This week Kath & Susan completed their first 'half lap' of Australia and wrote to us to share some of the highlights and inspiration for their 7 month adventure that they have called 'White Coast Red Centre'.
Over to you Kath . . .
It must’ve been about 3 years ago that my friend and I started talking about wanting to do the “Big Lap”. It was one of those dream trips that we’d both wanted to do for years. We were both living in England, and had been for quite a while. We met through a photography group and clicked through our love of photography and travel. We’d made the move from London to England’s southern coast to be closer to the beach, and it was over wine and coffees in some of Bournemouth’s bars and cafes that we started talking about returning to Australia a bit more seriously and started making our plans.
Our last few months in the UK was a whirlwind of travel (to the places we hadn’t been yet!), finishing jobs, shipping personal items to Australia and finalising our lives there. We returned to Australia in December 2014, myself to Queensland to stay with my Dad and Susan to South Australia with her parents. The plan was to try and get contract work in either Sydney or Melbourne and save for about a year for the big trip.
We both found work in Sydney (and somewhere to live!) and the preparations began in earnest! We were basically starting from scratch - no vehicle, no camping gear, no idea where to start! I needed a car to get to work and hastily bought a Mazda Tribute, which I thought just might be ok for the trip… (we were thinking car and a tent, rather than towing or having a camper van). In April 2015 we went to Sydney’s Caravan and Camping Supershow and bought a tent and a few other camping items to start us off. We also collected many, many leaflets and booklets to use as references.
We were doubly inspired after watching Expedition Australia’s 'The Big Lap' DVD series and found their website to be a great reference. We purchased their budget spreadsheet, which made us realise that we weren’t going to be able to save enough for a full lap. We were really keen to go and didn’t want to work too much longer than a year before setting off, so we settled on a half lap over 7 months and the route and timing slowing started to come together.
After a few months with the Tribute, I realised that it really wasn’t the right car for what we wanted to do. We wanted to get off the beaten track and get into places that 2WD and AWD cars can’t. This was also the main reason for deciding to camp. After much research and a loan from the bank, I bought a 2003 Toyota Prado GXL (petrol). Why a petrol Prado?
When I was researching the best, most reliable 4WD to buy, it was Landcruiser, Pajero and Patrol that were recommended the most. But these are BIG vehicles! And I also needed it to drive around Sydney to get to work! When I looked further into Landcruisers I saw that there was a Prado model. These were slightly smaller, but still a decent size to fit all our stuff. I was reading that Toyota parts were quite accessible “outback” and that most mechanics know their way around them. This was important, as we were heading into some remote places and I only know the basics under the bonnet. And speaking of my mechanical knowledge - it’s limited to petrol engines. I’ve never owned a diesel car and wouldn’t know the first thing about them! This made me a bit nervous about buying one. But I think diesels only have a small advantage over petrol engines these days. But feel free to disagree with anything I’ve just said!
Susan and I completed a 4WD driver training course with Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours and he gave us some great advice on how best to fit the car out for touring, as she was factory standard… and yes, it’s a she and her name is Priscilla! At a trip to the Sydney 4WD and Adventure show I secured a discount on a bull bar and roof rack from ARB and then took my long list of modifications to my mechanic! So she’s now equipped with an ARB steel bull bar, Lightforce spotlights, dual battery system managed by Redarc, ARB aluminium roof rack, Milford full length cargo barrier, Bilstein shock absorbers and a 50mm lift and Cooper Discoverer AT3 tyres. They also fitted an Icom UHF radio and aerial for me, that we’d purchased at the adventure show. Earlier this year we had a shelf system custom built for the back of the car and Priscilla was then a lean, blue, touring machine!
As neither Susan nor myself had been camping for many years (England’s not really the place for it!) we had been heading out when we could. We need to do these trips so we could start working out what we needed to take. We knew we had to be self sufficient to stay in some of the more remote places we wanted to get to. We’d been putting together a packing list when Expedition Australia released theirs! This was a great reference and I then spent the next few months weighing EVERYTHING and putting this into the spreadsheet! This was because we only had around 700kgs available to us before we reached Priscilla’s GVM. Weight has definitely been a challenge, as we had to think carefully about what we packed and what was essential we take with us.
We’d planned out our route, however we got a full itinerary from Vic Widman, with amazing detail on what to see, where to stay and various 4WD tracks too. We’d spent quite a bit of time in planning, but his itinerary really gave us some extra detail and information that you can only get once you’ve been somewhere yourself.
After packing up our rental flat, putting stuff into storage and finishing work, we hit the road on 21st March. We took 3 days to drive to Adelaide, which was our starting point. We’re now over half way into our trip! Our route so far has taken us to: Kangaroo Island, Flinders Ranges, Lake Eyre, Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta, Mt Dare, Lambert’s Centre of Australia, Yulara (for Uluru and Kata Tjuta), Alice Springs and surrounds (East McDonnell Ranges, Palm Valley, Painted Desert and Chamber’s Pillar), the Tanami, Purnululu (for the Bungle Bungles), Kununurra, the Gibb River Road (including Mitchell Falls), Broome, Cape Leveque, 80 Mile Beach, Karajini, Millstream, Exmouth, Coral Bay, Shark Bay, Steep Point, Kalbarri, Cervantes and Perth. We have the rest of WA’s amazing coastline, crossing the Nullarbor and the Great Ocean Road still to look forward to!
During our planning last year, a good friend of ours from England, Kathy, said that she’d love to join us for part of the trip. She joined us in Broome and will now stay with us until we return to Sydney in October.
We are planning to return to Sydney to live and we definitely need to earn some money again! We’ll both head back to work, but we definitely have the road trip bug now! In the short term it will be weekend camping trips around NSW, but long term we’d love to see the other half of Australia - we’ve started referring to part 2!
We’ll also think about our accommodation, as I think tenting has been our biggest challenge. It’s great when the weather is calm, warm and dry, but when it’s wet, windy and cold it can be quite unpleasant! We’ve had some very unseasonal weather since leaving Broome, which is definitely testing us!
But it’s been amazing actually getting out and seeing our fantastic country. Some of our highlights so far have included flights over the Horizontal Falls and Mitchell Falls, driving with a herd of kangaroos in the Flinders Ranges, sunset on Lake Argyle and doing the Gibb River Road. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve said - I had no idea this was here! Neither Susan nor I had spent much time outside of our own states before this, and we’re being constantly amazed at the places we’re going to. People have also been really friendly, and we’ve made new friends on the road too.
Travelling is such an enriching experience and exploring your own country is something everyone should do!
Rad more about Kath and Susan's adventures on their website here http://www.whitecoastredcentre.com/