We’ve been under our solid roof for a month now with all of the boxes unpacked, the children off to school and Ben having a shock sudden start to work last Thursday. We’ve hauled the camper out again and have given it a spring clean before being packed away for who knows how long – this rain has to stop before I’ll feel like camping again anytime soon.
So, I thought it was time to look back on the year, the things we “missed” by being out of the loop with news, what the highlights were for each of us and the statistics of our journey – did we meet budget (I’m very doubtful), how many times did we do this, that and the other – you know me… the girl can leave the accounting, but the accounting never leaves the girl!
2011 was certainly a memorable year for the five of us, we had all made a lot of sacrifices in the couple of years leading up to leaving so that we could save enough to go. Although the children found the sacrifices hard at times we’re trying to remind them (whenever the opportunity arises) that we all worked to make our trip happen and that they can make amazing things happen again if they put their minds to it and work towards a goal. Lets hope the lesson makes an impact and that they don’t just remember how they missed out on new toys and a skiing holiday because we were saving!
2011 was a very memorable year for the rest of Australia (and the world) for a whole host of different reasons too. It was the year that began with devastating flooding through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and before Queensland could catch their breath Cyclone Yasi struck. Still in the region Mother Nature continued her fury when the massive Christchurch earthquake struck in February (with after shocks still continuing now, 18 months on from the first quake in September 2010) and then of course the Japanese Tsunami. Further afield there was Hurricane Irene in the Caribbean, flooding in Brazil, fires in Texas and the Chilean volcano. With this type of news I was very glad we were far from television screens so we were not able to witness what must have been sickening scenes.
The TV and the usual July late nights were sadly missed though when Cadel Evans won the Tour de France and it was brilliant that he timed his win for the day that Indianna mastered riding her bike on two wheels! Other great sporting moments that I wouldn’t have minded catching were Sally Pearson winning the International Athlete of the Year alongside Usain Bolt and Sam Stosur winning the US Open. But of course we saw the All Blacks win the Rugby World Cup, thanks to a mad dash down the west coast of WA to get to Perth by the middle of October.
We also missed Wills and Kate tie the knot in the Royal Wedding, although I’m sure I would have tired of hearing about that if we’d been in civilisation. As it was we were far from civilisation, camped just out of Winton in central Queensland trying to dig our first bush toilet in ground that was as hard as rock – very un-royal indeed!
The world lost a few famous faces in 2011, most noticeably for me were Steve Jobs, Amy Winehouse and Elizabeth Taylor. There was news that we felt a million miles removed from such as Osama bin Laden being killed by US troops, Gaddafi’s death at the hands of rebel soldiers, riots in London and the News of the World collapse. Then there was news that felt very close to us like the discovery of Daniel Morcombe’s remains, an event which feels even closer to our hearts now that we live less than an hour from where Daniel went missing and Jake is now not much younger than Daniel was when he disappeared.
The Aussie dollar soared at stuck at highs not seen since the early 1980’s, the Carbon Tax became a reality – whatever that will actually mean personally and most brilliantly for us maintaining a mortgage, interest rates started to drop… may they continue to do so!
So we missed a few of the world events in 2011. What is it that we will remember most about the year? There were so many memorable places and times, but if I was forced to choose a top memory, aside from the fairly obvious time with family – and the highs and lows that go with that! – I’d have to say that the north of the country was by far the most amazing, those remote places that have two distinct seasons and change so much every six months. The areas of Cape York, Kakadu and the Kimberleys are icons of Australia for a reason, being there forces you to think about the land. Especially when living under canvas you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and as you learn about the environment in these regions you have such a better understanding and feeling for it. My number one place which everyone must go to would have to be Kakadu, I say that because much of Kakadu is so accessible to everyone or you can really get away from the beaten track. Sixteen years ago Ben and I hired a little two-wheel drive car from Darwin and camped in a tent off a sealed road and this time we camped along 4WD tracks and motored up the croc-infested rivers in our new dinghy – both times were amazing. I will also never forget seeing the crocodiles surfing the incoming tide at Cahills Croassing with their mouths wide open hoping to catch dinner – just incredible. You feel an attachment to the land and the indigenous people in Kakadu that is unexpected.
Ben says that there was no favourite spot for him, that he loved being with the family and that each day was an adventure to see something else new. He loved Tassie, the east coast, Cape York, Uluru, Ningaloo Reef, Karijini, fishing along the south coast…the list goes on. He loved meeting so many different types of people that he just would not have had the chance to meet in his usual life, some of those people will remain life-long friends and some of those people he’s happy not to have to meet again! Most of all he liked wearing his thongs rather than his suit. Personally I think Ben spent his 40th year loving putting the Landrover though it’s paces and was thrilled when she stepped up to the mark!
When I asked the children what their favourite thing was about our holiday here’s what they had to say: Jake said “I enjoyed spending time together with the family and learning about Australia and going to new places and going to places I would never have been able to go if I hadn’t been camping. My favourite place was definitely the 4WDing on the OTL in Cape York because it was heaps of fun and at every stop there was something different. It wasn’t just a boring road trip and every day was like going to a theme park.”
Indianna said “My favourite spot was Tasmania because we got to see Tasmanian Devils and being in Perth with my cousin Anastasia and I loved it when Nanna was travelling with us.” Personally I think she liked Tasmania so much because it’s where she met her future husband, Joshi!
Tobey said “My favourite spots were Cape York, Fraser Island and Perth. Cape York because I liked travelling with a whole big group and swimming in the creeks. Fraser Island because it was good fishing and Perth because we got to see Uncle Tony.” I have to be honest, I am surprised that the theme parks at the Gold Coast didn’t rate in Tobey’s top memories – they have been on the top of his list almost every time anyone asks, I’m pleased!
We ended up being away in our canvas home for a grand total of 340 nights, Ben and I slept all except three of those nights in the camper (thanks to family) and the children did about two weeks less than us (at my brother’s in Perth where Ben and I slept in the camper and they slept inside).
340 nights away and we set up camp 153 times! Although we’d got pretty good at the set up and pack up by the end, taking us around half and hour or so either side, it’s still 153 times we unzipped and hammered in pegs! That’s one thing I will not miss too much.
We most commonly spent two nights at a stop (41% of our stays were for two nights) with the quick one-nighter coming a close second (33% of the stays) and three night stays at 14%. Our longest stop was in Perth for 15 nights and we had a handful of 6-8 night stays.
We plugged into power for 68 of the 340 nights (20%), most of those plug-ins were because there were no unpowered accommodation options available, the remainder of our power needs were amply provided for by solar and charging from the car when in transit.
The most surprising numbers to me are the toilet stats. We had 238 nights (70%) where we had access to a flushing toilet (although let me tell you there are many different standards in flushing toilets), which means only 81 nights (24%) where we used a pit toilet and 21 nights (6%) where we had to dig a hole. Had you asked me what I thought the number of flushing toilet nights were I would most definitely have picked a number nearer to 50%! So, 21 nights where we had to dig a hole and I reckon at every single one of those stops all three children had to do a ‘number 2’ within minutes of the car stopping.
Now to the bottom line. Our budget for the year was $1,000 a week, this was our savings target (and a little extra for safety) in the period leading up to our departure last year. Over the 48.5 weeks we were away we averaged… drum roll please… $1,250 per week. So we were over budget (as I suspected), but not horrendously and well within the safety zone that we’d saved for. This total includes $2,300 on the “big ticket” events like snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef (twice!), the most brilliant Animal Tracks Safari in Kakadu and a helicopter flight at Mitchell Falls, it also includes all of the car servicing (three times) and a new set of tyres because we’d not have had those expenses if we weren’t travelling, but it doesn’t include registration or insurance because we would have had those expenses anyway – if you follow my logic there I’ve applied that to a few other things as well.
The big costs come as no surprise – food accounted for a third of our expenses (just over $20,000) and fuel was around 20% ($13,000). The cheapest fuel we bought was $1.36/litre in Canberra at our second fill-up in February and it went down-hill from there – the most we paid for diesel was $2.24 per litre in Seisa on the Cape York Peninsula in June.
We had budgeted an average of $20 per night for accommodation and came very close to the mark there, on average we spent $22 per night. We had 86 nights where we had no accommodation costs, 17 of those thanks to family and the remainder at free camps. The most expensive accommodation was at Ashley Garden’s Big 4 in Melbourne, this park is fairly convenient for a stay after the ferry ride from Tasmania, but at $70.20 for the night it is a total rip off. The next most expensive accommodation was at the Whitsunday Adventure Big 4 in Airlie Beach, but the $68 per night charge here was well worth it with loads of brilliant things for the kids to do – this was our resort holiday for the year!
So that’s about it for the round-up of our year, we have around 9,000 photos to remember our journey by, so hopefully the memories will not fade too soon.