A story about a much-loved VW Kombi, a trip around Australia and shipping the old girl back to the UK

Travelling Around Australia in a VW Kombi

We were on the road in Australia in our Kombi from January 2004 until late August the same year. There were so many places we visited that it would be folly to write about all these places here, especially as we've already done just that in another web site. Suffice it to say that the old girl took us all down the east coast, through the capital, Canberra, down to Melbourne and over to Tasmania before making the final long (2,500km, 5-day) push across the Nullarbor Plain (and did us proud).

We had looked around high and low in Cairns for a decent van to take us around Aus, but never saw anything that really caught our eyes. We did start to feel desperate at times, and could so easily have rushed in to make an offer on any old van, just to get us on the road. Perhaps it was fate, but every time we saw a beaten-up Mitsubishi L300 or Toyota Hiace and made a call, these vans were already sold. Just as well, then, otherwise we wouldn't have seen an advert for a '75 pop-top with 'fresh interior, mag wheels'.

Our first glimpse of the van was in the evening - never a good time to view a vehicle - and I can remember feeling as it came down the road, did a U-turn and then pulled up in front of us that 'this was a good van'. Gut feeling was right on this, and both Manda and I had the same feeling. So, we gave it a good look at under the street lights and said we'd let the owner know.

Our first viewing of the Kombi
Our first viewing of the van. Initial reactions: very favourable.

We had plans the next morning to go to a car market, and thought it would be wise to at least give the market a chance. However, even later this evening we were itching to phone up and make an offer.

The next morning came, and the car market was very sparse. Nothing there was right for us, so after giving it an hour to fill up a little, we admitted defeat then got on the phone to make an offer on the Kombi, sincerely hoping that we had not left this one too late too. Moments later, we had the news we wanted - the Kombi was still available, and the owner accepted our offer (advertised for AU$2700, accepted AU$2250).

There were no fittings in the van, so we would have to get some units put in, and other things like window-tinting needed doing.

The empty Kombi
Nothing to see here, move along now, nothing to see ...

There was also no registration on the van, no road-worthy certificate, so that would all cost extra to get us on the road. The saddest part was that we got a whole bunch of potentially useful spares - including an entire engine and four perfectly good wheels - that we simply had to ditch because we couldn't take them around with us. Makes you weep:

Spare parts for oour kombi
All the spares that we had to ditch at the beginning of our travels.

Over the next few months we would find ourselves doing all sorts of little jobs on the van - which soon became known as Ethel - but I had to remind myself that this was just a temporary home - we shouldn't do too much. Repairs along the way also added to the costs. By the time we got to Perth - the end of our 18,000km drive around Aus - selling Ethel was quite hard, in more ways than one.

Perth is an extremely isolated city - Mumbai, India, is closer to Perth than Sydney is. This might suggest that you have a captive audience to sell a van, but in winter time when there are not many backpackers around, it's not easy to sell a van like ours (even if she is a nice condition Kombi) ... and you can't go to the next big city either. [Here's our 'VW For Sale' advert that we originally registered the domain name VWkombi.com for.]

Ethel in Perth
Ethel with Perth's Central Business District in the background.

We didn't want to sell it at a cut-price amount (like so many travellers will do just to get out of the country), but then again, did we have to? This was our van, and we had taken good care of it, but for whom - the next buyers? You wouldn't raise your kids to be well-rounded, polite young adults only to hand them to another family - "Here, have them - we've done all the hard work for you!". So, we looked into shipping our Kombi back to the UK; it would be so good to come back home and pick up the van and take it for a new adventure. Of course, we didn't tell anyone about this at the time - there's nothing like a surprise!

So, what did we have to do to get our Ethel's big ole metal butt all the way to the UK?