Put your seatbelt on, friends (ha). I think I might get the whole 10-day road trip into one blog post here.
I’m an excellent driver. Seriously. I know everyone says that. I know everyone thinks they are an above-average driver which is impossible because statistically not everyone can be above average or no one would be. But I am. Seriously.
I also love roadtrips. The biggest appreciation I ever gained for highway driving was between Calgary and
Kelownaish Winfield, BC for summer adventures at our family condo. It was also the first solo driving in long stretches of time I ever did (mostly in Little Red, my Mazda 3, but a couple of times as a favour to drive Dad’s Cayman back to Calgary, poor me).
If you want to get to know someone, anyone, drive. It’s part of the reason that baby road trips are my favourite dates, girlfriend- boyfriend- or self. Theres room for talking, for comfortable silence and enough time to properly catch up with little distraction of the goings on and busy-ness of the every day. Point being, I like highway driving, I love road trips, and I even like doing it solo. Plugging in my music, turning it up to volume levels high enough to kill the tiny little hairs in your ears that help you hear; I find it therapeutic.
So two-thousand, six-hundred-and-nine kilometres seemed doable. *Note, this figure would be a straight go from Sydney to Cairns, without any diversion from the highway; in reality this figure is much higher from leaving the A1 highway to stop in every town and city that I did*. I cannot count the number of raised eyebrows at the idea that I would be doing this drive at all, and then at the mention of doing it in under 2 weeks…oh and all by myself. But, if you know me you know that once I have my heart or mind set on something, especially something goal-centred and/or challenging, I can be very very stubborn. I know no bounds when it comes to accomplishing something I have set my mind to, and this was no different. Vacation? Ha! This became a fun-filled adventure mission. I was ready, and excited.
And in the spirit of adventure, naivety or a little bit of laziness, I did not plan almost any part of Australia in advance. Three things were booked:
– the campvervan itself, pickup in Sydney on the 20th, drop-off in Cairns on the 31st.
– my Whitsundays sailboat 2 night adventure, jumping off of Arlie beach
– my skydive in Cairns on the 31st
So beyond those booked stops, I was essentially free to see as many or few places in between as tickled my fancy and this accommodated the ability for me to not drive for 12 hours at a time (10 was my max). I had a rough outline of must-sees and logical stops for practicality which I’d gathered from former/current Aussies and fellow travel-bug friends, but as I would come to discover, things do not always go to plan and flexibility and grace are the greatest gifts you can give yourself when travelling. That and money. Give yourself money, too. Because Australia is not a low-budget-backpackers dream, at least when you’re flying by the seat of your denim cutoffs. Not even in a campervan. In fairness, I’m new to long-haul travel and it is entirely possible that with proper foresight and planning, or just more wherewithal in regards to travel in general, I could have saved a few
bajillion dollars, but this was an adventure for a reason and I was prepared to swallow some higher costs down under.
Again, the laundry list of all the things I did will be captured well in the photos at the end of the post, and if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram the big highlights are there as well.
Instead, here I present FAQs from the Great Australian Boo-Seeking-Sunshine Road Trip of 2017*:
Where did you go?
I started by flying into Sydney from Bali, where I stayed for 3 nights (LINK) from here, my rough plan was:
Port Stephens -1 night
Coffs Harbour – 1 night
Byron bay – 2 nights
Brisbane – 1 night
Noosa/Fraser Island – 1 night (this was going to be the launching point for the tour I mentioned LINK that I missed out on due to scheduling STRIKE my parking ticket delay and my Rainbow Beach driving adventure)
MacKay – 1 night
Arlie Beach – 2 night Whitsundays tour
Mission Beach – 1 night
Cairns – 1 night
And here is how it ended up
Newcastle – 1 night
Byron Bay – 2 nights
Brisbane – 1 night
Rainbow beach – 1 night
Rockhampton – 1 night
Arlie beach – 2 nights on land, 2 on the boat, one more on land because afterparty, duh.
Cairns – 2 nights
How did you see everything you wanted to see if you were driving all the time?
As with any travel, the amount of time you have to see things and do things is going to directly depend on your overall timeline. Duh. So, if like me you give yourself under 2 weeks to drive the coast, you are not going to have time to see and do every tiny traveller’s to-do. I did not approach this leg of my trip from the vantage point of seeing Australia in great depth. I wanted an adventure in broad strokes of freedom to wander and experience whatever came my way. I wouldn’t change anything about this. I know I will return to Australia and when that happens I will know what I want to see again, what I can pass over and what will be brand new and still on my Australia bucket list.
What was the campervan like? It doesn’t look like one of the cool VW ones.
It wasn’t. Bessie was a Toyota Tarago. Believe me, my idealization of my Australian road trip looked a lot more like the first picture below. However, the glamorous life did not choose me, and the second picture is me. It was the quickest, cheapest option, and also, I’m only one human so although she felt like I was driving a bus, Bessie didn’t have to be very big.
She included some side benches which, when connected by a big plank of wood, made a pseudo-bed. She had a little pull out stove which i didn’t even try to use because I figured I would set myself on fire. She also had a bizarre little pump sink thing which to operate you fill the bucket up underneath it and it is basically the engineering equivalent of a giant soap dispenser but for water and it just drains directly out of the van. Oh, and she had a little blue cooler attached by a bungee cord, for things like
wine fruit. She did not have a single cup holder, which meant one-handed driving when I had coffee, which was a lot (sorry, Mom).
How did you find staying in the campervan, given that you have never camped? Did you stay in hostels as well?
I did both: sleeping in the campervan and in hostels/homestays. The reality was that I was mobile almost all of the time, so there were 2 general structures of how my days would turn out. I would generally be up really early, and if it wasn’t a “big” driving day, I would see or do any of the sights, explore and tour and if I was driving later, I’d get on the road with enough time to hopefully be done driving early enough not to be in the dark for more than a couple of hours. The alternative, or if it was a bigger driving day, would be to get up early and drive first thing, and then see and do things when I arrived at my destination.
Sleep in a campervan versus in a hostel/homestay has it’s pros and cons. A general benefit of the camper is, unsurprisingly, cost. That said, you really can’t just park anywhere without paying and sleep. Campsites have costs associated, even if you just park in the hostel parking lot and pay to use their shower/facilities as I did in Newcastle. Additionally, if you are driving as much as I was, gas adds up very quickly. I’ll be honest, this part of the equation didn’t fully occur to me until a few days in. Bessie was not a hybrid and quite hungry a lot of the time. Sleeping in the van was actually nice sometimes because it was quieter than a shared hostel room. No one moving around or snoring, when that happens to be the shared room experience, and honestly the actual comfort of the “bed” was really fine, especially compared to *spoiler alert* any bed I have experienced in Thailand thus far.
On nights when I drove into somewhere late and campsites were either closed for the night or difficult to locate in the dark, I would opt for hostels or guest houses. The price, overall wasn’t outrageously different and the benefits of hostels are the use of amenities, being indoors and nice clean (hopefully) sheets. Actually, the number one benefit of hostels is access to wifi, and plug-ins.
What was it like driving, and on the lefthand side of the road?
Australians’ driving, overall is very very good. I was incredibly impressed as soon as I set off at how organized, reasonable and safe the driving was for essentially my entire trip. Actually, I was very confused as to why everyone was going the speed limit and not more than ~5km/hr over, even on highways. I found out later, the penalties for speeding and other traffic related offences (even, say for instance, parking tickets) in Australia are astronomical. This model actually seems to work, because I did not come across anywhere near the number of lunatics during my entire drive of Australia as I would while driving to work one time at home.
On that note, learning to drive on the lefthand side of the road was pretty much seamless for me, despite driving what felt like a bus compared to any other vehicle I’ve had access to. Fun fact: Australia loves traffic circles, or as they call them, roundabouts. Loves them. So imagine my degree of foreboding panic in realizing that traffic circles are a challenge going the way I’ve been used to, and then trying to turn that around. It took quite a bit of concentration on that first night of rainy dark driving, but luckily I didn’t have any real trouble. The only challenge I found was staying in the middle of the lane. Since I’m used to being on the lefthand side of the car, the perception of being in the middle of the lane is a bit skewed, so I had to be extra aware of drifting to the left.
Weren’t you lonely/scared?
In terms of loneliness, I had a few moments of whatthehellwasithinkingthisissostupidiwanttogohome. Getting overwhelmed by the sheer size of undertaking of the trip definitely happened. But by and large, no. I’ve come to really appreciate my more introverted side and certainly embraced the space to think, be and explore on my own. I also had some pretty stellar groups of people that I met along the way (for example the ~35 people on my epic Whitsunday’s tour), so I got my fix of human interaction and that balanced out a lot of the on-my-own feeling. Listening to Dwight Yokam (1000 Miles From Nowhere was particularly fitting), and other music that reminded me of home helped too. I will also mention that when the aforementioned less-than-stellar moments came up and I wrote the above blog post, the outpouring of love and understanding from back home and around the world was enough to make me never feel lonely as long as I live. So, I learned that no matter how on your own you are, you are never alone.
I was scared twice during the roadtrip. One was in the above linked post as I was driving in the dark to Rainbow Beach and imagined myself as a victim on Criminal Minds (Beyonce’s Love on Top got me through that one). The other was on my first night in the camper. Having had a late start and driving in the rain and dark, I ended up pulling into Newcastle instead of driving further on. I set up my little camper bed, closed all the little window curtains and expected to fall asleep easily. I was exhausted. But in that awkward space between awake and sleeping, where you are not quite dreaming, but not fully in reality, my brain picked up on sounds from around outside and it resulted in nightmares of people trying to break into my van. Needless to say, not a lot of sleep was had that first night.
What was your favourite part?
Impossible to choose just one, but there are a few highlights: holding a koala (life dream), hanging out with kangaroos, the boat tour which involved the greatest stargazing I have ever done in my entire life, and more shooting stars than I though was possible to see in one or 2 or 10 or 100 nights. Participating in a sunset drum circle at Byron Bay was a pretty random but incredible highlight. Drinking the infamous “goon” or wine-in-a-bag for the first time. Those little bubbles that pop up on the sand after a wave. Finding teeny tiny seashells. Icing-sugar-fine sand in my toes (hair, ears, purse, etc…). Driving through landscapes you wouldn’t be able to capture in any photo.
But I think my favourite moment was, before leaving Byron Bay, venturing out towards the lighthouse/most Eastern point of the Australian mainland. Before making it there, by a whim of my gut, I decided to detour directly out towards the rockier part of the coast. The pictures, included below, of course won’t truly relay the scene, but it was early enough that no one else was around yet, it was beautifully untouched by the day so far, the waves were the biggest I had seen. The hills to my right looked like the ones Julie Andrews twirls through in the Sound of Music (the desire to replicate the scene was overwhelming). And I just thought “all this for me?”. All of this nature, coast, beach, sunshine, beauty and I had it all to myself for one moment. And all of a sudden I realized I was crying. Nothing dramatic, just an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It’s something I will never forget. It also ignited something inside me because I must have looked crazy practically skipping the rest of the little trek. Grinning, barefoot. Everyone I passed after this was in some kind of hiking or active gear. Me in my denim cutoffs, big t shirt holding my flip flops akin to a girl who took her heels off at the bar (note: I have never done this, my opinion is that if you can’t wear them leave them at home). Iced coffee in hand. Just heel-toeing it up the coast. Clambering over rocky cliffs for better pictures. Pretty neat.
Oh, skydiving was pretty neat also.
What are Australians like?
Legendary. I have met Aussies back home, of course, and had the absolute privilege of some love during my yoga training (I’m looking at you, beautiful beam of light). And this is obviously an impossibly general question to answer as I have only met a number and many of the people I met during my road trip were actually from elsewhere (lots and lots of Europeans), but culturally I found Australians similar to Canadians in demeanour. I would consider Australia maybe a little bit more aloof. The slang and manner of speaking was probably my favourite thing. I reckon there are heaps of things I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t be fucked to learn all of them. It also did take a lot of stunned confusion before I realized that everyone asking me “you alright?” in a store or cafe meant “how are you?” or “can I help you?”, not implying there looked to be something wrong with me. Check. I also really love the straightforward no-nonsense way in which I found people to communicate. You’re never going to have to wonder what someone thinks or feels or whether things are getting done. They are. Oh and those accents…I mean, yeah. Swoon.
Did you run into any terrifying animals/bugs/monsters?
I had heard, just like everyone else, that Australia has the scariest and most deadly creatures in the world. I was not excited for the inevitable encounter that was surely going to test all of the exciting new bravery I had collected on my trip so far. Lions, tigers, bears, tarantulas, vicious kangaroos or big scary birds. But, go figure, I didn’t encounter one single terrifying or lethal being*. I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am for this, especially camping. No fun stories here; no complaints either.
*at least to my knowledge. God knows what was probably lurking near me.
What is a funny thing you noticed about Australia?
Besides a ton of traffic circles, and their incredible slang, Australia is also covered in strings of lights. I probably noticed this more than another traveller would because they are one of my favourite things on the planet. They wrap trees in them, put them all over coffee places, on all kinds of random things. There also seems to be a disproportionately large number of Subways (the food chain). Oh, and the road work. It rivals any amounts during construction season I have ever experienced back home, and was almost non-stop along the entire highway in one shape or form.
How insane was your hair?
*Most of these questions were never asked, much less frequently asked, but I think someone might wonder or I just feel like writing about it. Or, at the very least my mom would want to know. If you have anything to ask or add, comment below or shoot me a message or email. I’d love to hear from you!
I learned a lot about myself during this piece of my adventure: mostly about bravery, openness and the ability to go with the flow. None of these things I would have considered particularly high on my list of personal attributes up until this point, but the proof keeps coming that, given the freedom to be, I’m someone I like hanging out with.
I drove the East Coast of Australia
I lived. Boy, did I live.