Our opinion is that the best way to explore Australia is a campervan road trip. We were just as confident about this before our trip as we are after it. Why? Well, we are road trip fans, anyway. But especially in Australia, it was the most flexible and the most budget friendly option we could choose.
Australia is perfectly suitable for campervan road trips. It’s very safe. It’s warm (or hot) – you don’t need heating, that’s the point. It offers a range of free and paid options to spend the night. In addition, being out there in the wild (even if it’s a fairly civilized campground) means tons of opportunities to see wildlife – lots of kangaroos, cockatoos and parrots in the first place.
So what is a campervan?
This word can cover a range of vehicles. From small converted mini-vans that are suitable for only two people to large family-sized motorhomes and RVs with full amenities. But all of them has two things in common: they are suitable for sleeping, and they offer some opportunity for cooking. Cooking supplies are often also provided with the rented campervan.
Campervans usually have two separate batteries: one runs the engine, and the other runs things like interior lights or a small refrigerator. So you don’t need to worry about the engine not starting the following day because you keep the interior lights on for too long.
Choose the campervan that’s suitable for you
But from all kind of small and big, simple and luxurious campervans, which one is the best for you? Well, only you can decide that, but let us help with the most important questions.
You need to choose the size based on two criteria that are equally important: how many people are you travelling with? And how large of a vehicle are you comfortable driving? Our car was a converted mini-van that was just enough for the two of us and our stuff. But driving it was no different than driving a larger kind of car. We didn’t aim for luxury, but it didn’t cost much more than a regular car rental would have.
Should it be self-contained?
Self-contained vehicles have some sort of toilet onboard. It can make things easier if there’s no running water (or any other kind of toilet) where you camp, but you’re also in charge of dumping your waste. There are dedicated dump points for this purpose.
In our opinion, you don’t really need a self-contained vehicle in Australia. Unless you stay out there in Nowhere (meaning the Outback, of course). But all along the Eastern coastline we usually found public toilets of some kind – even if there was no running water (composting toilets). And most of them were in excellent condition. And they were all free. This is a dumb question to ask in Australia, by the way, since all public toilets are free to use, even in the cities.
Should it be 4WD?
It depends. Australia is the country of extremes. But I doubt you need a 4WD for the full length of your road trip in general. We didn’t need a 4WD at all, and we couldn’t tell you much about 4WD roads either, since the Eastern coastline is pretty well developed.
However we didn’t drive on desert roads (we didn’t even go nowhere near a real Australian desert, anyway), neither on sand islands (like Fraser Island). If you plan to do that, you need to check your specific route, and contact the rental company to make sure your car is suitable for what you want to use it, and it’s allowed to be taken to those roads/regions.
Any extras you need
When choosing the right campervan and the company to rent it from, you better consider whether you need any extras. Like one-way rental, an extra driver, insurance cover, unlimited kilometres, navigation, bedding, towels, camping chairs… They may or may not be included in the rental by default, and adding them can significantly change the overall price (especially one-way rental at certain companies).
Where do you stay?
Having a campervan doesn’t mean you can pull over anywhere you fancy and sleep in your van. This kind of “freedom camping” is not allowed anymore in Australia, at least not in the inhabited areas.
However, there are a lot of dedicated free sites where you can stay overnight: parking lots, public parks, rest areas, gas stations. Some hotels (mostly backpacker hostels) allow travellers to stay in their backyard overnight. These sites differ greatly in the offered amenities. Most of them has public toilets, but definitely not all of them has showers, drinking water, picnic benches – or even running water.
We tried a lot of these free sites, and we were very happy with them. With all of them, I dare say. We got what we expected (more on that later), and we saved a lot of money.
Campgrounds and holiday parks
Every two or three days, we stayed at campgrounds or holiday parks. The average price for the simplest unpowered site ranges from 30-60 AUD/night – depending on how fancy the park is, and where it’s located. (For example, Byron Bay is one of the most expensive places to stay along the Eastern coast. Beautiful though.)
All the campgrounds and holiday parks we happened to stay at had large and well-equipped kitchens, and clean, spacious amenity blocks. Some had coin-operated washing and drying machines. Some had private pool for guests. Though they are a bit pricey in general, they exceeded our expectations for campgrounds. They actually outshined quite a number of budget hotels and hostels we’ve stayed at during our travels so far.
So if you are afraid that you can’t shower and wash your hair, or you can’t be clean and pretty every day if you choose to stay in a campervan – don’t be. You choose where you stop for the night, and you have a lot of options to choose from.
The best app to find the places to stay: WikiCamps
But to take advantage of all the options, you need to know about them in the first place. That’s where WikiCamps comes into picture.
Honestly, we’ve never paid for a mobile app ever before, but the WikiCamps Australia app was well worth that couple of dollars. (This post is not sponsored by them, of course, but we found this app really useful.) What does it offer? It offers all the information about all the free and paid sites, campgrounds and holiday parks.
In our opinion, its greatest strength is the insane amount of information about the free options. Because holiday parks surely have a website, anyway, but who would tell you that there is a rest area 2 kilometres from where you are, it offers toilets and drinking water, and you are allowed to stay there for 48 hours? WikiCamps will.
We could search for places to stay based on our current location. We could filter them based on tons of different criteria: free site or not, and what kind of amenities it offers. People can comment on the sites, as well – and that’s incredibly useful. That’s how we figured out whether the site is clean, crowded or noisy.
We also found detailed information about showers in the comments. Free sites offer different kind of showers (or not). Some are free, some are coin-operated. Sometimes you need to pay and ask for the key at the gas station. All this information was available in the comments.
Since a lot of people use this app, we usually found comments written some days ago about any site we were interested in. It made our life so much easier! And we got exactly what we expected. If you plan to take advantage of the free sites on your road trip, we definitely recommend using WikiCamps
What to pack
Of course, you’ll have your luggage full of clothes and stuff for the perfect holiday. But what is that you need for a campervan road trip specifically? We have good news: not much. The most important things are usually included in the rental (or can be added easily): cooking supplies, bedding and towels. There’s one thing that’s not, but it’s incredibly important: a flashlight or a headlamp. We had both, and even spare ones. They come handy.
We were also happy to have our extra towels and hand sanitizer. You can never have enough of those – or is it just our experience? 😀
We could charge our phones and camera batteries from the USB ports inside the campervan. So we didn’t need anything special other than our regular chargers.
Some amazing road trip ideas
So where to go in Australia? Everywhere. 🙂 This topic would be a long post of its own, so we just throw some great scenic drive ideas at you this time. These are the ones we enjoyed the most during the 3 weeks we spent roadtripping along the Eastern coastline:
- Great Ocean Road & Great Otway National Park
- Legendary Pacific Coast (from Sydney to Brisbane: beaches of the Central Coast, Coffs Coast, Gold Coast & Sunshine Coast)
- Captain Cook Highway (from Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest)
What else could we say? Enjoy your trip and don’t ever forget to keep left!