The misadventures continue into days two and three of our road trip. Ahh.
I’ll be riding shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feeling like a someone…
You all know George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’, which has lyrics relatable to our road trip around Australia. We recently made it the ‘Witch Doctor’ second anthem, and Aaron sings the opening on repeat throughout the day.
Truth is, I’d much prefer to be riding shotgun than drive down under, for a few reasons.
Driving Is Different Everywhere You Go
Coming from Canada, we drive on the left-hand side of the car, on the right-hand side of the road. Despite my licence expiring last year, I know I’m a safe and confident driver when behind the wheel back home. I used to drive day and night, on the highways and in busy cities, through snow, rain and all sorts of crazy weather, which should have helped me prepare for this trip.
For some reason, I can’t wrap my head around driving on the other side of the road, and on the other side of the car. Having tried a few times on the road trip already, I really struggle with spacing and confidence. It could be that the car is much larger than anything I’ve driven before and we are quite heavy with our camping gear.
I think, perhaps it’s also the pressure of driving with three others who are used to this side of the road and comfortable using larger vehicles. I don’t want to be the weakest link, the one who can’t keep up with the boys and do her share, but it’s starting to feel that way.
My First Time Driving In Australia
When behind the wheel, the motions feel the same, which is a relief, and just about everything in the car is on the same side as I’m used to. I’m most grateful that The Witch Doctor is automatic, or I would have had a much more serious problem trying to drive. I’m still too nervous to drive in the towns during the day when there are lots of other cars.
On our first long leg of the trip (that long 28-hour drive from Townsville to Alice Springs), I offered to do part of the night shift. Matt went first though, and I rode shotgun with him. As the lead passenger, it was my job to turn on and off our LED high-beam accordingly and to watch for wildlife or a change in speed limit. After what felt like ages, finally, it was my turn and I was behind the wheel between 11:30pm-4:00am.
I had a fairly uneventful 4 hours driving, but it was the last 30 minutes that ruined it for me. We were somewhere between Hughenden and Winton, taking the Outback Way to Alice Springs, and it was very quiet. We’d seen only a handful of cars and road trains, but suddenly there was a lot of wildlife hanging out around the side of the road.
Did you know that Australia’s favourite animal comes out to play at night? Kangaroos are nocturnal and are most active from dusk to dawn. While driving at night, you don’t always see them, but that will depend on the season. When its wet, you’re not likely to see a kangaroo on the side of the road because there is plenty of food to eat elsewhere. Unfortunately, during the dry season, the best grass is always by the side of the road, and kangaroos will flock there in large numbers.
Matt was helping me to keep an eye on the road as Jacob and Aaron slept in the back. I was driving about half of the speed limit, with hi-beams on the see as much as possible, and we’d done a great job at avoiding the kangaroos so far. Then we saw a large group of about 8 kangaroos spread out on either side of the road, and one was just stood still in the left-hand lane. I slowed more and moved into the right-hand lane to pass, but as we went around them, it jumped in front of the car.
I Hit A Kangaroo…
Immediately, I pulled over and stopped the car. The boys woke up as I screamed, confused and concerned at what had just happened. They all got out to check on the kangaroo and see if the car was damaged.
Me? I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I was sobbing.
When Jacob came back and told me the kangaroo was dead, it crushed me. The confidence I had built while driving those past few hours just flew out the window and I thought about that poor kangaroo. I didn’t know what to do. Matt sat next to me and tried to comfort me, but it was no use. The boys gave me some space to process what happened and to check on the kangaroo again, while I just sat in the car, staring out the front window.
I didn’t ask what they did with the body, but I know they checked it thoroughly, made sure it was no longer in pain and moved it off the road.
They were all surprised when I said I’d keep driving for another half an hour. I knew that if I stopped then, I wouldn’t get back behind the wheel, and that wouldn’t be fair to anyone.
Reflecting On What Happened
As awful as it was, I know could have been much worse. Had I swerved too far last minute, I could have rolled or flipped our car. Had it been a heavier animal (like a cow or camel, which are common in the outback), I could have totalled the car and injured us all. I’m grateful it wasn’t anything worse for us, but my heart breaks for that kangaroo.
I have driven since then, but not at night. There have plenty of jokes to try and lighten the mood about what happened, and the boys have been understanding and encouraging, despite my hesitation to get behind the wheel.
Tips For Driving In Australia
Here is my advice to consider before getting behind the wheel in Australia:
- Be cautious and don’t drive too fast, especially at night
- Research the area you’re driving in (what road conditions are like)
- Know what could happen in the season you’re driving (floods in wet season, etc)
- Be prepared for anything to jump out at you, and keep your eyes on the road
- Keep hard copies of maps (through the majority of the outback we’ve had no signal at all on our phones)
- Use high-beam lights on the car for night driving, but make sure you turn them off when there is oncoming traffic, so not to blind them and cause an accident)
- Don’t drive when you’re tired, having a driving buddy to keep you alert is always a good option
- Stop and rest when needed, you never know when the next hard shoulder is
- Have plenty of extra water and fuel, it could be a few hundred km’s until the next servo