Driving Around Australia on a Budget With a $500 Car

Between May and August of 2019, I was looking for ways to fill the final few valuable months of my Australian Working Holiday Visa. I'd arrived in Perth the previous year just as spring was approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, and I'd spent pretty much all this prior time working from the city on a fly-in-fly-out basis. I did get the chance to fit in some local roadtrips covering the most popular areas of the south-west, including the loop through Margaret River, Denmark, Esperance and Kalgoorlie, and other areas as far north as Kalbarri, but in reality I had barely ventured out of Perth's solitary sphere of influence.

I did have a car, which I'd bought by pure chance from a 'friend of a friend of a friend' just a couple of days after landing the previous year. Many backpackers look for vehicles which are suited to Australia's rugged and varied outdoor expanses, or perhaps more spacious vans which can cover the basics of home comfort on long-duration trips. Mine managed to give both of these sensible categories a very wide berth. For a grand total of $500, I was the happy but rather apprehensive new owner of a 2001 Daihatsu Cuore; a 1-litre, 3-cylinder 'kei car' designed originally to cater to the Japanese market for low-power, high-efficiency, compact city vehicles.




So ... yeah. Hardly the sort of thing you'd see on the cover of an outback travel brochure or a 'wish you were here' postcard, is it?

I'd given a lot of prior thought to whether I even wanted to go car-shopping when I arrived in Australia. I knew where I'd be landing, but not much more beyond that. Would I be staying in Perth for a week, or a month? I wanted to be as flexible as I could when searching for work, and it was totally possible that something could come up on the far busier east coast and I'd have to hop on a plane and get over there at short notice. I'd also read up on domestic travel, and it seemed pretty pointless to buy something like a 4x4 or camper straight away. There's a constant stream of other travellers who already own them, and it's common to buddy up with guests and cost-share while plying the main routes all over the country.

How, then, did I end up with my Cuore? Well first off, it seemed unlikely I'd find anything else as cheap. Even if I had to basically give it away for free just a few weeks later, it wouldn't be any great loss. Second, I'd already decided that I'd chosen the right place to land when I settled into life in Perth. The warm spring weather was getting better every day, the people I'd met and stayed with so far were super welcoming, and the city felt like a perfect balance between civilisation and the wild allure of nature. I'd come to Australia to seek out what was different compared to home life in England, and it felt like the vast immensity of the country's interior was already within reach here. I was in no hurry to leave. Finally, it looked as if the Cuore's days would be numbered if a new owner didn't appear soon. The market for ragged-looking miniature city cars wasn't promising, and my 'friend of a friend of a friend' had to leave WA and head home for Ireland in about a week's time. If I didn't take up the opportunity, it may well have been the end of the road.




The deal was done. So what did I get for my money? Despite outward appearances, the car was in good condition and the engine seemed healthy. The clock hadn't even hit 70,000km yet! There weren't any logs to confirm if this was genuine or not, but I had no reason to think it wasn't. The car had apparently only had one owner for most of its life, and the limited picture I could piece together from old papers backed this up. They also suggested a large gap of three or four years when it was probably sat with very little use at all. Judging by the paintwork, this 'rest period' was spent outside enjoying the intense WA sun!

Clues can be found in the number plate too. 'KBC' is a regional code for vehicles registered in Kalgoorlie-Boulder; a large mining area 700km east of Perth which would probably be empty of any vehicles, roads and people at all if prospectors hadn't stumbled across gold nuggets lying on the desert floor there over a hundred years ago. It's not the sort of place you'd think of as a kei car's natural territory, but somehow this one ended up spending its younger years there. I doubt it was bought to do the weekend run between Kalgoorile and Perth; more likely it slowly clocked up its meagre mileage running around town and not much further. In a twist of fate, Kalgoorlie is also where I ended up spending most of my later time in Australia due to work projects.




The interior of the Cuore was in a decent state, but it really needed a clean. The main problem was a thick layer of desert dust which must have built up slowly enough that no one really noticed it was there at all. Or maybe it was driven down the Kalgoorlie super pit on a windy day and never cleaned? Who knows. In the hours I spent vacuuming out every crevice of the interior, I did find almost $5 in change though - so the car actually cost me $495!

There was just one obvious mechanical problem; the exhaust. More specifically, the big gap in it where the pipe was torn in two. I'm not sure if it was rust or if it had been caught on a particularly obtuse gold nugget at some point, but there was no mistaking the broken exhaust when the engine was running. The sound was part tractor, part motorbike, and, I guess, part Japanese city car. Plus, if you revved past 2000rpm and eased off the power, there was a 50/50 chance you'd be rewarded by a spectacular backfire when you put your foot back down. It needed fixing, so, naturally, I did nothing about it for the first three months.




After buying the car in Perth, my first journey was a 160km trip to Williams - a tiny rural town in the expansive farmland of the Wheatbelt where I'd picked up some temporary work in a roadhouse. This two-hour trip was 'just down the road' by Australian standards, but it was the first highway journey I did in the car, and I was pretty nervous. I'd driven the Cuore so little that it seemed totally possible I'd get 50km out of Perth only to have the engine fall out and the wheels come off. As it was though, the car performed fine with its engine temperature sitting right in the middle. There were no worrying noises coming from up front, and no warning lights flashed on at me. This was also my first night drive in Australia. I was warned by locals and tourists alike that Kangaroos love to run directly towards headlights when they spot them on remote highways after sundown. I hadn't yet seen a kangaroo for real, and luckily I managed to avoid my first encounter ending with one coming through the windscreen at motorway speed.




During my time out in the countryside, I drove another 2000km - mostly just to kill time. There wasn't much to do during my breaks, so whenever I had a half-day free I'd pick a road and explore along it until I found something worth seeing (or I got fed up). The main highway wasn't too exciting, but there were plenty of very quiet rural roads which were awesome to explore, especially with the golden light and long shadows crossing the empty lanes at sunset. Kangaroos were pretty common in the fields, and there were some decent forests and parks which offered good hiking.




In November 2018, I got a new job offer which saw me come back to Perth to be based out of there full-time. I'd be working for a geophysical survey company, helping to gather data at a mining site near Kalgoorlie. The work schedule meant I'd fly out there for four weeks at a time, before returning home for a two week break. I had no real free time during the work stints, but the holiday periods were perfect for fitting in my first true road trips. By this point I was happy that my Cuore could stand on its own two feet, so I started taking it further and further.

My first multi-day trip lasted about five days, and saw me following the coast down from Perth as far south as Margaret River. I took my time, never driving more than about 100km each day. There was plenty to stop and see too, and I was happy spending multiple nights in quiet places like Bunbury and slowly exploring the vineyards and lovely beaches further south. It was especially beautiful to watch the sun sink below the Indian Ocean each evening. The car was fine for the whole trip, and while it's hardly a long-distance tourer, it seemed happy to spend an hour or two cruising from place to place each day.




Come 2019, I felt ready to get my first taste of the outback. The heat of summer was peaking in early January, which is also when I packed up the car with a few days of supplies, some cheap camping gear (just for emergencies) and a couple of other travellers to keep me company. Rather than repeating the western roads I'd already covered, we headed straight down to Albany with the intention of seeing as much of the south coast as we could fit in. There was plenty of variation, from thick forests to rugged cliffs which bordered often-deserted coves and beaches. The quiet town of Denmark had hundreds of kilometres of country road to explore, and it seemed like we were stopping every 15 minutes to try a new beach or overlook yet another glorious vista.




After a few days picking from place to place, we were faced with a choice. Do we circle back to Perth and complete our loop of the south-west, or do we keep driving east? The first option meant we'd still only need to travel perhaps 100km per day to hop from town to town, and there'd be plenty of choice for places to stay. Even if we had to stop at a campsite for a night, it would never be far to the next shop, garage or hotel. This was the sensible option. It's also the one we didn't choose.




It was early morning on another beautiful summer day when we filled the car with enough food to cover all eventualities, along with a full tank of fuel and a bulk buy of bottled water. Our destination was Esperance; a popular but isolated hotspot, which is unique for being one of the few places in the country where you can share the pristine white beaches with tame kangaroos.

It took a full day to cover the 600km to Esperance. There was plenty of fresh scenery enroute, with the highlight being the cloud-topped and craggy peaks of the Stirling Ranges. We took it in turns to drive, with occasional stops whenever we came across a town with anything like a petrol station or general store. The roads were largely empty, but the car was full; both with supplies and with the worldly possessions of three people who'd come together by chance, and were now sharing equally in this trip of unknowns. By the time we arrived at our destination, it was just starting to get dark and we were keen to stretch our legs after the confined interior of the Cuore. I was pleasantly surprised as the car had been totally consistent all day, even though we'd subjected it to hour after hour of highway-speed cruising in summer temperatures.




From Esperance, there were two routes back to Perth, both of similar distance. We could either go back the way we came, or continue north towards WA's interior and pass through Kalgoorlie. Whenever I went there for work, it only took an hour to cover the hundreds of kilometres of half-desert between the coast and the gold-mining region by air, so I was keen to experience the trip from ground level too. It took a day to reach Kalgoorlie from Esperance, and all the way the temperatures climbed until it was over 40 degrees outside. The Cuore did have working air conditioning, but I wasn't keen to rely on it since I wanted to put as little stress on the engine as possible while we covered the endless highway miles. Instead, it became routine to crank both windows right down to make the most of the warm but very dry outside air. Despite hitting an isolated thunderstorm about 100km out, we made it to Kalgoorlie with no dramas. The next few days of driving were similarly fine too, with the Cuore taking us back to Perth including a pretty huge detour to see Wave Rock - 'only' a 350km round trip from the main highway.




Following the success of the January roadtrip, I felt like I'd seen everything I wanted to in this fairly small corner of Western Australia. I kept working in Kalgoorlie until May, and kept taking local trips with the car to make the most of the still-lovely weather in my time off. Eventually though, my main work project came to an end. I then had the option to either wait for future work with the company, possibly at different sites, or to finally wave goodbye to Perth and set off to see the rest of the country. It wasn't an easy choice since I enjoyed my job - it had been a fantastic way to fund all my travels so far - but, in the end, I took the chance and hit the road.




I briefly thought about saying goodbye to the Cuore and using some of my savings to get something a more suited to long distance driving. I considered buying a camper van, or maybe putting a few thousand dollars into a 4WD off-roader, but I wasn't totally enthusiastic about the idea of either. I knew very little about what to look for when buying, and I didn't want to cheap out and end up with something that would take me a few days out before breaking down by the side of the road. The more I thought about it, the more I was swayed to just stick with my battle-proven Daihatsu. The fuel economy was great, with reserved driving on the highway yielding more than 600km per tank of unleaded. This would be plenty to get me from one petrol station to another in all but the most remote parts of the country. The engine had also proven to be capable of making extended trips in hot conditions without hinting at an overheat. It was also a fundamentally simple car, with very little in the way of superfluous tech which might be a weak link in the chain.

I had no particular destination in mind, and I now had a few months left until my first-year visa would expire. I'd applied for a year-long extension, but there was no guarantee I'd get it. This might be my last chance to create a true 'into the unknown' Aussie roadtrip experience, and there was nothing stopping me from just setting off with my car and going as far as we were both willing. In mid-May, that's exactly what I did.




It didn't feel right to leave without giving the car a fighting chance, so I finally got a new section of exhaust fitted to join the existing pipes together again. Driving home after that fix made the car feel brand new, and it was totally unnatural to put my foot down without hearing the throaty reply from deep within the engine! I also sent it in for a full service, including new fluids, filters and plugs. I considered getting the belts changed, but decided to take my chances by promising I'd go easy on the engine at all times. The alternator hadn't given me any trouble so far, the power steering and other belt-driven pumps worked fine, and the timing belt didn't look as if it was about to wear through, so I guessed they all had at least another 10,000km in them. I then did the usual roadtrip routine of filling the back seats with food and water, after which I threw my camping gear in the boot and started driving north. This was going to be the most ambitious bit of travelling both myself and the car had ever done, and it was totally possible this would be the last time either of us ever saw Perth.

Day by day, we ate up the highway a few hundred kilometres at a time. With winter approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, the days weren't nearly as hot as I'd experienced in the interior, and the driving was easy going. I never cruised faster than 100km/h which meant that pretty much everything else was overtaking, but the roads were only getting quieter as we pulled further and further from the big city. There were plenty of little rest areas by the side of the road too, which were great for, well, resting - but also let me escape whenever I saw a road train slowly gaining on me from behind. Yes, I was even being overtaken by hundred-tonne thirty wheeler trucks!




It took a few days to reach my first real destination at Shark Bay. This is a very remote but still popular stop with beautiful beaches and a great variety of coastlines, all of which sit on a big peninsula a few hundred kilometres off the main road. It felt great to pull in here knowing that I had some time to restock and enjoy the quiet life for a couple of days. I stayed at the main resort of Monkey Mia, which features a beautiful and very extensive curving beach where resident dolphins are almost guaranteed to make an appearance every day. They show up for organised feeding sessions in the morning, and I spotted them time and time again in the shallow water later on, where they'd play with each other and often came to check out any visitors who joined them in the sea. Much like the kangaroos of Lucky Bay near Esperance, Monkey Mia's dolphins are unique to the area and draw people from thousands of miles around.

Back on the road again, the Cuore and I kept crawling around WA's intricate and largely abandoned coast with our next destination being Exmouth; a tiny tourist town situated just off the pristine Ningaloo Reef. Aside from the lovely winter weather, the unspoiled coastline, and the slow pace of life in this secluded area, Exmouth attracts visitors from all over Australia because the reef plays host to whale sharks - otherwise known as the world's biggest fish. There are multiple tour companies based here who'll take you out onto the reef for a day trip, also allowing you the chance to swim right next to these wondrous giants in the wild. I was lucky enough to get a position working as a volunteer on one of these boats for the last week of May, so I was keen to get there quick and without any unforeseen delays!




The drive to Exmouth took a few more days, passing through Carnarvon before splitting off from the highway again for a final 200km push to the town. As you cross onto the peninsula, you actually pass north of the Tropic of Capricorn which is marked by an unceremonious street sign at the side of the road. This felt like quite a significant moment for my trip, as there's nothing like crossing a global geographical boundary to make you appreciate both the scale of the journey you're undertaking, and the vastness of the world as a whole.




I also got my first taste of wild camping on this section of the trip. Closer to Perth, there are always hostels or similar cheap guesthouses wherever you're likely to stop. Out here though, any towns with accommodation are few and far between. Even if you can find a decent place to stay, it'll be priced to match the captive market. Knowing this before I set off, I reckoned I'd be spending a night here and there sleeping in my low-budget supermarket tent. There are plenty of campsites scattered along most roads all across Australia, and many are even accessible to something like my tiny city car. I did have to traverse a few corrugated gravel roads at walking pace to get to the best spots, and facilities were basic to non-existent in some places, but with a bit of planning and a simple sense of adventure I enjoyed nights under the stars for next to nothing. After seeing how easy it could be to camp on the cheap in WA, I kept seeking out similar sleeping spots for the entirety of the trip and had much success.




My week in Exmouth was a totally unique experience, especially for someone born and raised in rural England. The UK does have its own distinctive charms for sure, but the lifestyle on the Ningaloo Reef was a fantastic window into how things can be done Down Under. I had the chance to swim with the whale sharks more than once while I was on the boat, and, when we came back to the shore, we went straight to one of the open-air pubs scattered throughout town to watch the sunset and reflect on what we'd seen. I really was reluctant to leave.




Once I was done on the whale shark boat, I spent a couple more days exploring other parts of the peninsula including Cape Range National Park and Coral Bay. I also got plenty more outback camping experience once I rejoined the road heading north. At this point, I was truly separated from my Perth-centric life, with each day taking me hundreds more kilometres away from proper civilisation. Any towns I passed through were home to no more than a few hundred people, and there were barely any accommodation choices beyond my simple tent.




The next place I was planning to stop for any length of time was Broome - a popular beach resort town nearly 1500km further on from Exmouth. On the way there, I met up again with some friends from Ningaloo to take a diversion and see Karijini National Park. Located a few hundred kilometres inland, Karijini offers a vast and varied outback landscape which takes days to fully explore. If you're willing to make the trip, you'll be rewarded with miles of hiking through gorges, along (and sometimes through) rivers, and you can even climb WA's second tallest mountain for perfect panoramic views of the Pilbara desert. It's highly recommended, but this is one part of the trip where I left my car behind. I met up with my travelmates in Karratha - a mining town on the main road - where we borrowed something a bit heftier to handle the dirt roads in the park itself. Our time window to see Karijini together was limited, so we just wanted to get there as quick as we could and make the most of the park.




After picking up the Cuore again in Karratha, I covered the distance to Broome pretty quick, doing on average about 500km per day with the windows down and the music turned up. There wasn't much in between - I just drove while it was light, stopped somewhere for a one hour cooldown in the middle of the day, then kept going until I reached my campsite for the night. I stopped at public rest spots where I could. The good ones were set back from the main road, often came with a basic toilet (though paper was a luxury I had to provide myself) and I could normally find a cosy corner where I'd fit my tent up against the car. Plus, since these public spots are free to use, there was plenty of activity from other travellers. It was always fun to see more campers doing it on the cheap like me, although throughout the whole trip I never came across anyone with a setup quite as obscure as mine!




Broome felt like a beautiful oasis on the northern coast, especially after weeks of following the monotonous highway through the often featureless landscape. Since I was now properly up into the tropics, the weather was perfect every day despite the middle of winter now approaching fast. The town is an ideal stop for anyone making their way around this part of Australia, and many people coming from Perth choose to end their roadtrips here, since, by this point, you've travelled most of the way around Western Australia! If you keep going, you're probably on your way to Darwin which is another 2000km distant. For me, Broome was always a branching point where I'd stop and assess what I really wanted to do next. If I kept driving, I'd either have to part with my car in Darwin and fly over to continue travelling on east coast, or else commit to driving it the full way round. Continuing from Darwin would mean tackling the massive 3000km Stuart Highway which cuts right through the bare, arid centre of the country.

The car had still given me no reason to think it couldn't keep going, and, even though the routine of following the road for days at a time at a meagre 100km/h wasn't at all luxurious or stimulating, I still wasn't ready to take the easy way out. Plus, if I did make it all the way through Australia's Red Centre, I'd be rewarded with something I've wanted to see with my own eyes since I first knew it existed; Uluru. If you don't drive to the middle of the desert to see this wonder of nature, the only other way in is to take an expensive commercial flight directly from one of the major coastal cities. I wasn't sure if I'd really have the time or motivation to do that once I was safely ensconced in civilisation again, so I decided I'd keep driving, and reassess once more after spending some time in Darwin. While it might seem like a huge decision to turn my WA-localised roadtrip into an extended tour of the entire country, at the time it simply felt like the path of least resistance. So, after enough rest and relaxation among the tranquillity of Broome, I returned to life on the road - this time heading towards the 'point of no return'.




There are two possible routes to Darwin, but it wasn't hard for me to choose. The first is the arduous Gibb River Road, which is less of a road and more a 700km dirt track complete with potholes, hill climbs, river crossings and car-breaking obstacles of all descriptions. Some fully-equipped 4x4s struggle to make it through in one piece, so it was totally off the table for my Daihatsu. The other longer route would just be more of the same; open two-lane highway with the occasional petrol station, lazy outback town and roadside rest stop. It took me another week to cover, but I did enjoy a few rest days at Kununurra, right on the WA border, and Katherine, which marks a junction where a left turn takes you to Darwin and a right turn means the start of the lengthy trip into the centre.

After I left Kununurra, I was treated to a significant moment, not just for this roadtrip, but for my entire stay in Australia so far. Since landing over 9 months before, I'd only spent time in one single state. I'd stayed so long in WA mainly because I'd never been given a reason to leave; the travelling was great, the people were friendly, and I enjoyed my work-life routine a lot. Despite this, my reason for embarking on this roadtrip was to expand my horizons and make the absolute most of my year here. With this in mind, it really did feel like a turning point when I pulled up at the side of the road to take a quick shot of the moment I passed into my first new state; the Northern Territory.




When I finally rolled into Darwin, it really did feel like a new part of the world compared to the sprawling WA desert I'd been driving through for weeks. The air was more humid and tropical, and the city was surrounded by scenery that bordered on rainforest. The Northern Territory is famous for its remote frontier feel, with the entire state only being home to about a quarter of a million people. It's a place of crocodiles, wild camels, vast cattle ranches and weather which ranges from scorching sunshine to cyclones during the most intense summer months. I stopped in its small capital city for almost two weeks, and enjoyed driving through the lush rural scenery as much as I did relaxing in town.

The highlight was when I rented a small plane and flew out over the nearby Kakadu National Park, which took over an hour to reach even by air. This world-renowned park contains cliffs, canyons and waterfalls which cover a huge area, and would require a multi-day camping trip to truly appreciate from the ground. Enjoying it from the sky was one of those moments that made the effort of getting this far totally worthwhile, and it was one of the few times I was able to use my pilot's licence during my year in Australia.




It was also during my time in Darwin that I got some bad news. Before setting off, I'd applied to extend my visa for another year with the hope of picking up more work, perhaps this time based on the east coast. Following weeks of processing, the answer finally arrived - and it was a blunt 'no'. The main requirement for the extension was that a certain amount of specified work should be carried out in a regional (rural) area during year one. Most backpackers fulfil this by working on a farm for a few months. Another qualifying industry is mining, and, since I'd already spent nearly six months working on and off near Kalgoorlie doing survey work, I thought my extension would be a sure thing. Apparently though, doing contract work for a mining company on a mining site doesn't count as mining industry experience! Because of this, I was left high and dry - there wasn't enough time left to find different work which could secure me my second year.

On the one hand this was pretty awful news, as it put an instant stop to any hopes of turning my visit into a more permanent life in Australia - at least for now. Looking on the bright side, I could at least say I'd made the right decision to start my massive road trip when I did. It also cleared any doubt in my mind that I should keep up the momentum, and try to get all the way round to the east coast while fitting in as much stuff as I could along the way.

So, on I drove. After heading out of Darwin, I spent a night at the junction town of Katherine, where the road I was so accustomed to from the last few weeks connected with the Stuart Highway. This was the road that would take me south, into the barren unknown. The next major town was Adelaide, two entire states away on the south coast. In between, the only real stop would be Alice Springs which sits right in the heart of the country. This oasis in the desert was nearly 1500km away, and there was very little to break up the journey enroute.




The first place I stopped to camp was an awesome little 'town' called Daly Waters which features a pub, a petrol station and not much else. In fact, it looked like more space was set aside for campsites catering to the many visitors than was actually used by the town itself. My evening there was a lovely glimpse into how things were done in the rural NT, and the high spirits of all the other travellers gathered at the pub for the night's entertainment helped to calm my apprehension of tackling the Stuart Highway alone.




I kept eating up the miles, and quickly fell back into my WA routine of drive - eat - drive - sleep. Like WA, the highway through the Northern Territory featured regular rest stops where you could park up and camp for free. There were always other people making use of them too. Even though I was in the car for the entire day with nothing but my Spotify playlist and collection of 5 CDs to keep me sane, I never had to be totally isolated at night. I kept up the tent life as long as I could, but as the days passed, it got less and less fun. It was now mid-July, which back home would mean warm days, short nights and plenty of back-garden barbecues. Here though, we were still slogging through winter. This hadn't been a problem so far since I'd been driving North into the tropics almost the entire time. Winter is by far the best season to enjoy places like Exmouth, Broome and Darwin. Now though, I was heading due south at a rate of hundreds of kilometres every day, which meant that each night was colder and windier than the last. I endured it in my $20 tent for as long as I could, until, after a night of almost constant blustering and very little sleep, I decided I was getting to Alice Springs that day no matter what.




I got back on the road at first light, and ate my breakfast and lunch while driving. There was one fuel stop during the day, and I spent half an hour relaxing there - both for myself, and to let the car take a well deserved breather. Then, back behind the wheel. The trip counter passed 200km, then 400. A few hours later, we hit 600. As late afternoon was passing, I finally rolled into Alice Springs after nearly 700km of near-straight driving. It was such a breath of fresh air when I stopped and stretched my legs next to the city's entrance sign, which told me I'd successfully made it all the way to Australia's Red Centre. I then booked myself into a hostel for three days, where I could recharge while enjoying what the frontier town of Alice Springs had to offer. My unbelievable little Cuore could at last grab a window of downtime too, after making a trailblazing trip that perhaps no other had before it.




Alice Springs was a lovely place to stop, and there was also some natural beauty to be seen in the country surrounding it. Less than an hour of driving took me to some beautiful and fairly deserted canyon hikes, and I even came across a local population of rock wallabies who lived among the stony outcrops of these sheltered gorges. There were more simple pleasures to be had as well, like getting food from a local eatery rather than the plastic shopping bag in my back seat, and sleeping on an actual mattress instead of an air bed that I had to deflate and re-pack every morning. Life was good again, and, since the night-time weather would only get colder as I closed in on the south coast, it was here that I decided to pack up the tent for good.




Once I'd done Alice Springs, there was one particular sight I was looking forward to more than anything else on the trip so far. For the first time, Uluru felt like it was actually in reach. You might think it's just a short hop to get to the world-famous rock monolith from Alice, but looking at a map without considering the scale can be quite deceiving. In fact, it's pretty much another day's drive before you'll arrive at this wonder of the world. Following the highway 200km south from town, you'll come across a second road which abruptly branches off to the west and takes you along another 250km stretch of desert drive. On the way, you'll first see Mount Conner; a flat table-top mesa which sticks out very distinctively against the vast desert surrounding it. The first sight of Uluru itself, perhaps an hour's drive later, is just unforgettable. You recognise the shape as soon as you first glimpse it, and this makes total sense since you've probably seen photos of it from every angle online, in brochures and on postcards. As you pull closer and closer, the details start to pop out. The rusty red surface is marked with channels and ridges which can look like folds of fabric from a distance, and the lines where its steep walls plunge straight into the desert floor give the whole thing the feel of an elaborate artificial monument.




I was fortunate to arrive at Uluru on a perfect evening, with no clouds in the sky and excellent lighting for a great first impression. I checked into the resort where I was staying, and then took the car straight into the park to join the hundreds of other visitors gathering near the western face for sunset. I got there about an hour before the light ended, and all I had to do to was sit and watch as the colours got more and more vibrant by the minute. The rusty orange-red texture of the rock stood out beautifully against the darkening sky, and in the last few minutes of daylight, its sheer face towered over the lengthening shadows on the ground to create a beautifully striking scene. Once the sun disappeared, orange turned to a deep pinkish-purple and the rock quickly became a dark silhouette. As the first stars began to pop out, I slowly drove back to the resort feeling so grateful that I'd finally seen this world famous phenomenon for myself. Looking back on the thousands of kilometres I'd done together with my ever reliable car to get here, it actually felt more like I was discovering it all for the first time.




Once you've solved the logistics of getting yourself all the way to Uluru, it's easy to spend day after day enjoying the sights. The main resorts are located a couple of kilometres outside the park where the rock sits, and these days there are plenty of facilities for buying food and fuelling up, as well as companies offering different ways to experience the main attraction - whether you have your own car or not. If you did drive in, you can enjoy the whole thing at your own pace which really was a plus for me. There's a little network of roads surrounding the entire base of Uluru, and there are loads of paths to stop at and hike. In fact there are trails and viewpoints the entire way round, so you could set off early in the morning and walk the whole thing! I saw the rock from every angle, both near and far, and I still found myself keen to go back and see it all again the next morning. I also had the chance to do the challenging climb up the side, which offered nothing more than an anchored chain to cling to as you pulled yourself up one of the shallower edges. It's easy to spend another whole day at Kata-Tjuta too. This is a separate, more rounded rock formation sitting 60km away from the main monolith, and it offers a few more fresh walks to tackle - some of which take you right between its vast stone towers.




I was hesitant to say goodbye to such an extraordinary place, but at this point I had just over a month left before I had to fly home. I kept getting the urge to stop and take one last photo as the rock slowly disappeared in my mirrors, and once it was gone for good, I shifted my focus to the next section of highway I'd have to cover. It was another 1500km down to Adelaide, and this time I planned to stay in a proper bed every single night. Since learning I'd have to leave Australia at the end of August, I wanted to get over east as soon as I could since there was still a lot to fit in. I aimed to spend only 3-4 days covering the rest of the Stuart Highway, and after all we'd done so far, I felt confident that both myself and the car could make it.

We pushed on along the long road exactly as planned, making the most of the sparse accommodation choices along the way. There were a few little gems to be had, such as Coober Pedy where I stayed in an underground hotel which was totally empty at the time, and Woomera, which hosts a load of historical artefacts from the British space programme of the late 1960s. It wasn't long before the familiar dry orange sand turned greener, and the weather began to feel truly temperate. Empty plains gradually became farmland, and the towns I passed through got larger and larger until the last glimpse of outback was behind me. I'd arrived in Adelaide.




The sudden swing back to the normality of city life made my trip through the desert seem all the more unbelievable. It was months now since I'd left Perth, and this was a great time to stop and reflect on all the fascinating places I'd passed through on my steady circuit around the continent. So far, I'd covered over 8000km with my Daihatsu on this trip alone. In a straight line, that's the equivalent of a long-distance flight from London to India; not something you'd jump in the car to do on an impulse! I guess this shows the benefits of taking it slow and just travelling for the sake of the journey. I'd had time to stop for many days or even weeks in the best places, which meant that no one chunk of the roadtrip was longer than about 1500km.




I didn't stay long in Adelaide - I treated it more as a rest stop and a gateway to the Great Ocean Road. This fairly short stretch of highway hugs a spectacular section of coast on the route to Melbourne, and it's one of the most popular tourist drives in the country. During the summer, thousands of travellers enjoy the lovely weather as they hop between the many viewpoints overlooking spectacular cliffs and rock formations bordering the Southern Ocean. The road is accessible from either side, and attracts people for weekend trips from Melbourne and Adelaide alike. I was there out of season, so it wasn't nearly as busy. Despite the patchy rain and fairly strong winter winds, the Great Ocean Road didn't disappoint. Compared to the serene and lengthy strands of tropical beach I'd seen along the northern and western coasts, the scenery here was far more imposing. The waves could be seen crashing against vertical cliffs, where solitary stacks of rock were gradually being eroded away, and the force of the water created many unique arch and cave formations. There were photogenic viewpoints every few kilometres where I could get out and explore, which was very refreshing after the long-distance monotony from weeks earlier.




Crossing the gap between Adelaide and Melbourne only took a few days, and even though I was travelling between two separate states, I never once felt like I was far from the beaten track. Even in the verdant countryside prior to the Great Ocean Road, the concentration of people was far higher than along the major routes in the outback. Driving here felt far more predictable, and the safety blanket of civilisation meant that life was just more ordinary for this final bit of the roadtrip. When I got to Melbourne, I decided again that I wouldn't hang around for long. I checked off the main sights without much trouble, and spent a bit more time just driving round the varied streets and absorbing the atmosphere. Compared to Perth, the whole place was far busier and perhaps a bit too overcrowded and frantic for my liking. There was definitely lots of fresh stuff to see over on this side of the country, but the urban centres I'd been through so far did nothing but convince me that WA had been the right starting point.

I kept going at a steady pace towards Sydney, with a two-day stop in the nation's capital at Canberra. I was now heading north again, which meant the days were getting just that little bit warmer. Canberra had a very clean feel to it, and the surrounding hills made it easy to get panoramic views of the small city. It's not often visited by people travelling the east coast, but I'm glad I took the time to divert inland and drop in. Soon after, I re-joined the coast again and pulled into Sydney. The New South Wales capital was far more inspiring at first sight than any of my other recent stopping points. Maybe this is because it features world-famous architecture like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, which, to a UK visitor, are just as recognisable as other national icons like Uluru. I actually crossed the Harbour Bridge on my way into Sydney, and it was just an awesome feeling to cruise over it in the early evening, knowing just how far I'd come with my dependable Daihatsu to finally end up on that world-famous piece of road.




Sydney was a pleasant place to be that time of year, and I stayed as long as I could. It was super helpful to have my car with me the whole time, since some must-see attractions like Bondi Beach are still a fair drive from the main centre. I also took a day trip out to the Blue Mountains, which was well worth the short countryside drive. You could explore for days in this popular and captivating park, and, much like the Ocean Road, it doesn't take long to hop from one stunning panoramic lookout to the next. By the time I was done enjoying Sydney and its surroundings, I only had around 3 weeks left in Australia. I'd arranged my flight back to England to leave from Brisbane at the very end of August, which looked like it would work out perfectly since I was now less and 1000km south. There was one problem though; I couldn't leave without spending some time up in northern Queensland to experience the Great Barrier Reef!




I ended up booking a domestic return flight from Brisbane which would let me enjoy my final two weeks in Cairns - the perfect gateway to the Reef. This turned out to be a brilliant choice. Cairns is surrounded by thousands of square kilometres of true tropical rainforest which borders the eminent Barrier Reef in a beautiful confluence of green and blue. Unwinding up here was an ideal end to my epic trip, and, while I was there, I was treated to yet another new experience which topped everything else I'd seen and done so far.

Not far from Cairns is a little town called Mareeba, which also happens to be home to an airfield and a couple of flying schools. I was keen to see the reef from above, so I got in touch with one of them to ask about hiring a plane and doing a self-guided tour - much like I'd done over Kakadu in the Northern Territory. There was plenty of availability, so I picked a day with a decent forecast and headed out to see them. After a quick check flight, I was let free in a Cessna 152 with a full tank of fuel and an afternoon to myself. I crossed over the dense rainforest and reached the turquoise ocean to the north at Port Douglas, where I turned east and slowly descended to a minimal 500ft above the water. After reaching the reef, I circled for over an hour spotting turtles, sharks and huge stingrays in the serene shallows. The colours were beautiful, the sky was calm and clear, and the whole event was one of those intoxicating things you just want to keep doing forever.




A week later, I was mulling over my final night in Australia at an airport motel back in Brisbane. In less than 24 hours, I'd be on a plane back to England with no plan for where my life would go next. My whole year Down Under had been transformational. I'd proven to myself that I could be independent and adaptable, and that I had what it takes to make the best of such a great opportunity. I also felt I'd been on the receiving end of a lot of good fortune - from the places I went to the people I met. Looking back on my final epic 11,000km journey, I was grateful that it had all just gone so ... right.

I'd passed through inhospitable deserts and sparsely populated realms which had me at their mercy for weeks. I'd stumbled into places along the way that I simply would never have seen if I was here on a shorter holiday. I'd been given a very complete impression of what the entire country had to offer, and I'd been free to indulge my sense of adventure amid dozens of fresh and exciting new experiences. When I finally took off from Brisbane to begin the massive journey back home, it felt such a shame that I was cutting short what could have been the continuation of a great success story. Still, looking at how well things came together to make my year in Australia so definitive, who's to say there isn't something even grander waiting just over the horizon...




I'll end with a thanks. First to you the reader, for sticking with me throughout this extensive (but not always exhaustive) trip report. Second, I'm still massively grateful to everyone who gave me their time and helped me out that year - starting the instant I first walked out of the airport. If you're reading, you know who you are! There wasn't always much I could do in return, but I don't think that's the point. It's very refreshing to meet people who are keen to share their everyday lives with an unseasoned visitor, and your open hospitality was critical in setting me up for a successful start. Finally, thanks to everyone who shared in my various trips and helped to shape my travel experiences - sometimes for just a few hours, and sometimes for weeks.

Now - there's probably one unanswered question you're all eager for me to lay to rest; what happened to my heroic Daihatsu Cuore? How easy is it to sell a dishevelled car like this whose only real value is sentimental? Is it even worth trying in a totally different state, on the exact opposite end of the country? The answer is - I don't know, because I never had to try!

While I was still trundling towards Brisbane before my flight up to Cairns, I got in touch with a friend from Perth whose entire family I'd stayed with while I was still finding my feet. It was through him that I'd met the car's previous owner in the first place, so, without him, the match made in heaven may never have come to be. When I told him I was leaving in less than a month, I also gave him a straight-up offer. I wanted to give the car a chance of living on in good hands, so I told him that if he could come to Brisbane and pick it up, he could take it back home for free. To my surprise, it only took a few hours for him to clear a block of time and book a trip over east! When I rolled into Brisbane I picked him up at the airport, signed the papers, handed over the key, and waved goodbye to both him and the Cuore the next morning.




Being a veteran of Australian roadtrips, he wasted no time and covered the distance back to Perth in little more than a week. Rather than retracing my route and going the long way round, he made a beeline to the west coast by travelling inland and eventually crossing the huge Nullarbor Plain. This is the only large section of Australia's circumference that I never saw for myself. It also means that the car actually ended up completing an entire lap of the whole country!

As with me, it presented no issues on the speedy drive back to Western Australia. When they finally got home, the Cuore settled into its well-deserved retirement. It now spends its days in the sunny suburbs, at last living the city-centric life it was designed for in the first place. It felt fitting to send the car off with someone who'd actually shared in the memories I'd made with it, and who could appreciate the value of everything it had enabled me to see and do over the last year. Hopefully it has many years of life left in it, and maybe - one day - we'll meet again! Until then though, it's back to normality while I wait to see how the next adventure might unfold...