2015 was drawing to a close. We definitely said some sad Fremantle farewells, but we were excited to be back on the road and looking forward to exploring the almost revered south west of WA. Since landing in Perth, many people had asked whether we had been or when we were going. Finally, we were. To kick things off we had a nice, albeit windy, week or so over Christmas down in Albany and Denmark. The highlight was a day trip to the beautiful Green’s Pool; amazing, but very chilly, turquoise green water framed by some equally impressive rock formations. On the way home we sampled some of the vast array of gourmet local produce including ice cream, fudge, cider and locally farmed marin. Over the rest of the week we met with a couple of very talented local photographers, made firm friends with another young family from Perth, and also got to spend time with our dear friend Jess before we would soon be 4,000km away once again.
From the southern coastal beauty of Albany and Denmark we were headed for the forest region of Manjimup, before looping over to the West Coast, through the Margaret River and Busselton. The next few weeks would be an enjoyable mix of bush, beach and booze … I mean wineries. Unfortunately, on a picturesque stretch of country road, coming up a rise near Walpole, our car had other plans. After making a nasty crunching sound, we lost power totally and coasted to the side of the road. Not only wouldn’t our Jeep start, it made the same awful, metallic crunch and shook side-to-side each time upon pressing the ignition. We were only 12km out of town, but we also didn’t have any mobile phone reception. Thankfully a very friendly farmer came to the rescue, lent us his home phone, gave us some apricots from his orchard, offered us a place to park the van, and kept returning up his long driveway to check we were OK. We soon worked out that breaking down in a remote, but tourist heavy location between Christmas and New Year is far from ideal. We had a long wait for a mechanic, and an even longer wait for a tow truck to take us all back the 100 kms or so to Albany.
If we weren’t in a big enough mess, it was late in the day and accommodation became our next major hurdle. There were literally NO hotel rooms available and we couldn’t even find a site in a caravan park where we could park our van. We ended up getting the very last cabin in town, and it quickly became clear why no-one had snapped it up! Even the kids gave disapproving looks about the decor and lingering dank smell – Luca described it as resembling rotting rats. We ended up sleeping in the caravan down the back in the storage yard. After two nights enduring this, and no news on our infirm vehicle, it was time to hire a car and head back to Perth. It was the last day of 2015 and we were determined not to bring in a new year in such depressing circumstances!
We are firm believers that all things happen for a reason, and we were definitely able to look at the positives here too. By the end of the day we were watching the amazing NYE sunset, sitting atop Monument Hill in Fremantle with a beer in hand. We had a place to stay and more time to spend with the lovely Jess. And, in hindsight, we were also able to avoid the frightening WA bushfires in early January. Things could have definitely been worse!
We had 10 days treading water in Freo waiting for news on the Jeep … nothing. Then we had a week trip to Bali to meet up with Kass’ sister Shell. As far as a couple of locales to be waiting for news, we were in pretty good shape and I wouldn’t feel too sorry for us. It is more that we had a nagging, anxious feeling of not quite knowing what our next step would be. Half way through our time in Bali, we still had no real news on the car, but were getting the distinct feeling that this wasn’t going to be an easy fix. We had to come to the sad conclusion that our road trip had ended. We made the tough decision to head back to the east coast and start moving forward with our plans for the new year. A few days later it was a strange feeling to be back in Sydney briefly, pick up our old faithful Peugeot, and then to drive back to our old home town of Armidale in country NSW. We have family and friends here, life is slow and easy, and the schools are good. This was to be our home base for 2016.
Finally news came through about the car – a broken camshaft. Not being all that mechanically minded, we didn’t know what this meant. We have since learnt that a camshaft is fairly fundamental, and the car basically doesn’t go if it is broken. It sits at the top of the engine and if it breaks, it causes lots of other parts (the cam followers) to break too. All-in-all there were now a whole heap of metal shards all through the engine and it would need replacing – just a measly $20,000 for the part alone! So finally, 3 weeks after breaking down we had some news, but, given that the warranty on the car ran out about 6 months earlier, not really the news we were after.
John, the friendly service manager in Albany said he was pushing for a goodwill case for us, given our circumstances and the unusual nature of the breakdown. However it was hard to know if he was just being kind. We had a nervous few days waiting for an answer. Thankfully, our anxiety levels came down a notch or two as Jeep decided to come to the party. While we don’t want to be ungrateful, it is also hard to be thankful to Jeep for our situation. The car let us down fundamentally, which can obviously happen, but we also felt that the Jeep Customer Service did too. The Jeep brand is built upon going off-road and off the grid, but the reality is that no-one in a semi-remote area wants to know you once you start having mechanical issues. Information was never easily forthcoming and Jeep didn’t seem to understand the ramifications for a young family who lived on the road.
A few months down the track now and we are now more or less settled into our Armidale tree change year. The kids have started at lovely new schools and we managed to snap up a beautiful rental property with a view, on some land just out of town. We have already had a couple of Austockphoto photographers pay us a visit on their way through town. We’d love to meet more of you so please get in touch if you are ever in the area. Our car and caravan recently arrived back from their west coast layover on the back of a truck. As a somewhat funny finale to this saga, the freight truck with the Jeep and caravan on the back actually also ended up breaking down in outback NSW. We officially think our car is cursed and you will likely soon see it listed in the local classifieds. While we are sinking all our spare time into the final phase of Austockphoto we are also mourning the premature end to our epic road trip. After nine months on the road, catching a flight back from the west coast doesn’t really have the same ring to it as finishing off the big lap. We imagined driving back into town to a welcoming committee with streamers and balloons. Nevertheless, we are super appreciative for what we did do, see, experience and achieve. We definitely stepped outside our comfort zones, were challenged and grew immensely as a family unit. No doubt there will be more caravan adventures to come … just probably driving a different car.