Australia

Big Al and the Road to Melbourne: Day 1

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Over the course of my time in Sydney, I’ve made an effort to get out to the more rural parts of my state of residence. It was during one of my weekend jaunts that I found my favorite place in the country – the south coast of New South Wales.

Head south from Wollongong and you enter into a wonderland of cute coastal towns and the most beautiful farmland you will ever come across in your life. Wide fields and rolling hills punctuated by barns, farmhouses, wildflowers and groups of dairy cows or sheep, a wide expanse of blue sky dotted by cottony clouds; it’s my idea of heaven on earth. When Beth mentioned wanting to see Melbourne at some point during our time in Australia, I knew the only way we could get there was to drive through this glorious place.

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In my research phase for this trip, I had come across a few blog posts about car and campervan/RV relocation. This is where a rental company has too many cars in one city, and too many reservations in another. So they offer ridiculous deals to anyone willing to take one of these vehicles from one city to another, usually in a pretty short space of time. Because I knew we didn’t have time to spend a week getting from one place to another, this suited our travel plans perfectly.

I signed up for alerts departing from Sydney, and a couple of days before we planned to leave for Melbourne, the perfect opportunity came up: transfer a campervan from Sydney to Melbourne in 2 nights and 3 days, at the steep price of $5 per day plus the cost of gas. And this was how Big Al came into our life.

It wasn’t easy – at first we were assigned the smallest campervan they had, which turned out to be a manual transmission vehicle. I had learned once how to drive a stick shift, and promptly forgot since every car I’d ever owned was automatic. The nice German guy who had processed our paperwork casually pointed to the gearshift and said, “And it’s manual,” to which I gasped and immediately lost all color out of my face. He said I had two choices: Try to remember how to drive a manual, or cancel the deal. I opted for the first option, not ready to give up on my campervan dreams. It couldn’t be that hard, right?

And that’s how Beth and I ended up jerking, stalling, pealing out, and cursing our way through a giant circle throught Mascot in Sydney’s south. We jerkily made our way back to the rental center, defeated and looking up bus and train timetables as a plan B.

That’s when our German friend came over to us and said, “Actually, there may be another car, but it’s the biggest one we have.” My face lit up and I said, “But it’s an automatic?” He nodded and I nearly shouted, “That’s fine! That’s totally fine! I can drive it!”

Enter: Big Al. A beastly 9-foot-tall, 20-foot-long, 6-person-sleeping home on wheels, replete with sound system, air conditioning, and fully functioning bathroom and kitchen. UPGRADE!

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Beth and I were excited to get on the road, and driving Big Al wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought once I got the hang of it.

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We headed south through the National Park, with a quick stop off to marvel at the view of Wollongong and beyond from the Mt. Keira lookout point.

From there, we jetted straight to Hyams Beach to see the turquoise water and to sink our toes into the fine white sand and take a little break from driving.

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On the way, we called around to a few caravan parks to see who had a space for us and Big Al. Because school was on holidays, most of the state-run camping options were fully booked and not bothering to even answer the phone, especially around the uber-popular Jervis Bay area. So we looked a little further south and found a place called Mollymook Beach, which had a site that could accomodate all of us for a night. After help from our neighbor backing Big Al into our space, Beth and I set up camp. As we were prepping dinner, I noticed the door to the camper swinging, and a little girl of about 4 poked her head into the van with a shy smile. And that was how we made friends with little Uma. For the rest of our night there, we had a 3-foot tall shadow following us around, asking us questions and drawing us pictures to decorate Big Al with.

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After some quality time with the friendly families around the park and a bottle of wine, it was off to bed. A king sized bed over the driving cab for me, and a queen bed at the back of the camper for Beth. We said a sad goodbye to Uma the next morning, early enough so we could make some distance while still stopping off where we wanted to stop.

It had been a long and busy day, but even that didn’t prepare us for what was next…