DESTINATIONS - HIRE - 4WD, CAMPERS & CAMPING GEAR
Hiring a motorhome can be an expensive business, especially when you factor in relocation fees and the onerous charges the major hire companies like to impose, but there is a cheaper alternative for those who are flexible with dates and timing for a motorhome trip, reports Jon Thomson.
Relocation, Relocation, Relocation: like the three rules of real estate we’ve discovered the three rules of cheap motorhoming.
For years my wife and I had chatted about crossing the Nullarbor in a motorhome, camping out and taking in the sights of the ‘Treeless Plain’ crossing our amazing country. However, the hire cost and the desire to do the trip only one-way for time reasons, made the trip difficult to bring to reality
We came across a couple of websites that act as brokers or clearing houses for major motorhome hire companies that need to get their vehicles relocated around the country. For a cost of around five dollars a day you can drive various motorhomes and campers in a pre-determined amount of time and with a pretty generous kilometre allowance, getting the vehicle from the pick-up point to a nominated location.
The catch? Well the main thing is you may not get the trip you exactly want at the exact time you want, so that is where the flexibility aspect has to come in. The available trips bob up usually about a week ahead of the required dates, so this short notice may not suit everyone.
My wife and I had earmarked a week or so at the end of her university semester and our desired trip was to drive from Adelaide to Perth. I had to be in the SA capital for business so it was a logical jumping off point.
The websites that broker these relocation details are www.imoova.com.au and www.drivenow.com.au.
You can register for alerts specifying your specifically desired dates and trip, but that may or may not yield fruit.
We had registered on imoova and just a week before we were due to be in Adelaide an alert came through on my mobile, telling me of a potential relocation of a two-berth Britz Venturer motorhome with shower and toilet.
The departure dates were around the right ones for us and allowing us a minimum of six days and a 3250 kilometre allowance for the journey at a cost of just $5 per day and with an $80 rebate of fuel costs from Britz. The deal offered us an additional day, with an added 250km allowance thrown in, at
an additional cost of $75.
Within seconds I was dialling the number to book the relocation that was secured with my credit card.
A week later we were in Adelaide, ready to undertake our trans-continental odyssey. We went to the excellent Central Markets to get some goodies for the trip, topping up with other essential victuals from the adjoining supermarket.
Pick-up was 10am and by the time we completed shopping and sat through an inane video, supposedly briefing us about the vehicle, it was close to noon. We were commanded to watch the 12-minute video when a thorough briefing by a real person would have been better and more informative.
Britz has a nice little earner, hiring ancillary equipment, including fold-up seats at $18 each, a fold up table at $25 and a range of other things at equally exorbitant costs, preying on the fact that most hirers are one-way and can’t bring their own. We visited the nearest Bunnings and bought a couple of six-dollar folding camp chairs.
The motorhome came with all cooking utensils, crockery, glassware and cutlery for two people, and a basic linen package that included two double sheets, two pillows, two towels and a single doona. Fortunately, I’d packed a sleeping bag, extra pillow and a swag, just in case my snoring got too much for wife Lisa.
We hit the road later than hoped, but with seven clear days we figured we had plenty of time.After a brief visit to the Arid Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta we drove on to our first overnight stop in the small fishing and farming town of Cowell on the Eastern side of the Eyre Peninsula. We enjoyed dinner at the pub and retired to the caravan park for an early night
Day two dawned clear but chilly and, after showering and a quick cuppa, we were back on the road, heading to Port Lincoln and then back up the other side of the Eyre Peninsula. A side excursion to beautiful Coffin Bay and a feed of succulent local oysters, freshly shucked for just $14 a dozen from the ‘Shellar’ door, gave us a very inexpensive gourmet experience, savoured on the edge of the beautiful crystal-clear waters of the bay.
We pressed on, knowing daylight was running out, enjoying a quick detour into Elliston to view the spectacular cliff top drive, dotted with interesting sculptures.
By sunset we were parked up in Streaky Bay’s nicely located waterfront caravan park, enjoying a sunset sip and the other dozen oysters we’d purchased earlier, as the big yellow sun slipped below the horizon, painting the sky a vivid shade of pink in the process. The Streaky Bay pub offered a feed of local
King George Whiting to top off tremendous second day on the road.
Past Ceduna, the broad-acre wheat farms go on for much longer than you expect, but suddenly they give way to scrubby, arid country and then just as abruptly, the trees disappear altogether:you’ve crossed Goyder’s Line of marginal rainfall and you are on the Nullarbor.
The signs to Head of Bight had a big chalk notation on a blackboard proclaiming six whales today. We wheeled the Britz VW Crafter onto the well-maintained dirt road for the 12km trip to the edge of the Nullarbor cliffs and after parking and paying our $15 entry fee we strolled down the network of boardwalks
to look out across the crystal blue waters for the Bight.
It was a remarkable; not just because of the almost windless day and virtually swell-free Southern Ocean, but because three Southern Rights were frolicking in the water with their newborn calves. The whales were spraying water skyward very close to shore and then came a hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment
as the whale songs could be heard clearly. The Head of Bight entry fee was worth every cent and more for that incredible experience.
This facility is run by the local Indigenous Lands Council and is extremely well done.We reckon it’s a highlight of the journey along the Eyre Highway.
We wanted to be camped by around 4:00pm, as the sun would be dipping below the horizon around 5:00pm on this mid-winter day. We ventured west to the Nullarbor Road House and topped up the tank of the VW that was delivering around 13 litres/100km: not bad for a heavy van with the aerodynamics of a block of
Another 10 kays or so beyond Nullarbor Road House we poked the van up the road to the Trans Continental Railway village of Cook.Cook is 107 km north of the Eyre but we had to travel only about three kilometres before weaving our way through the mulga bushes to find a quiet, out of the way parking spot
for the night.
We gathered plenty of mallee root, built a campfire and settled back for a cool drink as we watched the sunset and a nearly full moonrise. A couple of steaks from the Adelaide Central Market char-grilled on the fire, with an accompanying McLaren Vale red, in our million-star restaurant was another highlight of our trip across the paddock.
The next morning, amidst a thick fog that had rolled in from the sea cliffs, we hit the road again and stopped several times at the lookouts on the cliff tops, glimpsing more whales. We pushed on, to the boarder check point at Border Village, after making sure to eat all our fruit and veg, before getting to the WA checkpoint.
The Border checkpoint is not exactly the most welcoming of places, with surly quarantine officers performing an almost ‘East Berlin’ inspection of vehicles. Not even a cursory ‘Welcome to WA’ was uttered, or an explanation of what diseases or bugs they are trying to intercept.We wouldn’t have been surprised if our passports had been demanded! It’s almost a throwback to colonial days, when we were six different countries, not the Commonwealth of Australia.
Eucla is another highlight of the trip. About 10km west of the border, Eucla’s current hotel and roadhouse nestles on a plateau at the crown of the jump-up that is Eucla Pass. If you venture down the old pass and head four kays out to the sandhills you can ramble around the Old Telegraph station, which is slowly being engulfed by the encroaching sandhills. It is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for those early pioneers in the late 1800s to deliver communications across the continent through the barren, arid land that is the Nullarbor.
An hour or so later we nudged into Mundrabilla Roadhouse, made famous by the Leyland Brothers in a Caltex TV ad in the ‘70s. The road follows the old seabed, with the Nullarbor cliffs on the right and towering off into the distance.
At Madura the road climbs back up onto the plateau through the Madura Pass, providing the perfect place for a late lunch, thanks to the time zone change in WA. The beauty of this motor home was its big scenic windows at the back, around the dining table. The Madura Pass lookout gave a panoramic view of the cliffs and the plains below. How vast this country is!
That evening, a few kays past Caiguna, we drove up a station track to a fence line, again finding a quiet parking spot suitable for a fire and a good night’s sleep. We whipped up a delicious curry in the van’s galley, sat in front of the warming camp fire, enjoyed a couple of cold beers and adjourned to our bunks for an early night.
Freezing weather the next morning had us awake before dawn, firing up the engine to heat the interior. We’d resolved to have hot showers and get on the road at first light for a big day of driving. By 6.45am, with the sun creeping over the horizon, we were on the road sitting on a constant 105km/h on the ’90 Mile Straight’, Australia’s longest straight piece of road, with not a corner to be seen for around 146km.
At around $1.70 a litre, Balladonia delivered the most expensive diesel of the trip as we pushed on to Norseman and then south to Esperance for a late lunch overlooking the Bay of Islands: a truly magnificent seascape in breezeless, mid-winter conditions.
We kept pressing on to Albany – in hindsight too big a one-day drive at just under 1000km -making the beautiful town at around 7.15pm, where we checked into a nice little pub for a bit of luxury. Our trip was nearing its end and the harshest countryside was behind us.
You could easily spend a week in Albany, but after a morning and part of the afternoon exploring the sights we hit the road for the WA capital around 2:00pm heading west through the lovely town of Denmark and then through the giant Jarrah forests to Manjimup, Bridgetown and then into Perth.
After six days and close to 3500kmbehind us we had a spare day to clean the Venturer before dropping it back to Britz. We had consumed 449 litres of fuel, which cost $650.25.The hire charges totalled $130, including a couple of sneaky surcharges plus a refundable bond of $1020. Britz refunded our bond in full, thanks to the fact that we cleaned the van inside and out, emptied the toilet cassette and grey water tanks and ensured the fuel tank was full. On top of that Britz gave us an $80 rebate against fuel receipts.
We had paid just $50 for the hire, plus our fuel costs, so it was a very economical holiday on the Nullarbor.
We handed off our fold-up seats to another couple heading to Broome in a Britz and were able to give our left-over food to some grateful, young English guys heading off in a smaller camper.
Relocations may not suit everyone, but we will be looking for more of them in the future, to explore the wide brown land, without having to pay big hire fees or the massive capital expenditure that a motorhome or caravan and tow vehicle demands.
Give a relocation a try, we reckon.