So they say when life gives you lemons…
Adages can be good to live by but I admit that weighing up a few chunks of citrus against a sudden global pandemic is barely a fair juxtaposition. Either way, it’s the meaning behind the words that counts. That is, how do we turn a bad situation into a good one— but, is it even fair to call our position “bad”? That might just be the essence of the old saying right there, that there are no bad situations, just glass half empty kind of perspectives.
It helps to think this way because there is always someone worse off. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy either. To put it simply, it hasn’t been the best year to be a travel blogger. But the way I see it, it’s not our title that defines us, but our way of life and ours had certainly been slammed to a halt. That’s been the hardest part.
Nevertheless, our inner stoic told us to ignore what could be and to carve another path towards continuing our nomadic lifestyle. So, when life gave us a pandemic, we built a van.
Intro to the Van Journal
If you’ve ever stumbled on this blog before then you’ll know that our core focus is the adventure and the destination, not the author. However, I’ve been missing journaling as it keeps me accountable for making time to reflect. I also think these kinds of articles would be useful for others planning similar trips.
So, in this series of blog posts, I’ll be writing a weekly summary of our adventures in Australia in our self-converted Ford Transit campervan. It’ll follow a similar tone to our Sailing Log and I hope that it inspires other aspiring van travellers to hit the road and see this incredible country!
Our Van: Meet Clifden
Meet Clifden, our 2013 Ford Transit high roof, long-wheelbase, self converted campervan. She’s a big girl but we love her. After having our flights grounded and hightailing it back to Australia, we decided to buy her as a mostly empty panel van and convert her into a fully self-contained campervan. This way, we had a ticket to continue living life on the move.
We named our van Clifden after a particularly persistent mouse we had the pleasure of sharing a home with during our first taste of van-life in New Zealand. We named this mouse Clifden too, after he snuck into our rental van in Clifden on the South Island.
We built our van with the intention of living in it full-time while on the road. As a result, we wanted a space that we could cook, sleep, eat and work in. We wanted to use it as a means to adventure and not have to constantly move and change things on the road.
We managed to fit in a fixed double platform bed, full corner kitchen with large sink, running water and induction cooktop, standing fridge/freezer, double bench seats, a full-width dining/work table, pull-out toilet, outdoor hot-water shower and plenty of space left for storage.
Below I’ll include some photos of the final build as of March 2021, when we’re now finally ready to hit the road.
Interested in our build? Read about our complete step-by-step process here.
Our First Week of Living In a Van in Australia
I’d guess that moving into a van might sound like a sacrifice to most people. However, we’re no strangers to living in tight spaces. We’ve spent the better half of the past four years living out of a backpack, spending no more than $50 between us a day. And, in the middle of that, we’d spent four months out of that sailing the Australian east coast aboard a self-built 50-foot sailing vessel.
So, our first test-run in Clifden was more of a luxury than anything. For the first time, we had our own space and we were still able to travel!
Our ultimate plan was to make it to Tasmania, a place both Haylea and I had read so much about but had never had the opportunity to go. It’s the one place in Australia that really stood out to us in regards to adventure opportunity.
But first, we had a few last errands to run. Our van is Queensland-registered and therefore we needed to see a Queensland engineer to get our work validated. That is, to file the appropriate paperwork to have Clifden registered as a motorhome. Also, we had our suspension upgraded to handle the extra weight we’d added during the build. So, this same engineer was also able to upgrade our GVM, or allowable gross weight of the van, to 3900 kilograms from 3550 kilograms.
As Australian summer was drawing to a close, we found it perfect to soak in those last warm rays in the Sunshine State. We drove from Empire Bay on the Central Coast to the Gold Coast during the course of a day so that we could spend more time at the beach.
This first week of Aussie van life unwounded at a much slower pace than we are usually accustomed to travelling. There weren’t any big missions planned. Instead, we really just wanted to test out the van and iron out any potential wrinkles before we hit the road to Tasmania.
I was really excited about the fact that this trip gave me a reason to get the camera out again. This was a refreshing feeling after spending a couple of months so focused on planning and building.
A great test for the van was a trip up to Mount Tamborine. While there weren’t any wild dirt roads, the winding climb and consequential descent inspired our confidence in Clifden after handling the hills like a champ. While up at the mountain, we also made a stop to Curtis Falls before “stealth” camping on a side street.
In fact, we had to resort to stealth camping a few times on this first week since the Gold Coast doesn’t offer much opportunity for freedom camping. While it’s pretty obvious to the trained eye that our van is a camper, we still think it goes alright on the stealth front. Well, we didn’t have much trouble on the Gold Coast, which is apparently infamous for 3 AM door knocks by council rangers.
The engineering inspection was also a success. The entire process was more thorough than I initially expected. However, the engineer was impressed with our workmanship and was happy to put through the paperwork. There was one hiccup though. As part of the GVM upgrade, an emergency brake test was required. In hindsight, we would have done well to better secure our latches for the toilet slider. A slammed stop at 60KM an hour, unfortunately, broke the latch and sent the toilet flying. But still, these were the kind of small necessary fixes we were looking for and we were certainly glad that the toilet itself held up!
When all errands were run and paperwork filed, we hit the road once again. This time, we were heading south back to the Central Coast to organise our final tasks before continuing onwards to Tasmania. We took our time heading back south, stopping in at Yamba and Crescent Head for a night each before concluding our brief trial run in Clifden.
Heading South for Tasmania
There’s so much to see on the Australian East Coast. This fact resonated even more with us after having to skip so much, but the clock was ticking.
We’d booked a ferry ticket on board the Spirit of Tasmania for the 20th of March. This gave us only a few days to get to Melbourne after a few spent back on the Central Coast. To think a week ago we were in Queensland, and now we’re here, just leaving Melbourne port on the Spirit. That’s nearly 1800 kilometres of road behind us and it was just the first week! Below are a few shots from the very tightly-squeezed last leg through Victoria.
All in all, it’s safe to say that our first week of van living was a little unconventional. A bit too much driving is fair to say too. Regardless, we’re both stoked to be back on the move with more adventure waiting on the other side of the Bass Strait!