if you were to define ‘The Big Lap’ in the dictionary, you’d do alright to say ‘Australian for a bloody long drive best undertaken over 12 months or more’. Why? Well, you’ll cover over 15,000km if you travel National Highway 1 — throw in a ferry trip and you can circumnavigate Tassie for another 800km or so.
This distance could be covered in around 25 days with fuel stops, but that assumes you’d drive an average of 80km/h eight hours a day — you’d be mad as a cut snake to try. Firstly, you wouldn’t see much more than the roadside and your campsite. Secondly, and most importantly, you’d be operating in the Red Zone for driver fatigue management, putting us all at risk.
Besides, who sticks to the highways all the time? Whether you’re heading along byways to explore the 40 ecological regions in eight different terrestrial biomes that showcase our biodiversity and endemic wildlife or simply turning up to a Friday night raffle at a local pub, there are plenty of reasons to take your time.
Give yourself three months and you’ll experience the climatic differences from north to south and have time to poke around a bit. Take six months and you’ll be able to stop, stare and stay when you find a hidden gem that takes your breath away. Take 12 months and you’ll start to live and breathe the magnitude of this great continent — plus, you’ll see enough places to realise you’ll need to do the Lap again to find other bits of the country you know you missed.
If you accept this, then you may be facing a significant packing dilemma because you’ll probably want to pack your rig for every season and occasion. That will be your first mistake.
While packing requirements will inevitably differ, some things are more important than others. So, when it comes to planning the Big Lap, consider these ‘Top Ten Tips’ as a guide for your personal packing pixie.
There’s a saying in the Army that ‘time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted’, so have a broad plan for your Big Lap before you start shoving goodies in the rig. For example, will you travel clockwise or anti-clockwise and why? Will you end up somewhere suffering seasonal inclement weather like cyclones? Will you spend time with Nanna or Uncle Bertie on the way round? Will they be home? Is there something of family significance you should take with you that would put a massive smile on their dial?
Remain realistic. Don’t plan to do in three months what should realistically take six, and don’t completely fill your travel schedule. Spare time will be your greatest commodity, so leave gaps to fill in with hidden locations you currently don’t even know exist.
By the time you’ve decided to do the Big Lap, you should have an appreciation of just how big Australia is, so you may start to realise how far away help may be if you get into difficulty. Mobile phone coverage covers 90 per cent of the population not 90 per cent of the country, and when this 90 per cent of the population lives within 100km of the eastern seaboard, there’s a lot of area for your throat to go dry screaming for help.
Carrying a PLB ensures someone will hear when you need them. Unlike S.E.N.D devices (like SPOT or InReach), a PLB won’t help maintain social connectivity with your family, but a PLB doesn’t require a contract to be effectively activated, doesn’t need its batteries changed or recharged and is the only satellite communication device guaranteed to work — someone in the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is always listening.
We’re not talking here about loose change here. Your need for a cash float will become evident the moment you find a coin operated washing machine or shower. Also, many campsites still have cash drop-boxes and donation tins, and farmgate produce and roadside stalls will be out of bounds unless you have some cold hard cash. Further, for whatever reason some businesses may not have the capacity to deal with electronic transactions, so you’ll be sorry your wallet’s empty when it’s 40 degrees and you’re begging for an ice-cream.
4. GRAB BAG
Some call it a ‘Bug Out Bag’ or a ‘Get out of Dodge’ bag. It’s one little piece of insurance for when Murphy’s Law trumps all. You fill it with things to get you out of trouble when, for example, your engine bay catches fire or when spinifex gets wound around your driveshaft and muffler and spontaneously catches light. When there’s not a moment to lose, your Grab Bag needs to be accessible and ready to sustain you with 72 hours’ worth of emergency rations, shelter and survival gear. Channel your inner Bear Grylls and add a dash of Lord Baden-Powell and do some research to understand how to effectively pack your Grab Bag. We also recommend generating an ‘Every Day Carry’ (EDC) bag of essential items to consistently carry day-to-day. There’s heaps of ‘how-to’ advice online and via professional training.
5. FIRST AID KIT
Yes, yes, we can hear you. You already have a First Aid Kit and it’s as big as a whale. But when was the last time you refurbished it? Have the Band-Aids been depleted from previous trips? What happened to the tweezers and scissors? Are your prescription medications still relevant and in-date? Do you need to carry a spare asthma puffer or Epipens? Have you considered carrying a Defibrillator? If in doubt, talk to your local GP or St John’s Ambulance rep (who can help refurbish your Kit) and consider taking a First Aid course so you know how to use it.
Now, where to store this gigantic First Aid Kit? In the caravan? In the car? During your Big Lap you’ll periodically leave the caravan at camp, and you’ll leave your entire rig behind when you go for a walk along a pristine bushtrack, so you’ll need a smaller personal First Aid Kit in your backpack for stings, bites, sprains or burns.
6. HAND-HELD CB RADIOS
Otherwise known as marriage savers! If you’ve only ever camped in large commercial caravan parks, you may not appreciate the value of CBs for reversing into tight spots and they’re also handy if a member of your travel party goes off by themselves — after all, everyone separates from the group now and again, whether to deal with ‘calls of Nature’, collect kindling, for some time-out or to pursue an independent interest. Whatever the reason, it’s important to carry a hand-held CB so members of the travel party can be notified in the event of injury.
If you plan to use a CB, learn how to use it properly. Radio-chatter is an art-form and you need to understand what channels to use and why.
7. TWO WHEELS
Too many times we’ve seen kids without bikes or scooters lounging around camp complaining of boredom. A mountain bike or scooter, with tyres suitable for rugged terrain, will help expend pent-up energy generated while sitting in the car — the same goes for adults too. If you’re tight for space, there are compact, collapsible scooters available with pneumatic tyres that will carry up to 100kg. Either way, be prepared to deal with punctures.
8. BENCH TOP CONVECTION OVEN
Let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want to cook inside, don’t want a mixed grill or you simply run out of LPG gas. A small bench top convection oven provides masses of versatility around meal-time. They operate at around 1400W so any inverter above 1500W should be able to handle the power draw. Set-up the oven outdoors to keep the smell and cooking heat out of your caravan. While travelling with a portable oven may be a little indulgent, as Napoleon said ‘an army marches on its stomach’ — you’re going to be on the road for a while and good food is a real morale booster.
9. CAR FRIDGE
A car fridge comes in handy when you leave the caravan at camp to go exploring, for beachside BBQs, cold drinks or simply for food resupplies from centres that are far enough away for your milk to go rancid on the drive back to camp. While you may use the car fridge predominantly as a drinks cabinet, when you head into remote Australia, use it as an over-flow freezer. Alternatively, it’s a great place to store your day’s catch.
Everyone has a toolbox, but some are better than others. When you’re considering a Big Lap, think about the day-to-day mechanical issues you may need to deal with. This includes simple vehicle maintenance to keep your rig in tip-top shape. If you’re travelling remote, you’ll also need the knowledge, capacity and tenacity to fix things ‘on the go’ or risk a costly recovery. While some issues will require on-site professional mechanical attention, in other cases, if you’re carrying the right spares, you may be able to ‘limp’ your rig to the next population centre for assistance.
Your choice of spares will depend on your level of knowledge and experience, so consider some 4WD training and/or maintenance training to extend your abilities. At the very least, ensure you carry simple items like a windscreen repair kit, silicone rescue tape, hose clamps, tyre inflator cans and tyre repair kits, then talk to people around camp as you travel. What mishaps have they dealt with on the road and what did they do? You may be surprised how much you learn leaning over a bonnet, with a cold drink in hand, at a bush campsite 200km from nowhere.