For many years, Connie made me promise we would go someplace "special" for our 25th wedding anniversary. We originally talked about returning to Europe for a couple weeks, but we decided to visit someplace we've never been before. We lived in Europe for a few years while in the Air Force. Australia came to mind as a prime spot. To add a little more adventure to the trip, and maybe be a little more economical, we talked about renting a motorhome and being free to tour on our own. We don't like tour groups, with their rushed and strict schedule. We originally made plans to visit Australia for 2 weeks in November, 2003. This was the same month as our 25th anniversary. However, Larry's employer went bankrupt and he was laid-off that same Summer. The trip was now out of the question.
After we sold the house and started traveling full-time in our RV, we decided to make the trip in November 2004. A year later than planned, but since we no longer had a schedule to adhere to, we decided to spend a month in Australia instead of the original 2 weeks. We headed out on November 1st, and returned to the U.S.A. on November 30th. In 27 days, we drove over 3,500 miles and visited the Australian states of New South Wales, Victoria, Australia Capitol Territory, and Tasmania. It was late Spring this time of the year in Australia. There were no Australian holidays in November, and it's considered the "shoulder" tourist season.
We greatly enjoyed the trip, and in the spirit of this web site, we wanted to share the information we learned from this trip. The following information is our perspective on different topics learned during our adventure. You can also read our daily travel log to see exactly where we went, including the expenses we encountered.
RV's: motorhomes and campervans are not real popular. We saw a few at each park, but trailers (caravans) are much more predominant. Especially trailers with pop-up roofs. Surprisingly, we did see an American made 26' 5th wheel, towed by a GMC pick-up. We also saw a 32' SouthWind Class A motorhome. We talked to the owners of these rigs, and each had their RV's imported. They say the larger American rigs are more popular in Northern and Western Australia, but rare in the South and East. I can only imagine the problems they encounter, since they are so large for the gas stations and roads. Most motorhomes (class C) and campervans we saw were from rental companies.
There's a few main RV rental companies in Australia. Maui and Britz are the largest. We rented (hired) a Maui Spirit 2T/S. This is a campervan for 2 people. It's a diesel Mercedes Benz van with a high rooftop that has RV equipment installed. We got the toilet/shower version and didn't regret that option. It's a cassette toilet, but is nice to have in the middle of the night (or when you're sick). The toilet is in the same small room as the shower. The toilet does wing 90 degrees to the side to make more room in the shower. However, we never used the shower (more later). You can see pictures and read all the specs at Maui's web site, but we have a few comments about this campervan.
- This campervan is much larger than many other campervans, but wasn't a very efficient use of space inside. Only minimal cabinets were installed. There's almost no room for clothes, and no room for suitcases. As usual, the table made into the queen bed. It was so awkward converting to the bed, that we decided to leave the bed made all the time. This also allowed us to store the suitcases under the bed. However, this presented slight problems with where to sit and eat. Luckily, almost all RV parks (caravan parks) have public "camp kitchens" with tables to eat at. We also rented a couple folding chairs and a table. Otherwise, we sat crossed leg on the bed or one of us sat up front.
- The campervan did include a small microwave and a heater/air conditioner combo. Both of these required power, which is primarily why we got a "powered site" each night. We ran the heater on low at least 80% of the nights, and also used the A/C a few times.
- The small refrigerator runs only on 12 volts. This would run the battery dead in 24 - 36 hours without running the engine or connecting to external power. The refer worked great and kept the food cold and made ice quickly. However, there's almost no freezer space. The freezer had enough room for the ice tray with little room left over. It was a little inconvenient not being able to buy frozen food (or ice cream!). Because of the limited refer space, we had to go shopping every few days.
- The curtains were too small. It appears they were cut to the exact size of the windows. This made them too small to completely close. They also lacked any type of fastener to hold the curtains closed. If the curtains were longer, wider, and had Velcro on the ends, this would have done wonders. They van also lacked an elastic cord to tuck the curtains into at the bottom when closed. This would also have greatly helped to keep the light out.
- The RV's in Australia don't store 'black water'. Either the RV didn't have a toilet, or they used a cassette toilet with a removable tank. However, they do have 'gray water' tanks. Usually, a small 2" hose is attached and placed into a drain provided at each park site. In our Maui rental, no hose was provided. The drain on our gray water tank wouldn't even accept the hose. We were told each caravan park would have a location to drive over, where we could open the valve and drain our tank. In the 24 parks we stayed at, only 1 had a drain we could drive over. Unfortunately, this presented us the problem of where to drain our tank. Although not proper courtesy (and maybe illegal), we would pull into a small rest stop and drain our gray water tank onto the grass. We didn't like it, but we didn't have any other option. At least it was only dirty water from washing our hands and dishes. For ease, we usually washed our dishes in the camp kitchen.
- We were provided a water hose to fill our fresh water tank. We couldn't connect to a water supply, but we could fill our tank and use the water pump. However, there's 2 sizes of water bibs (spickets or valves) in Australia. Our hose fit the larger size bib. But half of the parks we stayed in used the smaller sized bib. At these parks, we usually couldn't fill with fresh water. Very inconvenient.
- We were also provided a "starter" set of personal items. This set included a roll of toilet paper, paper towels, etc. You get the same starter set if you rent for a weekend, or for 2 months. It would have been nice if they provided more paper and towels for the longer rentals. But it was nice that they provided anything. We didn't have to buy sponges or soap.
- We were provided table settings for 2 people, and plenty of pots and pans. They also provided us with a coffee press, which we didn't know how to use. After asking another camping couple, Connie fell in love with it. We'll probably now buy one for our own rig, replacing our bulky Coleman drip coffee maker that we use when boondocking.
- The van performed pretty good. It had plenty of power to get up the hills (with some down shifting). It was little awkward shifting with the left hand, since the driver is on the right. Finding the proper gears was sometimes a problem. Unfortunately, I didn't keep accurate records of the gas mileage. I think we got somewhere around 20+ miles per gallon. Remember, Australia uses liters and kilometers. A liter (litre) of diesel averaged $1.15A. 4 liters equal 1.05 US gallons. So this equaled about $4.60A for a gallon of diesel. At today's exchange rate, we paid an average of $3.57 in US dollars for a gallon of diesel.
RV Parks: These are known as either Caravan Parks, Tourist Parks, or Holiday Parks. I think the difference between them is the amenities that are provided. The Holiday parks seemed to have swimming pools, playgrounds, TV rooms, and other features, while a simple Caravan park had the basics.
- All of the parks have cabins for rent. It's very popular for families to rent a cabin (park models) at one of these parks for a week or longer for their vacation (holiday). At some parks, they would have 30 - 40 cabins, with room for only a dozen vans or caravans. As in the US, some parks also had permanent residents.
- When getting a RV site, there were usually 3 kinds available. An "unpowered site" was primarily for those with tents, or didn't want any hookups. A "powered site" was the most common, where you got 240v electric, water, and a gray water dump. Electrical and water hookups were usually shared. There would be a post with enough connections for 4 sites. The last type of site was an "ensuite site". This site was a powered site, but you also got a small cabin that included a private shower and toilet. We usually got the powered site. For one night, when Larry was pretty sick, we did get an ensuite site for the privacy.
- We never made reservations, and usually didn't know where we were going until that morning. Sometimes, based on our tour book, we knew exactly what caravan park we were heading for. Other times, we looked for a park when we arrived in a town. There are plenty of caravan parks everywhere. They are well marked with blue signs, with a picture of a caravan. However, reservations would be required if it was a popular tourist time, or holiday seasons.
- Prices were fairly reasonable. The average cost for a powered site was $15.50 US ($20A). We paid a low of $16A, and a high of $36A. The high cost park was in a very popular tourist spot, and was the only caravan park in town. They didn't even have a pool or other fancy feature.
- All parks provide a "camp kitchen". We quickly learned that this is a valuable feature. Some parks camp kitchen was nicer than others, but they all had the basics. The camp kitchen is a shared kitchen for all campers. Usually, a refrigerator is provided. You marked you food and used the shared refer and freezer. If you were staying a few nights, this would be nice to go shopping and use their larger refer and freezer. Usually a stove or hot plate was also provided, and sometimes a complete oven. At one location, we saw someone roasting chickens in the oven. It looked good! They all have Barbies, which is the Australian version of a BBQ. However, these are not like American BBQ's. A Barbie is an electric or gas grill. The grill is a large, solid heated metal surface. There's no grate or coals underneath. The juices drain into a metal pan. To us, this is more like frying than grilling. Sometimes the Barbies were free, some cost 20 cents, and some cost $1. We used them a couple times with success. However, one grill seemed to last only 3 minutes every time we placed 20 cents in it. It wasn't easy to tell when it stopped cooking. We ended up using a frying pan.
- All parks have an "amenities" block. This is the shared public toilets, showers and laundry room. The biggest difference was in the showers. About the same as American RV parks, the condition ranged from excellent and very clean, to old and stay away. Some showers cost 20 cents for 3 minutes, but most were included in the site fee. One place had a 6 minute timer, although the shower was free. You were forced to get out, or wait a minute before the next 6 minutes would work. We usually had plenty of hot water. Laundry usually cost around $2 per load for the washer and the dryer. However, unlike American RV parks, drying clothes outside is popular. Clothes lines were also usually provided.
Medical: A couple weeks into our trip, Larry had some type of stomach or abdominal problems. It started with a fever and chills at night, then moved into serious stomach cramping and numerous trips to the amenities. We hoped it was just food poisoning, and hoped it would pass in a day. We had been using bottled water for drinking and cooking. The fever disappeared after 24 hours, but the cramping got pretty severe. After 48 hours, we stopped at a Pharmacy (Chemist) and they recommended an over the counter drug, marketed as "Gastro Stop". We pulled into a caravan park and got a ensuite site. We told them we might need a doctor if things didn't get better by the next morning. The "Gastro Stop" didn't seem to work. After being in severe pain for over 48 hours, Larry wanted a doctor. The park manager was able to get us a doctor's appointment only 20 minutes away. We rushed to the nearby medical clinic and saw a local doctor. We didn't have travel insurance, but the cost wasn't a concern by now. Seeing the doctor in Australia was a different experience than in America. Everything was less formal. No nurse taking the preliminary stats, no waiting for the doctor, no white overcoats, and no shining clean rooms. After waiting for a few minutes, the doctor (in person) came out and took Larry back to their office. Not a shiny examining room, but their office with the examining table in the corner. The doctor was very friendly and personable. The doctor, not a nurse, took the temperature and blood pressure themselves. After the exam, she diagnosed either a "tummy bug" (her official term), or something I can't even pronounce. Since the worst term required a exploration probe, she said we'll try to get rid of the tummy bug first. If there was no change in 24 hours, then to return or see another doctor. She worked with us, knowing we were foreigners and on holiday. She prescribed 2 different antibiotics for a week. We were surprised that her bill for this last minute office visit was only $45A. The pharmacist (chemist) was next door. We received out 2 prescriptions in about 5 minutes. Knowing buying antibiotics without insurance was going to cost us, we were again surprised to be charged $24. They even apologized and provided forms to turn in case we had insurance coverage. Luckily, Larry starting feeling better that same afternoon and almost 100% recovered within a couple days. Although medical treatment was less formal than in the states, it was still competent treatment. I've heard that medical treatment and costs are similar in Mexico and Canada. So why is medical treatment in the USA so formal and expensive? I'm not political, but something is very much wrong with medical costs in the US.
Radio Stations: If there's one thing I knew before we went to Australia, it would be to bring a few music CD's with you! It was very difficult and frustrating to find a reasonable radio station. 80% of the stations are all talk. They talk about some of the strangest subjects. When we did find a music station, it was usually some weird punk rock or hip-hop rap. We rarely found a radio station that we liked. We wished we had a few CD's with us. We would rather have listened to the same CD every day, than constantly search through the radio stations.
Roads: Australians drive on the left side of the road, using vehicles where the driver is in the right hand seat. At first, it was very stressful driving like this, mainly because of the city traffic and shifting with the left hand. It took awhile to find the correct gear. After the first day, it wasn't a problem adapting to driving on the left. We drove on all types of roads, although most of them were sealed. Australia doesn't have many freeways, as we know them in the states. Most of their roads are through the country, going through small towns. The normal speed limit is 100km (63mph). On a few occasions, the speed limit went up to 110km. Some of the country and mountain roads were drove on were fairly narrow. We were glad there wasn't much traffic on them. I was also glad we didn't have a larger van or motorhome.
- The biggest problem we had with the campervan was parking. We were longer than most cars and stuck out in most parking spots. We had to be careful where we parked, allowing for an easy exit. In the cities, parking was almost impossible. We were too tall to go into the parking garages, so we had to search for on street parking spots. In the cities, parking always cost money. Usually, this involved going to a machine and buying your ticket to display in the window.
- Connie regularly got frustrated trying to find street signs. Sometimes they didn't exist, or were mounted in the strangest places. In Melbourne, we saw a street sign mounted on the corner of a house, not on the corner of he street where we expected it. We did our share of getting lost and making U-turns.
Electronics: Since Australia uses 240 volts, we planned to charge our camera, laptop, and GPS through the cigarette plug. We brought a 400 watt inverter to operate these devices. Our van's cigarette plug was unusual. None of our plugs would work in it. We ended up buying a set of alligator clips with a cigarette plug on the other end. We put the clips on our coach battery (the van had two batteries). Then the inverter would plug into this cigarette lighter plug. We now had our own 110 volts! We used this to run the laptop computer and charge the digital camera. We brought a GPS loaded with Australia maps, but it wasn't convenient to use while driving. Larry was concentrating on driving too much to look at a GPS.
Flies: The biggest problem we had was with the Australian Fly. There were plenty of these pesty creatures and they were very tenacious. They're not like the American fly. These flies would fly up your nose, into your mouth, and into your ears. We would be outside trying to eat, but you had to be very careful opening your mouth. You could swat them all you wanted, but they wouldn't move. It was pretty easy to kill them, since they wouldn't move. They seemed real dumb, as you couldn't shoo them out a window. It was easier to kill them. It wasn't uncommon to see people walking with a small branch and fanning themselves to keep the flies away. They even sell bush hats with corks hanging on small strings around the brim. These dangling corks are to help keep the flies away. We saw a news program where the flies were bothering the newscaster outside. He had a can of some spray and was constantly spraying himself on camera while doing the newscast.
- Chain Stores: Although we've seen it Europe, we were still a little shocked to see so many familiar chain stores. But they were only located in the larger cities. The smaller towns had small, Mom & Pop family businesses. But drive into a larger city, and the larger chain stores were everywhere. We saw Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Safeway grocery stores, K-Marts, Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza, Lone Star Steak House, Chili's restaurant, and Happy Jack. Although under the name Happy Jack, they looked like and are owned by Burger King.