I love a sunburnt country…

Australia in all its vastness and changing scenery. Wow.

I think I am only just realising now how big this place called Australia really is. We have driven for days and days and have only made it to the tip of the same state we live in. How is that possible? If we were in Europe, we’d have crossed the continent by now. Having said that, whilst we have spent many hours in the car, we haven’t exactly been barrelling along at 100km/hour all that time. When we were still on the bitumen we were sitting around 90km/hour as that was the most comfortable for the car pushing so much weight. But once we left Cooktown, we hit the corrugations of Battle Camp Road and what would eventually become the PDR. Throw out everything you know about driving and start from the beginning again. The corrugations, dips, rocks, potholes, dust holes and pretty much everything else on this road really make for some of the most uncomfortable driving I have ever experienced. In all honesty, I’m not actually doing any of the driving because I really just don’t think I could manage to keep us safely on these roads – full credit to Brandon for doing such a great job with that.

How can I begin to describe what it’s like to ride these roads? You know those deep tread marks that giant tractor wheels make in the mud? Ruts deep enough they’d go up past your ankle if you were walking through the tracks. Now imagine instead of these tractor-type ruts being in soft mud they were hard and rocky. And instead of gingerly picking your way through on foot, you were driving over them, kilometre after kilometre. Imagine they weren’t just in one predictable line down the road either but they stretched the entire width of the road so there was no escape. And also imagine that you can’t predict the direction these rock-hard tractor tread marks will go from one 10 metre stretch of road to the next. One minute you’re on top of some smaller ruts by doing 80km/hour, the next second you have to slow because the ruts suddenly changed size or direction or there was a dip in the road and you can’t see where the ruts are on the other side, or you have just spotted a dust hole at the last minute and you can’t risk driving through that in case you lose control of the car. Oh and don’t forget the road trains.

There’s no suspension in the world that can manage that type of abuse without letting you feel it in the cabin of the car. And feel it you do. Every bone jarring second. The sound of metal shaking, rattling, knocking. Phones get knocked out of their holders; plugs get knocked out of their sockets; switches pop out of dashboards; and, in our case, your indicator light can pop out of its housing! Relentless, hard, knocking, bouncing. The car sounds and feels like it is being shaken apart, one bolt at a time. You become acutely aware that you are riding in a giant metal bucket. But I should be clear. I’m not remotely concerned about my own well-being. That’s why there are so many handles in the car, right? For this sort of driving. The ‘holy shit’ bar has come in handy more than once. My body certainly has enough padding on it for bouncing like this, and our new sheepskin seat covers (thanks Mum!) make for a comfortable base from which to bounce. My one concern, my only concern, is the well-being of our car. How long can it withstand this abuse? It hasn’t exactly been showing us its good side these past few months – we have spent just about every spare cent we have keeping that car on the road and while I get that the 80 series Landcruiser is seen as a great workhorse, there’s always the possibility that the horse is ready to be put out to pasture, yeah? So every bump, bounce, knock, roll or thump has me in fear that we’re about to damage something on the car that will spell a premature end to this trip. I’m petrified the car is going to fall apart like something out of a cartoon – I can picture Wyle E. Coyote driving a car and something happening that causes his entire car to fall apart one nut and bolt at a time while he sits there, maintaining his pose. I don’t want us to be Wyle E. Coyote.

This is a road that is known to be tough on cars – there are a few car bodies strewn along the road, the camp grounds are rife with people telling stories about the damage done to cars, their own or someone else’s. But what I have so far failed to understand (and probably never will), is the brag-ish pride that I seem to hear in the voices of people who tell war stories about what has happened to them on the road. Surely they can’t actually enjoy damaging their cars? Why? How is it possible to take so much pleasure out of doing something so (avoidably) stupid? Like the people who attempt to climb what looks to be an incredibly difficult 4WD-only hill and end up denting just about every panel on their car, leaving bits and pieces behind in their wake. I don’t get it. Or the fools who look at the 90 degree angle of Gunshot Creek and think they are that one special person alive on this planet that can defy just about every law of physics or whatever relevant science there is to actually make their car practically fold in half and successfully climb out of said 90 degree angled hole in the ground. Am I the only person who looks at these tossers and thinks “Why?” I’m probably the only person I know who actually reckons bitumen all the way to the Tip is a good idea – but I guess I just. don’t. get. it.

So imagine you’ve come to terms with the corrugations (you’ll have to really use your imagination there because I don’t think it’s possible to really come to terms with them). Then there’s the ‘sunburnt’ bit. I have come to realise that Dorothea Mackellar was really talking about the horrid red dirt that seems to accumulate over, in, under, through and outside EVERYTHING that touches it. The shade of red is really unmistakable – think of what it would be like if Uluru suddenly became powdered and coated half of everything you owned. And then think of what it would be like if it rained and the once-powdered, now-liquid Uluru spread to cover the other half of everything you owned. So now you have half your worldly possessions coated in powdered Uluru and the other half covered in muddy, liquid Uluru and you know the best bit? You are driving in a car that is carrying half of this powder-liquid Uluru around with you, rubbing it against you every time you try to get in or out of the car. AND you are sleeping, cooking, lounging and generally just living in a camper trailer that is also covered in powder-liquid Uluru. You can’t open your fridge without rubbing up against it. You can’t get a cup or plate out without rubbing up against it. You can’t make yourself a piece of toast, brush your hair or put your pyjamas on without coming into contact with it. You can’t reach for the toilet paper without rubbing up against it. And if that wasn’t bad enough? YOU HAVE LIMITED WATER!! There’s no such thing as a car wash when you have to survive on only the water in the tank, the best you can hope is that the meagre dustpan brush you brought along will allow you to brush off some of the driest powdered Uluru to give yourself the fantastical illusion that your nearest surfaces are just a little bit cleaner than the rest of your environment.

Brandon’s car after we came back from The Tip. Honey, the Cape called – it wants its red dirt back.
Caked on – looks like icing on a very unappetising cake. It flakes off if you shut the doors hard enough, but leaves a dusty red powder behind that is oddly attracted to just about everything it comes in contact with!

Yeah, I love a sunburnt country.

Nights on the road: 14

7 thoughts on “I love a sunburnt country…

  1. chartreuse22 July 18, 2017 / 10:10 pm

    Just think how wonderful it will feel when you can finally give you and your car a big wash. Incidentally B’s car looks like our project vehicle used to look after every Lao road trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy July 19, 2017 / 6:32 am

    Wonderful commentary Zoe.. Loved it..Felt like we were in the back seat . That is why we stayed on the bitumen and that red dust will stay with you for the rest of your trip… but on the upside the memories and adventure are fantastic and are the envy of all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael July 20, 2017 / 8:22 am

    Doing better than me I get Melbourne did a gearbox in Dubbo got shafted by mechanic for just on 5k for a gearbox that jumped out of 5th and tried to grind itself to death in 2nd and 4th got to cook town and the mechanic said oh this gearbox is knackered you need a new one as this ones going to blow up ,so with wife and child in tow we went home to Melbourne and low and behold the troopy was still going 2 years later ,I learnt quickly if you’ve got interstate plates on your gonna get ripped


    • Zoe July 20, 2017 / 8:30 am

      Oh that’s a terrible experience 😦


  4. Andrew July 20, 2017 / 9:00 am

    Having just returned from a 3 week trip through Cape York to the tip I have just read this blog and found myself nodding and agreeing with every word.
    We did both Nth and Sth Telegraph track and we all agreed that it was much easier than the bad sections of the PDR. And there are far too many, and lengthy, bad sections of the ‘road’. Owning a well maintained and equipped 20yo 4wd, where trip preparation saw me meticulously inspect and adjust every single nut and bolt on the vehicle, still left me doubting the vehicle’s and my ability to safely traverse what I believe to be the worst roads in Australia.
    I am in total agreeance, and believe that sealing the entire length of the PDR is, and will be, a great thing.
    I dont know anyone who actually enjoyed driving on those roads. Contant maintenance and repair is an unavoidable part of a trip to the Cape. But it shouldn’t be.
    Now home, and after a thorough post trip inspection, I am very lucky to report that the vehicle did not sustain any major damage, however there’s enough minor damage and repairs to leave the vehicle off the road for several weeks. I would like to speak with anybody who thinks this is acceptable.
    Thank you Zoe for your well written blog!!


    • Zoe July 20, 2017 / 9:48 am

      Thanks Andrew. I agree that it will probably be a while before I am fully confident that our truck survived that terrible road as I’m sure some things will take a while to show up 😦 Glad to hear you made it home safely!


  5. K July 20, 2017 / 1:59 pm

    That’s why I did a 15 day 4wd camping tour with COCKATOURS based in Tully. Brilliant 2 weeks, seen majority of places and Thursday island. All tents and camping gear supplied, all meals included except one. No damage to my car, great trip, all for $1900. Yep that’s right…..15 days camping, tours and food $1900. Cheap s. Thoroughly recommend.


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