I sit here now in the Coolangatta Airport, waiting for my flight back to Japan. It makes for a pretty distinct ending to our time in Australia (at least for the immediate future). I’ve had a little bit of time over the last few weeks to contemplate, mentally regurgitate and reminisce over our Australian Odyssey. At the time we were so caught up in our daily travels that we rarely reflected on the trip as a whole.
It took a while to adjust back to reality after six months of a semi-nomadic life – no more days spent in the drivers seat, no more researching what to do today, tomorrow, next week. The strangest adjustment was actually no longer having to keep up our daily journal, and as much as I enjoyed writing and editing the photos every evening, I now felt much like I felt at the end of a university semester – free.
It was a whirlwind few weeks after returning (including that cheeky trip to Moreton Island). Even though we’d returned back to Brisbane, it was only long enough to get comfortable and settled before having to sever all ties again and say more farewells. It was a strange thing seeing friends again, and saying good-bye at the same time. But, that’s the price we have to pay for the non-stop life we choose to live.
I thought that I’d attempt to summarise the trip into a single post, focusing on things like budget, lessons learnt as well as highlights (and forgetting all about any of the lowlights).
The Numbers: The first thing that I was interested in was how far we actually travelled. We left Brisbane at about 181,000km, and returned at about 218,000km, which is about 37,000km! Which broken down is only an average of a touch over 200km/day for 180 days (though, it certainly felt like we were travelling much more than that). To give it a sense of scale, London to Moscow is only 2,700km, and Gold Coast to Tokyo direct is 7,200km. Malaysia to London overland is only a little over 15,000km, and the Earth’s circumference is only 40,000km – yes, we nearly drove around the world!
The next, and probably more important fact was to confirm how much we’d actually spent… I was in two minds about knowing this figure – part of me wanted to know to get a baseline if we were to do something like this again, but part of me would rather not know, as it was probably quite expensive… I knew it was going to be more than I’d anticipated, but I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much more it was. I had a figure in my mind before we left of about $15,000-$20,000. Turns out we spent $30,000! Though, to be honest if we hadn’t had those mechanical problems (fuel pump in Cairns, wheel bearings in Darwin, air-conditioner in Perth and cracked head in Esperance) we would have been much closer to those figures. While it was a little shocking at first (I didn’t know we even had that much money to spend), when I thought about comparable living expenses for six-months, I started to feel a little better…
Fuel… I had a rough estimate of about $6000 for fuel (30,000km @ $100/500km). Obviously that was going to change with us travelling a further 7,000km (an extra 20%) to the original estimation. It was also going to change once I experienced first-hand just how expensive fuel in the outback can be – I had expected it to be prohibitive, but wasn’t prepared for $2.45 at Tobermorey (try and find that on a map). Grand total was around $7,700, which to be honest wasn’t that far off the estimate. We kept all the fuel receipts, with plans to monitor the economy, amongst other things, but as we were getting fuel every other day (91 times) and didn’t get on top of it from the start, it was too mammoth a task.
Fuel economy was generally around the 12L/100km, when driving at 80-90kph. Those figures rose significantly in mountainous areas (Tasmania) or when we drove at 100-110kph. It’s the first time I’ve driven a car under the speed limit in order to save money on fuel, and to be honest, I was surprised at how much of a difference it made.
Repairs… The big unpredictable expense. Sure, to a degree we could have spent more money/time preparing the car for travel and could have avoided some of these expenses, but as far as we were aware, the car was in good mechanical shape when we rolled out of Brisbane. The fuel pump cost $2,000, the wheel bearings cost $800, the air-conditioner cost $1000 (which was actually very cheap) and the head cost a mammoth $4,000! Of course, there were other repairs that we carried out along the way, including a new alternator, a half-price tyre, six oil changes and various other smaller fixes and parts. Having the Ultimate RACQ coverage was probably the smartest decision of the entire trip, as we certainly got our value out of it – in short, you’re crazy if you attempt something like this without premium roadside assistance. Total came to just over $9,700, or about 30% of the total expense.
Tours… This was another unpredictable expense, and I hadn’t really tried to formulate an estimate – it was just going to cost whatever it cost as it was cheaper to see everything we wanted to see (and do all we wanted to do) now, rather than have to come back in the future. We ended up spending just shy of $3,000, which considering that the whale shark diving and the cage dive with the great white sharks were nearly $1000 each, we didn’t actually spend all that much on ‘activities’. I think that a lot of the smaller things we did we may have paid cash (and therefore it is much harder to trace), so it may have been a little more than that.
Entertainment… This was also a bit of a surprise to me. We spent a little over $2,000 on all the meals with friends, drinks, or take-away. Again, this number is a little hard to know for sure, as a lot of that was cash from ATMs, so harder to trace without keeping meticulous paperwork (we didn’t – we were on vacation).
The rest was made up of others, like $1000 worth of ferries (Rottnest, Jardine River, Tasmania), $600 worth of camping fees (some of which were reimbursed by RACQ), $100 worth of public transport and about $20 worth of parking!
Lessons Learnt: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. A popular phrase for project management (among other things), and one that could have been useful for us. Even though I spent five months preparing the car for travels, I probably could have started by ensuring we had a reliable car (mechanically) before I spent time worrying about things like a home theatre… I have my reasons for the order that I attacked things. Hindsight is wonderful.
Highlights: It’s probably the first question that we were asked, “Where was your favourite place”? It was a tough question to answer, to be honest. For me, I was happy anytime we were away from the cities and the people. There was something incredibly satisfying about having a vivid outback sunset to ourselves, and then having it followed by all the stars of the milky way.
I have been asked, “Where would you go if you only had two-weeks”? Which again, is a tough question. Others may disagree, but I would have to say Northern Territory, from Alice Springs, down to Uluru and Kata-Tjuta to Kings Canyon, MacDonnel Ranges, then the huge nothingness to Katherine Gorge and a loop through Kakadu.
With a little more time, I’d start in Adelaide, go through Flinders Range, along the Oodnadatta Track, then up to Uluru as above. As beautiful as the beaches are on the West/East coast, to me it just didn’t compare to the desolation of the outback.
Favourite Beach – Cable Beach, Broome. I was surprised to be saying this, but I think this was my favourite beach. I was expecting Broome to be a tourist trap, much like Byron Bay is, but it wasn’t at all. Cable Beach was exactly what you would expect a beautiful beach to be – perfect white sand that stretched to the horizon and clear turquoise waters.
Biggest Surprise – Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). I can’t believe they play second fiddle to Uluru. Well, I can, but I was much more impressed by Kata Tjuta. Also an unexpected surprise was the Oodnadatta Track.
In conclusion. We were incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity to see Australia like we did. We managed to see friends who were scattered all over the country, as well as make a few new ones along the way. We managed to see natural parts of Australia that few Australians ever see. We gained an appreciation for the ruggedness, the diversity, the vastness of this country. I gained a new sense of pride of Australia. A big thanks to everyone who helped us along the way and to everyone who provided us a bed, a shower or a meal.
Thanks for following our journey. I’m looking forward to our next mini adventure.
When we left Brisbane back in May, we left with much gusto, trying to cover as much ground as quickly as we could, convinced that six months wasn’t going to be enough time to see Australia (I’ll talk about that in a final wrap-up post). So, this rush to be in fresh territory meant that we missed certain gems that are within easy reach of Brisbane, such as Moreton Island. Risa had wanted to visit for a while, but for her it was the dolphins at Tangalooma resort that she was interested in, not the enormous sandy national park that drew me back.
We had arrived back in Brisbane with two weeks to spare before Risa had to fly back to Japan, and I thought that I had a free week before I went back to work (which sadly fell through thanks to complication with the HR department), so we thought we’d right the wrongs from our hasty departure from Brisbane. The only problem was the weather forecast for the week was for storms… We held out for a few days, and noticed that the storms were little more than 15 minutes of action in an otherwise clear and sunny day. So, we took a chance and bought some discounted ferry tickets from RACQ (~$170). It wasn’t just the expense of the ferry though, there was also the $45 vehicle access permit, and the (rather cheap) $5.60/person/night camping fees.
Thursday: We took a gamble on the weather, assuming that since the forecast was basically the same as it had been for earlier in the week, we’d have similar weather. It wasn’t though, it was actually quite overcast this morning, and there seemed to be no signs of it burning off any time soon.
The Micat ferry left at 8:30AM from Port of Brisbane. I shouldn’t have been, but I was exhausted from the early start (I actually forgot to book a spot on this morning’s ferry, so I wanted to turn up early to make sure we could get on). The 90-minute trip felt more like a few hours. I thought that I would make use of that down time to research things to do on the island. There wasn’t much in Lonely Planet, and the information brochures on board were not much better (however, the $5 booklet was rubbish – we returned it and got our money back).
Moreton Island has no bitumen roads (that I’m aware of), so a 4WD is mandatory. On the journey over there, everyone was getting prepared for the Normandy-like beach landing by dropping the tyre pressure down to 18psi (or lower) and locking their front hubs (for those that don’t do it automatically). The actual exodus from the ferry is brutal – the ferry lands on the side of the beach, and its up to you to get through the soft sand and on to the harder sections on the beach. There were no problems on our departure, but we saw a car get stuck on another ferry, the ferry just moved to a fresh part of the beach and left the stuck car to deal with it on their own.
We’d booked a campsite on the east coast (Blue Lagoon). The quickest way to get to the other side was via a cross-island track, which was generally in good condition, but at times it got very soft and deep. But, we just kept the engine speed up and got through it all without any frights. The trail seemed to take forever, but eventually we spied a glimpse of water and knew the bumpy, shaky, rolly ride was over. We exited the trees, scrambled across the soft deep sand and safely made our way to the hard sand by water’s edge. The beach stretched far beyond where we could see. The sand wasn’t as bright and white as it had been in other places, but this golden sand was very fine, very clean, and very squeaky.
We drove rather aimlessly, mostly for the sake of going for a drive and seeing what was further down the coast. According to our incredibly rough map, there were a few attractions further down the coast, these included big/little sandhills, and Rous Battery (155mm artillery). We drove almost to the end and didn’t see the sandhills, and to see the old defence outpost required a walk of half-marathon lengths (in the heat, and on sand).
The weather finally started to clear a little, and we had patches of brilliant sunshine. When the sun was out, the water changed from being dark and foreboding, to beautiful, turquoise and inviting (however, swimming here isn’t recommended due to).
We continued north along the beach, back past where the overland track met the coast, past the Blue Lagoon campsite, all the way to the rocky northern point, which is the site of one of ‘Australia’s Most Important Lighthouse’ (not sure if that’s really true, but I did read it somewhere, so I’m going to run with it…).
The trail devolved a little more between North Point and the campground there, which was the easiest way to access the beaches there. It was around 2PM and I was hot, sweaty and well and truly ready for a swim. I read about (and had been told to visit) Champagne Pools that were at the North Point. There wasn’t any signage for them, but sure enough we found it by following signs to North Point. It’s a sheltered rock pool with waves that crash over a rocky barrier into it, filling the pool with bubbling water (funny enough, it was just like you would imagine a pool of champagne to be, but salty instead of sticky). But, in that short time between us parking and having lunch at the campsite, and us arriving at the pools, the sun was gone and the wind had picked up (so Risa travelled no further than her ankles into the pool). I loved it, especially since you couldn’t really see when the waves were coming and it was like a fun, bubbly surprise. Sadly, with it being overcast the photos don’t really do the area justice…
I didn’t want to leave it too late to get back to our campsite, just in case the tide was getting too high, so we returned back down the east coast to the Blue Lagoon campsite, set up (which really just means we parked in a flat location) and walked down to the lagoon. And boy were we in for a shock! There was a group of 30 high school students running, jumping, wrestling, yelling, splashing in the small area that is easily accessible (as in, the small area that isn’t reeds and weeds). We found a small quiet spot and had a laugh at the ridiculousness of it, and before long another 20 students arrived, and things really got out of hand. They were crashing in to us when they were throwing a rugby ball, splashing us as they ran around. I get it, they like to have fun, and I’m fine with that, but the jerks didn’t even realise that we were there, and not so much as an apology (or apologetic look). We sat on the small beach for a while, hoping that they’d leave soon and we could enjoy it in solitude, but we weren’t safe on the beach either. We grabbed our things, had a word to one of the teachers, and huffed off back to the campsite, wondering what is going on with the youth of today. Also, Blue Lagoon was a lie, it was most certainly a brown body of water when we were there…
We had a campfire, but only because someone had left a pile of wood ready to build a fire from (it’s questionable if that wood was local native wood or not, but I played ignorant). Kangaroo steak and salad for dinner, and a distant lightning storm for entertainment.
Friday: Beautiful sunny skies, but the downside was that the sand was red hot – too hot to walk bare footed, but the super dry sand that was being flicked up by thongs was also hot (and invasive). The penetration of sand into my clothes is my least favourite thing about beaches. Probably followed closely by sunburn, sunscreen, and march flies (and midges). But, it’s hard to deny the beauty of a long sandy beach on a clear and sunny day.
We booked a campsite at The Wrecks on the west coast, so we decided to spend the day on that side of the island. On the way we headed to The Desert, which was a rather impressive name for what was a rather small patch of sand (but more on that later, the journey there was probably more exciting). Before leaving Brisbane, I’d read a few warnings on the National Parks website, specifically mentioning the soft and deep sand on the trail to here. Having managed to easily drive through what I considered to be soft and deep sand already while on the island, I thought that we would have been fine. And, we would have been, apart from the entrance/exit to the car park, right at the end of the drive. Fortunately, we’d become bogged in a place that required someone to help us before they could leave. Even more fortunate was that there actually was someone here who wanted to leave. So, after six months of carrying around my recovery strap, it finally saw use… It took a few attempts from the little white Prado, but eventually we were pulled free from that pit of soft sand and had enough traction and clearance to park. Luckily, the exit was downhill, so we had no problems leaving.
We came to The Desert to try some sand dune tobogganing. I filled a bottle with water, put on a generous amount of sunscreen and thrown on a long sleeve shirt. I’d bought a few pieces of thin MDF from Bunnings before we left. I’d given them a good wax with a candle and carried them to the top of a sand dune. I’d told Risa all about the accidents I’d had on sand boards, and all the sand that had made it into my eyes/mouth/nose/ears/hair/underwear/butt-crack, so she played it safe with a pair of goggles for eye protection. Sure, she looked ridiculous, but by this time everyone had left. I got into position, Risa got into position… and that is where she stayed – the board wouldn’t budge. I’m no sand board guru, but I thought that was all that there was too it – a board, with wax, and a steep sand dune and then gravity did the rest. Let it be known that we tried hard before failing and giving up.
Access on the west-side of the island is a little more complicated, due to the resorts there. It’s not possible to drive all the way along the beach, instead the settlements have bypass roads, which are much like the sandy overland tracks, except they are for two-way traffic…
Driving south along the beach on the west coast, we passed a few wrecks, including one that looked to have occurred quite recently (and, it was quite a small boat, which surprised us as to why it hadn’t been salvaged). Again, with the guidance of our incredibly vague map, we were heading towards the Big Sandhills. This time however, we were actually able to see them. The name was also fitting, and far more desert-like than The Desert. Climbing to the top of the sandhill we realised that what we could see from the beach was only a tiny hill, with a much larger hill behind it (which meant another 5 minutes of me trying my best to get to the top, just because). The view from the first sandhill was nice, but the view from the top was awesome (shame Risa decided that it was too much effort to climb to the top).
As we were driving south along the beach, we noticed a sea of tiny crabs all running away from where we were driving. The sheer numbers of them made for an impressive sight. If you walked towards them, they would disappear into the ground, but if you stood still for long enough, they would eventually start to re-emerge from the ground and go about their daily business again. We spent a bit of time trying to herd these tiny crabs, which even though it was a little mean spirited, it was fun. There were a few more wrecks here, though there was little more than their steam boiler and a feint remnant of the outer carcass left on the shore to remind you that this was actually once a boat.
But, the main wrecks on Moreton Island are just on the north side of the Tangalooma Resort. It’s also where we booked our campsite for the night. However, it turns out that the campsite is a tent only site – no vehicle access. So, we had no choice but to camp on the beach beside the campsite.
We’d been sweating all day and couldn’t wait for a swim, but as usual, by the time we’d arrived somewhere we wanted to go swimming, the hot sun that we’d been baking in all day had fallen behind thick stormy clouds, and the wind had started to pick up. We still went for a swim to get a closer look at the wrecks, but it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been an hour earlier… There is a small channel between the beach and the wrecks, and the current flowing through it was quite strong – almost like trying to swim across a strong river. I had no problems (but I like to think of myself as being quite a strong swimmer), but Risa was getting quite tired. The visibility in the water was quite bad, so swimming around the wrecks was a little scary. We didn’t really know what was below the water, and with all the rusty metal and razor sharp barnacles/oysters, it was definitely a valid concern. Still, even with the (relatively) cool water, the dark skies, cold breeze and strong currents, it was utterly surreal swimming around these wrecked ships.
We were once again in the land of internet communications, so when we saw the proliferation of facebook updates about the ‘apocalypse’ that was hitting Brisbane, we realised that underneath the giant clouds that we could see, an equally giant storm was raging. Once the sun set (oh so spectacularly), we could see just how active that thunderstorm was, with a near constant source of lightning flashing away within the clouds. Oddly, there was another giant storm passing to the north of us, too. We didn’t have as much as a drop of rain.
Saturday: I was surprised to see some of the boats that were moored next to us last night were no longer there this morning (I wonder how often anchors fail…). But, I was more surprised by the enormous clouds over Brisbane, including the heavy rain that looked to be battering everything south of us. But, as has been the case all week, the storms based by with little more than a few drops of rain and some wind.
We cooked one last meal in Deli-chan – shake-n-bake pancakes! I’m sure the crowds that had started making their way to picnic here by the wrecks were jealous. And speaking of crowds, wow, it was starting to feel like we were in a car park. There were cars all around us now, which I guess is all the Brisbane weekend getaway crew. I’m glad we came mid-week and can only imagine the horror of being here during school holidays!
The sun eventually started to break through the clouds, and as it does, the temperatures started rising. It wasn’t the beautiful sunny day that we’d hoped for, but it wasn’t bad. To really get in the mood for a swim, we climbed to the top of a nearby sandhill (and then ran back down it).
The current in the narrow channel between the beach and the wrecks was still flowing as strongly as yesterday, only now it was moving in the opposite direction. There were scores of small boats and soft, fleshy, white people on sea-kayaks in the area. There were even more people with scuba and snorkels around the wrecks. Even with the sun shining today, the visibility (with Risa’s snorkelling mask) was too low to be useful. I still felt uncomfortable swimming too close to the wrecks, as I honestly couldn’t tell if I was going to kick some submerged sharp object, which took away a lot of the enjoyment. I did however have flashbacks to a videogame (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves). There were plenty of people (and children) climbing all over the wrecks, but again, it looked quite sharp and dangerous, so I resisted the temptation. It was interesting being up close to these severely rusted and decaying ships. It also felt weird to be enjoying a beautiful national park, with what is essentially a load of scrap metal that was intentionally sunk here (to create reefs). I couldn’t decide if it was awesome, or an eyesore. (I’m leaning towards awesome, but I do love wrecks).
We fought our way back across the narrow channel, showered, and relaxed and waited to be able to board our ferry. This time we just stayed inside Deli-chan and watched MotoGP (Valencia), which was lovely and comfortable and I wished we’d done the same for the Tasmania voyage.
And that was it, we were back in Brisbane. Deli-chan had a thorough wash underneath to get rid of the salt and sand, clothes and plates were taken inside for a wash. I was incredibly glad we did this little extra trip, it now officially felt like we’d finished the journey. We had closure. We also had a good weekend, and the usual regrets at not doing it more often while we were in Brisbane, but that’s the way life is – the low hanging fruit is seldom as appealing.
After the amazing thunderstorm that was all around us last night, the skies cleared and temperatures dropped right down (but that was to be expected considering we were at 1,000m above sea level).
We made a decision this morning to just head for Brisbane, rather than re-treading the East coast. I might have been more interested in stopping at the beaches along the way if the weather was better, but it was overcast, and there were storms on the horizon. We followed a fun mountain road towards Grafton – it was one of those roads where you’d struggle to find more than 200m of straight road. It was also one of those roads that I wished I was on a motorbike instead of this boat on wheels… until the rain started, and steadily increased until the looks of joy had been well and truly washed from the faces of the motorcyclists out on a Sunday ride.
Apart from the giant prawn (shrimp, for any Americans) that is now sitting at the edge of the car park of Bunnings, we didn’t really stop or look around Ballina. But, for the first time in a while, we were back on the National Highway #1 (Pacific Motorway). It was odd seeing Brisbane on distance markers, and even odder knowing that it was only a few hours away.
We were well and truly within day-tripping distance from Brisbane, which is why we’ve covered this area many times before. If it was our first time though, I think we’d certainly love the long empty beaches south of Byron Bay. We’d also love them more if we hadn’t seen the beaches in Bay of Fires, or Esperance, or Broome, beaches that raised the bar for all other beaches. Yes, even though I’m hardly a beach person, I’ve become a beach snob.
It was a hot and sticky day, so we were actually looking forward to a quick swim. But, by the time we’d made it to the beach at Ballina, it had become overcast, windy, and cool, and all motivation had been lost… We were tempted to drive through Byron Bay for old times sake, but being a Sunday afternoon, it’d be packed with day-trippers from Brisbane anyway. So, we continued along the motorway to the Gold Coast.
We had one last social visit with yet another Australian/Japanese couple (and their cool little son) down the coast before we made our way back up the familiar stretch of motorway linking the two cities. It was weird being on such a wide and busy motorway after so much time on small and quiet country roads.
After the rubbish pie we had in Dubbo, I was craving a Yatala Pie more than ever. It’s a bit of a bad habit that I generally stop in and grab a pie whenever I drive back from the coast. So, when it turned out that mum had no dinner plans and quite fancied pie herself, we popped in, bought a family size steak and mushroom (complete with a giant container of fresh mashed potato) and a large apple pie (and a jam and cream donut to eat now as it was only $2).
From Yatala Pies it was only thirty short minutes to the end of the journey. Now more than ever the reality that our time on the road had come to an end. It had been an amazing six months, filled with ups and a few downs, but every day a new adventure (apart from the days wasted on a couch in Perth). We’d driven more than 35,000km and seen much more of Australia than the average person gets the chance to. Now it was some time for some well earned rest and relaxation while we get ready for our next adventure.
To Be Continued…