Home » Road scene shows major change in Australia

Road scene shows major change in Australia

There’s a first time for everything.

It was the Easter long weekend, and instead of striking off a few of the mundane house chores on my ever expanding to-do list, I decided to use the four days OOO to test out a holiday experience that had been niggling at me ever since the pandemic.

You see, when it comes to taking a holiday — I’m a creature of habit. A house within walking distance of the beach, yes please. Perhaps a hotel room for a night or two? Say no more.

But a bed on four-wheels … where every sound, smell and sight would be within arms reach at all times? Well, that was going to be a hard sell.

But Covid did one thing for Aussie travel. It pushed the holiday dream right back into our own backyard. And while dusting off the passport and venturing abroad is showing no signs of slowing down (cozzie livs or not) — nor is the lure of holidaying at home.

And as summer creeps into the cooler months, what better way to see it all than from the seat of a tiny … I’m joking … mammoth 8-metre motorhome.

Now, before getting behind the wheel, the good people at Star RV walked me through every single nook and cranny of their newest Fiat Polaris 6-berth motorhome.

At first, the walk-through had me on edge. There were a lot of buttons to remember and procedures to follow. And having come from years in a Toyota Yaris to a motorhome that felt the size of my house, I almost convinced myself I wasn’t up for the drive.

But after a whirl around the skinny streets of Sydney before veering into the jaws of the WestConnex tunnel … I quickly realised this beast was more of a kitten to handle.

The Polaris is definitely made for the open road, and so as soon as the lanes multiplied into four — I surprisingly felt more at ease. And while parking was not as daunting as first thought, the size of the vehicle works in favour of settling down at a campsite and not getting back into the driver’s seat until you really need to.

Our first stop after cruising three hours north of Sydney was to the glistening shores of Hawks Nest.

A bit of a family favourite for us, the Port Stephens region really is a hidden paradise.

The waters are clear and calm, and in Hawks Nest you have the choice of both a surf beach and another without waves.

Having not used a motorhome before, we perched ourselves on a powered site at Reflections Holiday Park to ease ourselves into the more ‘off grid’ experience we had lined up for later in the weekend.

The holiday park at Bennetts Beach is the perfect location to literally set up and forget. After hooking up the van to some electricity and water, there was no need or want to get behind wheel again for a few days.

Everything — from the beach, to the local grocery store, bottle shop, hikes and of course good coffee — is within walking distance.

Being Easter weekend, the camp grounds were filled mostly with families. And while setting up a tent or loading up the caravan is nothing new — it’s a trend Reflections Holiday Parks, who have grounds right around the country — is seeing expand more and more.

“We are seeing the rise of the #vanlife crowd as young people are seeking different types of experiences and doing increased travel to events, festivals, and other adventures of that

nature around NSW,” CEO of Reflections Holidays, Nick Baker, told news.com.au.

“The family market is also still growing as the ever-increasing costs and fuss of air travel versus simply packing what you need in a car and heading to a campsite somewhere is the easier, less stressful and more affordable option.

“Across our parks we can also see a rise in bookings from multigenerational families and groups travelling together.”

From the coast to the country, our next stop was about 90 minutes inland towards the foot of the Barrington Tops National Park.

Passing through Gloucester — which houses perhaps one of the best bakeries I’ve ever been to — our camp site was at the back of a property we had booked through Hipcamp.

Without power or running water, the next few days were a little more ‘off grid’ than what we had experienced at our previous site.

Without power, the van runs off battery — and it can last a few days. The shower still works, as does the toilet (providing you have enough water in the tank) but extras like the airconditioner and microwave sit out of action.

Our riverside site, sitting on a stunning stream about an hour from the best walks in Barrington Tops, was a real taste into Australia’s expanding camping trend.

Hipcamp, which is essentially an Airbnb-style platform for plots of land around the world to set up camp — is the perfect place to start.

It lists camp sites on private properties right around the country — some waterfront, some secluded, some powered and others not.

And with some sites setting campers back often less than $50 per night — it’s easy to see why the category is continuing to soar.

Holiday trend soaring amid cost-of-living pressures

Earlier this month, the Tourism and Transport Forum revealed that with cost of living pressures putting immense strain on household budgets, more and more Australians will turn to holidaying within their own state.

Across the Autumn holiday period, according to the survey — 70 per cent of respondents will be going away on a holiday in April, including 41 per cent within their own state.

And in terms of spend, belts are tight with most holidaying for seven days or less and planning to spend less than $2000.

As a result, more and more are taking to the road and giving caravan and camping trips a crack.

“We have seen a clear increase in the number of people renting RVs and staying with us, as well as a rise in families taking time off work and embarking on bigger adventures with us,” Mr Baker explained of the trend.

“One of the themes of RV and van life is the simplicity and ease of this travel style which people are craving more and more. You get to unpack and pack once and there is no hectic moving between hotels, no transferring between planes and cars and no worries around strict flight times. Your house becomes your ultimate holiday home.

“We have also noted a significant increase in the size of larger, customised RVs and campervans staying at our parks than ever before.”

New figures from the Caravan Industry Association of Australia revealed that despite other sectors of the travel market rebounding, there’s been no slowdown in camping and caravanning.

“There was a total of 15.2 million overnight caravan and camping trips at Y/E December 2023 — a small increase on the previous year but still a sizeable 9 per cent up on 2019.

“Despite other markets rebounding post covid the caravanning and family park appeal remains as strong as ever. One of the biggest points is the number of families spending time in their caravans or in one of the industry’s many holiday parks.”

A spokesperson for Hipcamp echoed the interest, saying bookings on the platform for motorhome users in particular had seen a 70 per cent growth year-on-year in Australia.

“More and more people are looking for affordable, easy vacations to take with their families,” Hipcamp’s founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio told news.com.au.

“According to search data from our platform, Hipcamps in Queensland are among the most popular RV destinations, with top searches in areas including Childers, Agnes Water, Hervey Bay and Tiaro.

“As interest in camping continues to grow year-over-year, we’re excited to act as a useful resource, helping campers find the best possible outdoor sites for RV trips and beyond.”

What was my verdict?

Kitted out with a fully decked kitchen, enough beds for six adults (cosy but doable) and a shower (yes, a glorious shower) — the interior of the motorhome is as you’d expect.

There’s not a lot of room, but once you get your bearings — and pack light — it’s intimate but comfortable.

I was travelling with my husband and our baby, and while we found the space comfortable — any more than three or four bodies, and you’d be erring on the side of tinned sardines.

Having a working shower and toilet at the ready was definitely a treat, although I did personally find the operating panel of the vehicle’s electronic system a little confusing at times.

Given the confined space, we spent more time outdoors and enjoying the elements and surrounds. I think our step count tipped well into 20,000 each day, and spending the time without technology or distractions was a real highlight.

The beds were really easy to set up and pack down daily — and there was even enough room for our portacot to be set up with ease.

There is ample storage throughout the cabin, and a TV if you need to take some time out from the great outdoors.

I’ll be honest – the drive is on the louderside. Every glass, pot and pan tends to rattle even on the smoothest of roads. But after a while, the visuals of the open road well and truly take over.

Five things not to leave the house without

Travelling with a baby is a slippery slope into over packing. I’ve done it a million times before.

Working with a small space meant I really leaned in to travelling light and being organised — and so a few key items really stood out:

Bugaboo Butterfly – I cannot recommend this compact, pop of a button pram enough. With ample storage in the basket, and a comfortable ride for bubs — the best part was the packdown size of this pram.

We walked a lot. Multiple times a day on a range of terrains, and these four wheels ploughed through with ease.

Kmart Camping Chair – Again, working with limited space this little camp chair was a godsend. Not only did it keep our energiser bunny in one spot while we got dinner sorted, it was the perfect size to throw in the pram and take to the park or the beach. And at $32, it’s total bang for your buck.

Lovevery Toy Kit – Three hours on the road doesn’t sound like much. But throw a toddler in the back seat, and it can feel like 3 months.

But with simple, sturdy toys that aren’t too ‘bitsy’ or difficult to put together — that time on the freeway will fly by.

Our daughter spent most of the journey jumping from one of the brightly coloured play toys to the next, and given majority of the Lovevery play kits are wooden or silicone — they made perfect additions to the beach bag too.

July Packing Cubes – Boring and they’ve been around forever, but camping is where these little bags really shine. The motorhome, while having ample storage, still means you are living out of a suitcase. And when there’s nappies, toys, clothes and everything in between flowing from your bag — you need some order.

These July packing cubes (and there’s heaps of cheaper alternatives) really made life easier especially when creeping around the cabin of the van while the kids are asleep just metres away.

Bugaboo Stardust Portacot – Another design made for space, convenience and looks great too, the one-second pop-up feature of this portacot made nap times a breeze. I’ve been through a fair amount of travel cots, and the Stardust took a lot of stress out of the nightime routine. There was no fiddly clicky bits, dials or knobs to work out — it was just mattress in and frame up. Done.

This writer travelled as a guest of Star RV, Reflections Holiday Parks and Hipcamp.