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Chasing the sun with Apollo

Journeys magazine editor Paula Sward has fond childhood memories of spending long summer days on the beaches of Tasmania’s North-West Coast, dangling a fishing line in the water and building castles in the sand.

​In an effort to recreate those childhood memories for her own two sons, Paula and her family are jumping in an Apollo motorhome and heading north-west – follow their journey here.

Preparing to hit the road

The road safety team has sent me a series of tips to help us prepare to hit the road tomorrow (Jan 25).

In doing these checks, I've discovered there's issues with road damage at Bagdad. With this and a lot of other roadworks on the Midland Highway it looks like we're going to have to add even more time to our planned journey.​

I'm a bit concerned about causing frustration to other road users (our motorhome is 7.7m long!) so we're planning to stop off several times along the route. The kids will need a break (as will we!) and it will give the faster vehicles a chance to get ahead - please be patient if you see us out and about!

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The weather forecast for Port Sorell is looking good - now it's time to go home and pack for the summer sun. We don't need to take a lot, most of our creature comforts are included in the super-special Euro Deluxe model provided by Apollo motorhomes - check it out here.

Our first foray into motorhome travel

When picking up our Apollo Euro Deluxe motorhome at Cambridge the thought occurred to me - they use the tag #apollocamper on social media, but it really should be #apolloglamper. This van has everything - stove, oven, fridge, microwave, toilet, shower, TV, three double beds... we could easily fall off the grid for months in this thing.

We stop to properly stow our gear and I encounter my first social media #epicfail - my arms aren't long enough to fit myself and the entire van in a selfie, and I'm not an owner of a selfie stick (perhaps next Secret Santa present?).

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But we soldiered on, said goodbye to Hobart and set off on our adventure.

After an hour this story was destined to be all about roadworks. We were slowed or stopped on the Brooker at Glenorchy, Bagdad (pictured below), Kempton - no wonder there's some frustration out there. I know roadworks are for our benefit, but when you're sitting in the middle of them it can raise some questions. We, however, were pleased that the other motorists on the road were being slowed by the works and not by our large vehicle for a change!

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The manners and patience of most motorists while we were on the road were great. We weren't slow by any means, but their understanding was appreciated (bar a couple of risk-takers that left us shaking our heads). With the kids in the back (in the actual camper section) it proved a novel distraction for the first part of the drive, but once this and the boys' computer time ran out it was soon necessary to find some sustenance, and where better to stop than the old Tasmanian faithful of Campbell Town. Rather than choose the popular favourites of Banjos or Zeps, we tried the bakery/cafe connected to the hotel and were pleasantly surprised. Crisp pastries and fresh toasties provided the boost we needed, and a short play and race on the lawns (pictured below) ensured the kids were settled for the next leg.

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We then entered my favourite part - when the soil turns a deep, rich red and the memories of my childhood start to return. Long furrows of potato crops, the grey-green of poppies, cattle, sheep and the symmetric arches of irrigators dominate this landscape. I felt like a tourist as I snapped photos left and right - a selection is below:

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I could blame the scenery, but I did get a little distracted from my navigating duties to Port Sorell, our final destination. However, I'm pleased to report we made it to the Port Sorell Lions Caravan Park in good time to set up and enjoy a glass of Tasmanian Ninth Island Chardonnay before bed. More tomorrow.

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Some highs, some lows

Today I did something I've always wanted to do. I walked from Freers Beach at Port Sorell across to the island just off its coast, bordered by the Rubicon River to the east. At mid-tide it looks like this:

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But at low tide it looks more like this:

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With the water so low even my five-year-old could comfortably walk up to it.

Up close, it wasn't as impressive as I'd imagined, but at least I can say now I've done it. And the boys enjoyed the adventure and watching the kite-surfer action out on the water.

Other highlights of the day included a near-deserted beach:

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And an inflatable couch floating down the river - a very Australian way to celebrate the day! (Yes, that's the small blue speck in the photo!)

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The only lowlight was we rose this morning to discover our fridge wasn't working properly. After several tries at fixing it ourselves, we called the help line, only to be told we couldn't get someone to look at it until tomorrow because of the public holiday. So we had to make a quick dash to the corner shop to get some ice to tide us over - stay tuned tomorrow to see if it's operator error or just an unfortunate incident. (Update: not operator error. Unfortunately Apollo Assist had difficulty finding a service agent open the Friday after a public holiday. In the end, we decided to make do - only a few days with ice and an esky - no different to our usual camping trips really!)

A tale of two campsites

I have taken some time out today to compare two campsites - River's Edge down the Huon, where we have spent the past two New Years; and Port Sorell Lions Caravan Park, where we are staying now. These sites are very different - they are targeted to different experiences; one is privately owned, the other run by the local Lions club; and their locations are completely opposite.

Both run alongside a river, but while the Russell River in the South is little more than a bubbling creek, the Rubicon River in the North-West is wide and deep, attracting speed boats with ski biscuits and kneeboarders behind, kayakers and kite surfers.

It is these locations that shape the environment of each site. In the Huon Valley, the grass is lush and green, the bush filled with wildlife and the air is thick with the sweet scent of the earth below. There is swimming in the waterhole, but a wetsuit and booties are recommended, and the hills that surround the site are often dusted with snow in the winter months. The camp sites are large and spacious, with well-planned layouts including a fire pot at every site and bushes strategically planted to screen each campsite from the next. This is truly getting away from it all - no mobile phone reception and there's not a shop for miles, so aside from the odd visit from an icecream van you must rely on your own stocks for sustenance.

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The campsites are spacious - our site during New Year stretched about 25m x 10m on the banks of the river - plenty of space to kick a soccer ball or play cricket on-site. 

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Each campsite has its own firepot and well-designed plantings to screen each site from the next.


Conversely, on the coast, the bush is more scrubby, the soil sandy and the air has the distinct tang of salt on the sea breeze. The campsites are (much) smaller, limiting on-site activities to totem tennis, but you don't need too much space when you've got the beach and water as your backyard. With a pizza place and fish and chip shop on the doorstep, two supermarkets within walking distance and a golf course nearby, this is much more a shack lifestyle than getting away from it all. But having all of these modern conveniences so close when your fridge breaks down certainly comes in handy!

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 The sites at Port Sorell are much smaller, but with more modern conveniences and a beach lifestyle very close by.

So it all depends on what experience you're after - complete isolation or more in-touch beside the beach. Either way, you're still guaranteed to experience the great outdoors! 

Making memories in Wynyard

After travelling from Port Sorell to Wynyard, restocking with supplies and checking in to the excellent Leisure Ville caravan park, it was time to explore the area with new eyes (or more grown-up ones at least!).

Growing up in Burnie, my father used to take us to Wynyard (his home town) often. He'd extol the virtues of the view of Table Cape (pictured below), take us fishing in the Inglis River and declared the fish and chips from the wharf the best he'd ever tasted.

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Setting out from our comfortable accommodation, the boys rode their bikes while we walked along the foreshore. Similarly to Port Sorell, the area is flat and open, perfect for youngsters to pedal along. The view was beautiful - blue skies met sparkling water, with a windswept beach hosting all manner of driftwood and light planes flying overhead.

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I was surprised at how quickly we arrived at the wharf, where colourful sailing boats made the most of the strong sea breeze (pictured below) and Sunday golfers enjoyed a round at what is sure to be one of the most picturesque courses in the state (also pictured below).

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It was here that we chose to stop and throw in a line - trying our luck and catching some fish for dinner. Much excitement ensued as the rod tips began to jig, but it took some time (and patience) from my five-year-old before he landed his first ever fish. The Australian salmon was small (thank goodness - it was a very small rod!) but provided a bit of a challenge for a small boy to reel in and land - a wonderful memory that I hope will last a lifetime.

All of this activity worked up a hunger, and I'm happy to say my father was right - the fish and chips from the wharf were most certainly the best I've tasted.

Campsites - what should we look out for?

OK, I haven't done a lot of camping, but the small amount I have done (more recently at least) I have enjoyed. On our last night in the Apollo camper, I am reflecting on what makes a good camp site - or at least what I think makes the experience easier and more enjoyable.

The site itself

Let me start at the beginning. From the time of researching you should be able to find the following information on the camp's website:

- Overall size, number of sites (powered and unpowered), site sizes and a location map (both of the camp itself and the site layout);

- A list of facilities (eg toilets, showers, cooking/bbq/camp kitchen, fire pots, activities for adults and children) and their locations on the map;

- An overview of additional costs (eg showers, wood, BBQs, activities) and whether there are EFTPOS facilities or you need to bring cash;

- Some ideas of what to bring (eg bikes, surf/beach/fishing gear, bottled water etc) and what is available to be purchased on-site; and

- The location of/distance to the nearest shop.

The welcome

It shouldn't need to be said, but customer service is paramount to making guests feel comfortable. From the moment you enquire and book, you should be made to feel like you are welcome - this is particularly important if you're first-timers or novices. There should be no information left out - it shouldn't be presumed that the guests are regular campers and therefore will know what to expect before they arrive.

Similarly, upon arrival, campers should be given all of the information they need. This includes how to operate toilets and showers and their location; the location of dump sites and rubbish sites; camp rules and etiquette (I'll get onto the etiquette of fellow campers later) and any other small details that a visitor wouldn't know - local fishing spots, the best beaches for children and surfers, the best restaurants and eateries, the quality of the water (is it safe to drink?) and what to do in the case of an emergency.

The campsite layout

I know that in a lot of cases this might not be possible, but it is fantastic when a camp site is situated and laid out in a way that gives privacy to the campers from other sites. It's amazing how a little bit of breathing room can make you feel more relaxed. Having space to set your table and chairs, BBQ, and still having room for the children to run around withour hassling other campers is a great start (see a pic of our campsite at Leisure Ville in Wynyard for a good example). Fencing or appropriate planting is also a great way to screen out other guests.

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The extras

Camping is fantastic fun, but when the heavens open or something goes wrong, it can quickly turn sour. The following are not essential, but having had a few hiccups in our camping experiences and spent a couple of rainy days trying to entertain two young boys, the following extras are an added bonus:

- Ice and fresh water for purchase on-site;

- A games room or at least a cupboard of board games to borrow (check out the pic below for an example of the fantastic facilities offered at Leisure Ville);

- An indoor pool (ok, this is a luxury, but having had one at Leisure Ville I'm not sure we'll ever go without again!); and

- A camp kitchen or other cooking facilities that are undercover, warm and dry.

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Camp etiquette

And the final (and possibly most controversial) is camp etiquette. Everybody has their own way of going about things, but a few common courtesies go a long way when sharing facilities such as toilets and showers as well as campsites in general.

- Leave toilets and showers in the same state you find them (hopefully they're clean to start with!). Site owners and managers spend a lot of time keeping these facilities clean for everyone, and I have seen first-hand how a culture of pitching in and maintaining clean facilities can make the experience more pleasant for all involved.

- Drive slowly and carefully around the site - most families bring bikes for their children and it makes for much lower stress levels if parents know their child is safe to ride without being monitored every moment.

- Try to keep fellow campers in mind with your music/partying/general camp noise. You may think you can do a mean impression of Jimmy Barnes and want the rest of the campsite to enjoy your performance, but others (particularly those with young children) may not agree when you're keeping them awake in the early hours of the morning.

- Similarly, if you are camped close to young families, try to moderate your swearing to what wouldn't make your grandma blush.

Do you have any tips to add? Email journeys@ract.com.au - I'd love to hear them!

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Home sweet home

Now we are back and happily ensconced in our own home, I have had time to reflect on our experience. Despite some ​initial nerves about the travel, the Apollo motorhome proved quite easy to drive (according to my husband, at least - I did not quite work up the nerve to get behind the wheel). Our home on wheels provided a great deal of comfort and was easy to convert from daytime to night-time. The only challenge was all four of us sleeping in one space. I must remember my ear plugs for next time - I forgot how much rustling around small children do when they are asleep! 

Would we do it again? Most definitely. However, we'd be more prepared next time with alternative transport to get out and about in the destinations - with so much beauty to explore we would probably need a few extra days as well.

I can highly recommend Apollo - their customer service was top-notch, particularly when we hit the hiccup of the fridge, and they did everything they could to help.

If you're planning a trip in Tasmania or interstate, this is a fantastic, easy and comfortable way to travel.​