Little had we planned for our two weeks in Western Australia. We only knew we had 11 days to explore the least populated Aussie state before coming back to Perth to catch our next flight. A visit to the tourist office and a chat with a helpful lady made it very clear that unless we had our own vehicle, an “inexpensive” organized tour (as it was described by the lovely lady) was our only option to travel around WA. Disappointed as we were, we started to play with the idea of renting a car or a campervan (we wanted to rent one in Queensland but didn’t intend to do so in Western Australia). And after a bit of research we got to meet Chubby, the most discrete campervan with the naughtiest name, Dirty Sanchez. Name which we had no idea what it meant until a friend of mine kindly facebooked me, friend whose name I won’t reveal to prevent any kind of harassment. Of course this was after I had shared with all my friends and family a picture of me with the van… how embarrassing.
We rented the van for 11 days and we loved it from the second we got it! Even Isma who had never gone camping before was excited with the idea of living on the road. Chubby, a Mitsubishi Express, was perfectly equipped, it had a portable gas cooker, a sink with a water pump, an esky, a camping table and two chairs… It was also very cleverly built and it was very well organized, it had a comfy living area perfect for two people, storage space was available under the seats and what served as lounge during the day transformed into a large bed in minutes. Chubby quickly became our home! Although in comparison with other vans and caravans our one was on the small side, driving it felt like driving a truck. The only drawback of our temporary home was that it wasn’t really prepared for the cold winter nights. The sleeping bags we were given were paper thing, so after barely sleeping the first night we had no choice but to buy a blanket. Now Chubby was complete for the desert Western Australia!
Since I was little my parents have taken me and my sister camping around Spain and Europe. I have memories of my dad cooking breakfast beside our little tent in Portugal, memories of the family touring Austria and Switzerland with our trailer tent (our beloved Alpenkreuzer) and memories of incredible summers with our caravan in Hondarribia. I thought I had seen all kind of caravans and mobile homes in all these camping years, but believe me when I say I had seen nothing… I felt such a beginner in Australia! Australian’s are really professional campers, from cute hippy campervans to folding caravans, from old buses converted into houses to big rigs (that are probably bigger than my old apartment in Dublin) being pulled by trucks… you name it! Camping is really essential to the Australian way of living and the roads are well prepared for it. There are free rest areas available every 100km or so with basic facilities (toilets and water), some of them even have bbqs and some are set in beautiful spots beside a river or right on the beach. At these rest areas we met many retired Ozzies who had made their caravan their home and were travelling for months around their country. I so can see myself doing the same in the future.
The road trip brought us first to Exmouth, which would be the northernmost point we would visit in Western Australia. The few stops we made along the way and the limitation of being only able to drive during the day translated into three days to cover the 1300km in between Perth and Exmouth. The journey was as we had expected, endless roads through desert landscapes, going for hours without seeing another car or a petrol station and passing by small, almost phantasmagoric, towns. We had our first encounter with kangaroos on day two, but not as we had imagined. Sadly, we saw them dead on the side of road, probably killed by one of the many ruthless road trains (huge trucks with three trailers) who unstoppably plough through the roads.
“Is freedom camping allowed in Australia?” was the question we first sought answer to when renting the van. And the answer was clear, it’s not. Although it’s not allowed, many campers do it and we had been told that both rangers and police officers are quite tolerant, specially if you do freedom camping outside the cities and if you don’t litter. So with that in mind we decided to give it a go one night outside Exmouth… the result a 100AUD fine per person. We must have been the most unlucky campers ever! As you can imagine, this was the end of us doing freedom camping in Australia. We stuck to rest areas or campings for the rest of the trip.
From Exmouth we visited Turquoise bay, a beautiful beach in the Cape Range National Park. Aptly named, the beach gives immediate access to Ningaloo reef, which is supposed to be as beautiful as the Great Barrier reef. But sadly, we didn’t have neither the snorkels nor a wetsuit, so we had just to content ourselves with a 2 minutes swim in the freezing waters and a wonderful romantic sunset. On the way out from the beach, we saw kangaroos again, and this time alive!! Not just one or two kangaroos, hundreds of them and they had taken the road. I can tell you that the mere 20km drive to the camping was nerve wrecking. But thankfully we arrived safely without injuring the van or any kangaroos. That’s how we learned why rental car companies don’t cover any damage done to the vehicle once it gets dark. At night the roads become kangaroos territory!
On our way back to Perth, we took it a bit easier, making a good few stops along the way and enjoying a bit more the “campervanping” lifestyle. We relaxed at the small town of Coral Bay, also popular for snorkelling and diving, where it was almost possible to imagine the beauty of Ningaloo reef from the shore. We visited the unusual Shell beach, a beach with no sand that it is made only with tiny cockle shells. We did a little trek in Kalbarri National Park, where we saw what is known as the Nature Window. We stared at pro surfers riding monster waves and unexpectedly saw whales at the beach front in Kalbarri. We enjoyed many camper dinners at beautiful unspoiled rest areas while sipping a glass of a delicious Australian wine and looking at the stars. We even made the most of a rainy evening and transformed the van into the cosiest movie theatre with pop corn and all.
I will specially remember the day we went to Monkey Mia to watch the dolphins. Monkey Mia reserve is famous because it gets visited daily, since the 1960, by a group of wild bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins come here to be fed and crowds gather at the shore with the hope of being allowed to feed one of them. As the dolphins make it to the beach, the caretakers pick from all the visitors a handful of lucky people. I couldn’t believe it when one of them suddenly calls the girl in red and then points at me, I was going to feed Puck (all the dolphins had names)! I was overwhelmed with the emotion! I know it sounds a bit silly but it was such a beautiful experience. After the feeding we went for a stroll along the beautiful white sand beach, and we got to see manta rays resting at the shallow waters, pelicans sunbathing among hundreds of seagulls, strange looking yellow crabs jogging on the beach… more nature in its purest form.
The 11 days of our road trip passed very fast, too fast I would say. We really enjoyed the outdoors lifestyle and the freedom that gave us travelling on a campervan, not having to depend on buses, or trains and not having to search for hotels. But what we loved the most was how easy it was to be in contact with nature, Australia is like a big zoo and in just a few days we had seen kangaroos, whales, manta rays, I had fed a dolphin, pelicans, emus… We spent our last evening at the very same rest area where we slept our first night, but this time well prepared against the cold and watching a beautiful sunset with a glass of wine looking out to the sea, and not wanting to return Chubby.
Visit our flickr gallery for more pictures!
Travellers Autobarn – After lots of research, we chose to rent a campervan with Travellers Autobarn. They offered us the best price (even cheaper than the infamous Wicked), pick up location (they are right in the city center), insurance coverage (even though driving at night and on dirt roads was not covered) and quality (they are newer and in much better conditions than others). The van comes fully equipped with plates and cutlery, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, gas cookers, water tank, sink… the only thing missing is the tv! We paid 78 AUD per day and were very satisfied with it.