The day Miriam Blaker left her city life behind to explore Australia in a caravan, she saw an enormous rainbow arching across the sky.
‘Maybe this sounds a bit woo-woo, but I felt like ‘this is the start of something really big,’ Ms Blaker said. ‘I really felt that in my bones.’
The sign in Melbourne’s skies turned out to be prophetic.
What was meant to be a three-month escape from the city’s Covid pandemic doldrums in July 2021 became a two-year road trip with no end in sight.
Ms Blaker and her husband Doug left their professional jobs and sold their family home, swapping the daily grind for Western Australia’s sweeping coastline and the muggy tropics of far north Queensland.
Along the way, they’ve swum in crystal blue waters, explored cliffs and gorges and watched the sun set over the ocean on isolated white sand beaches.
What was meant to be a three-month escape from the city’s Covid pandemic doldrums in July 2021 became a two-year road trip with no end in sight
The day Miriam Blaker left her city life behind to explore Australia in a caravan, she saw an enormous rainbow arching across the sky
Ms Blaker says the trip changed her perspective on life, as the stresses of a mortgage, bills and the complications of city living faded into the rearview mirror.
‘When you’re on the road, the worries you have are very different to the ones at home because it is about survival: where to stay, food and water,’ she said.
‘It really is just getting back to the basics.
‘When we wake up the view is always different, and I love that.’
The couple has met an increasing number of young professionals working remotely from their vans or families homeschooling their children on extended trips around Australia.
‘Covid really made a lot of people reassess their lives, their values, their struggles, the things they were paying for at home, the way they were working,’ Ms Blaker says.
‘More and more people are realising there is a different way they can live.’
Australia’s caravan parks have become the unlikely nexus of post-pandemic life, as the nation’s population moves more than ever.
Parks are not only rest stops for people exploring a new life on the road, but refuges for those who have been pushed out of the rental market or lost their houses in disasters.
Luke Chippindale from the Caravan Industry Association says parks have responded by embracing their social purpose.
‘What sits at the heart of caravanning and camping is connection,’ Mr Chippindale says.
‘We get away because we want to feel connected to our regional and rural areas, and with the country, and we want to feel connected with the people we’re travelling with.
‘So how we respond to disasters is quite often just an expansion of that.
‘We’re trying to wrap our arms around people as much as possible.’
Caravan parks may also evolve as rural Australia leads the nation’s renewable energy transition.
Some operators have the potential to house solar panels, batteries for energy storage and electric vehicle chargers, in a technological boon for both locals and visitors.
‘Covid really made a lot of people reassess their lives, their values, their struggles, the things they were paying for at home, the way they were working,’ Ms Blaker said
Ms Blaker and her husband Doug left their professional jobs and sold their family home, swapping the daily grind for Western Australia’s sweeping coastline and the muggy tropics of far north Queensland
Mr Chippindale says a community-minded focus on sustainability is just one way that caravan parks are changing to support a decades-old tourism sector that adds billions of dollars to regional economies.
‘Rocking up with the caravan is still just as applicable today as it was 20 or 30 years ago,’ he says.
‘Now you can get what they call a ‘divorce-saving’ service where the park manager will help reverse your van, all the way through to being able to pull up in an EV and stay in a three-bedroom cabin.’
Martin and Kylie Ledwich were among the many caravan and camping adventurers who collectively poured $10.45 billion into regional Australia during their travels last year.
The Ledwichs, former public servants, have been on the road for much of the last five years, having sold their house in Craigieburn, Melbourne, in 2018 ahead of what they thought would be a 12-month trip.
Since then, they’ve slowly done a lap of Australia and crossed through the middle in their Roadstar Infinity caravan named Buzz Lightyear, after the superhero action toy character in the Disney-Pixar Toy Story franchise.
They’ve traversed the outback on the Great Central Road from Western Australia to the Northern Territory and the Plenty Highway through to Queensland, and once towed their van up to Cape York.
Their dogs Poppy, a white terrier, and Chorizo, a sausage dog, have kept them company.
‘It certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been on the road for five years – we don’t really keep track of the time,’ Mr Ledwich says, from a camp spot near Gladstone, Queensland.
‘That’s one of the beauties about it – sometimes we look at each other and say ‘what day is it today?’
‘It’s a great way to live.’
Mr Ledwich said they have noticed a surge of people travelling in vans in recent years and parks book out months in advance.
‘If you can put up with living together inside 20-odd foot of caravan and not get on each other’s nerves, this is a fairly cheap lifestyle to lead.’
The couple has no firm plans to return to their normal lives.
‘On the back of our van, it says our names and ‘to infinity and beyond’.’