The Virgin Voyage

Sydney to Melbourne (10.5 hours)

So we set off to pick up our caravan from our friends, Bec and Ryan, in Melbourne at 2am so that for a good chunk of the drive the girls would be asleep. Lachlan did the first drive and i stayed awake to be the kangaroo spotter… the girls slept until 530am when we swapped drivers and then we entertained them with Frozen at full volume until we arrived at Albury. Lachlan found a fantastic cafe using the Beanhunter app called The Proprietor – wholesome funky food derived from local produce – giving Sydney cafes a run for their money!!! Whilst I was munching down some Grilled Haloumi & Dukkah Eggs, we had a Facetime call from all of the Grandparents in the UK. Nanna and Grandpa were over in the UK on a work/holiday trip and Nonna and Gramps met up with them for dinner at Jamie Olivers 15 restaurant in Watergate Bay.

The girls were fantastic and we only had to have 2 pee stops and arrived at 1245 in Brighton (girls still in their PJ’s). No questions on ‘are we there yet, or how much longer’. We were so proud of them – i think all of the prep work over the previous few weeks of ‘we are going to be in the car a very long time, and that we will get there when we get there’ paid off. We spent the afternoon with Bec & KJ and their two girls Lacey and Claudia (however Ava has convinced us all that her name is Claudial), then Don and Tobes arrived with their boys, Noah and Beau – it was so much fun sipping champagne and drinking beers whilst watching the families intertwine as if we always popped in on a friday afternoon.. in bed by 830pm excited to be picking up our van.

We arrived at 10am to pick up the van from Bec and Ryan in Yarraville and wanting a detailed handover of how we work all the bits and pieces, Bec and KJ had offered to come and entertain the children so that we could concentrate – off they trotted with 5 children in tow to the local cafe and bought them all hot chocolates.

Before we know it we are off – our transport and new home meet (a perfect coupling technicque Lach!)

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Melbourne to Cape Paterson (2.5hrs)

And now the real journey begins! After hitching up the van and fiddling with the ‘extended’ side mirrors, we commenced our drive through Melbourne. Using the back streets of Yarraville to aclimatise to towing Lachlan felt it was time to hit the open road and head towards Cape Paterson.

I still recall the first left turn from a backroad onto the main road, waiting for a break in the traffic. It seemed like an eternity, until FINALLY a gap had opened. Lachlan accelerated and joined the traffic on the main road.

Less than five minutes had passed when tragedy had afallen us. Wanting to close the main windows (as we were travelling at the top speed of 60km/hr), Lachlan pressed the button. ‘Pop’, ‘STOP’.. ‘STOP’.. ‘STOP’. The passenger mirror had fallen from the car – clearly not installed correctly… I quickly exited the car in search for the parts, whilst Lachlan waited patiently at the side of the road. Success! All parts were found – unfortunately they were no longer in working order..Trying to look at the good from a bad situation, we took comfort in the fact that Lachlan had asked Bec and Ryan to borrow their mirrors – we had a back up plan!! Let the journey continue!!

Whilst navigating through the heavily populated streets of Melbourne, Lachlan and I set up some ground rules on how we could support each other with our driving.. Rule #1: Accept feedback from the ‘spotter’ understanding that they are just trying to help the driver. A great rule, that proved itself useful with the approach of the first obstacle – the WINDY ‘Westgate bridge’.

Now to some of you out there, “The Bridge” may not sound like much of an obstacle. But imagine you have only just picked up a van, driven it for 10 minutes (well that 10 minutes includes losing one of your mirrors) and you have to face the heavy traffic of Melbourne on a long weekend before the AFL Grand Final. This coupled with the high winds made for a great introduction to the challenges of towing. Fortunately all was fine we descended the other side of the bridge and continued our journey to Cape Paterson.

Fast forward a few hours of driving, some insights that came from the first towing experience. Lachlan mentioned a few things that I yet hadnt the pleasure of experiencing. Firstly he was continuously monitoring his mirrors. Taking the advice of some lovely people we met on a towing course, Jane and Russell, Lachlan was pleased that we had blue tacked (yes blue tacked) convex round mirrors onto the main mirrors of the carimg_2178. This provided fantastic additional perspective of cars approaching along with an understanding of where the trailer was relative to the ‘white line’. The second thing that I noticed was that Lachlan mentioned his large muscluar arms were aching. Holding the steering wheel with the force of a gladiator, it was evident that not only the concentration but the strain was affecting Lachlan’s arms. While it may have been a point of discomfort for Lachlan, it was pleasing that his bulky, yet defined arms guided our family to safety. The final tip. If travelling with young children keep them entertained. Play eye spy, count cows, look for different colour cars or even sing Frozen at full volume. If it was good enough for Elsa and Anna, it was good enough to distract our children!!

So we arrived at Cape Paterson Caravan Park and switched drivers. Rule #2. Whomever drives, shall not park (sounds a little like a scene from Lord of the Rings!). Lachlan turned on the UHF handhelds and walked ahead of our car to scope out the site. After discussing the best means of entering the site whilst avoiding the major hazzards (cars, children on scooters and thick wet mud) I followed the instructions of Lachlan and performed an almost perfect park onto our site.

Not taking too much time to appreciate our beautiful surroundings, we unpacked the car and set up the van like pros. Lachlan set up the vehicle from the exterior, whilst I managed the interior. The entire set up process was completed within an hour. Not bad I say! We prepared our first meal to the sounds of the AFL Grand Final and ‘Who let the dogs out’ and headed to bed – listening to the sounds of the ocean and slight pattering of rain on the roof of the van.

Tomorrow. A new day.

The sun was up and shining glorously over the ocean. Setting up a picnic rug to entertain the girls whilst Lachlan and I prepared breakfast – it was beautiful to see the girls playing so carefree on the picnic rug, enjoying nature.  Enjoying breakfast outdoors under the awning of the van, we then packed up and prepared ourselves for the 4.5 hours trip to Marlo. I was going to get my fair share of experience driving the van.

Cape Paterson to Marlo (4.5hours)

So we got in the car ready to hit the road, we returned our boom gate key and drove off – whoops – within the first 400m i had missed a turn, so quickly Lachlan zoomed out on sat nav and found a d-tour we could do to get back on track without the need for any reversing. The roads were anything but wide – I would call them extremely narrow in fact – so when passing caravans come from the opposite direction I literally would breath in, as well as when we are crossing bridges. The coastline is just stunning – turquise waters and wind beaten bracken (im sure thats an english expression), the grass was vivid green and yellow all over the meadows. The rolling hills reminded me of England whilst driving along and at one point we drove into a town (cant remember which one) and I said to Lachlan that it reminds me of Cornwall. The girls were great again and did some sleeping and then we alternated adults songs for an hour and then childrens songs for an hour – however the fairy tales from Spotify went down really well and would tend to send them to sleep. Ava loved Rumplestiltskin. We taught the girls the names of baby animals – they knew Lamb, but didnt know Foal or Calf.

We drove through the La Trobe valley, which is known as ‘The Valley’ for powerstations and I explained to the girls what powerstations are and why we need them to make electricity and how they get their fuel. I then reminded her of the wind turbines we had seen on the coastline the day before outside Inverloch, and explained the difference between renewable and coal. She later on that evening she said to me “so mummy they both make electricity so that we can have lights and watch TV”. To be honest i didnt think she had been listening – but in Ava style, she had listened and absorbed.

A first for us all – stopped for lunch at a picnic table at a servo in Taralgon with a freeway 50m away and a hopsital next door. We watched crows circling for our food and an ambulance helicpoter take off whilst the girls played in the grass picking flowers for us. When we were back on the road, we needed to find an emergency stop for a sudden “i need a poo”, so we used the Petrol Spy Australia app and then we could manage expectations as to how far we had to go to “hold it”.

Just over 4 hours in, i was starting to get tired and then the scenary changed and became very flat and moor like – the girls were about to loose it, so we counted sheep and cows and eventually arrived at Marlo Caravan Park. So as tradition (all of 1 night but soon to be everynight) we swapped drivers so that Lachlan could drive. We pulled into the site – he told me 17 – i walked up to 17 trying to work out the best way for him to get in, and then he appears through the neighbouring site with a big grin on his face. The lady at the front desk had given us a drive through site, as there was noone in the neighbouring site.

We set up camp – about 30mins this time (pretty swift and chuffed with oursleves we were), then we headed to the playground in the campground. The site was really quiet (maybe 2 other guests) and so we decided we would head to the local hotel for dinner instead of cooking. So we walked down to the water and were surprised to see Pelicans. The girls were asking lots of questions about them, and then we headed up the hill to the hotel, which was obvioulsy very good. You needed to book a table and the deck area was massive. The food was good and the locals really nice, the girls enjoyed playing on the big field in front of the hotel.

When we left at 645pm, the deck was filling up fast – the first night of daylight savings and a beautiful sunset probably helped.

We woke up and decided that we would do some exercise and the girls would join in – I introduced Lachlan to the 21:1 routine which we do at Bootcamp, and i think he was a little surprised how a 25min workout can be so exhausting, the girls did our counting for us (although sometimes it made me loose count). We followed our fitness regime with bacon and eggs, and then packed away in miracle time.

We drove back down to the water and did a full circle on the van to mark the ‘turning spots’ – our TowEd instructor would be proud. Then I took a photo of the car and caravan for our blog cover photo.dsc_0679

Marlo to Mallacoota (2hours)

After Lachlans near perfect park the previous night, it was time to once again put his driving to the test. Despite the short distance separating Marlo and Mallacoota, the roads were narrow and windy – peppered with poor kangaroos and wombats that thought they were able to play a game of ‘leap frog’ with the oncoming traffic. Whilst seeing numerous kangaroos along our journey, it deeply saddened Lachlan every time he saw a wombat dead at the side of the road with their paws in the air.

In a blink of an eye we were finally in Mallacoota. I exited the car and was advised of the spots we had to settle for the night while Lachlan and the girls waited. The friendly staff at A’Wangralea Mallacoota Caravan Park escorted me to the various options – we opted for a site that was close to the toilets (fantastic for the kids) and an easy park – guess who opted to do a drive through park. Yes that is correct – Lachlan!

We assembled the van and headed into town to have lunch at a fantastic cafe – Croajingolong Cafe, a funny name for a cafe (derived from Aboriginal meaning “belonging to” and “east”). All I can say is..what a meal! It was a little more on the expensive side of things, but well worth it. After our bellies were full we headed to the nearby playground near the Mallacoota Foreshore Caravan Park. Seeing vans parked in like sardines, we were pleased with the caravan park we had chosen. After picking up the necessary foodstuffs (ice creams and alcohol) we then went for a drive along the coastline and saw some stunning tree formations and a beautiful lookout. We tried to do some educational stuff too at the ‘WWII bunker’ but it was only open on Tuesdays.

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Whilst we were out an electricity outage had hit the area and whilst walking back from the village to the camp site we were determining the origin of faecal matter along our route. Was it wombat, kangaroo, rabbit?

Promising the kids a shower, in the midst of a blackout is a challenging feat, so we decided they would have a shower when we reached Batemans Bay. Lachlan and the girls kicked the soccer ball around, while Audrey decided to pick the ball up and run on occasions – clearly the girls are too clever for their own good. Inventing a new sport – just need to think of a clever name so it can be marketed appropriately… Fugby.. Roccer..Foccer.. Will have to sleep on that one.

Time for dinner. I headed down to the camp kitchen, anxiously waiting to see how the butter chicken (which was marinating all day) would taste. After pouring the sauce into the pan, whilst receiving positive commentary from a group of grey kayaking nomads that were sharing the same site, I realised that I hadnt read the instructions correctly. I had mixed up the packets of marinade and sauce. Despite this, the meal was a success – easy to cook and fantastic to eat – highly recommended! Lachlan cleaned up and it was time for the girls to hit the hay. With no power, our evening entertainment options were limited so we retired to bed shortly after the girls – it was a cold cold night – I was told that the temperature went down to 6 degrees (and we couldnt use the heating)!

So, time to imagine again. You are in darkness in a camp site filled with grey nomads and other creatures. Prostate issues result in the ‘nomads’ making frequent trips to the bathroom. In a cabin nearby there is an unhappy camper making emphysemic sounds whilst farting with gusto and your child cries out in the middle of the night – “I need  a wee wee”. Oh dont forget, the power is out and it is 6 degrees outside. What do you do? Well my friends, the answer is to be prepared. We purchased an 11.1L ‘maxi pail’ container and lid from bunnings along with our portable toilet seat from home. Hey presto you have a portable toilet allowing us to avoid unnecessary trips into the wilderness! Crisis averted, time to get some sleep.

Mallacoota to Batemans Bay (4 hours)

So we all had a good nights sleep, however our noses were definitely the coldest parts of our body during the night and when we woke up. Lachlan woke at 6, and the girls didn’t wake until 645 – he was literally so bored that he wanted to wake them up and we were so cold and he couldn’t put the heating on in the van until the girls were awake as Ava says its ‘too noisy’. I think its going to take Lachlan a while to get used to the early nights (he is a night owl) – I need to get him addicted to books with a good head torch and then he will enjoy the early nights even more than he is already.

The girls came into bed with us for a bit and literally snugged in like worms into our sleeping bags – it was freezing. Lachlan went and had a shower by which time the van was nice and warm. So we all dressed and headed for breakfast. It was so cold that Audrey was holding my coffee cup to keep her hands warm, and Ava then decided, whilst Lachlan was cleaning up (and I had returned to the van) to go next to the BBQ to keep warm. However what she didn’t realise is that the edge of the BBQ is extremely hot and when she went to rest her chin on the BBQ – it scolded her. I heard the scream from the van and rushed back to see what had happened with Lachlan holding her head over the sink and running cold water over her face, a few seconds later i learnt what had happened and she was being very brave, so we headed back to the van and held up an ice block next to it (10 seconds on and 5 seconds off) – she was definitely going to have a blister. She was so sorry and didn’t understand why we weren’t angry at her – we just said it was an accident and are sure she won’t do it again.

We packed up in record time, with the nomad next door offering us advice on how to couple up on your own by buying a wireless camera which sits on top of your tow bar – then you don’t need the ‘Mrs’ to help. I pulled away and we headed into the village to get some cream from the chemist for Ava’s chin, and Lachlan wanted to buy a lotto ticket – however he wasn’t allowed as he resided in NSW and we were in VIC. If he had won, he would have to had to have claimed the prize in VIC (in hindsight he should have bought it as if we had won, we could have afforded a flight to VIC to claim the prize!). We did a u turn in the marina and then headed off for a long drive back into NSW to Batemans Bay. The scenery was stunning with some beautiful little towns, some of the names were unpronounceable, we even googled Ben Boyd as ‘why did he have a national park named after him?’. We did consider stopping at Bega at the cheese factory but then thought it would be better to get to the Big4 Batemans Bay early so that girls can have a swim and a play (for those that don’t know Big4 – its a chain of caravan / camping sites around Australia which have big pillow trampolines, swimming pools, play grounds and activities for kids). We asked Ava whether she wanted to stop for lunch at Bega or drive through and have lunch in the car to get to the Big4 earlier – her response was the latter 🙂 then she spent the next 2 hours saying how excited she was about the next camp site. The sea and water ways which we crossed over, especially at Narooma were stunning, it was a vivid turquoise and emerald and a colour which I would expect to see in Fiji – not Southern NSW – it blew me away.

Once again we saw far too many ‘upturned’ wombats – significantly more than what I had expected. So sad. There were many bridges today which said “Narrow Bridge” so i just hoped that when I approached the bridge that there was nothing coming the other way, not even a car. On each occasion (of which there were about 6) nothing was coming the other way, so I tore down the dotted line – PHEW!

We arrived in Batemans Bay and the wind was howling (understatement – there were severe weather warnings across NSW, so i think this was a light touch in comparison), Lachlan took over and drove us to the site to park – we had to do a tight (as we had a cement slab one side and an ensuite (yes you hear me right!!!) on the other) reverse park (about 1m width to play with). So we took our time and a few back and forwards and pulling out and starting again (even with a car waiting for us – didn’t stop us going slow) we eventually got the perfect park – well done Lachlan. The girls scooted over for a swim (and of course Lachlan did too!) and they lasted about 10mins, it was about 16 degrees. Then we scooted over to the playground and nearly got blown away. We were going to walk back via the beach (50m away) but the wind was picking up the sand and it was biting our legs. So we headed back to the caravan for the girls to play on the cement slab with some giant chalk we had bought. I prepared dinner and headed over to the kitchen area (spaghetti on the menu tonight) and “pop” out went the power again – this electricity outage issue is starting to be a pain – but luckily both last night and tonight we had dinner which could be cooked on a gas stove top. We felt like the experts in the park, as we knew all the tricks. We had booked an en suite site and weren’t able to have a good shower for the girls after their swim as there was no hot water – so we boiled some water on the stove in the caravan, having watched a YouTube clip on how to turn the fridge onto Gas rather than electricity and assumed that stove top would work too – VOILA. We gave them a flannel wash, i made lunch for the next day whilst Lachlan read them a story – note to self “bring more than 2 books for the girls for a 5 day holiday”. The power remained out until about 8pm – I also forgot to mention that it was pouring with rain too – so Lachlan and I needed to sit inside (which is where we wrote this blog) with the camping light on whilst the girls went to sleep (which Audrey did, and Ava was quiet but still awake at 830).

Homeward bound in the morning, don’t want to leave too early as want to maximise our time here before we get back into the groundhog day routine of everyday working and daycare lives – only 32 days to go until we are doing this full time for 3months!!!

Batemans Bay to Sydney (4 hours)

Lachlan and the girls woke early, around 6.30am and left the caravan for an adventure, whilst I was given the opportunity to have a sleep in! I woke, startled by a noise, which I soon discovered was Lachlan and the girls returning to the caravan at 7.30am. I intended on getting up, but was so enjoying the warmth of the sleeping bag I must have turned over and had a longer sleep!

Lachlan had taken the girls for a walk on the beach, where they had decorated a sand castle, picked up shells and walked to a bakery – on the hunt for something special for breakfast.img_2203

Unfortunately nothing took their fancy so they returned empty handed. Nether the less, we had a lovely breakfast in the caravan.

After using the jumping ‘pillows’, we packed the car and started our journey back home. Lachlan drove this leg and didn’t have much to say about the drive per se, he was a little distracted by a location we had chosen for lunch – Berry – and the opportunity to eat some donuts…

En route to Berry we decided to go via a weighbridge at Nowra to check the Tare weight of the van, only a 10min d-tour and worth it – amazing how much ‘stuff’ weighs. whilst we were at the weighbridge (which was also a cash for scrap tip) i noticed buckets of Nespresso pods – Nowra is the ONLY place in Australia which recycles these ~7.5tonne per week, and thats just with Nespresso and a few florists collecting across the country. A fantastic initiative as i am sure there are multiples of that thrown in the bin across the country.

We arrived in Berry around lunch time and headed straight to the Donut shop, with Lachlan eager for the family to consume a few donuts. After filling the girls up first on some ‘healthier food’, we then started eating the donuts. Ava had hardly eaten one bite when she asked “Daddy, why do you have three and I only have one”? Lachlan replied “Because I am at least three times heavier than you are, therefore require more donuts than you do”.. Ava seemed content with that reply – and while she couldn’t eat any of daddy’s donuts, Audrey couldn’t finish hers – Ava willingly offered her services and consumed said donut in one mouthful.

Once again we continued our journey back to Sydney, hugging the coastline through Kiama and Shellharbour – a beautiful blend of green rolling hills and the ‘white horses’ (aka waves) we saw when we gazed over to the ocean. After heading onto the Hume Highway after leaving Wollongong, we continued our trip along the single carriageway before hitting ‘civilisation’ – the M7 then M2.

Within the blink of an eye we were home, parked outside our place and unpacked the caravan. We were home, yet anxious to speed up time to continue our journey. 31 days to go but who’s counting!

Top 5 takeaways …

  1. Cape Paterson caravan park – site 11. The most memorable location of the trip
  2. No need for electronic devices – kids can ‘make’ their own entertainment in nature
  3. Beanhunter is a great app for locating good places to eat!
  4. Be prepared – two power outages in two consecutive days. Have food that can be cooked on gas
  5. Take your time – you are on holidays, no need to rush

Learning experience for writing a blog. The blog was initially written from my perspective, however after the first day Lachlan and I agreed that it should be written by both of us. For consistency, Lach wrote his accounts of the trip from my perspective to make the story flow. Future accounts of our travels will be co-authored by Lachlan and myself.

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