On hobbies, and countries

A while ago, I figured out why it is that Top Gear hate caravans.

It's not just because being stuck in a four-mile tail-back behind a Morris Oxford towing a 1986 Chateau La Car is even more frustrating when you're attempting to review a 900-horsepower quad-turbo Lamborghini Testicoli Enormi. It's also because Top Gear are in the UK, and I think caravanning in the UK is like metal-detector-ing in Australia.

There are few places in the UK that are worth dragging a little mobile house to. Cornwall's nice enough, but it has hotels, as do the other parts of the UK that try with varying plausibility to present themselves as holiday destinations.

OK, maybe you enjoy being able to have a fry-up breakfast out of the rain and then tramp around a different soggy piece of Scotland every couple of days. But this is stretching it.

Here in Australia, on the other hand, we have large amounts of beach and forest and low-but-wide mountain ranges that are not within convenient distance of a motel. You can easily spend a year driving around this place and still have failed to come within a hundred kilometres of enough land area to make up what most people call a country. OK, a signficant amount of that area is one of our many great expanses of nothing much...

Gunbarrel Highway

...but there's still a lot of Australia out there.

The whole area of the United Kingdom, plus southern Ireland, is about 314,000 square kilometres. That's a little less than the two smallest Australian States, Victoria and Tasmania, put together.

The whole of Australia has an area of more than 7.6 million square kilometres. But Australia's population is less than 23 million, versus 62 million and change for the UK. (Australia's population is about 15% more than that of New York state.) And most of the Australian population is crammed into little strips on the coast.

Result: An awful lot of wilderness where you could play with a howitzer for weeks without hitting anyone. If you're crossing those distances, a little towed house can be convenient.

If you make a hobby out of metal-detecting in Australia, though, you're not likely to find anything very interesting. Humans have been here for tens of thousands of years, but until Europeans showed up and commenced doing what they usually do, the indigenous Australians didn't have any metal at all.

You can find plenty of stuff if you swing a metal detector around in any vaguely habitable part of Australia, but the most antiquitous items you're likely to locate are ring-pulls.

Oh, and you're not going to find any gold, either. There are still plenty of places in Australia where you can pan for gold successfully - which is to say, at the end of the day you'll have a clearly visible collection of gold-specks in a little vial, which may be worth as much as fifty cents. But our most recent gold rush was well over a century ago. You're more likely to find a fist-sized meteorite than you are to find a gold nugget, and you are not likely to find a fist-sized meteorite.

If you live in the UK, on the other hand, then just going into your back garden and digging a hole will very probably find you some Roman pottery, or even coins. The pottery will probably be worthless broken shards and the coins will probably be equally worthless lumps of corroded bronze, but they'll still be more than a thousand years old.

If Tony Robinson et al came to Australia to dig places up, they might be able to find something a couple of hundred years old in Sydney, or perhaps an interesting geological specimen out in the sticks, but that's about it.

Am I missing something, here? I invite comments from any Britons who gain deep fulfilment from caravanning the Grampians, or Australians who metal-detected a gold bar on Coogee Beach.

Posted in Cars, Toys. 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “On hobbies, and countries”

  1. Chipmunk Says:

    I think you've mostly summed it up, plus, caravanning is a very middle class pursuit, and thus something the top gear crew, and Carkson in particular MUST mock, as part of their contract.

    Interesting point about metal detecting, it's past its heyday here in the UK but still many folks with beards (male and female) pursue it quite happily even now.

    I have nothing against caravans aside from the traffic queue lark, which is a frequent but relatively minor annoyance on Britain's motorways.

    I do also think a lot of it may come down to Britain's small size, but in a different way than you think. There are few opportunities for true wilderness exploration, having a caravan allows the 'masses' to experience it while still remaining 'respectable'.

    I could be wrong however, it's happened before, usually every time I express an opinion on the Internet

  2. strangefeatures Says:

    I'm sure your right about the metallic human artifacts, but my Mum's partner (and some of his siblings, and also even my mum) have a hobby of prospecting in northern WA. Apparently improvements in metal detector technology mean that it's possible to find things now that you would never have found a couple of decades ago (and WA is of course big enough that there are probably plenty of spots no-one's ever tried before). I think you want to be a bit smart about the areas you prospect in, but they get lucky sometimes. On a good trip, I think it can beat the minimum wage, while on a bad trip, they barely cover the costs of hiring a detector. Everyone of course dreams of the big nugget to facilitate an early retirement which is of course about as likely as you'd imagine, but one prospector in WA got *very* lucky a couple of years back: http://www.vanbergeijk.com/2010/09/01/the-third-largest-gold-nugget-in-the-world/

    It's probably a bit like slow motion gambling but with much less risk of accidentally losing your house, and without the guaranteed house odds stacked against you.

    • strangefeatures Says:

      Eek, I can't edit this. That 'your' in the first sentence is really bugging me now. I blame iPad autocorrect. If I was reading that I would have probably given up after the first sentence. Awkward.

  3. Popup Says:

    You have missed what appears to be the dominant reason for owning a caravan in Europe.
    Being able to bring your own civilized cuisine instead of having to suffer the indigenous cooking while travelling abroad

    Europe is small enough that you can easily traverse a handful of countries in shorter time that it takes to learn how to pronounce any handful of Australian cities. And we all know that furriners eat funny stuff, so if you want to survive a holiday abroad you'd better bring a caravan full of bratwurst and beer (if you're German), baked beans and beer (if you're British) or simply lots of wine (if you're French or Italian).

    That way you can also irritate the locals even further when you put up your eye-sore of a caravan in the middle of a pretty village without contributing to the local economy by buying anything more substantial than a postage stamp.

  4. MikeLip Says:

    Only comment? Crap, do I ever want to come visit Australia. Despite what Cracked says about it! :)

  5. Mohonri Says:

    Funny you should mention the vast expanses of nothing in Australia. We just got back last week from a cross country trek in the US, which took us through Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and a handful of other states. And there's a whole lotta nothin' there, too.

    We saw a lot of RV's and trailers on the road, most of which were rented, and it made me wonder about the economics of travelling in such a fashion. On top of the cost of the rental, you've got to pay for the much lower fuel economy of the RV vs (for most people) a sedan or (for families like ours) a minivan. At today's fuel prices, I can't imagine it would take much driving to make up the cost of a hotel, and American cuisine doesn't change that much from one end of the country to the other.

    • Erik T Says:

      If one is traipsing about the American Interior West, one can be assured that many travelers are doing a round of the National Parks. Here, hotel space is limited if not unavailable.

      Of course I just bring a tent, but tents are icky and full of bugs and have no chemical toilets.

    • dan Says:

      I see a lot of rented RVs where I live, too; usually pretty modest camper-vans and small-camper-trucks. If they're bad value, they're pretty popular bad value!

      I think the fanciest ones I see locally are from Britz. I haven't played with their price calculator very much, but I got a quote of about $AU2000 for a month for a two-adult small van, or about $AU5200 for a month in a four-adult camper-truck. You'll still have to pay for fuel and food and so forth, of course, but this still compares favourably with hotel rates.

    • Fallingwater Says:

      I think the best way to move around while carrying your own roof with you is to buy a small van like, say, a Renault Kangoo in the storage version, possibly with the turbodiesel engine. Remove everything from the forward seats backwards, then sling in the back a mattress, a tank of water, the smallest chemical toilet you can find and a bunch of camping equipment.

      The result should weigh about as much as your average sedan, so no horrendous fuel consumption penalties, and it should have enough space to sleep in without too much discomfort.

      • Bern Says:

        That'd be like the old HQ panel vans. Preferably with airbrushed nude on the side, and bubble windows at the back.

        Locally known as a "shaggin' wagon"...

        Found a bunch of good pics here, including, yes, one with a velour upholstered rear (with artfully-posed chessboard, no less!).

        • Fallingwater Says:

          I was thinking about something a bit more subtle. No airbrushings, no weird protrusions, just a small cargo van. This would have the benefit of letting you use it just about everywhere. Many countries have laws about where you're allowed to park a trailer and sleep/camp in it, but who's going to check the small unassuming van parked on the streetside?

  6. RichVR Says:

    "...American cuisine doesn't change that much from one end of the country to the other."

    Say what? Maybe if you just eat at chain restaurants. Otherwise you couldn't be more wrong. Is the food in Boston, Mass the same as the food in Santa Fe, NM? Pizza in NYC is a completely different animal than the pizza in Chicago. I could give many more examples, but you get my point. But a McDonalds or a Waffle House is the same everywhere.

    • Stark Says:

      Indeed! Cuisine varies wildly across the US! It's one of the great joys of travelling here!

      If you consider McDonalds to be cuisine though... well, I pity your taste buds! Personally I find most fast food to be tastier (or at least more interesting) if you eat the packaging instead of the meal.

      I just took a nice little trip with my son up to Crater Lake in Oregon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crater_Lake) and we did our usual - camp gear, no tent. We sleep in my trusty Subaru Forester with the back seat laid down, a couple of camp pads for comfort, and a tarp bungied over it for privacy. My son has dubbed it the Suba-Camper. It has the added benefit over a tent of being able to start it up and run the heater when you wake up to a 2C morning. ;) As far as I'm concerned it's the closest I will ever get to a caravan. Though, the converted cargo van does have a certain appeal! We were surrounded by a forest of caravans though... most with satellite tv setups. I don't get that at all - travel to one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, then sit in the RV and watch tv. Why even leave home?

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