Well that is what we though when we decided to hire a camper-van and try a bit of terrestrial cruising to make up for the missing 2020 cruising Mediterranean season. How different could it be? Ok we are not in the Med but there is a lot to see and do out in western NSW right? Yes borders were still closed so we needed to limit our range at this stage. Our van is a Mercedes Sprinter, fitted out with queen sized bed, galley, shower and toilet so it will be just like a yacht! So how does cruising the backroads compare to cruising the coast? Well there are a lot of similarities of course, but some notable differences.
1. Our vessel - The Mercedes Sprinter
So of course we have all the essential facilities we need on board, but with a twist. For obvious reasons camper vans only come in the mono-hull variety. Like monohull it is important to ensure items are secure when underway. That cutlery draw will soon give you an indication if you are heeling too much around corners! The lounge area converts to your bed but given the energy expended to perform this feat of engineering it did not get converted back to a lounge for the duration of the trip. Instead the drivers' and passengers' seats spin around to provide a compact dining area and we have outdoor table and chairs too.
2. Passage planning
Of course you must plan your route wherever you go. Whilst you are not constrained by the wind direction, the availability of thin strips of bitumen do tend to dictate your direction to the next town or anchorage. In our case a 2WD hire camper must stick to sealed roads, so unfortunately that means missing quite a few national park areas out west where some of the dirt roads are so badly corrugated it reminded us of crossing the gulf of Cadiz. As we also discovered, the weather does still dictate your plans as well. We had some heavy rains during the last week of our trip and that meant a change of plans due to road closures. Fortunately there is an app (WikiCamps) which is like Navily or noforeignland.com which shows all the campsite, van parks, dump stations etc on a map, including reviews and ratings as well as fees and charges. This was a great help to find alternative destinations and much needed powered sites!
3. The cruising community
Just like when you are out on the water, other caravaners, like other boaties, wave to you! Of course you have the opportunity to share knowledge, tips and road stories both online and in person, at caravan park happy hours and laundromats. There are also useful FB pages where fellow caravaners post tips on great campsites and places of interest, as well as comments on the behaviour of fellow campers and their nasty habits, such as emptying grey water and parking too close. Just like cruising FB pages, posts about toilets get the most comments.
4. Onboard systems
The "autopilot" is limited to speed control only. No stepping away from the helm to make a cup of tea or get a beer from the fridge, whilst keeping one eye on watch. We have a house battery but have to spend every second night "hooked up" (to shore power...) as no solar panels. The engine doesn't give much of a charge to the house batteries and doesn't heat the shower water. This limits flexibility and we found ourselves spending more nights "hooked up" than we expected, just in case we needed to free camp the next day. "Releasing the hounds" (ie emptying the holding tanks) is quite easy. You have a little box or cassette that is accessed from outside of the van and you open the spout to empty the contents (like a teapot) at a "dump station" every 2nd day. Works a treat. No water maker of course so tanks must be filled with town water. No big deal as it is usually available at the same dump station... The downside is that there are many country towns out west reliant on bore water and it is a bit of a worry when the locals wont even drink it! Oh well, there is always wine...
5. Overall experience
Overall we enjoyed the experience, but would have to say that it compares more closely to a bareboat charter than living and cruising on your own boat. There is a lot of distance between towns out west of NSW and we certainly did a lot of driving. That said, we saw some amazing sights and some of the country towns are like stepping back in time. Our vessel was pretty squeezie, even with just 2 people, but something bigger would possibly have been more limiting. Three weeks was probably a tad too long for our first trip, we came back a couple of days earlier than anticipated as there was some horrible weather on the horizon. If we were to do this on a more permanent basis we would probably want the flexibility of a 4WD vehicle to take us into those wilder "anchorages" and solar power would be a must to keep us functioning off the grid. Going inland was a novel experience for us, it was really interesting how much we missed seeing the ocean! Whilst we gravitated to riverside campsites, a muddy brown strip of water could not quite replace the Med!
Below are some highlights of our whirlwind tour of "outback" NSW.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.