Driving Paul Heinz: Braving “The Nullarbor”

Driving Aussie Style (Photo taken by Heather)

Those of you who have watched Adam & Heather’s YouTube videos of our Oz Road Trip know that Paul Heinz (a.k.a. Carlos) was our nickname for our beloved traveling companion (i.e., our campervan). This was the name given to the van by his previous owners (apparently one of them wanted to give it a German name & one wanted a Spanish name) & Adam & Heather decided to go with it.

Paul Heinz (Photo taken by Heather)

As you may know, our Nomad friend was not without his problems, but he got us across the Nullarbor & back & that’s saying something! . . . So, what exactly is the Nullarbor? Funny you should ask, because that’s exactly the same question I had when Adam informed me that that’s where my Aussie driving lessons would be taking place!! Um, ever heard of a parking lot, Adam? Oh, wait – I mean a car park? (still getting used to the Aussie lingo) 😉

I knew nothing about the Nullarbor before coming to Australia & the strangeness of this new term conjured up images of a Bermuda triangle-like void, designed to ensnare unsuspecting American tourists. Riiight . . . sounds like the perfect place for me to practice driving in a mirror image of what I’m used to from the States!

Just a friendly reminder lest you forget!

That’s right, in Australia you drive on the left side of the road. Sounds simple enough, but to accommodate that the steering wheel is on the right side of the vehicle. The turn signals & windshield wipers are also reversed, which on several occasions caused me to appear as if I was performing some type of modern rain dance. But starting the wipers when I wanted to put on my turn signal was the least of my worries. I needed to use all my powers of concentration just to stay in my lane – it sounds silly, I know, but you have to line yourself up differently than you do back home & it just feels awkward at first. Besides that, I’ve never driven a 7-passenger van & with 2 out of 3 mirrors hanging on by a thread, well, the whole situation took some getting used to – OK, a LOT of getting used to. 0:-)

But, I digress; I never actually answered your question. The Nullarbor, it turns out, is not as scary as it sounds. The term actually comes from the Latin phrase “nullus arbor,” meaning “no tree.” Essentially it’s a treeless plain in the middle of Australia that we needed to drive across in order to get from the eastern part of the country to the west (& vice versa).

The beautiful scenery goes on for miles 😉

See, not so bad after all – no trees means less obstacles for me to have to avoid! 😉 And although it wasn’t a very scenic or interesting drive, Adam was correct that it wasn’t a bad place for a foreigner like me to hone her Aussie driving skills. With only one lane in each direction, all I had to do was stay in my lane & well, drive (which we already know is about all I could handle!)  Of course, I did have to keep an eye out for the occasional ‘roo as well as a few other Aussie critters!

Camel, Wombat & 'Roo Crossing!

Since poor Paul Heinz could only manage about 80-90 kph (50-56 mph) for fear of overheating, it was extremely rare for us to have to pass (I mean “overtake”) any other vehicles (which, you guessed it, is done on the right). Although other vehicles didn’t come along too often (in either direction), one of the things I loved about the Nullarbor is that people coming from the opposite direction almost always waved to us as if we were old friends; we seemed to have been initiated into some sort of secret society of Nullarbor travelers!  I also loved the trees we saw along the way filled with all sorts of goodies, each usually with its own theme – shoes, CDs, underwear, TVs, mattresses (no joke!) & the one below ornamented with various stuffed animals:

One of the many decorated trees along the Nullarbor

Thankfully I did very little driving save for the Nullarbor, but in the few small towns in which I did give it a go, Adam was always very forthcoming with advice. Like the time he cried out “Give way, Give way, GIVE WAY!!!” when I *almost* failed to yield at a Give Way sign. Geez, talk about your back seat driver. 😉 I guess I hadn’t quite noticed the sign, perhaps because it was on the left-hand side of the road instead of the right or perhaps because I was still so busy concentrating on staying in my own lane. Oops. 0:-)

Well, at least I can say I achieved a goal by driving in Australia. And I didn’t just do it for me – I actually helped Heather & Adam accomplish goals, too! You see, Heather has this quote that she tries to live by: “Do one thing a day that scares you” (Eleanor Roosevelt). Well the day I first drove Paul Heinz (& let’s be honest, pretty much every day thereafter), I told them I was doing something that should rightfully scare all three of us!! So, you’re welcome guys, glad I could help. 😉

Thankfully, Adam & Heather did the bulk of the driving throughout our trip & I didn’t even think about getting behind the wheel anywhere other than the Outback. So now that we’re back from our road trip safe & sound, all of Australia can breathe a collective sigh of relief that one more crazy American is off of their roads . . . at least until my next adventure! 😉

Where to next?!


Wine & Whinge

Grapes from a South Australian Vineyard

With several famous wine regions (the Barossa, Coonawarra & McLaren Vale, to name a few – all three of which we visited), no trip to South Australia is complete without stopping by a few wineries. One of my favorites was Penny’s Hill, where we decided to indulge in a bottle of sparkling shiraz – so good. Now while I enjoy the occasional glass of wine I’m hardly a connoisseur, so when it came time to choose what we wanted to sample Adam & Heather made most of our selections. I tried to appreciate the fruity, chocolatey and/or nutty qualities our hosts described, but my main concern was simply to try to figure out what types of wines I enjoy most. I used to think I preferred merlots & cabernets above all else, but the more wines I’ve tasted the more I’m starting to realize that I actually prefer the lighter white wines over the heavier reds – probably because the reds tend to make me blush after a couple of sips & by the time I’ve had half a glass I’m already feeling sleepy. 0:-) Also, I now know that I absolutely LOVE anything sparking (no matter the type, or so it seems) – chardonnays, rieslings & of course the sparkling shiraz I mentioned above. Not at all what I would have expected since I can’t stand Champagne – but maybe that’s a different thing entirely? I guess I still have a lot to learn before I earn the title of sommelier.

My pizza from Bremerton Winery - Red onion with chili chutney & brie; Just don't ask me what type of wine to pair with it!

So . . . right about now you must be thinking we really lived it up in South Australia, wining & dining our way through the state – well, not so fast. Don’t forget that we’re camping. Enter mosquitos (affectionately known here as “mozzies”); crickets; flies & then still more crickets, but this time they can jump as high as your knees. Now imagine these jumping crickets (dozens of them) in your toilet stall, where your vulnerable position suddenly enables the little critters to jump as high as – well, you get the picture.

And thus begins my first lesson in how to “wee in the bush.”

Something I’ve learned about myself on this trip – if there’s no toilet nearby, I can (& will) “hold it” assuming there’s a reasonable chance of finding a toilet in the near future . . . On the other hand, if that toilet is infested with jumping crickets, well, now you know where to find me. It’s time to turn that wine into whine, or as they say in Australia, whinge.

What to do when nature calls in the middle of the Outback?!

Now I know this must seem a bit odd – why does a 31-year-old need a lesson on how to wee in the bush? But it’s not as easy as it sounds, at least not for me! 😦 (See – whinging already & I’m only just beginning my story.) So I enlisted the help of my more experienced friend, Heather, to try to explain how I should position myself so as to ensure I actually did wee in the bush (as opposed to weeing on my pants, my legs, my sneakers, etc., etc.) Surprisingly my first stab at it wasn’t too bad, but I told myself I wouldn’t make a habit of it – after all, why push my luck? Unfortunately fate would ensure I had one more chance to wee in the bush during the course of our two month camping trip & this time it would not go quite so smoothly: I forgot the most basic rule (what, you didn’t know there were rules?), which is to spread your feet out to the sides, not to the front. Silly me.

Why is this so important, you ask? Well, as a result of my rookie mistake I had very little space in which to maneuver without running the risk of toppling over. I’m still not sure how I summoned the bladder control, but somehow in my urgent state I managed to stop & start several times as I tried to reposition myself according to the wind. I can still see the ants below me running for their lives, scurrying in every direction to avoid my stream . . . oh, the memories!

After what seemed like forever, my bladder was finally empty; Ah, sweet relief. Next it was Heather’s turn & I was convinced she would have just as much difficulty as I had – surely it was the wind that was the problem, not me! Well, doesn’t Little Miss Girl Scout of the Year prance out of the bush looking ever so triumphant: “I even found a twig to hold the toilet paper,” she says. Really, Heather? So this is what it must be like to go on holiday in the Outback with Martha Stewart. I always wondered.

What are friends for?

All this drama & I haven’t even mentioned the plague of locusts (flying crickets!!) that rained upon our windscreen (Aussie term for windshield) somewhere over South Australia. One half-dead one even managed to weasel his way into the back of the van, right where I was sitting of course (why is it that they always seem to know where to find me?) Lucky for me when I screamed & squealed Adam pulled over & Heather quickly hopped out & came to my rescue (love you, girl!) I also haven’t yet mentioned the mice that made their home in our van & feasted upon our precious food, leaving us at wit’s end. By this point we’d pretty much all had enough. The whinging had become a regular event & one of us would often cry out (while swatting away at some type of pest, of course): “I’m DONE!”

Then decision time came. We had already spent two weeks in Tasmania, we had driven the Great Ocean Road & visited part of South Australia; the road ahead seemed so far – should we turn back now or forge on to Western Australia?

Still So Far to Go . . . Distances (in kilometers, of course!) from Eucla, Western Australia (just over the border from South Australia) to various points in Oz. Our ultimate destination would be Perth.

None of us could really form a strong opinion at first, but after sleeping on it the three of us agreed that we had to go all the way. Heather & I had never been to WA & it has been one of her goals to see all eight Australian states & territories. As of this writing I’ve already been to five: New South Wales (on my first trip to Australia to visit Heather in September/October 2010), Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia & Western Australia & I now hope to reach that same goal before my year is up: only the Northern Territory (which I’ll see next week!), Queensland & the Australian Capital Territory to go!

As I prepare for my upcoming tour from Adelaide to Alice Springs (April 15-21; yes, I know I’m very behind on my blog!), I’ve added insect repellant to my shopping list & tried not to think too much about all the horrible creatures that thrive in the Outback. Or about the fact that I will no longer have a tent for shelter since Aussies have this crazy tradition of sleeping in a swag under the stars. Yeah, they add the “under the stars” crap to try to distract you from the fact that sleeping out in the open makes you completely vulnerable to all of the above-mentioned horrible creatures (& many more even more horrible creatures that I don’t even want to mention) . . . yeah, let’s just not even think about that. 😉

Map of Australia

WA = Western Australia; NT = Northern Territory; SA = South Australia; QLD = Queensland; NSW = New South Wales; ACT = Australian Capital Territory; VIC = Victoria; TAS = Tasmania


April 2011
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