Steve Potter: The End of the Dream – Reaching the Finish Line

Earlier this year we met up with the travelling Potter family as they reached the ‘half way mark’ on their dream journey around Australia.

Steve, Stella and their children Darcy and Raine are now back home in WA, adjusting to life as normal. STEVE POTTER shares the family’s tips for others contemplating doing “a lap” of Australia.

Gulls hover overhead and the kids run around catching hermit crabs as they scuttle around beneath our feet like tiny helmeted soldiers. It’s the beginning of another balmy September evening as the sun slowly sinks into the Indian Ocean.

The rhythm of the day is punctuated by the coming and going of the king tides as the shoreline reveals its multiple personalities and the humpbacks and their newborn calves cruise silently south along the coast to cooler waters. We are camped directly on the beach of an isolated stretch of the Pilbara Coast in W.A. and this surely must be as close as you can get to Heaven on Earth.

We find ourselves here after a long eight-month journey that has taken us to every state, territory and capital city in
Australia and covering over 30,000km.

As I sit and write in by boardies and thongs, it’s hard to believe that in a few weeks time I will be back at my office desk, staring at a computer screen and wondering if the trip was real, or whether it was just some sort of extraordinary dream.

We left home in Boyanup, WA in January in an old Commodore and 1962 vintage caravan. When we caught up with Time to Roam we were in Coffs Harbour NSW, having completed the southern portion of the trip. Since then we have zig-zagged our way up the east coast to northern Queensland, then travelled across to the Gulf of Carpentaria, into the red centre, back up to Darwin and then over to the west.

Life on the road has at times been challenging, however we’ve been rewarded many times over as we visited most of Australia’s world-class sites. Along the way we discovered what, in some ways, could be considered the real Australia – the towns, back roads
and places we’d never heard of and which do not normally appear in tourist brochures, but will never be forgotten by our family.We’ve learned a lot about life on the road and we’d like to share our top ten tips for family road trips.

1. Leaving is the hardest bit

Right, you have made the big decision to head off and have told your family and friends. Now the excitement has worn off somewhat, it begins to dawn on you the magnitude of your decision as you realise the million and one things you need to do to get away. You will probably lay awake at night wondering what the hell you’ve done.

Don’t stress, getting away is the hardest part. We didn’t realise how entrenched we were in our own lives. To get away you need to unravel your life and put it aside for a while while you concentrate on something else. Once you have everything squared away and are on the road, you will no longer need to worry about this as much. However, be prepared to take a bit of a break as soon as you get away as you will probably be exhausted from actually getting out the door.

2. Children are more resilient than you think

When we left home we weren’t sure how the kids would manage with life on the road. If we have learnt one thing about our kids from the trip it is that they are pretty resilient when it comes to travel. Our kids can go for eight hours in the car no problem and we have taken them on numerous hikes all around Australia. We have walked as far as 11 kilometres in a day with them and have been regularly surprised with their stamina as we drag them from pillar to post, whether it be through crowded city streets, art galleries and museums, up a mountain or around Uluru.

3. Factor in chat time

You decide to get an early start and the caravan is hooked up, the kids are in the car and the engine is running. While checking the indicator lights on the van, it is inevitable that the bloke from a couple of sites down decides to have a chat, usually commencing with the comment; “Like your van, how old is it?” This is particularly common when you own a yellow 1962 vintage caravan. Although we are always happy to chat, the point is to factor in that sharing a yarn is part of life on the road and therefore don’t be surprised if you never seem to get away as planned.

4. Be prepared to change your plans

You have always wanted to go to a particular spot but the week you are due to get there the weather forecast is for rain. What do you do? An extended road trip can throw up all sorts of unexpected things and therefore you need to be prepared to change your plans. We have done this on a fairly regular basis on our trip: sometimes due to weather and sometimes as a result of hearing about a must visit place from fellow travellers or locals. A vague itinerary is nice to have, however be open to change if the need or want arises.

5. Take the scenic route

You are driving down the road heading for your destination and you see a sign pointing you to the tourist drive. After reviewing
your map you determine that the scenic route will take you an additional hour and an extra 100 kilometres. Our advice is to take it; it is amazing the interesting things that are not on the main road. As Robert Frost once wrote; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

6. Get to know your neighbours

When travelling we found one of the best sources of information that was up-to-date, accurate and readily available could be found in one of the easiest places; the people camping next door. By chatting to your neighbours, (particularly those who had been in the spot for a few days), we were able to find out all sorts of interesting things about places to go and see, roads to avoid and the best camping spots. In addition, it always helps to have people that (sort of) know you keeping half an eye on your stuff while you are out and about, especially in free camping situations.

7. Take snacks

Kids love food and will do anything you want them to if it means there is a muesli bar waiting for them in the bottom of the backpack. By being prepared and taking along a variety of healthy(and not so healthy) snacks on the hike or day trip you will find that kids will be able to go for longer and be happier and therefore you get to see and do more as a result. Cheers Uncle Toby.8. Get a bird book We brought along an old bird identification book on our trip and it has been used to death as we have tried to work out what bird is which (or is it which bird is what?) on an almost daily basis. We have seen literally hundreds of birds ranging from penguins to bustards to cassowaries, depending on the environment in which we found ourselves. This is something the kids have loved and they can now identify a significant number of Aussie birds by sight.

9. Bush camping is fun for kids

One thing that we were a bit surprised about is how much fun a pair of kids can have in the bush with nothing but the gifts that nature provides in the form of sticks (magic wands), logs (balancing beams), rocks (building blocks for fairy castles) and leaves (weaving materials). Add to that a heap of open space and the freedom to make as much noise as they want without annoying anybody and you have the perfect playground for creative minds. Quite often when we have been in the middle of nowhere in the bush the toys have remained in the caravan while the kids have enjoyed the simple things in life.

10. Get a good camera and learn how to use it

You are going to spend thousands of dollars visiting places you may never see again, with your kids who will never be the same age again. It is well worth the money to purchase a good camera and learn how to use it in a variety of situations before you leave. There are heaps of good books out there to teach you how to get some pretty amazing shots and decent cameras these days are more user-friendly than ever before. You will thank yourself (and your kids will thank you) a thousand times over for many years to come. As our journey draws to a close, my wife Stella and I have spent much time reflecting on how this trip fits into the larger context of our lives. We understand that we need to face reality and return to a largely routine lifestyle back home.

However, it is hoped that by taking a chance at doing something out of the square, we have reinvigorated our lives and rediscovered a part of ourselves that was alive and well when we were younger, before kids, mortgages and careers, when we were just two young Aussie backpackers taking on the world. We now understand that the need to explore is something that is not only for the young. It is a lifelong yearning that never really goes away, and like a sleeping lion, once in a while needs to be fed.