Chris & Laura’s Southern Summer Caravanning Adventure
Friday 22nd April 2016
By Dave Eddy
Making our home tidy enough for the house sitter meant we had our 'night before' in the kids bunks in their rooms. We packed and cleaned til 11pm, then Chris got up at 6am and continued right until we left at 1.30pm. Temporary pool deck constructed and oiled, garage packed away, house vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, caravan made up and packed, rubbish emptied, gadgets charged and packed ... we even took our coffee machine.
All morning, the kids chimed 'Are we going yet?'
This was only to be trumped by 'How long until we get there?' when we were ten minutes from home.
Our setup was our 22 foot Retreat caravan, complete with bunks for the kids, double bed for us, bathroom, washing machine, sink and dining area and enough storage for all our needs – being towed by our Landcruiser which had been fitted with extra suspension for the heavy tow.
Potato Point Beach at our Doorstep
The initial part of our trip was to head towards Melbourne in order to catch the Spirit of Tasmania, so there were one night stopovers for the first few nights. First stop Potato Point, our site looking right at the beach. It's a lovely, ecologically sustained campsite that was very quiet by 10pm. Plenty of room for the kids to ride their bikes, explore the playground and sit side by side with kangaroos. The beach was choppy but long and edged with rock pools.
Our camp oven stir-fry cooked on the hot coals, finished off with a glass of red whilst listening to the waves and watching the bush telly. Terrific first night.
Headed towards Marlo. A quiet little town, with an open plan and friendly local pub where we had our dinner. Wind and rain meant movie night in bed for us. The sound of rain on the caravan roof made for a peaceful nights rest. Marlo Caravan Park was full of friendly staff and other travellers, not to mention a cute little playground that the kids spent the morning playing in.
En route to Wilsons Promontory - the sunshine returned. Crystal blue waters, cool but refreshing. Large campsite at Tidal River with good sized sites. Clean and plentiful amenities. There was so much room, we decided to leave the caravan hooked up to the Landcruiser.
Within minutes the kids had formed a posse with neighbouring kids, comparing taekwondo moves, riding bikes around and wallaby and wombat spotting.
Seeing as we were heading to Tasmania in 48 hours, we needed to use up our fresh produce. This created the nights spontaneous dinner of roast garlic chicken on a bed of carrots and rosemary, home grown capsicum stuffed with mushroom, Parmesan and garlic and prepping for our first dinner in Tasmania - a bolognaise with home grown tomatoes. Even with the fire ban in place, our Webber and butane gas stoves made it easy.
Heading towards Melbourne, we chose the coastal scenic route.
Travelling through places like Kilcunda, it's beautiful seeing the agricultural landscape adjacent to coastal views and beaches. Stayed with our friends in Williamstown overnight, always great to catch up and the kids to play non stop with other kids.
Up bright and early to start lining up to board The Spirit of Tasmania at 6.45am. As we're embarking into the vehicle hold area behind two Jaycos, one of the staff radioed ahead, "Okay mate, I've got two vans and a monster headed your way."
I'll be honest, it was a long day and we didn't leave port until 10.30am due to ferry delays. Having said that, there are things to entertain the kids and adults with on board like games rooms, soft playground, cinemas and roving entertainers. We decided to do the day trip so the kids would be able to have the full on-board experience, and they did have a good time. However it's a long time to keep them entertained and we would probably opt for the night trip in a cabin next time.
We reached Devonport at 8.30pm, checked into a local can park for the night and once again it was easy to stay connected due to the spacious and level site. This meant for a quick pack up and getaway the next morning, after we slotted in a lovely round of morning exercise along the coastal tracks.
We wound our way through the Tamar river region, stopping at Beauty Point to check out Platypus House which was interactive and educational for all ages. Added bonus being your entry fee is the main source of income for their preservation activities, which include wildlife rescue and upcoming breeding programs.
Relishing our new relaxed pace, we went for a wine tasting at Goaty Hill Wines. One box of wine later, and kids who got to have a great explore around the grounds, we all left chuffed.
We stocked up at the renowned general store Grand Central Market to stock up on local produce for the next few festive days. Cheeses, fruit and vegetables and farm fresh meat loaded into the fridge. That is one of the great things about travelling with a caravan, you very rarely have to eat out as you can create lovely meals wherever you are.
Christmas Eve and Day we stayed at Old Macs Farm and Fishery just out of Launceston city. It was highly recommended on our Wikicamps app, which we've found to be a really useful tool for finding places to stay on our journey. It lived up to its reputation. The property has natural waterways and dams, as well as an array of farm animals for the kids to feed. A perfect base for exploring Launceston.
Christmas Day lunch we treated ourselves to a wonderful restaurant experience at the Terrace Restaurant in the Launceston Country Club, followed by a stroll around the city to view the historic buildings.
Even with a bit of rain during our pack up on Boxing Day morning, it was far more manageable than previous tent experiences.
We took a scenic route on the Tasman highway towards the east coast, through the rainforests of Mount Barrow and Blue Tier State Reserve. We stopped at The Holy Cow Cafe for a cheese tasting, delicious coffee and some milkshakes for the kids. We had no idea there was such a variety of cheddar, and we left with a good selection of it.
Heading towards St Helens, we set up camp at a free camp area on the Bay of Fires. This is a popular spot, so it's best to get in early, however we fluked a beachside position. We could watch and hear the waves crashing all night long. We cooked up some beautiful local steaks and veggies and enjoyed a Tasmanian red wine and dined outdoors while we watched the sun set.
Sunset at the Bay of Fires
The morning saw us venturing out for a beach 4WD without the van. Great excitement for the kids to climb over large sand dunes. Then for a little dip in some equally large rock pools around the bay, prior to packing up to head further along the coast.
Bicheno is a lovely little town, with plenty of local shops for all your needs, whilst being set amongst some stunning beach scenery. As soon as we set up at Bicheno East holiday park, the kids were off to the playground to find some playmates. It was good to change things up from free camping the day before with power, water and an amenity block (got a couple of loads of washing done) and the kids were loving having a posse to hang out with. At nightfall, we wandered across the street to the beach in search of penguins. Our patience was rewarded, and we came very close to dozens of hungry baby penguins having their daily feed after their parents returned from their fishing expedition.
Setting off the next day to Coals Bay, we embarked on the 3 hour return trek to Wineglass Bay, stopping at the breathtaking lookout on the way. It may have taken us a little longer than the suggested time, as 3 and 5 year olds don't quite have the ability to walk and climb that distance completely unassisted. This provided some extra exercise and weight training for Mum and Dad (thankful for Voltaren). Wineglass Bay itself was everything the pictures suggested - pristine waters, powdery white sand. I would probably describe it as a 'family bonding experience', in the way that when you complete it - you're exhausted but you feel awesome.
On our way back to camp, we stopped at the local fish market and picked up some fresh oysters and a whole crayfish. A congratulatory feast for our physical achievements of the day! The cray was transformed into a creamy garlic pasta, and the oysters enjoyed fresh as entree, naturally with another glass or two of local Riesling.
Further south, our travels took is towards Port Arthur with stops along the way to grab some local cherries and apricots.
Our two night stay at Taranna cottages was a farmstay style establishment, with the owners Colin and Marge (and Patch the dog) displaying family style hospitality - as we have found with everyone in Tasmania. It was during this stay we got to explore the natural formations of the Tesselated Pavements, Devils Arch and Blowhole. These places invoke a sense of awe about how our time on this planet is minuscule when you witness how these sites have formed over tens of thousands of years. Many times, we were drawn to stay in the spots for an hour or so just to take in their beauty, although Master Five and Miss Three didn't seem to be as enthusiastic or spiritually connected. However, the promise of a fish and chips lunch with berry ice cream from the renowned Doo-layshus food van kept their desires momentarily distracted.
After a lazy evening, we spent the next day touring the Port Arthur historic site, which really is worth a visit for both the extended and more recent history. A whole day is easily filled, and you could spend a second. It is quite captivating, and you do get a real sense of what it may have been like for the convicts, the soldiers and the residents at the time. Make sure you don't miss out on the river cruise, it really made it for us.
We do love travelling with our kids, but the experience of silent, solitary confinement within certain areas of the convict buildings was a welcome few minutes. Being in full holiday mode, as we left Taranna in the afternoon headed for Hobart, we realized it was New Year's Eve!
Heading into the city on the shuttle bus from Barilla Holiday Park was a great option. We took a picnic, easily found a spot on the Harbourside, and set ourselves up for a fantastic view of the 9pm fireworks. Very different experience from Sydney's New Year’s Eve.
Our View From the Piers in Hobart for New Year's Eve
Barilla had wonderfully large and private caravan spaces, with some great facilities for the kids to mingle and play.
Day two of Hobart saw us enjoying the Taste of Tasmania festival (runs from the end of December to the beginning of January each year) which was such a fabulous introduction to Hobart itself and Tasmania's vast array of fresh produce, wines and performers. We literally ate and drank ourselves through the day. No need for dinner when we got back to camp!
Day three was a trip to an incredibly crowded Salamanca markets, stocked with everything you could ever want or need, including fresh produce for our dinners over the next couple of nights. The markets were lined with alleys filled with boutique shops, so it was a shoppers paradise in every direction.
Eating Ourselves Silly at the Taste of Tasmania Festival
In the afternoon, Chris cycled out to the southern coast overlooking Bruny Island - which is where we ventured the next day.
Bruny Island has a range of methods to get there. You can take all sorts of cruises which vary in price, attractions and duration. We decided to drive there ourselves and catch the car ferry which comes approximately every half hour in peak season for $38 return. This way we could pick and choose what we saw and where we ate. We took in the Cape Bruny lighthouse, the chocolate and cheese factories, Truganinni's lookout, had a swim in a beautiful crystal blue bay and had a wine tasting and platter lunch overlooking the vineyards of Bruny Island Winery.
Packing up in the morning, we headed towards the western half of Tasmania, which has been described as some of the most pristine and untouched areas in the world.
We had decided to try and find a powered spot at Mt Field National Park (they don't take bookings) and we timed it right so that we ended up with a beauty. Nestled in forestland, plenty of park ground to play and explore, all kinds of walks surrounding us, fantastic amenities - we decided to stay two nights instead of one. Can highly recommend a night walk to the falls to see the glow worms.
We also spent a day looking at the man made feat that is Strathgordon dam. When you stand on the edge of something so massive, it puts your self awareness in check. Our two day trek back to Devonport was leisurely. We wanted to stop at local shops and attractions, we wanted to see all the scenic lookouts and wanted to have our final chance to taste local produce. A fridge full of cheese, wine, salmon and chocolate, a stopover at Quamby Corner and a little potter around some beautiful towns like Deloraine - we were back on board the Spirit of Tasmania headed to Melbourne.
Rowena and Sophie at the Start of the Great Ocean Road
In Melbourne, we met up with two groups of family friends. The Guntons (Dave, Rowena and their son Tyler who's 2) hired a Jayco expanda through Camplify, which they were towing with a Landcruiser similar to ours. The Mannings (Bill, Vicki and their daughters Sophie and Cassie aged 15 and 13) towed a customised camper trailer with their Prado. The convoy had begun, and we headed to the Great Ocean Road. The visual spectacles along this road are well known, but in all honesty - words will never live up to the beauty when actually you lay eyes on them. The 12 Apostles, the rock stacks, London bridge, the overwhelming sight of the magnificent coastline, the crystal blue beaches - our days were chock-a-block with things to see and do. What was also a pleasant surprise was how well equipped many of the sites were for travellers towing caravans etc to park right near the sites with ease.
Now our group had expanded from four people to eleven, the atmosphere had changed. We prepared and ate our meals together, there was plenty of two way radio banter during travel time (read: dad jokes), we all helped set and pack up camp, and the nights around the campfire sharing our Tasmanian cheeses and wines were a great way to catch up.
This was the Guntons' first time caravanning, so sharing that experience with people that have done it before has made the journey that little bit smoother.
As we made our way towards Adelaide and the Santos Tour Down Under, we had stays in a wide variety of places. Amongst these, notably there was Bellweather Wines, which is a winery with stunning camping facilities onsite. The owner/operator Sue made us feel more than welcome in her garden, during our wine tasting and throughout our two day stay there. We also cooked up a storm of local produce – slow cooked steak with a garlic cream sauce just to name one dish. Being that we were in the Coonawarra region, we also took advantage of the local wineries and sampled their products also.
We arrived in Adelaide to stunning warm weather, and a perfect beachside spot at the Brighton Caravan Park. After a few one and two night stays since being back on the mainland, it was nice to set up camp for an entire week in such a beautiful part of Adelaide, and so close to the party atmosphere of Glenelg. We mixed it up a little dining-wise whilst here – as there were so many nice spots to eat nearby, even in walking distance. But we couldn’t go past a couple of sunset meals of fresh seafood and sparkling wine. The recently renovated park has a great family theme, with many craft activities for kids to participate in twice a day, pedal bikes and canoes to hire, two outdoor playgrounds, an indoor games room and a movie room. Days were spent either lazing around the beach and discovering the aquatic life literally at our feet, following Bill and Chris whilst they participated in organised enthusiast rides within the Tour Down Under festival, shopping and playing in the various summer water parks around Glenelg and a quick tour out to the Barossa for our last bit of wine tasting.
Santos Tour Down Under section held around Adelaide was the perfect backdrop for the final section of our adventure as the party atmosphere was so well developed throughout the city and the surrounding towns, it was hard not to get amongst it. Lots of market stalls, street parties with live music, pop up street food and wine/beer/cider tastings – it was just fabulous. The boys rode well, and enjoyed both their personal achievements and the vibe of being around so many others equally passionate about cycling.
My parents also came to Adelaide for the majority of the week, opting to stay in one the park’s very comfortable beach cabins.
Pack up took a little longer at the end of our Adelaide stay, mainly because we had settled in so well! Leaving Adelaide signaled the end of our trip was approaching, and we weren’t overly excited about the prospect of coming home and settling back into our Sydney routine (arriving back the day before a public holiday was a great idea, though). Nevertheless, we meandered home over three days and two nights – stopping over in Mildura and Wagga Wagga. We capped our daily driving efforts between 5-6 hours so that the kids wouldn’t go too stir crazy.
This trip makes the clichéd line ring true – it was the trip of a lifetime. Getting to explore a section of Australia over six weeks has just re-ignited the desire to do this as much as possible, and the caravan makes it much more affordable, flexible and un-daunting. Even for the Gunton’s on their first caravanning experience, they are already planning their next caravan trip after their second child (due in May) is born.
The caravan allowed us to experience a diverse range of accommodation locations – from traditional caravan parks, to isolated beach fronts, national parks, farms and wineries. The setup and pack up is a lot simpler than traditional tent-style camping and allowed for more time to enjoy the places we were visiting. Towing was not difficult, even for the first timers, as even in the caravan parks – your neighbouring residents are more than willing to help out with parking and positioning if needed.
Now that we’re back at home, we’ve commented to each other how we are feeling a little of what we like to call ‘caravan sickness’. We miss staying in our caravan, being close together and enjoying the sounds of the beach or the wilderness as we go to sleep. The kids miss getting up and taking off on their bikes, or getting ready for a morning paddle at the beach. More reason for us to get out there again as soon as possible!
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