My partner and I had always wanted to get a van so we could travel around Australia. We were staying in Sydney and trawled all the hostels and noticeboards for vans for sale. There were plenty, but we found one for $3000 in Bondi. After trekking to Bondi to check out the van and have a test drive, we fell in love with it! We made it ours the following day and just sat in it for ages checking out all the gadgets and gizmos.

The catch – it was registered in South Australia and despite the advice of a few so-called “reliable” sources, it meant we had to travel to Adelaide to get the van re-registered or go through the hassle of getting a blue slip (a thorough, fine-tooth comb examination) and a green slip to get it re-registered as a NSW vehicle! Bummer! Although it was pretty well-looked after, we thought a blue-slip exam may give it a premature death and decided on the road-trip to Adelaide option!

Cool bananas – I love road trips! I called the SA Transport Agency and advised them we’d be making the two or three day trip from Sydney, and they said, “no worries!” I love that Aussie phrase! So the next day we stocked up on snacks, juice, lollies and oranges and set off.

We drove all day with Simon at the wheel. I’m more used to motorbikes – I have a spacial awareness problem in cars. It was so refreshing to be out of the city and it felt as though our adventures were about to begin. Windows down, feet on the dash, singing along to the non-existent radio, sun blaring down – I was lapping it up.

Later that afternoon we pulled up at a rest stop in West Wylong for the night. We dug out the velcro-on curtains, unravelled our sleeping bags and went to sleep. Waking at 9am, we rolled out of the van and into the restrooms to refresh and get ready for the next stretch to Adelaide. We set off and passed a couple of signs for the No Fruit Fly Zone. Consequently, we started scoffing our remaining oranges. Vitamin C overload! I guessed we’d be on the toilet a lot later, but hey, a backpacker can’t afford to waste good food. After an hour or two we passed a sign for Rankin Springs. The roads were long and straight with a horrid camber and very jagged, dusty edges. Simon was doing well though, and we loved the freedom of the open road.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of gravel as the van scraped the grainy brick-red surface beside the road. Simon pulled the van back across, but the different surfaces made the van swerve. He pulled the van back again as it swerved to the middle of the road. As it turned back to the left, the van let out a huge screech, spun and flipped over… three times. The next few seconds were a mesh of sounds and horrid feelings, like a nightmare. The van came to an abrupt halt, upside down. I called out and Simon just kept shouting, “Suze, Suze, Suze, are you okay?” He sounded scared. I unclipped my seatbelt and fell onto the roof. I crawled out throught the missing windscreen, completely disorientated. I ran to Simon’s side and shouted to him. He said “I’m stuck,” but he managed to clamber out soon after. We were both covered in red dust and I started crying. Grabbing our passports, we got to the roadside and looked both ways – nothing. It’s moments like this that movies like Wolf Creek start popping into your head…

We could see the van had taken out two trees in its path off the road, hence the roof dent. Then a car stopped a few yards up the road. A friendly Aussie couple called Mark and Vicki came and helped us. Soon after, a van with four guys arrived. Together, Mark, Simon and the four guys managed to rock our van over onto its wheels and salvage as much as possible. Mark and Vicki then drove us to a hospital about 65km away. I had a severely bruised leg and Simon hit his head and looked dazed. On arrival we were given a full body exam and shortly after, two police officers arrived to take statements. They were really nice and said we were so lucky to be alive as many foreigners had died on these roads. However, they did lump Simon with a $300 negligent driving fine! Didn’t get that one, but wasn’t in a state to care!

Our van was wrecked so we lost $3000. Mind you, after walking away, I wasn’t concerned with the loss of the van! We were lucky to be alive!

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!

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