I was incredibly optimistic as we welcomed in 2021. Like most of the world, I was hopeful that the global pandemic might just fade away into the background and life would move on. Of course, that was clearly being too optimistic and here we are in the early days of 2022, and it’s still got an intense grip on life as we know it.
Despite this, I was still very fortunate to have an incredible 2021. A year that I feel privileged to have been able to enjoy with most of my freedom intact. From full-time vanlife to hiking in multiple states, I can’t complain about the year that was.
Take a look at where 2021 took me and why this blog has seen some dramatic changes going into 2022.
January-March: First attempt at full-time vanlife, lockdown and a wedding
By the end of 2020, I decided that I wanted to spend most of 2021 in my old Toyota Hiace van, making the most of being confined within Australia’s borders for a change. I took off just a few days inside the new year and headed up to North West Victoria. I spent a few weeks exploring the lesser known, rural part of the state, with the Silo Art Trail being the main highlight.
I also headed up to the Murray River and drove across to Tallangatta to visit friends in Granya, before crossing the dirt road from Corryong to Omeo. From Omeo, I finally reached the Alpine National Park for the first time in my life. The High Country had been calling me for some time and I was keen to start exploring one of Australia’s last vast wilderness areas.
I tentatively began with day hikes around Dinner Plain, Hotham and Harrietville, to get a feel for the rugged alpine region. I explored Harrietville, before sticking around in Bright for the annual Travel and Adventure Film Festival. Just a couple of hours before the start of the festival it was announced that Victoria would go into a five-day lockdown and everyone had to return to a residential address. Despite trying to convince authorities I could isolate in the van, I ended up racing home just in time for the lockdown to start.
So, my first attempt at full-time vanlife was cut short. But as soon as lockdown ended (again), I headed straight back up to the High Country to continue exploring around Mount Buller and Lake Cobbler. I then returned home again in March, as one of my childhood best friends was getting married and I was never going to miss out on one of the most beautiful days I’ve been privileged to be a part of.
The day after I got back from the wedding, I headed back once again for the High Country (phew!). This time I threw myself into my first multi-day hike in the Aussie Alps, with a three-day hike at Hotham. The rugged terrain challenged me as I’d expected, and I realised that this is exactly where I want to spend some time in the next few years to really push myself beyond my comfort zone.
April-June: South Australia and the Flinders Ranges
So, the start of the year was a little tumultuous and unpredictable with a lot of driving around, but from April onwards I set off living full-time in my Hiace van and never looked back (until Christmas).
I didn’t make it to South Australia until the start of May, as I enjoyed the coastal life along the Great Ocean Road for far longer than expected. I then spent all of May and half of June in the Flinders Ranges region of South Australia. Six weeks of incredibly rugged mountain ranges, jaw dropping views and some of the best hikes I’ve ever done.
I spent three of those weeks at Wilpena Pound Resort and Campground, right in the heart of the Flinders Ranges National Park. I even met my parents there as well, as they were travelling around in their own campervan. By the end of my time there, I was on first name basis with the three managers who let us keep our prime spot in the campground for as long as we liked.
Just when I thought I was going to leave the Flinders behind, mum brought up the idea of travelling to the more remote Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary further north in the Gammon Ranges. At first, my dad said absolutely not, as he’d been there before on a motorbike trip and knew the conditions of the roads.
But just days later, we were somehow heading off for that very place, having convinced dad that it would be fine, and it somehow was. We made it all the way to Arkaroola in a Toyota Hiace and Fiat Ducato, stayed a few days and then made it back out again via Leigh Creek. While our vans took a long time to recover from it, that outback adventure is still one of my favourite memories from 2021.
June-October: Northern Territory
Back in Port Augusta, one of the major road junctions in the whole country, I had a decision to make: where would I go next? Originally, my plan had been to head west, as I’d never been to Western Australia before and I really wanted to drive across the Nullarbor. However, after having spent longer than anticipated in the Flinders Ranges, it was already winter, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy the southwest coast of WA in the bitter cold.
So, as I approached the major intersection with the Eyre Highway to WA heading left and the Stuart Highway to the Northern Territory heading right, I spontaneously turned the wheel to my right and headed for the Red Centre.
My past experience of the Northern Territory had been a family holiday to Uluru as a kid and then my two week end to end journey on the Larapinta Trail back in 2018. But as I began my journey heading north on the Stuart Highway at the end of June, I soon realised that I was embarking on what’s clearly one of the greatest road trips in Australia.
Over nearly four months, I drove right to the top end of the Stuart Highway in Darwin and all the way back down again to South Australia. Along the way I spent weeks at a time in each of the major towns, Alice Springs, Katherine and Darwin, while exploring the surrounding national parks. I drove thousands of kilometres on lonely, straight outback roads, with nothing but roadhouses along the way for fuel.
I stayed for days at Uluru and Kings Canyon, and got up for way too many sunrises and sunsets that I would have usually liked. I got to relive all of my memories from the Larapinta Trail while exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges again. I faced some physical challenges and intense heat exhaustion, completing the Southern Walks and Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park. I soaked up the incredible spirituality of Kakadu National Park, and the ancient landscape home to the world’s oldest living culture. I got to live for a month with family friends in Berry Springs and explore all the swimming holes in Litchfield National Park and all the markets in Darwin city. And after all that, I chose to drive all the way back down the same way to get home again in time for Christmas.
There’s something very special about the Northern Territory. While it certainly gets a fair share of tourists during the dry season, I still think it’s underrated and not given enough time by people hoping to tick off the major sights. Get to the NT, you really won’t regret it.
November-December: Journey home and some major changes going into 2022
I made my way slowly home, avoiding the thought of moving all my stuff out of the van and back into a house. I took the coastal route again, back along the Great Ocean Road for the fourth time in a year.
However, some major life developments happened all at once in November. I was emailed out of the blue and told that someone had trademarked my blog name, unbeknownst to me. Once I had verified that this was in fact true, I obviously wanted to avoid any legal action and major dramas in the future. So, I immediately decided that I would have to start again and transfer all of my content to a new blog with a different name.
While I knew it was going to be a months-long project and a mind-boggling number of hours, I saw it as a fresh start and one that I dived straight into. But I did take a moment in time to sit and think about what I wanted this blog to be going forward and how I wanted my brand to look in the future.
Although it could have easily been a dramatic end to my blogging career or an existential career crisis, I chose to see it as an opportunity. I’ve been able to sit and think about why I actually even have this blog in the first place, and why I’ve kept it going from when I started it back in 2014 for my friends and family to read. I now have a much clearer vision for it, and I think the new name, Beyond Wild Places, embodies more of what it’s all about in a much deeper way.
At the same time, I was also making the biggest purchase of my life to date. After five long months of searching every day, my dad finally found the right van for me. I’d been talking for a while about upgrading from the Hiace to a bigger van. While I loved the compact Toyota, I knew I needed more living space if I wanted to do this #vanlife thing long-term.
After sending me plenty of vans over many months, he sent me a photo of a 2003 Fiat Ducato which was already converted but probably needed some work done. For the price and the kms, I had a good feeling about it. Before I was even home, mum and dad drove up to visit the old guy, and as soon as dad had a look he said, “I’m keen” and I said, “I’ll buy it!”. And that was that.
Looking ahead to 2022
After a year of adventures in 2021, I learnt a few things about myself and my life going forward. Firstly, living in a van is probably my dream kind of lifestyle (at least for now) and I know that likely for the next couple of years I will be living on the road somewhere in Australia.
Secondly, while my blog is not my biggest source of income right now, it’s the thing I enjoy working on the most. I could have easily thrown it all in, but instead, I’ve taken it even more seriously than ever before. I’ve spent an unbelievable number of hours on it and I’m making a push for it to being a greater part of my work going forward.
Thirdly, I’m happiest when out hiking. While I did plenty in 2021, I’m making plans for bigger and bolder adventures for 2022. I want to spend more time out on the trails and encourage others to do the same.
Either way, I still have no idea where 2022 will take me. Hopefully it’s filled with as many adventures and personal growth as 2021. For now, however, I’m stuck in the middle of van renovations and taking some short trips up to the High Country (yes, again), but I’ve still got plenty of content and experiences to share here, so stay tuned.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you out there x