In the last seven weeks, I’ve traveled 13,000 kilometers around Australia. Somewhere around the 9,000 km mark, I learned that I am a whizbanger.
At a national park in Western Australia, a park volunteer made a mad dash toward our van as soon as we arrived at the overnight camping area she looks after.
“Where’s your money,” she demanded straight away, clipboard in hand.
Nicole reaches for her purse and Adam inquires about the price to make sure we read the signs correctly.
“And where’s your pass? Did you pay the national park entrance fee as well?!” This woman takes her volunteer duty of collecting money seriously.
As we fork over the cash, the woman softens slightly, realizing we’re not here to take advantage of the system. We’d prefer not to pay to camp, of course, but there’s little you can do to avoid it in the national parks.
“When I saw you guys come in, I thought ‘oh boy, it’s another whizbanger’. Do you know what that is?”
We shake our heads no.
“Think about your van,” she begins. “See that sliding door…when you close it, it goes ‘whiz-BANG’.” We understand. (though according to Urbandictionary, she’s not the first to coin the term)
We’re three of countless 20-30 somethings she has met, traveling in an old 7-person passenger van, which has been converted into a campervan.
The volunteer explains that plenty of young travelers rock up to a paid camp site late at night and leave before the sun rises — all to avoid paying a few dollars. By driving a van with a whiz-bang door, she (incorrectly) assumed that we were out to cheat the system as well. Adam, Nicole, and I are doing this road trip on the cheap for sure (e.g., we camp at free sites when possible, which happens more often than not), but we don’t scam the system.
In addition to raising a suspicious eyebrow or two from the older crowd, we’ve encountered plenty of unavoidable situations that arise from living the life of a whizbanger. I feel like such the seasoned camper now, truly.
Locusts and crickets and mice, OH MY
We didn’t realize plagues of locusts and crickets were traveling around southern Australia until they found us. But oooooh, did they find us.
On our last day in Victoria, a swarm of bugs flew through the air and met us head on — thankfully we were safe and sound in Paul Heinz at the time. They pelted the windshield for what seemed like forever, and several met their death in our wiper blades. Lucky me was riding shot gun and found myself unable to tear my eyes away from the carnage.
Start viewing just after the 1-minute mark
Then there were the crickets. They were on sidewalks outside of restaurants. In toilet and shower blocks, hopping around, blocking our way to the stalls when we needed to go most. One night, Nicole and I gave up trying to find a cricket-free toilet experience, and we found an insect-free zone outside to take care of business.
The locusts and crickets were NOTHING compared to the two nights we were invaded by mice. Apparently we shouldn’t have been so shocked, as we later learned that some folks have dealt with mice taking over their bush towns for months. MONTHS. I barely survived those two nights…hearing their squeaks every few moments, listening as they pitter-pattered just a few feet from our heads, and hearing the sounds of bags and boxes being ripped to shreds as they had a field day with our food. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep once the feeding frenzies began.
Heather the Mozzie Ninja
Adam and Nicole have been calling me the “Mozzie Ninja” for a month or so now for good reason. On the evening 30+ mozzies invaded Paul Heinz as we all climbed in to watch TV, I took out most of the lot. With no fly swatter or insect spray, I set to work clapping my hands, killing as many of the pests as possible. It was kill or be bitten — even at that, all three of us suffered 15-20 bites that evening.
Adam praised me once I got “my eye in” — a cricket term (the sport, not the insect) to mean I was warmed up and had hit my stride. I became so skilled at killing mozzies that one morning I took one out with ONE FINGER while simultaneously eating breakfast. True story.
Problems with Paul Heinz
If you’ve been following our road trip adventures, you’re well aware of some of our early problems with Paul Heinz.
Then there was the evening we returned from a walk in Otway National Park to find we had a flat tire. When we realized we were missing an important tool and had no phone reception to call for help, we found ourselves with no choice but to make camp for the night.
In the weeks to come, we’d also drain the battery twice — thankfully we had folks come to our rescue and jumpstart Paul Heinz within moments.
Border inspectors and police checkpoints
Australia takes its fresh fruit and veg quarantines at the national border seriously — and at some of its states borders as well. To avoid transporting fruit flies across state borders, you often encounter bins to deposit uneaten food. As we crossed South Australia to enter Western Australia, I found myself in the enviable position of the driver’s seat.
Quarantine inspectors tend to ask you a few questions and send you on your way. Perhaps because I’m a whizbanger, the inspector asked me to exit the vehicle and show him the inside of our esky and all of our food storage boxes. No problem. A few minutes down the road, I saw two men in uniform in the middle of the road motioning for me to stop. I pulled over behind the police car, expecting a secondary fruit and veg inspection.
Two young cops stepped up to the driver’s side window. “Have you had anything to drink today?”
I should have known. “No.”
“Okay, if you don’t mind blowing in this breathalyzer for us then…”
No big deal right? I had nothing to worry about, but it was my first breathalyzer ever and it felt pretty bizarre to be pulled over!
Thankfully we’ve also avoided run-ins with local councils. We only camp for free in designated overnight free spots — or from time to time in locations that *lack* a “no camping” sign. But just because a spot doesn’t prohibit camping doesn’t mean that the locals may not take too kindly to us setting up shop for the night. One morning an older gentleman rode by on his bike and warned us that the local council was on its way toward our parking lot. We finished packing up in seconds and jumped in the van just as two men arrived in their council truck. Who knows if they would have fined us — after all, there were no rules against camping! — but we’re glad we didn’t have to find out.
Par for the course when you’re camping
After 13,000 km on the road, I’ve become accustomed to:
— going several days without a shower if it means camping for free.
— brushing my teeth at McDonalds or outside in the dark.
— peeing outside in the middle of the night when 1) there is no toilet at our camp site or 2) the toilet is too far away to walk in the dark.
— peeing outside in broad daylight when I have a bush to hide behind and it’s MILES to the next town.
— carrying a roll of toilet paper with me everywhere.
— looking for kangaroos on the side of the road as dusk approaches (yes, we’ve had one dart across the road directly in front of us).
— adapting the literary concept of “willing suspension of disbelief” to convince myself that the dishes are actually cleaner than they probably are…we wash them, but usually with cold water from the back of the van.
Looking back on the road trip…and my year in Australia
After 13,000 km and perhaps 2,000 more to go before this journey’s end, I’m thankful I’ve spent the past seven weeks as a whizbanger. I’ve become more comfortable camping. I’m looking forward to taking on a massive US road trip one day. I’ve realized that I want my future international adventures to include a mix of settling in one spot for several months with longer road trips to see the country on my own time frame and under my terms.
After seven weeks on the road and another week or two until I return to Sydney, I realize how precious every day is in Australia. In just six weeks from now, my visa will expire and I’ll have no choice but to leave the country for destination unknown. Family and friends at home have been asking if I’ll return at the end of May, but I feel I may have a bit of travel still in me before my feet touch American soil.
Being so close to the end of this 1-year journey has brought on a flood of emotions. Nearly every night as I get ready for bed, a few tears find their way to the pillow as my mind transitions from socializing with Nicole and Adam to a time of quiet reflection. For years I dreamed of traveling in Australia long term, and one year ago I resigned from my job and made the dream a reality. My current reality is that this experience is rapidly coming to a close, and I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.
Thankfully the last year has given me new dreams to chase. Though I’m not ready to leave Oz, I’m eager to explore whatever may come next.