Every once in a while on a trip I get fed up with this travelling malarkey and wistfully dream of my room at home; a sacred place. No zips zipping. No carrier bags rustling at two hour intervals. No waking up in the middle of the night to find a shoeless girl standing silently in the open doorway, chewing on a block of cheese she’s nicked from your fridge.

The day our bus tour headed to the Catlins, on the South Island of New Zealand, I was even more miserable than usual. An over-enthusiastic bus driver who insisted on taking a group photo at 6am was the last straw in a long line of straws and my face of thunder was captured forever on 20 innocent people’s digital cameras.

A light in the tunnel

My bad mood was now very much cemented and I accepted that today I would stare seriously out the window and listen to Radiohead, just to make sure things had no chance of improving.

The morning flew by in a depressing haze and when I sauntered off the bus for lunch (to a background of Thom Yorke’s sobbings) I was almost enjoying my teenager-on-a-caravan-holiday demeanour.

The bus had pulled into a car park overlooking Curio Bay, a stretch of sand completely empty. The brisk wind and thick clouds had chased any sunbathers away and we had to fold our arms against the breeze. Surprisingly though, there was a small shop and the owner, a round woman, stood up from a wooden bench to greet us.
“You might see the dolphins today,” she smiled. I took an earphone out.
“There’s a pod of them always here, and they’ll go right up to you if you go in for a swim. Make lots of noise under the water, they’ll be curious and swim up to you.”
We turned our eyes to the grey sea and it was clear we were all thinking the same thing: not bloody likely.

As I rummaged through my loaf of bread for the least squashed slice then loaded it with a generous helping of peanut butter for my troubles, the woman continued: “This man went in the other day and they were right next to him.”
And suddenly, as promised, we saw them. About 150m out, half circles of near black rising up and back down again into the sea.

I saw my chance, sprinted to the bus and struggled into my bikini, showing to my group the only parts of me I had intended to cover. Another loon joined me and together we dashed over the sand and into the biting sea.
“Sweet b’jesus!” screamed my companion as the first waves hit us. I couldn’t even talk and for some reason I thought of the very end of Titanic. You know, the bit with lots of ice and death.

We could see the fins disappearing and re-emerging in the distance but they always seemed just out of reach; we whistled, screamed and sang underwater, but it was clear we weren’t going to as close as we’d thought.

Some German magic

Soon, others from the shore joined us. Amongst them was Barbara,
a shy German girl who, on a night out, always displayed an astonishing array of erotic dance moves. She modestly stuck her head under water and made a whining sound. We watched in amazement as the fins circled closer. We all began copying her. “They’re coming!” I screamed, absolutely ecstatic and they came even closer, swimming between and under us. It was stunning.

After about fifteen minutes they slowly began to head away, clearly satisfied that we were just another pack of over-excited humans.

We too decided it was best to get back to shore, mostly as none of us could feel our arms or legs.

I was on a high for the rest of the day and that night I didn’t notice the zips or carrier bags, or strange sleepwalkers with my cheese.

I realised that I really didn’t want to go home to my own room yet.

Oh, and Thom Yorke was off the playlist.

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June 16th, 2008

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

Send us a travel tale (preferably about Oz) and if it’s published you’ll win a $300 travel voucher redeemable on Oz Experience Passes and ATA NT camping trips (www.adventuretours.com.au). Email your tales (700 words max), with a picture of yourself, to travel@tntdownunder.com