Destination: Coonabarabran

As promised earlier, this is the first in a multi-part series on Coonabarabran, where I had an amazing experience on rural placement for Community Rotation in the Sydney Medical Program. So without further ado, my first post about my time in that wonderful little town the locals call “Coona”… how on earth I managed to get there!

The New South Wales Geographical Names Board database (circa September 2009) entry for Coonabarabran includes the following comment:

“A town of on the Castlereagh River and in the Warrumbungle Mountains. It is 465 km from Sydney having good road, rail and air facilities.”

Whilst the comments regarding transportation may have been true some 20 years ago, alas this is no longer quite accurate. Commercial flights no longer operate to Coonabarabran Airport and the railway service ceased in 1990 (replaced by a CountryLink coach service from Lithgow). There is a good road connection, however, with national highway A39 (Newell Highway, the main Melbourne–Brisbane route) running through town. It was clear that the best option for me was to drive to Coona.

Former Coonabarabran Railway Station
Waiting for the train that never comes… Former Coonabarabran Railway Station

Getting there from Sydney, however, is somewhat indirect. There is no way to drive to Coona on A-roads without lengthy detours via Bathurst/Dubbo or Maitland/Gunnedah. The only reasonably direct routes involve travelling mostly on B-roads and minor roads – the two main routes used by Coona locals are via Mudgee or the Hunter Valley, which I’ve outlined below. Travelling time is around 6–6.5 hours by either route (depending on traffic/breaks).

N.B. The information below is provided as a general guide only and driver discretion is advised – both routes involve driving on minor roads of variable quality.

Sydney to Coonabarabran via Mudgee

West on M4 Western Motorway and continue on A32 Great Western Highway via Blue Mountains, exit onto B55 Castlereagh Highway and continue north-west via Mudgee and Gulgong, west on B55/B84 Golden Highway via Dunedoo, north-west on B55 Castlereagh Highway via Mendooran, north on Mendooran Road* via Mollyan, north on A39/B56 Newell Highway into Coonabarabran.

M4 Western Motorway
Heading west on M4 Western Motorway, near Penrith NSW

Sydney to Coonabarabran via the Hunter Valley

North on M1 Pacific Motorway, exit onto B82 Freemans Drive and continue north-west on B82 via Cessnock and Pokolbin, west on Broke Road, north on Wollombi St, north-west on Charlton Road, briefly east on Singleton Road, north-west on Wallaby Scrub Road, north-west on B84 Golden Highway via Denman and Merriwa, north on Vinegaroy Road and continue on Cassilis Road via Coolah, north on Black Stump Way, north-west on Warrumbungles Way via Binnaway, north on A39/B56 Newell Highway into Coonabarabran.

B84 Golden Highway, Merriwa
B84 Golden Highway directional signs, Merriwa NSW

TomTom ONE 140

The TomTom ONE 140 IQ Routes edition is the latest entry-level portable car GPS navigation unit from leading manufacturer TomTom. I’ve never owned a GPS navigation unit before but, having seen some of my friends’ GPS navigators in action, recently decided to take the plunge with the TomTom ONE 140 (using some of my K-Rudd stimulus money). Here are some of my thoughts…

TomTom ONE 140
TomTom ONE 140 (’Australia Ubd’ map colours)

Firstly, TomTom’s patented EasyPort mount is fantastic! The suction cup attaches securely to the windscreen with a 30° twist of the knob (and releases with the corresponding anticlockwise twist). The TomTom ONE then clips into the adjustable ring – simple! It’s quite a light and compact unit (especially when detached from the EasyPort mount) and I carry mine around in a Crumpler Thirsty Al (large) pouch.

The user interface on the device itself is user-friendly and intuitive. It’s displayed on an excellent 8.5 cm LCD touchscreen which offers a wide viewing angle and decent visibility in sunlight. Surprisingly, readability is unaffected by polarising sunglasses – I haven’t come across an LCD display with this property before.

Text-to-speech (TTS) is standard on the Australian model and in most other regions (it’s optional in North America, where the TTS model is designated ‘ONE 140•S’. Whilst undoubtedly useful (when roads are clearly signposted), the voice synthesiser struggles with uncommon and non-English names… although curiously, it pronounces ‘Parramatta’ quite well. It should be noted that TTS only works for ‘computer’ voices, of which there are only four English-speaking choices (female UK, male UK, female US, male US). I also recommend disabling ‘read aloud road numbers’, since the UK-oriented TTS will irritatingly spell out State Routes and Metroads, for example ‘S-T-A-T-E route thirty-one’ and ‘M-E-T-R-O-A-D four’ – disabling this feature results in the TTS announcing the actual road name or road sign instead.

I’ve been using it a fair bit over the past few weeks (covering a range of trips mainly in/between the city, inner west, and north west). The Australia map uses Whereis map data from Sensis, which has proven to be reliable so far. It generally does quite a reasonable job of plotting routes, although it does occasionally suggest impractical turns (e.g. unsignalled right turns onto a major arterial). The algorithm also tends to prefer major roads, in spite of the IQ Routes feature which is designed to calculate the fastest routes based on collated user data. Probably the best way to summarise this is that it might not necessarily get you somewhere the best possible way, but it does get you there.

GPS positioning is usually accurate to within 5–20 metres and the unit can acquire an accurate GPS position within 5–10 seconds when QuickGPSfix is up-to-date (signal acquisition can take over 30 seconds otherwise). Like other GPS navigation units, however, navigation can be patchy in certain situations: areas where tall buildings block line-of-sight reception from GPS satellites (e.g. Sydney CBD), on densely arranged and/or vertically stacked carriageways (e.g. Western Distributor Freeway), and where carriageways change direction during the morning/afternoon peak (e.g. Waringah Freeway).

USB connectivity allows the TomTom ONE to be managed using the TomTom HOME software package, including updates (Map Share, QuickGPSfix, etc), downloads, backups, etc. In addition to the Windows version, TomTom HOME is available as a universal binary for Mac OS X.

Overall, I find the TomTom ONE 140 IQ Routes edition to be a well-designed, user friendly, feature-rich entry level GPS navigation unit.