Oscar driving "LoveChild" our Hippie Camper

And so the trip begins! Monday morning we were up bright and early to go to the rental office to pick up our van.

First, a little back story. We had been constantly checking relocation sides and finally found a last minute relocation deal on Apollo’s website for a three day Sydney to Melbourne relocation on the dates we needed for just $25/day. It was also a 6 berth motorhome. (For relocations the best two sites I’ve found are Apollo and standbyrelocs.com). We were a little excited about the idea of driving around a motorhome where we’d have so much room, and even our own shower, toilet and kitchen (with a microwave!), but we were also really nervous at the thought of driving it on our (or I should say Oscar’s since I wasn’t going to be doing any driving) first time driving on the left side of the road.

However, fate stepped in and the night before we were to leave Oscar found an email from the company stating the motorhome had had some kind of a breakdown and they would be providing us with a Hippie campervan instead. I was pretty happy with this, as I had actually originally been wanting to rent a Hippie van for our long trip from Melbourne to Perth, but then they told us they don’t let people take the vans all the way to Perth.

Hanging on Hyams Beach

So at 8am we were there and ready to stuff our lives into the van. Everything went smoothly and we pretty much just managed to fit our stuff in it. If our suitcases were even the slightest bit bigger we would have never been able to put the bed down in the back! And we did have to keep our smaller bags in the front seats when we slept at night, but such is life.

Anyways, by 9:00 we were on the road and trying to find our bearings on the left side. After an hour or so, though, Oscar had found his groove and was pretty comfortable driving. We were beyond thankful that we weren’t in a motorhome, though! After doing the entire drive I can say I really don’t know if we would have managed it in a vehicle that large. We were constantly winding through mountains (with amazing views!) that reminded me very much of driving through Virginia and North Carolina.

Hyams Beach

A few hours later we arrived in Jervis Bay. I had read that the beaches here were world-class and one of them, Hyams Beach, had been voted the #1 beach in the world by various sources. We turned off at the sign for Hyams Beach and drove down. It was definitely picturesque, but when we first stepped onto the beach I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. The sand was far from fine, though it was white, and the beach wasn’t very big. However, after we walked to what looked like the rocky edge of the beach, we were met with a spectacular sight.

After the curve was the REAL Hyams Beach, and it was gorgeous! It stretched on for what seemed like forever, curving around and still going on. And it as blindingly white (especially when the sun came out on us later!) and as soft as you would dream for sand to be. And it squeaked — a signal of very nice, fine, high silica sand.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the beach, playing an invented beach game and walking down to the more deserted part of the beach to enjoy the views.

Tree in the road on the way to Pebbly Beach

Then we made our way back to our van (who we named LoveChild) and started back to the Princes Highway to make our way down to a spot called Pebbly Beach.

Now, we had decided that, considering the amount of driving we’ll be doing over the next 6 weeks, a GPS would be a good investment. We found a great deal at Harvey Norman for a $96 Navigon GPS, and for the entire trip we did nothing but rave about how wonderful it was. It let’s you select from different routes based on time or distance and it’s really fast at realizing when you’ve gone off route. However, it did take us on one route that was an adventure but a bit unnecessary.

To get to Pebbly Beach, the GPS told us to turn on Pebbly Beach Road. Well, that makes sense. However, we immediately realized that the road was not paved and was not very nicely kept. We had to swerve all over to avoid huge potholes and ridges in the road, it was ridiculously bumpy, and we worried that our van would soon be completely covered in dirt. Though it was only something like 12km long, getting down the road took us probably a half hour.

Birdy's not afraid of people!

Halfway down the road we also met another problem: a fallen tree. It wasn’t so huge it was immovable, but it was very long and the lower trunk was pretty much stuck between other trees. However, we got out and pushed it as much to the side as possible. Then I stood and held back the top branches and we just managed to squeeze past it.

At this point we’re thinking we’re going to get to this beach and be the only ones there, because there’s no way anyone else has been down this road. I’m also hoping that there IS another road, because I cannot imagine going back down that road again.

After going all the way down the road, we suddenly find ourself on this lovely, paved road. What? We drive down and find ourselves in a nice parking lot with numerous other cars around. We realize there just has to be another road. Oscar even asks a girl if there’s another road and she says, “No, I think there’s just the one” but we realize she probably means the one SHE came down, i.e. a different, paved one. Well, we did have an adventure.

Immediately we were met with the sight of many beautiful birds, none of which seemed to have any fear of people. I got right up in front of one bird eating on the ground, and he just looked at me with disinterest as I took pictures right down in front of him.

Mama roo and her joey

Then we made our way out to the beach. I particularly wanted to visit this beach because I’d heard it was a place where you could see kangaroos right on the beach. While I can’t say that we saw any roos frolicking in the water or hopping in the sand, we did see plenty in the grass butting right up to the beach. And they, too, were unafraid of people.

Oscar and I seemed to be the first people to spot the kangaroos (it was nearing dusk so I assume they had just come out to eat) and we kept a fair distance at first. We slowly made our way closer to them, and then just sat on a hill in front of them watching them graze. It was a very different experience than seeing them in animal parks. Seeing them sitting and eating so naturally was really interesting to see and a little bit funny too. We then noticed one of the roos had a joey in her pouch. Its foot was sticking out but occasionally it stuck its head out and ate some grass — so adorable!

After a while other people came over to see the kangaroos and we decided to go walk along the beach. While it wasn’t the same beauty of Hyams Beach, it was still really gorgeous. On our way back off the beach, we saw a number of people crowded around where the roos were. Going over, we saw that people were actually taking pictures with the kangaroos and petting them.

Me & the kangaroo

We stood by and watched, and then one kangaroo hopped right at us (well by us but very close!). We watched him hop away and then when we were leaving we saw him grazing by himself. We decided to try to take a picture by him, and he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he even let us pet him. We got some excellent photos with him, right with the beach and cliffs in the background. They look almost like we got them professionally taken somewhere, but nope, it was just us and a wild kangaroo!

By then it was nearing sunset, so we hopped in the van and drove up the paved road to the highway and then on to Batemans Bay where we found a caravan park for the night. We had been lucky with warm weather all day, and at first at night when we were settling in it was very warm in the van but once we fell asleep (we called it a very early night) it started to get cold. We were exhausted from the long day, though, and slept through it well.

Hanging at Narooma

By morning it was warm again and we were back on the road. We didn’t have any stops planned, just the plan to get as close to Melbourne as possible, as we had to have the van returned by 3pm the next day. However, we couldn’t resist stopping in a few of the beautiful towns we passed.

Narooma was irresistable. Small mangroves of trees emerged from sparkling waters so we couldn’t help but take a walk along the shore and admire our beautiful surroundings. Then we continued on, making quick stops in other beautiful coastal towns like Merimba, as well as along the rolling green pastures of the Bega Valley and some places I can’t even remember the names of.

Everywhere we drove was gorgeous in its own way. It was amazing how the landscape changed as we veered in from the coast and then back again. We passed through tiny old towns reminiscent of the old west, some that consisted only of a General Store and a farm or two. They looked straight out of an old western.

Gazing at Narooma

(I suppose I should mention that a “highway” here, like the Princes Highway, is not at all like those in the US. The highway passed right through towns, acting as their main street in some cases, and slowing down to next to nothing in school zones. There are stop lights and roundabouts and the speed is constantly changing. It’s a very different kind of highway!)

One moment we felt like were in Ireland or New Zealand, driving through green hills spotted with sheep and cows. Another moment we were driving past swamps, then gazing down at endless sparkling ocean coastlines. It was an incredible drive.

In fact, the only let down was when we stopped in Eden. I expected a gorgeous paradise, but by then it was so cold and windy that we didn’t even want to make the effort to walk through the (very ordinary-looking) town to see what their shoreline could offer. So we grabbed a drink in the supermarket and kept driving. They didn’t even seem to have any “Welcome to Eden” sign (most have signs like this with their populations listed on it) so no photos at all from Eden. Disappointing.

Beautiful roadside landscapes

After a little while of more driving we entered Victoria, and the roads became surrounded by forest on both sides. Generally it was straighter and flatter than driving in NSW. Admittedly, it was a little bit more boring. We pushed on, but didn’t make as good time as we would’ve liked. Towns were few and far between, so we decide to stop for the night in Lakes Entrance. We drove around the town looking for a caravan park, but we also didn’t want to waste petrol and kilometers (we knew we were already going to be well over our short relocation limit, which put us at 28 cents for every kilometer we went over), so we pulled up at a random park. It looked pretty sketchy, but at just $25/night for a powered site we were glad to take it.

We ended up finding a nice little spot behind a gorgeous tree, right on the lake. We hooked the power up and settled in for a very cozy night watching a movie cuddled up in the back of the van while the wind howled and rain fell down outside.

Our Lakes Entrance campsite

The next morning we were up early again to make the rest of our drive to Melbourne. We wanted to drop our suitcases at the house of a friend of a friend first, so we wanted to make sure we arrived as early as possible. The four hour drive was mostly long, straight and rather boring, but I was impressed to see tons and tons of cockatoos along the drive. Much of the drive is along long, grassy fields, and they were often full of cockatoos just sitting in the grass. Occasionally flocks of them flew above, and one time I even saw a couple of them just sitting on the side of the highway, hanging out. It’s still funny to see what we consider exotic birds just sitting on the side of the highway in huge numbers.

In the end we arrived in plenty of time and made our way across Melbourne and out to Tullamarine to drop off the airport all without any problems. Of course we were worried that returning the van they’d find something wrong — whether it was some dirt remaining from our accidental off-road excursion or something else, we were a bit nervous. However, the guy at Apollo was super friendly and after a quick check up found nothing wrong.

One last photo of Hyams Beach -- because it's so darn pretty 🙂

Even with all the extra miles we drove (and there were a lot due to our numerous side trips, wrong turns and loop-de-loops, not to mention driving around looking for caravan parks), the total still came to only $130 for the whole rental (including $10 for sleeping bags). That’s pretty much $100 cheaper than we would have paid for a car and if we’d rented a car we would have spent at least double on accommodation. So we were pretty happy about that!

Now we’re in Melbourne and it’s nice but very cold! After the sunshine and heat in NSW, it was hard to go back to wearing long pants, sweatshirts, coats, scarves (yes all those layers!), and socks and shoes but unfortunately it’s necessary. Tomorrow we’re hoping to get sunshine and up to 69 degrees, but I will be glad for our trip to Alice Springs and the dry heat of the Outback in a few days! I’ll update on Melbourne later.

Accomodation:
Batemans Bay – Pleasurelea Caravan Park (a Top Tourist Park) – $27 for powered site (with a 10% Hippie discount) – The owner/receptionist was very nice. The location is a bit out of the way (and our GPS took us to the wrong place so we had trouble finding it), but it had a friendly atmosphere to it. The facilities were so-so. Is pretty secure with a code entrance and keyed entrance for toilets and showers.

Lakes Entrance – Caravan Park (no name that I’m aware of, it’s on the back part of town a bit, two roads behind the Safeway) –  $25 for a powered site ($20 for unpowered) – You could pretty much come here and not even pay, if you didn’t want to use the showers, as it has no real security compared to the other one we stayed in. The facilities were fine enough, though, and the location was good. You’re right on the lake and you could easily walk to the city.

This is part 1 of a 12 part series. Read the rest of the Epic Aussie Road Trip series or watch the video to drive across Australia in 2 minutes.