Six months later…

We have been back in the land of reality for over six months now, what was the outcome of our trip…

It took us more than two months of waiting before we finally gave up on finding a suitable, affordable rental in Port Fairy. We took a lease on a house in Warrnambool and moved in. After months of hunting and numerous applications, Mike finally found a job as a Technical Officer at TAFE. It was by no means what he wanted to do, but it was a job.

Mike and I spent the better part of the Easter long weekend, and many days following, cleaning and making minor repairs on the caravan. We sold it relatively quickly. As its proud new owners drove it out of our driveway, I almost shed a tear. It signified the end of a remarkable chapter of our life, and it was more upsetting than I thought.

On a more positive note, we have had several catch up sessions with our wonderful travelling friends, the O’Callaghans, who only live two hours drive away. It was so much fun getting together and reminiscing about our adventures and the friends we had met.

Despite life getting back to normal, Mike and I still felt a bit unsettled. The cold weather was really getting to us, and it wasn’t great for Coby. Mike wanted a job with a future, which was nearly impossible at the moment in SW Victoria. So we went searching for other opportunities.

From our travels, we had several ideas in mind of places we liked, and where we thought we might be able to call home for a while. All of them had warmer climates and career opportunities. Trying to get a foot-in-the-door job within mining or the oil/gas industry is not an easy feat, especially if you have no specifically relevant experience, or a skill that is not so much in demand in that industry.Coby Hanging out at the River Gum CafeRhys hanging out at the River Gum Cafe

But the Gods were kind to us, and I landed a job with Rio Tinto in a little town called Carnarvon in WA. It’s a Monday- Friday, day job, which suits me fine. I have to get up before 5 am to catch the employee bus to work, but I am home around 4pm, and get to spend more time with the kids after school than I did before. Mike also has a casual position with one of the local Electrical companies. A good start for now.

Best of all, winter temperatures regularly hit the mid twenties, though summers are supposed to be similar to Perth. The area has a big fruit and veggie growing industry, and we have been taking advantage of the bountiful fresh produce. Fishing and crabbing is also meant to be awesome, but we have yet to find out for ourselves.

We are now in the market for a camper trailer, to use on what we intend to be regular trips up to Coral Bay and Cape Range National Park. We also have some places yet to explore inland, and Monkey Mia and Kalbarri to the south.Dolly in Carnarvon

The kids have had a visit to their new school, and are really excited about starting after the school holidays.

So now we can really say, the trip has changed our lives in more ways than one.

Back to the Land of Reality

So we arrived back home over a month ago. I started work straight away, Mike is job hunting, and the kids have started school and Kindy.

Coby 1st school dayIt doesn’t take long for reality to set in, but it will take a while to settle. For one thing, we are still living in the caravan as there is not much available for us to rent in our small town. Of course we are used to it, but I’m starting to dream of privacy and indoor plumbing. A few old favourites from my packed up wardrobe wouldn’t go astray, as would some extra shelf space as the kids bring home books and artwork.

We always expected the end to be difficult. But Mike and I both agree, it was WORTH IT.

So to all you families out there planning your own little jaunt around the country, this post will be full of advice.

Accommodation

My accommodation summary excludes nights we stayed with friends or relatives, as that was kind of a treat and like being at home.

We set up and packed up the caravan approximately 165 times (this also includes tent set ups when the van was in storage). We spent 298 nights on the road and spent just under $6000 on accommodation.

  • 25% of the time we bush camped at free rest areas. This includes camps that requested a gold coin donation or a small charge for having a hot shower.
  • 23% of the time we stayed in National Parks or cheap camping grounds, usually with limited facilities and often without power (average cost $14.62 per night)
  • 52% of the time we stayed in caravan parks, which almost always had hot showers, power, flushing toilets and other facilities (average cost $31.54 per night)

When travelling with kids in non-peak times, it worth trying to negotiate a better deal. Some caravan parks may be willing to waiver the charge for kids, or give you a discount, especially if you are staying for more than a night or two. It is certainly worth shopping around in towns with more than one option.

Also, beware that a charge for kids doesn’t necessarily mean a park is kid friendly. One of my biggest gripes on this trip was being charged more than a token fee for both kids, only to find that they can’t even reach the sinks in the bathroom to wash their hands. No playground, no family bathrooms, no nothing. They don’t use extra electricity, as they are always with us, and the extra water and paper they use is minimal. I don’t mind paying extra, if the park is kiddie friendly. But some charges were ridiculous.Van Dancin'

Food

We spent just over $7500 on food and groceries in the 10 months. This doesn’t include eating out or alcohol. Food can get really expensive in the outback and isolated towns, so stock up when you have the opportunity.

Going to isolated areas, such as a couple of weeks in the Kimberly, requires some forward planning. Although we had two fridges, space was still limited, and few items remain fresh after two weeks. We often got some meat vacuum packed, so it can last. Crisper bags do keep cabbage, carrots and other vegies fresh for the long haul.

It’s worth learning a few recipes using canned goods, jar sauces and pasta/rice. For example, I created a great pasta dish using tinned butter mushrooms, UHT cream, a few slithers of frozen bacon (which doesn’t take up much room), onion, garlic, cheese and pasta. The kids loved it so much, they still asked for it when we reached civilization.

When a camp kitchen was available, we used it. Your final afternoon in a park with a decent kitchen is best spent cooking up some pasta and rice based salads for the onward journey. We did this as much as possible, especially when we knew we were going bush for a few days. Dinner then becomes BBQ’ing some meat, take the salads out of the fridge, and your done.

Other costs

Throughout the ten months, we spent $2750 on treats (ice creams, dinners out, a drink in a nice pub with a view, coffee and cake etc). This we tried to avoid, but sometimes when you have travelled up a couple of hundred kilometres to an isolated beach, you just want to mark the occasion with a nice glass of wine or a cocktail. It also gets very difficult constantly saying no to the kid’s requests for ice creams when it is hot, or when everyone else is having one. We usually went into supermarkets to buy a box of four to save costs.

Bits and pieces include things like clothes and shoes, camping items, laundry, phone cards, gas, fishing equipment, birthday presents etc. Stuff you need, and can’t really avoid buying. In total we spent around $4600. Just a word on laundry, we brought with us a camping washing machine (bought on Ebay for $28, second hand). Although it was a bit of a pain having to wring out clothes by hand, it was worth the cost saving. Most parks charge $3-$6 per load. Besides, it was so hot most of the time; we had no trouble drying the laundry. Sometimes I caved and paid to use the camp laundry for sheets and towels etc.

Finally, the bill for activities was $5500. Of course, this is a variable cost, depending on what you want to do. We didn’t hold back so much, as this was kind of the point of going around Australia. But if you are really on a tight budget, get everyone in the family to choose one or two things they REALLY want to do on the trip, and make them a priority.

To check out costs for diesel and rig maintenance, check out Mikes Page.

Australia daySet up changes

If we were going to plan this trip a second time, we would have installed bigger water tanks on the caravan. Water did become a limiting factor in some areas. Also, we wished we had installed solar panels to charge our batteries. I believe we would have done a lot more bush camping if we had done this. It just gives you more flexibility in places you can stay, if you want to hang around somewhere for a while.

Otherwise, we were very happy with our rig. Having a good off-road caravan meant we could go more places. Sometimes we wished we had more space, and wanted a camper trailer. But some of those late night pull-ins I was happy for the 5 minute set-up time. It was a matter of take some things (washing machine, kids bikes, shoe bucket) out of the van, pop the top, wind down the legs and you were right to go.

I’m also glad we were set up for camping too. Several times, such as Cape York, we were able to leave the van behind and do some serious off-roading to get to some magnificent places.

Some random tips

To finish off, I have a few words of wisdom.Beach Day

Bikes – taking them seems like a great idea, but most families we met regretted it in the end. They are a pain to constantly unload and reload, and they will get damaged sometime in the trip. My bike was new, with smooth gears when we started off. We finished the trip with large dents in the frame, rust all over, and gears that stick and will never be the same. I did use my bike, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. It probably is worth taking kids bikes, but ours used their scooters so much more, and they were easier to store.

Kids Toys – bring a few favourites for the van and car. Keep one small toy box hidden away, brought out only at big stops. Otherwise, don’t bring too much. Our kids hardly ever played with their toys anyway. They were too busy meeting other kids and running around. But definitely bring balls and outside games, buckets and spades and washable comfort toys.

Clothes – just bring the minimal. You can buy more along the way when you need too. You will appreciate not having cupboards full to the brim when you are searching for something. It is no fun having to totally unpack and repack a cupboard every single day.

Appliances – Kettle and toaster are essential, but have a big think about what others you bring. We brought a steamer, and used it twice. However, we brought an electric wok and used it frequently. I guess it depends on the families eating habits, and how accessible the appliances are. We also brought our coffee machine, which was used daily, when we had power.

Cast Iron pot – Camp ovens are great for cooking over the open fire. One of our regrets was that we weren’t set up well for open fire cooking. We did buy some stuff towards the end, and I was really getting into it when we entered bushfire season and couldn’t have fires anymore.

Plan, but don’t over plan – at the start of our trip, we only had a rough idea of where we wanted to go. We all loved the freedom of only planning a few days ahead. If you got somewhere you liked, stay a bit longer. If a place wasn’t up to your expectations, just move on. You get hints and tips from fellow travellers along the way, so be prepared to change your plan. It may be a once in a lifetime trip, so make the most of it.

Mulloka Cruise Capt'n RhysAnd Finally…

I would like to say a big thank you to Lois Jewell from Playgroup Australia for her continuing enthusiasm and support. Visiting Playgroups was such a big highlight of our trip, especially for the kids. Also thanks to Big4 for their help in promoting our blog via the Big4 blog website and for providing such great Caravan parks at which to stay.

Thanks to all the companies who helped us with tours and days out. A special thanks to Silvano, who made our Margaret River Bushtucker Wine Tour so memorable. Also thanks to Louise Marshall for her passion for the rainforest, and Skyrails involvement in educating people about it. You have really inspired us. Thanks also to Patsy, Rachael and Sean from ‘Animal Tracks Safari’. Your Aboriginal Bushtucker safari was one of the most unique and memorable experiences we have ever had. A special mention to Ningaloo Reef Dreaming. You can’t help the weather, or predict wild marine animals. But the crew’s enthusiasm never faltered, and we had a blast. Last but not least, thanks to Paronella Park, for keeping the dream alive. We simply loved it.

To all the families we met whilst travelling. You truly made a good experience great. Sonia, Kevin, Jazzy and Jack from the start of our trip, Geoff, Nicky and kids as well as Richard, Cathy and family. Our sunset on Cable beach will be remembered forever, and it was great to meet some other ‘Gongers’. To Justina, Tim, Sienna, Hugo and Teya, we loved our Kimberly Convoy and will always remember the fun times we had. Extra special thanks to Tex, Julie, Maddie, Brooke and Tilly. It was great to meet you and thanks so much for your hospitality.Cudgee Ck Day

Yet again we have a special mention. We met the O’Callaghan’s right at the beginning of the trip. Our paths crossed a few times after that, and we all quickly became friends. I reckon by the end of our trip, we must have spent about three months travelling together. What a blast it was. I will never forget our adventures, nights boiling the billy and toasting marshmallows with the kids. Long walks dragging the littlies along, and seeing their joy as we swam in beautiful places. It was great getting to know you all, and sharing some of our adventures. Thank you all, Chris, Jayne, Daniel, Emma and Louise for being a highlight for our trip. It was a pleasure.

So this trip was a once in a lifetime adventure. But in ten months, we feel like we have only scratched the surface. I know one result is we will make more of an effort to go away for the weekend and school holidays and just enjoy the time we have together. But I am thinking I would like to do something like this again, even if it is only for a few months. It would be fun to do some more adventurous stuff with the kids when they are older and more able.

Whatever the future holds, we have done our Big Road Trip now. The experience has enriched us all, and the photos and memories will last forever. Hopefully we have laid a foundation for Coby and Rhys for a lifetime of adventure and confidence. It was an experience we will never forget…

Country Road, Take me Home

After a wonderful Christmas, family reunion, and 9 days of luxury living in a house, we were back on the road for the final stretch home.

The NSW coast is a very well trodden track for us, so we decided to avoid the clutter and traffic jams of peak beach holiday season, and travel through the country. Although we had a lot of ground to cover before I was due back at work, we planned the journey around some attractions on our most wanted list.

After having mild weather all throughout Christmas, the temperature started soaring, and the truck struggled a bit on the big hills through the Great Dividing Range. We took it slowly to avoid overheating, and praying we would make it home without any breakdowns.

Our last night in Queensland we set up at Yelarbon, a pleasant little town with one of the best value rest areas we have encountered the entire trip. Ten dollars per night with power, hot showers, clean toilets and afternoon shade. Score…

Virtual Solar SystemCrossing into NSWAfter 3 days of fairly solid driving, we decided to have a day off the big km’s and spend some time in Dubbo. Now, during my life I have passed through Dubbo a couple of times. Passed through but never stopped. To top it all off, visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo has been a lifelong dream for me. So this time, I wasn’t going to miss out.

I love zoos, and I love seeing animals, both exotic and endangered. Yes, it is more fun seeing them all in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, African safaris are not on my doorstep. But this zoo is the next best thing.

Many zoos are actually quite sad, where animals have tiny and unstimulating enclosures just for visitor’s entertainment and profit. Taronga Western Plain Zoo is unlike most other zoos. As far as animal welfare and conservation is concerned, it is probably one of the best zoos in the world.

Because the zoo is out in the country, they have the land to give the animals space. The enclosures are HUGE. In fact, the entire place is so vast you need a car or bikes to go around it easily. Apart from the space, an enormous amount of effort is taken to keep the animals stimulated and active as they would be in their own environment.

Asiatic BuffaloOne of the main aims of Western Plains Zoo is conservation. It houses some of the world most exotic and endangered species, including black rhinos, greater one-horned rhinos, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, Galapagos tortoises and cheetahs. They are committed to conservation, research, education and breeding programs. They work with other zoos, including their sister zoo, Taronga Zoo in Sydney, to enhance their research and breeding program.

To read more about our wonderful day at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, click here.

From Dubbo, we travelled to Parkes to see the massive radio telescope, famously known as the dish. You may remember it was the subject of a very entertaining movie called ‘The Dish’ several years ago. It was largely filmed on location, and was about the role of the dish in the transmission on the first moonwalk to television across the world. Of course the story was greatly dramatised for the movie, but it is largely true.The Dish - CSIRO Parkes

The dish is certainly an impressive structure on the horizon of central NSW. It is definitely worth a visit.

For New Years Eve, we set up camp in Hay, and drove out to the local sunset viewing area for the final sunset of 2011. Here the landscape is flat as far as the eye can see, with only scrubland over the salt plains and a sky bigger than you can imagine. This place is renowned for its spectacular sunsets. Unfortunately tonight there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so calling it ‘spectacular’ would be an exaggeration. But we enjoyed the tranquillity and the wide open spaces, and seeing the year out together.Hay Plains Sunset NYE 2011

On New Year’s Day we treated ourselves to a day out in Echuca. We had a lovely lunch in a shaded cafe terrace, and then headed down to the wharf area for a trip on a Paddle steamer.

A century or more ago, Echuca was a thriving port along the great Murray River, where all sorts of goods were transported. The main industry was logging Red Gum, and logs were conveyed down to mills in Echuca, and then transported on for export or to other cities in Australia. Today, some of the vessels have been beautifully restored for the tourist industry. A trip to Echuca would not be complete without cruise up the Murray on a Paddle steamer.

We had our trip on ‘The Pride of the Murray’. It has been converted to a diesel engine, but still holds its original charm. It is also one of the only air-conditioned vessels in Echuca, quite handy considering it was over 40°C on the day of our trip.

To read more about our trip on ‘The Pride of the Murray’, click here.

Echuca itself is a lovely old country town. There is plenty to see and do here. Even wandering around the old part of town, with all its historical charm, unique storefronts, and engaging crafts and trade shops will hold some interest for all ages. You can even hire houseboats, and spend a couple of days on the Murray and around Echuca.Port of Echuca Steamers

For our final night, we camped at Lake Bolac, known for its accessibility for water sports in the SW region on Victoria. It was still really hot, and we were grateful for the shady campground and the cool swimming. From here it was only a two hour drive home.

So after 10 months, and over 35,000 km, we were back in Port Fairy. As we entered the shire, the clouds rolled over and it started to rain. This is just how we remembered it. It will take us some time to get organised and settled again. We don’t have a house yet, so we will be living in the caravan for a little bit longer. But it was straight back to work for me.Back Home...

This has truly been the adventure of a lifetime. Both Mike and I will never regret taking the time out to see the country and, more importantly, spending time together as a family while the children are at that critical learning age. It has been the most wonderful experience that has enriched us all.

Is this the end? I think in the future we will always make an effort to spend holidays and some weekends getting away and seeing the countryside. We are all hooked now, and will try and drag others out with us.

But this is not quite the end of the blog. I know many people who read my blog are planning their own jaunt around the countryside, and would like some information and advice from the more experienced travellers.

So stay tuned for my next post, where I will reveal all the facts, figures and costs of the adventure so you can go off and plan your own Big Road Trip.

And so it begins…

So after 12 months planning, dreaming, worrying and organizing, we are FINALLY on the road.  It is all so very surreal, with waves of different emotions including euphoria, excitement and terror, wondering if we have truly gone mad.  For better or worse, there is no backing out now.

Five days before we left, we spent the day cleaning, vacuuming and packing.  The last of the things we thought we would need went into the caravan, and we moved out of our house.  Our first port of call was The Anchorage, which is the Port Fairy Big 4.  To read more about this fantastic Holiday Park, click here.

 On moving day, I had 4 days left at work before we are truly on the road.  Staying at the holiday park gave us a bit of a buffer.  We still had access to our stuff, and could dump what we thought we didn’t need.  Despite our ‘ruthlessness’, the van still is heavy, and we are looking at things saying ‘do we really need that’.  Time will tell.

So our first afternoon was spent checking out our first real caravan park.  We really enjoyed our 5 nights at the Anchorage, and the facilities were great.  The one downside, nobody ordered the weather.  Our first night would have to be the coldest night of this summer yet.   

So came my final day at work.  I was kept busy right up until the last minute.  My last hour was spent giving a final presentation to get my ‘Greenbelt’, which was the completion of a rather large project from last year.  But I’m glad I finished work on a high note.  I had a lovely lunch with my colleagues, and drinks at the local after work. 

Our First Border CrossingSaturday morning we were off to Robe, which meant we crossed our first state border on day one.  We wanted to take it reasonably easy, so we meandered through Mount Gambier, where we stopped at the sinkhole for lunch, Beachport for afternoon snack and them found a great little bush camp around 3 km outside of Robe. BushCamp @ 'The Gums' Little Dip CA 

Unfortunately our first night was cold and rainy, so we were half expecting to take off the next day if the weather didn’t improve.  I rose early to walk through the dunes to a beautiful deserted beach and enjoyed the sunrise in peace, wishing it was a few degrees warmer so I could face a swim.

 

 

West Beach CoastlineWe spent the day exploring the wonderful coastal town.  Robe may not be famous for Robes, but it has a lot to offer in scenery and quaintness.  We did the Western cliff walk, with its rugged coastline, and pristine, crystal clear blue water. 

Robe was founded in 1802 by a French explorer, and settled the same year.  It was established as a port in 1847, and named after the original Governor.   Being such a historic town, it has a few lovely old cottages, and interesting architecture.  These days, it is a centre for the rock lobster industry, and a working fishing port.  With this in mind, we gave the kids a first go at fishing.Coby Fishing Robe Jetty

 

 

Truck on LongbeachOne of the highlights of the day was taking a drive on Long Beach.  There is a 12 km stretch that is perfectly legal to drive on, and easily enjoyed in a 4WD.

 

 

We will spend the next few days travelling northwards to Adelaide, where we will visit our first Playgroup, and explore the city and surrounds.

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