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One couple, a dog & a van: The rewilding of the Maggs

By Emma (Metcalf) Maggs

In October 2020, our landlords decided they wanted to move back into our beautiful beachside home on the Coal Coast of New South Wales. Safe to say we were gutted and as you can imagine, real estate at the time was sparse. I started to fret that we may not find a new home, until at the eleventh hour I met a wonderful woman with a property that miraculously ticked all of our boxes – thank you vision board (insert prayer hands). However there was a catch, we couldn’t move in until January 8… What were we to do in those two-and-a-half months?

I gave it some thought… It was an adventure that had originally brought my forever-lover and I together many moons ago, so it seemed only fitting that during the year of the proverbial and physical “spanner” – when we found ourselves homeless in the middle of the pandemic – that we take the unconventional road.

I threw it out to my husband Scotty. “Why don’t we buy a caravan and go on tour?” I asked, thinking I’d be met with eye-rolling. However in one of those rare occasions where the stars just aligned, we jumped onto Facebook Marketplace and before we knew it, we’d found the ultimate freedom machine and were loading a quarter of our lives and our giant puppy into our new home on wheels. Our plan was to hit the east coast of Australia to take advantage of the fact that like most, we were working remotely. The opportunity seemed too good to be true – and thus began the rewilding of the Maggs. (And who are the Maggs you might be thinking? Well we’re a family of creative souls with a thirst for adventure that consists of myself, my husband Scotty and our most excitable adventure-seeker, Mr Waggs).

Before you romanticise this wanderlusty adventure, let me assure you that our journey didn’t come without its obstacles. I just hope that by sharing my story of life on the road as a digital nomad with a fur-child in tow, you can curate your own odyssey of sorts with a sprinkling of wisdom from our experiences. Here goes!

The Maggs family (minus Mr Waggs)
The home on wheels, ready to depart Wombarra

We started in the village we then called home, Wombarra, about 80 minutes’ south of Sydney. From there we headed north, navigating towards our first stop, Tiona (part of Pacific Palms) on the mid-north coast of NSW. I’m an organised character being a producer by trade, so I booked ahead at the dog-friendly Tiona Holiday Park. We needed to stay partially on grid with access to reception and electricity to keep the professional side of this travelling circus afloat.

En route (like…in the first 20 minutes) our car caught on fire, which Scott bush mechanic’d, and we drove straight into a low-pressure system storm that saw us stuck in a slip lane on a highway with flood water rising around us for many hours. As you can imagine, when we finally made it to Tiona, I was shedding tears of joy for more than just the stunning location we’d be calling home for the next week.

We also encountered golf ball-sized hail a couple of days later that caused some havoc, but we felt we got the worst out of our system early on and were praying for smooth sailing from there on in.

Tiona Holiday Park

There was one bonus of arriving at Tiona during a low-pressure system storm however… Husband gets barrelled at Booti Booti National Park straight away and this photographer can begin documenting the family road trip with fervour! See Exhibit A…

Scotty vs the Pacific Ocean, at Booti Booti National Park

We started on a high at Tiona Holiday Park, which was oh-so spacious with incredible facilities like ensuites (you’ll come to realise how luxurious this really is when on the road). It was literally a couple of metres’ walk from our caravan front door to the sandy shores of Seven Mile Beach, and it’s safe to say my daily routine that week felt very utopian.

 Mr Waggs was also beside himself as you can see here…

Waggs in his element

They say that Tiona is equivalent to the Tahitian word “Zion” which means “heavenly place”, and by definition I’d have to agree. Tiona Holiday Park is hugged by two stunning bodies of water that provide something for everyone – the Pacific Ocean and Seven Mile Beach on one side for surf, and Wallis Lake on the other, which is more tranquil, then a gorgeous green maze of palm jungle inbetween. If you take a walk through the jungle, you’ll come across the Green Cathedral which will take your breath away. The outdoor church is nestled into the lush landscape of the Booti Booti National Park and even the most non-spiritual person, or bush baptists as my dad likes to call us, will feel the energy sitting amongst its natural pews.

A jungle by the sea at Tiona

If you’re a surfer, you’ll be spoilt for choice in this part of the world. A short drive up the road you’ll find Blueys and Boomerang beach, which are exposed reef breaks and can deliver a nice ride – with a great spot for a tasty post-surf pizza and beer just up the road at Moby’s.

Cheeseboard of champions

With nature’s bounty as our backdrop, work-life balance became incredibly achievable in the most organic way. Never in my life did I think I’d be remotely producing television interviews from my caravan while my husband ran his charity as CEO of Skin Check Champions. But there we were making it all happen and better yet, making it work. Even the simplest of activities such as cooking dinner felt like an adventure in itself  – sampling the local produce and meeting some incredible characters along the way, which is all part of the holistic experience.

Giving new meaning to "remote work"

While we knew we had two-and-a-half months on the road, it was important for us to experience quality over quantity, so we generally set up shop at each location for the week, to keep travelling on work days to a minimum and maintain some of the aforementioned work-life balance. So from Tiona, let me whisk you through our itinerary with careful consideration not to gloss over any of the good stuff. It went something like this….

Tiona > Anna Bay > Shoal Bay, Crescent Head > Yamba > Ballina > Northern Rivers and then all the way over to South Australia > Victoria and straight back up the east coast of Australia. It was our attempt to cross off every beach on the iconic east coast roadie. Both Scott’s and my parents live in Victoria and the road trip that brought us together (mentioned earlier) was actually the first time we drove from my parents’ farm in Kangaroo Ground (near the Yarra Valley) all the way up the east coast, camping in the back of the Range Rover and stopping at the most incredible beaches on our way back to our then-homes in Bondi and Bronte in Sydney’s east. We now do this trip every single year – it’s a glorious tradition.

I loved Shoal Bay: it has a beautiful village, the water reminded me of being in the Mediterranean, the Country Club had great pizza and wine, and you can walk just about everywhere. Note the Shoal Bay Caravan Park is very popular so you definitely need to book ahead as it’s right on the beach and very busy! But worth it for the great amenities.

Blue-sea dreaming
The must-visit country club
Waggs test the waters

For the surfers among us, you really can’t beat the land of the longboarders – Crescent Head. The caravan park is located right on the infamous surfing point and, like Tiona, it has a little something for everyone; a river, a beach break, a point break and once again it’s in walking distance to the cafes, RSL and restaurants. Note: booking this caravan park is essential and they have a height limit for your furry friends.

A perfect day in Crescent Head

Yamba’s vibe is great, and the Yamba Hotel has an epic view. While we were there, we also gave Waggs his first groom – which resulted in him looking like a blow-waved sheep, albeit a happy sheep…

A very happy sheep (dog)

In the Northern Rivers, you can’t miss a stop at the Eltham Hotel. They have great pub fare, the vibe is amazing and it’s nestled right amongst farming land with cows out the front. Plus the styling is oh-so beautiful, care of the incredibly talented Julia Ashwood (you may know her on Instagram as The Vista).

Dogs need hydration too

Crossing the Hay Plain from New South Wales’ west and into South Australia is not for the faint-hearted. It’s long and the terrain is arid and flat and your food offering will be something along the lines of a meat pie at a truck stop. You’d be smart to pre-download some great podcasts and music, and pack some delicious, non-perishable snacks. Scotty always forces me to do the Good Weekend quiz on road trips which is always a bit of fun (or in my case, frustration!).

But driving into Beachport, just over 300 clicks south of Adelaide, made it all worth it. This idyllic coastal town is an isthmus with sea on both sides, Lake George, Rivoli Bay and the incredible Southern Ocean. It’s also home to the second longest jetty in South Australia that stretches 722 metres in length (don’t ask me what the longest is!) and is a prime spot for fishing or whale-watching. If, like us, you love seafood, you can pick up lobster straight off the jetty from the local fisherman.

We nearly had the caravan park to ourselves and the nearby beaches were actually breathtaking. It wasn’t a place that would have been on my radar but I was so grateful I got to explore a new part of Australia and tick some more beaches off my checklist. Insider tip from our family, gotta love that.

The never-ending Beachport Jetty in South Australia

So we’re now back on the Coal Coast in our new home in Austinmer, southern NSW. It’s affectionately called ‘The Big Blue House’ and we’re enjoying being in one place for a while (and having my own bathroom in the actual house!). There is a whole lot more to share about this trip, but I’ll leave you with this for now. It’s safe to say a lot has changed – both Mr Waggs and Scotty have had a trim, and life is about to look a whole lot different for the Maggs. Rewilding a success!

Scotty, Mr Waggs, Emma, and the impending arrival

More to come. Until then,

Emma x

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