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Here's a story about a trip right around the continent plus up and down the Centre that friend Paul and I did from the 9th of September 2001 to the 10th of October, 2001.

We enjoyed it - hope you do too!

Mornington to Perth - the long way!
(Part One)
My newly retired neighbour Paul and I are talking over the hedge. It's Wednesday afternoon and I'm telling him about the hectic six-weeks around Australia trip I'm about to start on Sunday. I see his interest and ask, "Want to come?" His eyes light up. "What an opportunity" he says , "Wait till I talk to my wife tonight"

He didn't wait until the evening - as soon as wife Christine came home Paul was back with a positive, "Yes, I'd love to come".

The reason for this madcap journey is that Universal Press have contracted me to write the editorial content for an exciting new 'Caravanning, Camping and RV Guide to Australia' and as it had been nine years since I'd been right around the block, I needed to refresh my knowledge by not only doing the trip again but including the Centre as well. With an end of November deadline to meet, I could only spare six weeks and with the distances involved decided not to tow the van but try to get a campervan at a reasonable rate, as this would be the most convenient form of transport and accommodation.

Things had come together well once the dates had been settled - I'd hired a laptop computer so I could write up the highways each night during the trip, Big 4 Holiday Parks had generously agreed to provide a powered site for each stop where convenient and Heka and Co. Campervan Hire of Dandenong kindly agreed to loan me a 2.5 litre turbo-diesel campervan at a very special rate.

Heka and Co. are in the business of converting VW Transporters into very exclusive campervans and have a hire vehicle as a showcase for their work. It was booked out for the time I needed it but as father Henry was in California and not using his own unit, son Robert rang him up and they agreed I could use Henry's own campervan. With only 23,000km on the clock, it was virtually a new vehicle and Robert said it could be picked up on the Saturday afternoon.

Unfortunately while it was in for service the day before, it needed some extra work that meant Robert couldn't get it back in time to have everything ready for us at the promised 4 o'clock and I waited around as he meticulously attended to every detail including a thorough wash although it already looked clean. A chill wind had started to blow and as darkness fell so too did the rain! By the time I left Dandenong it was pouring down, traffic was heavy and I managed to turn the wipers off every time I tried to signal a turn - Volkswagens have indicator controls on the left of course, but remembering that didn't come naturally for a while.

We decided against loading up in the rain that night and in the morning we were up early, had everything stowed, said our fond farewells and headed off into the murk.

The VW diesel motor purred away happily as we drove through the hills from Lang Lang to Drouin and we were soon motoring along the Princes Freeway and finding how good the cruise control was for these conditions. With the manual gearbox in fifth gear, the cruise control held the speed steady at a fraction over 100km/h and the value of this was shown at the pumps where we found it consistently returned figures of just over 7 litres for each 100km travelled.

The view from the lookout at Lakes Entrance

By 5pm we were on our site at East's Big 4 park at Narooma and getting cleaned up ready to go out to the Bowling Club with friend from way back, Roy and wife Daphne. The chinese food was superb, the company great and the evening was a foretaste of the many treats we were to enjoy during our marathon journey.

Sydney Town
As was to be our pattern for the rest of the trip, we were up early, had breakfast and were on the road soon after sunrise with Paul usually taking the first two hour driving stint. By the time my turn was over we were on site in the Lane Cove National Park. We chose Lane Cove NP because Universal Press are not far away and I had a date next morning with Harold, the Production Manager, to sort out maps and format for the book.

We had fun at Vodafone (see - 'On the Wallaby' Nov. issue) picking up a Telite satellite phone that was to give us such a great sense of security during the rest of the trip. Please ignore anything I've said previously about sat. phones and e-mail. Using PocketMail, this phone has no trouble picking up and sending e-mail - although on most occasions skinflint Mussell preferred to spend just 40 cents at a pay-phone. More on this later.

With our business in Sydney completed by early afternoon we turned the Veedubs nose northwards and were soon bowling along the motorway towards Gosford with a stop for lunch right next to the Hawksbury River.

Nightfall saw us safely camped in a green and pleasant Big 4 park at Karuah where they claim to have the longest privately owned jetty in NSW. By this time we had established a routine with Paul setting up his cosy little tent on the grass near the campervan while I put up the pop-top roof and generally sorted things out inside the van.

The Campervan

The Heka version of campervan is set up for a couple and the seats turn into an extra large double bed at night. As Paul preferred to use the tent (he probably objected to my snoring!) I didn't need the double bed and contrived a different arrangement that worked quite well.

The Heka Campervan at Coffs Harbour

As a long-time caravanner, I found it strange that Heka had used a two-burner methylated spirit stove in preference to LPG but Robert explained that this eliminated plumbing gas lines, making room for a gas bottle and the danger of leaks. When he showed me the Electrolux stove with its leak-proof cassette-type meths containers, easy lighting and simple controls, I was convinced, particularly when I found how quickly it heated my coffee - my number one priority test.

The wardrobe also looked strange and small until you opened it up and found it would hold a number of clothes hangers side by side and also had plenty of depth for clothes to hang and yet it took up little interior room.

There was a roomy cupboard under the stove and this was equipped with two sharp knives mounted in their scabbards, a pair of tongs, a ladle, slice, two saucepans, an electric frypan, a toaster and storage containers. There were two more quite spacious cupboards under the bench-top and two drawers - one for the two sets of supplied cutlery.

Also supplied were two comfortable chairs that stowed in bags under the seats - and there was room for a heap of gear under there. In a neat bag was the loose base for the table so it could be used outdoors if you liked - and when it got warm we did indeed like.

Usually the table could be screwed into one of two mountings between the rear seats and when not in use fitted neatly behind the front seats and was held firmly in place by a piece of velcro. There was another little table for outdoor use with the side door open and this had an extending leg and clipped into fittings on the side of the cupboard.

There were a lot of thoughtful little touches that we only discovered as we became familiar with the unit and the standard of design and workmanship was excellent.

We had hoped to do the journey with just the two of us but by now if you regularly follow my adventures, you will have guessed that Murphy (What can go wrong - will!) would not take kindly to being left behind and would stow away.

Robert had explained how the unit was fitted with a state-of-the-art, you-beaut, charging system to keep the auxiliary battery topped up and to run the Engel fridge while on the move. The battery was low when we picked it up and that was understandable as the vehicle hadn't been used with Henry overseas, but Robert thought a few hours running would soon have everything back to normal. He reckoned without Murphy! Not only didn't the battery charge but it was soon dead and so were the 12-volt lights connected to it. Also no 12-volt fridge operation and as we were headed for seriously hot country, no cold beer at day's end would be disastrous. In practice the contents of the fridge stayed fairly cool providing we didn't open and shut the door too often. The fact that the pump to the sink also needed current to make it go didn't bother us too much as we used water from the taps on site.

Luckily we had both brought 240-volt portable lamps so were not completely in the dark!

The pop-top roof contributed to the marvellously low fuel consumption and gave us plenty of head-room but I still found it a bit hard to raise - I'm just getting old I suppose.

Paul's been working out some facts and figures on performance and I'll give you those later when we get home - as I write we have covered 12,000km and this is our 22nd day since leaving home.

They've been Everywhere Man!
Maybe not quite everywhere but we are having a good try! By getting away early in the morning - I mean EARLY as in 6am - we are usually able to get to our day's destination about 700km along the track by early afternoon. This gives us time to look around a bit, have an early dinner somewhere and still get a good night's sleep. Oh yes - I forgot - I also spend a few hours typing each night, ring Vi to check that all's well at home and download and answer any e-mail that's waiting.

Perhaps a boring list of night stops would give you an idea of our progress? OK - you asked for it and those marked with a * are all Big 4s. *Narooma, Lane Cove NP, *Karuah *Arrawarra, *Hastings Point, Yatala, *Point Vernon, *Mackay, *Mission Beach, *Port Douglas, Normanton, Camooweal, Wycliffe Wells, *Alice Springs, Elliott, Timber Creek, Halls Creek, Derby , Eighty-mile Beach, *Karratha, *Carnarvon and Cervantes.

The road from the Atherton Tableland to Normanton is now sealed all the way although in some places it is just one lane and needs care if you have to put your near-side wheels off to pass someone coming the other way. Dennis at Glengarry Caravan Park at Port Douglas told us the road was sealed - I'd imagined it all rough and dusty just as it was the first time I used it years ago. It goes out past the entrance to the Undarra Lava Tubes.

At Normanton we had dinner in the Purple Pub and a very nice piece of Barra it was - washed down with a stubby of 'Gold'.


We climbed the lookout at Mt Isa and discovered they have built an easier access ramp to get to it and have smartened up the wonderful sign giving directions and distances to places far and near

In the Alice I was disappointed they no longer do Ploughman's lunches out at Chateau Hornsby - in fact they don't do any lunches at all but Dennis Hornsby will still pour you a taste of anything you fancy and we came away with some of his delicious 'Horny Tawny'. We completed our Alice Springs experience by looking through the fairly new and very worthwhile, National Transport Museum, went to the Henley-on-Todd races and what a turn that was, before rounding off the day with an excellent dinner at the restaurant near the McDonnel Ranges Caravan Park.

The Ord River downstream from Lake Argyle

We checked out the Daly Waters Hotel, looked at Queensland's highest bar at Larrimah, walked to the Thermal Pool at Mataranka, renewed acquaintance with Faye and Mike Miller at the Red Gums Caravan Park in Katherine and marvelled at the restoration of the town since the disastrous floods, found Max's Tours had closed for the season at Timber Creek, went out to Lake Argyle and took heaps of pictures, 'did' Broome and Cable Beach in an hour, loved what they have done out at Eighty-mile Beach CP, had our driving licences checked on a lonely stretch of road south of Port Hedland, took pictures of the Dampier gas installation before most people were up and today went to see the strange and fascinating Pinnacles at Cervantes.

By the time you read this we will have been down the South West of WA, across the Nullarbor, up to Ayers Rock , back to Adelaide and returned to Melbourne via the coast.

We'll be in Perth tomorrow after calling at New Norcia and the York Motor Museum. I'll let you know how we go for the rest of the trip and tell you more about this great vehicle we are travelling in next month.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Perth to Mornington - the Long Way
(Part Two)

You will remember that when I left you last month we were heading for Perth next morning having travelled something like 12,000km to get there in our hired VW campervan.

The college at New Norcia

Once again we took the long way - detouring out to New Norcia to take pictures of the monastery and college, calling in for a look around the motor museum at York before bowling up to the Perth International Caravan Park to check whether it was as good as readers had told me. It was!

Owners Leo and Veronica rolled out the red carpet and gave us a guided tour including a look inside their very nice villas. The park was full for a reason we hadn't thought of - the round Australia trippers had all drifted down the coast as the weather warmed up in the north and were all now in the southern part of WA getting their breath before setting forth across the Nullarbor.

An excellent park worthy of the praise and awards it has won, the 'International' although big - and a Big 4 - still manages to exude an air of friendliness and care. If you hate combination locks on toilet doors as much as me, you will rejoice that the first thing Veronica said, after returning recently from a trip staying in caravan parks, was that the combos must be removed from the ladies loos. There were none on the gents to take off!

An evening with friends and a delicious meal of home made fish and chips completed our visit to Perth and next morning saw us driving down the coast past the lovely district around Mandurah on our way to Albany.

Murphy and the Tarts
I talked about the Denmark custard tarts in 'The BIG ONE' and made Paul's mouth water on our way there as I described their crisp pastry cases and sweet, smooth custard filling. Entering the shop in anticipation, my eyes roved over the display cases but not one custard tart was to be seen. It was the one day of the year they hadn't baked any! B.Murphy I'll be bound.

Something new was the treetop walk in the Valley of the Giants near Walpole



A great engineering feat and a wonderful experience as you walked up in the tops of those majestic trees - although the swaying of the platform underfoot was a little off-putting. I asked if they had leaflets telling about the construction. "Yes we do - but we are out of them at the moment". Him again.

The 'Green' Centre
At Port Augusta we turned left and headed for the Centre which was remarkably green with lots of wildflowers and shrubs in full bloom. They had lots of rain this year for a change and so their colourful display made up for the rather sparse wildflowers we saw in the West this year.

At Pimba we turned off the highway to have a look at Woomera and found a new facility, complete with interesting audio-video presentations, housing the exhibition of the rocket and guided missile range. It was very well done and a great improvement on the previous display.

I bored you last month with a list of parks we stayed in - so I'll do it again. After *Middleton's Beach it was *Esperance, Border Village, Wudinna, *Coober Pedy, Yulara, Glendambo, Adelaide Beachfront and home to Mornington. (The *s are to denote Big 4 parks who kindly gave us a free powered site when we stayed with them.) Most parks were good, a few were excellent and a couple were pretty ordinary. The best was probably the spacious and well located Arrawarra Big 4 in NSW, tying for a very close second would have to be Ian Beadel's huge and sumptuous Big 4 park at Hastings Point just south of the Tweed together with the previously mentioned Perth International.

Not the usual bright view of the 'Rock'!

It was raining on the Rock

Yes - it poured with rain the day we got to Ayers Rock and the campground was a muddy red mess. We saw what few others see and that was cataracts running down the sides of the rock and cascading over ledges and this was a most impressive sight. We also ate one of the best hamburgers with the lot you could wish for in the Yulara shopping complex - this was after getting a fright with the advertised $40 a head, 3-course meal at the cafe opposite.

After a brief stay in Adelaide to visit son Chris and family we did one of our longer stints to arrive home via the Coorong, Mount Gambier and the Westgate Bridge just four weeks and four days after leaving home on the 9th of September.

We covered 19,500km in 32 days, spent $1,600 on diesel fuel, used just over 7 litres of fuel for every 100km driven, averaged about 600km a day and were on the road around 8hrs each day including stops for fuel, lunch and sightseeing.

The five cylinder, 2.5 litre turbo-charged VW ran like a clock for the whole journey. The motor did sound a bit like a tractor when it was idling but underway it could hardly be heard. The acceleration was remarkable when required to pass road trains pulling three or more 'dogs' and the seating position was very comfortable with the raised driving position giving a great view of the countryside as we sped along.

Up north the lack of air-conditioning could worry some people although I tend to agree with Henry that a/c makes you feel the heat more when you go out into it. The manual five-speed gearbox was a joy to use and fifth gear would pull away smoothly from fairly low speeds although we usually used lower gears in towns and traffic.

The 'sat' phone
One of the reasons I wanted the use of a satellite phone for our journey was because Mum hadn't been too well before we left and I wanted to be able to keep in touch wherever we were. In the event she stayed extremely well - remarkable at nearly 92 years old.

The other reason was to gain practical experience of their usefulness for the communications section of the new guide.

Bob Humphries of Vodafone was kind enough to lend me a Telit dual mode handheld phone and this proved invaluable half way across the Nullarbor. I used it to check on the situation at home as Vi had mentioned Mum hadn't been too well the previous day. We were at one of those wonderful lookouts not far from Nullarbor Homestead and a family with a converted bus had spotted me using the phone where no phones work. Coming over he asked if it was a sat phone because a family with four young children were stranded down on the highway with a broken drive for their diesel pump. Their vehicle was a huge Scania converted coach pulling a very large trailer complete with a Toyota Landcruiser.

We stopped and offered the use of the phone and for the next hour or so listened in while Martin made numerous calls - first to his own mechanic in Sydney as they have a fleet of Scania trucks - then to the RAA in Adelaide and their local agent who was too busy to come out from Ceduna and then to the NRMA in Sydney who put on the nice music and kept coming back to 'Thank you for your patience'!

When someone finally came back on the line it was a firm in Ceduna who had everything under control and would get the parts needed and come out to fix up the motor. Meanwhile Dave, the fellow who had spotted the phone, had come down with his vehicle to tow the Scania - all 23 tonnes of it - back to the rest area and off the highway.

The family was so grateful and it certainly proved the worth of having a sat phone if you intend travelling in remote areas - thanks Bob. I won't be quite as cheerful when the bill comes but it was worth it to be able to help a fellow traveller.

Pictorial Record
During the trip I fired off thirteen rolls of slide film which will amount to nearly four hundred colour slides to sort through - a few are on these pages and many of the others will feature in the Guide next year.

It was a fantastic trip and well worth the effort although it's not the way I would suggest for a nice restful holiday!

Thank you Heka Campervans, Big 4 Holiday Parks, Vodafone and not least, my co-driver Paul who made the trip so much easier by sharing the driving, doing the shopping and looking after our log and statistics.

What day is this? Saturday? Must be in Mornington!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


(The Universal Press 'Guide' didn't eventuate and my pictures and 'Route Notes' form the basis of 'Australia Calling. The RV Travel Handbook')


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