Thoughts, rants, experiences, reviews and other things from the mind of Jason O’Conal

Road Trip Day 2 – Be Awesome Instead

18 Apr 2014

The Epic Adventures of the Pangold Four

We awoke from a relatively good sleep (little did we know how valuable this would be) and took a shower. There was no hot water left when I got into the shower, but this didn’t matter at all – I have never been so thankful for a cold shower. My allergies were playing up again, so Rob and I went to the chemist to pick up some antihistamines. We agreed to meet at Crocosaurus Cove for breakfast.

Rob and I picked up a coffee from a place called Hom, which, when I checked in on foursquare was described as an Asian Restaurant (my first apparently). The staff weren’t particularly helpful, but we got a coffee that didn’t make my tongue bleed (for $4.10 no less).

We met up with Jem and Nate at Crocosaurus Cove only to realise that it was a reptile park not a restaurant. Back to Hom we went.

I’m a sucker for a big breakfast and, if you’re ever in Darwin, I would recommend the big brekky at Hom ($17.90).

The reason you don’t see many photos from this part of the trip (the ones I do have are from Rob’s camera) is that I forgot to put a memory card in my camera (unfortunately, not the only destructive mistake that would be made with the camera), so off to Dick Smith’s we went.

We took a stroll around some of Darwin’s main streets and came across an army disposals shop where we couldn’t resist taking a few photos.

Nate “Dundee” Moore

Jason “Why is My Head So Small” O’Conal

Jason wonders why Nate “Dundee” Moore didn’t save him

Jem regrets the decision to wear red lipstick (crocs are attracted to bright colours)

Rob, well, he seems to be enjoying this a little too much

Now that we’d broken the seal on boring busywork that needed to be done, we thought we’d go to get the camper van from Wicked Campers, just a “short” walk (well, according to Rob at least). This did give us a chance to take a look around Darwin and, to me at least, it looked a bit like Adelaide, but had most of the features of a small-ish Australian city or town. After about 20 minutes, we found our way to the Wicked Campers office and saw what was to be our ride across Australia in the middle of the parking lot.

Wicked Camper Mark I

We attempted to go into the office, but it was locked. Did I mention that it was stinking hot? Well, in case I forgot, it was stinking bloody hot. And the door wouldn’t open. Why wouldn’t the door open? Ah, it was locked. That makes sense. Why would an office that is open for business leave its front door unlocked? (Hint: I’m being sarcastic.)

After they finally let us in (well, we were probably only waiting for a couple of minutes, but it’s more dramatic this way), we went to the desk and started what we thought would be a quick process of sign a couple of forms and drive away (WRONG). Once we got in though, there was a cold water fountain, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Rob had already paid a $500 deposit, so we wanted to split the entire fee four ways and then have Rob pay $500 less for his share. Nope. Not that easy. First, it seemed a monumental task beyond the Wicked Campers staff but, even more horrifyingly, it seemed beyond us as well (with someone whose day job was in finance and someone else with most of a degree in mathematics). After some to-ing and fro-ing, we finally worked out that the first figures we had were, in actual fact, correct.

Now, with the forms signed and the payment out of the way, one might think that we would be able to get in the van and drive away, onwards and upwards (WRONG). For some unknown reason, the staff from Wicked Campers insisted on telling us about every little aspect of the car, from why we should check the oil to how a simple mattress worked. There was a whole bunch of other people’s junk in the back of the car that had to be dealt with as well. But, after probably another 20 or 30 minutes, we were finally under way.

Not so fast. Well, actually, not so slow. We got to the petrol station only to realise that the van didn’t have a working handbrake. This made me really thankful for the time we spent having to learn about how every little part of the van worked except for the brakes. So, after having finally extricated ourselves from the clutches of the overzealous staff at Wicked Campers, we found ourselves having to go straight back there.

Again, the door was locked. Not a problem, I’m sure they’ll give us a replacement car and we’ll be on our way shortly (WRONG).

So, in order to avoid boring you to death, I’ll give you a short version of what happened over the next two hours:

  1. Where are the staff? No idea. We find a mechanic.

  2. “Oh, the handbrake doesn’t work – that’s weird, does it really matter?” (The staff at Wicked Campers)

  3. 10 minutes elapses

  4. “No worries. I’ll take a look. Shouldn’t be long.” (WC staff)

  5. 10 minutes elapses

  6. “Any chance of a replacement ride?” (Us)

  7. 5 minutes of telephone calls

  8. “Nope. There are no cars available. All of the cars you see in our parking lot are either broken or soon to be collected.” (WC staff)

    “We really need to get moving, is there any idea whether this will be fixed soon? Or even in time for us to leave tomorrow on our trip to Sydney.” (Us)

    “We really can’t tell you. We think it will be fixed by the end of the day today, but we’re closing at 4.00 pm, so maybe not.” (WC staff)

    “Our holiday is now in jeopardy. We had planned to pick up supplies today, and have a quiet evening exploring Darwin.” (Us)

  9. 20 minutes elapses

  10. “Okay, so it looks like it’s a simple problem. We’ll definitely have it fixed by the end of the day today.

    “In the mean time, we have a Corolla that you can borrow when it gets back. Should be any time now.” (WC staff)

  11. 5 minutes elapses

  12. “He’s about 30 minutes away.” (WC staff)

  13. 40 minutes elapses.

  14. The temporary replacement car arrives.

By this time, we were all getting a bit over the whole thing. We needed to get our supplies, but we also wanted to see a bit of Darwin before we had to get moving. It was probably about 1.00 or 1.30 pm.

On the side of the car, there was a quote from Barney Stinson (a fictional character from a hit NBC comedy How I Met Your Mother) that kind of put us in our place:

“When I’m sad, I stop being sad and start being awesome instead.”

Right. We have a car. We have a working handbrake. We are on our way.

First stop: Darwin’s army disposals store to get some camping equipment. We spend the next 30–40 minutes standing around the shop, getting in people’s way, looking for the best deals, but we finally have our camping supplies up at the counter. We’re ready to pay. Dang! We forgot the insect screens. Oh no! We forgot a kettle (by the way, I added the kettle to the list, but I never even unwrapped it). Oh no! We’ve got the wrong kind of water bottles. If I were a customer in this store trying to buy something, I may very well have picked up a shovel and brutally beaten us all to death. Fortunately, the people in Darwin seemed much more laid back.

At the beginning of the trip, we all decided that we would pay for things without expecting to be paid back at the time and that all debts would be settled at the end. Unfortunately, however, I was a bit scatter brained at this particular moment and I didn’t think to get an itemised receipt until most of the goods had been picked up and put in the car. This particular store was not using a computerised point of sale system, so asking for a printed receipt was not possible. The bloke behind the counter gave it a fair shake, but there was just no hope. We were left with only our questionable memories to try to piece together the events of the last few hours.

Well, it had been a difficult day and it was getting late, we were pushing up against 2.30 or 3.00 pm. Time to get something to eat, maybe a coffee and definitely an ice cream.

We had made it about 10 minutes down the road when I suddenly remembered: we hadn’t paid for enough time in the parking meter. We turned around to discover that we had overstayed our welcome in that particular parking space by just under 10 minutes. Though I was happy not to have a parking ticket, I was starting to get a bit worried about time, it was after 3.00 pm and we still had a lot that needed to be done.

So, eventually we found a little corner shop where I had the first Dixie Cup I’d had in maybe 10 years.

As we were relaxing, Rob got a call, no, the call: they wouldn’t be able to fix the van (I knew it!) but they were able to offer us a replacement vehicle (let’s be thankful for small mercies, I suppose). So we drove back to the Wicked Campers office (for the third time) and picked up our new car. Of course, the van could not be given to us without the appropriate amount of fanfare (by which I mean time wasting). Nevertheless, (and despite the best efforts of Murphy) we finally drove away with the van that would accompany us for the rest of the trip.

Wicked Camper Mark II
On our way

It was now about 3.00 pm, so we headed off to get supplies from the local Woolworths. Well, it was totally packed out – it was a total omnishambles. We didn’t think about the fact that it was the day before Good Friday and that everybody would be trying to get supplies before the long weekend.

We ended up driving around the car park for a while looking for a park, but even once we decided to leave it was no short trip out of the car park – we still had to do a few laps.

Driving around a much-too-full car park on Good Friday eve in Darwin

Jem had a great idea: there was a supermarket of some description out in Winnellie, a suburb of Darwin – the same place where the “Big Buffalo” was situated.

Well, this is where the adventure would really begin. There’s nothing easy about navigating in a new city, it’s made even more difficult when one has to deal with a van full of tired, restless travellers

Suffice it to say, we got lost. It turned out that the Darwin RAAF base was right next to our destination supermarket. The turn off for the RAAF base was one street after the correct turn off. We missed this the first time – understandable. It took us some time to navigate our way out of the base as we remained convinced (and not for a short while) that there would be a way to cut through. The second time around, the fact that we took the turn off for the RAAF base was less excusable. At least we didn’t get stuck in there for too long this time. The third time around we managed not to get stuck in the RAAF base, but we didn’t make it to the supermarket either. We somehow ended up driving down the street behind the supermarket but there was no way in from that street. We finally got into the supermarket on our fourth go on the highway only to find that the supermarket itself wasn’t really good enough for our needs. Okay, let’s just grab a drink and regroup. Of course, the café was closed.

We cut our losses and drove to the nearby Bunnings. This was much more successful. We picked up a few of the necessities we couldn’t get at the army disposals store and were on our way again.

We agreed to go back to the previously flooded Darwin supermarket and to stop off at the Big Buffalo on the way.

The Big Buffalo was a bit underwhelming, since it formed part of a car dealership – surrounded by cars, seemingly neglected. Nevertheless, I was happy to be photographed in front of it (just like in computer games, I don’t like to leave an achievement locked).

The Big Buffalo with the whole crew

We found our way back to Darwin without much ado, went to the supermarket (we managed to get a good parking spot this time – didn’t even need to go inside the main car park) and got our shopping with the requisite amount of whinging, second-guessing and moaning.

It was now somewhere between 5.00 pm and 6.00 pm, so it was time we started to think about dinner (lunch time had gone by without acknowledgement that food could be consumed). Well, naturally, we had conflicting ideas about what dinner should look like and where we should go.

Nate, Rob and I didn’t feel particularly like walking (it had been a long day), but Jem had her heart set on making it to the much-touted waterfront precinct. We all reluctantly agreed to head down to the waterfront to see what we could see.

We made our way back to the Darwin YHA, parked our car for the night and wandered down to what I thought was the waterfront. It turns out, we didn’t have the foggiest idea of where to go. We ended up walking along The Esplanade – it was beautiful and we got a few great photos, but it didn’t get us anywhere closer to dinner and a drink (something we were all fairly desperate for at this point).

Rob, no doubt dreaming of dinner and an ice cold beer

Rob asked me to do a heroic pose, but I thought he had asked me to do an “erotic” pose – something I had no clue how to do

Nate with his beautiful wife, Jem, happy but hungry
Nate alone, still hungry, but far less happy

Sunset looking out over Darwin Harbour

We walked for some time, back past our hostel, back into the centre of town. Past where we had breakfast. Past where the others had drinks on the first night. Past everything we had seen before. We started to feel a bit worse for wear, started to believe that there was no foreshore and, even if there was, that we were never going to get to it. We went past a pub with some live music – I wanted to stop and have dinner there. But, at Jem’s urging, we persevered.

We had just got to the NT’s Supreme Court when I was about to give up and suggest that we head back to town and stop at the first pub that looked to be serving a cold beer. Thankfully, some locals walking past took pity on us and gave us directions to the waterfront. ‘It’s just down this way,’ they said. Music to our ears.

It wasn’t ‘just down just way’ as they asserted (or, perhaps it was as far as they were concerned, since distances in the Northern Territory are so much more vast than in the parts of Australia I’m familiar with) – but we eventually found our way down a street, across a road, up some stairs, down a lift, across some grass to a place called Fiddler’s Green, a delightful pub right on the waterfront.

Those of us who pooh-poohed the idea of going to the waterfront were about to have the wind taken out of our sails – it was beautiful, the pub was great, the food was just what we wanted and the beers were cheap and cold. What more could one want? Oh yeah, the views were stunning – we were able to see the city at night and it was well worth the walk.

Darwin at night
The safe swimming area (netted off from “death” as our friend at the YHA described it) can be seen to the left of the buoys.

After several beers (yes, they had Coopers Pale Ale on tap), some great food and quite a few yarns, we caught a taxi back to the hostel (yeah, there was no way we were walking back) we went to bed thoroughly exhausted, but satisfied and ready to start our journey the next day.

Nate and Jem enjoying a beer at Fiddler’s Green
Me (Jason) and Rob enjoying a beer at Fiddler’s Green

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