The last leg: limping from Byron Bay to Cup Day

The last week of our Australian roadtrip was a real struggle. Our van Moby, which had been intermittently playing up since the Daintree rainforest, was now being a total see-you-next-tuesday. Would we ever make it home?

At this rate, we weren’t going to see anyone next Tuesday – our goal of arriving home in time for the Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday of November seemed less and less likely as we struggled to start the engine each day. Forget the Race That Stops The Nation, this was The Van that Stopped the Race to Get To The Race That Stops The Nation… But Then Started Again… Oh No Wait It Stopped.

Leaving Brisbane, we were short on time, money and patience. The problem with the starter motor identified by a mechanic near Townsville was never properly resolved, which meant that as the issue grew worse, we became afraid to turn off the engine once we had it going. This reluctance to stop influenced our remaining itinerary. The travel malaise we had started to feel around Mission Beach had also set in; we were suffering from chronic beach fatigue syndrome, with almost 2000 km of east coast Australia left to go.

We did make the mandatory stop in Byron Bay. Aside from wanting to show Gareth the  beautiful people beaches, it was symbolically important that we see the most easterly point of Australia at Cape Byron, having visited its western bookend at Shark Bay.

Carve it up!

We left sunny Byron for its more sinister shadow – the town of Nimbin, supposedly Australia’s Weed Capital, located in the sleepy Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. Considered an essential stop on Australia’s backpacker trail, it seems to get worse each time I visit. I don’t think the hippies even like it anymore. To me it’s just Bob Marley t-shirts, dreamcatchers, and incongruously, a whole lotta bad vibes. The surrounding area is beautiful though, with waterfalls hidden amongst the verdant farmland.

Why did the rooster cross the road? To get high on the other side.
One of our better free camping spots – how’s the serenity…

From Nimbin we continued inland, looking for one last chance to see the night sky at its best at Australia’s first Dark Sky Park in Coonabarabran. We booked into one of the observatory tours, only to receive a last minute call that it wouldn’t go ahead due to emerging cloud cover. This wasn’t the first or the last time those wet blankets would ruin our fun. Two tours and counting…

As we travelled toward the Blue Mountains we were looking forward to our last dose of dramatic scenery before we hit Sydney. Unfortunately, our bad luck continued as most of the views were lost in the mist.

Amazing views in the Blue Mountains 😐
Last waterfall of the trip
Tea in van interior, bushland, Australia
Forest bathing in the ferns

To be perfectly honest, I would have been quite happy to bypass Sydney, having spent several years of my life there. But how would Gareth explain to his UK friends and family that we didn’t go to the only place they’d ever heard of in Australia? It had to be done, but I knew it would be difficult to drive around the city in the van, let alone find somewhere to park and sleep. We ended up in a holiday park on the outskirts of the city, and that is where the van decided to well and truly cark it. After leaving it at camp for the day to tour the city by public transport, it refused to start the following morning when we went to check out. After a failed push start, we knew we had to make a phone call. We spent our last dimes on a weekend call out and the mechanic took our van apart in the middle of the holiday park. Like the previous mechanic, he also wasn’t 100% on what the real problem was – however he took everything apart and put it back together again, and said the wiring on the fuel pump was a bit loose. The van miraculously started after that, so we hightailed it to the ACT, in a hurry to get home to Melbourne.

Nelson Hotel, Sydney, Australia
One of three establishments competing for the title of ‘oldest pub in Sydney’
Typical OTT Sydney – who has that many friends?
Darling Harbour fireworks, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Fireworks, just because.
Darling Harbour fireworks, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Extra Darling Harbour
Sydney Harbour Bridge at night, New South Wales, Australia
Sydney Harbour Bridge doing its thing
Underneath Sydney Harbour Bridge, New South Wales, Australia
The Bridge’s underthings
Cart art installation, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Another victim of Sydney’s road rage culture

We fanged it to Canberra as fast as our finicky fuel tank would go. Actually we had no more van trouble after the mechanic’s visit, which was lucky because we were completely broke. We took a cursory tour around the nation’s capital, so Gareth could understand why so many people make fun of it, and join in next time. I will say this for Canberra: it’s very clean.

Parliament House, Canberra, Australia
Some outstanding incline mower work

After a final night in the van we drove all the way south into Victoria and then along the coast to Paynesville to meet some friends. On Cup Day Eve we pulled into my mum’s driveway in the Bayside burbs of Melbourne, completing a 100 day journey around Australia west to east, covering over 26,000 km!

Lows: We came home with $1 in our bank account

Highs: We came home. With priceless memories.

Map of Australian road trip
The epic journey – driving an average of 260km per day for 3.5 months (on Learner plates)

3 thoughts on “The last leg: limping from Byron Bay to Cup Day

  1. I loved the ‘The Bridge’s underthings’ comment, Shell……you’re so funny!
    Does this mean you’ve finished? Congratulations, have a rest. Dad.


      1. Dementia years? That would be on your mother’s side of the family I guess. No dementia issues here……then there was my father…..? No more mumbling and dribbling here anymore……is there? Dad x


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