A year on the Australian road
What would you do to celebrate your 60th birthday? Hazel Bennet, who lives in Tenerife and is a regular contributor to the Tenerife News, decided to circumnavigate Australia! Here she gives a taste of her adventure.
When I went on a course for preparation for retirement, one piece of advice which I took seriously was, ‘Go on all your adventures in the first ten years because you do not know if you´ll be able to in the following ten years.’
So far, our most exciting adventure has been circum-navigating Australia. That’s brave, some told us, but really it did not take much courage.
We flew to Brisbane and bought a twenty-six year old poptop with a living area of about four metres by two. It had two gas rings and a grill, a small fridge, some cupboard and wardrobe space, a cushioned bench and two cushioned chairs which converted into a bed. Our one luxury was a high powered inverter so that we could power up the laptop, camera and mobiles as we drove along.
The local Reject Shop and camping shop provided us with everything else we needed. We took advice and bought the campers’ Bible, the Camps 6 Manual which gave exact details of every campsite in Australia, including the free sites between the towns. A Tomtom and RAC membership which included maps of each state and territory both proved invaluable. This was everything we needed for what turned out to be the most exciting and interesting year of our lives.
Driving in Australia is quite easy because, apart from cities, there is not much traffic and you will not get lost because there is usually one road joining towns.
Heading north into the Australian winter, which resembles a British summer, each time we came to a town, we stopped and looked around. If we liked it, we stopped for a day or two or a week. If not, we moved on. Each time we came to an attractive town, we visited its art galleries, museums and wild life centres.
Australia is a wealth of beauty. The Rain Forests are a stunning array of trees and shrubs of every shape, size and shade of green, brown and deep red. We walked along boardwalks thirty metres above ground level and admired the trees stretching a further thirty metres above us. At ground level, tree trunks can be several metres in diameter, with bark of every texture and shade of brown.
We got onto the road early some mornings and drove with a foot hovering over the accelerator to avoid harming the lovely grey kangaroos and wallabies bouncing across the roads, returning from their nocturnal hunting.
The Savannah grasslands of North Australia were a pleasant drive. For miles, the trees were scattered randomly across the plains which stretched to the horizon. Between the trees the thousands of termite nests, which had been growing for decades, made it all look like a giant graveyard of head-stones. Small groups of animals huddled together in the shade of the trees.
Sometimes we drove for an hour without meeting any traffic, but we were not afraid of breaking down because a truck driver had assured us that if the truckers meet a stranded car, they always stop to help.
We spent an entertaining weekend at the Camooweal Drovers’ Festival and enjoyed the county and western concert, talent show and demonstration of branding and lassoo throwing.
Another detour took us to the Dinosaur Trail of Richmond, Winton and Hughenden. The highlight was a visit to the dinosaur footprints, which have been covered over to preserve them. I can still recall the feeling of excitement of knowing we were looking at the actual prints of these amazing creatures.
From Cairns we sailed to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkled among the corals. We admired the tropical fish from the glass-sided boat and had a helicopter ride over the reef.
We went by train up the gorge to Kuranda and passed an hour in the giant aviary of Birdworld with beautiful parrots, parakeets and lorikeets landing on our shoulders and leaving their calling card on our hats. The day was complete with a sky ride over the rain forest back to Cairns. Well, I had to do something special to celebrate my 60th birthday.
The lovely west coast is dotted with small well-kept towns. In Denham, we went to the morning feeding of the pelicans and listened to the talk.
In Freemantle we went on a trip to the Victorian prison where the guide, a former prison officer, treated us like prisoners, to give us a flavour of prison life. I annoyed him by laughing at his harsh way of speaking.
Perhaps the most uplifting experience was our visit to the Ningaloo Marine National Park on the west coast. The aptly named Turquoise Bay was a magical range of shades, with white sands and a cool ocean breeze making it idyllic.
Each bay had a slow current flowing across it, so we just relaxed, face down, on the sea and the current carried us over coral reefs with hundreds of darting multi-coloured fish – damsel fish, parrot fish, black and white zebra fish, a multitude of bright purple, yellow and turquoise and colours of every shade. The coral was an attractive array of different shapes – like giant, upturned hairbrushes, some with hundreds of spikes like antlers’ horns, some smooth and some like leaves with curly edges in greens, blues and purples, pinks and reds.
For anyone with time on their hands, this is a wonderful way to pass a year. If anyone thinking of trying it wants a few tips, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
By Hazel Bennett