I recently traveled around the South Coast and Sapphire Coast of NSW in a 2013 Toyota Coaster. It made me realise that there’s no better way to see this part of Australia.
When everyone asks “is that van yours?” You know you’ve done something right. Unfortunately for me, the van I did my latest trip in wasn’t mine. Still: I’m used to roadtripping in a Subaru Forester with a busted catalytic converter and the most botched SUV bed build you’re ever likely to see, so I was grateful for whatever days of van life were on offer (I traveled as a guest of Camplify).
Anything could be better than my Subie. But I also assumed a fancy Airbnb or luxury hotel were the best ways to travel – if you can afford it. But at the risk of sounding like an old RV codger, now I realise that the sense of freedom you get in a van is unparalleled. Now, I already knew this, from the car. But couple it with the luxury (relative to a 2006 Subie) that you get in a big old van, and I really much appreciated.
That’s not to say it was without its challenges. This in mind: here are my observations from my first time traveling the NSW south coast (and sapphire coast) by van – and why I think it’s the best way to do it. As for why you should go in the first place, there are the sting rays in Bendalong, the incredible phosphorescence of the sand in and around Jervis Bay, and the iconic white sands of Hyams beach, just for starters.
There is also amazing seafood, great surf, cool national parks and bushwalks, waterfalls, fishing and much more. But enough of that – here’s why the best way to see it all is, in my opinion, a van.
Traveling in a van is relatively cheap
Compared to staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, staying in a van is cheap. Not only do you (if you have a van that’s kitted out right) have the ability to cook all your own meals, but you also don’t have to pay for accommodation (unless you are staying in a campsite or caravan park, in which case you have to pay a little, but still not too much, compared to a hotel). That’s more money in the bank for driving around (read: seeing more places), eating out (if you’re a bit of a foodie) and coffee (some things you just don’t skimp on, right?).
The electrical system can take some figuring out
If you’re not used to van life (whether that’s because you refuse to slum it in a vehicle and always stick to hotels or whether that’s because you are used to a more primitive car set up with no lighting, like me) the electrical set up of a van can take a little getting used to. Unlike in a hotel, you should probably try to avoid using more than one energy-intensive device at a time, and you should be ok.
Traveling in a van makes for the best breakfast views
And lunch, and dinner, for that matter… No matter how cool the restaurants are on offer at a particular destination, usually, you can find a better lookout spot (and then eat there) with your van. Oh and you also get to beat the crowds, often parking up the night before somewhere you know will be a cool place to be the next morning.
The south coast is practically made for a van
It’s not like South Australia or Cape York where you need a 4WD, and it’s not a city like Sydney or Melbourne, where you might find yourself wishing for a car. The south coast is full of incredible beaches, coves, carparks, national parks and camps, the vast majority of which are accessible by van.
By staying in a van, you get more ‘special’ moments than you do in a hotel
You get more of the 1 percenters. What do I mean by that? Take this example. When we were in Bermagui, we saw seals twice. The first time was just upon arrival, half an hour before the sun set, and the second time was in the morning before we left. Had we been staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, which would have required us to drive to the Bermagui Blue Pools (where the seals were hanging out), we probably would only have bothered to check them out once.
Staying in a van nearby to the pools, however (at Reflections Holiday Parks Bermagui), we were easily able to drop by twice. When you are staying in a van, you also tend to take that 5 minutes extra to luxuriate in something like a sunset or a sunrise, as you have nothing else to do, and nowhere to be (something we found at Congo Beach, on the final day of our trip).
By staying in a van you aren’t stuck to a particular itinerary
Watch us swimming with seals in Bermagui in the video above
Another reason why a van is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to see the NSW south coast is that it gives you the ultimate freedom of movement. Though you’ll usually have a vague idea before you go about a general route you intend to follow, if a certain spot doesn’t meet your expectations, if you are in a van (rather than a hotel) you can stay for a shorter (or longer) period of time, depending on how you feel.
You are not reliant on beach showers
Showering in scenic spots is not something you have the option of doing in a normal car, and a novelty I found it hard to get over.
It’s a whole lot more comfortable than sleeping in your car
As I discovered last year on a trip to the snow, sleeping in your car (especially with a 6’4″ friend) can be incredibly uncomfortable. Sleeping in the van, however, was a whole other (luxurious) ball game, with this particular Toyota Coaster, rented off Campify, being fitted out with a queen-sized mattress and black-out ‘stick on’ blinds. Ah, bliss.
Reverse parallel parking is a bit of a nightmare
Especially if you don’t own the van, and so are not used to how it moves, parking a van can be quite a struggle, particularly in urban areas (fortunately, when you travel by van, more likely than you will be escaping the city, so this won’t be too much of a problem). I had to park my Toyota Coaster, which is the size of a small bus, in the city, about 5 minutes after it was dropped off at my office. I ended up causing a queue of cars to wait for me, with the woman behind kindly getting out to help back me in as she could see I was struggling.
Beyond the obvious must-see spots like Jervis Bay, Narooma and Hyams beach, we think Kilalea State Park, Clover Hill Trail, Bermagui Blue Pools, Gerringong Falls deserve a mention too. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (we only spent two days in the van exploring, and I’ve only been a couple of times before, on other trips).
DMARGE traveled as a guest of Naked Malt and Camplify.