The final instalment in our 'Big Chunk' blog from our home in Sydney
11.07.2011 - 13.07.2011 12 °C
If you're still reading our blog - thanks! Thanks especially if you made a comment on the blog or even just read it - ever.
We're home now. We've driven round a fair enough slice of our home country, the right hand half, in just over 3 months. See map here. These FAQs cover some of the main things we had to plan in case you have a crazy idea to do similar.
Q: How did we get so much time off?
A: Long service leave. Both Keith and I were due for it (10 years hard labour) so we applied. Most people take it a few weeks at a time or don't take it at all. The HR department struggled to process my leave application! We spoke to the kids' school teachers and acting principal about taking a term off school and they were fine about it. We picked a term when there wasn't a lot on at school (eg.no band camp) as well as when the weather should be mild (eg. no cyclones up north). Because it wasn't more than a certain number of days off school, we didn't have to home school. But the kids did have homework to do. The trip was like one big excursion - following in the paths of explorers, seeing the outback and the reef, witnessing first hand Australia's farms and mines and cities and towns, and meeting the people that lived there. Back home, Ali, our house sitter did a great job collecting mail, telling us which bills were due and keeping an eye on the place. Thanks Ali!
Q: How did we get around?
A: Mostly it was in our 2005 Holden Astra sedan with roofbox, pictured above. We travelled 16,269km and it clocked over 100,000km in the last part of the trip. We considered other transport options, eg buying or renting a campervan, buying a campertrailer, buying an old 4WD, but these turned out to be impractical. Towing is problematic on some roads and Keith has bad memories of his dad reversing caravans in small places. Campervans cost a lot and go slow. We don't have anywhere to keep a camper trailer at home. The 4WDs we could afford had too many kms on the clock and were a hassle to buy and sell. The Astra did a good job. It went on some dirt roads but most of our trip was on bitumen. The Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin has been fully paved since 1987! Our fuel economy was 7.1 litres/100km - very economical compared to what you'd get from a 4WD, or campervan or towing a caravan. We spent $1820 on petrol for the whole trip. Other transport modes included: light plane, steam train, tram, camel, jet plane, cable car, car ferry, sea kayak, 4WD, coach, tour boat, our feet.
Q: How did we plan our itinerary?
A: In 3 months we couldn't go all the way round Oz and do it justice so we had to work out which bits to do and what to leave out. We chose to visit a mixture of places where we knew people, places we'd never visited, places Keith and I had visited and liked, and places we thought were significant. For example, we thought Lake Eyre was a must see at this time as it was filling up (a rare event) and easy to get to from outback SA. We didn't carry spare petrol so we had to travel where there were enough petrol stations/roadhouses etc. In the end, we missed out WA and Tassie. We used the HEMA Australian Road Atlas and other maps to work out the best routes to travel and distances between them. Google Map's 'Get Directions' feature gave us approx drive times, as did our GPS. Keith's leave was shorter than mine so the drives had to be shorter when I was the only driver.
Q: What accommodation did we stay in?
A: Mostly ensuite cabins in caravan parks. We joined Big4 caravan parks' club and that got us discounts in lots of parks. We also stayed with friends and family (thanks!), apartments, motels, hotels, resorts, youth hostels and camped (2 nights). Where possible we booked places that had a kitchen and separate bedrooms. But often parents and kids were in the same room. Prices ranged from $99/night to $350/night. Mostly it was in the $120-150/night range. For the first two weeks of the trip, we booked before we went as it was school holidays. After that we booked a day to a week ahead, sometimes by phone and sometimes online.
Q: What were our favourite places?
A: Too many amazing places to mention but, overall, Michael liked Coober Pedy (SA) because of the opals. Susie liked Melbourne (Vic) and visiting ACMI, the Australian Centre of the Moving Image at Federation Square. Keith liked Katherine (NT) because it was relaxed and tropical with interesting places nearby to visit. I liked Bitter Springs near Mataranka (NT) because of the red dragonfly that landed on my nose while I floated in the warm water with Susie.
Q: Worst place?
A: None of us liked Tennant Creek (NT). It felt unsafe. There were lots of people loitering on the streets, the shop windows had wire mesh on them and the motels advertised their accommodation as 'secure' which makes you worry. On our way back south down the Stuart Highway, we stopped at Banka Banka Station to avoid Tennant. Some places were more a stopping point than a place of interest but it was pretty easy travelling mostly.
Q: Did anything go wrong?
A; We lost a few things - an esky, some thongs, etc. But nothing big. I lost my purse then found it again, and my credit card and got that back. Car-wise, we got a flat tyre (when it didn't matter) and a windscreen chip. We got colds. The kids had nits alot of the time (very annoying). We had a few chuck-ups. We had fights and squabbles with each other sometimes - adults as well as kids. Is that too much information? Most of all we missed our friends. We phoned and texted and emailed and Skyped but it's not the same.
So, we're glad to be back even though it's freezing cold in Sydney. Our trip's been a fantastic family experience and one we're glad to have done at this time in our lives. We look forward to getting back to normal life a bit before we get bored and want to go away again . . .