Australia – Campervan heaven for life on the road

Australia – Campervan heaven for life on the road

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After I took the bar exam in 2010, I decided to take a little bar trip to Australia and New Zealand. For New Zealand a booked a Contiki tour bus, but for Australia I went solo. One thing I learned quickly was that Australia was expensive. I bought a Greyhound pass that let me ride as many buses as I could from Cairns to Melbourne in one direction. Along the way, I heard backpackers talk about this amazing program in Australia where campervan companies give you a free van and sometimes even pay you to drive their vans from one location to another. While the website the backpackers told me about was www.imoova.com, there are a number of sites that offer a similar service. Just Google “campervan relocation Australia” and you’ll find a plethora of options. The important thing is to be flexible with your travel days and destinations. The longer you wait to book, the better deals you can get but you also run the risk of not having any vans available that are going where you’re going. The relocation service also exists in the US, Canada, Europe, and the UK but it is most prevalent in Australia and New Zealand.

While I was excited to try out this method of free travel, I was a little nervous of how we’d do in campervan for the 3 weeks we’d be in Australia. We had to find places to park the vans overnight, figure out how we’d cook food, shower, do laundry, etc. We were definitely pleasantly surprised with the quality of the campervans, the infrastructure supporting campervans/truckers through the country, the roads, and most importantly, the food. It turned out to be one my favorite experience of our honeymoon. We started our Australia adventure up north in Cairns to explore the Great Barrier Reef and would be making our way down the coast to eventually visit Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide but so much is in-between.

Day 346 (4/10/17) – Ubud > Cairns

Our overnight flight arrived in Cairns at 8am. I can never sleep well on planes and we were both very tired when we landed. We ordered an Uber to take us to our Airbnb where we got an early check-in and took a nap. Our Airbnb included bikes to ride around the city so we biked to the nearest grocery store for food, made lunch, and chilled for the rest of the day.

Day 347 (4/11/17) – Cairns

The Promenade in downtown Cairns

For our first full day, we took a bus into town and checked out the public pool at the Promenade. The pool is really gorgeous that overlooks the ocean and has some nice fountains throughout. There are also grass and picnic areas just off the pool so it’s a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. It was a nice sunny day out so the pool was very nice. We hung around for a bit and then had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant near there. The prices were extremely expensive for pho at $13.90 AUD per bowl, but it was actually decent. After lunch we took the bus to the Botanical Gardens. Admission is free and is actually pretty decent. They have a nice butterfly enclosure and some nice paths with some beautiful flowers. After walking around for a bit we tried to catch the bus to the Airbnb. Unfortunately, the bus doesn’t come by very often and we had to wait over an hour for the next bus but finally made it back. We made dinner, chatted with our hosts, and relaxed for the rest of the night.

Day 348 (4/12/17) – Cairns

We couldn’t go to Australia without doing a Great Barrier Reef dive. For the tour we headed to the pier around 6 AM. The weather was cold and cloudy with intermittent showers. I was getting a bit concerned because of the size of the waves but we took some motion sickness pills before we left so we staved off sea sickness. It took over an hour to get to the first dive spot. Diem and I were in separate groups because I was certified and she wasn’t. She went off in the first group that dove attached to an instructor. I gave her a quick breakdown before the tour but in retrospect, we should have done a test dive in Asia just to get her comfortable. Unfortunately, she jumped in and immediately panicked with breathing through the scuba gear. She made it to the side railing where the other divers were waiting in the water for the instructor. The instructor made Diem’s group do some exercises under the water but she couldn't breathe and her mask kept getting flooding. After about 3 attempts under water and even descending, she had to go up and throw in the towel so the rest of the group can enjoy their dive. I sat on the boat still traumatized while everyone snorkeled. I felt bad because I had two dives that were really great. I saw a shark, a couple of turtles, a huge grouper, along with a lot of other fish. The tour group offered to have Diem try again but she stayed on the boat. In the end they offered to refund her $70 AUD because she didn't really dive. There’s been a lot of talk about the disappearing Great Barrier Reef, the tour guide didn’t seem concerned because she said there were other areas where the reef was growing and the media was only focusing on the bleaching areas. We definitely saw a lot of dead areas but the GBR is huge and they work there every day so maybe they have a point. After the last dive, they gave us some fruit and we headed back to shore, then to the Airbnb and called it a night.

Day 349 (4/13/17) - Cairns > Airlie Beach

Nice and cozy, but can't beat the view

Today we began our campervan adventures. I went to pick up the campervan at 9 AM and we dropped by Woolworths for groceries, a SIM card and started driving. For the first reservation, we had 5 days to get to Brisbane and we got a $200 AUD gas credit. There are number of apps in Australia that tell you where all the rest stops and campsites are along with the amenities and costs of each. There are a lot of free spots to park for the night and we learned that the battery in campervans only need to be charged every 2-3 days. We drove about an hour to Fig Curtain Tree, which was pretty nice. We took some pictures and then drove another hour to Millaa Millaa Waterfall. One of the nice things about the campervan was that we could park right in front of the waterfall and make lunch. We wanted to get in the water and do a herbal essences type picture but it started to rain and was getting cold so we continued driving. For our first night we booked a reservation at Gunna Go Campervan (outside of Airlie Beach) but made it there late, around 11 PM. We parked and slept immediately.

Day 350 (4/14/17) - Airlie Beach

Not the strangest place we saw a boat that day

Our first night sleeping in the van wasn’t bad at all. The bed was actually comfortable and we slept in and made breakfast. After we ate, we took the campervan to Airlie Beach, parked for free, and chilled on the beach for a bit. It was a little surreal because we arrived in Australia only a couple of weeks after hurricane (or cyclone) Debbie hit the area only a couple weeks before and the town was still pretty beat up. There were boats up on the rocks and along the shore line but the locals were having a festival on the beach. It was pretty warm out but we had free WiFi on the beach so we caught up on some emails then walked around the town. Most stores were closed since it was Good Friday or were damaged. After walking around, we went back to the to the camper park and made lunch. For the rest of the day we relaxed and took a nap. They had a nice bbq area so we grilled dinner, showered and then called it a night.

Day 351 (4/15/17) - Airlie Beach > Rockhampton

View from the Whitsunday resort

The next day we drove into town early for some WiFi and then to the pier for our 8 AM tour with ZigZag ($125 aud pp). Airlie beach is famous as being a jumping off point for exploring the Whitsunday islands off the coast. A lot of the tour companies were closed because they were recovering from the hurricane but ZigZag was open for business and was 40% off since they were trying to get people to go back out on tours again. The tour went to 2 snorkel spots and Whitehaven beach and the last stop was at Long Island Resort. The weather was nice and ho but the snorkel spots weren’t the best because the visibility was low due to the hurricane kicking up a lot of sand and debris that hadn’t fully settled. We relaxed at the resort for a while before heading back to the marina. We were told there were showers we could use at the marina but it turned out they weren’t free and were for tenants only. After drying off, we drove to Woolworth’s to buy some snacks for the ride and fill up tank. The next stop was supposed to Rockhampton but we only made it to Claireview (about 170km from Rockhampton). It was already 10 PM and we still had 2 hours until our planned rest stop in Rockhampton so we just pulled over at a rest stop that had overnight parking and slept. This rest stop actually had a lot of other campers and the next morning the “Driver Reviver” kiosk was open with free coffee. Apparently, the rest stops in Australia rotate in giving out free coffee to drivers to help them stay awake on the road. The roads in Australia also have a lot of signs telling drivers to stay awake and when the next rest stop is.

Day 352 (4/16/17) - Rockhampton > Hervey Bay

The next morning we took advantage of the Driver Reviver for free coffee. They also offered pancakes and waffles for a dollar but we started our Deep Nutrition diet and Diem cooked an egg frittata with bacon. After coffee and breakfast we started driving and stopped at Rockhampton but the rest stop didn't have showers so we stopped by Woolworths for more groceries and stayed for a bit to use the free WiFi. Our next stop was Hervey Bay and along the way we stopped briefly at McDonald's for coffee and pulled over at the next rest stop to cook lunch. Diem made a delicious seared snapper with butter mushroom sauce with lettuce wrap, crushed walnuts, lime, red bell peppers, and alfalfa. Finally we found a rest stop at Boyne River bridge in Benaraby City that had free public showers. After showering up, we drove to Hervey Bay but didn't make it in time for the sunset. We just barely missed it so we just checked out the town and then drove to our rest stop in Gunalda. Diem made some lamb chops for dinner and we went to bed early.

Day 353 (4/17/17) - Hervey Bay > Brisbane via Sunshine Coast

Hard to imagine this food was cooked in a van, I'm very lucky!

We left Hervey Bay early the next morning and drove along the coast towards Sunshine Coast. We took a brief stop at Noosa Head and then parked at Sunshine Beach for breakfast. Diem and I took a walk down to the beach for a bit but it was a bit windy so we didn't stay long. We continued driving south along the coast and stopped at Point Perry, Coolum Beach, and First Bay where there was a secluded cove and beach. It was so nice that we decided to relax at First Bay for a while. We watched some surfers and rested our eyes before heading back to the van. After our break, we made our way to Buderim Forest Park. We parked here for the afternoon and Diem made some lunch. It was getting late so after having lunch we decided to drive to a rest stop in Glenview for the night that was south of the Gold Coast and closer to Brisbane.

 

 

Day 354 (4/18/17) - Brisbane > Taree

Today we dropped off the first Camperman van and picked up another one from Apollo. Had to wash the car ($5) and clear out our stuff. We had a hard time finding a self car wash that was open that early but luckily there was one 5 km from the Camperman dropoff office. Diem stayed at the Camperman office with our luggage while I walked to pick up the other campervan from Apollo. Luckily, the Apollo office was just 2 km away. The new van was actually a converted hummer but was pretty new and nice. After filling out the paperwork, we finally got the new camper and made our way south towards Newcastle. For our next leg of our trip, we had 4 days to get to Adelaide. We originally wanted to go to Sydney but there weren’t any campervans available so we had to adjust. It was a long drive and we made it to a rest stop at a tavern near Taree city to sleep for the night.

Day 355 (4/19/17) - Taree > Hunter Valley       

Touring wineries in style

Today, we woke up early and made our way to Hunter Valley wine region. From Taree, it was a little over a 2 hour drive and we made it to Hunter Valley around 11 AM. Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s most famous wine regions. The wineries we tried were: Sadlers Winery, McWilliams Mount Pleasant, Tulloch, Mount View Estate, Iron Gate, and Petersons Winery. They all had free tastings and their wine varieties were delicious. Our favorite new wine is the specialty of the region, the Semillon varietal. We stopped midway at a picnic area next to Tulloch Vineyard for some lunch and continued on our self-guided wine tour afterwards. It was about 5 PM by the time most of the wineries (cellar doors) were closing but it was plenty. We were feeling pretty buzzed and made it to a camp site near Cessnock and called it a night.

Day 356 (4/20/17) - Hunter Valley > Goolgowi via Blue Mountains

Three sisters

The next morning we started early towards the Blue Mountains. The morning drive was very foggy and both of us weren't feeling the best after all the wine we had the day before but we wanted to see the Three Sisters. It was a long drive from Hunter Valley but we made it there a little after 1 PM. The Sisters is a famous rock formation in the Blue Mountains. I actually visited the Three Sisters back in 2010 but it was a really cloudy day back then and I couldn’t see them very well. This time around we had better weather so we took a few photos and walked along some of the paths and down closer to the Three Sisters. By the time we got down there, the large Asian tour buses were arriving so we hurried out of there. We drove to a park nearby and made lunch. After lunch, we headed east making our way through the countryside to Adelaide. We stopped at a rest stop in Goolgowi for the night.

Day 357 (4/21/17) - Goolgowi > Adelaide

It was another early morning and we started making our way east to Adelaide. We planned on arriving in town before nightfall so that we could do laundry and find a Wi-Fi spot to take care of some business. Along the way, we saw that there was another campervan available for relocation from Adelaide to Melbourne for the following day so we booked it. Later on, the campervan company called us and asked if we could pick it up that afternoon or Monday. We told them that we couldn’t on Monday because we had planned to be in Melbourne by Monday and we weren't going to arrive in Adelaide until 5:30 PM. After some back and forth, we arranged for someone to stay afterhours to check out the campervan for us so we rushed to make it to Adelaide in time. We were only 2 hours outside of town and made it there with time to spare but it was a frantic moment. Luckily, we bought the SIM card earlier so we had cell service during the drive. When we got to dropoff point, we filled out the paperwork but left the camper there overnight. We still had the Apollo vehicle for one more night and we needed to clean it out before we returned it. We went to do laundry and then swapped out the campers. The Apollo camper had a limit on the number of kms we could use and we were already over the limit so we left it at the parking lot and took the new Camperman camper to the camp site for the night. Unfortunately, the campsite was 50km outside of town so it was tiresome to drive all the way out there. The campsite was just a rest stop off the highway but it was free and we just went to bed.

Day 358 (4/22/17) - Adelaide > Tantanoola

The next morning, we had to wash the Apollo camper and then return it. So we did another swap. We left the Camperman at the parking lot and went to fill up the Apollo gas and wash it. Unfortunately, the Apollo return office was on the other side of town so we decided to make a day of it. We drove it to the return office and then walked through town. It took roughly 20 minutes to get to the center but it was a nice walk and we needed to stretch our legs after all the sitting we've been doing on the long drives. We stopped at a conveyor belt sushi place for lunch and Diem said it was a relief to not cook for a bit. Diem had ramen and a nigiri from the belt and I had sashimi and salmon nigiri. After lunch, we continued our walk through town towards the central business district. Adelaide is a nice town like most of the towns like most of the towns we’d visited in Australia. It would have been nice to spend a couple of days exploring more the city and the region but we took some pictures around town and then decided to take the bus back to the parking lot. When we got to the camper we picked up some food and then started our drive west. We drove along the B1 highway through the Coorong National Park area and made it as far as Tantanoola before we decided to stop for the night. It was dark and the camper did not have very good headlights so driving at night on poorly paved roads with blinding headlights from opposing traffic was not a good idea. We setup camp for the night and tried to fill up the camper’s water tank but the hose was leaking a lot of water so we didn't fill it up all the way. The camper was a 5-berth and was supposed to have a hot shower but the shower did not work very well and we really didn't have much water either so we didn't shower.

Our first half of Australia was a big success. We went from beaches and rainforests in the north, made our way South along the coast and then through the mountains to southern Australia. We still had yet to hit the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne but I’ll save that for the next post.

See the full gallery of time in Australia here: Australia.

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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

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