I took to caravanning about 4 years ago and since that time, I have owned 3 different vans. I started with a Jayco Eagle Camper trailer which was fantastic and gave me heaps of freedom. However, after setting the van up, alone, that many times, it soon became annoying, so I opted to buy a caravan instead of camper trailer.
The camper trailer saw me travel to places not far from my home in Sydney, the furthest being Mildura. I met some fantastic people and stopped at some beautiful spots. This made my mind up that this is what I want to do on a regular basis, if possible. I was in the process of being "pensioned" out from my job as a Police Officer as I had received numerous injuries over my 26 year career, some of which hampered me with the camper trailer as well. In time, I would be "pensioned" out and retired as a Chief Inspector. I didn't want this, but my injuries precluded me from performing my duties to the fullest, so they made the decision for me. I can live with that decision now, but will try and do something different in the future.....maybe even pull a few beers.
I started looking around and visited a few dealers and looked at different vans to upgrade. I had to get a van that was suitable to tow with my Subaru Outback which meant that I had to find something on the light side. A dealer rang me out of the blue one day and told me he had a van that I may be interested in. I went up to his yard the next day and looked at a Jayco Freedom Poptop. It had been purchased by a couple who took it home to the NSW Country and shortly thereafter the wife became sick and they could not travel. Something that happens quite a bit I am told and I feel sorry for them as their life dream was now shot.
The van was in excellent "new" condition although it was now "2nd hand"...so in other words, it was a brand new 2nd hand van ..lol I got it for a good price and even managed to get them to throw in a Weight Distribution hitch worth about $500. I took the van away a few times to "shake it down" so to speak and I soon learnt many more things relating to caravanning. This knowledge came about by asking questions and chatting to other fellow Caravanners. It is also good to sit and watch people do what they do with their vans as I always say that knowledge is power!!
I started to travel further and longer and I was soon travelling to Outback Queensland via Townsville and Mt Isa. I visited the Boulia Camel races which was a blast in itself and something I think I better do again sooner rather than later. It was a 9-10 week trip and when I got home, I was ready to go again, but family and other matters held me up for awhile.
I was finally pensioned out from the Cops in September 2007 and then I started to plan for a BIG trip around Australia. I fitted my poptop with one Solar panel (more is needed I now know) which got me by. I also purchased a new Toyota Landcrusier 100 V8 Petrol. Great price as they were getting rid of them prior to bringing in the LC200 series. Very happy with my decision and I love the car. The time came in April 2008 that I decided was right, so I headed off on my sojourn, not making any definite plans, except to stop in Wagga Wagga and Melbourne to visit friends. That way I would then go to Adelaide and travel through the Centre of Australia.
I had some funny times and started to see that not all caravan parks were friendly. I was in one in Melbourne and the site was that small that I was nearly touching a tree on one side and the awning would not open fully on the other side as it hit another tree. No discount and no service...so never to visit there again...maybe. It was a 5 star Park which I cannot understand. I did my washing one day and asked if there were any other clothes line as I only saw two small ones...both full. I was told to put my clothes in the dryer, which I don't like doing, and then asked them if they would pay for it...they didn't like that. However, it was a fairly decent park close to transport into the City which was a bonus I suppose.
Adelaide was expensive due to school holidays...bloody hell...$39 a night for one person, but it was right on the water and the rolling waves always help me sleep better. I hadn't been to Adelaide since 1993, being the the only time I had been there, and that was to do a course with the Police, so I didn't get time to see all that much back then...away from the inside of bars and nightclubs that is. It has always been a thing with the Cops that if you visit another City, the Cops there "look after you". It is a great tradition and we have always behaved ourselves...or we never got caught !! I can't remember which.
I then started to travel north after collecting the ex from Adelaide Airport. I didn't mind taking Steph with me as it was something that she always wanted to do and she only had 3 weeks leave from work. She is a great girl and I am a somewhat sad that things didn't work out with us as we would've had a great time as she likes to travel and see things just like me, but fate is a funny thing and maybe something else will happen for me in the years to come.
We stopped at places like Coober Pedy and couldn't believe the landscape. We did a local tour and visited a few places such as the Breakaways and Dingo Fence. Something I love to do, find new places I haven't seen, although I do tend to go back to places I like. Road kill started to show up on a more regular basis and it was this that brought my favourite creature within viewing range. The Beautiful Wedge Tail Eagle....what a creature !! At one place I reckon there were at least 15 Eagles standing next to a dead roo...wow!!! The Eagles are more prone to getting cleaned up by cars and trucks if they are feeding on Road Kill as their talons do not let go as quick as other birds of Prey. I don't know why (yet) but I tried to do my bit and when I could, I removed the dead carcasses from the road way so they could feast away from danger. Not a pleasant thing to do sometimes as the smell is a little overpowering. But it made me feel better.
We camped at a few Rest areas mentioned in my CAMPS4 book and this tuned out to be something I really enjoyed and do more of it as my travels continue to this day. I also had my Satellite TV as I like a bit of telly of a night, especially when things like the Tour de France is on. It took me a little getting used to but now believe I am very competent with it and have no problems whatsoever with finding the Satellite to tune into.
On the way in from Erldunda on the Stuart Highway, we came across Mt Connor, or the "false Uluru" as so many people believe it to be Uluru when they drive in. Uluru, or Ayers Rock, was something to see and I believe that it is a once in a lifetime must. There were a few weird things that made me think a little. Such as the use of Opal Fuel, so the indigenous locals cannot sniff it as it was an issue there some years back, or so I was informed by a few of the Local Police. These police I spoke to were Federal Police, on secondment to the NT Police, and also wearing the NT uniform. This is due to the fact of the Government Intervention into Alcohol and Pornography abuse by communities in NT. Something I think works in some places, but not others. The Police told me it had been working in Yulura (Uluru), but the ones that wanted grog, moved on to places such as Coober Pedy as it was the same clan. Alcohol was also very expensive there and something you should try and avoid buying and you could only buy a 6 pack anyway. I also found it strange when I visited Uluru Cultural Centre and found a big book with hundreds of letters from people around the World, who had written a letter of apology for removing a "rock" from beneath Uluru. They also sent back the rock itself, the largest recorded rock returned being something like 13kg...go figure ???
We spent a few nights at Alice Springs and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Markets were great and the local indigenous folk kept trying to sell us their artworks. Some were quite good, but some looked like their kids had painted it...very ordinary, but strength to them for having a go. I love people who have a go at things in life instead of sitting back and letting others do it for them. Learning is something we continue to do and it is always nice to take on board a little bit of new knowledge and accept it from the person with thanks....unless of course it is from someone that is a know all bastard..you know the ones.
We visited other places like Standley Chasm, Simpsons Gap to name a couple and all places were eye openers once again, especially in the beautiful sun shine and warmth. We also had a nice dinner at the Sporties Bar & Bistro in town and I was amazed with the great service we received. I hope it is still the same, but I doubt it as they usually have Itinerant workers such as Back Packers working there and things change. It is a shame as most places you go to up the Top End have these workers and a lot of them don't really care too much except for getting paid each week...but then again, some are fantastic, like the barmaids at Daly Waters Pub!!
We ventured into Mataranka and did the normal thing of jumping into the warm spring waters which was soothing and enjoyable. We had dinner there and one of the girls who worked there gave a show that night by signing a bunch of songs. She turned out to be very good, especially after a couple of schooners. I was offered a job there, but couldn't really stay as I wanted to get us up to Darwin, but said I might return. Jobs are easy to get up Top and all you have to do is ask. I didn't really want to work for the moment until I sorted out a few things with my Police Pension as I didn't want to pay extra tax....they've got enough out of me over the past couple of months after receiving my long service leave lump sum.
Katherine was also a great place and I always like to stop there now although it is pretty hard to miss as it is the main Crossroads of visiting all places up the Top End. With the amount of travellers that go through the place, you'd think it would be a little bigger, but I like it the way it is now. I did see last time I was up there that they had petitioned for a McDonalds and I believe it is to be built very soon. Another money spinner for Maccas !!
We moved on up to Darwin and did all the tourist things we could in a couple of days and then Steph flew home...sad. Anyway, I got on with it and spent a little more time in Darwin and did some sightseeing and there was a bloke doing a comedy show at the Caravan Park and was quite good. I went a second time the week later and ended up winning a Didgeridoo which saved me spending money buying one as most of the ones up north are not made by the locals, but mine definately was.
After Darwin I travelled back down and spent a little more time in Katherine and whilst there I found out about an Aboriginal Festival on at a Community called Barunga, some 80k's south of Katherine. I went there for the weekend and met some fantastic people, both indigenous, and visitors. The Cops were there with a few horses and it was a normal thing to see them tied off on the back of my van whilst the riders had a cuppa. I was also made very welcome by a number of the elders who always greeted me when we crossed paths. They had a football and basketball comps, spear throwing, bush tucker, aboriginal dancing and numerous other activities all worthwhile watching. There was a little political banter from one of the Aboriginal speakers and personally, I do not like being told that it is my fault for what happened in the past. Get over it and look to the future is my thoughts....... Some would disagree. I still keep in touch with a few people I met there and one day I will catch up with them again.
I moved off after a few days and headed off across the top and visited places like El Questro, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing and camped at some nice little spots. I finally made my way into Broome and although very busy and hard to get accomodation for my van, I managed to do OK and spent a few weeks there and turned out to be one of my favourite places. It is fantastic to be able to drive onto a calm beach and swim whenever you want. Have some food in your car fridge and then leave when you've had enough. Fantastic !! I love Broome. Some people don't like it, but my advice to you is do not listen to anyone if you want to visit somewhere, make up your own mind after you have been there because you might be like me and not like them...enjoy
After Broome, I stayed at 80 mile beach caravan Park, Exmouth, a few camp areas, Geraldton, Perth and then off across the Nullabor to home. Exmouth is also a fantastic place with great places for fishing, snorkelling and chilling out. This will do for this trip as by the time I finally finished this story, I've been on another trip visiting some places again, and visiting other places for the first time. Places such as Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Litchfield NP and many other places. If you have been thinking of heading out into the Australia that you don't know, then my advice is to do it now as it is absolutley fabulous.
This trip took about 5 months, 17,000km and $15,000 which is pretty good considering that it included everything. Imagine going overseas for 5 months and how much that would cost ??? My second trip was a little over 6 months and took about the same amount of kilometres and money and was completed at the end of October 2009. It is now the end of July 2010 and I turn 55 this week. I am currently sitting in the Pine Country Caravan Park, Mt Gambier. S.A., and I have been here for 10 weeks managing the caravan park, getting some experience for my future travels in 2011. I will be here for another 3-4 months.
So, if you you are travelling in Winter 2011, look out for me as I am always open to having a chat and a cool drink at beer o'clock. You won't miss me in my Supreme Full Caravan (which I purchased in September 2008) with Dunco written on the back. Give me a hoy on the UHF radio if ever you find yourself behind me and we will stop and say g'day. Hopefully my "ex" will once again be with me next year....fingers crossed. Cheers and happy, safe travels
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