Thinking of heading off around Australia? Travel writer Nigel Smith and his partner Sandra made a snap decision to head off from their home in Sydney and cross the continent. After 10,000km later, they couldn’t be happier.
We’d been dreaming about going on a grand Australian adventure for a long time, but it wasn’t until June this year, with the cooler weather arriving, the Kimberley was calling.
Hard to believe, but It was just four weeks from when we made the decision to go to when we actually departed.
Sandra and I had been thinking of doing a big trip for quite some time and had been gradually easing ourselves into a position where we could head off at relatively short notice.
Every time we went on a regular camping trip we would make notes about things that we might need. One of the first big ticket items we decided on was a 4WD.
You can visit a lot of great sights in a 2WD or even All Wheel Drive vehicle, but to get to some of the best we knew we needed 4WD. On a previous trip we reached Kings Canyon in our old, trusty 2WD Toyota HiAce pop-top. We desperately wanted to head off on the Mereenie/Larapinta Loop back to Alice Springs but knew we’d be shaken to bits.
And so we said goodbye to Jim (the much loved HiAce) and hello to Hank (the also much loved HiLux and TrayOn). Neither of us really liked towing and we travel light, so this combination suited us down to the ground.
The next big decision was our destination.
A mixture of trawling through blogs, regional tourism websites and good old fashioned guide books helped us decide. Our three months’ time-frame seemed to fit the rough plan. I also really wanted to drive the Oodnadatta track, ever
since following the blog journey of some friends of mine (www.australiannomads.com).
How much to budget
Budgeting for us is always a bit hit and miss, as in we hit the weekly budget quickly, and tend to miss our overall target quite a lot. We ended up setting a figure of $1000 a week. The basic assumptions we worked on:
We budgeted for an average of one night a week in a motel or cabin – just in case it was either freezing, pouring with rain, or we simply fancied staying somewhere with an en-suite.
For the rest it is a mix of National Park stops (rates $10 to $20 a night), caravan park nights, and free spots.
There are literally thousands of free camp spots around the country, and they can really help contain the budget. They range from simple rest areas at the side of a highway with toilets, to beautiful hidden away spots with bonus waterhole
and stunning views.
National Park sites are loathed by some as they ban pets, often ban fires, and disapprove of generators. On the other hand, they have beautiful settings, good facilities and very handy sources of local information called rangers.
We’re definite fans. For the sake of a few rules that are there for everyone’s benefit, you get access to some stunning camp spots. It’s worth remembering the dollars you pay help with maintenance including thousands of kilometres of
As with all well-planned budgets, ours has varied greatly, with fuel costs the
The Oodnadatta roadhouse at $2.21 a litre has been the most the most expensive to date.
With a 120 litre tank to fill and Hank getting about 15 litres per 100km, you can figure out where a lot of our cash goes.
Still I’m pleased to say we are actually under budget. At the time of writing we’re in Karajini National Park, WA, and we have a long way to go before thinking about heading home. Our budgeted three month stay away has seriously blown
out time-wise, but we’re happy about that.
What to take
In a phrase, all you can and as little as possible.
All you can, because if you are travelling across vastly different areas, with different climates and activities, you need everything. We have thermal underlayers (usually reserved for the ski slopes), beanies, sleeping bags plus doonas. We also have boardies, swimmers, snorkelling gear, singlets and summer frocks (that last is Sandra’s). And we’ve used them all and been glad of them.
As little as possible – not only because space is limited, but weight becomes a burden in a number of ways. Because you end up lifting things around a lot if you are really packing too much in and all that weight means more fuel to move
So the old adage applies – get everything ready to pack. Then try to halve it. Then get ruthless and cut it down again. I’m a big believer in quality over quantity.
Whether it is tools, kitchen knives, clothes or walking shoes, get the best you can afford. It will last longer and serve you better than the cheaper option. I still rue the day I brought a cheap tool kit. Now, every time anything breaks or gets lost I make sure I get a good quality replacement.
Same goes for clothing – quality is worth it. I love wool, especially these days when you can get great merino weaves.
My Icebreaker jumpers and thermals are lightweight, pack small and keep you warm if wet.
Finally, and crucially, it’s a must to know what to do in an emergency, either for yourselves or someone you come across.
For an extended trip, especially to remote areas, it’s best to sign up for a First Aid course.
As for First Aid kits, Sandra and I are a bit manic – we have three.
One stays in the ute at all times. A more substantial one goes with us on bigger trips and we also have a small kit for bushwalks.
Communications are also worth considering for remote areas. Even Telstra’s coverage gives out when you’re in the middle of the Kimberley, 200km from the nearest town. There are all kinds of satellite phones, EPIRBs (Emergency Personal Rescue Beacons) and the like. After a lot of research, asking around a few adventurous friends, we settled on the Spot device. It comes in two flavours, and we bought the simpler of the two (in an emergency, I think simple is best).
Essentially, it uses the GPS satellite system for its communications, so it’s pretty much always in signal. You can set up three messages that get set to a pre-defined email or SMS list, all set up online by you before you leave. We set
ours up like this:
• “OK” Sends a message to ten friends and family (plus Facebook, if you want) and consists of a short message and our GPS co-ordinates. We just press a button at the end of the day, and everyone gets the update.
• “Help” – we have this to indicate we have hit mechanical problems somewhere, we can’t fix it and can’t get hold of anyone to help us out. It goes to a couple of trusted friends who can then arrange to get somebody sent our way.
• “Custom Message” – I have defined this one as being “non-emergency medical help” – something that stops us getting ourselves mobile but not life threatening. It goes to the same two trusted friends, and I am not sure what this would be, but it is one stop short of the next step…
• “Emergency” – this is the no-holds barred cry for help. We’re in trouble, can’t help ourselves and need the cavalry. It routes a message with GPS through to the global service centre which then advises local emergency rescue services.
I’ve had a lot of feedback from friends and family saying that they love getting our “OK” messages. Not only do they know we are OK, but they also enjoy seeing exactly (to within about 10 metres) where we are. My dad has a map of Australia
on his study wall in Hertfordshire, UK, and is tracking our movements avidly!
And so after a fair bit of homework, internet research, book research and also just chatting to friends and neighbours, we ended up with a clear plan of where, how long, how much and what to take. And of course like any good plan, it will probably change once it is put into effect. But without it, chances are you won’t leave, will miss out on some things, or won’t enjoy the trip quite as much.
What to take – Our Essential Kit
If you really want to know lots of technical details about the ute and our Trayon slide-on camper, then I’m going to disappoint you.
What I’m actually referring to are those little luxuries that make life on the road just a little bit more enjoyable.
Good coffee is hard to find and as long as we start the day with a good strong shot of black magic, then we are happy and more alert drivers – not to mention less grouchy.
Be prepared. Buy a good quality stove top espresso maker, good coffee, and practice with it before you leave to avoid day one tantrums.
Taking good glasses and crockery may sound a like a recipe for disaster, but packed properly and you can enjoy a decent glass of wine, and that lovely coffee, without the disappointing tang of plastic or clang of tin on teeth.
We use stubby holders to keep the wine glasses safe and after nearly 10,000km, including the Gibb River Road’s infamous corrugations, we’ve had not a single breakage.
Our days often revolve around food with a sense of anticipation and, when stocks are running low, creativity.
We’ve always found a really good chef’s chopping knife makes both easier and safer work of the prep, and the herbs and spices let you go to town on flavours.
At one point when we were down to potatoes, carrots, tinned corn and cabbage yet we still managed to produce tasty food day after day.
Finally, truly the most important item used extensively day after day after day are deckchairs. We’re talking proper ones, with solid arm rests and good back support not those sling-over-your-shoulder floppy jobs. They may be a bit more awkward to pack than the usual camp-chair, but the extra comfort is so worth it.