In November, 2019 Debi and Steve, from Drouin in Victoria, set off with their dog Mitch on a caravan adventure of a lifetime around Australia. The couple have been blogging about their travels and inspiring travellers across Australia via their Facebook page, The Wine-Ding Road. We spoke with them to learn more about their experience and find out if they had any recommendations for others who are considering hitting the road.
Can you share a little bit about yourselves and why you decided to travel around Australia?
S: When we hit the road I was 58, Debbie was 55. We’d had a couple of minor health hurdles and we were a little bit sick of work so we decided that it was a good time. We got some advice and were told we could certainly afford to do it and we decided that was it. We put a tenant in our house, packed all of our furniture away and drove into the sunset.
How long did you think you were going for initially?
S: We said we’d go for 2 years and that was in November, 2019. Then when the ole Covid hit at the start of 2020, we sort of realised that our trip was going to be impacted. We never went back home but we did go through our fair share of lockdowns in Queensland last year. We lost a fair bit of time in lockdown, travelling through towns that weren’t even open. That’s why we decided to add a third year onto our trip. It really gets in your blood, whether we stop it this year is another thing.
D: We’ve met people who’ve been doing it for 7,8, 9 years and we think to ourselves, wow, they’ve been gone that long. And yet we both look at each other and say we’re not ready to go home yet.
Where have you travelled so far? How do you plan your trip?
S: Well, we set off with a little bit of an idea of doing the eastern states in 2020 and then we planned on heading west in 2021. When Covid hit we were forced to make some quick decisions and bunker down in Queensland. It forced us into places in outback Queensland that we’d never even contemplated going because they were so far off the tourist track and they turned out they were some of the best places we’ve been. For example, there’s a little town called Aramac in Queensland and they’ve set up a sculpture trail. A few people have gone out over the years and built about 40-50 life sized sculptures, predominantly made out of junk, that are spread out over a 200km circuit. It takes all day to go out and visit them all but it was just fantastic. We had never even heard of it until we found ourselves in this town that we never expected to go to.
What has been one of the highlights for you so far?
D: For me it would be seeing orcas. We went out at Bremer Bay on a big boat and we saw stacks of orcas breaching, swimming about and entertaining us. The sea was very rough and you couldn’t stand still, you had to hold on tight, but it was so worth it seeing those beautiful creatures jumping up out of the water.
S: It is a really hard question. I guess doing a couple of things like going out on the Great Barrier Reef and hand feeding crocodiles at the end of a pole were pretty cool. We did that the year before last at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.
We could give you a highlight for Mitch as well. Late last year when we were on the Oodnadatta Track we stopped at the William Creek Hotel, which is 100s of kilometres away from anywhere. Once a year they have an annual event where all the station owners from around the country fly in and have a big weekend at the hotel. One of the events for the weekend was the Oodnadatta Track Dog Race. We were there and there were lots of kelpies and working dogs. One of the women at the hotel was saying that we should put Mitch in the race. We said no at first but we put him in and they gave him a fair old handicap because he didn’t look like he was going to be a runner. When it came to the main event he sort of ran like Farlap and took out the event, beating every dog there. We tempted him by throwing the ball and it went straight past the finish line, continuing on the Oodnadatta Track. He just kept running until he caught it. So he ended up being the 2021 Oodnadatta Track Dog Race Winner!
What is your must see destination recommendation and why?
D: For me it would be the beaches in Western Australia. They have some of the most beautiful white sand, clear water beaches. They’re a must see.
S: I’d say that as well. People rave about the east coast once you get up to Port Douglas and Cairns but down the southwest corner of Western Australia from Esperance all the way to Margaret River, it’s just another world all together. The beaches are stunning. In the water you can look down 3 or 4 metres deep and just see the bottom and all it was was just powdery white sand. There was no seaweed or rocks, it was just stunning and that was all the way along that coast. That was definitely a highlight.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? What impact has COVID had on your trip?
S: We imagined that when we left home we could go wherever we wanted and that meant we could cross borders whenever we wanted. Covid changed all that because we’ve really had to think and plan everytime we had to cross a border. That took away a lot of the spontaneity of it.
Probably the biggest challenge we’ve had is just with our setup and getting used to the limitations of solar and batteries and that sort of stuff. We would admit that we weren’t that knowledgeable when we first leapt into it and we’ve had to become a lot more knowledgeable. You certainly learn quickly, you’ve got no choice. When it came to solar we thought we had a pretty good set up but as soon as the sun goes away and you have a couple of overcast days you’re in trouble. We’ve made some different purchases, changed batteries, changed solar controllers and that sort of thing just to try and get it right.
We think we’ve got it pretty well spot on now.
What has been something you’ve learned on your travels? How has the road changed you?
D: We now know when you’re free camping you have to conserve your water. That’s where the Topargee Water Gauge came in handy because we were able to gauge the water. We have little games we play with each other to see who can have the shortest shower using the least amount of water.
S: We’ve said it to heaps of people that we’ve met that the Topargee Water Gauge was a real game changer for us. When we were looking at our old gauge in the caravan we were thinking that when it had gone into the red zone we were nearly out of water and we’d move on. What we learnt when we put that Topargee flow metre in was that when we hit the red zone we actually had 50 or 60L left. When you’re free camping and being really conscious of water that can be enough water for another 2 or 3 nights. It really changed things for us.
I guess the other thing we’ve learnt is to go with the flow and not get upset about things.
D: Yes, things happen and you just learn to deal with it and move on.
S: Covid has helped that happen too because you can’t change it. You can’t just cross a border whenever you like. Covid has just made us roll with the punches and see how it turns out.
D: It’s made us a bit more chilled being out here. You don’t get your feathers ruffled, you just accept it.
S: Although, when Debbie is trying to help me back a caravan into a tight spot it does still ruffle my feathers a bit!
D: I just have trouble learning which hand is left and which hand is right.
S: Well the caravan hasn’t got any marks on it yet so we’ve done alright.
What has been the response to your blog?
S: It’s funny, when we were setting off we decided we’d do a Facebook page for family and friends to follow us. We didn’t want to bombard every friend we’ve got with everything we’re doing if they’re not interested. We started the new page and it was my sister that came up with the name, she said we should call it the Wine-Ding Road. And then had friends of friends that said, “Oh can we follow along too?” And in the end it just got easier to make the page public and it grew. We’re pretty surprised we’ve got 1800 followers now. That’s good too because hopefully we’re sharing a bit about what we do.
D: Giving others some ideas and making them want to get out there and explore this beautiful country.
Have you met any of your followers on your travels?
S: Yeah, it’s a bit strange. People will come up and ask us if we’re Steve and Deb and let us know that they’re following us on Facebook. Probably the one that stands out the most is Mitch. If we don’t put up a post about Mitch every few weeks, we’ll start to get messages from people asking if he’s OK. Especially last year when we were going into national parks and putting Mitch into kennels. People would ask us where he was and if he was OK, and we thought yeah, we better do a post about the silly little bugger and let his fans know that he’s OK.
What is it like travelling with a dog? What is your advice for others who want to travel with their pets?
S: Number one we wouldn’t change it all, he’s a part of the family and we were the ones that decided to go travelling. There was no way known that we would get rid of him or even give him to family to look after, being the age that he was. He was 11 when we left home and we were going to go for about 2 or 3 years. There was a fair chance that he may not have been around when we got back. So it was never an option to get rid of him, he was always coming with us.
D: He’s adapted so well being in the car and being in the van.
S: If I had an option I wouldn’t travel with a dog. Surprisingly it’s not the things like going into national parks or a beach where dogs aren’t allowed, that stuff is really easy to do. You put them in kennels, every town has dog sitters and a lot of vets will take him in for a day. The stuff that’s hard is if you want to go grocery shopping together or into a cafe for a coffee or something. You just can’t do that easily with a dog. Plenty of cafes have outdoor seating but if it’s 40 degrees or raining and cold and you don’t really want to sit outside, that’s where it becomes tricky.
I guess most places, say hotels and pubs, have been great. I can only really think of one pub where he hasn’t been allowed inside. And the more remote pubs are even better, he’s probably more welcome than people are.
What are some of your top travel tips?
S: I think our top travel tip would be, be prepared to not be prepared. You never know what’s going to happen. Don’t have a plan because it’ll go to muck somewhere. Just wake up each morning and decide what you’re doing. We left Victor Harbor this morning with an idea of where we were going but we didn’t end up where we had thought. It’s a good way to be.
Also, less is more. You really learn that you don’t need everything that you’ve got in life when you leave home. In my sister’s garage there are about 5 or 6 large plastic tubs of things that we took with us from home that we didn’t need. Each Christmas when we’ve gone back home we unload more. Go through the caravan and the car and really think through what you’ll need. Don’t take more than that.
A lot of people told us that when you fill your caravan up, go and put a coloured sticker on every item and if you use it take the sticker off. If the sticker is still on an item after 6 months, get rid of it, you don’t need it.
Do you have any final words for people who are thinking about hitting the road?
S: All we’d say is that if you’re thinking about it and you can afford to do it, then don’t waste time and get out there and start. You’ll never look back.
D: Old age creeps up on you and before you know it, you won’t be able to do it.
S: We’ve spoken to so many people in the same boat and some of them have sold everything up to buy a car and a caravan. That was something we could never see ourselves doing because we wanted the security back home. But if it means getting out there and doing it, you’ve got to do what’s right for you.
D: Yes, don’t put it off.