Fifty Toes Walkabout consists of Amanda, John and our three kids Xavier, Hannah, and Oscar, aged 8, 7, and 6 respectively, when we left Sydney on a one year reconnaissance trip of Australia, in a Mitsubishi Pajero towing a Camprite TX6 trailer. We left our jobs to embark on the adventure, and armed ourselves with a Canon camera and laptop and we documented our trip on FiftyToesWalkabout.com
Thirteen months and 56,000km later we have just returned to Sydney and trying to settle back into what many call a 'normal' life again.
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With heaps of camping experience on relatively short trips we were always left with an appetite for more. The idea of a “big lap” of exploration had been bubbling away in the background for years, so when a previous attempt failed at the eleventh hour several years ago, we were determined to make it happen this time.
Timing was perfect too before the kids schooling got too serious. We figured that even if we weren’t particularly good teachers they'd still be able to recover easily on their return.
Such a long trip requires plenty of planning.
John is a Project Manager by profession so budget and planning an
itinerary were important to him, whilst Amanda’s organisation skills
focused on practicality and packing.
To get everyone thinking about it we stuck an Australian Geographic Map for Adventurers and Dreamers on the wall months ahead and started putting stickers on places we wanted to visit.
We didn’t receive our trailer from Camprite in Perth until the week we were due to leave, so our final packing was pretty much unrehearsed. The good thing about this was we had to be brutal in the process, each having one small drawer to pack all clothes for a year. At that stage we had also packed most of the house belongings away but we figured we would have plenty of chance to buy anything we may have missed.
We did employ some checklists too, for car and trailer spares, tools, and camera gear.
Leaving your house behind, driving out of Sydney into the unknown was quite a liberating experience, but the joy of seeing your kids jump into a billabong is exhilarating, particularly when only a year previously the idea of swimming in a dam on a 40 degree day was met with derision from them.
Watching the kids explore their environment, and entertaining themselves with things they found and removing their dependence on TV was satisfying to watch.
In addition, development of their social skills on the road was interesting as our vagrant lifestyle required rapid engagement with other children on arrival at campsites and this skill was mastered very quickly.
Schooling was definitely a big challenge, given that the nature of our travelling had very little routine or predictability. With regular time frames to return schoolwork being set by the Distance Education programme, and without any internet or phone coverage for large portions of the trip, we had to improvise to meet the deadlines.
Sydney DistanceEducation Primary School (SDEPS)were very flexible, often adopting learning material that we could practically adhere to. It was difficult focusing the kids on work, sitting on a beach, or at a camp where other kids were running around playing, and occasional calls from SDEPS teachers (when we had service) were lifesavers in that refocusing of the kids efforts.
Don’t be afraid to use libraries wherever you can. We found they provide a great quiet distraction-free place to catch up on schoolwork and most offer some wi-fi if required.
We all have different favourites, though swimming with Whalesharks on Ningaloo Reef was rated by us all and Cape York was an outstanding experience that shouldn’t be rushed. In general the more remote, less touched areas were the most memorable, whether it be deep in the Kimberley, WA, the west coast of Tasmania, the Oodnadatta Track in SA, or Arnhemland in NT. All these places and many others left us with great memories, but we also loved meeting many other like-minded families along the way, many of whom we still keep in touch with.
Very few places left us feeling disappointed, however, it was very confronting to encounter tonnes of rubbish littering the beaches in Cape Arnhem and Cape York. Possibly related, we encountered a significant amount of dead wildlife (turtles and dolphins) in these areas. Brought ashore by prevailing winds the debris arrives relentlessly on a daily basis, dropped from ships, or possibly from neighbouring Asian countries.
It served as an educational lesson for the kids and we spent time clearing up the beaches wherever we could. Kakadu was frustrating for what you couldn’t see, but by no means disappointing.
The biggest surprise was how much we underestimated the distance we would travel. We had read it was 27,000km around the country on the tarmac, and had budgeted for 40,000km, knowing we expected to do a bit of exploring but within a couple of months we realised we would significantly exceed that figure and we have barely scratched the surface of places to visit.
Another surprise was how little clothing you actually need to travel for a year. Clothes can be easily replaced as they wear out and if you try and follow the sun as we did you need very few warm clothes.
1. *Make it Happen* It sounds obvious but do sufficient planning and go. Don’t listen to negativity from people who tell you they wish they could do it. Many people asked us if were afraid we wouldn’t be able to get jobs on our return, or whether we feared injury, mechanical breakdowns, etc, etc. Given 5 minutes I could have come up with a dozen valid reasons not to go but that would be too easy and no fun!
2. *Be Flexible with your plans* In one year we only booked a couple of campsites/parks in advance (except where it is required in Qld) and booked two ferry crossings. The longer we travelled the more we played it by ear, and as a result discovered some wonderful places we never even knew existed when we left. It also means if you find somewhere nice you can stay as long as you like.
3. *Travel Light* This is a travelling cliché but it works. Focus on the “must haves” that you really need and limit yourselves to only a handful of “nice to haves”. We deliberately dismissed some obvious bulky items in the latter category, like chainsaw and generator, due to lack of space. Some of our experienced 4WD friends were horrified but we managed without. It’s a very personal thing and you need to think through how you will deal with a situation where you might need a specified item. One of our essentials was the zip-lock bag which had many uses.
We all have a much deeper appreciation of indigenous culture, due to a combination of excellent tourist centre exhibitions, ranger talks and some direct exposure to indigenous communities almost everywhere we travelled.
The kids have developed a better appreciation for their environment and are aware of the flora and fauna that lives in it. Hopefully the trip has sparked an interest in the kids for future travelling.
To find out more about our adventure, please head to our website www.fiftytoeswalkabout.com
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