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Of All the Places to Break Down – Denham, Western Australia, Australia

Of All the Places to Break Down

Denham, Western Australia, Australia

5-star camping at Eric's car yard
5-star camping at Eric’s car yard
Hiring a campervan sounded like the perfect option for our huge road trip from Perth to Darwin, covering the length of the wild and rugged state of Western Australia. The freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted was important. In reality, our experience was a tad different.

We began the trip in style, jogging on picturesque beaches at sunrise, snapping the remarkable Pinnacles at sunset, beach fishing and exploring the immense gorges at Kalbarri. What could possibly go wrong?

We were heading for a spot of dolphin interaction at Monkey Mia, near the town of Denham, when our ageing van began to give up the mechanical ghost. Now I’m no mechanic but it was obvious our battery was knackered; starting the engine was becoming a big problem! But never mind the engine failure, a flat battery meant no lights or music – basic travelling fundamentals. Nevertheless, despite the increased risk of breaking down in the ‘whop whops’, our miniscule budget meant off road freedom camping at the exposed and remote peninsula, Eagle Head. Whilst parked up for the night, in the darkness, on a blustery cliff edge (an uncomfortable distance from Denham, the nearest spot of civilisation) the van battery completely went.

An initial barrage of foul language and van kicking was followed by fear and dread. Another vehicle was approaching. By now it was pitch black and we had no means of escape. We both sprinted a good distance from our defunct, inept van and hid, spying on the approaching axe murderers!

The offending van with Eagle Head Peninsula in the background
The offending van with Eagle Head Peninsula in the background
The vehicle pulled up right behind ours and I have to be honest I’ve never been as scared in my life. To my utter relief, as moonlight hit the side of the vehicle I realised it was another campervan. Seconds later, though my heart and hands still trembling, I was introducing myself to a pair of non-weapon yielding Canadians, a massive relief. The couple were both vets but alongside dogs and cats, the boyfriend knew a bit about car batteries and attempted to kick start the van. The van wasn’t co-operating at all.

Phoning roadside recovery was pointless. We had ventured off the bitumen highway and were therefore not covered by the rental company’s ‘safety net’. It was my own stupid fault but backpacking is about taking a few risks right? A point I made to my girlfriend – who was deeply unimpressed!

The Canadians helped us into Denham town, where frustration levels increased further. We discovered it was a public bank holiday and Denham’s only auto-electrical engineer had literally ‘gone fishing’. Luckily he’d picked up my phone messages and early next morning Eric towed us to his dusty garage on the edge of civilisation. Eric was your textbook Australian tradesman. Despite being a little rough around the edges when it came to both manners and appearance (cue Bonds vest, rugby shorts and Blundstone boots!) he excelled at all things auto-electrical and promptly ordered our necessary spare part.

Marooned in Denham, killing the boredom
Marooned in Denham, killing the boredom
The sheer size of WA became our next problem. The part was in Perth and we were 15 hours drive north. But like a typical ‘fair dinkum’ Aussie gent, Eric invited us to sleep in his yard alongside his own permanent mobile home. His yard was quite a scene. Huge barbed wire fences penned us in, gigantic aerials dominated the skyline, dumped car skeletons and a small collection of converted buses lined the perimeter with his Aladdin’s cave of a workshop taking centre stage.

Whilst Eric had gone to play darts we were left alone in the compound. The evening meal was quite surreal. Using the camp stove we cooked a stir fry surrounded by mountains of tyres, exhausts, old batteries and other random spare parts. Despite the bizarre surroundings we slept well and woke to the relieving sight of the courier van delivering our replacement ‘bit’. Within the hour Eric had worked his magic and we were off much later than planned, to our rendezvous with the dolphins of Monkey Mia.

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