Cool Campsites on the East Coast of Australia…

Cooking a chilli on the camp fire

Discovering cool campsites on the East Coast of Australia

From Sydney to Cairns the east coast of Australia is made for a road trip, with endless beauty from the ocean to the rainforest there’s so much to explore. Hire a campervan or car, pack up a tent and go on an adventure down under. There are some very cool campsites on Australia’s east coast, from pitches with beach views, to dreamy spots surrounded by nothing but rainforest. It’s such a fantastic way to experience Australia. I went on a road trip from Sydney to Cairns a few years ago in a campervan with Matt, we covered 1633 miles in 3 weeks. There were a few very long days of driving, sometimes 8 or 9 hours but it was always worth it for the for the adventures we had and the cool campsites we stayed at. Driving is such a great way to see the ever-changing landscape and climate as you go up or down the coast and having the freedom to decide where and when you want to stop is fantastic.

Most of the campgrounds we stopped at we only booked the day we arrived or we just turned up and inquired if they had space.  In high season it’s probably best to book in advance as pitches can get fully booked months beforehand. National park campgrounds are often cheaper than privately owned ones and often need to be booked before you arrive. They will have limited facilities but are an amazing way to experience the great outdoors; proper camping if you will. It is necessary to take all your own equipment including water and food to these campgrounds as there will not be anywhere to purchase anything nearby.  If you are planning a road trip on Australia’s east coast read on for my favourite campsites from Sydney to Cairns…

 

My favourite campsites on Australia’s East Coast:  

Euroka Campground, Blue Mountains National Park

The Blue Mountains area is a beautiful place to camp and Euroka campground is the perfect base.  Found along an unpaved road amongst the bush this spot is popular with cockatoos and kangaroos.  Facilities are basic with pit toilets and no showers.  Sites are unpowered and unmarked which gives the campground a natural feel and there are fire pits for cooking.  Bring water with you as there is none available at Euroka. It’s a tent only campground and is a popular one, so book before you go.  From Euroka walk to Nepean River and enjoy being in the Australian outback.  Visit Katoomba for a coffee and Echo Point Lookout for a fantastic view of the famous Three Sisters.  There is a cable car and scenic railway to really make the most of the incredible views here.  Wentworth Falls is an awesome place to stop for a hike and take photos of the gorgeous waterfall.

 
 

Racecourse Campground, Goolawah National Park

Set behind the sand dunes of Goolawah Beach, Racecourse is a relatively small campground with only 20 sites. I loved watching the sunset on the gorgeous beach and waking up to the sounds of the ocean. Be sure to go well equipped to this spot as it is fairly remote, but magical! Matt and I woke up very early one morning to watch the sunrise over the ocean. We parked up a short drive from Racecourse campsite on Point Plomer Road to cook breakfast. There were kangaroos in the field behind us and dolphins jumping in the ocean in front of us. It was an awesome spot for breakfast!

 

 

Trial Bay Gaol Campground

This is an incredible spot for camping, set on a peninsula in Arakoon National Park.  The ocean is right on the edge of the campsite and has some water front pitches. The facilities are top-notch with toilet and shower blocks, its worth noting that the showers are coin operated.  Trial Bay is a fantastic spot to see whales on their annual migration north in the winter and in spring on their way back south.  We saw whales during our stay here which was totally unexpected and an amazing experience. We also had kangaroos pass us by in the evenings while we were barbecuing.  If you love the beach and the outdoors then this cool campground is totally for you.

 

Calypso Holiday Park, Yamba

Yamba holds some really memorable moments on our road trip.  A small town with a fishing harbour and cool surfy vibes.  It was one of my favourite stops, so much so that we ended up staying an extra night.  Calypso Holiday Park has pitches and cabins right on Clarence River, a gorgeous relaxing spot with fantastic sunset views.  The town and beaches are all within walking distance and the YHA does a great breakfast.  Take the short drive to Angourie, the beach there is a National Surfing Reserve.  Stop by the Blue Pools for a dip or leap in from the cliff edge.

 

Black Rocks Campground, Ten Mile Beach, Bundjalung National Park

It took around 45 minutes to drive along a very bumpy gravel track surrounded by dense woodland to reach Black Rocks. This place put me on the edge of my camping comfort zone for sure! It is one of the remotest places I have ever stayed and most definitely ‘wild’ camping, I loved it.

Set behind the sand dunes of the stunning and untamed Ten Mile Beach the pitches are very private. Separated by woodland it felt like we were the only people there, apart from the faint murmur of voices somewhere in the distance.  Black Rocks is an incredible place to explore, there’s Jerusalem Creek for fishing, the coastline and miles of undisturbed bush behind the dunes.  Each drive in pitch comes with a bench and fire pit, the facilities are basic with only pit toilets and no showers. Be sure to arrive fully equipped and self-sufficient and take enough water for the duration of your stay.  I loved that there was no light pollution, the starry skies were out of this world and in the van at night you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face.  We got freaked out one evening in the dark too; as we were sat in our van having a few drinks we could hear a lot of rustling and something circling the camper…after a long time we spotted a possum by torchlight.  Not so scary after all, but slightly creepy in the dark, in the middle of nowhere!  This is a very cool campsite on the east coast and hands down one of my favourites of our whole three weeks in Australia.  If you like having your own adventures in complete remoteness then this is the campground for you.

 

Broken Head Holiday Park, near Byron Bay

This beach campground has awesome views of Broken Head Beach, a short stroll away.  It is around 7 kilometres from Byron Bay so it’s a nice distance to escape the crowds in high season.  Spacious pitches, not too close to fellow campers, a camp kitchen and BBQ area plus a camp kiosk mean it has everything you need.  The campsite is a short drive from Suffolk Park a lovely small town with a bakery, fuel station and convenience stores.  We couldn’t find a campsite with free pitches in Byron so this little gem popped up at the right time.  Byron is world-famous for its surf scene and the beaches are beautiful but it can get very busy so Broken Head is a great spot for a bit of tranquility.  We spotted dolphins in the surf here while swimming in the sea and said hello to some huge lizards near our van.

 

 

Noosa River Holiday Park

It doesn’t get more scenic than Noosa River Holiday Park.  Wake up to pelicans bobbing along on the river right in front of your van or tent and enjoy a barbecue with a glass of wine in the well equipped camp kitchen as the sunsets.  It is in the most perfect spot only a few steps from the sandy shoreline.  I’ve stayed in this campground a few times now, even if it is full the staff will do their best to accommodate you.  Matt and I once parked up in the overflow car park for the night among boats and trailers; we could still see the river from our spot!  The town, Hastings Street and Gympie Terrace are all within walking distance.  While you are in the area make sure you take a trip to Noosa National Park, it’s a stunning walk along miles of beautiful coastline.  Hire a paddle board and explore the river too, there are some interesting mangroves a short paddle across the river.  Go inland here to see the incredible Glass House Mountains and to visit the markets at Eumundi.

 

Ferns Hideaway Resort, Byfield

This is most definitely a hideaway. Found in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rainforest, friendly wallabies and fruit bats. Camping at Ferns Hideaway comes with complimentary use of kayaks to explore the stretch of privately owned creek. Matt and I absolutely loved paddling along the creek and exploring this hidden spot. Pitches aren’t marked out, you chose where you would like to park up. It is a lovely, small site with with a camp kitchen, clean shower facilities and welcoming owners. There is also a swimming pool and restaurant on site along with a handful of log cabins. If you are looking for a unique campground on the east coast of Australia then Ferns Hideaway is it.

 

 

Big4 Whitsundays Tropical Eco Resort, Airlie Beach

I loved the laid back vibes of Airlie Beach, we stopped here to go on a Whitsunday Islands boat trip.  The pitch we stayed on at this Big4 site was partly shaded by tropical plants, perfect for keeping the van cool.  A camp kitchen with two fridges and gas barbecues, plus a playground, swimming pool and clean facilities make this a great spot.  A trip to the Whitsunday Islands is a must when on the east coast of Australia.  Whitehaven Beach is a well-known beauty spot on Whitsunday Island, pure white sand and sparkling turquoise ocean make it a picture perfect paradise.  Book onto a day trip or jump aboard a sailing boat for a longer trip on the water.

 

Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village

This campground is very convenient for the beach which is just over the road and my gosh what a stunning beach it is. Miles and miles of golden sand backed by palm trees, it is a breathtaking spot. We stayed at Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village for less than 24 hours but had a really nice time. The facilities are well-kept and there is a swimming pool and camp kitchen.  Mission Beach is popular for sky diving, trips to Dunk Island and exploring waterfalls. Around 40 minutes north of Mission Beach is the gorgeous Etty Bay, it’s a small, secluded beach with a café and a caravan park with cabins, powered sites and tent pitches. We went in search of the cassowary, a shy bird known to live in the area.  Sightings are rare, so to see one on the beach would be fantastic; unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to find one when we were there.

 

 

NRMA Cairns Holiday Park

This campsite wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice, everywhere was full so from what I can remember it was one of our only options. It was pretty packed and pitches were quite close together, but the facilities were clean and it had a great camp kitchen and a pool. It also had a little veggie garden which you could help yourself to, a nice little touch. Cairns is the place to be to see the Great Barrier Reef. I will never forget catching a glimpse of it for the first time; crystal clear waters and colourful corals. Snorkelling above the reef and spotting a turtle was an incredible experience.

 

Once you’ve found and booked your campsites on the east coast of Australia, head to my post: Planning a Road Trip on the East Coast of Australia for tips on what to pack and what to expect on your adventure. 

If you have time check out this short video of my first road trip down under: Three weeks in three and a half minutes.  

If you are looking for ideas on things to do in Sydney I’ve got a post all about it here: Five things to do in Sydney.  

For whale watching here’s the lowdown on an amazing day trip: Whale watching in Australia.

 

Road Tripping with a Baby in California….

*Thanks to JUCY campers for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible.  Find out more at www.jucyusa.com and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.

 

Roadtripping with a baby in California…in a campervan. It might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but if you plan it right it’s the best way to explore and a fantastic way for kids to enjoy the outdoors.  We’ve done a lot of road trips over the years; our last one with JUCY was back in 2013 in Australia and New Zealand. This trip was a bit different as we now have Emily who is 20 months old. Planning involved choosing shorter drives with more stops and campgrounds with good facilities.  We chose to hire a campervan with JUCY as we had used them before and loved the compact size of their vans.
One thing that I love about JUCY is that they provide everything you could possibly need to camp very comfortably. Pillows, duvets, bed linen and towels are all included as is kitchen utensils, crockery, cutlery and the kitchen sink. Not all camper companies provide all of this. For an extra charge you can hire camping chairs, sat nav, car seats and add-on mileage packages.
The trip didn’t get off to a great start, after landing in San Francisco I received a text from our airline to say our car seat hadn’t made it on our flight. Not good for a road trip! After the initial stress we hatched a plan, rather than wait for it to arrive which would ruin the beginning of our adventure we chose to hire one with JUCY. We found a taxi company who provided car seats to get us to the Jucy branch in Oakland and on arrival explained our problem. The lovely JUCY crew were so accommodating and had so many seats to choose from. At $40 for our whole 19-day trip it was a bargain.
The JUCY Trailblazer Van:
So let me tell you more about our van. We hired the JUCY Trailblazer, its compact size is perfect for winding national park roads and means you can park up anywhere and fit into pretty much any campground you fancy. This seems to be quite a unique concept for America as it’s all about the huge RVs that are the size of buses! We loved the size of this van, it was comfortable to drive and didn’t feel too big. The Trailblazer sleeps four, two in the roof and two in the main part of the camper. Inside the two bench seats convert into a bed and in the floor there is tons of storage space plus a table for use inside the van. The roof pops up with the turn of a handle or with the push of a button and reveals the comfiest double bed with canvas sides. The kitchen is at the back in the boot and comes complete with cupboard space, a chiller, sink and two gas stoves. There is everything you need from cutlery, to pots and pans, crockery and most importantly a kettle for a cuppa and a bottle opener for beer! I should mention the campers also come with DVD players.  Emily and I slept in the main part of the van while Matt had the roof ‘penthouse’ all to himself. This set up worked well and it meant that there was plenty of space for Emily to move around in her sleep!

Useful tips and tricks:
Pick up your van and head straight to a supermarket to stock up on essentials, food, water, baby food, alcohol, (definitely an essential when camping with a toddler!) etc. We found this really useful to do before we set off, that way we knew we had all our supplies with us.
Hire a car seat or take your own, if we hadn’t needed ours for the car journey to and from the airport in the UK I would definitely have just hired it through Jucy.
Be sure to have a good supply of water with you as a lot of campgrounds, especially national park ones don’t have water on site. There are no on site stores either so it’s a good idea to take everything you’ll need with you. If you camp at a private campground that’s not owned by the National Park Service they will often have a camp shop with a few basic supplies.
We booked our campsites in advance but you can often turn up and enquire about availability. Some campgrounds only offer walk up sites while others have to be booked months in advance as they are so popular.
Be flexible, if you don’t have fixed dates, book campgrounds as you go along.  Although now we have Emily we prefer to pre-book, but it’s sometimes fun to change plans and head somewhere different. Our plans altered slightly due to the wildfires in California
I would definitely recommend getting to campgrounds early in the afternoon to get set up and organised.  On a few nights we were racing against the light and nearing Emily’s dinner time so it was sometimes a bit stressful. I struggled to get used to living with Emily in such a small space for the first few days but once we got organised and into a little routine it all worked out perfectly. She had so much fun checking out her new little home and loved exploring the penthouse.
Cooking was really easy, Emily enjoys a lot of finger food so we could whip up a little buffet style meal for her straight from the chiller or use the camping stove to heat up something warm. The kettle came in handy to boil water to heat through her bottles and she loved eating at the bench by the campfire.
We factored in our drives along our route to fit around Emily’s daily nap, which worked out really well.

Packing:
We tried to pack as minimally as we could due to space restrictions in the van, it was made a little bit harder by having to pack for colder conditions in northern California as well as for the sunnier part of our trip further down the coast.  Plenty of private campgrounds do have washing machines so if you pack lightly you should be able to find laundry facilities at some point on your trip.
Some things I couldn’t live without when camping are:
Anti-bac wipes, tea bags, washing up liquid, sponge; snacks for Emily and nappies are all on my essential packing list. I love to have a few things with me before I arrive. Knowing I’ve got tea bags for a decent cuppa is always high on my packing list!
A torch or led lights are perfect for campfire cooking and going to and from the toilet block in the middle of the night.
Zip lock bags are great for storing perishables on the road.
A portable charger for your phone is always a good thing to have. There were USB ports in our Jucy van so we were able to charge phones on the road.

Our favourite campgrounds:
Morro Strand State Beach Bay:  Right on the beach, the facilities are basic and there are no showers but it’s worth it for the views and beach access.  Pitches have a fire pit and bench. We had a pitch overlooking the beach, I loved lying in bed listening to the ocean.
Carpinteria State Beach:  A really nice, clean campsite by the beach, walking distance to a few local shops and a lovely spot for building sand castles.
Lake Jennings Campground:  Around 30 minutes east of San Diego this is a gorgeous campground overlooking the lake. Popular with fishermen it’s a quiet spot. Sites have a bench and fire pit, we chose a really lovely one with fantastic views of the water.  Don’t expect much from the toilet and shower block as it was pretty basic but they were clean and tidy.  The campground also has a play park.
A campervan is perfect for a road trip, choose your route, stop for a cuppa along the way and park up for the night at beach campground.  It’s really easy to do with a baby too, it just involves a little bit more planning and organisation.  We soon got the hang of it and enjoyed exploring at a slower pace than before we had Emily.  There’s nothing quite like having the freedom to explore in a very cool van with everything you could possibly need to have an awesome adventure!
Do you camp or go on road trips with your kids?  Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear all about your adventures…

 

A bad day on the road in New Zealand…

I always share the good parts of my travels and trips but rarely do I mention the bad bits. Whilst I have been lucky and not experienced too much in the way of bad events on my adventures so far, I thought I would share a very unfortunate day I had while Matt and I were on a road trip in New Zealand. Every trip surely has to have a bad day and this is mine…
Day 11 of travelling around New Zealand’s South Island we were leaving Queenstown around lunchtime en route to Te Anau. We’d made the decision over breakfast that morning to go to Milford Sound, to break up the journey we would stop over night in Te Anau. The drive was around three hours and with a trip to a glowworm cave booked for 6pm we were keen to get on the road. Stopping for fuel on the outskirts of Queenstown I took the opportunity, as you do to go to the toilet. I had my purse with me and not wanting to put it on the floor I rested it on the hook on the back of the door. All fuelled up we set off, driving along the winding road we stopped to take photos along the way of the gorgeous scenery and the mesmerising blue waters of Lake Wakatipu. An hour into the journey I noticed my credit card was in the pocket of my jeans, pulling it out I went to put it in my purse. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have my purse and I knew exactly where it was! Heart pounding and now heading back the way we had just come I hurriedly searched online for fuel stations in Queenstown, desperately trying to remember the name of the one we had been in. Thankfully I found it along with a phone number. I was relieved to find out that my purse had been found and put in the garage safe, but I had a lot of cash in it and was hoping it would still be in there. It seemed like the longest hour back to Queenstown, pulling in at the fuel station I jumped out and ran in. I was so grateful to the staff for keeping it safe and was relieved to find all the money still inside. Drama over it was back on the road and my turn in the driving seat. We were now pushed for time and were rushing as we wanted to get to Te Anau before 6pm. Half way there I admittedly was driving too fast, with no one else on the road for miles and miles it was easy to get carried away and attempting to make up for the time we lost I sped on. Unfortunately over the brow of a hill a police car passed us in the opposite direction, before I knew it the vehicle had turned around, lights flashing and appeared behind us. Pulling over I started to cry knowing I had gone above the speed limit. The police officer was very nice about it all and could see how upset I was, we even joked about what a bad day I was having after explaining about leaving my purse behind. But of course there are no excuses, I was speeding and I got a rather hefty $90 fine. Continuing on the road I was still upset and now angry with myself for having been so stupid, lesson learnt I stuck to the speed limit and we arrived at our campground in Te Anau with just enough time to cook dinner and have a rum and ginger to calm my nerves! Although the last thing I felt like doing was going on a trip it turned out to be a really great adventure, exploring caves with under water rivers and floating around in a boat in the darkness staring up at hundreds of beautiful glowworms; it was a happy end to the day!
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling? Let me know in the comments below…

 

Whale Watching in Australia…

One of the best and most memorable experiences I had in Australia was a whale watching trip. On day nine at 625 miles into our road trip along the east coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns we arrived at Hervey Bay. Hervey Bay is a very popular spot in Queensland for whale watching trips. Matt and I had been really indecisive about our plans and whether to go whale spotting, so a last-minute decision saw us leave Rainbow Beach and drive two hours along the coast, I am so glad we made the decision to go. Arriving just after 1pm we were very lucky to get on a trip that had spaces left at 1.30pm. We hastily booked onto it and as we had not had lunch we grabbed snacks from the van and made a run for the boat!

The trip:

We went with Tasman Venture who have two trips a day running from July to October. Cruising out of Hervey Bay our route took us past the famous Fraser Island, at 75 miles long it is the biggest sand island in the world and pretty impressive. With around four hours at sea we were lucky to witness a lot of whale action! Humpbacks and right whales make their annual migration to Antarctica from July to November and stop in Hervey Bay to rest and rear their young. Not long into the journey we spotted a mother with her calf, the guides told us that this particular whale returned every year. It was incredible to see them moving so gracefully through the water, fin slapping, breaching and tail slapping too. I learnt from a very handy whale watching leaflet that the way to tell the difference between a humpback and southern right whale at a distance is from the shape of the air they blow out. Humpbacks push air straight up and right whales create a ‘v’ shape.

The first time I saw a whale from the shoreline made me feel quite emotional and to see them so close was breathtaking. It was a pretty stormy day with the boat rolling around a lot and quite a few people were ill. Before the boat left we were all warned of the impending bad weather and given the option to do the trip another day. I was alarmed at one point to see a couple shuffling along the floor on their knees, I couldn’t understand what they were up to, until one of the crew came and helped scoop them up…they had got sea sickness in a very bad way! I also found Matt up on the starboard side of the boat a one point clinging onto to the railings for dear life, unable to move because of the wind and the unsteadiness of the boat! It was getting very rough, so we retreated below deck to warm up with a cup of tea and a slice of cake and got the best sighting of the afternoon of the mother and calf leaping out of the water together. It was a fantastic day despite the weather, if you are planning a trip to Australia make sure you go whale watching, it really is a unique experience.

 

Camping in California with Wicked Campers…

Ad: Matt and I were given a discount by Wicked on our campervan in exchange for this blog post.
What could be better than hitting the open road in your own campervan?  Having a kitchen and bed right there on the road with you means you are totally independent and free to explore…
This is exactly what Matt and I got up to in August in California; a collaboration with Wicked Campers saw us pick up an awesome van ‘Mystery Machine’ from their depot in Los Angeles.  With its eye-catching artwork it got a lot of attention!  We chatted to so many people, families would ask for photos next to it and people would wave to us on highways, it felt like we were famous!  Let me tell you a little bit more about our beauty of a camper, it was a GMC Safari two-seater and around 16ft in length so it wasn’t too intimidating to drive.  The ‘kitchen’, found at the rear of the van came complete with a sink, cool box, storage units full of utensils, pans, crockery, cutlery and a gas burner.  Initially I was a bit sceptical as to whether the cool box would keep all our food chilled.  We bought ice every two days to put in it and it did the job brilliantly so there was no need to worry about warm beers and burgers!  During the day the van could be used as a seating area with bench seats and with ample storage under the seats it allowed all our gear to be hidden away.  There was a table for indoor and outdoor use and two outdoor chairs, perfect for sitting next to the campfire.  At night the seats turned into a large comfy bed.  Bedding isn’t provided (something worth remembering if you have a travel budget) having said that at the depot there was a free shelf to help yourself to with all sorts of left over goodies.  We found a kettle, perfect for making cups of tea.  There was also bedding and pillows from previous owners, although we chose to stop off at a Target to buy pillows, a sheet and a sleeping bag which we unzipped to make into a duvet for two.  Cosy.

At the time of picking up the van we chose to hire a Sat Nav as an extra add-on.  I had bought a massive map but for an extra $5 a day it seemed like a no brainer, and we were right as getting out of LA proved a bit of a challenge…we were very grateful for it.
In my previous blog Planning for a Californian Road Trip I mentioned how much I was looking forward to cooking on a campfire.  This lived up to my expectations and much more, it chilled down a bit in the evenings so a fire was the perfect way to keep warm and such a great way to experience our surroundings.
We drove just under 1000 miles in eight days and stayed at five different campgrounds with lots of stops in between.  Starting with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by two nights near San Francisco and finished up with three nights along the Big Sur.

California road trip

 

Campground information:
We stayed at….

 

Lodgepole Campground
This lovely campground is right in Sequoia National Park.  Facilities included a shop, cafe and coin operated showers within driving distance from our pitch.  Some tent pitches are right by the Kaweah River and there is a great walk to Tokopah Falls within the campground.  Lodgepole is in a great location to see all the sites of Sequoia.  Each pitch had a bench, fire pit and bear box.
Here’s some more on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park:
Exploring Sequoia National Park
9 Things to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

 

San Francisco RV Resort
In the seaside town of Pacifica, within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants and very easy to get into San Francisco; 30 minute bus journey to Daly City followed by 20 minutes on the train.  As it sounds, this is a big RV park and we were the smallest RV by about 20ft!  It isn’t that pretty to look at but is situated on a bluff with ocean views, free showers, laundry facilities and a pool.

 

Sunset Sate Beach Campground
Hidden behind sand dunes we weren’t too sure about this campground when we first arrived, the pitches were a bit close together and dusty but we learnt to love it.  The beach was a steep hike over the sand dunes but worth the trek, it felt pretty wild and watching dolphins gracefully play in the waves was brilliant!  The family next door to us were lovely offering us firewood and inviting us to join them on the beach for a sunset barbecue.  Our pitch had a bench and fire pit, there were coin operated showers and plug sockets.

 

Plaskett Creek Campground
Found at the southern end of Big Sur, at the time of staying this campground only portaloos as the toilets weren’t in use!  I don’t know for definite but I am assuming this was because of the drought, which was going on at the time of our trip.  It wasn’t great but by that point we were pretty used to living out of our van so didn’t let it effect us, you can either be positive about these things and just get on with it or choose to ruin your trip by being miserable about it!  We took the positive slant and had a great stay here.  Each pitch had a bench and fire pit.  Just over the road is the beautiful Sand Dollar Beach.
Here’s my favourite things to see and do along the Big Sur:
9 Things to do on the Big Sur

 

Carpinteria State Beach Campground
Lovely, clean and right on the beach, we could step straight onto the sand from our pitch!  The beach had coin operated showers and plug sockets. This was our last night in the van and it couldn’t have been in a better place to end it.  We watched seals play in the ocean and had prosecco (we are such posh campers!) while watching the sunset.  Waking up during the night to the sounds of the waves was wonderful too.

 

Useful things to know:
Firewood – Plaskett Creek and Sunset State beach campgrounds had a ‘camp host’ who lived on site, buy firewood from them instead of buying wood from elsewhere, this helps prevent the spread of disease.
Water – Most of the campgrounds we stayed at had potable water facilities, although we always made sure we had enough with us.
Site full – I mentioned in my previous blog post about booking campgrounds well in advance for the summer season as at peak times everywhere gets fully booked.  I was so pleased I had reserved pitches, as each site we turned up at was already full.  Definitely something to bear in mind when planning a camping trip in California during the summer season.
Fuel – Fuel up when you can as there were limited gas stations in Sequoia and along the Big Sur.  A lot of the gas stations have a pay at pump machine, I found that my UK credit card would not always work in these but I quickly learnt that you can prepay in the gas station up to the amount you need.  If you fill up under the amount then your card only charges to the amount you used.
We had a fantastic road trip and loved the quirkiness of our camper, it was so comfy to sleep in and the kitchen had everything we needed to be self-sufficient on the road.  It’s not everyday you wake up to watching the sunrise over the ocean from your bed or have the ability to pull over on the side of the Big Sur for a 30 minute nap in your bed! (and get woken up by a Mexican family queuing up outside to have photos next to your van!!)
More California camping and road trip adventures coming up shortly…

 

Somewhere on the Big Sur

Planning for a Californian road trip…

Matt and I are jumping on a flight tomorrow to Los Angeles for a road trip and camping adventure in California. We are looking to get back to nature with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by some city adventures for two nights near San Francisco on my birthday and then onto the Pacific Coast Highway for some sun and surf.  We are following the coastal road all the way back down to Los Angeles stopping off along the Big Sur on the way.

California road trip

We are very excited to be collaborating with campervan hire company Wicked.  You can’t miss their vans covered in cool artwork.  I am looking forward to reporting back about the van and the adventures we have along the way!
While researching the trip I realised that we would be in California during high season and booking campsites well in advance was a good plan as I found that the popular sites especially beach front ones were fully booked a few months ago!  Of course many sites don’t have reservations and operate on a first come first serve basis, but as we are only there for a short time I decided I would book in advance rather than worry about where we were going to stay on the day.  We have done it this way before in Australia and New Zealand though and it was easy peasy to just turn up.
We are staying in a mixture of privately owned campsites, National Parks and State Beach campgrounds.  Privately owned campsites are great for shower and laundry facilities.  National park ones are perfect for going back to basics and being at one with nature, often with limited facilities and sometimes no showers.  The bonus though is that many of them allow campfires, which I really can’t wait for.  The type of van we are using has a ‘kitchen’ in the boot so cooking outside while the sunsets will feel like such a novelty, the weather looks set to be warm and sunny too.
For reserving National Park and State beach campsites I used Reserve America and Recreation.gov.  Both are good for trip planning and show current alerts in the parks.  One thing I was surprised to learn about was a black bear warning for the campground I booked in Sequoia National Park.  Each pitch comes with a bear proof box and all food, toiletries and anything that has a scent or odour must be placed inside so as not to attract the bears!  I am slightly apprehensive and excited at the same time!  I would love to see a bear but not too close to our van!  Back to the research, Nomadic Matt has some useful blogs on road tripping in America and a good old-fashioned map and Lonely Planet guide to California have also been vital in planning this trip.
Camping essentials:
From previous camping trips abroad I have discovered a few very useful items that are easy to pack and save a bit of hassle on arrival at your destination…
Anti-bac wipes – I’m a bit of a clean freak so these are perfect for campervan cleaning and also good for cheating on the washing up!
Head torch – A very useful camping tool, especially for finding your way to the toilet in the middle of the night…
Re-sealable bags – Good for storing opened food and anything else you might need to store.
Power pack or car charger – A necessity for charging camera batteries or phones on the road.
Tea bags – Being an English girl I need a good cuppa!
Washing tablets – I hate having to spend on things like this when I’m away!
We will be covering around 1000 miles in 8 days; Check back for my adventures, photos and van stories coming very soon…if anyone has any suggestions on places to stop and things to see I’d love to hear them…

New Zealand hostels…not just dorms and bunks

When Matt and I visited New Zealand’s South Island last year not only did we sleep in a campervan, (if you fancy taking a look at my blog on this here’s the link: 10 day road trip itinerary South Island New Zealand) when it got really, really cold we stayed in a few hostels too.  Having never set foot in a hostel before I was unsure what to expect and didn’t know if I liked the idea of sleeping in a bunk bed surrounded by strangers.  Not that there is anything wrong with this style of travelling, it’s just not something I had experienced before and I wasn’t sure if it was my ‘thing’.  How wrong I was…

 

Nomads Queenstown
Having driven four hours from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown with plenty of scenic stops along the way the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was beginning to chill down when we arrived.  Struggling to find a campsite we chose to stay in a hostel for the night.  Strolling into Nomads in the centre of town we had a chat to the reception staff who showed us a few rooms.  I was blown away!  We went for a private en suite double, with a balcony overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the mountains.  The room wasn’t the cheapest we could’ve picked in the hostel at around £70, but breakfast and dinner were also included so we thought it was actually a pretty good deal.  I had mistakenly believed that hostels were just shared dorm style rooms, of course there are plenty of rooms like this but I had not realised private rooms existed in backpackers.  Heading for dinner early, (served on a first come first serve basis so we didn’t want to miss out) we took our place in the queue ready for that night’s option of sausage and mash.  I have to say this is where I felt my age; everyone around was a good ten years younger than us!  I felt even older when someone handing out flyers for a bar mentioned that the flyer came with a free drink served at 10pm….that’s pretty much my bedtime these days!  Tucking into our free dinner by the fireplace a group of guys appeared and performed a very impressive Hakka.  I’m not sure the reason behind it but I really enjoyed watching, it was a great reminder of New Zealand’s traditions.  After eating we caught on quickly to the fact that you washed up your own dishes!  The hostel was really clean and very quiet at night.  Nomads also had a tour desk, this was really useful as we booked a days snowboarding at Cardrona for the following day.  Free WiFi, breakfast and dinner, Nomads had completely changed my mind on hostels!



YHA Franz Josef
The next hostel stay on the trip was a YHA in the glacier town of Franz Josef.  Set just back off the main road it was the perfect base within walking distance of the town’s shops and bars and for our planned helicopter tour of Franz Josef Glacier.  The hostel had a resident cat who was very sociable, a lovely communal lounge area with fire, ample cooking space in the kitchen and free soup available in the evening.  It was really quiet during our stay; we had a double room with a large en suite.  This YHA also had a free sauna too.  We found that hostels were great for washing our clothes as they all had laundry rooms.  We often went straight to the washing machines before heading out to explore, such a good opportunity when you are living in a van!

 

YHA Queenstown Lakefront
We stayed at the YHA Queenstown Lakefront backpackers after our day of snowboarding at Cardrona so we didn’t spend all that much time in the hostel itself.  We did some washing(!), walked into town for dinner and the following morning had breakfast in town before getting back on the road.  It was a really nice ten-minute walk along Lake Wakatipu into Queenstown with a stunning backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range.  In this hostel we chose a private double with shared toilets and showers, which was absolutely fine.

The walk along Lake Wakatipu from YHA Lakefront in Queenstown

 YHA Hokitika Birdsong Backpackers
Birdsong backpackers was by far my favourite hostel out of the four we stayed at.  It was much smaller than the rest and owned by Neil and Kerry, a lovely English couple.  Kerry, an artist had done artwork in all the rooms; I bought a little print of hers to remind me of our stay there.  With accommodation for only twenty people this hostel had a cosy, homely feel to it.  We had a spacious ground floor room with shared bathroom facilities.  A nice sun terrace with a barbecue, shared kitchen and lounge area with sofas in front of a log burner made this small hostel feel like a home from home.  The lounge found on the first floor had fantastic views of the beach, which was just over the road.  On our night there, we met a lovely British girl who’s Father had come over from the UK to train with her for a huge bike ride she had planned in America and a group of Malaysian’s who were very interested in our cooking!  Lamb, roasted vegetables and cous cous was our evenings meal; they were intrigued by the cous cous, having never seen it before.  So we shared it with them, which they loved!  The one thing hostels have taught me is how easy it is to meet like-minded people from all over the world, even if there is a language barrier you can still get by.  Birdsong also had an outdoor ‘Bushman’s’ bath, although it was a little chilly at the time to use it!  A small Glow Worm dell just along the road and the ocean a few steps away, completed the loveliness of this quirky hostel.

Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
Although this is not strictly speaking a hostel, I loved our little cabin at Queenstown Holiday Park so much I just had to mention it.  A ten minute drive from Queenstown it can be found right by Shooter River.  With a double bed and bunk beds inside, it’s a great place to stay if you are on a budget.  The cosy cabin was perfect for the night; we had takeaway fish and chips from Aggy’s Shack in Queenstown and got an early night ready for the long drive to Milford Sound the following morning.
Our cabin at Shooter Holiday Park

 

It is worth mentioning that YHA have a membership scheme offering discounts on rooms, travel, and activities in New Zealand and we found free WiFi in all the hostels we stayed in.  It is also worth having a look at rooms before you commit to them, we managed to get a bit of a discount this way too.  Prior to this trip I had never considered staying in hostels before, I hadn’t realised that most have private rooms either.  I met lots of like-minded people during our stays and will definitely consider staying in hostels in the future if and when we do another trip like this one.  It’s a great way to save money with cheaper room prices than hotels and if you are on a long trip you can save money by cooking your own meals in the very well equipped kitchens too.  From cosy to all singing and dancing, backpackers come in all shapes and sizes to suit different travellers needs and budgets.  I am a hostel virgin no more!
What do you think about hostels? Any favourites around the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts…