Perth to Darwin: An Australian Road Trip

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Perth to Darwin: An Australian Road Trip

I was done with Perth even before I lost my job on that fateful Monday in June 2015. Having been there two and a half months, I was starting to tire of West Australia and longed to move on. Now that I needed to find a new job, I figured I might as well do it elsewhere. So I decided to head to Darwin in the Northern Territory.

A friend from my hostel, Irish Dave, had recently told me about the Magic Bus, which travelled the coast of West Australia, picking up people along the way. As ideal as it sounded, it had left a week earlier, so in an attempt to find something similar I stumbled upon the Rideshare section on Gumtree.

On Rideshare, people request a ride to a particular place in exchange for a portion of the fuel costs; a kind of organised hitchhiking, if you will. Conversely, people with a car would post ads looking for people with petrol money in need of a ride. I typed in ‘Perth to Darwin,’ which returned a healthy list of people offering a lift. I replied to a few ads that sounded the most promising. My first reply was from a pair of German cousins named Friedi and Alina, who were arriving in Perth at the end of the week. They sounded nice so we arranged to meet when they rolled into town.

I met the girls in an Indian restaurant that Friday. I also met Fritzi, a third German girl who’d be joining us. We’d also be joined by a French couple, Teresa and Weivel, who were unable to meet us that night. We all seemed to get on and the conversation flowed as we ate, so it looked like this was going to work out well.

The next morning, the six of us stuffed our bags into the cousins’ trusty, and surprisingly spacious, Ford Falcon. After making it out of the city we stopped at a huge Woolworths to shop. As Friedi and Alina were going to sleep in the car each night, Fritzi and I were able to share their tent, so I only had to buy a sleeping bag, floor mat and a few groceries. The French couple weren’t impressed at the prices of the tents so we stopped at a few places we found on the road. They didn’t find anything cheaper, but as the day wore on and they ran out of options, they grudgingly picked up a small, two-person tent.



Darwin – The Ford Falcon PIC: TM

We arrived at a campsite close to Jurian Bay just before nightfall, where we unpacked a portable gas stove to prepare some food. As I wasn’t driving and like to cook, I assumed the bulk of the cooking responsibilities. Our evening meals usually consisted of pasta or rice dishes, as they were quick, easy and used ingredients that didn’t spoil. We’d usually eat bread with jam or peanut butter for breakfast and often again for lunch.

But as nice as it was to have running water and electricity, something didn’t feel right; I felt uncomfortable and couldn’t put my finger on why. It slowly dawned on me that it was the room. After weeks of sleeping in tents, it all felt artificial...


The first cracks in the group started to form on our second day on the road. We’d all agreed to put $300 each into a communal petrol fund to save us the hassle of splitting the bill every time we filled up. Only the French couple had soured on the idea and instead wanted to contribute in installments, to which Alina and Friedi reluctantly agreed. This was aggravated a little later when Weivel asked for the radio to be turned off, declaring he’d like to ‘enjoy the silence.’ I thought it was a little cheeky of him.

We found the perfect place to stay on the third evening as we left Shark Bay: a small park with a covered area close to a little beach. The only snag was a sign that prohibited camping. The Germans and I were willing to risk it, reasoning we wouldn’t be close to the road and thus out of view if anyone bothered to check at all. The couple however, were less willing so we drove on, looking for an alternative. Finding nothing, save for some kind of strange scrap yard, and running out of daylight, we voted to go back to the first place. After setting up and eating dinner, the couple then had cold feet and asked to be taken back to the scrap yard. Alina dropped them off and we collected them on our way to Coral Bay the next morning.


Perth to Darwin – View Point PIC: TM

The following afternoon at Coral Bay, I returned from the beach to find Alina arguing with the couple. They’d insisted on knowing where they’d be staying that night and then every night on our way to Darwin. This brought up everything that had been bubbling under the surface and in the end, they decided to leave. The disagreement I’d walked into was over how much petrol money was owed. We settled on an amount and went our separate ways. The mood in the car was bright as the four of us made our way towards Exmouth. The couple were no doubt as relieved as us to have parted ways.

We camped inside Exmouth National Park where we hiked, snorkelled and relaxed on the beach. We hit the road again after a couple of days and reached a campsite close to Kirijini National Park as it was getting dark. We pulled in to find a large group of backpackers blasting loud music and drinking boxed wine; it was the Magic Bus. I found Irish Dave, who I introduced to the girls and who in turn introduced us to everyone from the bus. We drank and chatted for while before the four of us went to bed, leaving everyone else to party until the early hours of the morning.


Perth to Darwin – Karijni National Park PIC: TM

We awoke to find everyone from the bus scattered around the campsite, passed out. Some of them were in sleeping bags, while others just laid, uncovered and face down, on the ground. We looked on and laughed over breakfast as a succession of camper vans loudly and incessantly honked their horns as they left. Their revenge on the Magic Bus for being kept up all night.

We drove through a town curiously named Tom Price on our way to Kirijini National Park. We hadn’t been near a proper shop for a few days, so we welcomed the chance to eat something that wasn’t pasta, jam or peanut butter. We bought a block of cheese, which we cut into thick slices, placed on bread and sprinkled cracked black pepper on. It wasn’t long until the entire block was gone. I thought about that moment and smiled as I went to sleep that night. It filled me with gratitude that we could derive so much joy from something as simple as cheese and that we experienced that moment together. I occasionally look back on that moment and it never fails to make me smile. It epitomises the whole trip for me.


Perth to Darwin PIC: TM

After 11 days, we arrived in Broome where we were to pick up Ali, a Swedish girl, who was joining us the rest of the way. While she packed, Ali kindly let us use her bathroom, which yielded our first hot shower since we left Perth.

The five of us headed East from Broome, briefly stopping at Wyndham, Lake Argyle and a few creeks along the way before crossing into the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, many of the best spots weren’t available to us as we didn’t have 4-wheel drive. But we were able to enjoy Katherine, Litchfield National Park and Tjuwailen hot springs.

After 18 glorious days on the road, our journey together came to an end and we arrived in Darwin. It was bittersweet as I was happy to back in civilisation and looked forward to what Darwin had in store. But at the same time, I was sad the road trip was coming to an end and knew I’d miss the girls.


Perth to Darwin – Camping PIC: TM

Fritzi and Ali would leave a couple days later for Adelaide and Cairns respectively. Alina and Friedi would stay for a few days more to find recruits for their next road trip through the centre of the country to Uluru and Alice Springs. I checked into a hostel to decompress before plotting my next move. I emerged from a long hot shower and sat on an actual bed. But as nice as it was to have running water and electricity, something didn’t feel right; I felt uncomfortable and couldn’t put my finger on why. It slowly dawned on me that it was the room. After weeks of sleeping in tents, it all felt artificial: the white sheets felt sterile and the beige walls made me feel closed in. After staying in hostels for the better part of two years, I needed a break. I decided to find my own room.

I ended up finding a great room the very next afternoon. And it turned out Darwin had a great deal in store for me, going down as my favourite period of my two years in Australia. But I guess that’s another story for another day.

Tim Mugabi

Tim Mugabi

Tim Mugabi is a traveler, writer and English teacher from London, England. He’s been traveling for over three and a half years, spending time in Australia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. His interests include food, cooking, reading, photography and professional wrestling. He currently resides in Ho Chi Minh City. His favourite Game of Thrones character is Jamie Lannister.

1 Comment

  • Erika

    You live quite the life, Tim! Sadly, my backpacking days are over.

    July 13, 2017 at 9:42 pm