We’ve been in the Northern Territory and the start of our western Australia road trip for a week now. We thought we were on a road trip before, but this side of Australia is where the real driving begins, because we’re covering similar mileage, but in about half the time. We landed at the airport in Darwin and picked up our new home for the last part of our trip, a six berth (the only one that had floor space for a cot and the right driving configuration for a baby) camper van. It’s name includes the word ‘deluxe’, although that’s not exactly how I’d describe it, more of that later….
We were both excited about this stage of the journey. Much as we love camping, our relationship with the tent had somewhat dwindled by this point. The put up, the put down, crawling out to the toilet in the middle of the night, the sand flies, you get the picture. The biggest thing though was that as Australia moves into it’s winter (a strange phrase given that the temperature still hovers around 36 degrees in this part of this world), the days are getting shorter and we were sitting in darkness even before Otis went to bed, reading him books by the torch on our phones, and often crawling into bed by 8 or 9 ourselves, because sitting in a dark tent isn’t that much fun.
So, we had a huge amount of anticipation for this new home of ours. A toilet inside! A bed! Somewhere to cook! The opportunities seemed endless. The reality of course is that with the new home came a new set of challenges, and as with the tent, it takes a bit of time to get into your new routine with the little one, and a few arguments and stresses inevitably happen along the way. We had to work out where to put the little mans cot without him rolling out and causing himself some damage (pillows, blankets, and zipping up his mosquito net all reached the desired effect). We made our bed area in the back a permanent thing, rather than having the table space, and this doubles up as a good playground area for Otis to practice standing and looking out the window, albeit, we have to be there to supervise so he doesn’t fall off. We’ve gradually got used to the emptying of the grey water, the filling up of new water, turning the gas on, emptying the toilet cassette etc etc, and once again we’ve found our own roles in the day to day. We can pop back and forth in the van to make sure Otis is ok and has what he needs, something that wasn’t feasible with the car.
And it does feel like home now, but as with everything with travelling with a baby, the extra complexity can make it a little stressful at first, and then you ease into it as you learn to enjoy the new experience. We knew that we had a lot of miles to cover on this part of the journey, but it was only when we sat down and planned out where we wanted to go that we realised quite how many, and with our fixed flights (to return home for family events) that we had to get moving. We decided that we’d pile through the miles on our way to the west coast, with only a few places that we really wanted to spend time and visit, it was the best opportunity to get a lot of the driving out of the way and get to the part of our journey where we wanted to spend some time - e.g. diving and snorkelling in Ningaloo and then in Shark Bay.
We drove east at first, slightly counter to our overall desired direction, because our main reason for starting in Darwin was to visit Kakudu National Park, a colossal space in the northern territory, and somewhere we’d like to return, because 2 days really wasn’t enough to explore it at all. We headed to Nourlangie, a well known destination for Aboriginal rock art, and were wowed by the landscape there, and the eerie atmosphere under the towering rocks. We managed another short walk on route out of the park, but had to head quickly to overnight in Katherine, before heading on Kununurra, just over the Western Border (where they took most of our recent shopping, annoyingly we were a bit oblivious about not being able to take fresh fruit and veg into WA).
We stayed in Kununurra for 2 nights, and had lots of plans of things to do there, but at this point our van started leaking inside, and we weren’t able to empty the grey water properly. A call to Apollo ended up in us having to wait around for a plumber who was unable to fix the tank, but gave us a temporary fix to get to Broome. While in Kununurra we did manage to squeeze in a short afternoons walk in Mirima National Park nearby, which is like a mini Bungle Bungles. We knew we weren’t going to be able to see them because we can’t drive on off roads in the van, and I can only imagine how stunning they are, because Mirima was breathtaking. Magical sparse forest at the foot of huge red rocks, with endless landscape beyond. Even Otis stopped his normal jabbering noises to take in the views.
From here, we drove to Halls Creek, and stayed in our first bush camp, at an aptly named place, ‘Caroline Pool’. Our plan with this part of the trip had been to bush camp as much as possible, saving money, but also getting the real ‘outback’ experience that Ben and I had sought after. The limitation once you start the journey, is that unlike New Zealand where free camping is frequent and accessible for the majority of vehicles, in this part of Australia, most of them are accessed via unsealed roads. When you rent these vans, you are told in no uncertain terms that you can’t drive for more than 12km on an unsealed road, and you can understand why as soon as you embark on them. The whole thing rattles and shakes, and feels generally unwieldy. We’ve both decided already that a future trip with a 4WD to do the Gibb River Road across the northern territory needs to be done, as there are so many beautiful locations in this part of the world that we’ve been unable to reach.
Anyway, Caroline Pool was within the allotted distance, so we took it slow and managed to drag our juddering van down the roads to reach the most beautiful spot for our overnighter. We sat and played with Otis, sitting outside and chopping food for our dinner, and watching the sunset and our neighbourhood birds, a simple but idyllic day.
Our final destination before reaching Broome (the first place after Kakudu where we had real intentions of visiting and staying, rather than playing it by ear once Otis woke during the drive) was Fitzroy Crossing. We were unable to bush camp here due to closed roads following the floods - which feels such a strange concept, as everywhere is so arid and dry at the moment, but there are still a lot of roads closed after one of the wettest wet seasons they’ve had here - so we stayed at a ‘proper’ campsite. It was a lovely one though, with hordes of wallabies as our neighbours, lounging around on the grass, and a nice pool that we were able to play with Otis in.
So that’s it, one week, 2,000 kilometres, long roads with nothing but termite mounds, birds flying overhead, and bushland surrounding us. It’s been wild, beautiful, and remote, and we grow to love our new (somewhat broken) van more by the day.