Location: Sydney, New South Wales
One year ago on May 14th, Siu On and I packed up our life in Perth and started on our big drive across Australia. Originally we had a rough itinerary and arrive date for Sydney, but otherwise we were free to do whatever we pleased. Siu On and I were looking for a change, a challenge and an adventure. For me that trip was about breaking out of a routine and fulfilling a dream I had to explore Australia, and for Siu On it was a means to an end; to get to Sydney for an opportunity to work with a photographer he admired. And after driving through four states and one territory over five months, I can say that one year on from the day that we left, we definitely found ourselves changed and challenged, but the adventure still lives on.
Trying out #vanlife
Our foray into vanlife was more about budget restraints and less about social media’s influence. Late in 2014, Siu On and I had spent six months traveling through America, Turkey and Asia; returning to Perth low on funds. We opted to fit-out Bea to suit our needs as she was mechanically sound, and selling her to buy another vehicle would end up costing more than her worth.
With my father’s carpentry skills, a couple hundred dollars and a free weekend, we gave Bea a budget ‘vanlife’ makeover. Siu On and I then spent three months testing our set up out with weekend trips away. It’s easy to get carried away with buying heaps of cool outdoor stuff, but we wanted to travel in a minimalist way, which meant that everything we brought had to have a good purpose for it to earn its spot in the car. The time we spent testing our set up was some of the most valuable, as it meant that we were already in a vanlife routine and were well organised with using the limited space we had.
The drive across
Leaving Perth behind we headed to our first destination in Kalgoorlie, where I said goodbye to the dusty red dirt that I love so much, and headed out of Western Australia (WA) across the Nullarbor. Even though we could have easily spent more time exploring WA, deep down Siu On and I knew that if we didn’t get out of WA soon we would never leave. Such is the strong allure of WA on us both, which is also the only reason why we decided to drive through the bottom half of Australia and not the top – I guarantee you we would still be in WA even now if we had gone the other way! Even one year on we still find little reminders like red dust in the car, in our shoes, in our cooking tubs…
After an unremarkable drive across the Nullarbor’s desolate landscape, dodging slow driving grey nomad caravan and giant dump trucks destined for the mines, Siu On and I crossed into South Australia (SA) to make our way through the Eyre Peninsula. We loved the rough and wild landscape of the Eyre, and found some of the most serene campsites here, though traveling through the southern part of Australia during the colder months also means you get everything to yourself, astravellers usually follow the sun and drive north instead.
Whilst in Port Lincoln a bird shat on my face, in Adelaide I fan girled over a Poh Ling Yeow sighting at the Adelaide Farmer’s market, and Siu’s friend kindly offered us the option of staying at his family’s holiday home in Robe, so we drove straight to Robe via MacLaren Vale’s rolling hills and wineries. SA is still one of our favourite State’s that we’ve visited and we did seriously consider staying there, however the opportunity for Siu to meet one of his idols in New South Wales (NSW) was tugging at him and we moved on from exploring Robe’s beautiful beaches, Mt Gambier’s many ‘holes,’ and Kingston S.E’s giant lobster to make our way to Victoria.
Things took a turn once we crossed into Victoria, and looking back I shouldn’t have been surprised with the dark clouds and heavy rain beating down on us as we drove across the state line. Our stay in the Grampians was almost unbearable, and despite ticking the Great Ocean Road drive off our list and meeting other fellow Vanlife dwellers; Melbourne and its surrounds just didn’t have the same vibe as SA, or allure that WA has on us. In fact, it drove us out sooner than we had planned, and we decided to spend our time in Australia’s Capital Territory (ACT) instead.
Australian Capital Territory
The capital of Australia is mostly known as being boring and full of politicians, and whilst the latter may have some truth to it, Canberra is far from boring. We felt very comfortable here, largely in part to the good company of our friend Tim, and we visited more political institutions, museums and galleries for free than poor Siu could keep his eyes open for (sorry, not sorry!). Also the weather here was much better, with the much needed vitamin D soaking into our bodies after the cold dark Victorian winter.
New South Wales
After our stay in Canberra we drove on to New South Wales (NSW) to start a few house sitting stints where we cleaned up a lot of dog poop and hung around with a menagerie of farm and domestic animals. We explored the Southern Highlands region and headed out towards the coast where I reacquainted myself with the sea. Camping in Jervis Bay and ACTs Booderee National Park were enough for me to reset my salty centre, and we continued on towards Sydney where we ticked off another great Australian road trip, the Grand Pacific Drive. However, we decided to keep going onwards and up and spent a week on NSWs Central Coast.
It was around this time that Siu On and I found ourselves at Patonga Beach, unsure of what to do next; Siu’s original plans fell through, we were beginning to tire of living out of Bea, and worst of all were running low on money. We needed to make a decision and fast, so we chose to settle down in Sydney after five months on the road. Even though neither of us has any great affinity with this city, it has offered us the most opportunities for employment.
Today and who knows how long for
Siu On and I continue to explore NSW, with our most recent trip conquering Mount Kosciuszko. And although we are absolutely itching to return to the road and head to Tasmania, and complete the circumference of Australia along the top end; right now we are setting up future foundations and saving. For me, I want to keep developing my travel writing and photography, and Siu On is making gains with his photography, so for now we will both be Sydney bound until our savings allows us to reconsider our future.
The best of times and the worst of times
My favourite part of the past year was the freedom of time and place, where we could just go and do whatever we wanted when we felt like it. For Siu it was the time we spent in SA, especially around Port Lincoln, where we had the best campsite and ate the most amazingly fresh oysters.
On the flipside, we both agree that most of our time in Victoria was the worst. Weather has a huge effect on us and I can still remember sitting in Bea, cold and wet in the Grampians during a bad storm, crying at how miserable I was. If we were to do it all again, we’d follow the sun around the top of WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland; or spent the wintry months around the heart of Australia. I still kick myself that we passed up the opportunity to hang around Uluru and Coober Pedy when we got to that turn off on the Flinders Highway!
Big love and thanks
It’s always going to be a challenge to sum up something like the last year of your life spent traveling, but if you’ve made it to the end of this very long yet brief article we want to thank you for coming along on our journey. For those that have helped us along the way to where we are, Siu On and I extend our warmest and sincerest thanks. We’d like to give particular shout outs to Henry, who gave us a bed and hot shower and the confidence to just ‘ask’, Tim, who has given us some of the funniest camping and climbing trips since we left Perth, and our few, but amazing Sydney friends (you know who you are).
Also thanks to the many van dwellers and grey nomads we met who kindly shared their advice and a cuppa with “two poor kids sleeping in a Rav4”; not to mention our loving and long suffering families who, even though they don’t understand why we would want to do this, still respect our decision. And a big thank you to my brother, whose parting gift of a very elaborate toolset has come in handy on more than one occasion like that time when my odometer completely died on me whilst I was driving! Lastly, thanks to everyone else that has given us their support through messages and emails, likes and comments and the social media follows through our various channels; it all means a lot to us when the chips are down to know that you still think of us.
A lot can happen in a year, and when you contrast that with the life time you’ll live, it’s a small price to pay to try something new and go on an adventure. There are still so many little stories and experiences I wanted to include here, but that would probably fill even more space than anyone would want to read; but maybe one day I’ll get them all down to share! Siu On and I can’t wait to see what happens in another year’s time, but at each stage in our journey you can come along with us and share in our experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and now Youtube; as well as sign up for our email updates in the sidebar so we can keep in touch.
Jelena and Siu On