The Road Trip Begins

Aussie Road Trip

Ten days ago, Jared and I stuffed a 1997 Nissan Patrol full of everything we ‘needed’ for our trip around Australia and drove out of Newcastle, bound for Parkes. We were conscious that we’d brought too much, and intended to downsize as we went.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at what we were carrying. (Note: This list is not conclusive.)

In the car

  • Refrigerator
  • Surfboards x 3
  • Backpack of Jared’s clothes
  • Duffel bag + 2 loose packing cubes of clothes (yes, all mine)
  • Solar panels
  • Box of food + liquor leftover from pantry
  • Drawerful of cooking supplies, herbs, plates, cutlery, etc.
  • Drawerful of random cables, mozzie candles/spray, miscellaneous car stuff
  • First aid kits x 3 including amputated parts bag
  • Shovel
  • Camp chairs x 2
  • Lauren’s entertainment box (essentials such as coloring books, Cards Against Humanity, Uno, deck of cards, wooden chess set, paperbacks, and Grandma’s teenage diary)
  • Toiletry bags x 3 (including 6 bars of goat soap, unopened toothpaste, collection of mini shower gels, makeup, lotion etc.)
  • Camp table
  • 10+ tent poles and ropes
  • Mosquito net (attaches to side awning)
  • World’s largest tarp
  • Box containing running shoes
  • 2010 Macbook on its last legs
  • DSLR camera
  • Tissue boxes x 2
  • 7 rolls of toilet paper leftover from bathroom at home

On top of the car

  • Rooftop tent
  • Box containing giant duvet
  • Box containing firewood + backpack of work clothes
  • Box containing surf gear
  • Free-standing tent
  • Air mattress
  • Carton of home brew
  • Empty jerrycan
  • Empty water container

The car was visibly weighted down in the back and there was a blind spot everywhere you turned. (Well, everywhere Jared turned as I still can’t drive a manual. That’s going to change, I swear.)

First aid kit
I discovered this in a first aid kit on the way out of Newcastle and it continues to horrify me.

On our first night we set up camp in Merriwa, a town just under halfway between Newy and Parkes. The local RSL club has a free campground so we pulled in and popped out the rooftop tent. It unfurled magically within five minutes and I was feeling like Bear Grylls.

The trouble was, the weather forecast was predicting rain and we had no idea if the tent was waterproof. That meant we had to get out the World’s Largest Tarp.

This is where things got frustrating.

I have a new appreciation for sailors, because negotiating a giant square of fabric in gusty winds is a feat I don’t wish to undertake in future. First we had to get the whole thing over the top of the tent (which, as you’ll remember, was on top of the car). Then we had to secure it using a series of poles, ropes, and pegs, all while the wind pretended to die down before whipping back to life at the last minute.

Did I mention I’m not really a camper? My family tried it once, in Michigan. It rained the whole time, the tent collapsed, and we spent the night in a laundromat. The van broke down on the way home. Since then I’ve experienced more success but my confidence is lacking.

Anyway, my husband and I decided to camp around Australia and because I am more stubborn than I am outdoorsy that is what we are going to do.

To make a long story short, we got the tarp set up by tying the front to the bull bar, tucking the sides into the roof racks, and hitching up some poles along the back.

Rooftop tent Australia
It’s like a circus tent.

Once we set up camp, Jared went to have a shower. I sat under the tarp, wrapped in a blanket and wearing four layers of clothing (did I mention it’s winter?), scrolling through my phone (exactly what I vowed not to do on this trip). A woman from the neighboring campervan walked over to have a chat and admire our set up.

“If it’s windy tonight you guys’ll go up like Mary Poppins!”

She laughed considerably harder than I did.

Lynne was in her late 40s, completing the tail end of a round-trip journey from Adelaide to Brisbane. She’d taken 5 weeks off work as a PA for Caterpillar and detoured to Merriwa on the way home because of the Festival of the Fleeces. It’s an annual event culminating in the Running of the Sheep, something I was very sad to have missed.

“I heard they were having this festival,” she explained, “and according to my motorhome club there was going to be a singles’ night. Every local event night with a bird name in the title is a singles’ night and this one says eagles, see.”

I nodded, though I did not really see.

“So there was a cancellation at the showground and I got a spot. Driving over there tomorrow for 3 nights. Hopefully I’ll meet someone, but you never know.”

Lynne, Jared and I had a few drinks and dinner at the RSL before retiring to our respective vehicles for the night. The wind blew fiercely and we lay awake, listening to the tarp rustle and catch. I imagined us lifting into the air like Mary Poppins, or the house from the Wizard of Oz.

In the morning, not a pole was out of place. Relieved, we began packing up in preparation for our 3 hour journey to Parkes. After a few false starts with folding the tarp, everything was ready to go except the rooftop tent.

The tent, like the Patrol, has been around Australia twice already. It’s got some mysterious stains in it and the cover is weathered, but it’s cozy. A few of the zipper’s teeth are broken at one corner, which means that in order to zip it closed you have to ‘jump’ the corner or the whole thing comes undone.

When the tent was on our back deck, jumping the corner wasn’t so hard. I was able to do it in only three attempts. When it was on the roof, the task became more challenging. Jared and I tussled with it for nearly an hour: first tugging the tough cover over the tent’s frame without poking holes in it, then attempting to zip it up.

“I can’t do it,” I cried, after the sixth time trying to fix the zipper.

“You have to do it,” Jared said. “You’re the only one who can.”

“I can’t,” I said. “It’s too hard.”

In that moment I was ready to pull the tent off the roof with my bare hands and drive over it in a fury. Surely we could leave it behind? We had the spare tent as a backup.

Finally, with Jared hanging from the top of the folded tent to bring the teeth rows as close as possible, I managed to connect the zips and jump the corner. Since then I’ve been unable to repeat this and we have resorted to tying it down with a rope and driving away with our fingers crossed.

Sunset at Merriwa NSW
Gorgeous Merriwa sunset.

We improved our setup and breakdown routine as we looped from Newcastle to Parkes, up through Mudgee to Tamworth, then on to Port Macquarie. That’s where we are now, only 2 1/2 hours north of where we started and more than ready to downsize. And since we’re so close to Newcastle, it makes perfect sense to take Jared’s parents up on an offer they made before we left.

They suggested that we take their camper trailer, a pop up tent to tow behind the car. It’s a solution that seems much more attractive than it did ten days ago, when I was enamored with the idea of a rooftop tent and amused by having three surfboards in the car. Now that trailer sounds like a portable hotel room that will allow us to clear out the car and dump the two tents, and I want it bad.

Tomorrow, we’re circling back to Newcastle. It hasn’t been long, but we’ve got a much better idea of what we need, and two busted tents isn’t it.

My entertainment box, though, that totally stays.




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