“I’ve given notice on my flat so I think we should drive to Alice Springs”. I’d know Lauren for all of five glasses of white wine and a cheeseburger. I’d planned to fly from Melbourne to Alice Springs a few days later in order to go to Ayres rock. My ignorance for some reason told me that a drive to Alice Springs, with a relative stranger and some 2000km, would be much more fun!

Many groups often hire a vehicle, whether it be a car, a camper or a ‘juicy’ – a type of backpacker’s home on wheels. As we were travelling from A – B and wouldn’t be returning it to the same location this proved to be just too much to justify, so we opted for a car relocation. Jumping on the net we quite quickly found a company wanting an estate car to be driving to Alice Spring from Melbourne. There was no hire charge, we would be given $210 towards the fuel – and we could both sleep it in quite easily, it seemed perfect.

The next day we set off, splashing out on a taxi in our enthusiasm – but there was a problem. The client booking the car we were going to relocate had changed their order. Panic set in. Lauren had posted her keys, was ladened with her worldly goods and I was still half a sleep . Five minutes later and we were told it was back on, only the vehicle we would be driving would be a six birth camper van. Equipped with a shower, toilet and a double bed each we were ecstatic – unaware of what we were to be faced with three days later.

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The Great Ocean Highway and Beyond

Trundling along the Great Ocean Highway, West out of Melbourne, we’d strategically mapped out our route using very accurate thumb measurements to determine our stops. We had five days to drive to Alice Springs and just over 2000km, so 400km each day. We’d made the decision to take a slightly longer route, travelling along the Great Ocean Road. Running parallel to the sea front, twisting and turning as required by the sheer drops and cliffs, it was certainly an experience driving, at speed, in a camper van. It did, however, allow us to see the famous 12 Apostles, but at nearly 9pm, sadly they appeared as mere silhouettes. By the end of day one, we’d only covered 300km. We were behind and the prospect of sleeping in the middle of no-where at the side of the road didn’t appeal.

“Don’t drive at night.”

As you drive round Australia, particular as you drive to Alice Springs, you’ll notice some quite menacing looking guards on the front of vehicles. I’d personally always thought they were just for show -an older man equivalent to a rude-boy spoiler. Apparently not though. Vehicle guards in Australia have a real purpose, ‘batting off’ Kangaroos. Weighing anything up to as much as a fully grown man, Kangaroo’s are heavy and are a real risk at night. Our camper had no ‘kangaroo batter’. We knew the risks and thought that taking it slowly we would be fine, and we were, for a while.

We’d marked Portland as our stop over point. It was a small town that from the map looked as though it had relatively extensive suburbs, which we were sure would provide accommodation – a parking space at the side of the road. Around 40km away from reaching the town we started going through a more meadowy area, and I spotted our first Kangaroo. A pleasant surprise as I’d only seen a few during my stay, but a surprise that came with some concerns. 300 metres down the road and we were swamped. Hundreds of Kangaroos. Taking it slow we some-how managed to avoid a few very near furry misses, as bounding Rue’s ran alongside us, like you see Ostriches do in films!

Finally, we broke through the swarm of suicidal hoping obstacles and arrived in Portland. Pulling up into a nice little neighbourhood that, at 1am, were blissfully unaware of our arrival. We made our beds and set alarms for 6am. We’d planned to get out of town before we raised too many eyebrows the next day.

Day two of our trip and although short of our target, we aimed to get to Adelaide. It was Lauren’s birthday, and although we were on our second day without a shower, was on a limited budget, oh and was living out of a camper van, we wanted to celebrate.

Our journey to Adelaide continued along the Great Ocean Road but moving further inland the views changed and the road started to flatten out. Upon arriving we’d realised that parking up and making camp in a city much larger than Portland would be more difficult. Lauren also wanted to straighten her hair. Google maps once again provided our solution and six hours after setting off we arrived. The camp site was $28 a night, and provided electricity, gas, showers and generally just pure luxury!

A night in Adelaide

By the time we were ready, hair straightened and glammed up, it was dark. Sadly I’d missed out on seeing another one of Australia’s fantastic cities in the light. A Sunday night, we were uncertain as to what nightlife we could expect. If anything, the city certainly felt like a safe place to be, though a lack of people didn’t give us great hope for the crazy night we’d planned. With another 6am start ahead of us though we weren’t too disheartened. Unsure of exactly where we were going we wandered around in search of life, and after around 30 minutes we stumbled across ‘Mars Bar’. Standing out like a light house amongst of a sea of darkness it beckoned us in with promises of alcohol and a dance floor. Within minutes it became obvious where we were – Adelaide’s top drag bar. A little-unexpected maybe, but a ‘Whitney Spectacular’ perked up our spirits and proved to be a fantastic night. The next day, slightly worse for wear, we perhaps regretted such a heavy night.

Over the next two days we drove north, heading into the outback and the unknown. As we left the last few small towns and cities behind a wide expanse of red soil and open road lay before us. It was a case of lets go, there’s no turning back now. Our biggest concern at this point was crashing, rolling or damaging the camper van. For some reason it was at this point that we’d realised the gravity of our decision not to take out insurance. We were on a budget and the idea that we may face problems simply hadn’t crossed our minds.

400km out of Adelaide and we arrived in Port Augusta. This was the last major town before Coober Pedy. We filled up with the expectation that a petrol station further north was unlikely for a while. We’d already spent $600 on fuel. So much for thinking we’d hit lucky with our $210 allowance. We called into a small supermarket and stocked up on carrots, bread and Nutella, a far cry from my healthy living in Cairns. 20km up the road and we were the only vehicle for miles. Blurred by the heat, a distant lorry gave us opportunity to expand upon our game of ‘Eye Spy’, but the closer it got the more concerned we became. Known as road trains, the lorries on these road are three times the length that we see in the UK, and towering high like the monster trucks you expect to see in the USA, they have no limiter, so race past at tremendous speeds.

“THWACK!” As the truck passed we were showered in what felt like shrapnel from a bomb. We knew something had hit the window. Clinging on to the steering wheel, we started scouring the glass in front of us for damage. A small, inconspicuous chip we’d hoped we’d get away with made itself was known as it glistened in the sun. “Surely they’ve got an auto glass here,” we thought. Whilst our worst nightmares had come true, it seemed that we may have had a narrow escape. Reducing our speed slightly we carried on.

Roadtrain on the drive to Alice SpringOnce again we had little idea where we’d spend the night. It seemed that with every kilometre we drove, the heat increased and the likely hood of seeing another human being became less and less. That said, a few minutes later we saw the silhouette of another vehicle driving towards us. Another chance to wave we thought, but as it came closer we started to realise it was another road train. We clenched, closed our eyes, and prayed to every holy being possible, but our efforts had no effect. Another chip. At first, we couldn’t see it, but then, there it was; a tiny chip half a centimetre from the edge of the screen, with a very short crack running out of it. Gobsmacked we stared in disbelief, but horror soon kicked in as this small crack started to grow, right in front of our eyes. An hour later and it stretched half way across the windscreen. That’s when the mood really started to change!

Powerless to do anything about the looming bill of a new windscreen we just had to plough on. Last stop on our drive to Alice Springs was Coober Pedy, and although a relatively small mining town, its position second to Alice has led it to develop a certain level of tourism. In just an hour I managed to see the underground hostel, the diamond museum and a female aboriginal urinating in the street – Coober Pedy’s top highlights. For a small town it had a big charm, and it gives an Australian experience like no other; isolated thousands of miles from the big cities a very different culture has grown and is well worth seeing.

It was getting dark and, conscious that sleeping at the side of the road was certainly not an option here, we had a choice; $60 for a hostel, or carry on with the hope of finding a slightly cheaper campsite. With our crack in the screen now nearly spanning the full width of the camper we knew we couldn’t drive for long. Our screen was weakened and insurance or no insurance, a Kangaroo on our lap would have seen our already slightly tainted road trip quickly end. We’d heard on the grape vine that a ride in an air ambulance from the outback would cost $24,000. I presume that was one way! Regardless we carried on after topping up with another $150 of fuel. We were still seven hours away to the finish line of our drive to Alice Springs.

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The next day was the last of our trip. It was a Thursday and that morning will stay in my mind forever. We were the furthest from the centre of Australia as we’d ever been, and waking up to ‘the smell of Australia’ was incredible. The mornings in the outback were always cold, but that gave the air a crispness that I’d never experience before – an unpolluted stream of air that gently woke you up. That said, the cold shower and dash across the campsite in JUST flip flops was quite a quick wake-up.

Today was the day, the day we’d finally get to our destination, and fingers crossed…in one piece. We set off early, filled up the tank and head towards our last stop.

In comparison to the previous 1500km of our drive to Alice Springs, the last leg was relatively simple. We were shattered, but eager not to stop again. We were still ahead of schedule, but the plan was to find a campsite in Alice Springs, tart up the van, get rid of the smell of carrots and Nutella, and make a plan of action with regards to the big crack in the screen. We had phoned a head to let the hire company know, which in the end worked out in our favour as it meant they had managed to get one in stock ready, but we still needed to be united on our plea for forgiveness. A man a couple of stops back had told us a new screen would be $2000. That shook us up. After texts to all mechanically related friends we knew we were telling ourselves that $2000 was the worst case scenario, but that was hard to stomach.

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The last leg of our drive to Alice Springs

Alice Springs’ Stuart Caravan and Cabin Park could only be described as pure luxury. A neatly kept grass pitch, water, electricity plugging straight into our camper and…power showers (with hot water)! Pure bliss. After five days on the road, it was just what we needed, despite slightly tainted over the looming events of the next day. For Lauren, this was her last stop, hoping to find work in the town. For me, I’d got a week to look around and go on the tours I wanted to go on. It was late, so, with no urgency to explore and with the light fading fast we squeezed out the last few drops of goon and head for bed.
It was dooms day. We packed up, cleaned up, and set off to the car hire place. Sheepishly we wandered into the centre and explained the situation. The lady their was lovely, and perhaps our rough and sleepless appearance went in our favour. She came out and gently explained that a new screen would be $650. It was a blow, but nothing like what we’d thought. After signing the paper work we left, in a very upbeat mood, which was surprising. To be pretty much over the moon after being told you owe over six hundred dollars is bit odd, but we felt so relieved. We were so happy in fact that we decided to treat ourselves to a taxi and went and checked in at the beautiful Haven backpackers, where we would eventually part company, and I would continue on my Australian adventure – next stop, Ayres Rock!