After over a month of travels it is hard to figure out where exactly to start this post. We’ve been living out of a tent for nearly a month and half and every bit of my spinal cord appreciates that we spent last night on an actual mattress situated on top of an actual bed. After saying goodbye to our lovely friends we made our way to Christchurch and then flew to Melbourne. And so started our Great Outback Australian Adventure.
And woah. As the plane descended our eyes grew bigger and bigger trying to take in just the magnitude of it. New Zealand’s entire population is around 4.5 million with nearly all of them living on the North Island. Though we lived in a major tourist town on the South Island, it was only just getting its first stop light as we left. But Melbourne has over 4 million inhabitants alone and the houses stretched on forever. We had woken up at 3 in the morning to catch the plane and the full weight of sleeplessness hit us as we made our way into the sunshine but that didn’t stop us from going out to eat four times in the first day. We found a fake Chipotle, we found Vietnamese udon noodle shops with REAL sriracha sauce, we even found the holy grail of American restaurants: a sports bar with mozzarella sticks for appetizers and a wing night. As far as our appetites were concerned we were in heaven. But of course we were there to buy a car and that part was a nightmare. Finding our old reliable hoopdee in New Zealand had been easy. Getting it put into our name was suspiciously easy. Selling it, in retrospect, was only a smidgeon difficult. But Australia has rules and regulations that seem to benefit car dealers the most and it was really hard to figure out how to buy something reliable when you don’t fully understand the rules. We took the entire week riding public transportation around the city in circles moving from one shady dealer to the next hoping something good would turn up. Nearly every car we liked was double what we wanted to spend and that didn’t even include the roadworthy test to make sure it was safe and the registration fee of $750 bucks and a stamp fee and a transfer fee and then some more money for the Queen.
As a side note: Roadworthy tests seem like a great idea. A mechanic goes through and verifies there are no issues with the car before you buy it. Except that dealers can use their own mechanics so really you pay nearly 500 bucks to be just as unsure as you were before. Not a wonderful system.
At the end of day five we were ready to just pack it up and hire a van when we saw an ad for Russel. We then proceeded to do everything that a stupid car buyer would do (only saw it in the dark, never put it on the highway, never checked for a jack, just took his word that it had a Roadworthy Certificate, etc.) because at that point I think someone could have tried to sell an actual turd on wheels and we would have taken it. If we spent one more day trying to find a car I think we would have lost it. So we bought it, and don’t get me wrong. I love this car and it got us around the whole outback. It’s just that with some extra precautions we could have saved us quite a bit of money from the disasters that were ahead of us.
Here’s me and Russel just hanging out in our Airbnb apartment complex in Brunswick.
Great Ocean Road
We started our journey by heading south towards the Great Ocean Road, a route that hugs right along the coast of the country, but we didn’t make it past the suburbs before we had our first hiccup. After hitting the grocery, Alex went and got a burger and fries and I hit up the bakery to grab a sausage roll. I handed him our card and it declined. I thought it might just be because it was a New Zealand card and sometimes stores take foreign cards strangely so I handed him some cash then gave it to Alex to pay for his meal and it declined again. Alex hopped online to check our banking and not only were we penniless but we were actually about 1000 in the negative. My heart stopped. For a minute I felt the full weight of what it would feel like to be stranded in a foreign country with about two dollars to your name. Now of course it wasn’t true and after nearly an hour of panicking we figured out that when we pulled out money to pay for the car, the bank for some reason acted like we had made that transaction twice. We got it cleared up and it instantly reappeared in our account but that lingering feeling of doom put a mood on the day and we made it only about half as far as we wanted to. I found a free campsite off the beaten path and we headed that direction. I didn’t realize how far of the beaten path it was though. The sun started to set and around a corner, out jumps our first kangaroo. We were so excited! It was every bit as adorable as I imagined it would be. Within thirty minutes I hopped I would never see one again. The sky started to get darker and darker and with that the kangaroos seemed to become more suicidal. Nearly every three minutes another would hop full force out of the forest right into our path. It took nearly an hour and fifteen minutes of kangaroo dodging to reach our campsite which was the same time the sky decided to let go of a torrential down pour. We tied up a make shift shelter with a tarp and just let the full weight of the day pour down on us. Luckily, we had our handy dandy box of sunshine happiness to make it through the night. We didn’t even bother with the tent, just laid down the front seats and tried not to think of murderous kangaroos hopping around our campsite.
Great Ocean Road and Grampians National Park
After barely any sleep we woke up to birds chirping and sunshine and were ready to get on with the day ahead. The drive was beautiful and the massive waves were dotted with surfers in the distance. The road winded us along to the Twelve Apostles, a beautiful rock formation caused from erosion and probably magic.
The coast is brimming with these sorts of sights. We took a short walk down to a dangerous looking gorge famous for drawing ships in and crushing them.
Then we had some lunch and headed north into the Grampians. The road between looked a lot like Ohio. Flat, green, lots of cows. But the approach to the National Park put us back in the mountains again. The mountains here are very different then New Zealand mountains or Colorado mountains. The rocks are a bright red and the trees line them all the way to the top so there are no real peaks.
And they are teeming with more suicidal kangaroos. We found another free campsite in the park and decided to opt for another shower less day rather than pay the fee. It was also our first time bringing Russel on a 4×4 road and he handled it like a champ. It led us to the perfect little campsite and the evening was beautiful. We cooked tacos and tried to enjoy the night sky until some massive kangaroos decided they were coming to get whatever food we dropped and they didn’t care if we moved or not. I know they are adorable and all but they do have pretty big claws and I’ve watched too many kick boxing kangaroo videos to stick around so we called it a night.
The Grampians to Murray Sunset National Park
The kangaroos scaring us into the tent gave us another sleepless night and the lack of showering had us both feeling pretty grody. We still did the most popular little walks in the park but then I found the nearest town with a YMCA and paid for some showers.
Our spirits were completely revived and we headed out. The Murray Sunset National Park was on our list because of the pink lakes and we wanted to get Russel onto a true 4×4 track but by the time we reached the park it was too late to go much farther unless we wanted to deal with more kangaroos. So we stopped at the shore of Lake Crosbie. It wasn’t pink, but it was pretty enough. The algae usually turns it pink in late summer so we thought we had missed it. It didn’t matter though, the camp site was stunning, the sky was clear and beautiful, and for the first time the combination of showering and pure exhaustion caused us to get some much needed sleep.
The only thing that was wrong was that Russel had started to get a little saggy in the rear. We had A LOT of weight in the car and we hoped it was just a result of that but by the time we made it out of the park it looked quite a bit worse. The car also pulled to the left hard so we thought that maybe an alignment would sort him out. We stayed at a paid campsite that night and took it over to the mechanic first thing in the morning. We went out and had a beer and met some locals that evening who assured us it wouldn’t be more than 50 or 60 bucks and we went to sleep feeling pretty good about the whole situation. But no. The Bridgestone guy said absolutely nothing was wrong with the alignment, that it was just the natural bowing of the car but we had run a tire completely down to the wire. (They actually still have wires in the tires and there it was all shiny and deadly looking). It was much worse on one side so we had to buy another one. $175 bucks later we sighed with relief. That HAD to be the end of it.
We headed about an hour north towards Wilpenna Pound and nothing had changed. The car was as saggy as ever and it no longer felt safe to drive. Only problem was we were officially in the middle of nowhere. Alex thought if we could replace the springs we would be fine but I called every mechanic within a three-hour radius and every single one would need to have parts ordered from Adelaide if we wanted them to fix it. The closest mechanic was an hour and a half to the north so we risked it and headed up, knowing we were probably going to be hanging out in a little town for a few days until the parts could be sent up. The mechanic had a look and apparently the *car term* was loose and it should have never passed a roadworthy so he needed to tighten back on the *car item* and then redo the *car thing* and THEN we could be on our way. Within the hour. That made us ecstatic… until the *car fixing process* set us back another 120 bucks. The morning was expensive but once the mechanic had sorted it there was a visual difference in the car, it drove normally and we were HOPEFULLY finished with all the car nonsense. The park was beautiful and the campsite was perfect. No kangaroos bothered us in the evening and when they came around in the morning we even saw an adorable little joey in one of the momma’s pockets.
The birds were fearless and raided our camp but with our car given the full bill of health we were ready to put it onto the Oodnadatta track and have a true 4×4 adventure. We didn’t even make it one day.
An absolutely wonderful couple stopped to help. Their sons had traveled around the US alone and they would have wanted someone to stop and help them. The man helped Alex pull off our brand new $170 ruined tire and the woman documented my shame. The man even asked someone else to follow us in since we no longer had a spare. It took another hour or two to get to Marree and thank goodness the campsite was free because we handed it over to the mechanic and our jaws dropped. He had the tire in store so there was no reason to be stranded in Marree for a day but that cost us another gut wrenching $295 dollars. It was like a punch in the face. We weren’t paying for accommodation, we were eating only groceries, we were drinking only box wine and yet our car was just sucking up all of our money left and right. I was so panicked by the thought of another tire blowing that it was hard to calm down but luckily the Oodnadatta track has plenty of strange sights to keep you entertained.
Lake Eyre is technically the biggest lake in Australia but it feels up only once a decade. Instead you are just confronted with endless salt planes that are so bright it’s hard to find the horizon. And endless amounts of flies.
This is the only picture I took of Coober Pedy because I did not like it at all. From the moment we arrived it felt like we were in a horror film. In theory Coober Pedy is an interesting town. Nearly half the residences and businesses are underground and its surrounded by massive opal mines. But it had me on edge. Our campsite host had the smile of a serial killer when she told us about all the facilities underground and then led us to our campsite surrounded with high wire fencing making it feel like a giant cage. Then we went in to their laundry room and a mentally disabled man had his arms wrapped around himself, rocking back and forth and staring in the distance in front of the washing machine almost guarding it. So we headed into town to do laundry and it was our first time being introduced to the strange customs of aboriginal towns. I don’t know what the politically correct way to talk about it is so I can only speak as an outsider but most of the aboriginal community is banned from consuming alcohol so instead a lot of them hang in large groups outside the bar and try to convince you to buy it for them and bring it out. Then when you enter the bar everyone stops and stares. There were no friendly words or smiles. The whole place felt like they didn’t want us there which is pretty strange considering it is a tourist town. We hated it and drove as fast as we could manage out of there in the morning.
The Red Centre Way
We pushed all the way to Mount Ebeneezer Station that night with little going wrong in between except for a wild horse blocking the road and an Emu running right in front of our car with a look of sheer “Where the hell am I?” panic.
The dirt became more and more red and the trees started to thin out. We set up camp all alone in a big field and played catch with our football until dinner time when once again, things got a little strange. The sun had gone down and the clouds covered up the moon so we could barely see anything around us until out of nowhere an older Aboriginal lady comes up to us in the middle of the field and tries to sell us her painting. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any change since she only wanted two dollars but despite the bargain it was unnerving to be approached in the middle of the night in the middle of a field. All of our Australian friends kept asking us if we had seen Wolf Creek and after the last two days of weirdness I was starting to think maybe we would get murdered out here.
The next day was easy enough. The drive is beautiful. Vast red plains are interrupted by random massive jutting rocks. Mount Connor is an impressive site as you make your way towards Uluru and the Olgas.
We passed a couple at a rest stop who handed over their unused portions of their passes so we got in the park for free and instead of doing the walk at the base of Uluru which I did six years ago, we did the Valley of the Winds which was beautiful. The red canyons and the puffy green trees make you feel like you are in a Dr. Seuss novel.
My only complaint is the flies. I have no idea what they are surviving on but the flies in the outback are unreal. They are in a constant battle to land on your eyeball or in your ear canal. It is so annoying that its almost exciting for night to fall so you can stop slapping yourself in the face. Then the night brought in the dingoes. Alex kept forgetting that they rip out people’s throats and steal babies so he was giggling like a school girl wanting to try and coax them into playing with him. He was unsuccessful. Then around four in the morning when I’d finally been able to push the bad dingo dreams out of my mind Alex woke me up because he felt his second earthquake. I slept right through it even though it was a 6.1 magnitude which is unusually strong for the country. I didn’t believe him at first but all the ladies in showers were talking about it. I guess the luckiest place you can be during an earthquake is in the desert. Tent collapses luckily aren’t very devastating.
By the time we rolled up on Alice Springs we decided we were ready to get back to the coast. Our funds were depleting faster then we thought and I wanted to get back to the ocean where I could begin my journey in my new career as a world famous surfer girl. We saw the sights on the way but made really good time on the way back. Especially in the Northern Territory where they have no speed limits but instead let you drive to your capability.
We stuck to free camps and opted out of showers again in the name of speed. The first night I was terrified of the huge spiders decorating the trees around our camp and the massive road trains pulling four trailers behind them zooming along on the highway.
By the next night the full weight of the trip hit me. I’m not sure if it was the fourth time I went to pee in the wilderness into the funnel I had fashioned from an empty diet coke bottle or when Alex pushed me awake saying he heard a crocodile despite the fact that we were nearly 300 kilometers away from crocodile hangouts but I started to wonder why we couldn’t vacation like normal people. Why couldn’t we just go sit on a beach at some swanky resort and drink daiquiris until we fall asleep in the sun? When you decide to camp in a backpacking tent large enough for an air mattress and maybe a book if its small I think your body realizes that it will be okay because it knows that it is temporary. When you are pushing your body into that tent for the 34th night in row your body starts to resist. And then you are faced with a massive dilemma. You can drink large amounts of beer so that you can handle the situation, but then you are forced to have to use your funnel of sadness even more.
I chose the beer option.
When we finally got back to the ocean yesterday evening I splurged on an ensuite cabin in a tourist park and it was the loveliest room I’ve ever seen. Then we ordered pizza and garlic bread stuffed with gooey cheeses. I don’t want to make it sound like our trip was horrible. It was fantastic and hilarious and beautiful and challenging but last night was the best sleep I had in what felt like years. I even felt so good I went on a walk this morning, down towards the river, where I saw a sign saying beware, crocodiles, stay in the confines of the campground for your own safety. And now I don’t ever think I’m sleeping again.