Hi - We are the van Wijk Family. Mum (Pippa), Dad (Wayne), and 3 kids April (14), Fraser (13) and Erin (11). We bought a 1990 14ft Windsor Windcheater 2 years ago to renovate specifically for a trip around Australia. At the start of 2020 we postponed due to Covid. At the start of 2021 we decided it was now or never as a family as our children were getting older. We called our trip "Speed-Dating Australia" and travelled for 100 days circumnavigating Australia from April-June.
The purpose of our trip was to show our kids some of the best and most iconic places in Australia (as well as some of the hidden gems) and inspire them to travel as adults and with their future families. We were also secretly scoping out places we wanted to go back to when the kids left home!
Because we renovated the van ourselves, we did a lot of research on power and water supplies as well suspension and weights. We also spent time looking at car options for fuel efficiency, tow ability, space and comfort and in the end sacrificed fuel efficiency for comfort and went with our current car - a Nissan Pathfinder.
We both did a half day hitching and towing course which increased our confidence in towing and in particular reversing. We read other people's blogs and asked questions about toilets and grey water and distances and best times to travel for the weather.
The final bit of planning involved writing a detailed itinerary to make sure we were going to make it all the way around without getting half way around and running out of time. We planned an 80 day itinerary which left us 20 days for emergencies or to add places including Uluru or North Queensland in the end if we chose. See question 5 to discover how our detailed itinerary turned out for us!
The biggest joy was spending this intense time with our family as a unit with no distractions. We learnt how to be kinder and more tolerant of each other and we also relaxed in a way we have never felt on any other holiday as a family.
Our biggest challenge, like many others in the last 18 months was COVID. As we left our driveway on the northside of Brisbane on the first day of our trip, Northern NSW was flooding and Brisbane was heading into a potential COVID situation. Within an hour, we had texts from friends in Adelaide telling us we would need to isolate when we arrived and we decided to flip our trip entirely and head north instead of south first to stay in Qld just in case.
As we drove we made calls to cancel accommodations, disappoint friends and family and look for a route north heading towards NT. Our well thought out itinerary was now only useful as a fire starter. This meant being in NT at the end of summer with temperatures in the high 30s and being down south at the start of winter in rain and hail. We had to buy fans in Katherine and did many trips to op shops along the south coast for warm clothes.
Towards the end of our trip we had the exact same issues with Victoria in lockdown, then Sydney. With fears that QLD would shut its borders we left Canberra with no notice and disappointed kids to drive as fast as we could back into our home state where we were lucky enough to spend another 10 days exploring more local places.
Our absolute favourites were the gorges of Karajini and the coral reefs along the WA coast.
Our biggest disappointment was a below average whale shark dive experience due to no fault of the company, just a bad day for spotting whale sharks, which was compounded by severe seasickness for 3 out of 5 of us. Wayne didn't even manage to get in to see one at all.
Queensland schools grant exemptions for travel, so we didn't have to arrange anything schooling-wise for the kids and enjoyed the freedom of learning life lessons. This was one of the reasons we only went for 1 school term.
We were most surprised that we didn't meet as many families traveling as we thought. We assume it was because we ended up traveling the wrong way for the seasons; ie we were in NT at the end of wet season and lots of things were only just opening up and we were in SA at the start of winter and it was cold and wet.
We were also surprised to find some of our favourite spots were in South East Queensland - right at our doorstep. Both Carnarvon Gorge and Girraween National Park were on par with so many other places thousands of kilometres away from home.
Our 3 pieces of advice are:
The trip was a great circuit breaker at a time when our kids were becoming teenagers and we were getting busy with career changes and other things in our lives.
Without this trip, we would have continued to drift along as so many other families do, instead we have become closer as a unit with new respect for each other. We have also embraced small space living and realise we don't need as much "stuff" in our lives.
Our final thoughts are this: Don't be stopped by the idea that you can only travel with an expensive and elaborate set-up. There is nothing wrong with a 22ft van and a big 4WD, but if you can't have those things, you can travel well with a small and simple set-up. A small coffee plunger, 4 sets of clothes and 2 pairs of shoes is almost enough and you can see so much of Australia without going off-road.
We treated our caravan as a tent on wheels and we didn't even set-up our inside table the whole trip as it was also our bed - we ate outside. If it was raining, we sat on the floor or our beds to eat. See Australia with what you have and the time you have.
You can have a look at our trip and our 100 days including some stats on our Facebook page here.