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Newcastle and Port Stephens Road Trip with a Renault Clio GT

In 1888 Australia was celebrating its first centenary, the National Geographic Society was founded, Sherlock Holmes was undertaking a number of adventures and Jack the Ripper was taking lives in London. It’s also the year the first road trip was taken.

This is the sort of trivia I discover when questions like “I wonder how long people have been going on road trips for?” pop into my mind.

It turns out that the first road trip was taken by a woman who took off in her husband’s invention without telling him where she was going.

In August 1888 Bertha Benz, wife of Karl Benz whose name can still be seen on many a modern vehicle, decided she was going to give her husband’s invention a little publicity by hitting the road.

She took her two teenage sons and drove from 106 kilometres from Mannheim to Pforzheim in Germany in the third experimental Benz car, which could reach speeds of 16km per hour.

Today there is a scenic drive called the Bertha Benz Memorial Route to commemorate this first road trip, and it’s one I now want to drive.

But this story is about a drive closer to my home, and how dramatically that simple road trip has changed within one generation.

I recently caught up with my parents in Newcastle and joined them in a drive to Port Stephens.

My father was driving the motor home and my mother and I were driving in a Renault Clio GT that I was borrowing for a little while.

People who go to Port Stephens will know it’s quite an easy drive from Sydney these days, and a very easy drive from Newcastle, but I was interested to hear my mother talk about how much things have changed since she was a girl.

She explained that back in the ‘50s when she was a young girl her father used to take the family to Port Stephens to visit their great uncle Charlie who used to live at Salamander Bay.

Back then the road that we were driving over was just a sandy dirt track, with stretches of corduroy (basically timber laced with wire), to help people over the boggiest areas.

What was taking us an easy hour was a big day out when she was a child, but it sure sounded like it was worth it when she talked about how much fun it was getting there, and then chasing thousands of little soldier crabs on the beach.

Of course it’s not just the roads that have changed. As I drove back to Sydney I thought about how some of the things cars do today might seem like science fiction if you showed them to someone in the fifties. Or to the original road tripper, Bertha.

As I drove along the freeway it started to sprinkle, and just as I was thinking through the fact that I was in a French car and remembering which side was for wipers and which one was for the blinkers the wipers came on automatically.

Now this isn’t even new technology, but I’m still impressed by it and then started to wonder how it worked. Was there a sensor on the glass or the wipers themselves? How did it know when it was time to kick it up a gear and time to stop?

By the time I got home I had to know, and for other curious cats out there this is how it works….

Renault use infrared sensors for their automatic wipers, and have transmitter and receiver diodes mounted on the windscreen.

So there are infrared beams going out and if there’s water on the windscreen, the receiver diodes will only pick up partial beams and it springs to life. It knows when to go faster or stop because the sensor is taking readings every 2.5 milliseconds (otherwise known as much faster than I could remember which side my wipers were on).

While the automatic wipers are one thing I did use, the Clio GT has a whole lot of other tricks up its sleeve.

For example it can also record lap times, G-forces, acceleration and analyze your driving, and then save the information on a USB stick for you for later.

Personally I didn’t go for any lap times anywhere, nor did I even put it into sports mode, as it felt zippy enough for me in normal automatic.

I also realized how out of auto touch I was when I excitedly took my Freemasons Shakedown 3 CD with me to collect the car and then realized there was no where to put it in. Fortunately I soon had my phone talking to the car so I could play my music and sing along badly that way, but I did have to laugh at how quickly things change.

Bertha would understand.

Amanda Woods would like to thank Renault Australia for allowing her to borrow the Renault Clio GT. As usual all thoughts and opinions remain her own.

Looking for a hire car deal for your road trip? You can compare the different car companies through Wotif’s car hire portal.

Love a good road trip? Here are seven great Australian road trips to check out, as well as a fun music themed one through America’s deep south. 

If you’re heading on a road trip you may want to find out how to keep your personal mobile phone data safe in a rental car and a handy tip for telling what side of your car your fuel tank is on or check out my piece on doing a road trip to some of the deep south’s best music spots.

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