Perfecting the camping experience – Saturday 17th March 2012


Now we are more familiar with the monster, Transit Van, and we have the special map for finding campsites, we feel much more laid back. We have no need to do anything! The camper van has become an end in its own right. It’s like being a snail, your home is always with you.

When we hired the van, there were a list of extras. To be honest we felt we were already paying lots for the van, but a picnic table and chairs seemed essential and a body board…

Now, my son-in-law makes surfboards by hand. He has a wonderful eye for a line. The boards he makes are works of art in themselves. He is a pro-surfer, entering competitions, able to judge them. His life was built around them until he met my daughter, but that is another story.

Anyway, he is always telling us to try surfing. Once, I tried swimming in the huge waves he loves so much. He taught me to dive through them, under the crest so it was safe. But I never, never felt I would like to get on the board.

Maybe that is why I wanted to take the body board with us in the van. Today would be a good day to find suitable waves.

The first beach is too rocky and only has small, really gentle waves.
The second beach is beautiful, but only the softest waves lap the golden sand.

Is this sounding too much like Goldilocks?

The third beach is a resort, an area for swimming has been cordoned off with a long pontoon. A little further along a massive pier stretches as far as the eye can see and a train takes those who wish to spend $29 to view the underwater observation area. There is a serious volley ball match on the beach and lots of families lounging under trees enjoying their weekend.

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No waves, no open swimming and too public for a first attempt.

Fourth beach: more promising. A boat ramp, waves just right, lovely sandy beach but sea full of sea weed.
OK this is getting a tad irritating. But John spots the ideal place just a few hundred meters away. And it is lovely! A stepped sandy beach, clear waves you can almost see through, a few people sun bathing and others swimming.

This is where the van comes into its own. We change into swimwear, leave everything locked in the safe, walk straight down to the beach. An ideal nursery board site.
We take turns to ride the waves, taking photos for evidence.

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I once saw a photo of John about 10 years old. He was in the sea, riding a piece of plywood, a body board. His face at 10 is the same as now, in the waves. Excited, full of adrenalin, achieving something a bit scary!
We spend ages taking turns. I have to admit that John seems to manage longer runs than me. The old pro!!

Done it! Hooray!

We picnic by the trees on the beach, dry off and set off South, again to Margaret River. The next site in our “Camping 6” book. For $14 we stay in the Canto campsite in the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. The individual pitches are spaced to provide complete isolation. There’s water but no power – thank goodness for our solar panel!

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We dine outside and watch the Milky Way intensify. As John says, it’s magical! It’s the perfect combination. Totally at one with nature, but with the luxury of our van, providing for us.
After dinner, John stays for ages admiring the stars, while I read. Then I join him, silently: the two of us sit in total darkness pondering infinity.

The camping experience – Friday 16th March 2012


Yes! I quite like waking up to the gentle light dappled by trees. The ability to reach orange juice straight from the fridge, whilst still being in bed is a good one too. Despite our last minute rush to choose a site to sleep, it has turned out well. We use the shower block, breakfast al fresco and wander over to look at the estuary before we pack things down so they won’t slip about. The only disadvantage is the water source is bore water so we don’t fill up our tanks.

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It’s a little daunting not knowing where we are going. Clearly, you cannot just pull up at a beautiful spot and decide to spend the night, no matter what the nice lady from Go Camper said. If the authorities don’t get you the sandy road would.
When we turn a corner, the fridge door swings open, spilling 6 bottles of beer over the floor. One opens with a mighty fizz and beer effervesces around the van. It smells strong! I resist the temptation to begin singing: “Six bottle of beer on the floor, six bottles of beer, you smash one down to fizz on the ground and there’s 5 bottles of beer.”
There is a little catch supposed to hold the fridge door shut; it doesn’t! After it has played this trick twice, we tie the door closed with string.

The main roads are very good, far better than we dared hope. We decide to go to Bunbury- why not! En route we visit Australade. We brew coffee, bring out the iconic table and chairs and admire the estuary, the cockatiels and the seagulls.

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Me? Sitting next to the van in a car park? I never thought I’d do this!

Bunbury is quite large. Again we park up by the sea and again we walk over to the sand for a while. When we return, another campervan has joined us. We wait for the owner to return. W need insider information.

They have been touring for months. This is their 4th trip. They are on the road for a year, enjoying their retirement! They produce a book, price $60, which has free or cheap camping sites throughout Australia. It would pay for itself after two free nights.

More and more I realize that retirement is full of people like this. Adventurers, who take their time. A whole travel industry rests on our pensions! Campsites are full of off season travelers, who are over 60 years old. They seem to fall into two camps (no pun intended). Those who are young at heart, and those who have more limited aspirations and cosier ideals. I hope I fall into the first category!

We march into town and buy a copy of “Camping 6”! It transforms our trip. We head for the nearest free site. It’s a picnic site, just off the highway. If I was unkind, I might call it a lay by! It’s in a forest and has no facilities at all, but it is free!
Of course we are not the only people here. Others have bought the book! About 6 sets of vans including a massive coach, done out for permanent living, build up through the night!
But I get a sense of natural camping, munching raisin bread with my coffee, sitting with my back to the crowd.
OK
We’re near a road. Sometimes cars go rushing by, but as darkness falls, it is silent. We have everything we need.

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Campervan – Thursday 15th March 2012


I love the YHA! Not that the rooms were sound proofed- which they were not- but a clean bed, inexpensive, right in the centre of Perth, with an ensuite, near all transport…and breakfast! Coffee, raisin toast and orange juice for two costs $14.

I also love Australia for its connected sense of public transport.plane, shuttle us, free bus circuit round town for sightseeing, underground just around the corner connecting with a bus service just over the road in Rockingham. All pretty impressive and easy.

By 11 o’clock we are at the camper van hire depot to pick up our Ford Transit. It takes nearly two hours to complete the paperwork, briefing and packing. The Welsh lady who owns Go Camper likes to explain things, mostly how well she is doing and how brilliant her business is and, of course her vans. Woe betide us if we have any problems with the van. I can tell, it will be deemed our fault!

We decide to leave our suitcases at the depot, so unpack (and re-pack) in the yard. There is very little room, of course. Dinky little cupboards, lift up storage under the seat/bed, a minuscule wardrobe, a safe (!): all get crammed with our things.

We had chosen a top of range, because I cannot see us being happy if we are too cramped or too uncomfortable. We have a shower, toilet, sink, cooker, tv with satellite dish, air conditioning and microwave which will only work if we are plugged into the mains. Then of course we have the solar powered battery and fridge.

We set off, very nervy with the odd judder of unknown clutch, to the supermarket to stock up. We cram the remaining space with food and drink.

It feels like such a massive, heavy vehicle, but John seems confident and parks in the car park like a pro, maneuvering it round bends and between parking bay lines, although I am aware it is slow to respond.

We drive to the nearest caravan park but recoil in horror! It’s more like a small city than the rural idle we had in mind. We retrace our path and park on the esplanade, making coffee and delighting in the experience of our new mobile lifestyle. But where to spend the night?

Out of town we head South, still trying to get the feel of our monster.

Our map feels inadequate and sketchy, but we take a right to a National Reserve. At first the road is straddled with houses but on the boundary of the National Park we get the feel we have been searching: rural, isolation, forest. Within a few km the road becomes dirt and very quickly after that sand, fit on,y for 4WD. John makes a three point turn and tries a different road, only to find the same!
In just an hour it will be dark. Best quit while we are ahead. On the other side of the main road is another campsite. Shady, better spaced pitches, quite friendly and for $30 we have power in a reasonably isolated spot. By the time we are settled it is dark. We have dinner, enjoy a beer and learn to set up the bed. It is large and reasonably comfy, it’s warm and we sleep well.

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Aukland – Saturday 28th January 2012


It would be the easiest thing in the world to stay at Lianne’s. But we have agreed to stay at another Aukland house, belonging to my friend from Melbourne’s dad.
The original idea was to pick up some basic camping equipment and stay the night. Turns out, Ross has gone fishing up in Doubtless Bay but he has left the key and all our camping equipment ready, and offers us his empty house.
I’m anxious not to intrude too much on Lianne. I remember only too well, what it is like to start a new academic year. It takes it out of you. Having house guests,however lovely, can be very distracting!
So we move down the road, to the harbour. Walking round is very interesting. It’s a holiday weekend and the place is rather empty. There’s loads of shops and cafes as we walk down to the harbour to get a view of the bridge.

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We spend the day, walking, writing, blogging, and generally enjoying Aukland life.