I was driving a rented campervan from Darwin to Cairns and needed to stop for the night. I took advantage of a free camping site off the highway. It was a large red dirt area with some trees around for some shade. By the time I arrived, it was dark. I ate dinner and did some writing after feeling down all day. The next morning, the sun was shinning against the blue sky.
I continued on my quest to Cairns. The speed limit in the Northern Territory was as high as 130 KPH (80 MPH), but the other states had a limit of 110 KPH (68 MPH). The campervan was bouncy, and I struggled to control it while driving so fast.
The drive was mostly flat, but there was a brief period of some rock walls. I was on a time crunch to get to Cairns, so I only stopped for gas, the restroom, and snacks. There were cows and kangaroos on the side of the road at times. A gang of motorcycles passed me, so I waved to them and gave a smile.
The highway became crazy! Each lane only had half of it paved. There was a car-width of paved roadway, but I had to drive with the dashed white line in the middle of my van to avoid the dirt and gravel. Thankfully, there weren’t many cars around. When a car appeared in the opposite direction, we both quickly moved to our lane. It was difficult because my car’s left side was on the gravel, bouncing around, while the right side was on the pavement. I had to slow down quite a bit when this happened. Then I went back to driving in the center.
By the time I arrived at the caravan park, it was 6:00 pm. It cost $30 for a site with electrical hookups. I ate dinner and spent time writing. The temperature outside was noticeably warmer than the last several nights. I had the windows open, but there wasn’t a breeze. I opened the side door, but bugs were getting inside. One time when I walked to the restroom, I saw a kangaroo hopping away.
The next morning, I continued my drive. When I arrived at Mount Surprise, I stopped for gas. The shop inside to pay was full of outback character. They sold beer, books, and goose eggs. The décor featured worn hats on the wall and an inspirational sign that read, “Believe you can, and you will.” There was also a newspaper clipping on the wall of a 32-foot crocodile that was found with a human body inside of it.
As I got closer to the east coast, the landscape became less flat. Then, about two hours from Cairns, it was beautiful! I loved the outback’s red dirt landscape because it was unique, but I really missed mountains and greenery.
It seemed to change instantly. There were farms and bright green vegetation. Fog engulfed the area for about 20 minutes and then lifted. I was excited to see something so different after two months of outback living.
I followed my GPS, and it took me up and then down a mountain on highway 52 (the Gillies Highway). The road is narrow, has 800 meters (2,624 feet) elevation change over 19 kilometers (12 miles), and has 263 turns!
I was trying to drive slowly and safely because I didn’t want to damage the campervan, but the cars behind me were annoyed. I sped up a little, but the refrigerator door and a cabinet drawer opened and were slamming back and forth with each turn. I pulled over at a lookout point and secured the door and drawer.
I had to get the campervan back to Cairns before 3:00 pm and was warned that I would have to pay a substantial fee if it wasn’t returned by then. The crazy road made me worry that I wouldn’t make it because I had to drive slowly or risk sliding off the mountain. There were also rocks and vegetation on the side of the mountain, just inches from the road.
The drive was breathtaking! I desperately wanted to stop and take pictures, but I had to keep driving. I pulled over a few times to let cars pass me, and I took advantage sometimes and took pictures.
The constant back and forth on the curves made my items roll back and forth too. I was also beginning to get motion sickness. I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain and still had a bit to go before Cairns. Once I was off the mountain, it was flat, with sugar cane fields everywhere.
When I arrived in Cairns, I stopped at my Airbnb first to drop off my bags. It was 2:00 pm, and I parked on a dirt area on the side of the street. My Airbnb was a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, in the back of the medium-sized complex. I had to make several trips with all of my bags, running up the stairs. The humidity was making me sweat, and I was frantic.
Once all my bags were inside, I cleaned up the campervan because I didn’t want to get stuck with a fee. Then, I had to stop for gas to make sure the tank was full. I arrived at Apollo at 2:45 pm – just in the knick of time!
It was packed, and there wasn’t anywhere to park. A guy came outside and directed me to the back, where they’d inspect the vehicle. He signed off that the car was in good condition. I turned in my gas receipts (which totaled much more than $250), and they reimbursed me for $250 on-site. It took weeks to get my $1,000 deposit back.
I took an Uber back to my Airbnb and rested. I was exhausted. I drove 3,141 kilometers (1,951 miles) in five and a half days. I couldn’t go as fast as I would have if I had a car because the campervan has limits. The landscape was mostly flat with nothing to see other than Kakadu National Forest.
I was grateful that I could get to Cairns from Darwin for under $100 in vehicle rental, $250 of my gas was paid for, and I was able to continue my goal of driving around the entire country. Even though it was rushed, I was happy that I got to see Kakadu National Park too.
The drive was draining, though. That was a lot of mileage to drive by myself in a flat, barren landscape. I don’t usually feel that exhausted, but it was not a particularly enjoyable section to navigate. Maybe it was just because I couldn’t stop as much as I would have liked, but I was happy to be in Cairns. I decided to relax for the rest of the day in the air conditioning.
As I lounged by the T.V., I saw a news story about an Australian man and his Canadian fiancé who were campervanning in New Zealand when they were attacked in the middle of the night. The man was shot and killed, while the girl escaped. The shooter took the van with the body 80 kilometers and abandoned it. A search was on for the murderer.
It was so sad. I had just finished sleeping in a campervan alone for five nights. I can’t imagine someone just approaching in the middle of the night with a gun. The killer was eventually found and tried. His sentencing will take place in December 2020.
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