I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done the Mackay-Brisbane or Cairns-Mackay car trip. As a kid, it felt like every second set of school holidays we were packed into the station wagon in the middle of the night for the 10-12 hour trip. And then many school holidays we went even further: Mackay-Darwin, Cairns-Perisher, Mackay-Tasmania. Pretty much Mackay to everywhere, except WA.

My sister & I would fight over leg space, play eye spy until we were even sick of it, and sing along to Jimmy Buffet songs playing on the tape deck of the car. We would eat too many snakes alive lollies and whine about how bored we were (back in the days before portable DVD players & we didn’t have Nintendos or Discmans). But, the memories we made on those trips have lasted a lifetime.

Four weeks ago, it was our turn to bundle up a sleeping kid & put her in the car ready to start our own family school holiday road trip. She’ll whine at us about how bored she is, we’ll all fight over music or sing along to old school songs, and I’m sure there’ll be a few too many games of eye spy. And hopefully, when she’s grown up, she’ll look back on this, & the many more road trips we plan to take, with fond memories as she plans her own road trip.

A vague idea for a trip…

When we left home, we had a vague plan of where and what we were doing. Pack camper. Head north. Meet in-laws in Cairns. Drive to the top of Australia. Cape York, I think? Yes, Cape York, I was informed. We had no idea what we wanted to see or do along the way. The goal, as far as we’d discussed, was to get to go as far north as we could. Why? Because we’re not fans of cold weather.

road trip north to the Cape
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The road to Cape York Peninsula

My in-laws spend months on the road at a time. Free camping their way across and around the country, usually for the same reason we were heading north: they don’t like the cold either. Normally, they come and camp out in our front yard for a few weeks when they make it into town. This time, though, we wanted to hit the road with them. We wanted to learn and experience life on the road with them. While Ilah just wanted some time hanging out with her grandparents.

On the road…

Over the course of 22 days, we covered close to 5500 kilometres. And in the end, it wasn’t our arrival at the most northerly tip of Australia that was the highlight of the trip. It was the moments in the car, watching the scenery change as the kilometres ticked over. The setting up and packing up the camper day in and day out… without wanting to kill each other. It was the red dirt that stained everything. The bathing in a creek. The squatting behind the car on the side of the road for a pee. The “guess how many trailers that truck has” game (p.s: between Coen and the Weipa turn off the answer was always three). It was seeing a crocodile in the wild and meeting turtles in rehab. It was eating fresh fish Bretto caught straight off the beach.

Travelling the length of Queensland, we witnessed first hand the beauty and diversity this country has to offer. Outside the cities, the sky opens up at night, stars shining like rays of a disco ball across the sky. The road changed colour from a deep blood red to sunburnt orange, to dusty white and back again all in the space of a couple of kilometres. The rainforest covered mountains tumbled into the turquoise sea. And somewhere along the way, we stood beside a sign that said, “You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian Continent.”

Photos through a car window

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

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