In September 2017 our family of four spent three weeks in a motorhome traversing New Zealand’s north and south islands. We loved it. The freedom, the convenience and the design of modern motorhomes is such that travelling with two children becomes a breeze.
So, when my wife Samantha had to fly to Perth for a work trip, we decided to take our kids Erin, then aged 13 and Lachlan, then nine, and turn it into an extended holiday. We had two weeks, so driving our rig from Melbourne to Perth wasn’t an option.
From our trip to New Zealand, we knew a motorhome was good choice for exploring a large area and moving every night. It combined three important factors for us: transport, accommodation and ability to move on a daily basis. Compared to car hire and hotels, renting a motorhome would damage the finances least.
With that sorted, we then had to decide on an itinerary. We’d heard great things about the Margaret River area and south coast of Western Australia. Two weeks seemed a reasonable amount of time to follow the coast south through the Margaret River region then east to Albany. If we got to Albany faster, we’d look farther east, if we loved Margaret River and never made it to Albany, so be it.
For us travel is about fun experiences, not ticking boxes. We like to be fluid in our plans to make the most of weather and opportunity. The six-berth motorhome we wanted to rent would allow us to stay in caravan parks or free camp if required. This made sense and added a level of convenience that far outweighed any drawbacks.
TIPS TO GET ROLLING
At the Apollo rental agency in Perth we were shown how to operate the systems of our six-berth Mercedes Sprinter motorhome; such as turning on the gas and emptying the toilet canister. I’d suggest getting out your camera and videoing the demonstrations as there is a lot to take in. Ask questions and go through the motions yourself — muscle memory. Have the kids watch as well. Later that night when you can’t remember how to turn on the water heater for a shower, the video or the kids will certainly help.
At 7m long, driving a motorhome has its own challenges. Like any long wheelbase vehicle, the turning circle is large and taking corners wide to ensure the rear wheel does not clip the curb is important. Also, the vehicle height (over 3m) is something to keep in mind. Our insurance did not cover ‘roof damage’. As a result, undercover carparks were universally ‘no-go’ areas. Supermarket carparks could be problematic. I had to look for any height bars at the entrance and I knew that sometimes even parking on the street could get me into trouble with low-hanging branches.
Grocery shopping is also a first-day agenda item. I’d suggest writing your shopping list in advance to save time. The big chains have phone apps that you can save your list to. Some will even tell you which aisles to find the items; this saves time in unfamiliar grocery stores.
A long flight, long drive and lots of new things meant our brains were mush by the time we got to the first campground in Busselton, about 220km south of Perth. Dinner needed to be easy but popular with the kids: spaghetti. I wouldn’t suggest eating out the first night. We did that in New Zealand and being tired, having to wait for food and keeping the kids happy while sitting in a restaurant was all too much. So we kept it simple and contained to the motorhome.
A STREAMLINED SETUP
Our setup for sleeping was easy; the kids had the top double bed over the driver’s cabin and my wife and I had the rear double bed. That meant the centre table could stay up all the time for meals and general relaxation. The kids were happy to spend downtime up in their beds, reading or watching TV, and in a small space it kept them from getting underfoot, especially while cooking dinner.
A place for everything and everything in its place holds true for motorhomes. Things can get messy, and fast. We had a ‘washing bag’ that sat behind the passenger seat to reduced clothing clutter. Everyone had their own cupboard area for clothes and personal items. This made it easy to find things and kept the place decluttered.
Pre-drive checks are also a good idea. Just going from memory in an unfamiliar rig, you’ll forget something. We’ve all seen people pull out of caravan parks with vents up! So Lachlan did up a checklist of things to do before driving. He loved doing it, and took ownership of checking the list to make sure we were road-ready.
We take a flat surface for granted most of our house lives, but in a motorhome it is cause for celebration. I looked in envy at people who had chocks and levellers. Alas, our rental had none of these. However, the benefit of a motorhome is you can easily adjust the position to change poor attitude. Sometimes it was small movement of only 10cm that then put one of the wheels into a little dip that would even out the motorhome or set it crazily askew. Taking a few extra minutes to get it level is time well spent. If you can’t get it level, then at least make sure the angle allows the water from the shower to drain!
There is lots to see and do in WA’s south east. Families are particularly well catered for with great beaches, caves, lighthouses and the famous Busselton Jetty — one of the highlights of the trip. At 1.8km long it is the second longest in the world. But the crowning glory for the kids was the jetty's train and aquarium. The experience of riding in a train with the ocean on both sides is one my daughter Erin said she would not soon forget.
The jetty train tour we planned on taking was full. We had an hour to wait for the next tour but this would make for a very late lunch and hungry kids. So we went back to the motorhome, turned on the gas, fired up the cooktop and made lunch early. Having everything 50m away in the parking lot allowed us to rearrange things to suit.
The following day, heading back from the beautiful Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, we wanted to stop somewhere with a view for lunch. Turning down a side road on a whim, we arrived at Eagle Bay. It is a long, white-sand beach that the kids instantly fell in love with. We quickly decided to spend the afternoon here.
The motorhome’s adaptability really shone through at this point. Parking next to the beach, we had million-dollar views. The kids played on the beach, I pottered around taking photos and Samantha spent the afternoon reading and knitting in the motorhome, all the while overlooking the beach. When the kids got hot, tired or hungry they simply came to the motorhome for a while.
Other highlights were the Margaret River Chocolate Company. They were fascinated to see the chocolate and other sweets being made behind the glass viewing window and we all enjoyed a very sweet morning tea of hot chocolate and cake.
Jewel Cave is arguably the most magnificent cave on show in the Margaret River region. Our guided tour lasted about an hour and comprised 250 steps down, and 250 back up!
The pace through the limestone cave was leisurely and broken up with numerous stops in the cave’s three massive chambers to the marvel at its crystalline wonders.
Lachlan was particularly excited to hear about the Tasmanian tiger skeleton discovered and that allowed us to have an educational discussion about extinction and how it occurs.
Scary but enjoyable was the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, near Pemberton. The largest tree climb of its kind in the area, the Bicentennial Tree is a magnificent Karri tree that stands more than 60m high. A good level of fitness, a healthy disregard for your own safety and a love of heights would all help make this climb more fun.
Along the south coast from Walpole to Albany, Greens Pool has turquoise waters, white sand and imposing boulders. The old whaling station at Albany was also a hit with the kids. The guided tour enthralled them with stories of blood and adventure, but also held an important environmental message about the impact of whaling.
Finally, Little Beach just outside Albany is one of the most beautiful beaches we saw. White sand, granite boulders and azure water greeted us as we pulled into the carpark. As a Queensland boy, I’ve got to admit, WA has some great beaches.
So if you want to experience the mobile life, but time and distance are against you, consider renting a motorhome. But be warned, with all they have going for them, motorhomes might just become your preferred method of travel!
The Rodgers family few from Melbourne to Perth where they picked up their rental motorhome. They spent two weeks travelling from Perth to Albany return, en route passing through towns including Busselton, Yangalup. Prevelly, Cape Hamelin, Augusta, Pemberton, Walpole, Peaceful Bay, Denmark and Albany.
- The family chose to book through Apollo, and travelled in a six-berth motorhome based on a Mercedes-Benz sprinter.
- More info: www.apollocamper.com
Margaret River Chocolate Factory
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree
Albany Historic Whaling Station
- Cheaper than B&Bs and motels for a family of four
- Combines transport and accommodation
- Allows highly mobile and adaptable travel
- Convenience of having amenities with you
- Meeting other travellers; sharing ideas, locations and tips
- Kids see the motorhome as a big cubbyhouse
- Kids had their own personal space that was constant
- Relaxing pace of travel
- Home-cooked food the way we like it
- Give the kids important jobs – like checklists while you are driving
- Use an app to find cheap, local fuel
- Don’t be too prescriptive about what you want to see
- $1 and $2 coins for laundry
- Stop and smell the roses
- Try to eat before going into attractions – food is expensive in museum cafes.