After spending two weeks travelling Australia’s East Coast between Cairns and Brisbane, I came to the conclusion that travelling by camper could quite well be my favourite means of travel. At the wheel we controlled out trip. No waiting for busses or trains. We cooked under the stars and slept with the sound of the ocean lapping in our ears. We moved on when we were ready and forged our own route. But it isn’t always plain sailing. At times it can be challenging and I guess this is what makes the adventure worthwhile.
Below are 10 tips (11, actually) that we think will help to enhance your Campervan road trip. Our experience is based on a trip down Australia’s East Coast, but I’d like to think these helpful pearls of wisdom will be relevant in any destination.
1. If you like good coffee, bring your own.
Having become a bit of a Melbournite, coffee was my first thought when compiling this list. The combination of long drives and early mornings will have you gasping in exasperation for a good cup of coffee. However, you might find that, surprisingly, not everyone prioritises coffee as we do in Melbourne. Anywhere off the beaten track will likely only serve instant, and heaven forbid you have to stoop so low. Thankfully there’s a simple solution. Bring your own. One benefit of having your camping gear will be that you’ll always have access to boiling water. Then all you need is some roasted beans, a hand grinder and a means to brew them. For travelling I’d always recommend using an Aeropress. Small, light and will produce a cracking brew in no more than 2 minutes.
2. Be prepared for bad weather.
Being British, my next thought for this list was the weather. I’ve always been told that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. But after travelling in a Campervan I can now confidently confirm that as utter rubbish. Bad weather is very real, especially in Australia where everything is extreme. When you don’t have a warm, dry house to return to at the end of the day, the weather can become quite a logistical challenge.
- Have bags for wet clothes – you’ll be amazing how fast you run out of room to dry things when its raining outside.
- If the weather is bad, park as close to the toilet blocks as possible. The last thing you want is a midnight run through a monsoon just to nip to the toilet.
- Always carry extra food and water. Bad weather can effect the roads and cause massive holdups. We once sat stationary for three house on a highway during a rainstorm because a river had flooded the road. Australia is vast and so it’s best to be prepared for any eventuality.
- Have things to do in the van. Books, games, journals and podcasts are all amazing ways to pass the time and ride out a storm.
3. Factor in time for unexpected stops.
When planning your route and itinerary it’s essential to factor in time for spontaneity. The beauty of travelling in a Campervan is that you can alter your itinerary at the drop of a hat and create your schedule as you go. Every day you will find somewhere on your route that didn’t know about or hadn’t heard of. These are the real gems, off the beaten track locations that you just have to experience. Although it’s important to have some semblance of an itinerary, its also essential that you leave some flexibility to spend time in unplanned places or to just linger longer in your scheduled stops. A rigid plan will leave you frustrated and could possibly mean you miss out on some awesome experiences.
4. Make the most of any offers or freebies.
Most camper companies will have affiliations with hostels, campsites or specific tour groups. Find about what these are and make the most of them. You might find you get great discounts on certain tours or that you can camp in certain spots for a much cheaper rate. Every saving is an absolute blessing if it means you can use that money on a new experience rather than accommodation.
5. Research your campsites
How wonderful it would be if you could just roll up to a beautiful spot with ocean views by the roadside and set up camp for the night. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to sit by the kerb in a quiet spot, cooking up a storm and watching the sun’s last embers fade away. Unfortunately, this is rarely, if ever, possible on Australia’s East Coast. Scenic spots fit for camping are highly regulated, quite rightly so, otherwise they would no longer be scenic spots. There are hefty fines of around $2000 for anyone caught camping in a regulated zone, so it’s really not worth it.
Luckily you will still have a few good options.
- Backpackers Hostels – Some big hostels like Base/Nomads will let you camp on their hostel grounds for a small fee. The benefit of camping at a hostel is that you are usually very central and their fee includes the use of all their facilities. Unfortunately it isn’t usually possible to book a camp spot in the same way you would a room. They operate on a first come first serve basis and so its a good idea to have a back-up option in mind in case they are full.
- Campsites – There are paid campsites everywhere, with prices ranging between $20 and $40 per night. The more touristy locations tend to be the most expensive, whilst smaller towns will be cheaper. The facilities at these paid campsites are usually well maintained and clean. Some can be a bit out of the way and during the summer months they get extremely busy so if possible try to book in advance or just cross your fingers.
- Free Sites – They are pretty rare on Australia’s East Coast, but they do exist. We managed to find a beautiful sight on Balgal Beach and a not so beautiful patch of grass in Rockhampton. We stayed at each only one night on our way down the coast, but every little saving helps. Again they do not usually have a booking system with the free sights, it’s a good idea to call up and check availability before turning up but they will never offer any guarantees.
6. Hunt for the FREE camp spots.
You’ll usually find these in small towns that you had no intention of visiting. But surprisingly they are often some of the most beautiful, secluded campsites you can find, so you might get a pleasant surprise. We had never heard of the little coastal town of Balgal before our trip and certainly had no intention of stopping there. However, after a little surfing of the web we found that it had a free campsite by the beach and was in perfect location for an overnight stop along our route. So as the sun was setting we diverted slightly off our route and arrived at the site in complete darkness. We woke to the sound of waves and found ourselves yards from a deserted beach. We started our day with a little walk along a beach we would never have known. The town was nothing, but it was the perfect place to get our head down for free.
7. Look for a beautiful spot.
There really is nothing like waking up to a great view. It starts your day off with positive energy and makes you want to jump out of bed and explore. Wherever you decide to camp, be it in a free site, a hostel campsite or an actual campground, always make sure you pick your spot wisely. Try to be by the ocean or somewhere with a great landscape to look at. It will make paying for a campsite that much easier to bear. In Maroochydore we thought we had been shoved away in the far corner of the campsite and were initially quite disappointed. However as we settled in and set up camp we realised we were only yards from the beach. It made our nightly trek to the toilets all the more worthwhile.
8. Carry some cash.
Lots of campsites will want a cash only deposit on check in. For this reason its pretty handy to keep some cash ($20-$40) in the van which you can reuse each time you need to pay a deposit. Campsites are often a little out of the way and so won’t be near a cash-point. If you are arriving late at night, the last thing you want is to be searching for an ATM in a random place in the middle of the night.
9. Find some tupperware.
After cooking a slap up meal on the camping stove the last thing you want to be doing is wasting any. After all who knows when you might get stranded and be desperate for last nights leftovers. Carrying a few small tupperware containers is an inexpensive and practical way to save leftover food and store it neatly in the van.
10. Pay that bit extra for insurance.
Whilst driving down the Bruce Highway after a bout of wild weather, a rouge stone skipped off the centre of our windscreen giving us both a mild heart attack. Instantly a crack appeared and as we drove further it soon crept across the entire windscreen. We stopped at a nearby service station for some stability patches which held us together until we rolled wearily in to Noosa where we had to replace the entire windscreen. Because we had insurance the guys at Spaceships sorted out the cost immediately. They were amazing and made the process really smooth. Lesson being – its always worth paying that bit extra for unexpected incidents like this.
And Also… have a heap of coins ready for the car wash before returning the van.
It’s so easy just to PayPass everything these days that you sometimes forget coin operated machines exist. Well, the car wash industry seems to be a little behind on technology and required us to have a heap of coins to wash the van. We managed to run in to a nearby Mcdonalds to grab some coins and start the wash only to have to return mid way through soaping to get more coins for the rinse. It isn’t a cheap task, especially since you will then need more coins to operate the vacuum cleaner for the interior. Collect your change as you travel because I guarantee you’ll need it before your trip is over.
We travelled the East Coast using a Spaceship Campervan and would recommend them to anyone!
Our journey in the Beta 2s was comfortable and the automatic car was easy to drive. It was the perfect vehicle for two people to travel in and had plenty of space for us and all our belongings. I’m 6ft 1in and fitted easily in to the bed. The van came equipped with a gas cooking stove, mini fridge and plenty of kitchen utensils. The bed and extension tent are really easy to erect (although I would suggest doing it in daylight the first time you do it).
If you are heading on a similar trip check out their website. They have pick up and drop off locations in most major destinations on Australia’s East Coast and they don’t charge a one way fee (which most other companies do).