Happy new year! Now, on to holidays…

Is it time to book a summer holiday yet? Can we, please?

Because a cursory glance in the fridge reveals that, once again, it’s salad for dinner.

Most of us are struggling to even stand up straight thanks to a new-fangled fitness regime (in my case just one class a week).

And dry January was a terrible, terrible idea.

BUT. The days are getting longer. Summer is a mere 143 days away. Surely it’s time to think about the next sun-filled mini-break? Yay!

Having spent the last 9 years exploring the southern hemisphere, we are now testing the lovely waters around the UK (I understand – they are not always sun-filled but it’s the start of a new year and my glass is resolutely half full).

So, where are the best places to take a campervan? Which campsites would you recommend?

We love North Devon in England’s south west and once we’d arrived back in the UK last year, one of the first places we headed to was Croyde Bay.

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Croyde is LOVELY. It’s got a fabulous sandy beach. Coastal walks. Great surf.

But let’s face it. The main reason any of us go to North Devon is the cream teas. Warm, fluffy scones smothered in homemade jam and clotted cream. And with every café, pub and beach shack serving their own special version, it would be rude not to try at least one every day you’re there.

That’s surely enough to get us through three months of lettuce.

Campsite review – Ruda Holiday Park

On our most recent visit to Croyde, we stayed at Ruda Holiday Park, which we’d watched being built before moving to Australia. Nestled in a perfect spot behind the sand dunes, Ruda offers a large campsite, touring pitches and a number of lodges.

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Still campervan-less, we tried out one of the lodges. Aside from the price, which – despite being outside school holidays – would easily rival the cost of an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean, our Clovelly Lodge was fantastic. It was light, bright and spacious and had literally everything we needed for a week’s stay, including high-spec fittings and appliances. Granted, it did officially sleep 6 and there were only 2.5 of us (6 would have been mightily cosy) but compared with my vision of a glorified static caravan, it was impressive.

There’s a well-stocked grocery shop onsite, a large swimming complex which our toddler loved and regular evening entertainment if that’s your thing. On the downside, there’s no 3G coverage and the wi-fi is only available in the bar area, where it was very temperamental.

Also, the eating areas were not overly inspiring – maybe a bit too child-friendly to allow for a civilised evening meal if you’re a group of adults. (Of course if you do have children in tow then the sight of a few chips on the floor might just make you relax about the prospect of your own carefully chosen kids’ meals being flung around. Nope? Just me then.)

Reading the reviews on TripAdvisor, the actual camping facilities at Ruda aren’t always rated very highly. But if you’re using your own campervan facilities (or are staying in one of the lodges) you can’t beat the location.

The beautiful beach could not be any closer. The cliff-top walk to Baggy Point is just around the corner and the pretty village of Croyde is a few minutes’ walk away. (And those few minutes would definitely justify another cream tea while you’re there.)

Campervan Converts - Baggy Point, North Devon

In the evening, try the lovely local pub, The Thatch, for dinner, or drive the short distance to Braunton for some amazing fish and chips at Squires.

So Croyde is definitely on our travel list for 2016. We could almost buy a new campervan for the cost of a week in a lodge though, so we might need to focus our efforts in that regard.

Okay, over to you. Where are your favourite spots to get us reacquainted with the English coastline?

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Here comes the sun

Living on the east coast we’re treated to some amazing sunrises at this time of year.

So I understand anyway, they do happen very early.

The day we left Noosa after our long weekend, a marathon was due to close the road outside our campsite between 5am and 2pm. Which was a great excuse for a long lie-in and a lazy bbq brunch by the river before heading home in the afternoon. Definitely a better option than creeping out before dawn to beat the traffic.

You’ll notice none of the photos below are of a lazy bbq brunch.

I can’t deny we did miss all the traffic though.

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

So having set off rather sleepily in the dead of night, we drove ten minutes down the coast and parked overlooking Sunshine Beach. Where just a hint of daylight bouncing off the sea indicated the imminent sunrise.

Well, we thought it was imminent; the sun chose to rise behind the largest cloud in the sky and didn’t appear until two hours later. But I dragged Paul down to the beach (he had already gone back to bed in the campervan) and we braced the very chilly sea air until it was fully light.

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Sunshine Beach is a beautiful place to wake up, and watching the sun rise – particularly having seen it set the evening before – was a special experience.

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

By 7am the car park was bustling with surfers and dog walkers, and we were glad we’d reserved the best spot to enjoy our cornflakes.

Campervan Converts - campervan brekkie

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

I’ll review the site in Noosa where we stayed in the next post, it was a good ‘un.

A campervan trip to Noosa – the place to be

Ah campervan – how we have missed you! It’s been a rather eventful year so far and somehow four months have passed since we last enjoyed a camping mini-break. Noosa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and a couple of hours north of Brisbane, is one of our favourite spots and was the perfect place to quench the drought.

Campervan Converts - Noosa beach

Campervan Converts - Noosa National Park

Miles of white powdery sand and perfect rolling waves, a national park with spectacular coastal views and koalas playing in the trees, and a main street lined with little boutiques and critically acclaimed restaurants.

This is where the beautiful people hang out.

Which I must admit can be a little stressful: it’s hard to completely ignore the boot-campers on the sand next to you reaching their hundredth press-up as you’re tucking into a(nother) bag of freshly baked apple danishes. Or the swishy-haired locals sprinting past with strollers as you’re stopping to catch your breath on the scenic boardwalk’s slight incline.

Campervan Converts - Noosa beach

Still, our long weekend was wonderfully relaxing. We camped at the Noosa River Holiday Park next to the river and spent our days wandering along the beach (dodging all organised fitness activities), café-hopping and generally enjoying the last warmth of summer.

As usual this was liberally interspersed with a bit of photography.

Campervan Converts - Noosa River Holiday Park

Campervan Converts - Noosa River Holiday Park

Campervan Converts - splash

We’ve always seen some amazing sunsets in Noosa and were lucky again this time. Campers and pelicans alike assembled in pockets along the river bank as the light changed.

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa pelicans

Campervan Converts - Noosa pelicans

Using varying methods to catch dinner…

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa pelicans

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Just a few hours after the sun set on our last night, we were chasing the sunrise a few miles down the coast (for reasons which seemed entirely logical at the time). I will save the pictures for my next blog!

Taking the road less travelled – a week of waterfalls and wineries

So with a week off over Christmas we deviated from our well-worn route to the coast and ventured inland, for our longest trip away in the campervan. We spent our time circling Queensland’s Granite Belt, 3 hours south west of Brisbane, staying first at Queen Mary Falls near Warwick before driving down to the orchards and vineyards of Stanthorpe.

Our campervan was only designed for mini-mini-breaks, but it coped well with the extended trip. The fridge held enough food for a week (mostly leftover turkey and cold chipolatas), and our narrow shoe cupboard found its true calling as a wine cellar! So we redistributed the shoes and stocked up on some of Queensland’s best vintage. (Which was better than we thought!)

We coped well with the longer stay too. Or, we were coping, until Paul announced on the fourth morning that we were entering unchartered territory, at which point I suddenly began misjudging the low ceiling height and my back decided to give way in protest at the unsprung mattress cushions. Still, two mild concussions and the price of a heat pack were a reasonable price to pay for a week’s holiday.

Queen Mary Falls are part of Main Range National Park near Killarney and the border with New South Wales. Also nestled in the same rainforest and accessible from that stretch of road are Browns Falls and Daggs Falls, providing lots of lookouts and photo opportunities.

Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

Daggs Falls, Killarney

Our campsite was right opposite Queen Mary Falls, where you can walk a short distance to the top of the falls or around a longer circuit to the base. Or you could abseil, of course.

Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

The walk to Browns Falls was more challenging, requiring a few leaps over precarious stepping stones and a bit of tarzan swinging around trees. Not one for wheelchairs or pushchairs, although while I was psyching myself up for one of the river crossings, we were overtaken by two elderly ladies, so maybe I was being overly cautious.

As you’d expect, the area is teeming with wildlife and perfect for birdwatchers. For us, it was a peaceful antidote to the rush and excitement of the previous Christmas weeks.

Kookaburra, Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

Colourful bird

Dragon lizard

Campervanning

After three days we drove south to Stanthorpe, along the very bumpy New England Highway. There is loads to do in the area. Actually even more than we realised, as I discovered back at work when my colleague said:

‘Did you go to the jumping police dogs academy?’

‘Oh but you must have seen the giant granite frog?’

‘I can’t believe you didn’t even visit the famous maze!’

Hmmmm. We did, however, visit lots of wineries.

Armed with our Granite Belt vineyard guide, it was recommended we head to some of the 5* wineries just north of Stanthorpe first. That didn’t provide the most auspicious start though.

Boireann Winery was first on the list:

Boireann Winery

Followed by Summit Wines:

Summit Wines Stanthorpe

Which was very pretty, but these storm clouds burst just as we left the campervan, so we dashed back inside and made a cup of tea instead.

Thankfully things cheered up as we drove south, helped by the appearance of the sun and the much prettier landscape. The frequent cattle grids on the back roads attest to the vast number of cows and horses in the surrounding farmland – some of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen.

Horses

Farm

The only other wine region we can compare the Granite Belt to is Margaret River in Western Australia, which produces world-renowned wines and is generally a much wealthier region. It seems unfair therefore to rank Stanthorpe (whose wines are largely unknown outside Australia) in the same category, and the wineries are certainly smaller and less luxurious than in Margaret River, but they’re friendly and welcoming and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety.

We tasted lots of wine (although not nearly as much as was offered), we bought lots of wine (thanks to our shoe cellar) and we took lots of photos of wine and vines.

Ballandean Winery

Winery

Wine barrels

Grapes on vine

It’s not all about the wine; as the region implies, there is plenty of granite around and in Warwick you can do a short walking tour of the historic granite buildings.

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Warwick

The best evidence though is in the very impressive Girraween National Park, which features huge granite boulders and ‘the Pyramid’: a steep, rocky cliff-face which is not for the faint hearted, but affords panoramic views at the top. (So says Paul anyway, I found the views panoramic enough at the bottom. It was 35 degrees!!)

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Back on the highway and there are plenty of other treats to keep you occupied if you need a break from hill climbs and wineries (and can’t find the giant granite frog): lavender farms, olive farms, cherry farms, apple orchards, soaperies and gourmet produce outlets. It’s the perfect location for a foodie escape.

Apples Stanthorpe

Mangoes Stanthorpe

Lavender

Campsite reviews of Queen Mary Falls and Top of the Town at Stanthorpe coming soon!

Gourmet camping meals – finding a balance

I read a post a few weeks ago about the brilliant spontaneity of campervanning, and the romantic freedom it gives you to drive off into the sunset at a moment’s notice.

It is possible, that the post appeared on my own blog.

I haven’t yet managed, 100 per cent, to put my very useful advice into practice.

Keeping a separate set of camping cutlery, I can do. Remembering to fill the water tanks the night before – fine. The one tiny step I fall down on is ‘throw some food in the fridge and you’re off’.

The trouble is, we’ve been so excited to go away in our campervan that we’ve treated every trip, even if we’re only staying down the road, as a mini holiday. Equally every meal that we can eat outside on a rug instead of at a dining table has become a picnic.

Of course, holidays and picnics are wonderful. But the reality does come with its own stresses.

Who wants to eat their every day cereal on holiday? It’s a time for treats! Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Grilled mushrooms on sourdough. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmmm. And as soon as a packed lunch becomes a picnic, your rather pedestrian tuna sandwich and a KitKat are replaced with wicker hampers overflowing with wild rice salad and honey-glazed chicken.

But this was requiring an inordinate amount of planning and food preparation every Thursday before we left. The spontaneity was disappearing in a flurry of lists and pre-chopped crudités.

I once spent the night before frantically flicking through a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller for some inspiration. (I know Gourmet Traveller’s reputation isn’t founded on the quality of its camping recipes but who’s to say you can’t be more adventurous than a tuna sandwich just because you’re staying in a field?).

Anyway I thought I’d struck gold with the first article: a twist on the humble toastie. Perfect. The photos looked simple yet sophisticated. I started scribbling notes for the first recipe.

Unfortunately there is nothing humble about a Gourmet Traveller toastie.

Step 1. You will need to start this recipe two days in advance.

Two days??

For a toastie? Doesn’t that contradict the whole principle of toasties?

Maybe that was the twist.

It was the final straw and from then on, I decided to be very strict. For the next trip, I threw a few basics in the fridge and transferred our usual box of pantry ingredients into the campervan. There were no lists. No pre-mixed spicy chickpea burgers. No homemade organic lemonade. And the whole experience was much more relaxed. Almost spontaneous! Paul’s happiest moments of the whole weekend were when I produced cornflakes for breakfast and he found out lunch was a cheese and pickle sandwich.

As it happens, I am now writing an article for a magazine quite similar to Gourmet Traveller (similar in that it’s about travelling, dissimilar in that it’s about travelling in caravans), and the article is focused on quick and easy camping meals. So I am looking for inspiration.

Fellow campers, caravanners – what are your tips for your favourite camping recipes? Meals that don’t require too much forward planning and can be rustled up with just a few basics? I’ve already got cheese and pickle sandwiches!

Five best things about a weekend in a campervan

Back when we were building the campervan, I did wonder how we’d get on with the whole camping thing. Staying in caravan parks. Having to remember a key (or, even worse, a code) when you’re hopping from one foot to the other, desperate for the loo. Reliving memories from guide camp of wearing clothes still damp from the previous day’s downpour. Making awkward conversation with other bleary-eyed campers on the early morning walk to the shower block. Sand everywhere. Ants in the cornflakes.

I wasn’t sure such proximity to either nature or neighbours would improve a minibreak.

But, I have been converted! Granted, we are not proper camping. We’ve been lucky with the weather (better than the Peak District) and having our own bathroom – however tiny – makes a huge difference. As does having a husband whose new hobby is evacuating every grain of sand from the wooden floors.

I’m not quite ready to relinquish my subscription to the Best Hotel Guide, but campervan minibreaks are definitely growing on me.

Here are our five best things about spending a weekend in a campervan:

  1. It feels like a proper break. As soon as you leave the house – and with it the endless domestic chores that would otherwise consume your weekend – even an express 24-hour trip away feels like a mini-holiday. And arriving home on Sunday afternoon still leaves you enough time to do the important stuff before work on Monday.
  2. You are completely self sufficient. You can drive to the middle of nowhere and everything you could possibly need is in easy reach, in the little space behind you.

  3. You don’t have that sense of foreboding on going-home day. While the proper campers on the next pitch are up at 6am trying to dismantle their canvas empires and cram everything into a trailer before the storm clouds roll in (in the knowledge that they have reverse the entire process when they get home), we fold up the chairs, unplug the power and drive off. The downside to this that while we can make a quick exit, our pitch never looks quite as homely as our neighbours’. Perhaps I should add a few pot plants to my list of campervan essentials.
  4. Eating breakfast al fresco. We’re lucky in Brisbane that it’s warm enough to eat breakfast outside for nine months of the year. But somehow when you’re at home, walking five extra steps to unlock the back door while juggling your porridge always seems too strenuous first thing in a morning.
  5. It’s cheap! Okay, the initial outlay to buy or build a campervan / caravan is not cheap, but once you’re on the road, you hardly have to pay for anything. Luckily after nine months, it’s still a novelty to rustle up a meal in our little kitchen, so we rarely eat out and our only costs are petrol and camping fees.

So last weekend we went to Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast. It was a beautiful weekend; the lifeguards were getting ready for the first patrol of the summer, so we spent most of our time on the beach watching the rescue boats zooming up and down.

We stayed at Cottontree Holiday Park which has the most perfect location backing onto the beach. Campsite review coming soon!

So, fellow campervanners and caravanners – what are your favourite aspects of camping?

A campervan retreat in the mountains: Montville and Maleny

The weather in Queensland has really cooled down recently. The last time we took the campervan away we were still basking in the late summer heat, but autumn has now crept up on us and Brisbanites are swapping board shorts and flip-flops for scarves and Ugg boots. Some days it’s even dipped below 20 degrees!

We felt justified pulling out our English thermals though last weekend, as we headed up to the Glasshouse Mountains, an hour north of Brisbane in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It must be one of the most scenic parts of Queensland, particularly at this time of year when you get a hint of the autumnal colours that are absent along the coast.

It’s more like England than probably anywhere else I’ve been in Queensland, and in fact the Glasshouse Mountain range is so named because it reminded Captain Cook of the glasshouse furnaces in his native Yorkshire.

The mountains themselves have brilliant names, like Tibrogargan and Beerburrum. We made an unscheduled stop at Mount Beerburrum, enticed by a sign promising a short stroll to a spectacular lookout. It had the unexpected benefit fulfilling our exercise quota for a whole week, as the 700m path was at an almost vertical incline.

I stumbled across an internet forum the other day where enthusiastic bushwalkers post how quickly they complete various walks. Who knew it was such a competitive pursuit! I have not added our time, lest they think we crawled. Ahem.

Anyway the views were spectacular, and well worth the climb.

After a reviving packet of digestives back in the campervan, we continued to Maleny, which, along with Montville is one the main towns in the region. If your calves allow after your morning bushwalk, it’s a great place to mooch around rare book shops, local craft centres and organic grocers. Montville is more touristy but the main street is very appealing, with a number of little art galleries. After checking out a whole range of art and testing an abundance of fudge shops, we sat in a sunny café for the rest of the morning, enjoying a hot chocolate and some more stunning views.

Maleny happened to be hosting a famous wood expo that weekend, and seeing as it was also our fifth wedding anniversary (and I was keenly aware that if there’s ever an opportune time in one’s marriage to proffer a carved wooden gift, this was it) we thought it would be an appropriate activity. So we paid the $12 entrance fee (each!!) and went to watch some wood being chopped.

I’m not sure what I was expecting; people were proudly walking round with planks balanced over their shoulder and chopping boards tucked under their arm. But we didn’t need any planks and Paul has forbidden any more chopping boards so we made a meek exit and retreated, for what remains my favourite activity in the campervan: lunch!

Happiness is… a bowl of pasta with a gingham spoon

We found the nicest campsites were in the neighbouring village of Mapleton, and we stayed a night at two sites. It’s a different experience camping in the winter. We had a sliver of sun moving across our pitch in the afternoon, but when my deckchair started intruding on our neighbours’ scrabble game in my bid to capture the last bit of warmth, it was time to admit defeat and head inside. Once the sun disappeared from the site, the temperature dipped down to single figures, so we walked down the road to the Mapleton Tavern: the perfect country pub with a huge verandah overlooking the Blackall Range.

The campervan was surprisingly warm enough at night (the thermals and thick quilt helped), and once again made us very grateful that we were not under canvas!

Still, it will be nice to start wearing flip-flops again (without socks). Roll on summer!