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The Gunbarrel Highway

overcast 9 °C
View The Red Center and Great Western Deserts on stevecrow's travel map.

The Gunbarrel Highway was the first of many tracks built by the famous Australian surveyor Len Beadell as part of an exploration project for establishing suitable areas in the isolated Australian Outback for weapons research in the 1950's. The track is named after the construction company Len ran, "The Gunbarrel Highway Construction Party" which is a bit of a play on the fact that Len prefered whenever possible to draw straight, long lines on maps where he would build his roads. The idea was to maximize fuel efficiency and time by pushing through the most direct routes possible. - Information summarized from www.exporoz.com (http://www.exploroz.com/TrekNotes/WDeserts/Gunbarrel_Highway.aspx)

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Day 8: The Gunbarrel Highway

"Well the road is in the same condition as it has been for the last 35, 40 years..." the roadhouse caretaker states in that all-knowing, all-wise way that all roadhouse curators are supposed to answer such questions. "It's an ad-ven-chah!"

I clarify, and enquire about the weather recently or if there is any rain expected. "Nah, weather's been goohd..." He cocks his grizzled Santa Claus on a pension look up at the two police officers that had been having a conversation with him prior to my touristy interruption about the road conditions on the fabled Gunbarrel Highway. "You heard of anyone gettin' lost out there recently?" The police both shake their heads and respond in kind. And since the authorities - the ones that may very well end up being the ones who end up going out looking for such lost individuals as myself - don't seem to have any concerns, I am now making the decision for myself. I will travel the Gunbarrel Highway.

"Now memorize the code..." the roadhouse owner says seriously, handing me a tiny piece of paper with a five-digit number printed on it that will allow me access to the toilets, "and then swallow the papah!" He chuckles. I laugh back. But he really does, I can tell by the look on his face, take security here at his roadhouse in Warburton, and Aboriginal community in Western Australia situated about halfway along the Great Central Road, very seriously. I'm not entirely sure if it is because of a stagnant cloud of crime that hovers over the community, inherent racism and lack of understanding by white culture, or a little combination of both.

I don't pass judgement, I'm no better. On the Great Central Road yesterday as I was within about 50 kilometres of the Warakurna Roadhouse I had to slow down for an Aboriginal man standing in the middle of the road with his thumb out. On one the side of the road was a car with the hood (bonnet) up, and on the other side was a small brush fire, presumably started to attract attention. The obvious suggestion here is that he required assistance. But I did not stop. The first reason is that I have read and been warned that it is not uncommon for roadside robberies to occur in this area, under the guise of someone in need of help. Again, whether this is an assumption on the part of racist attitudes or rooted in truth I do not know, so being by myself with no real defence skills I need to err on the side of caution. The other reason, I tell myself as I pass by him as he gives me a bewildered look, is that I cannot really help him anyway. I have no way of calling help for him (I have a sat phone but that is for *my* emergencies), and I have no mechanical skills with which to lend a hand. I cannot carry him and his friend, the one standing next to the car, as the campervan does not have room. I tell myself all this as I pass him, wondering if the true dark spirit of xenophobia has embraced me the same way it has burrowed itself into a good portion of the white population of this country, or if I'm really just playing the survivalism card. Unfortunately, probably a little bit of both. I can only hope that if he truly needed help, that someone stopped to help him. If not, I can only hope no one else fell prey to some more insidious scheme.

But I digress.

"It's an ad-ven-cha!"

  • * * *

Have you ever experienced that feeling of pushing life to its limits, finding some way to take yourself to the very brink of your comfort zone, right to the point of being able to look over the edge to the other side and knowing that you are only a few steps from succumbing to panic and perhaps even hysteria that could threaten every seemingly well-though out decision you've made in order to get here?

  • * * *

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The turn off to the Heather Highway is not particularly well marked, it has only a sign that points to the Aboriginal community it leads to if one were to take it to the end. Luckily I know the name of the community. Luckily, I have a GPS.
The first almost fifty kilometres of the road are not pleasant but nothing out of the ordinary for the middle of nowhere, Australia. I keep myself occupied by mingling with wild camels.

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Then I come to the turn off that leads towards the Gunbarrel. And this is where adventure - sorry "ad-ven-chah!" - begins.

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At first, I am wondering if this is really the road - the very inaccurately named Heather Highway, because it is not only not a highway but it is barely a road. It would be more correctly described as the ill-marked path leading from one's back porch to one's shed where one stores his or her wheelbarrow. The track is overgrown and clearly not well used. At least at first. Then it descends into a mayhem of completely washed-out ruts and gullies, and corrugations that could shake the very bowels of hell. I tell myself this is just a test, to see if I can handle the rest of the voyage that awaits me. If only I knew.

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The longest thirty-seven kilometres of my life (...so far). There are some places where diversion tracks lead off the main road, which at first I'm hesitant to attempt but after driving through some nearly impassible wash-outs I start to get brave and take them, thinking to myself that they must be here for a reason. And I have GPS, right? Right?

The stretch takes an hour. But I reach the Gunbarrel, wondering if the road I'm about to follow for about 700 kilometres will be any easier to navigate. Or simply survive without a complete mental breakdown.

If only I knew.

  • * * *

Have you ever been in a place where you knew it was only your wits keeping you part of this world, both mentally and physically?

  • * * *

The GPS breaks down - rather the horrendous Heather Highway has knocked loose some wire or something in the power supply that plugs into the cradle. I will find this out later when, out of nowhere, the GPS will start to announce that it's battery is getting low - when it isn't supposed to be running on its battery. Of course I am prepared for anything and have brought not only a 12V cigarette lighter USB charger but the GPS USB sync cable, which keeps the battery charged. There is a brief moment of panic however before I realize I have it all under control, because without the GPS I think I would be lost. I don't mean I need the GPS to know where I am, I mean that if I didn't have the GPS the only real reason I would possibly be where I am right now is if I were completely lost...

The Gunbarrel Highway lives up to it's reputation. What the Heather Highway served as an appetizer the Gunbarrel blasts out as a butcher-and-cook-your-own all-you-can eat Australian Outback track through Hell. The first stretch of the road is a labyrinth of total and complete wash-aways...and in case you are wondering what this means, it means simply that massive parts of the road are gone. Totally gone. Vanished. Blown away. This is the Walking Dead of roads, a zombie track who is in the later stages of total and complete rot. The road is so washed out in places that I'm driving at a 30 degree angle, just hoping I don't bottom out on the rocks underneath me, or worse yet roll over. There are so many diversion tracks in places that the road looks like a divided dirt freeway. Sometimes there are diversion tracks leading away from the diversion tracks that have already been used enough to become corrugated all to hell. In most cases the diversion tracks don't help with corrugations because they've been used too much, I only take them on the chance that they are leading around some place in the track that has washed out so badly that I would have to be a moron not to avoid it. This turns out to be true on several occasions when I can see the main track beside me turn into a narrow gully of rock and stones, basically an empty river bed that was once many years ago a road.

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And to think: yes, I intentionally came here.

I take it slow, I stay in low gears, I keep my eyes on the road, and somehow I'm completely at peace. I have something to take my mind off the current situation - that being focusing on the road. And I'm somewhere I've never been before, and in fact most people have never been or will be, including many Australians. I'm in one of the most remote areas on Earth. Well, I read that somewhere but I'm sure there are places in Africa or eastern Russia or Antarctica that are way farther away from anything, but maybe what it meant was one of the most remote *accessible* places on Earth.

And I am rewarded with some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. There are literarily hundreds of kilometres of untouched natural beauty all around me. Endless plains of bright yellow desert grass, rocky hills jutting out on the horizon, and long narrow passages through Australian Outback forest. And despite my growing anxiety of reaching a camp site before the sun goes down, because already the approaching dusk is making the minor but very important details of the road harder and harder to see, I am starting to feel some satisfaction in myself, some restlessness quelled. Some amount of "if I pull this off..."...

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Of course I continue to remind myself, I have over 300 kilometres before I might see another human being. This somehow makes me happy.

  • * * *

Have you ever been in a place that is so dark and lonely you wonder what to do with yourself?

This is where I am now, at a place called Camp Beadell. It is named after Len Beadell who built the Gunbarrel, and many other remote tracks in Australia (the Connie Sue Highway, and the Anne Beadell Highway for example - no clue why he, or anyone, would refer to any of these roads as highways...) I watched one of the most spectacular sunsets I've seen in my life, though now there are no stars because it is cloudy. There is no one here, which is not surprising if you've been following my tale until now. The only lights are this iPad screen, a citronella candle, and the blurred moon through the light clouds. No words can possible describe the peacefulness of this place right now. It is totally quiet aside from my typing...and bats. There is nothing else. This is what I wanted. This is Australia.

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This is an "ad-ven-chah".

  • * * *

Day 9: Carnegie Station

What could possibly be better than the best sunset you've ever seen? The best sunrise you've ever seen.

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I make sure to get up at literally the crack of dawn, six am Western Australia time. It seems to me that Western Australia drew the short straw on time zones, because it isn't that far removed from central Australia but is one and one half hours behind. This means that the useful parts of the day come and go very early.

I enjoy a peaceful breakfast as the sun rises, knowing that I cannot unfortunately linger long. Briefly I wonder if I could just stay here for an entire day...this has been perhaps the best camping I have ever done, by myself with no facilities except what I have brought with me. My morning shower is actually a partial sponge bath with boiled water. This place is absolutely amazing. However two things get me moving: the fact that I know a mild low pressure system will likely move over this area in the next day or so, threatening the all-evil rain that I have been warned about. The other thing is the fact that during the daylight hours the desert flies are absolutely unbearable. There is little reason to hang around.

By the way, I just want to point out that I believe I have earned two additional Outback Explorer merit badges, neither of which are particularly pleasant. The first was actually a couple days ago when I operated on myself. By this, I mean I had a blister on one of my ankles that was about 4cm wide. It was big enough to warrant it's own place setting at the dinner table. So I sterilized my hunting knife and cut it open and drained it. Some antibacterial cream and off I went. That bastard was big enough though that I think I'll probably have a scar. The other badge was earned when this morning I, well, made my own toilet using the fold-up spade from the 4x4 recovery kit, toilet paper, a lighter, and an awesome stick I found that holds toilet paper really well. I leave it at that.

I break camp over half an hour later than I intended, and am on the road by 7:45am. Obviously if the road continues in the same way it has been this will be a slow, painful, but ultimately satisfying journey. If only I knew.

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  • * * *

Have you ever fucked up so badly that you knew you could not possibly get out of your current situation unscathed?

  • * * *

I recall fondly the gentleman at Bell Gorge campground on my previous trip, the one through the Kimberly, when having told him I made it along the Tanami Track he responded with "The Tanami? Not bad, for a foreigner..." If only he knew.

I do meet other travellers, by which I mean I pass two 4x4s travelling in the opposite direction. I wave as I pass, in thanks for them allowing me to go through past them, but I do not stop and roll down the window to chat as I probably should have. I'm not sure what the travellers etiquette is in these parts. They probably think I'm German and do not speak a word of English.

After several rough patches of shitty road and diversions around washouts, I reach Mount Beadell, which I plan to take pictures from the peak. I hunt around and find what I presume to be the track leading to the top.

About half-way up I realize that this may not be a drivable track - which is to say, with my limited 4x4 experience I am staring at a washed out road that is nothing but steep sharp rock, and I'm already at a 45 degree angle pointing up. I cannot continue, I decide. I am now in a very serious bind - if I cannot keep going, I have two choices - roll in reverse back down the steep, sharp rock infested track...or attempt to turn around. Neither choice is right, and I make the wrong one anyway. I attempt to turn around.

Crunch.

That is the back end of the campervan colliding with the stone embankment of the track. In my mind I start listing off all the possible religions I can join right here, right now, and start praying to my new god or gods to get me out of this OK.

Crunch.

I probably back into the side of the track six or seven times before I manage to right my the truck and point back down the track. I roll back down the mountain, telling myself that everything will be OK.

It isn't.

Back at the base of the mountain I find that I have completely mangled the rear bumper of the campervan, and that there is a huge stone jammed in the tailpipe. I stop to let the panic subside, knowing that I cannot continue with a huge rock jammed in the tailpipe.

Several minutes of WTF do I do after trying fruitlessly to pry the rock out with my bare hands, other rocks and small bits of wood lead to a comprehensive inventory of the tools I have available. I pull out the 4x4 recovery kit, the compressor, the awning pole pegs and rubber mallet, and the tire changing tools. In the tire changing kit I find pliers and I manage to wrestle the stone out of the tail pipe. So I can drive the rig. But the bumper is totally fucked. Which means that if all the insurance I took out on the rig doesn't cover me for dumb-ass decisions, I am also totally fucked.

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But why let this ruin my voyage?

It takes a while before I let it pass, but I get through it. The truck is fine, drivable, the tires (tyres) are ok, and nothing is leaking. But I do not get to take pictures from the top of Mount Beadell. This, I know I will regret.

  • * * *

Have you ever felt lost, and at the same time, really happy about it?

  • * * *

The road continues in the same manner in which I left it - it is rough, angry, mean and aggressive, and mostly missing in places. But after a while, a groove sets in that starts to somehow indicate which diversion tracks to take and which ones not to. In some parts I'm not totally on the ball, so to speak, and end up on tracks that are way more overgrown than the main road, but in most cases I can look over to the original Gunbarrel and see that it is so worn out that no one has driven that stretch for long enough for entire trees to take root and grow right in the middle of the road.

This pattern repeats itself for about a hundred kilometres, probably more. I stop at the junction of the Gunbarrel and Gary Highway (another "highway" of Beadell's) and sign the visitor's book. A few entries back of mine I see some party has come through on the 28th of May...and then again on the 29th of May after "breaking a wheel". I can only hope they were going west to east.

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Minutes pass like hours as I traverse the awesomeness that is the Gibson desert.

And after a while I stop at a point where the road is marked with two gigantic tires (tyres), one to either side if the road. The sign in one of the tyres says "Welcome to the Shire Of Wiluna". I get out and look at the road. There is something peculiar about it...

The road has been graded.

And just like that, the "ad-ven-chah!" kind of comes to an end. From this point, I'm doing sixty to eighty kilometres an hour. From here on, the Gunbarrel really is a highway. I enjoy the scenery around me, the mountain passes, the fields of grass, and the camels, and livestock...which have some really odd roadside mannerisms. First, they like to wait until you are crawling by them before moving; they hesitate right until you are actually past them and finally putting distance between you and them...and *that* is when they suddenly break into their awkward cow-run in some unpredictable trajectory. In fact I had one kind of scare when I came across three cattle - a cow, a calf, and a steer, all standing in the middle of the road. My path would lead right through the calf, but of course I've stopped to see of they'll move without me having to fire off a gun or something. The steer moves in front of the campervan, between me and the calf, and then turns to face me...and just stands there. I'm now freaking out that this psychotic beast is about to rush the truck, but eventually the calf just ups and bolts to the side of the road, after which the steer calmly follows.

And I finally see freaking kangaroos!

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Lots of them.

I spend the rest of the day tooling along, stopping to take what pictures I can. There are a couple of small, ahem, mountains where I can take some great pictures of the surrounding landscape, but I'm still smarting from not getting to the top of Mount Beadell, by far the tallest of all the, ahem, mountains along the route.

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I reach Carnegie Homestead just in time for sundown, and though I'm happy I made it to an established place, I'm also a bit sad that I couldn't spend another night camping all alone in the middle of nowhere. Of course, this place has it's quirks to relish in.

For starters, it's a homestead. It's like camping in someone's backyard. Actually, it really is camping in someone's back yard. I'm met by a young fellow working on trucks in the garage, who leads me to a small camp ground behind the homestead. From here a young girl points out the facilities - a full kitchen, and a bathroom with a donkey water heater for the showers. The place only has power at certain times of the day, the generator I guess works on a timer. I take them up on their offer for both the donkey water heater for a shower, and the use of their kitchen.

As I'm cooking my pathetic dinner of well-past-their-prime potato patties (which I bought in Alice knowing I couldn't bring real potatoes across to Western Australia due to quarantine rules) and some kind of chicken sausage, the whole family comes into the kitchen for their own dinner. I guess the homestead has a single kitchen.

On the invitation of the older gentleman, whom I take to be the homestead owner, I join them to eat my dinner. There is the older gentleman, two younger blokes, and the young girl, who really seems German but sounds *almost* Australian. Her name is Julia. Yep, she has to be German (turns out I was right). At first the whole situation has kind of a creepy "what-if" about it, like what if this totally isolated homestead gets on by cooking up rogue tourists? At this point Stephen King has already written the first three chapters of his next bestseller. But I kid, because really these people are unbelievably friendly and awesome and in the end it ends up being me being rude as I excuse myself after a while to come out and sit under the again blurred out moon and write this blog entry.

Even now as I write this I can hear the young girl wandering around the homestead watering plants. This has been an amazing journey, and it has only been two nights.

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Now I have a problem, one that I'm sure many Canadian folks back home would love to have. I'm Australia, I have a campervan, plenty of food and water, and I have seven nights to waste before I need to return it and start the long plane journey home. Where should I go? What should I see?

And what the hell am I going to tell Britz about the chewed-up bumper? As the older gentleman suggested, "tell 'em it was a 'roo that did it!"

Looking at the damage, I do not think they'll buy that.

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  • * * *

Day 10: Wiluna (And the Oddest Campground...Evah!)

I say my thanks and goodbye to Carnegie Station (well, Julia...I never see the other guys again). And also the two awesome Australian cattle dogs that were actually the first to greet me here.

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The road doesn't get any worse, really (can you believe I say this in moderate disappointment?) 335 kilometres of pretty easy, slick-as-butter for the most part dirt road from Carnegie all the way to Wiluna. I make sure to try and take as many pictures as I can but the beauty of the land is muted by the total and complete overcast sky.

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As I reach the final paved ('sealed') stretch into Wiluna where I stop to re-inflate my tyres and unlock the four wheel drive, it starts to rain. Not much, just a light desert sprinkle, but enough to let me take comfort in keeping to the schedule I ended up following.

I stop in Wiluna and grab some simple supplies and eye up the local caravan park. It looks a bit less of a holiday park and more like the prison camp from The Great Escape, walled off with tall fences and locked gates. Wiluna, admittedly is a very run-down and poor Aboriginal community so I guess the extra security is needed...but I just can't see myself voluntarily staying here unless there is no alternative.

But there is an alternative - I saw a sign a few kilometres back for some place called "The Gunbarrel Laager Traveler's Rest". It can't hurt to check it out - it has to be more pleasant that the Alcatraz of a park here in town, right?

The place is back about 14 kilometres from town, and because of this I guess I'm expecting a quaint little homestead-style accommodation or something equally as back-woods Australian. What I instead drive into, at first, is several lots of run-down or in the process of running down vehicles, mostly trucks...and a big field that I guess used to be a vineyard, but those days are well over. Then I drive into the 'campground' - several dirt plots flattened out beside a cluttered and chaotic disarray of vehicles and buildings built out of trailers and what looks like school portables picked up second-hand. I enter the 'reception' office that looks more like an active war outpost to find a portly gentleman who is the first Australian I've met to respond to "how are you doing" with not "great" or "fine, thank you" but instead "well..........if you have a few hours........I could tell you........." Again, I kid a bit because the gentlemen is beyond friendly and awesome. Really friendly and awesome. I mean 'it takes me half an hour to check' in friendly and awesome due to some of the cool stories that I am entertained with as we chat.

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Well, to make the most of the situation. There are ants and frogs in the bathroom, and really I think Stephen King has at this point written the first half of the sequel to the best-seller he started at Carnegie, but there is this cool cat that visits and hangs out for a while.

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Then I found out why I was lead here.

A gentleman comes by and asks if I came off the Canning Stock Route - which is, by the way, the Holy Grail of Australian Outback voyages, something like 2000 kilometres through some of the roughest terrain on earth (something I would love to do but the logistics alone would require me to move to Australia and buy my own rig...and have several other vehicles to travel with). No, I respond, I came off the Gunbarrel - which I guess is kind of the kiddie-coaster of Australian Outback adventures compared to the Canning, but in any case the conversation leads me to end up joining the campfire a couple sites over from me. Three vehicles and I think about eight folks who just came off the Canning who welcomed me with open arms. We spent the evening chatting about everything, about Australia, about Canada. They were genuinely impressed not only with the balls I demonstrated taking the Gunbarrel - as a foreigner, alone - but by the fact that here was this Canadian who was doing Australia right, seeing it the way it was meant to be seen. Not even once, but twice. They supplied me with some dinner, baked potatoes with homemade garlic butter and salad to go with my still pathetic sausages, and some kind of awesome bread pudding in a vanilla cream (how do they make this stuff while camping???)

It is funny, because after spending what I thought was the perfect camping night at Camp Beadell, all by myself, I now am spending an equally awesome camping night surrounded by new friends by a campfire. I regret I do not remember all their names, but I will forever remember their faces and the hospitality they showed me.

This is Australia.

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Posted by stevecrow 05:14 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Barreling Towards the Coast

sunny 13 °C
View The Red Center and Great Western Deserts on stevecrow's travel map.

And so ends the Gunbarrel Highway.

By the time I'm ready to head out, because I'm dreadfully slow in the mornings (if you call departing by 8:30am slow) most of my new friends have left on their way, all in separate directions. The last two stop by to bid me a fond farewell. Such a strange campground, yet what a wonderful experience it brought.

I am now faced with six nights to spend in Western Australia...with only a general idea of what to do. A conversation with one of my new compatriots over my Hema Australian road atlas led to some good suggestions. Head towards the coast, start at Shark Bay, and work my way down. That is a hell of a jaunt from where I am, but the gentleman looked at my vehicle and suggested that perhaps I need to think a bit more outside the box. Normally from here, to get to the coast the path would lead west to Meekatharra, and then either south all the way to Mount Magnet, across to Geraldton and then north...or all the way north to Port Hedland, which would be an epic journey, one that would allow little time to waste getting back to Perth. Through Geraldton, easily a two day drive, maybe more. But, looking at my 4WD he tells me the right way to go...is across. He points out a series of small back-country roads that cut across to the coast, telling me I can easily navigate these roads with a 4WD and a GPS. And if I have to, I could simply find places to camp along the way...meaning bush camp wherever I need to.

Sounds a bit like an "ad-ven-chah!"

This plan leads me to leave via Wiluna and cut across to Meekatharra via the Goldfields Highway, which is really just a dirt highway. A real dirt highway. I barely break a sweat the entire way going an average of 110Kmph. Although this doesn't come without costs, as the newly acquired large star-shaped chip on my windshield (windscreen) that is big enough to cast a shadow on the dashboard now constantly reminds me. This poor vehicle.

The scenery along the way is ok...I guess :)

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I reach Meekatharra (another small Aboriginal Community), call home, and head off down the 'real' highway for a bit to a town called Cue (yep...Cue...as in ball) where I enquire locally about these roads I was advised towards. My first stop at the local roadhouse results in the young, heavily pierced girl suggesting I keep to the main road down to Mount Magnet. Her reasoning (other than the obvious fact she doesn't really know much about the roads across the back-country) is that even if a road happens to be open on this side of the Murchison Range, there is no way to know it will be OK on the other side. Fair enough, play it safe. Do not send tourists to some uncertain fate if you cannot be sure.

For a split second I'm ready to give in...but I decide a second opinion is in order. I drive back into town and ask at a local grocery store, and there I find a young guy who is very knowledgeable about the road system in the area. He tells me all the right things - have lots of fuel (check), spare tyres (well, one...check) and keep an eye on the signage. I can do that.

I blast out of Cue along a road heading west, at first all sealed and honestly surprising that the young girl at the roadhouse would be this much in the dark about the roads around here. I chalk it up, as I have been able to on many occasions, that she probably did not quite understand what I was really asking...as both my stumbling conversational skills and my thick Yank (heh heh) accent have caught a few Aussies off guard along my travels (..."eh, what's that?" is a common conversation piece when I am conversing with Aussies...on both sides of the conversation).

I follow the signage, and turn off on the road that will lead me across the mountain range to the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road, my destination being the Murchison Oasis Roadhouse. At this point, I notice the time. It is three pm. I have maybe two and a half, maybe three hours of sunlight left. And several hundred kilometres to cross. Tanami, anyone???

The suggestion to follow this route is rewarding with some amazing scenery. And really, like the gentleman said, I can pull over and camp anywhere it seems ok to do so if I need to. Part of me is really kind of hoping this ends up being the case, but my problem is that once I get a plan into my head, I stick to it like the desert flies on my face every time I step out of the truck to take pictures.

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I'll fast-forward a bit, and just say the landscape was magnificent, and laden with Kangaroos. Which is kind of awesome, but at the same time a bit concerning because this is not a good place for a truck-on-roo pow-wow.

I am now sitting at the Murchison Oasis Roadhouse, which is a beautiful and clean roadhouse with a campground in the back. I am totally alone...except for the god-forsaken wind. It is totally unreal to the point that I wonder if I will wake up lying on the side-window of the campervan after if blows over in the night.

I find it funny that camping in the middle of nowhere all by myself is one of the most satisfying feelings I've had in my life, but spending an evening in an established place completely by yourself is nothing but lonely and almost depressing. Strange, these conflicting feelings.

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Day 12: Shark Bay and No Dolphins

I guess I already gave the story away.

I leave the roadhouse and again cut across to the coast along another dirt road, again really a dirt highway, called the Butchers Track. I kind of hope it was named after a person and not those who dwell upon it waiting for ripe tourists to, well, Butcher.

I hit the coastal highway, and head up into Shark Bay. Seeing the Indian Ocean is again a bundle of mixed feelings - I'm already missing the inland Outback, the Heart of Australia that I successfully traversed...the hard way, might I add. But the ocean is so unbelievably vibrant and welcoming, I can't but help feel a different kind of peace. Of course, the completely awesome part about coastal Australia is that even though you are travelling next to the ocean, it still feels like you are in the middle of an endless desert. I get the best of both worlds.

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I visit Monkey Mia, the world-renowned dolphin resort. I pay my $8.50 just to be allowed to park and wander around the beach. I am able to take some fantastic pictures of the resort and the beach and some storks or pelicans or whatever (I'm not an Australian bird-ologist) but alas, the dolphins were tipped off to my pending arrival and fucked off to wherever they do their shitty dolphin things, somewhere far away from here. Whatever, I can say I'm been here I guess.

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And now, an informative article I will call "A Canadian's Guide to Camping in Australia". (Please note I take no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or even truthfulness of the information that is provided).

Campground: Often contained in a National Park or other remote or semi-remote area. Can range from no amenities at all to drop toilets (outhouses) or flushing toilets, sometimes solar-heated showers, maybe even a camp kitchen with free BBQs and propane ('LP'). If you are lucky the water, if there is any, is drinkable but do not count on it. It is not uncommon for the ground to have no real established sites, meaning numbered or whatever, and really it is a totally free-for-all. Fees may apply. In Canada, we would call this a 'campground', or in some cases a 'Family Reunion'.

Bush-Camp: You are in the middle of no-where, but someone has been here before you, as you can tell by the poorly covered-up campfire pit they were supposed to completely bury before they left. There are no showers, no toilets, no water (although maybe there is a bore nearby, but good luck with that). But there are also no lights, no traffic, and probably no other people. This is living off the land at its finest, with only the Australian sky to keep you company. Your firewood is whatever you can gather, and your toilet is a hole in the ground you dug (and if you are not a dick, you burned the toilet paper afterward so the wildlife doesn't dig up the hole you hopefully filled in after you are done). These are, of course, free. When you leave, you make sure to leave absolutely no trace of the fact you were here, otherwise you are in fact a total and complete dick. In Canada, we would call this trespassing, or 'squatting'.

Homestead/Station: Some cattle ranch or remote Outback station has opened its grounds to weary travellers, setting up a campground somewhere on the grounds, sometimes it is a large established campground, other times it is pretty much the back yard. Often there will rooms available as well, and full amenities such as washrooms with showers and fully-stocked kitchens. You will often share these amenities with those who reside here. And the people running these places are some of the most amazing friendly folks you will meet. The fees for these places range, but are often sub-$20 for a campsite. In Canada, we would call these perhaps 'Bed and Breakfasts' but with campgrounds...or 'Rapidly Wearing Out Our Welcome Whilst Parked Out On The Back Lawn Of One Of Our Distant Relatives...Probably An Aunt Or Something'.

Rest Areas/Waysides: Literally at the side of the road, likely a highway. Ranging from small dirt parking lots with only rubbish bins to large complexes of established camp lots, maybe even fire pits and drop toilets. There are usually a tremendous number of flies. Also, they are (almost) never empty, because they are free and you are allowed to stay for up to 24 hours. But who is really counting? I've seen set-ups that guarantee that some folks have been there a lot longer than their allotted 24 hours, with clotheslines set up and such. It seems that people actually plan their trips around these stops because, again, they are free. In Canada, I'm not sure what we'd call this because due to budget constraints I'm pretty sure we've torn up and/or shut down many of our highway rest areas. In the US there are more, but they've started cracking down on what was an 8 hour allowance and now you can only hang for an hour or two. So I guess in Canada we'd call this 'Broken Down On The Side Of The Trans-Canada Highway'.

Roadhouses: Truck-stops on steroids. Gas-Station + Campground + some combination of grocery store, restaurant, souvenir hawker, sometimes with massive lots in the back to allow road trains to park for the night (recall these road trains can be over 50m long). If you are lucky, it may even have a full bar. These are often in between established settlements, because the distance between established settlements here can be massive. The fees are mostly reasonable and can range from $12 to $25 but this often includes an AC outlet to allow plugging in and charging your iPad. In Canada, I guess we'd call these 'Truck Stops on Steroids'. But really, we don't have anything like this. We should, because they're rad.

Caravan Parks: This is where I write this from now. They are very well set up - you have full running water, showers, camp kitchens with free BBQs, stoves, hot water to wash dishes, full laundry facilities, and in some cases they may even have stores and/or restaurants. They are often full of people who are endearingly referred to as 'Grey Nomads' in Australia, people who are retired or semi-retired who spend their time off travelling Australia often for months or even years at a time. When I grow up, I think I want to be a Grey Nomad. In Canada, we would refer to these as 'RV Parks' or 'Holiday Parks' or, of course, 'trailer parks'. And there are rules posted...everywhere, telling you what not to do. And...well...they are kind of depressing. There are so many people around you that really do not want to have anything to do with you. The social system in these places is odd, very isolated and keep-to-yourself. The only people you see interacting are those that either know each other already, or are, like me, real campers that are stuck here because they need a washing machine. The parks are usually really expensive ($30 to $60 or more a night, usually charged by the head), partly due to the range of facilities they provide, and partly due to the fact that they have lobbied to get every free campsite within an 100km radius shut down so they have a monopoly on the camping in the area.

I can't complain much, I managed to get a site right on the water with only the groaning trees above me swaying and bending from the wind to keep my senses heightened. Denham, Western Australia, is really beautiful in it's own way. But already I wish I was somewhere back in the real heartland, with only the sky and the trees and the bats to keep me company. But in the end it doesn't really matter because I'm in Australia, and I'm seeing places I'll probably never see again in this lifetime.

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Day 13; Kalbarri National Park and Deal-Or-No-Deal, Aussie-Style

I will spare you the details of the again getting up too late (e.g. 6:45am) and leaving too late (e.g. 8:30am) to start on my 400km journey. The only really interesting thing that happens between then and now is that as I travel south, the land starts to get...greener.

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Fast-foward to Kalbarri National park, where I roam around taking in massive river gorges and red stone cliffs...

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...and then at one point I suddenly realize, wait a minute, it's Friday. What if this means is that if I wanted a campsite anywhere I need to move my ass. My original plan was to bypass the town of Kalbarri and head to a bush camp area on the beach a bit south, but now that I'm thinking about it, I haven't left myself enough time to either: a) find the place before sundown, or b) stake out a site behind a sand-dune where I may have at least a remote chance of being able to keep my crappy stove lit long enough to boil water.

So...I resign myself to another caravan park in downtown Kalbarri...hoping they've have some room left by the time I get there. I luck out, though once again I'm kind of put off by the fact I'm staked out at a shitty caravan park, plonked in front of the ablution block (in Canada we call these 'the Shitters'). So I decide if I can avoid it, I don't want to cook tonight, I'm going to wander into town and find dinner instead. I find myself at the Gilgai Tavern - a real Australian bar.

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I buy dinner - a crappy rump steak with green peppercorn gravy, but after a week of shitty sausages this may as well have been fillet mignon. As I pay for my dinner, and on the subsequent trip to the bar for another wine, I fill put my name on these bits of paper for some kind of draw. No idea what it is for. Whatever.

I'm just finishing up in the restroom when I here the unmistakable sound of my name being mispronounced: "Steve...Croughhurst..." How on earth do Australians fuck up "Crowhurst"??? Americans and telemarketers I can almost understand, but fellow Commonwealth? I'm sure the Queen wouldn't screw it up. It's Crowhurst, as in the Crow, as in eat-your-eyes-out-after-you're-dead-carrion-mooch Crow. Not difficult.

But really what this means is I have won the draw.

The draw is for a box. There are 20 of them, within which range prizes from a six-pack of beer up to $1500. The barkeep leads me on, suggesting it is Friday the 13th. So like a tool I choose box 13. She then holds up a gift card for $50 and asks if I want the gift card or the box. She involves the bar patrons: "$50 or the box???" The bar responds overwhelming with "the box!". Of course, I choose the box. She then holds up another gift card: "$100, or the box". This is Deal-Or-No-Deal in a back-water Australian tavern. The bar is now divided, but most start now yelling out "the money!!!" Do I take the money?

Nah...

I'm not sure what I would have done with $1500. Probably buy a round of drinks for the entire bar and been a total hero. I would have worn an awesome-halo for the rest of the evening, and met new friends and god knows what else...the North American Hero! But alas, inside the box was a $50 gift card. That I kind of have to spend, well, now, because I won't be here tomorrow.

I count my blessings: this saves me money on wine later, because I spend the gift card on a couple of bottles of shitty take-away red wine, and blow the remainder on a couple more drinks. What could have been an amazing celebration of cross-continent generosity turned out to be me sitting alone at a table, pounding out this blog like a douche, with the occasional 'congratulations' thrown my way - most notably from the staff of the tavern.

As I sit here, someone puts the jukebox on to play 'Never Tear Us Apart' by INXS, and immediately I am pulled back towards home, back to my amazing and beautiful wife whom I miss to no end. INXS seems to be a thing here in Oz, several of the patrons and even the staff are singing along. I am embellishing where I am right now and all the amazing things I have seen and have happened to me, but at the same time in my mind I'm slow-dancing with my wife to this song, knowing that all the distance in the world could ever tear *us* apart.

That was a bit cheesy (albeit heartfelt); I can't end on that. So another artical: a Canadian's Guide to Outback Cooking.
Step 1: Add chopped onions to whatever it is (probably sausages) you are cooking.

That's it.

Posted by stevecrow 03:16 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Slummin' It on The Australian Western Coast

sunny 19 °C

At this point I'll be spending enough time here that I should probably rename the blog "The Red Centre and Great Western Deserts...And A Bunch Of Aimless Meandering Along The South Central Coast".

Day 14: The Wayside Carpark At A Cove

Really, this is all denouement. I've done what I came to do. Now it is all just exploring for the sake of doing so. But, I've decided that if I can at all avoid it, I'm not staying at caravan parks...until my last night when I'll need their facilities to clean up the yet-unnamed-campervan.

The campervan that now has grown a crack where once there was only a star-shaped chip. It started suddenly, but once it started growing, it did so fast enough that I could actually watch the bastard creep across my windscreen while driving. This poor vehicle.

A bunch of awesome pictures from Kalbarri (the town)...

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...and then another 300 km south with no real purpose, other than to, you know, get closer to Perth.

Here's a picture of the red inlet just south of Kabarri. I read that it was because of a particular red plant that grows on the ocean floor, or a red algea or something but there is a large chenical factory set up on this bay, so you make up your own mind.

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I stop for lunch in Geraldton, to again avoid cooking or making another crappy ham-and-cheese sandwich.

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Geraldton was a bit weird after my journey through the Outback...the glimpse of a McDonalds brought reality rushing back in to remind me that I am, in fact, actually in an established Westernized country. Kind of depressing, really.

Like I said, I decided I'm going to try to avoid caravan parks. I have this awesome app on my iPad called 'WikiCamps' which is a user-based database of all the places one can camp in Australia, including ratings and photos and such. So I decide I'll follow it to a few free camps along the way to Perth. Not that I am adverse to paying for campsites, but the free ones offer: a) a chance at some solitude and no lights and the potential sensation of actually camping, and b) a challenge to find. I am in a 4WD truck, so why can't I try to use it for what it was meant to do?

My first stop turns out to be a dirt carpark in a cove called Point Louise, close to a town called Green Head. There is only one other party here, a family with a full Outback camping setup that, as it turns out, spend all their time travelling the country. There is a man and wife, and two daughters that they have pulled from school and are home schooling whilst travelling the country. I could never do that - home-school my boys, I mean. That's what we pay teachers the big bucks for. They should bloody well work for their money.

(Note: political rant regarding BC politics and education removed...'cause it really didn't belong here!)

Besides, at least one of my boys is smarter than me. Vote is still out on the second, but there is definitely a really good chance.

The carpark stays empty while I spend my afternoon walking the beach and watching the sunset, thoroughly convinced I made the right decision. Who needs camp kitchens, and TV rooms, and...running water...or hot showers Not me. I think.

Night rolls around and the carpark gets a few more residents, namely tourists in vans who only show up to sleep, and promptly fuck off in the morning. Not me, I have only 200km to Perth and two days to waste so I totally drag my ass around until I'm the only person left here. This is awesome. Lonely, but awesome.

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Sure could use a shower, though.

Day 15: Caves, Not Caves, and Sandy Cove

I decide again to try to avoid caravan parks, despite the fact I am starting to deteriorate in the personal hygiene department. I venture into Stockyard Gully National Park, which as it turns out requires one to navigate a road that starts to lean towards Gunbarrel-level shittiness. This provides a great deal of fun...except this is when I noticed the long crack growing along the windscreen, which kind of ruins the mood.

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Stockyard Gully is a cave, not a long one, especially compared to Tunnel Creek in the Kimberly. At this time of year the creek that normally runs through it (creating in places, apparently, quicksand) is completely dried up so the 1/4km cave is easy to walk through, though it snakes a bit leaving one in complete darkness for a time...which is totally awesome.

There are also lots of feral bees that have made hives at the entrances of the cave. The otherwise peacefully quiet is torn apart by the loud buzzing of these angry beasts flying around their hives they have made on the cave walls outside. I am careful not to disturb them or make any tasteless bee jokes.

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The temptation to hang around for lunch is squashed by, well, the bees that have strayed from their hive. I have no idea if these things are as docile as bees at home, so I decide not to hang around to find out. Instead, lunch is a crappy sandwich in the back of the campervan in a gas station parking lot. Whee.

I have one other attraction to take in before heading to camp, another national park called Drover's Cave. I'm not able to find an access road on Google maps so I punch it into the GPS. Matilda (that's the name of the GPS...don't ask) happily draws me out a route...that seems to lead into some dirt track trailing off into nowhere. No signs or any other indications that I'm heading in the right direction. It then dawns on me that perhaps my GPS is, as she has on a few other occasions, trying to kill me. A quick Google search of this park reveals no detailed directions, but on more than one site it is referred to as "otherwise unremarkable". Nice try, Matilda..I win this one. I'm giving up the hunt and going camping. You'll have to kill me some other day.

I head back into an area called the Sandy Cove Recreation Area. I know there is a campsite here, but there is apparently also a network of isolated free sites south of the actual park. Let's go on an "ad-ven-chah!"

I drive into a maze of narrow overgrown dirt tracks that lead through the sand-dune scrub and eventually come across what I believe to be these 'free' camps. Unfortunately, none of them are close to the beach, and the couple of tracks I find leading up to the sand dune shelf are really deep sand, which I'm sure a seasoned 4WD driver could easily get up with a careful calculation of reduced tyre pressure and whatnot, but I'm kind of not that guy and decide I do not feel like getting bogged halfway up a track that maybe I'm not supposed to be on in the first place. Damnit. Guess I'm heading to the campground. I was really looking forward to camping right on the Indian Ocean, by myself.

So I cheat...kind of.

Again, I'm not adverse to paying for the site, so I pay my $15 and head into the campground. It's really a beautiful campground with huge spots, most just on the sheltered side of the sand dune dividing the campground from the beach. I snake my way up to the far north end and find a narrow track that again turns into deep sand that only really 4WD vehicles can go into. I lock into 4WD and blast into a little hollow, wherein with some calculated angling I'm able to situate myself in such a way as I cannot see anyone else, nor can they see me. Close enough.

Again, one of the best camp experiences of my life with only the beach and the thunderous sound of the waves of the Indian Ocean to keep me company. I wander up and down the beach, and spend the sunset trying desperately to remember how to play "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin whilst sipping on a tumbler of fine Australian red. I toast to Australia, saddened a bit that this is very likely my last night of real camping.

Though there are costs. I washed my hair over a bucket with luke-warm water from the solar heated shower bag I rented...that needs to be hung up high enough to act like a shower, so I found myself rinsing shampoo from my hair hunched over the bucket like a racoon cleaning itself in our backyard inflatable pool. And no matter how well I think I have kept myself clean, I'm sure I'm probably taking on a bit of an Outback traveller smell.

But looking out on the stars with no one else around (within sight at least) it is all...so...worth it.

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Day 16: The Pinnacles and the Lowest of the Low

A restless night, a cold sponge bath in the morning, and the same shitty cereal I've been choking down for two weeks and I'm starting to get grouchy, kind of ready for the end of this amazing journey. Which is within one day. Well, the camping part at least.

I call home and wish my dad a happy Father's Day (it's Monday for me but still Father's Day back home). I give one last nod to the awesome beach I camped at and head off to my next, albeit last attraction along this roadtrip, the Nambung National Park, known primarily for "The Pinnacles".

The Pinnacles is a desert that is made up of large stone columns that have arisen from the desert floor after a bagillion years of erosion carved out the land around them. That is a pretty simplistic and aunscientific way to put it, but you get the gist.

Pretty cool, a desert with a forest of stone columns. I take the 1ish Km walk around the desert which is probably heightening my Outback aroma. Kind of ready for a caravan park now.

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And I drive south. Nothing exciting, I just drive, until I get to my last stop, the Burns Beach Sunset Village, which I had earmarked all along because it is within 30 minutes of the Britz outlet where I'lll be dropping off the campervan.

This place, on first glance, is so completely the opposite of anything I want it to be. It is actually primarily a permanent residence trailer park, with a hand-full of 'sites' along the front fence for travellers. I am officially spending my last night in a full-fledged trailer park. Gawd...

But...the view of the beach from the site kind of makes up for it. And even now that the sun has gone down, the only real sound is the monstrous impact of the waves just a few metres from where I'm sitting now. And the people here are quite friendly, already I've had a couple conversations with folks who are more than happy to simply walk up to you and start talking. So, unlike some of the other 'nicer' caravan parks I've been in, maybe it isn't the nice grounds or shaded groves of trees over the campsites that need to be considered to judge a campground nice or not. Maybe it's the people. Maybe it's just being able to sit back, listen to the waves, and know that no matter where I actually am, I'm in Australia. And that alone is awesome enough to make up for anything else.

This is Australia.

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Posted by stevecrow 05:55 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

There And Back Again

storm 11 °C
View The Red Center and Great Western Deserts on stevecrow's travel map.

So how will it all end?

Will it be the Newhart ending, where I wake up and realize I've actually never been to Australia, and tell my wife I just had the strangest dream, full of isolated rutted roads, juicy Kangaroo steaks, and people who can't quite understand me?

Will it be the Breaking Bad ending, where I finally reach Melbourne and lay down in the middle of Flagstaff Gardens, surrounded by brochures and receipts and maps of shitty caravan parks all around me, my last thoughts are of complete satisfaction in what I've accomplished?

Will it be the Sopranos ending, as I sit in some cafe in the Melbourne airport, waiting for my boarding time to take the long journey home...and I look up...and...

Or the Lost ending, where it turns out I was stranded in the Outback for months but actually I died getting there, but actually I'm back home trying to get back, but actually...I'm totally confused...

No, the best I can hope for is the Mash ending. Australia and I realize the end is here, we embrace lovingly knowing we may never see each other again, we momentarily revel in all the fond memories we've had together but we're ready to move on. And then she calls security on me, because some strange North American man is hugging her...and 'she' is actually a Qantas ticket agent at the checkin booth.

Day 17: Dear Perth,...Which Way Is North?

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My luck is uncharacteristically good since the storm doesn't hit shore until I'm well on my way from the trailer park to drop off the campervan-who-is-still-nameless. In fact the real downpour doesn't actually start until I've removed the very last of my personal belongings from the truck at the Britz outlet and pawned off all my unused food and water on some couple heading north to Broome in a massive motorhome. Just in time for the poor Britz lady to have to go out and survey all the, ah, war wounds the truck acquired along the way. Heh, heh, heh.

I'm completely covered for the damage, which is good since I reckon I dished out close to $1400 on insurance alone on the rental.

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Fast-forward to Perth, which I'm sure is an awesome city, but alas I'm not able to take much in due to the massive winds that blow a solid wall of water along the streets of downtown. In fact I see several rubbish bins with completely totalled umbrellas discarded in them.

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A nice lunch of steak and red wine and a brief nap and I start on my next mission: find a restaurant that serves Kangaroo. Despite the fact that the restaurant I ear-marked is about two blocks from my hotel, it takes me half an hour to walk there because for some reason I simply cannot tell North from South in this city, and end up getting not really lost, but totally disoriented along the way. It doesn't help that for whatever reason, Google Maps has taken on a 500m error margin which is so not helpful. So, I end I walking several blocks in the wrong direction. What a tool.

Turns out, the first time I had it wasn't a mistake, Kangaroo steaks really are the food of the Gods. I would move here and become a red meat fanatic just for these things.

You'd think that once I located the restaurant that my bearings would fall into place, but no, I totally wandered away from the hotel again. So I did what any street-smart tourist would do in the same situation...start stopping at bars along the way and having drinks. I have to find my way back eventually....right? (...hic!...)

Unfortunately, I do. And I have to get up really stinking early to catch my flight to Melbourne so that ends Perth for me. I have to come back some time. And bring a compass.

Wait, there's one on my iPhone. God-damnit!!!

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Day 18: Melbourne...The Grand Finale

  • * * *

Music has a certain magic about it that sometimes makes me really start to wonder about the ethereal energy that some claim surrounds us all. I'll try to explain as best as I can...

When I was first seriously contemplating this trip I was on an overnight trip to Seattle to see perhaps my favourite music artist, Neko Case. She had just released her new album, and on it is this short bit extremely powerful song called "Calling Cards". The song is lonely and contemplating, and for whatever reason as I listened to her new album over and over because honestly you simply cannot ever listen to too much Neko Case, in my mind a vision began to emerge: me, sitting in my truck on the Great Central Road at the turnoff to the Heather Highway that will eventually (through some amount of effort I now know) lead me to the Gunbarrel Highway, seemingly the corner-stone for this trip. I'm sitting in this truck, totally alone on the road, listening to this particular song, thinking of home and the people I've left behind but ready to drive out into the very essence of the Australian Outback on a spiritual journey.

It would have been way too obvious had my iPod suddenly selected this song as I sat at that intersection, which I did for a time, so I went ahead and selected it manually and gave it a good listen before heading on my way.

Fast-forward to Perth and I'm boarding the plane to take me to Melbourne. As I'm taking my seat, on the ambient background music that Qantas plays during preflight...this song starts to play. I haven't seen much evidence of Neko Case being a 'thing' here in Australia, and it is totally feasible, but what are the chances that this specific song plays...?

In the energy around us, the same one where our ghosts reside as we create them from our own emotional undertakings, evidently the chances are good. Emotionally now, I am experiencing both a peace and satisfaction in not only what I've accomplished here in Oz but in all my life, and at the same time this really makes me miss home which if I were to guess, is probably the whole unexplainable point.

Not sure that came across in an understandable way, but to sum it up briefly: you cannot make this shit up.

  • * * *

As it turns out, 5am exists on this side of the world as well. Ugh.

An unremarkable flight...other than the aforementioned musical kick-in-the-heart...and I'm in Melbourne for my last night here in Oz. Unfortunately, Melbourne really makes me wish I was here a while longer.

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For starters, for whatever reason, on first glance it reminds me a quite a bit of the west coast cities back home, Vancouver, Seattle, maybe Portland if I ever get the chance to spend any time there.

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But if you delve deep into the city core you'll find a twist labyrinth of pedestrian malls, underground shopping centres and long narrow alleyways of classic European-styled awesomeness.

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I've noticed a couple of off-the-cuff things here. First, the homeless who beg for change have more manners than most of us Canadians do. Also, and again this is only an observation, it seems that most people in this city smoke. Maybe Melbourne is not as carefree and lacking stress as much as it may seem to the outsider.

I've lost two hours on the flight from Perth, so I do not have as much time to take in what little of the city my time will afford me. Luckily the weather is very pleasant. If this is Australian winter, please sign me up.

A quick lunch of a massive Australian beef burger (what is with me and red meat here?) and I'm off to explore. Read: shop for souvenirs. I love the folks back home but this is my most hated activity here. Why? Because the souvenir shops sell mostly crap that was not made in Australia, and the few awesome things I find will not fit in either my luggage nor my carry one, because as I mentioned, unlike the clutter nazi I am at home, I do not pack light.

Luckily Melbourne has lots of old heritage buildings tucked in amongst all the modern architecture that provide a sound foundation for some tasteful and warranted photos.

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Souvenir shopping 'done', and a nice bottle of Shiraz recommenced by a local wine seller, and I'm ready for my final dinner here in Australia. Hmm...could it be...Kangaroo?

It takes over an hour to find a small handful of restaurants that serve the poor cute but succulent beast, and many of them have not received very favourable Trip Advisor reviews. I decide on one with the provision that if someone in the hotel can recommend a better one I'll consider.

I ask the barkeep at the hotel bar/restaurant, which results in absolutely no useful suggestions other than to get a truck and drive out and smack one myself and BBQ the unfortunate fucker. I might have known. But...at the bar I do manage to get into a conversation with a gentleman from Minnesota here for work, and during this conversation I told him what I was here in Australia doing and what I had done, and his eyes kind of lit up. I think...just maybe...I planted the seed for another would-be Outback adventurer. Yes......

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Lacking any useful suggestions from the barkeep, I go ahead and follow Google Maps to my choice of destination...looking a complete idiot in the process may I add wandering around with my phone in my hand like it were a universal translator. I visit a rather interesting place called Hardware Alley which is full of eateries and restaurants. The interesting thing here is the restaurants all employ people, mostly large Italian men, whose sole task is to lure you into their restaurant. They approach you and try to push you into their establishment, and this is not unlike the doormen in King's Cross back in Sydney for the, uh, Gentlemen's clubs. The schtick here is that you are supposed to play dumb and "I-don't-know-what-is-in-it-for-me" at which point you may be offered a discount, free appys, or free drinks. Unfortunately I am both not in the mood and have already decided where I'm going...since it serves Kangaroo. Easiest table the Mafia-ish doorman has ever sat.

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I've now finished my third dish of Roo in my lifetime, and all three have been amazing. Not sure I could claim asylum to stay here just to live on Kangaroo meat..but the thought is tempting...

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But folks, I think I'll end it here. I do not expect much interesting to happen between now and approx. 30 hours or so before I stumble through my front door, delirious and wondering what really just happened to me. I will say this: was this trip as remarkable as my first? I would have to say no...did I do more remarkable things? Definitely. I think a certain amount of familiarity robs the experience of novelty, even if that same familiarity brings a certain comfort one may have lacked the first time around. Do I want to do it again? Hell yes...but I will be completely satisfied with life if it never leads me here again. I have seen things and places that most people will never see, and that includes 90plus percent of Australians. I think I have managed to open up a certain aspect of life denied many who never wander far from their doorstep, that even in the absence of long-distance travel provides an inner peace, a certain knowing, a maturity that cannot be gained on the football fields in high-school or even through the natural progression of West-Coast life.

The rather unfortunate thing is, believe it or not, I still have not discovered why I came here a second time. I do not think I found what I was looking for. Because...I don't know what that was.

But I do know one thing...I have finally decided to name the campervan, the one I left to Britz way back in Perth what seems so long ago, but was actually only a bit over a day ago. In any case, I've decided, lacking any better options, to simply name her Ghost.

Because no matter where she goes from now on, that is what she will carry with her...until the very final bumper-crumple of her useful lifetime.

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  • * * *

OK, I lied slightly. I can't end it quite yet, because as I return to the hotel I glimpse into the bar and see my American friend still standing in the same spot at the bar where I left him a couple hours ago. I cannot pass up this opportunity.

A Canadian, an American, a New Zealander (emigrated to OZ) and a full-blooded Outbacker Aussie are at a bar. They are talking about Canada, the US, Oz and New Zealand in many different aspects - social, political, environmental...and whatever the adjective is that means "about wine".

The barkeep - in spirit an Aussie version of Viktor is joining in as well, complementing our discussion with samples of different wines from Oz and New Zealand. It should be noted that, whilst I was out seeking flame-grilled hoppie, my new American compatriot likely never left his post and has been sliding the beer down with one hand, and Jamison shots with the other. The New Zealander and I, intentionally or not (well...I was doing it kind of on purpose) start bombarding him, a sort of a cool Will-Sasso-Meets-Paul-Giamatti guy from Minnesota, with details about all the things he needs to do and places he needs to see here in Australia. Rent a 4WD. Visit the coast. Fuck off into the wilderness. Eat kangaroo. Go to this specific pub...take the ferry to blah blah blah...etc. The point is, we are quite entertained by the fact that we know he simply cannot any longer keep up details of what we are telling him, and he compensates for this with a series of frantic hand-gestures in different directions as we fill him in on all ways Australia can make him a more complete person. Entertaining for sure, but hardly fair. He realizes this shortly and pats us all on the back and promptly disappears to his room. A good sport.

The New Zealander and I continue to discuss wine until the influx of cussing in his otherwise normal sounding language tips him off that it is also time for him to call to call it a night.

That leaves me with the Outbacker, a bloke aptly named Mick. We discuss the Outback and all the places I've been and all the places I should go. But at one point he asks me: do you think it would be better with another person with you? I have to think about this...because on one hand if, for instance, my wife were with me to share and discover all these places I think the whole experience would be far more enriching in many ways. But in some ways, just some, only a couple...maybe doing it alone was how I was always meant to see it. In this way the experience becomes part of me, and only me. These places become only for me I leave only a single ghost everywhere I go, a ghost destined to spend eternity embellishing the isolation and satisfying loneliness of the Australian Outback.

But of course, so far, this is the only way I've done it, so what do I know?

I wish him farewell, and he shakes my hand, again congratulating me on what I've accomplished: "Good on ya, mate". I've heard this a couple times and I think it is by far the best compliment I could wish for.

I'll try to cherish it as I nurse a hangover and lack of sleep the next morning when I spend a full 24 hours getting home.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

- Steve

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Posted by stevecrow 07:57 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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