55. Australian Road Trip: End of the Road or the Beginning of a New Adventure...
Where we went
For me, all journeys begin and end in Sydney
Urbane capital of Victoria - my life in Europe has given me a new appreciation of this great southern city.
Australia's second oldest city is a gem with a dark mysterious heart.
Although we didn't visit Brissie, it is the hub of a vast sub-tropical playground that is the epitome of the modern Aussie Lifestyle
Cairns is the centre of the universe for the tropical far north. Sugar cane, coral reefs and rainforests only a stone's throw from the outback.
The Top End, the Never Never, the fabulous Northern Territory, crocs and kangaroos - and Darwin - a modern, multi-cultural metropolis.
The pearl of the Indian Ocean - there is no place like Broome - ocean and desert surround this quaint, isolated town of tin.
Capital of the underpopulated boom state of WA. Enviable lifestyle and gateway to the magical west coast.
City of culture and festivals, fine wine and ordered Victorian cityscapes, surrounded by the massive emptiness that is Australia.
We have completed The Lap around Australia, one of the world’s great journeys; the ultimate road trip. We drove approximately 21,500 kilometres using three different vehicles. That’s an awful lot of petrol which cost us anywhere from 70 cents a litre to $1.92. We broke down more times than I care to think about – well, seven to be precise. We crossed every imaginable Australian landscape – rugged coastal ranges, rainforest, bushland, wheat plains, wet tropics, savannah, salt flats, desert, spinifex plains, mulga scrub, treeless plains and cityscapes. We visited pretty well every major Australian town and city except for Brisbane and Alice Springs. We swam in three oceans – the Pacific, the Indian and the Great Southern.
Travel over water
All the Animals
Speaking of sharks, we never saw a shark in the wild. We did however, see Southern Right Whales, giant sea turtles, sea lions, stingrays, dolphins, seals, jellyfish, blue bottles, countless bloody fish of every size, shape and colour, and crocodiles. We saw snakes, goannas, monitors, blue tongue lizards, gekkos and a host of other reptiles.
We encountered what we jokingly referred to as the Big Six – that is, iconic, must-see Aussie creatures – Kangaroos, koalas, emus, platypus, wombat and - the sixth animal-icon, open to debate - a Tasmanian Devil is the one we decide on. Then there were the wallabies and variations thereof, echidnas, bandicoots, assorted other marsupials, frogs, cane toads and the fantastic cassowary.
Natives are friendly
Things that fly, creep and crawl
Without getting into a flap about birds, we saw them all. Kookaburras, cockatoos, carrellas, galahs, budgerigars, lyre birds, brolgas, jabirus, wedgetail eagles, magpies, pelicans and only God knows how many other species. In terms of quantity of wildlife observed, insects are the overwhelming winners – Ants, termites, bush flies (the infernal bush flies); spiders, beetles, jumping jacks and dragon flies – in the tropics the insect life is primordial, the air seethes with life. Did I mention mosquitos?
In 21,500 kilometres we only collided with three birds, and as far as I know, ran over one snake. We possibly squished a few cane toads but I tried my best to avoid running over anything; the last thing we wanted was for the tyre to flick a angry and deadly poisonous brown snake up into the undercarriage of the van. We did however, unavoidably kill or main several thousand locusts while crossing the Barkley Tablelands.
The land of extreme weather
Take the weather with you
Australia is a land of weather extremes and we pretty well copped the lot. We were mesmerised by lightning storms, and deafened by thunder during a flash flood in the high alpine region of Kosciosko; we watched the pounds drop off us in 90% humidity on Christmas Eve and we were baked alive during a 45°C New Year’s Day in Sydney. We weathered a four day monsoon in Cooktown and survived Category Five Cyclone Larry. We watch a remote outback town fill with water and we sat shivering in a tent as the temperature dropped to near zero on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert. We were however, fortunate NOT to encounter a single bushfire except for a bit of back burning near Kalbarri WA.
Home is where the heart is
In terms of accommodation, in Sydney we were blessed to stay in Uncle Ray’s sixties-style beach house in the trendy Northern Beaches suburb of Avalon, with the occasional sojourn to my Brother's rustic cottage on Dangar Island. On the road we first lived out of a Toyota Hiace pop-top camper, then in the crusty but comfortable accommodation that was the ill-fated Winnie the Winnebago. Our last couple of months on the road were mostly spent in a medium-sized dome tent with annex and a home-made living space created out of tarpaulins. We stayed in hostels in Hobart and Adelaide and Port Hedland; a designer hotel in Melbourne, an apartment in Fremantle/Perth and Geoff’s bungalow in Cairns. When it was too cold, too hot, too wet, or we were feeling like a treat we stayed in cabins, static caravans and as a last resort, in Dongas.
Three fantastic novels, set in WA, by Tim Winton
All the people under the southern sun
We met hundreds of people on our journey. Most were good people. We were never threatened, though occasionally we could sense the agro and feel the feral nature of the inhabitants of certain wild places. We learned to spot the various types of travellers that inhabit the Australian continent and had great fun categorising and noting them. The Grey Nomads, Young Aussie Nomads, the Brit and Apollo Rental Van Travellers, the Wicked Campers, the Pig Hunters, the Barramundi Expeditions, the Extended Family Campers, the Greyhounders, the Vietnam Vets and of course the Surfers - just some of the many people always on the move around this great landmass. Everyone, everywhere, was for the most part extraordinarily friendly. On the West Coast they were arguably the friendliest. In some cases, Frog and Sir Aaron in particular, they were down right generous beyond the call of duty.
The most and the best
Our lists of milestones and facts could go on and on – how much wine did I drink? How many stubbies of beer? How many flat white coffees did we consume and where were the best flatties? Schooners of beer in pubs? I couldn’t possibly say. Packets of Champion Ruby Tobacco? Who the hell knows, who cares? I have quit smoking since. The best calmari and chips (Circular Quay seafood kiosk), the best fish and chips? Probably the Barramundi we had up in Karumba, or even the rock cod I caught at Port Hedland. Best Surf – without a doubt that day at Byron Bay when 8 foot swells barrelled and tubed off the point at Clarkes Beach. Best Sunset? Over the Ningaloo Reef at Yardie Creek, W.A.
Crap but comfortable
Some Road Music
An introduction to one of Australia's most outstanding musical exports
A moment to reflect
Now we are back at Uncle Ray’s and the Sydney winter cuts through his weather board and glass beach house like a cold steel blade. We sit in the afternoon sun as it filters through the side window, the feeble gas fire working overtime to warm our feet. It is July and we don’t have to be back in England until the middle of October. We can’t help wondering where we might be if Winnie hadn’t died. I suspect we would be still crossing the Nullabor, out there in the vast expanse of nothingness grinding along with an arm draped over the window and one foot up on the dash, steering with my knees while I roll fags, Steve Earle, Nick Cave or the Roadtrippers pumping out of the stereo. At night we would pull up somewhere safe and relax in the relative comfort of the small Winnebago. We would have braved the cold in Winnie, that was why we bought such a beast in the first place.
Alas, that scenario was not to be. We chose the wrong transport, we underestimated the continent and we paid the price. We also had twice the adventure that we may have experienced if we had chosen a normal vehicle. The slowness of Winnie meant that every mile we travelled was an aceivement in itself; each time the odometer ticked over another mile, I secretly thanked God.
Maybe next time
From the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere
True wilderness on the Indian Ocean - would love to go here one day.
One of those perfect desert destinations, which we missed this time around.
It's only small but the people of Perth love it.
This region looks grand from a distance - maybe one day
How could I forget to mention Uluru (Formerly Ayers Rock).
Would we do it again?
Yes. Would we do it differently? YES! YES! YES! For starters, I reckon we would travel clockwise this time, checking out South Australia properly and finish off exploring the South West Corner of Western Australia, and check out Rottnest Island; oh, and we would do that part of the country in the summer, when it is hot. We would take much care when buying a vehicle. I think we would try and get a Mitsubishi L300 type of van, the type that Camel tried to sell us in Exmouth. It’s a transit van but a four wheel drive version. We would fit it out with a bed and cooking stuff and fridge and would rig up a great tarpauline area off the back. If we were just stopping for the night, passing through, we would sleep in the back of the van. If we were going to stay in a place for longer we would also have a fantastic, insect proof tent, with the best air mattress money can buy to sleep on. We would go to all the out of the way places that Winnie couldn’t takes us – Onslow, Karijini, Mt Augusta, Cape Leveque, Cape La Grand, Gekkie Gorge, The Gibb River Road, even Wolf Creek if we could. I would get a fishing rod from the beginning and I would make sure I had a wetsuit and a surfboard. We would drive north with the winter migration and spend time in the tropics without the 80% humidity and the 100% stupidity that comes with it. We would take it easy too. We would drive between destinations at a reasonable speed, not a snail’s pace, and then we would have more time to enjoy the destination. With Winnie, getting there was half the adventure.
All in one guides
Asian guides in detail
So what's next?
So our massive tour of Australia is over. Normally I would not expect anything else from such a holiday. It was the clichéd “trip of a lifetime” and now we have nothing but time to kill and ends to tie up. Back when we were in Perth, I think it was, we had to book our return flight to the UK. What we have is a 12 month open ticket with an unspecified stopover in Bangkok. A couple of nights after arriving back in Avalon, Sheila digs out a book from our suitcase. We set it on the table and stare at it before opening it. We need to read this tome because it is going to help make the rest of our year off even more fantastic than it has already been.
“The Rough Guide to South East Asia” is the book’s title. That is where we are headed. We have two months left, and our plane flies out of Sydney on the 4th August. We are booked to then fly out of Bangkok on the 17th of September – that’s almost seven weeks to spend in whatever way we like. I find I can’t read the book for longer than a couple of minutes. The memory of our Lap is still too strong in my head to contemplate an entirely new and totally different adventure in a totally new and foreign country. I have been to Thailand before, 1985 to be exact. I loved it then, I know I’ll love it now, and who knows where else we may go.
First we must attend to business. The list reads like this:
1.Sell the Mitsubishi
2.Pack and ship some of our stuff back to the UK
3.Get our shots and inoculations for South East Asia
4.Dispose of our camping gear and stuff that we don’t need or want
5.Visit my small coterie of old friends –Victor, Lee and Paul
6.Spend some quality time with the family
We are once again unstoppable. We keep the car as long as we can so we can get around easily. I even buy a buskers licence and spend a few days making a few bob at Circular Quay. Mainly we begin making preparations for the final leg of the gap year. Through the Rough Guide we find a fusty old Jewish doctor in Bondi Junction who turns us into pin cushions over the next few days. We get protected against cholera, typoid, hepatitis, malaria and flu. We find a cheap shipping company and send our big suitcases and the surfboard back to England . Uncle Ray gets to keep the camping gear.
I make a solo trip back down to Bundeena to spend a night of drunkenness with my old mate Victor (RIP October 2010). We meet Lee in the city for a last lunch. Paul comes over to Avalon and takes us out for a feed at the Ibiza Café. We spend a couple of nights on Dangar with Adam and Tigga. Uncle Ray and I drink slab after slab of Carlton Draft and three days before we are scheduled to fly we leave Avalon once again, this time for good. We stay with my Brother Pete and Adrianna in their house near the airport and on the appointed day a taxi takes us and our still considerable baggage out to Kingsford Smith International Terminal. We check in and sit in the departure lounge where we can look across the tarmac to the sight of Sydney looming above the taxiing aircraft like some science fiction movie set. Our flight is called and we follow the corridors and tunnels that take us into the body of the 747. It is a cloudy and cool winter’s afternoon in Sydney and we are about to leave it and this huge land behind us. Ahead of us is another great adventure – Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia – we don’t know what fate has is in store for us as we taxi down the runway and tear off into the wild blue yonder, our hearts in our mouth and the future at our feet.
Salty Mick’s Around Australia Road trip ©2006
We survived our time in South East Asia without incident, a remarkable feat for us considering our track record. We travelled through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia before topping off our gap year with two weeks on Koh Pha ngan in the Gulf of Thailand. Then we returned to Norwich and a life that has been anything but normal ever since. The Asia trip inspired us and showed us that anything is possible and for the next five years we planned and prepared for an even bigger road trip - an overland journey from England to Sydney by train, bus and boat. Once you get the travel bug you are hooked for life. Bon voyage.
More by this Author
Driving a car, campervan or motorhome around Australia is one of the world's great, "do-able" road trips. It is the best way to explore and experience everything that this vast island continent has to offer....
Despite first impressions, we grow to love Port Hedland, discovering the wonderful humanity of its people as well as meeting all kinds of fellow travellers. It is the defining moment of our journey.
The Vietnam War was indelibly etched on a 10 year old boy's memory. 40 years and two visits later, the world's first media war is finally put it into perspective.