The time has come. Finally, all the working, saving and planning is done and we have a functional camper van ready to go. The mission? To travel around Australia from Melbourne, to Melbourne, in a clockwise direction in about three months.
Of course, we’re going to hit all of the major cities (apart from Adelaide, sorry Adelaidians!) but we’re playing it loose so we have time to explore nooks and crannies along the way. Aside from an initial inland trip through Broken Hill to South Australia, we’ll be following the A1. Luckily, Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road were completed in a previous mission, but we haven’t worked out the Uluru part yet. It’s going to happen, even if we have to dart down from Darwin in a plane.
Introducing one 1999 Toyota HiAce SBV with amateur camper conversion. We bought it off some French backpackers with a good vibe, and were pleased to have our faith rewarded by the family mechanic, who said we’d definitely picked the right van for the job. Not only is Toyota famous for its reliability, but the HiAce is the most popular van in Australia (it’s like catnip for middle-aged tradies). Our model shares its engine and other components with many other Toyota vehicles, so finding mechanics and spare parts en-route should be fairly easy, though hopefully not required.
When we bought the van it was filled with half a tonne of red dirt. To remove the evidence of previous outback journeys (it has apparently done this trip twice) we stripped it and cleaned it inside and out. It came fitted with four black metal interior cages which made the thing feel like a prison cell, so we removed three and painted one white to tone down the Shawshank.
Fitting some more flooring helped the boxes under the bed slip in more easily and replacing the crap IKEA storage unit with a Gaz-built kitchen cupboard meant we could now cook inside in bad weather and carry a separate power supply. We decided that a ‘distressed’ look would hide a multitude of current and future sins, and shabby-chiced the new white paint job with sandpaper. Blockout curtains were added with velcro sewn on (thanks Mu) to stop the sun peaking through the gaps. Finally, we fitted as many storage and anti-clutter units as possible, and bastard packed* our belongings into submission behind and under seats and beneath the mattress.
In the words of HeMan “I have the power!”
For power we’ve got a couple of main options. The first is a 12v car battery bought from Kmart and a Repco 350w inverter to convert the power from DC to AC. In addition, we have the Arc 20W Solar Charger Kite from Voltaic. This kit comes with four solar panels and a 20,000 mAh battery. The solar panels fold away into a handy pack, and the whole thing weights around a kilo. Voltaic claims it can charge a laptop fully, and then recharge itself in around six hours. We will see.
Armed with a fully-laden, as yet unnamed Toyota HiAce, a copy of Camps Australia for ‘the budget and freedom-conscious traveller’ (thanks David!) and the 2011 Lonely Planet guide to Straya, we hit the road on the easy Sunday morning of July 24, 2016.
*highly-aggressive Tetris-like approach to packing