Even if you think you know our big brown land better than most, there are plenty of secrets only the savviest campers know about – and of course, many don’t want the rest of the world to find out! But now travel author Lee Atkinson has let more than a few cats out of the bag, with her comprehensive new campers’ bible, Explore Australia by Camper Trailer (Hardie Grant Books). It covers 50 destinations around the nation and includes detailed maps. Lee chats to The Starfish:
Lee who will this book appeal to?
Adventurers, nature lovers, and those that feel they are too young (or young at heart) to be a caravanner, plus families looking for the perfect spot to set up camp for their annual holidays. The book features more than 320 campsite reviews across 50 regions in Australia, a mix of bush camping, free camping, station stays and caravan parks.
What inspired the book?
Every year for the past decade or two my partner, Bill, and I have hitched up our camper trailer and headed as far into the bush as we could, including a 10-month road trip doing a ‘big lap’ of the country two years ago.
Researching these trips, we discovered that while there are plenty of guides, books and info for four-wheel-drivers, tent campers and caravanners, there was very little for those of us travelling with a camper trailer.
Camper trailers are different to caravans and the people who buy and use them have a different approach to touring than 4WDers, caravanners and motor-homers. For a start they can get to places they get to places that caravans and motorhomes can’t, into wild national parks and along remote outback tracks. But they also can’t go some places that caravans can. When it comes to choosing where to camp, camper trailers have specific campsite needs, such as reasonably soft level ground that is bollard-free. They also have a different footprint when erected compared to caravans, one that is square rather than long and narrow – they simply don’t fit in many caravan park parking bays and even some national park camping sites are too small to be fun.
Camper trailers take longer to set up and pull down than a caravan, so most campers want to stay put for a couple of days, even when road tripping, rather than making nightly transit stops. Most of us tend to use our camper trailer as a base camp, unhitching the vehicle and exploring the area – by car, by 4WD, on foot and sometimes even by boat or kayak – so we want to stay somewhere where there is plenty to see and do.
This book fills that gap.
How long did it take you to do all the research?
The research has been an on-going project for years, as I’m always on the lookout for great places to camp, but we spent the best part to a year travelling around the country – 40,000km in 42 weeks to be exact – and then filled in a few gaps on a series of shorter one-month trips the following year.
Did you have a few surprise adventures along the way ?
Rockhopping down a remote gorge on Mt Elizabeth Station, about halfway along the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley, we stumbled across a gallery of sacred Wandjina figures. It was a bit of an Indiana Jones moment! The Wandjina is the supreme creator, and it might sound a bit fanciful, but you really could feel the power radiating from the rock face – or maybe it was the heat! But whatever it was at work underneath that rocky overhang in the middle of the Kimberley, it left us gazing in silent awe for quite some time.
It’s a comprehensive book. Did it take much more effort than you thought?
Yes! Researching and writing up 320 campsite reviews – along with lots of information on things to see and do while you there – was in real life, so much bigger than it looks on paper, but it was also a lot of fun; what’s not to love about a job where you get to spend most of your time out on the road and exploring some of the county’s most spectacular places?
What are a couple of the best new places you stumbled on in your research?
It was my first time in the Pilbara. I’d always dismissed it as just a whole lot of red space and massive mines – I was so wrong. Yes, it’s red, and yes, there are a lot of mines, but it’s a huge place and it’s much grander, more expansive, more mountainous and much more magnificent than I had ever imagined. It gets my vote as one of Australia’s most underrated landscapes.
The other place that was a real revelation was Eastern Arnhem Land; it really is an undiscovered paradise. It’s so far off the tourist trail that many tourist maps don’t even show the road. It takes two days to drive from Katherine to Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula and the dirt road has some pretty wicked corrugations, and you need to organise a few permits before you go, but they are really easy to get online. Admittedly no caravans are allowed on the Central Arnhem Road, so it is off limits to most grey nomads, but off-road camper trailers are OK so it doesn’t really explain why more people haven’t discovered the fabulous beachfront camping, the exquisite white sand beaches lapped by gin-clear water that positively teems with big fish (oh… and a few saltwater crocodiles), and the extraordinary Yolngu art centre at Yirrkala.
What’s great about a camper trailer rather than a caravan?
Off-road trailers can get to really remote and wild places that big rigs, like caravans and motorhomes, can’t. Set up with the right battery power, solar and water storage, they can also go off the grid, as they are not dependent on mains power to operate lights, fridges, air-conditioners and on-board bathrooms, which means you can stay in really beautiful out of the way places with no one else around. If you like getting away but still want your creature comforts, camper trailers are ideal. They are also cheaper than a caravan, easier to tow, and the soft-floor varieties, when set up with an annexe, are usually much more spacious inside than a standard caravan, which makes them ideal for families.
If you had a spare couple of weeks, what’s your favourite place in Australia to stay in your camper trailer?
The Eyre Peninsula in South Australia is one of the country’s best kept secrets when it comes to beach holidays. OK, the water isn’t exactly tropical and is home to some rather big sharks (do not go and see the life-size replica of the world’s largest white pointer shark caught with a rod at the visitor centre in Streaky Bay, or you’ll never get wet again), but it has some of the Australia’s most dramatic coastline, the best seafood in the country and next to no tourists.
We’ve camped on the peninsula several times over the past few years – great spots with water views on either side of Port Lincoln in both Lincoln and Coffin Bay national parks and on the outskirts of Ceduna at Wittlebee Conservation Park. We spend our days on coastal walking trails, testing out our four-wheel-driving skills on sand dunes, wallowing in gin-clear water on beaches where there’s not another soul to be seen and bingeing on King George Whiting and local oysters that we buy straight from the farm for less than $10 for a dozen –it’s one of favourite spots.
You’ve written 11 books already. What’s next for you?
I’m working on another couple of really exciting books, both about travelling in and around Australia, but with a back-to-nature focus that includes a bit of luxury, as well as well as roughing it. The perfect excuse to go travelling again; any excuse to hit the road’s a good one as far as I’m concerned!
In the next issue of The Starfish, we’ll run an excerpt from Explore Australia By Camper Trailer by Lee Atkinson (Hardie Grant) covering two of WA’s amazing northern regions.