Overheating on a Back Road in Australia

One of the great opportunities I had in Australia was to work for accommodation in a hostel in the cute town of Port Macquarie. My best friend and I had just set up our bank accounts and we had received our tax file numbers in Adelaide after travelling for a month, and we got a response for a job offer. We didn’t know what the job was, but the accommodation was free so we booked the flight for the end of the week.

Port Mac wasn’t like the other small towns on the East Coast of Australia. Tucked between Newcastle and Coffs Harbour the main backpacker attention it got was for surfing without all the hype of places like Byron Bay. The town had a gorgeous coastline and a chill vibe that my friend and I took an immediate liking to.

Arriving at Beachside Backpackers in Port Mac was unlike any other hostel I’d been to. It was run by a handful of young adults, all with the genuine goal of being welcoming and entertaining. We were told we would drive the hostel van to and from certain points to accommodate the guests. This meant a minimum of two trips to the greyhound station a day when the bus came from the North and South to drop of backpackers and provide them with a free ride to the hostel. It also required us to drive guests who wanted to hike the popular coast trail to the trailhead, where they could then walk the coast back to the town and hostel. The van was painted like the mystery machine from Scooby doo with the addition of the hostel name written on the side. It seemed like an easy enough job for a free bed, with one exception, we had never driven on the left side of the road before.

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Beach in Port Macquarie

In the one month, we worked at beachside we each had a few minor incidents of driving on the wrong side of the road, but none that led to any accidents. What was more difficult for me was getting used to how much space the big van took up on the narrow Australian roads compared to my small Toyota matrix back home on wide Canadian highways, but I gradually adjusted. It was fun to have a job where you could blast the radio and hang out at the beach in between bus runs. We even had the opportunity to take a group of guests who wanted to take a day trip out to certain locations. It was the most freedom I’ve ever felt in a job.

The only time we took a day trip with the bus was to a waterfall. My friend and I had been looking up multiple locations within a couple hour radius of Port Mac and had decided that Ellenborough Falls was where we were going to go. We had the permission of the hostel owner, and after picking doing our morning bus run, we set out with a full van.

We had heard that there was a long dirt road on the way to the falls. I had my phone on google maps in my hand as my friend drove and admittedly, I got us lost on the way there. It turned a supposed 1 hour 45-minute journey into a 2.5 hour one. The road was downhill, long and bumpy so we had to take it very slowly.

Once we reached the falls there was a viewpoint from above or we could take 800 steps down to the bottom. We excitedly headed down the steps, and about half way down realised how difficult it was going to be to come back up. The stairs were steep and uneven, not regularly maintained but coming out to the bottom of the falls was worth it. Ellenborough was huge and the spray reached us from where we were changing into our bathing suits. We jumped between the slippery rocks and dove into the water below the aggressive falls.

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Above viewpoint of Ellenborough Falls

As expected, the walk up felt like triple the number of steps. It took a while, as the members of the group had a variety of fitness levels, but eventually we all made it to the top. A couple of the guys had a celebratory smoke at the top. We jumped back into the van and it was my turn to drive back.

I started up the engine and slowly took on the uphill. We drove about twenty minutes past a small town, having seen no one else on the road and the temperature gage started to rise. I kept an eye on it for another minute and stopped the vehicle when it went into the red zone. None of us knew much about cars so we stopped and waited for the slim possibility of a vehicle to drive by for help. All our cell phones were out, but we were in the middle of no-where, and no one had any signal.

After a few minutes of discussion, we heard a vehicle come flying on the road towards us and he slammed his brakes. He has only one spot in his vehicle and had no way to help but he pulled out a half finished six pack of beer for us and wished us luck. After waiting some more, another vehicle came around and it turned out he had overheated as well. He took off his liquid cap and it catapulted up and he went running to find it in the bushes. He helped us find where ours was and we used all of our drinking water to fill up, it sizzled inside the vehicle. After a bit of advice and more wishes of luck this man also left us alone on the dirt road.

After some time waiting one of us managed to get the tiniest amount of cell signal to call the hostel owner and say we might not make the evening bus run. The temperature gage had started to go down after putting in the water, so everyone walked up the road while I drove alone in the van behind them until the temperature started rising again. We drove, walked and waited a few more times before we managed to spot a creek. The creek was our jackpot. We all filled up our water bottles and poured them into the vehicle and I carefully drove everyone back to Port Macquarie.

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The Mystery Machine, Beachside Backpacker Hostel Van

It still amazes me that we made it back without more damage to the vehicle. The owner didn’t even bring the vehicle to the shop afterwards! Weeks later when I was packing up to leave this job, the mystery machine was still driving as if nothing had ever happened.

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