Vistas of the Australian coastlines have spellbound millions of overseas visitors, but Australia’s arid interior still remains a mystery. Meet Nick Sullivan, 26-year-old video producer from Sydney, who spent a fortnight driving across the land down under, in search of what lies within Australia’s outback.
My name is Nick Sullivan. I’m a 26-year-old video producer from Sydney. I travel a lot for work and even when I’m away on vacation, you’ll find me shoving a camera in my friends’ faces or editing a video late at night. Being a freelance videographer has given me the opportunity to shoot all around the world and I wouldn’t give it up for anything!
How does cinematography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Cinematography influences travel for me in a number of positive ways; whether it’s motivating me to get up at sunrise to catch the beautiful morning light or to stay up all night shooting a time-lapse whilst drinking beer and getting to know the locals. I get to see a lot more of a location than I would if I wasn’t always looking for my next shot. I’m always interested in that next story to tell. I’ll be chatting with a local or someone in passing, and in the back of my head I’ll be thinking: “This is really interesting… This would make a great short film.”
What sparked your interest to go on a road trip across Australia with five friends?
It just happened on a whim really. We all had some time off and decided to do something big! Many of us had been overseas but never seen much of Australia past the east coast so we decided to zig-zag our way from coast to coast. We were loosely influenced by a trip that was pioneered over 50 years ago by a duo of Australian adventurers, The Leyland Brothers. The only difference is that that they struggled across the desert in a four-wheel drive and we had the luxury of a mansion on wheels.
How did you prepare for the road trip?
The smart thing to do would have been to research routes, plan stops and build an itinerary. To be honest, we all just went shopping for a bunch of khaki clothes and cowboy hats. We couldn’t drive across the outback of Australia and not dress the part! To accompany our attire, we put together playlists consisting solely of Icehouse and Midnight Oil and just winged it.
Tell us more about your road trip experience!
We traveled from Shark Bay in Western Australia to Byron Bay in NSW, covering 10,100 km in 14 days and meandering our way across the country. To begin our trip, we joined a didgireedoo dreaming night tour in Monkey Mia. Capes, our charismatic tour guide, sparked our interest and imagination with stories about the history and culture of Shark Bay and the local Aboriginal people. We played didgiredoo (poorly) well into the night, before falling into bed full of optimism for the long trip ahead. Capes had given us some advice and it was foremost in our minds: “don’t travel across OZ as a stranger... the local aboriginals might think you lot are a bit tapped in the head, but they will laugh along with you on your journey... just say hello to the country wherever you go”.
We knew as we started east the next morning and the color of soil changed to harsher reds and oranges, that we were well and truly entering the outback and beginning our journey. One of the highlights was stopping in Sandstone - small gold mining community with a population of about fifty people, twenty-five of whom we met later that night at the pub. I gauge the authenticity of an outback pub by the number of its patrons wearing hi-vis and the number of English backpackers working the bar. This pub scored high on both counts. The locals were so stoked to have six thirsty twenty-somethings in their bar that the usual closing time of 9 p.m. went out the window and the night escalated into bar scenes reminiscent of a fusion between Coyote Ugly and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Over the course of our trip, our diet consisted largely of lukewarm bacon and egg rolls, chocolate milkshakes from various roadhouses across the country and whatever cold beer the local pub was serving up.
What are some of the memorable locations that you visited?
One of the most memorable locations we visited is Andamooka. It is a small Opal Mining town in South Australia about 6 hours north of Adelaide. While driving through Andamooka, I was struck by its similarity to the streets of San Pedro in Chile. Dirt roads and dust everywhere, a lunar landscape, with a small town charm unlike no other. We met up with Peter, an Andamookan resident for more than fifty years, who guided us on a tour of the opal mines. I found it brilliant that Peter was not only an opal miner but also the town’s weatherman, Sashimi Chef, Motelier, Postman and Laundromat operator.
We stayed the night in Andamooka and got a guided tour of the town by the owners of The Andamooka Yacht Club (highly recommend). Watching the sunset over one of Australia’s most unique and mesmerizing landscapes, it was hard to imagine being anywhere else. We also got a chance to drive across the Nullarbor, hang our legs off the Bunda Cliffs and explore Uluru.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamorous, though that is not always the case, especially when on a road trip. Describe some of the challenges that you faced while navigating between each town.
One of the main challenges was the distance we had to travel in a short amount of time. In the last few days of the trip, we were all going a bit stir crazy after a couple of 12-hour driving days. You could do the same trip we did in 12 months and not scratch the surface so there were plenty of little places we would’ve loved to visit but couldn’t. Also, Will’s shoes smelt like he’d been harvesting Manure in them so that was also very upsetting.
How does this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past?
Over the years, I’ve been lucky to travel around the world for work and leisure. However, nothing could really compare to this road trip. Australia is such a huge, gorgeous country and to be able to drive across it with a bunch of friends is a once in a lifetime experience. 98% of Australia’s population is located on the coast so to be able to drive for hours without seeing another soul was surreal.
What would you like people to know about your experience within Australia that is little known?
If you’re in a camper van and you pass another tourist in a camper, you’ve got to give them a big wave and a smile. It’s kind of like the road code. One time as I was driving, I forgot to wave to a couple of Grey Nomads zipping past and the crestfallen look on their face was heartbreaking. I almost turned the van around just to apologize.
Please pick and note your favorite picture captured during the trip and share why it is your favorite.
I love this photo I took of the group in Kulgera, NT. I dragged everyone away from the pub so we could get this shot but once our eyes adjusted, we stayed there for hours. There were so many stars that we could see with the naked eye that we can’t see with the light pollution in Sydney.
Do you have any recommendations for travelers who would like to embark on a similar journey?
Just go for it! There really is no better way to see Australia. Our route was pretty ambitious so I think the best advice I can give is spend more time in less locations and really get to know and explore the places you visit. Always make sure you have enough fuel because you might not see a petrol station for a few hundred kilometers on some of the more secluded roads. Having a bigger group allows you to share the driving and split up major costs like food, drink etc. We would all take turns driving and cooking. Get advice from the locals in each town because their knowledge is priceless.
What has been the most gratifying thing about your experience?
I think it was simply taking that time to see and learn about our own country, meet up with some amazing locals and share the experience with good friends. All we had to do was get from point A to point B. We made it up as we went along and had a great time doing it.
What’s next for you? Any final words of advice?
I’m currently cutting a long story based video of our road trip that features chats, interviews and advice for road tripping across Australia. Next on my bucket list I’d love to complete a similar journey across America.
To follow Nick along on his adventures, be sure to follow him @nickjsullivan on Instagram.
Video Courtesy of Nick Sullivan
Images Courtesy of Shaun Vincent and Lucy Nairn-Smith