We’re a funny bunch, us Aussies. We’ll flock to dreary London by the beer-bloated planeload, cope with Bali Belly and the relentless attention of overzealous street hawkers if the Rupiah’s right and backpack through Europe on some malnourished right of passage in our teens and early twenties, all the while facing the very real prospect of seeing only a fraction of our own country by the time our travelling days are over.

I’ve been with my South African girlfriend, Leigh, for 12 months, and she has opened my eyes to what we have here in our own big, beautiful backyard.

We decided to travel this backyard, and thought there was no need for five star luxuries to see Australia when we had our own hotel on wheels. Our ride could safely accommodate a small country school on excursion, complete with sleeping and cooking quarters.

Leigh is an all-action kind of girl; she was hunter in Johannesburg, tracking springbok, warthog, impala and wildebeest for days on end with her father. She obviously likes a little edge to her pastimes, so we pulled into Port Macquarie, four hours north of Sydney and home to loads of activities for the thrill-seeker.

We stayed at the Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park, which has powered camping facilities right on the beachfront. As it turned out Port Macquarie is home to plenty of adventure tours outfits specialising in getting visitors out of their comfort zones. We booked in for the beginner’s abseiling course and I have to say this isn’t something I’d been jumping out of my skin to tackle.

One thing I’m not is a heights man but after plenty of coaxing, coercing and manhood-challenging comments from my girl I decided to step up and give it a try. I’m glad I did. If you can get past the psychological barriers, this is such an incredible sport to try. The full day course provided us with transport, specialist equipment and lunch. More importantly it gifted us with the perfect setting to abseil – spectacular views of the ocean and Hasting headlands and the chance to abseil amongst some of the most breathtaking mountain, forest and lake scenery you could wish to lay eyes on.

We descended in progressive steps, firstly a gentle nursery boulder for confidence-building purposes, before ultimately abseiling a majestic 50-metre cliff face. Small fry to the experienced guys but enough of a buzz to make me feel like I’d tamed Everest. Leigh took it all in her stride while having a ball, but did manage to compliment me for conquering my phobia!

While we were caravanning at Sundowner we jumped at the chance to try another left of centre tour on offer from Port Macquarie Holidays. The twilight Eco Tour took us on a mountain bike through the heart of the Queenslake Nature Reserve – not on a sun-drenched summers day, but on dusk and into nightfall!

The two-hour ride was through flat terrain amongst protected nature reserves, and it was the right time of year for some of the predatory bush inhabitants to be out and about. On a star studded night we managed to see an abundance of native wildlife in their element. The Aussie bush really comes to life at night when predatory marsupials, mammals and bird- life come out to hunt. The tour provided us with a totally different perspective on this exhilarating adventure sport.

After five unforgettable days in Port we decided on a slight change of pace and decided to spend the last days watching movies in our van in Tiona.

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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