7 August 2020 · Mazda Australia News
Mazda CX-8 Adventure
BONDING PROCESS | Mazda CX-8 Adventure
An epic road trip to the New South Wales Outback is a fantastic opportunity for father and son to get to know each other better – and appreciate the comfort and great drive afforded by the Mazda CX-8
Story Stephen Corby / Photography Thomas Wielecki
Back in the fourth century BC, when Lao Tzu grandly declared that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, life was obviously simpler. Today, the journey of a thousand miles (or closer to 1,800 in our case), is more likely to start with prolonged procrastination, panicked final toilet trips and the screams of a child.
We were going to set off early on our epic Boys’ Own Adventure to the Outback, we really were, but once we are finally strapped in to our absurdly spacious Mazda CX-8, reality hits the brakes. From the house I hear my daughter, Matilda, let loose the kind of pained scream that old Lao would never have heard; the sound a modern child makes when the internet has stopped working.
While I am under a desk fixing that problem, my fidgety son and travel companion, Enzo, 10, manages to lose his watch, which he assures me he will definitely need. Said watch is showing 10.19am by the time it’s back on his wrist and we are rolling out.
Not for the last time, I question the wisdom of my quest. Like many Australians, my son has rarely been far from the sea, and he’s never seen the bleeding-red heart of his own country. A staggering 85 per cent of Aussies live within 50km of our vast coastline, and 40 per cent of us in just two cities, Melbourne and our bustling base of Sydney.
“A STAGGERING 85 PER CENT OF AUSSIES LIVE WITHIN 50KM OF OUR VAST COASTLINE, AND 40 PER CENT IN JUST TWO CITIES, MELBOURNE AND SYDNEY”
So I’d decided to take Enzo way out west, as far as possible in the few days at our disposal and, to be frank, in far more luxury than he’s used to. Our big, bold-looking CX-8 has plentiful seating for seven, which made the discussion of why this had to be a boys’ trip, and there wasn’t any room for the women in our household, a tricky one.
I ended up packing lots of camping gear to make the giant load area look full. It almost worked. Looking at the map, and conscious of the fact that it would soon become difficult to leave NSW without being quarantined, due to the coronavirus crisis we were hoping to escape for a while, I settled on Broken Hill, which sits on the map just a few millimetres from the border, and next to the tiny town of Silverton, a place I’d visited before and one I know is perfect for a first Outback experience.
Before we hit the flat country we stop at the edge of the Blue Mountains to look at the sprawling vista towards our vast city. It strikes me, then, just how unprepared Enzo is for what he will find on the other side of the Great Dividing Range.
Sure enough, not long after we’ve enjoyed the rising and falling bends of the Blue Mountains, and the easy, smooth handling of the CX-8, there’s a burst of joy as he points at the nav screen just before Bathurst. Is he excited about the famous race track at Mount Panorama? Er, no.
“Look Dadda, ‘Curly Dick Road!’” Seriously, who comes up with these names? I was concerned before setting out that settling in to the rhythm of a long drive – the syncopated silences and low-frequency conversations that come naturally to adults trained by many years of pre-device road trips – might be beyond Enzo.
He’s a small brawl of energy and sound most of the time, and sitting still comes as naturally to him as chemical equations. As it turns out, however, he’s loving every minute of it, relishing each passing mile and the little adventures that accompany each snack stop - being assailed by flies, making “the best tea, EVER”, and a moth the size of a sparrow.
Just outside Bathurst, I almost run over what looks like an inverted bowl and realise the road is littered with countless turtles making a concerted kamikaze attempt at crossing. Enzo is thrilled and I’m stunned; in all my years driving around Australia I’ve never seen even one near a road. We help as many as we can, which is a slow and slippery process.
Somewhere after Dubbo, where the landscape flattens and the cultivated fields give way to not much, the road stretches to a tightrope in front of us. Suddenly the clouds look prettier, the irritating music on the radio sounds better and my worries of not covering enough distance float away. Who cares how far we go? I don’t. Enzo doesn’t.
We enjoy this road in silence for a long while. Nothing needs to be said. This is something I haven’t experienced with him; a moment where his talking ceases. I’m loving it.
The only sound is the rain-like patter of countless insects smacking into us. Sitting up high above the horizon in our Mazda’s theatre-like seats, we’re pointed directly at the setting sun. When night falls and the road still hasn’t given us the slightest bend, we play a game of ‘spot the largest bug’ as we cut through the black like a laser beam.
Enzo also gets to experience his first taste of range anxiety as the fuel gauge creeps lower before we finally roll into Cobar with just 20km of range left. To be fair, we’ve done 712km on a single tank, which is more than respectable. The streets are empty, everything’s shut but we feel safe inside our luxurious transport.
The next day, Enzo learns the proper, frantic use of the Aussie salute as the flies get properly country-spec. Every time we stop, it takes them a while to find us, but once they do, there’s no letting go. Enzo is driven mad. Even the howling wind won’t mask his cries as he runs off into the scrub. “Dadda, let’s just get out of here, please!”
We’re so far west now that we cross a time zone, and win back half an hour of our day, which feels increasingly post-apocalyptic as we drive into what we dub the Fields of Bones. Skeletal remains are everywhere, stacked and huddled on the roadside for hundreds of kilometres, all the way to Broken Hill. I guess it’s partly the drought, driving them to the road’s greener edges to die.
Now, I must admit I’ve always had what other people call a strange fascination with road kill, and skulls in particular, but it never occurred to me that it might be hereditary. Sure enough, though, Enzo is similarly fascinated and is soon stuffing bleached-white skulls and other bits and pieces into the car. Unfortunately, I don’t find 98 per cent of them until we get home...
Broken Hill - 1,143km from Sydney - finally appears in the distance, a mining lift tower set against the low sun. It’s a sizeable city of 17,000, and yet, like every town we’ve driven through, there are no people around. The odd car scuttles around a corner and flees, but there’s no human movement.
We roll on to Silverton, normally a very small tourist site, thanks to its Mad Max museum. This Mars-like landscape was the setting for the original movies, but it looks even more desolate than Hollywood would demand today.
Outside the Silverton Hotel we see four donkeys being led by an older woman, but she’s gone, along with her asses, before we can even grab a photo. There’s not a sound, just the wind. It feels like we might unwittingly have been cast in yet another Mad Max reboot.
We find a creek to camp beside, and it seems like a great spot, until the flies find us again. Enzo is going mad as they attack his eyes and attempt to explore his insides via his mouth.
THE MARS-LIKE LANDSCAPE WAS THE SETTING FOR THE ORIGINAL MAD MAX MOVIES, BUT IT’S EVEN MORE DESOLATE THAN HOLLYWOOD WOULD DEMAND
There’s nowhere to run. The car is full of them, the air is thick with them. I keep telling him to take no notice, but I’m better equipped to ignore them; I have kids. Strangely, Enzo has not yet caused me any irritation on this entire trip, yet at home he can be more maddening than these flies.
I hug him for a while and it alleviates his torture while my arms cup his head, but the sun is quickly going down and I have to get the tent organised. Blessedly, the flies disappear with the sun and soon we’re having “the best dinner ever” – sausages cooked on sticks over the camp fire.
Before going to bed, Enzo comes back holding something: “Dadda, what’s this?” He’s holding a dried cow poo. Very much a city boy, but learning fast. We’re woken by sharp cracks of lightning in the pitch black, sometime before dawn, and we scramble to pack everything into the car before this desert storm eats us alive.
Rolling back through Silverton, we see a lost-looking cattle dog in the middle of the now muddy street and Enzo is desperate to help him, as he keeps running away and returning, wanting us to follow him… somewhere.
We drive around desperately trying to find an owner and finally find a gate with a hand-drawn sign featuring a skull and crossbones next to a bottle of hand sanitiser and the words: “Locked Down No Entry No Matter Who You Are, Sanitise Then Call”, followed by a mobile number.
I’m struck by the idea that they fear catching the virus via a phone call and wonder whether I should dissuade them from this idea, but there’s no answer. I attempt to leave the dog, but Enzo insists we take it after it follows us for a couple of kilometres, and he’s soon got it in the passenger footwell, along with 100kg or so of red mud.
Finally we spot a small, white-haired woman running in the rain. She’s got bright red lipstick, matching nails and a ready laugh. “That’s Boots, he lives in that white house over there,” she waves.
Heavy rainfall scuppered plans for a different route home via Ivanhoe but in no way diluted the enjoyment of the mammoth road trip
I decide to go home a different way, to Menindee then on to Ivanhoe. There’s plenty of water on the road and brisk creeks rush across it on the floodways, but the CX-8 – a big city car supposedly a long way from its comfort zone – deals with the conditions with ease.
We feel entirely cocooned from the chaos, but it is amazing how quickly a dusty desert can flood. Menindee feels barely breathing, the caravan park full of rotting caravans, the vineyards overgrown with weeds and saltbush, the houses mostly abandoned, with a sign explaining that the mismanagement of the Darling River has ruined the town.
The more disturbing sight, however, is a Road Closed sign – the rain has cut us off at last, and the only option from here is to drive back to Broken Hill, and start our return home from scratch. The endless roads give you plenty of time to think. Maybe too much. This country is unforgiving and brutally indifferent to human existence. Or maybe it’s just bush humour.
As we begin the home run, there’s something new to amuse Enzo – goats, thousands of them, roaming the road in family clusters, only slightly bothered by the endless, driving rain. As darkness falls we’re still some way from our stay in Nyngan for the night; our Menindee detour cost us 240km, and we end up doing 857km in a day. The frustration of the extra hours bothers my wingman not one whit. He’s having too much fun, and stays with me almost until 9pm before succumbing to sleep.
The next day we traverse the central west, the sparse spiky brush and red dirt giving way to green undulating hills. It’s good to see land with contours again, and we savour the lush grass. Through it all, the CX-8 gobbles up the road effortlessly. On even the bleakest and most broken road surface the ride quality is superlative, and I’m starting to wish I could keep it. Even Enzo asks whether we can buy it.
Our car did, however, require something of a deep clean when we handed it back – almost four hours of work for the detailers, apparently. The bugs were not just baked onto the paint but inside every grille and vent. And there was a strange smell of dead animal to get rid of…
As for Enzo and me, we both met new people who we already thought we knew well. Over the four days of close confines, I never once yelled at him, and even more incredibly, he was never once irritating.
This is not the way things are at home, not even close. We really have to travel together more, just the two of us.