Australia is one of those places that I have dreamed of seeing ever since I can remember. The problem was always, that it was so expensive to fly down there. So I actually never really thought it would happen. That is, until I got the chance to travel around the world with my family and we started to plan our route.
Alexandra has visited the enormous country twice before. And she had told so many engaging stories. My visions, that mostly came from what I had seen on TV, were always brought to life when she talked about her experiences. And my desire to go there and see it all with my own eyes became even stronger.
Australia is in fact a continent. It is THAT big! I heard about some businessmen from Sweden, who were going there on a business trip. They would have 4 days for exploring on their own, so they wanted to get the most out of them. They made plans to drive from Sydney to Melbourne, then on to Adelaide, further on to Alice Springs, further north to Darwin, south-east to Cairns, down to Brisbane and back to Sydney. Quite an ambitious loop, and definitely a dream route. The problem is, that you should prepare for about 113 hours of non-stop driving, and drive 10.107 kilometers. And this is without any time for sightseeing and/or sleeping. According to the story they just ended up staying in Sydney for 4 days. Also a nice way to spend some time off!
Our plans were also ambitious, and we had no way of knowing if we would be able to make it all. Traveling with a three year old boy, we need lots of time to play, relax and eat ice cream in the sun. We knew that we just couldn’t aim too high.
Brisbane, the capital in the state of Queensland, became our starting point. Not for any particular reason. It just seemed like the right place to start our journey all the way up along the marvelous east coast towards Cairns. Great Barrier Reef, tropical beaches with lots of fine sand and palm trees. And of course a mild climate, in spite of the fact that we arrived just as winter arrived on the southern hemisphere. In Queensland this means that the temperature MIGHT drop below 20 degrees celsius. We could certainly live with that!
Before we arrived in Australia, we had been in contact with a family from Brisbane. This came up through a former colleague of us back in Munich. Thus Neil helped us with all kinds of practical questions before we even landed. What “musts” to see. Suggestions to our route towards Cairns and stuff like that. Mails went back and forth and eventually Neil ended up taking a day off to show us around in his hometown. The day ended with a classic, Australian barbecue in his house, with his wife Tina and their twin sons, just 9 months old. This was the best introduction we could have asked for. And we did not even know each other before we arrived!
This is really a good indication of the true Australian hospitality that we experienced when we first arrived. Australia is an isolated country and people welcome visitors from overseas. Australians gladly share information about their country and give you suggestions for what to see, eat and experience while you are visiting.
Already the first day, when we arrived in our hostel, dropped our luggage and went for an afternoon walk, we had a good feeling. A feeling that this was a place where we could easily settle down and live happily ever after. It is hard to describe, really. But we both had that same feeling. We were greeted with warmth and hospitality from everywhere. A positive “vibe” and a laid back lifestyle that you hardly ever see in Europe. Of course, Neil and Tina had a lot to do with that!
We spent a few days in Brisbane before we picked up our first campervan. None of us had ever previously tried camping, so we were not at all sure of just how this would turn out. We decided to travel like this from Brisbane to Cairns, as a test, and we planned on spending 19 days for the journey. The total distance is approximately 1700 kilometers and it can be done in about 19 hours if you drive non-stop. We wanted to make several stops and take our time!
The first day we just drove about 150 kilometers. We went to the so-called “Hinterland”, which lies in the hills behind the “Sunshine Coast” north of Brisbane. Here we were about to make our campervan ready for the night for the very first time. The vehicle was actually a re-modeled Toyota Previa and we had read on the internet that the bed-size was 140x200 cms. This is exactly the same size as our own bed back home. However, now we were to sleep with Anton as well. Although he is not very big, he does require a little bit of room. Before we had made the final, committing booking we looked deep into each others eyes. Could we really do with so little room? Would we get on each others nerves? We had read in some travelers forum that such trips will either ruin your relationship or strengthen it. We agreed on jumping right in and see how it all worked out!
And here we were, trying to figure things out. Quickly we realized that the key to a camping trip in peace and harmony lies in tidiness and the right order of packing. After a few nights with little sleep, it actually started to work quite well for us. Most camping sites in Australia have good camp kitchens where you can cook your food and eat. We also had two gas burners, pots and pans for cooking in the car. But cooking fumes inside the car are not really ideal when the space is already crammed, so we kept cooking in the car to an absolute minimum.
After the first 2 weeks we decided to extend with another week. And this happened a couple of more times. The further north we got, the better life on the camping sites got, and we did not want to leave our little, modest home on 4 wheels.
The hospitality that we felt from Tina and Neil the first day, turned out to be very typical for the Australians that we met. On almost all the camping sites where we met native australians, we got lots of hints and tips to what we could go and see, and oftentimes we were invited to come and visit them in their homes. We never did this, as many of the people we met, where actually people from the southern parts of Australia, that had left their cold surroundings for the winter to seek refuge in the warm north. However, their invitations seemed sincere.
It is impossible to describe Australia in just a few sentences. The nature is completely overwhelming and absolutely stunning. You will find many animals that you cannot find in any other place on the planet. A few times we thought of visiting zoos. We actually only did it once in Port Douglas. We wanted to see the Cassowary in real as it is hard to find them in their natural, wild surroundings. All the other Australian animals we wanted to see, we saw in the wild. Koalas in Victoria. Crocodiles in the rivers around Cairns. Stunning, bright colored fish in the Great Barrier Reef. And much, much more.... Oh, and then there were kangaroos, emu’s and camels...
There were mountains, rainforests, tropical beaches and those red dirt-roads through the bush that I had already seen in movies and the tourist brochures. There was Sydney, with the fantastic Opera House, the historic Harbour Bridge and the beautiful, victorian terraces in the suburbs. There was Flinders Ranges National Park i South Australia. And then there was Melbourne, where we had little over 3 fantastic weeks with Alexandra’s family. And still we only saw about one-tenth of the country.
We established that life in a campervan actually works for us. And pretty well. Needless to say it had a lot to do with the fact that we got in touch with so many nice people as we got around. Almost every day Anton met new friends to play with. Australians are outdoor people. A nice house and a good car are both important things. But it is even more important to meet with friends and family over a barbecue in the local park. Everywhere you go in Australia there are barbecue grills in the parks and campgrounds to use for free. On only a few occasions you will need to pay a dollar to bring the grill to life. This is where people gather as often as they can. You bring whatever you intended to eat at home anyway, and eat it in the company of your friends.
It’s the same thing with the camping sites. People are used to gather with other people. And with people you do not necessarily know. As you stand there by the grill, turning your meat or cutting your salad, you just start to talk...
Speaking of camping: One of the reasons I was never really “hooked” on this type of holiday back in Denmark, is that I simply could not imagine sitting in a caravan park over a longer period of time, with small solar-cell driven lamps under the awning, a small, white fence around the small garden with artificial grass and knitted curtains in all windows. There is nothing wrong with this type of holiday. Really, nothing at all! It is just not MY type of holiday!
But in Australia camping is something completely different. It is more wild and extreme. As are the conditions under which you camp. We met newbies with just a little bit of equipment, and we met the hardcore, experienced camping people with large trailers that could easily be turned into a huge tent, with 3 rooms for at least 6 people, lounge room, double bed, outdoor kitchen, solar power batteries with enough power for weeks in the bush and even solar heated showers. Yes, you could spend a fortune on equipment, if you are into that sort of thing. At least we got inspired to do another camping tour in Australia at a later point in our lives. And we want to do it a bit more extreme and in the outback!
Because that is the problem here! We had 3 months and they were nowhere near enough for all the things we wanted to see. I actually doubt 3 years would do. But I guess we would be able to do quite a lot...?
If you are interested in more details about our fantastic journey through Australia you can click on all the active links here in this article, or here, to get to the travel journal archive.
Click here to see more pictures from Australia!
Click here to read about Alexandra’s thoughts about Australia!