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Since the age of about 12, after watching Mad Max for the first I knew at some point in my life I would have to leave everything behind and hit the road. Now, I could have gone and robbed a bank, yano…. made it a bit more realistic but for this trip I think I’ll just buy a campervan and potter around the continent like I’m retired and I’ve got all the time in the world. Well in many ways I did!
I say campervan… Maybe I mean more like a 21-year old clapped out Mitsubishi L300 with a raised up mattress in the back. Folding table and chairs underneath, flimsy one ring gas stove and some bamboo sticks with oil burners on the top for light at night, that had done 335,000 Km, or to put it as us humans understand, over 8 times around the planet!!!
Not quite the supercharged V8 interceptor that Max had but remember I’m retired right!? Besides as long as it’s a trusty steed, what else do you need?
Car vs campervan for hitting the road.
There are many factors that should have an impact on making this decision, such as:
East coast vs rest of Australia – the east coast is densely populated and you’ll never be far from an abundance of choices for accommodation. Whereas the rest of the continent is a lot sparser and you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time driving to a hostel each night instead of camping where you want to be. Well unless you can be arsed unpacking your life out of the car every night and setting up base camp. Sleeping in a tent gets tiresome pretty quickly.
Fuel costs – Australia is vast, the difference when travelling a 1000Km in an economical car vs a big heavy campervan that’s about as aerodynamic as a brick can be the difference of drinking fine wine or goon that evening.
Cost to buy – vehicles in Australia aren’t cheap to start with, but a little ford laser will only be a quarter of the price of any half decent campervan.
There are many other things to consider when buying a vehicle to go on a road trip, there will be another post that goes into more detail on buying your trusty steed soon. You could always try renting one to get a feel for what you’d like to invest in.
Preparations for the road trip!?
JUMP LEADS!!!! Or just do as I did and park up every night on top a hill, so if the battery’s flat in the morning, just release the hand brake and bump start it 🙂 only get one chance though!! In all seriousness there are a few things that need to be taken into account before you hit the road.
As stated before jump leads – The amount of times I ended up with a flat battery… best $30 I ever spent.
Spare wheel – At the very minimum, one good spare wheel will suffice but ideally two is much better. Getting a puncture and changing the wheel can still leave you with 400kms to go before you can get it fixed. Get another puncture and you’re up that creek without a paddle.
20L jerry can of fuel – Especially if you plan on hitting the western outback, it can easily be 400Km between “servo’s”. Up near Monkey Mia WA I used my 20L jerry can and still only just made it to the next petrol station, in fact without a word of a lie the L300 actually spluttered and stalled as I was entering the petrol pumps, I even had to push it the last 2 metres. Stay away from automatic gear boxes…. terrible for fuel economy!
Lots of water – Pretty self explanatory, your crappy old car breaks down in the asshole of nowhere and you don’t have any water… You die!! Me and a friend Kevin were travelling from Echuca back to the Riverland, when his little ford laser overheated and blew up, we were stranded at the road side for 14 hours with nothing but 2 litres of water and 2 scones…. I don’t even like bloody scones!!! To be fair we were on a main road but if we weren’t, it could have been bad, it could have been really bad.
Let someone know where you are going – Many parts of Australia have few people and no phone signal, heading into the outback? Let someone know where you will be and when you will be back, so if you get mauled by a mob of pissed off kangaroos at least they’ll know where to look for your remains.
3 of us went to work on a farm in Brewarrina for two weeks, by the time we left and got some phone signal, Stacey’s parents had called the authorities and they were out looking for us. A trip to the local police station was in order. “Erm, yes were not missing.”
Make sure the car you buy hasn’t just hit a kangaroo – Not sure if this really applies to everyone but me and Scott found out the hard way, it matters. Remember earlier on I said me and Kevin broke down on the way back to the Riverland!?
Well me and Scott left the Riverland a month earlier. We didn’t own a car, luckily for us, many people as they were departing Australia left their old bangers on the top of the hill adjacent the hostel… The Nomads’ graveyard!! Scott being an ex-military goon and me, well I’ll have a do at fixing anything, set about the 8 or 9 cars that were up there trying to cobble one good one together out of them all. First job finding one with its keys, little white Subaru, you’ll do for me. Battery from one and a wheel from another, (slightly bigger than the rest I might add) all for the princely sum of $200… She was a beaut!!
Within 4 hours of getting bored with planting peppers (or capsicums to the Ozzys) by hand for $14ph we had got back to the hostel, bodged a car together, packed every worldly possession we had into it and off we went. 570Km and 6 hours of open road, lets have it!!! She drove like a dream, apart from pulling to the left slightly… Don’t fit odd sized wheels to your car kids, it does nothing for the handling. That aside though, the 2 litre boxer engine pulled like a train, it even sounded like one of the ones you expect to see a fat, balding middle-aged man from Chorley driving round in, simply superb.
It was superb, until we got to just passed Mildura “we’ve got a problem Tony”,with Scott saying that my heart has just fallen out off my arse. The temperature is off the scale, me being a laid back kinda guy “she’ll be ‘right” (in my best Ozzy accent). Ah give it a tap it’ll just be stuck, it wasn’t just stuck. You may be thinking how did I know!? Well for anyone who has ever been in an overheating car, you’ll know the unmistakable smell of boiling coolant and melting pistons.
“Servo after servo” we pulled over to throw gallons of water over the engine in a desperate attempt to nurse it the rest of the way, I even took the executive decision to but some green slimey looking stuff that was mean to fix radiators. Now your probably thinking I’m a dreamer and yes, you’d be right! After scalding myself once more trying to get the radiator cap off, all that happened every time I administered the green slop was the scooby super-heated it and spat it back out at us. On closer inspection by phone light, we found one of the pipes leading to radiator had been crimped shut by the deformed girder that ran across the front of the car. I found out on my return to the Riverland a month later that Per, the guy who once owned the Scooby, hit a kangaroo in it.
We nursed the car through the night all the way to within 10 Km of Kahuna, when there was an almighty bang followed by a plume of smoke that Mt Vesuvius would have been proud of…. and the scooby was dead!! After arranging for some shady looking character to come back, take it away and scrap it, we loaded everything owned onto our backs. Some of our things had to be left behind but not the frying pan, not my non-stick pride and joy! (those of you who have lived in hostels will know why I wouldn’t leave it behind).
As the sun came up we set off walking, for ex-army action man Scott this wasn’t a problem, for me on the other hand, 10Km with 30KG on the back and half a bottle of water between us, sun about to come up at the beginning of November, 30C is on the cards… Laying down to die seemed more appealing every minute. Come on were in Australia, of course someone picked us up after about 4Km, a really friendly chap on his way to work and dropped us at Kahuna. From there it was a 3-hour wait until the bus that would take us the last leg of our journey to Echuca was due for arrival.
Having been awake for 27 hours at this point, there was only one thing for it. Find a quiet corner of a park, slump yourself over your backpack, frying pan in hand and get some shut-eye. We finally arrived in Echuca 22 hours after we set off. I’d say most of you are thinking what a nightmare… I say what an adventure!!
Driving at night.
I was warned quite a few times that driving at night could be very dangerous and should be avoided if possible. You’ve probably guessed it me being a bit of an ass, I somewhat ignored this advice. To be fair it nearly cost me.
So why is it so dangerous at night!? Vampires aren’t real!! It’s not the vampires you need to look out for it’s the bloody sheep and kangaroos, oh and cows.
First off kangaroos, these crazy ba****ds! One minute they’re all happy hoping around the fields, doing their thing then, “oh whats that twinkling light in the distance, lets go see!” Before they know it, they’re stood in the middle of the road looking at the headlights of a road train. 5 seconds later they are nothing more than kangaroo soup all over the road. Inquisitive creatures are kangaroos, they’re attracted to headlights and don’t realise the danger of cars. You might think “ah those little fluffy grey things, ah well they’ll just bounce off”, no they are Wallabies my friend. Wait until you see a nigh on 6 footer (especially those red ones) stood in the road, they will write your car off!! Many times I had to swerve out of the way of kangaroos, I’ve even had drag races with them hoping along at the side of my ‘van. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!
Then there’s the sheep. Farms in certain parts of the outback don’t have fences, so livestock just roam free across roads, anywhere they want to go. Just imagine you’re driving down the road at night, descending down a little hill, you reach the bottom. The ground levels out, your headlights once again pointed out into the distance, all you can see 30 yards away is a flock of around 100 sheep. Let’s be serious, like me and most backpackers that don’t have daddys little trust fund to suck dry are going to end up with a piece of crap vehicle without ABS or Stability Control, you’d do well to not have lamb chops flying everywhere!
All you need to do is look around at HGV’s and decent Australian owned cars, there’s pretty much always some sort of bull bars on them, well they say bull bars, here in the UK we call it scaffolding! Just drive up the west coast from Perth and you’ll see a decapitated kangaroo/horse/cow every 200m. Pretty sad but it’s all good if you’re a Wedgetail Eagle, easy pickings!
Driving endorsements and fines.
This is where the plucky backpacker doesn’t do so well. If you’re Australian, and you get caught speeding, you’ll be hit with demerit points and a small fine but because we’re forenigers, we just get a fine. One of my friends, Luca got caught doing 58Km in a 50Km and got hit with a $741 fine… Safe to say he went straight off to the bottle shop and bought a bottle of “bundy” to drown his sorrows.
Another friend, Nigel was pulled over at a routine stop and was found with an empty beer can in the passenger footwell… $700 fine! To be honest though I think he just skipped state and never paid it as he was broke.
2 months after I arrived back in the UK I received a letter from Australia saying that I had used a toll road near Sydney and I owed them like $2.50, surely it cost more to send the letter.
To wrap this up, to hit the road is to gain ultimate freedom! Free from the restraints of having bills, of having a steady job that requires you to be at its beck and call, of basically any responsibility. Give me a working vehicle (ideally with the same size wheels), a map, and a couple of thousand dollars and I’ll show you adventure.
Even if you don’t think it’s your thing you’ve got to try it out, maybe rent a car/campervan for a few days. Give a road trip a chance.
Reading back on the few “disasters” that I have written about here, I can see looking in from the outside some of you may think bo***cks to that, seems a nightmare. The way I see it is that these are memories I’ll never forget and just writing this post has given me such joy, being able to share these stories just takes me back. The nostalgia is killing me.
Bottom line (quite literally) is I hope this post inspires someone….