Andrea Rowe and her family hitch the camper and embark on a 25,000-kilometre epic road trip around Australia.
Around countless Australian kitchen tables today there is a conversation playing out, “Should we, or shouldn’t we?”
“Let’s hit the road and travel Australia” is whispered in our house. As much as we try to shut them out with schedules and mortgage repayments, the voices can’t be silenced.
We’re motivated to take the leap with long service leave on the horizon and the knowledge that our two primary school kids still want to hang out with us.
My own nostalgic memories of a childhood road trip around Australia in a Holden station wagon, collecting Golden Fleece passport stamps with my brothers is the stuff of family folklore. Now it’s time to create our own.
Once we make the decision to hitch the camper trailer and hit the road, the decisions come thick and fast: What about schooling, the pets, insurance, illness on the road, petrol and mechanical expenses? Should we rent out our house? Is our 4WD outback ready?
We soon discover we’re not alone.
Many Australians put off travelling till the ‘grey nomad’ years, but there’s something to be said for hiking trails while we still have health and energy, and exploring places with the same sense of wonder as our kids.
We decide to join them with our own six-month two kids and a camper epic road trip around Australia.
We join Facebook travel sites, read tourism blogs for weather and road conditions, consult maps and national parks websites, and record finance and vehicle preparation goals. The kids join in the excitement, ears pricking up at the mention of snorkelling and theme parks, camel rides and outback camping, and the hint of no school. We quickly enlist the help of experts and opt for enrolling them in distance education with fortnightly lesson packs and support teachers.
A sense of adventure consumes us all the minute the map is unfolded on the kitchen table. My nine-year-old runs his finger along the seam of coastline. He’s exploring Captain Cook’s journey in his mind – and we are fast to pick up on that enthusiasm, adding 1770 and Cooktown to our must-visit list. Little do we know he will become the family expert.
A love of birds and native animals for our six-year-old has us researching koala sanctuaries in Brisbane and adding bird books and binoculars to her personal travel pack. She becomes our official wildlife spotter.
Like most Australian dream trips, ours includes the Red Centre and the Outback, as well as waterfalls, rainforests and reefs. Our route, however, quickly becomes less of a lap of the map, and more a zigzag of exploring World Heritage sites and iconic outback tracks.
We feel both exhausted and exhilarated as we squeeze the last of the camping gear into the Landcruiser and hightail it up the highway.
“Where are you headed?” becomes the preferred greeting as you seek out other travelling families at petrol stations and picnic spots, in camp kitchens and shower blocks. New faces bring updated advice, instant friends for kids and reassurance about road conditions.
The campground chatter often turns to stories of how epic trips started for other families. Health scares, work changes, yearning for an escape from the grind, or the drive to see natural attractions before they change. Time and time again we hear our own motivations echoed – so many of us wanting time to stand still and just enjoy making memories with our kids without distractions.
Our bucket list quickly fills with Australian landmarks. The kids record it all in their diaries. My newly minted seven-year-old records her birthday at the Dampier Peninsula’s Cape Leveque: “We had hermit crab races by torchlight and visited a Trochus shell and fish hatchery that the Aboriginal people take care of.” One for the family vault that is.
We are bringing the kitchen table map to life and – the experiences are coming in thick and fast.
Thrill-seeking adventures have us shrieking on rides in Movieworld, tree surfing canopies on the Mornington Peninsula Enchanted Adventure Garden Ziplining and Canopy Tour, snorkelling with 1500 fish species from Reef HQ, canoeing the canyons of Katherine Gorge and sliding down ski slopes at Falls Creek.
We gobble up history in epic portions gazing at Captain Cook’s giant anchor from the Endeavour at the James Cook Museum, following the footsteps of Burke and Wills, surviving the Cyclone room at Darwin Museum and panning for gold at Sovereign Hill
Close encounters with animals have us eyeballing emus at Ballarat Wildlife Park, swapping fishy kisses with seals at SeaWorld, riding camels in Broome and picnicking with pelicans at The Entrance.
We howl at the Kiama Blowhole, step onto secluded beaches at Rottnest Island, and swim at sunset in Australia’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Argyle. And we just can’t beat the natural wonder of a starry night in the Flinders Rangers, or floating down waterfalls in Litchfield National Park.
Our connection with culture grows. We watch sunset throw its light on rock art at Uluru, hear Dreamtime stories from Indigenous rangers in Kakadu, and join in dot painting and didgeridoo lessons at Ayers Rock Resort.
We watch our kids just as much as we watch the scenery.
I am captivated by my daughter gazing at ghostly ochre handprints on a Kakadu escarpment, and my son yahooing at the circle of life as a crocodile rises from a billabong to snap at a bat along the Gibb River Road.
They are moving their minds beyond the pages of books and glass cabinets displays – and connecting first hand with the landscape and the people who shaped Australia. These are priceless learnings beyond the classroom, and we fast realise that we are right there beside them learning together too.
Australia is quite simply a sensational classroom and playground to explore together as a family.
When we examine the contents of this epic roadtip around Australia trip in year to come we will be sifting through precious memories of time spent together exploring. That’s reason alone to put the key in the ignition and hit the road.
Five tips to get more out of a road trip around Australia
1. Give the kids tasks – from petrol account keeping, scouting a caravan park for the camp kitchen, or hammering in the tent pegs.
2. National park visitor centres and museums often have kid-friendly activities to enhance the kids’ learning (and yours)
3. Involve the kids in planning routes and destination visits so they have a sense of ownership.
4. Make sure the kids know where the First Aid kit is, and have bush safety knowledge. Create kids’ travel packs with binoculars, pocket knives, compasses, maps, diaries and games.