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1. Road Trip Around Australia: In the Beginning there was a Plan.
Terra Australis Incognita
G'day and thanks for joining my partner Sheila (her real name!) and me on our mammoth Aussie road trip. Over the course of this hub I hope to take you on a 25,000 kilometre journey around the world's oldest continent. It won't be an easy drive but it is guaranteed to be exciting, informative, picturesque and at times dangerous. We will encounter spectacular views, extreme weather, crazy characters and exotic local wildlife. As well as visiting many of the iconic Aussie landmarks we will also discover some hidden gems, go off the beaten track and battle against the harsh antipodean environment.
The beauty of this road trip is that anyone can do it if they have the time. These days it is possible to travel around the continent in a regular car (as opposed to a four-wheel drive), because the main highway is tar-sealed all the way around. All you need is a set of wheels, a tent, some money, a sense of adventure and an absolute love of driving - so hop in, buckle-up, and let's hit the road.
We begin our journey in Australia's first city, Sydney, my hometown. My family have lived here for several generations, almost since the first white men arrived from England and Ireland in 1788. Although I have lived overseas for many years, my heart and soul still resides in Sydney and I could spend the entire hub driving you around this great sprawling metropolis of some four million people. Back in the 1980s I worked part-time as a taxi driver, based out of Bondi Beach, so despite the many changes that have taken place over the years, I still have an intimate knowledge of many of the inner city suburbs, the back roads, the pubs, the beaches and the wild hinterlands that surround the place. But this hub isn't about Sydney, it's about the ultimate Aussie Road trip and the first thing we have to do is get ourselves mobile - we have to find a car.
For the long term traveller such as those on a Gap Year, the best thing to do is to buy a vehicle. For someone with more limited time, renting is the obvious option. I must make it clear now - it is impossible to drive around Australia on a three week holiday. It is just too far. However, three weeks travelling in a good, late model camper van or station wagon will get you from Sydney to Cairns or Sydney to Melbourne and back, or to Adelaide, or any number of destinations. So even though this traveller is going all the way, you can still get a good road trip out of a couple of legs of the overall journey.
So you want to rent a vehicle. There are loads of options. Rental vans on the road in Oz are as ubiquitous as kangaroos and kookaburras. The most popular rental companies are the big-names such as Britz and Apollo. These companies hire out anything from a two berth Toyota hiace pop-top camper to six berth-plus winnebagos and everything in between. These are the vans of choice for middle class families or well-off couples on a short break. For the Gap-year student, look no further than the notorious 'Wicked' Campers. They are generally older model vans that have been decorated in colourful and often outrageous graffiti and pithy sayings. You'll see them on the road driven by young people with dredlocks. I'm too old and cynical to hire one myself, but I can see why people do. Their intentional 'funkiness' reflects a devil-may-care, youthful exhuberance and a shedding of the constraints of normal life - a sense of freedom that only life on the road can offer, and no matter what our age - that's what we go on road trips to achieve.
On to the King's Cross Car Market
If you have the luxury of time and a small wodge of earmarked money then you can buy your own vehicle. Prices change, dollars and pounds devalue, petrol prices go up, nothing stays the same, so I wont even try to quote prices to you. Suffice to say that generally, the more you spend, the better the motor, but not necessarily. It's a bit of potluck picking the right used car to fit your budget. For the backpacking traveller, the first port of call to buy a car in Sydney is the Sydney Travellers Car Market in King's Cross. This is located in the bottom level of the underground carpark behind the El Alamein fountain. The vehicles for sale here belong to other travellers who have completed their Aussie road trip and are looking to recoup some money for their car before they fly out - what better way than to sell it on to another, newly arrived traveller. In the darkened depths of this concrete bunker you can wander about looking at all manner of vehicles from 4x4s to the much sought after HIace poptop. The guys that run the market offer a mechanic service to check over a vehicle that you may want to buy, but nevertheless, most of these jalopies have done "The Lap" more than once, so it is Buyer Beware, but that applies anytime you buy an older used car. Often the vehicles come with added extras such as tents, surfboards, bicycles, tables and chairs, tea towls and billy cans. Other places to find these types of vehicles are on the hostel notice boards, though they are often out of date. The Trading Post is a weekly classified magazine with pictures of the cars for sale so it's worth getting a copy if only for price comparison or to see what's available. Likewise, the Sydney Morning Herald is stiff with 'Cars for Sale' ads.
The other option is to trawl the car yards. There are some Used Auto Vendors on William Street in The Cross, or you could find your way out to Parramatta Road - home of the used car lot - fluttering pennants and all. Also try Princes Highway south of the city, past Newtown towards Tempe and beyond. Whatever way you do it, finding, buying and registering a car in preparation for a big road trip is both fun and Stressful!
Camping... caravanning or campervanning - a guide
I wish I would listen to my own advice sometimes!
We've bought a van from the King's Cross car market and I am wondering if it is the right one. It's a white, Toyota Pop-top, early eighties vintage; petrol engine; four speed manual transmission (clutch a little soft); it has been around the block and looks it. The canvas tent part of the pop-top is heavily patched (character) and it requires a glug of fuel additive to run smoothly on unleaded. However, it is well appointed, with a bed for two, a good three way fridge (propane, battery or hook-up), a two burner cooker, a sink and lots of nifty storage space. There is a solid "Roo-Bar" welded to the front and though it isn't fast, the engine feels solid. Anyway, now that we have it we are mobile and free to begin exploring this vast landmass at our leisure.
In the next instalment, we are heading south on the first leg of our epic journey. The plan is to drive down to Melbourne, following the coast road all the way. We would like to explore Tasmania (you can't drive there, you must make a 10 hour crossing of the Bass Strait on a car ferry), drive the spectacular Great Ocean Road in Southern Victoria and return to Sydney via the Snowy Mountains. We want this leg of the trip to be a dry run for our eventual circumnavigation of the continent by road, so we plan to be away for about six weeks, returning to Sydney in time for Christmas with the rellies (relations). Except for this deadline, timing isn't crucial as we have a year to basically do what we want. Lucky us!
- 2 Australian Road Trip: Packing the Van
Our van has been serviced and the exciting task of packing for a long road trip is our next task. Every available nook and cranny in the Toyota is soon to be crammed with essential kit. Clothing, duvets...
- 3 Australia Road Trip: The Old Home Town
The first phase of our Around Australian Road Trip. We head south, stopping first at the place where I grew up - a little jewel of a village called Bundeena - which means 'Noise like Thunder' after the sound of waves that crash on the golden sand.