Vintage Blog – Outback Road Trip

Digging out an old handwritten travel journal from when I was a 23 year old backpacker and revisiting what was an epic trip from Cairns to Darwin in Australia, a 5 day 3500km journey. 5 of us took the journey in the car we had bought at the Kings Cross Car Market in Sydney. As usual with these ‘Vintage Blogs’ I have copied the text verbatim in order to give a feel of what was I like as a naive traveller 16 years ago.

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Saturday 3rd July 2004:
So the time to move onwards had arrived. In truth perhaps we should have moved on earlier but the cheap accommodation and footy championships (
Euro 2004 was going on in Portugal at the time) swayed our decision. Awoke at 7am to pack our gear into the car and were on the road by 8am. Got some petrol and some cash then started what we believed was to be a journey which showed us the ‘real’ Australia rather than the commercial side of things on the East Coast. Headed from tropical, forested Innisfail which was wet and dull. Next inland through Tablelands as weather stayed the same. As we moved westwards the weather and scenery changed gradually to a sparser, more barren milieu ’til eventually after travelling 400km it was what we would deem ‘outback’. The amount of settlements diminished also but the roadkill increased (wallabies, ‘roos, cows and boars!) Eventually after 669km and 7 hours of driving we arrived in Croydon. (population 200) and the Club Hotel, sweaty and tired. Got a room on the verandah with some nice single beds before having a deserved beer outside the hotel / pub as the sun went down. Had some chips for tea then went to the bar which was staffed by a girl from Widnes called Kat. Me and Hennig chatted to her and an elderly expat couple from Wigan who bought us a beer! After several 4X Gold I slinked off to watch some Rugby Union then bed in a double at 1030pm.

Croydon Club Hotel

Sunday 4th July 2004:
Bounced out of bed at 7am, packed gear quickly with me driving were on road to Normanton and breakfast by 736am. Got a pie after making excellent time on the single track roads. I carried on as we headed south towards Cloncurry as we added to our roadkill tally and avoided the thunderous 50m long road-trains. Marrin drove us to a rest stop for lunch and carried on towards our destination through continuous barren stretches of shrubland and ubiquitous termite mounds. Phil finished the journey to Mount Isa for 4pm. Checked into a ‘mental health’ hostel then chilled while Mazza cooked a tea of pasta and sauce. After food had a wander around the decent sized town (22500 – the biggest for 700km) dominated by smokestacks from the active mining industry. On the journey today we had passed dirt roads leading to gold mines and ghost towns from an age gone by. Played Dan at Chess (now 2-1 to me in the series) then started writing book which thanks to Phil now has a title ‘Last To Burn’ Turned in around 11.

Mount Isa

Monday 5th July 2004:
Everyone up at 7am except Ken who’d been up for an hour already. Brekky then after checking car (oil, tyres etc,) we hit the road. Again I started racing down the bumpy stretches west on Highway 66. The scenery was similar to yesterday and the only excitement was avoiding the thunderous road trains. Had a food / fuel stop at Camooweal then within 20 kms. had crossed the border into Northern Territory (NT) and its no speed limited roads. Marrin took us 250km further avoiding the increasing number of dead kangaroos. Phil anchored us home (or accommodation) to complete a 735 km journey to Tennant Creek. Checked into standard hostel then had a look around town we had no expectations of. Within 5 minutes we were glad as it was a lonely crap-hole with an atmosphere of tension and depression. The pubs looked dour and even in winter the heat was intense, add to this the petrol-sniffing Aborigine community and that’s Tennant Creek. As a result stayed in after tea of potato, sausage and beans. Watched TV, played Chess and hit the sack around 11pm.

In the middle of nowhere!

Tuesday 6th July 2004:
Up out of ‘hell-hole’ asap whilst the soon to be blazing sun of Central Australia rose. Another long day’s driving in store so I started as per usual for 250km onto another no-mark town with a servo and shop and little else. Marrin then Phil drove the rest of the way as we decided to stop at Mataranka Thermal Pools, one of the top 10 Northern Territory activities according the The Rough Guide. After dodging the bat droppings, although Phil didn’t, we got to the natural thermal water in a man-made pool. Had a relaxing dip in the 34 degree waters. Completed day’s drive by 430pm, checked into a hostel in Katherine called Kookaburra’s with prison cell dorms. Tea then a game of monopoly with Marrin winning, bed at 11pm.

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Tuesday 7th July 2004:
Brekky served at 730am, consisting of pancakes served with syrup – nice! As we were a short drive from Darwin (307km!) we decided on a half-day in Katherine Gorge (Nimiluk) National Park. Drove the 30km there with our gear for a 12km round trip walk, with swmming in the gorge at halfway. Took in some nice bushland / dry riverbed landscape. Reached gorge that was itself awesome but better than that was we could jump off the steep sided ledges into the water. Marrin tested the depth and was first to jump in. I went next and after a little thought nailed it. Upped the ante and jumped off a 6m ledge a few times then a swim across the river before drying off and walking back. The heat had intensified magnificently and it was pretty tough going but after 1.5 hours we had all made it. Got back in the wagon for the final leg to Darwin. For a while a few of us had gone ‘troppo’ but we had made it. A collosal 3500km in 5 days through the heart of Australia had showed us exactly what we had hoped and also that our ‘Pretty Boy’ car could make the journey with the extra weight in. Got a hostel then a deserved curry at an Indian Cafe. Watched the ‘State Of Origin Rugby League game then back for a a sweaty nights sleep in a non a/c room

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