Big Lap Travel Tips

*Data.  We visited a Telstra shop before leaving to check out all their data options.  We chose a generous 20GB shared data plan which also gave us unlimited phone calls within Australia and five overseas countries, including the UK.  We also had free viewing of certain sports events (came in very handy when in the middle of nowhere with no TV reception on State of Origin night).  Shortly before each new monthly allowance, we checked how much we had used and then uploaded all our photos and other files to One Drive and downloaded ebooks, podcasts, music, tourist info etc.

*Landline number.  We decided to cancel our Telstra home bundle and lose our landline number.  Telstra keep the number out of circulation for six months.  You can keep your home number if you pay $25.95 a month line rental.  It meant my mum in the UK had no way of getting in touch as she doesn’t have a computer and we discovered that you can buy a UK phone number through Skype.  It cost $65.93 for the year and allows anyone in the UK to call us for the cost of a local call.   We wish we had discovered it sooner. Mum did take a bit of convincing that it would work though.

*Mail.  From time to time we wanted to order things online (such as the grooming clippers) or receive parts for the van.  We opened an account with Australia Post’s  ‘MyPost’ which allows us to nominate Post Offices to receive our mail.  They will then hold on to the mail for ten business days.  We also decided to keep on our PO Box back in Samford and a friend kindly agreed to check it regularly and email us details of any mail received.

*Keys.  Colour coding keys and adding some key hooks made it easier to see at a glance that we had them all when we set off.   We also bought a ‘Tile’ Bluetooth tracker from JB Hifi which we attached to the van keys.  It has already proved its worth.  You can also press the button on the Tile to make your phone ring, even if it’s on silent.

*Free Camps.  Make use of free camps which are close to popular tourist areas to maximise your time at a nice place and save some money.  For example, we left the campsite in Dampier, WA around 10am, spent a few hours at beautiful Hearson’s Cove and then drove an hour and a half to the free rest stop at Robe River.  The next morning we were able to arrive at the beachside caravan park at Onslow for 10.30am and make maximum use of the campsite.

*Booking into campsites.  Be more savvy when arriving at a campsite reception.  Ask which sites have the best views – often it’s the unpowered sites.  We found that from a savings point of view, it wasn’t worth booking an unpowered site unless there was at least $10 difference between powered and unpowered.   We would also say when booking in, that we didn’t mind moving sites during a stay to keep views or to stay for longer.

*School Holidays.  Take a diary that lists the school holiday dates for all states.  We found in Victoria that the Vic/NSW/SA schools all overlapped their holidays at Easter which meant popular places were booked out for four weeks rather than two and caravan parks charged premium rates for longer.

*Vehicle log and travel record.  We recorded every van park with their prices, the cost of fuel and mileage covered, along with dates.  This came in useful quite a few times.

*Van housekeeping.  After being on the road for a few weeks, we had a van rethink and packed away/threw away/gave away anything not used regularly whilst repacking other stuff to make it more accessible.   Before leaving, we took out the microwave as this was barely used and we could make use of the microwaves in camp kitchens if needs be.  It gave us another sizeable storage area in the van.  We also had to get in the habit of packing everything away once used otherwise the van soon became untidy.

*Coffee obsession?  Don’t buy takeaway coffees as you travel, as just two coffees a day can easily add up to an extra $50 a week.  We use an Aeropress coffee maker which is small and perfect for two.  It makes excellent coffee, is easy to use and keep clean. We also fill a flask with boiling water just before leaving a campsite so we can stop for morning tea and quickly make a coffee without having to turn the gas on and get the kettle out.

*Books: A lot of van parks have a book swap and it would have been a good idea to bring a few old books to exchange.  We also loaded up a Kindle with a selection of books, including some classics we always meant to read.  We registered with Brisbane City Library for ebooks and magazines which we could also download en route.

*Travelling with a dog.  Winston needs to be groomed regularly as his fur grows thickly very quickly and he gets very hot.  It was worth investing in a pair of professional dog clippers which were easy to use and you soon recoup the cost of professional grooming fees.  We bought the Wahl KM10 after trying another dog owner’s clippers. Winston also has a rechargeable glow collar (Aldi) which we put on him at night.  It has the advantage of being a talking point with other campers who wonder what the mysterious red light is running about.

And there you have it …

34,000 km and 334 nights.

We didn’t know where we were going most of the time but driving on the road to nowhere turned out to be great fun.   It’s time to get back to normality and working for a living.   Sigh.

Signing off from the Big Lap Blog.  Jonathan, Ann and Winston.

Now where can we go in the Easter break …

All good things must come to an end

Our tenants were due to vacate the house at the end of February and we had taken up an offer by our lovely friend Sue to live in her fully furnished downstairs flat for 5 weeks.  While we were still at Maurie’s, our letting agents told us that the tenants had found a new rental and we could move back home on Friday the 19th January.  School started back on the 17th so this suited us perfectly.

We decided to camp up for two days at Baden Powell Park in Samford.  It was a bit strange starting back at work and still being in the campervan.  I think Winston was trying to process being back on familiar territory and seeing familiar faces.

Thursday night we camped up in our back garden, ready for Jonathan to do the handover with the real estate agents Friday morning.

so close!

We opened up the shed doors with some trepidation, wondering whether critters might have got in and ruined some of our belongings but everything was in perfect condition.  Jonathan spotted a snake in the bushes which might have kept the rats and mice away thankfully.

It was good to see that while I was at work, the boys were prioritising the important things to unpack.  Winston was almost hyperventilating at the sight of all the toys he’d left behind.


The Hinterland and more partying

We decided to end our trip with a little tour of the Pottsville Hinterland.  Winston had perked up no end after the shock of being taken to the vet, helped by the postie delivering a present from his Aunty Joan in the UK.

Thanks Aunty Joan – I’m glad someone loves me.
Murwillumbah Showgrounds with views of Mt Warning

Murwillumbah has a great little farmers’ market every Wednesday and I bought some very tasty buffalo rissoles from a local butcher.

The town of Nimbin is well known amongst backpackers.  It is best described as an ‘alternative lifestyle’ town.

Then it was back to Maurie’s for birthday party number 2.



Lunch at Taree

A lovely catch-up over lunch with Arthur and Margaret Lunan.

When Jonathan’s father David was putting together the Lunan side of his family tree, he discovered his second cousin, James Lunan, had emigrated to Australia in 1912.  He looked up Lunan in the Australian phone book online and the first ‘A. Lunan’ he rang was Arthur who is James’ son.   They met up when David came over to Australia in 2010 and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

Arthur is 93 and looking good.

Christmas Day at Moonee Beach

You’ll be pleased to hear that Santa found us even though we weren’t at home.  Winston was pleased with a squeaky rhino to add to his safari collection.  He did us proud with a bottle of salted caramel Baileys for Mum and a bottle of Bourbon for Dad.   Thank you to Mum, Joan and Derek for the yummy Christmas hamper.

It was a lovely sunny morning and we had a prawn starter and some bubbles down on the beach before heading back to the van for a seafood lunch.

Unfortunately the afternoon turned stormy with a threat of hail.  We tucked the little Fiat under the awning to the amusement of our campsite neighbours and headed inside for a port and cheese afternoon.

It was lovely to catch up with family in the UK on Skype when it was their Christmas morning.

Happy Christmas everyone.


Back in Pottsville

After 300 nights away and 33000km driven we’re back in Pottsville and our trip around Australia is officially complete 

On the up-side, Ann has been reunited with her car and we’re having a month’s holiday on the magnificent beaches of the NSW North Coast before facing the music in the New Year.