Updated: May 4, 2020
By the time we were set up and ready to go Christmas was less than three weeks out so we decided to keep our first trip short (by Oz standards) and head down the Great Ocean Road, do some camping and spend time at the beaches. Following Christmas we would head direct to Sydney for NYE and take our time making our way back down the coast to Melbourne, allowing roughly another 3 weeks. This way we would arrive back in time for the Australian Open (tennis) and also be close to Roa’s quarantine, assuming she travels. Once we collect Roa we would head out on a longer more expansive trip about Australia taking 2-3 months to explore.
It is great to have plans, I spend weeks of my life planning our trips from logistics to activities, but Mother Nature has her own plans that we must work around. The weather on the Great Ocean Road was unusually cold for December at around 15-18 degrees for 7-10 days so we scrapped that trip and headed North and inland towards a river I had never heard of called the Murray. It turns out the weather inland is much warmer than the coast and there is plenty to see, Bendigo, Mildura and towns along the Murray with plenty of places to camp.
But how to travel? After much discussion and taking some advice on board our we decided to go for a 4x4 and tow a small off road caravan. Australia has a lot of corrugated roads and some of the best beaches and sights are off the beaten track so something sturdy is a good option. It's great to arrive to camp, set up the caravan and comfortably explore the area in the 4x4. The caravan gives us more space, is a simple set up and we basically didn't fancy staying in a tent or the back of a cramped van long term. The Mitsubishi Challenger we picked up from a private ad that was actually a company car that needed a quick sale. We saw it on CarSales on the way to Melbourne for a day sight seeing and had bought it by the end of the day!
Next up was the Avan Off Roader. This belonged to a "young at heart" couple living in Surrey Hills, east of Melbourne. They gave us a great laugh. They were up for a chat about travel, our Irish connections and stout. The lady, Nola, had Irish heritage and loved telling us about her grandmother's roast dinners and the stout her grandfather would emerge with afterward. The caravan had a few war wounds and loose ends so we needed to save a few dollars to fund repairs that I wasn't likely to do myself. The gentleman began hesitated on my initial offer but Nola came to my rescue, reminding him they needed their garage space back and the money wasn't a big deal. This was good news for us and we had ourselves caravan! That was a thoroughly positive experience and one we'll remember for a long time.
Happy with our new purchases, we set out planning only 2-3 days ahead of us and took advantage of free campsites near the river using the Wiki Camps app to filter out the crap ones. This worked really well and the trip felt like an escape from civilization. Some of the campsites were empty so it was just us, the sun, thousands of birds, a few kangaroos and who knows what else. In a nutshell we journeyed up to the Murray, stopping by Bendigo, and followed it West before veering off to Adelaide and taking the coast road back to Melbourne, also know as the Great Ocean Road. We were back in time for Christmas.
The horrible bushfires scuppered our second planned trip to Sydney so in January we headed to the Grampians, a famous area for nature, views and hiking. We spent two weeks there and even worked for 10 days on a yoga and meditation retreat centre! Hippies! Both trips were amazing but I felt they were preludes to a bigger adventure.
While we were in the forrest one day I said to Lucy, "we'll have to go to Perth, at some stage, so if we're going that far, we might as well go all the way around". A problem with Australia is you often drive a great distance to reach your destination, and have no alternative route home, so you're doubling back, which I really don't like to do.
So that was that, 3 plans made and 3 plans scrapped for something completely different. I'll share more detail about our trip around Australia aka "The Big Lap" in future posts.