Bathurst 1000: Your Road Trip Guide
The road trip to Mount Panorama is a rite of passage for any Australian motorsport fan. And the thing is, fans have their favourite routes from around Australia to converge on The Mountain – it’s the sort of stuff that strikes up debate amongst grizzled Bathurst veterans. Here we run our rule over the various options for transiting to Australia’s oldest inland settlement.
Bathurst is that perfect distance away from the big smoke that it almost always necessitates a road trip – sometimes, you might elect to fly to Sydney from Melbourne, Brisbane or Adelaide, but in doing the maths, the hassle and time spent in transit almost always make a road trip a sensible option.
Plus, you have your own car that you can use for the week, often overfilled to the roofline with all your favourite camping possessions.
Also, you get to see some excellent parts of Australia on the journey…
Let’s start the discussion – hit us up on the socials @theracetorque with your Bathurst road trip tips and tricks.
Podcasts are a great way to fill the hours driving to Bathurst.
Last year, we commandeered a Ford Mustang GT, and recorded a podcast about Bathurst road trips on a road trip to Bathurst.
Here is the result…
Via the Blue Mountains
Good transit time: 2hr 50min/ 200km
Pros: It’s the classic route, through one of the tourist highlights of NSW, with glimpses of the epic scenery en route worth stopping at for a longer look.
Cons: Hands up, who hasn’t been caught in a Blue Mountains traffic jam before? When they finally get around to driving a tunnel from Penrith to Lithgow, we will be all in on that option.
Attractions: Clearly, for motorsport heads, a stop at Katoomba’s Catalina Park is an absolute must, before the historic (and insane) ribbon of blacktop is finally eaten by the forest. Plus there is the Three Sisters and all of the other brilliant touristy things the area is famous for. If you have time to burn, plan ahead and make a day of it, you won’t regret it.
Tips: Mid-morning on Monday after the 1000, the road up to Mount Victoria absolutely always turns to custard, without fail, with motorists being able to set their watch to the long lengths of traffic jams. Factor this into your Sydney airport departure calculations.
Via Bells Line of Road
Good transit time: 2hr 59min/205km
Pros: Sometimes a change is as good as a holiday, and the Bells Line of Road is a cracking backroad that is worth experiencing.
Cons: If there is going to be a road-blocking accident anywhere, it will be on the Bells Line of Road. Also, if you hit a caravan in the wrong place, your levels of enjoyment will diminish significantly. When it’s good, it’s great, when things don’t quite right, you have no workarounds, and you will be in a massive world of hurt.
Attractions: A plainer Jane version of the Blue Mountains transit, sans all of the things the general punters want to look at. This is perfectly acceptable if you simply seek to get to Bathurst and back ASAP. Want to see an historic racetrack on the drive? The Yetholme Circuit takes in a portion of the Great Western Highway – you can check out that story right here.
Tips: Check your favourite live mapping app as you approach Lithgow on that Monday morning after the 1000 to see if it is a good idea.
Good transit time: 8hr 20min/779km
Pros: Quickest route possible, plus some of the backcountry driving once you are off the Hume is genuinely as good as it gets. The road between Coolac and Cootamunda is a TRT all-time favourite. The Hume might be awful for people who love driving, but it’s efficient, with it essentially now a straight shot between Melbourne and Newcastle without slowing once.
Cons: The Victorian end of the Hume is a chore, the New South Wales side is similar, although the scenery is slightly better. The road between Coolac and Cootamunda might be a TRT all-time favourite, although its condition has been very average in recent years, plus at various times it has been flooded, either with water or cattle.
Attractions: Classic stops on the drive include Kelly Country at Glenrowan, the submarine in Holbrook, and the Dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai, which you must do at least once. You won’t do it again after you do it that one time, but it’s the sort of thing you will point out every time you subsequently drive past.
Tips: From the eastern half of Melbourne, there is often value in dodging vast lengths of the Hume by re-routing via the Yarra Valley and Eurora, or alternatively up to Bonnie Doon (how’s the serenity?) and Benalla (clearly this route works for Winton, too). Once off the Hume at Coolac onto Muttama Road, you can dodge Cootamundra (Don Bradman’s birthplace) by taking Old Gundagai Road, which brings you out onto the north side of the Olympic Highway. Also, for those with fantastic navigational skills, alighting from the Hume further north of Coolac provides some incredible scenery on the backroad into Young via Harden. A 5am Melbourne departure featuring breakfast at McDonalds in Glenrowan, and lunch in Young is a winning combination, with the return leg featuring breakfast at McDonalds Cowra, and no lunch, because by that stage, you’ve lost interest in sustenance.
Good transit time: 8hr40min/767km
Pros: In the good old days, when the Hume used to slow down and weave through every two-bit town north of Albury, missing that crucial right-hand turn in on the Hume and touring through Wagga Wagga was the quickest way to go. It might be slightly slower, but with the open/closed nature of the Coolac road, it can often prove much quicker in the long haul. Also: it means less time spent on the Hume. Also, there are more stops for fuel and food.
Cons: It’s typically slower, and the back highway driving isn’t necessarily as exciting behind the wheel as some of the back road driving that is available further north.
Attractions: The Murrumbidgee River in Wagga has a beach. It’s not much of a beach, but when you promised the kids a beach holiday and you are secretly shuffling them off to The Mountain, it will suffice.
Tips: You’re going this way because your daddy went this way, and your daddy’s daddy, too. Traditions are a big part of the Bathurst experience – keep the good times rolling.
Good transit time: 11hr53min/1,041km
Pros: For generations, the quickest way to Bathurst was to tour west via Goondiwidi, then Moree, Narrabri, Dubbo and Orange.
Cons: Improvements to other roads heading south mean that this isn’t necessarily a sure bet, plus, advancements in driving navigational mapping throw up some interesting combinations. These days, it is often suggested that you hook a left after Narrabri, however, experience tells us that often these “shortcuts” amount to nothing more than glorified goat tracks. Also, experience tells us you should lock everything up in Moree or you will get robbed. Also, the Piliga is one of the most boring stretches of road in Australia, a fact our South Australian correspondent is sure to argue.
Attractions: The Australia Telescope Compact Array in Narrabri is incredible, while the tin lids will love Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.
Tips: With the Toowoomba bypass now making transit over the range easier than ever, current routing has Brisvegans touring via the Garden City as the preferred option, rather than the traditional path through Cunninghams Gap and Warwick. Per: cons, plan your route in advance to save yourself from some of the “shortcuts”.
Via Pacific Highway
Good transit time: 11hr42min/1,072km
Pros: Firstly, the Pacific Highway these days is a dream – the only stretches that aren’t multi-lane dual carriageways are through Coffs Harbour and Raymond Terrace. Other than that, it is 100-100km/h all the way to the foot of the Blue Mountains. Secondly, they have dug a shiny new tunnel at the end of the M1 under Pennant Hills, which in the olden days, was the sole reason why everyone despised Sydney. Lots of places to stop, either for food or fuel, or simply roadside in the many rest areas.
Cons: At the moment, the worst parts of the drive could possibly be navigating the road works out the back of the Gold Coast.
Attractions: If you don’t stop for a photo at the Big Banana, you are un-Australian. You could genuinely take several days to make the commute if you took a Craig Lowndes-style fishing trip en route to Bathurst.
Tips: See the Sydney section of this story – from the M7 at the top side of Sydney, it is easy to access the Bells Line of Road – keep this in consideration if you want to avoid the chore of Blue Mountains commuting. Also, hybrid combinations of this and the next route exist, whereby you follow the Pacific south to around Grafton, before touring inland via Glen Innes, Armidale and Tamworth.
Via New England Highway
Good transit time: 11hr30min/988km
Pros: A bit of an adventure that, statistically at least, stacks up these days. Warwick, Stanthorpe, Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Armidale, Tamworth and onwards. You get a country vibe without the boredom of the Piliga, and you avoid the hustle and bustle of the Pacific Highway, Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
Cons: Once again, from Tamworth south, plan ahead and check that the road conditions are to your liking before committing – some of the sat-nav directions in this part of the world can be pigeonholed as interesting.
Attractions: The Big Golden Guitar in Tamworth is big. You know you are in the country now…
Tips: For Gold Coast travellers, and this goes for the Goondiwindi route too, driving through Beaudesert is a treat of backcountry driving – it’s worth the experience. The brewery in Tenterfield used to make a beer called the Tenterfield Saddler. It tasted like boot polish and hops. It was not good.
Via Northern Victoria
Good transit time: 12hr40Minutes/1,174km
Pros: It’s a long haul but the roads in the first stint are fast, flowing and generally good condition, especially the run through northern Victoria and then up into New South Wales near Balranald. There are plenty of small towns along the way, which make it easy to break the trip up into shorter stints to stretch the legs, which you’ll need to do because this is a long haul.
Cons: Everything between Balranald and Cowra. The Hay Plain is one of the worst roads in the country that pretends to call itself a ‘major’ national route. We see our Victorian-via-Queensland correspondent thinks the Piliga road is boring – clearly, he has not yet experienced the mind-numbing expanse of nothingness that is the Hay Plain which is, factually, much worse. This stint of about two hours is such that if you happen upon a stepladder, you should climb it – for you will be in charge of a scenic lookout. This, though, is unlikely because there is a better chance you will be repairing a puncture from hitting one of the potholes, or spending time gently rocking in the corner having dodged a road train going full Duel on you.
Attractions: Going through Northern Victoria means you get to go through Cowangie, where you are legally (and morally) required to stop at the sign signifying it is the home of Larry Perkins and salute the great man.
Tips: Plan ahead to check on road conditions across the Hay Plain and into the backblocks of New South Wales between Hay and Cowra, because the roads can be shonky – and if you’re travelling with mates get them to keep an eye out for massive potholes while you dodge the Semi trailers. However, when you get to West Wyalong, stop at the Roundabout Bakery because they do the best Sausage Roll on the trip, if not anywhere.
Via Northern South Australia
Good transit time: About the same as above. Quicker if you live at or near TRT HQ in the Barossa.
Pros: If you live North of the CBD, this is the way to go. Rather than heading up the Freeway and to Victoria, head North and enjoy the great roads through South Australia’s Riverland, which is spectacular. Mildura is a great rural city with lots to see, and the first leg of the trip is on good roads and is very scenic, right up to the point where…
Cons: ..you get to the same part of the trip as if you’re going the other way. You’ve still got to do the Hay Plain, one way or the other. Sorry.
Attractions: The Riverland has some great tourism stuff going on with lots of towns dotted along the Murray, while Mildura is big enough to stay for a bit and have a look around if you like regional cities (and if you’re heading to Bathurst, who doesn’t?). Plus, if you’re heading North from Adelaide, it means you go past the Barossa Valley, so you may as well drop in for a bottle or two of Red…
Tips: If you’re doing this in a day and leave early, the towns are perfectly spaced for a three-stint strategy: Mildura Maccas for breakfast and coffee, West Wyalong for Lunch and then the blast to Bathurst to arrive just in time for a delicious pint at 5pm.
On the way back we’d strongly suggest breaking the trip up over two days. You’re heading due West, meaning you’ll be driving into the setting sun, dodging Cows on the Hay Plain through a bug-splatted windscreen while still sweating out five days of beer consumption at the track. Stuff that! Instead, you should stay at Hay overnight – it’s a great little town, Hotels are cheap as chips, clean and plentiful, and the pubs on the main street do great food. Leave early the next morning (via the Shell roadhouse at the roundabout for a mean bacon & egg roll), and you’re still home by lunchtime, with the added benefit of not having buried your otherwise very nice car into the side of an arrogant two-ton cow because the farmer forgot to put the warning signs out…
Good transit time: 3hr23min/257km
Pros: Fantastic backcountry motoring, a genuinely brilliant drive. Similar time frame compared to using the Hume, but the 20km shorter distance paints a picture of the meandering nature of the drive.
Cons: The gloss comes off the brilliance with some slow-moving traffic – overtaking lanes are few and far between. Make sure you are fuelled up, there are not a lot of options this way for fast food drive-throughs, either.
Attractions: The road itself.
Tips: Avoid caravans.
Good transit time: 3hr27min/277km
Pros: A slightly more civilised path between Canberra and Bathurst, which still features a fair whack of backcountry motoring.
Cons: Do you love the Hume that much? Really?
Attractions: The Big Merino is as good as it gets.
Tips: The pie shop at the Big Merino is good.
Good transit time: 3hr32min/295km
Pros: Longest kilometres, but not far off the quick times of the above options – if you want a nice easy drive, this is your pick. More major towns on route, and you’re a better chance of sneaking past that caravan that is cramping your style.
Cons: You miss the mountain passes of the Crookwell route – is it really worth it?
Attractions: Does McDonalds Yass still have that “MYass” sign?
Tips: Regardless of the Yass McDonalds advertising strategy, McDonalds Cowra does a good breakfast.