Mr 4X4 and a Most Unexpected Storm

Mr 4X4 and a Most Unexpected Storm

We had a shocking sleep in Fink Gorge, it was muggy and hot which turns one of us into a star fish resulting in the other being squashed against a window all night. Trying to make the most of the cooler start in the morning we fired up Egg early and attempted to put a dint in the track before it warmed up too much. By 9am it was 35 degrees, by 11am it was easily pushing 40 and rather than setting up at our planned campsite for the night we decided to continue our drive and enjoy the air-conditioned comfort the inside of the van offered us. I’m a bit ashamed to admit we literally drove all day until 130km later in the afternoon we pulled up at the Henbury Meteorite Craters. If you think 130km in a day seems like the slowest drive ever please remember we were on a 4WD track for half of that where I think we averaged 10km/h and then spent the rest of the day on a sandy, corrugated, nightmare of a road where the speedo crept over 40km/h maybe once. I hope I’m painting an accurate picture of how grim it was. Needless to say, until the sun dipped over the horizon we hid under a picnic shelter and did a fantastic job of sweating everywhere and trying not to move.



If we slept poorly in the Fink it had nothing on Henbury, with the back of the van open to the non-existent breeze the inside didn’t get cooler than 32 degrees. It was less than ideal. Both completely shattered from two nights with next to no kip we decided to drive straight to Rainbow Valley to sit back and do nothing for the better part of the day. We were that exhausted we even stopped and had a coffee at a less than salubrious roadhouse. Yummy. It all wasn’t doom and gloom though because the dramatic landscape of Rainbow Valley woke us both back up with multicoloured spires of sandstone arching across the horizon. We claimed our spot, set up a bit of a camp under a picnic shelter and went for a walk through the dunes and amongst the stone formations. Back at camp we completed our goal of doing nothing, I lay around in my hammock, Matt sat in his chair reading and occasionally ran off to catch a lizard or two. The area was very quiet with maybe two or three cars visiting during the entire afternoon. Around 4pm, just as dramatic dark clouds were rolling in, 3 groups rocked up in flash 4WDs. Matt and I watched on in amusement as they set up 2 cameras (one proper TV camera and one expensive DSLR) and busted out a drone. Matt loudly said to me “do you think they’re shooting an episode of Neighbours out here?” which the guys seemed to find very amusing. One came over and explained they were filming a 4WD show.

We spent the entire afternoon watching the team run around getting shots of a bloke in a fancy hat and a button-down shirt while making snide comments. As the clouds rolled in further the light clearly got too bad to shoot so they all came back into camp. I’d started on dinner and noticed some rain on the horizon so also brought all our belongings in undercover. To our surprise instead of driving back out to Alice Springs the guys started setting up swags and cooking dinner on the fire, that’s when it started to rain properly. Because of the rain they all came under the shelter and asked if they could sit with us for dinner, we were more than happy to shuffle over and had a great chat with them all. Turns out the show they were filming for has been running for 14 seasons on channel 10 (whoops) that the main guy Pat Callinan is known as Mr. 4X4 and is a bit of a four-wheel-driving celebrity (also whoops). They were a great bunch and didn’t mind in the slightest we didn’t have a clue who they were. Conversation flowed easily about their plans, our plans, whether they’d been to Tassie, things about our van and their cars, camping set up, all while watching a thunderstorm roll over the desert and pouring rain wash the dust off Egg. What a great night.

The rain continued into the evening and brought the temperature back into the low teens so needless to say we slept like logs. We said goodbye to Pat and his crew, promised to start watching his show (at the time of writing this we’ve seen 2 episodes and they’re great) then got back on the road heading North East.

Campsite Reviews

Henbury Meteorite Craters – Hot, dry, minimal shade and not particularly exciting but it had picnic areas and a nice loo. The walk around the craters would have been amazing if we hadn’t seen the Tnorala site the day before but because they were so much smaller it was a bit underwhelming. Do Henbury first and it’ll be much more excting – $4pp/pn – 6/10.

Rainbow Valley – Even without the excitement of a film crew this was a beautiful spot and had possibly the nicest smelling drop toilet in the NT. $4pp/pn – 8/10.

Flats and Budgie Rescue

After the awe of Uluru-Kata Tjuta you’d have thought we’d have had enough of massive geological wonders? Well think again the next spot on our hit list was Kings Canyon. While it looks small on the map the drive between Curtin Springs and the canyon was almost 300km so we decided to tackle the main rim walk the next day and just take our time heading up to camp. We did end up going on a small walk after lunch at a spot called Kathleen Springs where at the end of a short 1.3km trail we found a beautiful little waterhole. We parked up early at the Morris Pass Lookout free camp and while I told myself I’d use the time to catch up on my blog and write some post cards, in reality I ended up spending hours alternating between reading my book and looking out over the spectacular view of the ranges, by far the most scenic site we’ve stayed at.

The next morning after a healthy porridge breakfast we drove into the canyon and commenced on what turned out to be the most offensive beginning of a hike I’ve ever experienced. The “stairs” to the top if you can even call them that were so steep it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. We reached the summit eventually, but I can’t imagine how horrible that would be in summer, the defibrillator located at the top gives a decent indication of how challenging it is. The rest of the hike was wonderful which is very high praise from me due to my fear of heights and most of the walk circulating around a massive cliff with a short dip into an area called the Garden of Eden. The rock features looked like miniature versions of the Bungle Bungles and the cycads added to the otherworldly feeling on the place. If there is one thing I can say about the NT in the few days we’ve been here is that the colours are so vivid it’s like someone has turned the saturation up in the world. Because the rim walk was only 6km we decided to do the canyon floor walk after lunch as well. It was nice but not particularly interesting so if you’re there and limited on time I’d give it a miss.

On our way back to camp we stopped in at the information centre tided up to the caravan park and bought our $6.50 pass to drive on the Mereenie Loop road. Matt only realised we’d need one going over the maps the previous night. We’d heard a lot of bad things about the section of road but driving on it the next day it was honestly fine, the last 15km were very corrugated but it wasn’t any worse than Arkaroola so we made pretty good time. We filled up for petrol in a town called Hermannsburg which Lonely Planet describes as “an appealingly run-down and sleepy place” which I think may be their attempt of a politically correct description of a mainly indigenous town that Matt and I would describe to you as a shit hole. We were running very low on water and petrol so there wasn’t much of an option than to suck it up, dodge the feral dogs and rubbish and head on in. To be fair we did also end up visiting the Historical Mission which was interesting and served a reasonable lunch of scones with jam and cream but the information given throughout the complex seemed to be weighted heavily in the favour of the church rather than giving a more balanced view of what was happening there at the time.

After refueling and another short drive we pulled up at Palm Valley and mad ourselves at home. We ended up chatting to a nice bloke from Sydney who turned out was on first name terms with Moose, the publican from Copley. He also massively rated the town, small world. That afternoon we hung around the campground, enjoyed the river and the abundance of amazing birdlife including Major Mitchell Cockatoos!

Palm Valley, as its name indicates is famous for one thing…palms, specifically red cabbage palm trees (9,000-15,000 of them) that are found nowhere else in the world. On the 5km loop walk the following morning we read about the palms and learnt that no one knows how they got there. The hike was lovely up and down hills, through valleys full of…well palms, and around an area that a few months before probably would have been quite wet. We had another lazy afternoon back at camp hiding from the ever-increasing heat. I think we will soon be restricted to morning outdoor activities as hiking in 35 degrees isn’t much fun. On our last day camped up in the valley Matt picked two more walks in a different area of the park. One was a short and steep lookout hike (1.6km return) and the second was the Mapaara loop. Along the way of the second walk we learnt a dreamtime story about a tawny frogmouth man and his son. I won’t actually repeat the story here because it was really disturbing and involved eating family members, we were both a bit flummoxed by it. At the end of the walk we ran into another couple in a Delica so we had a massive chat and compared vans, they had a long wheel base diesel and exactly the same roof racks that we managed to break. We gave them the heads up and told them where to check for issues to try and prevent theirs from filing which they were very appreciative of.

This is where our trip got derailed for the second time, we were on our way to our next campsite down in the Finke Gorge when I spotted a little budgie flailing around on the side of the track. We got out and Matt managed to catch it. On closer inspection it was a very cute baby budgie with one wing that looked like it had been plucked rendering it unable to fly. It would die if we left it so we packed it into an ice-cream tub and drove out the way we came to find some phone service and the nearest vet. Of course, being the middle of nowhere the nearest vet/animal rescue was Alice Springs so off we drove on a 120km detour. Things continued to go wrong for us when a roofing nail buried into the back tyre and gave us a flat 70km later along the highway. We both jumped out ready to put our tyre changing skills to work and in retrospect probably feeling a little bit too confident. Matt jacked up the van and I got the spare down, we pulled off the flat and discovered that the jack wouldn’t go high enough to get a fully inflated tyre back on. We tried to put the flat one back on so we could adjust the jack but even that wouldn’t go on. What should have been a 5 minute job turned into a 45 minute ordeal of hailing people on the side of the road to see if anyone had a second jack so we’d be able to move ours to the correct spot (we jacked up the body of the van accidentally), after several groups of grey nomads, one bloke that was running late for an appointment, two motorcyclists, and another couple a bloke that had a jack stopped, helped us out and got the tyre changed. We learnt a lot from that one.

In Alice Springs we dropped the very sweet budgie to a wildlife carer, grabbed some dinner and parked up the van at the Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame campsite.

We ended up spending two days in Alice but they were two very boring days of laundry, groceries, tyre repair, post office, and booking the van in to get a few things looked at so I don’t have any interesting photos or stories. We will be coming back to Alice Springs in about 10 days to do something on Matt’s bucket list so I’ll write more about it then. The one thing we did was visit the Reptile House where we saw, held, and learnt about scaly friends. Things like, what’s the main difference between a lizard and a snake? Lizards have ears.  

Campsite Reviews

Morris Pass Lookout – Another free camp we found because of the disgusting prices being changed at caravan parks. The Kings Canyon “Resort” wanted $50 per night for an unpowered site, you can shove that right up your proverbial mate. Stunning scenery and would have been perfect if on the second night we hadn’t been parked up next to the Von Trapp family who felt like the campsite needed to listen to them sing…poorly for 90 minutes. They only shut up when Matt started blasting a finance podcast at their van. $Free – 8/10.

Palm Valley – Yet another one of those sites where we pull up for one night and end up staying 2. Beautiful red cliffs, river, birds, and showers. $4pp/pn – 9/10.

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – Not sure where to start with this one. Imagine a gravel car park but instead of normal cars it is full of rusty tractors and trucks, now visualize two toilet blocks, one is in an elevated shipping container and looks like something that would be used at a music festival, the second is in a run down shed and instead of walls between the toilets/showers you have those old, carpeted, office cubical dividers. Yeah. Why did we choose to stay there? Because once more the caravan parks are stupidly expensive. Nothing under $38pn unpowered, ludicrous. $15pn – 4/10 (pretty grim but we’ll go back).

Post Op Goomburra

Post Op Goomburra

I’m lucky with a lot of things in my life, I have a great job, caring husband, house to live in and never have to worry about food on the table but the one area where I lucked out on a bit was my health. I’m one of the 1 in 10 Australian women with endometriosis. Yay! Bit of a TMI but I’m telling you this because if I didn’t have surgery and end up taking too much leave I wouldn’t have been able to go on this van trip so there is a silver lining.

For something different and because we were both on leave we left town in the middle of the week after I’d finished catching up with my dietician. We drove out to Main Range National Park picking up some firewood on the way and set up camp at Poplar Flat.

Despite the recent slicing and dicing I felt really good in the morning so we headed out on a bushwalk on the 6.5km Cascades Circuit Track. It was a beautiful hike with multiple creek crossings, ferns, and tropical palms stretching into the canopy. I was particularly enthralled by the huge birds nest ferns up in the trees, make sure you look up!

After a rest in the campsite and a bit of lunch we took the van out for a short drive to the Mount Castle Lookout. Certainly worth the 900m of steep walking track to peer out across the valley and towards Brisbane.

Back at camp we spent a lazy afternoon lying around in the hammock, reading books, starting a fire, and discovering the wonders of getting flat breads to crisp up over flames (delicious).

On our way out the next day we stopped in at Lowies for a pizza snack. Lowie was an absolute character, he’d built his fantastic cafe/restaurant entirely from scratch with his sons help. I could have spent hours there talking to him and going over the amazing details of the building and the odds and ends scattered around. Matt ended up buying a book which amused me. In the entire time we have been together I think I’ve seen him finish two books which he has now outdone in the few months that we have had the van.

Heading towards Brisbane we decided to swing by the Spicers Gap 4WD track for a bit more off roading. After a quick bit of research most sites rated it as easy so we figured that we would be fine. Oh my word I do not know on what planet that road is ‘easy’ but it certainly wasn’t this one. The track was rutted beyond belief, like lose-the-side-of-your-van if your wheel slips into it ruts that I think would have been up to my waist if I found the urge to stand in the mud at the bottom. When the road wasn’t rutted it was unbelievably steep and rocky, or was littered with woah-boys that had a side-step-scraping gradient if you approached them on the wrong angle. Absolute madness but to Matt’s credit he handled it like a complete legend, and to Eggs credit they made it look easy (I contributed nothing apart from being nervous and getting out a few times).

We stopped at the top and took in one final lookout view from Governors Chair before slowly making our way back to Brisbane.

Add: Turns out Spicers Gap road nearly caused the transmission to fall out of Egg. We took it to the Delica Garage for a service and 3/4 mounting points were broken…eep.

Campground Review

Poplar Flat – Another lovely Queensland National Parks campsite and as the name would suggest pretty flat. There were lots of really nice spots and we were very happy with our area hidden away in the trees. There were drop toilets but no showers. $6.15 per person per night 7/10.

Testing Egg Out

Testing Egg Out

And just like that we had a van. Matt decided to hit the ground running and get some 4WDing in ASAP so a few days later I found myself bumping along the road feeling like a queen looking over every other car in sight. Delicas are bloody tall!

The Egg, as I previously mentioned is a 2005 Mitsubishi Delica Chamonix. It was built in Japan where they are predominantly used to ferry people up and down ski slopes. Ours came complete with a snow melting window and an internal fan that it routed over the top of the engine (I’m sure this is great in cold places but not in Brisbane). It is also a 4WD and when I say 4WD I mean a proper high clearance, low range, take it on a beach and over rocks 4WD, not a 4WD that can manage some slightly rutted gravel. This thing is the real deal.

The Germans had spent an unbelievable amount of time and care converting the van into a touring machine. The bed is huge as Karl (the boy German) would have easily been over 6 feet tall, and sits on top of the draw system which has a full kitchen area and storage, fridge, table, and yet more draws for storage at the back. Behind the drivers side chair there is a battery that hooks up to the solar panel which is mounted to the roof. The windows are covered in home made curtains with a pattern comprised of happy jellyfish in purples, blues, and pinks. Karl was stung by a blue bottle the second time he went to an Australian beach so they made them for him to remember that lovely event (German humor).

Anyway enough about the van and back to the trip. The drive out of Brisbane was pretty dull but we stopped at the edge of Lake Samsonvale for lunch which was lovely. We made our first meal of ham rolls with tomato and cheese and sat on a picnic table in the sun watching waterbirds and listening to children shriek. Matt wanted to make our way through D’aguilar State Forest via 4WD and then down through the Glasshouse Mountains to our campground for the night so we headed off into the hills and to my first ever experience of 4WDing.

I have got to say as a 4WD virgin I found the entire thing to be seriously nerve wracking and a couple of times I had major misgivings about the entire plan. I imagined myself accidentally tipping Egg off a ledge or getting wedged between rocks without another human for miles. But it all worked out well. The only thing that nearly brought us to grief was a log that had fallen across the track. Not an issue for literally any other type of car but a big problem for our 2m+ van. Matt managed to sneak under by lining up into a ditch on the right hand side and carefully easing it through.

With the sun going down we had to call it early and get back onto the asphalt. We arrived at the campground just as it was getting dark which gave us enough time to unsuccessfully attempt to light our first fire (Matt blamed the wood).

The next day we got up and I eagerly started cooking our first camp breakfast. Bad news we forgot a spoon for stirring the eggs in our non stick saucepan, good news I made a replacement out of the lid from a tupperware container. As Bear Grylls always says, improvise, adapt, overcome. We were joined for a while by a pair of friendly kookaburras.

After breakfast Matt wanted to go for a walk up the creek. The water was murky and still which resulted in some really beautiful reflections. There was an abundance of bird life, beautiful plants (which I took too many photos of) and you could be certain the river was full of fish.

Post walk we packed up the van and started to make our way back to Brisbane via the back roads of the Glasshouse mountains. On one particularly rough gravel number in the middle of nowhere we stumbled upon a woman in a van stopped on the side of the road so we checked on her to make sure she was ok. Not only was she fine she gave us a CD of her great music and a sticker, perfect #vanlife moment. I’ll let you know her name when I can find the CD…it’s somewhere in the van.

Overall we are both beyond stoked with the Delica and our first little trial and have already started working out where we are going next. I can’t wait!

Campground Review

(I’ll try and write up a bit about each campground we stay in)

Coochin Creek Campground – Located in the Beerwah state forest just over an hour out of Brisbane (or 4 hours if you go inland and start mucking around on 4WD tracks). As far as campgrounds go it was really lovely. The place was really busy because it was the Mother’s Day weekend but the spaces were a reasonable size and it still felt like we had a lot of room. There were clean toilets (that ended up all getting blocked on Sunday morning), fire pits, electric BBQs and a launch for kayaks. We both really liked the creek setting but apparently the mozzies can be a nightmare (not an issue for us). $7 per person per night 6/10 (not terrible, not amazing).