Lying here a little cramped in the back of the truck, in the burning hot sunshine of a Northern Australian winter, I am realising that I have left it far too late to write. This story has been written in snippets and notes on my phone, handwritten journal entries, unpublished draft after unpublished draft, uploaded into folders of photos, unedited, day after day without power, without signal. And without a car and stuck in this campsite in Borroloola, with just my book and the occasional blog post to read, now is the time.
We left in May.
Starting in Melbourne, after a few scraps with the car, and stop-start days, we set off, winding our way down the Great Ocean Road, scrambling along the South Australian coastline and wishing for freedom and glorious sunny views.
Leaving the cold, temperamental weather of the south would have been enough. We picked a backpacker car to do the trip, a beat up older-than-me Toyota Hilux Surf that’s been nothing but trouble since the day it arrived outside our cosy st Kilda home. The decision was a little rushed because the deadline for farm work was fast approaching, and we spent the first day of our grand adventure sat a little way out of Melbourne in a Bunnings car park trying to fix the roof rack in the cold, fighting the daylight and watching our chances of making a decent start trickle down the drain along with the rainwater. Nevertheless, we made it as far as Geelong, about 75 km outside the CBD, and settled in for the night.
Day 2 – Geelong to Narrawong
Day Two, we drive through Torquay, stopping to gaze at the ocean at Bell’s Beach and take the necessary cheesy selfies (Todd does love his selfies…), and on to the Erksine Falls. This is the first place after all the car repairs and false starts; the drive into the woods feels like we’ve really made it. We’ve left. And now we are driving into a landscape reminiscent of Jurassic Park, towards our first little adventure. After the falls, I insist we pass over the Wye River, a little taste of nostalgia from home, and a welcome stop from the road.
Next is Kennett River, a small town famous for its huge koala population.
Obviously we go on a search for koalas, and wander up the hill under the Eucalyptus trees…and find nothing. It isn’t until we get back to the car park that we see two, right where we’d started. After standing in awe of the wild Australian animals and dealing with the surrealism of our surroundings, we head towards Loch Ard Gorge, the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge. It’s raining so we sprint from place to place, quickly taking photos and giggling like twelve-year-olds. We drive onwards, excited for our grand adventure, in search of our next camp stop; Sawpit Campground, Narrawong.
Day 3 – Narrawong to Adelaide
The Mission: To make it to Adelaide. We are a day behind schedule, time is running out for Todd to start his farm work and we need to be above the Tropic of Capricorn and starting work by Day 10.
We wake up to the sunrise gleaming through the forest and a team of friendly parrots, prying through our things and swooping up and around the car. I spot a wallaby in the long grass too, one of the first sightings of Australian wildlife on our trip, after the koalas. With high hopes, we fly through Cape Bridgewater, where there is a beautiful white beach, a rock formation known as the Petrified Forest, and crashing waves where apparently there are sometimes seals. We take a quick look at the Discovery Bay Caves and quickly check out the Blue Lake before taking on the final stretch to Adelaide, and watching the sun go down through the windscreen.
This is the first day I really worried about the risks of doing this trip up through the centre. The plan is to drive from Melbourne to Adeliade along the Great Ocean Road (check!) and then head North to Uluru and up to Darwin if we have time and manage to find Farm Work; a trip which involves driving through a huge chunk of desert with just a very unreliable car and the two of us, against apparently a whole country that wants to kill us.
I think I had a rose-tinted idea of the adventure we were embarking on for the next two weeks… Days of travelling and sightseeing, nights of snuggling up under blankets and fairy lights, living cheap and free in the great Australian outback.
Today’s little panic is provoked by a slightly cocky Australian who served us in Dan Murphys, who took it upon himself to warn us of the devious ways of the Aboriginal people on the road up North, threatening of tricks and thievery common with naive backpackers travelling alone, and generally put a dampener on our trip, giving me a serious case of the creeps. The truth is these things do happen, and I’m glad I let it get to me now rather than panic when we’re half way across the country in the middle of the desert.
We have already done the first ‘short’ stretch between Melbourne and Adelaide, and honestly I was a little worried just staying in camping grounds in the countryside down along the coast. The real outback is a whole other story, but we’ve made it this far, may as well keep going I suppose.
Day 5 – Adeliade to Port Augusta
We spend two days in Adelaide; more car repairs. We walk from the garage, through the parks that surround and protect Adeliade, and take an Uber into the town. We spend the day getting a bit lost in Target, treating myself to the best camouflage trousers (mens, with pockets!), and treating ourselves to ice cream. I’m sick so the cold makes my cough worse but brings a smile to my face all the same.
Todd is frustrated at the car for eating up all his money and putting us even further behind schedule, but the fact that we have a hotel with a hot shower, and a Mexican restaurant just outside, keeps our spirits up. Soon we’ll be lucky if we can find a campsite with bathrooms. On Day 5 we leave Adelaide, making a dash for Port Augusta, stocking up on precious water on the way.
We have gone back to the stop-start feeling and are in a hurry to get to the North on time.
Day 6 – Port Augusta to Pootnoura
After Port Augusta is where the real outback starts; huge open stretches of land, there’s nothing for miles and miles but sun, salt and burnt out cars on the side of the road.
Day 7 – Pootnoura to Ayers Rock
Something I guess I just never found out about before I left; in the outback there are billions of flies, seems obvious now but no-one thought to tell us before.
My Dad would be proud of me, dealing with all the “buzzy things”.
Day 8 – Ayers Rock to Tropic of Capricorn
We stop at Curtain Springs on the way back to the highway from Uluru and thank God, There are public showers! Even in the desert sun, it still took a few minutes to heat up after enduring the ice cold water common with public showers.
Other than that one horrific hockey tournament at school, and a couple of mornings handing out Metro newspapers in Wales, I have never been so happy to get warm.
We get the the campground, at the Tropic of Capricorn, with more daylight to spare today, and cook along to ukulele songs from our neighbours; travellers just like us with a campervan apparently just as temperamental as our car is.
Day 9 – Tropic of Capricorn to Kunjarra
We sit for hours along the highway, listening to You Me At Six battling against the sound of the engine and the rush of the wind through the windows. It does feel like we’re travelling in a game of Fallout; run down signs litter the side of the highway where it meets the occasional settlement.
This new country is build on the shores of a wasteland, and we’re riding up the explorers highway, serial eating Ritz crackers and watching the eagles fly overhead and the crows and vultures feast on the roadkill.
Burnt out cars are scattered along the edge of the road much more commonly than I had hoped, and I’m on edge myself for a lot of the trip, in hopes our Toyota doesn’t give out beneath us, or worse, we hit something. There are so many roadkill roos and eagles.
Days 10 – Kunjarra to Warloch
Note to self, and other shabby travellers: There aren’t a lot of showers on the road if you’re staying at free camps and the ones that you do come across are ice cold, BUT don’t despair! Red dirt acts as a wonderful alternative to dry shampoo.
Day 11 – Warloch – Katherine
Something I have noticed while doing this trip, especially since getting to the North, is how much bigger the wildlife is here. Honestly until this point we had only seen three live kangaroos on the way. Since getting into the Northern Territory, and into Queensland even more so later on, we have seen countless kangaroos, huge very loud birds, beautiful iridescent black Ibis (bin chickens, but not the grotty kind from Sydney), amazingly blue palm-sized butterflies and of course similar sized spiders, grasshoppers and moths.
I saw my first huntsman the other day, in a rest stop bathroom in Townsville. Still only two snakes though, one dead at Bishop’s Bore (after Darwin) and one carried around a man’s shoulders in Daly Waters. It will stay this way for the rest of my time in Australia, thank goodness.
Day 12 – Katherine to Darwin
We get to Darwin and the road is outlined with forest fires, yet only one or two fire trucks to be seen. Talk of constellations and plans for money, and Asia, and past relationships keep us occupied, stop us from growing to resent each-other in the days and nights of constant company. There is no solitude here, no space to ‘find ourselves’ or even really to reflect. There is no comfort in the outback, no room to fall back to when it gets tough, no Vampire Diaries Domino’s nights.
Just stars and sky.
Thanks for reading! There are more little stories to come, until next time!