From Shellharbour to Cairns in a Kona Electric – The Driven

Off on a 5,000 km road tour, in our new electric car, testing out the Australian charging infrastructure and our ability to tow our trusty kayak.

We set off from Oak Flats with great expectations but with a few butterflies. Our plans to drive an EV and trailer to Cairns looked perfectly feasible on paper, but will it work in practice?

We had planned to stop at a number of places along the way, as we generally do for long trips, spending 2-3 nights at a time to learn and enjoy a little from each location. Several of the hops though will be a bit further than the Kona’s range. And we are towing, so how much exactly will that affect the range?

Fortunately, there are fast chargers now dotted at reasonable distances along the 2,600km up the coast to Cairns, thanks to the NRMA in NSW and to the Queensland Government and Electric Highway further north. And all of these are free to use!

Of course, not driving a Tesla, we couldn’t make use of their great network, or the options would have been even better. Remarkably, a missing link – the NRMA charger at Grafton – had only been commissioned a few weeks earlier.

Each of the places we are staying have also willingly agreed it’s ok to plug in while we’re there. We, of course, have offered to pay for their electricity – works out at around $20 for a full charge from empty.

We’d tested towing with the Kona a few times before the journey but only for short trips and not at highway speed, so our range was a little uncertain. My estimate was that it would bring the range down to around 350km, still quite reasonable, but unproven.

The first leg of our journey took us to Port Stephens – around 300km, with a couple of fast charging options along the way just in case.

We stopped for lunch at our favourite rest area just the other side of Sydney, next to the Hawkesbury River (shame they dont have a charging option there :), then headed to the new NRMA fast charger at Wallsend near Newcastle to test it out and learn the ropes.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

The Wallsend charger was fairly easy to find with the GPS, but was quite a long way off the highway. It was in a quiet cul-de-sac of the carpark. That made it relatively easy to take the trailer off and park it in an adjacent spot while charging.

Luckily there were few others trying to park there at the time or we might have caused a short blockage. Not a lot of room to manoeuvre around most car parks with a trailer on :).

Just a short walk to the shopping centre (with toilets), though we had to ask someone to help us find it. We were there for around 40 minutes and it topped us up to about 85% full. 30kWh. Thanks, NRMA.

As it turned out we could have made it without the Wallsend stop, but our philosophy is, it’s probably best for the nerves not to arrive at a strange destination with a nearly empty tank if you can avoid it.

We arrived at our ATC hosts at Soldiers Point in good time, with a bottle of wine from Wallsend to share for dinner.

Stats for the day: 301 km, 15.6 kWh/100km (theoretical range 410km). A good result considering the car had averaged 13.1 kWh/100km thus far without the trailer, but note we took the shortest but slower speed route through Sydney, so not all highway speeds.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

We stayed at Soldiers Point, Port Stephens for 3 nights. A wonderful location and great hosts. The weather was a bit wet and though we didn’t take the kayak out, we did get to see many of the sights.

We charged the car overnight on the 1st and 3rd nights to make sure it was 100% full for our next leg. We payed our hosts an extra $15 to more than cover the cost of the 39kWh of electricity we used.

The leg to Coffs Harbour was a little longer at 409 km, with just one fast charging option at Nabiac and a few slower ones beyond.

The 145km to Nabiac was easy but a little hilly and consumption stepped up beyond 20 kWh/100km for this section. We initially missed seeing the charging station on the quiet street just off the highway in Nabiac. The sat nav told us the address was on the right, whereas it was amongst parked cars on the left.

This was the first fast charger we’d come across which was already in use, but we were not at all unhappy when we saw that it was an NRMA car! And a Kona, just like ours.

Turned out to be the very man responsible for putting in the NRMA EV charging network across NSW. He was nearly done anyway and was heading north to commission a new site at Byron Bay. Great to have the opportunity to meet and chat. Had a word in his ear about having room to park with trailers ?

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

It had toilets and a cafe nearby and a handy op-shop across the road.

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We still had 67% ‘in the tank’ before charging at Nabiac and it took only 20 minutes to get to our target 85% which we hoped would safely get us to our destination at Coffs. Surprisingly the charger started at 41kW and dropped to 23kW even before we got to 80%, or it could have been quicker.

Looking for where to stop for lunch, we saw that Macksville (around 200km later) had an AC charger near the shops. Turned out to be a free charge curtesy of the council. Had a great fish and chips feast on the river bank there, while our car got a top up too (albeit limited to 7.2kW). Thanks, Macksville

Two wonderful days (3 nights) at Coffs Harbour followed. Many thanks to our ATC hosts David and Anne. Highlights included whale watching, and kayaking on Boambee Creek, at nearby Sawtell.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Credit: Tom Hunt

The one disappointment for us here was the Kona’s insistence in telling us “Current EV battery charge may not allow you to reach a charging station. Search for a nearby station now and charge the battery”, each time we took off somewhere in the car. Even though we had a 2/3 charge and it said we had over 200km of range.

Its search feature could find nowhere for us to charge despite options existing. This is a failing of Hyundai’s mapping data. We had picked up the recently released mapping update only a few weeks earlier yet the car was still unaware of many of the charging stations now available in Australia.

I have put a request in via the servicing team to see if they can’t do a little better on this front. The car looks like it has all the smarts to direct you to charging places along your route, but just hasn’t got the data to find most of them.

Coffs Harbour to Brisbane needed just one top-up along the way, and Byron Bay was our best option.
We arranged to meet up with two different friends who by chance were in Byron the day we were passing through.

Converging at the councils charging station in the library carpark, the rendezvous proved a bit of an embarrassment. The PlugShare app listed the charging station there as having two plug options – the Japanese Chademo plug and the “Type 1 CCS“. I had thought that the later was a mis-type.

The Type 1 CCS plug at Byron Library Carpark
The Type 1 CCS plug at Byron Library Carpark

I wasn’t aware that the Type 1 plug had a CCS combo option. All of the fast chargers I have come across (few in Australia, but dozens in the UK and Europe) had Chademo and Type 2 CCS.

We had taken the precaution to purchase and carry a type 1 to type 2 plug converter with us, but we didn’t have a type 1 CCS to type 2 CCS converter and so we just couldn’t charge there.

Luckily for us, we had learned from our new acquaintance back at Nabiac that the recently installed NRMA charger at “The Farm” near Byron Bay was now active.

So we were able to head there after morning tea with our friends. The alternative would have been a diversion further north to a charger at the Gold Coast Airport.

We still had 33% charge in the tank, but it was a further 165 km to get to Brisbane so we had to top-up somewhere. We had a good lunch at The Farm and an easy trip despite the traffic further north.

Three nights in Brisbane and another 2 on the Sunshine Coast had us ready for our next long journey, up to Rockhampton. 525km. Now, we are in Queensland the fast charger stations are a little different. In fact I’d have to say they are better than those in NSW, though they only serve the Queensland coast.

Credit: Tom Hunt
Fast charge station just off the highway at Childers, near Bundaberg, Qld

The Queensland government have made it easy for EV owners driving up the coast. Every 150km or so up the highway is a fast charge station. And they have done them pretty well, so far. Not only do most of them have more space to pull up with a trailer, it seems they each have a DC fast charge unit (Type2-CCS and Chademo) as well as a double AC 22kW (Type 2) unit.

The DC fast charger (same as used by the NRMA) can only charge one car at a time, but the 2 additional AC outlets (delivered through Type 2 sockets) allows a second and third car to charge simultaneously, if a little slower. This is a great backup option, not only for the time waiting for someone ahead of you, but very handy should the DC charger break down at any time.

Interestingly it is not very much more in cost to include the AC charging points, compared to the DC ones, so I reckon all the DC fast chargers they put in should have AC too. Certainly our experience in the UK was that DC fast chargers were not that reliable, and often it was network problems, so one-out / all-out. Good to have a backup option.

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Note that for this AC charging for your car, you need to buy and bring your own cable. A Type 2 socket on one end and your cars favourite plug on the other. These are not normally provided with a new car.

The difference between DC and AC charging points.

  • Essentially AC points are just power straight from the grid to your car, the best of these – 22kW – is delivered in 3 phase x 30 amps (that allows up to 9 times more power than you can take from a standard power point). The conversion to DC for your batteries happens using the cars inbuilt charger. So depending on your car’s charger capabilities, you can charge at up to 22 kW.Alas for us, the Kona only has a one phase charger so can only use a third of the power available and is limited to 7.4 kW. In fact not many of the current EVs on the market can charge at the full 22kW. I know you can buy it as an option with the BMW i3. I believe the Teslas and a few others have 3 phase capability but only 15A/phase so are limited to 11kW.
  • DC charging points however have the bulk of the charger outside of the car. The charging point inverts AC into high current DC for you, using thicker wires from the grid and more expensive electrical gear. The car just monitors and controls how much current it can accept, to protect the batteries.

So when you are buying an EV it’s wise to think about not only the maximum DC fast charge rate it has, but also the inbuilt AC charging options (that of course you can also use at home).

charging rates

Strange that while the Kona is rated to charge from DC at up to 70 kW, and the NRMA and ChargeFox chargers are rated at 50 kW, I have only seen as much as 48 kW on one occasion. Generally the charge is a little lower (according to the display in the car). Maybe the battery needs to be empty or cold to get the maximum charge rate.

I gather that the Queensland Government sponsored fast chargers have been installed and managed by ChargeFox, on land allocated and set up by local councils. They are still provided free of charge.

Initially, I am told, you just needed to press the start button for a charge, just like the NRMA ones we have seen currently do.

At some stage they will all become user-pays no doubt and ChargeFox are getting ready for that I guess. To use the Queensland chargers now, you need to download the ChargeFox app and register with your personal data and credit card details. This was what we expected. Very like the setups in the UK. The nice thing here in Queensland
was, when you finished your charge, the app told you how much power you had used, and that it was FREE !

Credit: Tom Hunt

Both chargers we used on the trip to Rockhampton worked perfectly, similarly for the two we used a few days later on the way from Rockhampton to Cape Hillsborough (near Mackay).

The big plus here. We haven’t had to remove the trailer from the car to charge at any of these later places – yea ?

Credit: Tom Hunt

Having seen his radical EVs a few times in the PlugShare posts for the stations we were visiting, it was wonderful to run into the man himself at Carmila.

Trev Richards is a renewable energy man, and a builder of EVs. He converted his Toyota HiLux to BEV several years ago, has helped others with similar projects and has built his own design of EV – the T-ReV.

Charging at Carmila we met EV builder Trev Richards

He has been working to gain road ready certification for it before manufacturing more of this fun 3 wheel EV. Lightweight yet with 30kWh of battery power, it has a good long range. Find out more of Trev’s story at The Back Shed.

The T-Rev Prototype
The T-Rev Prototype. Credit: Tom Hunt

Trev was charging both of his vehicles when we arrived, simultaneously from the AC charging ports. He has a 3 phase charger built into the T-ReV and another mounted on the back of the HiLux.

This meant we didnt have to wait to plug in our Kona to the DC charger, since it operates independently. Possibly a rare sight for now – all three possible charging ports in operation at the same time.

Nearly every place we stop for a charge, someone comes up to have a chat about the charger and our car. Most locals reckon it’s the first time they have seen the station used, though we know that’s not true, since there are records of other visits recorded and photographed on PlugShare for all the sites we visited.

Clearly the stations are still very quiet though. Carmila has been the only charging station we’ve visited in Queensland where we’ve run into someone else using it.

Thank goodness for the AC charging ports at Bowen
Thank goodness for the AC charging ports at Bowen

Cape Hillsborough to Townsville involved just one charging stop, at Bowen. This was to be our first real DC disappointment, but it proved the worth of the AC charging points and the type 2 cable we had brought along.

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The DC charger was not operating. This was evident from the Chargefox app and had we checked it we would have known before we got there.

Instead of the anticipated 45 minute stop, we needed nearly 3 hours to charge at our maximum AC rate of 7.4kW to give us enough to comfortably make it to Big 4, 20km the other side of Townsville.

We did have the option of stopping at the fast charger in Townsville (which appeared on the ChargeFox app to be operating) if we cut this final run too tight, but we chose to stay a little longer at Bowen and just use Townsville as a backup should we have miscalculated.

Of the numerous people who fronted up to ask about the EV and charging at the Bowen charging station, one was from Ergon Energy, proud that his company was providing the power. He was very concerned that the DC charger wasn’t working and called some people to look into it for us.

Whether it was him, my posting on Plugshare, or the phone call I made to Chargefox, we did get the charger fixed. Rob from Chargefox sent me an email a few days later saying Tritium had replaced the DC charger and it was now operational.

The technical people at Hyundai had warned us that when towing we may find the Kona not able to give accurate range forecasts. So I have been manually calculating our range based on the average efficiency when towing instead of relying on the gauge on the dash.

However, I found that the car seemed pretty good at adjusting the range automatically based on the most recent journey, though it could sometimes change its mind a little. As long as we were also towing in the previous journey or two, the Kona seemed to give a reasonable estimate of range.

For instance – we charged the battery to 86% at Bowen in order to have 86% x 64kWh / 19(kWh/100km) x100 = 290km range to have ample for the 220km journey ahead. When we took off, I noted the car said we had 305km range.

At different times along the way I mentally tallied the range and km traveled and found that as the kms added to the trip, the range shown balanced it. So when we arrived at our destination it showed we had driven 221 km and had 83km still in the tank.

However, when I plugged it in to charge later that evening (on the 15A power point Big 4 kindly let us use) it then showed we had 13% charge and a range of just 44km. I had done a little manoeuvring of the car and trailer in the campsite, but that didn’t seem to account for the loss of 39km range.

So the moral of the story – probably best to always allow a little leeway in your calcs and also when you are using the car’s estimated range. But then who ever knowingly ran their petrol tank down to the empty level just to see if the fuel tank really did have the promised range.

We were keen to meet up with our Cairns friends so only stayed the one night at the Townsville Big 4. We had ample charge in the morning to make it to the next fast charger at Tully.

The charging station at Tully - last one before Cairns
The charging station at Tully – last one before Cairns

It took us a little while to find the Tully charging station. Only the street name was given in the address. They did have some reasonable signs on the road to help, but it wasn’t obvious where to turn into the carpark and we took a wrong turn, which can be a nuisance in narrow streets when you are towing ?

The DC fast charger worked flawlessly while we had a little lunch on the nearby park benches. Met a very interesting local newspaper journalist who was walking by. He showed a great interest not only in the car but also in our concerns regarding the climate crisis and politics.

Just another hour and a half on the road after Tully and we were with our friends in Cairns, ready for stage 2 of our holiday. All too easy.

Some stats from our journey to Cairns (remembering we weren’t trying to break any records here, just aiming to have a nice holiday) :

  • Total distance: 2,927km towing (plus 601 km side trips without towing)
  • 7 Stopovers : Port Stephens, Coffs Harbour, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Rockhampton, Cape Hillsborourgh, Townsville
  • Longest drive in one day: 525km
  • 10 Fast charge stations used : Wallsend, Nabiac, Byron Bay, Maryborough, Childers, Miriamvale, Marlborough, Carmila, Bowen (faulty at time), Tully
  • Needed backup type2-type2 cable: Once at Bowen
  • Average kWh/100km towing 18.0, non-towing 13.2
  • Theoretical range for car while towing: 355km, when not towing 484km
  • Emptiest battery level during trip : 13% (44km)

Of course, we have to get home yet.

This blog post was originally published at My Changing Climate.



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