Happy campers

Eden, New South Wales.

By Luke Voogt

Mod cons and resort-style camping grounds are revolutionising the world of caravanning.

LUKE VOOGT finds out how with Prestige Jayco’s Tony Spence and three local families hitting the road and exploring our great country.

Gone are the days when caravaners rested their weary eyes atop a foam mattress, according to Tony Spence.

“It just doesn’t cut it anymore,” he says.

“People want a comfortable night sleep.”

Innerspring mattresses, showers, toilets, air con, flat screen TVs, microwaves and full-sized fridges and freezers have become virtually standard in most caravans, Tony says.

Some models even have washing machines, generators, solar panels and satellite dishes for “watching Foxtel in the outback”, he says.

Combined with upgraded suspension and electric brakes, these features allow “outback caravaners” to camp in comfort in the most remote parts of Australia, Tony says.

“People are doing much more free camping now days – they’re staying on the side of a road or in a free camping area.

But caravan parks have changed too, with some resembling resorts or amusement parks perfect for mum and dad caravaners, Tony says.

“As soon as you go through the gates it’s like a little world for the kids to play and explore.”

Empty nesters in their 40s and 50s and grey nomads from 60 to 80 and older have worked hard and want to have some fun exploring Australia by caravan, Tony says.

“Go make some memories and have your own style of adventure. You’ve only got a certain amount of time until you get too old!”

And sometimes it can be on for young and old, too – just ask the Bennett family.

Justin Bennett grew up camping, so he wanted his three children to travel Australia like he did, according to wife Hayley.

“There’s so much to see in Australia!” she says.

“It’s so nice to get the kids away from the devices – they just love bike riding around the caravan park, kicking the footy, swimming and doing arts and craft.”

Several years ago the Ocean Grove couple bought a camper trailer to go adventuring with their first two children.

“The kids saw a fair bit of Australia in it,” Hayley says.

“But it took too long to set up – especially with weekend trips.”

So they bought a new caravan in time for the birth of Darcy, 2, complete with an en suite and three bunks.

“We ordered it when we found out we were going to have a new edition to the family,” Hayley says.

“It’s amazing – it’s so well set up for a family.”

Now Darcy is hitting the road alongside older siblings and fellow “water babes” Milla, 8, and Bodhi, 6.

“Our kids are stoked if we go to a caravan park with jumping pillow or a water slide – we don’t need to go to Disney World,” Hayley says.

The family have travelled all over eastern Australia and hope to head to the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

But even a weekend down the Great Ocean Road or at nearby Barwon Heads is a great escape, Hayley says.

“We’re so lucky living where we live – we have the best of everything.

“It’s so convenient – you can take your kids to the caravan park during the week and take them to school each day.”

The couple caravan regularly with their two best friends, who live nearby and have young families of their own.

“Our kids are going to grow up with memories of travelling with friends,” Hayley says.

While the Bennetts take the whole family on the road, Ray and Anita James travel a little lighter as a couple.

Theirs caravanning adventures began with a seven-week trip to Fraser Island for Ray’s 50th birthday last year.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, see Australia and have a journey,“ he says.

When Anita offered Ray the choice of a party or a caravan trip, he told her “let’s go away” in a “heartbeat”.

“A party only lasts a night,” he says.

“A seven-week holiday – that’s something I’ll remember forever.”

With Anita also in her 50s and both the couple still working, they fell in love with the lifestyle and adventure of caravanning.

“Every town we stopped at there was something unique,” Ray says.

“For example, we had magnificent seafood straight off the pier at Lakes Entrance.”

For $50 a night they stayed at a Maroochydore caravan park like a “cruise ship on land”, featuring a resort-style pool, pool bar and an “African safari” tent, Ray says.

“You find out about those things when you’re talking to people on the road – there’s a real bond among (caravaners).

“You wouldn’t even know about that place if you flew into the state and went straight to your motel.

“I remember when I was a kid caravans were dodgy and for people who couldn’t afford good holidays or homes.

“Caravans and caravan parks have come so far. It’s just a huge way of life now.”

Ray also avoids his fear of flying while enjoying the freedom of caravanning.

“We could go to the Murray and just pull up along the river somewhere,” he says.

Prestige Jayco Geelong took the couple to Warrnambool when they purchased their first motor home in 2017.

“Before that we had no experience at all – no tents, no camping, no nothing,” Ray says.

“They treat you like you’re friends.”

Recently, the couple upgraded to a caravan.

“We try to get away somewhere local every second weekend and are looking to do longer trips,” Ray says.

While the Ray and Anita had only just begun their love affair with caravanning, other local couples are still happily on the road together after decades of travels.

East Geelong’s Garry and Mary-Faye Wilson struggle to think of their favourite camping spot after more than 40 years of caravanning.

“I wouldn’t have a bloody clue to be quite honest,” Garry says from the couple’s latest campsite in Creswick.

“We try to get somewhere different all the time.”

Garry and Mary-Faye are approaching 70 but still have plenty of travelling to do.

“I’ll go long as I can mate!” Garry says.

“There’s always something different happening everywhere you go.”

The couple have found a good spot at Condobolin, NSW, to avoid winter’s chill.

“It’s just far enough north to have warm weather without travelling thousands of kilometres,” Garry says.

They have been as far north as tropical Cooktown, Queensland.

“It was magnificent,” Garry says.

The couple has seen “a heck of a lot” of changes in caravanning, Garry says.

“We started with a little homemade thing, which was tent on trailer.”

But their latest caravan, of dozens over decades, features a toilet, shower, solar panels and even a washing machine.

“If you’ve got it there you might as well use it,” Garry says.

Currently they are staying with family friends that Garry grew up with in Portarlington.

They bumped into the family, now living in the Netherlands, at a Mildura caravan park three years ago, Garry says.

“They love coming out here.”

The Wilsons love meeting people on the road and talking about caravan makes and models.

“You’ve all got that common bond,” Garry says.

“We met one nasty person out of maybe 300 this year – the people are just magnificent.”