Many Australians are looking to explore their own backyard, and because Australia's backyard is huge, campervanning or caravanning is becoming increasingly popular. Here is a quick guide to getting started and some of the best campervanning trips in Australia.
Find a beach, park your home, is always appealing (picture courtesy of Pxfuel)
Campervanning is not something new. A lot of people who had a van must have soon realised that they can set it up to live in for a holiday. The most famous early campervan is the VW Kombi Van, which were sold modified with a pop-up roof in the 1950s. There were also converted buses and many other homemade options.
These days, campervanning ranges from small vans, that essentially just have a mattress in the back, through to purpose-built vehicles with full sleeping, cooking, dining, living and toilet facilities inside. There are even creative options, such as rooftop tents, where a lot of the living space and facilities are in the back of a 4WD, and you sleep in a pop-up/fold-out tent that is on the roof.
Motorhomes provide a wide range of comfort and style
I am not including caravans in this article, though they are similar and have both advantages and disadvantages over campervans, I think they are sufficiently different to be the subject of a different article.
Getting a campervan
Obviously, if you own a van, you can throw a mattress in the back and go travelling. But there is more to it than that because you need space for your luggage and set up for cooking and washing. For example, many people will install a rack under which they can put their gear with the mattress on top. Also, people might put in somewhere to cook as well.
I am going to concentrate on what you can hire as a guide for creating or buying your own campervan. The most basic campervans cost about the same as a car to hire and are set up for 2 people. The bed converts into a seating/dining area, but cooking facilities are on the back door. Being an ordinary van, you can't stand up inside.
Picture of a larger campervan with a raised roof courtesy of Dick Penn @ Wikimedia
The next level up has a raised roof and often can accommodate 2 to 4 or more people. Older campervans or many home conversions will have a pop-up roof. This gives you enough room to stand, or stoop if you are tall. The kitchenette facilities are inside and the beds are essentially bunk beds, with one converting into seating space.
Then you get to the full motorhome. This will include permanent and convertible beds, kitchen, dining space, toilet and shower. Essentially everything thing you need for your travels.
If you are looking to go offroad, then there are 4WD campervans. While they are generally suitable for only 2 adults, they usually have more space than a standard 2 people van, with a raised or popup roof. Many come with an attached awning so that you have space outside.
Image of a 4WD converted into a campervan courtesy of Nachoman-au @ Wikimedia
There has long been a great appeal in the idea of having your own little home that you take everywhere. You don't even have to worry about booking hotels, check-in or check-out times, all you need is a place you can park and you are home.
There is also the value for money. With the cheaper 2 berth campervans costing the same to rent as a car, if you are tossing up between renting a car or a campervan, why not get the campervan, as it will cost you about the same. But even the larger ones will cost you less than getting hotel rooms.
Campsites are cheap and often include lots of facilities. I like that in many regional areas near the beach, caravan parks are often right on the ocean. Plus, many regional councils allow people to stop at their showgrounds for free.
Commercial caravan parks and campsites have showers, camp kitchens and even swimming pools
Many people with campervans just park wherever they find convenient. Maybe it will be beside a park in a quiet suburb (if your little campervan doesn't have a toilet, then it is good to find a park with a 24-hour toilet), beside a beach at night, and also at roadside rest stops.
It also about luxury. While a campervan is not going to compare to a good hotel room, it is much more comfortable than camping. Basically, you will get the same level of comfort and convenience for your whole trip.
Yes, driving the little campervans around are the same as driving a car, but that the bigger ones are going to be something some people will find uncomfortable doing, especially on a mountain road. Basically, the more comfort you have at night, the less convenience you will have on the road.
This is especially true for parking. Ever struggled to find a convenient parking spot? Well now try finding somewhere to park when you are driving a huge campervan. It means you might not be able to just pop into town for a visit on a busy day. Certainly, if you trip takes in bigger cities or towns, or a few festivals, then you had better like walking from the side street that you parked in.
There are many places worth stopping that you will want to stay at for several days. If you were in a hotel or camping, you can just jump in your car and drive around the area. But with a campervan, even a quick run up to the shops to pick up milk, means you have to pack up everything.
Many local councils have begun to crack down on people parking campervans in certain spots. Mostly these were where backpackers would tend to stop, sometimes just using the park (not the park toilets, the park) as a toilet. This is not that big an issue though.
Also, if you have a campervan with a toilet, then you will need to clean it out (or get a service to clean it out for you) every 2 to 4 days. Many people extend this period by using public toilets as much as possible.
Many people choose campervanning over camping but forget that not all campsites are not suitable for campervans. I know of a few campsites where the parking area is a distance from the campsite. Then sometimes the challenge is finding the level ground, so you are not sleeping at an angle. Of course, there are caravan and campervan sites, where you are not allowed to camp.
Tips for Campervanning
How we travel determines what we get out of it. Campervanning has advantages and disadvantages, as well as problems to overcomes. Here are some hot campervanning tips.
Like any road trip, unless you are driving specifically to get to a destination, give yourself plenty of time. Most people's first campervan trip is far too ambitious.
Plan your stops, including contingencies, and with popular destinations, you may need to book ahead.
Take advantage of the flexibility though. You can stay as long as you like or go wherever the road takes you, or the weather dictates (beaches on sunny days, towns and museums on rainy days).
Part of being in a campervan is just relaxing. Take a book or two to read.
Make sure you are travelling with people you can get along with in closed quarters.
The fridges on campervans are not that big, so meal planning is pretty important. Of course, bring some non-perishable staples like instant noodles, baked beans and so on.
If you are renting a campervan, don't be shy about bringing extra things, like warmer bedding, cooking gear (I recommend bringing your own omelette/pancake pan), loungers and so on.
Have a sense of fun and adventure, and share it with your team. Not much point, if you are not having fun.
Great Campervan Trips by State
Once you have a campervan, the rule is, if there is a road, so there is my home. But below are some ideas for road trips to consider in each state of this wide land.
Western Australia seems designed for a good campervan trip, with many people taking the roads to and from Broome to explore this desert area. But you can also do the South West Corner of Australia. Starting in Perth, you follow the coast down to Margaret River and then around the bottom end to Albany. You then either loop back up to Perth or keep going East to Esperance, and then head north to Kalgoorlie, before backtracking a little and returning to Perth.
The great Northern Territory road trip is, of course, Darwin to Uluru, passing through Katherine and Alice Springs. Depending on the campervan you have, you can also visit Kakadu National Park. It is 2000 kms one way, and unless you then continue on to Adelaide, you need to return mostly up the same road.
in North Queensland, the Green Way between Townsville and Cairns is a great road trip. It should take you 5 hours to drive, but when you set your watch to tropical time, it will take much longer. Plus there are plenty of places north of Cairns and South of Townsville if you want a longer trip. You can make the trip into a loop between Cairns and Townsville, heading west from Cairns up the Atherton Tablelands, and into the drier areas out west, and return to Townsville via Charters Towers along with other country towns.
In New South Wales, one of the most popular tourist trips in Australia is from Sydney to the Gold Coast, with the ideal trip being a return trip. This journey includes the coast stops, such as Coffs Harbour and the Byron Bay, and country destinations such as Tenterfield and Tamworth. I would set aside 2 weeks for this trip.
Tenterfield is one of many great country towns to visit on your road trip from Sydney to the Gold Coast
For the most spectacular road trip in Australia, then Victoria's Great Ocean Road needs to be part of it. Victoria is such a network of roads that once you get to the end of the Great Ocean Road you are spoiled for choice as to where to go next. Most people insist on including Warrnambool and Ballarat, but if I include too many stops on this list, someone will complain about the ones I left off. Personally, I would say, don't over plan, just wander the area in your campervan as your mood takes you and based on the recommendations from locals.
For most people, South Australia has basically two main obvious road trip options. Either drive north through towns like Cooper Pedy, into the Northern Territory and Uluru, and then return, about 800 kms shorter than driving from Darwin, or drive along the south coast and out along the Eyre Highway and onto the Nullarbor Plain. Though you can also stick closer to Adelaide, visiting Port Augusta, Port Lincoln and the Gawler Ranges National Park rather than thinking you need to do an epic road trip.
Tasmania might be small, but it packs in the attractions. Most people will try to explore the whole island, but if you have limited time, stick to the east coast road if you want more history, and if want to get out into nature more, you should head west. A smaller van can be better here, as it can be convenient as you will go to many stops. Of courses, a bigger motorhome with a built-in electric heater will help on those cold Tasmanian nights.
Campervans have long been associated with a romantic sense of adventure. Their great appeal is that you are taking your home with, wherever you are. The options are endless, from small vans through to luxurious motorhomes. They are a great way to explore our backyard here in Australia.