Four months now into our journey, we have come across fairly distinct categories of traveller. The first is the backpacker, who has bought a station wagon or van for an extended traveling period (probably off Gumtree), towels permanently draped over the driver and passenger seats, sleeping in the boot or maybe a crappy tent at best. They are elusive, as they are loath to pay for any type of camping accommodation and are most likely found on the side of a road where they can’t be detected by a ranger. It is only when you reach a decently sized town, like Kalbarri where we are currently staying, and there are no other camping options that you will see them camped up next door to you at a caravan park (Esperance was another place where no campsites were close by and the laws regarding vans camping in car parks were super strict). They probably also have lots of inspirational “#vanlife” posts on Instagram laying about in their van commenting on their amazing beach front campsite which is actually just the foreshore car park.
The next category are the “whizzbangs”. I had to google this term when I first heard it, but they are the bane of the quiet and considerate campers existence on Wikicamps, because when the owners of such vehicles get up in the middle of the night or are up early in the morning you are disturbed by the “whizz….” and “bang!” of the side doors of their vans opening and closing. They are typically the product of a “Britz”, “Apollo”, “Maui” and sometimes “Wicked Camper” company and only sighted for same reasons as the more permanent traveling backpacker.
After that comes the supposed backbone of rural Australia’s lacklustre economy, the self contained caravan of the “Grey Nomad”. This set seem to have a stranglehold on the rural towns of Australia, “because we’ll take our money to some other struggling town if you don’t let us stay here for free!!”, and as such free self contained only overnight only accommodations have sprung up in many places. I was having a conversation with a lady a few months back on whether the facilities along the Nullarbor Plain, which she had travelled twenty years ago, would be any different since that time. She claimed that because the Grey Nomads throw so much of their money into these places that the conditions would be vastly improved. If that was the case then I would love to see the condition of the roadhouses of the Nullarbor twenty years back! One Grey Nomad we spoke to back in Geraldton (where they have free 24 hour stays for RVs) told us that caravan parks “were a pack of thieving bastards”, but when you consider that for your $30-$35 (unpowered) a night you are getting access to showers, a camp kitchen (free water and gas that you don’t have to worry about getting elsewhere) and often a body of water to swim in that does not contain deadly jellyfish or sharks I don’t think that is a particularly bad deal. Conversational battles are won on who has stayed in the least number of caravan parks and experienced Australia in it’s true, rugged form. I agree that no frills camping is great, but you can only do that for so many days before you want a proper hot shower and clean towels and sheets – and we have the caravan parks of Australia to provide us with that service. The first and last shower at a caravan park is like a ceremonial ritual, the first a cleanse of all the salt and dirt and sweat of the last unwashed days; the last scrubbing yourself so clean and rubbing your body lotion so far into your skin in the hope you will be as smooth and nice smelling for the next week.
So then there is us, the poor maligned camper trailer set without the modern day conveniences of inbuilt toilet, hot water shower or TV antenna. We cannot find a back road to camp in nor can we pull up for the night in an overnight RV bay. Our lot is an official campsite, farm/station stay or caravan park. I remember one fellow traveller who bailed me up at Port Lincoln in SA who also had a camper trailer, who commented that we were “object of disdain” by our choice of recreational vehicle amongst the Grey Nomad set. We often get comments on our set up time, or how we slept with the overnight winds, but for us it works. It was what we could afford and we can take it off road, which means when I see a 4WD only sign on Wikicamps I can breathe I sigh of relief that I won’t have to eat my dinner with the whirr of a generator cutting through the quiet of the landscape (hopefully).
Ultimately, you do whatever works for you and your budget at your stage in life and how you want to travel. I should also say that the people we chat to are always lovely, just the way they see things is different to us. Set ups are the best way to start a conversation on the road as long as it doesn’t turn into the proverbial pissing contest, which it can do sometimes. At the end of the day, as long as you aren’t in a Wicked camper, you are doing okay.