Mel and James wanted to take Western Australia at their own pace, and a self-drive camper van holiday from Flight Centre proved the ideal way to do it. With the freedom to roam as you please and the assurance of on-the-ground assistance should you need it, Flight Centre's camper van holidays are a perfect first trip for camper van novices.
With mile after mile of open road, a wealth of spectacular scenery and plenty of friendly welcomes along the way, Western Australia is the perfect place for a road trip. And as Mel and James Chalke (both 55) discovered, the living is surprisingly easy. We asked Mel for the highlights...
All points north
"The truth is we're not natural campers, and we're at an age where we don't want to rough it, so for us camper vanning wasn't an obvious choice. At the same time, we both love the freedom to do what we want when we want - a cruise would be my personal holiday nightmare. So it seemed like a chance worth taking. In the end the trip was a great mix of comfort and adventure.
"We flew into Perth which is a lovely, relaxed city and a good place to acclimatise. We particularly enjoyed King's Park. After a day or two we picked up the camper van. We hadn't pre-booked campsites or written a detailed itinerary. All we knew was that we wanted to head north.
"The camper van was great to drive and very comfortable. In fact the only issue we had was when I unknowingly put the speed limiter on and we spent a night wondering why it wouldn't go faster than 30kph!"
"Aside from that it was all very smooth and easy. We put the bed up on the first night and kept it up right through the trip. The climate meant that we could eat outside every night watching the sun go down, so we didn't need the space inside for the table.
"You can go miles on the west coast without seeing another vehicle. That sense of being miles from anywhere made it a real adventure, but one that always felt safe and comfortable. The van had in-built WiFi and sat nav, and we took sensible precautions, like always having plenty of fuel in the tank. There were large roadhouses at regular intervals on the highway, and the campsites always had great facilities."
Scenery and sea life
"It's hard to pick a highlight out from the drive north – there were so many! The Shark Bay world heritage site was spectacular, and I remember waking early one day, setting off and having brunch overlooking this wonderful clear blue vista of sky and sea.
"We're not great ones for water sports but we went sea kayaking and saw manta rays, as well as snorkelling and paddle boarding. The beaches were beautiful - fine yellow sand sliding into clear blue seas.
"At Coral Bay we camped right on the beach, waking to the sound of the sea lapping against the sand.
"Monkey Mia was another favourite. It has an excellent restaurant right on the beach. One highlight was sitting and enjoying a lovely meal and a glass of wine and watching children run on the sand, with dolphins just a little further out in the sea playing just like the children! It was a magical scene.
"The camper van helped to make it. If we liked somewhere we'd stay an extra night. If we wanted to move on we'd get up early and get on the road. The freedom made it more Australian in a way. It's a laidback country and for those 13 days in the camper we did just as we pleased."
"After we dropped the camper van back off in Perth we headed south to Fremantle, a lovely, lively little city full of great places to eat.
"It's also the gateway to Rottnest Island, home to the very cute quokka. We hired bikes and cycled round the island, making the most of the amazing views and stopping off at perfect little beaches. We did a day on Rottnest but my advice is that you really need two to do it justice.
"Finally, we travelled further south to a wilderness retreat near the Margaret River. The peace and tranquillity were incredible. There were kangaroos outside the lodge and kookaburras in the trees. We braved the hair-raising climb up an old lookout tree for amazing panoramic views of the forest canopy.
"Another highlight was the open-air cinema at Cape Mentelle. But it's fair to say that you don't go to this part of Western Australia for the nightlife – the nearest town was a very steep taxi fare away. It's all about peace and quiet."
"Would we go back? Like a shot. We love Australia – the people, the climate, the landscapes, the food and everything else – and this trip felt like it gave a taste of the country's diversity. Yes it was a spectacular road trip, but it was also a city break, a beach holiday, a sporting holiday (we brought our golf clubs), a wildlife spotting excursion and a wilderness stay. It had everything we wanted and more."
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