southeast australia

van ventures down under

There’s something so special about hitting the road, not knowing what new destinations, adventures and memories-in-the-making are ahead. Life is a highway, and road trips remain my favorite way to navigate it. And among the best countries to do so is Australia, with its vast, stunning landscapes and long stretches of asphalt connecting picturesque towns. Who needs a DeLorean when you can travel back in time just by visiting these villages?

Our journey began in Melbourne, renowned for its alleys adorned with some of the finest graffiti. While in most places you might hesitate to explore such alleys, in Melbourne, they are gateways to hidden gems.

Before venturing onto the famous Great Ocean Road (GOR), we ventured north of Melbourne to explore The Goldfields. Named not for golden hues of the grasses – which are yellow too while we were there – but for the gold rush that once gripped the region. The Goldfields, around an extraordinary 40,000 square kilometers, now boast historical towns like Kyneton, Bendigo, and Castlemaine, each with its own charm and character where boutiqe shops, art galleries and fine delis as well as  wineries and farms have taken over the gold mining industry of the late 1800s.⁠

In Kyneton we were visiting the former Royal George Hotel – now hosting a vintage furniture store and cocktail bar. One of the employees asked us where we’re from and what our travel plans for Australia were. After hearing us out and some thinking, she gave a few suggestions for our limited days in the region. Which we gladly followed up. That’s how we ended up at this awesome cinema slash pizza restaurant in Castlemaine. Always trust the locals, they know best!

Then it was time to hit the iconic Great Ocean Road, where the sea – hence its name – is a constant companion. Waking up before sunrise became a cherished ritual, as the orange hues, salty breeze, and soothing waves created the ideal ambiance for a fresh start to the day. With each twist and turn of the GOR, a new beach awaited our discovery. And as evening approached, we found ourselves drawn to yet another stunning shoreline, bathed in the golden glow of a sunset reminiscent of honey.

Although I am not a surfer myself, I’m always captivated by the laidback vibes that comes with these places. The beach and ocean are ever-present of course, usually there are plenty of healthy restaurants and easygoing bars to choose from and for the shopaholics, charming boutique shops are nearby too. Moreover, the shoreline buzzes with constant excitement, offering endless photographic opportunities. 

Exploring beyond the GOR, we stumbled upon the charming harbor village of Port Fairy, where we learned about its bittersweet struggle to retain its community spirit amidst changing times. As I bought fresh seafood straight from a boat on the wharf, the vendor tells us a bittersweet truth. ⁠”Port Fairy has lost a lot of its vibrant community spirit. Billionaires snatch up our properties but rarely visit. We’re becoming a ghost town.” Still, his smile remained as I asked for a photo.

Before reuniting with relatives in Adelaide, we decided to visit the striking Grampians, rising from the flat farmlands in the west of Australia’s state Victoria. Rock formations, millions of years in the making, offer perfect day hikes. Teeming with wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and koalas, we kept our eyes peeled, eager for the chance to spot these iconic Australian creatures.

More memorable animal encounters awaited us after reuniting with family in Adelaide, as we embarked on a long weekend trip to Kangaroo Island. Picture this: starting your day with a delightful breakfast on the porch of your Airbnb, surrounded by serene woods. The distant sound of creaking branches hints at the presence of life. As you savor another bite of toast, a heartwarming surprise unfolds before you: a mother wallaby emerges, her cute little joey in tow. Cautiously assessing your presence, she approaches, the joey mimicking her every move. Just a meter away, she reaches her own breakfast: an ant nest right in front of our porch.

Yet, amidst the serenity, we were confronted with the harsh realities facing the Australian sea lion colony, a poignant reminder of the fragility of our natural world. With declining population numbers both here and throughout Australia, their well-being is of utmost importance. ⁠These remarkable creatures face the unfortunate combination of a long breeding cycle (18 months) and human-caused problems such as fishing nets, plastics, and diseases. Additionally, they exhibit a unique behavior of mating exclusively on the beach where they were born. Once a colony disappears, it is lost forever, underscoring the critical need to protect and preserve existing colonies.⁠

And last but certainly not least, we had the pleasure of meeting Bobby at an eucalyptus oil farm. It was an unexpected delight when this adorable little kangaroo bounded into view as soon as we arrived. We were amazed but the shop owner seemed used to Bobby’s antics. Bobby’s story began tragically, as he was orphaned in a car accident that claimed his mother’s life. Yet, at the farm, he found a new family and a second chance at life. Bobby’s friendly nature captivates everyone he meets, drawing countless pets, hugs, and attention from passing tourists. His story reminds us of the resilience and capacity for compassion in our world, and the special connections we can share with nature’s creatures.

Leaving our campervan and family behind, we ventured to Sydney, Australia’s most iconic city, where we immersed ourselves in its vibrant culture and iconic landmarks. Capturing the early morning awakening of Bondi Beach and witnessing nature’s aquatic ballet at Icebergs Baths were highlights of our Sydney experience.

As we said farewell to the land Down Under, our cameras, notebooks and minds filled with memories of a journey that had taken us from the rugged coastline of Victoria to the urban jungle of Sydney, we quickly realized that we had only scratched the surface of this vast continent. There is still so much more to explore, calling us back to the campervan life for further adventures one day.

March/April 2023