Costly Australian Errors

3. The $500 Photo

Fact file:

  • Transportation: Hyundai Getz
  • Location: Tchupala Falls, Australia
  • Date: May 2010
  • Injury: None
  • Damage: None
  • Cost: >AU$500 (£300)
  • Fault: All One Car Rentals, Cyclone Larry, my parents


Enjoying the surrounding area of Cairns at Ellis Beach

Enjoying the surrounds of Cairns at Ellis Beach

In March 2010, disillusioned with life working in London, I decided to embark on a new adventure with a 1-year Australian working holiday visa.  After 2 months of partying in Sydney and with a job secured at one of Australia’s ski resorts, I decided to spend a few weeks travelling.  I coincided visiting Cairns with my birthday as well as with my friend Niall’s plans to be passing through too.  Some friends that I had met in Sydney were also in Cairns so a group of us hired a Hyundai Getz for two days to explore the surrounding area.

Me, Jonny and Craig beneath Ellinjaa Falls

Me, Jonny & Craig under Ellinjaa Falls

On the second day I drove Niall, his girlfriend (Steph), Craig and Jonny to the nearby Atherton tablelands for a day of visiting lakes and several waterfalls.  As we neared the end of a fantastic day, we made a final stop at Tchupala Falls.  We parked at the side of the road, locking our valuables safely in the car.  We followed the path to a lookout point but found further progress blocked.  A sign informed us that the destruction of 2006`s Cyclone Larry had rendered the path unsafe.  Sure enough, as we ignored the warning and continued downhill we discovered fallen trees obstructing us.  With flexibility and determination we arrived at the bottom of the path at a flat pool of water between two waterfalls.

There's Jonny next to my carefully placed towel and keys...

There’s Jonny(!) next to my carefully placed towel and keys…

I carefully placed my towel and the car keys onto a rock at the water’s edge before proceeding along one fallen log to capture an incredible view of Tchupala falls.  I decided that everybody should appreciate this view so I beckoned for them to follow as I lifted my towel out of the way.  Time proceeded in slow-motion as something fell from the rock into the water and I remember meeting Niall’s eyes.  When the realisation kicked in, I scrambled down the rock to claw at the water flowing towards the edge of the next cascade.  After several moments of desperation it dawned on me that I had just lost our only set of keys to the car, which was parked 20km from the nearest town.

The others persisted with the search using goggles and widened the search area, but I admitted defeat and turned my attention to the consequence of my mistake.  I headed back up the path, double-checked that the car was completely locked and attempted to flag down passing cars.  It did not take long before one man pulled over and I explained our predicament.  He sympathised and consented to calling our rental company as soon as he got within range of his mobile network.

We were reluctant to abandon the vehicle containing a collection of our phones, wallets, cameras and even passports but as the sun started setting we realised that we needed to actively pursue a resolution to this conundrum.  The next vehicle to pull over to offer assistance contained two locals (I’m hesitant to call them rednecks, but this gives you an idea!) who offered to drive some of us into Innisfail, 20km along the road.  The driver opened his door with a beer bottle between his legs – later reassuring us that they’d been drinking since 10am – and cleared some space for me, Niall and Steph to get in the back.  As we were still hoping the rental company would be sending a replacement key, Jonny and Craig stayed with the car.  The local guys recommended sitting on the car to stay out of reach of wild pigs and warned them of passing aboriginals that could be looking to cause trouble.  They were rewarded for the brave act of staying behind with a beer and snacks!

After a fairly comical, if slightly unnerving, drive then several stressful and confused conversations by pay phone, we finally made arrangements with the rental company to send a tow truck to assist us.  The first passer-by had contacted his assistant to look out for us on her way home and she rescued Craig and Johnny from the wild pigs and aboriginals that could be roaming in the cold night.  Niall had fortunately kept his wallet with him, so we were able to have some dinner in Innisfail while we waited.

A replacement vehicle was brought and I struggled to keep up with the speedy truck along the dark roads back to our stranded car.  We were able to collect our possessions but the rental company (foolishly) did not have a second key to start the vehicle, so we drove the replacement car back to Cairns.  The combined price to hire the tow truck and change the locks on the car came in at just over $500.  Therefore I will always think of my costly photo of Tchupala Falls as the “$500 Photo”.

The $500 Photo

The $500 Photo

For more photos and details on my Cairns adventures, click here.

4. Australian Speeding Fines

Fact file:

  • Transportation: Hyundai Getz, Henry the Hippy Camper Van
  • Location: Cairns & Bruce Highway, Australia
  • Date: May 2010
  • Injury: None
  • Damage: None
  • Cost: AU$533 (£307)
  • Fault: Department of Transport and Main Roads (Queensland Government), temporary traffic lights, my parents


I am not very good at sending postcards home when I am travelling overseas.  But it seems that my mother was not overly pleased when she received some photos of me from Queensland`s Department of Transport and Main Roads.

It seems that on top of the “$500 Photo” incident, I managed to get caught speeding twice in the Hyundai Getz that we hired for two days.  I am fairly sure that I was snapped at the same location within those two days, but it could have been in either direction.  If my memory is correct then this location is on the edge of Cairns where the speed limit changes from 60km/h to 80km/h.  I believe that I was caught out by not quickly adjusting my speed when leaving or returning to the town, which is a bit of a cruel place to position a speed camera.

Looking cool in my pink vest, driving Henry the hippy camper van!

Looking cool in my pink vest, driving Henry the hippy camper van!

I was not surprised to receive the third speeding fine because I spotted the policeman wielding a speed gun moments after I sped past.  On this instance, only weeks later, I had been queuing in traffic as I was bypassing a town along Queensland`s Bruce Highway.  I was waiting at the front of the queue at some temporary traffic lights, so had a clear path ahead to drive my camper van into.  In my relief (and impatience) I accelerated quickly away and all too soon was clocked by the police officer that I hadn`t spotted at the side of the road.

And so I had been caught twice driving more than 13km/h over the legal limit (resulting in two $200 fines) and once driving just over the speed limit (costing me a mere $130).  Incidentally, I was punished further by Queensland`s roadworks when loose gravel, sent flying into my windscreen by passing trucks, cracked the glass on my rental camper van.  I believe I was charged for 3 minor cracks although I had spotted at least 5 or 6!

Here are some highlights from my manic solo 6 day 3,000km journey from Cairns to Sydney:

We must fly across the Tasman Sea to continue with Overseas Transport Misdemeanour #5

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