For our latest Corona Journey, we team up with our friends at North Journal and Poler Australia for a good ol’ Australian outback adventure–a road trip across our sunburnt land, East Coast to West Coast, in a 1989 Land Rover. From the Byron Bay Hinterland to the working farms of Victoria and the harsh, but stunning desert environments of South Australia; roll up your swag, fill up the jerrycan and join us on the epic Aussie roadie as we make our way west towards Margaret River.
Corona Journey No.33 – Rolling West by North Journal
This large, 6ft something, hairy but balding human walked over to our campsite as I was hammering the tent pegs into the leafy ground. It was dark, and I was rushing to get the tent and awning set up so we could cook dinner. My partner in crime Grace started politely talking to the deep-voiced man. I walked over and caught the introductions. “My name’s Tassie,” he said as he stirred what looked like an iced cocktail with an umbrella, to be honest, I was expecting a beer.
I tried to warm up to old Tassie, so I asked how he got his nickname. His response was to the point and made me feel slightly stupid. “Well, I’m from Tasmania,” he said. I was going to make a joke about my nickname being Newy because I’m from New South Wales. However, I still smelt too much like a city kid for his liking to be making jokes like that. Tassie seemed nice enough and was keen to chat to the only other people in this national park campsite, but when he started making inappropriate Wolf Creek like references it was time to call it a night, my axe in reaching distance.
It was the first official night on our journey across the unpredictable expanse of Australia. Earlier that day we had left the familiar north coast beaches of Byron Bay and headed inland towards the Oxley Wild River National Park. We didn’t know what to expect as we drove west along Waterfall Way and beyond the towns of Bellingen and Dorrigo. This trip was to be different; we would drive beyond familiarity. The goal, this time, was to roll all the way west to Margaret River in our 1989 ex-military Land Rover. No air con, no power steering, no fancy entertainment systems, just a reliable old diesel truck that would hopefully get us across the country. It was an ambitious journey we had long dreamed of, and there were very little disagreements when it came to planning the route we would take. We plotted a few must sees on the map and then hoped everything in between would work itself out.
As we rolled west through outback and country NSW, I recognised town after town; Armidale, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga and Tamworth. These were all iconic Australian towns, and I began to become rattled by the thought that I am 31 and only just seeing some of these places for the first time. Besides the classic bakery fuelled surf trip up and down the coast, I have rarely made time to explore this amazing country of ours. I felt like leaving the coast and rolling west was a symbolic moment. It meant I was finally doing something I always romanticised about but never put it into action.
The journey west began so quick, and before I knew it, we had crossed the border into Victoria and rolled up to ten acres of cacti filled wonder. The quirky place known as Cactus Country was on our ‘must see’ list. It was a non-negotiable stop, even if it meant a slight 500km detour, which I would later learn is nothing when it comes to driving around this vast country of ours. The visit to Cactus Country was worth every kilometre. We first arrived at sunset and walked the property admiring the sculptural and otherworldly feels of the garden. We met Jim Hall the cacti obsessed farmer. Jim had recently made a living from his zucchini and squash farm, but after a back injury had forced him into retirement, he decided to show the public his side project, ten acres of cacti from all around the world. An obsession Jim admits to having since he was a kid. We spent the night surrounded by spiky sculptures and watched as the full moon rose over the garden, transporting us at that moment very far from the Victorian cow filled farmland that existed beyond the property.
We finally dragged ourselves away from Cactus Country and headed west for the South Australian border; the plan was to make it to Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula and explore the coastline along the bottom of Australia. We allowed ourselves a week in S.A, before making our way across the infamous Nullarbor plain. However, an incredible hulk of a kangaroo had other plans for us. It had been a long couple of days driving when I broke all of the ‘Driving across outback Australia’ rules; I drove after sunset. We still had an hour to the campsite, and I was not mentally flexible enough to just stop where we were and set up camp. I was pushing along when the ‘Incredible Hulk’ decided to jump out in front of the vehicle. I couldn’t do much but attempt to shift down a gear and slow up somewhat. However, it was too late, and the old army truck took its first casualty. Slightly rattled and feeling sorry for taking down a representative of our nation emblem, I pulled over to check the damage. On the first inspection, everything looked ok, and the truck made it to the next town. The next morning was when the actual damage showed its face. The bonnet of the car started to look like a waterfall, as the radiator began a steady stream of coolant flowing out from the front end of the car onto the pavement below. I realised we had pierced the radiator in the previous night’s collision.
It was the Easter long weekend, and we were in a town called Peterborough. No mechanics were open for at least three days. The local pub took us in, and we very quickly threw all plans out the window. The kangaroo was a harsh lesson in slowing down and being flexible when traveling. Peterborough has a population of around a thousand people, and it felt like we met most of them in our few days there. We made the most of our forced rest time and we finally left Peterborough a few days later. I felt like our urgency in the trip had been knocked out of us, yet a new calm and openness followed for the rest of the voyage west.
By the time we reached the bottom of Australia and saw where the desert meets the sea, it had been almost two weeks on the road with no ocean in sight. The smell of the salt air wafted through the old land rover’s air vents as we ventured towards Sahara-like sand dunes. We were over excited to find the ocean. Just when we thought life couldn’t get any better, we stumbled across a bright pink lake–an oasis in a harsh desert landscape. We pulled the truck over to the side of the road and were treated to an hour long, incredible light show. We saw blues, reds, greens, oranges, pastels and saturated tones. The sky resembled an extreme Photoshop job, but this was no Adobe plug-in, this was Australia showing us a side of her we had never seen.
Our time across the Nullarbor and into Western Australia reminded my eyes of all the colours that exist away from computer screens. The water was turquoise, and the land was fifty shades of red. The mountains were bare and easy to climb. The clifftops were dramatic, and the flies were relentless. The Nullarbor is a long, very straight reminder that Australia is, for the most part, vast and uninhabited. The mind wanders as you drive the long roads, and I would often think of the Aboriginal tribes that walked this land far before the straight roads and coffee stops.
When we arrived in Esperance and made our way along the bottom of Western Australia to Margaret River, it felt like we had been abruptly dropped back into city life, even though the towns were still around 200kms apart. The beaches were still empty and had populations of a few thousand. After spending a week crossing the bottom of Australia, you get used to no phone reception, no towns, just the odd petrol station every few hundred kilometers. It was a bit of a rude shock when we saw a McDonalds and a drive through coffee place.
Arriving in Margaret River to lush green forests, rolling hills with wineries and stunning beaches was a lasting reminder of how many different landscapes we had come across on our trip. From the waterfalls of the North Coast Hinterland to the working farms of Victoria and the harsh, but stunning desert environments of South Australia; Australia again was yelling at me, reminding me I’ve been looking in all the wrong places.
So as we sit in Margaret River with old friends and old comforts, we are excited about hitting the road again, after all, we still have to drive the 5000 km’s back home.
Words: Tim Boreham // @north_journal