Road trips in Australia: Tips from the grey nomads

Australia's backyard has long been the domain of the Grey Nomad - experienced travellers mostly 55 or older who set their own itineraries in their motor homes and campervans, caravans and camper trailers.

Some choose the Big Lap, taking 12 months to circumnavigate the continent, while others head north to escape the southern winter. In 2019, of the 60 million overnight caravan or camping stays across Australia, the 55-plus age group represented 26 million nights, or 43 per cent.

And while more than 11.3 million Australians travelled overseas in 2019, the Grey Nomads were exploring Australia's treasures on four wheels from Lawn Hill in Queensland to the mighty Murray trail in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

But with international travel grounded for the foreseeable future, it seems we might be following in the footsteps of the domestic explorers. According to the latest survey by the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF), 28 per cent of people are now more interested in travelling domestically for leisure than before the pandemic.

The TTF also found that nearly two in five expect to travel within their own state and territory within the next two months, while one in five expect to travel interstate. Few anticipate overseas travel for at least six months.

The dramatic effects of COVID-19 would see a "seismic shift" in how Australians holiday for the foreseeable future and the growth in domestic tourism through road trips would be led by Grey Nomads, according to NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury.

"Grey Nomads tend to holiday longer and spend more on average and this time of year north Queensland is a popular destination for Grey Nomads," Mr Khoury said.

"This research shows an almost one-third increase in interest for going on a domestic trip and these numbers are consistent with NRMA's own experience across our Holiday Parks for the June long weekend, which saw bookings increase by one-third for the same period last year.

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"While more Australian families will get in the car for a road trip holiday instead of flying overseas, we also know that Grey Nomads will play a critical role in the growth of this market and the rejuvenation of regional communities suffering from a horrific period of drought, bushfires and COVID-19."

So, as border restrictions begin to ease for some Australian states and with overseas travel off the cards, Traveller spoke to some these experienced travellers for their top destinations and tips.

 

GARRY AND CATHY LEE

Garry and Cathy Lee

BASE Australian Capital Territory

DISTANCE On the road 50 weeks a year for just over five years and a total of about 120,000 kilometres. Garry is a retired chartered accountant and Cathy is "still a working home duties person".

FAVOURITE FIVE

MURRAY RIVER DRIVE Following the beautiful river from Albury to Mildura with all the water activities, the towns such as Echuca, Swan Hill and Euston and the wineries, food production and fabulous golf courses.

BROKEN HILL, NSW So much history being the original home of BHP, "the big Australian" and many great mining museums. It has also been the home of many of Australia's great artists, including the late Pro Hart and the late Jack Absalom; just visiting the galleries is an activity in itself.

DARWIN, NT Apart from the glorious winter climate, the lifestyle is casual and laid back. There are many tourist attractions in Darwin, from the World War II experiences to the wildlife and Kakadu and Litchfield national parks are within reach.

Sunrise over the Yellow Water billabong in the Kakadu National Park, Australia. Dusk on a river in nothern Australia with full moon in the sky satjun13greynomads
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Kakadu National ParkPhoto: iStock

CANBERRA, ACT With so many significant public buildings to visit, such as Parliament House, old Parliament House, the High Court, the War Memorial and the National Gallery, all Australians should visit Canberra once in their life and be immensely proud that we have such a beautiful capital city.

KIMBERLEY REGION, WA The sparsely populated northern region has two major tourist towns in Broome and Kununurra. With those rugged rocky ranges, the scenery is magnificent. Broome has a remarkably interesting history from the pearl industry and its World War II involvement. Kununurra is the centre of the Ord River Scheme with many unique attractions.

JAN AND DAVID BINSKIN

SATJUN13GREYNOMADS
Image supplied for Traveller, Jan and David Binskin for Grey Nomads story, July 2020

BASE Casino, NSW

DISTANCE Jan, a retired emergency nurse and David, a retired sales agent have lived the equivalent of two years full-time on the road, covering over 200,000 kilometres in their 12 years of roaming. They've had four different motorhomes, from the humble Kombi camper to the latest, you-beaut 4WD Explorer..

FAVOURITE FIVE

GIBB RIVER ROAD, WA It embraces the Kimberley in Western Australia with lots of great walks to swimming holes and waterfalls and spectacular scenery - a degree of fitness is required.

RIVER RED GUM DRIVE, VIC A 354-kilometre route from Gunbower to Barmah national parks. All along the Murray are camp spots and small towns welcoming tourists, not to forget the wineries and great produce.

NORTH QUEENSLAND Cape York is a great adventure but before you get there, the northern part of Queensland is a must-visit, including the Atherton Tablelands, Port Douglas, the Daintree and Cooktown.

SIMPSON DESERT We travelled the SImpson in Central Australia with a group of five vehicles from a 4WD club, going from west to east and ending up in Birdsville

Aerial view over Crescent Head on the Mid North Coast in New South Wales, Australia satjun13greynomads
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Crescent Head, New South WalesPhoto: iStock

NSW MID NORTH COAST For its many beachside camps in places like Crescent Head, Hat Head, South West Rocks, Yamba, Iluka and Brooms Head to name a few, and there are some great surf spots.

 

LYN AND STUART HARRISON

STUART  AND LYN HARRISON satjun13greynomads

BASE The motorhome

DISTANCE Lyn, a retired nurse and Stuart a retired Victoria Police officer live full-time in their Swagman motorhome exploring Australia. They've covered about 270,000 kilometres.

FAVOURITE FIVE

BIRDSVILLE, QLD On the way to the Birdsville Races there are a number of wonderful places to spend time at including Barcaldine the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party following the shearer's strikes in the 1800s.

LONGREACH, QLD For the richly historic Stockman's Hall of Fame.

WINTON, QLD For the Waltzing Matilda Centre and the Age of the Dinosaurs.

BOULIA, QLD It has the Min Min Encounter Centre and the scenery between Middleton, an old Cobb & Co staging post still operating as a pub. The Cawnpore Ranges are straight from a Western movie, with mesas and canyons galore. This is also part of the best route to Birdsville as it consists of a sealed road for all but 80 kilometres of well-maintained gravel.

BEDOURIE, QLD For the hot spring baths before Birdsville and the famous outback race meeting.

 

PAUL "SALTY" HORIGAN

Salty Horrigan 

BASE Melbourne, Vic

DISTANCE Salty ran Salty's Seafoods on the Gold Coast for just over 10 years, hence the nickname. He decided there was more to life than that so he hit the road and "wouldn't have a clue" how far he has travelled. "It's thousands and thousands of kilometres in my motorhome, the 'Horribago' that I built 17 years ago (before that I had a camper on a ute) and I wouldn't be dead for quids."

FAVOURITE FIVE

DARLING RIVER RUN, NSW About 100 kilometres downstream from Bourke is the tiny town of Louth with a fantastic bakery and it's chock-a-block full of history. There's camping, cabins and farm-stays along the way with good fishing and happy people. Further down is Tilpa, another tiny town with a great pub and camping.

FLINDERS RANGES, SA It has breathtaking views and you could camp there forever. Then move on to Maree and William Creek on the Oodnadatta Track and up the Birdsville Track to the famous Birdsville Pub, whether you're there for the races, the big bash, the bakery or the pub.

ADELAIDE TO DARWIN I've done the run up the centre a couple of times via Alice Springs. There's plenty to do and places to stay, and it's as safe as a church.

TASMANIA I've travelled all over the state three times now and still haven't seen the lot.

THE MURRAY RIVER Travelling the length of the river in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia is a must-do with great towns on both sides of the river. You can rough it or go first class with so many motels, houseboats and campsites. The birdlife and native animals are fantastic and you'll find the best cod and yellow belly fishing.

 

ANITA AND PAUL FLYNN

SATJUN13GREYNOMADS Paul and Anita Flynn 

BASE Gold Coast, Qld

DISTANCE The Flynns started travelling in 1990 and have covered about 350,000 kilometres in campervans and motorhomes. Paul is a retired transport operations manager and Anita was a postal worker.

FAVOURITE FIVE

BROOME, WA It's one place we could easily relocate to, except for the isolation. We were based in Broome for seven weeks doing volunteer work and had the opportunity to explore the area. Take day trips to Cape Leveque if you have a four wheel drive, or there are tour options. The Broome Pearl Farm and Matso's Broome brewery are local operations to visit, then top the day off with a sunset camel ride along the famous Cable Beach.

ESPERANCE, WA There are several national parks in the area including Cape Le Grand, famous for its white sandy beaches, kangaroos that visit and swim in the ocean and a top-rate camping ground. A little further west is Cape Arid, with a camping ground for those who want to get away from the crowds

KANGAROO ISLAND, SA Stay five or six nights and you'll have time to explore the sites and find koalas, the fur seal colony at Seal Bay, and the hospitality unique to these "isolated" destinations.

LAWN HILL NATIONAL PARK, BOODJAMULLA, QLD Adels Grove is an ideal base camp if you need a powered site, then it's on to Lawn Hill. The road can be rough in sections but it's worth the effort.

SYDNEY, NSW We base ourselves at the Lane Cove Holiday Park, where the staff are outstanding. Walk to Delhi Road where you can catch the local bus to major shopping centres or the railway station to travel further afield. The city has endless attractions - if you're stuck for something to do, jump on the ferry to Manly.

ROAD MANNERS

When you spend 24/7 travelling in a "house" that is an RV measuring 8.4 metres by 3.5 metres you need to pick your battles. There is nothing to be gained by upsetting your partner over trivial matters or by saying something that achieves nothing but aggravation.

Be considerate. Generators may not annoy you, but are offensive to others, so consult your neighbour before setting them up. Grey water (shower and sink waste) needs to be discharged responsibly, never at a rest area, preferably at a dump point and always away from waterways.

Join the Campervan & Motorhome Club of Australia; it's a great way to make new friends, get advice and ideas and be a part of tag-along tours all over the land. You might be in trouble in Perth, but you'll find that, with the CMCA network, help is never far away.. See cmca.net.au

When travelling routes used by large transports and road trains, contact them via UHF radio (they're usually on channel 40). They appreciate your input, especially for overtaking manouevres.

Plan ahead. Many popular destinations are full in busy seasons, so if you haven't booked, you might not get your preferred accommodation. And don't ignore the small communities between major destinations; support them, or they'll cease to exist.

GOING BUSH

Communication is important so have a reliable UHF radio and phone service provider. In remote areas, carry a satellite phone. GPS navigation is very helpful, but it's good to also have a map book.

Heading into remote areas, be mindful of the isolation and have your vehicle thoroughly checked beforehand by a mechanic. On rough roads, tyre pressures are important, so carry gauges and a small compressor. Do not overload your vehicle (e-books, for example, are better than hardbacks).

Things to ensure you have for remote areas include: sufficient food, water and fuel; basic spares like radiator hoses, fan belts and spare wheels; tools including a jack and wheel chocks; essential medications; and a comprehensive first aid kit (and do a first aid course).

People travelling in the outback are sometimes wary of stopping in a rest area if there is no one else there, but if you do stop, you'll find you won't be alone for long.

Don't hurry, it is not a race. We live in a huge country so take the time to "smell the roses" and be ready for "happy hour" any time after 4pm.

See also: Seven of the strangest things about Australia's state borders

See also: Sixteen weird road signs you could only see in Australia

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