Our Mitsubishi ASX in Manning Lookout, Kangaroo Valley on January 31.
Australian fires have made worldwide news lately and as a Sydneysider myself I have experienced it from within. The wave of support and donations from all over the world has been heart-warming but these take time to reach those in need and the reality on the ground is that communities need immediate help. Overseas perception is that Sydney is burning and its inhabitants need to be airlifted which is far from the truth – there are no large swaths of forest within Sydney – but even within Australia the perception is that fire-affected areas are unsafe war zones devoid of any life – also not true, as the vast majority of affected areas are now safe to travel to. A knock-on effect is the complete absence of tourism in and near burnt areas in the midst of peak holiday season, endangering many businesses on top of the homes lost to the flames. I have decided to support communities affected by the fires through a road trip deep into burnt areas with the Mitsubishi ASX, the #1 small SUV in Australia in 2019 (first annual Top 10 and record 20.806 units). We’ll start from Sydney and head South to pay a visit to the towns highlighted in yellow on the map below, where burnt areas are greyed out. Note there were no active fires at the time of visit and the area was safe to visit.
The Mitsubishi ASX in Royal National Park then in burnt Tullarwalla.
If you too want to pay a visit to support fire-affected communities, we recommend the Empty Esky, Holiday Here This Year and Road Trip For Good websites. A mere 30km (18 mi) out of Sydney, the Royal National Park expands over 151 sq km (58 sq mi) and has thankfully been completely unaffected by fires this Summer. Trail possibilities are endless and I opt for the 4 hour Bundeena loop to Jibbon Head, the Cobblers, the Wedding Cake and Big Marley beach. Sounds paradisiac? That’s because it is, and we are even greeted by a flock of dolphins off the coast midway through the walk. Next stop is Berry, a small town that has done a very good job at advertising on social media that it is open for business. Not to be missed is the lamb and pine-nut sausage roll from Milkwood Bakery, quite possibly the best I have ever tasted. On Day 2 we delve into true burnt area and it hits really hard near Tullarwalla (pictured above). Nearby row after row of blackened trees, disfigured road signs are a stark reminder of the intensity with which the fires raged through the area.
Top: Malua Bay. Above: Low fire danger near Batemans Bay, Australia.
Along our itinerary, multiple “Fire Danger rating today” roadsigns tell us whether it’s safe to travel to the area. Note travel isn’t normally allowed in areas where the danger rating is red or black, meaning extreme or catastrophic, but you must consult these signs upload the Fires Near Me app before planning any trip. On the day of our visit (January 28, 2020), the rating was green, meaning a minimum, low or moderate risk as pictured above. We travel down to Malua Bay, the southernmost location on our trip (see map). The Malua Bay IGA supermarket used its own generators to remain open over New Year’s Eve for the 48 hours the town was cut from the outside world by fires and power outages, in order to provide locals with food and supplies. I make my own little pilgrimage, fill up on groceries and purchase a dozen “Bushfire Appeal” donation cards. Reassuringly, if entire swaths of land around the towns we cross are burnt all the way up to built-up areas, there are almost no damaged houses, a testimony to the outstanding work firefighters and local inhabitants have done to protect homes in the area. It’s a different story a few km further South in Mckenzies Beach where the two houses there are destroyed and in Rosedale Beach where five houses were lost. It’s a pretty confronting sight and I decide to retrace my steps to Batemans Bay.
Batemans Bay is open for business and you won’t get a warmer welcome.
It’s time to actively support the businesses in the area. First is Sam’s Pizzeria whose entire team seems straight out of an Australian surfing club (top picture above). The Bay Breeze Motel made sure comfort was optimal so I could continue publishing articles all through the end of last month (middle picture above). Finally Crumb Café delivered a spectacular breakfast (last two pictures above) and I couldn’t wipe the smile off the entire staff’s faces. A dim realisation that in all the aforementioned businesses it seemed like I was the only tourist, locals making the overwhelming majority of the patronage. As you can verify, all staff in all the businesses I visited is all smiles and if I hadn’t witnessed the widespread devastation nearby I would never have guessed it by just reading their unabashedly positive attitude. People here want to resume life and rebuild as quickly as possible – a typically Australian trait – so much so that I noticed articles in local newspapers advising inhabitants to slow down on the recovery efforts and take the time to grieve first (see below).
Murramang National Park and Durras North.
According to one of my travel bibles the Lonely Planet Australia – a reference you will be familiar with if you have followed my previous test drives and road trips – one of the highlights of the South Coast we are visiting is Murramang National Park, 25 km north of Batemans Bay. But immediately after turning off from the Princes Highway it becomes clear that the entire National Park has burnt to the ground (pictures above), with some access roads still closed a month after the fires due to the danger of falling burnt trees. At the very end of the Park road lies the tiny village of Durras North. Here too it’s heartwarming to realise that all houses in town were able to be saved, and the beach front has remained in its immaculate breathtaking beauty.
The show must go on: bowling next to a burnt area in Lake Conjola.
Our next stop is Lake Conjola, a small town hugged alongside an inland bay shaped like a lake, but whose shores are completely burnt. Here too the fire has completely encircled the town but thanks to the hard work of firefighters it was stopped short of impacting habitations. A dozen kangaroos have taken refuge in town and peacefully graze in the front yards of the local homes. The Lake Conjola Post Office, general store and fish and chips shop is one of the only businesses open in town. Even though we are next door to three large holiday centres I am the only tourist in town, the store’s only clients being local tradies involved in rebuilding efforts. I strike conversation around a tasty chicken burger with the owner of the place, a middle-aged grey-haired man with smiling eyes. “A beautiful little place you live in” I start rather sheepishly… “Oh it used to be yes.” “Looks like you didn’t lose any homes, that’s great to see”. “Yes we were lucky the fire didn’t cross the lake. But up in Conjola Park nearby, 89 houses were lost.” (the fact he knows the exact number is chilling in itself) “Did you get evacuated?” “Oh all tourists were evacuated but we stayed here to defend our homes”. The mind boggles as to what this man experienced just weeks ago, and here he is pleasantly conversing with me, a smile never leaving his face the entire time. He thanks me profusely for helping out in my own way. I really just feel like I’m not doing enough.
Kangaroo Valley wildlife, pristine nature and tantalising breakfast.
One of the largest fires this summer in Australia was located west of Kangaroo Valley, a pristine nature reserve home to… you guessed it, thousands of kangaroos, but also wombats and kookaburras just to name a few. Even though the fire raged in the next valley and never reached Kangaroo Valley, due to its association with the name most tourists cancelled their trips to the region. I stayed at the Kangaroo Vally Golf & Country Resort and only two of the 80 villas available were occupied. I did see a wombat at night which is an extremely rare occurrence, only the second time in my life it happens. Here, it is simply impossible not to see kangaroos, especially at sunset when they move to the few water holes on the golf course to drink. Kangaroo Valley is a heaven of untouched nature thankfully completely unaffected by this year’s fires. I recommend the Manning Lookout, Fitzroy Falls as well as the quaint town of Burrawang and its old-style café. In the town of Kangaroo Valley itself, the General Café is a fresh refuge in an otherwise stifling heat that day. The chef prepared a stunning coconut and mango black rice pudding, which goes best with the age-old scones with jam + cream.
Carrington Falls in Budderoo NP, large touch screen but modest boot.
The last stop on the way back to Sydney from Kangaroo Valley is Carrington Falls in the Budderoo National Park. This part of the country is a mix of green pastures, eucalyptus forests, rainforests and steep cliffs showing off striking waterfalls. The Carrington Falls are 100 m-tall and lost within a dense forest, a very surprising sight and worth the detour. This puts an end to 1.160 km (720 mi) travelled in the South Coast with the Mitsubishi ASX. This vehicle, although the best-seller in its segment and a notable favourite with rental companies (mine was from No Birds Sydney), has regularly been panned by the Australian press. It turns out it wasn’t that bad at all. Although it is a decade-old vehicle, Mitsubishi has been regularly updating the ASX, its latest facelift bringing a completely redesigned, angular front and headlights which to me are a complete game-changer, transforming the car into an actually attractive vehicle. The ASX sits very tall on the road – much taller than the Mazda CX-3 and at similar levels to larger SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4 or Kia Sportage – and its bonnet is almost flat, meaning it expands far ahead of you, making you feel like you are driving a much bigger car (in a good way). As such, there’s a sense of pride when getting out of the vehicle I didn’t feel with the Hyundai i30 or Toyota Corolla for example. The ASX’s main negatives are its sluggishness in steep climbs and dated passenger dash plastics, but it compensates with a now-modern exterior design, large touch screen, reverse camera with guidelines and Apple CarPlay. Pros and cons are below.
- Facelifted fascia makes the car look a lot more rugged and attractive
- High seating position on the road makes you feel like you are driving a car much bigger, can stand up to much larger/expensive SUVs.
- Large and practical new touch screen
- Apple CarPlay
- Reverse camera with guidelines
- Driver’s door storage can accomodate a 1.5L bottle – a big plus in my books, also a large storage between front seats
- Two USB ports
- Real sluggishness in steep climbs, it’s hard to gain speed.
- Dated plastics on the passenger side dash, analog
- I couldn’t for the life of me set up the cruise control which is either because it wasn’t working or because it’s too complicated to set up.
- Average fuel consumption at 9L / 100 km (26 mpg) seems high for such a small vehicle – perhaps explained by a rather heavy weight (1390 kg).
- Relatively small boot