Llama Land

adventures and madness

Australia! – South (1/5)

I spent nearly three weeks at the beginning of July in Australia. David & I flew into Melbourne (via Auckland on Air New Zealand), and rented a “Voyager” campervan from Britz, for a one way rental, with the intent of ending up in Cairnes. We planned to drive up through the middle of the country, to Darwin, then head roughly east to Cairnes. Overall, the trip was amazing, and exceeded our expectations. I’m going to break up the trip report into several posts, since combining three weeks of info into a single post would be a huge monstrosity. For the curious, the rough route that we drove is mapped here on Google Maps.

Up first, is the south (roughly Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, and South Australia), however you can skip ahead to other posts:
* the ‘classic’ outback, up through the middle
* the ‘top end’ (Darwin area)
* Heading east
* Far north Queensland, including Cairns

Friday – Sunday:
At SFO, we walked into the terminal, and the line for Air NZ was ridiculously long, even though it was still more than 3 hours before flight. It didn’t look like a tour group, so, i guess those Kiwi’s take the 3 hour thing very seriously. The line did move fairly quickly. The lady at the ticketing counter thought we were crazy when I stated that we had no luggage to check, and then she insisted on weighing our duffel bags just to make sure that they were under the carryon limit. They never listed the flight as being late, but they also didn’t even start boarding until 9:45pm, for a 10PM scheduled departure. Once we were all on
board, the pilot announced that they were holding the flight for 3 people coming from some other flight that had landed 30 minute earlier. We later saw when the flight attendant escorted three unaccompanied minors onto the flight. We didn’t end up getting into the air until just before 11pm. The flight itself felt incredibly long, even though it was (“only”) 10 hours. Two rows in front of us was a 20 month old, who was screaming like a lunatic whenever its parents refused to hold it, rather than putting it in the airplane bassinet thingy. Since we took off so late, they didn’t get around to serving & picking up the dinner trays until well after midnight, and I was completely exhausted. I was literally falling asleep while my food tray was still sitting in front of my. The one good thing about the flight was that the seats actually reclined a fairly decent amount, so that it almost didn’t feel like we were sitting up the
entire time. David ended up propping up a pillow against my arm, and sleeping like that for most of the time. I slept off & on for a few hours, but never all that well. Thankfully, the guy sitting next to
David was quiet, polite, and never asked to get up the entire flight. I’m still not sure how he managed to stay seated for over 10 hours straight (although he was sleeping for a large chunk of time).

We landed in Auckland over an hour late, but thankfully, we only had to go through security and not passport control, so it was quick and fairly painless. I’m pretty well convinced that all Air NZ flights
always leave late. They gave us our boarding passes for the AUK -> MEL flight while we were in SFO, and it had the boarding time printed on it. However, that time came & went, and then a lady made an announcement claiming that they would start boarding in about 10 minutes. 20 minutes later (and 10 minutes before we were supposed to depart), they started boarding. One other thing is that the Air NZ gate crews don’t seem to give a damn about enforcing boarding order. While they’d always announce the routine “1st & biz class, then priority, etc” nonsense, they didn’t enforce it. Both in SFO & AUK, we got in line early, before they announced our boarding group, and they let us board anyway. The plane from AUK to MEL was amazing. It must have been really new, as it was super fancy. The TV screens were the largest I’ve ever seen on any economy class flight (they were bigger than my tablet). Also, every seat on the plane had both a USB charging port, and a normal power socket. And there was actually a bigger selection of movies & tv shows on the 3.5 hour flight from AUK to MEL, than we had on the 10 hour flight from SFO to AUK. Anyway, we
boarded, with our seats in the middle 4 seats of the plane (aisle & seat next to the aisle). Then this monster of a man sat down next to David. The guy was like 7ft tall, and must have weighed over 300lbs. At first he was blatantly sitting on nearly half of David’s seat, and David was freaking out. I told David to put the armrest down between them, and that helped a lot as it forced Mr. Monster to be squeezed into place for the most part. But the guy was still huge & scary (he never actually did anything, he just looked scary). The flight itself was fine, they even served us breakfast.

We landed about 10 minutes early in Melbourne, only to discover that several other huge international flights had pulled in just before us, and the line at passport control was crazy. There were 2 different
Air China flights, a Singapore flight, an Emirates flight, and a few Qantas flights. The line moved, but there were literally hundreds of people so it took over 45 minutes before we got to the front. The guy
in the booth was friendly enough, and didn’t even ask any questions (we got passport stamps though, but they’re boring). However, then as soon as he let us pass, this other lady standing around pulled us aside,
and started quizzing us. She asked to see a written trip itinerary (which i had), and then quizzed David on why he wanted to go to AU, and what he wanted to do & see. After all that she let us pass, but then we had to wade through a massive line for customs. Following that we finally got outside, where we waited for the bus into the city. The wait was only a few minutes, but again due to the massive number of people arriving, it took forever for everyone to board, and many people even had to stand (we got seats though). The bus ride itself was ok. This driving on the left thing still messes with my head.

We were dropped off just outside of Southern Cross Train Station, in the center of the city, and we then walked a few blocks east to the hotel. The hotel itself is actually a hostel that has dorms plus a number of private rooms (we have a private ‘twin’ room, which is actually bunk beds). They have free pancake breakfast every Sunday, and somehow they were still serving it when we checked in just after 11am. David was thrilled, and even though I gave him the choice between having their pancakes, or finding lunch elsewhere, he opted for the pancakes. They were ok, but nothing special. Our room is really spartan (very similar to a Juicy hotel place we stayed in Auckland a few years ago). Its basically just the bunk beds, a desk with two chairs, and a window that has a view of an alley. After getting settled in, we headed out to wander the city, with a printed out self-guided walking tour that I brought from home. The city is really pretty, and reminds me a lot of San Francisco in a lot of ways. The climate seems similar, and they’ve got palm trees sprinkled about here & there. Most of our walking tour was through a huge park, which had a lot of nice stuff, kinda similar to Golden Gate Park. I need to relearn that people keep to the left here when walking on side walks.

  

Monday:
We slept relatively well that night, although jetlag had us awake around 3AM. As a result, we had a ton of
time with nothing to do because the rental place didn’t open until 10AM. We had breakfast at the hostel, and it was literally a loaf of wheat bread (with peanut butter, marmite, raspberry jelly or margarine to
put on it, plus a toaster), a box of corn flakes, and a box of rice crispies (with milk, with ‘whole cream’) to put on the cereal. David was impressed for some bizarro reason, and thought it was a great
breakfast. He thinks that toast with PB on it is amazing, and he loves corn flakes too apparently. Aafter breakfast, we got all our junk packed up in the room, and checked out at 8:30. It should have taken less than 40 minutes total to walk from the hostel to the train station, catch the train out to where the rental place is, and walk to the rental place from the train station. I left extra time just in case something went wrong. and oh did something go wrong. We walked to the train station with zero problems. Caught the first train with zero problems. But when we got off the 1st train, it should have been as simple as finding a 2nd train to take us the rest of the way. While i saw the name of the train line listed, it had no platform number. eventually i walked up to a station person and asked them “WTF”. apparently they took that entire train line out of service all of this week & next for some kind of maintenance project. it was replaced with a different train to a different line, plus a bus. so i went down to the platform to wait
for the other train, and as we’re going down the escalator, i see the train sitting on the platform with its doors open. I yelled at david to run, but just as we got to the bottom of the escalator, the doors
closed, and it pulled out. next train was supposed to be in 15 minutes. so we’re waiting, and david is getting annoyed that we’re waiting & walking all over the station. also, i’m freaking out because i have no clue how we’re supposed to find this mystery bus from the next train station. of course the next train never showed up in 15 minutes, and it turned into nearly 25 minutes of waiting before it pulled in. we got on that train, and it let us out at the other station. everyone gets off, and there are a long row of buses sitting outside the station, with a ton of train staff standing around in orange vests. i asked them how i’m supposed to get to Tottenham station, and they say “you need to take the Sunshine express bus, then
catch another bus to Tottenham”. err, wtf, now its 2 busses. so i get on this sunshine express bus, and we’re just sitting there. finally the driver shows up, and we pull out, and we’re driving who knows where. we eventually pull into Sunshine station (i can’t make this up), where i saw more buses sitting around, with more train people in orange vests. i get off the bus, and ask one of them how i’m supposed to get to Tottenham, and he tells me to just wait here, the bus will arrive soon. David is super pissed at this point, because no matter how many times i try to explain to him wtf is going on, he still doesn’t understand, partly because i’m not even sure wtf is going on. One minute later a bus pulls up, and the train guy yells at me to get on it. so we get on with 3 other people. the bus is driving for a while, and finally stops and the doors open. i see no signs indicating wtf we are, so i ask the bus driver, and he looks at me like i’m a complete moron (i’m sure my accent didn’t help either), and says “this is Tottenham station”. otay, we get off, and finally I see a sign for the station, and figure out that we’re at the right place that we should have been like an hour ago. somehow, its not even 10am yet. We walk 3 blocks up the street, see the rental place, and get there just as they’re opening.

We walked inside, to find 3 other groups already milling about, and a ton of employees running around like something is on fire. finally a woman sees us, and hands me a form to fill out with my name & other contact info. she takes it from me a minute later, and everyone is standing around wondering wtf is going on. all the while, new groups keep showing up, also super confused. finally this guy with a crazy beard comes out and apologizes for the delay. he explains that on Saturday (they’re not open Sundays), every single RV that was returned had severe damage, and they’ve never had that happen before. they’re currently waiting for replacement vehicles for all of those RV’s, since they can’t rent them out in that condition. As a result, some people will need to wait 1-2 hours before the RV they’re supposed to pick up will be ready. i’m getting super pissed, but then once the guy is done giving the speech, he calls my name, and says that i’m in luck because my RV is actually ready to go. he goes over the paperwork with me, takes me outside to review the vehicle. its the right vehicle, and appears to be in reasonably decent condition
(although its got over 261k KM on it). But he never actually does a formal training session to show me how any thing works at all. he does the vehicle inspection report, even noting that its just a formality because i’ve already paid for the full coverage, so even if the vehicle is destroyed, i don’t pay anything extra. then he says “have a great trip”, hands me the keys, and he runs back inside. i’m thinking wtf, i watched a few crappy youtube videos about this RV, i know nothing about it. i start poking around to see if i can figure out where everything is & works. i go to test the stove first (its GAS!), and i can’t get it to turn on. but it occurs to me, maybe i need to turn a valve on the propane tank, and sure enough, that’s the solution. i can’t figure out how to build the beds, so when i go back inside to grab david & all our stuff (thankfully, he waited super patiently inside with the bags while i was out reviewing the vehicle), i go up to the counter, and interrupt the same crazy beard guy to tell him that i need help with stuff. he gives me this look of death, and yells for some other guy to help me. that other guy comes out and shows me how the beds are supposed to be setup, and before i can ask him anything else, he runs back inside too. at that point, i was pretty annoyed, and it was nearly 11am. i figured that i knew enough to do what i needed with the RV, and david and i headed out.

First stop was a supermarket just down the street to stock up for the rest of the trip. i manage to drive there without going on the right side of the street (yay!), and i even manage to park this behemoth in
the parking lot. as soon as we walk near the supermarket entrance i see that they’ve got those retarded shopping carts that require a coin to unchain them from the rest. but since i haven’t yet spent a single
bit of cash in the country, i have no change. i think maybe i’ll just use those grocery baskets instead, but i remember that i have a huge list, and unless i’m going to carry 6 baskets, that will never work.
then david suggests that we buy something small, and pay in cash so we can get change (the boy can be brilliant at times), so we end up doing just that. we get a loaf of wheat bread, pay for it in cash ($3.50
for bread, jebus), and then throw it in the RV. as we’re walking out of the RV back to the supermarket, with the coins jingling in my pocket, david spots a lonely single shopping cart sitting in the parking lot. so we never needed the stupid coin all along. we grab the cart, and head back in. the super market itself was ok. not super large, but not tiny either. jebus, food is damn expensive in this country. i have to assume that Americans are once again spoiled by our ultra-cheap groceries. everything was 2-4x more expensive than what we pay. produce was obscene ($2.90/kg for tomatoes, which is like almost $1.50/lb). meat was crazy (just about everything was the equivalent for at least $18/lb and up). canned goods were ridiculous. But i had no choice, we needed food, and its not like i had the time to shops around for bargains. about the only things that i got that were semi-interesting was fresh kangaroo burgers (david saw them and was at first really excited, then kinda unsure if they were a good idea), and canned tuna, which came in a wild assortment of interesting flavors (sweet corn+mayo, Moroccan seasoning, lime+chilli, sweet chilli, mexican seasoning, and a bunch of others that i forget right now). the kangaroo meat was actually on sale, for a (relatively) good price, so i ended up getting two packages with 4 burgers each for $9 (yes, its sad that prolly about 2lbs of meat was $9, and that was a good sale price compared to most of the other meat). we also got lamb chops, which were on sale for $12/kg. i got most of what i had on my list, and the shopping cart was just about overflowing. david was in awe. he kept mumbling about how he had never seen anyone buy so much at once, and how we had a “big haul”. i was beginning to get a bit worried that we’d never find space in the RV for all the food. while i made sure not to get too much food that needed to be refrigerated, i still had a ton of dry/canned stuff that had to go somewhere. its not like i could just let it fly around in the back of the RV every time we hit a bump or went around a curve. somehow, we managed to get it all packed away in assorted drawers & cupboards in the RV. david
helped a ton putting all the assorted cans of stuff away. once everything was put away, it was nearly noon, and we were starving (since we ate breakfast at 7AM).

In the same shopping center were a few small restaurants. David spotted a pizza & kebab place and begged to go there for pizza. i was starving, and i agreed, since i didn’t have the energy at that point to start
hunting for something better. we ended up ordering a “large” pizza with olives, pepperoni, peppers and “shredded meat” for $12.50. i had no clue wtf the shredded meat was, but i figured it couldn’t be too
bad. it turned out to be this odd shredded ham. it tasted ok, but it was shredded. i dunno if this is an Australian thing, or what. the pizza tasted fine, definitely not the worst i’ve ever had.

Once done with lunch, it was almost 1pm, and we still had several hours of driving ahead of us, plus at least 1 waterfall. david sat in the very back of the RV (the only seats that had seat belts were the
back “row” or the front up with the driver). he had my tablet, and was tasked with giving me driving directions. thankfully the GPS locked on to our position quickly, and he was doing a reasonably good
job directing me for the first few hours of driving. i managed to stay on the correct side of the road the entire time. actually, about an hour of the driving was on a nice big freeway, with at least 3 lanes of traffic in each direction, so other than not accidentally getting off on the left side exits, it was hard to screw up. however, the weather while driving was crazy. it was super super windy. the RV was getting pushed all over the place, and i’m trying to manage my speed too. the limit in this state (Victoria) is 100KPH (about 63MPH), but this stupid RV hated going that speed. it would gladly slow down a ton, or speed up a lot, but it never wanted to just coast at 100. so every time i’d look down at my speed, i was either going closer to 80, or nearly 110. most of the time i kept in the far left lane (the ‘slow’ lane), but occasionally i’d manage to catch up to some old person or a truck going around 75, and i couldn’t bare to
stick behind them when i could legally go much faster. eventually we got off the freeway, and cut south towards the ‘Great Ocean Road’. now it was a narrow, winding, bumpy road, yet occasionally the speed
limit still was 100, but often it was around 80, and dropped to 60 or even 50 in towns. the views were nice, with lots of pretty ocean, with a ton of huge waves (i think you would have loved them, despite how cold it was). but honestly, it was never quite a gorgeous as the PCH. Also, all that wind had turned into a real storm, and it was raining off & on at this point.

  

However, David started screwing up the directions at this stage. he’d either not pay attention to the map for a while, and i’d see a sign for what i thought was the turn, and ask him “isn’t this where i need
to turn?”, and he would take too long to give me an answer, and i’d drive right past and have to u-turn. Or he’d insist that i shouldn’t turn somewhere until literally 1 second after i drove past, and then
he’d admit that he was wrong. despite all of this, the GPS still worked great, and we were never lost. however, as we were getting close to the first waterfall of the day, we came up to the turn off, and the road was literally closed. it had a huge gate in front with a “Road Closed” sign. i have no clue why. so we had to backtrack about 15km to the great ocean road again, and there was literally no other obvious way to reach these 2 waterfalls. also by this time it was nearing 4pm, and since its winter down here, the sun sets before 6PM. so i decided that we needed to head to the campground so that we wouldn’t be driving or setting up camp after dark. we made it out here around 4:45pm, got a “powered” campsite ($40 for a campsite, jebus), and got setup. I made dinner first. it took me a while to get setup, because I wasn’t familiar with everything, plus i had to dig out everything that i needed to use (utensils, pots, food items, etc). i ended up making 4 kangaroo burgers, white rice, and diced carrots (cooked in with the
rice), plus i added some soy sauce to the rice once it was nearly done. while i was cooking, david started making snide remarks about how bad the food smelled, or looked, and i almost threatened to take
away dinner. but once it was served, he admitted that it all tasted pretty good. i thought it turned out fine. the kangaroo did mostly taste like beef, with an indescribable subtle secondary flavor that i
can’t quite figure out. the carrots here are a bit different than at home with those bags of carrots that are like the length of your arm, and end in sharp points. here all the carrots were much shorter, and stubbier. they were also, honestly, a lot sweeter. the rice was normal long grain white rice, so nothing special about that. while we were eating dinner, it started to rain super hard. thankfully we were inside the RV, so it didn’t impact us, but it still felt wrong to be sitting around idly in a campground while it was pouring rain.

After dinner, cleaning up was a bit of PITA. for starters, i had two pots to clean, but i also had dishes & utensils. while i did buy some disposable ones at the store, i didn’t use them because i didn’t quite
have enough for the entire trip. once everything from dinner was cleaned up, we brushed our teeth, and i got out breakfast. The cereal was is bizarre. i got 1 box of corn flakes, but then the 2nd box i got was this weird stuff that seemed like something healthy, but since their nutritional labels are nothing like those in the US, i couldn’t quite figure out wtf was in this stuff. david & I tasted 1 piece tonight, and it basically tastes like graham crackers with honey on them. *sigh* of course he loves it, but jebus, its so damn sweet. Also, on the front of the box it has this huge slogan “Brekie power fuel!” HA HA HA. After all of that stuff was done, i needed to setup our beds. it turned out to be not as difficult as i expected, although it was kinda time consuming. the RV came with 4 huge bags of bedding supplies (its
capable of holding 4 adults). each bag has 1 full size pillow, 1 huge bed sheet, a sleeping bag which can open up as a blanket/comforter, and a full size bath towel. i got david’s bunk bed setup first, and
then he setup his stuff. he was bouncing around up there for a while, and i then got my bed setup. while i’d never want to sleep up in the bunk (even david can’t sit up its so cramped), the bottom bed is a
huge, and could definitely fit 2 people comfortably.

The campground is really nice. its inside the Otway National Park grounds, maybe 1 mile from the coast, inside a dense forest of eucalyptus trees. the brochure claims that there are tons of koalas up in the trees, but since we got in so late, it was too dark to see anything. perhaps in the morning, if its not raining. Sleeping in the campervan was fairly nice. The bed was comfortable enough, and big enough. However, the weather over night was pretty miserable. It was super windy, and rained off & on all night long.

Tuesday:
I woke up for the day around 4AM, and David woke up shortly afterwards. After laying around
for nearly an hour, we finally got everything packed up, and ate our breakfast. We pulled out of the campground around 6AM. Thankfully it wasn’t raining at that time, but it was still very windy. As we
were driving down the dirt road leading to the main highway, several kangaroos hopped across the road in front of us. It was pretty awesome, and David was thrilled. Our plans for the morning were to get gas, check out a waterfall, and do a short hike through the rain forest. First up was trying to find gas. The only gas station that we passed on the way to the waterfall didn’t open until 8:30 (on a Tuesday). The tank was just below 1/4 full. We decided to go do the waterfall, and by the time we were on the way back, it would hopefully be around 8:30. We drove for about 20 minutes to the turn off for the waterfall, where, yet again, we found another locked gate, with a sign that the road was closed for the season. That meant that all 3 waterfalls that we had wanted to see in the area were inaccessible due to closed roads. It also meant that it was no where near 8:30, and we were still using up gas. We decided to drive further down the road to the Melba Gully trail. We pulled in around 7:30am, and the sun was just starting to rise. We waited in the car for a few more minutes to increase the amount of daylight, and then headed off to the trail. It was quite nice. Tons of huge fern trees (over 6ft tall in some cases) were growing everywhere. There was also a gorgeous waterfall there. By the time we got back to the van, it was about 8am, so we drove back to the gas station again, and they were open. But there was a line for the 1 gas pump. We pulled in, and while waiting this crazy old lady walked up to the van, and told us that we had to prepay for “petrol” and she was actually next in line because she already pre-paid. So I pulled out of the line, parked, and went inside to pre-pay. Except the old lady lied. There was no prepaying for gas. At this point, I waited for her to pump her gas into her 40 year old piece of junk car, but the gas pump was broken. It refused to pump gas. We sat there watching for nearly 20 minutes as a parade of people attempted to get the pump to work, without success. Eventually i decided that this was a ridiculous waste of time, and we had to take a chance and drive with the gas we had. In theory, the next big town was about 30 miles away, and there would be gas there. The drive was non-fun, as there were tons of steep hills to climb (and use gas faster), and the road was also curvy. But thankfully, we made it to the next gas station, and filled up. By that time, the sky had cleared , and the sun was out. After driving a few more miles down the coast, we reached the turn off for the viewing platforms near the Twelve Apostles, the huge sea stack formations sitting just off the coast. Since the sun was not high in the sky, the light was amazing, and we got some amazing views.

  

We spent much of the rest of the day driving, in fairly decent weather, although the wind plagued us all the time. We also crossed into South Australia (state) from Victoria (state), where the speed limit was 110kph. The terrain also gradually changed throughout the day. Once we turned inland, and northward from the coast, everything flattened out, and it looked a lot like Kansas, only with more trees. There was
tons of ranchland, mostly with sheep & dairy cows, although we drove past a number of huge wineries too. The further we drove, the more rural it became, with towns farther & farther apart (30+ miles), and less & less populated (most towns were less than 500 people). For the most part, the roads had very little traffic, other than when we passed through a town. For a little while, I surfed radio stations, hoping for something interesting to listen to. But all I managed to find was the ABC (AU Broadcasting Co), doing assorted, rather bizarre farm reports. They spent 30 minutes discussing the weather forecast for the coming week. Then they spent 20 minutes interviewing some poor farmer who lost 100 head of cattle in
a brush fire. It was all really strange, plus they made tons of jokes that I just didn’t understand. I also noticed that the accents around here are much much stronger than what I heard around Melbourne. I literally couldn’t understand what this woman in the gas station was saying to me. She kept repeating it over & over, and it sounded like she was speaking some language other than English. I’m sure i sounded funny to her as well. By late afternoon, we had a decision to make. Either we had to drive for at least another 2 hours, to reach the next town that seemed likely to have a real campground, or stop a bit after
3pm at the next town. We opted for the latter option, and ended up pulling into the town of Keith. I have no clue how they came up with that name, but the town had a tiny town vibe to it. A main street, and a few short side streets, and just one campground. The campground looked like it had been there for decades, and was never once updated in any way. The ‘office’ was just a small, undecorated room, with a desk & a chair, and a stack of papers. They didn’t even accept credit cards, and the lady looked at
me as if I was speaking some foreign language when I inquired about wifi. She muttered that the school across the street had “the internet”. We headed over there hoping that maybe they had free wifi, but no. We also slowly drive the length of the town with David scanning for wifi, but again, there was none available. We were the middle of no where, and basically cut off from the outside world. For dinner, I made the two lamb chops that I had purchased the previous day, and white rice with corn, carrots & peas. David thought it was all very tasty. I thought the rice & vegetables desperately needed real seasoning, but the lamb was decent, plus the bone had soft marrow to suck out. The only good thing about this campground was that it had free, unlimited time hot showers. We hadn’t showered since leaving Melbourne, and getting a nice hot shower seemed like a great idea.

Wednesday:
Last night it got really cold. Even though we were sleeping inside the campvervan, under a (kinda thin) sleeping bag/blanket, both david & I were cold. i got up in the middle of the night and grabbed a 2nd
sleeping bag (we have 4 total, since the van can hold 4 people). but david never told me during the night that he was cold, so he was just suffering in silence the entire night. at one point during the night,
i got up to use the toilet, and i saw the most amazing stars ever. i saw the milky way like in those fancy NASA photos. also david & I have been chatting occasionally about the constellations in the southern hemisphere. he keeps wanting to find the southern cross (since you can’t see polaris down here), and he was also asking me if it was possible to see Orion or the dippers, but i didn’t know. however early this morning when we were driving before the sun came up (more on that in a bit), i actually did see Orion just above the horizon. anyway, i woke up for the day at 4am and we got our junk packed up, ate breakfast, and hit the road by a bit after 5am. the sun doesn’t rise here until just after 7am.

We made really good time for the first few hours of the day. We made it to Adelaide by 8AM, and we were heading north out of Adelaide less than an hour later. also, yesterday when we crossed from victoria into South AU, i forgot about the stupid 30 minute timezone change. i’m somewhat amazed about the huge variety of terrain that we’ve seen thus far, even though we’ve only travelled through a relative small chunk of the country. yesterday (tuesday) it was mostly flat cattle land, with some occasional forested areas. but today, once we got north of Adelaide, it was really bizarre. it looked like the green velvety hills outside of Dublin. and it stretched on for miles & miles. it was so beautiful. after a few hours, we reached Port Augusta, which is where the national highway 1 continues heading westward for a few thousand more miles to the west coast, etc, and the Stewart Highway begins, and cuts north, all the way up the middle of the continent to the top at Darwin. we stopped there for lunch, and to fill up on gas. btw, the price of gas has fluctuated like crazy. i’ve paid as “little” as 136 cents/L and as much as 179 cents/L. once we changed onto the Stewart Highway, we saw the first sign advertising “the outback” and the distances to the biggest cities between there & darwin. jebus, distances are so damn huge. i mean, i knew it was a
huge country (without that many people), but it really didn’t hit me until the past 2 days of driving. I’ve driven nearly 2000 km since i got the van on monday, yet i’ve barely gone anywhere. anyway, almost
as soon as i started driving north, the terrain changed again, and it quickly started looking like a vast flat desert. david even commented that it looked like Death Valley. there was some random scrub bushes
but almost no trees any more, and not much of anything green anywhere. it was like this for most of the rest of the drive today. also, the distances between “towns” suddenly exploded. yesterday it was usually
no more than 30 miles, but today, it got crazy. the record was 250KM between two towns (more on this in a bit). and of course, the amount of traffic dropped considerably too. i could go 30 minutes without
seeing another vehicle in either direction. after the gas scare yesterday morning, i made it a point to always fill up whenever i saw a gas station if i had half or less of a tank of gas remaining. however, this plan failed me badly today. i filled up in this podunk town early in the afternoon. about 60 miles later was another town, but since i still had more than half a tank, i didn’t stop, since i figured i’d be fine for another 60-100 miles. sadly, there was no other town for 60-100 miles. in fact, the next place with gas was Coober Pedy, a whopping 335KM from where i last filled up. and to make matters worse, the signs just about never said how far the next gas was. it was always a guessing game of where the gas might be
found. at one point, i saw a sign claiming that the next rest stop with “full services” was 77KM further. i was at a quarter tank remaining when i saw that. i thought i could do 77km further on a quarter tank (even if this stupid camper van drinks gas like crazy), and even though the crazy winds also ate into my gas consumption. about 6KM from this “full services” rest stop, i was at around 1/16 of a tank remaining, and the gas warning light came on. i was praying that the rest stop had gas, but when the sign came along 5km away, it had none, and i knew i was completely screwed. i was still nearly 95KM from coober pedy, and while i wasn’t sure how much farther i could go, i knew it wasn’t 95KM. when i got to the stupid rest stop,
all it had was a few picnic benches, a scary looking water tank, and an emergency phone. i had no choice but to use the emergency phone, and pray that i wasn’t a huge distance from help. i called, and it went to the state police in Port Augusta (500+ KM south of where i was). they asked me a few questions (apparently they have no clue where someone is calling from, so i had to explain where i was), and said that the police don’t provide rescue services for people who run out of “petrol”, but they could call a tow company in coober pedy to bring me more gas, if i wanted. i didn’t see how i had any choice. they told me to call back in 5 minutes to confirm everything. oh, btw the stupid emergency phone kept dropping the call at random, so what should have been 1 call, was actually 4 calls. thankfully i got the same guy every time. when i called back in 5 minutes, they said that the guy from coober pedy (91KM to the north) should be there in roughly an hour. i figured that wasn’t too horrible, at least they weren’t sending someone 500+ KM. at this point it was just after 4PM.

As we waited, David and i talked about random stupid crap, looked at the vast, flat, featureless landscape, and he was impressed by the size of the road trains. it is beyond crazy to see trucks hauling 3 or even 4 full size trailers behind them. and when they passed me in the opposite direction on the rode, i had to hold onto the steering wheel with all my strength to prevent the wind from knocking us first off the road, and then sucking us into the other lane of opposing traffic (not that there was every any true traffic). anyway, after waiting 90 minutes, with no sign of the gas man, i tried calling the police again to ask them wtf was going on. jebus, the police in South AU are incompetent. so the guy who answered said that they changed shifts an hour ago, and they apparently had no records of me ever calling. i gave the new guy all my info again, asked him to call the tow company in coober pedy (despite the call getting dropped 5 times). he told me to call back in 5 minutes. while this is happening this older australian dude who was resting in the rest area, noticed that i was using the emergency phone, and wandered over to see what was going on. i explained how i was a stupid American who misunderstood how far apart gas stations were. he offered me some of his spare gas (he had like 4 gas cans strapped to the back of his truck), but alas, all he had was diesel, and i needed unleaded. the guy was super friendly though. he then wandered over to a few other people who were resting, and asked them if they had any unleaded to spare, but none of them had
anything. i called the police back in 5 minutes, and this fool had somehow forgotten to call the tow company, and asked me to call back in another 5 minutes. the old guy started commenting how useless the
cops are in the outback, and said he wasn’t at all surprised. then he suggested that i should sleep at the rest stop that night, since he planned to sleep there too (with his wife), and he would drive me &
david into coober pedy in the morning to get more gas. the catch is that we’d have to find our own way back to the campervan from coober pedy. while i appreciated his offer, i really didn’t like the idea of
having to hitchhike back, plus if i did what he suggested, that would definitely screw up our travel schedule, since i’m sure he wasn’t going to get up super early so we’d likely spend half or more of the
morning just getting gas, and it would likely be afternoon before i got the campervan back to coober pedy at all. i thanked him profusely and just told him that i’d sleep better knowing that i got the gas
tonight. i figured absolute worst case, if the cops are too incompetent to help get me gas, i’d take him up on his offer, but otherwise, i was going to hope & pray that the gas man came. i called the cops back again, and they said that there was a “communication breakdown”. apparently when the first cop called the tow guy around 4PM, he was supposed to call the tow guy back to confirm that i was willing to pay the fee, but the cop never called him back. so when the cops finally got around to calling the tow guy at nearly 6PM, that was the confirmation, and the tow guy headed out with gas. it boggled my mind how state police can be so incompetent, but there it was. so i had another hour wait, of praying that the guy actually came. since it was getting late, i made dinner while waiting. i made pasta with the rest of the kangaroo burgers broken up, plus sauce & two diced up fresh tomatoes. david said he liked it (he got 2 bowls of extra helpings). as i was attempting to clean the pot from dinner, a car suddenly pulled into the rest stop, and it was the gas man. it was this really old man, who kept complaining how much his back hurt. he
brought 20L of gas, which filled me up about 1/3, definitely enough to drive the 91KM. for this service, he charged $220. yes, crazy. but i had no choice really. it was a stupid stupid mistake, and i paid
for it. but it wasn’t over yet. the guy wanted cash, and i had spent slightly more than $30 of the original $250, so i didn’t have enough cash to pay him. He insisted that i drive & follow him back to
coober pedy, where he’d take me to an ATM to get the money. the guy made sure to warn me about driving in the dark (the sun had set by the time we were ready to start driving), saying that there were “Roos & Moos on the roads at night”. the drive back went fine, plus i insisted that i’d follow him, rather than him following me, with the thinking that he’d hit the animals rather than me hitting them. of course once we got into town, we couldn’t find a working ATM. it wasn’t until the 4th ATM that we tried that it actually worked. the others were literally out of cash, or broken. i finally got out the money, paid him, and that was done. we then drove a few blocks to the ‘Big4’ campground that we had been planning to use since much earlier in the day. jebus, this place reminds me of a KOA we stayed in a few years ago. every site is smack against the one beside it, and its wall to wall RVs. but its 1 night, so we’ll live, and it has wifi.

There are almost no radio stations out here. its so damn creepy, i drive the entire day, and have the radio
scan for anything a few times a day, and it finds absolutely _nothing_. however, yesterday morning, before we entered the outback, i was listening to ABC just after noon (local time), but the reporters didn’t have any accents, and i was confused. then it hit me. they were rebroadcasting NPR. it was all things considered. it was so weird, but kinda soothing at the same time to hear NPR, while i was on the other side of the world. other than that, the weather has been getting warmer. while it was cold this morning, the high today was nearly 80. and yesterday when i was listening to ABC, they did the weather for the entire country, and darwin (way up north, where we’ll be mid-next week), had a high of 29C. we’re going to be so damn hot up there, plus its the tropics, so it will be a wet heat too. so that was my day. i’ve learned my lesson with the gas. from now on, i’m getting gas any time i’m at quarter or more used. if it means stopping once/hour, so be it, but at least i won’t run out of gas again. i guess i was somewhat lucky that i had enough gas to reach that rest stop. if i had completely run out and was stuck at the side of the road, who knows what would have happened. I never saw any police patrolling the highway the entire day. perhaps some random person might have stopped who had extra gas, but i’ll never know.

  

Thursday:
Overall, today went quite well. We’re currently at the campground just outside the Uluru NP, and we’ll be here for a total of 2 nights. However, there’s only 1 hour of wifi allocated total, so I’m very limited in what I can do online. We both slept much better than any previous night. We were awake around 6AM, and out of the campground by 6:30. First stop was to get gas, then we swung by a supermarket, which luckily opened at 7am only on thursdays. I got 3kg of naval oranges for $2.69 (we finished the bananas for lunch today), a loaf of wheat bread (we’ll finish the first loaf in the next 2 days), small “oyster” cut beef steaks, and two small pork chops. Then we drove to the north end of town, to the opal mine where we were
planning to take the 8AM tour. Since we got into Coober Pedy well after dark the previous night, we had no clue what anything really looked like. As the sun rose this morning, the entire area looked like some
weird nuclear wasteland. Nothing grew anywhere. It was just this bright tan sand & gravel in all directions. Also, it was cold this morning. According to the bank sign, it was 8C at around 7AM.

The opal mine tour was really great. It started off with a 7 minute video, then we put on hardhats, and went into the mine. We saw all sorts of mining equipment, a few seams with opal in them, and numerous shafts back up to the surface. David loved it all. By 9AM we were on the road, heading north. Overall the drive was mostly boring. The landscape was mostly the same very flat expanse in all directions, with varying amounts of desert plants and the occasional tree. I made sure to stop for gas at every opportunity
whenever i had less than 3/4 full. Gas prices have slowly been marching upward, and now i can’t find it for less than 175 cents/L (it was less than 150 originally). Once we crossed into the NT (Northern Territory) (from South Australia state), things started to get weird. At every gas station, I spotted multiple people with no shoes. Every time we stopped anywhere, there were tons of aboriginals milling about, doing absolutely nothing. At two different rest stops (with gas stations), I saw multiple guys wearing those wacky Crocodile Dundee hats (with the shark teeth around them), made out of leather. The guys also had huge beards. And every gas station that I’ve stopped at in the NT had retarded rules, where I either needed to prepay for gas, or they actually had padlocks on the pumps. I guess they’ve got serious problems with gas theft. We made it to the campground just before 4PM, and checked in. However, they had no powered sites left, and we ended up in an “overflow campground”, which is literally this huge dirt
parking lot, with no marked campsites or anything. We are able to use the other campground facilities (bathrooms, shower, etc), but everything is a long PITA distance to walk. We got showers tonight, although they were filthy, loud & crowded. Tomorrow (my friday) we’ll be exploring the park, and doing one or two hikes.

A few other odds & ends that I’ve been forgetting to mention for the past few days. Chinese is almost everywhere, the same way that we’ve got Spanish everywhere at home. Apparently cattle guards are called “grids” here, and tail-gaiting is called “creeping”. Ever since we entered the NT, there are super obnoxious tiny flies everywhere. They seem to prefer landing on ears. I tried using the bug repellent wipes, but it made no difference. I guess we’re finally far enough north, that its not cold enough in winter to kill the insects.

All trip pictures are posted HERE.

  

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