If you like driving holidays, the great outdoors and a bit of upmarket camping, then a motorhome holiday may well be your ideal vacation. Roderick Eime accepts the Apollo challenge.
Ever since I can remember, the family driving holiday has been a fixture on the calendar. Of course, it has evolved over the years from me bouncing up and down on the back seat as a youngster – completely unrestrained – as we drove around the country in one of dad’s V8 Fords, to me with my own family in tow, staying at everything from swish resorts and hotels to farmstays and caravan parks.
Now, with the kids doing their own thing, madam and I are free to explore at own pace and the concept of a motorhome adventure began to look more appealing. But let’s not make it too easy. Instead of a comfy Winnebago-style mobile home with clothes dryer and four-burner stove, we opted for a more utilitarian 4WD Apollo Adventure Camper and a route out through some tough, but beautiful Aussie outback countryside around the Menindee Lakes.
I picked up the vehicle from Apollo’s depot near the airport and after a short demonstration of all the open and shut stuff, headed off on our adventure. The Adventure Camper module is built on a super-reliable Toyota HiLux diesel 4WD chassis; tough as nails and frugal on fuel. The only downside was the manual transmission, which meant driving duties were all mine.
In the back was a double bed, conjured up after popping the roof and a bit of rearranging the furniture, a sink, bar fridge, little a/c unit, a 240V socket and heaps of storage. There’s gas for the stove and plenty of water.
Out on the highway we find the best cruising speed is around 100kmh tops, which is a trifle inconvenient as most of the semi-trailers like to cruise at 102kmh, but the whole business is stable and easy to manage.
It’s all plain sailing until we hit Wentworth and then it’s time to hit the dirt as we head north to the remote Darling River port of Menindee. This is proper outback Australia complete with saltbush, tumbleweeds, stark mallee thickets and wild animals with no road sense.
Why Menindee? Well, this historic town features in the narratives of Thomas Mitchell, Charles Sturt and the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, all from the mid-19th Century.
The vast Menindee Lakes system must have been like a sign from above for these weary explorers and in 1959, dams were built to adapt the seven lakes as a semi-permanent water supply for Broken Hill and the surrounding towns. Birdwatchers from all over the world descend on Menindee to see the near quarter million birds from almost 200 species that rely on the waters. That’s way more than Kakadu.
In town there’s a half decent pub, a comfy motel, a store, fuel and numerous accommodation options if we get jack of climbing into the back of the Apollo. There’s also a surprising variety of sites worth visiting including the preserved, 1875 woolshed and shearers’ quarters at Kinchega National Park, a ‘short’ 20km drive out of town.
We meet NPWS Ranger Jade for a tour of the antique wool works and marvel at the tenacity of the pioneers who toiled from dawn until dusk in stifling heat, hauling more than 100,000 ewes out of their red river gum pens and onto the shearing board without the benefit of modern mechanical aids like mechanical clippers. The empty shed, dusty and forlorn, looks like the aftermath of a Tom Roberts painting with machinery, clippers and tools strewn about like the blokes have ducked off for smoko.
The adjacent quarters have been restored and serve as both a ranger station and overnight bunkhouse for overnight guests. There’s a big kitchen and living area set aside for the purpose too. All you need to do is book ahead and find $20 each.
After a slap up meal at the pub and a bit of a chin-wag with the locals we set up camp beside the river at Nelia Gaari Station, half way down the track toward Wilcannia. Greg and Lily are your typical salts-of-the-earth fair dinkum country folk ready to welcome guests to their property where Greg has built latrines, hot showers and fish cleaning tables (of course!) for those camping along the river.
For a bloke who spent many childhood weekends, pre-Internet playing along the banks of the Murray River downstream in South Australia, those memories came flooding back, if you don’t mind the pun. Massive river gums as old as time line the banks creating an eerie and mystical scene straight out of ‘The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith’. Sunsets along the river are something else again; a vivid lilac, lavender and crimson inferno reflected in the mirror-still waters. Then the stars come out. Oh, my!
For the full range of Apollo Motorhomes, see www.apollocamper.com/
Nelia Gaari Station www.neliagaari.com.au
For comprehensive details on travel to Outback NSW, see www.visitoutbacknsw.com
Roderick Eime travelled with assistance from Inland NSW Tourism and Apollo Motorhome Holidays. Follow him on Twitter at @rodeime
Originally published in Get Up & Go Magazine as "On the Road Again' - Autumn 2015