When you think about it, Australia is sort of like a giant jigsaw that someone has got bored of. All of the edges of the country are filled in with towns and cities, while the vast majority of the centre of the puzzle is left uncompleted; a giant, unexplored, untilled desert wasteland. In fact, all of the remaining pieces of the jigsaw have been gathered up into a pile in the middle to create Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock.
However, it is an absolutely gigantic jigsaw. While the population of the country is slightly underwhelming, falling just short of 23 million, its landmass should not be underestimated. Though the country has little more than a third of the residents of the UK, the diminutive country could be fitted into Australian landmass over 30 times! This means that for anyone serious about exploring the whole country without simply relying on city-hopping in an aeroplane, renting a vehicle is by far and away the best option.
In 2009 and 2010, I spent one year in Australia and in that time conducted two lengthy road trips up both coasts of that fine country in campervans. I spent one month driving from Perth up to Darwin on the west coast, followed by another six weeks from Melbourne all the way up to Cape Tribulation on the east. I can safely say, both trips were among my most enjoyable experiences of all time.
There is something unique and liberating about travelling about in a campervan. It is your vehicle, kitchen and bedroom all rolled into one, allowing enormous amounts of freedom. You can drive where you want, when you want; you can stop where you want; eat where you want; stay for as long as you want, in any place you want; swim in the ever-present ocean whenever you want. There is nothing quite like waking yourself up after a stuffy night’s sleep in a claustrophobic van by throwing yourself into the sea. If there was one word I would use to describe my campervan experiences, it would be free.
Of course, the trip was far from free in monetary terms, though still not quite as expensive as you may imagine. There are plenty of camper companies out there, such as Britz, Apollo and Camperman, offer offering cut price deals. Another popular company, Wicked, often custom designed vehicles which are decorated in amusing paintjobs; and although these look great, they are generally smaller and more expensive than other models.
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For those really looking to save money, sometimes companies need units to be taken back to their original cities after other travellers have left them far afield, and offer the chance to take the van back for a nominal within a set number of days and receive petrol money to boot. Though this can be a cost-effective method of getting from A to B, it doesn’t allow time for much exploring (or doing too much apart from driving) so for those looking for a camper more as a means to explore than to transport themselves, I would recommend renting outright.
After having taken care of rental and petrol money, the only other real expense is food; and with many campers coming equipped with kitchens (complete with gas burners and running water), preparing your own meals is a simple and cheap process, if a little bit of a squeeze for elbow room. Accommodation is not a problem generally as many free campsites exist on the coastlines of Australia, and those that do charge are inexpensive and offer the luxury of clean bathrooms, electricity, full kitchens and hot showers.
If you don’t mind your showers cold, all along the Aussie coastline the beaches are inundated with showerheads pumping water directly from the sea over your sleepy head. In addition to this, many beaches also have free barbecues set up, which only require cleaning after use, allowing you to have a banquet on the road. If you plan it right, you can have a once-in-a-lifetime experience at a price that is financially reasonable; and spiritually, so, so free.
For some ideas and inspirations on a route to take, here are some of the major highlights I incorporated into my two trips:
Perth – Wave Rock – The Pinnacles – Kalbarri National Park – Monkey Mia – Coral Bay – Exmouth – Port Hedland – 80 Mile Beach – Broome – Fitzroy Crossing – Katherine – Darwin
Melbourne – Canberra – Sydney – Blue Mountains – Port Macquarie – Byron Bay – Brisbane – Noosa – Hervey Bay (Fraser Island) – Rockhampton – Airlie Beach (Whitsunday Islands) – Mission Beach – Cairns – Port Douglas – Cape Tribulation