Being on a Covid-19 lockdown in “the farm” most definitely had its pro’s and con’s. Measures in different forms are taken all around the world in order to stop the pandemic. It’s the same case here in Australia as the government has imposed restrictions on our movements only within a small area in southwest WA.

Stuck on Covid-19 lockdown here in Denmark, we kept ourselves busy, focused on planning the next step, our road trip around Australia! Following the guidelines from our Moments and Momentum (route planning) http://www.overlanddiaries.com/moments-momentum-i-route-planning/ and based on our experience from previous times, our pre-departure prep was in full swing.

The first thing we needed to figure out, as our given time had been reduced because of the lockdown, was focusing in how much time we have and what destinations we could fit in that timeframe. Australia is a huge, vast land and distances need time. Therefore it was not just logistics we needed to look into but also adjust our daily driving times so we could enjoy the journey to our destination and be able to stop and check out things along the way.

Once we had the destination outline revisited and sorted out, the best part of the trip’s prep begun: pulling out maps and planning our route on paper. In the age of GPS and mapping apps, it can be easy to bypass paper maps as non-essential for route planning, but paper maps offer a far larger scale and therefore a better impression of the area we will be travelling in, as well as better understanding of what can be found in each route. Our GPS devise is brilliant and it comes into play for our navigation once we’re on the way.

We kept in mind that Australia can be very remote in areas, so fuel stops were for the first time necessary to be marked. Finally there was the data needed in the form of knowledge of the area from the people we knew that either had done the routes that we had planned or parts of them. Out here in the back roads of Australia, arrogance and complacency can get you into serious trouble and driving here takes a lot of extra skills. Having a driver’s license doesn’t mean you understand your vehicle and how to use it properly in the off road conditions of the Australian bushland. Learning from Rochelle’s Dad, an experienced off roader around Australia, was the wise thing to do as well as a pure joy!!! 

Robert’s rules of thumb go as follows:

– Obtain up-to-date detailed maps, showing water sources and nearest communities. 

– Know how to use your GPS and Tracker.

– Always carry extra drinking water.

– If your vehicle suffers a breakdown or gets bogged, stay close to it because your vehicle will be easier to spot from the air in case of a search.

– Don’t set out for help unless you irrefutably know where you’re going and know you can get there.

– Don’t rely on mobile phones to call for help. A reception signal may not exist where you’re going.

– On long journeys, have extra petrol, engine oil, fan belts, filters and spare keys. 

– Check water levels regularly. 

– Keep tyres at recommended pressures. Remember, a tyre pressure may need to be set at the start of the day to ensure maintenance of appropriate pressure when the tyres heat up.

– Keep a constant speed to reduce tyre wear and mechanical fatigue.

– Keep an eye on the brakes. When in constant use, brake pad wears off faster.

– Check your spare tyre’s pressure regularly. Include a can of inflating foam and/or tyre puncture plugs to help get you back on the road.

From our up to date time here, we have figured out that our car will not spend the majority of its time on tarmac. On the contrary, while touring most of the time we will be heading away from it. So we planned for the worst case scenario regarding the type of terrain and distance we may need to travel. A thorough check-over from an experienced 4×4 mechanic, making sure he understands where we are heading, along with an electrical check was essentially planned. 

So we were ready!!! Not quite, as we were still waiting for Voukefalas’ arrival. Vehicle shipping is an overlander’s nightmare no matter where or how you use it, on top of stressful and nerve breaking days and a big chunk of money out of your budget. Just that simple fact makes the process a nightmare. And when things start to go wrong is where it gets ugly since there is literally nothing you can do to fix it. We had to ship our vehicle a couple of times in the past, with a very few details gone wrong and that gave us the confidence that everything would be ok this time as well. Unfortunately for us, this time proved to be the worst one by far.

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On one hand, the Covid -19 and the craziness that came with it and on the other, the unprofessional agent we unfortunately picked, it took a total of two months before Voukefalas even got on a boat to Australia. See in reality, we overlanders are the last thing any shipping agent cares about, since we are a one-time customer. That makes us always their last concern and for most of them an opportunity to overcharge as much as they want, since we are not coming back anyway. Finally, with a hypothetic day of our car’s arrival approaching, we decided to move back to Perth so we could be closer to the port of Fremantle where Voukefalas would arrive.

Truth to be told and after almost three months of lockdown in the farm, we were desperate for a change of scenery anyway. Our quest though was not finished yet. After a ton of paperwork needed, Voukefalas did not manage to pass the quarantine test that is obligatory here in Australia. Before we dropped our car off at the shipping agent, we were assured that they would provide a thorough cleaning in the UK prior to the departure. So like rookies we paid the extra charge and requested to be present when it happened.

They politely denied that, assuring us that they would take special care of it. The outcome of all that special care was that they hardly washed the vehicle, which we found out from customs when Voukefalas finally got here and so it failed to pass the quarantine. After ten more long days of waiting, we got cleared from the quarantine and… No, not yet (*&%%$##). More papers and more extra costs were added from the shipping agent. With all of the above making us almost have a meltdown, the date that we were waiting for finally came. So one fine morning at the end of May and after almost three months, we got a phone call that our car was cleared from customs and ready to be collected from the port of Fremantle, outside Perth.

Probably one of the happiest days so far in the trip!!! For me personally, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders only when I was directed from the yard and saw Voukefalas waiting to be driven again. Words cannot describe the feelings we had dancing outside customs with Rochelle like school kids, in front of our car.

Meanwhile here in Australia, the lockdown law had been lifted just a week before and finally we were ready to hit the road. So much so that we could not wait any longer and we took a quick side trip 100km outside Perth in the dunes, for our first off road test, just before we had a mechanic go over the car for the final touch ups. 

Next? YES!!! We were on the road heading south towards Denmark, where we reset the vehicle back to its overlanding set up (new seat covers, solar fridge insulation etc) and we took off towards Esperance. First stop was Bremer Bay, where after an one hour long 4×4 trail we found our first secret beach. To our surprise except us, humpback whales happened to pass by from the bay. So for the next 24 hours we grabbed our chairs and just enjoyed the show. What a beginning, we thought!!!

250 km further down, starting 60km east of Esperance, was Cape Le Grand National Park, our next stop. This park boasts spectacular coastal scenery, dazzling beaches and excellent walking tracks. Our overnight camping spot was Lucky Bay and Le Grand Beach where the famous picture of the Kangaroo, with a whiter than white sand beach as background, can be found in all the tourist brochures. Unfortunately for Rochelle, we did not take that picture as the kangaroo were not on a beach mood but instead we were rewarded with a climb to Frenchman Peak (3km return, allow two hours), with superb views from the top to all the surrounding coves. With Esperance done, it was time to turn our compass north and start heading for the heat through the southern outback, an iconic Australian experience. Almost empty roads run relentlessly from here all the way to the Northern Territory (NT) while this is also (was and is) the gold-rush country with the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, our next stop, as its hub.

On our way there, we passed small, less sustainable gold towns, isolated or partly deserted before we reached Kalgoorlie-Boulder, an outback success story as it is still the centre of mining in this part of the state.“The city’s main drag, Hannan St, has retained many of its original gold rush–era buildings, including several grand hotels and the imposing town hall. Outside is a drinking fountain in the form of a statue of Paddy Hannan (“the man” that started the gold rush) holding a water bag.

One of the sites in this city that everybody heads to is to have a cold beer in the ‘skimpies’.  Historically, mining was a predominately men’s job. Mine workers used to come here after a day’s work and head straight to town’s infamous brothels, or at pubs staffed by ‘skimpies’ (scantily clad female bar staff). Today, the city still retains that Wild West feel, and the heritage pubs and ‘skimpy’ bar staff are reminders of a more rambunctious past, while ‘Kal’ is definitely more family-friendly as mine workers must reside in town and cannot be transient ‘fly-in, fly-out’ labor.

Next morning and with Rochelle born here, a stop in the to-do-and-see list was the hospital where she was born before visiting some of her family friends. Last but not least, we paid a visit to the Super Pit and its lookout overlooking the actual open mine. The view is staggering here, with building-sized trucks zigzagging up and down the huge hole, giving you the impression from far that are kids’ toys. It was here and after we have been already traveling for more than 10 days that we found out that Voukefalas was still illegal in the country but this is a story for the next post. Stay tuned!!!

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