Does everyone else give their car a name? Give it a personality?
Orlando is our 4WD Landcruiser (hence the name adaptation) 😬 He’s worthy of a little humanising. The most solid, reliable, trustworthy, tough, adventurous hunk of metal we have ever had the pleasure of owning. With a little house on his back he takes us the most amazing places and gives us so much joy. We follow remote dirt tracks with complete faith and confidence in his ability and because of that we see some bloody beautiful places. Crawling at a snails pace, windows down, a warm breeze messing up my hair, the fragrance of bull dust and gum trees in the air and sunshine glinting off the windscreen. Our happy place 🤗.
And you know what? Orlando just loves living in Central Australia. He really hates travelling fast on bitumen roads with lots of traffic and he despises big cities. Give him a rough dirt track to follow in the heart of the outback and he purrs like a kitten. Well, actually, with his big V8 engine it’s more like a throaty growl.
There’s no airs and graces. No bells and whistles. He’s not sleek and sophisticated to look at it. Comfort is not his finest feature. It’s what’s below the surface that counts – under the bonnet. Where other people fear to tread he just never lets us down. I like my cars like I like my men 😬.
Yes, we have definitely humanised our car. To the extent that Kevin makes me apologise to him if I dare say anything derogatory. After all, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. It’s a partnership. We look after him and he looks after us and our life sure would be a whole lot less fun without him.
That’s what 4WD ownership is all about. We wouldn’t have it any other way 😊.
These photos were taken around Ross River Homestead in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges.
So we’re home. And home is lovely. After months of living in arid landscapes, red dirt and deserts we had forgotten just how ‘green’ Cairns is. It’s so pretty with the mountain backdrop and rainforest. The ocean isn’t the glorious aquamarine of the WA coast but its lovely in a north QLD kind of way. Isn’t it wonderful we have experienced it all?
So we did it, the trip of a lifetime, and it was just grand. No regrets. We gave up our jobs and drove 20232 kilometres across the top, down the west coast, across the middle and a quick dash down south. Fantastic. Australia is amazing.
So here are some random statistics on our experience travelling remote Australia by 4WD.
The ultimate trip cost
We were away for just over 16 weeks in total and we spent $18 681 in total. I’m happy with that. I had budgeted for $1000 per week plus an extra $4000 for car repairs and maintenance. We came in under budget in our weekly spending averaging at $800 per week and went over in the car expenditure which blew out to $5860. Three services in Kununurra, Tom Price and Kapunda, front wheel bearings in Broome, rear parabolic springs and 4 Cooper tyres in Geraldton and, thanks to the Simpson Desert, new rear shock absorbers in Kapunda. We didn’t actually need the new Coopers but we were getting frustrated with the flats we were getting on the skinny split rim tube tyres and opted to replace them with fatter tubeless. No flats since so it was worth it.
We travelled 20232 km and spent $4696 on fuel. The most expensive fuel was at Mt Dare Station SA just before the Simpson Desert at $2.15 per litre and the cheapest in Kapunda SA at $1.21 per litre. That’s a bit uncanny that South Australia wins the crown in both cases and it wasn’t even planned.
Food came in at $4514 and we ate way too much chocolate. We would stock up on chocolate and other assorted snacks when we got to a big supermarket as that sort of stuff is too expensive to buy in remote locations. We bought 6 blocks of chocolate in Broome (after 2 weeks on the Gibb River Road) as it was so cheap and ate them all in 3 days. That’s why I had to buy moo moo’s in Broome. We ate a little too well and were not as disciplined as we are at home. Let’s not talk about all the kitchener buns and chocolate donuts in Kapunda. I’m paying for that extravagance now.
Accommodation costs were very reasonable at $1957. A good mix of free camping, national parks, the luxury of three nights in a cottage at Geraldton and a couple of nights in a cabin at Kapunda because it was freezing cold.
Miscellaneous spending was $1654. This money was put aside for tours, entry fees and everything else. There were quite a few Op Shop purchases in there. It was one of my favourite activities in a town; pottering through an Op Shop in an exotic new destination. My wardrobe expanded unnecessarily and exponentially much to Kevin’s perturbed amusement and mild disgust. (Chuckle)
Between us we managed to read 28 books and listen to 3 audio books. Every book swap was taken advantage of with much gusto. That’s what we did in the evenings. Read books and ate chocolate.
Ugg boots are just the best footwear on holiday, even in warm country (clean feet with ease)
I made bread 14 times in the Weber Baby Q, and with home made lentil soup this was our most popular meal choice. (Chocolate for desert of course) We called our Weber ‘Baby you fat bitch’. A little harsh I know, but she was so big and heavy and took up a lot of space in the camper. We wouldn’t have gone without her though. She gave us so many awesome meals.
The two equally worst roads were the Simpson Desert crossing and the Kalumburu Road to Mitchell Falls in the Kimberly. Both were particularly punishing to our vehicle but the scenic reward was worth it so no real regrets there.
People ask what was the absolute highlight of the whole trip and I find it impossible to narrow it down to one place. We saw and did so much that was absolutely stunning, each in its own unique way. So many ‘wow, moments. I loved it all.
So the highlight has to be the length of our trip. Four months was an ideal time frame. We didn’t feel pressured for time and we felt the pure joy of freedom to explore at our leisure. That was a sufficient length of time though as by the end we were both weary. I don’t think you can keep appreciating it as much if you do it perpetually. It was time to come home and we actually started to look forward to a couch, a TV, our own toilet and a bed where Kevin doesn’t have to climb over me to go out for a wee. It’s the little things.
Kevin and I, for the first time, spent 24 hours a day with each other, for four months in a confined living arrangement. We survived, we laughed a lot, we became more tolerant, we relaxed into a comfortable camaraderie and it made our relationship stronger. It was a fantastic experience to share.
We saw hundreds of emus in all states. They were the dominant wildlife on this trip which was great because I love them. They’re so quirky.
Lessons learnt along the way
Follow the weather. The perception of a holiday is 95% dictated by the weather, especially when living under a canvas roof. A place that is simply magnificent in sunshine becomes bleak and horrid in wet, bleak, cold and overcast weather. During the winter months the North of Australia is the place to be. Gotta love warmth and sunshine.
Less is more and will save you grief. We overpacked. Too much ‘stuff’. I tried to be minimalist when we packed but failed and it became obvious when at our first service, the mechanic assumed we were there to get our suddenly sagging rear springs replaced. We carried too much ‘just in case’ stuff and things that only got minimal use. The heavy generator and max tracks sat on the roof rack the whole way with no use, the boat only got used twice, the BBQ plate that got used once, there was too much stuff in our internal cupboards like the heavy camp oven that didn’t get used, too many clothes (in my section). The excessive weight of our vehicle became stringently obvious in Kapunda when the mechanic replacing the shockers couldn’t lift the vehicle with a 4 tonne hoist (our gvm is 3.3 tonnes). No wonder we suffered trying to cross the Simpson Desert and had the considerable expense of replacing our suspension.
It’s nice to have a home to come back too. We did actually consider selling up everything to travel perpetually prior to this trip. Sell the house, hit the road and be totally free. That’s a romantic notion though and I’m glad we didn’t go down that path. It’s wonderful to be free but living in a confined space, always on the move takes its toll. I’m positive that the thrill of travel wouldn’t be as great if it was a way of life rather than just a holiday. I guess it’s a personal thing because some people happily do it but we need a place to go ‘home’. Then we can plan and get excited about the next adventure. And there will be more………..
So to those people that faithfully followed my blog on this adventure, thank you for coming with us, thank you for the likes and nice comments and I hope you enjoyed the journey. I hope I encouraged other people to do similar and inspired you to visit these amazing places in our beautiful country. It is so worth it. We are much richer for the experience. Kevin and I have luckily both got our jobs back straight away so we didn’t even have to line up at Centrelink, which is a huge bonus. We took a risk and the reward was beyond our expectations.
Just quietly, between you and me, I’m so impressed with myself.
We are at Cape Range National Park for five nights, an absolute highlight of our Australian meanderings. Cape Range is on the Coral Coast of Western Australia and is on the coastal strip adjacent to the famous Ningaloo Marine Park. The ocean is turquoise and crystal clear and the coral reef is right there off the sandy white beaches. It’s a pristine wilderness. The clarity of the water here is so incredible – like looking through glass.
Of course, like most of the national parks in WA, its inevitably and deservedly popular. The nearest town to the park is Exmouth and there are signs everywhere stating CAPE RANGE NP CAMPGROUNDS ARE FULL, despite there being a choice of six campgrounds.
Anyhow this is why I’m so impressed with myself. Yours truly, madame way over organised, booked our campsite in advance. And by advance, I mean 6 months ago. I remember putting so much time into reading travel blogs trying to ascertain not only the best out of the campgrounds but also the best site in the best campground.
But you know what? I bloody nailed it. High five Micky Jo. Not only did we drive straight in without any booking hassles, we ended up on ‘millionaires row’ in the best campground in the park (Site 9, Osprey Bay Campground). Called ‘millionaires row’ due to the spectacular ocean views (the other campgrounds are tucked behind sand dunes). The view is simply breathtaking.
Kevin fishes right in front of the camper (with no success but that’s not the point), we have snorkelled the reef right off the beach, seen an array of colourful fish, stingrays, turtles and a reef tip shark and we are a 650m stroll to the absolute most exquisite aquamarine Sandy Bay Beach where I worship the sun and the water like I haven’t done for years.
And of course, no visit to Ningaloo is complete without a swim with the Whale sharks on a Ningaloo Reef Tour. It cost us $800 but what an absolute buzz. Chaotic trying to avoid fins in your face and a bit of space jostling as you all swim frantically chasing after the massive sharks as the hoover their way through the ocean. It was all go, go, go. (Very much like the ‘Swim with Dolphins’ in Zanzibar, Joel) It was worth it getting to snorkel alongside the world’s biggest fish and we jumped into the water five times following them. We swam on top of them, alongside and Kevin just got out of the way of the huge mouth in time so he wasn’t sucked in with the plankton. Such fun and so exciting. We also saw humpback whales breaching and snorkelled coral bombies. What a sight. Great day.
Then the next day the weather changed. There is always wind on the WA coast but it got really windy. The type of windy that we were sure our little camper on its legs was going to be sucked up in some sort of wind vortex with us inside (off to the Land of Oz we go). The sound of canvas furiously flapping at night even blocked out the roar of the ocean on the reef. It was so bad that a caravan pulled up stakes and left at 2.30am. We would have liked to be in a caravan with non-canvas walls just then. Where it was going too at that hour I’m not sure. It was cold the next day and when the sun was hidden by clouds the aquamarine ocean took on a more ominous grey quality with 3m swells. It’s the first time the weather has been disagreeable for us and the weather plays such an important role in your perspective of a place. Fortunately, it passed though, the sun came out, the sea turned aqua and although it was still windy all was good with the world once again. Of course, today as we had to leave was picture postcard perfect and neither of us wanted to go but better to leave on a high. A few tears but one day we’ll be back.
Even though we are pretty much bitumen bashing on this portion of our holiday, we are still remote. In fact, everywhere in WA is remote. The distances between towns are huge. The Coral Coast is unique because its where the desert meets the ocean. Literally. Inland we were driving through red sandhills every 100m or so, just like the Simpson Desert.
And there’s nothing. From horizon to horizon its flat, featureless and boring. But then you see this absolute jewel of a coastline that makes Western Australia so incredibly special. We suddenly have this special affinity with the ocean and each evening as I stroll the beach watching that vibrant sunset I am aware how privileged we are to be able to do this.
“Lawn Hill Gorge has ‘it’. Precisely what ‘it’ is I’m not sure how to put into words. I guess it’s like trying to explain what colours are to a blind person. It’s just something you need to experience yourself or it has no meaning.”
From Leichhardt Falls we take the shorter route via Augusta Downs Stations and join the Gregory Development Road to the Gregory Pub. After a delightful swim in the Gregory River its only 100km further on to Boodjamulla National Park and Lawn Hill Gorge.
The first 65 odd km to the Century Mine turn off used to be great because it was well maintained for the numerous trucks going in and out of the mine. However now the mine has closed and the layer of seal is pot holed and disintegrating rapidly. Makes for an interesting ride dodging from one side of the road to the other avoiding mega pot holes. The last 15km into the National Park is badly corrugated dirt but the camp ground is full of caravans so it did not obviously deter them.
We always stay at the Boodjamulla National Park campground. Adeles Grove Caravan Park 10km away is very shady with green grass on the banks of Lawn Hill creek. Its lovely if your stay is all about the camping, nice facilities and a restaurant but we come here to hike, canoe and swim in the pristine waters of the Gorge and all this action starts at the National Park campground. Its dry and sparse with cold water showers but is nice and quiet. No generators allowed and only 20 sites that must be pre-booked online if you want to snag a spot in peak season.
Now about Lawn Hill Gorge. Some places just have that ‘wow’ factor. I’m hoping to see a few of them on this extended trip but on this occasion, we chose to start our adventure with a known ‘wow’ spot just to kick it off nicely. This is our sixth visit here.
Lawn Hill Gorge has ‘it’. Precisely what ‘it’ is I’m not sure how to put into words. I guess it’s like trying to explain what colours are to a blind person. It’s just something you need to experience yourself or it has no meaning.
In the words of John Denver, it just ‘fills up my senses’. Visually it is striking. The colours mixed together on an outback palette create something quite extraordinary. The water in Lawn Hill Creek is a deep jade green due to the calcium carbonate content. The gorge is ochre red and against a brilliant blue outback sky it is beautiful. I can never take a photo that does it justice.
My favourite place at Lawn Hill is in the middle of the gorge, drifting aimlessly in the canoe in the late afternoon shade and just taking it all in. The canoe traffic has vanished for the day make it a place of complete solitude. The water is still and reflections are mirrored on the surface. The silence is complete. Only on occasion, you hear a willy wagtail chirrup or a corella squawk by or the gentle lapping of water on the canoe. It is so unbelievably peaceful.
The swimming in the green water is just absolutely delicious despite the presence of freshwater crocodiles. They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. We don’t even know they are there unless we spot one sun baking on a log as we canoe past.
We think its essential to bring your own canoe to Lawn Hill. They can be hired from Adeles Grove but its quite expensive and only available during the day. We bring our own ‘Sevylor’ inflatable. It packs up quite small and gives us the freedom to canoe to our hearts content, including sunrise and at night (that was a bit hairy). That way you can take photos like this.
So our three days here have, as usual, have been just so lovely. Mostly swimming, canoeing and relaxing as the weather was very warm still and swimming in that divine water is just a heavenly experience. Hard to leave but this time is different as we are not homeward bound.
Its time for us to turn left and head for the Northern Territory border. Exciting days to come. Lorella Springs Wilderness Park and Limmen Bight National Park next and this is a wild and remote part of the Northern Territory (complete with natural hot springs).