Hema’s Tips for the Big Lap
As border restrictions ease, thousands of Covid weary Australians are looking to hit the road on that great caravanning right of passage, The Big Lap.
But preparing for a drive around the country should involve more than packing the van and waving goodbye to the neighbours, so here are some tips on planning your adventure.
Deciding on a budget for travel might be a good place to start, let’s do some quick calculations. With a detour to Darwin, Highway One goes all the way around the country for about 14,500 km. However, you will be exploring lots of byways so let’s say 18,000km as a target. At an average of 18L/100 km for the average vehicle that's 3240L or upwards of $4,500 in fuel. Throw in a service and a couple of tyres and we could hope for $5,500 as a minimum. Depending on the age of your vehicle and van it could be considerably higher.
Accommodation costs will vary widely. Even if you hope to free camp most of the time they can be hard to find especially near the coast. Throw in food and drink, some iconic tours and it’s not hard to see the daily budget easily running to $150 a day for a couple.
Choosing the direction of travel has been a perennial question and there isn’t a definitive answer. Most experienced lappers reckon the anticlockwise route makes the most of the prevailing winds. The difference in fuel economy and driving pleasure increases with a good tailwind and that can make a big difference on runs like the Nullabor where most of the weather comes from the west. But it depends on the season so you need some flexibility to extend your travel if conditions aren’t ideal.
One way to keep in touch with the reality of your trip is to get hold of a big Hema Map of Australia and get a feel for the many miles you will travel. It drives home what a big country Australia is and offers almost unlimited corners to explore.
Some folk like to plan every destination and others will fly by the seat of their pants and just enjoying fresh vistas as they come into view. Both options will deliver surprises and memories but I’m inclined to the idea of doing some research and locking in some must-see places. Don't forget, as will soon be obvious, you won’t be the only ones trying to board a boat trip on Yellow Waters, for example, so when you know your itinerary, that’s the time to book those special extras.
Where you end up will depend a lot on the vehicle and van you have, but you can see a lot from the blacktop of Highway One. You might not get into every remote billabong with a 23’ on-road caravan, but there are tours to loads of places along the way if you have the time and budget.
When to travel is important, because you probably don't want to be locked down over the wet season which can extend from November to May in the north. It’s hot and humid and many roads will be impassible. If you have to leave in autumn or summer, then head south to get the best of the cooler climates.
Wildflowers in Western Australia are at their best in October, so a swing down the west coast at that time of the year makes sense. While its contrary to most travel ideals, you might even enjoy the hot north in the wet season and there’s something to be said for visiting popular places without the crowds.
How long do you need?
You could spend a year or more travelling and exploring and still not see everything, however, you need to set aside at least four months to do the journey justice.
Plan to keep fit
Several long term travellers have told me that you can easily fall into holiday mode, spending more time than usual relaxing. As well as that, it’s tempting to add an ice cream or two to the diet, so keeping fit on the road is important. Long days behind the wheel can be draining so including time for a daily walk will both help you keep fit and let you fit into the clothes you left with.