So this was supposed to be a Melbourne to Perth return road trip, but due to the devastating bushfires that Australia experienced this summer, we had to change plans mid-trip. I’ll get to that, but for now let’s start at the beginning…
About a year ago, I had this crazy idea that we should buy a camper and drive across Australia with a 1 year old and 3 year old. I casually mentioned it to Michael, and to my surprise, he didn’t roll his eyes at me and tell me I’m a nut case. And so the road trip planning began!
Michael and I are no strangers to a good road trip. In 2015 we drove the NT and the Kimberley, in 2017 we hired a 4WD and explored Tropical North Queensland with Flynn and in 2018, while I was 20 weeks pregnant with Archer, we camped through the Omani Wilderness. But this would be our longest journey yet.
Just 2 weeks before we were due to depart, we finally picked up our OPUS camper trailer. And we were ready (kinda…). 7 weeks. 8000kms (which turned into over 12,000km). 3 states. 2 kids. I was under no disillusion that this would be an easy trip – travelling with kids rarely is. I joked that we’d all either come back closer than ever or we’d be separated by the time we hit Adelaide. But I absolutely believed the camp set ups, pack downs, hours in the car, 3,728,654 “Are we there yet?”s and Australia’s longest straight road would be worth it. And I was right!
Part One – Melbourne to Port Augusta
An early Christmas.
The best time of year for Michael to take off work is December/January, which meant we’d be out of town for Christmas, so we set off from Melbourne and began our trip with a few nights in Torquay, which is we’re both our families are, and had an early Christmas celebration.
Torquay is the start of the Great Ocean Road. We’ve both done this drive many times, so we decided to skip it and take the quick route to Port Fairy. But if you haven’t done it before and you have plenty of time, it’s well worth the effort, with plenty of towns to stop like Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay and of course the famous 12 apostles (although last time I was there I think there were only 7). I also really enjoy a trip up to the Aireys Inlet lighthouse for coffee and scones.
Port Fairy, Pea Soup and bunny tails. Cuteness overload.
Taking the inland route, Port Fairy is lovely little seaside down about 2h40m from Torquay. Although with all our stops for supplies it took us just under 6 hours (seriously). We’d planned to free camp at Fitzroy River about 30 mins on from Port Fairy, but after a long drive we decided to check in to Southcombe Caravan Park in town instead. We got a site right next to the shaded playground so the boys could stretch their legs. Mama was ready for some wine and cheese!
Once I’d consumed my body weight in Brie, we went for a short walk to check out Pea Soup beach for sunset – because who could resist a beach with a cute name like Pea Soup. It didn’t disappoint!
Archer has always been the earliest riser in this family, and that tends to get even earlier when we’re camping. I’m usually up with him by 6.30, about 2 hours before the other boys wake. So we make the most of it and head off for one-on-one walks and brekky dates. He loved the old boats down by Port Fairy’s Moyne River. There is a new cafe/restaurant on the waterfront here but we were too early and it was’t open yet!
Crossing the border.
Next stop, South Australia! Aside from the wine regions of Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley, I haven’t spent any time in South Australia before. I had no idea the beaches were so incredibly beautiful! Our first stop is Robe (which isn’t famous for Robes – sorry couldn’t help myself!). We headed straight for Long Beach to take a drive along the sand and have a swim. Turquoise water and fine white sand, this beach did not disappoint!
We were only in Robe for 1 night, so we didn’t get time to check out much of the town. The fish n chip shop looked very tempting, but we decided to test out the camper kitchen and make our own dinner.
Our campsite for the night was at The Gums campground in the Little Dip Conservation Park. There were 5 sites here and we had the place to ourselves until 10.30pm when another car arrived.
Archer and I started the day with breakfast in the dunes while Flynn and Michael slept in (again). We’d planned to eat down on the beach but I wasn’t game to drive on the soft dunes without Michael or recovery gear. So we parked off the track and climbed up the dunes instead. Today was to be the beginning of an epic heat wave and at 7am it was already beginning to heat up.
By the time we’d packed down and continued west to the pretty pink salt lakes of Coorong National Park, the temperature was pushing 40 degrees – and my feet were frying while I casually posed on the salt! Salt lakes weren’t really part of my plan for this trip, but I became a little obsessed with their pretty colours and made a habit of making Michael pull over in strange places to snap a quick pic.
As we drove through Tailem Bend and stopped at the small pub for lunch, it had reached 47. Officially the hottest temperature I’d ever felt, with the exception of pulling dinner out of the oven. It was the kind of heat that makes you feel like your skin is melting away from your face.
This region is probably most famous for its wines, which was our initial reason for visiting. But it was the Fleurieu Peninsula’s beaches that won my heart. I really loved this region, although it’s proximity to Adelaide meant it was one of the busier places we visited.
We stayed in McLaren Vale twice – either side of our trip to Kangaroo Island. The first time we set up camp at the McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park – which thankfully had a pool. And the second we bush camped at Onkaparinga River, which was full the night we stayed -luckily we’d prebooked.
Pink Gums Campground by the Onkaparinga River has a lot of hiking trails but the furthest I walked was about 500m with Flynn and this stick that he insisted was not actually a stick but a spider. And you would not dare to call it a stick unless you’d like to be hit in the face with a spider…
We were fortunate enough to visit a few beaches around this region. These were my faves.
Port Willunga. The remains of the jetty, sunset over the water and caves carved into the cliffs by fisherman many year earlier make this stunning beach well worth a visit. Speaking to a local I told him I had no idea South Australian beaches were so idyllic. His response? “Yeah we try to keep it a secret.” Can’t say I blame them!
Sellicks Beach. Driving on the beach has to be one of my favourite things about South Australia. I mean, who wants to cart two kids and all their stuff from the car park to the sand when it’s 45 freaking degrees outside! Archer fell asleep on our way down to Sellicks beach, so we just left the car running with air con on and popped down to the shore for a quick, refeshing dip.
Flynn’s highlight of the trip so far was finding a dead crab. He even made me run back to the car to get the camera to take this picture of him with it. Literally the only photo os the whole trip that I didn’t have to bribe him with lollies…
Port Noarlunga. The boys had been riot at wineries all afternoon when we decided to enjoy pizza and the sunset at Port Noarlunga before heading to camp. The smoky haze from the nearby bushfires made for an eerily beautiful sunset. One of my favourite things about this trip has been the lack of routine – no bedtimes means more ocean sunsets with these three.
When Michael and I travelled to wine regions pre kids, we’d usually get to 5 wineries a day. Gone are those days – we managed to get to just 2 wineries during our stay on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Down The Rabbit Hole. I was keen to check out the recently opened Down The Rabbit Hole wines, so we popped in for a bottle of Shiraz. With an old bus as the tasting room, bohemian swings hanging from the trees, chickens running loose and the most instagrammable styling you’ve ever seen, this place was perfect for the whole family. The wine was pretty good too – our fave was the Shiraz.
Gemtree Wines. This winery is great for kids, with a little playground and alpacas to keep them entertained. It was over 40 degrees the day we visited so we didn’t take advantage of either, instead keeping cool in the air conditioned tasting room. The Sparkling and the Pinot Noir here were standouts for us.
In hindsight, heading on to an island during a catastrophic fire warning day probably wasn’t the smartest decision we’ve ever made. But we couldn’t have imagined the devastation that began during our stay on this beautiful island. Since our visit, over a third of the island has been destroyed by bushfires – including national parks, wildlife, communities, homes and lives. Our hearts are breaking for Kangaroo Island. You can donate to the mayor’s bushfire fund to help this community rebuild here.
The campground we’d planned to stay at – along with all other bush camp sites – were closed for the day, so we scrambled to find a cabin – with air con – for the night before moving to our bush camp at Vivonne Bay. Deciding staying near town would be a lesser risk, we booked the Kingscote Tourist Park. It was a little like sleeping in the 1970s, but the owners were very friendly and it was close to the town. Here are a few of our favourite spots from our visit. Sadly, many of these are now gone or likely to be inaccessible for quite some time.
Stokes Bay. This beach rates pretty highly on my list of top Australian beaches. The fine white sand, crystal clear rockpools and fish close to shore make this the perfect aquatic playground for all ages. The boys loved it! To get there, you need to walk over pebbles and through rock tunnels, making the journey their as exciting for the kids as the ocean itself.
We left the moment we heard thunder, very aware of the fire risk if lightning struck nearby. We were lucky we left when we did. The bushfire broke out about 10 minutes later. Due to the fires, we stayed on the south side of the island for the rest of our stay.
Seal Bay. I was so excited to check out Seal Bay. I thought Flynn was going to love it. Instead he threw a 45 minute tantrum because we bought him the toy shark he asked for but he changed his mind after it had been paid for. He barely looked at the seals just metres away.
Flinders Chase National Park. We headed from Seal Bay to Flinders Chase National Park where we visited the incredible Remarkable Rocks and Admirals Arch. Flynn fell asleep in the car and then the pram for the entire time we spent in the park. It really wasn’t his day!! The walks to both were quite short and easy to manage with little ones, although there is a few steps to get down to Admirals Arch so we had to take turns waiting with sleeping beauty in the pram.
Vivonne Bay. We set up camp for the evening in Vivonne Bay. We were the first to arrive, but it was full by the evening. The beach is supposed to be quite nice, but thanks to a VERY strong southerly wind, we never even made it down. It was just too cold with the kids. All the bush camps on the island are council run and are on a first come basis – they don’t take bookings and you pay on site.
Little Sahara. Too cold for the beach, we headed for Little Sahara for some sand boarding fun. You hire all your gear and then trek out to find your own slice of dune. I thought the kids may have bee to young for this, but they had an absolute blast. Even Pie gave it go! Pretty sure Michael had the most fun though.
Aside from a quick fly in, fly out to watch a game of football 10 years ago, I’d never been to Adelaide. We hadn’t planned to visit this trip either, but we needed a few camping supplies, so Michael dropped the boys and I off at Glenelg beach while he went to stock up on supplies before we hit the Nullarbor. I felt kinda bad that we were eating ice creams and playing in fountains by the beach while he was installing an awning onto the truck!
The beach was really nice for a city beach, the foreshore playground was great and these water fountains kept the boys happy long enough for me to enjoy a whole coffee.
We arrived into Port Augusta after dark and left straight after breakfast. So I can’t comment much on the town except to say it was hot AF and the Discovery Caravan Park was a great place to stop for the night. The facilities were good and there’s a fenced in playground for the kiddos (winning!).
To continue reading our journey across Australia, please click the links below.