There's no getting away from it. Australia is a big place. And, on the morning we arrived at a motorhome depot in one of the shabbier corners of Cairns, it had never seemed larger. In front of us stood the camper van in which we would traverse almost 3,000 kilometres before catching a flight out of Sydney. To give a sense of perspective, this equated to driving from London to Moscow - but where that journey would take in eight countries, just a single state border lay ahead of us. Did I mention Australia was big?
Our first campsite was on an industrial estate in Townsville, although the city was larger and more attractive than first impressions suggested.
I can't say that Mackay stands out as a particularly memorable stop on our journey, except for abundant birdlife at the caravan park. There were rainbow lorikeets having the time of their life in a giant hamster wheel as we collected keys for the amenities block.
Most days in the van were an adventure but the one which began in Mackay was more of an endurance event. Lunch by the side of the road in Rockhampton followed almost four hours of incredibly bland scenery and the lady in Tourist Information forecast roadworks and heavy traffic for the afternoon. She was right.
A near-empty fuel gauge meant we took a detour through Gladstone, which turned out to be one of the most depressing places we've seen in the whole of Australia. Mining blackened the landscape as we approached and barely a soul walked the streets when we entered the town. We were thankful to be on our way.
Even then, we were still a long way from our destination. Leaving the congested Bruce Highway was a relief but the quiet country roads did little to help keep me alert. Rachel's directions were spot-on, though, and at least spared us a wrong turn on the way to Bundaberg. After an exhausting 630km, we slept well that night.
Those exertions did ensure a shorter run into Brisbane the following day, where familiar figures were waiting to greet us.
The road trip was fun once more.
An adventure, not an assignment.
Sandy Hollow was somewhat off the beaten track and we almost hit a blundering wombat on the quiet back roads. Our final compsite was humble and near-deserted but these were no bad things. Dinner was 20 yards down the road at a wonderfully unpretentious jack-of-all-trades emporium which served as a petrol station, post office, chip shop, cafe and general store.
An overwhelming reluctance to join the masses on the Pacific Highway meant we stayed inland for as long as possible on our descent towards Sydney. Wineries and chocolate shops may be plentiful in the Hunter Valley but what we didn't expect was large-scale mining. The juxtaposition of fertile vineyards and harsh coal pits made for another interesting day on the road.
The Great North Road was built by convicts and they did a magnificent job. If Top Gear have never been here, someone should get on the phone to Jeremy Clarkson. The road soared and dipped alongside vast fields of cattle and tip-toed through hamlets. It dragged us up steep hills, squeezed us round hairpin bends and sent us flying down the other side. Finally, it spat us out onto the freeway, where the glut of traffic told us we were closing in on Sydney.
On the wall of the depot office was a gigantic map of Australia. In an instant, our escapades were shrunk into proportion. We can tell ourselves we've worked out this great southern land, but the reality is we've only tickled the edges.