Few experiences are more intimate. You’re cocooned in a metal box, squashed hip to hip, for hour upon hour, sharing every burp and fart (newsflash: girls do this too).
If you don’t fall out at least once (for starters, the map reading bomb is just waiting to explode) you must be the secret love child of Kofi Annan and Mother Teresa, who was sent on weekly training camps called “How To Be Impossibly Patient And Heroically Compromising Even With People Who Just Farted On Your Knee” for the first 20 years of your life.
There’s something quintessentially Australian about doing a roadtrip. The wide open spaces. Those seductively endless stretches of bitumen. Playing “dodge the ‘roo”. All that. If you come to Australia and you don’t do a roadtrip, you ain’t even been here as far as we’re concerned. Get the motor runnin’. Head out on the highwaayyyy.
An impressive blow
I’d done the outback – Sydney to Alice Springs was one special trip. But what next? I was heading from Sydney to Melbourne way anyway, and the south coast had always intrigued me.
The star-studied north coast is well known, but what secrets was the south coast hiding from me? I aimed to take the long way round to Melbourne to find out. My girlfriend was coming too. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
After collecting the campervan, doing the food shop (squabble count: three), discussing the drive-share schedule (so I’m doing almost all of it then – gerrin!), we burst out of the Sydney suburbs on Highway 1, hearts full of glee.
First stop to note, about an hour down the coast, was the Kiama Blowhole. I’d seen blowholes before (behave at the back!) and they were always pretty pathetic. A hole in the rocks, lots of noisy sea, absolutely zilch on the blowing front. But this was impressive stuff, with jets of white angry water leaping up high into the air, as if from the top of an enormous sperm whale.
Onwards we drove, through cute little country towns, over hills and dales, arriving at the much-lauded Jervis Bay in time for supper. And this is when a campervan really comes into its own. Within minutes the back of the van is a fully functioning kitchen, lounge and play area (well, cards anyway). I kicked back as The Girlfriend did the biz in the kitchen, rustling up a little something special. Later, after a wonderful little sunset walk along a gorgeous beach, our house turned into a bedroom and I was able to repay her hard work in the kitchen. Oooh lah lah. Oh yeah. I let her hold my hand.
Milk is murder
Morning came. And if you’re clever you can make a cup of tea without even getting out of bed (a lifetime ambition fulfilled). We were staying in Booderee National Park, on the Bay’s south and it was right proper gorgeous. The stunning beaches are reputed to be some of the whitest in the world and they’re certainly squeaky clean. We spent most of the day checking out a variety of delightful curves of sand, interspersed with a few short ambles, along clifftops and through woodlands, and the odd ‘roo bouncing about all over the shop, not at all afraid of us human types.
Next stop was Pebbly Beach, where we spent a night. Again we were swamped with ‘roo interaction options and a great beach, backed up by the bush-clad hills. Shame it pissed it down, really. (Squabble count: five – “someone” forgot to put the lid back on the milk).
The next day’s drive brought a gradual change in scenery as we moved from New South Wales to Victoria. For days it had been all cute little villages tucked along the coast, snuggled between rolling hills, and reams of farmland, all very green, all very postcardy. But as it got less populated, it got less pretty; barren greying fields. Not that we minded. We were too busy hating each other.
It had been four days now and, though in normal life we get on rather well, squabbles were simmering along spectacularly: about the map “reading”, about what was for dinner, about what wasn’t for dinner, about my driving, about her driving, about our future children’s names (Cairns is a great name!) and about who had just farted (she still won’t own up).
The poverty of good scenery (and company) was atoned for by the glory that is Wilson’s Promontory, one of Australia’s most popular national parks. It has more than 80km of walking tracks, great beaches, some atmospheric giant granite boulders (they may not be granite – quartz, she said – I guess a proper journalist would research that kind of thing) dominating the horizon and enough wildlife to get Noah jealous – well, apparently. But, probably because they could hear The Girlfriend incessantly nagging, as we spent the arvo doing some pleasant-enough walks, the animals all seemed to be hiding from us.
The next morning was a different story. After a tip-off from the info centre, we drove to a spot, just around sun-break, where we’d been promised to meet elusive critters. And low and behold we were surrounded by ‘roos and a wombat all silently munching away. I hadn’t seen a wombat in the wild in three years in Australia, so it was rather thrilling. They’re like a koala on all fours, ones who don’t like getting stoned. But better.
We were happy enough with that, but we were driving out of the park when we saw another grey lump and I screeched to a halt (and, naturally, got told off for it). We got out to watch a wombat chomping on the grass. He let us edge closer and closer until we were just two foot away. He didn’t pay us the least heed. So we posed for countless photos (though, and I’m not one to bicker, none of the ones she took came out). He was our new best chum.
Reaching Melbourne meant our six-day adventure was about over (squabble count: 66, maybe 67 – we disagree about that), but not before a visit to Phillip Island and the famous Penguin Parade.
You sit and let it go dark, staring intently at the surf… waiting and waiting… for the world’s smallest penguins to come out of the ocean… And finally. You spot a dark little shape rolling in the wet stuff. It gets out, looks around… decides it’s a bit too dangerous, and goes back in…. Another does the same. And another. No one has the courage to go first. Suddenly there’s six or seven standing there, huddled together, all nervously looking around, edging forward, then darting back. And again.
They’re so timid and sheepish, so chronically leaderless. None of them wanted to go first. It was pantomime-esque in its comedy. You’re desperate to go over to them, give them a reassuring cuddle and carry them home for hot chocolate and a blueberry muffin.
Finally, after literally 10 minutes, they seem to think it’s okay to come ashore, they summon the courage up and head, hesitantly, for the bush behind us, and their homes. It is possibly the cutest thing you’ll ever see.
The Girlfriend had been desperate to see this for yonks, so, by point of principle, I had tried to pretend I wasn’t impressed. But it was just sooo irresistible. We felt very briefly united in some sort of gooey sharing experience. Yuk. It felt completely wrong.
The experience: Campervans from Apollo cost from $73/day (and relocations from $1/day). For info, Freephone: 1800 777 779.
Photo: Getty, TNT, Thinkstock