After ditching the cold winter days of Sydney for an outdoor adventure up north, we found ourselves scanning the hot streets of Cairns for a week, on the lookout to buy a car.

We’d been told Cairns was one of the best places in Oz to buy a van – as people were forced to sell quick before going back home. However, we quickly discovered that people were actually adding the amount of money they had spent on repairs to their original purchase price – basically making most of the vehicles not worth the money.

However, with the frustration growing after a full eight days of browsing, we decided to buy one of the 30 cars we had looked at – a 4WD campervan. We ended up spending more money than we wanted, and, through desperation, didn’t even bother getting a mechanical check-up before purchasing it.

Almost broke, we left Cairns as quickly as possible to start our journey to the tip of Australia, as owning a 4WD now meant we could go all the way to Cape York. But before doing so, we thought it wise to have a quick safety check at a garage.

Their report was devastating. The list of required repairs was endless. Not only would we be delayed by days but also stuck with a bill for $2,100!

There was no way we could afford that. Desperate and pissed off, we paid the $85 for the report and went and got drunk.

The next day, however, our luck seemed to turn. Driving back into Cairns again, we found a place that stocked a pair of second hand tyres our size in great condition. We figured that we had just saved ourselves $700. Maybe, things weren’t as bad as they looked. We decided to wait another day before making further decisions.

That night at the campsite, we ended up chatting to an elderly Australian who had pulled up next to us in his Landcruiser.

He had long, grey dreadlocks almost down to his bottom and a very big beard. I decided that Don somehow reminded me of a dwarf, being of short height and walking around barefoot. He asked where we were heading.

“Not very far, we guess”, we replied frustrated and told him about the fix we were in. Don, it turned out, was a mechanic, and had lived on the road for the past four years. We showed him the long list of things that apparently needed doing and he seemed eager to help us.

“I could probably save you $1,000,” he said. After inspecting our car for almost an hour, Don revealed that some things needn’t be replaced at all. He explained to my boyfriend that if he was interested in learning how to fix the parts himself, we wouldn’t even have to pay for Don’s “advice”. Deal!

We got the parts required and started taking the car apart. We replaced the wheel cylinders, put in new brakeshoes, did an oil and filter change, filled up the brakes and so forth.

It took us 10 hours to do the whole service, but it was good fun, as Don had a huge variety of stories to tell, about having broken down in the bush with his Toyota once, stuck with
dingoes for almost three weeks.

We ended up buying Don dinner after all the work was done. He didn’t want anything else, as he was starting another job in a couple of days. Because there would not be any work for us
on the way to the tip, we decided to go south instead.

Before doing so, we wanted to do the Bloomfield 4WD track from Cooktown to Cape Tribulation. Man, what a beautiful and exciting drive. Cheers Don!