I’ve an idea.
Australia by motorhome, now there’s a grand adventure. Especially for a pair of motorcaravanning novices. People spend months planning their Antipodean expeditions and for good reason – there’s a lot to organise and a great deal to see. So how will motorhome newbies fare at short notice, on a tight budget, in just a week? Can we make this work, or will it go horribly wrong? You’ll be the first to find out as I’m going to be writing a series of blogs about our trip, so read on!
Our first port of call is to find a motorhome hire company. We visit the first firm we find, Apollo, as punters; no PR massaging here, so you can take all this as a bit of a mystery shop. It’s an Australian campervan hire company but the charming women manning the desks inside are speaking as much German as English. I take it as a good sign – German holidaymakers won’t travel to the other side of the world to drive around in rubbish.
We settle on a Toyota Hilux Hitop two-berth which we can pick up the following day. Hitop? It better be, I’m 6ft 5in! The Hippie Camper, though cheaper, is a bit too hippie for us, and a bigger ‘van with a loo and a shower on board we reckon is unnecessary. Everyone says the facilities in Australia are excellent and so it proves, right down to the usually spotless picnic areas, often with free gas barbecues and even showers on the coast, not forgetting freshly scrubbed loos wherever you go.
In any case, with just a week we aren’t going to even attempt an outback expedition. Hiring a campervan and spending all our time driving it is definitely not the idea. A gentle loop of a small bit of New South Wales will suffice – this is meant to be relaxing, after all.
The headline figures sound great. The Hilux costs $98 a day (which was about £60 at the end of November 2014), so five days with unlimited kilometres comes to $490 (about £275). Apollo throw in picnic chairs and a table for us for free.
But there is a $5000 bond. That’s doable, but fees and currency charges associated with using a UK debit card for the bond make it almost as expensive as taking out the optional extra cover insurance. So we sign up for Liability Reduction Option 2. At $44 a day it is nearly half as much again, but it covers the bond and reduces the insurance excess to zero, leaving just the $250 security deposit in jeopardy if things go wrong.
I have only ever had two previous motorhome experiences. During the first I managed to mislay a six-foot long cushion, and in the second we left a plastic roof light open during a Scottish hurricane, with expensive results. Reducing the excess as much as possible had to be a good idea.
With a full gas bottle ($25) and a full tank of petrol (paid for in advance at $92.50 – fuel in Oz is currently around 125 cents a litre, so just on half the UK price), the debit card is bashed to the tune of $1083, $250 of which I will get back if we have no mishaps. Total cost? $844 or about £450, with no nasty surprises possible. A bargain or what? Who needs a hotel? We’re heading off in our campervan!
It’s time to hit the road!
We decide to head south. It is a particularly inauspicious start to our Australian motorhome adventure.
The road from Mascot (where Sydney airport and the motorhome hire companies are) doesn’t exactly come with vistas of what is probably the world’s most famous (not to say most beautiful) harbour. No glimpses of the bridge or the opera house here. Instead you get trucks, shops, drive-ins and a tedious trawl through the suburbs.
This main drag south, Princes Highway, is busy, but Apollo’s Hilux Hitop feels at home, as it should for what is essentially a delivery van. This is no Porsche to drive but it gets along well enough, once used to the semi-detached steering. And, usefully, it has a reversing camera. Our Hilux has done 117,000km (over 72,000 miles), but is clearly only a few years old and is clean and in good condition.
We are heading for the Royal National Park, a vast area of bush along the coast south of Botany Bay and stretching almost to the next big city, Wollongong. The world’s second oldest national park (it dates back to 1879), it is Sydney’s giant backyard and today the dense vegetation, stretching as far as the eye can see, is filled with the cacophonous sound of sulphur-crested cockatoos. It’s astonishing we are only an hour and a half from the centre of Sydney.
The roads that dissect the park are smooth, scenic and curvy – and largely deserted (on a weekday at the end of November). We spy water views and stop to drink them in, along with a welcome coffee (from Apollo’s thoughtfully provided welcome pack), in the delightful town of Bundeena. It’s a chance too to stock up on supplies and check that fridge, cooker and so on all work (they do). Our campervan is pong free, insect free, clean and well stocked. Which is all you need, really.
At Wattamolla, the Tasman Sea crashes against the cliffs and a walk along the beach here makes for the most wondrous geology lesson. You would never imagine nature could make such intricate rock formations.
Nor that it could come up with something as nasty as the Bluebottle Jellyfish. It’s not the deadliest of Australia’s animal nasties, but this small, blue-tinged jellyfish with its long, long tentacles can still give you a nasty sting. The shoreline on our walk from Wattamolla to Garie Beach is littered with these jellyfish. The deserted sandy beaches on a boiling hot day look appealing, but with unpredictable surf, unknown currents, hidden rocks, no life guards and jellyfish, a swim here would be a bad idea.
The Royal National Park is criss-crossed by walking trails and there are campsites here, though perhaps more for hiker than Hilux, so we press on south, hugging the coast on a spectacular new road hanging off the cliffs. With the backdrop of the massive Illawarra Escarpment, the small communities along the coast are surfing havens, and it is one such, Coledale, that we pull into for our first night.
The beachfront campsite is actually run by the Coledale Surf Life Saving Club. The facilities are top notch, the cost is $25 (about £13) a night and there’s a grassy area we can reverse into, providing our ‘bedroom’ with uninterrupted views of the crashing surf. Perfect.
And, of course, there’s an RSL Club up the road for a pre dinner beer. Or two. As they say here, wouldn’t be dead for quids!
It’s been a smooth start to our Australian adventure – and we can’t wait to get back on the road. This motorhome hire malarky is working out rather well! We will keep you up to date with our progress.
Find out what happened next!
Can we make this work, or will it go horribly wrong?