Bob Murray

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Bob Murray
In the last blog from our motorcaravanning newbies on a fly-drive Down Under, there are still many things to do before the campervan hire adventure is over

We awake to the sound of the bush. Clouds shroud the distant escarpment and mist hangs over the Kangaroo River. A couple of ‘roos hop by in the distance. Our initial reaction to this place when we found it yesterday was right – this really was quite a find.

And once again, we have to conclude that campervan hire is suiting us very well indeed. Our rented Toyota Hilux Hitop 'van has, again, provided a comfortable and peaceful night. Peaceful that is apart from our friendly neighbourhood wombat giving itself a back rub against the Toyota’s chassis in the small hours. 

The Bendeela Recreation Area has proven itself a top spot. Despite the ad hoc nature of the place, there had been no noise, no rowdy partying, no pets, no litter. Just a lot of mutual respect among the campers for each other and for the environment. Would a completely unsupervised area like this be as civilised in the UK, we wonder? 

We could have stayed longer but we have places to go and people to see, so it’s back on to the twisting Kangaroo Valley Road and a pleasant hour’s drive through lush dairy country. 

We are heading for Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands, which sounds rather Scottish. True enough, once a year, Scots from all over the world descend on the town for its famous Highland Gathering. This, however, is definitely New South Wales. ‘Bundanoon’ is actually an aboriginal word. It means ‘place of deep gullies’.  

It’s a quiet and unassuming little town which clearly had its tourist heyday a long time ago. Being on the railway from Sydney, it was a more easily reachable alternative to the Blue Mountains. Today, though, it’s still nicely laid back and charming. 

It is also (and not a lot of people know this) the first bottled water-free town in Oz!  You just fill up your empty bottle with free filtered water at special water fountains on every street corner. The town also boasts Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe which is great for … breakfast or lunch! And, yes, they will rent you a bike so you can explore the spectacular country all around the town, too. 

Strange to think that we are still only 100 miles from Sydney and haven’t yet had to put any fuel in the Hilux! 

We drop in on friends nearby and, great to see them though it is, the visit is tinged with disappointment. They insist we stay in their house for this our last night. A gorgeous place though it is, we would much rather have had another night in our little motorhome. 

And so dawns the final day of our Australian fly-drive road trip. The ‘van has to be back near Sydney Airport no later than 4pm, so with an early start there’s still time for some exploring. Despite our apparent back-of-beyond location, we are still only an hour and a bit south west of Sydney via the excellent Hume Highway. 

Katoomba and the Blue Mountains would be ideal but we’d need a couple more days to do them justice, so we settle instead on a quick blast (at 110km/h – 68mph – only, any more and you will get fined) up the Hume and a loop to the north of Sydney, heading for the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park

It’s hot, the sky is piercingly blue and the dense gum trees of the park’s unspoilt bush, with the Hawkesbury River glistening through the branches, is picture-postcard Sydney at its best. If only we had had the foresight to book ahead and finish our small-but-perfectly-formed tour of NSW with lunch at the fabulous waterfront Cottage Point Inn (taster menu, $140 per person…). Oh well, a cheese omelette in the ‘van then. You know what? It is magnificent! 

We get the Hilux back to Apollo a bit late, just as a massive thunderstorm rolls in across the Harbour Bridge. Storm or not, don’t underestimate how congested Sydney’s roads can be. But the staff at Apollo aren’t worried. 

The Toyota campervan has been perfect for our needs. We did need to put a little more fuel in, but this was virtually a single-tankful adventure with just under 600km (about 370 miles) covered. We never spent more than two hours or so driving each day. In a country where you can spend two whole days driving and still get the same view out the window, that’s an achievement in our book. 

As for motorhomes, well, we’re sold. Motorhome hire has been the perfect first toe in the water for these newbies. We’d do this trip in the Hilux again in a heartbeat, and now can’t wait for our next motorhome adventure. And to think we were going to do this trip by hire car and hotel! It wouldn’t have been anywhere near as bonza.

So, as this series of blogs started out as a beginners’ guide to motorhome touring Down Under, what did we learn in a week?

  • Outback expeditions are awesome, but you don’t have to drive thousands of miles, spend a fortune and take months on a motorhome holiday in Australia – you can have great fun in just a week. 
  • At almost two dollars to the pound, Australia is more affordable now (in early 2015) than it has been for years.
  • Facilities, often including spotless free public barbecues, in holiday areas are excellent, meaning you don’t necessarily need an all-singing-and-dancing motorhome; our Toyota Hilux Hitop from Apollo was just right for us. 
  • Many of the more rural campsites do not appear in guidebooks and may be signposted only as recreation areas or even just picnic areas. If in doubt, take a look, you may well be surprised. 
  • Some things – like everyday groceries – are surprisingly expensive, while other things are cheap (petrol is around half the UK price).
  • Overnight camping charges in popular holiday areas (as of December 2014) varied between $25 (about £14) for a simple non-powered pitch, to $46 (£25) for a powered pitch on a large holiday park. But the best campsite of all was free! 
  • November/early December (Aussie spring) is a fab time to visit: warm and sunny but not humid, and before everyone hits the roads for the start of the the long summer holidays.
  • Aussie bottle shops (off licences) can be daunting, not just for their vast selection of Aussie wines but also for prices around $50 or more. Don’t panic: pino grigio for a fiver ($12) is there if you look hard enough!
  • Fees and currency charges when using a UK debit card for the motorhome rental bond can mean it is only a little more expensive to take out the extra-cover insurance option, giving great peace of mind.

We've had a wonderful Australian tour and we hope we inspire some of you to try it too! And if you've missed earlier instalments of our blog, make sure you read part one, part two and part three

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