On March 23rd, we left our comfortable house in Two Rocks. Nolan and I drove our rental car south to Perth and returned it, took an Uber to the RV rental center, and after waiting two hours, were set up in our motorhome.
It was a crazy time at the RV center. The Premier of Western Australia had issued an order closing the state’s borders effective the following day to all outsiders, Australians from other places included.
This changed the holiday plans of many people. The lot at the RV rental place was filled with idle RV’s when this is usually the busy season. Many people were hurrying to return their rentals early and head back home.
A couple who had to cancel their trip early and fly back to Sydney gave Nolan and me a bunch of food and water and other supplies.
In any case, we headed back north, and six hours after leaving the city of Two Rocks that morning, we had the family loaded up and left it again.
The thought of driving on the left side of the road in Australia, particularly a big RV at first seemed daunting. But after driving the rental car for a week and a half, it seemed natural, and although the motorhome was big, it wasn’t that bad to drive.
Our plan was to make our way along the coast, southeast toward a town called Esperance, where we had it on good account that some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are tucked away.
Our first stop was a city called Bunbury about three hours south of Perth.
Our first dinner in the motorhome was Pizza. Then we parked in a public parking area near the beach and got ready for the night.
In the RV, one problem we faced every day was finding a place to camp each night.
There are plenty of RV parks in Western Australia, but the majority seem overpriced. In many, to park for a night on a gravel spot with a power source, the cost is $20-25 per adult and $5-15 per kid. Even though it’s Aussie dollars, that still seems steep to me when we can rent a whole house for the same price through Air BNB. Free camping sites are pretty few and far between.
The space we found in Bunbury, was one of the rare places that allows a few RV’s to camp overnight.
It turned out to be a great place–right on the beach and with a clean public restroom. Even thought our RV was completely self-contained and had a toilet and shower, it was nice to have a clean public bathroom with showers to use.
We spent a good chunk of the day at the beach in Bunbury. Like all the beaches we’ve seen in WA, the beach was beautiful and there were very few people. We fished a little and swam a little.
In the afternoon, we headed down the coast an hour or so to a town called Bussselton. It was a pretty little town that would probably have been packed if it hadn’t been for Covid-19.
One of the main attractions in town is the Bustleton jetty–the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. We walked the 1km from the shore to the end of the jetty. Although there weren’t many people out, we passed some people fishing, so after that,Nolan couldn’t think of anything else.
We spent the night in a small parking area that allowed overnight camping and was about twenty minutes out of town.
We woke up early and drove back to the jetty, stopping at a gas station to get some fishing supplies, and then drive back to the Busselton jetty.
Nolan and I fished for about four hours from the jetty while the girls played in the park.
We fished for Australian herring–a species similar in appearance, but unrelated to true herring. We caught a few and cooked them up for lunch back at the trailer.
After lunch, we loaded up and headed down the road toward the town of Margaret River, stopping at a parking area just off the road for the night.
The Margaret River is famous for it’s vineyards, Mediterranean climate, and beautiful nature. But the actual town of Margaret River was a little underwhelming. So, we bought some groceries, played in a park, and then headed down the road to the Boranup Karri Forest.
Karri trees, like innumerous other species of plants and animals, are only found in Australia. They are quite beautiful trees, with bark that peels off during development, exposing the smooth, ivory trunks. Although the trees are not as big as California’s redwoods, they are big, and the feeling of walking among them is similar to a stroll through the redwoods. We saw very few cars on the road to the forest, and didn’t see another soul while we were walking the trails.
After a few hours hiking through the Karri trees, we hit the road for the coast to see where the famed Margaret River empties into the ocean.
The rangers also informed us that there was talk that in a few days, not only the borders between neighboring Australian states would be closed to travel, but also the borders between the small regions within the state of Western Australia.
Rolling into the parking lot near the beach at about sunset, we were hoping to park near the beach and camp for the night. But as mentioned before, Western Australia is not friendly to free camping, and park rangers showed up and moved us along, recommending a caravan park close by.
So we bit the bullet and rolled down the road to the nearby caravan park, arriving after dark. The front office was closed, but we were able to locate the park host. Although he was a little tipsy or perhaps because of it, he gave us keys to the park gate and told us to pick a spot. When we queried him about the cost of staying the night, he was equivocal and mentioned several prices, from $70/adult plus $10/child ($170 total–which I think is what they really do normally charge during the peak season, and if it weren’t for Covid-19, not only would this be the charge, but the caravan Park would have been completely booked up) for a single night to $54 total. In any case, the price seemed high (but in line with what we’d read on the internet) for a strip of gravel with an electric outlet to run an extension cord to.
But without knowing where to go, we chose a spot and camped for the night.
It was nice when we checked out the next morning the we were charged the lowest price he had mentioned.
At this point, even though we hadn’t used the RV shower at all, just the sink for washing hands and dishes, our gray water tank was completely full and starting to leak. So we hurried to the dumping station.
Certainly one of the most unsavory aspects of RV travel–dealing with the waste tanks. Turns out European style RV’s only have a grey water tank. The toilet empties into a “cassette” that you slide out by hand and empty into the dumping station. Since I knew this ahead of time, I insisted that whenever possible, we use any alternative to the camper toilet.
Once the toilet cassette and great tank were empty, we headed down the road, stopping after a few hours to check out Cape Leeuwin, and its lighthouse.
Then we drove inland toward a forest town called Pemberton, stopping in a primitive rest area off the main road for the night.
We hit the road early and rolled into Gloucester National Park the next morning. It rained off and on, but we did a little hiking.
By early afternoon, the weather was clear and we visited The Gloucester Tree, a giant Karri tree with a staircase of pegs spiraling up to the very top. It feels a little precarious to work your way up the bars 150 feet to the viewing platform at the top. But with sweaty palms, Jane and I both made it all the way up.
The view from the top was great.
There was only one other car in the lot in the National Forest. It was another RV with decals clearly indicating it was a rental. Turns out it was a child with a young son on holiday in Australia from Switzerland. They confirmed what we had heard–the borders between regions in Western Australia were closing, and the locals in the small towns were not pleased with holiday-goers. They have such limited medical services that they feared if Covid-19 hit their towns, they would quickly be overwhelmed.
That information roused in us a sense of urgency about finding a place to hunker down. With no desire to spend the next two weeks with our rented RV (we had it booked for two more weeks) hunkered down in an overpriced RV park, we started searching AirBNB for a place to stay. We found one in Busselton, the second town we had visited with our motorhome, the one with the long jetty. Fortunately, we ended up in a place with a driveway long enough for our motorhome. And for the record, as I write this post more than five weeks later, we’re still holed up there.
It’s a great place, right across from the ocean, with three bedrooms, two baths, a cupboard full of board games, and an old school video game table. With the virus leaving so many rentals empty, it’s a pretty good price, too. We couldn’t get any money back on the RV, so it was our means of transportation for two weeks until we turned it in and got a rental car.
Our next post will cover the rest of our time in Western Australia–which as it turns out is a pretty good place to self isolate if a pandemic strikes.