Sitting shotgun next to Ryan driving our nine-day home down the Stewart Highway listening to the appropriately queued 1968 song by The Who, I was staring out into the deserted horizon cherishing the isolated feel of the empty road and the uninhabited lands that passed for miles and miles and miles. The first five days of our trip were much like this with a driving rotation set in place to avoid fatigued driving at all cost. Throughout the drive, from Darwin to Melbourne, we saw many signs reminding us: “Drowsy Drivers Die”, “Arrive Alive”, “If You Sleep Your Family Will Weep”, “Survive This Drive”, “Fatigue is Fatal” - quite the poets in the desert. These signs just reiterated the importance for transport safety we had already planned for. We knew we would be driving through a whole lot of nothingness for a whole lot of hours for a whole lot of days. Piling onto the worry of the monotonous haul, we couldn’t allow a driver getting sleepy and having a kangaroo hop out in front of the large, six-berth campervan exceeding speeds of 120km/h or 75mph. The breaks were not that responsive. Not to mention the unfenced cattle grazing on the side of the road, the possible dingoes lurking, or the inevitable camel trotting down the highway. With it being winter, we were quite lucky in this respect; while we were cautious, we only encountered one kangaroo pass through, some cows too close to the road to continue at high speeds, and the hilariously, distraught camel scuttling away from the Mighty Maui.
This epic journey all started on Thursday, July 17, 2014. After helping at a twelve-and-under, boys softball tournament, Ryan and I headed to the airport to meet up with Cath, Lou, and Matt. We had no lack of diversity with Cath being from Wales, Lou from England, Matt, the Australian, and Ryan and myself –the two Americans. Being called “The Americans” is still funny sounding to me.
We met at the Brisbane airport and boarded a four-hour flight to one of the most Northern points in the Northern Territory of Australia – Darwin. Arriving just shy of 1:00am, we thought the airport would be desolate. To our surprise, it was more populated than the Brisbane airport was at 7:00pm. There were people everywhere, restaurants and shops were buzzing, and there were a fair number of people who also had the brilliant idea of getting some beauty sleep in the airport. So, naturally, we joined the rest of the squatters using our bags as pillows and our jackets or sarongs as blankets.
Luckily, I was able to get a few hours of sleep; I wish I could say the same for the whole bunch. This lack of sleep immediately altered our plan to start the journey off with a long, twelve-hour drive. In hindsight, it worked out well because of where we ended up stopping.
Ryan and I awoke from our hip-bruising power-nap to the other three waiting to get a move on. So, at 6:00am, we strapped on our backpacks and ventured out into Darwin relying on the iPhone 5 Google map app to get us to the nearest Coles. Unfortunately, we had one, very large, heavy duffel bag that we checked in that held some food products, winter clothes for the end of the trip, and bathroom essentials. Matt lugged that around his left shoulder, then his right shoulder, then shared with Ryan, back to his left shoulder, and his right… An hour or so later, we arrived at the small shopping center that thankfully had a Subway that served breakfast, a 24/7 supermarket for us to do some “pre-shopping” for our shopping list, and a Liquorland for necessary provisions. (Notice what the fellas are interested in!)
You may be wondering, “Why haven’t they picked up the caravan yet?” Well, since we are all poor students, we were only able to do this road trip because we found a relocation deal. This means that we had the Maui for an allotted amount of days with an allotted amount of kilometers for five dollars a day. Any extra days would have been more money; any extra kilometers would be more money. Prior to the idea of this trip, I had never heard of this. Now that I have actually experienced a relocation deal, I would highly recommend it. It’s a great, cheap way to see a place. Most of the websites researched for the trip included New Zealand and America too. If interested, www.imoova.com and www.drivenow.com are good websites to start with.
Finally, it was time to pick up the van. Matt and Cath went to sign the papers and meet the Mighty Maui, Ryan stayed with all of the luggage and charged up the electronics, and Lou and I carted through Coles gathering the items written on the list.
As soon as Matt and Cath returned, we piled up the bags in the back bedroom of the Mighty Maui, people unloaded groceries placing necessary products in the refrigerator, and some of us went to get some drinks to quench our thirst for the first part of the trip.
These two are on a serious mission to Liquorland!
(We had to buy the infamous Darwin stubby – a 2 liter of beer that made the whole journey with us until our last night in Melbourne)
Our first day of driving which didn’t even begin until about noon, we only drove for five and a half hours. Since there wasn’t much sleep on the plane or in the airport, we played it safe and decided to stop in Mataranka.
On the way, we stopped to pay our respects at the WWII, Adelaide River War Cemetary. Established in 1942, it is a final resting ground for the soldiers and civilians who lost their lives when the Japanese attacked Northern Australia. It also commorates and pays respect to the February bombing of Darwin. Walking up and down the beautifully manicured rows of headstones reading the names and young ages of the people who lost their lives started the trip off in a unique and powerful way. Reading “Age 17”, “Age 18”, “Age 20”, “Age 26” and all the other young ages that repeated from memorial to memorial resonated deep within me highlighting the fortunate life I live and my milestone birthday happening soon after. These people gave their lives along with so many others to ensure freedom for people like me. It made me think of my Dad and the service he did for our country while losing some of his best friends at such a young age. It reminded me of how proud I am to be Donny Swink’s daughter. This unparalled way to begin such an epic adventure left me with a feeling of contendedness and extreme appreciation for everything we saw and experienced.
Day 1 of 9 complete!