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Lessons learnt on the exploration trail

Free camp on the cliffs at Leichhardt Falls.


Lessons learnt on the exploration trail

After months of lockdown, Queenslanders finally got the nod to travel unlimited kilometres within their own state. BEVERLEY EVERSON was quick to hitch up and head off on a great escape. She offers some tips for the long haul.

It was July and with caravan in tow, we excitedly left home and headed north west – along with a lot of other Queenslanders.

But we seldom needed to book ahead, as we weren’t competing with the southerners who usually arrive in droves to escape their cold winter for warm, cloud-free days.

All up, we would be away for 73 days and click over 10,800km zigzagging around Queensland and parts of Northern Territory.

We left with only a vague plan, which included completing the eastern section of Savannah Way as far as Mataranka in the Territory. We had previously travelled the western section from Broome.

On any trip it is necessary for, as the alliterative saying goes, “prior preparation and planning to prevent piss poor performance”.

This includes checking car and caravan are mechanically sound including tyres and spares, necessary servicing and a basic stock of fuses, bulbs etc.  It is also wise to have a tool kit sufficient to fix unexpected problems.  Oddly enough, we have encountered people over the years who did not carry even a basic tool kit.

You also need to ensure that registration and insurance are up to date, especially since you may be out of range of phone/internet coverage around the due dates.

We spoke to a policewoman in Mt Surprise, 400km west of Mission Beach, during a spot Covid-19 check, who said it was common to find people who were unaware their registration had expired.

We also stock up on provisions to ensure that we have more than enough for at least two weeks.  It is important to support small towns, but their stocks can be limited, or you might travel through on a Sunday and they are not open.

Drive to conditions and pay attention to road signs when they turn up.

After many years of drought and with Covid-19 restricting travellers since March, the small towns are undoubtedly doing it tough.  Also, you may find that some outback towns have no pharmacies or are unable to fill many prescriptions, so it is wise to double up before you leave home or check ahead for availability.

It is also wise to keep fuel topped up as you can experience long distances between stops – and unexpected out-of-service pumps or no fuel at all.   For example, we travelled 600km from Cape Crawford to Mataranka through Limmen National Park.   The only fuel stop is a 29km deviation off the road to Lorella Springs Wilderness Park. The Roper River Store no longer has fuel.

Fuel apps are handy, especially if you can access them offline.

Similarly, it is wise to top up water at every opportunity.  There may be a shortage of treated water. Some bore water is unpalatable and full of calcium which can corrode van connections.  Townspeople are happy to see travellers and to share water point access locations.

It can get very cold at night out west during the winter months, so it is a good idea to have a winter bag as back up.

Just outside Taroom on the second week of our trip, we experienced minus temperatures two nights in a row.  There was ice on the windscreen and panelling and even the tea towel that had been left out to dry overnight, was at right angles the next morning.

Along with a sun hat, also consider umbrella and wet weather gear. Gum boots are a handy addition.

If you are fully self-sufficient including solar power, and do not necessarily need electricity, it is worth considering unpowered sites when staying in van parks.

We discovered many unpowered sites were pleasant and spacious.  On arrival, before setting up, have a walk around and if you spot a better site, you may be able to change your booking.

It is advantageous to visit the tourist information centres along the way, as generally staff are local and have much practical knowledge to share.

The best time to travel Queensland is in the dry winter months between June and October, so this is also the busiest tourist time.  It is a good idea to investigate if it is necessary to book ahead for some experiences and accommodation, so you don’t miss out.

It’s the devil you do, the devil you don’t; we prefer not to book too far ahead (or at all) for the flexibility of being able to stay longer somewhere or make an unplanned stop if we find something we like.

There may be an experience that runs only one day a week, so it is important to check.  There are lots of events, festivals and seasonal experiences throughout Queensland, so check the calendar to capture the best of opportunities at the time of your travel or simply to avoid the crowds and lack of accommodation associated with these events.

With knowledge, you can time your trip to fit in these special once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

We began camping in tents some 48 years ago, and since then have progressed through camper trailers, roof top tent and caravans.

Currently, we find our purpose built, hybrid pop-top off-road Murraybilt 13ft (built on the Sunshine Coast) best suits our exploring needs.

Whether you are planning basic tent or roof top camping, motorhome or upmarket luxury, consider what you enjoy most – the type of holiday and how you want to do it (bitumen, dirt or totally off road).

Is it off road free camping or caravan parks?  It can all be fun but prior thought and planning is essential to ensure you have a hassle- free holiday and amazing adventures.

Happy and safe travelling.

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