Frequently Asked Questions

1. Transportation

1.1 What are you driving?

A: We purchased a 1995 Toyota Landcruiser from Windsor Toyota, on the outskirts of Sydney. It's a GXL model with a 6 cylinder diesel engine and a manual transmission - it can be a bit difficult getting up steep hills any faster than 60 kph!

1.1.1 How did you outfit your car?

A: That's a long story. When we bought the car, the dealer recommended we go see the folks at Opposite Lock, an Australian 4x4 chain. This we did. We added equipment in three tranches:

Sydney: added a UHF radio (something like a CB on steroids) as well as high intensity driving lights (these are mounted in the bullbar between the headlights) - it can be hard to see a bad track at night, and these also should reduce the chance of us hitting a 'roo!

Melbourne: added a snorkel (this is a large plastic funnel of sorts that snakes up the front of the car along the windscreen on the driver's side - the idea is to make sure the diesel engine can still get air even while completely underwater; it's also good to make sure as little dust as possible gets in the engine) and a cargo barrier (this is a large metal grid placed behind the rear passenger seats to make sure nothing flies forward and brains us if we need to brake quickly).

Brisbane: this is where we did most of our 4WD shopping. We had the following things installed:

As you can see, that's a fair amount of stuff.

1.1.2 How much does driving cost you?

A: Well, you do the math! The car cost A$37,000. Stamp duty on the purchase cost about $600. The registration cost about $400. Insurance cost about A$1,000. The extra outfitting cost about A$9,000. It has to be serviced every 5,000 km at a cost of about A$250. It uses about 15 l diesel for every 100 km traveled. Diesel costs between A$0.78 and A$1.32 per liter. Chances are, we'll wind up traveling about 60,000 km this year, so here's what I reckon:

$37,000 + $600 + $400 + $1,000 + $9,000 + $3,000 + (9000 l diesel at $1/l) = $60,000

1.1.3 Good God, that's a lot of money.

A: Well... yes, I suppose it is. However, it would probably cost just as much money to rent a Landcruiser... and that wouldn't include any fuel or service. With any luck, we'll get as much as A$30,000 back when we sell the car in January, and we can take some of the accessories home, so it'll probably have cost about $30,000 total to have used the car for one year. And that's not too bad!

1.2 Were there any other travel costs?

A: Yes.

2 Accommodation

2.1 Where are you staying?

A: Well, that depends. At the beginning of the trip (as with many trips), we generally stayed in relatively expensive hotels. Coming from a recently employed, Californian background, it seemed like a real bargain to get hotel rooms for around A$160 a night - that's far less than even the sleaziest motel in our home town of San Josť! However, it quickly became apparent that this was not a great idea - an $80 motel in Bathurst convinced us that you could stay in equally nice surroundings for far less cash. By the time winter had set in, we'd basically started camping - the Cape York tag-along tour we signed ourselves up for was the real catalyst there, proving that camping could be comfortable and very, very reasonable (we've camped for free, and never paid more than A$20 for a site).

2.1.1 Where exactly did you stay?

You had to ask, didn't you? Here's a complete list, with prices. Links indicate hotel Web sites; if there's a review available, click the Review button.

2.1.2 What were the best and worst places you stayed?

A: Best: Waldorf Canberra, Hotel George Williams Brisbane, Binna Burra Lodge, Medina Executive Sydney, Duxton Hotel Melbourne. Worst: Arkaroola, Rydges Alice Springs, Apartments of Melbourne.

2.1.3 What were the cheapest and most expensive places you stayed?

A: The cheapest was the Exchange Hotel in Mossman, QLD at A$35. The most expensive was the Stamford Plaza Hotel Sydney Airport at A$245 (including one week's parking, two breakfasts, and a bottle of Champagne). I haven't included places that include all meals and activities, such as the Binna Burra Lodge or Davidson's Arnhem Land Safari Camp.

2.2 What's your camping setup?

A: REI Camp Dome 6 tent, REI Camp Dome 6 footprint, Camp Time Roll-A-Table, Camp Time portable cots ('stretchers' for our Aussie readers), Caribee folding chairs, Therm-A-Rest self-inflating mattresses, K-Mart pillows, Ikea pillowcases, Marmot down sleeping bag (Dan), Kathmandu down sleeping bag (Chris), LED headlamps, crap butane stovelet, aluminum billy with pour spout, Lexan wine glasses, REI utensils, Victorinox 'Picnic' knife (very important!), Ikea chopping board, Ikea dish towels, generic Chinese metal bowls and plates from K-Mart, rubber mallet, Coleman rechargeable fluorescent lantern, Thermos insulated tea mugs, Eagle Creek waterproof zippered pouches (to hold utensils and teabags). All told this stuff cost about A$3,000.

2.2.1 So: what do you do with all that stuff?

A: Here's how it works:

  1. We decide on a place to camp. Once we get there, we spend time driving around and trying to figure out which campsite is perfect. This used to take ten minutes; now it takes fewer than 60 seconds in most cases.
  2. After Dan parks the car, Chris gets out, stakes down the tent footprint (it's kind of like a groundcloth), hooks the tent tie-down holes over the stakes, puts the poles in place, and erects the tent. While he's doing this, Dan unrolls the table, sets it up, and begins on assembling the cots and chairs.
  3. When Chris has finished the tent, he helps Dan finish the rest of the unpacking. The cots go in the tent; the Therm-A-Rests go on them; the sleeping bags go on them; and the pillows go on them. Easy!
  4. Dan and Chris sit down in the chairs and relax. When suppertime rolls around, there will probably be either sandwiches or ramen bowls, followed by fruit cup.

3 Food

3.1 What are you guys eating?

A: Surprisingly little. Because we have a portable fridge in the car, we can easily go weeks at a time without having to eat out. Typically, this is what our daily bread looks like:

Breakfast: The first man up boils the billy for tea (2 Mildura Estate English Breakfast bags per 590 mL mug, to be specific). Cereal with 2% milk is the order of the day. Popular cereals include Sultana Bran, Dick Smith Bush Foods Breakfast, Organic Vita-Brits, Kellogg's Komplete muesli, and Sanatarium Granola™.

Morning tea: Being Californians, we don't actually have morning tea per se, but we might have snacks. Dan likes chewy chocolate chip muesli bars; Chris prefers Uncle Toby's crunchy Anzac muesli bars. Pink Lady (Dan) or Braeburn (Chris) apples are also popular.

Lunch: It's almost always a bread roll of some kind (whatever they have in 12 packs at Coles) with Kraft Free brand 97% fat free mayonnaise, a slice of Coon reduced fat tasty cheese (or whatever they have at Coles, just as long as it isn't those wretched Kraft Singles-style crap), some meat (roast beef is nice but smells funny after just a couple of days; roast pork is better, and we've also been known to have ham or even Latvian liverwurst), and something green (Coles washed spinach works best, followed by alfalfa sprouts or, as a last resort, iceberg lettuce).

Afternoon tea: again, a muesli bar or some fruit. Queensland bananas are nice!

Dinner: the same God damned thing we had for lunch because it's easy, or a big bowl of instant noodles if there's a trash can at the campsite (empty ramen bowls smell really bad after a day in the car, so I try not to have ramen if I can't dispose of the bowl the same day).

Dessert: I'm very fond of these little plastic tubs of fruit they sell here, about 400 mL. They're usually peaches in mango juice, pears in passionfruit juice, or 'tropical fruit cup', which isn't really anything more than the above but with a piece of pineapple in there somewhere. If it's been a really hard day, a 200g Nestle Club dark chocolate bar may be in order!

3.1.1 Wow, you have amazing cooking skills. Do you ever eat out?

A: You bet. At the beginning of the trip, we ate out every single day. This proved to be a drain on finances, and it wasn't helping with losing weight. Worse yet, a lot of the Australian restaurants were pretty crap, to be honest. It's no fun spending A$120 in dinner if it wasn't significantly better than KFC.

3.1.2 Where were your best meals?

A: Easy. The Mud Hut Motel in Coober Pedy (great food, atmosphere a little lacking though). A Malay place near Russel's. A Thai place near Julian's (food was OK but the wine was fan fucking tastic). A take-away fish shop in a mall in Sydney - best oysters and barra in town. It's across the street from where they have the Mardi Gras fair. A place called CBD, in Brisbane (great Caesar salad with grilled scallops). The seafood buffet at the Stamford Plaza hotel near Sydney airport.

3.1.3 What were the worst meals?

A: The all time worst was the Stillwater Restaurant in Launceston, Tasmania. Bad service, achingly slow delivery of food, high pretensions, cold mains, overpriced everything. The only saving grace was the wine, which was sometimes pretty good, and all available by the glass.

3.1.4 Were there any memorable meals?

A: You bet. The most memorable for me was probably a Chinese dinner in Burnie, Tasmania: there was a large family gathering in the same room, with a recently married woman flirting with a teenager sitting next to her drunk husband, a grandmother who seemed catatonic, and lots of children eating huge piles of French fries. Our food was bizarre to say the least: it was kind of like fajitas in a sugar plum glaze served over Rice-a-Roni. The owner of the place was screaming at the poor waitress, who had just started working there that week, and a German tourist provided the high point of the evening by yelling at the waitress: "YOU DO NOT POUR MY BEER, JA? I POUR MY OWN BEER! WEG! WEG DA!" Pretty crazy, especially because the beer in question wasn't even a Pilsener, but a lager. Dumbass!

3.1.5 Where can I find the best hamburger in Australia?

A: You need to travel to Bingara in northwest New South Wales to find it. It costs A$4.50, and is served with perfect French fries. Beers are A$2, the service is friendly (and has great tits), and the dining room looks kind of like Super Taqueria on 10th Street in San Jose.

4 Cruft

4.1 So, what's in the car?

A: You had to ask, didn't you? I can't possibly give you a complete list, but here's a rough idea.

There are four black plastic storage bins, a green milk crate, a collapsible blue bin, a fridge, 2 Jansport backpacks, 2 Kathmandu backpacks, a Kathmandu bum bag, a Jansport green suitcase, an Eagle Creek green suitcase/backpack, a huge black duffel bag, three see-through plastic bins, a cardboard box, and a bunch of other stuff lying around.

Black bin 1: The Tucker Box. This has food in it. Typically, it has 20 foil packets of tuna, long life flatbread, extra mayo, crackers, fruit, salt, muesli bars, dehydrated veggies, dates, dried peaches, prunes, and God knows what else in it.

Black bin 2: The Camping Box. At one point this was overflowing with cruft, but now it really doesn't have all that much in it. The bathroom scale hides here; it also has mosquito nets, fly screens, toilet paper, a spotlight, and some other stuff in there.

Black bin 3: Dan's Cruft Box. I don't look in there, but I think it's got a bunch of computer accessories, Real Robots parts, and God knows what other stuff in there.

Black bin 4: Spare Parts Box. This is the one that hopefully never gets open. It's got fan belts, a compressor belt, differential oil (two kinds), motor oil, both fuel and air filters, lug nuts, a snatch strap, shackles, screws, fuses, a repair manual, and so on. It's also got some Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, wrenches, and so on.

Clear bin 1: The Book Box. This has books and maps in it.

So does Clear Bin 2.

Clear bin 3: The Culture Box. The German word for 'toilet kit' is Kulturtasche, so this is the Culture Box. It's got way too much personal hygiene type stuff in it: shaving cream, razor, beard trimmer, moisturizer, athlete's foot cream, shampoo, shower gel, tent pole repair gizmo, condoms, 'personal lubricant', sunscreen, mosquito repellant (3 kinds), aloe vera, sunburn gel, antifungal unguent, facial scrub... you name it. It's pretty bad.

The green Jansport suitcase has all of my clothes in it - about half of what I originally took to Australia. I've since sent most of it home.

The green Eagle Creek backpack has all of Dan's clothes in it. It's pretty empty at this point as Dan keeps most of his clothes in a small Eagle Creek Pack-It folder which lives in the back of the car.

One of the Jansport backpacks has a bunch of Dan's cruft in it; I'm not sure what. The other one is empty.

Both Kathmandu backpacks are empty - we use them for long bushwalks only.

There's an Oceanic scuba gear bag with four fins and two sets of snorkel tubes and masks.

The fridge usually has fruit, milk, meat, cheese, and mayo in it. It also has three 1l plastic bottles in it, which are filled with diluted Dick Smith's Diet Cordial - kind of an Aussie Kool-Aid drink. Dan prefers Apple Raspberry; Chris prefers Lemon Crush.

There are 3 4l water bottles on the floor next to the fridge. Next to them is the multivitamin bottle, the dishwashing liquid, a dish towel, and a bottle of honey.

On the back seat floor are 2 six-packs of wine; one actually has wine in it, the other one has long live milk bottles in it instead. There are also two 10l boxes of spring water, and a bunch of crap that fell down there, including a few rogue Dan cruft packets and a really crap quality toolkit from Big W.

The back seat has a bunch of stuff sitting on it: Dan's Jansport backpack, books, maps, brochure, and so on. The cardboard box is also there: it has stubby coolers, extra cereal, a small plastic box with clothespins, another small plastic box with stamps, postcards, and pens in it, and a whole bunch of other stuff - a big pink plastic box with Weet-Bix in it, for example.

The door pockets are crammed with maps, travel guides, pens, deodorant, a sponge, and my journal/address book.

The glove compartment has mobile phones, knives, tire pressure gauges, and some other stuff in there.

The center console has the portable WMA/CD player, AC adapters for everything, a Swiss Tool, some seed containers, and various bits of garbage in it.

There is a first aid kit hidden in a compartment in the trunk. We haven't had to use it yet but it's good to have one for when things go wrong...

Finally, there is also a rake hidden on the roof rack.

There's a bunch of other stuff floating loose in the car: jackets, sweatshirts, cloth napkins, towels, spare butane cartridges...

Amazing what you can fit in a 'Cruiser!

4.2 Cruft Regrets: What have you regretted not having?

Contrary to some people's expectation, Australia is a modern country.  Almost everything can be bought here, though it's hard to find specialized things (flash memory cards, recently published books) outside of the eight or so major cities.  These are the things we hadn't anticipated needing:

4.3 Electronica: So what bits of electronics have you brought?

A three year old Sony Vaio PCG-Z505R.  366MHz Pentium II, 12GB hard drive, 192MB RAM.  It's small, compact, and lasts about four hours on a battery.  To go along with it:

All of this fits in a small 35cm by 20cm padded bag, and the outside pouch of the computer bag.

For camera, we started with a Canon PowerShot S20 but purchased a PowerShot G2 in May.  Along with that goes its power supply brick, three 256MB Compact Flash cards, and a USB CF reader.  We burn from three to five CDs of digital pictures a month, or about 1200 to 2000 pictures.

We also have a Garmin GPS III+, which is handy for desert driving where there's few, if any, landmarks, and often many tracks and roads to decide amongst.  We use the fairly outdated but detailed maps from Garmin WorldMap and download them into the GPS as needed.

5 Obvious Tourist Activities

5.1 Did you guys go on any group tours while you were there?

A: You bet!

5.2 Did you send any postcards home?

A: You bet! Postcards typically cost between A$0.60 and A$1.20 depending on how pretty the card was; you could also buy generic postcards at the Post Office for A$1.20 including postage. It cost A$1 to send the card overseas or A$0.45 to send it domestically. I reckon we will have sent approximately 800 postcards before the year is up; the single day record was from Bamaga on Cape York, where we mailed 39 postcards in one day. Whew!