#Vanlife: Chapter One

Exploring Australia's East Coast.

 Spending the first night in the van off-the-grid at Wilsons Prom.

My eyes are blinded by tears. Happy tears, sad tears. Tears caused by gratitude for the family I found working as a part-time waitress at a café in Melbourne’s suburb of St. Kilda, and tears caused by knowing that a chapter in my life had come to a most definite close.

My boyfriend patiently waits for my tears to subside as we sit in our 2003 Kia Carnival — whom we named Hilda — that has been outfitted for the seven week adventure we’ve been planning during our year living in Melbourne. A bed constructed of two-by-fours resting above a collection of rubber maids will be our home while we drive up Australia’s East Coast. Our intention is to start at the southern-most tip of the continent — Wilsons Promontory National Park — and end in the north at Cairns.

The interior of our van Hilda, a 2003 Kia Carnival conversion.
Hilda, a 2003 Kia Carnival, had been converted for one to two people to live out of (relatively) comfortably. A full-mattress bed was built up to provide storage space below, while two drawers were accessible from the trunk of the vehicle. These drawers were ideal for food and cooking utensil storage.

But first, we have to leave Melbourne — which will prove to be both an emotional and logistical challenge.

While I feel my life begin pulled in two directions — that of my home in Canada where we had moved from a year prior and that of the life we had built in Melbourne — the more pressing issue at present is the supposedly simple matter of driving Hilda out of Australia’s second largest city.

I say “supposedly simple” for a reason: Neither my boyfriend or I could drive a manual car — a car, that also happened to be in traffic on the opposite side of the road to how we drove in Canada.

Driving in Hilda, our 2003 Kia Carnival conversion.
Here I am, ready to hit the proverbial open road and document whatever adventures may find us.

Taking a deep breath, we pull away from the curb and I wave to Neighbour’s Cafe, which has been a key part of my home-away-from home for 10 months.

I start to buckle in and ready myself for the three hour drive to Wilsons Prom, but am interrupted by a sharp jolt and loud grinding.

Hilda had stalled.

Laughing, my boyfriend and I shake the incident off and turn our attention back to the soon-to-be-open road.

We were not laughing quite so hard when, scarcely 30-minutes later, we had stalled easily 10 times.

Pro tip: Learning to drive a standard car in rush hour traffic is like being thrown in the deep end of the pool when you can’t swim — harrowing, but effective.

Spending the Night at Wilsons Promontory National Park.

It was almost dark by the time we entered Wilsons Promontory Park. Our adventure-buzz had worn off — not in any small part due to the fact that during my turn to drive I almost immediately ran over a bird. (Yes, causing more tears.) We were also worried about finding a place to sleep in the dark.

And I do mean dark, for around us there’s nothing but the very faint outline of black trees against an even blacker sky, lit only by a smattering of stars so clear it felt like we could reach out and touch the heavens.

Which sounds very romantic, before realizing you are in the middle of nowhere with no service and the fears of spiders sneaking into the van, crazy people murdering you in the middle of the night or a venemous snake biting you while attempting to find a place to relieve yourself begin to creep into your mind.

Exploring Wilsons Promontory National Park, VIC, Australia.
Wilsons Promontory National Park boasts an array of absolutely breath taking beaches, mountains, flora and fauna — including the area’s National Marine Park, which is one of the most diverse marine ecosystems Australia. Even driving through the park one is met with staggering views, such as this birds-eye-look at Squeaky Beach.

Suffice it to say, we did not sleep very well our first night in the van. If anything, waking up in the middle of the night to my husband whispering in my ear that he thought “someone is outside”  — causing my heart to race so loudly that if a crazy person had decided to murder us it would have been all-to-easy to discover where we were sleeping — did not help me rest easy.

But, rest we did. And upon waking, we were treated to the absolute glory that is Wilsons Prom.

Yet, after exploring Cotters Beach, we decided not to linger. The National Park is well worth staying in for a few days to ask up the truly stunning surroundings, but we were keen to continue north to ensure we met our goal of making it to Cairns.

We did, however, stop at the Tidal River Visitor Centre café for a much needed coffee before once more hitting the road — caffeinated and full of renewed confidence after surviving our inaugural night in the van.

Keep your eyes peeled for #Vanlife: Chapter Two!

A new instalment will be shared each month.

Are you keen to discover more of Australia? Travel to Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market or scope out some of the area’s café hot spots.

Photos and text by Sarah Comber. 

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