Realities Of A Van Lifer: Week 3 Fails & Successes

Touring West Australia as a van lifer

This is the third in a weekly series of blog posts sharing the real experiences of a van lifer in Australia. Each week, I publish a post with the previous week’s failures and successes. I’ve committed to this diary for my entire four-month tour of the country. To know when a new post goes live (and see how my feelings towards van life change over time), sign up.

Week three as a van lifer is complete and I’d describe my relationship with this lifestyle as love-hate.

On the one hand, I love the convenience of having everything I own with me at all times. It makes impulsive decisions to visit new sights easily possible, and compared with my usual choice of lugging a 16kg backpack from hostel to hostel, is much friendlier on the body!

Touring West Australia as a van lifer

I also love finding gorgeous campsites at cheaper rates than your typical Aussie budget accommodation; some with natural landscapes and wildlife you’d think were only possible in David Attenborough documentaries.

Having said that, the past seven days as a van lifer have included some of the most stressful events yet. From discovering that a colony of ants had taken up residence in the van, to a few early morning drives that opened my eyes to the pure volume of animals that are killed each day on the roads of Australia. Let’s just say, I’ve cried more than once.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, the van life movement is highly romanticised. The ideals of the lifestyle are widely documented across social media and include sunset backdrops viewed through open van doors, shabby chic rugs laid out on grassy fields and van lifers propped up with pillows, completely content.

In Australia though, I can guarantee you that a lot of the time these moments come hand-in-hand with mosquito bites, sweat, mud stains, ants, flies, and all manner of other creatures that you’ll read more about below.

Am I ruining the dream for you?

I hope not! I’m sharing these harsh realities not to discourage other would-be van lifers, but simply to be honest about the trials that come with living and travelling in a campervan in Australia. That way, you can prepare as best as possible.

In fact, I’ll be sharing a blog post in the next couple of weeks listing all of the essential items and tips you’ll need to make van life the most restful and enjoyable experience you can, so sign up to know when this goes live.

In the meantime, here are the fails and successes of my third week as a van lifer:

Fails of a van lifer

  • Being robbed by a gang of roos! They stole bread, apples, and Singapore noodles(!) from the box inside our van
  • Attracting a minefield of toads and needing to navigate them as though playing a game of hopscotch
  • Finding ourselves the only campers at an eerie site in the woods, then moving on at 1am after failing to fall asleep
  • Not being able to check in to another campsite at 1am, so having to camp illegally outside of a hotel and escape before sunrise
  • Finding a colony of ants under the floorboards of the van
  • Thinking we were winning by finding the shade of a tree to park under, then having bats pee and poo on our awning all night
  • Tailing a road train at sunrise and witnessing the carnage of kangaroos, birds, and cows killed in its path
  • Failing to check our roof box was shut properly and consequently chasing our clothes down the highway (again!)

Successes of a van lifer

  • Destroying the colony of ants with fly spray
  • Not squashing any of the toads having a party outside of our van
  • Working out that our makeshift fly-net works much better at the back of our van and being able to sleep with the back door open
  • Rustling up some beautiful one-pan dishes (salami, chickpea and pesto rice, anyone?)
  • Escaping our (unavoidable) illegal campsite without being caught… though I’m not sure I should brag about that one!
  • Crossing our first state border from Western Australia into the Northern Territory
  • Finding a campsite with an infinity pool overlooking Lake Argyle, who says budget travel can’t include the odd luxury?

There’s one thing that’s for sure, living and travelling in a van is eventful! Each week as I write these posts, I think to myself that next week I’ll surely have nothing new to share with you, but each week I’m proved very wrong.

Of course, I also want to share the incredible experiences you can have whilst travelling in Australia in general. So, here are the biggest and best things I’ve seen or done en-route from Kununurra in Western Australia, to Daly Waters, in the Northern Territory. 

The ultimate highs of week three


Getting a little rest and relaxation at Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle, West Australia

When you think of the Australian outback, you likely don’t picture a vast and perfectly still lake. Such a place exists though, called Lake Argyle, and it treats visitors with views that can easily be confused with Italy’s Lake Garda or some other stunning European lake. In a region teeming with dry dirt and little water, Lake Argyle is the perfect spot for a few days of rest and relaxation. 

Taking a canoe tour through the gorges of Nitmiluk National Park

Canoe with Nitmiluk Tours at Nitmiluk National Park

Nitmiluk Gorge, also known as Katherine Gorge, is actually a series of thirteen gorges in the heart of the Northern Territory, near to the modern town of Katherine. Whilst there are plenty of hikes around the rim of the gorge, the best perspective of the gigantic chasms is by canoe.

A canoe experience with Nitmiluk Tours begins with a scenic boat tour and then allows for four and a half hours in a single or double canoe, paddling across peaceful waters, and getting neck-ache from gazing upwards at the colourful sandstone rock. If you’re lucky, you might spot a freshwater croc too!

Taking to the skies in a scenic helicopter flight over Nitmiluk Gorge

Helicopter flight over Katherine Gorge

Despite having a fear of flying, taking a scenic helicopter flight has always been on my bucket list. Unfortunately, it’s also been an activity out of my price range in most places. So when I found a fifteen-minute flight over Nitmiluk Gorge at a cost of just $159 per person, I simply had to take advantage. It was unbelievable, and the biggest highlight of my journey around Australia to-date (after Karijini National Park).

For the next seven days, there’s going to be a lot of driving, as Dave and I make our way across to Queensland. We’re headed for Townsville before exploring the sights and waterholes of Cairns.

Whilst I’ve enjoyed the outback, the coast is calling, and so is that incredible sea breeze…

Thinking of becoming a van lifer, or travelling Australia too? Let me know below and give this post a share so others can find it too.

Disclaimer: One of the tours quoted in this blog post was a sponsored activity, which means I experienced it at a discounted rate in exchange for an optional link on this website. I only choose to collaborate with tour operators in this way when it’a product I genuinely want to share with you, my valued reader.

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