Coastal cousins meet country cousins.
By Mark Allen
Four kids, two adults, a Troopy with the van in tow travelling 2500km – piece of cake right? Was I nuts for putting four kids together in the back of the truck, setting myself up to endure a repeating chorus of ‘Are we there yet? I’m hungry, how much further? I want to go home’. Was I going to be returning home a broken man, by myself or perhaps even staying out bush after having sent them all home on the bus?
For images, videos and the full RV Daily experience, read this in our online magazine.
We purchased our Jayco Expanda van a little over 12 months ago with the immediate plans of weekend getaways near our coastal NSW home, combined with a long-term plan of a trip around the block prior to our eldest starting high school.
We have loved every minute of our local sojourns, even if the van does ever so slightly restrict where we can set up shop compared to the off-road camper. In saying that, it has returned higher levels of comfort than I’ve ever been accustomed to, not to mention the faster set up and pack down times that even a camper can’t come close to.
Both my wife and I knew we had to stock up on in-car activities to give us a fighting chance of making the lengthy drive run smoothly. To my wife’s credit, and completely unaided by me as I hid in the shed trying to calm my nerves, each kid received a travel box packed with games and activities to keep them occupied. Armed with plenty of snacks and drinks in the rear seat organisers the only thing left was to pull out the ace card, Car Bucks. I am unsure where this idea came from, however, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that these Car Bucks got us all through the 14 days.
The Car Buck system is a set of cards that are handed out every so often, whether by good behaviour or by each passing town. As the kids’ bucks accumulated over the few days, they would then be able to spend them at the local bargain shop of whichever town we were in. The cards would add up to a dollar amount, giving the kids a chance to go and buy themselves anything they liked. The better they had been, the more Car Bucks they earned and they more goodies they could buy, which in turn kept them, and us happy.
Day 1 and 2 – Going to the Zoo
What is typically an easy drive from Port Macquarie, south through Hexham and on to Dubbo, fast becomes a more challenging activity with a car full of kids. Other than toilet and lunch stops, we foolishly drove on ‘til dinner time at the caravan park in Dubbo, promising a visit to the Western Plains Zoo the following day.
The Western Plains Zoo beyond delivered, presenting a brilliant venue worth spending a day exploring with the family. The kids were wide eyed getting up close with such a broad variety of native and not-so-native animals, from giraffes to zebras, hippopotamuses and elephants, a ginormous Galapagos tortoise and a range of monkeys and chimps, of which I’m sure my kids can out-climb.
Booking into the caravan park for two days allowed us to take our time exploring the zoo, just as well, too, as we had to do another long lap to find one of the kids’ hats that got left behind. Remarkably, it had not moved far and was still sitting on the concrete Galapagos tortoise – slow animals they are.
Day 3 – Driving
While I love driving long distances and have done my fair share of it for both work and play, having the constant banter from the kids in the back did get to me a few times on yet another stupidly long day on the road – all 12 hours of it.
We wanted to get to our destination for the next seven days in one hit, often a better idea in theory. Leaving Dubbo we headed north via Walgett and Lightening Ridge, through Dirranbandi, St George and Bollon before heading north towards Mitchell. Cutting even further west we headed into the private property of our relatives well after dark with the spotties cutting through the incredibly clear night sky.
Days 4 to 11
This stopover was the whole reason for our trip; visiting our relatives on a cattle station in south western Queensland. Our four coastal-living kids had no idea what they in for staying with their three country cousins. I was wary for how they would handle having no access to WiFi, phone reception and all of the mod cons that go with it, but I am pleased to report they had the time of their lives.
The kids got to experience the best country life has to offer from riding in the bush limo, doubling on motorbikes to the fine art of chopping down trees. Once that was done there were yabbies to catch in the dam, three-quarter-ton beasts to move into the top paddocks, bunking down in the shearing shed and best of all, flipping a steak sanger on the barbecue under a sky brimming with stars. These experiences will be remembered
and recounted for a life time.
It wasn’t all roses, however, there were the savage burs that stuck into your socks and popped bike tyres and the flies that got up your nose and in your ears, and dust constantly in your eyes. The relentless heat and the feeling of isolation of being so far from the shops and conveniences we always take for granted – those experiences too, will never be forgotten. While they wont be forgotten, they will be cherished; the incredible encounter with the raw Mother Nature and the true remoteness was all worth it.
The week we spent on the 90-odd-thousand-acre property was indeed relaxing, however, not without its hard work. It was extremely fascinating getting a hands-on lesson in the day-to-day work and play activities of the cattle station, something we are hoping to make a more regular visit to. We also look forward to hosting the country kids in our beach-side three-acre property; hopefully they wont feel too boxed in.
Days 12 and 13 – Homeward Bound
Starting the trek home, we departed south western Queensland cutting due east to Toowoomba for a quick stopover with another rello. After saying our goodbyes, we hightailed it through Glen Innes, Armidale and Walcha before tackling the seemingly never-ending bends of the Oxley Highway, getting home just in time for the kids to grab a few hours of shut-eye before school the next day.
All up we hauled the van roughly 2500km and didn’t have a single mechanical problem. We went through bucket loads of diesel and the Troopy needed a good bath after getting home, however, the interior of the van came out unscathed and dust free thanks to a few home-made DIY mods. The kids had a beaut time and haven’t stopped talking about their ‘farm holiday’ – a good indicator of just how much of a great time we all had, along with just how dirty their clothes were when it came time to unpack.
One thing I have to say though, thank goodness for those Car Bucks!