Hi there,

For those of you arriving late to this intrepid family journey through the heart of Australia, you may like to start reading at the beginning. Unfortunately, Blogger organises posts with those most recently created appearing first. So, if you jump in at the top, you're not going to get the full experience of this gritty blow-by-blow account of our adventure. As such, I suggest using the navigation window above and head down to March, where the first part of this journey began. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll be hooked. From there you can scroll upwards to continue the journey. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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Monday, 20 March 2017

… and the countdown begins!

Two weeks to go and the countdown begins... Well, perhaps that’s not strictly true. Really the countdown began years ago (Ok, over a decade – but saying that just makes me feel old). I remember it well, as Natalie and I dragged ourselves back to the Southern Hemisphere in 2003 - after nearly four years travelling through Europe and Africa. Dusty, battered and more than slightly threadbare (both clothing and stamina); on the long flight home, we had already started planning our next big trip. But, as the song goes, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

Memories of times gone by...

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?

Our first thought was to pack up our lives and head overseas – maybe to England? We could use Great Britannia as a home base and spend a year living and travelling through Europe. Brilliant idea! But also kinda pricey - not to mention a long way to go... As the kids have started getting older and are well and truly settled into school – it just didn’t seem fair to rip them from their newly established roots, in order for us live the bohemian lifestyle of our 20’s anymore. Besides, that’s an experience the boys can have for themselves (if they want it) when they’re a little older. Hopefully while they’re still young enough and carefree enough to do it… (and, perhaps most importantly, can pay for their own sodding ticket!)

So, with the pipe dream of a grand European adventure thoroughly snuffed out, we started looking a little closer to home.

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.

According to Google, it is approximately 640km from Auckland to Wellington. From there it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to Nelson – the gateway to Te Wai Pounamu (as I was somewhat surprised to learn the South Island of New Zealand has been officially known since 2013 - hmmm, so very out of touch...)

Now, in my day-to-day life, I jump in my car every morning and drive a journey of 52 kilometres to work. Then, in the evening, I rev up my engine and I make the return journey of 52 kilometres home. I don’t mind the trip. No, not at all. As long as I have a few good podcasts to listen to, the meandering trip helps me to wind down by the time I get home. Work can be stressful sometimes, and sometime it needs a few kilometres in the car to allow the trials and tribulations of the day to settle before I get home.

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!?

So, we made it home... I parked in the driveway, unhitched the campervan and moved it into the carport beside the house. Hopping back in to car (to move it into the garage); the car started, then steadfastly refused to go anywhere. The dashboard lit up with error messages advising (rather unhelpfully) that ‘transmission has limited function’. And there it stayed – like a child who, after being asked to clean his room, had thrown himself on the floor and was slowly turning blue as he held his breath. "Ah ha!" I thought, I’ve played this game before. Shrewdly I knew that if I just waited long enough, the tantrumming child would either give up, pass out, or just get bored and start complaining about something else. But, it seems, the gear box on the Ford was even more stubborn than a toddler (particularly one who had just learned the power of the word “NO!”). And, like all tired and slightly broken children, I soon found that it needed a good long rest at the mechanic’s, where it stayed for the best part of a month.

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?!?

So, back to the drawing board we went (and only in hind sight we have now begun to realise that, unbeknownst to us, the adventure had already begun... crikey, those gods of adventure are a cunning lot). With confidence shaken, it felt like it was time to take drastic measures (on the magnitude of "Nuke them from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure!").  After much soul searching and wallet scouring we decided that the only thing for it was to get ourselves the closest thing to a tank that we could find!!

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.


In the end we settled on a new Pajero. Yup, the good old “Pajero and Jayco combo” – we figured, that duo has got a lot of people through the exact same trip, so why reinvent the wheel?

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.

Test run - Destination: Warrnambool

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!!

However, not one to let an opportunity to turn what is probably going to be a thigh slappingly good  adventure into a chance for some jolly good self-indulgent rhetoric, I took a deep breath and steadied my mind. “No,” I thought “packing can wait – what we really need is a BLOG!” Yes, a place to record our experiences as a family. Something to look back on in our dotage and remember 'that thing that we did, that time, when we went to that place'. And so this piece of internet immortality was born.

Ta Daaaaahhhh!

I remember my first blog (Oh yes, this is going to be one of those long winded stream of consciousness pieces of work - strangely reminiscent of a monologue by Grampa Simpson)… Actually, come to think of it, it was a long time before such a thing as a BLOG even existed. No, I recall working my finger tips to the bone writing a series of webpages and emails when I left the safety of my home and leapt forth into the unknown back in my 20’s. A world of sitting in libraries and internet cafes (they still exist, don’t they?) churning out my thoughts in a string of HTML (1.0, I might add) with the occasional bit of JavaScript chucked in for good measure (Come back Netscape, all is forgiven).

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.

Yup, that's me pushing - even on a guided tour in Egypt I got into trouble...

Feel free to come along for the ride… In fact, it would probably be best if you could arrange for a rescue party to be on standby… I’m sure we’ll need it as soon as we turn off the freeway heading away from Melbourne!

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)…

Should be fun <gulp>

Bye ‘d bye,


1 comment:

  1. Hi all,

    My sincerest thanks to everyone who has jumped on board and started following along with our slightly inept – but certainly intrepid – tour up through the middle of Australia and down the west coast.

    My thanks also to everyone who read the original draft of this first blog past and didn’t comment about the horrific grammar, clunky work choices, or hackneyed phrasing.

    My boys finally noticed tonight that I had been writing a journal of our experiences, and asked me to read them some. So, boldly I opened this blog post and began reading. “Urrrk, Ulllgk, Blagggh” I choked, as I read the first few paragraphs. Surely, I wasn’t in such a state of mind before I left Melbourne that my writing had sunk to such lows (I suddenly had a fit of panic about the writing in my thesis – I know most of it was written in a haze of terror – but surely, not this poorly).

    So, having a few moments spare this evening, I decided to rectify the situation. Dictionary and thesaurus in hand (well, saved neatly onto my laptop that is…) I steeled myself for a mia culpa of sorts and went about correcting my earlier mistakes.

    Hopefully, for those of you that jump on board now, you will not have to translate my Pigeon English into proper sentences… although, the longer I spend in this heat of the tropics, I can’t guarantee that it won’t revert to “Me went big mountain… Me like… by by, Gerg”

    …I just hope I can escape this heat with my sanity! So, please, please, PLEASE! If you see me lapsing into such clunky verbiage again, I implore you to leave me a comment on the blog post, or send me a message at blackstump@iprimus.com.au.

    Until next time,

    Bye ‘d bye,