Words and (most) images by Vickie and Rob Tibbett at RvTrips.com.au
Are you planning that road trip of a lifetime? We hope you are; it’s an exciting time and a chance to ‘make memories’ you will never forget. Driving around Australia, doing the ‘big loop’ or just heading up to the ‘top end’ for winter can be a little daunting for the inexperienced. It was for us when we first headed off.
Below are five points we think will help make your trip safer and more enjoyable.
If you live in the lower latitudes, from mid-NSW to Perth, down to Tassie, expect to travel at least 10,000km on a round trip to the ‘top end’. Double this if you are planning to do the ‘big loop’ through Kununurra in WA. You can do it in less, but you will miss the many ‘side trips’, which showcase the real Australia; the good stuff!
So first, budget on doing a few ks. Next is the time you need to get around and see the amazing parts of Australia. In our mind, there is no point fast-tracking it around Australia in three weeks (doing 13,000km) just to say ’we’ve done it’. You will burn a lot of fuel, arrive home with a numb butt and miss 99% of what outback and regional Australia has to offer.
Give yourself plenty of time. The more, the better. Enjoy your trip. Better to reduce the distance and add some quality to what you see on the way. We like to take at least three months to do a NSW to the Gulf or Cape York road trip. The same for a NSW to Mt Isa and Alice Springs round trip. We add another two months if we plan to drive through Kununurra and home via the Nullarbor. Minimum!
We try to see most things, but we never see it all. Just not enough time! The ultimate road time would have no time limit. Unfortunately, this is not possible for most. Our solution is to plan ‘return’ trips to see the things we missed; going a different direction or via different towns. There is always something interesting to see if you have the time to look.
Getting your vehicle and RV serviced before you leave might sound fairly basic, but we often see broken down vehicles and vans having problems when we’re on-the-road.
Towing a van or camper, in heat, on a variety of road surfaces, can take its toll. Your vehicle is working hard, pulling extra weight and braking harder in extreme conditions. Your whole ‘rig’ needs to be in great working order. For peace of mind, we had our Land Rover serviced in Broome, halfway through a 20,000km trip around Australia. It cost a bomb, but it was worth it. There aren’t too many Land Rover service agents between Broome and Dubbo. None actually!
Unless you’re driving a Toyota, don’t expect to see many motor dealers or service agents ‘in the bush’. You may find the local service station's mechanic is your next ‘best friend’ when troubles occur. And it could take a week or more for parts to arrive. We carry some spares with us during outback trips - two spare wheels, spare fuel filters (greater chance of getting dirty fuel in-the-bush) and a spare oil filter, air filter and wiper blades. These parts can be difficult and costly to source in the middle of Australia.
Don’t forget your van. After being in storage for months, it is important to make sure the bearings are tight and freshly lubricated, tyres have the right pressure, wheel nuts are correctly tightened, and the brakes are checked. We recently heard of a wheel coming off a van only a few hundred kilometres into their trip. Not the first time we have heard this happening.
Are the gas bottles full? We recently heard of a young family arriving late to a campsite in a national park to find they had no gas! It was cold, the kids hungry and the parents exhausted. Fortunately, there were other campers nearby who helped them out. Not always the case.
Some basic tools will always come in handy, like a hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, wrench, spanners etc. We have always found other campers more than willing to help out when you have a problem. But you might find yourself in the ‘middle of nowhere’ when the window of your van blows out. Been there!
Whether you are preparing for your first caravan adventure or heading off on your 10th, we always find it useful to make lists of what needs to be done before we leave and what needs to be taken. Check-off lists reduce the inevitable ‘prepare for take-off’ stress.
I usually start a list a few weeks before our departure date. Mr Forgets has his own list, and we compare notes before leaving. It works for us. You don’t want to get 500km from home and realise you forgot to get the potatoes from under the sink – imagine the smell when you get back in 6 months’ time! Yes, this happened once, but luckily my brother-in-law had a key to our house – and a few extra potatoes for dinner.
We recently made a rookie mistake. Only going away for a week, we’ve done this 100 times before, let's ‘wing it’ we thought! Off we went, drove four hours, set up camp only to hear, ‘guess what we forgot’! The royal ‘we’ mind you. No phone charger, no socks, no shaver, and no freshly baked cookies. Nothing we couldn’t live without, just annoying. My now clean shaven husband stores his check-list on his, now fully charged, phone!
You will need two drinking-water hoses (and a joiner), plus two 15 amp power cords. Your water and power connections will not always be conveniently located next to your van. Add to your list at least two tap connectors, the type which suits both ¾“ and 1“ taps. You will end up leaving them behind at times. I think we carry four!
A grey water hose, with a smooth lining, is essential. We cut ours into two, more convenient lengths. A 1” irrigation joiner from Bunnings will connect the hoses when necessary. Joiners can also be used to connect both ends of the grey water and drinking water hoses when travelling. Roll them up and join them. No leaks in the storage compartment. Awesome!
Plumbers tape should also be on your list. Cheap and useful when your main tap doesn’t exactly fit your connector. Water is VERY precious in the outback. Mix it with red dirt, and you have yourself a big mess on your ‘doorstep’. Please be considerate and fix your leaking tap connections.
A 1m square piece of artificial grass (again from Bunnings) will become your most treasured possession when there is nothing but red dirt and spinifex to be seen. Used as a doormat, it also helps keep the dirt and mud out of your van.
A small but powerful LED torch will be most welcome when you are heading to the amenities block after dark. Especially when you’ve seen the ‘Beware of the brown snakes’ signs during the day!
You will also find many uses for a roll of cloth reinforced, waterproof gaffer tape. Sometimes called ‘100 mile an hour’ tape! You will see it used at car races, holding body panels on after an altercation. Add to this a small roll of .5mm ‘tie wire’, and you will be able to temporarily fix most things that may fall off your van on a big trip.
You’re prepared, got all the tools and spares, checked off your lists, and you’re about to head off. Excellent! Now, a few tips on how to survive your time on-the-road? We once saw a sign when leaving a caravan park that might help. It read:
The first two are quite common mistakes, and we have even seen a situation where the partner was left behind. Hopefully, it was only temporary! Life on-the-road can test your mental state at times. Especially after a long day's drive, you’re tired, the other campers are into ‘happy hour’ and critiquing your every move as you attempt to back your van into the last remaining spot in, a now, very crowded park. Good fun for those watching, not so for the tired, unpaid entertainment!
Like most things, practice makes perfect, and your backing and setup routine will improve over time. For new campers, we suggest you arrive at a park just after lunch when there is plenty of room to manoeuvre, you’re fresh and not in a rush. Much better for all concerned, and for your marriage! It means you travel less during the day, which in our book is a good thing. Take it easy, ‘smell the flowers on the way’.
Next, there is a series of tasks that needs to be done every time you pull in for a night and again when you pack up to leave. After a few stops you will have committed essential checks to memory, but when you first start, write them ALL down. Yes, another list!
Take the time to talk to fellow travellers. You will pick up so many important tips and make some new friends, guaranteed. We are constantly amazed when we ‘run into’ people we have met on a trip. It may be three weeks down-the-track and in the most bizarre of places. It is truly uncanny, and lots of fun!
Fellow travellers are also the best source for up-to-date information on road conditions, what to see and do in the area, the best camps, roads to avoid and must-see places. Try not to be too rigid on your timing or direction. We have visited some wonderful places simply by taking a detour suggested by someone we met along the way, like Lake Maraboon near Emerald in QLD, Daly Waters Pub in NT and 80-mile beach in WA – the list goes on.
Finally, check the online weather forecasts every day. This has saved us on many occasions. It is no fun packing up in the pouring rain or heading off into a howling headwind. Staying an extra day may make all the difference, and be a lot safer.
This is a beautiful country with lots to see, and we truly hope you enjoy the adventure. Safe travelling.