We couldn’t ask for a smoother arrival in Australia. As soon as our plane touched Darwin tarmac at 6am on August 12th, Nathan, our Couchsurfing host, was waiting to pick us up, ready to share a bit of his home/fridge/life with us. We traded some quiche lorraine for kangaroo steaks on the BBQ as cultural exchange often starts with good food, and began our exploration of Darwin…
Capital city of the Northern Territory, we expected Darwin to be a large city with tall skyscrapers and spread-out residential areas, but it’s not what we thought at all! Australia is super wide but super empty. Its surface is as big as the United States but only contains 23 million inhabitants and the Northern Territory is very representative of the Australian landscape. Darwin actually looks like Boise, Idaho, small city, under the sun, with only 135k inhabitants!
When you understand it’s the largest city of the Northern Territory, you realize it’s a big lot of “nothing” all around! But it creates a sense of community and you soon enjoy the Thursday and Sunday markets by the beach, the wonderful sunsets, the local arts festival and the weekends spent at Litchfield National Park, 200km away.
A glance at Litchfield
First week end in Australia and we’re already in the bush! Nathan brought us to the Litchfield National Park where we spent a day swimming in the natural pools, learning about termites and their impressive homes, and refreshing under beautiful waterfalls. We loved that park so much (and it is so close to Darwin) that we may return here in a couple of days, as soon as we find our dream car…
A week in Darwin would be too long for most travelers – unless you want to work there – but we’ve got a mission to fulfill… We need to find a reliable car that will allow us to drive along the West Coast, travel into the outback, camp, and reach Perth in 7000km.
The search for our new rolling home is on!
Finding a reliable car – a brain teaser for rookies!
We’re not looking for a standard car, we actually need a 4WD that will allow us to drive in the Australian outback safely, that will bear the 10.000 kms we’re about to drive under the sun on gravel roads, but also a car that we will live in comfortably. And oh, we forgot to mention that we don’t have much of a budget to put in… I guess it won’t be easy to find this gem…
Indeed, we’ve seen so many cars in 6 days that I’m almost hearing engine roars in my dreams. I’m thinking kilometers and liters/100, oil leaks, shock absorbers, clutch, spare tires and inverters. My car vocabulary has never been so developed! Hyundai, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Holden, we’ve seen every brands, all kinds of 4WD, for all budgets, with any possible camping set-up!
Here are the Do’s and Dont’s we can share with you if you’re in the same kind of search…
▪ Inspection, Inspection, Inspection! Never ever buy a car without running an inspection with a mechanic first! We almost got our Australian road trip ruined because we forgot to request an inspection for a car that was a mechanical ruin: $3500 for parts + $2500 for labor. For a car that costs $5000, it’s definitely not worth it!
▪ Ask for a test drive when seeing the car for the first time and ask any questions on how it actually works. Make sure you know those kind of technicalities before being alone in the middle of the desert and wondering how to engage your 4WD…
▪ Ask for the car history and for any receipts/logbook the owner could show you as a proof of any reparation/service.
▪ Pay attention to the odometer and try to avoid a car with +350k km or you may be the last one to own it.
▪ Don’t base your buying decision on the car “sexiness”. You better have an ugly truck with good mechanics than a pretty car that would cost you an arm to fix.
▪ Don’t narrow your options to the backpacker market and look on the local one also. Australians often sell their vehicles in a better shape than the backpackers, for a lower amount. You may have to invest a little more if there is no camping gear included, but at the end of the day, you will have better chances to resell your car.
▪ Don’t think “lowest budget” at all costs. You may end up with a ruin on wheels that would die in your hands in the middle of your trip, with no mean to get your investment back. We would rather spend $4k more in a reliable car with good gears and make sure to resell it properly at the end of the road (look at the car market where you expect to sell your car and you’ll get an idea of the price you can tag it there).
So, after 6 days of brainstorming, negotiating, inspecting, market monitoring, talking, and dreaming cars, we finally chose to go with a Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD, 1994 with 267.000kms. On top of it, a brand-new rooftop tent, and all the necessary camping gears in the trunk.
Phew! We can now focus on other things, I am a bit tired of engine related discussions at breakfast…