A couple uni degrees later, a couple of children, and a fairly sound attempt at getting our careers off the ground, we finally thought it was time to dust off the old plans to get back on the road and, well, finally get back on the road!
... But, the big question was where to?
Most people who know me also know that I grew up in New Zealand; a wonderful little gem of country, bobbing almost poetically, up and down, peacefully, in the bottom corner of the South Pacific Ocean. Kia ora koutou Aoteraroa - i ngaro tau.
But, the thing is, despite its beauty, its majesty and wonder, I lived my entire life – well, until the age of 24 – without having seen the splendours of the South Island. In fact, it wasn’t until Natalie and I returned from our long stint travelling around the world that I finally explored the grandeur of my own back yard.
It occurred to me recently, in an average working week I could easily cover the same distance from Auckland to Wellington (or just about). In a few weeks I’d be right around the South Island and back home. But, it took me 24 years to do that trip. Such a shame…
Perhaps it’s a form of penance for having neglected to explore my old back yard when I was younger… Perhaps it’s some (misguided?) need to make up for having put off ‘our next big adventure’ for so long… Perhaps it’s the tyranny of having decided to live in a country with one of the biggest backyards in the world… Whatever the reason, in the end, we decided to snub our noses at the 'rest of the world' and firmly set our sights on going walk-about around Australia with our kids. “Just a short jaunt up through the middle," we thought. "Turn left at Darwin and head across the top. Left again until we reach halfway down Western Australia, and homeward bound" (smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back in time for breakfast…). Trouble is, turning to my old pal Google once more, it soon became clear that such a trip would put the 'nippy sprint' from Auckland to Wellington into the ‘popping down the shops to pick up some a bottle of milk’ category of trips. Australia was going to be a whole different kettle of fish!
After much trawling over maps, atlases and guide books (oh, and of course my old friend Google got a look in there too), Natalie did one of the things she does best – she put together a trip so crammed full of awesomeness that I don’t think one lifetime will do it justice. But still, we can try.
So, I’m sitting here looking down the barrel of two weeks before launch day, with approximately 15,000 kilometres of road laying out before me – both metaphorically and, oh so entirely, literally. We’ve amassed enough supplies to fill a small army surplus store, and have started packing our house so that it can be easily cared for by friends, family and an assortment of lodgers while we’re away.
But that's not where this story really starts. No, in reality, planning really started in earnest about 18 months ago; when we came to the realisation that this was going to happen (whether we liked it or not – by now, the gods of adventure had us firmly in their sights and they were not going to take “Umm, I just can’t be bothered” for an answer).
So, the first step was to buy a car – nothing too fancy, just something that would get us there and back again. Nat and I also figured that we were both getting too long in the tooth for youth hostels, and we wanted something that we could easily sell off if this whole trip fiasco turned into a lemon. With our cunning, fiscally minded, brains we figured you can’t sell off a youth hostel once you’re done with it. As such, we started thinking about other places we could lay our weary heads (and hopefully keep the dingos from munching upon out tender young offspring - I hear that happens out there in the outback).
Our first thought was to get a good sturdy tent, which we knew would easily see us merrily around this wee continent. But after some soul searching (and forlornly coming to terms with the fact that, to put it mildly, we’re soft as tissue paper) we realised that although tents are great – and I’m sure will figure heavily in parts of this adventure (especially when feel the need to jump off the beaten track for a while) – we simply are not as young as we once were (you should hear my back creek and clung in the morning - and that's on a nice soft bed). Besides, who can be bothered with adjusting guide ropes and sleeping for four months on bumpy, rocky ground, with kids kicking you in their sleep, and dust, and flies and mud covering everything – yeah, it doesn't really seem like I'm the man for that challenge…).
So, we figured that a step up in life was soundly in order! With this in mind, we started frequenting caravan expos and travel shows, just out of curiosity, to see what sort of lifeline the universe could throw our way.
We eventually settled on buying a 2013 Ford Mondeo station wagon, which (according to the specs, at least) could easily pull a pop-top camper trailer – particularly if we were smart about what we towed and how we packed it. By mid-2016 we had come good on our promises to the gods of adventure, and both a Ford Mondeo and Jayco ‘Eagle’ camper trailer were sitting, gleaming, in our driveway.
So, off we went on our first test run - just to make sure we weren’t deluding ourselves and biting off more than we could chew. We started off with a low key adventure. Nothing more arduous than visiting Natalie’s sister a few hours from home. Despite some teething problems, particularly with sleeping arrangements (who knew it was so dark in the country… not good when your youngest son is used to sleeping with a night light), as well as the more important task of figuring out exactly how much beer could be stored in the camper van’s fridge, we made it home safe and sound, and pretty much in one piece. Don’t worry, the story goes downhill rapidly from here...
Coming down the freeway towards home, I remember looking at Natalie and saying, “Y’know, I think we just might be able to do this”. Oh, how I’m sure I’ll look back on this story in years to come and laugh!?
During that time, the gear box was completely overhauled. The tyres were changed and the rest of engine was given a jolly good going over! In the end, all was fixed. But, our confidence in the Ford was all but shot to tatters. A nagging doubt in the back of our minds just wouldn't leave us: It was one thing to break down in our driveway… but another very different proposition to break down in the middle of the outback. I mean, have you seen how big that place is?!?
Seriously, if Putin had decided to have garage sale that month, we’d have been first in line... As it turns out, this wasn’t as ridiculous as it first seemed – have you every Googled “buy a tank”? No, I hadn’t either (man, I love the internet!!).
That’s double thumbs up for Google.
So, with the gods of adventure appeased once more, we took our second ‘suck it and see’ test run. Warnambool in early January, the bastion of all great Victorian families (or so it seems from chatting to locals). I learned a lot from that trip. Not only did I now realise that you can fit more beer in the fridge if you buy cans – rather than bottles – but, also, when you visit a farming community, many people go camping on their very own door step. And there was me chastising myself for not seeing the South Island of New Zealand until I was 24, when many of the good people we met were just glad to get away from home for a few weeks each year and spend some quality time with their families. A well-earned break (but still close enough to pop home at dawn and milk the cows). Apparently cows, like farmers, don’t take annual leave … and my Weetabix, topped with creamy white milk, thanks them for it.
And so, here I sit, two weeks out from our big trip. A little wiser than I was 18 months ago, and I'm sure a little less wise than I’ll be four months from now. Despite all of the prep work that is still to be squeezed into the time remaining before we leave Melbourne, I’m eternally grateful to Natalie for all of the hard work she’s put into planning this trip. While I’ve been chipping away at finishing my PhD, in the lead up to our grand bon voyage she’s been busy beavering away to make sure every high point will be hit... and every low point mercifully avoided! So I have no doubt my boys and I are in safe hands (even if those hands are white knuckled from tightly clutching her master plan, complete with to do lists and schedules – set out with nursing-like precision). But, with the final words of my thesis written and the grand document submitted (‘grand’, perhaps, in my own opinion), my mind was now fully turned to the next adventure – which has been gathering momentum while I’ve been chasing other butterflies. Two weeks and we’re off… Two weeks... TWO WEEKS?? Bloody hell, I’d better get packing!!
But, in this age of lastminute.com, airbnb and cheapflights.com.au, it seems that as travelling has undoubtedly got easier, so too has the ability to keep in touch with one’s nearest and dearest whilst on the road. As such, I figured I’d also make it a little easier on myself and dive whole heartedly into this heady new world of blogging too…
Who knows, someone might even read it! (aside, that is, from those who have a moral imperative to follow along; mainly as a consequence of having brought myself or Natalie into this world).
I’m sure there have been many blogs written by people setting off around Australia (I haven’t actually checked, as I want as much of it to be a surprise as possible... I guess I would have made a terrible boy scout: new adage “What? Prepared? who me… nah?!”), but given my track record of getting lost even when holding on tightly to a map, this is less likely to be a sumptuous travel journal or even a journey of discovery, but more a tale of avoiding disaster at every turn.
I’m also not at all sure how often I’ll write; but, I’ll try to let everyone know we’re still alive and kicking at least every few days. Perhaps, in the interests of not causing alarm, I should write a wee bit of computer script, designed to send out false hope every now and then, to keep everyone who stumbles across this blog feeling safe and secure that we are alive (undoubtedly while we twitch and groan from snake bites somewhere, as we’re slowly devoured by blow flies)…
Bye ‘d bye,