Want to know how hard or easy it is to live, work and travel to Australia as a foreigner/tourist?
Have fun watching this video and get to know a deeper insight into foreigners living and enjoying their van life as they travel the Big Lap in Australia.
Mathilde and Pauline from Instagram @backpack_withus arrived in the Oz three years ago with a working/holiday visa share with us their road and work experiences, budgeting and planning from their first time to arrive in Aussie till present.
Learn some differences between France and Australia in terms of travelling and see if you can relate to any of their funniest or scariest moments. That and more details on how the lockdowns became their blessing in disguise, off-peak/peak seasons travelling, and how they’ve understood more of Australia and its culture through their Big Lap travel experiences.
Welcome to Aussie Travel Stories, the series where we ask Aussie travellers questions to help inspire and educate the Big Lap community to enjoy the greatest road trip of their lives.
What’s Your Travel Story?
We’re travelling around Australia as a couple and will celebrate our six years together in April this year! We’ve been on the road for almost three years now under a WHV and most recently the COVID Visa that gave us a bonus year of exploration around OZ and allowed us to finish our Big Lap. We usually travel for a couple of months and stop working in a city we really like for the next three or four months before hitting the road again. Our plan is to go back to France for our summer in June as it’s been a while we are away from our families and friends, but we’ll probably get itchy feet again and will definitely keep travelling after that!
Why did you decide to do a Big Lap?
I think, even in France we had the idea in mind to do the big lap of Australia. The only thing was that we didn’t know where to start, or which direction to take. We figured out everything bits by bits here, that the best way to do it was simply to follow the seasons and look for a job for the peak time of the tourism season, especially in hospitality. Months after months we started to fall in love with the country, the landscapes, the wildlife and we just kept going further! We started in Perth and our first road trip took us up to Carnarvon, WA. You can easily imagine how France is different from OZ and everything on that road amazed us! The long-distance driving, our first kangaroo, the immensity and emptiness of the outback, the extreme weather, the kindness of the Aussie, the lifestyle, the freedom, everything! Once you get a taste of that, it’s quite difficult to stop!
Where are you currently, the route you’re taking?
We are currently living and working in Broome, WA since November and we’ll be back on the road in three weeks! Starting with the exploration of the Dampier Peninsula we’ll then make our way down south to Karijini, Exmouth, Coral Bay, and follow the coast until Perth! We’ve already discovered this coast during our first year in OZ but this time we’ll do the trip in a convoy with a friend and with a 4WD! We’re really excited as we’ll then be closing the loop and coming back where all this big adventure started!
What is your setup?
We are currently travelling with Charly our Green Prado and also our fourth car in Australia! We previously owned a van and two other 4WD! After trying a bit of everything I think we can agree on the fact that the set-up we currently have is the one that gives us the most freedom and the most comfort in our everyday life! Charly has a rooftop tent, two awnings and a wooden structure we made ourselves in the back. The dual battery system we set up gives us power everywhere and whenever we want which is super convenient for us and our passion for photography! I can even get my hot coffee in the morning with the mini kettle we can plug into it! After many months of sleeping in the car, the rooftop tent is definitely our go-to option! Wider, more open, you breathe and move so much better! A game changer! We’ll see if we still agree during the rainy days of the Wet though!
Where do you stay – caravan parks? Free camps? Both?
It really depends, a bit of both! As much as we can we try to enjoy free camps as we love having a place for ourselves, a great sunset view, a nice campfire spot, and just spending time exploring the surroundings or listening to the birds! But not every free camp has amenities and our love for hot showers and kitchens equipped with a nice oven is too strong! As well, it’s only since Charly that we have that full autonomy with power on the road and it was often a must for us to stop charging batteries, drones and cameras somewhere! Overall, we like free camping the best for the freedom it gives you, and with no light pollution, it makes it a million stars camping spot!
What is the best camping spot you’ve stayed at?
That’s a hard one! There are so many places we’ve stayed at, so many different vibes we felt there, people we stayed with that made these places special… Giving you only one is mission impossible, so we’ll give you our top five! Not too bad after touring the whole of Australia?
Mathilde: Might be a bit weird, especially after what’s been on the news but my number one campground is the Blowholes,
WA near Carnarvon. It’s one of the first campgrounds we’ve stayed at when exploring on our days off from the farm and it symbolises so much for me! The place in itself is really cool, you can park your van just behind a sand dune and sleep to the sound of the ocean. There’s a bay you can snorkel in and where we’ve seen heaps of marine wildlife, and the blowholes are impressive!
photo by: Mpoutside via WikiCamps
A place all in one where you can easily stay for a few days! In the same area, Quobba Station and Red Bluff are just as amazing! Accessible in 4WD these places will make you forget about time, and live the Aussie way! Salty and happy! On the menu, are fishing, snorkelling, surfing, and sunbathing…
In WA again, is Two People’s Bay, another campground near Albany where you’ll get a nice room with a view! Opening your van’s door in the morning on the clear blue water of the bay and its white sand. Sunrise and sunset colours will leave you speechless!
Change of scenery, this time I take you to the Boranup Forest, WA where you’ll be surrounded by some of the tallest trees I’ve seen! I got really amazed by the mystical vibe of this forest and deliberately put up a tent to sleep in with the sounds of the forest at night instead of sleeping in the van!
Last but not least, a campground you can only get to by boat and sleep there without your car set up! Something original that makes you feel almost like a Robinson Crusoe! Right in front of Mission Beach, QLD is Dunk Island or also known as the lover’s island! Crystal clear waters, white sand, and the island for yourself, it was an amazing memory!
Also loved: Fortescue Bay (TAS), Corinna (TAS), Cape Range (WA)…
Pauline: I share the camping spots of Mathilde, and would say as well Noah Beach at Cape Tribulation. I had an amazing sunrise there, so peaceful, in front of the ocean, and in the tropics! Surrounded by the rainforest.
I loved our camp on Dunk Island, you must take a water taxi to get there, and then we spend the night there, sleeping in our tent. You have a sandbar next to it, and it’s pretty cool for walking on it, taking shots, and we even saw an eagle ray there!
Where is the best place you’ve ever been?
Again, it’s so difficult to choose only one amongst all the places we’ve been to and loved! But some places hold a special memory that makes them stand out! Number one is the Great Barrier Reef in QLD and most particularly the catamaran cruise we did to Whitehaven Beach.
And that’s the magical place that Pauline chose to do her proposal. I never could have dreamt of a better place where to say yes to her.
The Whitsundays are also where we did our skydive and a flight above the Great Barrier. Another kid’s dream fulfilled! The second place we loved the most is the Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation in QLD! That’s where we celebrated Pauline’s birthday two years ago. It is the World’s oldest tropical lowland rainforest and the Wet Tropics are the only place in the world where two World Heritage Areas are side by side! The third step of the podium is shared by Uluru/Kata Tjuta and Broome and its surroundings! The rocks for being so mystical, their unique red colour, representing so much of the indigenous culture and for the chopper ride at sunset, we did for my birthday! And Broome for being our home for almost five months! The colour of the ocean, the red sand, the rockpools, the wet season and the lightning, Cable Beach, the camels, and the peninsula… We feel really lucky to be here!
Is there a place you won’t go back to?
There is no place, in particular, we disliked so much we would not go back to but we had a common feeling about South Australia being the state we liked the least. It certainly has great places to visit like the wine valley, the vibrant Adelaide city or the Eyre Peninsula, but we were not incredibly amazed by it. Pauline would say that she feels the same regarding some parts of Tasmania, such as the Hobart region, the centre and maybe the NE of the island too. However, these places might fit what you’re looking for!
Where can’t you wait to go?
We are super excited to discover the Dampier Peninsula, North of Broome! Going camping to James Price Point, and Cygnet Bay.
Do you travel with a pet, does it restrict you?
No, but we wish to have one dog!!
Any scary or funny moments on the road?
Scary: Buying a drone was a big step for us as we always wanted one but we were also a bit stressed by having so much money flying more than 100 metres from the ground like that! So when taking it out I would always feel a bit anxious when Pauline would really push me to fly it higher and further! But somehow I got more confident days after day until I would push it to its limits! On that special day we launched the drone in a really cool place but a bit windy, at that time we only had the Mavic Mini 1 which is already a good drone but doesn’t handle strong wind as much as the recent ones. About halfway through the drone battery my phone screen freezes and I can’t see what the drone sees anymore. At that moment, I had no idea in which direction the drone was and just had a strong wind alert showing up on the app. Not too sure about the height of the drone I didn’t want to move it too much because of the surrounding trees but had to drop the altitude to get away from the strong wind zone. After a few minutes with literally no screen feedback, the remote starts beeping to express the low battery level of the drone. That’s when the situation got really stressful I have to admit! Somehow the connection came back on the screen and I noticed I had only a few minutes to get it back or it would just drop from the air! Only a beginner at that time I didn’t know all the features of the drone and just learnt that morning you could see the position of your drone on the little Google Map screen of the app. Thanks to that guy who showed me this trick I managed to get the drone back full speed and made it land in Pauline’s hand at the last minute. The moral of the story is only get confident when you know what you’re doing! I think I stopped flying the drone for a good week after that!
Funny: We have many funny moments on the road… I think what entertains us the most is each other! Starting with the many faces Pauline does when she’s sleeping next to me when I drive, when she can’t handle the heat and loses it, her crazy moments playing with snow in Tasmania, the way she’s scared with every sounds at night, or simply when the way she tries to get away with doing the dishes!
Pauline: You should see her when I am at the steering wheel, or her morning face without a coffee! I also remember the day we chose for fun which animal would suit us the most and we agreed with a friend on a meerkat for Mathilde! You should have seen her face! Still talking about it now!
Tell us about the item you can’t live without
An SD card? Funny story, Pauline did just order a new one two days ago! Definitely, something we can’t live without as it allows us to share with you all the content we try to create with our phones, camera and drone! It has always been one of our most precious belongings, same with our external disks! On their own, they contain absolutely everything we have seen and experienced in Australia for these past two years and a half!
For Mathilde, we would say the speaker, as she can’t travel without good music!!
Tell us how you fund your Big Lap and budget – did you save before you left? Do you work on the road?
We usually travel a few months and stop in a place to work and save for the next road trip. We did come to Australia with some savings but thanks to our many work experiences we managed to send that money back home and we are now travelling with what we make here!
How much do you spend and what is your biggest expense?
Our biggest expense is definitely the fuel! Driving a V6 is clearly not the same as driving the small car we had in France and the distances are not the same! But every cent we put in it is worth it and gets us to incredible places all the time! I guess the biggest expenses after that are the activities/experiences we do, the maintenance of the car, the camping fees and the food. On average, we spend around 2000$ per person per month on the road when enjoying really well!
What’s something you know now but didn’t before you left?
Another hard one! From the start, I really wanted to know more about the indigenous culture here and I guess we just got lucky with the people we met during the trip! We once got invited to one of their community, and shared some moments with them learning about their backyard, their way of life influenced by climate change, their beliefs, and their activities… It was a very humbling experience and we learned a lot from them. But there’s so much more! We learnt how to understand the wildlife surrounding us, we got to understand better how some simple things like veggies and fruits grow and get to our supermarkets… And I guess we also learnt a lot about ourselves! Travelling makes you grow!
- How to build a wooden structure on our own
- Snakes and spiders, marine life, kangaroos and wildlife in general
- How to drive with a 4w drive car
What is your favourite thing about travelling?
I think this one is going to be easy for the two of us to agree on! Freedom is definitely what excites us the most when travelling! Having a car is clearly a must for that as we love being independent and even if we plan a bit in advance our road trip, there’s always a place for the adventure and plan Bs! Nothing holds us anywhere, we just go where the wind takes us and it’s been working pretty well so far!
What has been your biggest splurge? Was it worth it?
There’s actually been two! Obviously, we couldn’t leave Australia without doing a skydive so might as well do it in one of the most incredible places! So this is how we ended up 15 000 feet above the ground in Airlie Beach, QLD for one of the most breathtaking experiences of our lives! The second one would be snorkelling with the whale sharks in Ningaloo, WA. They would take us for half a day out on the reef to spot these gentle giants and do some snorkelling too. Not easy to spot, we did see one juvenile and we could swim with him for a couple of minutes before he dived into the depth of the ocean. That moment was amazing but it also went very fast! We still got super lucky as we had three humpback whales playing and breaching very close to our boat. That second sighting definitely made that experience unforgettable!
Is there anything you bought but don’t use as much as you thought or it wasn’t worth the money?
Surprisingly, we use most of them! But if there’s one thing that has been left aside by Pauline during our road trip is her yoga mat and her dumbbell! I can still remember her being full of motivation in the shop when buying them and now I just laugh when she gives me another excuse not to use them!
How were you affected by the lockdown?
The first time Coronavirus seriously affected our trip was in March 2020 when Australia closed its borders and invited all the visa holders to either go back home or find a way to live with no income for the next six months. We were in Tasmania at that moment and just got a job in hospitality at the Cradle Mountain hotel. They provided us with free rent, free food and enough hours to get through this two-month lockdown without too much trouble. They have done so much for us at that moment, and I think that’s what allowed us to stay in Australia. Otherwise, I think we would have had to go back to France! Since then, we just got lucky with timing, border closure and work! We’ve never been in a big lockdown since then and almost never had to wear a mask! The hardest border to cross might have been the NT-WA one as we know how serious WA gets when it comes to letting people in! We decided to leave for the Kimberley in October last year after Darwin’s lockdown (3 days) but everything went smoothly. And I think we got the perfect window as only a couple of weeks later if I remember well, the border closed and remains closed until now!
What is your biggest tip to other big lappers?
Pauline: Between the two of us, I’m the one that takes care of the planning and booking side of the road trip and my biggest tip would be to do some research on the area you’re going to visit beforehand! Read blogs written by other lappers, and tourism brochures, or simply ask around and talk to the locals! That should give you enough information to see all the main spots and the secret ones too! The second piece of advice would be to take your time! We strongly believe we would not have seen so much wildlife and so many beautiful sunsets if we didn’t take our time when travelling! We got lucky seeing some very hard-to-spot animals such as the tree kangaroo by taking our time and persevering!
Mathilde: My biggest tip would be to get up early, and not be afraid of getting off the beaten track! Australia is a huge country with many, many places to explore! Get curious, stay away from the big cities and get out of your comfort zone! Stop and support the local businesses and care for each other travellers! We’ve always been helped when in trouble on the road, or simply when we didn’t have hot water for a coffee and that makes travelling the Big Lap so beautiful!
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