John and I just bought a van. A 1998 Volkswagen Transporter with 400,000km on it (roughly 250,000 miles). It’s scary and exciting, and we have no idea what to expect. We’re currently driving from Sydney (where Mom flew out) to Airlie Beach, Queensland (where Dad & Rachel will fly in). Originally, we’d hoped to take the long way around – Adelaide to Alice Springs to Darwin, around to Townsville and Airlie Beach. But, well, the van had other ideas for us.
We’ve read about it on blogs and heard about other people doing similar trips. And once we started researching it, the sights along the route are jaw-dropping. There’s not really a substitute for driving in order to see all these natural marvels. You can’t really fly from one to the next; you can’t day trip to them from some distant base. We researched renting a van, but honestly – buying our own just felt like a more fun way to spend our time and our money. So, we’re road tripping along one of the major highways in Australia in order to see what there is to see! We’ll depart the day Mom leaves and be in Airlie Beach for Dad and Rachel’s arrival.
The whole process has had its ups and downs. The search was fun and scary – do we want this giant beast of a fan with no power steering but low kms or how do we feel about this tiny station wagon with a bed in the back? We used the Australian version of Craigslist and paid cash for a VW Transporter with three seats up front, a bed in the back, and ample storage for all its gear. We purchased it from a few English backpackers, but it seems to have begun its life as a work truck of some sort. We have a tent, sleeping bags, and chairs. We have a table, a stove, a cooler, and a number of crates for food storage. We have tools, fluids, gas cans, water jugs, and an array of very miscellaneous equipment. And then there’s the bed and linens and spare blankets and very well done curtains. It even came with an off-brand version of Jenga and a yoga mat.
The registration process has been somewhat painful, expensive, and never ending. You can’t register it without insurance, but you can’t get insurance unless it’s in your name. Registering it in Victoria would cost $1000, so now we’ve driven it to Sydney to register it there for much less. You can’t get Roadside Assistance as a non-resident. And the list of repairs will hopefully end soon. Very, very soon. We negotiated a very low price knowing how must work it needed. The primary need was a new timing belt, but the minor needs seem to keep multiplying. John has taken the lead on all the maintenance details, learning quite a bit along the way. When we bought it, it had a gate lock (like you’d use on a fence) on the driver’s door. John managed to repair and re-key the door lock so that we could remove the gate lock. We’re enjoying making all the little improvements!
Despite the time it’s spent at the mechanics already, the van drives beautifully. It’s quiet and doesn’t make any random, awful noises. It’s smooth – its automatic transmission is a bit of a rarity among backpacker vans. Mom and I drove it down to Phillip Island, and the three of us drove it for a few days along the Great Ocean Road – really putting some hours in at a decent speed. Hopefully it stays smooth and running – and good on gas! – as we start this next chapter of our trip!