Campsite review: Calypso Holiday Park, Yamba NSW

We did a lot of research into the best place to stay in Yamba. The Calypso is one of a few caravan parks scattered along the banks of the river, but it’s the one closest to the action. We were staying for three nights and wanted to set up camp for the whole weekend without having to move the campervan and all its paraphernalia whenever we ventured into town. Dismantling our awning is not for the faint-hearted!

This review is just our impression of the site. For full details about facilities and prices, visit the website: www.calypsoyamba.com.au.


Location, location, location

The location is ideal. Whether you’re in Yamba for surfing, fishing or simply exploring the coastline, the Calypso’s position next to the river is quiet, peaceful and within easy reach of the main attractions. A path runs along the river at the back of the campsite down to the beach, and then up to the lighthouse and Yamba lookout. There’s a handy Spar and a couple of takeaways at the front of the campsite, or it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk into the little town. Once you’ve exhausted Yamba, the campsite is right next to the ferry jetty and you can catch a boat to nearby Iluka several times a day.

How was the site?

It’s quite an orderly, regimented site hemmed on one side by regal looking lego trees and on the other, by the river. By late afternoon a sizeable crowd had gathered with a glass of wine to watch the sun set over the river – all very civilised. The pitches were a good size, although we didn’t get any natural shade. The washblocks were fine and usually empty. There were also some ensuite washrooms which didn’t seem to attach to a particular pitch, or if they did, there were a lot of people sneaking in.

Dining options in Yamba

It’s still a novelty cooking on gas in our campervan so we mostly celebrated the end of the salad era by serving up some hearty stews and soups.

There are a few takeaways near the site though, including the classic ‘Chick Inn’, and our caravanning neighbours cruelly wafted some pizza boxes under our noses as we sat and enjoyed our delicious… stew.

There’s a small strip of restaurants a short walk away opposite the Pacific Hotel, which were packed on the Saturday night we were there. We had a really nice dinner at the Yamba Bar & Grill which we’d definitely recommend – especially the desserts.

The food is meant to be good at the hotel as well; we had drinks there one afternoon. The views over Yamba are great, it’s just a shame you have to sit behind a glass wall to see them. Given Yamba (apparently) has the world’s best climate, a large outdoor terrace would be so much nicer than the current indoor seating area, which kind of reminded me of an old village hall – albeit with lovely views.

Who goes there?

We were traveling with two silver nomads so we fit in quite nicely, although we still shrank the average age somewhat. I think the other caravan parks in Yamba are more geared towards families with children so you might find the Calypso a bit quieter.

 

What about the mozzies?

Ah, yes. Mosquitoes like Yamba too. Most of the campsites pride themselves on being close to the river, so you’ll inevitably have to share your romantic sunsets with a few hundred buzzing locals. It wasn’t unbearable and I’ve been to far worse places along the east coast, but don’t forget the aerogard. And a fly swat. Or fish slice.

Verdict

There isn’t a lot to do in Yamba, but it’s good for fishing, surfing and chilling out – and all of that is very handy from the Calypso. The site was well maintained and the atmosphere was friendly. Next time we’ll take some rods and bait and try and put that fish slice to better use.

Campsite review: Adder Rock, North Stradbroke Island

North Stradbroke Island – Straddie – is a fabulous island getaway just an hour from Brisbane. Living right on its doorstep, we’ve caught the ferry over many times, but this was the first time we’d taken our campervan. Enticed by the beautiful surf beaches on the eastern side, we tend to bypass the quieter resorts of Dunwich (where the ferry docks) and Amity Point and head straight for Point Lookout. There’s free camping along Main Beach if you have a 4WD permit and a couple of camping grounds, including Adder Rock, where we stayed.

Point Lookout

This review is just our impression of the resort. For full details about facilities and prices, check out the website: http://www.stradbrokeholidays.com.au/camping.

Booking

Reservations are essential at all campsites on Straddie, and they can book out months in advance in peak periods. The booking process was a bit frustrating. As is often the case at Australian campsites there’s no online booking facility so you have to ring up the tourism office, but the opening hours were quite restrictive – don’t leave it ‘til the last minute. When our schedules finally aligned, our first choice site at Cylinder Beach was unsurprisingly full (it only has a small number of powered sites) so we ended up at Adder Rock.

Location

Located just behind Home Beach on the way into Point Lookout, Adder Rock must be one of the best places to stay on Stradbroke Island. It’s practically on the beach, and just a few metres away from a sheltered and patrolled swimming area and sweeping stretch of white sand. You can walk to the bowls club, a couple of souvenir shops and a petrol station selling a few groceries. I saw one review describing this as a  ‘commercial precinct’, which is probably overstating it a little, but if you’re in need of a loaf of bread or a shell necklace, they’re within reach. At a push, you could walk to the Stradbroke Hotel pub at Cylinder Beach, but it would be around a 30 minute walk along the road. You can drive into Point Lookout for a few more cafes in about five minutes.

Home Beach

Most roads on the island are accessible by car, and it’s definitely worth dragging yourself away from the beach to explore the freshwater lakes and walking trails inland. You only need a 4WD permit to drive on the beach (available at the link above), and to reach the foreshore campsites.

Adder Rock site

The site doesn’t have a view but the pitches were shady and most of them were nicely spaced – we had loads of room around us and there was a fairly relaxed vibe. The washblocks were light, airy and well maintained, there was a small play park and a couple of bbqs. The main attraction though is the beach, and the site was quiet most of the day until people started trooping back with body boards and fishing gear late in the afternoon.

Clientele

More Gen Y than baby boomer, Adder Rock seemed to attract groups of younger people camping together as well as families with children. Ours was one of only two campervans, most people were staying under canvas. Having said that, it was quiet and peaceful when we were there, and having met the manager of the park, I don’t think she would stand for too much unruliness!

Verdict

If you like the beach, and if you’re heading over to Straddie you probably do, you can’t beat the location. Book well in advance and have a great time!

A tale of two campervans

It was a weekend of firsts. The first time our campervan had ventured out of the local suburbs. The first camping holiday with my in-laws. The first outing for our new whistling kettle! (The gas had finally been installed).

Destination? Yamba. A small town around four hours south of Brisbane on the northern New South Wales coast, it was one of the first places we’d earmarked to visit when building the campervan.

Not only is Yamba consistently rated one of Australia’s favourite towns, CSIRO has declared its climate to be the best… in the world. Well that all sounded very nice. It was also a good spot to meet up with Paul’s parents, Jean and John, who were driving up from Sydney in a rented motorhome. It looked like a family holiday was on the cards.

We took our time driving down to Yamba via the coastal route, stopping first at the fabulous Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head. Famous among surfers for hosting one of Australia’s longest warm water surf breaks, the main attraction is unsurprisingly its stunning white beach and huge crashing waves. After dipping a toe in the water, we parked up and watched a group of beginner surfers and some French national juniors sharing the waves, while locals and tourists dropped in (to the car park – not our van) to take in the dazzling view and inhale some sea air. The whole place was buzzing.

And it was the perfect place for our inaugural cup of tea, made all the more exciting because last month I was the very proud recipient of… a Valentine’s whistling kettle! Isn’t she grand?

As morning tea threatened to roll into lunch we tore ourselves away from Lennox, and continued on to Bangalow, a little country town in the Byron Bay hinterland – deceptively close to the highway and an easy place to stop. Full of quirky shops and cool cafes selling gorgeous local products, along with a range of galleries and antique stores, I could have spent a whole weekend just meandering from one end of the strip to the other. Concerned that I was about to spend our weekend’s food budget before we’d actually got very far, Paul was starting to glance at his watch, so we bade Bangalow farewell. We arrived at our campsite in Yamba as the sun was starting to dip, and set up camp next to Jean and John.

Unfortunately, their trip north had not been quite so leisurely.

Planning to drive the 700km over a few days, they’d had a less than auspicious start in the Blue Mountains, which was suffering its worst flooding in decades. Having successfully navigated their unfamiliar motorhome around windy roads in torrential rain, they were relieved to arrive unscathed – albeit a little damp – at their first caravan park, and spent the evening contentedly listening to the sound of rain lashing the windows. That was until one dubious ‘splosh’ sounded a bit closer. Followed by another…

The van was duly replaced the next morning before it flooded completely and they reluctantly left the raindrop-bejeweled eucalyptus trees for the tranquility of the Hunter Valley. Unfortunately they had been pipped to the post by Rod Stewart and a few thousand of his closest friends, who had arrived for his concert the day before and booked out every last pitch. Sadly forgoing the promised winery tour, they ploughed on to the seaside resort of Port Stephens. With no rock stars or groupies in sight, they could finally start to relax, and almost see the amusing side of their disastrous first few days. This is the beauty of campervanning! The ability to be flexible and spontaneous, rather than a slave to the guidebook.

This new-found optimism dissipated rather swiftly the next morning when they awoke to a defrosted fridge and what turned out to be a major electrical failure. Trundling only as far as the local breakdown garage, the flexibility and spontaneity were starting to wear thin. Seven hours later and buzzing from a day’s worth of vending machine caffeine, they made their way north to Coffs Harbour, where the van played its final trump card. As they pulled into their fourth caravan park in four days on a steamy late summer’s day, the air conditioning wheezed one final sigh and went to sleep.

So when they made it to Yamba, hot, tired and a slightly jaded from their first motorhome adventure, they were desperately hoping for three days of uninterrupted relaxation. Luckily, we were staying in one of our country’s favourite places, and it didn’t disappoint.

This was only our second trip in the campervan, and the first time we’d had the gas connected, so I’d been excitedly planning our first hot meal on two rings. So what did we have on our first evening? A Greek salad. No need to rush these things.

Look at that head height though – hardly any stoop!

Our campsite, the Calypso Holiday Park, was in a great spot on the banks of the Clarence River and within easy reach of the beaches and shops. We took our new kayaks out for a spin, watched dolphins playing in the ocean and retreated to the Pacific Hotel for afternoon beers overlooking the beach.

Look, you’re not going to going to sneak past me

We did have one longer-haul trip and caught the ferry across the river to Iluka, which, surrounded by the estuary and national park, is a haven for anglers and bush walkers. We didn’t manage to partake in either of those activities, and spent most of our time walking several kilometres in the searing midday sun to the beach, which turned out to be almost adjacent to the one we’d walked to in Yamba the day before. The ferry trip was lovely though, and isn’t this the nicest op shop you’ve ever seen?

 

Yamba is a very peaceful village; it looks after its local residents and its refusal to succumb to the commercialism so familiar along the east coast draws holiday makers back year after year to enjoy its seaside charm and unhurried pace. It was the perfect place to do not very much at all.

By our last night, after three sunshine-filled days (CSIRO might be on to something there), we watched the sun set over the river and really did feel relaxed and rejuvenated. So much so that when Jean and John’s kitchen tap fell off the following morning, they hardly batted an eyelid.

How to sew fabulous seat cushions (even if you’re a complete beginner) – part 2

Hopefully you’ve now read part 1 of how to make box seat cushions (if not, click here!) and you have everything you need to start sewing. Making cushions for our campervan was the first sewing project I’d ever attempted (may be the last) so it taught me a lot about using a sewing machine and different techniques for everything, from measuring to unpicking.

It was a steep learning curve, but hopefully what I did learn will be useful to other beginners who want to tackle something similar.

This might not always be the most conventional method of sewing, but having read a lot of beginner sewing books and watched a range of tutorials, this is what worked best for me. I know the modern thing is to upload a YouTube video but sadly, the chances of me sewing in a straight line while smiling beatifically into a camera and talking in a calm, rational voice are quite slim. But, if you are more of a visual person, there are heaps of videos out there teaching you how to sew. I watched a lot of these, but found the information would desert me somewhere on the walk between my computer screen and sewing machine.

Some tips before you start:

  • I tried every shortcut that was going. I tried to get away without pinning, pressing and bothering with a practice run. It didn’t work and I got into more of a flap. Slow and steady was actually the quickest way to the best result.
  • Pinning – try pinning with the point of the pin facing outwards to the edge of the fabric. You’ll often find you can sew over the pins like this, rather than having to remove each one as you reach it.
  • Pressing – one of my best purchases was a tabletop ironing board. It was $10 from Ikea and could stay out on the table, which was much easier than putting the big ironing board up every time I wanted to press a seam.

  • Have a practice run. I know. Making an entire cushion just as a practice sounds incredibly tedious, but it’s really worth it and if it turns out perfectly, you have your first complete cushion already. Some tips for your practice run:
  • Ideally, use the exact fabric you intend to use so you know how the weight will respond, and how you need to match the pattern up between different panels.
  • Use a longer stitch (it’s quicker to sew and easier to unpick).
  • If you’re already happy sewing in a straight line, you can just practise the corners on a few scraps of fabric. It’s just a case of matching three corners up and sewing to the same point on each one.

Step 1. Getting prepared

Carefully cut out your 6 panels, similar to the diagram here (but with your own measurements). Remember the 2cm seam allowance on each end. The back panel will contain the zip and be cut in two lengthways so allow an extra 2cm on this measurement, 1cm for each half. (If you want to give yourself a bit more leeway, you can always use 2cm for each half.)

Use a fabric pencil to mark the back of each panel whether it’s front/back etc. You’ll soon find they look very similar.

Lay out your panels in your cushion configuration so you know which bit goes where.

These photos are of my smallest backrest cushion.

Step 2. Fixing the front and side panels to the top panel

Starting with the front panel, position it – right sides together – over the top panel, with the bottom seams and corners lined up exactly.

Pin the two pieces together along the bottom seam. Make a small mark 2cm from each end and, using your 2cm seam allowance, sew between these two marks. Backstitch a few stitches at each end to strengthen.

Open out the fabric and press out the seam on each side.

Continue with the two side panels. Position them (right sides together) over the top panel, pin together and then machine stitch to 2cm from each end.

After each panel, open out the fabric and press out the seam on each side.


Cushion corners – an alternative method.

The cushion corners were my nemesis.

The standard method of making a box seat cushion is to use one long strip which curves around the front and sides. Every manual and video advised this is the best way to make cushion corners. I tried. And I failed. I battled with these corners for weeks and only produced very inconsistent results. So I devised my own method, which was far easier, looked much neater and briefly saved my sanity.

 

Step 3. Corner 1 – front / left / top corner

Look at where your front, left and top panels meet – your three corners should all neatly join up.

Pin along the edge of the front and left panels. Again, make a small mark 2cm from each end (where the corners will be) and, taking care to manoeuvre the top panel out of the way (you should only ever be pinning two pieces of fabric together, make sure the third doesn’t get caught up), sew to the 2cm mark. Backstitch a few stitches.

Now you can turn your fabric the right way round and see how neat and pointy your corner is!

The reason most methods use a single strip for the front and sides is to avoid having potentially weaker seams on the edges. I haven’t had any problems so far but you can strengthen your seams as much as possible by using thicker upholstery thread and backstitching over each end a couple of times.

Step 4. Remaining panels and corners 

Once you have the top, front and left panels attached, turn the fabric inside out again and press out all the seams. Continue with the top / front / right corner using the same technique as above.

Then you just have to add your bottom panel and sew its corresponding corners to complete your 5-sided cushion cover. All you have to remember is to line up your edges and leave a 2cm gap at each end.

Note: If you’re flagging, stop at this point for a reviving cup of tea and a jaffa cake, and congratulate yourself on having produced fabulous cushion corners.

Now it’s time to look at the zip.

Step 5. The zip

In a nutshell, you’re going to cut your back panel in two lengthways, then sew it back up (bear with me – this forms the seam), tack the zip on underneath your seam, then machine stitch from the right side through your seam allowance and zip. You can then cut open the seam and open/close your zip.

In the following photos I’ve demonstrated the steps on a prototype using cream fabric with red thread, which shows up more easily. Of course it also shows up mistakes and wonky lines more easily – these will be nicely disguised if you’re using matching fabric, thread and zip, so yours will look much better than this!

Here’s how to do a zip in 20 simple steps.

  1. Take your back panel and cut it in half lengthways. R= right side, W=wrong side. (Try to cut a bit straighter than in this prototype!)
  2. Put the panels together (right sides together). Place the zip in the centre, aligned with the bottom seam and make a small mark at each end of the zipper teeth.
  3. Place the zip to the side.  Pin the seam together.
  4. Using a 1cm seam allowance, sew the two pieces together. Machine stitch long stitches between the two marks (to make it easier to unpick at the end to enable the zip to open) and little stitches for the rest.
  5. Press open the seam and place the panel wrong side up (the seam will now be right side up).
  6. Attach the zipper foot to your sewing machine.
  7. Open the zip and place it wrong side up over the seam allowance.
  8. Pin the left side of the zip to the seam allowance, with the zipper teeth running along the centre. Placing the pins’ point facing against the way you’re sewing makes them easier to remove as you sew down. 
  9. Place the fabric on the sewing machine and move the bottom panel out of the way so you’re only sewing the zip to the seam and not the panel underneath. (Nb. The reason for this is on a basic sewing machine, you may find the stitches don’t look as neat underneath, and I didn’t want them showing through on the right side of the fabric. If you have a better sewing machine and are happy with how the stitches look underneath, you can sew all the way through to the right side, and can skip the next section where you sew through from the right side.)

11. With the zip pull at the bottom, sew down the left side. Go slowly around the zip pull, you might have to manoeuvre the fabric a bit around it.  

12. Close the zip.

13. Pin the right side of the zip to the seam allowance, moving the panel out of the way, as before. Turn the fabric round so the zip pull is at the bottom.

14. Sew down the right side.

15. Turn your fabric over. The zip is now attached in position underneath the seam allowance but is not visible from the top. Press flat.

16. Position the fabric on the machine, right side up with the zip pull at the bottom. With the zipper foot to guide you, sew down the left side of the centre seam. Start around 5mm above the zip stop, and stop when you’re struggling to sew in a straight line around the zip pull underneath. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach the end, we’ll continue sewing this line shortly.)

17. Return to the top of the line you have just sewn. Sew across the end of the zip (around 5mm from the zip stop).

18. With the needle still down, pivot the fabric and sew down the right hand side. Again, stop when the line is threatening to curve around the zip pull.

19. Remove the tacked stitches over the centre seam and check your zip opens and closes easily.

20. You can now move the zip pull to the top, and continue sewing around the bottom of the zip without being impinged.

That’s it!

Now all you have to do is turn your 5-sided cushion cover inside out again and attach the zip panel following the previous instructions. Et voila! You’ll have made a beautiful cushion with neat pointy corners!

As per the disclaimer at the start, I started this project as a complete beginner and had to learn from scratch. As such, I’m sure there are simpler (and shorter!) instructions out there in webland. But this is what worked for me, so hopefully someone else can benefit as well.  As always – all comments are welcome!

How to sew fabulous seat cushions (even if you’re a complete beginner) – part 1

It’s taken me a while to write this post. I was so ecstatic at finishing the cushions for our campervan late last year that instead of carefully chronicling how I’d made them, I’ve basically stood back and admired them. Before I started I read so many blogs and manuals explaining ‘how to make seat cushions’, I thought I should add my own version to the mix. So here goes. Whether you’re an experienced sewer or absolute beginner, the next two posts will give you step-by-step instructions and useful tips for making your own box seat cushions, to be used in caravans, boats, window seats, church pews – all sorts. Priests with hard wooden benches – take note!

These are the cushions I made for our campervan. I made two seats and three back rests, and they fold down to make a bed:

If you’re new to this blog, you don’t need to read any of my previous posts about making campervan seat cushions. You may find you start subconsciously stabbing yourself with your unpicker before we’ve even started (and you’ll be needing that later). If you have read this blog before, all I needed were some proper instructions!

Before this project I had barely sewed more than a button, so in this guide I’ll assume you also have no previous knowledge. If you do, you’re half way there already! Part one (this blog) will cover all the materials you need to get started, and part two will cover the sewing instructions.

Ingredients:

  • fabric
  • foam
  • wadding
  • upholstery spray
  • thread to match the fabric – toughened thread can be useful if you’re sewing with a fairly thick fabric
  • sewing machine (I hadn’t used one before but heard that Janome was a reputable brand so bought a Janome RE1306, which is one of their most basic models. It seems you get what you pay for but as long as it can cope with sewing heavy fabrics, a basic one should be fine.)
  • sewing machine needles (you’ll need thicker needles to cope with thicker fabric)
  • zip long enough to match your cushion length and in a similar colour to your fabric. The longer your zip, the easier it’ll be to insert and remove your cushion.
  • measuring tape
  • measuring stick
  • good fabric scissors
  • fabric pen/pencil
  • thimble(s) (the optimum number seemed to be one for each finger)
  • calico fabric for practice / templates.

 1. Buy your foam

First measure your seating area to determine the dimensions of the foam required. (Nb if you also need a back rest, bear in mind that the back cushion will sit on top of the seat cushion. If you’re using standard foam, it’s probably 10cm high, so the height of your back cushion will be 10cm shorter than the back rest behind it.)

If you’re close to a Clark Rubber store, they will cut foam to your measurements. Otherwise if you’re confident with an electric meat carver, you can buy a foam camping mattress, mark on the measurements and do it yourself. (Note – it is MUCH harder carving foam in a straight vertical line than it is a roast pork.) Whichever method you use, choose a high density foam – particularly if you’ll be using the seat cushions to convert into a bed or if they’re in high traffic areas.

2. Wadding / batting

Once you have cut your foam to size, it’s a good idea to cover it in wadding, which will nicely soften the hard edges and corners. Spotlight and Lincraft in Australia sell various types, and as usual, you get what you pay for. I tried a couple of wool/polyester blends but found they were a bit bulky and wouldn’t stick well. My favourite was a 100% bamboo batting, which was a bit more expensive but so soft and easy to work with.

For your first piece of foam, draw a template onto your wadding, as if you’d opened it out like a box, similar to this:

If it’s hard to draw on the wool, just mark the corners. Then cut out the template. You can make it slightly bigger than the size of your foam but you don’t want too much overlap otherwise the bulges will show through your fabric (particularly if you’re using a wool/polyester wadding – the bamboo batting was a bit more forgiving).

Lie the template over some newspaper and use a spray upholstery adhesive (from Lincraft, Spotlight, Bunnings etc) to spray the whole template first. Then spray some extra adhesive on the foam itself and position it on the template. Then quickly fold all the sides up and over, smooth out any bumps and press firmly to stick. It should dry fairly quickly.

3. Fabric

Usually the biggest decision. It took us a while to choose our material. Some things to consider:

  • It should be strong and durable.
  • If you have children, pets or pasta lovers around, some colours are more forgiving than others.
  • Darker colours work better in an indoors/outdoors setting such as a caravan or campervan.
  • If you choose a patterned or striped fabric, it’ll take a bit longer to cut the panels out to ensure all the patterns match up.
  • Consider other colours in the area. This sounds obvious but once we’d chosen the stripy seat cushions and red cupboard doors for our campervan, it was hard to choose a third complementary colour for the curtains.
  • It’s worth getting a few swatches so you can mull over them. I found it useful to make a cardboard model of our seating arrangement to get an idea of how all the colours would work together.

4. Measuring your fabric

Each seat cushion needs 6 panels: top, bottom, front, back, left and right. Measure the length, width and depth of each cushion and add a 2cm seam allowance to each end. Note the back panel will be cut in half lengthways to form a seam for the zip, so add an extra 2cm to the seam allowance on the height measurement – 1cm for each half. It’s a good idea to draw a rough diagram of how you’ll cut each panel out of the fabric so reduce the amount of waste and offcuts.

For example, if one cushion measures 100cm long x 45cm deep and the foam height is 10cm (check this before you buy the fabric as some foams may differ), your measurements (including a 2cm seam allowance on each end) would be as follows:

Fabric comes in a range of widths, and you can request the length you need. If the roll of fabric is 150cm (60 inches) wide, following the measurements above you’d need a length of 108cm times however many cushions you need to do in that size. If your roll of fabric measures less than 150cm, you’d have to play around with the configuration on your diagram. Bear in mind also that if your fabric has a bold pattern or wide stripe that you want to continue consistently around the front, back and sides, you may need to change your configuration.

Once you’ve cut and covered your foam and you’ve chosen your fabric, it’s time to start sewing. See part 2 for the next instalment!

10 campervan essentials* to pack for your first trip

*may be subjective.

One of the best things about campervanning is the spontaneity. The potential to escape the city at a moment’s notice on a Friday afternoon for an impromptu mini-break, knowing that everything you need is already packed up and waiting to go. As someone who can easily spend a full day packing a suitcase preparing for every eventuality that could befall us the minute we leave suburbia, this really appeals.

So it’s worth taking the time to pack your campervan properly before your first trip, then the next time the sun appears you just have to throw some food in the fridge and you’re off.

Along with your bedding, lightweight clothes and a few good books, here are ten essentials you shouldn’t leave home without!

1. Everything in miniature

Unless you’re travelling in one of these, storage space will be at a premium so you might need to get creative with your range of kitchen utensils. The great news is that picnic crockery and camping gadgets fit the bill perfectly and are easy to find. I spent a very happy afternoon stocking our campervan kitchen, choosing plastic plates, mugs and bowls and miniature pans from Robins Kitchen – they had a fabulous selection. And if you choose brightly coloured items… they can match your cushions!

These are the pans I’m hoping will inspire me to create some hearty camping fare, although given their size, nouvelle cuisine might be a more appropriate description. We have a two-burner gas stove so a saucepan, frying pan and colander should be sufficient. I also couldn’t resist the tiny red milk pan, which is probably too small to be practical (the first time I placed in on the stove, a gust of wind whipped through the campervan and blew it off) but it might come in handy for a little hollandaise.

Nb sometimes it’s just not possible to find smaller versions of everything, for instance unfortunately I could only find bucket-sized wine glasses.

2. A whistling kettle

The quintessential camping accessory. Continuing the theme of miniature, I found this fab little kettle:

But when I got it home, it was devoid of a whistle! So we now have a proper camping kettle, which will join all the other whistling kettles in the campsite to proudly carol out cup-of-tea time.

3. All-purpose microfibre towel.

We hang this by the campervan door and it’s so useful for dusting off feet, wiping up spillages and drying chairs. Being microfibre it dries very quickly. Ours was from Kathmandu.

4. Long-handled broom

This was a last-minute purchase before our first trip but is one of our most useful items, particularly when camping near a beach. It takes no effort at all to sweep out the sand; much easier than crawling around with a dustpan and brush.

5. Pretty tea light holders

What’s an al fresco dining experience without flickering candle light? These will add a spark of colour to your outside table and provide a bit of light in the evening without attracting the mozzies. Surprisingly these came from Bunnings – one of those trips where you just go in for a few bolts…

Number 5 was originally going to be ‘portable washing line’, but the photo wasn’t very inspiring – particularly on the back of numbers 3 and 4, ‘broom’ and ‘mop’.

Nevertheless, what a washing line lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in practicality, and is really handy for drying small items. Such as zip-loc bags.

Note this is not our washing line, but that of a neighbouring campervan when we were travelling in NZ. I thought it was very admirable. (Note to self: pack more zip-loc bags.)

6. First aid kit

This is one of the essentials that is…well, more essential than previous items, particularly if you’re venturing off the beaten track. You should also know how to use everything in your kit. So far we haven’t strayed far from civilisation, and I’m hoping that relocating our daily weekend routine from house to campervan won’t be dramatic enough to suddenly necessitate an eye bath or splint, but it’s there just in case.

Given the propensity of some of Australia’s more lively creatures to inflict any potential harm, we also have a comprehensive wildlife book to identify everything that could possibly join us on our voyage. I’d recommend not even flicking through this before you set off.

7. Novelty tea towels.

This is the perfect opportunity to use all those tea towels that you really, really love but for some reason have never been displayed in your kitchen at home.

8. Evening activities

So you finished your book during your afternoon siesta, but before you start hyperventilating at the thought of spending even a night without tv/dvd/dailymailonline, there is still much fun to be had with an old-fashioned pack of cards and the ubiquitous travel Scrabble especially if you try rude scrabble. Our next trip will be very exciting because we boosted our activities box over Christmas when Paul got a mini telescope and I got… a cross stitch!

9. Citronella candle and insect repellant


It’s a fact. Scottish highlands or Queensland hinterland, mozzies love camping. Some people naturally attract them more than others, so your best defence is to travel with one of these people. That’s what Paul does. Hmmm. You can’t avoid them completely but burning a citronella candle outside your campervan and dousing yourself in Aerogard will take the edge off.

10. Unconventional cutlery
Whether you’re picnicing in a meadow or huddling under your awning, all outdoors meals can only be improved with the addition of a stripy knife and fork and gingham spoon. These came from Robin’s Kitchen. Love that shop!

So there you have it. Our ten essential items to stock in your campervan. Is there anything I’ve missed that you can’t leave home without?

The minimalist guide to camping – set up your site in five simple steps

1. Arrive at campsite and park under shady tree.
2. Unfold camping chairs.
3. Open bottle of wine.
4. Decide on red or green Pringles. Mmmm.
5. Sit back and watch the proper campers next door wrestle with tangled ropes and inadequate foot pumps in the midday sun. If you’ve got any left, maybe offer them a Pringle.

And so began our first trip in the campervan. It’s probably not a purist’s view of a camping weekend but (in our limited experience) a brilliant alternative.

We took the ferry to North Stradbroke Island – the second largest sand island in the world and a beautiful spot. It’s very accessible from Cleveland so we’ve been lots of times, but this was the first time we didn’t have to rush for the last ferry home.

Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island

We stayed at the Adder Rock campsite, right next to the beach near Point Lookout. Surprisingly, ours was one of the only campervans amidst an entire village of tents – and these were not your average two-manners, but mini canvas empires with dining rooms and adjoining corridors – all very swish. And a few metres from our pitch was Home Beach which is just lovely: a small bay which is perfect for swimming and then a sweeping stretch of white sand.

Home Beach, Point Lookout

Once we’d sussed out our surroundings and entertained ourselves with our new toys (an ergonomic broom for the wooden floor being the highlight) we were quite content to just kick back and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Yes our awning would have been very effective.. if we’d parked the other way round. Tsk – amateurs.

Our very subtle Christmas decorations (particularly subtle when compared with our neighbours’ fairy light extravaganza and lifesize inflatable reindeer).

We were very taken with our little van. It turned out we had heaps of storage, and lots of nooks and crannies so that everything had its place. The seats were comfortable (hurrah!) and the bathroom was fabulous. Unfortunately the gas wasn’t connected due to our plumber going awol the day before, so there were no cups of tea this trip – a bottle of bubbles stepped in at the last moment to toast our maiden voyage. And it was so hot I don’t think anybody (i.e. Paul) even noticed I served the same trio of salads for each meal. As soon as the stove’s working though I’ll have to consult my campervan cookbook and try to conjure up some cuisine worthy of competing with the other delicious aromas drifting around the site at 6pm.

We’d planned the weekend as a kind of test run to see how everything worked and whether another trip to Bunnings was required (it usually is) … but all I wrote down was ‘more bin-bags’ so it turns out we were quite organised.

View from the car ferry on the way home.

We were only away one night but it felt like a proper break – apparently that’s the start of the camping bug. Since we returned we’ve surrounded ourselves with maps and brochures to decide on the next destination. All recommendations welcome!

Presenting… our diy campervan

Well the deadline was Christmas, and apart from a few final tweaks, our campervan is finished. YAY!

The festive corner

Fridge nicely stocked

We still need to finish some edging, paint the inside of the back door and make some tiebacks (ribbon will do for now, in keeping with the season) but this can all wait until the Christmas break.

Of course I’m biased, but I think Paul has done a stunning job – the van is unrecognisable from its days as a minibus and I can’t wait for lots of campervanning mini-breaks.

And the maiden voyage is not far off; we’ve booked one night on North Stradbroke Island at a beachside campsite called Adder Rock. We’re hoping the name is not prophetic, but just in case we’ll be requesting a pitch far from any rocks.

We’ll let you know how it goes. Merry Christmas everyone!

Our campervan bathroom

With a new deadline of Christmas, we’ve spent the last few weekends adding the final touches to the campervan.

The bathroom is now finished:Campervan bathroom

Campervan bathroom

The glass mosaic tiles were left over from our own bathroom so we thought we’d continue the red theme through from the living area.

We have boxed in the wheel arch behind the toilet, which also provides a handy shelf or magazine rack:

The doors separating the bathroom from the kitchen are made from the same gloss panels Paul’s used for all the woodwork (sold as pantry doors in Bunnings – if the link is saying ‘sold out’, err.. we have bought quite a few.)

He added new hinges, handles and a lock at the top of each door, so they can be secured in both the open and closed positions.

Campervan bathroom

So the interior is very nearly complete.

In other news, the curtains are finished – hurrah! My new nemesis is the tiebacks; they are being decidedly tricky.

A trial run – Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort

If you love travelling, you might have noticed that an affinity for hotels is often accompanied by a slight addiction to the review site, TripAdvisor, both to research potential hotels and review them after you’ve stayed. Indeed, I was secretly delighted a bit embarrassed to learn yesterday that I’m on the cusp of being awarded my ‘Senior Contributor’ badge. A good one for the CV!

Once the campervan is finished, I have a vague notion of developing a website to review and recommend campsites that we (and others) stay at – obviously not on a TripAdvisor scale, but there doesn’t seem to be anything similar out there. Maybe because Australian campers relish the surprise of arriving at uncharted campsites; if that’s the case, Mum – the site might just be for you.

So over the next few months, keep an eye out for bestcampsites.com.au, and in the meantime, here’s the first review.

Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, Cape Hillsborough, Mackay, Qld

As the name implies, the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort has much higher ambitions than your average humble campsite. And for the most part, I think they’re justified – you can’t go far wrong when you’re located on a deserted tropical beach and surrounded by beautiful national park.

Cape Hillsborough beach

This review is just our impression of the resort. For full details about facilities and prices, please visit the website: www.capehillsboroughresort.com.au

Accommodation
There are powered and unpowered sites, some studio rooms and a variety of beachfront cabins, ranging from the more luxurious Beach House to the less salubrious Fishing Huts (boasting the description: NO LINEN AND NO BATHROOM – I know we were seeking a camping experience but thought this was a step too far for our first jaunt). We opted instead for one of the mid-range Beach Huts at $125/night.


The cabins

 

One of the powered sites

Our cabin was fairly outdated but functional with a bed, kitchenette and shower/toilet. Outside we had a small deck and a couple of chairs. An army of ants had moved in before we arrived, as could be expected in an outdoors setting, but they were politely unintrusive. The room could have been improved immeasurably though with a quick blast of Exit Mould and a whiff of bleach; it was the sort of place where you might just keep your flip-flops on. I can’t comment on the cleanliness of the other cabins, but from the outside, I got the impression they might be fairly similar.

Redeeming features
The resort is renowned for attracting native wildlife (not just ants), the highlight being the resident kangaroos that congregate on the beach at sunrise and sunset. As recommended, we stumbled on to the beach at 5.15am to find a sizeable crowd had already gathered around a lone kangaroo. Who, to his credit, was distinctly unfazed by all the commotion.

Bovvered?

If you don’t fancy such an early start, you may find (as we did) that once the sun is up, the kangaroo(s) will stroll nonchalantly into the campsite and snooze outside your cabin for the rest of the day anyway.

Resort guests only? Pffft.

Vibe
Relaxed, good humoured and friendly – so much so that as people walked back from the bbq at breakfast time wafting steaming plates of bacon and eggs under your nose, you did wonder if they might offer you some. Especially as we were less than prepared and sitting on our deck with one cereal bar each. (They didn’t though – not a sausage.)

Verdict
If you have a tent / caravan / campervan, go for it – it’s a great resort, and the pool would make it a hit with families. Make sure you stock up on provisions before you arrive, the onsite shop is limited, and there are few cafes or food outlets around. I’d probably give the cabins a miss.