Part 1 is here, if you’d like to start from the beginning.
Part 2 is here
It’s always good to have a plan, even if its a rough one.
Having the flexibility to change those plans on a whim is very much a luxury, especially when it comes to work and travel. Working primarily online means we’re able to do both, from pretty much anywhere. As long as we have internet, we’re good to go.
Some of our customers would be amazed (or shocked?) if they knew the exact circumstances of my work environment at the time we bought their car.
It is entirely possible I was in my campervan, parked on a beach watching the waves delicately caress the shore.
Or in a quaint little mountaintop cabin, rugged up against the cold, fire gently crackling away for warmth and ambiance, crystal tumbler of Cragganmore 2009 beside the laptop.
Perhaps indulging in a late afternoon G&T from the business lounge at the airport.
More realistically though, I probably bought your 200k+ R34 GTR from my phone, whilst sitting on a public toilet listening to the truck driver in the stall next to me grunting like a pro tennis player.
It’s all very glamourous.
This is relevant to the story at hand, I promise. Read on.
We gave ourselves an extra day in Adelaide after Kristian’s little shindig, figuring nobody would want to get on a plane immediately after the kind of night we expected to have. That turned out to be a very prudent decision.
We spent the day sleeping in, mainlining aspirin and hairy lemons, bumming around cafes, and catching up on some work. We also went for a drive to check out The Bend, which is a truly amazing facility. Just a shame it’s in the middle of nowhere.
Also, some inconsiderate wanker left his old Nissan parked right in the middle of the lobby.
Now, this is where being flexible comes in.
Originally, we’d planned for all of us to pile into the Blade and hoon it back to Brisbane, which is effectively a straight line across outback NSW. With plenty of drivers, we could just take turns as required and shotgun it the whole way.
However, on our post-party day off I was casually messaging an old friend in Cairns, who mentioned she was looking for a new car. Which got me thinking… How much would I really need the Blade after this little adventure?
Maybe… I could sell it.
Maybe… I could sell it to the girl in Cairns who needed a car.
Maybe… Instead of driving it back to Brisbane, I could instead aim north(ish) and drive it through the middle of the country, all the way to Cairns.
In the space of an hour, I’d checked the route, fuel stops, scoped out accomodation options, decided it was a fantastic idea, and asked for a show of hands from the group.
“WHO’S WITH ME”! I proclaimed, with a level of enthusiasm quite inappropriate for the hour.
Only one hand was raised. Matt was in. Not surprising really, there hasn’t been a single idiotic adventure he hasn’t joined me on since we’ve known each other.
Mel and Ben, being much smarter than us, politely declined and elected to book flights home instead. Fair enough I guess.
We grabbed Thai for dinner (there were plenty of leftovers, this becomes important later) and called the night early as we had to be up at sparrowfart to drop the clever people at the airport by 6am.
Day one: Having abandoned the others at the airport, we take a sharp left and head due north, through Adelaide’s incredibly annoying endless 80kph zones and into the desert. With only a quick stop for the requisite Maccas brekky for us, and full tank of go go juice for our erstwhile chariot.
We stopped into Port Pirie, as Matt had never been there.
We took no photos.
It’s still shit.
Hard left onto the Stuart Highway and north again. Through Port Augusta and into the nothingness beyond.
We’d managed to time our trip to coincide with some bizarre weather.
The entire first day’s drive, it rained.
In the desert.
Not torrential rain, just a gentle drizzle the whole way. Which was oddly quite relaxing, and pleasant. Also really bloody cold! The wet sand and unusually green vegetation made for stunning scenery. The colour contrast was unreal.
Nothing really amazing happened on the first day, as you’d hope and expect driving through one of the most desolate and isolated roads on the planet. We did become briefly excited south of Woomera, the roadsigns every 5km advertising SPUDS ROADHOUSE gave us hope of maybe picking up a genuine, true blue Aussie outback truckie’s lunch.
Stopping in, I fuelled up and took one look at various shades of brown, yellow and orange offerings in the bain marie, before backing away slowly and grabbing a muesli bar and Redbull from the esky in the car instead.
Not today, deep fried Salmonella Satan.
The end of day one saw us coast into Coober Pedy well before nightfall.
With no real urgency or set timeline, I’d elected to break the drive into several shortish days so we can keep on top of work as we go. No point rushing, and better than coming home to an overflowing inbox.
The Ghost of the Desert Cave Motel.
After dinner in the hotel restaurant (Itself an amazing time capsule unchanged since the 80s, their only concession to modernity was an EFTPOS machine. Literally everything else from the furnishings, decor, carpet and even the staff had not been updated in several decades) we were heading back to our room/hole and admiring the lobby. When seemingly out of nowhere, an elderly man materialised behind us, and regailed us with stories of how the place was built. How much dynamite he used, the fun they had, the money being thrown around at the time, and what a wild west town Coober Pedy was back in those days. We chewed the proverbial fat for a while before he ran out of stories, bid us goodnight, lit a cigarette, and strolled across the carpark to his legitimately immaculate burgundy over gold TM Magna Elite… Before disappearing into the night.
He may in fact have been a ghost, trapped forever in 1985.
Up early again, time to hit the roooooad. Today was going to be a long one.
Destination Tennant Creek.
The weather had changed.
Yesterday’s grey skies were gone, replaced with stunning blue. Much more in line with how I expected the desert to be.
The Greatest Toastie in the World
Can be found at Cadney Homestead Roadhouse, 154km north of Coober Pedy.
I am fairly sure they’ve not cleaned the hotplates since they were installed new, but that’s a good thing. The flavour they manage to impart upon a humble ham cheese tomato sandwich is incredible.
They even do a decent coffee.
It is at this point I should probably mention what a genuinely capable highway car the Blade really is.
Out here, in the nothingness, the roads are very straight, very flat, and in surprisingly good condition.
Now… One could, hypothetically, if it were legal, maintain a very high rate of speed without feeling even slightly unsafe.
Especially in a car like this, with ample power and excellent Bilstein suspension.
One could, in theory, fang along quite comfortably at 180kph… For hours at a time.
The other thing it does very well, is overtake.
A manoeuvre I have dubbed ‘The 2GR Teleport’ involves creeping up to the back of the road train/caravan/bus you intend to pass, waiting for the oncoming lane to be clear, dropping back a couple of gears via the flappypaddles and flooring it.
In the time it takes to clear the three trailers and pull back onto your side of the road, you’ve gone from 110 to ‘Japanese mandatory speed cut’ with ease.
I choose to think of it as a safety feature.
Rinse and repeat these procedures until you reach Alice Springs.
There is of course, a penalty one must pay for saving time maintaining a higher average speed. That penalty is paid in fuel consumed.
We’d taken this into account like the sensible adventurers we are, and packed a little 5 litre Jerry as an emergency reserve. Only once did we need to employ it, after a particularly long stretch into a bit of a headwind.
Night two: Tennant Creek.
What an…. Interesting place.
Now, I’m from Cairns.
I’m no stranger to the negative societal effects alcohol has, particularly for our First Nations people in regional communities.
But this place is next level.
Its a stark, saddening experience.
I grabbed a six pack from the bottle shop (having my details recorded because they have armed police enforcing daily limits) felt immediately guilty about it, picked up some incredibly dodgy Chinese takeway from the shop next door, and quickly scooted back to our fully fenced hotel/compound.
The receptionist told us they close the razor-wire topped gates at 7PM sharp. If your car isn’t in before then, it stays outside.
“And you really don’t want that”
A few hours smashing out emails and browsing auctions, then off to bed.
Ready for another long day behind the wheel of this amazing little machine.
Day three began pre-dawn, as we wanted to cover some serious ground today.
Just north of Tennant Creek is the Threeways intersection.
You can probably guess why they call it that.
Banging a right takes you onto the Barkly Highway headed due east and on this particular morning, directly into a roaring headwind.
Was fuel consumption off the charts? Ohhhhh yes indeedy it was. We managed to drain the tank almost completely in less than 300km whilst maintaining our comfortable extra-legal speeds.
Which hurts just a bit… Topping up at the Barkly Homestead was the better part of $2.50/Litre for 95.
Nevertheless, we push on across the Avon Downs towards Camooweal.
It was at this point, we had a decision to make.
It is possible to hang left at Camooweal and head north to Gregory, before turning east again towards Burke and Wills. This, apparently, saves you a bit of time.
However the road isn’t great, and we’re in a lowered hatchback. So we took the safer option of sticking to the highway and cruising through Mt. Isa before turning north again at Cloncurry.
It was along this particular stretch south of Normanton that fatigue began to set in.
Not tiredness, no no. I was fine. In fact I’d driven the entire way myself so far, while Matt played passenger and even managed to get some work done whenever we had mobile coverage.
No I was getting scenery fatigue.
The Gulf Country is shit.
It really is.
It’s not the coast, its not the desert, its not the bush. It’s just endless scraggly half dead trees, brown grass, and the occasional swamp. Awful.
Its the part you drive through as quickly as possible to get somewhere else.
Do not stop, there’s nothing good here.
The road from Cloncurry to Normanton isn’t bad, as such. But its nowhere near as good as the Barkly or Flinders highways. Sealed most of the way, but only single lane and hard shoulder. Unsealed in some places. As such, hard to maintain decent speed so it seems endless.
But of course, it does end. At Normanton, where we’d considered staying that night as it was getting on a bit. But having just endured ‘The Doldrums’ for hours on end, yet another executive decision was made.
Fuck it, we’re punching it all the way home. Tonight.
Another full tank of staggeringly expensive fuel and a four pack of Redbull later and we’re homeward bound, with the setting sun to our backs.
Google said it’d take us about 8 hours to cross the entirety of Cape York at its widest point.
I aimed to do better.
It was just after Georgetown we started to get a bit peckish.
Our last pit stop was in Croydon, and absolutely nothing else in town was open so we just kept going.
It was well into the evening by this point, so we found a nice quiet place to pull over, and deployed the other tactical reserves.
The leftover Thai food from Adelaide.
Yep, we’d brought it this whole way in the esky, transferring it into our hotel fridge every night along with several frozen water bottles to keep that cold chain unbroken.
It was exactly here, on the side of the highway, in the middle of nowhere, in absolute pitch black, that we chuckled to ourselves as we ate cold, three day old leftover Thai from 3500km away while staring up at the Milky Way in all its glory, unpolluted by any other light.
Until a truck rolled by and ruined the moment.
Oh well. Back on the road.
The highway from Normanton to Georgetown is actually pretty good. After that, it gets a bit ropey.
Down to single lane again in some places, bush right up to the hard shoulder.
Wildlife. So much wildlife. Wallabies and echidnas mostly, with the occasional bandicoot. Managed to avoid turning any into roadkill.
From Mt Surprise onwards is literally my backyard, so despite tiredness beginning to present itself as an annoyance I was very confident I could steer us in for this last stretch, if only on autopilot.
Quick stop in Yungaburra for a nature call and some moody photography in the ever present Tablelands fog.
It was 1am by the time we rolled into my driveway, completely knackered.
But we’d made it, and the car had performed faultlessly the entire way, having circumnavigated half the country without needing to pop the bonnet even once.
Not a single solitary squeak, rattle, or clunk.
The temp gauge did not move, despite sustained high load and high RPM running.
It was not bothered by slightly iffy outback fuel.
The aircon was icy cold.
The stereo was excellent.
The seats were comfortable.
The headlights were amazing.
Well done, little Bladey boi.
I did give it a damn good wash and a comprehensive service before passing it onto its new owner, who absolutely loves it.
Its also worth noting… Because its just a Corolla with a V6, everything required to perform said service was on the shelf at my local parts store.
Filters, spark plugs, belt, pulleys, even the water pump.
All in stock, all cheap.
Not suitable for Australian conditions my arse.