The day we picked up the van was also the day we drove for thirteen long hours in the dark. I can assure you that we avoided stints like that for the rest of the trip. Kind of.
Sure, we got from A to B, saved a night’s campsite charges and didn’t crash… but I also gained permanent imprints of my travel sickness bands on the insides of my wrists, Guy suffered severe tiredness and body clock issues and everyone pretty much froze to death in a van that had no working heater.
The drive was excruciating. For starters, it should have only taken nine hours, but after getting lost multiple times trying to get out of Melbourne, and crossing the toll stations a total of about three times, our ETA just got later and later.
Not to mention that the toll network in Victoria totally fucked us over by being ‘out of service’ and has now cost us hefty toll fines with Travellers Autobarn. Long story short, our first drive wasn’t our most successful.
However, we sussed that McDonalds was our best option for getting wifi to reroute our maps whenever we got lost, that petrol stations came up more or less every half hour on motorways (unless you’re running on empty… then they’re hours away or in dodgy ass red neck towns like Goulburn, NSW), each quarter of a tank got us about an hour of driving at 100km/h and each tank cost about AUS$80 to fill.
We spotted many a dead kangaroo, a dead wallaby and a dead wombat on our way up to Sydney. It is heart breaking to admit that our first experience of the wildlife here is as roadkill, both very fresh and very rotten. And very strewn across multiple motorway lanes.
Guy didn’t want to share the driving duties so everyone else chipped in on directions. One anguishing stretch of road was over one hundred miles long and in a dead straight line and thus very boring for everybody involved.
It turns out our radio didn’t work either. Along with the heater. And the battery powered key lock. So we listened to the latest NOW! Album on repeat as loud as it would play out of my iPhone.
When we finally turned up at the only campsite we knew of anywhere near Sydney it was 5AM. Needless to say, the office wasn’t open and wouldn’t be until 8AM. So we parked up out the front and roughed it for the first time ever.
I think it was the most uncomfortable sleep I’ve ever had in my life. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to survive this campervanning malarkey for the duration of our holiday.
The next day we checked in on a powered site and got away with paying for just two guests. There seems to be a thing here where you pay a standard rate for two people on a site and then an extra however many dollars for extra people. Which we think is ludicrous…
We figured the extra cost was for the use of extra water and electricity on site… but Guy and Jack have taken to showering only once every two weeks so we no longer feel bad about paying the standard two person rate and smuggling the other two in.
The next day, I drove the van into the city with the intention of dropping it in to TA to get the radio and heater fixed. But parking in Sydney was scarce. At least we thought it was. 1P and 2P signs littered the streets and we assumed they were permit holder only spots. You know, P being for ‘permit’ and all.
It only took us two weeks to figure out that these signs meant you could park for free for as many hours was displayed. 1P = one hour free parking. P means ‘hours.’ Duh.
When we couldn’t find anywhere to park, we tried to locate a supermarket to fill the van with noodles and packet risottos… but this too was an epic fail. Sydney had mini shops, but we wanted something big (and cheap) like Aldi.
Feeling completely defeated we drove home after what felt like hours of cutting people up, in a van that was three times the size of anything I had ever been used to driving. We managed to find an Aldi with directions from the campsite so that we could finally get some bits and bobs for dinner… and we retreated to bed earlier than any 20 or 24 year old should.
The next day, we decided driving in cities wasn’t our forte and we caught a train/bus into Sydney.
We took a walk along the river up to Darling Harbour where we caught the vivid light show and a little market. The day was a little tainted by the amount of time it took us to get into town thanks to closed rail lines and replacement buses but Sydney Harbour Bridge and the light show were definitely worth the visit.
On our last day in Sydney we all caved. We needed some serious beach time. We were pretty terrified about taking the van anywhere near Bondi Beach as we’d heard about the lack of parking there… and clearly we were getting stressed in those types of situations.
But actually, when we arrived, we found an extortionately priced car park right on the beach. The best part about it? It wasn’t really that extortionate split between four people, not compared to us each buying bus tickets anyway.
When the sun set, we cooked fajitas in the camper and listened to the waves crashing right in front of us. It was a beautiful way to spend our last day in and around Sydney.
Swiftly, we pushed on… the threat of not making it to Cairns in our designated five weeks was real. We hot footed it to Byron Bay for surfing lessons, and again, we arrived in the middle of the night.