Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Cruise control

It may be an obvious comparison but driving an automatic really is like driving a toy car. Not having to change gear takes much of the skill and challenge out of getting from A to B and leaves you, literally, with stop and go. At first my left leg didn’t know what to do with itself. It jiggled up and down in time with the iPod, shifted around making me bang my knee painfully against the steering wheel (I’m so short I sit practically on top of the wheel) and kept trying to get involved with the mechanics of the journey. My left hand kept resting on the non-gear stick (what is that called in an auto?) and excitedly jumping up as I came up to hills or junctions. But as the days – and kilometres – rolled past my appendages settled into their positions and presumably went to sleep while my brain tried to follow.

Because the trouble with driving an automatic is that there is so much less to think about. It tricks your brain into thinking it’s not actually in control of several tonnes of metal and once you throw cruise control into the mix (which I did yesterday as I drove the long, straight road from Albany to Esperance) your right foot doesn’t even need to do anything and you find yourself thinking you’re in some kind of simulator.

I spent much of yesterday gazing unthinkingly at the ribbon of bitumen and endlessly chasing a horizon that never seemed to come any closer. Every half an hour or so I would have to adjust the steering wheel all of an inch to the right or left and then would return to staring robotically ahead or, as the madness really set in, crooning loudly to Lily Allen.

So today came as something of a relief. I’m in Esperance for two nights, in the same hotel no less (the same bed for two nights in a row really is the travel writer’s holy grail), and spent today exploring the Great Ocean Drive scenic loop and the Cape le Grand national park. Fortunately for my numbed brain this involved lots of bends and twisty roads so, although my left leg still didn’t see any action, my right leg and both arms had plenty to occupy them.

The Great Ocean Drive is half amazing, half dull. The first half (if you go clockwise) takes you over rolling coastal hills and to a string of tourism-brochure-worthy white-sand beaches. There are lookouts and beachside strolls along the way and just when you think you can’t possibly find a more beautiful beach – ever, even if you live to a hundred and cash in those airmiles – you round the next corner and, yep, there it is, even more sweeping, more white and more photographable than the last. The second half however is inland, with the purpose of returning you to town via the pink lake. Sadly today it was cloudy so the temperature wasn’t high enough to bring out the beta carotene from the algae which makes it appear pink so it was, if we’re honest, just another lake and I was driving on just another long, straight bitumen strip.

Visiting Cape le Grand national park was a similar mix of the sublime and the yawn-worthy. Getting there took well over half an hour on one straight cruise-controllable road after another and I started to grow glass-eyed with fatigue once more. That is until I reached the park itself and found, unbelievably, beaches even better than those I’d seen nearer town. Hellfire Bay was the sort of place you want to roll up and pack in your suitcase, while Thistle Cove was backed by beautiful wildflowers and home to whistling rock, a stone bizarrely shaped like a howling dog which echoed the noise of the waves through its crevices.

I guess today really sums up the trip as a whole. Half the time I’m marveling at sights you’d swear had been computer generated or at least airbrushed and thinking how unbelievably lucky I am that this is, in fact, work; the other half I’m bored to tears by the endless highway and wishing I could be at home with a Chinese and a cup of tea (that Lily Allen song really did get to me today!).  

Still, if you want to see Australia you have to drive. Far. And so in that spirit I’ve already programmed my sat nav for tomorrow. It says “in 103 miles turn left”. Oh dear.


  1. Sounds very familiar. Wish I was there to be bored with you!

  2. Very good piece. Love the way you make it sound really interesting even while telling us it is not!!! xx