Hennika & Joe, originally from Finland and Germany, have lived in Richmond Victoria for the past eight years. They bought their VW T5 Trakkadu AT in July 2017 and left for their “Big Lap of Australia” in November 2017. On the road for almost thirteen months, find out how they lived the #vanlife and explored this beautiful country of ours.
Hennika & Joe - Broome
Cape Le Grand National Park
It’s hard to pick one favourite destination…
“We have seen so many beautiful and incredibly diverse places in the past year and it is difficult to rank them. We also think that circumstances and timing often matters a lot: The people you meet, the time of the year or the places you have visited before, can make all the difference. And sometimes you just don’t get the vibe of a place while other times you do.” In general the places we enjoyed the most are remote, harder to get to, or off the beaten track. While the Trakkadu is not a full blown 4WD, it has taken us to amazing places like Cape Peron (WA), all of Karijini National Park, the Gibb River Road (including many side trips), Bungle Bungles, Jim Jim Falls (and beyond in Kakadu National Park), Cape York (including a few km’s on the Old Telegraph Track), Bloomfield Track and all across Fraser Island.
But if we really need to narrow it down our two favourite places would be (1) the Karijini / Kimberley region (Pender Bay on Dampier Peninsula north of Broome in particular) and (2) the south coast of WA.”
Gibb River Road
Tip of Australia, Cape York
Cape Le Grand National Park
Travelling and working can co-exist but the number one priority is to travel and to experience the country…
“We have both continued to work a little bit while on the road. Hennika is a freelance digital marketer and has continued to work with some of her clients throughout the year. Joe has done little bits and pieces of consulting work for his previous employer. What makes working online challenging at times, is the network coverage in remote parts of Australia, which isn’t always great. At the same time it is the best that can happen to you in order to get away from the daily grind and to focus on the task at hand - namely travelling.”
Australia offers the best of both free camping and campsites…
“About 70% of nights we stayed in National Parks or in some sort of a nature setting. Many of these camps were free or low cost sites but we also enjoyed the occasional farm stay. About 10% of nights we stayed at caravan parks. They are not really our thing but we sometimes ended up there, mainly due to lack of alternatives or if we needed to get laundry done. The remainder of the time we spent with friends, at ovals, stealth camping or in a tent while hiking.”
Free camping at Geraldton
When it comes to food, water and what to pack there are a few things to consider…
“Water: Our Trakkadu has a fresh water tank, which we use for drinking, cooking, washing up and for showers. Especially in remote and arid areas we try to top up the tank whenever possible. We use the WikiCamps app and occasionally the Campermate app to find public water taps. We typically do not use a water filter, so tasting the water before filling up the tank is important. We’d also recommend carrying some smaller reusable water bottles or a bladder for daytime drinking and hiking purposes. We also tend to carry some additional canisters of water with us - up to 30 litres in remote areas. With this setup we can go off grid for about 7 days without having to forgo our daily shower. We also have a Sawyer Mini Water Filter that we use mainly when hiking but that can be very useful for emergencies.
Food: We have a stove and an 80-litre Waeco fridge, which makes cooking easy. We are always well stocked up with dry foods that could probably keep us going for weeks. Especially in remote areas it can be a long way to the next supermarket, so we tend to buy as much fresh produce as the fridge can carry. We do not really plan our meals before hand, so being creative in the kitchen is our secret to success. We are not huge meat eaters, so we mainly stock up on vegetables and some dairy products when we find a supermarket.
Tips: Especially in WA and NT one needs to be smart with distances, food and supermarkets, you don’t come by one everyday. It is a good idea to look ahead and stock up accordingly. Northern QLD and South West WA are great for stocking up with fresh farm produce along the road. Keep an eye out for local farm stalls (or check WikiCamps) - the produce is delicious!”
Every now and then you might need a holiday from your holiday…
“13 months in the van is a long time. The first time we spent a night away from the van was 4 months after we left Melbourne, when we visited Rottnest Island in WA for a couple of nights. After that we have also done one overnight hike in Purnululu National Park and one overnight kayak trip at Katherine Gorge. We also spent 6 weeks in Europe visiting family and another weekend trip to Great Keppel Island. Funnily enough all those little trips did feel like a holiday from the Big Lap.”
When you’re out of phone service, navigation is still possible…
“We use Google Maps and WikiCamps for directions and navigation. Both apps have an offline map feature that allows you to download maps and satellite images - you just need to remember to do it before you go offline. We are quite good at that, so we do not have a need for paper maps or a specific offline maps app. In addition, we also try to get local and regional maps from the information centres when they are available. We haven’t been lost once during the trip, so I guess we’re not too bad at navigating.
Tip: Download a detailed coverage map for the area you are travelling in from the website of your mobile phone provider. In case of emergency (or if you are in dire need of the latest AFL scores) it is always good to know which direction you should be heading for coverage.”
Planning a big trip is important but being flexible is also key…
“The idea to take a year off and do the Big Lap slowly grew on us. After moving to Australia in 2010, we got our first VW Kombi in 2014 - a vintage 1990 VW T3 Trakka campervan, which had heaps of character. We did a lot of weekend- and holiday trips around VIC, TAS, NSW and SA, so van life was already very familiar to us. We just loved it and eventually wanted to go to WA, but we knew that a three-week holiday wouldn’t really cut it. We dreamed of taking some time off from work - initially three months, which quickly became one year - but we weren’t too serious about it. Then in July 2017 we saw the perfect vehicle for such a trip that ticked all the boxes for us - a VW Kombi campervan conversion with AWD, lift kit, diff lock and much more. Three days later we were sitting in a plane from Melbourne to Sunshine Coast to pick up the van that we had just purchased without seeing or test-driving it. At this point there was no way back and it really sealed the deal for us to do the Big Lap. It took us then three months to resign from our jobs, terminate our lease, sell all our belongings and move into the van.
We didn’t plan the trip in any way - we knew we would drive West and we would spend the summer in the South and then continue North for the winter period to escape the cold - that really was the plan. We were extremely flexible and chose our camp spots spontaneously every day. The first place where we really had to book ahead was Cape Range National Park, which we reached during School Holidays.
Tip: Always check School Holiday periods - many places get fully booked months in advance.”
It was the whole Trakkadu package, which appealed the most…
“We are able to setup and pack up in minutes. It gives us a comfortable, reliable, fuel-efficient ride on-road. It is a vehicle that performs surprisingly well off-road (especially on sand) and that can get you to some amazing remote locations around the country. And of course it gave us the ability to live comfortably, completely off grid for days or even weeks at a time. But if we had to pick one particular feature that we wouldn’t want to miss, it would be the shower. We are very active people and do a lot of hiking and trail running. It’s awesome to come back to your van after a long day on the trail and to have a hot shower in the middle of nature waiting for you.”
Shower at Carnarvon Gorge
Pentecost River crossing
Frazer Island with the 4x4s
Of all the things to know about before you set off on your adventure “tyres” and anything to do with them is so important.
“For example, what type of tyres, what pressure and what speed we should do on different road surfaces. We started with normal road tyres and we had four punctures early on our trip while driving on gravel. Three of them were not fixable and we had to get the tyres replaced in remote areas - which were neither fast nor cheap. We eventually replaced them with hard compound tyres, and we also became smarter adjusting our travel speed and tyre pressure to temperature and road conditions. We haven’t had a puncture since, even though we have covered a few thousand kilometres of gravel and sharp rocks - including the Gibb River Road and Cape York. Having known a little bit more about tyres early on would have saved us a lot of stress and money.”
Changing a flat in South Australia