I had many suggestions thrown my way, and quite a considerable amount of time spent trying to figure out the best option. Many told me to fly from Cairns to Darwin, but where’s the adventure in that? I could take a bus or a train, but the cost would be in the hundreds. Hitchhiking has always been a viable option to travellers in Australia, however did I want to be the star of “Wolf’s Creek 2”? I looked online at all manner of websites and facebook pages of other travellers offering a ride but none seemed to be going the way I wanted. This could save me a lot of money, LOT of which had been spent along the East coast. However seeing as I never have before and the issues that came with it, and with time quickly running out, I chose the bus option.
Seeing as you have to travel back down south from Cairns in order to enter the outback, I decided my first destination should be Townsville. I had already passed through there on my way to Cairns and it looked like a nice enough town. As well as that, it’s from Townsville where you start travelling West into the outback, so it was a good starting point. A £35 bus ticket took me to Townsville and I had to hunt down the hostel I had booked, the cheapest one available of course. This is where things started taking a turn for the worst.
It’s here, upon arriving at Townsville is where I started my several days of having the flu. A horrendous migraine burning the back of my eyes, not a single breath of air able to pass through my nostrils, and the learning feeling of death creeping behind me at all times. Having flu in the comfort of your own home is hard at the best of times, having it in 32C heat on the top bunk of a hostel is not an ideal situation. Especially when I have to plan the rest of my trip. Due to my crippling illness, the only site I visited in Townsville was the local supermarket.
I decided that Townsville was a lost cause, and it was best to head for Alice Springs as quickly as I could so I could spend some time there to recover. Attempts to find some sort of lift, even trying to find a cheap car to hire, had failed miserably. With that in mind and the horrendous mood I was in, I decided that I had to buy a bus ticket, as it was the only option I had in the short amount of time. Initially I booked a ticket from Townsville to Mount Isa, roughly half way to Alice Springs. Looking back im not too sure why I thought that was a good idea. I was in no state to be a tourist, I would have been bed-ridden anyway. The reasons I did it for was that a bus from Townsville to Alice Springs took 26 hours, something I don’t think my spirit could handle. However upon looking for cheap accommodation, I couldn’t find any in Mount Isa. I think the cheapest was roughly $30, which is absurd. In the end it made more sense that I just sucked it up, deal with the horrendous journey to Alice Springs, and I could spend a few days recovering. This was easily the worst journey of my life.
I walked roughly a mile to the bus station, feeling that I was about to pass out with every wheezing step I took, repeaditly having to tell myself “Mama didn’t raise no bitch” to motivate myself. Upon dumping my bags on the floor and laying down on the floor against them to the amusement of the other waiting passangers, for the first time in almost 4 months in Australia, I felt freezing cold. This was not helped when I was stuck on an air conditioned bus cold enough to stop ice from melting while wearing shorts and a vest. The bus left at 7pm, where everyone else fell into a comforting sleep, I sat hugging my own legs feeling sorry for myself the entire way. I refused to look at the clock, it would of broken my heart knowing how much longer I had left on the bus.
We made it to Mount Isa, and in retrospect, it was a good decision bypassing it, as it didn’t seem to have much to see. It looked how you’d typically expect a town in the outback to look, almost like the wild west. Emphasised by the fact that wild dingo’s actually roamed the streets, where I’d only seen one on my entire time on Fraser Island, an island that’s supposedly full of them.
Not many were left on the bus, only 7, three of which were travellers, the rest aborigionals. There was a moment of confusion to which turned to slight panic. I had booked two separate bus tickets for the journey: Townsville – Mount Isa, Mount Isa – Alice Springs. The bus driver announced:
“There are 7 people on this bus where there should be 6” I explained the situation, as I had before I got on the bus.
“Well you should of told us that before” I was too ill to argue.
The more time passed the deeper we got into the outback, and the more obvious it was that we were. Vegetation slowly dwindled to a few skinny leafless trees, and the dirt turned from a dirty brown to an earthy red. We pulled up to a roadhouse once we were truly in the outback, and it was one of the strangest scenes I’ve ever stumbled upon.
Upon stepping off the bus, there were a group of aboriginals fighting outside, there were camels situated in the field next door, an old man who must have been at least in his 80’s announcing as he walked through the door “I need a joint”, and above the drinks fridges, there was a coffin for sale. Against that same coffin was a sign in all seriousness which said “Save yourself some money, dig your own grave”. Welcome to the outback.
The bus driver kindly took a slight detour on his route to Devil’s Marbles, something I wouldn’t of seen otherwise as its in the middle of nowhere. The rock formations were fascinating, as well as baffling how they were formed in such a way. Despite being near death I very much appreciated the visit.
We arrived in Alice Springs at 9pm, 26 hours after we’d left Townsville, I was a broken man. Yet again I had booked the cheapest hostel I could find, now it was only a question of finding it. The bus driver repeatedly told me he’d show me where the taxi’s are to take me there but I walked away in annoyance, I wasn’t wasting any more money thank you, £200 to be exact. Admittedly it wasn’t quite a stones throw away. When I got there, there was nobody there, only an envelope with my name on it, inside of which was a key to my room. I walked into an empty room, and thanked the lord for some peace in my time of need.
Anyone who visits Alice Springs will speak stories of Uluru, something that stood out as a highlight for me when I was going to visit Australia. It seemed that everyone that were at the hostel were coming or going there. I didn’t get to see Uluru, not even from a distance. I was bed-ridden for 4 days (which included Christmas Day) with my good old friend Netflix. There was that reason as well as the minimum you’d have to pay for a camping tour of Uluru and the surrounding area would be around $200. I had already spent way too much and it just seemed a little too expensive. However I am very disappointed that I didn’t get to see it, especially considering that was the entire reason of visiting Alice Springs in the first place.
Going to the Outback, I’d expected unbearable heat, what everyone would expect of the outback. This was not the case, this was rainy season, there was no sun, only rain. So much so that on my last 2 days, people had to leave their Uluru tour early or were cancelled completely due to flooding, who would of thought.
Nevermind, soldier on. Look towards the next step which was Darwin. I’d caved and bought a bus ticket for the Townsville to Alice Springs leg, that cost me all of over £200, so spending the same amount on the last leg did not appeal. However, after a stint of bad luck things started to turn around. On the noticeboard in the hostel was a note someone had left, saying they were driving from Alice Springs to Darwin on the 26th (the day I happened to plan on leaving) and was offering a ride, splitting the fuel cost. Immediately I text him saying I was interested. He might have been slow to reply but my ride was sorted.
His name was Deon, a manbun wearing 32 year old with a hipster beard and tash as well as a nose-ring. He worked as a tour guide on one of those Uluru tours I missed out on, who better to share a ride with than a tour guide of the area. We were origionally supposed to start at 3pm, but after a handful of “I wont be long” we eventually made a move at 7pm once it had gotten dark. We didn’t even get started properly as “I just have to say goodbye to my friends quickly”. We drove to their house where I sat down uncomfortably with a group of people who lay on a broken mattress, one against a barbeque, all sat around an empty bong. So they were that sort of people.
We drove through the night, heading into what looked like an enormous thunderstorm that lit up the landscape beautifully as one flash appeared after the other in quick succession. Luckily we avoided the storm. Deon seemed to me like a very indecisive man. Seeing as I was techinically his guest, I felt that he should be the one to decide what to do, even if I disagreed. The original plan was to drive non-stop all the way to Darwin. Quickly that seemed unrealistic as driving a perfectly straight road for hours on end can get quite tiring. So about 1am he started saying “think we should pull over and get a few hours rest”, he had tents and sleeping bags in the back of his pickup. I agreed, I could do with a few hours rest, and I’d be able to say I’d camped in the outback. He kept pulling over in rest-stops where id be releaved we can finally rest, to where he’d say “I think we should keep moving” or “We can’t camp here” for some unknown reason.
It became increasingly clear that we had to stop as at one point the pick-up slowly drifted across to the other lane, where in trying to keep my calm I said “Dude” to which he grabbed the wheel and swerved several times back into our lane. “I’m sorry man I was focusing down the road and lost concentration”. For some reason I wasn’t completely satisfied with his explanation. Safe to say I wanted to set up camp as soon as possible.
At around 5am, 4 hours after he origionally said we should stop, we set up camp, right next to my very own scorpion. I feel we took longer setting up the tents than actually sleeping in them, as soon enough we were off again as the sun had risen. Even after almost 10 hours driving, we wernt half way yet.
I had told myself not to sleep when I was in the car. Not because of his dramatic swerving the night before (which should have been the reason), but I thought it was a little rude to share a ride with the guy then just to fall asleep. That said, I slept quite a considerable amount.
This stint was much more entertaining, due to the fact that at least now, the sun was out and I could appreciate the environment I was in. Here I was, taking a roadtrip through the outback. There were all manner of animals everywhere, which were pointed out to me by the very knowledgeable Deon! The night before, there appeared to be hundreds of toads on the road. Deon origionally tried to avoid running them over, but there were so many that it was a wasted exercise. That day we’d spot lizards getting up and running on their two back feet to avoid the car which I found amusing, as if they were saying “SHIT SHIT SHIT!!”.
We also saw our very own baby kangaroo, which definitely was an improvement on seeing the countless number of dead ones on the side of the road. I also had a run in with a blue tongued lizard. Deon said the next one we spotted he’d pull over so I could get a closer look at one, which we did. He said I’d might be able to hold it. With all this I was led to believe they were a docile gentle creature. So armed with my gopro I knelt next to the one we found marvelling at it, before the little bastard jumped towards me scaring the living shit out of me. He was harmless, just flexing a little, but still scared the hell out of me.
The signposts made for grim reading “1400km Darwin” etc which didn’t seem to get dented no matter how far we travelled. On our last leg, Deon kept saying “I’m so tired man”, which after his performance the night before, it seemed wise to stop again. We might have been close but with the pick-up drifiting onto the centre white lines every once in a while, I suggested that we pulled over. As soon as the car was turned off, the snoring started, I was happy to leave him there as long as he needed.
As night was falling we started entering Darwin, which was plainly obvious, as the barren grassless dessert with only a road to indicate civilisation dissipated into what looked like a city. This time I hadn’t arranged a hostel and asked him to drop me off wherever the town centre was. He took me to the street where it seemed all the hostels were situated. With a quick shake of the hand I bid thank you and farewell to Deon and the Outback, and said hello to my last destination in Australia, Darwin.