All concerns for Jenny’s malfunctioning engine lay dormant within the deep crevices of our minds as we tried to enthuse about our upcoming weekend excursion to Moreton Bay Island. Friends and other campers had recommended a trip to the bay islands that encompass Gold Coast, and we soon found ourselves relishing the opportunity to drift away from civilisation for a while. Following a quick flick on Trip Advisor and scrolling through an endless list of positive reviews, we soon found ourselves purchasing a permit to allow us access onto the island.
This idyllic little bay proudly stands as the third largest sand island in the world and rests 14km away from Brisbane’s gleaming shore line. We were enticed by the thought of bathing on its warm beaches, paddling beyond the reach of foamy waves, cooling beneath the shade of towering sand dunes, trekking along beaten paths, staring longingly out towards the horizon waiting for the sudden arch of a humpback whale to grace the late evening sky…
Full steam ahead, Jenny, straining beneath the weight of bulky camping gear and the burden of a dysfunctional engine, chugged along towards the port. We soon approached a set of traffic lights and rumbled to a shaky stop. All of a sudden, Jenny expelled an almighty groan. She coughed, spluttered, stuttered and heaved and finally the only sound audible emanating from the car was the eternal drone of her ignition like a heart machine that had just flatlined. Matt began frantically turning over her engine and pumping away at the gas pedal but to no avail. The traffic lights flashed green. She was instantly the most hated vehicle on the road. Sparking high stress levels not only from within the car but for miles behind us too, she had generated a major road block. The furious roar of car horns sounded behind us as we turned over Jenny’s engine, desperately willing her to revive. To add insult to injury, the phone then rang. The officers at the port were calling to confirm our booking and to locate our whereabouts; we were delaying the whole ferry! Strained moments passed. The lights were dangerously close to flicking back to amber when Jenny unexpectedly roared back into life. We thundered ahead, trying to restart our own hearts.
The port was crawling with agitated looking crew members, all beaming bright in their high-vis jackets as they prepared to close the gates on the ferry. The instant they clocked a giant great Land Rover hurtling towards them, the UHF radios were whipped out and the horn of the ferry was blasted, merely to signal our embarrassing delay. We had made it within seconds. Still baffled as to what had caused Jenny to stall at the traffic lights and the mounting concern that her engine was now declining by the day, we knew we could no longer ignore it. Matty agreed he would have a poke around beneath her bonnet once we were settled on the island. In the meantime, we released the air pressure from the tyres to 15Psi (there was a time when such a term meant nothing to me… but after finding myself unintentionally locked in conversation with Matty and every other 4×4 owner in Australia, I have since become familiar with mechanical jargon).
The ferry finally approached Moreton’s shimmering border that stretched wide before a vast forestry landscape. We were fascinated by the Tangalooma Wrecks, one of the most illustrious shipwrecks on Moreton island. It is said that fifteen vessels were intentionally sunk to create a break-wall for small boats. Tourism has of course glorified the shipwreck and it now entices a good selfie stick and a snorkel mask. It’s a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkelling as the crystal waters are a window to a whole world of vibrant marine life.
Freedom here is abundant. Despite a tourist hotspot, it is far from overpopulated. Tangalooma is the main island resort that offers a range of accommodation, restaurants, bars and watersports activities. But we intended to save the buck and rest in a pretty little campsite nestled deep on the island somewhere. We cruised ahead for miles, drifting over the soothing blanket of sand, Jenny taking great delight in its tenderness beneath her toughened tyres. Even in a troublesome Land Rover, an island drive is exhilarating and wild. Matty was soon having far too much fun testing Jenny’s ability to float (boys and their toys). He thought it would be a wise move to plunge her through a river crossing having not quite anticipated the actual depth of the water. With one terrifying crash, the car was swallowed by an enormous wave. Dripping like a dog, she spluttered water from her grill before straining her way out onto dry land, cursing Matt for his insensitivity and car cruelty. The ocean spray and crisp breeze swept over the island like a salty veil… it was a lovely moment until we realised that any more salt water may actually choke Jenny’s already dying engine, ravage her aluminum frame and finish her off completely. So with that in mind, we skirted away from the tide until we eventually found a lone campsite. The entire beach was deserted. We intended to settle for the night, kindle a crackling campfire, and enjoy the gentle morning sunrise.
Later that afternoon, Matty had finally lost patience with Jenny’s frequent stalling. Without further ado, her bonnet was ajar and Matt had disappeared behind, not to emerge for a good few hours. I used this as an opportunity to wander the island, tracing the shoreline with soft footfall and eventually sprawling myself out lethargically to lose myself in a book. I gazed up at the sky that glowed lilac and pink. It was jaw-dropping to watch as a colony of bats took flight, screeching in unison into the twilight.
When I retired from the book and returned to the car, I was horrified to discover Jenny had been dismantled; it was like something out of a horror film. Matt knelt on the sand looking agitated and irascible. Once again splattered in oil, he had managed to extract the entire car radiator.
“What the hell happened?” I asked, astounded. “Why has one of her vital organs been removed?!”
Matty explained that the issue started with the old fan. Jenny’s low compression and frequent stalling was likely a result of a hole in the six-blade fan. His attempts to fix it however presented severe consequences and he had inadvertently blown a hole in the radiator. I approached the deconstructed part that lay useless over her closed bonnet like a limb that had just been amputated. I inspected the ‘blown hole’ as though expecting to find a radiator crater, a giant gorge or a hellish hovel billowing out with smoking hot heat. On the contrary, I had to push my face as close to the radiator as possible to find a minuscule chink in the grating. Yet that’s all it takes. She would soon overheat like a pig in a desert. Matty began to crimp the hole using a pair of pliers and a used wad of chewing gum (apparently an effective option that kept her minty fresh too!)
It was a temporary solution to ail Jenny’s burning fever. We knew we had to get off the island. We had drained our water supply and had no means to cool her down. We could only assume Tangalooma was a mechanic-free resort too. It was hopeless. We had no choice but to wait for her engine to simmer down before shifting her gradually closer to the ferry. In the meantime, we indulged in the pure tranquility of beachside camping. Matty and I sneakily skinny dipped in the ocean (first and last time… we were scrutinised and judged by an audience of amused seagulls!)
The next morning, we arose before the sun. We perched ourselves on the beach watching the waves break before us and gazed out at the distant motion of the tide. Much to our disbelief and wonder, we were suddenly blessed with the sight of two humpback whales gliding over the surface of the ocean, spurting air and water against the backdrop of an orange sunrise. Together, they rode the water north in serene harmony. She, Queen of the ocean and her devoted companion, singing a familiar whale song as a touching farewell to the south. There is nothing more poignant and moving than witnessing a whale migration at the break of dawn; it was enough to stupefy us and move us for days.
Later that day, we spotted a middle-aged couple trailing their way along the shoreline towards us having parked their flash (and fully-functional) 4×4 car further down the beach. They gradually approached us, swinging large Nikon cameras around their necks (a natural trademark of a tourist.)
“Do you need some water?” the man asked, staring incredulously into the dry open cavity of Jenny’s bonnet.
The men stood there for what felt like hours, topping her up with water and examining Matty’s dental work on her grating. The man approved of the chewing gum claiming to have tried that old trick himself with better results (not helpful). Eventually, the blame always turns round on Jenny and we are ultimately reminded by whoever chooses to help us that all Land Rovers are the same; they fall into the same category of unreliable money-burners, and we shouldn’t have been deluded enough to think a Land Rover was a sensible investment… especially when Toyota Land Cruisers (the fully-evolved rival) are the rulers of the road (they’re not…) Matt and I forever remained loyal to Jenny despite her problems and we normally shrugged off the backhanded insults or amused mockery from other drivers.
The man and his wife, who continued to snap pictures of every bird that fluttered around the island, explained that they were bird-watchers with an extensive photographic collection of every specie of bird, flying and flightless that lived around the South Pacific. They volunteered for a charity organisation who endeavour to conserve the habitats of birdlife and prevent extinction of some of the rarer species. They had an interesting story, but one that would have been better received had we not been so distracted by our burning Land Rover sizzling right before our eyes.
The couple generously offered to drive a good 50km across the island to find a mechanic at Tangalooma resort. We were deeply grateful and astonished by their generosity and helpfulness, something that we later discovered comes in ample supply on the roads in Australia. Hours later, they returned bearing bad news. The mechanic on site of Tangalooma (there is one!) lacked the equipment and competency to fix or change a radiator.
We had to brave it. The morning of our expected departure arrived that Sunday and we turned over Jenny’s cold engine. She rapidly heated as we trundled down the island. Matty however was determined to make it to the lighthouse on site of the island as it promises outstanding whale-spotting views from the top. We refused to let Jenny dominate our weekend on Moreton Island, so we parked her at the base of the hill and hiked to the top until we reached the pearly white-bricked lighthouse, beaming its light far and wide. The view from the hill was enchanting; you could see for miles. A frail old man who looked as though he had lived in the lighthouse all of his life, directed our gaze out and beyond. He pointed to another whale as it migrated north for the winter. Once again, we were succumbed to silence as this creature glided before us, above and below the surface of the water with such passion, vigour and tenacity, graceful and confident in her movements as though only she could tame the ocean.
Moreton is magnificent. If you intend to take a trip and catch a glimpse of a whale migration, the best time to venture there is either between May-November when the whales migrate north to breed, or when they travel south again between September-December. It truly is a sight to behold, especially if they breach (jump out the water!) There is plenty to do on the island and well worth a family/romantic excursion! Matty and I would’ve certainly returned had time permitted and Jenny wasn’t a tantrum on four wheels. Word of advice: remember to allow enough time to catch the boat to Moreton to avoid the irritated scowls and curses of impatient ferrymen… not a pleasant sight.
By some miracle, we heaved Jenny onto the boat because by this point her engine was practically leaking lava – it was safer to push the bloody thing. On board the ferry back to Brisbane, we prepared ourselves for the costly fortune that a new radiator would incur. It was an unpleasant prospect but an inevitable one; we would do what it takes to fix her as despite all the jeers from other Land Cruiser enthusiasts and modern-day road users, we would forever cherish Jenny. She was difficult and stubborn and selected her own times to malfunction, but like the whales we watched, she was a tenacious, strong and classic beauty whom we both deeply loved unconditionally. We agreed that she deserved the best quality care and treatment and so beckoned the immediate attention and appointment of a Brisbane-based radiator specialist.
Our East Coast trip could not progress until Jenny was treated. It was time to restore, replenish and rejuvenate her royal majesty, the beauty and the beast, the ruler of the road.