Last year we bought a van, with a pop-top and space to sleep all five of us. It has become our daily transporter, cubby-house-on-wheels, a van with special powers. I love how everything fits inside, our little trio plus extras, trikes and bikes, boxes of fruit-and-veg, bags of chicken-food, even the beast of a running-pram. And how the children can wash their feet in the sink after exploring the beach or climb into their seats while I change the youngest’s bottom under their feet. And I treasure our Tuesday mornings at the local nature reserve. Lottie reads books in the pop-top bed, the boys dig up ‘ochre rocks’ under the acacia trees, while I make hot Milo in the kitchen at-the-back.
We have had some wonderful adventures in our van: a journey to Australia’s red centre, camping trips in Tasmania, even a parent weekend escape or two, thank you Mum. But we hadn’t always wanted a van or a camper. Our metamorphose into a ‘van family’ was perhaps, a little serendipitous.
It began with a tour of Hobart’s car-sale yards one slow Saturday morning in mid-winter. We were hunting for a family car and had misplaced my husband, Anders. The children discovered him on the other side of the showroom embowered within a sparkling Mercedes Benz Marco Polo Activity Van. “What do you think?”, he called out. His head peering down over the lip of the pop-top bed. “Are you serious”, I puffed. I thought a camper-van as our family vehicle was hilarious, perhaps a little indulgent. “I guess I could ‘pop the top’ and take a nap at school pick up”, I joked. But Anders was intrigued, and the children thought it was the coolest cubby-house-on-wheels.
I admit the van’s name had ignited my curiosity. I assume the German manufacturers were referring to the great European explorer of the Middle Ages, Marco Polo, who travelled to faraway empires in a ‘caravan’ of horses and camels. Not children squealing “Marco”, “Polo” in the swimming pool, as was my first connection. Surely this was a van for people with wanderlust and a zest for adventure.
We didn’t buy a car or a van that winter. But Anders teased me with a stream of camper-van photos, which had me in stitches. And I dreamed secretly, of roaming back-roads with a brood of fair-skinned, hat-headed children. Dreams can be dangerous. And when Spring arrived, I found myself negotiating for our very own Marco Polo van. I had fallen in love, accidentally.
With a family holiday just-around-the-corner, we fitted a kitchen and our electric-bikes on the back. And packed the children and supplies to support a family on the road. We set out for Australia’s heart and returned six weeks later with stories of dust, ‘ginormous rocks’ and endless horizons. But that’s a tale for another day.
As I write this, we are preparing our van for a two-week camping holiday on Flinders Island, the largest island of the Furneaux Group to the northeast of Tasmania. An island with a most curious past: of European discovery, bountiful shipwrecks and barnacled Straits-men who carved out a life on the edge-of-the-world. It was the location of a disastrous attempt to save the Tasmanian Aborigines and a place of hope for returning soldiers after World War II. I wonder what we will find in this place of wild coastlines, sprawling farmland and idyllic quietness?
Our adventure begins with a nine-hour barge trip from Bridport, on the mainland of Tasmania. I admit I am feeling a little nervous. Perhaps it is the stories of turbulent seas, sparse amenities and ill passengers lying forlorn in their vehicles. Or that only the foolhardy accompany their car across Banks Strait. Most prefer to fly. And then there is the arrival at Lady Barren, a quiet seaside town on the Island, at three o’clock in the morning. I wonder how we will fare? Though at least we have the comfort of our van. And as Anders spins, we are holidaying in our own way, amidst a growing sea of mass produced, hailing from everywhere, packaged entertainment. I do hope so.
Flinders offers a unique and untamed experience. Lonely windswept beaches, granite mountains, abundant bird-life, and a dislocation from the greyness of urbanisation. But it is the adventure and time-together in our van I am looking forward to. Waking up to all-five-of-us entangled, reading stories on the fold-down bed, exploring quiet dirt roads, and popping-the-top and setting-up-home behind the dunes of beautiful beaches. A ‘van family’ holiday.