Sooooooo, it’s late April, and this 2021 review post is nearly 4 months late now. Oops!
I think it may be my longest blog post to-date, clocking in at ~8400 words excluding this intro which I’m writing last. I knew it would be a doozy because of all that I saw, did, and learned last year, so the tardiness is also partially due to me procrastinating with putting this beast together.
Anyway! No need to make this thing even longer, so let’s just get into the year that was 2021: The Big Aussie Caravan Trip.
Note: Google Maps stopped tracking my whereabouts last year, so I had to manually enter the locations after the fact. The dot clusters should be denser, but I didn’t bother entering in every single stop I ever made so these are just the highlights and campsite locations.
The Big Australia Caravan Trip
We spent 11 of 12 months this year embarking on our big Aussie road trip, caravan in tow.
Originally we were meant to head off in early January (we even had ferry tickets to Tasmania booked!), but had to cancel that due to COVID border closures and the fact that our custom caravan mattress wouldn’t be delivered til late January.
Yep, we went and got ourselves a fancy mattress because 1). I don’t hate myself enough to sleep on foam for a year, and 2). I’m not so frugal these days. But due to the weird size of our caravan bed frame, we had to get it cut and THAT’S why it took longer.
BTW, did you know there’s such a thing as a “caravan double” sized mattress? Sure is, and let me tell you: it’s actually smaller than a double. I think our bedframe may even have been a touch smaller than the caravan double size. The previous owners of the caravan were shorter than both of us, so they were fine with the bed as-is. But Pete can’t even fit his 6’4 body fully onto the bed, so we fashioned a little foot rest for his feet to go on just beyond the edge of the bed (yep, it’s as ghetto as it sounds).
So we began our trip on February 1, mostly because I put my foot down and said I wanted to be at the beach by my birthday (February 2). We easily could have lingered in Canberra longer and taken more time to prepare, but really would we EVER feel fully ready for this journey? You gotta start before you’re ready (as my favorite online business mentors always say).
Where I Went
Even though we didn’t start the road trip til February, I’ll include all 12 months in this breakdown so that it’s a full look of where I spent the year.
Would you have guessed that I spent more time in Queensland than any other state in Australia? 39% of the year was spent there! We never planned too far in advance, so I didn’t know we’d be in QLD for 4.5 months (and counting!) – but I’m not really surprised. Queensland is HUGE, and I’d only ever seen little bits and pieces of the state before this trip, so exploring it thoroughly was always the goal for me.
The only states we skipped were Tasmania and Western Australia, two of the fussier states when it came to border restrictions during COVID. We never planned to hit WA though – that’s a whole trip in itself, and one we want to do justice with better vehicles someday. Plus, it would have doubled our driving time since WA is basically the whole western half of the country.
Where I Stayed
Here I’ll just include our accommodation for Feb-Dec, since January was spent in Canberra at Pete’s parents’ home. That’s 11 months, or 334 days.
We spent 83% of that time camping: mostly in our caravan, with just a couple nights in the tent when we camped somewhere we couldn’t take the van.
We spent AU$9169 on campsites, spending $33/night (US$25/night) on average. We really sampled the full spectrum of campsites, from free campsites on the side of the road to no-frills unpowered sites to powered campsites at fancy caravan parks. Though we started out staying in mostly unpowered/cheap sites, in the end it was so much easier to just go powered and not have to worry about whether we’d be able to charge up all our devices so we could work most days.
I really wish Australia had campgrounds with power, bathroom facilities, and no other frills. Instead, they just have caravan parks with ALL of the frills, most of which we don’t need or want since they cater to families, but we still have to pay for them if we want to stay somewhere with powered sites.
The other 17% of the time, we stayed in accommodation: 3 nights in a hotel for Pete’s birthday (in Port Douglas), 12 nights in Airbnbs (in Darwin and Magnetic Island), and 42 nights in house sits (in Townsville and Airlie Beach).
What I Read
I ended up reading 25 books this year! I can’t be 100% sure, but I think that might be the most I’ve read since I was a nerdy little kid kicking ass in the local library’s summer reading program 😉
Here are the books I read while on our road trip (not including a couple from January, pre-trip):
Open Book – Jessica Simpson
Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay
Dirt – Mary Marantz
The Science of Getting Rich – Wallace Wattles
The Crow Girl – Erik Axl Sund
Boy Swallows Universe – Trent Dalton
Knife – Jo Nesbo
Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey
The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian
Influence – Sara Shepard
Nomadland – Jessica Bruder
The Couple Next Door – Sheri LaPena
An Unwanted Guest – Sheri LaPena
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
Made In Reality – Stephanie Pratt
The Devil’s Star – Jo Nesbo
Concrete Rose – Angie Thomas
The Mother-in-Law – Sally Hepworth
Someone We Know – Shari LaPena
My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell
Astrology For The Soul – Jan Spiller
The Road Back To You – Ian Morgan Cron
JANUARY: ACT + NEW SOUTH WALES
For all of January, we were at Pete’s parents’ house in Canberra, getting ready for our big Aussie caravan trip. I can’t understate how much goes into planning a trip like this, especially when you’re starting from scratch and have ZERO caravan or camping supplies. My detail-loving mind really thrives in project planning mode, so I was secretly loving it all – but it was A LOT to have to consider everything we could possibly need for the next year of our lives and then source it.
We spent New Years at Kosciuszko National Park and came home New Years Day, cutting our little trip a little short due to crap weather. Then mid-month, we spent a couple days at Bournda National Park because it was the middle of summer and I was absolutely STARVED for beach time. We loved it so much that we decided to start our big trip here a few weeks later. What a gem of a spot!
FEBRUARY: NEW SOUTH WALES + VICTORIA
We spent a week on the south coast of NSW before heading across the south of Victoria.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 1: February 2021
FEB 1-8: BOURNDA NATIONAL PARK, NSW
I love the untouched feel of this beachy national park so much! It would be the first of many beachfront camping experiences of the year (which, spoiler alert, were always my favorite spots).
FEB 8-18: MALLACOOTA, VIC
I think we overstayed our welcome in this small town, but we only stayed this long due to the lockdown. The beaches just outside of town are really nice and peaceful, but despite that I wouldn’t deem Mallacoota a must-see.
FEB 19-20: GIPPSLAND LAKES, VIC
We only really stopped here to break up the long drive to the Mornington Peninsula. I know there’s cool stuff to do here, but I’m not much of a lake person so I wasn’t tempted to linger.
FEB 20-27: MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VIC
I FREAKING LOVE THE PENINSULA! So much so that we came back a couple weeks later for another stay.
I’d been to the Mornington Peninsula a couple times before so I already knew I loved it. This time around, we camped right next to the beach on the bay side and it was just the BEST.
Highlights on our first visit were the private bathing area at Peninsula Hot Springs, and meeting up with my friend Kirrily who was passing through on her own van life trip. And obviously sleeping right next to the beach!
FEB 27-28: WILSONS PROMONTORY, VIC
Our first day at Wilsons Prom was the stuff of dreams: the most perfect sunny day, the most beautiful turquoise waters. We did a coastal walk that took us to a few gorgeous beaches.
Unfortunately the weather was 100% crap for the rest of our stay, but at least we had this one magical day!
MARCH: VICTORIA + SOUTH AUSTRALIA
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 2: March 2021
MAR 1-5: WILSONS PROMONTORY, VIC
As I mentioned, the rest of our time at Wilsons Prom was a complete washout. We literally did nothing but stay in our caravan and work because it was INSANELY windy and rainy. Such a bummer!
MAR 5-8: BOOLARRA, VIC
Camped outside a pub en route to the Peninsula because it was a long weekend and we didn’t really have anywhere else to go. It was crowded and noisy and once again we stayed in the van and worked every day.
MAR 8-13: MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VIC
Back to one of our favorite spots! This time we did a little more exploring, walking by all the fancy mansions along the bay in Sorrento and then doing the scenic coastal walk to Cape Schanck (on the ocean side of the peninsula). What a stunning slice of coastline!
And of course we had to return to the Peninsula Hot Springs! This time we got tickets to the general admission part of the hot springs (not the adults only area like last time) and it was not quite as magical… but still fun.
MAR 13-20: GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VIC
Man, the weather in Victoria is seriously bipolar. We were blessed with the most glorious sunny hot days during our week on the Great Ocean Road, which I almost didn’t want because the typical moody weather is part of the experience.
We saw all the best bits of the western half of the Great Ocean Road, plus some of the inland forest and waterfalls.
MAR 20-26: THE GRAMPIANS, VIC
Aaaaaaand then it rained for a week straight! Again! Nonstop!
I did brave the rain to walk into town and meet up with Kirrily again, and then on our last day we said screw the rain and drove up into the mountains to see if there was some short walk we could do. Miraculously the rain stopped once we got up there and we did manage one hike in the Grampians, to the Grand Canyon.
MAR 26-31: ROBE, SA
I loved the heck out of this seaside holiday town, especially our ocean view campsite. My favorite thing was walking down the road and popping out onto random little beach coves along the way.
And my FAVORITE favorite thing was the stunning beach we found in the nearby town of Beachport. We may have skinnydipped here too.
APRIL: SOUTH AUSTRALIA
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 3: April 2021
APR 1-6: COONAWARRA, SA
I didn’t know much about this part of Australia beforehand, but it’s one of the country’s top wine regions so we figured it’d be rude not to sample some of their reds. I hope I never forget the time we were lounging outdoors at one of the wineries and another customer’s dog randomly trotted over to us and peed on Pete FOR ABSOLUTELY NO DAMN REASON.
Nearby Mt. Gambier is known for its surrounding sinkholes, so I took it upon myself to check out several of them as a good travel blogger should. They were cool, but maybe not bucket list cool.
APR 6-20: FLEURIEU PENINSULA, SA
We spent two full weeks on the Fleurieu Peninsula just south of Adelaide, simply because I knew there were SO MANY beaches and wineries I wanted to check out. Unfortunately we were dealt another poor weather hand and only wound up with a few beach days; most of the time, it was cloudy and cool. Suffice it to say that I’ve got some unfinished business with this part of Australia and will DEFINITELY have to return for round 2, ideally during summer (mid April is mid autumn here).
But the beaches I did get to see in their sunny glory were absolutely stunning. So many of them are flanked by picturesque cliffs, which are very uniquely South Australian. Droney definitely got a workout here!
And the wineries – so cool. The venues themselves tend to be very aesthetically pleasing in the Fleurieu. I’m no wine snob like I am a coffee snob, but I didn’t love any of the wine I tried at the 4 wineries we visited. I did love the process of wine tasting though!
APR 20-27: BAROSSA VALLEY, SA
Now the wine in Barossa Valley is way more my jam. Love the shiraz here!
Did not love much else about our time here though. We free camped next to a cricket oval and endured too many cold cloudy days for my liking.
APR 27-30: YORKE PENINSULA, SA
A week on the Yorke Peninsula was EXACTLY what we needed at this time. I’m already aching to get back to explore more of it, because we mostly just stayed at the very bottom of the peninsula in/near our awesome beachfront campground.
Think rock pools and crystal clear water and coastal trails and sand dunes at your campsite and hearing the waves crash as you fall asleep at night. That’s basically the magic formula for making me the literal happiest human.
MAY: SOUTH AUSTRALIA + NORTHERN TERRITORY
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 4: May 2021
MAY 1-4: YORKE PENINSULA, SA
The second half of our week on the Yorke was a bit tainted by the lackluster weather, but no matter: I was still thrilled to be by the beach again :)
MAY 4-5: APPILA SPRINGS, SA
This was a quick free camp between the Yorke Peninsula and Flinders Ranges. It was really cool arriving at night after getting distracted by wine tastings in the Clare Valley on the way there, then waking up to see the beautiful Outback landscape.
MAY 5-14: FLINDERS RANGES, SA
Another location that had long been on my Aussie to-do list!
Did I love it? Honestly, not really, especially when I compare it to all the other places we got to see this year. I think part of it was that I didn’t enjoy Wilpena Pound, where we camped. It was dark and chilly there (like, too much shade) and overrun by groups the whole time. I think Rawnsley Park Station is a lot nicer from what I saw when we stopped in, but I’m a slave to wherever has Telstra reception so that’s why we went with Wilpena.
We did some hiking that didn’t wow me (did we choose the wrong hike?), went to some lookouts that didn’t wow me. Turns out all the wow was hiding on the 4WD Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorge scenic drive. The views here are TO DIE FOR, particularly the iconic view of the road winding through the mountains.
MAY 14-15: PORT AUGUSTA (ISH), SA
Another free camp on the side of the road, probably my second favorite camping sitch next to the beachfront campsite. There’s something about being on the road and anticipating your next stop and waking up early the next morning to continue driving… it’s exciting!
MAY 15-25: COOBER PEDY, SA
We stayed at a free camp just south of town and it was EPIC, definitely one of my faves from the whole year. Nothing but red Outback sands and scrub in sight where we set up our van.
We didn’t really do the typical mine-related Coober Pedy things, just went to see the nearby Breakaways which was stunning. Oh, and let me just say that Coober Pedy is the WORST when it comes to flies! This is the one place where I really wish I’d had a fly net to wear over my head (we couldn’t find any til we reached the NT, and flies were nowhere near that bad anywhere else).
MAY 25-26: SA/NT BORDER
I loved our little free camp on the border! We were technically still in SA where we ended up camping, but we had a large area all to ourselves which was lovely. Across the street was the rest area and the official border crossing line *cue the cheesy tourist photos*.
MAY 26-31: ULURU – KATA TJUTA NP, NT
Ok, this is where I cranked it up a few notches and decided to lean into tourist mode – after all, you don’t come all the way to such a remote and magical place to spend half the time working, do you?
So it was game on. We got 5 day park passes and were in the park every single day ogling these majestic rock formations, waiting for sunrise or sunset (yes, I managed to wake up for FOUR sunrises – who am I?!). We walked around the entirety of Uluru, got tickets to see the Field of Light, and did the Valley of the Winds hike at Kata Tjuta (which blew me the F away when I did it back in 2006, and blew Pete equally away as this was his first time seeing it).
Yep, Uluru and Kata Tjuta are at the top of our favorites list for this trip for sure.
JUNE: NORTHERN TERRITORY
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 5: June 2021
JUN 1-3: KINGS CANYON, NT
I don’t understand how we did the legendary Rim Walk at Kings Canyon and hardly encountered any other hikers, but I’m not mad about it.
Sure, this place is vastly overshadowed by Uluru, but it’s magnificent in its own right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other place with rocks quite like the ones that comprise Kings Canyon. They’re like flat orange rock slabs.
JUN 3-9: WEST MACDONNELL RANGES, NT
We based ourselves at Standley Chasm, where you can set up camp in the car park – again, we only chose it for its Telstra reception and powered sites. If it weren’t for that, I’d have liked to have been closer to the gorges further down the road, like Ormiston Gorge (FAVORITE!).
From Standley Chasm, it was an hour of driving each way whenever we wanted to go exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges – not the best on bumpy roads, and not convenient when you have to get back before sunset when the gates are locked. Ah well, now we know for next time!
As I said, Ormiston Gorge was the clear winner for me – I loved it so much I even returned on my own a couple weeks later when we were staying in Alice Springs. It’s the closest thing to a beach you’ll find in the Outback. I also loved doing the Pound walk around the gorge – glorious views and plenty of wildflowers dotting the landscape.
Second favorite was Redbank Gorge, probably the most unique looking of the bunch. I really wanted to take my floatie and explore further into the gorge, but the water was full of smelly dead fish. Next time I’d aim to arrive closer to midday and pray for an absence of fish carcass.
JUN 9-30: ALICE SPRINGS, NT
We didn’t plan to spend 3 weeks in Alice, but we had work to catch up on and then a lockdown happened and before we knew it, it was practically July. Oops!
We camped on a property behind the transport museum, which I actually loved because it was right under the flight path and very close to the airport, and there were all sorts of old train cars and other vehicles scattered around. It was very cool. Plus, it was only like a 10 minute drive into town, which I only visited to stock up on groceries and hang out at my fave Alice Springs cafe, Watertank Cafe.
From Alice, we went on adventures to Rainbow Valley and Trephina Gorge – I’d say both are worth doing, but because I had high expectations for RV and no expectations for TG, I was slightly let down by the former and super impressed by the latter. Don’t have any expectations, I guess that’s the key takeaway here.
JULY: NORTHERN TERRITORY
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 6: July 2021
JUL 1-3: ALICE SPRINGS, NT
These 3 days = lockdown in Alice Springs. ’nuff said, moving on!
JUL 3-5: ALICE SPRINGS TO MATARANKA, NT
We drove 11 hours in 2 days, which let me tell you feels a LOT longer when you’re towing a caravan, and there’s absolutely nothing to look at along the way.
I don’t remember anything except for free camping on the side of the road for 2 nights, and stopping to see the Devils Marbles just before sunset.
JUL 5-10: ELSEY NATIONAL PARK, NT
We stayed at Bitter Springs Cabins & Camping for its proximity to Bitter Springs, which BTW is far superior to nearby (and more famous) Mataranka Hot Springs.
This was our introduction to the Top End’s hot and humid weather and honestly, it took awhile to adjust to it. Having a natural hot spring just a 5 minute walk away made this a little easier though😉
Did we enjoy the hot springs? Sure. Did we need 5 nights here? Definitely not.
JUL 10-16: DARWIN, NT
We booked 4 nights at an Airbnb, mostly because we had some recordings to do and needed to ensure we had adequate space and quiet for them.
We also had a mechanic come and fix a few things on our caravan while we there, which we had parked in a small car park at a school down the street. When it came time to leave after 4 days, we realized that we couldn’t drive out of the lot because we didn’t have enough clearance to go down the slope without scratching/damaging the van.
:: cue us running around town to get a new hitch and then having one hell of a time getting it all set up so we could get out of there ::
It truly was the Comedy of Errors, spanning two full days and finally ending with a triumphant sunset departure. We were just so thrilled to be out of there that we hit the road with absolutely no place to go (ended up free camping on the side of the road en route to Kakadu).
JUL 16-26: KAKADU NATIONAL PARK, NT
Sitting in the #1 spot on my Aussie bucket list for several years was Kakadu, a place that’s tricky to do as a solo traveler unless you’re super comfortable with 4WD and can afford the vehicle hire on your own (it was always a NOPE to both for me). I knew I wanted lots of time here so I could explore it thoroughly.
A couple of things that maybe *sliiiiiiightly* hindered our time at Kakadu:
- It was 40C+ (105F+) every day, making it the hottest stop on this whole Aussie road trip. I’m not kidding when I say we were in our caravan park pool pretty much every hour on the hour on the days we weren’t out adventuring.
- The famous Gunlom Falls natural infinity pool was closed the whole time we were there! This was my #1 thing I wanted to do in Kakadu so I was super bummed we couldn’t go :(
Nevertheless, I absolutely LOVED Kakadu and it’s one of my favorite stops on this whole trip. We chased waterfalls down gnarly 4WD tracks, did the Yellow Water sunset cruise and spotted numerous crocs and birds, and caught sunset over the wetlands from Ubirr.
Speaking of sunset: Kakadu has the BEST sunsets I’ve ever seen! And by best, I guess I really mean “most consistently stellar”. So many times it would look like a bland hazy non-sunset, and then at the last minute it would pull out all these vibrant pinks and oranges out of nowhere. Incredible!
JUL 26-31: DARWIN, NT
Our second stint in Darwin was far less dramatic than the first, thankfully. We didn’t do much apart from work and a (half) day trip to nearby Litchfield National Park.
After 3 visits, I still don’t quite get the allure of Litchfield. It’s nice, but like… it’s no Kakadu. The waterfalls and swimming holes are cool, but there’s just something about it that doesn’t quite do it for me.
AUGUST: NORTHERN TERRITORY + QUEENSLAND
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 7: August 2021
AUG 1-2: DARWIN, NT
Nothing more to report about our final days in Darwin. We really didn’t see much during our time here because we used it to catch up on admin and work things.
AUG 2-11: KATHERINE, NT
Of the natural attractions in/around Katherine:
Katherine Hot Springs was crowded and underwhelming.
Katherine Gorge was downright majestic and HOT AF.
Edith Falls was an unexpected delight, particularly the upper pool – which was so magical we actually returned to visit again a few days later.
AUG 11-13: KATHERINE, NT TO QLD BORDER
Woohoo, another dull-as-dust 11 hour drive! Not much at all to see on the drive from Katherine to Camooweal. We made several stops at overpriced roadhouses and free camped overnight at rest stops along the way. Had no issues crossing the border from NT to QLD, just had to apply for a border pass online in advance (which no one ever checked).
AUG 13-15: BOODJAMULLA (LAWN HILL) NATIONAL PARK, QLD
I happened upon Lawn Hill Gorge while perusing Google Maps for stops to make along the way and was absolutely blown way by how incredible it looked in photos, yet how little you hear about it in Australia travel. I mean, I’m a travel blogger who’s explored Australia extensively and is prone to going down deep research rabbit holes and even I hadn’t heard of it before. Suffice it to say that Lawn Gorge deserves more love, and certainly a dedicated blog post from me at some point.
We left our caravan in Camooweal and made the long drive to Lawn Hill Gorge. Google Maps may have told me how pretty the gorge is, but it did not tell me how treacherous the roads leading there are. 4WD is absolutely necessary, preferably a very sturdy and strong vehicle and not a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee (ahem). We had to take it pretty slow most of the way which turned it into a 4 hour drive (despite being only 240km/150mi). And the worst part was that we really didn’t know how much longer we had to go because there was no reception out this way.
Thank god it was worth the effort of getting there. Lawn Hill Gorge is another highlight for me on this trip, with its milky blue water and vibrant orange rock. Definitely a place you want to SUP/kayak (I brought my SUP but they do have kayaks for hire) and fly your drone. I also loved hiking along the gorge rim and stopping off at the waterfall in the middle of the gorge. Such a magical place!
We roughed it for these 2 nights and slept in a tent and used our little portable table and stove. Admittedly when we’re living out of our caravan, we spend most of the time inside it and don’t bother setting up much outside of it. It was nice to go back to real camping for a little bit!
AUG 15-19: QLD BORDER TO PORT DOUGLAS, QLD
Our last big drive of the year: 16 hours from Camooweal to Port Douglas over 3 days! I had a big birthday surprise waiting for Pete in Port Douglas, so that’s why we booked it to the coast and didn’t stop to do too much along the way.
We stayed at rest area free camps and a donation-based campground in one of the towns we passed through. Actually the one thing we did stop for was a dip in a private geothermal pool at Talaroo Hot Springs, a very cool spot I wouldn’t have minded lingering at.
And then the landscape changed with the flick of an invisible switch, from orange to green, dirt to forest, as we neared the coast!
AUG 19-31: PORT DOUGLAS, QLD
Finally arriving on the east coast felt a lot like sliding into home. WE MADE IT! Back in civilization! Back to more tolerable weather! Back to the ocean!
Not gonna lie, we were relieved to have made it to Port Douglas and were very ready to SLOW DOWN at this point.
First up, Pete’s birthday at the fancy-pants Sheraton Grand Mirage in Port Douglas! I used some credit card points to book us a room right on one of the resort lagoons, and it had a little balcony with a ladder into the lagoon. And because the hotel wasn’t very busy, we had this lagoon all to ourselves the entire time!
Though the resort is right on the beach, we spent the entirety of our two day stay poolside, lounging around the various lagoons on the property. It was heaven and just SUCH a nice treat after caravanning for so long.
Then we returned to our caravan and moved on to a caravan park just outside of town for the next 6 weeks!
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 8: September 2021
SEP 1-30: PORT DOUGLAS, QLD
We spent all of September in Port Douglas, soaking up the laidback tropical vibes. With mountains and palm trees everywhere, just being here was a joy.
Though I will say, a month is far too long to spend in Port. We only stayed for 6 weeks because we just needed somewhere to be still and get back into a routine, not because there was much (or anything, really) that we wanted to see there.
The weather was interesting: very warm and humid, but cloudy nearly every day… so there weren’t a whole lot of good beach days. What few we had, we made a beeline to Palm Cove and would spend all day sunbathing on the palm-lined beach and taking dips in the calm, not-yet-stinger-infested water.
We also did a day trip to Mossman Gorge from Port Douglas and loved hiking through the rainforest and cooling off in the swimming holes there.
Once October rolled around, it was time to get moving again!
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 9: October 2021
OCT 1-4: PORT DOUGLAS, QLD
We wrapped up our 6 weeks in Port Douglas with a sunset cruise on an old junk boat. Nevermind that there was no visible sunset through the overcast sky – it was such a lovely experience that we almost didn’t mind.
OCT 4-11: CAPE TRIBULATION, QLD
I was SO EXCITED to return to Cape Trib, and probably the most excited to stay at Cape Trib Camping again. It’s still one of my favorite campgrounds I’ve ever stayed at, purely because of how you can walk from your site, through the palms, and straight out onto a beautiful beach. You know how I feel about beachfront camping 😉
I logged an inordinate number of hours reading in my hammock between two palm trees, watching the horse riding tours pass by throughout the day.
It was stupid-hot and humid the whole time, which made it challenging to get much work done – so instead we cooled off in swimming holes, swung on rope swings, and sampled some ice cream made from local exotic fruits. Not mad about it at all.
We also did a day trip out to the reef with Ocean Safari, which took us to a couple of snorkeling spots as well as a stunning little white sandbar that only appears at low-to-mid tide. I spent most of the trip nauseous and seasick unfortunately, but I did get to do a little snorkeling and sunbathing so it was almost worth it?
OCT 11-31: CAIRNS, QLD
Next we landed in Cairns for another 6-week stay, this time with the intention to see and do SO MANY THINGS in the area. We honestly took such great advantage of the location and were very good about making time for adventures a few days each week.
Our campsite was wonderfully quiet and perched right over the creek, where I liked to sit and watch the electric blue Ulysses butterflies flit around (they look exactly like the butterfly emoji!). So many people warned us to leave town by November because that’s when the weather starts to get unbearably humid in Cairns. It was still pretty muggy in October, but nothing like in the Top End.
Day trips we did from Cairns this month:
Davies Creek Falls & Emerald Creek Falls – One of the best swimming spots near Cairns, with a natural infinity pool!
Palm Cove – Yet again. We just can’t stay away from this delightful little beach town!
Behana Gorge – Worth the 45min hike in to swim in front of Clamshell Falls.
Fitzroy Island – Kicking myself that we didn’t stay overnight on Fitzroy Island ’cause this island is absolute PARADISE.
Atherton Tablelands – We did a mystery picnic with AmazingCo and had such a blast driving around the area, solving clues and picking up picnic ingredients along the way.
Kuranda – We took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway up, spent a couple hours at the old market (aka hippie central), and took the Kuranda Scenic Rail down.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 10: November 2021
NOV 1-20: CAIRNS, QLD
Aaaaaand our November adventures from Cairns:
Palm Cove – For the… 4th? 5th time? Sadly it was ridiculously windy and therefore not all that enjoyable being on the beach .
Green Island – We spent a day at nearby Green Island and got to see a few turtles just off the jetty and some incredible coral reef on our snorkel safari tour. Loved it here!
Babinda Boulders – This was my second visit to Babinda and honestly, I still don’t get why it’s so popular. This time I walked out to the Devils Pool and that was pretty cool to see (lots more boulders!).
Josephine Falls – Officially on my list of best waterfalls near Cairns. Love the multiple tiers of rock pools here and the huge boulders.
Crystal Cascades & Fairy Falls – Not my favorite falls or swimming holes near Cairns, but the waterfall at the end of the walking path at Crystal Cascades is by FAR the best thing to see here.
NOV 20-21: PARONELLA PARK, QLD
A nifty stopping point between Cairns and Townsville, and especially appealing to us because a free night camping on the property here is included with admission.
I really enjoyed wandering around Paronella Park and ogling the castle ruins and pretty pathways. Definitely a fab spot for a photo shoot if you don’t mind sweating through it!
NOV 21-30: TOWNSVILLE, QLD
Next, we had 2 house sits in Townsville: one just outside the city, looking after a young dog; the other 20min north of town, looking after 2 cats.
I really wasn’t feeling Townsville at all, so I basically just hibernated indoors in aircon the whole time. After nearly 10 months of living in such a small space, we were absolutely lapping up the luxuries that come with living in a house. It didn’t take us long to decide that we want to continue house sitting long term.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Caravan Life Diaries – Month 11: December 2021
DEC 1-12: TOWNSVILLE, QLD
More hibernating, more working.
We also did a couple day trips to Paluma Range National Park (~1 hour north of Townsville) to check out some waterfalls and swimming holes. I actually really enjoyed it here and I’m surprised it’s not talked about more. What a gem!
DEC 12-20: MAGNETIC ISLAND, QLD
Magnetic Island was one of the first places I visited when I moved to Australia in December 2014, and I have to say: I loved it so much more this time around!
I feel like I saw a lot more of the island having a car to get around (last time I walked and took the bus everywhere), was much more comfortable in an Airbnb (last time I was camping in a tent – in summer!), and wasn’t solo this time – all of which made it so much better!
On this trip, I discovered a secret beach, went for a lot of sunset swims, spotted a koala in the wild, and dragged Pete on a few too many sweaty hikes and it was [insert chef’s kiss here].
DEC 20-21: BOWEN, QLD
I spent some time in Bowen on a blogger trip several years ago and remembered loving it, so I was eager to revisit on our way down to Airlie Beach. Unfortunately we arrived mid-afternoon to quite overcast weather and had to leave early the next day, so didn’t really get any time to do the walking trails to the various beaches.
DEC 21-31: AIRLIE BEACH, QLD
Woohoo, ending the year in the Whitsundays! But not really, because we didn’t actually go out to the islands. Instead, we did a house sit in Cannonvale over Christmas and New Years and took care of a mischievous puggle. Much of this suburb is on a hill, and the views of the water and nearby islands from here are stellar on a clear day.
I loved this sit, particularly the fact that we had a Christmas tree to enjoy, and that we had a beautiful back patio with a hot tub and pool with a view. So glorious!
This Year’s Challenges
Just in case you thought this year was all fun in the sun for me, think again: it actually might have been the most challenging year of my life!
The thing about full time road tripping or van life that nobody really talks about, particularly when you’re doing it with a partner, is that things get magnified and exaggerated so easily. When you’re living at home, in a house or apartment, with everything you own and need right at your fingertips at all times, you are COMFORTABLE and living is relatively easy.
But when you’re living out of a vehicle, everyday life things can become an ordeal. You spend a lot more time on life admin. And there’s nowhere to go when you’re triggered, so you have to face the things that maybe you previously ignored, distracted yourself from, or avoided. It’s a huge catalyst for personal growth.
So here are the main things I had to face this year while traveling full time in a caravan:
Money can be a sensitive topic, but since my frugality was a focal point of this blog for so long, I feel pretty ok talking about it here.
I’ve been so fortunate that up until this year, I never had to live paycheck to paycheck. I was always so good at saving money, being frugal, spending sensibly. And yes, of course I have to credit my privilege here as well.
But full disclosure: I have been paying for absolutely EVERYTHING myself on this trip since April. And my current income structure does not support two people, so it’s been extremely stressful having to worry about how I’m going to be able to pay next month’s credit card bill.
So basically, Pete saved up a ton of money in the year before we took off on this road trip. Then right after he gave notice to his work that he was quitting, he got hit with a huge dental bill that wiped out most of his savings. He worked tirelessly to set up his new coaching business last year, but turns out it’s not so easy to do this when you’re constantly moving around and have no experience in online business! So it hasn’t quite taken off yet, which left me as the sole income earner last year.
To be honest, I have oscillated between two mindsets all year: one where I’m resentful and feel taken advantage of, and one where I recognize that this situation has been handed to me as a massive growth opportunity. It truly is a battle of conditioning vs. reprogramming.
And the thing is, when I’m able to see past my conditioning, I realize how unbelievably beautiful this situation is! It truly is the perfect storm of all the things I need to heal in myself in order to get to where I want to be in life. And what’s more, it’s exactly that for Pete as well. If I didn’t believe in the power of the universe before, I sure as hell am a believer now because there is no WAY this all could have been orchestrated otherwise.
So I’m grateful, but man this work is TOUGH.
All things considered, we really lucked out with the COVID situation in Australia, particularly during our road trip.
Australia has been able to minimize COVID cases and deaths due to its strict border restrictions over the last 2 years. Each state has done its own thing, often swiftly closing their borders at short notice in response to a spike in cases. So we went into this adventure knowing that we may have to take some detours and change plans quickly if we encountered any border closures along the way.
Thankfully we went through the year relatively unaffected, save for a few instances:
- Victoria went into a snap lockdown during the second week of our trip (Feb 2021), just after we had crossed the border from NSW, so we were stuck at a caravan park in Mallacoota a bit longer than intended. Thankfully it only lasted 5 days and we were able to carry on traveling through VIC. (There were several other lengthy lockdowns later in the year, so lucky we had left the state by that point!)
- Alice Springs went into a 3 day lockdown (June 2021) due to a case spike in Darwin. This didn’t really affect us, and we were able to leave town and head north right after as planned.
- Queensland issued a vaccine mandate in mid-December 2021 which prohibited non-vaccinated folks from being able to dine in cafes and restaurants, enter bars, or go on any tourism excursions. It’s only now just about to be lifted, 4 months later (in April 2022). This didn’t really mess up our plans in late December since we were house sitting, but it would definitely be an annoyance in early 2022 as we made our way down the east coast! (ICYMI: We are not vaccinated at this stage, and no I don’t want to discuss why or hear what you think about it!)
This is more a challenge for 2022, but I’ll also include it for 2021 because towing an old caravan with an old car will never be easy-peasy.
I’m actually shocked that we made it this far without any major issues! I mean, we put those vehicles through the wringer with all the Outback driving we did.
We did have to get some pricey work done on the caravan in Darwin, mainly some electrical things. And then we got stuck in that parking lot for 2 days, that was super fun.
And then our car nearly overheated when driving up the headland on Cape Tribulation, so we had to pull over for an hour to let it cool down in a not-so-safe spot. That wasn’t ideal.
But overall, it could have been so much worse! (And not to foreshadow, but it DID get worse the next year… uf).
Well this is something you have to expect when traveling around Australia for a year, having to contend with all sorts of weather.
Especially in Victoria, the most temperamental of all states when it comes to weather. Our weeks in Wilsons Promontory and the Grampians were COMPLETELY rained out, which is kind of ironic given how we had given ourselves one full week in each location *in case* we got hit with crap weather (i.e. SURELY we’d get a day or two with sun in one week?).
We also had largely crap weather for our 3+ weeks on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. Only a few sunny/beach days that whole time!
Once we started heading north, we basically never saw rain again until we reached Tropical North Queensland.
You know what we weren’t prepared for? Literally FREEZING cold nights in the Red Centre (Alice Springs and Uluru). Or, maybe we weren’t prepared for how cold it would be inside the caravan which has zero insulation. We actually had to have our winter jackets shipped to us from Canberra because we couldn’t deal.
We also weren’t ready for how hot and humid it would be up north. You know what’s the worst? Trying to fall asleep in a caravan while sitting in a pool of your own sweat and not being able to open the windows because you don’t wanna get caught camping in a parking lot.
And I honestly don’t know how we would have survived 40C (104F) weather in Kakadu without the fans we ended up buying in Darwin. Pretty sure this is the hottest weather we experienced this whole trip.
Ah yes, the old work-life balance. Working and traveling full time isn’t new to me, so I knew how to handle it on this trip. Overall I’m pleased with how we balanced work with adventuring. Yes, there were definitely some instances where I wish I would’ve closed the laptop and made the effort to go and get some better photos, catch the sunset, or do that little side trip. But I did my best with it.
What WAS new for me was having to do all that while ALSO assisting Pete with pretty much everything involved in building his coaching business. I struggled HUGELY with this, not just in managing and stretching my time to accommodate it, but in not screaming “GOOGLE IT!” whenever Pete asked me something. I mean, everything I know about working online I found out – wait for it! – online. There’s literally nothing you can’t find out via a Google search (unless you’re bad at Googling maybe), which I love because it means I don’t have to bother or rely on anyone else to figure things out.
But much like my money journey, this has been very much a personal growth exercise for me. A challenge to be patient and kind, rather than short and snappy. Through this experience plus all that I’ve learned this year about human design, I’ve realized that not everyone lives and dies with Google! Not everyone learns best by doing their own research and applying their findings to real life.
Some people have to TALK EVERYTHING OUT, like Pete. It still drives me absolutely bonkers because I will never not love working independently and in silence. But I’m trying very hard to be patient and a little less rigid.
Probably not a shock to anyone at this point, but I’m the kind of person (hermit, introvert) who can go days, weeks, even months without talking to “my people” and be totally fine. In fact, this is how I know if we’ve got a true, long lasting friendship – if we’re able to pick up where we left off after not seeing or talking to each other for so long.
So with that said, I’ve not had much contact with my Sydney friends since I left. I missed Anna having a baby and my Bondi friends spending Christmas together, and I’ve missed a bunch of camping trips with my Sydney Adventure Babes – which does make me a little sad.
Of course I miss them, but I’m totally ok with the time apart and I look forward to seeing where we’re at once the dust settles and we can see each other again.
And in general, I do miss hanging out with friends. It’s just been Pete and I on our own and driving each other crazy all year. Both of us agree that having more of a social life and maybe a little more time doing things on our own would be healthy, but it’s pretty difficult when you’re traveling in a caravan and constantly moving around.
As usual, I was pretty diligent about walking at least 3mi every day.
Less so about actually working out, despite us being equipped with a weight bench, adjustable hand weights, resistance bands, a jump rope, and a yoga mat (don’t EVEN get me started on that damn weight bench we’ve been carting around all year which Pete hasn’t used ONCE – it is the definition of dead weight!).
When I’m stationed in one place, I’m super good about working out once I get into a routine, but it’s been a struggle to keep up with it while constantly moving around. However, in September I decided to call myself out on that and committed to getting back into working out. I’ve been doing lots of workout videos from the AloMoves app and have felt so much more fit and strong in recent months because of it. Yep, I do my workouts in caravan parks and people probably see it, but oh well. Admittedly it’s easier when we’re house sitting because there’s more space and privacy.
What’s Next in 2022?
Well given that I’m writing this in April 2022, I can offer a few spoilers for what’s to come next year 😉
We’re starting the year in Airlie Beach, which is in central Queensland. January in this region is HOT AND HUMID, so once we finish that house sit we are booking it to south Queensland and staying there til winter. Then we want to head back north during winter and do all of the things we skipped on the way down because it was too hot.
After winter, we’ll head back down the coast. I want to spend some time exploring northern NSW, as I’ve barely seen anything there apart from Byron Bay. Ideally I’d love to spend next summer fully in South Australia, but who knows how we’ll feel by then – we may be over caravanning (or our vehicles may be over it – ahem, spoiler alert!).
We’re also shifting from full time caravanning to house sitting, which should alleviate much of the money strain and allow us to work more efficiently/effectively. We’ll be in the caravan in-between house sits, but for the most part we’ll be trying to secure longer sits in each location. I’d love to get back into reformer pilates if we’re in one location for at least a couple months.
And then the other big thing happening next year is that Pete and I are joining forces and building a business together! We’ve called it the Inner Magic Academy and it’s going to be a blend of healing from trauma (Pete) and creating an amazing life for yourself (me). WISH US LUCK (and follow us on IG @innermagicacademy)!