Before you leave the driveway, you need to be 100 per cent sure that the caravan, camper or motorhome you have is suited to the type of travel you intend to do. On-road vans will confidently travel the blacktop from one van park to the next with minimal effort. There are multiple hugely popular holiday parks along the shorefront all around Australia which are easily accessible by main highways or well-paved roads and offer equally simple access to a suitable site.
There are also plenty of coastal areas that are in national parks, part of large stations or just in remote spots that are also popular for those who want to stay off-grid as much as possible.
Offroad vans or campers with their beefed-up suspension offer a greater variety of traversable terrain, says Park. That said, the humble on-road caravan can access some great semi-offroad destinations, as long as the driver treats the van, the road, and the vehicle with respect.
“You need to make sure that the type of caravan that you are taking is suitable for the trip that you want to do, which would have been your motivation for buying it in the first place,” he says. “But if you suddenly decide you would like to visit more remote destinations, you need to ensure your van can handle it.”
Just because you have an on-road van doesn’t mean you will be restricted to caravan parks only — it’s easy these days to set any van up for off-grid use — you will just be limited to the destinations suitable to your van’s build.
Park says there are other things you will need to be equipped with if you’re keen on some beach-style free camping. “You need to make sure your rig has all the necessary features, whether they be solar panels to power the gas hot water, plus battery backup power and extra water capacity — just to make sure that it's all comfortable.”
Park also suggests pre-planning meals so you can have enough room for perishable foods, particularly if you have only a small fridge and limited power supply. And then let’s not forget the responsible planning of keeping all things cold for the sunset happy hours, so extra refrigeration may be required, especially if travelling in a group.
DRIVING THE PLAN
Your vehicle and your expertise in commanding it while towing also play a huge role in determining the itinerary of your beach holiday. Your tow vehicle needs to be up to the challenge both legally in terms of towing weight, but also capable of handling the terrain you want to tackle.
Driving to a coastal caravan park is one thing, but actually driving on to the sand to park up your van is a completely different kettle of fish, says Park. “It's not about just getting there, it's also about getting off the beach without getting bogged and having to get help you tow you out just because you didn't understand what you were doing,” Park says. “If somebody just drove their normal 4WD on to the beach with a caravan behind it, they would probably get 20m before they were bogged. But if they get out, let the tyres down, know what gear to use and how to approach it, then you've got more chance of getting on and off the beach without having to call for assistance.”
If you want to experience the beauty of beach camping with your RV, consider taking a towing course prior to your journey, and asking advice from your van and vehicle manufacturers about best practice.
Beachfront parks, and those in coastal towns, are incredibly popular — particularly in the summer months when everyone wants to spend time in the water. Many sites are booked out year after year in peak seasons or raise their prices to capitalise on demand as families return each summer for their annual holidays. So, planning your itinerary in advance and booking ahead is imperative. “Parks will fill up fast in peak summer periods, so if you are planning ahead then you've got the certainty of having somewhere you can stay,” Park says.
HOT AND COLD
Australia has some of the best beaches in the world, but coastal holidays aren’t always about summertime fun. Many coastal adventures are best taken in winter to marvel at the blustery Southern Ocean pounding waves against the shore in Australia’s southern states, track the annual migration of southern right whales up the east coast each June, or rugging up to watch rich sunsets over the horizon in Western Australia.
Park says weather conditions will play a huge role in deciding your itinerary depending on which direction you want to travel. “Plan your strate›y about where you're going by understanding what the road conditions are like before you get there,” he says. “Consider the weather in certain areas, especially if you're heading north, as it could be the season for cyclones or flooding.”
An outdoor shower is perfect for sandy feet
When considering a coastal trip, understanding water safety is essential. This means ensuring that everyone in your traveling party — kids and adults alike — have a healthy respect for large bodies of water and their temperaments. Being able to identify tide times, rips at surf beaches, understanding of what the flags mean at beaches patrolled by surf lifesaving clubs, or researching if there are local warnings are just some of the keys to a safe and happy adventure — jellyfish, anyone?
“Sometimes tides can be a lot larger in certain areas than other areas, especially if you're doing remote camping and you decide you want to throw your body into the surf,” says Park. “It's just being safe, thinking before you leap.”
He advises to check local websites, tourist information centres, and to ask park operators for advice. The same rules apply to areas with rivers, inlets or dams where swimming might be dangerous, and if using your own kayaks or hiring boats, locals are a great source of information.
CRACK THE SAFE
There are other safety aspects you need to consider with a coastal adventure. First up, everyone needs to be sun smart (that big old hole in the ozone layer isn’t anyone’s friend). Slip, slop, slap may be an old-fashioned catchphrase these days, but it’s more appropriate than ever.
“What can ruin a two-week holiday really quickly is if you're traveling with the family and somebody gets really severely sunburned on the first day,” Park says. “Be mindful of the elements.”
Also consider your safety around other things that might bite on your coastal adventure, such as snakes, spiders, all manner of bugs, and potentially dingoes if you’re making a trip to an area such as Fraser Island. And for heaven’s sake, don’t feed the seagulls!
Also, while a beach bonfire may seem romantic, it may also be a hazard, so check with the local fire service if it’s allowed.
IT’S IN THE BAG
Packing for a coastal adventure requires more than just your swimsuit and a towel (although you’ll undoubtedly need those in warmer weather). Take hats, rash vests and long sleeve shorts for sun protection, as well as sunscreen. For winter travel, rug up with warm wind-proof jackets and a beanie — but still remember the sunscreen for blue-sky days.
Throw in a fishing rod or two and maybe some hand reels to try your luck at catching dinner. Also, take sturdy shoes for beach walking or lightweight neoprene shoes for rock-hopping.
Park says there are a few other essentials you’ll need to enjoy a beachfront holiday. “Take some rope to use as a clothesline or to hang towels on after trips to the beach — it could just be that you run it between a couple of trees,” he says. “You could take some hammocks along but make sure you've got your outdoor chairs, and potentially some type of sunshade when you travel down to the beach itself.”
Another must-have is a dustpan and broom to keep the beach outside the van, not in it.
“Because kids don't care, they just run straight into the caravan and next thing you know, the whole place has got sand in it and you're dragging sand into your bed,” he says. “And honestly, that's not very pleasant! This comes from first-hand experience — I hate having to remake the bed every day.”
One of the most important things about a trip to the seaside is what you do when you get home. Salt water and salty air can be very corrosive, so Park says it’s vital for the longevity of your van that you clean your van as thoroughly as you can. This means not only the inside but washing down the outside with soap and water to remove any salty residue.
One of the main areas to be mindful of is underneath the van, which can be a tricky spot. But Park has a pro tip for owners. “A garden sprinkler is an easy way to wash off all the salt after a trip,” he says. “Simply place it underneath the camper, caravan or motorhome and move it around every now and then to reach all the nooks and crannies.”
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