Keeping on in COVID

Lappers share their experiences travelling in the ‘New Normal’

Words Jane and George Tynkken and Carol and Bruce Waldron, as told to John Westbury 

Border closures due to COVID-19 have meant many travellers have experienced some difficulties, but, has it been hard as it seems? I asked two caravanning friends who were in the west and east parts of Australia while doing “the lap” to share their thoughts and experiences while on the road.

Jane and George Tynkknen 

Lots of vans on the road, unexpected closures and parks improvising

Jane and George Tynkknen left the Mornington Peninsula in January towing their 21’ Royal Flair and this is their story.

We found it harder on the South West coast to get our required days in caravan parks due to school holidays and public holidays.

Due to the extra volume of vans heading north and an unexpected cyclone in Kalbarri, pre-booking soon became essential from Walpole up. Word had it that people were now using their vans whilst awaiting insurance work on their homes. It was difficult to book our van service at this time as they were inundated.

We had no trouble finding a spot free camping but have seen numbers increasing significantly in free camps like 25 of us near Mataranka! Events like the Darwin Supercars have an impact. We met a couple who counted 220 caravans heading up there in a half hour period. At the moment, we see 100 plus a day.

We are now used to seeing vans in overflow areas of van parks and one park improvised with letting us hook up to power from a cabin and letting us use the ensuite in the cabin.

Here in NT parks don’t always answer their phones and if they do they say they are not taking bookings, just arrive and you should get in! Best to arrive early!

In Broome we had booked, yet sat roadside for two hours before able to enter and set up.

Not all information in the latest release tourist magazines is correct. The information from information centres is only as good as it arrives If they have been updated by homesteads etc. Home Valley Station on Gibb River Road was closed. Several gorges were closed. Fuel at Parachilna was closed during [the] off season although main highway signs suggest it [was] open.

Essentials were available, sometimes at a mighty price! Our favourite foods and pharmaceutical needed to be obtained from the larger towns. Caravans pooled into WA when the border finally opened in March.

WA residents were shut down in their regions, so when their lockdown was released they all hit the road, North bound and Southbound full on.

There are constant COVID-19 reminders that distract from relaxing holidays as we have known them in years gone by, and, as example Mt Barnett was in a COVID-19 flurry and we were asked to stay in the vehicle until questioned. Four travellers were removed from a tour, flown out for a COVID-19 test and later returned to their tour. There were large signs in the entrance of Elsey National Park about social distancing and limited numbers in the thermal pools.

Sadly, many cafes and shops have gone broke and vacant. We met a publican whose pub survived the war but fell to COVID-19. Pub closed in Kalgoorlie as workers were sent back to the UK.

Our WA border crossing was delayed for several weeks so we spent excess weeks in South Australia. We arrived at Fremantle at 2pm and at 3pm were in the caravan in masks and unable to leave the van for three days except to exercise for one hour.

Word has it that prices have skyrocketed due to excessive travellers so the parks are able to name their price which is more than unfortunate for many travellers. But, all that aside, we are just glad we finally were able to leave Victoria back in January and are not currently there for now, even though COVID-19 cases are remaining low.’

Carole and Bruce Waldron 

Not too many issues but being self-sufficient has helped

Carole and Bruce Waldron plus their furry friend Daisy have travelled nearly 10,000klms since leaving their home in Adelaide in their 18’-6” Crusader van and, on the other side of Oz so to speak and did not find too many problems.

‘Usually, we had no problems but being self-contained with solar and water we would take an unpowered site if that was the only option available. Some parks would not take phone bookings so we just got there early around lunchtime and we also booked ahead in the major centres. In late June, we were in Cairns and did have some trouble getting a booking during the school holidays but did manage to get one, however, all the beach front spots are booked for months ahead.

In regard to free camping there were no problem with basic road side stops, however, attractive areas we found were very busy. Camooweal Billabong, a beautiful spot, was very busy.

When travelling on the road we found caravan numbers would come in waves and then quieten down after lunch. You would see hundreds of vans around the popular areas like Daly Waters and Mataranka, and then on the trip from Darwin to Katherine in June we counted 500 going towards Darwin.

When it came to obtaining fuel, there were no big problems, just a few stressful moments of getting to the next fuel stop. We also carry a jerry can of fuel as a safety measure. In regards to food and general supplies it was not a problem because we keep the freezer in the van stocked. The supermarket shelves in both Katherine and Darwin were at times running short due to extra demand, and we think shops were caught off guard with the amount of travellers, but, it seemed to have improved as our trip continues but there were always essentials available.

COVID-19 has meant it is busy, busy, busy due to people travelling our beautiful country in lieu of going overseas due to the many restrictions, and, we also have noticed lots of hired motorhomes on the road as well. While there have been many changing border restrictions and lock downs we have had no problems as yet but we are always keeping our eye on updates. We make sure we are in a state where we are happy to have an extended stay in should border restrictions occur.’

Thank-you to Jane and George Tynkknen and Carole and Bruce Waldron for sharing their travel experiences while on the road during COVID-19.