The Spongebob Saga – A Blessing In Disguise

This is the story of our Australian road trip, that went a little wrong! But every cloud has a silver lining. I am going to focus mainly on our time with Spongebob, the van. There were interludes without him, but including them would make this blog post extremely long. It’d probably take a week just to read it. So here is the story of Spongebob and our adventure with him that went wrong!

Finding Spongebob

Whilst in Adelaide with Dave’s relatives, we planned to buy a campervan to tour Australia. We looked at renting, but for the amount of time we had this would’ve cost a fortune.

We saw a van advertised, a Mitsubishi L300 for Aus $2,000, and arranged a test drive. The van was probably about 30 years old, but being older than us didn’t put us off! Paul, who was selling the van, had been living in Spongebob for a year as he’d worked on a chicken farm or something.

Test driving the van was brilliant fun! Dave’s relative, Ron, came with us. The van had a shift stick (which means the gear stick is on the steering column) which neither of us had encountered before! After some time flying around country lanes, we decided to take the van. So we arranged to pick the van up in a few days after we had withdrawn the required payment.



When we got back to Ron’s house we went out with his son, Glen, and his friends at the Sussex, for a celebratory drink. During this we decided to name the van ‘Spongebob’ as he was square and yellow!

A few days later it was time to go and collect our new (very old) van. We handed over the money and drove him back to Walkerville. On the way ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ came on the radio and we had a bit of a sing-a-long!


Over the next few weeks we spent time sorting Spongebob out and making sure he was ready for the journey. Although we did do more in Adelaide, I’m just  going to focus on Spongebob.


Spongebob Back Area

There was plenty of work to be getting on with, he needed a new spare wheel bracket, his bumper needed respraying and there was a little rust on the body work that needed sorting and respraying. We also got some new carpet for the front and spent some time (with Ron’s’ help) cleaning the engine.

On Ron’s advice we got roadside assistance, joining the RAA. We also took Spongebob to a nearby garage, where a mechanic gave him a full health check for Aus $50. He also fixed one or two minor issues.

We discovered a funny quirk to Spongebob, the indicators. They didn’t work. Dave rewired them so that they worked via the hazard light wiring. Kind of fixed… With the quirk of the indicators working even when the engine was turned off, just a little quirk!

Our First Roadtrip

On Tuesday the 30th March 2010, we had booked passage to Kangaroo Island at 6pm. So after having lunch with Ron’s brother and sister in law (Billy and May), we said our waved goodbye and headed out to the open road!

We arrived at Cape Jervis much earlier than we expected. We had three hours before the ferry… And there was actually nothing there. So we parked up and walked up to a viewpoint, which had a view of the carpark and ferry terminal… Then we headed back to Spongebob and used the kettle for the first time. Super exciting, right?

Spongebob Waiting To Board The Ferry

Spongebob Waiting To Board The Ferry

When the time came I walked onto the Ferry and Dave drove Spongebob on (only the driver was allowed in the vehicle). The ferry crossing was much smoother than we’d been warned about, but it was great fun. We arrived at Kangaroo Island at dusk and as Dave drove Spongebob out onto dry land he had ‘Back In Black’ blasting, which made me giggle!

Approaching Kangaroo Island

Approaching Kangaroo Island

We had not really planned where to stay, but we decided to head towards the American River. We found a campsite here after dark and had our first meal in Spongebob. As we were cooking we realised the gas pipe was a bit weird, but we couldn’t put our finger on what was wrong. Then we set up the bed and had our first night’s sleep in Spongebob.

View From Campsite

View From Campsite

Early Warning Signs

The next day we headed out bright and early, we had a lot to fit in! We headed to Kingscote and then it happened, Spongebob came to a juddering halt.

We were very thankful at this point that Ron had convinced us to get RAA membership. Whilst calling the breakdown we discovered that we were a thirty second walk from the RAA garage on Kangaroo Island! So the mechanic literally walked up to us. Luckily it was a quick fix, a wire had been knocked out so it was a simple ‘stick it back in’ solution.

We then headed to Emu Bay for some lunch and to plan out the day properly. Emu Bay was a nice little beach with a kids play area. Over lunch we decided to head to Flinders Chase National Park.

Rocks And Arches

We arrived at Flinders Chase National Park and paid the park fee and a campsite fee (we’d decided to stay here overnight). Then we headed out to explore the park.

Admirals Arch

Admirals Arch

Our first stop was Admirals Arch. This arch was created by thousands of years erosion and from the viewing platform we could see a number of New Zealand Fur Seals (Arctocephalus forsteri). It is a beautiful natural feature.

Next we headed to Remarkable Rocks, which were, well, remarkable. They are one of the island’s most distinctive landmarks. 500 million years of erosion from wind, rain and the sea have shaped these amazing granite boulders. We had a great explore around these rocks – it was like a big kids playground! There are some really great shapes, like a love heart and a bird’s’ beak!

Natpacker At Remarkable Rocks

natpacker At Remarkable Rocks

As it was getting late we headed to our campsite at Snake Lagoon. The site wasn’t very well named as there were no snakes and no lagoon. Ironic. To get there we had to drive down a mud track, which Spongebob did not like at all!

Remarkable Rocks

Remarkable Rocks

Here we found out something really was wrong with the gas pipe… It was leaking. As Dave was cooking gas leaked out into the cupboard and caught fire! There was a minor explosion and Dave was thrown backwards with the hair on his left arm signed and missing some eyelashes… No real damage though. Dave grabbed the fire extinguisher and put out the fire. We were very lucky to say the least!


Spongebob Kitchen

The Lagoon, Fur Seals And Penguins

The next day we headed out on the Snake Lagoon walk. It was a brilliant walk and not too difficult.

Approaching The End Of The Snake Lagoon Walk

Approaching The End Of The Snake Lagoon Walk

The path goes through Sugar Gums and then descends into the Rocky River Valley. After crossing the Rocky River the path follows the river to the mouth, ending on a beach. Here we spent a bit of time before retracing our steps back to Spongebob.

Natpacker At The Beach At The End of Snake Lagoon Walk

natpacker at The Beach at the End of Snake Lagoon Walk

Next we headed to Seal Bay. Here we went into the visitor centre and learnt a lot about the Fur Seals. We headed out on to the boardwalk for a look at the colony. There were pups playing around and they were all over the beach! There was also a whale skeleton, which was impressive.

Seal Bay

Seal Bay

Leaving Seal Bay an echidna ran in front of Spongebob! Luckily we had enough time to break, so the little fellow was unharmed. I just hope he (or she) didn’t do it again! Now we were heading back to Penneshaw so that we were in the right area for our morning ferry.

Fur Seal At Seal Bay

Fur Seal At Seal Bay Right Below The Board Walk

We found somewhere to stay and joined the Penguin Parade. This was so much fun, I loved it! We got to see and learn about Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor). First there was a talk about them, and we learnt that they live in a ‘village’ with a main path to the sea that all the penguins use. Then we headed out to see the penguins.

I got to be part of the ‘team’, which made me far too happy! A torch was handed to me so that I could help to spot penguins for everyone on the tour. I loved this task far too much!

Penguin Parade

Penguin Parade

All Going Downhill

The next morning we headed onto the ferry back to mainland. The crossing was much rougher this time! Then we headed towards Melbourne. The drive was fun and the scenery lovely, but we didn’t seem to be covering any ground!

There was a part of the drive where we had to use a ferry to cross. We nicknamed this the ‘Bucklebury Ferry’. It could only fit ten cars on at a time, so there was a bit of a queue! As we waited, we turned the engine off, trying to turn him back on failed! A few guys had to help us to jump start him.

We found a free campsite that night, somewhere in Victoria, but I have no idea where. On the toilets was a sign that stated the pub down the road had ‘friendly owners, a great atmosphere and great food’ someone else had sprawled ‘All Lies!’ across it… I wonder which is true?


Ready For Bed In Spongebob

We carried on with our journey to Melbourne and were getting a little bored of the long drives now. Especially when Spongebob had to be jump started again! We stopped in Geelong for some lunch and a break. After leaving Geelong it wasn’t long before Spongebob was coughing and spluttering. Then he wouldn’t go above 40 km/h! So we stopped at a services and called the RAA.


So glad we had RAA cover. The mechanic played around for a bit until he pulled out a spark plug. The spark plug had been bashed by a piston and was in terrible shape. However it was Saturday 3rd April 2010, which meant it was Easter Saturday, so no garage would be open until Tuesday!

Luckily our RAA membership allowed us to be towed to a nearby garage and we were also put up for up to three nights in a motel. The motel was Moute Villa in Hoppers Crossing. Even luckier was that Hoppers Crossing was one of the last stops on the Melbourne city link, so we were just able to get into the city!

That night we had a minor panic of what we should do. We resolved to try to get a job in Melbourne and a hostel when our nights were up. Then we would go from there, sort the most important things out first.

The Silver Lining

Easter Sunday was spent walking around Melbourne, sightseeing, checking out hostels and job hunting. We applied for quite a few jobs, emailing and leaving answer machine messages. One that Dave left was quite funny as the post stated they needed ‘fit and healthy people’ so Dave actually said “We’re fit, healthy and need work!” This was to a company called PDC.

On Easter Monday we moved into Nomads All Nations Backpacker Hostel. It was the cheapest in a central location, but it wasn’t the nicest. Mainly because they were having a refurb during our stay, so it was a bit of a building site. But there was free tea, coffee, pasta and rice. It did the job and the staff were lovely.

Delivering The Yellow Pages

Delivering The Yellow Pages

We also got a phone call that day. PDC (Product Development Company) offered us both a job starting the next day. We literally snapped their offer up. The job was delivering the Yellow Pages, not glamorous, but it paid and we needed the money!

We spent our weeks working and even did a couple of weekends away working in Geelong and Ballarat, but they’re other stories for other times. There were some great people that we worked with. The best were Gus, Max and Catherine.

Back To Spongebob

I won’t go into detail of our Melbourne adventures, that’s another tale for another time. We were contacted by the garage who basically said that Spongebob’s engine was ‘cream crackered’. They could purchase and fit a reconditioned engine, which is what we decided to do.

Upon being reunited with Spongebob, we found a campsite near a trainline into the city. At this point Catherine was able to pick us up every morning to take us to work, rather than us having to go to the warehouse.


Relaxing In Spongebob

The campsite was cheap, and did the job. In fact, I really enjoyed it there. We spent a few weeks there, heading into Melbourne for sightseeing at the weekends.

The Hard Goodbye

Then it happened, we risked a long journey. We decided to head out to Glen Rowan on weekend. I don’t think we even got halfway… The coughing and spluttering started again. So we called out the RAA again who towed us back to the garage. We were then given accommodation again, this time we stayed at the motel across from the campsite we’d been staying in.

Spongebob was in the garage for a while and Catherine let us stay at hers for a weekend. We even managed to get a courtesy car from the RAA as we were still waiting (again, another story for another time). But the time came. We could either try another reconditioned engine or call the van plan off. It was a very hard decision, but we had to let Spongebob go.

Thankfully the garage gave us a refund for the first engine and said that they would dispose of Spongebob for us. We were back in Nomads All Nations at this point. So we headed out to the garage to collect all the blankets, crockery etc. Then we said our final farewell to our old, broken van and left him. Now he is in that great carpark in the sky…

Back at Nomads All Nations we donated all the cooking equipment, not expecting anything for it, just not wanting it to go to waste. But the receptionist gave us a couple of free nights in exchange for it all! Then we grieved for Spongebob for a little while and had to replan out entire Australian Adventure as we no longer wanted to do it in a campervan!

Spongebob Close Up

Spongebob Close Up

My Thoughts On Our Spongebob Adventure

Do I regret buying a van and travelling in it? No. I would not do it again planning to go so far in something so old though. It was an enjoyable time with Spongebob and learnt a lot from him. He gave us our first major problem on our year out, which was going to happen at some point and could have been much worse. We managed to find our feet and even did alright for ourselves. I don’t even think we lost money on him, by time you add up the free accommodation, the courtesy car, being on the campsite for a few weeks and not paying for transport.

I’m glad we bought Spongebob and gave it a go. But I’m equally grateful we did not try to head up to Alice Springs for the first journey. Breaking down in the outback could’ve ended a lot worse with a lot more tears!

Categories: Adventures | Comments

Author Bio: Nat

I’m Nat, the backpacker behind natpacker. From the UK, I was bitten by the travel bug during a round the world trip in my early twenties. Since then I have been determined to see as much of this world as possible. My passion for travel led me to start up this blog, partly to record my adventures and partly to inspire others to travel.

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