What’s up, mate?
Son No. 3 is in the Land Down Under with the Aussies, dodging ’roos (as in kanga).
He landed in the northwestern town of Darwin and picked up his rental car, a Nissan SUV called a Qashqai that gets about 35 miles to the gallon. Of course, it’s liters there. Then he headed to the grocery story to stock up on food goods and then to another place to purchase a comforter and some pillows. The plan? Live on PB&Js and pretzels for at least 10 days. Live out of the car for an equally ambitious amount of time.
Well, he’s an Eagle Scout trained by Spencer Mooney and Marty Stephens, so he’s surviving. Anyone else crazy enough to try such a scheme would do well to check out an app he depends on called CamperMate. It directs him to safe public and private places to park, sleep and shower.
For days he was deep in the Outback on a two-lane road, driving on the left side of it. He could go 20 miles without seeing another car, but he says when he’d pass one, the drivers were friendly: “Aussies always wave. Reminds me of Mississippi.”
He picked a good time of year for his travels. It’s the end of the dry season in Australia, which means they haven’t had rain in months. At night the temperature dips into the 50s, but during the day it hovers around 90. That was important for swimming in the waterfalls in Kakadu National Park, one of his favorite stops. While there, he also got up close and personal with saltwater crocodiles, the largest reptiles in the world, when he saw hundreds of them lining a brackish river. Then an Aboriginal guide showed visitors “some pretty cool” ancient cave carvings. Oh, and the sunsets were some of the most stunning of his trip.
It made him think: “It struck me that I might be the only one there who was seeing all the beauty as God’s handiwork. It’s been like that wherever I’ve traveled. Everybody else is looking at the sites in terms of colliding molecules and millions of years. I’m able to glory in the Creator who made it all.”
Once he stopped for fuel at a place he found on CamperMate, but the business owner said she was plumb out. (Well, she probably didn’t say it quite that way.) Anyway, it was dark and he was nearly empty and the lady said the next station was 60 kilometers away. He got ready to set off, and she stopped him.
“The water buffalo will attack you,” she warned.
A bystander confirmed it: “Yes, they’ll attack your car at night.”
My son laughs while telling it. “She put the fear in me,” he admits. Thankfully, he saw a couple in his headlights, but they stayed away.
Besides the water buffalo and dragon-looking lizards he photographed, there’s another road wonder in Aussie land. Road trains, 18-wheelers with 4 or 5 trailers behind, cover the miles but know only one direction — straight ahead. To accommodate the big boys, highways have huge turn-around points and rest areas just for them.
After crossing the continent, Son No. 3 ended up in a place called Townsville for Sunday worship. He met two students from India at church. They told him they perfected their English by watching YouTube videos, particularly ones of preacher Paul Washer. Interesting.
A beach there proved Australians are indeed big on their barbie (as in ’cue). He was wowed by rows of ready-to-use public gas grills which stood anchored in the sand. City workers clean them daily.
And then there was the Great Barrier Reef.
A day tour by speedboat rounded out the first stop at Airlie Beach. It came with breakfast, lunch and wetsuits. The suits are required for the two snorkeling stops. Yeah, he swam with Crush from “Finding Nemo” and the other turtles. A few humpback whales, too.
So, I asked him about the wetsuits.
“They say the stingers are really bad there,” he explained.
“Yeah. I’m not sure what all that was about,” he blew it off.
He likes Australia for a bundle of reasons, but one is their electronic, hassle-free entry portal. “Their system doesn’t stamp a page of your passport, just scans it,” he explained. Evidently passport pages — having enough blank ones — are a big deal when you travel a lot.
That’s good, because I think New Zealand is next.
Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.