Adventures: Summer Down Under

Uluru glowing at dawn under a nearly-full moon, with Kata-Tjuta in the distance

I haven’t posted much about my travels over the past few years, but it’s a habit I’d like to get back in to. First up: our recent holiday in Australia, where we took our biggest road trip yet – a meandering drive from Sydney to Perth via some of the most famous spots on the continent…

We go to Australia on a regular basis – my beloved’s immediate family all live there, so we visit every couple of years if we can. Our stays usually coincide with Christmas, major birthdays or important milestones (this time, a 50th wedding anniversary). But there’s an unspeakable truth about travelling halfway around the world to attend an event: it rarely feels like a holiday.

This time, we decided to do it differently.

For a start, we went for a month rather than a couple of weeks. When it takes you 24 hours to get somewhere, a fortnight doesn’t go very far. Add a big Occasion to the usual rounds of catching up with family and old friends, and before you know it, you’re getting on a plane home. Still jetlagged, if you’re really unlucky.

But a month meant we could finally take the road trip we’ve always threatened promised planned to: from one side of the continent to the other, through the Red Centre. Sure, driving through the Australian desert in the middle of the hottest summer on record isn’t the wisest idea we’ve ever had. But it would be an adventure.

We may not be wise, but we’re not foolish hobbitses either. We spent months researching in detail, because of course we did. Most of it was wildly unreassuring. The equipment lists for driving through the Outback are serious (the tip of the iceberg: don’t take a spare tyre, take two spare wheels) and that’s before you start calculating how much water to carry. It felt like overkill. After all, we’d be on a road, right?

Planning our route

  1. Hey Google, show me a map of Australia so I can see the roads
  2. Wait, what do you mean there isn’t a road across the middle?
    • (okay, there is a road, but it goes north/south, not east/west)
  3. There can’t possibly only be 2 east/west roads across a whole damn continent? …Surely?
    • Zoom in
    • Keep going
    • And some more
    • See, there are settlements, there must be a road…
  4. …wait, is that a road?
  5. Or rather, is that a road?

I’m being facetious. Of course there’s a road through the middle.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Who needs tarmac, anyway? (oh: roadside assistance trucks. Right)

Kitting up

Of course, my beloved knew all this. His folks drove the Great Central Highway (as it’s only called at the Western Australian end) a few years ago; their feedback was ‘it’s easy, don’t worry about it’. Over the months, this got refined: ‘well, we got the suspension replaced’ and ‘there was that time your mother nearly flipped the car’. Just before we went – after reports of travellers dying in the outback because it was so damn hot this year – concern began creeping in: ‘are you sure this is a good idea?’

No, but we were going to do it anyway. It was all sealed highway to Uluru. If we decided it really was too hot to spend 3 days bumping along 800km of remote dirt track, we’d take the 1700km detour south and use the highway across the Nullarbor. Australia, folks. It’s big.

There’s a saying in Australia: if you want to go into the outback, get a Land Rover. If you want to come back, get a Land Cruiser. We got the next best thing: a second-hand Hilux – a younger cousin of the car Top Gear famously failed to destroy.

Blue dual-cab Hilux in the Outback
Indestructible (it was still going at the far end, anyway)

And yes, we took two spare wheels. And two jacks. If only we’d double-checked we’d been sold two wheels the same size and that both jacks were compatible with the car. It’s quite stressful discovering your easily-accessible jack doesn’t fit when you’re stranded a mile off-road in a spot nobody’s likely to visit for, ooooh, 2-3 months when it’s 40C and climbing. Fun times.

Glad we had that second jack.

Things I learned on this adventure

  1. You always need a jumper in Melbourne
  2. Deserts can be deceptively green (I know. I know. Desert is a measure of rainfall and aridity. But it’s the Red Centre)
  3. If you’re hiking, you better be at the trail head by dawn. 40C by 10am, baby
  4. Conversely, you don’t have to get up at 4am to squeeze in that one extra awesome thing. It’s a holiday. Sometimes it’s okay to stay in bed
  5. Just because it’s famous doesn’t mean it’s amazing …but sometimes it’s famous because it’s utterly amazing
  6. Cold pizza is epic trail food
  7. Koalas do not give a shit. Be more koala

And on that note, I’m saving the rest of the trip report for next week!