As a Canadian kid stewing away in the car’s backseat during a province-long family drive, I was resigned to staring out the half-rolled-down child-proof window, counting the lines on the road and maybe sneaking my arm outside to wave it up and down in the 100km/hr airstream. Bored of kicking the back of my mom's front passenger's seat, I could not wait until the car slowed down for a scheduled stopover at The Big Apple, The Big Canada Goose or The Big Nickel.
One of my most vivid memories of these sprawling family drives through Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada are the stops we would make at Big Roadside Attractions, larger-than-life constructions of food, animals, inanimate and sometimes intergalactic objects. These strategically placed rest and food stops, and their accompanying colossal attractions, are a light-hearted testament to a region's most celebrated attribute, and they highlight a community that motorists might otherwise miss whilst getting from ‘A to B’.
If your kids have thumped one too many times on the back of your seat, it’s time to pull over at one of my favourite pit stops featuring kitschy mammoth-level manifestations. I have visited the North American sights, and the others are recommended for their awesome cheesyness and prime locations.
The Big Apple, Colbourne, Ontario, Canada
Driving along Highway 401 between Toronto and Montréal, no trip is complete without a visit to The Big Apple; also home to the Pie Factory Bakery, mini-golf course, train rides, and a llama Petting Zoo. The Pie Factory Bakery serves up 15 varieties of pie and, to date, has baked 3.5 million pies, including 1.27 million ‘Mumble Crumble’, which recently surpassed in popularity the ‘Traditional Apple’ (1.24 million). Adjacent to the bakery is THE Big Apple. Standing three storeys high, this massive piece of produce packs a modestly-curated Apple Museum and a hole in the stem for visitors to worm their way up to take a peek at the surrounding countryside.
The Big Kiwi, Te Puke, North Island, New Zealand
Halfway through your tour of The Bay of Plenty head for Kiwi 360, home to The Big Kiwi. This kiwi orchard-turned-amusement park east of Tauranga off Highway 2 will let you in on everything you needed to know about the furry berry industry. Visitors can take rides through the orchards in Kiwi Karts, and visit the café to enjoy everything from kiwi muffins to kiwifruit wine. Of course, no visit is complete without an ascent to the summit of The Big Kiwi. Learn more at www.kiwi360.com.
The Big Lobster, Kingston Se, Australia
Along the Limestone Coast between Mount Gambier and Adelaide is The Big Lobster. Self-declared ‘the most mouth-wateringly delicious of all Australia’s big things’, The Big Lobster restaurant and themed souvenir shop has been a SE Australia mainstay for over 35 years. Sitting 17 metres high, 15.2 metres long and weighing over 4 tonnes, the actual Big Lobster would cost you slightly above market value, so you're better off opting for a lobster lunch from Larry’s Lobster Menu. Get the lobster low-down at www.thebiglobster.com.au.
The Big Thermometer, Baker, California, USA
If you’re searching for a heated diversion along I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, one hour west of Barstow in Baker, California is The Big Thermometer. Positioned as ‘the Gateway to Death Valley’, it towers over its surroundings at 134 feet (41 metres). The exaggerated height pays tribute to the record high temperature of 134 Fahrenheit (56.6 Celsius) Death Valley experienced in 1913. Best viewed at night, the thermometer is triangular with its surfaces lit on all sides. There is a snack stop at its base, but we would recommend taking your break at Alien Fresh Jerky 1 mile (1.6 km) down the road.
The Big Star Ship Enterprise, Vulcan, Alberta, Canada
In the mid-1990s, the city council of Vulcan, Alberta was determined to boost tourism to the town. The 2000 residents of Vulcan agreed on the ‘Star Ship FX6-1995-A’ that greets visitors as they drive into town, along with a Star Trek-themed Tourist Information Centre. Located 1.5 hours south-east of Calgary, Vulcan has fully embraced its Star Trek namesake and plays host to an annual convention, VulCON: Spock Days/Galaxyfest, attracting hundreds of Trekkies from around the world (www.vulcantourism.com).
Honourable mentions: The Big Pineapple (Nambour, Queensland, Australia), The Big Banana (Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia), The Big Cow (New South Wales, Australia), The Big Merino (Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia), The Big Nickel (Sudbury, Ontario, Canada), The Big Canada Goose (Wawa, Ontario, Canada), The Big Muskie (Hayward, Wisconsin, USA) and The Big Buffalo (Jamestown, North Dakota, USA).
In addition to lonelyplanet.com, Joe Tuck is a regular contributor to Time Out and Travel + Leisure magazines. He also produces and writes for film & television, most recently serving as co-producer on a TV mini-series, filmed on location in Istanbul, Turkey.
Why not recommend your favourite Big Roadside Attraction in the comments section below?