This time of year, or slightly later for grey nomads clever enough to avoid the school holidays, many of us pull up sticks and head off on a road trip holiday. When we return, we are keen to share our adventures and tell anyone who will listen about the great time we’ve had.
But being Australian, any retelling of a road trip holiday wouldn’t be complete without a recount of any problems we endured along the way.
To help you recall your holiday hiccup stories, I’ll share some of mine.
As a toddler, Dad bundled me, Mum, and my baby sister into our trusty VW Beetle. The plan, as Dad told me later, was to drive from Melbourne through Geelong and onto the Great Ocean Road. Dad had planned our accommodation for along the way by building a rooftop camper. Not the streamlined aluminum variety of today, but a timber construction held to the roof rails with a series of clamps. However, the clamps weren’t road tested and around a particularly sharp bend somewhere south of Lorne, the VW and the roof rack camper went their separate ways, the latter ending up in pieces in a paddock.
A few years later we road-tripped (without the rooftop camper) to Phillip Island with our relatives. After a day of sightseeing; the seals on Seal Rock, giant ice-creams at Cowes, and later the penguin parade, we decided to camp in the koala reserve. This probably isn’t allowed now. It was great spotting the koalas before dusk, having a campfire, and eventually heading off to our tents. Unfortunately, the koalas didn’t tip us off about the swarms of mozzies in the bush. After a couple of hours of swatting and cursing, we all retreated back to our home at Frankston with the numerous relatives camping on the lounge room floor.
In my late teens we went camping at Somerset Dam, and being clever and thrifty, I improvised a tent to attach to the back of my Escort panel van. The tent was a large sheet of bright orange builders’ plastic. Very durable and definitely waterproof. This innovation also collected the night’s rainfall, which at the inappropriate time of 4:30am was dumped into the back of the panel van, saturating us and all our bedding.
I lashed out and bought a tent for another trip several years later. After a fun day paddle boarding and swimming at Ballina, we retired to our campsite. At midnight after a clap of thunder, the sky emptied itself with six inches of the nearby river flowing through the tent. We relocated to the roadhouse over the road and used the hand dryer in the toilets to dry both ourselves and a new set of clothes.
Caravan adventures can rank high in drama. In the 90s we renovated a Prophet 1950 model folding wooden caravan. For a short trip to iron out any bugs, we tottled down the highway to a Gold Coast caravan park. My van reversing skills were still in the L plate phase, and a few minutes after arriving at our campsite I’d managed to reverse over a water tap; one of many that were dotted around the park in what seemed at the time to be an obstacle course for testing new van owners. Our van site instantly resembled a natural geyser minus the national park. Rushing to the caretaker’s shed I was surprised at how nonplussed he was until he showed me his ample stock of ready-made tap replacements. Apparently, the geyser show occurred at least a couple of times a week and he was well prepared.
With our van trial complete and with a bit of reversing practice under my belt, we proudly set off south from Brisbane. Armidale was our first overnight stop. It was also the same night temperatures dropped to -5 degrees. Overnight, ice from our breath formed on the inside of the van, and as the temperature rose above zero in the morning, the ice melted leaving us in drenched sleeping bags.
Our little van suffered another indignity on the return trip. Just outside Byron Bay, I had the feeling that the van was catching up to us. Looking in the mirrors, the van seemed to be twisting crab-like to one side with white smoke coming from a tyre. It appears that the old suspension didn’t like the numerous speed bumps at the Port Macquarie caravan park we’d stayed at the previous night and had sustained a cracked leaf spring. This caused the body of the little van to sag with one protruding nail (remember it was a wooden van) making its own smoky groove in the tyre. Before limping home to Brisbane, we retreated for the night to a caravan park in northern New South Wales and due to an unseasonal downpour, we were entertained by a troupe of talented rats dancing in the torrential puddles outside. Very memorable.
Another drama concerned fellow travellers. On a road trip to Sydney, we were following behind an interstate bus on the Pacific Highway. We were just north of Coffs Harbour and it was the early 1980s when the road still had miles of winding stretches through the banana plantations. Each time the bus tackled a curve, a piece of luggage bounced out of the bus undercarriage. This continued for several miles as we weaved from side to side behind the bus dodging suitcases and duffel bags that were revelling in their new found freedom. Finally, we arrived at a straight section of the road where we were able to pass the bus. We tried to alert the bus driver to the fact his luggage bay wasn’t secure by honking the horn and waving at him. He mustn’t have understood because he responded with a one-fingered hand signal and a mouthful of abuse. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes when the bus pulled into Coffs Harbour and his passengers discovered their loss.
On the return trip from Sydney, we’d planned to stay a night at a motel in Armidale. It was off-season and internet booking was many years into the future so we didn’t think it would be a problem. To our dismay every motel, hotel, and on-site van in Armidale was full. The sky was alight with NO VACANCY signs. We drove on to Glen Innes but the same signs were everywhere. After driving into one motel that was actually full, but so unaccustomed to this phenomenon that their No Vacancy sign didn’t work, the owner told us that an 18-year-old Prince Edward was visiting the University of New England in Armidale to open a new dorm room, or garden shed, or something and everyone who was anyone was in town (and the neighbouring towns as well it seems) was staying there to witness the event. We ended up grabbing coffees and snacks from a roadhouse and did the long drive on to our own comfy beds in Brisbane.
Of course, for every one of these setbacks, there were many more fun times that were had during our adventures. What road trip hiccups have you had along the way?