The Great Budget 4wd Trip Around Australia – Week 11



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Car breakdowns are inconvenient at the best of times, but when they happen in a remote part of the Northern Territory, the whole situation can be a bit of a nightmare!

Distance Travelled:
433km – 183 driving , 255 towed 🙁

Spot of the Week:
Darwin Waterfront

Camp of the Week:
It wasn’t really a camp, but our stay in Darwin was definitely the pick of the week.

That’s largely because we got to stay in a whole apartment to ourselves there for FREE!

Yes, because of the 6 nights of complimentary accommodation provided by RACQ as part of our breakdown / road assistance & recovery package, we were put up
at the wonderful City Gardens Apartments right in the centre of Darwin for FREE!

Wow, what a serious upgrade from remote camping! We absolutely loved this place – a 2 bedroom apartment with full kitchen, BBQ, pool, free wifi and free laundry facilities – why wouldn’t we?

We definitely recommend the City Gardens Apartments as a great place to stay for anyone visiting Darwin.

Tip of the Week:
Make sure you have RACQ Ultimate Roadside Assistance Cover or your Australian state equivalent i.e. AANT or NRMA.

Having this annual cover – which cost us roughly $250 – saved us 400km of towing expenses ($1100), 6 nights accommodation in Darwin ($1200) and 6 days car hire ($480). RESULT!

Disaster of the Week:
Umm, blowing a radiator in one of the most remote parts of Australia!

The Budget ($ AUD):
Fuel – $255.68
Groceries – $239.88
Camping Fees – $99.60
Hardware / Car $15.20 (radiator putty)
Deck Chair Cinema Darwin – $30
Coffee – $18 (the rabbit hole café in Darwin is fantastic!)
Total – $658.36

Tow $330.00
Hire Car Excess Removal – $98
Radiator Part, Freight & Fitting – $1118
Minor service – $385 (the service wasn’t due for a little while, but with nowhere to do it for the next 2000km and Landy already at the garage, we decided to get it done while in Darwin)

Grand Total – $2589.36



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Day 1 – King Creek, Arnhem Land (Breakdown Spot!)


The boy and I both had a strange feeling as we were packing up camp in Kakadu National Park before heading into Arnhem Land. We put it down to excitement about going somewhere so remote and untouched.

We had our permits all lined up you see and were heading out on the most exciting part of our trip yet – a 4wd to the remote Coburg Peninsula, a national park that sits at the head of the Aboriginal-owned area of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

The excitement we both felt peaked when, driving to Cahill’s Crossing on the East Alligator River, we were met with a pretty good size croc very slowly making his way across the causeway right in front of us!

WOW we thought, what an entry into the fabled area of Arnhem Land!

After the crossing, we were hit with a ridiculously rough section of road, before getting onto a freshly graded piece of track.

This is when we thought we would beautifully sail all the 250km to our campsite at Smiths Point, right on the very top of Coburg Peninsula.

Well, the excitement and nervous anticipation very quickly disappeared when the boy noticed engine coolant spraying onto the windscreen.

We quickly pulled over to have a look to see what was going on and the call was made, a little frantically, to shut the engine off.

After pushing Landy off the road and into a shady spot, the boy and Kane investigated further and discovered a hole in the radiator.

After some cooling down time, we decided to try some Radiator Stop Leak we brilliantly had onboard, thinking this would at least allow us to get back to a sealed road and some phone signal to call for help. But to no avail, the stop leak didn’t work!

We had plenty of fuel and water, so we just got comfy in the shade and waited for help to arrive!

It finally did after 6 hours and we put up and helped out by some lovely people.


Day 2 – Jabiru, Kakadu National Park, NT


After having our lives saved by some kind helpers the day before, we now had to make the trip back to the sealed road and more permanent assistance.

So the slow 160km trip back to Jabiru in Kakadu National Park started!

With the lid off the radiator to prevent pressure building, we kept stopping every 50km to top up the radiator to make sure we made it safely.

After a 2 hour wait at Jabiru for the mechanic to come see us, and lots of calls to the RACQ, we were eventually given the instruction to limp into Darwin, stopping every 30 – 40km to top up the water.

Finally, we thought we were in the clear! No need to pay for a tow and we could just get everything sorted in Darwin in a few days.

This turned out not to be the case!

We made it exactly 8.6km, before we had to stop and call the mechanic and his tow truck from Jabiru again!

We’re still not sure why the cooling system suddenly developed a problem after we had already made it 160km to Jabiru, but such is life.

We still don’t even know why the radiator blew in the first place!

So back we went to Jabiru, this time in a tow truck, which the delightful RACQ paid for!

They also put us up in accommodation at Jabiru, as we would have to wait until the morning to get the 255km tow to Darwin!

This ended up being our first of 6 free night’s accommodation paid for by RACQ. Seriously people, buy their roadside assistance package if you are even thinking vaguely about driving around Australia!

We were all a little flat when we got to Jabiru – both with the disappointment and the heat (another 38 degree day) – but we soon settled into our little cabin at the caravan park and prepared as best we could for the next day.


Day 3 – Darwin, NT


Another tow truck driver showed up bang on time at 7am to take us, and Landy, on the 3 hour drive to Darwin.

It’s never much fun seeing your car on a tow truck, but when it is your home and contains almost everything you own, it seems far worse!

Anyway, the trip to Darwin lightened the mood, with our driver sharing stories of his travels and telling us of some great places to visit in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

We still didn’t know where we were staying when we got to Darwin, so we just unpacked everything we thought might need from the car (including gas cookers, frying pans, saucepans, cutlery etc.) and waited! We looked like homeless vagrants sat on the curb!

We finally got a call from the RACQ, saying we could pick up a hire car from the airport and they also advised us of where were staying, so we headed straight there to get settled in.

Wow, what an awesome place! RACQ had managed to get us into a 2 bedroom apartment in the centre of Darwin and we couldn’t believe it!

City Garden Apartments definitely comes recommended.

We have been bush camping for quite a while now you understand, so we were very excited to find out we had a full kitchen and laundry in our very roomy, air-conditioned apartment. What a treat! And to top it off we also had fast, free wifi and a pool!

After unpacking, we set out to explore Darwin a bit and ended up walking around town for couple of hours.

Sunday isn’t the day to get anything on your car fixed in Darwin, but it is the day for the fabulous Mindil Beach Markets, so not all was lost!

The Mindil Beach Markets are an iconic Darwin event and hugely popular with tourists and locals alike. Apart from the huge array of food stalls and entertainers, the sunset is the big draw card.

Sunsets in Darwin are beautiful and Mindil Beach is the premium spot to view the best, free show in town! It wasn’t a bad end to a hard day!


Day 4 – Darwin, NT


After an exhausting and challenging 3 days, it was nice to wake up on a Monday and know we could finally start organising how we were going to get Landy back on the road!

Hours on the phone trying to find a radiator in Darwin was difficult, but was made easier by the air-conditioning of our comfy apartment!

Success! The boy finally managed to nail down the best deal.

With no Landrover radiators available in Darwin, our cheapest option was actually going to involve getting one shipped overnight from Melbourne to Alice Springs. The kind Landrover dealership in Alice Springs would then put it on the Greyhound bus to Darwin! It would finally arrive with us almost 4 days after it started its journey from down in Victoria!

Anyway organising all this was a job well done. It was then time to slow down and enjoy Darwin.

The boy has actually lived in Darwin before, so he became our official tour guide and off we set in the hire car for a glimpse into some of the local attractions and areas, including East Point Reserve and Nightcliff.

We ended up at what soon became our favourite spot, the Darwin Waterfront. Indeed, the waterfront became our second home during our time in the city! Often spending hours there every day, we’d enjoy the sunshine and swimming in the seawater lagoon.


Day 5 – Darwin, NT


Knowing we still had a few days before Landy would be fixed, we went for some more exploring.

The Darwin museum is absolutely terrific and FREE. It houses some amazing art exhibits, with lots of indigenous contemporary art. It also has a great marine exhibit featuring pearling equipment and very early boats/rafts/canoes used by other indigenous cultures to cross the seas around Northern Australia for trading.

The highlight for me however, was the very detailed and informative display on Cyclone Tracy. Cyclone Tracy all but destroyed Darwin in 1974, flattening thousands of houses and commercial buildings in the city and surrounding suburbs. It was fascinating to learn about one of Australia’s worst recorded cyclones.

Another afternoon swimming and sunbaking at the Darwin Waterfront was the perfect warm-up for a fun night at the Deck Chair Cinema. This awesome outdoor movie theatre, sits at the heart of Darwin’s coastline and, as luck would have it, there was a free screening that night of an excellent French documentary called Demain about positive climate action.

If you are ever in Darwin, a night at the Deck Chair Cinema is a must and definitely one of our absolute favourites while we were there.


Day 6 – Darwin, NT


The radiator saga continued …

… Apparently, overnight airfreight doesn’t always necessarily mean overnight! 11am, 2 days after the radiator left Melbourne, it is still not in Alice Springs.

This puts the mechanics here behind another day and means we are running out of days to get the job done before the weekend and the expiry of our free accommodation!

Finally the call comes from Alice Springs – the radiator has arrived.

On the bus to Darwin it goes!


Day 7 – Darwin, NT


While all the events surrounding the Landrover were unfolding in Darwin, I was still able to get a ton of work done on the blog.

When you are on the road, in and out of phone service and wifi for long periods of time, you have to take advantage of a connection when you can!

We don’t often buy coffee from a café when we’re on the road, as we love our stove top espresso maker, but it had been a stressful week and in Darwin we decided to treat ourselves!

Enter, The Rabbit Hole Café on the Smith Street Mall, we definitely recommend it.

By the end of the week we felt like locals!

Another week done and dusted and still another day until we get Landy back.

Fingers crossed all goes well and we can get back on the road to Coburg Peninsula soon!


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