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We didn't 'Planet'! One camper van. Two blokes. Four weeks. What could go wrong?

Bathurst - City of Speed

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 18 March 2007 | Views [2161] | Comments [2]

We had great plans for the day; the decision had been taken, we would definitely make for Lake Eyre, 2000km distant. It is quite an ambitious aim, and we are aware that there will be many distractions along the way. We just didn’t realise it would happen so soon.

The City of Bathurst (actually just a town of 28,000) lays on our route west. Matt had the helm which means I am automatically in charge of music and sleeping. As I browsed the Lonely Planet Australia, it became clear to me that this trip has already been hi-jacked. I know that Matt likes cars, engines, and anything with wheels. Bathurst, it turns out, is what Waterloo is to your average train spotter. So far today, we had covered only 150km – equivalent to popping down to the shops for a loaf of bread in Australia. I have done trips like this before; ambitious, badly planned and generally very much open to change. I learned one thing – what will be, will be. Matt had every reason to linger, and the pleasant surroundings made it hard for me to raise objection. In addition, being a university town, there was more pretty girls around than two guys like us could safely cope with.

Clearly Matt knew far more about this place than he was letting on. He informed me that Mount Panorama is a street race circuit on the southwest edge of the town. It’s beginnings go back to 1938, and to this day is the venue for many motor racing events, the most famous being the Bathurst 1000. The one thousand kilometre test of endurance attracts over 100,000 spectators each year. Motorcycle racing goes back even further than the current track. Events were held mostly on gravel roads, the only bitumen being a 100 yard section on the start line, which was actually part of the stock sale yards. Remember, these were, and still are, public roads – an imaginary line was drawn along the centre, one side for the racers, the other for public use!

This is the home of Australian motor racing, and a place of pilgrimage for all serious petrol-heads. Thankfully, there is an excellent information centre (which houses the famous 1909 model D28 Brush car, among the first in Bathurst), and better still, a motor museum next to Mount Panorama Circuit. I sent Matt off to get his fix while I got busy trying to work out all the equipment Nomads have given us to cover this trip.

Matt caught me drinking cups of tea and playing a cool game I found on this laptop – but I had managed to write a couple of paragraphs. Today’s circuit covers 6.2 km, is 870 metres above sea level, and is Australia’s only racing track that is also a public road. Matt was almost hyperventilating at the thought of driving around it, and with a strict 60 kph limit, I figured it would be a low risk photo opportunity for the Ambassador van. Even with a Kiwi driver.

When travelling, you know how in some towns everything is against you, and in others, everything seems to effortlessly work out? Bathurst was one of the latter. We easily found a nice camp next to a creek, only a short walk from the trotting track. With a nice Green Thai curry in our bellies (by yours truly), we strolled over for a look – I was curious to see what this peculiar sport is all about – by luck, Wednesday night is race night around these parts.

Trotting, or harness racing, is pretty big in Australia and New Zealand. Next to Wife Carrying (I’m not kidding, this is a legit sport), trotting, it seems to me, is one of the more eccentric equine pastimes. The nags are bred and skilfully trained to go as quickly as possible, but without breaking into a canter. Therefore, to achieve maximum velocity, they have to trot. Have you ever tried to get somewhere quickly without actually running? As if this is not absurd enough, they pull a flimsy buggy on two bicycle wheels, controlled by a small man wearing a crash helmet. We only caught the last couple of races, not nearly enough time for us to work out the betting procedure; with hindsight, probably a good thing. We did note that between each race, a vehicle drives around the roughly 1700 metre circuit towing a harrow to level the sand. In our search for the ultimate Ambassador moment, we did ask the organisers if we could use our van. With the race being transmitted live on sports channel, we figured it would be a bit of a scoop. Unfortunately, as you can probably imagine, they were not too keen. I guess we are just too dam cool.

The small floodlit venue had an intimate crowd, out for a mid-week social beer or two, and provided just the atmosphere we were looking for. Trotting, weird as it is, provides a quintessential view of genuine rural Australian life.

Tomorrow, we will try and cover some distance. Did I not write that somewhere before?

Tags: ambassador van, on the road



Great video guys!
Looking forward to the next installments!

  stowaway Mar 19, 2007 2:21 PM


What a hilarious video ! What a cool van, very jealous indeed. Keep up the great posts and videos. Love it !

  Toby Mar 19, 2007 2:26 PM

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