Having enjoyed my jaunt over to South Australia through the Grampians in a house on wheels I very much wanted to repeat the experience going in the opposite direction. Visa granted, I was heading back to the bush for a few weeks to fill the visa-shaped hole in my bank account and because I can: enjoy getting there!
The beauty of Australia for us foreigners is perhaps its size. The sheer vastness of it means you can drive for hours then look on the map and realise you have made no progress. The frustration of this, to me at least, adds to its awe. The European concept of distance and time couldn’t be more different to that of the Australians. London is a “long way” from my house in the UK. A three hour drive! I would never just jump in the car on a whim and go there, but out in the bush you travel that far just to get to a decent supermarket!
So this time, I decided to take a campervan from Melbourne and drive to Sydney, swinging through Canberra on the way, and dropping down to the coast of southern New South Wales. This was achieved… but only just: thanks to a number of hiccups that I am not responsible for.
We arrived at the campervan place in Footscray, Melbourne. A really charming part of the city. Not. Slightly out of breath from the copious amount of luggage needed and excited to start another adventure my heart dropped out of my chest and splashed into my stomach when the manager informed me that I had cancelled my reservation. It seems too long ago now to bother with the details of the what-fors and the whys, but rest assured it was NOT my fault. Several phone calls were made and my Firm-But-Fair-I-Deserve-What-I-Paid-For voice was employed to speak to several people, some more helpful than others to resolve the situation. One of the “excuses” I was presented with was that I had called to cancel my reservation due to marital problems and the cancellation of my trip! Don’t get me started on how I responded to that one!
At 4:45pm, 7 hours after arriving, when we eventually let the handbrake off and steered out of the car park into the rush hour traffic in the 6-Berth Mercedes Sprinter, we were ridiculously happy, yet considerably weary and about at least 500km off target.
I drove until the articulated lorries overtaking me at 110kmph pissed me off more than I could muster and we started to search for a truck stop for night one. Nowhere near where we wanted to be, we pulled off the road in search of a campsite we could not find and settled for a side road just off the highway. There’s a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had “camped” on the side of a highway.
An early start the next morning to head to Canberra. Lucky I asked the nice lady in the petrol station for directions and good idea to get a second opinion in a café, and also to buy a road map. This was a sans technology route, since lack of campsite the night before had meant no electricity to charge all electrical devises we had between us. Fine by me: I grew up reading maps and asking directions and learnt to drive reading signposts.
Canberra’s arrival was much later than hoped, but then Australia is MUCH larger than most of us realise. With a shortage of time we screeched into the tourist information and told the smiling man we were just passing and probably had 30 mins to have a quick look around. The look on his face was priceless. He was visibly pained that someone would spend such little time in the capital of Australia and I felt obliged to give him a run-down of why we our schedule was so off kilter. We whizzed up to Parliament House, parked the van, ran around taking silly photos and then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get OUT of Canberra. (They clearly don’t want you to insult them by spending such little time there, so make it impossible to get off that darn roundabout). I embarrassed myself painfully at the petrol station, twice, which I blamed on my “marital problems” – running joke of the trip.
At 8:30pm… only 4.5 hours after leaving Canberra (!) we arrived at a campsite, whose destination was changed at least 4 times en route. Our descent on the Robertson pass into Kiama was coupled with the smell of brakes as I manoeuvred our HUGE automatic, rather unhappy van down its very steep hairpin bends, complete with traffic backed up behind me.
Kiama looked pleasant enough, but exhausted and a bit pissed off, we pulled into our quite-expensive-but-we-no-longer-care campsite and raced over the barbecue area to crack open the box wine and cook a semi decent meal. Easts Beach was beautiful in the morning. The hour or so we had on the beach was well worth it before hitting the highway to Sydney.
We swooped into Wollongong, struggled to find a parking spot, but my newly developed “white-van driving” skills would make my father proud as we edged into a space. Just enough time to jump out, for a picture and some sand between the toes before again hitting Highway 1 north-bound. A few more cars with surfboards strapped on the top this time passing us, we were in full holiday mode.
Sydney greeted us with not too much traffic and a not too difficult to find drop off point with much more time to spare than my last delivery. We rolled out of the van into the Sydney heat to begin the next leg of the journey…
I was close to tears when I saw the size of it, filled with fear when I watched the dvd on how to use it and elated at the prospect of another Australia adventure to add to my list…
Relocating camper vans is one of the best and cheapest ways to travel around Australia. I managed to find a van that needed to be driven to Adelaide, I found two friends who wanted to come and i managed to muster up the courage to say yes when the relocation company only had a 6 berth dual cab van available – the biggest in their fleet!
We checked around the van, marking damages and scratches, and then the van man got into the cab with me to show me how it all works for the driver. Now the school bus and even dad’s van seemed a piece of cake, as this vehicle was far far bigger! The monitor/computer screen that I needed to use for reversing was broken. Great. Then the reverse sensor that tells you when you are going to hit something was also broken. I was starting to feel pleased I hadn’t paid $600 to rent this thing!
So we pulled out of the parking space, swinging wide to compensate for length, rounded the corner and exited the car park. The most challenging part was about to come, as we needed to park in a car park to stock up on supplies. I found a large space, pulled in and felt pretty pleased with myself. After loading the fridge and the various cupboards with food and booze for 3 days, we set off on out way to Adelaide via the Grampians National Park. As we got onto the road, my confidence grew and I realised how exciting it was, squawking ” I’m driving a house!!!”
Driving along the highway we were making pretty good progress, as I cruised along 10km below the speed limit ( to be honest that didn’t last long) but a light came up on the dashboard… an exclamation mark! I was rather alarmed, so pulled over, whipped out the manual and we all tried to figure out what on earth it meant. It seemed to be something to do with the vehicle’s speed equalization…
Further on, I looked in the wing mirror and saw that the door to the “house” part of the van was swinging open!! We pulled over, again on the highway, all jumped out and found it closed and locked. The three of us wondered if it was possible we all could have imagined the same thing, but carried on our way. As we pulled into a lay-by for a toilet stop the girls were pleased to see people waving to us. They weren’t, they were waving their arms in horror as they too noticed our door swinging open! It seems something was broken, which we solved by tying it with my scarf!
No other major drama other than almost running out of diesel because we couldn’t find a diesel pump that wasn’t for trucks! And almost arriving back at the drop off point late because of it…
The day after I dropped off the van, I got into the driver’s seat of a car and hated it! It was strange to be so low down and not see anything!
Did I enjoy the experience? Yes of course! What would I change? MANUAL transmission please! Would I do it again? Yes, indeed I am driving to Sydney next week!
Further posts to come of the fun had on the way to Adelaide…