a push (and with no fun stuff along the way). Many people undertaking it in one go allow 10 to 12 months to really get the most out of the experience, and even then you probably won’t see absolutely everything. Did someone say Big Lap: The Redux?
The best time to do the Big Lap?
Chasing the optimum weather conditions should dictate your timing: aim to travel through the north of the country during the cooler, drier winter months to avoid extremes of heat and humidity, as well as road closures caused by flooding during the wet season (which takes place in the summer months); the southern states are best experienced during the warmer months.
What should I pack?
-Lots of water We are not talking a one-litre bottle of Mount Franklin here: the general rule of thumb when heading into remote areas is to pack 20 litres of emergency water, as well as four litres per person per day.
-Extra fuel Because it can be a long way between petrol stations.
-Personal locator beacon Australia can be a challenging travel proposition in parts so packing precautions is a smart move, including locator beacons to help pinpoint your location should you need help. Check out the government website for a comprehensive rundown of the beacons currently available.
-A GPS and a map No matter if you think you know this country like the back of your hand, sometimes you will need help getting from A to B and C and D and E… a GPS is a wonderful thing, until the satellite signal or the electricity runs out, so pack a good old fashioned fold-up map as well.
-A solar charger When there’s no electricity, there is bound to be sunshine so a solar power charger that can charge your GPS and your phone is a smart inclusion.
-Toilet paper don’t make us explain why.
-A solar torch and rechargeable lanterns Because it gets dark in the middle of nowhere.
While sticking to the edges of the continent will offer up enough experiences to fill a lifetime of memories, when you’re in the vicinity it would be crazy not to take the time for a few choice side trips and pit stops along the way. May we suggest…
Kakadu National Park
Detour off the Stuart Highway and head to this natural wonder.
Head in the opposite direction from Kakadu down the Stuart Highway and pass through another side-trip worthy destination – Alice Springs – to reach Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (along the Lasseter Highway).
The Gibb River Road
The ultimate Kimberley experience will take you off Highway 1 after Kununurra – you need your wits about you to drive this, as well as a pretty sturdy 4WD, so do your research on this one.
Getting to the tip of the country can be challenging, but there are easier options than taking the unsealed Old Telegraph Road; do your research and plan your route before you head off.
And while it might seem like the middle of nowhere, according to TNQ, the longest distance between petrol bowsers is 140 kilometres.
Because every mammoth journey requires a little R&R along the way, and with islands like Hamilton and the newly reborn Hayman (see page 58) we have world-class retreats in which to get some.
While you definitely shouldn’t miss a bit of the Great Ocean Road, a side trip to the Grampians is one of the headline destinations in Victoria for its dramatic, wide open spaces alone.
If you don’t have the time to drive up to William Creek (with its handful of inhabitants), take a flight over Lake Eyre instead: Arid Air does scenic flights out of Port Augusta.