Darwin to Cairns in 5 days

“Reality quickly set in when I learnt it was 3000 km away: this was NOT going to be a breezy 2-day hitchhike!”

After spending a few days in Singapore to check out the sights, I flew into Darwin, the northernmost city in Australia. It’s hot and it’s as humid as humid gets. I flew here because it’s close to Asia, so flights are cheaper and I wanted to see a good slice of the outback along the way. Arriving on Dec 21, I had 4 days to make it to Cairns to meet my friend Alison for Christmas, and no solid plan on how to do it.

With flights to Cairns costing $800 this time of year, overland became my default plan of attack. However, reality quickly set it when I learnt it was nearly 3000 km away: this was NOT going to be a breezy 2-day hitchhike!

The impressive termite mounds on ‘the top end’ are some of the biggest in Australia.

Still optimistic, took the shuttle into Darwin to check out the scene. The next greyhound to the east coast was $350 and left in 5 hours, so I figured I’d give myself that much time to figure out an alternative. I strolled across the street to a hostel and checked out the message board…. Hmm, cheap car for sale…. rideshare with a yogi to Alice Springs…. Aha! “German looking for funny trip to the east coast.”  Half an hour later I was talking to him in the lobby:

“When do you wanna leave?” “As soon as possible.” “Great! I’ll pack my stuff and we’re outta here!”

And that my friends, is how I met Damien.

“Over the next 5 days we drove nearly a quarter of the way across Australia… past 10 foot tall termite mounds, chasing the shimmering mirage on the endless tarmac.”

With a cyclone coming in 2 days and storm clouds building, we hit the road in Damien’s 1990 4×4 Subaru wagon, nicknamed Mr Marty McFly. His rig was perfect. After 2 years in Australia, Damien had the perfect set-up: all the camping gear and even room for my surfboard (next to his boards!). Damien had driven around Australia… twice! He had used up the two allowed working holiday VISA’s and was milking the 3 month tourist VISA for a little bit more.

Mr Marty McFly

Cooling off from the midday heat.

Over the next 5 days we drove nearly a quarter of the way across Australia. It was all outback, all the time and it was HOT. There are changes in scenery, but essentially it’s all variations of the savannah theme. We would stop at swimming holes to cool off, or look for dead hollow trees to make a digeridoo with. This is actually harder than you’d think: the tree has to be the right width, straightness and length, and hollowed out by termites. The older the tree, the better, as the termites will have eaten a larger hole in the middle. Once, we spent over an hour digging up a dead tree’s roots in order to knock it down, only to saw it open and find out the hollow in the middle was still too small:( Hard work in the heat of the Australian summer!

Damien had an amazing homemade digeridoo. “I cut open over 100 trees to find this!”  The beeswax for the mouthpiece of course was from a real bees nest he found in the outback.

Damien checking for digeridoo material

To entertain myself, I started counting the roadkill on the side of the road. The record for dead kangaroos in one day was 70!

A big ‘red’ kangaroo. Look at the size of those feet!

The final tallies after 4 days:

  • 185 Kangaroos
  • 62 Birds
  • 8 Cows
  • 6 Lizards
  • 4 Feral Cats
  • 4 Possums
  • 3 Snakes
  • 3 Rabbits
  • and 68 unknown furry pancakes!

We drove past 10 foot tall termite mounds, chasing the shimmering mirage up ahead caused by the intense heat on the endless tarmac. Every night we had lightning storms, and if the sky turned clear, a lot of stars to look at.

One turnoff we did NOT want to miss.

Some local kids in Camooweal. The kangaroo statue has antlers (some local legend): the kids adamantly maintained that it comes alive at night and goes down to the river to drink…

Finally, on Christmas Day, we drove our sweaty butts into Cairns and I caught up with Alison! With the temperatures well above 30+ degC, it didn’t really feel like a proper Christmas mind you! You might remember Alison from such adventures as the RoadTrip to New Zealand back in September. She decided to come over for a week to check out tropical Oz during the holidays. We all enjoyed each others company for an orphans Xmas and the next day headed up to the Daintree coast for some Christmas camping!

Merry Xmas everyone, especially to my family back home. I definitely miss the snow at the farm, xcountry skiing, playing outdoor hockey and the whole Ruckle gang at the farm! It’s my first Xmas away from home and I don’t plan on having too many of these. My little sis Kaelyn was away too this year, performing in Bern, Germany. Thankfully I caught everyone at Gran’s and Mom and Dad are coming down to visit in a few weeks, so they’ll get their presents then…

Hope everyone had a good christmas, miss you!


[See all the pictures by clicking HERE]

Crossing from the Northern Territory into Queensland

Campsite near river in Camooweal, aka the middle of nowhere.

Cyclone clouds were building on the first night, making for a beautiful sunset

Damien checking out a swimming hole: this one was closed due to freshwater crocs moving in during the wet season flooding so we never swam too far from the edge!

Windmills are used to pump water from bores for livestock

This was the view for hours on end, NT.

Richmond, QLD, the location of cretaceous (~100 mya) marine fossil discoveries, such as the pliosaur.

Sunset on Xmas eve, one day out from the coast. Almost there!


North Queensland Tropicana, and a van named Gecko.

Hey everyone!

I hope you had a great Halloween and that Fall is going well. They don’t celebrate Halloween quite the same here; I miss the costumes and the leaves and the candy of home. I did have a close encounter with about a thousand zombies however… more on that in a sec.

Since I’ve been running around travelling so much (5 countries in 4 breaks!) I decided to lay low this break and spend it closer to home: ‘home’ being Queensland for the time being. I got sick before I flew out of camp, so spent the first week just taking it easy and catching up with Elspeth in Brisbane. It also gave me a chance to get gear and supplies together for my next big adventure: Project Island Mist (more details on that in a future post).

Els was in the midst of med school exams, but we still found time to explore the city a bit and I have to say, although Brisbane doesn’t stand out too much from the crowd, there are some very nice bits here and there: parks along the river and the Mt Coot-that lookout. At one point, we also found ourselves in the midst of the worlds largest ‘Zombie Walk’: totally by accident, we had a front row (sometimes interactive) experience as all sorts of zombies lurched, crawled, limped, screamed, ran and wheeled themselves past. I’m not sure how many hundreds, possibly thousands of zombs were there, but they thronged past for nearly an hour. It was amazing, there was every type of zomb imaginable. I think Annemarie, Pam and Kae would’ve really enjoyed something like this, I can totally seen them doing it. I’ll try to throw together a video of it as soon as I learn to use the new iMovie app on my new computer… [insert zombie walk vid here]

After that I made my way to Townsville via the “Sunlander” train. It was a 24 hr train ride, and I’ve been wanting to take it since reading that it was rated as “one of the top 25 most scenic train rides in the world” by ‘Train Riders International. With an endorsement like that I had to check it out, $200 ticket be dammed! Video of that coming soon too, I’ll post it here, so check back in a week or so. Was it all that? Well, I’ll let you decide once you see the vid, but let’s just say that it was likely towards the 20-25 range of that ranking list lol…

[insert sunlander vid here]


In Townsville I met up with my co-worker and fellow geo Tatjana who lives there. We had planned a camping/road trip to check out the northern QLD coast, which neither of us had really seen much of to date since arriving in the country. We rocked out in her sweet green 1976 VW ‘Kombi’ van (better known to folks perhaps as ‘Toaster Vans’) named Gecko.


putting the 'holiday' into 'working holiday'

The further north you go from Townsville-the nicer it gets! The coast was simply stunning: sun, palm trees, perfect warm but still mild weather, green hills and cane fields, and lots of stops to cool off in the awesome swimming holes found throughout the forested national parks which line the coastal hills (they call them “mountains”, but come on-no British Columbian would call those little bumps a mountain range haha). We drove north from Townsville to Mission Beach area, up past Cairns, along the Captain Cooke Highway (one of the funnest drives and most beautiful stretches of highway I’ve ever been on. It’s a winding road hugging the coastline along the tropical rainforest about an hour north of Cairns) and up past Port Douglas and the Daintree Nat’l Park and back. Wonga Beach (in fact ALL the beaches), Paronella Park (a crazy decaying castle and grounds built beside a waterfall, the dream of a Spaniard in the 1930s) and Mossman Gorge  (gateway to the Daintree rainforest) were some of the highlights, but it was really super nice everywhere; I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Palm Trees.

The Boulders-one of many nice camping/swimming spots not far inland from the coast.

Anyways, check out the pictures on flickr! (CLICK HERE). There were lots of warning signs for crocs and I was keenly on the lookout for one, but sadly not this time- saw a cassowary however! (oh and a pretty dried lookin stingray hehe).

Anyways, that’s the latest adventure. I hope you are all well. Drop me a line or comment on my post, it’s always really nice to hear back even if I’m quite notoriously slow at correspondence. Now it’s back to work for a few weeks before the next adventure, which I’ve been planning for a few months now with my buddies Phil and Marty. I’m really really really (did I say really?) excited for it: we’re calling it Project Island Mist and man oh man, it is the kind of thing that I live for. Much more on that to come in a future post tho!

As always, take care, have fun, keep your stick on the ice and can’t wait to catch up when it happens.



[insert camping trip vid here]