Family, Uncategorized

Why we will never forget the first night of our caravan holiday

We never start holidays well.

On Monday July 9 we embarked on a three-month caravanning adventure from our home in Launceston, Tasmania, to Cairns and possibly beyond. By “we” I mean myself, hubby Phill, and our kiddos Roman (7) and Adelaide (4).

The first night was spent in the NSW country town of Yass. We’d been ejected from the big Bass Strait ferry bleary eyed and sea legged, done our time navigating as hapless Tassie tourists out of Australia’s second-largest city, and journeyed 650+ kilometres – all before 4pm. The kids were extremely good. Some credit to the built-in DVD player in the new truck . . . er . . . four-wheel-drive. Drives like a truck in my opinion, compared with our usual wheels.

So there we were: tired, hungry, ready to settle down for our first night. The plan was to hit the road early the next day for another big highway day munching up the distance between us and the warmer weather.

Let’s stay somewhere cheap, he said. There’s this place at the Yass show grounds, he said. Only $20, he said. And sweet little wifey that I am, I trusted his judgment.

Cut a long story short: the toilets were a half-day hike away, the same ones they use for cattle sales days or rodeos or whatever they do in these places. Concrete walls, lighting optional.

The power was sickly, making us think the wiring in our van was faulty. Toast took half an hour to brown. And during the night, the power cut out entirely for hours on end. Which meant no heating when the temperature dived to -3 and we were shivering beneath the canvas of our bed ends. Our van is a Jayco Expanda, you see. The beds drop out at either end under canvas. I slept wearing hubby’s ‘Chase Wonder’ beanie that night (oh, the irony!), fully clothed including puffa and ugg boots. And was still cold.

Think I’m exaggerating?

We woke in the morning to ice. Inside the van. The condensation on the canvas and aluminium poles had frozen in a layer above our heads. We literally slept in an icebox. The kids were under the covers with us by then, and miserable would be a pedestrian word to describe the general temperament of these unhappy campers.

It gave me flashbacks to our first night in London’s East End, where we lived for nearly a year. Did we plan ahead? Nope. Why do something as sensible as booking a hotel room! We asked for directions to the nearest accommodation and were directed to a pub with rooms above. The pub was under renovation but, “Sure!”, they said, we could stay. Neglecting to tell us that the room had no heating, mid-winter, mould growing on the walls, two lumpy single beds, cold shower. Unhappy campers in London. Unhappy campers in Yass. Or, as my husband so eloquently put it, “Go to Yass and freeze your a…”

Thankfully, that ill-fated first night hasn’t set the scene for the days that have followed.

While we still haven’t met truly warm weather in the wonderful, soaking, sustained way I had envisaged (because, wouldn’t you know it, we chose to travel in the coldest winter that Queensland has experienced in recorded history), we have had our legs out for a few days now.

We’ve spotted humpback whales off the shore of Port Macquarie, snorting in the swell, slapping their fins on their annual migration.

We’ve wrapped our tongues around some pretty crazy place names, like Murrumbidgee, Wangaratta, Adjungbilly, Watanobbi, Howlong (we’ve been hearing that one plenty from the back seat too) and a cafe called Rollonin.

We’ve played UNO. A lot.

We’ve navigated the back streets of a little town called Kempsey to find the Akubra factory so I could get myself a real Aussie icon of a hat. It was worth it.

We’ve found ourselves at the receiving end of some top notch hospitality: roast chook and veggies (definitely not caravan grub) from friends in Brisy, and a sleepover with another family on the Sunshine Coast, who took us out sailing on a Hobie Cat on Lake Cootharaba.

We’ve been to church at a little Presbyterian gathering in a school hall at South West Rocks, and at Good Life Community Church in Buderim, where we were welcomed as brothers and sisters.

We’ve discovered that I’m really good at navigating. When I’m concentrating.

And that we’re going to spend a lot of money on fuel between here and Cairns.

We’ve seen hillsides as smooth and deeply contoured as the folds in a satin skirt, and mountains as pocked and cragged as an old man’s chin.

We’ve watched the sun’s decline each day, pulling the shadows longer, leaching colour from each landscape, desaturated as a polaroid snap.

We’ve had a lot of fun. And we’ve had a lot of adjustment. Tired and cranky kids. And on occasion, a tired and cranky mum! I’m thankful that we’re only two weeks into a 13-week adventure!



Roman and Adelaide meeting a friendly lemur at Australia Zoo. Which was SO good!


We enjoyed a wine/beer here after a day of sailing with our friends on Lake Cootharaba. So relaxing. See the random shoes bottom-left? They’re the kids’ shoes. All five of them ran wild on the lawn while we chillaxed in the honeyed sunlight.

Follow our adventure on Instagram!


  1. mag51 says

    Creating great memories. Excellent description of your travels. Thanks for sharing it with your readers.
    Continue to enjoy you experiences and hope the weather is warmer as you travel further north.

  2. Cathy Collins says

    Claire, your stories are delightful! When I was 8 years old my family – Mum, Dad, brother (9)& I travelled for 6 months around Australia in a trusty Ford station wagon and caravan. I’m now 48 years old and memories of those 6 months back in 1978 are still some of my fondest!
    Despite the icicles inside the van, the countless UNO games and the occasional grumpy Mum…your children will appreciate this time for many years to come.
    I’ll look forward to hearing more. God bless you in your adventure. xo

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