So I got my first speeding ticket the other day, and the only positive thing that can be drawn from the $190 fine is the fact that I’ve finally come of age. I thought it was rather steep considering I was only going 12kph over the speed limit, but the police here seem to be much more stringent. A few days before, April was going 130kph in a 110kph zone, and that incurred a whopping $500 fine. Luckily, in classic April style, she fled the country four days later!
It’s been just over three weeks since we caught our hideous 2am flight from Bali to Cairns, and during that time I’ve fallen even more in love with this vast and diverse continent. It would be an understatement to say that the past twenty four days have been crazy and limit-testing. I’ve come so far, both figuratively and literally, that it seems totally normal to be writing this at 6.10 am (at least I think that’s the time- we’ve just crossed the SA/WA border and my times are now confused) curled up in a ball in our trippy, multicoloured tent to avoid the encroaching wet that’s already claimed my pillow, my hair and the tail end of my sleeping bag.
We’re miles away from any form of civilization. In fact, the nearest town that’s something more than just a petrol station and a scuzzy motel is either Ceduna, precisely 808km to the east in a different state, or Kalgoorlie, 578km to the west.
It’s hard to appreciate just how huge this place is until you’ve driven the entire length and breadth of the country, cursing the straight Australian roads and downing cups of instant coffee stolen from motels, trying not to gag. I’ve driven an average of five hours a day for the past three weeks, going miles faster than the speed limit until I was scared into submission by my speeding ticket, and I’m still less than a third of the way around the country.
The journey began in Cairns, when, on exactly zero hours sleep, we arrived in a sticky and humid Queensland and called up a guy named Reuben. I’d been toying with the idea of getting a car for a while, and had decided that I would buy one somewhere near Cairns and drive it back to Perth, before I came abruptly to my senses.
I finally realised that there was no way I could buy a car within my budget and drive it the 10,000km down through Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia via Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and all the other major stops, without it dying on me somewhere along the way.
“You’d be out of your mind to try that” my parents warned. “The car would never make it and lose half its value” my friends advised.
Wise words, but I’ve never been one to be cautious.
The idea truly came to fruition when April and I realised that it was going to cost us $700 to rent a car for the week (all the cheapest ones were fully booked or wouldn’t rent to under 21s), plus an extra $200 for one-way rental. My plans after she left in mid January were pretty hazy, but I knew I’d want a car for the three weeks I had between her leaving, and meeting my parents in Thailand. Let me do the maths for you: that’s probably around $3000 to rent a car for a month, a car that wasn’t even mine.
So I spent my last few hours in Asia searching the entirety of gumtree and various backpacker pages until I found a $1000 car for sale. It was certainly a good way to kill the mind-numbingly boring hours at the airport. Once we landed in Cairns, we lurked in the arrivals lounge for a while, charging our phones and buying data (the WiFi in the airport wasn’t even free- damn Australia!) and I agreed to meet Reuben at his hostel.
Still very much in Asia mode, we were loathe to pay the $11 each for a transfer 7km into town. I spyed a friendly looking couple and approached them, wondering if they wanted to split the shuttle fare. They were charming, and without a second’s hesitation, the guy offered to pay the entire $22. Score!
Once at the hostel, we took a look at the car, hoping that we didn’t convey our total ignorance. I hadn’t the faintest clue what to look for or check, but I’d done some last minute research, and directed a few (hopefully) intelligent questions at him. The car was a mess: there was a huge dent in the bumper, peeling paint and rust everywhere, and twisted bits of metal sticking up from where someone had opened the bonnet too enthusiastically. And that was just the outside! On top of all this, the aircon didn’t work, there was an oil leak and the handbrake was faulty- something I discovered while attempting a hill start having not driven a manual since passing my test exactly a year before. I managed to stall and roll backwards, nearly hitting the car behind me in the process. It was a good start!
“Will you do $800?” I asked Reuben.
“Done” he replied. I had my first car! Well, I had my first bashed up chunk of metal which would hopefully last me at least two weeks, by which point I would effectively get my money back on it. And so in what was probably the most foolish and hasty car purchase ever, I handed over eight crisp $100 notes without even getting a mechanic to check out the 2001 Daewoo Nubira- a company I later learned had gone bankrupt because their cars were so shit. Yet another factor in my favour!
In exchange for eight hundred-dollar bills, Reuben handed me a tiny piece of paper which we both signed and then ripped in half. Apparently that piece of paper meant that I was allowed to drive the car on the roads, and it was also somehow proof of insurance were I to hit any other unfortunate vehicle. How a ripped sheet of paper with two signatures could do that baffled me. The paper didn’t even have the car number plate on it! My delirious brain was too tired to care, so I downed some coffee, peeled my eyes open and hit the road.
In a desperate bid to get my money back should the car not make it, April gave me $100 (she was saving $450 by not renting a car) and I hugely over charged a random Italian man when we gave him a lift to Cape Tribulation that afternoon.
Now I have to confess, I had little to no driving experience at that point. I’d failed my test twice, before finally passing it last winter. I don’t think I was even ready for that test though, and the only reason I took it was because I’d forgotten to cancel it! I was also bloody terrified of driving, and the first time I’d driven a car without dual control had been on the road trip from Perth to Exmouth, but that car was automatic and the roads were dead straight and empty. So, it’s safe to say that I wasn’t prepared and it was probably an act of sheer madness.
And so despite being terrified, we hit the road (and luckily didn’t hit anything else) around 4pm, absorbing the stunning scenery- winding roads fringed by palm trees overlooking incredible geology and pristine beaches. Once we reached Port Douglas we came to a ferry, which was the only way to get up to Cape Tribulation.
“Whatever you do, don’t swim in that water” the ferryman warned. We were slightly terrified by this, glancing nervously down at the river as we crossed. However, once we reached the other side we had more important things to worry about: we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of the jungle, on steep winding roads with signs warning of Cassowaries crossing (big ostrich- like birds that attack you). Luckily, we managed to avoid these- although I glimpsed one one in my rear view mirror and they looked terrifying.
We dropped off the guy at his hostel, took his money and discovered we’d run out of gas. In true Kerouac style, we coasted the 14km back to the gas station, rejoicing when we finally reached it in one piece. But our joy soon turned to disappointment when we realised that it was closed. Our only option was to camp right there, which was a less than glamorous way to spend our first night back in Australia.
Somehow, the day got even worse and we were faced with a dilemma: sleep with the windows closed and boil to death, or leave the windows open and get eaten alive. We actually fell prey to both of these things, and I woke up with fifty mosquito bites- I’m not even exaggerating! I got approximately two hours sleep in what was probably the hottest night of my life, and was woken up at 6am by a man asking us if we were okay (as opposed to charging us for camping there- we were no longer in Asia after all!). He recommended a beach just down the road called Cow Bay Beach, which was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. Fringed by signs warning of crocodiles and deadly jellyfish, the beach was totally deserted until the same man turned up, showed us around and instilled a deep fear of crocodiles in us. “Once you see one you’re dead” he reassuringly said, before continuing to tell of the resident croc who lived just down the creek where we were standing. “She’s pretty friendly though”, he added. Oh, that was alright then
We were aiming to reach Sydney by the 17th, so that we could fly to Melbourne and spend a day there before April caught her flight on the 19th. This gave us exactly a week to drive 2,600km- totally doable. We planned a manic schedule which involved getting up at 5am to make the most of the daylight hours, and stopping everywhere along the way. Most people take three weeks for this trip, but the only thing we actually missed out on that was worth seeing was Fraser Island- the world’s largest sand island. The other stops we managed easily: we dived the Great Barrier Reef which lived completely up to expectations, sailed the Whitsundays, dived the HMAS Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast, did a tour of a crocodile farm, hiked in the Blue Mountains, and stopped at Townsville, Airlie Beach, MacKay, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Surfer’s Paradise, Byron Bay, Nimbin, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Sydney.
During this time we free camped (probably illegally) all the way down the coast, on one particular occasion stopping right next to a “No Camping” sign, before moving a few metre away from and planning to feign ignorance should the authorities come by. Poor April got minimal sleep that night, even dreaming that we woke up surrounded by a cage! A few cars did stop next to us which was rather hair-raising, but they turned out to be fellow campers following our lead. None of them had the guts to stick it out though, and left after a few minutes. I was oblivious to all this, for once not succumbing to paranoia and falling into a deep sleep immediately.
Perhaps the most entertaining night of trip was spent in Nimbin. Known as the ‘weed centre of Australia’, we were excited but didn’t quite know what to expect. We parked the car (on the flat as the handbrake doesn’t work!), walked up the street and the first person we came across offered us brownies! As if that wasn’t enough proof that the place lives up to its name, there were also weed symbols on all the buildings, and signs saying ‘legalise weed’ scattered around. There was a “dreadlocks only” bar and tie dye everywhere. The place was great! We wandered into a bookshop (bookshops and op shops are our usual port of call), got given some chocolate, and ambled back to the car, extremely happy.
We went searching for a free camp site, ending up driving 30km down an unsealed road to the middle of nowhere. Too lazy to go back, we camped in the car park of a community centre deep in a forest and had a whale of a time.
An equally strange evening was spent in a tiny town called Jugiong that we only stopped at because we nearly ran out of fuel again (the fuel gauge is very misleading!) We rocked up in torn-up Toastie (the name for the car following our sweltering first night in Cape Tribulation and my weird love for artificial 7 Eleven toasties) and got laughed at by the men in the gas station (hopefully because of the state of the car and not anything else). Craving burgers, we went to the local restaurant and one of the guys came and sat down with us. He turned out to be super interesting- detailing his plans to climb Everest, but best of all, he was a mechanic! He had a look at Toastie, inhaling sharply when he saw the state of her engine…encouraging. Apparently, the oil leak was bad, the belt was wearing through and the filter was nearly clogged, but he still reckoned she would make it. Reassuring words, but I was damn glad that I hadn’t paid for a mechanic when I bought her!
We decided at the last minute to drive another eight hours to Melbourne (we’d already driven around 3,500km; what was another 800km?) We made it the morning of the 19th, cutting it rather fine. But we’d done it- 4,500km in an $800 car, encountering no mechanical problems whatsoever! This was a huge confidence boost for my driving- I’d driven through rainforest, national parks, outback and Sydney at rush hour. The latter was horribly stressful, as we went on a wild goose chase to try and find a service and registry centre so I could transfer the rego into my name. We’d already tried in Port Macquarie, but I needed to have a New South Wales address as the car was registered in that state. The woman advised me to stay in a hostel and then use that address, so we paid for our first nights sleep in a while at a charming hostel in Sydney which felt English and made me nostalgic for home.
The first trouble we encountered was parking at the registry centre. Since the handbrake didn’t work and we needed to park on a hill I had to keep my foot on the brake while April got out of the car and put her hand on it. I then shifted to the passenger seat and put my hand on the brake while she got into the car and transferred her foot to the pedal! What a French farce- and all for nothing, really, as I could have just parked it in gear. I had previously tried that but I’d always left the engine running and the clutch in so the car wouldn’t stall. Since the whole point of the clutch is to disengage the gears from the engine, keeping the clutch down meant that the engine wasn’t engaged and thus couldn’t act as a brake. Stupid of me, really!
Once the palaver was over I went off in search of the registry centre, leaving April with her foot on the brake indefinitely. I entered a fancy skyscraper, sticking out like a sore thumb in my holey trainers and short shorts, having not showered in a week. After finally working out how to use the state-of-the-art lifts, I ascended to the 19th floor, only to discover that they didn’t do rego transferrals there. So it was time to navigate hectic Sydney again, but parking was nowhere to be found. I finally parked around 3km away and ran to the registry centre. The queue was horribly long, and I was already going mad by the time they called out my number and informed me that my proof of address was not sufficient. I, however, could just log into NetBank and change my address on my bank statement- something I could have done to start with and not stayed the night in a hostel! However, in order to change my address I had to verify a code via text message, but to do that I needed my phone…which was somewhere in the depths of the Gulf of Thailand. So I had to ring up the bank and go through a series of painstakingly long security questions on April’s phone, while her battery dwindled from 5% to 4%… I held my breath, and by the time I exhaled the car was officially mine!
I only paid $30 to transfer the rego managing somehow to dodge the stamp duty and tax. I’d also got lucky as the car didn’t have a Road Worthy Certificate (which would have cost an extra $400 or so), and I’m still confused as to how I’m legally driving it on the roads. Having said that, when I got my speeding ticket the policeman eyed up the car and I was convinced he was going to confiscate dear Toastie! Luckily, he only gave me the $190 fine and I won’t question how a car that’s technically not roadworthy can still be driven on the roads. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when my unpaid tolls and speeding ticket catches up with me…
Having made it to Melbourne, it was time to say a tearful goodbye to my travelling buddy of two months. We’d survived the insanity of South East Asia: we managed not to die on motorbikes, met weird and wonderful people, dined with the locals, got food poisoning from magic milkshakes, frequented the cinema far too often, experienced the madness of the full moon party and lived to tell the tale, got addicted to diving and finally endured around seventy hours of nightmare buses and eight flights together.
I then settled in Melbourne for a few days, in what was possibly the worst hostel ever. The reception was in a huge dusty hallway which was under construction. There was a room directly behind surrounded by metal mesh, which enclosed a series of dusty bunk beds- which I seriously hoped I wasn’t going to have to sleep in! The first hurdle was finding the bloody place. I had to navigate back from the airport which was the first time driving by myself (utterly petrifying), but I managed to follow the directions on my new phone that April had literally just managed to get data on before she left. I found parking, and then wandered aimlessly to find the hostel. I finally found a door which said to call the out of hours manager Chloe, which I did and was greeted by a surly, unpleasant voice. She was even worse in person, gruff and unsmiling, and it became a game to be super charming and try and get a smile out of her.
But she wasn’t the only grinch in the hostel- directly below me on the first night was an ancient man, who came into the room every five minutes from 3am to 7am, swearing profusely to himself and rummaging loudly in his extra noisy plastic bags. Its safe to say that the whole dorm got no sleep that night because of him. But it didn’t stop there. In the morning, he proceeded to conduct a conversation that involved all the profanities I’ve heard in my entire life crammed into one five-minute conversation. He also had a full on yelling argument with an old Chinese man, cursed at anyone who did anything slightly wrong and, worst of all, swore at someone who was snoring when he was the one who kept us up every night! What cheek.
I stayed at the horrific hostel longer than I’d stayed anywhere else simply because it was the cheapest in town (I wonder why!) and I couldn’t face going through the nightmare of trying to park again. But checking in each night wasn’t an easy affair: each time they’d inform me that the place was fully booked, before ringing me half an hour later to say that it wasn’t! This happened three times. They also gave me the wrong key twice, and switched me to various different rooms. It was a total shambles of a hostel and the place was a complete mess- there were no working showers upstairs and the only working sink was in the kitchen. But I didn’t mind any of this, I just wanted a good nights sleep, something that was difficult to get with the old man below me.
But I did manage to get a smile out of Chloe by the end, which almost made up for the lack of sleep and awful living conditions. It was so satisfying! Killing with kindness is the best. However, this didn’t mean that she still wasn’t truly awful during the course of my four day stay. One night, at 1am when the old man’s grumblings had finally stopped, I awoke to a rather forceful tap on my shoulder.
“What’s your name?” Chloe barked. She proceeded to wake up the entire dorm in a similar manner, until she came upon the culprit.
“You’re not meant to be in this room. You need to get up”. This was directed at a sweet English guy I’d been talking to earlier. He protested, arguing that it was their fault and she could have waited till the morning and she retorted with a “get out of that bed or I’ll have to drag you”. What a charmer.
Although I was happy to leave the hostel as it somewhat resembled a drug den, I did meet some interesting people: a sculptor from London who inspired me to start writing more and gave me his copy of “Of Mice and Men”, an Irish guy whose accent I absolutely loved, as well as several other English people, a guy from the States and a guy from Colombia.
A sleep deprived nights later, on a very blustery Melbourne morning, I navigated the bustle of the city and picked the girls up. Our possy consisted of Lucy- my old friend from secondary school, her friend Flo, and two random girls I’d found on a backpackers’ group – Natascha and MJ.
The car was jam packed and I couldn’t really see out of the back, but despite the heavy rain we set off in high spirits. Once we’d escaped the mayhem of the city I relaxed and admired the views. The Great Ocean Road was spectacular, and over far too quickly. We stopped at our fair share of scenic lookouts- the famous Twelve Apostles, London Bridge and The Gorge to name a few. Australia’s scenery is so diverse- I’d gone from rainforest and sweeping roads, to ocean views and limestone cliffs. We even managed to discover some vaguely nice looking buildings in Port Fairy- supposedly “Georgian” buildings- which is pretty rare for Australia as none of the architecture dates back before the 18th Century as it’s such a new country. I sound super pretentious but I’ll redeem myself by saying that I really don’t know much about architecture at all, I just have a curious liking for pretty buildings. That’s better- now I just sound simple.
We did the trip to Adelaide in four days, stopping at all the main places along the Great Ocean Road. We spent most of the time singing cheesy songs at the top of our voices, taking horrendous selfies and cramming all five of us into one motel room and watching the Australian Open. It wasn’t nearly as good as watching it live in Melbourne, but it was better than nothing.
The highlights of the trip were searching for penguins on Granite Island as we watched the sun set over the Southern Ocean, and seeing a wild Koala and attempting to take a selfie with it because I’m so twenty-first century now
We arrived in Adelaide on the morning of a very hot Australia day, blaring out One Direction (how embarrassing). Up until then, the trip had thankfully been fairly eventful aside from my speeding ticket. However, I was rather alarmed when after half an hour of driving my brakes started vibrating, causing the whole car to convulse. I was rather worried because I knew I’d have to shell out at least $100 to figure out what was wrong. There are a lot of things that you can get away with going wonky in a car, but the brakes ain’t one. But strangely lucky things keep happening to me. Coincidentally, the first guy I talked to in the hostel knew about cars and offered to take a look. He tested the brakes and they seemed fine, and then his friend offered to drive the car to put it through its paces. What I didn’t realise was that he was steaming drunk! He drove my car around the block a few times and thankfully didn’t crash, before going back to his beers.
Since the car had been tested by both a sober and a drunk person, I was reassured, and went in search of liquor. Lucy collapsed on the way there (either heatstroke or sheer excitement for the alcohol!) which was rather worrying, but it turned out that she had the beginnings of tonsillitis, poor thing. We got some cider and disgusting $2 wine and went back to the hostel. We filled up plastic water bottles with alcohol so we wouldn’t get told off, and sat down to watch the tennis.
Our car friends from earlier invited us into town, and we watched an amazing Australia Day parade, before we went down the road where there was a live band and fireworks. Flo and I were rather too enthusiastic and got up and danced madly, while the others sat there and shot strange looks at us. Not that we cared- we were having a great time! We then went into the men’s bathroom as the queue for the women’s was horrendously long, and managed to accidentally convince several men that they were in the women’s! They all found it totally hilarious.
The rest of the time in Adelaide was spent browsing op shops (my new found obsession), hitting up the beach, going on a dolphin tour and bemusedly observing the antics of the very strange people in the hostel.
There were about four or five guys (I couldn’t really tell them apart), all skinny, slightly balding and always shirtless. They were constantly getting in fights, yelling at each other, getting thrown out of the hostel and somehow finding their way back in again. This was probably because the receptionist was a woman on Skype in the Philippines- very odd and Nineteen Eighty Four esque, and the manager was often drunk. I walked past the computer screen once, head in the clouds, and she yelled out my name. This was rather creepy and made me jump a foot in the air! Anyway, the guys would go to bed in the early hours of the morning, completely wasted of course, and wake up around nine to start drinking again, blaring out whatever shitty tune was playing on the radio. They also had the strangest conversations- I overheard one of the slightly-less-skinny members of their clan declare that he had “slept with a lot of people, but that didn’t mean that they were all women”. It was a case of too much information, or “tmi” as we youngsters say nowadays. They spent most of their time lounging in front of the TV, and I was unfortunate enough to be in the room when they were watching the most disturbing movie ever. I wont go into details, but it’s safe to say I’m scarred for life. The rest of their time was spent getting into drunken brawls, and I came out of my dorm one day to find one of them with a cut oozing blood down his face. I didn’t even ask.
Its fascinating watching people, critically analysing and dissecting their lives. Maybe I should have been an anthropologist (or maybe I’m just a creep). On that note, let’s move on!
We left for Perth three days later after stocking up on provisions, and picked up a random Finnish guy that I’d found on a backpacker page. He seemed nice enough to start with- a bit shy but that was understandable as he was stuck in a car with three girls he’d just met who were singing along to music at the top of their voices. That day we drove to Port Augusta, before realising there was nothing to do there except go to IGA (my new favourite pastime)and go to Matthew Flinder’s lookout- named after the man who gave Australia its name. We headed on until it got dark, stopping off at Kimba and getting a motel room as the next Hurricane Katrina seemed to be raging outside. We huddled inside in the warmth, eyes glued to the TV. Raonic was beating Murray, much to my delight, and he’d just taken the second set when the TV flickered and then went dark. We desperately searched for the channel while the rain hammered against the fragile window like a battering ram. I feared for the welfare of poor Toastie. We’d worried about heatstroke, sunburn and dying of thirst, but flash flooding certainly had not been on the list! I guess that’s the beauty of Australia for you- the juxtaposition of two complete opposites, and countless different landscapes as a result. That day we’d got more of a sense of Australia driving from Port Augusta to Kimba. I’d expected more civilization until we reached WA, but the Roman-esque straight roads towards Kimba were truly Aussie Outback style. We passed ten cars in two hours!
After staying up too late watching the tennis, the start to the following day was rather slow, but we availed of the free breakfast and stole about twenty mini cereal packets. The morning was crisp so we turned up the heating and hit the road. I was soon convinced that there was a problem with Toastie as she kept veering to the side (it wasn’t just my bad driving!) and it was a relief when I realised it was just the wind blowing us off the road- one less problem to worry about. Our first stop was Streaky Bay, a little haven situated on the Southern Ocean and a welcome relief from all the scuzzy towns we’d been through. We ate lunch sitting on the dock of the bay while listening to Otis Reading and watched a flock of Pelicans, pretending we were in Finding Nemo. Our next stop was Ceduna – the last proper town before 1000km of nothingness. We’d met some Germans in the hostel in Adelaide who were also doing the drive to Perth and leaving on the same day. We’d planned to go with them, but when we heard that they were driving eight hours a day I, the sole driver, wasn’t so keen. However, when we pulled up in Ceduna they happened to be the car parked next to us! It’s a small world. We compared travel plans before bidding them farewell for the second time and heading to Fowler’s Bay.
Fowler’s Bay is a tiny town nestled among advancing sand dunes 11km down a dirt track off the Eyre Highway. It’s so tiny that their streets are named First Street, Second Street, Third Street and Fourth Street. We parked in a campsite, thinking we’d be able to get away with not paying as reception was closed, but when a rather brusque man told us to move to an actual site which would cost $40 we were less than enthusiastic and snuck away.
We parked down a track for 4wd only cause we’re such rebels, and then scrambled up the startlingly white sand dunes to watch the sunset. At 11pm when we were fast asleep, we were woken by an engine revving and my heart sank. They were going to fine us for camping on the beach! I stayed unmoving in the car, hoping they wouldn’t see me. When there was no authoritative knock on my window I stealthily peeked out, and saw a bunch of drunk twenty-somethings struggling to move their car which was stuck, quite solidly, in the sand. “Technically it’s your fault cause you parked on the roundabout” the drunk girl yelled. Well, I’d hardly call it a roundabout- we were parked next to a bush on a sand track. Nevertheless, I tried my best to help, emptying out the car to get the piece of carpet that covered the spare tyre. But even with that under the wheel the car wouldn’t budge. To be fair, the wheel was about a foot deep in the sand. We never did find out whether they managed to retrieve their car as they soon gave up and we left early the next morning. It was a Traveller’s Autobarn car though, the exact same car we had on the trip to Exmouth which broke down for two days in Carnarvon. I certainly hope Traveller’s Autobarn had to deal with their problem as they did next to nothing to help us- the bastards!
The next day we drove across the Nullarbor, a 200km stretch of Australian Outback with no trees or topography. It comes from the Latin “nullus arbor” meaning no trees- that’s my fact of the day for you. Technically, the Nullarbor stretches 1,700km from Port Augusta to Norseman, but I’m counting it as the Nullarbor National Park. It was truly spectacular- hours of nothingness fading into more nothingness on the horizon. We tried to keep a tally of the number of cars we saw but Lucy fell asleep, but I’d estimate it as no more than twenty. We were truly alone most of the time, kilometres away from any civilization and absolutely screwed if we broke down. I patted Toastie and willed her on.
We stopped for breakfast by the iconic sign of a camel, a wombat and a kangaroo. Sadly, although my expectations were pretty low, we saw no camels, or wombats for that matter. We didn’t even see any snakes, spiders or kangaroos either, although we saw plenty of the latter squashed on the road that I had to veer around. On the Nullarbor, we stopped to look at the Great Australian Bight- a bright blue ocean which is host to seals, sea lions, great white sharks (!) and migrating whales in winter. Sadly, we were out of luck and didn’t glimpse any, but the 150 feet high cliffs with waves crashing at their base weren’t bad by themselves.
A couple of hours later we entered Western Australia, and I felt at home immediately which was stupid because it was just another stretch of road in the desert. The temperatures had soared well above thirty for the first time in a while, and I was longing for air-con. At the border we were forced to give up our precious fruit and vegetables but the man was charming so I didn’t mind as much. We ate as many bananas as possible before giving them up- a much needed burst of energy as despite being in WA, we still had eight hours of driving until we reached civilization at Norseman.
It was the hottest day we’d had, and despite the added boost from the bananas, I was fading slightly. I was going to stop at Eucla but I passed through it before I even registered that there was a town there. The next stop was Mundrabilla, 101km away. When I arrived I thought “this can’t be it”- it was just a petrol station on the side of the highway. But when I looked more closely I saw a motel and a restaurant connected to the gas station which made it technically a town and large enough to feature on road signs. I tried to have a nap there but it was too hot and the pesky Australian flies were everywhere. Instead, I resorted to spending an absurd amount on ice cream and cookies from the store, pinched myself to wake up and ploughed on.
We ended up driving nearly all the way to Caiguna, and camped in the middle of the outback- a night I’ll never forget. I bet you’re intrigued now. Lucy and Flo were terrified of snakes so slept in the car, and the Finnish guy and I took the tent. It seemed nice at first- warm and fairly comfortable. However, after about an hour the rain set in. Now let me just emphasise the fact that tent we bought is very pretty, but it doesn’t serve one of the basic uses of a tent – to keep you dry. At 8pm when the rain started hammering on the flimsy fabric I sighed and pulled my sleeping bag more tightly around me. By 8.15 the wind had started gusting and the tent walls were moving and blowing inwards. Soon, the tent soaked and kept bashing up against me, flicking drops of water in my face. I withdrew further into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
As you can probably figure from the start of my post, I slept horribly and woke up at 6am to a flooded tent. But despite the cold, the wet and the lack of sleep I was happy, and felt invincible. I’d made it across the Nullarbor, I’d made it all the way down the East Coast of Australia, and I was camping I the middle of nowhere without any problems (aside from the shit tent and the weather). But I was probably too arrogant, too cocky.
I woke the girls at 7am, which was technically 8.30am since we were used to SA time, and packed the car in the pouring rain. The weather was so awful that I couldn’t see a thing, and the back windscreen wipers don’t work so I drove at a cautious 60kph along the highway. All of a sudden, bang! The bonnet flies up in my face and I swerve dangerously. I can’t see a bloody thing and there’s this massive white thing blocking my windscreen and I pull over quickly. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. Don’t break down on me now, Toastie!
I got out of the car into the incessant rain and examined the damage. One of the hinges had snapped cleanly in two and the bonnet was now even more dented than before. I aligned it and tried to close it. It wouldn’t budge. In exasperation I repeatedly slammed it down again and again, but to no avail. Then a man with one leg came pulled over and came to my rescue. He roped the bonnet down and we were good to go. I did the remaining 12km or so at a steady 80kph to prevent the same thing happening again- it had scared me enough once! When we reached Caiguna everyone at the petrol station rushed to help. I borrowed a hammer and smashed down the hinge that was sticking up, and hit the lock back into place. I then checked the oil while holding up the bonnet with one hand- very awkward, and then secured it with some zip ties. A helpful man managed to fully close the bonnet and we raced away with a sigh of relief.
So I’d had my first car problem in 7,000km, which sure ain’t bad. And actually, I hate to admit it but it was totally my fault – I’d popped the bonnet the night before to air the engine and had forgotten to close it…
It was all in all a stressful day- I’d had around three hours sleep and still had 370km to get to Norseman, and a further 202km to get to Esperance. I was also soaking wet and freezing, and had no dry warm clothes as I’d stupidly kept them all in the tent with me. But I gritted my teeth, downed some vile cold instant coffee and slapped myself in the face.
Four hours later the sun was out and we’d reached Norseman. And my god, never have I been more grateful to see civilization! There were actual houses, actual streets! There was even a community centre, but that taking it a bit far. We needed to be eased back into civilization!
During the drive to Esperance my eyes were drooping and I started trying to remember every day of my travels in detail to stay awake. It turns out that I have an awful memory, so that kept me occupied for a while as the kilometres ticked by.
Getting to Esperance felt like a huge milestone, and I collapsed into a motel room, utterly spent. All the driving and the lack of sleep finally did me in, and the next morning I had a fever and a headache. We spent the next couple of days taking it easy- visiting some of Australia’s best beaches and only driving around three hours a day. In Ravensthorpe (another town with next to nothing in it) we managed to ditch the Finnish guy, who had started to annoy us all.
He kept on nabbing our pillows and mattresses and complaining about paying for things. When we told him that he owed us $75 he asked to double check, and then changed the amount that he paid for gas so it looked like he owed less. What cheek! As if he thought we wouldn’t notice either. So we left him in the ghost town effectively on the side of the road… He did offer to leave though as he wanted to get to Perth sooner, so I didn’t feel that guilty.
We didn’t have any mishaps on the rest of the trip aside from driving off with the boot open twice in one day, and going off in the wrong direction for an hour when I was trying to be clever and drive more one day so I had less to drive the next. We also saw an amazing bright pink field in the distance near Pemberton, and tried desperately to find out what it was. We took three separate turnings into vineyards and private properties, getting chased out by scary dogs and making awkward U-turns. But we got no closer to the mysterious pink field, and it will forever remain a mystery!
The day we arrived in Perth was verging on 42 deg, a real scorcher. We stopped to cool down in Castle Bay, before driving the final three hours. On the road I saw a car that looked identical to Toastie and slowed down to see what make it was. I don’t know why but the guys in the car saw we were looking at them and started racing us on the highway, waving as they went by. It was great fun! We also pulled up next to another car that was playing the exact same song as us, and he gave us a friendly fist pump and thumbs up. The song was Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” so I don’t know whether it was more embarrassing for us or him!
After going around the same block literally six times, we located the elusive hostel and checked in. We were nearly blown away by the smell of weed, and there was even a queue of about ten people waiting to buy from a dealer! What a strange place.
And so I’d done it! I’d taken a gamble with an $800 car in Cairns, and really put her through her paces to drive 10,000km to reach Perth. It was a miracle- I was convinced she would break down that first day in Cape Tribulation. So now with six months until I leave Australia, what’s the next mad adventure going to be?