Our first camper-vanning holiday

Now I know that for a lot of you, when you hear my name the first thing you probably think is ‘rugged outdoorsman’ or ‘free spirit on a permanent road-trip of self discovery’ or ‘knows his way around an engine’, in other words a person perfectly suited to driving a camper-van for two weeks through Queensland. Then I’d say ‘I think you misheard me, I said “Chris Riordan”.’ And then you’d say, ‘Oh, I thought you said “Chris the Bearded One”. You said “Chris Riordan”?…Dear God, don’t let him anywhere near a camper-vanning holiday!!’
Well it’s too late, I’ve just returned from my first ever family camper-vanning trip, and now I’m going to tell you about it.

Our home on wheels


Our trip

So our family (2 x adults and 3 x kids) flew from Melbourne to Brisbane, then collected our campervan and drove for two weeks up to Cairns. We spent our first night in the driveway of a relative in Buderim, then travelled to Noosa for two nights, then on to Hervey Bay for two nights, 1770 for two nights, Airley Beach for 3 nights, Mackay for two nights (we parked the van outside and stayed with some friends in their house), then finally to Paronella Park for one night, before returning the van in Cairns the next day.
In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that we hired the campervan through Britz, and that they reduced the price of the van hire by 35% in exchange for a video and some photos from our trip. But this blog was not part of that deal, so these are my own thoughts…untainted by financial gain, fear or favour.

Driving the campervan

The campervan is basically a VW truck that instead of having a large rectangle on the back to put things in…has a small house to put people in. So you are never going to beat anyone from a standing start at the lights, and if you’re going through a roundabout, allow for a lot of body-roll because the centre of gravity is remarkably high. But once you get out on the highway (which is where we did 90% of our driving) you’re laughing (metaphorically of course…if you laugh for 90% of your trip you will be exhausted…and possibly detained by local police.)
If you’ve ever moved house and driven the removal van, then it’s pretty much the same. And if you’ve ever ridden a bike on the road, then you will know the feeling that every single other person who is not doing the same thing as you…wishes you were dead or off the road…or ideally, both. So when you come to a passing lane and you want to get around the campervan/caravan in front of you who has been travelling at 90kms p/h for the last half hour, resist the temptation to pull out and go around them…because I can guarantee that there will be 5 cars who will want to do it first, and who have a much better chance of getting up to speed and around before the passing lane cuts out.
At the end of the day you are driving a big cumbersome vehicle, but at the literal end of the day, you get to park the big cumbersome vehicle and cook, sleep and bathe in it. So it’s a pretty sweet deal.

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There was a stove with four gas burners and a grill…so we were set for everything from coffee and hot chocolate in the morning, to pasta and pizza at night. While I may have been a tad paranoid about serving up pasta so many times, the kids didn’t seem to care. We also cooked on the BBQ’s at the various caravan parks where we stayed about every 3rd night.

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Yes there is a toilet on the van. But it’s best to see this as a last resort. If you’re a woman who can remember attending blue-light discos at the Macleod YMCA, you may remember seeing a skinny guy with greasy hair and Stussy pants who seemed to spending way too much time insisting the DJ play more Guns n Roses b-sides. You may remember looking at him at the start of the night and thinking ‘OK…I will try to kiss someone who I’m actually attracted to…but if by the end of the night nothing has happened…I’ll kiss that guy.’ Well that’s pretty much how you can view this toilet, it’s there and available…but there are plenty of better options available.

Setting up and packing up

You know those kids toys where you have to push the correct shape through the correct shape-sized hole? Well I think our first attempt at setting up the van must have looked a bit like two adults using one of those toys (‘Well I think that looks like it goes there. Hmmm, nope. Maybe if I just push it really hard?’) But once we had it sorted we were able to set up the van in about 15 minutes when we arrived at a caravan park. And our packing up took about 25 minutes.


Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha haha ha! Tee hee hee hee hee! Bwah ha ha ha. Snort. Chuckle. Ho ho ho ha ha ha hee hee hee! Guffaw, guffaw, guffaw! LOL!
Oh wait, did  you mean finding a newfound level of intimacy with your family as a result of spending so much time in close quarters…or finding intimacy with your partner? The latter. Thought so.
Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha haha ha! Tee hee hee hee hee! Bwah ha ha ha. Snort. Chuckle. Ho ho ho ha ha ha hee hee hee! Guffaw, guffaw, guffaw! LOL!
Ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha haha ha! Tee hee hee hee hee! Bwah ha ha ha. Snort. Chuckle. Ho ho ho ha ha ha hee hee hee! Guffaw, guffaw, guffaw! LOL!



Clearly your accomodation is your camper-van…but you have to park it somewhere, and that is invariably a caravan park. Some caravan parks will have an amazing location (beach access for example), or great staff, or great toilets/showers or a combination of these. Thanks to the work of Katie, we were a bit sad to leave every place we stayed.
We also got to meet some very interesting people. When we arrived at 1770 we had to do some driving that Ken Block would have been proud of to park the van in the designated spot. When we got out, a girl who was staying in a nearby van with her grandparents came over and offered to help us unpack our van. We said we were fine, so then she took the kids off on an adventure through the nearby bush. ‘Isn’t this nice’ we thought. Then a few hours later she knocked on the door of our van to show us the Python that she had just found in the toilet block. She was calmly holding it and offering us a go. ‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ we asked, to which she replied ‘It hasn’t bitten me yet.’ That ‘yet’ made me think that being bitten by snakes was a part of life to which she had simply adapted.

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Pros & Cons

We really started to gel as a family after the first couple of days. There is a sense that you’re in on a big adventure together, and that really brought us closer together.
We did a LOT of walking, which was great for getting the kids sufficiently tired to go sleep each night.
We got to see some amazing places that we wouldn’t have seen if we had flown, and we couldn’t have afforded to spend two weeks staying in hotels.

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There are plenty of times you will have things you want to do, that are 4-5kms away…and the thought of convincing a 4yo that a walk is a great idea seems like too much hard work. But the idea of packing up the entire van just to drive into town seems insane. It’s times like this that you wish you had a car.

Our trip from Airlie Beach to Paronella Park ended up taking 8 hours. The night tour was at 6.15pm (and we were only there for one night), and we arrived at 5.30pm. So we desperately unpacked the van and started to cook dinner, with the goal of eating by 6pm and then making the tour in time. Then the van’s power fused…and it took 15 minutes to work our how to reset everything. So we had to do the tour on an empty stomach and then eat dinner at about 8.30pm.

Reverse parking an enormous van in a confined space while caravan park yokels watch on after you’ve been driving for 6 hours, is every bit as much fun as it sounds.

But would I do it again? Yep…in a heartbeat.

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You can see some more photos here: