Not only were things crazy outside of our Wicked Camper on the Australian coast but it was chaos inside as well.
In addition to our clothes and food, we were hauling CD’s skis, poles, boots, and winter clothes. It turns out that sleeping next to a pair of K2 Off Piste while using snow pants as a pillow is not particularly comfortable.
A hostel in Sydney agreed to store CD’s skis. It was like a weight was lifted. Now I could freely roll six inches to the right without taking ski bindings to the ribs. What a relief!
A clinking noise showed up. Once it started, it was consistent and did not change as we shifted or turned. Clink, clink, clink. We turned up the ipod to block it out but it continued. We eventually found the source. I had left the spare set of keys in the passenger side door lock. Easy fix.
By this time, we had listened to nearly every song we own. We met some people. A truck driver cleaned bugs off our windshield with a fancy window bug scrapper. Each afternoon we had wine, cheese and crackers. We chatted with a few bar tenders and drank wine with Kill Bunny at our side.
We weren’t sure where we could camp and slept near other campers in rest areas without really knowing the rules. Port Macquarie offers a great campground in a grassy field.
Free Camping, Wicked Camper: Australian Coast
Sometime around this we bought an atlas of free camping along our route. This book changed our lives! We had a plan and felt informed! It turns out that camping in Australia is much different than in the US. Many parking lots, fields, and town parks welcomed car campers.
One our of best spots was a parking lot on the beach with an ocean view, flush toilets, hot showers, picnic tables, and easy foot access to pubs and restaurants. According to our book, we were welcome to stay there for free for up to 7 days! Wow! A couple of families with kids and a few other couples joined us there during out stay. It was the best!
Our whale watching trip was cancelled due to strong winds and high seas. We happened across a free spirited boat captain that wasn’t deterred by the weather. I called him “Captain Ron.” The first thing he told us was that his boat had a bar and the second thing was: “tell me if you feel sea sick before you embarrass yourself.” The third thing was: “hold on”. Well, Captain Ron was our guy. We boarded his boat with a couple of other people and hoped for the best. He said things like: “Come on whales, show us what you’ve got.”
Well, it worked. Thank you Captain Ron!
I thought the whales were a highlight, until my mind was blown the next day. Do you know how pineapples grow? Apparently, I didn’t! Ha!
It is spring in Utah when the rivers are running high, the sun is shining, and the roads are full of Colorado license plates. There is no better way to celebrate the end of ski resort employment than to leave the high country in favor of the red rocks of Utah.
I started this tradition prior to meeting CD and we continued it together every May until we moved from Colorado. Utah has so much to offer that I don’t even know where to begin. While the order is irrelevant, I will start southwest, go roughly northeast but stay south of I-70 and then end southeast near the four corners.
Zion National Park is my favorite, hands down. We have been there over and over. We have hiked end to end, climbed its peaks, and waded through its slot canyons. Its red rock is made more brilliant by the Virgin river and green trees. The proximity to the town of Springdale with its cold drinks and hot breakfast doesn’t hurt either.
Angel’s Landing is its most well known hike. It starts with switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. It is well known that I love switch backs for the exercise alone. There is no better way to start the day.
It isn’t until after the switchbacks that this hike really separates itself from the rest. Angel’s landing is no joke in terms of exposure and drop offs.
The trail narrows to one way. There is a chain link railing. You are exposed to the depths of the valley floor, more so in some places than in others.
My first time up Angel’s Landing was with my brother. Making it to the top was a rush. Making it back down alive was even better. The next time was with CD. The rush was not as great but the feeling of relief after was even greater. The third time was with CD again. The steps felt more narrow and the valley floor seemed a bit further than before. With that, I decided that three times up Angel’s Landing is likely enough for me.
We looked for other routes with bigger and better views. Observation Point hit the mark. It is a more physically challenging and longer hike. It climbs 2100 feet and rises 700 feet above Angel’s Landing.
Back country sites are accessible from the main entrance. Below is the view from our camp site along the West Rim Trail. It is worth noting that we started the hike with a crowd headed to Angel’s Landing. As soon as we turned away from that route, we were on our own. It was super windy and we were surrounded by dead trees. We woke up in the morning to distance runners coming down the rim trail.
Zion, Kolob Canyon
Kolob Canyon is Zion’s less known North entrance. It offers day hikes and backpacking trips with few other people around. Our back country site was in an old river bottom. Much of the hiking was in loose sand. Snakes loved it.
If you have seen the wide open spaces of Zion and are ready for a change, the Narrows may be your next stop. Do your research. Be informed. Watch the weather. These slot canyons are beautiful and it is good to pay attention if you plan to do much exploring. CD met a friend there for his fortieth birthday and they didn’t end up finishing their chosen route because of flash floods.
From Zion, you can get to Bryce Canyon in a short day. It is higher and cooler. This is great in the hot months and not as great in the early spring. It is smaller and more compact. The Hoo-doos are unique and impressive. I tend to pass through Bryce westbound to Zion or eastbound to Capital Reef but CD is a fan of the views at sunrise. He also has told me good things about a coin operated shower at the general store.
Apparently, he has a great memory of enjoying a post-hike beer from the general store while sitting on the lodge porch at sunset after a hot shower.
I rarely hear people talk about Capital Reef but we have found it to offer great hiking, impressive rock formations, and amazing views. I don’t recommend hiking there if you are hoping to meet people and chit chat over hand fulls of trail mix. The trails are largely empty.
At this point it is worth mentioning the San Rafeal Swell. It offers slot canyons with campsites tucked away on BLM land. My advice: Go there, if you have time. Bring your own shade. Do what I did and go with someone that has been there before – hopefully someone proficient at navigating slot canyons. Goblin Valley State Park is near by and may be a better choice if it is your first time in the area.
Canyonlands is easier to access from Moab than from the Southwest. The views are endless. The hiking is interesting and fun. Regions of the park have names like Needles, Island to Sky, and The Maze. Mountain biking the White Rim Road loop is popular and it is on my to-do list for sure. We have not camped in the back country but we have camped just outside the park and there are beautiful starry skies.
Arches is a straight shot from I-70 and is complimented by it’s close relationship with Moab. The Colorado River provides contrast to the red rock backdrop. The La Salle mountains rise up with snowy peaks and provide further contrast and depth to the scenery.
Moab is like the old west meeting a trendy art gallery. The restaurants and shops are full of personality and there are tour companies to suite everyone’s needs. You can sign up for 4 x 4 tours, mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, paddle boarding, horse back riding, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
While I cannot speak to the tour companies, I can attest to the hiking and camping. Hikes range from easy to more difficult. Arches is typically one of the more crowded Utah parks but for good reasons. Campsites are dotted along the river banks and range from rustic and isolated to developed and popular. I recommend them all!
Dropping down to the four corners, you can hop into Mesa Verde. While the cliff dwellings are interesting and worth seeing, you may find a bit of crowd. My favorite feature is its proximity to Durango. Check out the Silverton Narrow Gauge railway and head North to Ouray or East towards Pagosa Springs on your way out of town.
I could keep going on and on about Utah but will stop myself here for now. Utah is dense with natural wonders. I recommend going there and seeing it first hand.
Red rock dust from ten years ago still stains my hiking boots. Seeing it makes me smile.
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Arriving in Iceland, we were already aware that our Laugavegur Hut to Hut Trek was not possible. The trail follows the geothermal valley of Landmannalaugar and along the base of Eyjafjallajokull, which had been erupting for the past three months. This is a short tail about our last minute trip around Iceland via the Ring Road.
When we settled into our in Reykjavik hostel, we didn’t have a plan.
Our host recommended driving the Ring Road. That sounded fine to us. We inquired about a car rental and the conversation went like this.
What kind of car do you want?
It doesn’t matter.
How long will you be gone?
How long does it take?
Eventually, the hostel host said that he may know where we could get a car. He stepped out for a minute and came back with car keys. We rented his car and hit the road.
Pingveller National Park
Pingveller National Park was our first stop. It was amazing and beautiful and green and quiet. We spent all day hiking and looking at lichen. We made dinner at whatever time we were hungry and got back on the road.
There weren’t any hotels or restaurants. We weren’t watching the clock and we weren’t tired. It was overcast but not dusk. We found a gas station and pulled in for gas. The gas station had a sign up that said: “Closed. Will return at 8 am”.
The gas station was closed for the night. What?
We had failed to account for our latitude and the date in relation to the summer solstice. Now we were in Iceland and low on gas. Even if we had a full tank of gas, we really didn’t know where we were going anyway.
The gas station opened in the morning and that was our first night on the Ring Road in Iceland.
The next day we headed out and found a cafe in house on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The parking lot was fifty yards or so from the cafe and the walk was picturesque. From there we went on to check out the sights.
What sort of scenery did we see on the Ring Road in Iceland?
Craters. Viti was the first was saw and it was beautiful.
Geysir. This is the original geyser and hiked way up on a hill to look at it from a far. This was also the biggest crowd we saw in Iceland.
One way Tunnel. We survived a long, dark, one way tunnel between Dalvik and Olafsfjordur. Depending on which direction you were driving determined if you had the right of way or if you were expected to yield by pulling into a designated M space and wait for traffic to clear. It was nerve racking and bizarre but there wasn’t much traffic.
Camping. Shortly after that we found a campground on a grassy hill. Every tent had every guyline attached. There wasn’t any wind but we certainly took note that they seem to expecting wind. It was warm and the grass was perfect. We slept on the ground next to our car. I still expected a moment of dusk but it didn’t happen. There was basically the same amount of light, day or night.
Vatnajokull National Park. We stuck to the Ring Road and headed south. It was substantially colder but worth wearing an extra jacket.
I have seen other glaciers but this was different. It was remarkable and stunning. The ice was shiny and clean; it felt ancient and fragile. Wow!
We woke up in the morning surrounded by fellow campers. We are the second camper from the left in the picture below. Everyone else seemed to be a bit more equipped than us. What I would have given for our Sprinter and Lil Buddy heater in Iceland that day!
Our last minute tour of the Ring Road was a success. I am sure it has changed since 2010 but here are a few things I remember.
Hotels may be hard to come by and will likely not be exactly what you expect.
Be attentive to the time of day. We didn’t see any 24 hour services.
Cheese can be eaten for lunch and dinner.
Bring a rain jacket, a winter jacket, a hat, gloves, short sleeve shirt, and sun screen.
Expect to see whale and puffin meat for sale. We didn’t try it.
People in Iceland are tough. We saw people tubing behind a boat near Reykavik. I was wearing a winter hat.
The Blue Lagoon will not be exactly what you expect.
Our road trip was complete; we made it to Cairns! We ended our time with Kill Bunny by spending the night at the perfect camp site. Three or four other groups were camped there as well. It was a beach front parking lot with hot showers and all of the amenities.
People were curious as to why we had driven so far. We only met one other person that drove from Melbourne. He arrived in Cairns around the same time that we did but he started his trip four months before us. We hadn’t felt rushed. Actually, we kind of felt slow. CD walked from Mexico to Canada in four months; it would have felt weird to take that long to drive from Melbourne to Cairns but maybe we should have slowed down a bit more. I don’t know.
In any case, we made it! I felt a bit of relief when we dropped off Kill Bunny in one piece. I also felt a bit sad and lost.
Daintree Rain Forest
It was windy and overcast so snorkeling and diving boats weren’t expected to sail for a few days. We opted for a guided tour to the Daintree Rainforest and were the only guests and our tour guide, Jim, was pretty straight forward and he opened up with “back when I dropped out of society for bit.” He went on to offer advice on mango wine, lemonade fruit, and commune living. Additionally, he warned us about aggressive eight foot long snakes in the sugar cane fields, cassowaries that disembowel their victims, and crocodiles that leap from rivers. The tour included the site of Steve Irwin’s death and favorite local pubs. His dialogue covered politics, religion, hot sauce, Mexican food, human rights, the environment, and tequila.
The Great Barrier Reef
We spent the next few days drinking cocktails and waiting out the weather. The Great Barrier Reef was worth the wait. It was like snorkeling in an aquarium, as far as I could see. There was an oyster so large that it felt like it was out of a movie.
We flew back to Sydney and spent a day walking a hiking trail around the city. Don’t ask me what it was called.
Here are a few things we learned during our Wicked Camper road trip to Cairns.
Speed limits can be aspirations more than limitations
Brush turkeys can be aggressive
Cassowaries aren’t as prominent as the signage would have you believe
Sugar cane fields smell like sweet corn
It isn’t easy to see a platypus
When in danger in the wild I will throw CD to the wolves and run.
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