Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Being on the road...

Red Bluff Look Out, Shark Bay, World Heritage Area WA

A funny thing happens every morning in many parts of this great country of ours.  For those of us who live in a house and do the usual things in the morning, this particular activity is quite foreign.

Until hubby and I started off on our journey, we had no idea of this happening every single day, over and over again; and it is this: 

Just before the sun rises, as I lie (yes it is lie, not lay :-) ) in my bed in our little camper van, I can hear the now familiar sounds. A caravan door opens, feet shuffle along the ground - a sleepy kind of walk mostly - and they shuffle towards the toilet block. A campervan door slides open noisily and the shuffling begins again. A tent flap is unzipped and more shuffling feet, head to the wash rooms.

Next whispers of " good morning"; "hi" , "nice day" and then as the day progresses to where the sun shines on the scene, the voices become a bit louder to the more usual tone. Now people are chatting and the sounds of brekkie being cooked, cereal and milk being consumed, washing up being done wake up the camp. 

A bubble of activity explodes around camp sites all over Australia, and especially in winter in the north of the country. The move is on! The cranking up of stabilizers on caravans; the rolling up of awnings; the backing up of cars towards caravans; ground covers being swept and folded up; outdoor table and chairs being folded; last minute conferring between partners making sure everything is checked and secured. Then motors start up, final goodbyes are said to friends made in the camp, and vans glide quietly out of the park or 'freebie' on their way.

So where are they heading?
Well, to the next place on the itinerary. It could be 50 or 500 kms away, but the dwellers in wheeled homes are on their way. They may have stayed just one night, maybe three. Three weeks or even 3 months but they are on their way to their next stop. 

For many retirees this has become a way of life. Constantly on the move and often just to the next 'freebie' by a river (often a dry one in Northern Australia), a cliff overlooking a lonely beach or in a van park  There they will set up their vans, unpack their folding tables and chairs, unwind their awnings, put down their ground covers and rig up their lights and whatever else they have to make life livable. They'l stay overnight, three days, a week, six months or however long they want. These travelers are not in a hurry, they have plenty of time and seemingly are enjoying life on the road.

I've tried to work it out but can't. To me it seems so aimless. What really is the point? Travel several 100 kms a day, find a place to stay (hopefully with a loo) if it's a 'freebie' or in a caravan park (and pay the fees), unpack, set up camp, eat, sleep, get up, eat, pack up and do it all over again.

Now if you are travelling for a shorter time like 14 weeks (like us) you most likely will only stay in a place a night or maybe three nights most of the time. The days will be filled with climbing up steps set in rocks and then down to a  rock pool to see the waterfall. You may have to drive anything from 10-40kms on a dirt road to get to said waterfall. Then there are the national parks to see, flights to be taken to see islands in the sea or amazing rock formations. Cruises to take on huge man made lakes and rivers that run through ancient gorges. Walks through landscapes as ancient as the indigenous peoples of this land. Many places are hundreds of kilometres apart. For example to see a half a dozen dolphins being fed at Monkey Mia you travel 130ks from the main highway with very little to see along the way, let alone a station homestead, trees, a servo or human being. Don't get me wrong - it's all amazing, but there are lots of k's without much excitement.

Anyway... life on the road can get quite busy - as well as doing the sightseeing, driving long distances to see what you want to see,  you also have to eat, sleep, wash your clothes, shower (when there is opportunity), drive, pack up and set up most days. On top of  that, when you have power (read: electricity) you need to upload the countless gigabytes of photos your have taken with your digital camera, onto your laptop. This can take some time. They need to be sorted and labelled because if you don't, you won't know which rock, beach or National Park  you saw: where, on which day and in which area!

Planning. Now this is vital. If your don't endlessly plan your next day's activities, you will not survive. Brochures are brought out after dinner and poured over. Routes are discussed, (tourist) attractions are weighed up one against the other, venues and info centres pinpointed on maps. If this is not done your next day could disappear without achieving your objective - see as much as you can see in any one given day in the particular area you find yourself in. No rest - the journey must continue!
Reading. I brought 3 books with me. One I have read through 1/2 way; one I have read 3 chapters of and one I haven't opened. There really is no time. One good thing on the road is that there is such a thing as 'book exchanges'. You will see a sign in a caravan window - Book exchange - 50cents each or in a Caravan park reception office there will be a shelf of light reading. Mostly trashy Mills and Boons, cowboy books for guys but you can pick up an occasional light read that is just right for a few snatched chapters late at night.
The other important thing when you are travelling we have found is gleaning information. 
Mostly from others on the road.  This can take some time and has to be factored in to your daily activities. Those more experienced have a wealth of knowledge about 'life on the road' and are usually very keen to be of help, and often love a good yarn so that it can be hard to get away 'on time'. 

You need to always know:

  • what the condition of the dirt road is to a particular waterfall, outcrop, gorge, beach, 'freebie' or river - this can take endless discussion with strangers, fellow travelers, who you may or may not ever see again, but who are only too happy to 'help'. Their info is based strongly on their opinion and often is useless when you attempt the road your self. It can either be vastly worse or the opposite, infinitely better than what the informant told you.
  • what kind of caravan your neighbour has - is it the kind that you would like? Not like? How much did it cost? Is it hard or easy to maneuvre? Is the layout to your liking? etc, etc, ad infinitum. 
  • if  you want to upgrade to a bigger, better van.  This can be quite a discussion
  • about previous vehicles, van, tents, campervans, motor homes, camper trailers that others have owned
  • where the 'freebies' are 
  • how far they are from where you are currently located
  • what facilities there are, (loos - forget about showers)
  • what the weather will be
  • if you need to book ahead to get in a van park in a popular place
  • how far before the next bowser (this is of utmost importance) cause if you don't fill up before you leave you might not make the distance to the next one.
  • where to get good tasting drinkable water to fill up your water tank and containers. (Exmouth has the best water in Oz at the fish cleaning station near the Yankie army base on Exmouth Gulf)
  • whether you can make fires or not
I could go on and on, but it's getting late, and I had better stop.
You get the idea.
Life on the road can be tough.
Life on the road can be endured or enjoyed.

So when I wake up in the morning and wonder why on earth I am sleeping in a car, I ask myself these questions:  
  1. Am I homeless? -  Nooooo
  2. Am I poor? (well, we are now lol)  -   Nooooo
  3. Am I loving this?  - Not particularly
  4. Do I want to fly home every second day?  -Yeeesss!
  5. SO WHY AM I DOING THIS????  - Because it seemed a good idea?  :-)
The answer is,  that it apparently is something everyone who is an Aussie citizen and is nearing 'retirement age" should do.
'Everyone' says they LOVE it.
Many say they would do it for the rest of their life.
So what then is wrong with me?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Rocks, crocs and waterfalls

Rocks, crocs and waterfalls - this has been our catch cry for the 
 past 10 weeks.

  • 10,000 kilometres
  • 2 flat tyres
  • 1000's of litres of petrol
  • countless rocks
  • many waterfalls
  • 100's of rock pools
  • some crocodiles
  • wild pigs
  • 2 aeroplane flights
  • several cruises
  • gorges galore
  • 1 less kangaroo to view (I hit it! oops!)
  • 1 echidna
  • 1 bustard
  • many brolgas
  • millions of corellas
  • rivers with and without water
  • jabirus (black necked storks is now the official name I believe)
  • magpie geese
  • lakes
  • 100's of dead kangaroos
  • many more live ones
  • cormorants
  • brilliant blue oceans
  • estuaries
  • beaches
  • endless plains
  • bright blue skies
  • rain
  • wild flowers
  • boab trees
  • clouds
  • wind
  • etc, etc
............. it's about time I put pen to paper, well, started typing :-) and recorded a little of what's been happening these past 10 weeks in Ross and my life.

27th June saw us finally setting off on our trip around Oz.
"The big lap", many call it. 
And a lap it surely is, but not one that goes for a few hundred metres but 1000's of kilometres.
Six layers add to my already cuddly figure! :-)
We didn't leave home til about 5.30pm that Sunday afternoon, but bravely set out in our little Toyota Hi-Ace anyway and headed off into the night towards Dalby. We got as far as Yarraman and experienced our coldest night for many years. We found out the next day temps had dropped to -3C overnight. I had 6 layers on and survived ok.

We woke to a brilliant new day, experienced cooking brekkie on our little gas stove, securing everything so nothing rattled and off we set. That day we got to within 60 kms of Roma and stayed in our first 'freebie'. To the uninitiated a 'freebie' is a spot somewhere along a road that you don't pay for. Hopefully there will be a toilet of some kind there, a fireplace or a picnic table, but in many places in Australia, there is just a semicircular curve alongside the highway where you can park for the night. Or you travel a kilometre or so down a track to find a level spot.
This freebie was devoid of any of the above but was situated under some big trees along a running creek. Two vans were already parked there and that gave us confidence to also pull in. It's never a good idea to park on your own, so traveling with others in that way can be good.
We set up our camp, cooked dinner and then wandered over to a good fire at which a lone bike riding camper was cooking his dinner. He invited us to bring our chairs and he picked up his guitar and began to strum, then sing. Piano Man, Bridge over troubled waters, Country road soon filled the cool night air. What a great start to our camping adventure.

Now here, I have to mention a very important part of the journey.
Unless you have zillions of dollars you don't quite know what to do with and you have a fabulous caravan or 'fifth wheeler' which has all the mod cons of on road travel, the word 'toilet' is a VERY important one. Especially for the female of our species. It can become something that consumes your thinking. When, where and how will I find a toilet? What will it be like? Clean, dirty? A water flushing one, or a  deep hole in the ground? Will it have loo paper? etc etc.
What if I have to go when there are no loos and no trees?
Well this can become all consuming and really never changes whilst you are on the road.
Subconsciously you get geared up for the nights that you park in places without such luxury.

That first night in the freebie we set up our little shower tent complete with bucket. Of course the next morning it had to be emptied. Ross said he would do the deed. After he worked out (with my help) how to get the folding shovel to become straight and stay that way, he dug a hole well out of the way and covered things up nicely. 
He then decided to go down to the creek to wash out the bucket. Unbeknown to me, he got stuck down the bank, in the mud and couldn't get back up again. He said it was no use calling out to me, because of the running water and the distance from our van.
Luckily he got out finally, or our journey would have been terminated right then and there! :-) Luckily we could laugh about it and put it down to experience! :-)

So, drama over, we headed off across western Queensland. Kilometre after kilometre rolled by. Through tiny little towns of just a servo and a pub to bigger ones. like Dalby, Blackall, Barcaldine, Longreach, Cloncurry, Mt Isa.  

We were playing catch ups with friends who had left 2 weeks before us and were meeting us the other side of the Qld/NT border, so we didn't spend much time looking around in all these places. We did manage to see the tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine. The Black Stump in Blackall, the Hall of fame in Longreach and stopped at the bare patch of land that the small mining town of Mary Kathleen had become. Mt Isa was freezing - 14C at midday! We rugged up against the bleak winds and on our way out of town stopped at the last road house for many kms to have a well deserved shower. Then to Cloncurry across the endless plains and then the windswept roads to Camooweal at the NT border. Kangaroos littered the outback roads and we had to be careful as dusk is a dangerous time to drive, as kangaroos jump out without warning. 
Hall of Fame, Longreach
Our first flat tyre just before Mt Isa

We finally arrived at Wonarah Bore, a gazetted 'freebie' along the Barkley Highway after dark at about 8pm. We hugged our friends who had come down from the Gulf of Carpentaria to meet us. It was so good to see them. I cooked dinner and then, dog tired,  we curled up in our
little home on wheels for a good night's sleep, ready for the rest of our adventure.

Mary Kathleen no more  
On the empty plains NT

Our camp at Wonarah Bore 'freebie'

Sunrise at Wonarah Bore, Barkley Hwy NT

Click on the pics to enlarge them.