By the end of February I receive a message that my camper trailer is finally ready for pickup. Yay! Time to leave Sydney and travel to Sunshine Coast, and thence... who knows! And so, on Saturday, February the 22nd, I hop back into my Prado and leave the big city behind once again.
3000 kilometres in 3 days across the scorching hot Australian hinterland in a car without the air con. Sounds like fun, right? I agree, and I can't wait to begin. What better way to end the Christmas holidays and meet the new year!
The road to Townsville is quite uneventful, and only a few isolated mountains here and there provide some scenery. The number of mango stalls increases proportionally as I drive further north, as does the number of sugarcane fields. I most certainly have been here back in 2016, but I'll be damned if I remember any of all this. The region is probably worth taking a closer look... unfortunately, I can't spare the time. Some other day (or some other year, more likely).
And so it comes to pass that in the early afternoon of December the 23rd, after 2,500 km of all kinds of roads (from “meh” to terrible), I finally reach Darwin. Been a while! The city looks almost exactly as I remember it, albeit noticeably more cloudy, hot and humid. The wet season is in full swing here, this far north, and hopefully I'll get to witness some of the numerous thunderstorms that the region is so famous for.
There's slightly over 2,500 kilometres from Townsville to Darwin, and most of it lies across the vast stretch of land called the Gulf Country. It's a very strange place... or at least it feels strange to me, but more on that later. There are two roads that I can take through the area, and I choose the harder: the so-called Savannah Way, which will take me very close to the Gulf itself and force me to tackle about 500 km of unsealed roads. Sounds like fun? Well, maybe not too much, but there should be a room for adventure in life, eh?
Ah, the tropical Queensland! All the heat, and humidity, and the blazing sun that is so ridiculously high up in the sky. It's not that bad at this latitude and at this time of the year, though, and being so close to the sea also helps. Not that I can swim in it, though: apparently, saltwater crocodiles are known to visit this area from time to time, because there's more than a few warning signs installed nearby. However, the very first thing I see on my very first night here is the young couple with a kid, splashing around merrily in the shallow waters. Either they don't know something about the crocs, or I.
Camping near Hay turns out to be quite a pleasant experience. The weather's nice (not too hot, not too cold); the flies are there, but not excessively so; and the scenery is definitely worth going out on a sunset or sunrise to take a photograph or two. Thanks to the recent drought, the water levels are quite low (about two meters lower than usual, in fact), but there's still enough for all the pretty reflections and the overall serenity. And the wildlife, of course. My neighbour Robert even says that there are wild pigs somewhere around, but, unfortunately, I fail to spot any.
So with my broken laptop, I hurry off to Adelaide on a Thursday morning: to hand it over to the repairs, and also to catch up with a few people and do another resupply run. I also finally get my hands on the portable gas shower, which I had ordered weeks ago. Let's see if it amps up my comfort further on!
Murray is the biggest river in Australia, and on its way it passes through New South Wales and Victoria (acting as a border between the two) before reaching the ocean in South Australia. On its way it makes great many twists and turns across the country, and one bend in particular is so large that it even has a name: Big Bend! Unimaginative, but descriptive enough; and, more importantly, it has an excellent, free to use camping area down the eastern bank, which is exactly where I'm going to stay for a while.
On my way between Whyalla and Port Augusta, I notice that the clouds began to thicken on the horizon, and rain curtains begin to appear. There's nothing more scenic than a distant rain curtain, especially on these large ochre plains, where you can see far and wide!
So here I am now, at the other side of the Spencer Gulf. It wouldn't probably be my first choice, as far as campsites go; but I'm expecting a few items that I bought online and directed to Adelaide, so I don't want to move too far away from the city. This place will do for now, even though it takes a certain effort for me to get there along a few very poorly maintained dirt tracks.
Looks like a nice place, I think as I get up in the morning and take a good look around my new domain. Weather's nice and sunny, not a single soul around, the sky is blue, the sea even bluer... especially after a couple of weeks of living on the red dirt. This area couldn't look and feel more different, and the only dirt here is that on the track which got me here, and the only trees here are ten little mangroves a few steps away, struggling for their dear life among the bare rocks and shallow sea waters.
After a quick visit to Lake Eyre, and an equally wonderful drive through Flinders Ranges, I return to the same camping spot that I left yesterday. Still intact and still completely isolated. Exactly what you need for yet another week of good work and good photography. The place almost feels like home now.
After a whole day of driving, after all the heat and wind and flies, it feels so good to wake up to the beautifully warm and still morning, when the air is so fresh, and the sun is rising slowly above the salt lake. There's a couple of other campers in the distance, but they're not a bother at all... unlike flies, who wake up very quickly and swarm all over me. It doesn't matter, though, because I still have a couple of full days off because of the Labour Day weekend, and I firmly intend to stay here all this time and do nothing at all. Apart from photography, of course.
I have visited the Flinders Range National Park (and surrounding areas) a few times before; in fact, this is exactly where my first ever Australian camping trip happened some five or six years ago. It is also interesting to realise that I have negotiated this stretch road (Hawker to Lyndhurst) a number of times from south to north, but never from north to south, because I was always taking a different route to go back. It's about time I should fix that, I believe.
Scenic flights above Lake Eyre begin at 7 a.m. (the ones that start from Marree, anyway; there's a whole lot of other locations), and you're supposed to be there at quarter to. I arrive even earlier than that, and whilst waiting for the pilot and four other passengers I quietly observe a rather lovely sunrise beyond the airfield.
The first day at the new spot is nice and sunny, but later in the afternoon some light clouds begin to appear. After a day's work, I decide to explore the surroundings and see what's out there. The map says that there's quite a big salt lake nearby; perhaps I should go there?
The thing is with working on the road is that you need the good ol' Internet. Which, of course, can only come from the mobile network; satellite options are still ridiculously expensive and slow. And when it comes to mobile coverage, Telstra is usually the best, even if in some places Optus takes the upper hand. I've heard about their “regional hub” program, and while studying their coverage map, I was pleasantly surprised to see a spot at the Kings Canyon Resort. Perfect, thought I! Right next to one of the most-known wonders of the MacDonnell Rages, which I still haven't seen yet throughout my journeys! A perfect opportunity from every possible angle.
On Tuesday evening, I suddenly realise that I could go and see the Fields of Light, while I'm here. In case you're reading this and the link died, it's a project by some artist whose name now escapes me, and it consists of a huge (three football fields) area covered with LED lights, slightly raised above ground and changing colours slowly. Add to that the starry sky on top of you, and you could get yourself quite an experience.
The night between Friday and Saturday sees me at some rest stop between Barmera and Burra. Well, it could have seen me, if it wasn't so dark and dusty. The sky is completely overcast, and there's a strange suspension of very fine dust in the air, which I can't really smell, but I can see it in the beam of my torch everywhere I go. It's quite windy, too, and very humid. Interesting combination of the elements. During the night it rains a bit, but the morning is nice and sunny and calm.
Well, here I am now, at the start of my first working week as a digital hobo. All I have is a laptop, a spare battery under the hood, a couple of solar panels, and a few bits and pieces to create the illusion of necessary creature comforts. Let's see if it all holds until Friday, shall we?
Well, this has finally happened. I'm moving out without moving in. No rent to pay, no utilities to care about, and no fixed address — apart from the one my friend lent me very graciously, so that I'd have something to put on my driver's licence.
To go back home, I decide to take a slightly longer road via Broken Hill out of sheer curiosity, because I've never been there before. As I leave Melrose, the scenery is still familiar (I've been a few times to this part of South Australia), but after I cross the NSW border, it's all new to me.
In the morning, I arrive at Ceduna to refuel, wash my car, and shop for a new (less powerful) inverter – along with many, many spare gas bottles, of course. However, it looks like it's a little too late by now, because the more I look at the battery, the more it appears to be the source of the problem. It doesn't hold any charge at all, and drops to 11-odd volts almost as soon as I unplug the solar. Looks like it's time to ditch the sucker... but it's too difficult to find a decent deep cycle battery in these parts, so I need to drive further to try my luck elsewhere. In Adelaide, perhaps?
I work till afternoon, which feels kinda interesting – chatting to colleagues and committing code whilst sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere. However, I do need to find some gas to have my hot meals, after all. Which is why after 12 (Western time) I take off and visit a few more roadhouses... with the same disappointing result. No gas bottles anywhere at all! Dammit. At least I don't get nearly as many of those locusts that bothered me on my way here, although there's still more than a few to fly around.
At this point, my journey west pretty much over, really. There isn't a lot more west left to this beautiful continent now, is it? Technically, of course, we still have Steep Point, which is maybe a hundred K's further westward on the map... but I don't think I'd like to go that far just yet. Probably it's time to turn back east; and to that end, I turn on the Great Eastern Highway towards the town with a romantic name of Southern Cross.
I take my sweet time with waking up and having breakfast and packing stuff, and it's almost midday by the time I take off and head out towards Perth. Well, astronomical midday, anyway: the clock only says “half past ten”. I already mentioned the weird Western Aussie time, didn't I?
A place called Fernhook Falls is very close and is a natural destination for this morning. It's nice and warm and cloudy: perfect conditions for forest photography. The falls themselves are practically non-existent at this time of year, but I'm having a nice time just walking around the pools and taking random snaps. It's very quiet and relaxing out here, anyway.
Time to visit Albany now, along with the adjacent Torndirrup National Park. I already have the three-week pass for all parks, so I don't have to pay for anything now. Although I would, because the place certainly has plenty of breathtaking views to spare: from tall rocky cliffs to rolling hills and blue sea as far as the eye can see. And there's a fair bit of clouds, too, which both makes for softer light and lower temperatures. Win-win!
Funny thing: when you're driving on bitumen, you're kinda eager to get off it, because all the scenery is usually not there. And when you're out there on the dirt, you're very keen to go back on the bitumen, despite all the scenery, because of all the bumps and corrugations and shaking that your vehicle has to endure. Or maybe it's just me, I don't know. Either way, for my route back to the highway I pick the Lake King – Norseman road, of which I know nothing about, but it goes through mostly the same kind of area as yesterday's wonderfully scenic track, so maybe I'll be able to steal some nice shots there as well?
After some consideration, I set my sites on a route with a rather flamboyant name of The Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail, which is just a fancy name for a stretch of unsealed road between Norseman and Hyden. And near the latter I also have a chance to visit the famous Wave Rock as well. Sounds like a plan, I say!
In the morning, as soon as I wake up, I grab my camera and venture out in hope of some more excellent photos. Perhaps, there's still a few more of those amazing clouds that I witnessed yesterday? And there sure is. A wonderful sunrise greets me as I look for all kinds of compositions here and there, and even some poor animal's skull nearby finds its place in my image collection.
It is time for me to leave the Eyre Peninsula now and travel further west. On my way along the western coast of the Eyre I stop by a peculiar place called Murphy's Haystacks. Situated on a private property, which allows you access for an honesty box donation, there's a small collection of giant boulders, eroded into very intricate shapes by all kinds of elements. They look very bizarre amongst the scorched yellow grass and slowly undulating rural plains.
I've been to the Innes National Park a short while ago, so I'm not planning to stay there for long. In fact, I'm not planning to stay there at all! I decide to take a different road back to the mainland, and the unsealed part of it is supposed to be “scenic”. Well, it kind of is: sea, rocks, and all that stuff, plus the hazy bulk of the Kangaroo Island in the distance. However, the day is very sunny already, and it's very difficult to do good photography in such bright, brutal light.
The morning of the Christmas Eve finds me deep in the mallee that surrounds our camping spot, where I try to find interesting compositions with the outback vegetation and the rising sun. Nothing particularly interesting eventuates, but that's fine: you win some, you lose some.
The morning at the Kosciuszko is just beautiful. The rising sun coaxes a few strands of mists out of the ground, which travel far and wide along the grass-covered plain between the mountains and the river. With the sun come the kangaroos: a whole herd of them scatters around, foraging for breakfast. A couple of them stops right next to my vehicle, apparently very interested in what I'm having for a brekkie myself. It's the middle of the summer, but the air feels quite shivery: 10 or 12 degrees, maybe? Must be very frosty here, come June or July.
It's kind of pointless to stay home during Christmas and New Year: too many days off, too many destinations to visit. Also, I need to test out a few more items of camping gear that I purchased recently. Time to hit the road again, I think!
The sunrise is as spectacular as the sunset before it; but when I check the coolant level, I barely find any. Looks like the bone-shaking corrugations of the Rainbow Valley did their nasty job, so I use my last remaining bottle of coolant to top it up. I'm almost home now anyway, aren't I?
When I wake up and eat my breakfast, I still have no idea whether the mouse is still in the car or not. Just in case, I decide to visit a Bunnings in Alice Springs and buy a mouse trap or two – which is where I'm going anyway.
The morning in the Wolfe Creek is warm, quiet and sunny. It's “summer” up here in the North, after all, and it's going to stay like this for the next few months. Not for me, though; my journey takes me away from these lands of spinifex and boabs and back to the winterlands.
Two months of no photography at all is way too much time with no photography at all. Enough is enough! Time to hit the road again, and even if it doesn't take me as far as it often does, there still will be opportunities to capture a good landscape or two. If the scenery, weather, and my own travelling plans all come together, that is.
With the Mornington now out of the way, I’m quickly approaching the other end of the Gibb River Road, and the last major stop on the way is the Windjana Gorge. On my way there I, as everyone else who travels these parts, notice a giant cliff next to the road shaped like a giant head: Queen Victoria’s, as the its name suggests. I’m not very familiar with the lady herself, though, so I can’t appreciate the similarity, if it does indeed exist.
After a chat with the mechanic, I’m slightly more relaxed about the leak, so I decide not to cut my trip too short and visit the nearby Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary as well. Galvans Gorge is just a quick stop on my way there, and it’s very pretty, too.
Before going to bed, I cut the top off a plastic bottle and put it under the car, where the coolant keeps dripping. In the morning, the bottle is already half full. Damn. Well, at least I get to put back in what's already out. Can't do that while I'm driving, though.
In the morning, I head over to the mechanic’s just before the opening time and start waiting. Twenty minutes later I begin to realise that something’s wrong: no one’s around yet, and the entire area looks like it’s been wiped out by a plague. I mean, it’s a small town, but on a Monday morning? I quickly check with Google, and…
Given that I’m still here, and the park pass gives me a few more days of exploration, I decide to visit a couple more places around El Questro—after topping up the coolant, of course. I head over to the 4WD Blanco trail, but even at the very beginning it looks way too intimidating: giant rocks all over the place, etc. Would be nice to improve my off-road driving skills… but probably not with an already leaking radiator (again, if that’s what it is). Some other time.
The night at El Questro was quite warm and pleasant. There was also a live music event of some sort: in the restaurant, a guy with a guitar and a hat was singing songs about red dirt and tool sheds much to the enjoyment of the crowd. Good thing that I camped far enough from all the noise.
I start my day at 6 in the morning (NT time? WA time? Who knows?) to drive a little further into the park and take another scenic walk, called Jarnem. No one’s around at this early hour, except for a couple of tradies who do some maintenance work at the campground.
In the morning I leave The Bungles: there’s still plenty to see outside this undoubtedly phenomenal place. On my way out I meet another 5 or 10 cars going in: poor people are driving straight into the morning sun and dust. It’s so much more rewarding to travel this road eastwards a bit later in the day, like I did.
Well, now that I’m in the Bungles at last, time to take a closer look at it, right? As the dawn breaks, I prepare my backpack and promptly drive towards the southern section of the park, to marvel at all the goodies before other walkers and hikers swarm all over them.
I start my day of driving very early, at 6:15… but only because I switched the clock at last, and everything happens 1.5 hours earlier for me now. As I open and close one of the gates, I spot a dingo watching me from the distance: it's the first one I see in the wild! I try to take a picture, but it quickly scoots away. Maybe it’s just a feral dog, anyway.
It still drizzles in the morning, and I even see an occasional lightning in the distance as I get up and start my morning routine. It’s not as cold as I thought it would be at this time of year. However, I still decide to cancel my second visit to the Breakaways: it’s probably pointless to try and do good photography of that particular place when it rains.
It’s Saturday, 7 a.m., which means that it’s time to start the car, leave the house and head towards (and beyond) more black stumps on my Australian map. Winter starts in just a few days, so I might as well spend these days travelling to the regions where summer never really ends.
The sunrise that follows has some spectacular cloud formations, and I make sure to capture them all while I can. The blessing and the curse of landscape photography: you can have the most beautiful scene in front of you, but you have no control over it whatsoever, and if the clouds or the light change, they change for good. If a sunrise is bad, you can't do anything about it; but if it's good, you're the luckiest person on Earth. Like right now, for instance.
In the morning I take another detour from the Track and venture out into the Painted Desert. The name alone is worth a try, right? It looks pretty bleak most of the way, but as I approach the Arckaringa Station, I can clearly see how the region got its name.
Did you know that Anna Creek Station, the largest of its kind in Australia, is bigger than Israel? Just think about it. An area of land as big as a country, just for your cows. You have probably never even seen a lot of your own property in person. Hell, there are probably places that no one has ever seen so far, except for your cows. And maybe not even them. That's Australian outback for you.
The night was quiet, starry and quite cool. However, at the first rays of sun the temperature rises quickly; and, wasting no time, I head out for a quick walk towards the Yanginga Falls, enjoying the morning scenery around me.
The rain that was promised has arrived indeed, and it pours slowly over the night and well into the morning. I listen to the rain drops pattering outside the tent as I warm up my instant noodles and eat them with enthusiasm, anticipating my imminent homecoming. After that I pack up my camp (for the last time!) in my rain coat (finally it's getting some use!), rolling up my soaking wet tent as is. The morning is rainy and gloomy when I finally leave the caravan park and deposit the key from the shower block into the mailbox, placed there specifically for the purpose.
In the morning the journey continues. It's quite cool outside now: I'm very much in the temperate climate zone these days, and the autumn is close. Quite a difference from the perpetual 30° in the tropics.
When I wake up before dawn, I quickly boil a few eggs for breakfast, leave a grateful note for Alex and Sarah and jump back into the car: I have to drive on to Sydney, which is almost a thousand kilometres away. However, I make one quick stop on my way in the morning: Byron Bay.
In the morning the whole tent is covered in thick dew, so I have to pack it as is, soaking wet. It will stay that way in the Tucson's boot for two days, because both in Brisbane and Sydney I will be staying in proper houses.
When I wake up, the sun is up, too, which is unusually late for me. Then again, Townsville's tyre shops don't open until 8:30 anyway. When I do arrive there, they finally tell me that they do have 235/60, and half an hour later I drive away with brand new front tyres. Hooray!
In the morning, when I visit the toilet facilities, I suddenly see a white frog on the seat. I lift the seat to scare it off, but apparently the creature is all too familiar with human ways and simply crawls higher up, looking at me angrily. I shrug and enter another stall. Already sitting there, I glance to the right and see another frog, which is green and about twice as big. I keep glancing at it nervously until I'm done with my business. Croydon: the frog capital of Queensland.
After having slept beautifully, I get up at 5 a.m. and finish eating and packing up before dawn. As the sun rises, I add a bit more oil to the engine (just in case) and take off. Ahead lie Queensland and the mining town of Mount Isa.
I start my day very early, before dawn; but, surprisingly enough, I slept excellent and didn't get a single drop of rain: either it passed me by or didn't start at all. Also, I firmly decide to implement the itinerary change I came up with last night.
Too humid for a good sleep, so I don't get much. After a quick shower, where I wash off the morning sweat (it instantly reappears), we pack up and move on to the Litchfield National Park. From the north it can be reached via dirt track (which we're using right now), or via proper sealed road from the east (which we'll use later). Either way, the park and its rainforest are all around us.
After having an excellent sleep in Kununurra, we quickly pack up (it takes less and less time these days: we're getting used to the moves) and take off. Kununurra is the last town in Western Australia; ahead lies the Northern Territory, with its own towns, roads and other quirky little things.
In the morning, when I crawl out of the tent, all tired and grumpy after a lousy night's sleep, I find out that the garbage bag that we forgot to lock inside the car was discovered by ants, and they ate a huge hole in its bottom. No other option but to put the damaged bag into another bag and throw it in the car as is, with the remaining ants. Soon the ants escape the bag and scout the Tucson's interior, and during the day we will entertain ourselves by spotting and killing them one by one.
The night in the presence of cargo ships and busy waterfront brings no relief whatsoever. Too humid and too sweaty, and the street light two metres away doesn't help either. Is every night in these high latitudes going to be like this? Hopefully not.
If down south, in Walpole, I could see my breath in the morning, and if in Geraldton it was around 18° at this time of day, then here it's already 27°. We move closer and closer to the northern heat with every kilometre. As the dawn breaks, the sandflies awaken too and begin to buzz annoyingly next to our faces. Are they really trying to bite us, or they just do it for fun? Avoiding them as much as we can, we have a quick breakfast, jump into the car and drive away.
The night is warm and quiet, and the sleep is great; when we wake up, we are greeted by numerous birds in the aviary nearby: just a patch of grass surrounded by a mesh fence with perches and troughs, a perfect place for dozens of parrots, canaries and other colourful creatures. After having our breakfast and packing up our camp (feels a bit odd when two people now do it instead of just one), we take off.
In the morning Alen feels much better and says that he's ready to go. During a brief visit to the dentist we find out that nothing serious has happened with his tooth, and that it will get well on its own. Nothing to stop us anymore, then.
From Walpole, I finally begin my way up north. The morning highway leads me through the dense gum forest, where I overtake the lumber trucks every now and again. The road dips, rises and turns left and right constantly. The thick forest is full of pockets of warm and cool air; the windshield gets misty all the time, and you can never tell whether it's from the outside or the inside. Never saw that before. Go and try to see something on the road while you're negotiating a sharp bend and the morning sun hits your eyes, and the next second the windshield is so misty that you can't see a thing, and you don't even know what to turn on to clean it: the wipers, or the air con! Very unnerving. But the road is very beautiful nonetheless.
An unpleasant surprise in the morning: drizzling rain, which appears to have started during the night. Things left outside are completely wet, of course, but I'm only worried about the cooker. Just in case I evacuate it inside the tent and dry it carefully with a towel. Due to bad weather, I decide to skip the hot breakfast, and after a few snacks I start to pack up under the drizzle. Not a very exciting procedure, but what can you do.
I slept wonderfully. However, the warm and windless night resulted in thick dew all over the tent. I have to wrap it wet, and after that my hands are all covered in red sand. Still, I'm quite happy and excited. Even despite these little shortcomings and occasional panic attacks, it's still very beautiful around, and my journey is going exactly as planned.
Sleeping amongst the dunes turned out to be a lousy idea. It's quite chilly, and the moisture gets condensed on the inner walls of the tent; with each gust of the cold wind the tent shakes, and the water drips on my face. Once again I wake up before dawn and spend the rest of the night sitting in the car and shaking in cold. No more camping next to the sea!
I went to sleep quite early yesterday, so I wake up at 4 a.m., no less. After having my breakfast (instant noodles) I decide, for the lack of anything else to do, to pack up my camp, but the decision proves to be wrong. Too dark yet, and too cold, and the light of the torch attracts too many moths. Humans weren't meant to be nocturnal, after all. It's not very pleasant to realize that in the darkness that surrounds you there can be anything at all, and that all your observable Universe is limited by the circle of the pale light from your torch.
At 6:20 am I drive out of my garage in Elizabeth Park. The sun is not fully up yet, but I'm not sleepy at all. Finally! My journey is happening at last! The familiar suburbs roll past my window, changed by the suburbs not too familiar; then it's only farms and greenhouses; and then it's finally Port Wakefield Road, the first country road of my journey. Port Wakefield, a small coastal town, is soon left behind as well, and now I'm on Stuart Highway. This highway stretches all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, but Darwin is the place that I'm aiming for just yet.
A car trip around Australia? I can't remember how exactly I came up up with this particular idea, but it's very easy to find out when it happened: August 2015. According to Google Docs, this was exactly when I had created a spreadsheet where I began to outline the itinerary in full detail. Soon it became clear that a month would be more than enough to achieve this. The question was: when?
Contrary to my expectations, and despite the sheep bleating constantly at the cattle station nearby, I sleep quite well. Off at 6:50 in the morning. The country is brown, plain and dull at first, but graduately becomes more mild and undulating, with patches of muted green here and there. Lots and lots of kangaroos: I almost hit three of them myself within an hour. Plenty of roadkill, too.
No wind at night = excellent sleep. At least while I'm still travelling with a tent, anyway. I'm off at 7:15, ready to explore my way down south. Coincidentally, this is where the sealed road ends for me as well. I stop to deflate the tyres next to the hotel's amenities block and suddenly discover that they have free showers there (unless you feel like making a gold coin donation at the hotel desk). Well, plenty of time for hygiene later.
Windy night did not make for a good night's sleep indeed, but it's not like I came here for comfort, is it? It's still windy and chilly when I pack up my camp and head out at 7 a.m., but the sun is out and the skies are clear: going to be a hot one today. The landscape becomes more and more flat and featureless as I drive on amidst the quickly shortening shadows.
There's no better day to leave home than Friday the 13th. Especially if it's a four-day trip across the Australian outback. Especially if you're entirely on your own, with very rudimentary car repair skills, miles (hundreds of miles, sometimes) away from any help. What can possibly go wrong?
Alright, so what I can say in the end? In the end, the trip was excellent. I have visited every place that I wanted to visit, and I've seen everything that I wanted to see. Even despite all that dirt driving, the car is still in one piece (except for that bloody mud guard and those lights): kudos to the Japanese automotive industry.
The night is surprisingly warm: must be because the Bight is so close. No rain either: also a plus. I hesitate and think about whether I should make it a two-day or a one-day trip back home. I'm not on a schedule, but if I choose two days, what exactly am I supposed to see here? I've been to this area before, so it's not exactly terra incognita. I could go to the Eyre Peninsula, of course, and explore its southern part… but the weather isn't too grand, so it probably won't be too enjoyable. One day it is, then. A thousand kays in one go: tough, but doable. And I won't have to pitch the tent at the end of it, anyway.
Tropics are well behind me now, sadly, and the night on the rocks turns out to be quite cold. Something has to be done about it. I make myself some hot tea to warm up, then pack up my bags and start my way due south, where it's going to be even colder. Australian winter is coming.
In the morning I try to pay a few visits to local mechanics for an oil change. Of course, everyone is booked out for today, just like in Tom Price a few days back. Fair enough. I leave Carnarvon unserviced to visit two more national parks and dive for the last time into the Pilbara wilderness.
After an excellent night's sleep on my new pillow, I begin to explore the Millstream part of the park. This was a cattle station once, but the state bought it later and opened to public. The Fortescue River flows through it, quite peaceful at this time of year.
Next to the campground there is another ravine, called Dales Gorge. At the first rays of sun, while no one else is there, I head straight towards it. Unfortunately, the first rays of sun also make it quite difficult to take good pics. And the gorge itself, although undeniably beautiful, doesn't really say anything new after those that I've seen yesterday.
In the morning, as I leave Marble Bar, I hit the dirt again. I have misgivings about that after the somewhat uncomfortable ride to Carawine Gorge, and I'm tempted to modify the route and take a detour via Port Hedland; but the moment of weakness passes soon. Gotta be in it to win it.
The further north I drive, the more mining activity around I see. Thanks to the mining companies, the roads here are of excellent quality, and most of them are pretty new. They have also built all those long railroads, leading straight to Port Hedland, whence all this ore is shipped all over the world.
A large body of water nearby makes the night a lot warmer than out in the desert, and I sleep wonderfully. Back in Leonora, I turn right and head northwards now. It's quite cloudy (for the first time in 5 days), but it doesn't rain thankfully.
As I've already mentioned, there's another famous place next to the world-famous Uluru, and it's called Kata Tjuta. It means “many heads” in Aboriginal language, which sums up its appearance pretty good. As opposed to a monolith which is Uluru, Kata Tjuta is a whole set of enormous sandstone boulders, looming up quite impressively on the horizon. This is where I'm going today.
In the morning, as soon as I reach Marla, I make a refuel stop. My Prado, thankfully, has two fuel tanks 90 litres each, but even they tend to run out every so often. Diesel prices bite a little: $1.63 per litre, compared to about $1.20 in Adelaide. Oh well. A beggar's choice.
After the previous expedition, it became more or less clear to me where I want to go again and what take a closer look at. I had outlined a few trips in my mind since then, and as the time for another road trip came closer, I chose Pilbara to be the first of them.
May in Australia is like November in the Northern Hemisphere, but milder. Australian winter, however, is already at hand, so in our temperate South Australian latitudes it can get quite chilly during the night. Still, the sun gets up rapidly and warms up the inside of the vehicle very quickly.
It was quite interesting to see how this particular piece of Australia can be so different from the mainland, and I’m not talking just about scenery and wildlife. Small things here and there stand out and create a very unique experience. For example, I’ve never seen poplar trees lining the roads anywhere in Australia before. Or so many timber forest reserves, for that matter. They also love the “JCN” abbreviation on the road signs there (meaning “junction”). They don’t however, like to put up too many speed limit signs, and as you return to the main road you have no idea whether it’s a 80 or a 100 zone. An extra $12 for the vehicle in national parks wasn’t a particularly great surprise either.
There are two options for me when I disembark the ferry and enter Melbourne at 7:15 in the morning. Should I take a good look at the Great Ocean Road and the Otways National Park, spend another night on the road, and get back home tomorrow? Or ignore the Otways for now and do the GOR and get back to Adelaide in one go? I decide to pick the latter. No doubt that the Otways are spectacularly beautiful, but from what I know, these rainforests look a lot like Tasmania’s; and besides, I really could use a calm day off at home before going back to work on Monday.
The morning is quite sunny, but by the time I get to the Freycinet National Park the sky is overcast again. Erratic Tassie weather doesn’t work in my favour this time. Luckily, there’s no rain, and nothing stops me from taking a hike towards the Wineglass Bay lookout. It doesn’t look impressive at this weather, but what can you do?
Having deflated the tyres in the morning just for good measure, I retrace my steps back across that nameless 4WD track; and, of course, take two is a lot less scary than take one. Valuable lessons learned, though (never trust Google!), and some four-wheel driving skills gained, and not even a single busted tyre for it. Could be worse. Could be much worse.
The area around Lake Pedder is quite elevated, and as a result the night is quite chilly: 8°C by the time I wake up. Should have brought an extra blanket, even though it's way more comfortable and warmer to sleep in a car rather than a tent. Anyway. Time to head back to the highway and further east thenceforth.
Time to move much deeper inland now, away from the west coast into the mountainous and very forested central regions. A few glaciers beat me to it, though. From the Iron Blow lookout just outside Queenstown, a short hike takes me to the Horsetail Falls. This is my first reminder that visiting Tasmanian waterfalls at summer is probably not such a good idea. Slightly damp rocks is all I get this time around.
At 7:15 the journey resumes, taking me southwards along the Tasmania's west coast. An hour later I get to the place called Bluff Hill Point: a lovely-looking lighthouse towering above the terse coastal scenery. Saltbush, rugged rocks and a very blue ocean without a single person around.
The boat arrives to Devonport right on time: 6:30 a.m. Of course, I’m fully awake by then and quite eager to explore the uncharted lands. The said lands are quiet and very peaceful at this early hour. The air is cool and moist and very clean. Picturesque hills are covered with fields and pastures and stretch around as far as the eye can see.
Come to think of it, Tasmania may be the only place in Australia where you can travel outdoors extensively during summer. Everything else at this time of year is either too hot or too wet. Unless that’s what you’re looking for, of course. With that in mind, and also using this week off to test some new camping gear, I’m taking off at eight-ish in the morning of the Australia Day, beginning my way towards Melbourne. Another road never travelled before. Some places are quite familiar yet, though.