tesla model 3 owners make 6,000km round trip to fnq for $186

Charging at Daintree Riverview caravan park. Image: Kayleen Thompson

In August 2022 my wife and I decided to drive our Model 3 Tesla up the Queensland Electric Super Highway (QESH) as this public charging network is known as. Our only firm plan was to make it to Cairns in Far North Queensland. We had a full month available for the round trip, including deviations to tourist spots.

In the end, we made it as far as Cape Tribulation. 6,000km and 20 days later we are back in Brisbane and I am reflecting on what it cost, what we saved, and what we learned.

By the numbers:

  • Distance travelled: 6,051km
  • Average kms a day: 300km
  • Energy used: 835kWh
  • Charging points used: 24
  • Total charging cost: $186
  • Petrol cost for same journey ($1.65 and 7.0l/100km): $698
  • Dollars saved: $512

Completed in 2021 by the Queensland government at a cost of $5.3M, the QESH currently consists of 33 charging stations studded up the main coastal highway A1 from Brisbane to Cairns. There are another 24 stations due to be added in phase 3. They are managed by the Chargefox network so accessing the chargers, and paying for usage is via the Chargefox App.

Additionally, these charge stations show up on Google maps if you search for “EV Chargers”. Note that your Tesla navigation will not help you here, in fact my Tesla thinks the farthest north we can go in Queensland is Gympie. Each QESH station consists of one Tritium 50kw charger with two leads attached. One has a CHAdeMO plug and the other a CCS2.

There is also a Schneider Electric 22kW tower with two Type 2 sockets. To use that one, you will need to bring your own charging lead. The two Tritium outputs cannot both be used at the same time, so only one vehicle can use it at a time. I believe the 22kW unit will support 2 vehicles at once, though since I did not have a lead, I was unable to check that.

In addition to these charge points we also stayed at two motels with Tesla destination chargers and we charged from a standard 240V socket a few times. We also took advantage of a Tesla Supercharger at Gympie, which is very fast compared to the QESH chargers.

tesla model 3 owners make 6,000km round trip to fnq for $186

Charging at the QESH in FNQ. Image: Paul Thompson

Always be charging

So how did the trip go? The QESH charge points are spaced at an average of 60km, with the largest gap being Townsville to Cardwell which is 165km.

This means you can afford to miss one or two and still avoid range anxiety. At the start of the trip we took the ABC (Always Be Charging) approach and stopped more often than we really needed to.

By the return leg, we were feeling more confident and let the charge percentage fall further. We only had to wait for another car to finish charging three times, which indicates that there is spare capacity for now at least.  Most of the time we were the only car at the charge point.

I have found that our Model 3 RWD range is fine for city driving. Prior to this trip, I had only used a fast charger once, all the rest of my charging had been done slowly at home overnight.

The relatively low range compared to our petrol car really did become a factor on this trip. At first we were happy to have a break, toilet and cuppa while it charged, but the novelty of that did start to wear thin.

When you are told it is going to take over an hour to charge you do start to wonder how this could be improved. My wish now is for a range of around 600km and a destination charger at every motel. With that, we would have been able to get by with one recharge a day (lunch) and charging overnight.

tesla model 3 owners make 6,000km round trip to fnq for $186

Range anxiety wiping off the EV grin

But back to the trip.

The only time we got range anxiety was when on the southbound leg when we found that the Cardwell charger was out of order. This meant going on to Townsville without a top-up. We landed at the JCU charger in Townsville on about 12%.

We did wonder what we would have done if that charger was out of order? I imagine we would have had to look harder for a destination charger and spent the night there.

By now most of you will have heard of the EV grin, and “range anxiety”, both of these emotions are real, but I would add a third.

The sense of being an EV pioneer. The inescapable conclusion is that the EV landscape is about to change radically and we are in a world that is just about to change forever.

I imagine it is like living in the 1920’s owning one of the first petrol vehicles.

Outside of a capital city there would have been very few petrol stations. That is what it feels like to drive an EV from Brisbane to Cairns right now.

tesla model 3 owners make 6,000km round trip to fnq for $186

Paul and Kayleen Thompson in FNQ. Supplied

Not enough EV chargers for approaching tidal wave of EVs

The conclusion that came to me was that there are way too few charge points to support the tidal wave of EV that is about to hit. We drove past many petrol service stations that were recently revamped or in the process of being revamped and none appeared to be putting in EV chargers.

We saw no EV-friendly signs on the way into towns of EV destination charge points advertised on signboards for motels. After a few days into the trip, we stopped searching for destination chargers as there seemed to be very few out there.

The Tesla generated more interest the further north we got, and if any of this was negative, we did not hear it.

As pro-fossil fuel as north Qld is, they are also interested in technology and keen to know how this works. There are still some funny misconceptions out there.

For example, people are surprised to learn that we could charge it from a normal wall socket.

Yes, you can and we did! Caravan parks (with powered sites) are therefore an option. For example, we charged up overnight at the Daintree since that was furthest north than the QESH goes at the moment.

Overall the trip was comfortable and pleasurable, we saw some beautiful sites and spent some time in the Atherton tableland and Daintree. Other than that we stuck mostly to the highway, venturing off to see the odd National park and tourist sites like Yeppoon and Agnes Waters.

We stayed in motels when we were not visiting friends. We took a small 12V fridge in the car so we could self-cater for some meals, but otherwise relied on cafes and restaurants.

tesla model 3 owners make 6,000km round trip to fnq for $186

Charging in a friend’s carport. Image: Paul Thompson

Broken EV chargers will block long distance routes

Since buying the Model 3 I have gone out of my way to tell as many people as I can that I own an EV and that it works well, I have given a lot of test drives and really enjoy people’s reactions to the unexpectedly good acceleration that even this base model has.

I am actively trying to convert people from maybe to definitely buying an EV.

Taking this drive was an extension of that. I posted daily and got a reasonable reaction from my social media network. Sadly, my realistic conclusion is that the charging network required for the EVs that are arriving on our docks right now is woefully inadequate.

Yes, I could drive from Brisbane to Cairns, but I could not go further west than Dalby.

Moreover, if a few charging stations in a row are out of order, the whole route is effectively blocked.

This fragility needs to be fixed soon or a lot of EV owners are going to be really pissed off at some point in the next 12 to 24 months. I assume that all of the major petrol station brands are planning to put in EV chargers, in my view it seems that they have left it too late to start.

Paul Thompson graduated from the University of Queensland in 1983 as an electrical engineer. He is co-founder and ex CEO of Pakton Group and JVA Technologies. Paul is an award-winning inventor with a number of patents to his name. His interest in solar and renewable power began in the late 80s when he was with the AERL. There he designed the electronic power system for the Ford Australia entry in the premier Darwin to Adelaide Solar Car Challenge. After stints in R&D with other electronic manufacturers Paul along with his wife started Pakton in 1995 and grew it to a multi-million dollar venture.  Paul spends his spare time playing with new inventions and travelling.

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