This is an Ode to Campervans.
On the eve of another road trip around Australia, my mind has turned to the ongoing relations I have long had with campervans. While some prefer to travel on public transport, my personal preference has been to know where my bed will be each night in the snug confines of a camper.
There is a little yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu …
I have always been a bit of a wanderer. I guess living in twenty one different houses by the time I was twenty one years old got me off to a good start. But it all really got going in my mid twenties when Christina suggested taking a type writer to the Tibetan community in Mcleod Ganj in northern Indian state of Himachel Predesh. “Why not! Lets drive there”, says I, and the first of many campers came in the form of an old split screen VW van with the steering wheel on the wrong side, which I converted to a camper.
We are in 1973, and just to try out this travelling thing, we start with a nine month trip from London to Kathmandu and back. Inspite of being extremely naive when it came to this sort of journey, we somehow got there and back and it turned out to be quite an adventure.
After Istanbul came a spell on a Greek beach before the holiday ended and the real journey began. This journey was to take us across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India following the fabled Hippy Trail before arriving in Nepal.
Given their go anywhere reputation, is our VW chariot reliable you might ask yourself? Err … No, actually, not very. A change of cylinder head in a Yugoslavian camp ground donated by a cruising Czechoslovakian man (a spare cylinder head – really!); a complete engine rebuild in Tehran and a new second hand engine in Germany on the way home. I eventually gave up when the new engine seized halfway up the M1 in England.
It turned out that most of the many other VW’s on the hippy trail carried spare cylinder heads, pistons and other spares as a matter of course. Doh!
This trip set camper travelling as the preferred means of transport. A three months spell in Mcloed Ganj with the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama set a continuing interest in Buddha Dharma. Trekking to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal gave me such a love of those mountains that I was to return many times across the following decades. A significant journey indeed!
Another trip to India and Nepal – in an ambulance!
The trip in 1973 has really wetted our appetite for such things, and so after working hard for eighteen months we get our next camper, an old Carrier Dennis ambulance (affectionally known as 60 Boy) which is mostly converted and has the distinct advantage of having a diesel engine. On our previous trip we discovered that it is much cheaper to run with diesel that petrol. Indeed on one occasion in Delhi, I noted that the fifty seat coach standing next to our VW in the campground was more economical than we were.
It’s 1975 and down through Europe and the Middle East we go once more. After another period in Mcloed Ganj we set off around India to Rajasthan, Mumbai (Bombay), Goa, Mysuru (Mysore), Hyderabad, Nagpur, Kanpur and then to Nepal.
After a couple of months and another trek in Nepal, we sell 60 Boy and jump on a plane to Bangkok and from thence eventually to Australia, where we have lived ever since. We land in Perth one year after leaving the UK.
Did 60 Boy prove reliable? Well, the only real mistake I make, is to buy some second hand tyres before we leave, which prove to be very puncture prone. The puncture repair shops in India are numerous and they try to help each other as much as possible. The trick is to include a small handful of sand when putting the tube back in the tyre so that another repair will be required somewhere down the road thus keeping everyone in business.
And then, of course, there are the roads. One 75km stretch on the main highway to Jaipur from Delhi takes all day to travel. They seemed to use pot holes as a means of discouraging speed.
We sell 60 Boy to a traveller returning to the UK and unfortunately, as is the way with some people, he insisted on pretending that it was a racing car and drove with his foot to the floor – black smoke pouring out of the back. The engine finally blows up in southern Europe and 60 Boy is abandoned! Very sad.
On to Australia and our next chariot
So … In Australia, do as the Australians do and buy a four wheel drive! 1977 sees us with a series 3 Landrover with a Holden six cylinder engine in place. Pity that, as it turned out, since the torque and power characteristics of this engine are designed for a road car not a four wheel drive. Still, it lasts many a year and takes us from one side of the continent and back several times. I convert it into a snug camper which works well.
For more adventures with the Landrover, check out the Shoalhaven River post (link) if you haven’t already.
Back to the UK once more
After moving to Sydney for work and spending time up in the Blue Mountains, my Dad, in the UK, becomes ill and so we decide to go back there for a while. No closed borders then … seems such a luxury now in Covid times!
Back in the UK, my Dad doesn’t die, and so we think some exploring of the UK is in order and, you’ve guessed it, we buy a camper.
Now … there is one snag … the engine is stuffed and so travel above 35 miles per hour (56km/hr) is inadvisable which presents a problem. My Dad gives us an old copy of an AA road atlas and our solution is to travel on the little white roads and avoid the rest if possible. In this way we explore England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland (north and south) very slowly.
A move to Denmark WA
A move to Denmark and the beginning of my relationship with Jacqui brings on a whole different attitude to campers. A decision to take Max and Zoe on a little trip leads to Vanvan, our trusty Ford Transit.
At this time I am making baskets and while Jacqui has to leave her pottery and learn to make baskets for the trip, we decide to use baskets to weave our way around Australia as the “Travelling Basket Weavers”. The trip lasts eight months and takes us to the Pilbara and Goldfields in WA and then across the Nullarbor once more to SA, Victoria and NSW. We make baskets and sell them as we go and come back with more money than we left with, having covered the cost of trip. Very satisfying I must say.
I fit out the Transit for the trip and apart from a reconditioned cylinder head at the start, we have no mechanical issues. We pull an enclosed trailer (an old milk float) which carries bundles of cane and the current crop of baskets.
The years pass and life gets more S.E.R.I.O.U.S.
The next few years see us move to Perth with me working at the University and Jacqui completing her degree and then doctorate. It is her dissertation on cancer that prompts a move back to the south coast some ten years later to build a house in Torbay near Albany. With both of us working full time, the itch for a camper and some travel starts once more and resulted in a Toyota Hiace pop top.
The HiAce takes us on many trips along the southern coast of WA. My sister Jose then visits from the UK and Jacqui, Pippa and I make another trip across the Nullarbor, pick up Jose, go up to northern NSW and then to Zoe in Geelong. A trip along the Great Ocean Road tops off this adventure before returning across the Nullarbor once more.
And then there was Cubby
The south coast of WA affords a lot of opportunity to use a 4WD. In 2003 we come across a Mazda Bravo 4WD pop top and since Zoe and Amon are happy to buy the HiAce for their trip round Oz, the deal is done. The Mazda Bravo is dual fuel and runs on petrol and gas. We add solar panels and a long range fuel tank and we have a go anywhere steed.
Cubby keeps us statisfied for many years and we have a number of long trips including the Holland Track in 2006 which runs from Hyden to Coolgardie in the Golfields of WA. It is spring and the wildflowers are everywhere. For more see the Holland Track (link) and the Wildflowers of WA (link).
Another trip or two to the eastern states gives Cubby a chance to stretch his legs. In 2007 we make the move to SE Queensland from WA, and, of course, Cubby carries us across the Nullarbor once more.
Cruising gets in the way
In a sign of the times (and of age) we start taking long breaks on a ship with all the associated comforts, and so it took a while for the road to call us again. It did so in 2018 and after many years of trusty service from Cubby – with no issues I might add – we make a change.
Jacqui has been finding Cubby increasingly difficult as her back issues get worse and so comfort is important. In a move which would have shocked our 30 year old selves, our 70 year old selves, much to their surprise, buy a Winnebago.
As with the original VW, the camper is great but the mechanics are sh*t. A$14,000 later we have a rebuilt gearbox (before we even start) and a rebuilt fuel system when we get to Adelaide on our way to Perth. To give the RACQ their due, we were able to get a hotel room and a hire car while we wait for the work to be done.
Overall, the trip was great. For lots more detail see A trip across the wide brown land of Australia (link)
Time to stop all this, be sensible, and just have a single vehicle!
After the excitement of the road trip it seemed that we should now slow down a bit and sell Winnie. Perhaps it is time to do without a camper and just have one car which turns out to be a Hyundai i30 wagon … a sensible car for once.
Sure … sounds just like us, doesn’t it. Soon the itches get going again; this time around “What about a single vehicle we can camp in?”.
The choice is a Kia Grand Canival which I convert with great gusto into a “flat pack” camper. Almost all the camper bits can be removed when you need an about town vehicle and put back in when you need a camper.
For all the fun of bringing this about and building yet another camper “see the movies on youTube (link)”
And in this way Zebadee joins the family. Zebadee is a great short stay fair weather camper, but as soon as it gets cold or wet it becomes very unexciting, especially for Jacqui who regularly needs to get up in the night. Oh well, it was worth a try. It would probably suit our thirty year old selves quite well.
And so to the genesis of this tale
Here we are in May 2021 and are once again about to go on a road trip in another Winnebago. This one is even bigger with a section that slides out. It’s interesting how one’s view changes with age.
We thought a short trial run might be in order, so a weekend camped in the showgrounds in Maleny was called for.
Below is the river mouth of the Noosa River. We will leave from here and come back to here at the end of another adventure. There are those who would question why we are leaving such a beautiful place at all!
In a week’s time we will be off. I’m sure there will be a few tales to tell along the way. Watch out for them.
If you like to read about those who like to travel on public transport, I highly recommend two books from an old friend, Ciaran de Baroid (bottom left in Bluebell above). In particular “A Little Madness : Travels on the Hippie Trail”, published in 2013, and his latest published last year, “In Search of Eldorado (Back on the Road Again)”.
Ciaran’s dry sense of humour and irony shine through in these entertaining reads ably countered by Cora’s pressure on the brakes. Believe me … they are REALLY adventurous!
His non-fiction books on his experiences during “the troubles” in Ballymurphy district of Belfast in the 1970’s are an amazing insight into life in that time.
May you all be well and happy where ever you are