4/2 – 4/10
So, we decided to do a campervan relocation from Melbourne to Darwin. Normally, renting a campervan can cost anywhere from $60/day – $120/day. We heard about the relocation program; if a company needs a vehicle moved across the country, you can sign up to take it for only $5/day. However, you usually have a time limit and a limit on the amount of Kilometers you can drive. So, it didn’t make sense for us to do that in New Zealand since we were there for 7 weeks and driving around a lot (you can find our first post in NZ here). But this was the perfect opportunity for us to drive across Australia. We were only planning to spend about a week on mainland Australia anyway so this gave us a great way to see the country in an affordable manner. The most direct route would have been to drive to Adelaide then straight north to Darwin. However, we were hoping to see the Great Barrier Reef so we decided to go northeast from Melbourne, through Wagga Wagga and up to Townsville before cutting back west to Darwin. Unfortunately, we’d missed out on seeing some other cousins of cousins in Sydney but it was just going to be way too much driving already. With the route we’d chosen, we added a fair amount of miles to our drive but we were excited to see what we could find.
Turns out, the term campervan is used very loosely in that part of the world. Our “campervan” was a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser with a pop up tent on the roof and a small makeshift kitchen in the back, complete with a mini-fridge, fold up table and gas cook stove. So much for sleeping in a bed, but at least we’d be elevated in case any crocs wandered by (I’m not joking, this was an actual concern).
After picking up our rig, we grabbed groceries and headed north. This thing was a tank, a brand spanking new tank that came with rules, lots and lots of rules. Even though it was made to off-road in the Outback, we weren’t allowed to go more than 10 kilometers (6ish miles) off paved roads, we weren’t allowed to drive at night, and the most dogshit rules was we couldn’t go over 110 km per hour (which is about 67 mph) and this country is a desert wasteland. You can see oncoming traffic coming for 3 miles 90% of the time. I know what you’re thinking – fuck the rules. It was certainly my first thought but then, this thing comes loaded with a Tom-Tom that tracks this rig via satellite. You go 5 kph over and a red light goes off, you go on a dirt road and it does a little chime and if our driving collected enough dings, we’d get fined. I hate you, Britz (the name of the company) for not letting me treat that monster truck junior the way he deserved to be treated.
Oh, I almost forgot, this thing was a manual with steering wheel on the right and the stick on the left. At least the foot pedals were the same. The blinker control actually tripped us up the most, it had traded places with the windshield wiper control.
After 4 hours of heading due north, it was getting close to sunset so we parked oursleves along a river outside Narrandera. The camping app said it was a campsite but we were the only ones out there. The first time setting up the tent was a little touch and go but between McKayla reading directions thoroughly and me unstrapping and unzipping everything in sight, we had the collapsible home up before sunset. McKayla then set up the windows and I set to work unpacking, unwrapping and reorganizing the ‘kitchen’. By night 2, we were able to throw that together in less than 15 minutes and less than 10 by our last night.
The rig came with the mini-fridge (powered by the car battery and if neccessary, on onboard solar panel), bedding, a 20 liter water hub, 2 single burner gas stoves, 2 Tupperware bins filled with plates, cups, mugs, silverware, a pan, 3 pots and a few cooking utensils. It was outfitted for five people. I’m not sure where you would put all of your stuff with 5 people in there but there was 5 of everything, which was great when we didn’t feel like doing dishes.
The first night, I made us some potato burritos and we ate in the dark casting glances at any and all leaves rustling. I’m fairly certain we weren’t in croc country yet but… the idea was enough to keep us on our toes. Crocs and the fact that everything on this massive island seems to be poisonous. Snakes, beetles, spiders, they even have a bird and a tree that are toxic. It seems to be enough that it keeps most Aussies out of ‘the bush’, but none of the locals seem to be phased by the volume of deadly creatures in their country. They just shrug it off. I guess we do the same with bears but I can see a bear coming; there’s a poisonous snake here the size of an earthworm, how the hell do you avoid that?
We woke to the sounds of cockatoos in the trees surrounding us. Not the pleasant sing-song cockateels you can train to whistle, the cockatoos sounded more like angry parrots. But while they are an annoying alarm clock that we found all over Australia, they are beautiful birds. Big, mostly white with a little yellow on their head flags (not sure the actual name for their caps but they are very distinctive).
Australia is awash in Euchalyptus trees. At first we thought it’d be no problem spotting a koala but it turns out these guys are elusive, camouflaged, and way down in numbers. We later talked to several locals who’d never seen one in the wild. Although there wouldn’t be any koalas on this trip we would get quite a few glimpses of wild kangaroos and emus. While the locals consider both of these to be vermin, we were still pretty excited every time we saw kangaroos bouncing across the plains. The emus are old hat, there are a few in our backyard but it was still crazy to see them running free out here. We were also excited to see a pair of dingos.
Days 2 through 9 can be summed up with driving…. lots of driving. We spent between 4 and 10 hours a day of chewing up Australian highways, taking in views, looking for wildlife and watching an endless series of towering ant hills pass us by (middle picture above). The night of Day 2, we spent at a rest stop off the highway. This isn’t uncommon here. There are a few designated campgrounds but people here seem to be more than happy to take full advantage of a stop wherever they can get one. There are highway signs before every stop, town and rest area reminding you to take a break every 2 hours. That’s another thing our Tom-Tom would yell at us for, as soon as we hit the 2 hour mark, it would ding at us to take a break.
Some highlights on our drive were Isla Gorge National Park, seeing the vast expanse that is the Australian outback, meeting and partying with a road construction crew, and most of all – exploring crystal clear springs. Isla Gorge was where we stayed on our third night and we were rewarded with views of sunrays glowing across layers of hilltops. It reminded us of Pai Canyon but with way fewer people (that was in Thailand, read about it here). There was only one other camper there so we had the place mostly to ourselves. We walked out on the ridge to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, McKayla’s one dollar flip flop broke (she’d picked them up at Old Navy before the trip, I’m surprised they lasted this long) so she was walking barefoot right before we saw a large, concerning spider. I gave her my shoes and we took in the view a lot quicker than we probably would have otherwise.
The vast expanse really was increadible to experience. We’d drive for 3 to 4 hours without seeing any man made structures; no farmhouses, silos, barns, sheds – nothing. After about 3 hours, we’d come to a roadhouse. These are a gas station/bar/ restaurant/gift shop/campground combos. A roadhouse every 3 hours, a town every 6 hours or so. I never would have thought I’d considered seeing so much “nothing” as an experience but it really was cool. We could definitely see how this was the stage/setting for Mad Max.
It was at a roadhouse campground called the Barkley Homestead where we met our friends on the road construction crew. They had just finished a big job and were ready to celebrate. Finding out it was my birthday gave them an extra reason. This was really a great group of guys. They also answered all our questions we’d come up with as we’d been driving along. Yes – you can hunt kangaroos. Yes – you can eat the tail, in fact it’s the best part. No – we’ve never seen koalas. Yes – you’ll see dingos, there’s a pack of ’em living right over there.
We attempted to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. We drove as far as Rockhampton (where it was actually very flooded) and called the dive company in Townsville. They said they wouldn’t be taking out boats any day that week because the winds were too strong. We heard that happens a lot. Since our schedule didn’t allow us to wait a week to see if the winds would die down, we turned west from Rockhampton and continued on our way. However, on the morning of Day 9, we found the Bitter Springs — one of the top 5 experiences on our entire trip, I think it made up for missing the GBR. It had been recommended to us by a fellow campervaner and his kids while we were in Winton. Bitter Springs looked like a swamp from above, but with goggles on, you could take a dip into clear waters, vibrant green plants and tiny orange fish. It was a flowing spring with stairs at one point of entry and stairs at the point of takeout and a path between the two. You simply put your goggles on and slowly, peacefully floated to the end, occationally turning back to make sure there were no crocodiles behind you.
I’ll back up for a second, to the night of Day 8. We stayed at a campground by Wanaka Springs (just about 10 miles down the road). We soaked in the Wanaka springs the night before (also gorgeous). However, the signs warning of crocodiles gave us serious pause. Had it not been packed with families (including small children), the sign may have deterred us. So, when we were the first ones to Bitter Springs the next morning and greeted with the same sign, we were on edge, constantly keeping a sharp eye out for those scaly creeps. In fact, McKayla stayed on land to keep an eye out during my first ride down the stream, before getting in and joining me for the second float. By the time we left, a handful of other people were pulling up and starting their swim. Maybe it’s like the grizzly bear warnings at some of our trailheads in Montana — definitely worth taking note and taking precautions but wouldn’t deter most hikers.
In total, our drive across Australia was 4,973 km (3,093 miles) and we spent $841 AUD ($636.50 USD) in gas. Our stop in Darwin was quick. We dropped off the Landcruiser then found a bowling ally/arcade right next to the airport. We hung out there for a few hours until it was time for our flight. Next stop – Indonesia!