After 8 months of being on someone else’s schedule to get around, whether it was a bus, train, boat, tuk-tuk or even the occasional airplane, I was looking forward to the freedom of driving when we got to Australia. Open roads, stopping at roadside stands for fresh fruit and vegetables, being in control of the air conditioning: it all sounded fantastic. To live the dream we decided that a campervan made the most sense, as we wanted to cover quite a bit of ground from Cairns to Sydney while seeing many sights along the Eastern Coast. In addition to the freedom of being on your own schedule, having a camper is great because you are covering your lodging and transport with one cost. And in a country like Australia where a private double room in a hostel can cost upwards of $52/night, a camper can be quite a cost saver.
The one reservation that Amy and I had about many of the initial companies we looked into was the size of the campers and varied reports from other travelers on the quality once they picked them up. As you can see below, the “campers” from companies like Wicked are really just converted old mini vans. Being crammed into one of these for a couple weeks made us both a little nervous, even if the paint jobs are creative.
Finding the Right Company
We were fortunate enough to find out about KEA Campers while we were in Beijing. KEA operates in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The best part was they have a serious commitment to the environment as all of their campers have solar panels on the roofs that charge the electrical system when it is not plugged in at a campground. In addition, they operate a new and very fuel-efficient fleet of campers. Our 2-person model was a converted Ford Transit van. The best part of this vehicle was that while it was small enough to drive comfortably, the living area was tall enough to be able to stand up and walk around in. And by looking around KEA’s website we were able to get our camper on a “fleet relocation” special which reduced the daily rate from $120 AUS to $80 AUS (~$75 USD) per day. The pickup process in Cairns was pretty easy once we arrived at the depot, which is quite a walk from town. The van came equipped with nearly everything we would need from maps, a coffee press and even dish soap. Many of the other camper companies will not include even necessities such as pots and pans in the stated price, making you pay extra for them.
I found the camper was easy and comfortable to drive. One thing to note is that KEA’s entire fleet is manual transmission. I found the driving to be quite easy, even if as the driver I was on the right side of the cab, driving on the left side of the road and having to shift with my left hand. I think I only stalled out twice…the first day. Since the camper was a manual transmission diesel it got much better mileage than other campers. Mileage is another consideration when renting a camper. While some of the campervans may have much cheaper per day costs, if they are older they could get much worse gas mileage than a new, more comfortable van such as a KEA. Fuel costs are likely to be your second biggest cost when renting a camper so be sure you are aware of gas mileage the vehicle will likely get and build that cost into your budget.
Bringing it Back
Due to our change in plans, we had to get to Sydney a week earlier than expected. When I called KEA to explain the situation they could not have been more accommodating. Not only did they take the camper back early, they refunded us for the days we did not use – in full! The check in process in Sydney was quite easy. After pulling in and doing a quick inspection of the van, the agent took us inside to process the paperwork and refund our insurance excess deposit of $7,500AUS – which because of the strengthening Australian dollar, made us a profit of nearly $500 USD. This is another thing to note about KEA. If you do not pay for the extra insurance they will charge your credit card $7,500AUS. That money is refunded when the van is returned in the same condition it was rented in. However, if your credit card company charges international transaction fees or the Australian dollar changes in relative value your refund will not match your deposit. For us it worked in our favor but it could have been the opposite.
All in all I was very happy with our experience with KEA. And while they are not the lowest cost company, their campers are very high quality and they have a clear commitment to limiting their impact on the environment. When Amy and I make it to New Zealand we will be sure to get our camper from KEA.