We’ve been living in the van for a bit over a week now, and life is good.
We’ve driven approximately three thousand kilometers since Mom left. After eight days on the road, we’ve had one meal in a restaurant and the rest have been prepared on our camp stoves or over an open flame. We have eaten well. Our diet has included curries and falafel burgers and pasta. The van has four milk crates dedicated to canned foods, jarred foods, and bulk foods. We keep our snack bag up at the front, filled with granola bars and apples and crackers. Water has become a precious resource – most service stations and public parks have water taps, so we’re able to fill up while we travel. However, our current supply of 16 liters only lasts us a couple days if we stay somewhere for two nights, or forget to fill up. We don’t forget to fill up anymore.
We’ve slept even better than we’ve eaten. The bed is surprisingly roomy and the foam mattress is comfy. On the one hand, the bigger bed means a bigger van, which means a bigger expense on petrol. On the other, we’ve been sleeping a lot, and we’ve been sleeping well. Since we’ve been in central/northern New South Wales, the sun sets around 6:15pm or so. Which is early. And so we’ve been getting to bed early, with really just one solid headlamp to get around. (Apparently, I’ve lost the big, real flashlight we had. And our other couple light sources are weak.) But we wake up early each morning with the birds, making coffee and getting an early start on sightseeing or bushwalking or driving.
Driving, of course, is the fun part. The van’s been running very smoothly, and we haven’t tried to cram too many kilometers in one day. We stop at rest stops for snacks and coffee. We stop at vista points to take photos of the breathtaking scenery. Once, I made John stop alongside a pasture so that I could take photos of the valley below; the cows weren’t pleased. The autumn leaves have been on fire, especially in Canberra- figuratively, not literally – with golden and red and burnt orange trees lining the roads. For at least an hour per day, we’ve been listening to the first Game of Thrones audiobook. It makes for enthralling listening for those days on the dull highway, but we’ve learned not to listen to it too late at night; it’s a bit too creepy for our remote campsites!
Our path has been mapped out for us by little more than impulse decisions and an app called WikiCamps. It’s a crowdsourced database of all the campsites in Australia, from trucker rest stops, to national parks, to our most recent spot – alongside a river in between two cow pastures. You can filter it to show only free sites with toilets, rated over four stars. We haven’t landed on a dud yet – though we could use more information about unsealed roads. This van doesn’t love the steep, curvy, unsealed roads we’ve put her through on our way to and from sites. For the most part, our path has been along coastal highways during the day and hinterland for the nights. And that’s worked out quite well for us.
One thing we’ve lucked out on is weather – we’ve had a few short sprinkles here and there, but nothing that’s rendered the campsites unusable. For which I am grateful. For all the dust we kick up on those unsealed roads, we’ve yet to face any horrible mud. Altogether, our weather has been fantastic, quite mild with only a few nights wishing we had an extra blanket and only one or two days wishing our summer clothes weren’t stored quite so deeply in the van. I wear wool socks and fleeces most days, but John’s been rocking along in jeans and t shirts almost every day. It’s only been a couple exciting days when we’ve been able to pull out the shorts and sandals.
Regardless of where our path may have taken us, Australia has fantastic campsites. And they take care of them. Whether they’re council-maintained or looked after by volunteers or part of a national park, these campsites have been excellent. Like I said, we exclusively visit ones with high ratings and positive comments. And toilets. We exclusively choose sites with toilets. And it’s amazing how well-maintained the toilets are at the free sites. We’ve been to five free sites, and only one didn’t have toilet paper. A couple of them didn’t even smell! None of them have been revolting, and they’ve all had proper doors/locks! In some ways, if you’re a bit off the beaten path (or maybe just a bit off the coast), Australia makes this sort of adventure quite easy and pleasant. We stayed at a paid campground near Canberra, and the showers were heavenly. Hot, hot water and so clean!
At each campsite, it seems there are paths to walk or vistas to see, but we haven’t really taken a whole lot of time to get the most out of the campsites, for better or for worse. We’ve lingered at very few campsites, meaning most of our time at campsites has been prepping food, eating food, and cleaning up after food. John gets in some good guitar time, and I have done a fair bit of reading. One campsite happened to be on the site of a former NASA building. In fact, it was the NASA office and equipment that received Neil Armstrong’s message from the moon and sent it along to NASA’s headquarters in Houston. That was pretty crazy – to imagine that each of these minor little campsites along the way holds some sort of puzzle piece of human history, whether it’s aboriginal or geological or aerospace-related.
While we’ve only done minor sightseeing at most of our campsites, our most recent one was an exception. Upon arriving, it was so heavenly that we opted to stay a second day! It was the only day the van has had off since before Mom left. We arrived on the Sunday of a long weekend; Monday is ANZAC Day, comparable to our Memorial Day in celebration of Australian-New Zealand Armed Corps. It had been raining on us all morning, with light showers alternating with intense rain and sunlight, and as soon as we drove up to this campsite, the clouds parted, and the sun hit the fields and the river in a way that made us decide to stop for awhile. Lots of reading and guitar playing was done. We watched the birds dance and the fish jump and the cows graze. About half of the campsites so far could reasonably be described as heaven. This is certainly one of them – apart from the long, cow-pie laden walk to the toilet.
When we changed our route from that Adelaide-Darwin-Townsville plan to this much-shorter east coast idea, we were vaguely aware that we’d get more time to break up our day with sightseeing. And it has been glorious – lunch picnics in parks overlooking some of the most beautiful bays in the country, watching surfers master stormy swells. Coffee in the car park before walking into a National Park famed for its platypuses – we saw them! Geological wonders and caves and lyrebirds and rainbows and kangaroos galore. Accidental folk festivals, mountain ranges that glow blue and misty mountains and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. It’s a pretty magical way to travel and see the world. And even with our crawling pace and our wide eyes and our open minds, we couldn’t possibly see all that this region has to offer. We’re seeing as much as we can, though, as slowly as we can!