One flat tyre, a new radiator, two gear box solenoids, a new brake master cylinder, around 100 tanks of fuel, 1000s of hours driving, 36,000 miles (58,000km), 31 countries and 461 days on the road later, we have made it to Australia!
We have now joined the small club of people who have successfully driven from the UK to Oz independently. We are surprised by how well everything has gone to date, although we did cheat a little by shipping from India to Malaysia, it was worth doing considering the price of transiting China to Laos. Crossing countless numbers of borders with relative ease, it has all been a smoother than expected process, Kyrgyzstan excluded!
No matter how much preparation you do, you can’t prepare for all eventualities, and being flexible is an advantage. In our case when things have gone wrong on the rare occasion, they have opened up opportunities for us, i.e. being refused an Iranian visa meant we had to bypass Iran through Georgia, the Stans (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) and China. An extra seven countries which we both enjoyed travelling through and would have liked to have spent more time exploring.
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Both http://www.nojobwilltravel.co.uk/ and http://motoventurers.com/ helped us out massively, providing us with last minute information on crossing the Caspian, entering Turkmenistan and Pakistan; without their help we could still be in Turkey.
The diversion also took us over the highest international road in the world, and the world’s highest paved border crossing, the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4693m into Pakistan, and across Attabad Lake. Something we will never forget.
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Our time through Pakistan was also one of the most enjoyable on our trip, we must thank Ayub Khan http://hkttreks.com/ our guide during our adventure there.
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India proved to be a once in a life time experience, with so much beauty and culture in the country let down by the poor hygiene and probably the worst driving in the world. We left the country with mixed feelings, having enjoyed the south of country so much. We visited some of the most beautiful monuments and sites in the world in central India, which were surrounded by slums and the dirtiest streets known to man.
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We next hit central Asia and the tourist loop through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos & Cambodia. The mass tourism of southern Thailand has put us off for the foreseeable future, yet the north, Laos and Cambodia captured our imaginations. The jewel of south-east Asia for us was Indonesia, a country where we really felt we made the most of what the country had to offer. We had experienced more in Indonesia than any other country we have been to so far, the 5 months we spent there were still not enough… a country we certainly will be returning to someday.
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Overall during the last 15 months we have been incredibly lucky, catching good weather and with our vehicle being fairly reliable to date.
We will spend the next 9 months touring Australia, and planning stage 2 of our adventure from Argentina to Alaska.
Our route around Oz is not yet fixed, it’s hard to decide whether to drive east or west, and given we have to meet family in a couple weeks in Sydney, we also need to ensure we are able store the car somewhere for a couple of weeks and arrange flights.
Darwin – AUSTRALIA
Although we have landed, the work is not over as we still have to clear the vehicle through customs and AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service), and ensure it is insured and legal to drive on Australian roads.
Landing at Darwin International airport, our first stop is duty free, where we pick up several bottles of alcohol. Knowing how much everything is here, alcohol is a luxury we cannot afford!
Mark from one of the Land Cruiser forums has kindly offered to put us up for a couple for nights while we clear the car.
As we exit customs, we meet Mark who has been waiting for us a little longer than expected; we jump into his brand new modified Prado. If only we could afford one… although our 13 year old Land Cruiser with its old shape and rattling exhaust is a little more fitting for budget overland travel.
He drives us to his place, taking a detour through the city centre, which even though a week day, is busy with people and filled with al fresco restaurants and shops. Everything looks so new and modern, from the wide roads to the apartment blocks which dominate the city.
The city was rebuilt after Cyclone Tracy hit on Christmas Eve 1974 destroying all but 400 homes. Darwin was also the only Australian city ever bombed in WWII, it being frontline for Allied action against the Japanese in the Pacific. Regarded as the gateway to Asia, Darwin is closer to the capitals of five other countries than it is to Canberra!
On arriving back at Mark’s place we are taken to the top floor of the building and are surprised to find he has a fantastic penthouse apartment with sea views and a huge balcony complete with stunning sun sets, and lucky for us, a spare bedroom!
Our first evening is spent having a few drinks and dinner and watching the sun go down.
We spend the next day sorting out admin and simply having a relaxing day.
As promised our new sponsors Maxtrax deliver us a set of the latest model of their recovery gear; since leaving the UK we have not had any sand ladders, so have been very cautious venturing on to sand, especially after getting stuck in sand during the middle of night in Spain!
In the evening we head into town to Shenannigans for dinner with Mark, where we enjoy a couple of Guinness’s and a first taste of kangaroo steak, it tastes a bit like dry tender beef but not as flavoursome, while Nicole has a salmon fillet. It all goes down pretty well.
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I spend the next day try to figure out what’s happening with our shipment. I walk all the way to the Perkins office at the docks, to find out that the shipment will not arrive and be ready for inspection until Tuesday at the earliest, giving us a further 6 days to wait around in Darwin.
It’s not an understatement to say that the Northern Territory is hot! Temperatures are higher than in Indonesia and it also feels a lot more humid. Given we had told Mark we would only stay a couple of nights, we brave the heat and decide to head out and check the prices of local hotels and hostels. To our shock, a private double in a hostel in Darwin averages around $80 per night, it’s absolutely extortionate.
We start to wonder whether it was such a good idea coming here! Even the cheap brands when shopping in the supermarket seem expensive to us!
We return to Marks, and let him know our predicament of not having the car for nearly another week; being a great host, he lets us stay as long as we want. Without his generosity we certainly would not be enjoying our first few days in Australia, let alone be able to afford them.
Taking a walk out to the twice-weekly Mindil Beach market on a balmy evening, the sun is beginning to set; it’s an amazing bright red-orange colour. Once night falls, the market is heaving with people, eager to try out the hundreds of world-wide stalls, ranging from Vietnamese to road-kill! The boys try some crocodile sticks and baby octopus which they look like they are enjoying, along with samosas, spicy kebabs, chips, small squid and prawns. Mark has a go at cracking the whip; apparently the “crack” occurs when the wave of motion travelling down the whip surpasses the speed of sound, and later we are entertained by the fire performer.
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Swimming is off the activities list due to deadly box jellyfish and stingers inhabiting the shallow coastal waters, not to mention the salt water crocodiles! We decide to hire a campervan and spend a few days out of the city. We head south 115km to Litchfield National Park for the weekend.
Our ‘backpackers’ van isn’t the most glamorous, but will do the job we hope! Driving out of Darwin, we start to notice fire warning signs; it’s the height of the dry season with the highest risk of breakouts of bush fires.
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We pass numerous WWII airstrips as we drive out of Darwin; one doesn’t hear much about the Northern Territory involvement in WWII but they are a stark reminder of the region’s history and the enraging Pacific war.
As we pull off the highway, the land is dry and scorched where recent bush fires have burnt through. Suddenly we are driving along floodway after floodway; during the wet season the torrential downpours flood the land. Wherever there is a dry creek or gully it turns to a gushing stream, with regular road closures.
Passing the small township of Bachelor and nearby Rum Jungle mine, site of the first uranium discovery in the Northern Territory, we pull in at the campsite at Florence falls. There is also a four wheel drive track that takes you to a different site nearer the falls, however being in the campervan we are stuck taking the road to the 2WD site.
We start to appreciate having the Land Cruiser; the campervan bounces and shakes as we drive down a gentle dirt track. I cannot imagine being able to drive this in many of the places we have visited around the world or being able to comfortably drive at the speeds we are used to.
I once thought a van was a suitable alternative given the extra space etc. rather than a 4×4 but a short stint in this vehicle has convinced me that an unmodified 2 wheel drive would just not cope. I’m sure people have done it, but it’s not my thing.
We stop for the night at the basic campsite, although it’s quite a bargain at $5. We have a fairly large space and access to fresh water and hot showers. We cook up some burgers and sausages washed down with a G&T and head to sleep for the night.
The next morning we take a walk through to Florence Falls, taking in the panoramic views of the picturesque falls falling into a deep pool with a few people swimming down below. We clamber down the 160 steps to the valley below, where we jump into the cool and refreshing, croc-free waters; it’s a mighty relief to the 35-38C scorching day time temperatures, with forest surrounding the pool.
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Along the road, we come across some magnetic termite mounds, hundreds of mounds which look more like tombstones. The termite mounds are magnificent; each one is in alignment and facing in exactly the same direction as the others, designed for minimal exposure to the sun.
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Next are the cathedral mounds, which are enormous, up to 6m tall and over 60 years old.
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After driving around we decide to head to Kakadu National Park, although on the way Martin’s back is playing up quite badly, so we decide to head to the campsite where he can have a lie down.
In the morning, given Martin’s back is not getting any better so we decide to head back in to Darwin and make final preparations for the car to be imported.
We spend time stocking up on essentials, car parts and camping equipment.
It’s D-Day, The AQIS inspection; we arrive at Perkins at 3pm for the inspection, and are taken straight to the shed where the inspection will be carried out. We are given the news that our car won’t start, it seems the water issues we had in Timor had fused some wiring, which ended up fully draining our batteries, and possibly killing them.
The lady from AQIS arrives and immediately jumps under the car; she checks everything from the chassis to under the carpet in the car. In addition to this she opens every piece of baggage we have; each one is checked in the corners for seeds and debris, the tents are fully opened and inspected.
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The inspector comes across our ground mat, which has very small grass fibres stuck in the velcro, we are given the choice of taking them out or destroying the mat.
The inspection lasts for 1 ½ hours; unfortunately we fail due to the chassis not being completely clean, something we thought and understood Troy logistics should clean thoroughly, however they did not.
It’s now 4:30pm and Perkins is slowly winding down for the day, making arranging the cleaning more difficult. However a couple of calls to the office and they are able to arrange someone to come over to re-wash the chassis through.
This saved us having to return the following day with AQIS for another inspection as she was able to hang around and ensure it was clean to the required standard. Twenty minutes later we are all clear, and have passed the inspection although we are not allowed to leave the yard until paying the inspection fees at the AQIS office on the other side of town. This means we would not be able to drive out until the next day.
In the morning I head to the AQIS office and settle the bill, prior to heading back down to Perkins to part with more cash, and to collect the car.
The car, before leaving Timor, had been taken apart by Troy Logistics. Both the owner Troy Adams and his brother Chis Adams had promised to sort out any outstanding issues.
We found the car had been left in a negligent state, with our central locking not working, a kill switch still in place, seats and seat belts missing bolts, snapped bolts on our fuel tank guard and battery bracket, damaged fixings on our radiator, side panels not put back in correctly, damaged roof bar and missing screws from our gear stick. All in all I would expect the total cost of the damage to cost over $1000 to fix given the high cost of labour here.
We have repeatedly tried contacting Troy Adams to resolve the issues; to date they have not responded to our requests to repay us for repairs or the extra cleaning that was required.
We would therefore suggest if anyone is travelling the same way, to give them a wide berth as they are dishonourable.
Having jump started the car, I take it to a garage to have an oil service, filters changed, and a general check-up before taking it for a roadworthy inspection test. Unfortunately we fail the test due to wiring problems with our lights, another issue from Troy logistics.
It takes a couple of hours to diagnose and sort out the lights; it seems a relay had been wired incorrectly, which also caused several fuses to blow.
The next morning I’m back at the test station; the car passes, and after purchasing insurance we are finally legal to drive in Australia.
We spend the day packing and preparing for our long drive east, finally deciding to drive along the Savannah Way via Katherine to Cairns where we would be able get reasonably priced flights to Sydney to meet up with Nicole’s parents.
While going though our luggage we find a bottle of 100% DEET had leaked. I never really believed DEET could eat through plastic; however after seeing with my own eyes how it had stripped electrical cables, burnt through charges and destroyed our back up hard drive, I now believe it!
In the evening we have a final meal with Mark at a local seafood restaurant down at the marina, which has an all you can eat buffet from large prawns, squid, mussels, crab, oysters, mixed rice, beef, chicken dishes to chocolate cake and fresh fruit.
In the morning we begin our 2700km journey to Cairns, along the Savannah Way.
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Martin & Nicole